The Peasant and the Flax – a folktale

Long long ago, way up in the mourntains, a peasant family eeked out a meagre existance, they had a small house and a few sheep which the man would follow all over the mountain while foraging for any fruits, seeds or edible herbs he could find.  He carried with him a small hunting bow and a few arrows, on a good day he would return home with a rabbit or a small deer and the family would feast, on a bad day they would share what little they had without complaining even though their bellies would rumble.

One day while he was out foraging he shot one of his arrows at a beautiful golden doe, the arrow sank into her flank and startled she darted away and quickly disappeared from view.  The peasant knew she wouldn’t be able to run far with such an injury so he chased after her following her higher up the mountain and past the snow line.

He thought he knew the mountain better than anyone, but as he climbed higher following the splatter of blood he was surprised to see a cave entrance he had never noticed before.  It was almost hidden behind a large boulder and was shaped like a doorway, even stranger there was a large wooden door set back in the stone.

The peasant couldn’t resist looking closer and pushed on the door, it swung slowly open revealing a passageway leading into the mountain.  Cautiously he stepped inside and followed the passage which soon opened into a huge cave hung with stalactites, light filtered through many small crevices revealing mounds of jewels and precious stones which sparkled in the light dazzling him after the dark passageway.  He blinked and rubbed his eyes and when he looked again he saw that he was not alone, stepping into the centre of the cave came the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, her hair shone like polished silver, her skin was the colour of warm cream and her eyes sparkled periwinkle blue.  She wore a dress that appeared to be made of liquid metal and carried a posy of flowers the exact same colour blue as her eyes.  Behind her was a giggling host of lovely maidens dressed in flowing gowns all the colours of the rainbow, each wore a crown of Alpine roses.

The peasant knew he was in the presence of a goddess and sank to the ground in a deep bow.  Holda, for it was she, stepped forward and lifted his head with her hand, “Welcome traveller” she said as she greeted him.  She talked to him for many hours about his life and everything that was happening in the world.  The peasant answered all of her questions respectfully calling her “My Queen” or “My Lady”. Before he knew it the light was changing as night approached.

Knowing it was time for him to head home, Holda bade him to choose anything he saw to carry away with him as a gift. The peasant looked around at all the gold and jewels but his eyes kept coming back to the posy of blue flowers and eventually he asked if he might have those so he would always be reminded of the goddess.

Holda smiled and told him he had chosen wisely.  She gave him the flowers and a handful of seed so that he might plant more in the fields by his home.  She told him the posy would not droop or fade so long as he lived and bade him hurry home.

As he left the cave a sudden flash of lightning crashed overhead followed by a peal of thunder so loud it made the ground shake, looking behind him the entrance was gone and as the rain began to pelt down all around him he quickly rounded up the sheep and hurried home to his wife and children.

Over a dinner of thin soup and stale bread he told his family about his adventure and showed them the lovely blue flowers and the seed.  His wife told him he was a fool for not choosing one of the precious jewels which they could have sold and became rich, but the man just smiled and said he was happy with his prize.

The next day he set out and began to sow the seeds, it was just a handful and yet somehow he was able to cover several acres before the seed ran out. Every day he tended the fields before going off to forage with the sheep, he was the first to spot the little green shoots when they began to appear, and he wondered what grain would be produced. He began each day on the field and ended each night in the field, no crop had ever been so carefully tended.

Occasionally he would see the early morning mist curl up into the shape of the goddess and drift over the field with her hands outstretched in blessing, each time he kneeled respectfully and watched her pass.  After several months the plants began to blossom and little blue flowers opened up to the golden sun, by this time his wife had come to admire the plants too and she was with him the morning after the first flowers withered and the petals dropped to the ground.  That day Holda came to them through the fields of blue and taught them the secrets of the flax plant they had grown, how to harvest the seed for the next year’s crop, how to gather the plant stems, how to soak and strip them to get to the fine fibres buried within, how to spin the fibres and weave them into linen.  The fabric they produced was strong and fine and people flocked to buy the fabric and the flax-seed.

The peasant and his wife soon grew very rich indeed, employing teams of men and women to plough, sow, harvest, spin, weave, dye and bleach.  Their lives were comfortable and never again were their bellies empty.

The man lived to be ninety nine years old, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all living happy, healthy lives thanks to the flax the goddess had given them. For all of his days the posy of flowers sat in a jar on his table as fresh and beautiful as the day he brought it home. But all things must end, and eventually the day came when he woke to find one of the petals had fallen and he knew that at last the flowers were dying.

Remembering what the goddess had said he knew that his days were almost done.  He kissed his children and his children’s children goodbye and set off to climb the mountain one last time, determined to search until he found the entrance once more. I cannot tell you for sure whether he found the doorway and was able to return to the cave and the care of goddess, but he was never seen again.

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