A poor woodcutter, hard at work all day cutting down trees to sell for firewood, wanted to cut down one last tree before going home for the evening. He spotted a sturdy elm beside a deep pool and set to work. After a long day, he was so tired that after a few strokes, the ax slipped from his hands and fell with a splash into the deep murky water.


Woodcutter in the forest… designed by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.

How could I be so careless!” the woodcutter lamented. “I’ll never see my ax again!”

He despaired. A mermaid heard the woodcutter’s lamentations and appeared before him to inquire about what was wrong.

“I’ve lost my only ax in the water,” the woodcutter groaned. “And I can’t afford to buy another. Now my children will go hungry. What can I do?”

“Wait here,” the mermaid replied, and she dove down. When she resurfaced, she held an ax made of pure gold in her hand.

“Is this the ax you lost?” the mermaid asked.

“No, that one isn’t mine,” he responded.

The mermaid dove again to the bottom of the pool and returned this time with a shining silver ax. She asserted: “Then this one must be yours.”

“No, no! That one’s not mine, either,” sighed the woodcutter. “Mine was just a plain iron ax with a wooden handle.”

For the third time the mermaid dove to the bottom and this time she came up with an old, worn iron ax.

“That’s the one!” cried the woodcutter joyfully.  “How can I ever thank you?”

“My friend,” said the mermaid, “your honesty deserves a reward. Take all three axes home with you, and your children will never go hungry again.”


Mermaid design by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.

Delighted, the woodcutter went home and told his family what had happened.

The woodcutter had a wily brother who, upon hearing the story, thought to himself, “Why should my silly brother have better luck than me? Tomorrow I’ll try the same trick, and I’ll bring treasure home too!”

The next day the woodcutter’s brother went to the spot where the elm tree was and threw his ax into the water. He wept and wailed, summoning on the mermaid to help him. She appeared and after listening to his tale of woe, dove to the bottom of the pool. She returned with a golden ax and asked, “Is this the one you lost?”

“That’s the one!” the woodcutter’s brother cried.

Sensing his dishonesty, the mermaid let the golden ax fall back beneath the water. “For your dishonesty,” she stated, “you’ll have no ax at all.” The mermaid vanished, leaving the woodcutter’s brother poorer than ever.

owl moral

Honesty is the best policy. Owl design by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.