33.THE BATTLE OF THE FROGS AND MICE
A warlike mouse came down to the edge of a pond to take a drink of water. A frog hopped up to him. Speaking in the voice of one who had rule and authority, the frog said,” Stranger, I am Puff Jaw, king of the frogs. I do not speak to common mice, but you look like you, belong to the noble and royal sort. Tell me your race. If it is a noble one I shall show you my kingly friendship.”
The mouse, speaking haughtily, said, “I am Crumb Snatcher, and my race is a famous one. My father is the heroic Bread Nibbler, and he married Quern Licker, the lovely daughter of a king. Like all my race I am a warrior who has never run away from battle. Moreover, I have been brought up as a mouse of high degree, and figs and nuts, cheese and honey cakes are the food that I have been fed on.”
Now this reply of Crumb Snatcher pleased the kingly frog greatly. “Come with me to my home, famous Crumb Snatcher,” he said, “and I shall show you such entertainment as may be found in the house of a king.”
But the mouse looked sharply at him. “How may I get to your house?” he asked. “We live in different elements, you and I. We mice want to be in the driest of dry places, while you frogs have your homes in the water.”
“Ah,” answered Puff jaw, “you do not know how favored the frogs are above all other creatures. To us alone the gods have given the power to live both in the water and on the land. I shall take you to my land palace that is the other side of the pond.”
“How can I get there?” asked Crumb Snatcher the mouse, doubtfully.
“Upon my back,” said the frog. “Up now noble Crumb Snatcher. As we go I will show you the wonders of the pond.”
He offered his back and Crumb Snatcher bravely mounted. The mouse put his paws around the frog’s neck. Then Puff jaw swam out. At first Crumb Snatcher was pleased to feel himself moving through the water. But as the dark waves began to rise his mighty heart began to tremble. He longed to be back upon the land. He groaned aloud.
“We are going quickly,” cried Puff Jaw, “soon we shall be at my land palace.”
Heartened by these words, Crumb Snatcher put his tail into the water and worked it as a steering oar. On and on they went, and Crumb Snatcher started to enjoy the adventure. What a wonderful tale he would have to tell to the other mice!
But suddenly, out of the depths of the pond, a water snake raised his horrid head. That head was terrifying to both mouse and frog. Forgetting the guest that he carried on his back, Puff jaw dived down into the water. He reached the bottom of the pond and lay in the mud in safety.
But Crumb Snatcher the mouse was far from safety. He sank and rose, and sank again. His wet fur weighed him down. But before he sank for the last time he lifted up his voice and cried out and his cry was heard at the edge of the pond:
“Ah, Puff Jaw, treacherous frog! You have done an evil thing, leaving me to drown in the middle of the pond. Had you faced me on the land I should have shown you which of us was the better warrior. Now I must lose my life in the water. But I tell you my death shall not go unavenged—the cowardly frogs will be punished for the ill they have done to me who am the son of the king of the mice.”
Then Crumb Snatcher sank for the last time. But Lick Platter, who was at the edge of the pond, had heard his words. Straightway this mouse rushed to the hole of Bread Nibbler and told him of the death of his princely son.
Bread Nibbler called out the clans of the mice. The warrior mice armed themselves.
First, the mice put on shin armor that covered their forelegs. These they made out of bean shells broken in two. For a shield, each had a lamp’s centerpiece. For spears they had the long bronze needles that they had carried out of the houses of men. So armed and equipped they were ready to wage war on the frogs. Bread Nibbler, their king, shouted to them: “Attack the cowardly frogs, and leave not one alive upon the bank of the pond. From now on that bank is ours, and ours only. Forward!”
And, on the other side, Puff jaw was urging the frogs to battle. “Let us take our places on the edge of the pond,” he said, “and when the mice attack us, let each catch hold of one and throw him into the pond. Thus we will get rid of these dry creatures, the mice.”
The frogs applauded the speech of their king, and straightway they went to their armor and their weapons. They covered their legs with the leaves. For breastplates they had the leaves of beets. Cabbage leaves, well cut, made their strong shields. They took their spears from the pond side— they were deadly pointed rushes, and they placed on their heads helmets that were empty snail shells. So armed and equipped they were ready to meet the grand attack of the mice.
