The Story of Boyling and Girlchen

BambooA Fairy Tale

Boyling and Girlchen were brother and sister, and lived with their mother Annalisa and wicked stepfather Kobold at the edge of the only bamboo forest in pre-industrial Bavaria. One night, as they lay awake in their tiny bed in the other room, unable to sleep for hunger, they heard their parents talking in the kitchen.

“We cannot make enough money cutting and selling bamboo,” said Kobold, who was in fact a goblin that had taken the form of a man. “We are all going to starve to death.”

“I assume you have some plan, or you wouldn’t have brought this up,” said Annalisa sharply. She had come to realize her new husband wasn’t very nice, and had taken to reading the tortuously complex pre-industrial Bavarian divorce laws when he wasn’t around.

“My plan is to lose the children tomorrow in the forest. All these bamboo trees look the same. They’ll never find their way home.”

Annalisa knew it was no use arguing with the wicked man, but she said, “Shh! They’ll hear you.”

“Bah. They’re asleep.”

Immediately, loud snores came from the other room.

“See?”

“Fine. You do know bamboo isn’t a tree, right? It’s a grass.”

“We shall go to bed now,” said Kobold.

The next day, they all went into the forest. Knowing what was planned, Boyling brought a piece of bread, and he dropped crumbs behind him as they went. He had just dropped the last crumb when Kobold said, “You two stay here while your mother and I go somewhere else and cut bamboo. We shall come back soon.” But they never did. It grew quite dark, and the children were still alone.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Boyling. “When the moon rises, we shall see the bread crumbs, and find our way home.” They sat down to wait, and soon fell asleep.

But Kobold had seen the bread crumbs. “Ha!” he said. “I shall sprinkle breadcrumbs all along the path, and they won’t know which crumbs are theirs.” So he went home and got a loaf of bread. He had just dropped the last crumb when a bird came and started eating them. He waved his arms and hollered, but he couldn’t frighten it away. His evening’s work was being undone! So he fetched a sack full of small, white, bread-crumb-sized pebbles, and every time the bird ate a crumb, he quickly replaced it with a pebble. When he got to the clearing where the children slept, his job was done, and he crept softly home.

The children woke shortly after the moon came out, and they were easily able to find their way home. When they knocked on the cottage door, Annalisa opened it and said, “Oh good, you’re back. You should have come when we called you.” Kobold made a hissing noise. Boyling and Girlchen looked at each other, but said nothing.

The next day, they all went into the forest again. Kobold made sure the children had no bread, and they went by a different trail, but Girlchen took a piece of chalk and marked a bamboo pole every twenty feet along the path. She had just used the last of her chalk when Kobold said, “You two stay here while your mother and I go somewhere else and cut bamboo. We shall come back soon.” But they never did. It grew quite dark, and the children were still alone.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Girlchen. “When the moon rises, we shall see the chalk marks, and find our way home.” They sat down to wait, and soon fell asleep.

But Kobold had seen the chalk marks. “Ha!” he said. “I shall mark every tree on the trail, and they will not know which marks are theirs.” So he went home, got a box of chalk, and marked every single bamboo pole lining the path to the cottage. When he got to the clearing where the children slept, his job was done, and he crept softly home.

The children woke shortly after the moon came out, and they were easily able to find their way home. When they knocked on the cottage door, Annalisa opened it and said, “Oh good, you’re back. You should have come when we called you.” Kobold made a hissing noise. Boyling and Girlchen looked at each other, but said nothing.

The next day, they all went into the forest again. Kobold made sure all the children’s pockets were empty, and they went by a different trail, so Boyling unraveled the bottom of his sweater and tied the thread to a bamboo stump near the house. As they went, his sweater unraveled, leaving a long trail of yarn behind. When his entire sweater had been unraveled, they tied the end to Girlchen’s sweater, and continued on. The last thread from their last article of clothing had just fallen to the ground when Kobold said, “You two stay here while your mother and I go somewhere else and cut bamboo. Wait. Why are you naked?”

“We were hoping there was going to be a pond for swimming?” Boyling suggested.

Kobold looked back the way they had come, and saw the long line of yarn stretching away toward the cottage. “Why did you do that?” he demanded.

“Do what?” asked Girlchen innocently.

“You left a trail of yarn so you could find your way home!” he roared.

“Are you admitting you were trying to lose us?” asked Boyling. “The judge may find that very interesting.”

“What judge?”

Just then a judge stepped out from behind a particularly large bamboo pole. “What’s going on here?” he demanded. “And why are you children naked?”

Girlchen quickly explained the whole situation, and the judge gave her his coat (which hung down to her toes) and Boyling his waistcoat (which hung down past his knees). “Very interesting,” said the judge, looking over his spectacles at Kobold. He gave a whistle, and a bloodhound appeared from around another particularly large bamboo pole.

Kobold immediately took off running, and the bloodhound gave chase. The others went back to the cottage, and Annalisa made a pot of coffee. Then she and the judge sat and discussed the tortuously complex pre-industrial Bavarian divorce laws. Boyling and Girlchen put on their other clothes, and gave the judge’s jacket and waistcoat back to him with a polite, “Danke.”

Meanwhile the bloodhound was chasing Kobold all through the forest. On they ran, until suddenly they came upon a little cottage made entirely of dog biscuits. Kobold ran to the door, opened it, jumped inside, and slammed it shut. When his eyes grew accustomed to the light, he saw that the entire room was lined with bloodhounds. Every chair, bed, rug, or patch of bare floor held at least five of them. Kobold looked at the dogs. The dogs looked at Kobold. The cuckoo clock ticked.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. “Open up,” said a muffled voice. “It’s Günter.”

“Günter!” all the dogs cried, and they opened the door. Kobold ran back out again, but it was too late. For this was a magic cottage, and any goblin who went out by the front door was changed instantly and permanently into a cat. The moment his foot hit the ground, the magic took effect.

“Ha!” he said. “Cats can climb trees, and dogs can’t.”

But bamboo aren’t trees. The poles were perfectly smooth, with no clawhold even for a cat. In an instant the dogs had him surrounded, and it looked like the end.

“There’s no need to eat a poor little cat,” he said piteously. “I wouldn’t even feed two of you.”

“Oh, we don’t eat cats,” said the eldest dog. “But with the exception of Günter here, none of us have had a good chase in weeks. We will give you a two-minute head start, and then look to your heels.”

The cat didn’t need any further invitation. He took off as if the devil himself were chasing him. The dogs laughed and laughed, and then went back into the cottage. After a nice nap, they said goodbye to Günter, and by sense of smell he made his way to Annalisa’s cottage. The judge was just saying goodbye.

“Did you get him, boy?” he asked. Günter wagged his tail and barked once, “Ja.”

So Günter and the judge walked back to town. After the period prescribed by the tortuously complex pre-industrial Bavarian divorce laws, Annalisa had Kobold officially declared dead. She married the judge, and they all lived in a big house in town and were very happy.

Not long after the wedding, a scrawny tomcat came to live with them. No one in town knew where he had come from. He could be a little cross at times, but he made a fairly decent pet. He never got on very well with Günter, though.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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