Once upon a time there was a young pig herder who lived on his father’s farm among the trees of the Wild Forest. Every day he had to lead the pigs out into the trees to forage for food and had to carefully stand guard with his bow and arrow to keep wolves and bears from coming and carrying them off. He was a steady, sensible sort of boy. He always did his job and did it faithfully and never dreamed of leaving his charge.
Then the song came.
One night, just as he was shutting the pigs up in the their pen, a whisper of a melody came snaking out of the trees. It was so beautiful it brought tears to his eyes. It was so irresistible that it made his feet tingle. He knew that no matter what, the most important thing in the world was to follow that song and find out who was singing it. Without looking back once, he slung his bow over his shoulder and set off among the trees to follow the song.
He walked all night with only the song for company, and it was the best company he’d ever had. The longer he listened, the sweeter the song grew, until he began to feel that his heart would burst just from listening. He barely even noticed when the trees came to an end, and he began walking among field after field of grain. It wasn’t until the sun came up that he noticed he was approaching a strange village. He was farther from home than he had ever been in his life. Normally, he might have felt scared, but with that lovely song in his ears, all he felt was wonder. The song led him right to the main square of the village, and then it disappeared.
Suddenly the boy felt very, very lost. He stood, looking around at that strange place and blinking and realizing how tired he was from walking all night. It was still very early in the morning, and no one in the village was awake yet. Without the song, it was very, very quiet. Then he heard a small sound.
It wasn’t the song. It was the sound of someone crying. The boy didn’t know what else to do, so he went to see who it was. In a little ditch that ran between two houses, he found a small girl. She was holding a tiny ball and crying so hard that she almost wasn’t breathing.
“What’s wrong?” asked the boy as gently as he could.
The little girl was so miserable she didn’t even look afraid of a stranger talking to her. “I…can’t…find…my…puppy,” she said. “M-m-my father gave h-h-him to me, and n-n-now he is gone. I…thing…th-th-the bears got him. And oh, my f-f-father is going to be so mad.” The last word got lost in another long wail.
“Shhhh, don’t cry,” said the boy. “Maybe I can find your puppy. Where did you last see him?”
The little girl looked up hopefully, and her wails calmed into hiccups. “He was sleeping with me in my bed last night. I felt him get up and leave just a while ago. When I woke up and came to find him, he was gone.”
The boy had the girl show him where her door was, and he looked around for paw prints. After a bit he found some, and some larger prints, too. It looked like a bear had been near the houses. He showed the little girl the puppy prints.
“I have to go follow these and see if I can find him,” he said. “I am only a pig herder and not good at many things, but finding lost animals is something I know how to do. You stay here and wash away those tears before your mother find you like this.” He didn’t say anything about the bear tracks because he didn’t want to worry her.
Unslinging his bow, he followed the bear tracks back the way he himself had come, back towards the trees of the forest. He knew that many times bears will carry their food off to their dens before killing it. He hoped that was what had happened with the puppy. The boy had never been to this side of the forest before, but the trees still felt familiar, and it did not take long for him to find the bear’s den. He saw the dark shape of the bear swaying toward the opening with something in its mouth. The boy stopped and carefully took aim with his bow. It was important to get a good shot the first time with a bear. When he let the arrow fly, it went straight into the back of the bear’s neck. The bear dropped what was in its mouth and whirled toward the boy, who was already fitting another arrow into the bow. That one went straight into the bear’s heart. With a great crash, the bear dropped over. Cautiously, the boy approached the bear. It didn’t move. It was dead. Just on the other side of the bear, a small pile of fur was trembling. It was the puppy. He was alive, though there were several cuts along his little body. The boy gently picked up the pup and carried him back home.
By the time he arrived at the village, everyone was awake and about their daily work. The little girl was overjoyed to see her puppy home safe, and her parents were happy, too. The mother was happy to see her daughter happy, and she offered the boy a huge plate of breakfast. The father was happy that he had killed the dangerous bear that threatened the village, and he offered the boy a job in his carpenter shop and a bed in the barn.
“I really can’t stay, ” said the boy, thinking first of the song and then, almost ashamedly, of his father and the pigs. “I must go home.”
“If you wait until tomorrow, there will be a merchant’s wagon to give you a ride,” said the father. “They are expected this morning and never stay more than one night. It would be better than walking all day after walking all night.”
The boy thought about it. He didn’t even know exactly how far he was from home. The wagon sounded like a good idea. One day more would not make much difference now. So he stayed the day. And the father took him to the shop and showed him how to use the saw and plane and make fine angles and build sturdy things. There was too much to learn in just one day, but he loved watching as the expert carpenter crafted a table and then a chair and other things that would be beautiful and useful. It made him realize how little he knew as a pig herder.
That afternoon the merchant arrived, and the next day he was ready to head on into the forest on his usual route. But the boy did not go with him because the boy was no longer there.
You see, just as the sun had been setting and the family began to wash for supper, the boy heard the melody snaking out from the fields and filling him up and setting his feet to the road.
And the song whispered him on.
To Be Continued