A tired ox pulled the dilapidated wagon slowly along. From the wheels to the bulging walls the wagon threatened to break under the weight of pans, pots, furniture, furnishings, toys, tools, carpets, crates, chests, cages, jewelry, and junk piled high or hung on it. Who knows what else lay inside! No doubt if the side door of the carriage were opened then the contents would rush out.
Old Kaspov, the peddler, held the reins of the ox and hawked his wares as he drove.
"Chairs! Chairs, for sell or to mend!Three dirty boys ran up to the side of the wagon and waved their arms frantically. "Halt!" they cried, "Halt! We wish to buy something."
Purchase a plow! to lease or lend!
Fishing hooks, meat hooks, flesh hooks, shepherd crooks
Bottles, bags, boxes, bins, blankets and books
Trinkets, charms, charts, maps, spells
and shoes and shirts made by elves."
Old Kaspov smiled and pulled back on the reins. The ox immediately turned to the side and began chomping at the weeds on the edge of the road.
"Buy something you say?" grinned Kaspov. "Have you got any money?"
"We do, we do!" all three said.
"And how would three dirty boys like yourselves get their hands on money?"
"Please, sir." said the oldest. "We are three brothers and farmers like our father. Our crops are just harvested and sold and our father has given us some coins to spend as we like." Upon saying this the three opened their hands. The sun shone off the gold and silver bits that they held.
At this the old man came alive—moving quickly for a gentleman of his age. He hopped down from the seat and bustled to open the side door of the wagon which tumbled out into a folding table. On the table was a great, bulging carpet which Kaspov rolled out to reveal wonderful treasures tucked inside. Then he pulled a wooden lever. Hinges squeaked as panels opened with more items.
There, before the three brothers, stood a shop—a roadside bazaar.
"Me first!" shouted the littlest brother and pushed his way to the table.
"And what is your name, little boy?" asked Kaspov.
"I'm Hasty Harry," he replied. "And I want to buy something amazing—right now!"
"Might I interest you in some magic seeds which grow into the most delicious fruit trees? These are trees which never lack fruit year-round. And the more fruit you eat the more they produce." Kaspov held the tiny black seeds for all the brothers to see.
"How long do they take to grow?" asked Hasty Harry.
"Oh, in just ten years you will have fruit from them." replied Kaspov.
"Ten years! No way." said Hasty Harry. "I need something that will help me now."
"I see." said Kaspov. "Then perhaps you would like to buy these shoes made by elves. They will always fit your feet, they will never wear out, and you will be able to run like the wind."
"Deal!" said Hasty Harry and he slapped the coins down in Kaspov's hand and grabbed the shoes. In hardly no time at all Harry had put on the shoes and was running hither and yon with blazing speed.
The oldest brother stepped up to the table next.
"And what is your name, lad?" asked Kaspov.
"I am Practical Pete," he said, "and I want to buy something reliable—something that will help me everyday."
Kaspov rummaged around the wagon and brought out a ring ornamented with a red stone. "This is a true-heart ring." said Kaspov. "This ring will help you find and marry a woman with a beautiful heart. She will be a great wife and help you everyday for the rest of your life."
"But I'm not going to get married for at least five years!" protested Practical Pete. "Don't you have something that will help me now?"
Kaspov smirked and brought out a fishing pole. "This is an enchanted fishing pole. Fish cannot resist its magic. With it you will be able to catch at least five fish a day for the rest of your life."
"I'll take it!" said Practical Pete for he really loved to fish. Pete gave the coins to Kaspov then took the pole, hands shaking with excitement.
Finally the third brother, who had waited to go last stepped up to the table. He had been carefully considering what to buy and was wondering if he should buy the magic seeds or the true-heart ring.
"Who are you, now?" asked Kaspov.
"I am Look-Ahead Luke." said the middle brother. Luke spied a silver key hanging on a chain just inside of the wagon.
"What is that silver key?" asked Look-Ahead Luke pointing.
"What? Oh, that. Not for sale." said Kaspov, looking a little cross.
"May I see it, still?" persisted Look-Ahead Luke.
