The Tomtit and the Bear by the Brothers Grimm

One summer day, as a Wolf and a Bear were walking together in a wood, they heard a bird singing most sweetly. “Brother,” said the Bear, “what can that bird be that is singing so sweetly?”

“Oh!” said the Wolf, “that is the king of the birds, we must take care to show him all respect.” (Now I should tell you that this bird was after all no other than the Tomtit.)

“If that is the case,” said the Bear, “I should like to see the royal palace; so pray come along and show me it.”

“Gently, my friend,” said the Wolf, “we cannot see it just yet, we must wait till the queen comes home.”

Soon afterward the queen came with food in her beak, and she and the king began to feed their young ones.

“Now for it!” said the Bear; and was about to follow them.

“Stop a little, Master Bruin,” said the Wolf, “we must wait now till the king and queen are gone again.” So they marked the hole where they had seen the nest, and went away. But the Bear, being very eager to see the palace, soon came back again, and, peeping into the nest, saw five or six young birds lying at the bottom of it.

“What nonsense!” said Bruin, “this is not a royal palace: I never saw such a filthy place in my life; and you are no royal children, you little base-born brats!”

As soon as the young tomtits heard this they were very angry, and screamed out: “We are not base-born, you stupid bear! Our father and mother are honest, good sort of people; and, depend upon it, you shall suffer for your rudeness!”

At this the Wolf and the Bear grew frightened, and ran away to their dens. But the young tomtits kept crying and screaming; and when their father and mother came home and offered them food, they all said: “We will not touch a bit; no, not though we should die of hunger, till that rascal Bruin has been punished for calling us base-born brats.”

“Make yourselves easy, my darlings,” said the old king, “you may be sure he shall get what he deserves.”

So he went out to the Bear’s den, and cried out with a loud voice, “Bruin, the bear! thou hast been very rude to our lawful children. We shall therefore make war against thee and thine, and shall never cease until thou hast been punished as thou so richly deservest.”

Now when the bear heard this, he called together the ox, the ass, the stag, the fox, and all the beasts of the earth. And the Tomtit also called on his side all the birds of the air, both great and small, and a very large army of wasps, gnats, bees, and flies, and indeed many other kinds of insects.

As the time came near when the war was to begin, the Tomtit sent out spies to see who was the leader of the enemy’s forces. So the gnat, who was by far the best spy of them all, flew backward and forward in the wood where the enemy’s troops were, and at last hid himself under a leaf on a tree close by.

The Bear, who was standing so near the tree that the gnat could hear all he said, called to the fox and said, “Reynard, you are the cleverest of all the beasts; therefore you shall be our leader and go before us to battle; but we must first agree upon some signal, by which we may know what you want us to do.”

“Behold,” said the fox, “I have a fine long, bushy tail, which is very like a plume of red feathers, and gives me a very warlike air. Now remember, when you see me raise up my tail, you may be sure that the battle is won, and you have then nothing to do but to rush down upon the enemy with all your force. On the other hand, if I drop my tail, the battle is lost, and you must run away as fast as you can.”

Now when the gnat had heard all this, she flew back to the Tomtit and told him everything that had passed.

At length the day came when the battle was to be fought. As soon as it was light, the army of beasts came rushing forward with such a fearful sound that the earth shook. King Tomtit, with his troops, came flying along also in warlike array, flapping and fluttering, and beating the air, so that it was quite frightful to hear; and both armies set themselves in order of battle upon the field.

Now the Tomtit gave orders to a troop of wasps that at the first onset they should march straight toward Captain Reynard and fixing themselves about his tail, should sting him with all their might. The wasps did as they were told; and when Reynard felt the first sting, he started aside and shook one of his legs, but still held up his tail with wonderful bravery. At the second sting he was forced to drop his tail for a moment; but when the third wasp had fixed itself, he could bear it no longer, and clapped his tail between his legs, and ran away as fast as he could.

As soon as the beasts saw this, they thought of course all was lost, and raced across the country  away to their holes.

Then the king and queen of the birds flew back in joy to their children, and said: “Now, children, eat, drink, and be merry, for we have won the battle!”

But the young birds said: “No; not till Bruin has humbly begged our pardon for calling us base-born.”

So the king flew back to the bear’s den, and cried out:

“Thou villain bear! come forthwith to my nest, and humbly ask my children to forgive the insult thou hast offered them. If thou wilt not do this, every bone in thy body shall be broken.”

Then the bear was forced to crawl out of his den very sulkily, and do what the king bade him; and after that the young birds sat down together, and ate, and drank, and made merry till midnight.