SINGING BONE PRESS
(after the brothers Grimm)
by Jerred Metz
In a certain part of the world a wild boar ravaged the farmers’ fields, gored the cattle, and tore the farmers’ flesh with his fierce tusks. The king promised to pay much money to whoever would kill the beast. But the boar was so huge and fearsome that everyone avoided even the scrub growing at the fringes of the forest in which he lived. In desperation, the king threw his daughter into the bargain, offering her to the person who would slay the boar.
Two brothers, sons of a poor man, set off for the forest; the elder, sly and shrewd, out of pride, the younger, innocent and simple, from a kind heart. When they came to the king he told them, “Each of you enter the forest from opposite sides; in that way you will trap the boar between you and he will have less chance to escape.”
The younger brother thanked the king and, shouldering a spear, walked fearlessly among the trees and briars. When he saw the boar’s tusks flashing in the light, he pointed the spear at them and ran forward. In his blind rage the boar at the effrontery of anyone who would challenge him so, he ran so powerfully against the spear that its heart was split in half.
The younger brother trudged out of the forest carrying the dead boar thrown over his back Then he reached a house before which people were drinking wine and dancing. His elder brother was in the midst of the crowd, boasting of how courageous he was and how the wine in his head would help him slay the boar. Then the drunken brother saw the younger and knew that, except for fooling his brother, and being the butt of ridicule at the moment by his fellow drinkers, his work was already done. He invited the younger brother to drink a cup in a toast.
When the brothers left the throng it was late, and the boy tipsy, the elder drunk. When they came to a bridge over a brook the elder sent his younger brother ahead, fetched him a blow with a club that sent his body toppling into the water, killed the unsuspecting boy. The elder brother now took up the boar on his back, carried it to the king, and claimed that he had killed it. Soon he married the king’s daughter.
But since innocence has its own will, the murderer and cheat was one day to be found out. Driving his flock across the bridge at a time of low water, a shepherd saw a little snow-white bone lying in the gravel by the stream’s edge. He wanted a new whistle, and so climbed down to the bone, took out his knife, whittled it, and in a short time lifted it to his lips. The first time he blew, the tune he expected didn’t come out; instead he heard a new song:
Shepherd, you breathe inside my bone,
Which shed my flesh in water.
My brother killed me for a boar,
stole my wife, the king’s own daughter.
The shepherd, made fearful by the bone’s song, took it to the king and asked him to play a simple tune upon it. But before the king even drew in his breath, the bone told its story. The king understood and, having dug the bones from the stream, placed the case before the wicked brother, who was sewn up inside a canvas sack and drowned. The younger brother’s bones were laid in a beautiful tomb and on top of it the whistle, which not dare blow except the wind.
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Der singende Knochen, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Berlin: Realschulbuchhandlung, 1812), no. 28, pp. 119-22.