The brave bowman: a folktale from India

Adapted by Amy Friedman

Illustrated by Meredith Johnson

Once upon a time, a young man was so skilled with his bow, people called him the brave bowman. He might have been famous, but he was exceedingly small and had a crooked back. He knew this would stand in the way of all he wished to accomplish. He wanted to join the king’s army and defend his land, but he knew the king would refuse him.

But the young man was clever, so he decided to find a big, strong man to take him as his page, and together they would join the army.

He set off on his search to find such a man. One day, he came upon a near-giant digging a ditch. The brave bowman stopped to say hello and asked why such a big man was digging ditches.

“It’s the only work I can find,” he said.

“I have an idea,” the little bowman said. “Go with me to the king and ask him to let you serve in his army. I’ll be your page. I promise you that I’ll do all the work the king asks you to do. We’ll share the pay, and that way we’ll both earn a living.”

The big man was skeptical. What, he wondered, could such a little man do? Still, he was tired of digging ditches, and so he agreed.

“I am a great bowman,” the little man told him as they traveled to see the king. “There’s a fierce tiger loose in the city, and I am certain the king will want a brave bowman to kill it.”

When the two men arrived at the palace, they requested that the king’s servants tell him a great bowman had come to meet with him, and that the great bowman wished to kill the loose tiger.

The king invited the two in, and when he saw the giant man, he was impressed. He assumed this was the brave bowman.

“But who is this little fellow beside you?” the king asked.

“My loyal page,” the big man said. “I wish to join the army, and he will be by my side. I take my page everywhere. I wish you to pay me 1,000 gold pieces a month for the two of us. It will be worthwhile when we kill the tiger.”

The king agreed.

“Go into the forest and kill that tiger!” he commanded the big man and the bowman, and so the two went into the forest.

Soon after, the brave little bowman with his perfect aim shot the tiger. When news of the tiger’s death reached the king, he was so thankful that he rewarded the two men with gifts and praise.

But the very next day, word came that a huge buffalo was roaming the roads and crushing people in his path.

“Go kill that buffalo!” the king commanded the big man and the bowman, and so they hurried to the village and found the buffalo. The brave little bowman killed the buffalo. When they returned to the palace, the king rewarded them with a big pot of money.

But the king’s praise was for the big, strong man because he assumed he had killed the tiger and the buffalo. And, after a while, the big man began to believe it was his strength and size that counted for their success. He began to think he could work alone.

“I can find any page I’d like,” he told the bowman. “And another man will not demand so much of the money.”

The little bowman was sad, but there was nothing he could do to convince the big man to keep him by his side. Still, he stayed close in case his skills with an arrow were ever needed.

Sure enough, a few days later, a king from a faraway land sent word to the bowman’s king that his invading army would be marching into the king’s country.

“Give up your land or do battle!” the faraway king demanded.

The king called on the big man and instructed him to take up arms against the invaders. He gave him a gigantic war elephant, which the big man mounted.

Unbeknownst to him, the brave bowman also sneaked onto the back of the elephant. As the creature trudged out of the city ahead of the army, the war drums began to beat. At the sound of the drums, the big man began to shake with fear.

The brave little bowman leaned in and whispered, “Don’t be afraid. Stop shaking and be strong. If you fall off the elephant, you’ll die.”

But the big man was so terrified, he could not stop shaking and sweating, and he slipped off the elephant’s back. He ran as fast as he could until he reached home. He wanted nothing to do with war.

So the little bowman, all alone, led the war elephant into the fight. With his bravery and astonishing aim, the little bowman drove the army farther and farther back.

When at last he drove the army away, the brave little bowman returned to the palace, and the king understood how foolish he had been to disregard the little man’s true skills.

From that day on, everyone called him the Brave Bowman, and the king named him chief of his army.