The Farmer and the Fairies' Gold
Once upon a time there was a field of wheat. Each kernel blazed with golden glory as the sun touched its shafts each day. Indeed, it was so much like gold that the fairies came down a tiny moonlit stream in the night and harvested every single grain.
When the farmer came out the next day and discovered her missing wheat, she marveled. What, she wondered, could have come in the night and taken every kernel of an entire field of wheat and left not a single piece of grain amongst the chaff?
The night, the farmer sat guard, hoping to witness a return of the nighttime thief—a low hope, for there was nothing left for the thief to take. But fairies are strange creatures, and where one night has yielded barrels of gold, who was to tell them that the wheat did not grow so fast? Thus, as the moon reached high into the sky, down came the fairies on their tiny stream, their lithe bodies resting on the bows eager for more gold—and the farmer saw them coming.
She leapt and cut off the flow of their stream with her boot.
'Why have you stolen my harvest?' she asked.
'Your harvest? Hah!' the fairies returned, incensed. 'It is our gold, and we have come for more of our taking. Consider it your payment for allowing you to live unmarked, for we have ways of causing pain that would drive you mad.'
'Gold? And what will you do with this "gold"? Have you melted it down into bars or into gild or into molds to adorn your court with grandeur? Is that your purpose, then?'
How well the farmer knew the fairies' minds, for that is exactly what they intended to do; but, desiring to do it all at once, they wanted a second harvest in order to cover every inch of their court with the gold.
The fairies looked among themselves, and wondered why the farmer began to laugh.
'Go on, then; try it. And if you do not succeed, bargain with me now that you will return my harvest a hundred fold.'
'It is done,' said the leader of the fairies, for what could possibly go wrong with their gold? They had seen it glistening in the sunlight and they knew the properties of the small stones.
But when they returned to their court and began to smelt the gold, it did not melt. It did nothing more than burn.
'Why does it not melt? What is wrong with this gold?' they said to the farmer as they returned the bushels of the false gold.
'It is because it is not stone, but grain, gilded fairies. It yields bread, not statues and gilt leaf.'
The fairies grew angry.
'Then we shall turn it into stone,' they said.
'Oh, no,' said the farmer. 'That is a thing you cannot do, for you will be breaking our bargain. But I'll offer you this: turn the straw into gold to sustain your court, and let me have my bread—a hundred fold, remember. And then we shall all be content.'
To this the fairies readily agreed, and took the straw and made it into gold to adorn their court.
But the farmer and all who ate the farmer's grain were far more contented than the fairies.