Once upon a time there lived a poor man who was surpassingly tall. He was a kind, gentle man, but very lonely. The people who lived nearby whispered that his height was unnatural, that perhaps he even carried some fae blood, and so they shunned him. But it was better for him when they did, for whenever ill fortune plagued the village it happened that the folk thereabout cast around for somewhere to place the blame. Oftentimes they fixed their eyes upon him, cursing him for a giant, and the bolder ones threw stones at him.
So it was that he spent most of his days alone. He would be either in the woods, chopping down trees, or else in his home, carving the wood he had gathered. He made tables and chairs, bowls and plates, carved boxes and trinkets, and all manner of things as he might sell to earn his meagre living.
The carpenter had no friend nor companion in the world save for a goose, whom he called Goldie. But in time she began to grow old, and laid her eggs less often. It was much to his sorrow that he realised the day would soon come when he would dine upon roast goose rather than eggs for his supper.
Now it came to pass that a child was born to a neighbour of his with a light covering of fur upon its skin, and so it had perforce been killed for a changeling. Although he wished he could offer comfort and share in the sorrow and grief of his neighbours, the carpenter did not wish to be seen by any that day, lest the baseless accusations began once more. So it was that he took up his axe and ventured further into the woods than usual that day. He came across a fine cherry tree, but as he raised his axe to chop it down, he heard a voice:
“Kind giant, don’t cut down this tree
I’m fond of it, so let it be.
Kind giant, put your axe away
And live to see another day.”
Looking up, he saw a fae, no bigger than a child barely weaned, sitting on a branch and swinging her legs as she peered down at him through the leaves. Now, of course he knew to be wary of the fae, but he answered politely. “No need to fear nor threaten me, little mistress. There are trees a-plenty, I can choose another easily enough.”
The little fae smiled in delight, and slid down the tree quick as a cat.
“Kindness is easy, not a chore,
For such a one as you, I’m sure
For my kind, this is not so true
Yet still, I may be kind to you.”
With these words, the fae girl bent to kindle a fire, and produced a cauldron. Now, of course, he knew to be wary of the fae, but she spoke so kindly to him, and he was so lonely and hungry for kind words, whomsoever they should come from, that he stayed and watched as she began her alchemy.
When the fire was hot, she took three beans from her pocket and dropped them carefully into the cauldron. Then, quick as a cat, she reached out toward him. He tensed as she stroked his hair, but did not flinch away. Then she pinched, grasping something from behind his ear, and dropped it into the pot. Next, her hand darted into the sky and seized a fly in mid flight. She smiled softly, and took his hand. He gasped as her fingernail pierced his skin, then heard her say:
“A flea, a fly, and from your thumb
Three drops of blood, and it will come
To pass three wishes will come true
A little gift, from me to you.”
That day when the carpenter left the forest, he carried with him the three beans tucked safely in his pocket, and the fae’s instructions ringing in his ears. If he ate one of the beans before he went to bed, the first thing he wished for when he awoke would surely be his.
He did not eat of the beans that evening, for he knew to be wary of the fae, and that it was more likely to be bad luck they brought him than good. Yet he put the beans safely away in a small hidden drawer, thinking to himself that he would most likely never use them, but there was no harm in keeping them, just in case.
The next day he went into the village to trade for food, for Goldie had not laid an egg for many days and he was sorely hungry. When he reached the market place, he saw a girl he had never seen before selling sweetmeats. She was as pretty as a summer day is long, and several of the young men of the village were crowded around her, jostling for her attention. The carpenter longed to join them, but as he looked, one of them glanced his way with disdain, and then spoke earnestly to the girl. In a loud voice, he warned her not to sell to the ugly giant, for he was surely tainted with fae blood. At these words she turned to look up at the carpenter, smiled at him, and addressed him kindly. “My brother was born with a birthmark on his cheek. Such unkind untruths were whispered about him, also. You are welcome to buy from me.” Well, of course, he was smitten then and there, and from that day on, he found himself craving sweetmeats more and more often, and making other excuses to visit her.
In time he discovered that she was excessively fond of music, and, in the hopes of winning her affection, decided to carve her an instrument of her own as a gift. Now it so happens that the best wood from which to make a harp is cherry-wood, so the carpenter went into the forest, and found that selfsame tree in which the fae had been sitting. Much to his relief there was no one in the tree that day, and so he chopped it down without interruption and took the wood home.
After many weeks of shaping and sanding the wood to perfection, and attaching the sheep gut just so for the strings, the harp was completed. But as he walked into the village, trying to pluck up the courage to tell the girl about the gift, he overheard two women gossiping at the well. What they had to say stole the sunshine from the bright spring day and caused him to turn upon his heel and return home at once. The girl he loved was betrothed to another, a rich man from the next village. His hopes were brushed aside as casually and abruptly as a spider web on cleaning day. He wept bitterly, sitting in the room where he had sent so many hours polishing her harp until it shone. And, although he was a kind man, well, none of us are without our faults, and his sorrow turned to anger, and his thoughts turned from despair to revenge. At first he was of a mind to destroy the harp in his rage, but could not bring himself to do so, for it was, he knew, the finest work he would ever do.
Instead he took one of the beans out of the hidden drawer, and in his fury, he swallowed it then went to his bed, determined to wish all manner of harms upon his rival when he awoke.
Next morning, however, his first thought was not of the rich man, but of the girl he loved. “Ah!” he sighed, “How I wish she wanted to marry me instead of him.”
