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Ahjualune (Estonian fairy tale)

A wealthy squire called his cook and instructed him, “I am going hunting. Have my dinner ready when I return.”

The cook set about making a flavorful soup, and soon a wonderful aroma filled the air. The cook was sure the soup would please his master.

Suddenly a tiny elf stood on the hearth. The little man said, “Your pot of food smells delicious, and I am very hungry. Please give me something to eat.”

The cook kindly answered, “There is plenty to spare, and I will happily give you some.” He filled a ladle and offered the soup to the elf. The wee man reached for the ladle gratefully; but with his first bite, the pot of soup was empty, and the elf had vanished.

The cook was beside himself. What would he feed his master? As he wrung his hands in dismay, his master returned from hunting. The cook told his master what had happened and begged for his master’s forgiveness.

The squire forgave the cook and instructed him to make another meal, admonishing him not to feed the elf if he appeared again.

Soon the cook had another stew bubbling on the fire, and once again the little elf stood before him begging for more. “I cannot give you any,” said the cook sadly. “My master has forbidden me to help you.”

However, the little man looked so sad and hungry that the cook relented and offered the tiny man one small ladle of soup. Once again, all the stew disappeared, leaving an empty pot; and the elf vanished.

This time the squire was angry. “Be gone if you won’t obey me! My gamekeeper will cook my meal.”

So the gamekeeper prepared a meal, but once again, the elf appeared and asked for soup. The gamekeeper angrily refused and threw a spoon at the little man to drive him away. The squire was able to eat with no further interruptions.

Meanwhile, the kindly cook prepared to leave. He was hungry and broken-hearted, but before he could go, the elf appeared once more.

“You have been very kind,” said the little man. “Take this gift.” He handed the cook a small brown box and told him, “Whenever you need something, tap on the lid and state your wish out loud.” Again he disappeared.

As the cook departed, he smelled the gamekeeper’s soup. But since the gamekeeper offered nothing to him, the cook tapped on the box and wished for something to eat. Immediately a bag filled with delicious food was before him.

The gamekeeper was astonished. “Where did you get that box?” he asked the cook. The cook explained, then departed on his journey.

When the cook grew tired, he hesitantly tapped on his box and requested a carriage. To his delight, a fancy coach appeared, and he set off to see the world with his bag of food that never emptied.

Meanwhile, the gamekeeper wanted a box like the cook’s. He hastily prepared a poor meal and impatiently called the little man to come and eat his fill.

The tiny man appeared, but since the cook had already fed him, he wasn’t hungry. The gamekeeper insisted that the elf eat some soup. The elf sipped a spoonful and promised the gamekeeper his reward.

As soon as a little box appeared, the gamekeeper greedily tapped on the lid. To his dismay, a magic spoon flew out of the box and beat both the greedy gamekeeper and the hardhearted squire until they were bruised and sorry for their selfishness.

The little elf was never seen again.

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