When the robber came to this part of the story Hercules stopped walking, for he was shaking with laughter. The robber stopped telling his story. Hercules slapped him on the leg and said: “Tell me more of the heroic adventures of the mice?” The second robber said, “I don’t know anymore, but perhaps my brother at the other side of you can tell you of the mighty combat between them and the frogs.” Then Hercules shifted the first robber from his back to his front, and the first robber said: “I will tell you what I know about the heroic combat between the frogs and the mice.” The gnats blew their trumpets. This was the signal for war.
Bread Nibbler struck the first blow. He attacked Loud Crier the frog, and threw him down. At this Loud Crier’s friend, Reedy, threw down his spear and shield and dived into the water. This seemed to be a sign of victory for the mice. But then Water Larker, the most warlike of the frogs, took up a great pebble and threw it at Ham Nibbler who was then pursuing Reedy. Ham Nibbler fell down, and there was dismay amongst the mice.
Then Cabbage Climber, a brave hearted frog, took up a clod of mud and flung it at a mouse that was charging furiously at him. That mouse’s helmet was knocked off and his forehead was covered with the clod of mud, so that he couldn’t see.
It was then that the frogs seemed to be headed for victory. Bread Nibbler again came into the fight. He rushed furiously at Puff jaw the king.
Leeky, the trusted friend of Puff jaw defended against Bread Nibbler’s attack. He threw his spear at the king of the mice but the point of the spear broke on Bread Nibbler’s shield, and then Leeky was knocked down.
Bread Nibbler came at Puff jaw, and the two great kings faced each other. The frogs and the mice drew aside, and there was a pause in the combat. Bread Nibbler the mouse struck Puff jaw the frog terribly on the toes.
Puff jaw withdrew from the battle. Now all would have been lost for the frogs if Zeus, the father of the gods, had not looked down on the battle.
“Dear, dear,” said Zeus, “what can be done to save the frogs? They will surely be annihilated if the charge of that mouse is not stopped.”
For the father of the gods, looking down, saw a warrior mouse coming on in the most dreadful attack of the whole battle. The name of this warrior was Slice Snatcher. He had come into the battle late. He waited to split a chestnut in two and put the halves upon his paws. Then, furiously dashing amongst the frogs, he cried out that he would not leave the battle until he had destroyed all the frogs, leaving the bank of the pond a playground for the mice and for the mice alone.
To stop the charge of Slice Snatcher there was nothing for Zeus to do but to hurl the thunderbolt that is the terror of gods and men.
The frogs and mice were awed by the thunder and the flame but still the mice, urged on by Slice Snatcher, did not hold back from their attack on the frogs.
Now would the frogs have been utterly destroyed; but, as they dashed on, the mice encountered a new and a dreadful army. The warriors in these ranks had armored backs and curving claws. They had bandy legs and long stretching arms. They had eyes that looked behind them. They moved sideways. These were the crabs, creatures that the mice had never seen before. The crabs had been sent by Zeus to save the frogs from utter destruction.
Attacking the mice they nipped their paws. The mice turned around and they nipped their tails. In vain, the bravest of the mice struck at the crabs with their sharpened spears. The spears of the mice had no effect on the hard shells on the backs of the crabs. The crabs went on and on, on their strange feet and with their terrible nippers. Bread Nibbler could not rally them anymore, and Slice Snatcher stopped speaking of the monument of victory that the mice would erect on the bank of the pond. The frogs watched the finish of the battle from the water they had retreated to. The mice threw down their spears and shields and fled from the battleground. The crabs went on as if they cared nothing for their victory, and the frogs came out of the water and sat on the bank watching them in awe.
Hercules had laughed at the tale that the robbers had told him. He could not bring them then to a place where they would meet with captivity or death. He released them on the highway, and the robbers thanked him with great speeches, and they declared that if they should ever find him sleeping by the roadway again they would let him lie. Saying this they went away, and Hercules, laughing as he thought about the great adventures of the frogs and mice, went on to Omphale’s house.
Omphale, the widow, welcomed him, and then gave him tasks to do in the kitchen while she sat and talked to him about Troy and the affairs of King Laomedon. Afterward she put on his lion’s skin, and went about in the courtyard dragging the heavy club after her. She made the rest of his time in Lydia pass merrily and pleasantly for Hercules, and the last day of his slavery soon came, and he said goodbye to Omphale, that pleasant widow, and to Lydia, and he started off for Calydon to claim his bride Deianira.
