Sun and Moon
Once there was an old man and an old woman. The old man went to his vineyard with his hoe to turn the soil and found himself before the sun and the moon in the middle of an argument.
When they saw the old man they said, ‘Well met, Gramps. Tell us, do you know which one of us is the better of the two? The sun or the moon? Which of us do you find the better of the two? Who’s the one that most befits this world?’
Then the old man said, ‘The sun befits the day and the moon befits the night.’
So they were well pleased, both the sun and the moon, and they asked the old man what he would have them give him in return for such a fair pronouncement.
‘Whatever you like you can give me,’ said the old man. ‘I am content as it is.’
So the sun and the moon produced a hen and gave it to the old man and told him that, once he had travelled half the way, or even further, he should command the hen, ‘Hen, lay me a fistful of florins’ and she would. And whenever he told her to she would lay him florins.
The old man took the hen with him, and once he had reached half the way and a bit beyond, he commanded her, ‘Lay me a fistful of florins, hen,’ and the hen laid him the florins.
Joyfully, the old man went home and told the old woman of the stroke of luck that had fallen upon them in their old age. Then the old man went to find a handyman to build a silver chicken coop for the hen, and exhorted the old woman to refrain from divulging the attributes of the hen to him.
So the handyman arrived and set to building the chicken coop.
The old woman was of a rather boastful nature, and she sat down with the handyman and told him that her hen could lay florins. She was utterly unable to keep a secret; she couldn’t even hold on to a dried broad bean should her life depend on it. She went so far as to command the hen, ‘Hen, lay me a fistful of florins’, right there in the handyman’s presence, and the hen did so.
Seeing that, the handyman, who was cunning, took another hen from the yard outside, one that looked quite a bit like the good one and, surreptitiously, as he was erecting the chicken coop, put the dud hen inside it and, without anyone being any the wiser, stole the good hen that could lay florins.
The old couple fed the dud hen, thinking she was the good one. They had no clue that the handyman had played a dirty trick on them!
Some few days later the old man had need of a bit of cash. He caught hold of the hen and said to her, ‘Hen, lay me a fistful of florins.’ Then the hen relieved herself, depositing some droppings in the old man’s hand. The old man was revolted and ready to be sick. He went and washed, and rushed off to beg the handyman to give him back his hen.
He said to him, ‘Brother, now what’s done is done. You know our secret too. I beg of you, give me back the hen, and whatever she lays we’ll go half and half.’
That handyman was a bad egg though and he drove the poor old man away, saying, ‘Never seen you, never knew you. I know nothing of what you’re spouting at me. Off with you. Be gone.’
The poor old man went home dejected and sat there musing on the handyman’s nastiness. Then he took hold of his hoe and went to his vineyard to turn the soil.
As he was on his way, once again he found before him the sun and the moon having it out, and they asked him who should enjoy precedence, who was superior in worth.
Then the old man said, ‘The sun graces the day and the moon adorns the night.’
They were most gratified again, the two of them, and asked him what he would like them to give him in reward.
‘Whatever is your pleasure, my dears,’ he said.
They produced a tablecloth, gave it to him and said, ‘When you’ve gone halfway, spread this tablecloth and you will find on it whatever you desire. So eat your fill and whenever you want to eat, spread the tablecloth and you will find whatever you fancy there. But watch out it doesn’t happen that they take the tablecloth away from you.’
‘Never fear,’ said the old man. ‘Now I’ve learnt my lesson and I will trust nobody.’
Then the old man took the tablecloth away with him and set forth, travelled half the way and spread the tablecloth and found on it everything he fancied, and sat down there and ate.
Then he went on home, replete and in good spirits, and he sat and told the old woman how fortunate they were now in their old age. Then they spread the tablecloth and sat down and ate and drank as much as they felt like.
That’s what they did every day, and they were content as content can be, because in this way they had no need either of working or of spending money. Whatever they desired to eat they could have, and they wanted for nothing.
One day said the old man to the old woman, ‘Let us invite the king with his troops and treat him from this tablecloth and make him wonder at this bounty!’
‘You speak rightly, old man,’ said the old woman. ‘This is a fine idea. Let us do as you say, and see then in what great regard the king shall hold us.’
So the old man invited the king to come to his house, along with his troops, in order that they might be his guests.
The king was astonished on hearing such an invitation, but lest he put the old man in a resentful mood, he readied himself and his army and went to visit the old man at his house.
When he got there the old man spread the tablecloth and invited the king to eat of whatever he fancied. (I wish you’d been there, somehow, to see the manner in which there arose from the tablecloth all sorts of viands and sweetmeats and delicacies and wondrous old vintages.) When the king had eaten his fill, and his troops had too, he asked the old man how he had come by this tablecloth, and the man didn’t want to give the truth away, and spouted all sorts of fibs: that he had found it one day in his vineyard as he had been turning the soil.
Then the king said to him, ‘Old man, you’ve no business with such a tablecloth. This should go to me, who has this large army to feed. You have no children, nor any dogs; there’s just the two of you boneheads, and you’ve no need of such a thing.’
And the king removed the tablecloth and carried it away, and didn’t even turn his head to heed the wails of the old man and the old woman.
The poor old man wept and wept and then, somehow, he found solace, took up his pitchfork and went out to toil in his vineyard as had been his wont of old.
As he was on his way, the sun and the moon appeared before him, having an altercation as usual, for they knew not which of them was superior.
Once again they asked the old man and he said to them, ‘The sun is worthy of the day, and the moon is worthy of the night.’
Then they brought out a sturdy wooden club, handed it to the old man and said to him, ‘Let it not come about that you should tell this club “Don’t you bash, club,” for then you’ll get to know about it.’
The old man took the club and once he’d reached half the way he wanted to get a measure of the might of the club and he said to it, ‘Don’t you bash, club.’
Directly the club started bashing him on his back and would almost have smashed his head. The poor old man fell to beseeching it, and it was all he could do to get the club to let him be.
Later on, when he arrived home, he got to thinking about how he could get back both the hen and the tablecloth with the prowess of the club.
So he went to visit the handyman who had filched his hen and said to him, ‘Let me have my hen back.’
‘Never knew you,’ said he, ‘never seen you.’
So the old man said to the club, ‘Club, don’t you bash him.’
At this the club started bashing the handyman,
and had him all black and blue with the beating. The handyman was truly frightened then and brought out the hen and handed it over. The old man took it and carried it back home and put it in the silver chicken coop.
Then he went to the king and said to him, ‘My king, enough is enough! You’ve held on to my tablecloth most unlawfully for ever so long. You have no right to it, so let me have it back now.’
The king said, ‘Get lost. Be gone with you at once or I shall give orders to my troops and they’ll come and slay you.’
Then the old man said to the club, ‘Club, don’t you bash the king.’
And the club began bashing the king ruthlessly and would have dispatched him. The king panicked and brought the tablecloth and handed it to the old man. On receiving it, the old man went back home and sat down happily with his old woman, and they ate and drank their fill nicely, and since then nobody could or did bother them again, and they’ve been living fine and dandy and we’ve been living better still.