Kaspov reluctantly grabbed the key and handed it to Luke who turned it over slowly in his hand. Luke noticed the picture of a shield at the top of the key.
"What does this key unlock?" asked Luke.
"That's just the thing," said Kaspov, "no one knows! I have spent many years trying it on locks and have never found its match."
"I'll take it." said Look-Ahead Luke. "For where there is a key, there is a lock to be opened. And what can a shield mean but a great protection in the day of trouble."
"You fool!" said Kaspov. "Would you spend your gold on a key that might be useless?"
"No," said Luke. "I would gladly give up what I have for something greater."
Kaspov stared at the coins in Luke's hands. He reached to take them but hesitated. Then Kaspov grabbed them quickly and replaced them with the silver key.
Business was done and Kaspov packed up quickly. With a pull of the lever all the panels snapped back and even the table folded up again right through the side door. Off went the peddler driving a wagon with an ox who chomped a mouthful of weeds. The three brothers never saw Old Kaspov or his wagon again.
Hasty Harry soon found a job as a courier. No one in the land was faster than Hasty Harry with his elven shoes. Day after day Harry delivered messages for lords, ladies, merchants, and farmers. Harry liked his job and liked to run but as the years passed by Harry wondered what would have happened if he had bought the magic seeds. "If I had planted the magic seeds I could be eating its fruit this year." thought Harry. "And I could sell the extra fruit year-round instead of having to make a living with my feet."
Practical Pete fished day after day with his enchanted fishing pole. He caught so many fish that he became a fishmonger. He would sell his fish daily in the market and always had plenty to eat. However, Pete missed the days when fishing was difficult. He remembered how he would sit for hours trying to outsmart the fish with technique and bait. Now fishing was just too easy. What Practical Pete really wanted now was a wife! He wondered if he would ever find a woman who would marry a man who smelled like fish. He wished he had bought the true-heart ring.
Look-Ahead Luke kept his silver key on a chain around his neck. He searched for many years to find what it would unlock but never found it.
"Oh well," he thought, "that's the risk I took when I bought the key."
Since he did not have elven shoes or an enchanted fishing pole like his brothers, Luke had to learn to work hard. He farmed a small piece of land that his father had given him and carefully saved his money to buy a ring. Luke knew that he could not buy the true-heart ring so he searched for a woman himself who would make a good wife. Humble Hannah, the simple, kind, and pretty daughter of a neighboring farmer was a childhood friend of Luke. They soon married and became even better friends.
One evening after a long, hard day of farming, Luke and Hannah took a walk together to enjoy the evening breeze. They chatted, and laughed at each other's silly stories as they walked. Luke picked up stones from the path and tossed them at a pile of rocks at the bottom of a hill.
"Listen!" said Hannah suddenly. "Throw another rock, Luke, right where you threw the last."
Luke tossed another rock and listened as it clattered and echoed down a hole.
"A cave!" said Hannah. Luke rushed over to the small hole near the pile and dug around it removing weeds and dirt until he could squeeze down into it.
"Be careful Luke!" Hannah pleaded.
"It's not too deep!" said Luke. Using the light from the hole above Luke shuffled forward a few feet until he stood in front of a smooth stone door. Luke pushed on it but it did not budge. Then he noticed the picture of a shield on the door.
"Could it be?" gasped Luke. He took the silver key from the chain on his neck and carefully placed it in the door lock. Slowly he turned the key and...
It worked! The door swung inward to reveal a treasure hoard: glittering gold coins, shimmering silver, strings of pearls, rubies the size of walnuts that caught the fading light of the sun and blazed like fire, elegant swords, shining shields, crowns encrusted with jewels, a scepter made of ivory and royal robes made of silk! And there was even more that he could not make out in the dim light.
A few years later an impressive castle made of red stone sat on a high hill. Knights with elegant swords and shining shields guarded its entrance. A bustling town full of happy folk sat encircled in its walls. The fastest messenger in the land, Harry, brought news to and from the king. Pete, the royal fishmonger supplied tasty fish to the king's table everyday. King Luke and Queen Hannah were loved by all the people.
And stitched on every flag flapping over the castle was a silver key.