There was a talented huntsman who lived at the edge of the village near the forest. He married his first and only love and made a modest wage from his trade. He was well respected by the villagers and his hunting skills were recognized far and wide.
A local farmer was having difficulty with a fox that kept poaching his chickens, so he employed the services of the huntsman. The farmer said, “Sir, I understand you’re the best, but no one in these parts has ever managed to catch a fox as cunning as this. I doubt you will, either, but if you’re successful, I will pay you generously from my savings.”
The huntsman was offended that the farmer would question his abilities. Confident that he could outsmart the fox, he built an ingenious trap and went about his business. The following day, the huntsman found that the fox had fallen into the trap, but instead of baring its teeth or howling in distress, it engaged him in conversation.
“I can see that you are clever for a man,” said the fox. “Set me free and I will reward you handsomely.”
“A reward? What kind of reward can a fox offer me?” asked the huntsman.
“I will grant you unlimited fortune, unlimited power or unlimited fame, but only if you choose to release me.”
“You think me so dumb! I choose fortune, but you must first prove that you have the ability to grant such a wish before I decide your fate.”
“Fair enough. Down by the brook, a stone’s throw from here, there is an old oak tree surrounded by blue morning glories. Inside its hollow, you will find a jewelry box full of precious diamonds, emeralds and rubies. After you retrieve it, return back here.”
The huntsman did as the fox instructed. After finding the tree, he reached into the hollow and pulled out the jewelry box. As was promised, there inside were two handfuls of priceless gems. Excited by his new fortune, the huntsman ran back to the fox and released it from the trap. The two parted ways, and the huntsman went home to tell his wife.
The huntsman’s wife was unconvinced by her husband’s story and scolded him severely. She concluded the gems must be fake, an obvious trick by a conniving forest creature. “Why didn’t you return with the fox pelt? It would have brought a hefty price at market, alongside the wages the farmer would have paid,” she said.
While in town the next day she was quick to disparage her husband and told all who would listen of their supposed unlimited fortune.
After winning the village lottery, gaining an inheritance and discovering a pot of gold, the huntsman’s wife no longer questioned her husband. Unfortunately, because of her public belittling, the villagers also knew of the fortune. Seeing as how it would replenish itself, they took to stealing much and often from the huntsman.
It was impossible for the huntsman to defend his vast wealth, and all that he continued to acquire was secretly distributed among villagers not long after. When months had passed, the worth of the entire village had grown to such a measure that gold and jewels lost their value. No longer in scarce supply, they became worthless trinkets.
“Look what misery your fortune has brought us!” said the huntsman’s wife. “The more we acquire, the more is stolen from us. What good is gold or jewels if they hold no value? If only you had chosen unlimited power, we could demand that the people give back what they’ve stolen.”
The huntsman’s wife continued to disparage him among the villagers, besmirching his good name.
Disillusioned by his circumstances, the huntsman decided that obtaining unlimited power was the only way to fix the situation. He resolved to capture the fox by building a new trap, just as ingenious as the first. When morning arrived, the huntsman checked the trap, delighted to see that the fox was ensnared.
“You are the most cunning of men I’ve ever come across,” the fox said. “You can see that my word is true, so choose unlimited fame or unlimited power, if you must, and let me go free.”
“Power! I choose power, so that I can rule over the villagers, and force them to return my fortune,” the huntsman said. He released the fox back into the forest, returning home to tell his wife of what had transpired.
A small army of mercenaries was waiting outside the huntsman’s house. One of the mercenaries informed the huntsman that they had no leader, and upon hearing of his cleverness with the fox, they determined he would make as fine a leader as any. The huntsman agreed without thinking. He commanded that they take back all that was stolen, and in turn they could keep half for themselves.
After doing what was instructed, the mercenaries began to terrorize the villagers, demanding that they pay protection dues and provide food and lodging. Many residents decided to leave and seek out residency in neighboring villages, but those who decided to stay were angry and bitter. The huntsman’s wife, who previously had many friends, now had none.
Furthermore, rumors were spread about the huntsman’s wife, laughter and snide remarks being directed at her whenever she walked through the village streets. The mercenaries did nothing since they were under the power of the huntsman, and not his wife. One day, after an especially vicious rumor was spread regarding an infidelity, the huntsman’s wife berated him.
“What good is power if everyone hates you! The people will either choose to move away, or they will spread lies at every turn,” she said. “If only you would ask the fox for unlimited fame, my good name would be returned to me. Go and fix this!”
Completely dejected and downcast, the huntsman left immediately to catch the fox. Wearisome, he built the same exact trap as the last, but when morning arrived the fox was still free. The animal was sitting content after feasting on the bait and after having a good night’s rest.
“Never will I fall for the same trap twice,” said the fox. “You’ve gotten lazy.”
“What can I do? I was not fit to handle fortune or power, and so it must be fame that will make this right,” said the huntsman.
“Out of the goodness of my heart I will provide you with the fame you desire.”
“Whatever the cost, I agree to it.”
“There is a bridge that crosses over the brook where the current is unpredictable. Go to the bridge, toss in a single gold coin, and make your way into town. Wait there for me, and I will send a message when your troubles are over.”
The huntsman did as was instructed. While he was in town the fox went to discuss the matter with the huntsman’s wife. When she saw the fox, she grew angry, thinking that the cause of all their troubles was entirely by its doing.
“I should bash your head against the rocks!” she screamed.
“My dear, I’m so sorry for all of the trouble I caused. To make it right, I have decided to grant you the fame you seek. Down by the brook at the edge of the forest, there is a bridge. If you peek over the side, you will see the reflection of a single gold coin. The coin is magic — all who possess it will be granted as many wishes as their heart desires.”
“I’m going to retrieve that coin,” she said. “And when I do my first wish will be that you were never born. Only then will I wish for fame.”
The huntsman’s wife went to the bridge, and upon seeing the coin, waded out from the shoreline toward it. As was common at that time of day, the water current picked up to a perilous speed, sweeping her off her feet. Unable to keep her balance, she fell beneath the surface and drowned, washing up downstream.
The fox returned to the huntsman and informed him that he would be troubled no more. Unlimited fame would soon be within his grasp. The huntsman went home to share the good news with his wife. Seeing she was not there, he left in search of her throughout the forest, eventually coming upon her body by the brook.
Knowing that the villagers were accustomed to hearing her complaints against him, he firmly believed they would think him a murderer. With no way to discredit the accusations, he tied a noose to a nearby tree and hung himself. To this day there is a monument by the bridge over the brook that the villagers have resurrected as a warning to others. On it is inscribed these words:
Dedicated to the huntsman. His fortune and power were fleeting, but his fame lives on forever in the words of this monument. Once clever as a fox, his discontentment made him dumb as an ox.
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This put a smile on my face—reminded of my grandmother’s tales form her village.
A fine story, Brian. And voiceover.