This section is from the book "Fairy Tales Of The Slav Peasants And Herdsmen", by Aleksander Borejko Chodzko, Emily J. Harding.. Also available from Amazon: Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen (Illustrated Edition).
NOW it once happened that one of the king's herdsmen had three sons. Two of these lads were supposed to be very sharp-witted, while the youngest was thought to be very stupid indeed. The elder sons helped their father to look after the flocks and herds, while the fool, so they called him, was good for nothing but sleeping and amusing himself.
He would pass whole days and nights slumbering peacefully on the stove, only getting off when forced to by others, or when he was too warm and wished to lie on the other side, or when, hungry and thirsty, he wanted food and drink.
His father had no love for him, and called him a ne'er-do-well. His brothers often tormented him by dragging him off the stove, and taking away his food - indeed, he would many a time have gone hungry if his mother had not been good to him and fed him on the quiet. She caressed him fondly, for why should he suffer, thought she, if he does happen to have been born a fool? Besides, who can understand the ways of God? It sometimes happens that the wisest men are not happy, while the foolish, when harmless and gentle, lead contented lives.
One day, on their return from the fields, the fool's two brothers dragged him off the stove, and taking him into the yard, where they gave him a sound thrashing, they turned him out of the house, saying, "Go, fool, and lose no time, for you shall have neither food nor lodging until you bring us a basket of mushrooms from the wood".
The poor lad was so taken by surprise he hardly understood what his brothers wanted him to do. After pondering for a while he made his way towards a small oak forest, where everything seemed to have a strange and marvellous appearance, so strange that he did not recognise the place. As he walked he came to a small dead tree-stump, on the top of which he placed his cap, saying, "Every tree here raises its head to the skies and wears a good cap of leaves, but you, my poor friend, are bare-headed; you will die of cold. You must be among your brothers, as I am among mine - a born fool. Take then my cap." And, throwing his arms round the dead stump, he wept and embraced it tenderly. At that moment an oak which stood near began to walk towards him as if it were alive. The poor fellow was frightened, and about to run away, but the oak spake like a human being and said, "Do not fly; stop a moment and listen to me. This withered tree is my son, and up to this time no one has grieved for his dead youth but me. You have now watered him with your tears, and in return for your sympathy you shall henceforward have anything you ask of me, on pronouncing these words:
"'O Oak Tree so green, and with acorns of gold, Your friendship to prove I will try ; In Heaven's good name now to beg I'll make bold, My needs, then, oh kindly supply.'"
At the same moment a shower of golden acorns fell. The fool filled his pockets, thanked the oak, and bowing to her returned home.
"Well, stupid, where are the mushrooms?" cried one of his brothers.
" I have some mushrooms off the oak in my pockets".
"Eat them yourself then, for you will get nothing else, you good-for-nothing. What have you done with your cap?"
"I put it on a poor stump of a tree that stood by the wayside, for its head was uncovered, and I was afraid it might freeze".
He then scrambled on to the top of the stove, and as he lay down some of the golden acorns fell out of his pocket.
So bright were they, they shone like sunbeams in the room.
In spite of the fool's entreaties the brothers picked them up and gave them to their father, who hastened to present them to the king, telling him that his idiot son had gathered them in the wood. The king immediately sent a detachment of his guards to the forest to find the oak which bore golden acorns. But their efforts were fruitless, for, though they hunted in every nook and corner of the forest, they found not a single oak that bore acorns of gold.
At first the king was very angry, but when he grew calmer he sent for his herdsman and said to him, "Tell your son, the fool, that he must bring me, by this evening, a cask filled to the brim with these precious golden acorns. If he obeys my commands you shall never lack bread and salt, and you may rest assured that my royal favour will not fail you in time of need".
The herdsman gave his youngest son the king's message.
"The king, I see," he replied, "is fond of a good bargain; he does not ask, he commands - and insists upon a fool fetching him acorns of solid gold in return for promises made of air. No, I shall not go".
And neither prayers nor threats were of the slightest avail to make him change his mind. At last his brothers pulled him forcibly off the stove, put his coat on him and a new cap, and dragged him into the yard, where they gave him a good beating and drove him away, saying, "Now, you stupid, lose no time; be off, and be quick. If you return without the golden acorns you shall have neither supper nor bed".
What was the poor fellow to do? For a long time he wept, then crossing himself he went in the direction of the forest. He soon reached the dead stump, upon which his cap still rested, and going up to the mother oak, said to her:
"O Oak Tree so green, and with acorns of gold, In my helplessness I to thee cry ; In Heaven's great name now to beg I make bold, My pressing needs pray satisfy".
The oak moved, and shook its branches: but instead of golden acorns, a tablecloth fell into the fool's hands. And the tree said, "Keep this cloth always in your possession, and for your own use. When you want a benefit by it, you need only say:
" 'O Tablecloth, who for the poor,
The hungry, and thirsty, makes cheer, May he who begs from door to door Feed off you without stint or fear.'"