The next month the rich man and the girl were wed, and it was a most lavish wedding that they had. The carpenter watched the procession from a distance with sad eyes, never saying a word. But anger burned hotly in his heart, at both his rival and the fae, who, as he thought, had cheated him.
When the carpenter returned home he found, to his astonishment, that very fae perched upon the harp, striking discordant notes as she swung her legs carelessly.
“Get gone from my home, sidhe.” he snarled at her. “Your promises are lies, and you are not welcome here.”
“You think me false, you think I lied?
Your wish came true, for this day’s bride
Married for wealth, such a disaster!
Since the one she does love never asked her.”
She smiled, baring tiny pointed fangs, and announced aloofly:
“As for your welcome, I don’t require it.
I shall remain, if I desire it.”
As there was nought he could do to shift her, at length he gave in, and left her sitting on the harp which he had crafted from her tree, giggling wildly as if his discomfort was rich entertainment for her.
That night, the carpenter dreamt that his lady love came to him, and he held her as she wept, telling him that her new husband was a drunkard who beat her, and how unhappy she was. And as he clasped her to him, he swore to free her. When he awoke both that promise and the sweet taste of her kisses were still on his lips. And to be sure it was not many days before he fulfilled his vow. The new bride was a widow possessed of a great fortune and no husband. The carpenter was careful not to be seen in her company too soon, for well he knew how tongues wagged, and if others sought to blame him when he had naught to do with ill fate. How much more could he expect their tongues to wag now that he was truly guilty?
And yet they did not. All believed that the rich man had simply stumbled into the forest, and chanced to have been set upon by fae. The small teeth marks coating his body, and the frozen expression of terror on what was left of his face were proof enough of that. No one suspected that the carpenter had calmly watched it happen, leaning upon the harp which he had brought into a spot in the woods near the rich man’s house. No one guessed that the carpenter had called out to the rich man as he passed, and tempted him into the woods with the offer of a fine bottle of wine, and left the rest to the hungry fae who now lived on the harp.
Now, while the carpenter was waiting for a respectable period to pass before pursuing his suit, the widow was becoming well accustomed to her new found riches. She bought fine wines and beautiful clothes, and enjoyed herself immensely. So it was that by the time the carpenter began to woo her, her money had all but gone. The last of it she spent on a fabulous gown and elaborate foods for her second wedding, and the pair of them lived happily afterwards, for a short while.
But the carpenter’s wife was not well pleased to find they lacked the coin to buy new clothes and fine foods, and soon she grew bored of plain bread and the occasional egg, which was all they could afford. So one day she said to her husband. “Surely we shall have to slaughter your goose for meat, if we cannot find some way to make gold from the few eggs she has left.” At this, he bethought himself of the magic beans. He had used but one in all this time, and he felt himself to be a wise and cautious man, to hold off on his wishes so carefully. So that night, he secretly ate a second bean. When he awoke next morning, he said at once, much to his wife’s astonishment “I wish that Goldie laid an egg each day worth its weight in gold!”
At this, a great clucking and hissing came from the place where Goldie nested, and they both ran to find her sitting proudly upon an egg, glistening and gleaming in the morning sunlight. And great indeed was the wife’s surprise to find the egg was made of solid gold. So her husband confessed to her that he had three wishes given him by the fae, and this was but the second of them. And, though she was mightily pleased with the thought of gold each day, it was not a little put out she was that he had not wished for more. In truth, he had thought long and hard about this wish, and had seen the wisdom of asking for some gold each day, instead of a vast fortune that might be spent all at once. For though he loved her dearly, he was not blind to his wife’s faults. He had also fashioned his wish in such a way as to save Goldie from the cooking pot, for he had much affection for his old friend and companion. He further had the foresight not to share with his wife that the wishes came from the magic beans, for he greatly feared she would be tempted to use his last wish for herself if she knew the way of it.
For a time, they were prosperous and happy, but then a famine struck the land, and before long no one had food to spare, no, not even for such gold as the carpenter and his wife could offer. And hunger made them quarrelsome, and in one such quarrel, the wife exclaimed that she did not know why she ever loved him, useless beanstalk of a giant as he was, perhaps it was all the spell of that fae, and no true love at all. At which he snapped back that if it had not been for her greed, they would at least have eggs to eat, and Goldie was a deal more use than a flighty wife such as she. Well, after the hard words had been said and doors slammed, the tears came, followed by the apologies and the forgiveness. But both were downhearted. For what use were a hundred golden eggs if they could not be exchanged for food? In the end, they agreed that they should at least have one more fine meal, before they starved to death altogether. So they killed Goldie, and the wife put her in the pot and stewed her while the carpenter set out to scavenge for whatever food he might yet find.
While he was out, the wife searched the house for some crumb or scrap of food that might remain. She happened to spot a small drawer she had never noticed before, and opening it, found within nothing but a solitary bean. This she added to the stew. Thinking nothing of it, she made no mention of this to her husband.
They ate well that night, and although the carpenter was glum at the loss of Goldie, he was right glad to have a full belly again. They went to bed together, and slept peacefully the whole night through, both dreaming of feasts such as they had had before the famine.
Next morning, when they awoke, the carpenter said to his wife. “How I wish that I had a great feast to eat, right here in the bed with me!” And his wife agreed, saying “Yes, that is my fondest wish also.”
At this, the music of a harp drifted in to them, and the carpenter heard the mocking laughter of the fae.
“A feast is what you’ll have to eat
In your bed is lots of meat
Just take a bite, and eat your fill
For if you don’t, she surely will.”
And she played on, serenely, on her cherry-wood harp, as the carpenter and his wife ate each other all up.