The Peasant and the Water Sprite
The Peasant and the Water Sprite
Once upon a time, there was a very poor man who worked hard trying to make a living chopping trees in the forest. After chopping the trees, he'd sell the wood to villagers who would use it to warm their homes and to make fires to cook their meals.
It was difficult work, but the peasant enjoyed it. He loved the solitude of the forest and the kindness of the forest animals.
Many of the forest creatures had become his friends. When he would pause at midday for his meager lunch of bread and water, a friendly squirrel or deer would often sit near him, keeping him company. The peasant would repay the animal for its kind company with a crust of his bread.
Although he did not always have an easy life, the peasant was a happy man.
But then, hard times came to his country.
A terrible drought caused the plants to shrivel and die. The dry spell went on and on. The livestock began to perish because there wasn't enough water for them to drink or grass for them to graze on.
These were sad times. The villagers who had bought wood from the peasant woodsman were unable to do so any longer. They weren't able to sell their crops or the milk from their cows. So, in turn, they didn't have the money to pay the peasant for his wood.
At first, the peasant was able to scrape by, eating root vegetables he'd stored from the previous growing season, foraging in the woods for a scrap of this or that, or occasionally eating one of his remaining bread crusts. Finally, though, his food was virtually all gone, and he didn't know how he would go on.
He continued to go to the forest and work. He had quite a stockpile of cut wood! He still enjoyed seeing his woodland friends, although they, too, were suffering from the dry conditions.
One day, when the peasant was already feeling particularly low, he accidentally dropped his prized ax into the river. He was so unhappy that he sat down on the muddy banks and began to cry. “After all,” he thought, “now I really am without any hope. For how can a woodcutter survive without his ax?”
So he sat crying until a nearby water sprite heard him. The water sprite, a small and magical sparkling creature who lived in the river, felt sorry for the kindly woodcutter. She had observed him often in the forest and knew him to be a big and kindhearted fellow.
She decided to help him, so she fluttered to the top of the river's surface and brought him a golden ax that sparkled in the sunlight. The peasant was almost blinded by its brilliant finish.
“Is this your ax?” the sprite asked.
“No,” said the honest man. “It's not mine.”
The water sprite fluttered away and brought him another ax from the bottom of the river. This time it was a glistening silver one. It, too, shone brilliantly.
“That's not my ax, either,” said the man, again answering honestly.
Then the water sprite dove back down to the bottom of the river and brought up yet another ax. This was a rather plain and
“Now, that one is mine,” said the man, happy and relieved to have it back. Now, he could go back to his business of being a woodcutter.
The water sprite, though, wanted to reward the man for his good heart and honest manner. So, she gave the man all three axes.
“But,” protested the peasant, “why are you doing this for me?”
“Because,” trilled the tiny sprite, “you have shown compassion for the creatures of the forest, and you have an honest spirit. For these things, I am rewarding you.”
“Oh, thank you, precious Water Sprite,” said the overwhelmed peasant.
The peasant finished his work in the woods, cutting trees with his old ax and patting the forest creatures. Then, as the sun started to set, the peasant went to his humble little home. As he made his way there, he showed his friends the three axes and told them what had happened.
“How can this be?” one of his friends thought to himself. “This really isn't fair that a common woodcutter should have such good fortune. I think I will go to the banks of that very river and try the same thing. After all, it is someone such as I, a shop owner, who should have treasures bestowed upon me by this water sprite.”
So, off he went to the banks of the river. Once there, he quickly threw his ax into the water. Then, he perched on the banks of the river and pretended to cry.
The magical water sprite heard him. She was a bit skeptical — she'd never seen this man in the woods, and his crying sounded distinctly false. However, being a kindly sprite she decided to offer him a golden ax from the bottom of the river. She surfaced with it and asked, “Is this your ax?”
The man was overjoyed and shouted dishonestly, “Yes, yes, it's mine. Oh, thank you, Water Sprite.”
The water sprite instantly disappeared, back to the bottom of the river with the golden ax.
“Hey, come back,” shouted the dishonest man.
But the water sprite did not reappear, and did not give him the golden ax or, for that matter, his own ax, because he had lied to her.
The peasant, in the meantime, continued to live a kind and good life, remaining a friend to the forest animals. He took the golden ax, sold it in a faraway city, and used the money to help out the villagers who still suffered from the drought. He kept the silver ax for himself.
For the rest of his life, the villagers regarded him as a hero. They credited him with saving their lives during the worst dry spell the village had ever known.
In fact, if you visit the village today, there is a statue of the poor peasant, standing on the town green, to honor this simple man who saved his village.