A Story From: Sweden
Read Time: ["10 to 15mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
The Golden Goats ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids
In the long-ago days of the fairies, and in a land we now call Sweden, a fairy was riding a coach one day that was drawn by three golden goats. Each goat had a coat of lustrous golden fleece. Suddenly, the three goats broke away from the coach! Dashing, they ran into the fields.
Three farmhands - Jens, Mats and Ruben - were working in the fields when the golden goats galloped toward them. Much accustomed to runaway animals, the farmhands caught the three goats.
"What amazing goats!" said the farmhands, stroking the thick, lustrous golden fleece of the goats. "Whoever owns them will surely want them back."
Soon the fairy arrived She was glad indeed her goats had been safely caught. She said, "To thank you for catching them, you may keep my goats. That is, for as long as they stay with you. For as you saw, they are frisky. If they get away, they'll come home to be with my other goats. Then you will have a hard time telling which one is yours."
Jens, Mats, and Ruben could hardly believe their luck. By sheering the goats' luxurious golden fleece and selling it, they would become rich! As soon as the fairy disappeared into the woods, they quit their jobs and returned to their parent's homes. Mindful of the fairy's warning, Jens branded his goat with tar behind the left ear. Mats branded his with tar between the goat's horns, and Ruben branded his animal under the long chin whiskers.
Of course the three farmhands had to consider how to keep the prize animals from running away. Jens and Mats tied five ropes around the necks of their goats and hired workmen to hold each of the five ends all night while the goats slept, and during the day while the goats grazed in the pasture. Ruben, however, preferred to watch his goat himself.
As they expected, bundles of golden fleece sold for a high price indeed. Soon the young men were richer than their wildest dreams. They dressed in fine clothes and built palaces for themselves. They started to call themselves Lord Jens and Lord Mats.
Of course, Ruben built himself a palace just as the others had, and he lived and dressed well. Still, he clipped and cared for the goat himself, leading the animal with him wherever he went, petting and talking to him. Finally, the goat became so tame that he didn't need a leash anymore, and followed Ruben like a dog, coming when he whistled. Ruben was even allowed to ride on the goat's back, and they took long trips together.
One day, when Ruben sheared a large chunk of golden fleece, he thought it would be better yet if he could wind it into yarn and sell the ball of yarn at the marketplace. So he placed the fleece on the goat's horn, pulled it across his head and began to twist it. The goat watched the thread grow longer and longer. Suddenly the goat jerked his neck to tighten and stretch it. Ruben might as well have had another person helping him, so well did it go.
When the length of yarn was ready, Ruben wound the yarn on the goat's horn. And the goat moved his head from side to side, just as a person helping someone wind yarn would do. Soon Ruben had large balls of golden yarn, which brought a far better price than the golden fleece. Ruben became known far and wide for his wealth and his generosity in sharing his riches with the needy. Lord Jens and Lord Mats laughingly called him The Goatherd, since he still stooped to the common task of caring for the goat himself.
One morning, a terrible cry shattered the early morning hours. One of the stable boys had fallen asleep, and the goat belonging to Jens had escaped! Tearing his hair and running frantically around, Jens moaned the loss of his prize animal. Finally he slung a knapsack behind his back, set off to find the fairy, and after a long search he found her castle deep in the woods on a hilltop.
"Ah, welcome," said the fairy with a smile. "I thought you'd be here soon, since your goat rejoined us a while ago. Now as I said before, you're welcome to your goat if you can identify him. But if you cannot, things will not go well for you. Do you care to look at the stalls?"
"Of course," said Jens with confidence, remembering the tar he had carefully placed behind the left ear. Each goat was in a stall with walls and floors of marble, and he went from stall to stall, examining each golden goat in turn. Yet none had the mark behind the left ear.
"Oh I wouldn't look for any marks or brands," said the fairy, laughing. "All the goats bathe in my crystal clear stream, and all marks are instantly washed away."
Jens groaned. Golden goats looked exactly alike! Yet one of them must be his! He grabbed one that could have been his goat. Though it resisted, he pulled it away until it was bound to leave its stall. Then with a quick motion the goat broke away from Jens' grasp, and with its horns butted him so hard he was thrown out the door, where he rolled and rolled down the hill.
When Jens returned to the village, he found Mats in the same sorry state he had been in before. The workmen hired by Mats had been frightened by a bear rushing out of the woods and they, too, had dropped the ropes and had allowed the goat to escape.
"You'll never find your goat," grumbled Jens. He tried to tell Mats it was hopeless to find his goat from all the rest, but Mats would have none of that, remembering the brand he had put between the goat's horns. And Mats, too, slung a knapsack on his back and set out to find the fairy's castle.
When Mats arrived all the goats looked exactly the same to him. He, too, was butted out the door and rolled down the hill. He returned to the village with his head hung low.
Before you think that Ruben kept his goat without any problems, you should know that not long after that, a lightning storm struck and a flash of lightening frightened Ruben's goat, and it also ran away. Ruben set out to find his goat and came to the fairy's castle. When the fairy told him that all brands and marks disappeared when the goats bathed in the crystal clear stream, Ruben wasn't worried. "Surely my goat will recognize me," he thought.
But when he slowly passed each stall the fairy laughed and said, "Goats do not have long memories, I'm afraid." Ruben felt sad. None of the goats seemed to know him. Could it be that his goat had forgotten all the fine times they had shared together?
"Well, at least may I clip a lock from each goat?" he asked the fairy. "One of the locks will have to be from my goat, and I'll have that as a remembrance."
"Why not?" said the fairy, and Ruben clipped a small lock from each goat. To make the pile smaller and easier to carry, Ruben tied the fleece to a pump handle and began to twist the yarn into thread. He pulled and twisted, pulled and twisted, as he had done so many times before. One of the goats leaned forward, watching. Suddenly the animal stepped out of his stall, stuck both horns into the wood on the pump handle and began to jerk and pull, stretching the thread. Ruben looked up.
"My goat! My golden goat!" he cried in delight. And so Ruben and his goat were reunited. They returned to the village and lived happily ever after.
This folk tale from Sweden is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2005. All rights reserved.
A version of the story can also be found in The Diamond Bird by Anna Wahlenberg (Doubleday & Company Inc., New York 1969) pp. 111-119.