Deianira looked beautiful now that she had ceased mourning for her brother, for the laughter that had been hidden by her grief always now flashed out. Her dark eyes shone like stars, and her being had the spirit of one who wanders from place to place, always greeting friends and leaving friends behind her. Hercules and Deianira wed, and they set out for Tiryns, where a king had left a kingdom to Hercules.
They came to the River Evenus. Hercules could have crossed the river by himself, but he could not cross it carrying Deianira. He and she went along the river, seeking a ferry that might take them across. They wandered along the side of the river, happy with each other, and they came to a place where they saw a centaur.
Hercules knew this centaur. He was Nessus, one of the centaurs whom he had chased up the mountain the time when he went to hunt the Erymanthean boar. The centaurs knew him, and Nessus spoke to Hercules as if he were a friend. He offered to carry Hercules’s bride across the river.
Then Hercules crossed the river, and he waited on the other side for Nessus and Deianira. Nessus went to another part of the river to make his crossing. Then Hercules, on the other bank, heard screams—the screams of his wife, Deianira. He saw that the centaur was savagely attacking her.
Then Hercules took his bow and shot at Nessus. He shot arrow after arrow into the centaur’s body. Nessus released his hold on Deianira, and he lay down on the bank of the river, his lifeblood streaming from him.
Even though Nessus was dying, he still had hatred for Hercules and thought of a way by which the hero might be made to suffer for the death he had caused him. He called to Deianira, and she, seeing he could do her no more harm, came up to to him. He told her that to show his regret for his attack on her he would give her a great gift. She was to gather up some of the blood that flowed from him. The centaur said his blood, would be a love potion, and if ever her husband’s love for her lessened it would grow fresh again if she gave him something from her hands that had this blood on it.
Deianira, who had heard from Hercules of the wisdom of the centaurs, believed what Nessus told her. She took a phial and let the blood pour into it. Then Nessus plunged into the river and died there as Hercules came up to where Deianira stood.
She did not tell him about what the centaur had told her, nor did she tell him that she had hidden away the phial that had Nessus’s blood in it. They crossed the river at another point and eventually they reached Tiryns and the kingdom that had been left to Hercules.
Hercules and Deianira lived there and they had a son named Hyllos. Some time later Hercules went to war with Eurytus who was king of Oichalia.
Word came to Deianira that Hercules had captured Oichalia, and that the king and his daughter Iole were held captive. Deianira knew that Hercules had once tried to win this maiden for his wife, and she feared that the sight of Iole would bring his old longing back to him.
She thought about the words that Nessus had said to her, and even as she thought about them messengers came from Hercules to ask her to send him a beautifully woven robe that she had so that he could wear it while making a sacrifice. Deianira took down the robe and thought, the blood of the centaur could touch Hercules and his love for her would return so she poured Nessus’s blood over the robe.
Hercules was in Oichalia when the messengers returned to him. He took the robe that Deianira sent, and he went to a mountain that overlooked the sea so he could make the sacrifice there. Iole went with him. Then he put on the robe that Deianira had sent. When it touched his flesh the robe burst into flame. Hercules tried to tear it off but the flames went deeper and deeper into his flesh. They burned and burned and no one could put them out.
Then Hercules knew that his end was near. He would die by fire, and realizing that he piled up a great heap of wood and he climbed up on it. He stayed there with the flaming robe burning into him, and he begged those who were passing by to set fire to the pile so that his end might come more quickly.
No one would set fire to the pile but at last a young warrior named Philoctetes came that way, and Hercules begged him to set fire to the pile. Philoctetes, knowing that it was the will of the gods that Hercules should die that way, lighted the pile. For that Hercules gave him his great bow and his unerring arrows. It was this bow and these arrows, brought from Philoctetes, that afterward helped to take Priam’s city.
The pile that Hercules stood on started to burn. High up, above the sea, the pile burned. Everyone except Iole fled. She stayed and watched the flames climb up and up. They wrapped the sky, and the voice of Hercules was heard calling Zeus. Then a great chariot came and Hercules was carried away to Olympus. Thus, after many labors, Hercules passed away, a mortal becoming an immortal being in a great burning fire high above the sea.