Once upon a time a stranger rode his horse down a country road on his way home from a long journey. It was late afternoon and the man was tired and hungry. Ahead he saw a small village. “I’ll get some food and a bed for the night there” he thought.
Suddenly the horse tripped, throwing the man to the ground. As he brushed himself off, he saw that the horse had stumbled over a rock sticking out of the ground in the middle of the road. H walked over to it and dug it out of the earth so that it would not trip anyone else. It was a splendid rock, almost perfectly round and smooth. The stranger liked the rock, so rather than throw it away; he put it in his saddlebag, climbed up on to his horse and continued into the village.
As he rode past the first house the village folk stopped their work to stare. He waved to several of them, but no one waved back. He got off his horse and approached a woman standing in front of a small house. “Good evening” he said cheerfully, “could you spare a bit of food for a hungry man?”
The woman began shaking her head almost before he had finished his sentence. “We have had a poor harvest here. We are very worried that there is barely enough food for our family. I am sorry.” And she walked into her house and shut the door.
The man continued to the next house where a farmer was working on his wagon.
“Do you have a place at your table for a hungry traveller?” he asked.
“It didn’t rain during the last month before harvest” the farmer said. “What little we have is needed for our children.”
At very home the man heard the same sad story: the harvest had been poor, there was not enough food to make it through winter. Everyone was very worried about themselves and their immediate family.
Completely discouraged and very hungry, the man sat down under a tree in the village square. “Poor people” he thought, “in a few weeks they will be as hungry as I am.” Suddenly an idea hit him. He reached into his saddlebag, took out the stone and addressed the villagers. “Gentle folk of the village” he shouted. “Your worries over! I have in my hand a special stone that will help take you through the long winter. This is a magic stone. With it you can make stone soup.”
“Stone soup?” an old man repeated. “I have never heard of stone soup.”
“The wonder of stone soup,” the stranger continued, “is that it not only feeds the hungry people, it also brings people together. Now who has a large empty pot?”
Quickly a huge iron pot was found, and delivered to the stranger in a wheelbarrow. “The kettle is barely large enough, but it will do,” the stranger said. “Now we must fill the pot with water and start a fire!”
Eager hands carried buckets of water and firewood. Soon the pot was placed over a roaring fire. As the water began to boil the stranger dramatically raised the magic stone above his head, then he gently placed it in the pot.
“Stone soup needs salt and pepper,” the stranger announced. Two children ran to find salt and pepper. After the water had boiled for a few minutes the stranger sipped the brew. “This stone makes an excellent soup, but it would be better if we had a few carrots.
“We have a few carrots that we are willing to share,” a farmer replied. Immediately his daughter ran home and returned with an apron full of carrots.
“It’s too bad the harvest was so bad,” said the stranger. “Stone soup is always much more tasty when we add a cabbage or two.”
“I think I know where to find a cabbage,” a young mother shouted as she dashed towards her house. When she returned she was carrying two large cabbages.
The stranger was busy slicing carrots and cabbages with his hunting knife. “The last time I mad stone soup was at the castle of a rich man. He added a few potatoes and a bit of beef.”
Several people talked quietly. “A bit of beef and we can eat like rich people,” they whispered. They went home some returned not only with beef and potatoes, but some brought milk, onions and barley too.
By the time the soup was ready it was almost dark. It was the most delicious soup they had ever smelled and to think it all came from a magic stone. The stranger finally declared it was done and invited everyone to have as much as they could eat. After everyone had eaten their fill, some folk brought out their fiddles. Everyone began to sing and dance – and they continued till the wee hours of the morning. Never had the village had such a wonderful party.
The next morning the village gathered to say goodbye to the stranger.
As he mounted his horse a small child called out “You forgot to take your magic stone!”
The stranger smiled. “I am going to leave the stone with you as a gift of gratitude for your hospitality,” he said. “Remember as long as you make stone soup you will never have to worry about being hungry.”
© Gwion chan Beithe