A folktale from Karelia, retold by Rohini Chowdhury
Long ago, there lived two brothers. The older brother was rich and successful, but mean and arrogant. The younger brother was very poor, but kind and generous.
One day the poor brother and his wife found that they had nothing to eat in their house. They had no money either, and nothing that they could sell. To make matters worse, the next day was a holiday, a day of celebration.
‘Where are we going to get something to eat? Tomorrow is a holiday. How will we celebrate?’ asked the poor brother’s wife in tears.
The poor brother was in a fix. He did not know what to do.
‘Go to your brother and ask for his help,’ suggested the poor man’s wife. ‘He killed a cow yesterday – I saw him. Surely he will not grudge us a little meat for the holiday?’
The poor man sighed. He did not like to ask his brother for help, for he knew how mean and selfish his brother was. But the next day was a holiday, and he really could not think how else to get something to eat.
So the poor man put on his ragged cloak and walked to his rich brother’s house.
‘What do you want?’ asked the rich brother as soon as he saw the poor man.
‘Why do you come here?’ cried the rich man’s wife. ‘Tomorrow is a holiday, and we are busy preparing the feast. Go away, we have no time for you!’
‘Brother,’ said the poor man, ‘We have nothing to eat in the house, no food to celebrate the holiday. Lend me a little meat, so that I and my wife may also celebrate.’
‘I knew it!’ shrieked the rich man’s wife at her husband. ‘I knew your brother would come begging one day. Throw him out!’
The poor man ignored his brother’s wife. ‘Please, brother,’ he said, looking at the rich man.
‘Oh very well,’ grumbled the rich man. ‘Take this – and go to Hiysi!’ And he threw a cow’s hoof at the poor man.
The poor man thanked his brother, and wrapping the cow’s hoof in his tattered cloak began walking back to his house. As he walked he thought, ‘My brother did not give me the cow’s hoof. He has told me to take it to Hiysi. So this piece of meat is not mine to eat, but Hiysi’s. I must take it to Hiysi.’
Hiysi the Wood-Goblin lived deep in the forest. So the poor man turned around and started walking towards the forest. The forest was dark and gloomy, but the poor man was determined to deliver the cow’s hoof to Hiysi. So he walked and he walked through the trees.
After a while he met some woodcutters.
‘Where are you going, so deep in the forest?’ asked the woodcutters.
‘To Hiysi the Wood-Goblin’s,’ replied the poor man. ‘I have this cow’s hoof for him. Can you tell me how to find his hut?’
‘Keep walking straight ahead,’ said the woodcutters. ‘Turn neither left nor right, and soon you will be at Hiysi’s hut. But listen carefully. Hiysi loves meat. He will offer you silver and gold and precious stones in gratitude. Don’t accept any of those. Ask instead for his millstone. If he tries to offer you something else, refuse. Ask only for his millstone.’
The poor man thanked the woodcutters, and walked on. Very soon he saw a hut. He went inside, and there sat Hiysi, the Wood-Goblin himself.
‘Why have you come here?’ asked Hiysi.
‘I have brought you a gift,’ said the poor man. ‘A cow’s hoof.’ And he held out the piece of meat to Hiysi.
‘Meat!’ cried Hiysi in delight. ‘Quick, give it to me! I haven’t eaten meat for thirty years!’ Hiysi grabbed the hoof and ate it.
‘Now I shall give you a gift in return,’ said the Wood-Goblin. ‘Here, take some silver,’ he said, pulling out a handful of silver coins.
‘No, I don’t want any silver,’ said the poor man.
‘Gold, then?’ offered Hiysi, pulling out two handfuls of gold coins.
‘No. I don’t want gold either,’ said the poor man.
‘How about some precious stones?’ asked Hiysi. ‘Diamonds, rubies, sapphires?’
‘No, thank you, I don’t want any of those either,’ said the poor man.
‘Well, what do you want then?’ asked Hiysi.
‘I want your millstone,’ replied the poor man.
‘My millstone!’ exclaimed Hiysi. ‘No, you can’t have that. But I can give you anything else you like.’
‘That’s very kind of you,’ said the poor man, ‘but I only want your millstone.’
Hiysi did not know what to do. He had eaten the cow’s hoof, and could not let the poor man go without a gift in return.
‘Oh well,’ he said at last. ‘I suppose I must let you have my millstone. Take it. But do you know how to use it?’
‘No,’ said the poor man. ‘Tell me.’
‘Well,’ explained Hiysi, ‘this is a magic millstone. It will give you whatever you wish for. Just make your wish and say Grind, my millstone! When you have enough and want the millstone to stop, just say Enough and have done! And it will stop. Now go!’
The poor man thanked Hiysi, and wrapping the magic millstone in his tattered cloak, began walking back towards his home.
He walked and he walked and he walked, and at last reached his home. His wife was weeping, having given him up for dead. ‘Where have you been?’ she cried. ‘I thought I’d never see you again!’
The poor man told his wife the tale of his adventures. Then, setting the magic millstone on to the table, he said, ‘Grind, my millstone! Give us a feast fit for a king.’
The millstone began to grind, and there on the table poured the most wonderful dishes ever. The poor man and his wife ate and ate till they could eat no more.
‘Enough and have done!’ commanded the poor man, and the millstone stopped grinding.
The next day the poor man and his wife celebrated the holiday happily. There was enough to eat, and new clothes to wear. From then on they never lacked for anything. The millstone gave them a fine new house, green fields full of crops, horses and cattle, and enough food to eat and clothes to wear. Soon they had so much that they did not really need to use the millstone any more.
The rich brother heard of the poor man’s change of fortune. ‘How could my brother have become rich so suddenly?’ he wondered. ‘I must find out.’ So the rich brother went to the poor brother’s house.
‘How have you become rich so quickly?’ he asked.
The poor brother told him everything – about Hiysi and his gift of the magic millstones. ‘I must get that millstone for myself,’ thought the rich brother. ‘Show me the millstone,’ he demanded.
The poor brother, not suspecting his brother of any wickedness, did so. He put the millstone on the table and said, ‘Grind, my millstone! Give us good things to eat.’ At once the millstone began turning and out poured the most delicious pies and cakes and breads on the table.
The rich brother could not believe his eyes. ‘Sell me your millstone!’ he begged of the poor brother.
‘No,’ said the poor man. ‘The millstone is not for sale.’
‘Well then, lend it to me for a bit,’ said the rich brother. ‘After all, it was I who gave you the cow’s hoof to carry to Hiysi!’
The poor brother thought for a bit. What harm could there be in letting his brother have the millstone for a while?
‘Very well, you may borrow it for a day,’ said the poor man.
The rich brother was delighted. He grabbed the millstone and ran off with it, without asking how to make it stop. He put the millstone into a boat, and rowed out to sea with it, where the fishermen were hauling in their catch of fish.
‘The fishermen are salting the fish right now,’ he thought. ‘They will pay well for fine salt.’ He was far out to sea by now, far away from any land. There was no one to hear him as he said ‘Grind, my millstone! Give me salt, as much as you can!’
The millstone began to turn and out poured the finest, whitest salt imaginable. Soon the boat was full. The rich man decided to stop the millstone. But he did not know how. ‘Stop, my millstone!’ he cried. ‘Stop grinding. I don’t want any more salt.’ But the millstone kept turning, pouring out the finest whitest salt.
The rich man begged and pleaded with the millstone to stop. But he did not know the magic words. So the millstone kept turning and pouring out salt and more salt. The rich brother tried to throw the millstone overboard, but he couldn’t lift it. The boat was now so full of salt that it began sinking.
‘Help!’ cried the rich man. But there was no one there to hear him.
The millstone kept turning, pouring out salt, and the boat kept sinking till it sank to the bottom of the sea with the rich man and the millstone.
The rich man drowned for his greed.
But the magic millstone kept turning, even at the bottom of the sea, pouring out the finest whitest salt. It is turning there to this very day, making more and more salt.
And that, believe it or not, is why the sea is salt.