Once upon a time, there was an old man who lived with his wife and their son in an impoverished tumbledown hut. The strange thing was, the old man was very wealthy. The trouble was, he was a miser. He chose to live this way because he did not want to spend any of his money. The old man's wife and son were as skinny as straw because he would not spend his gold -- not even for his family's food.
But even misers get hungry, and as time passed, the old man became so hungry that he grew ill. After a few days, he died and left behind his fortune.
The night after he died, the man's son, Finnur, dreamed that a stranger had appeared before him. The stranger explained that half his father's wealth was stolen.
"You must give it back to the poor," the stranger said. "The other half you must throw into the sea. But watch carefully as the money begins to sink."
When Finnur woke, he was very upset. He did not want to give up his father's riches. He had hoped that he and his mother could at long last live in comfort now that his father had died.
But Finnur was honest and generous, and so he sought out his father's victims and rewarded them with half his fortune. Then he walked out to a jetty that jutted far into the sea. From there, he flung the rest of the fortune.
Within a moment, almost all the money was drifting on the wind or sinking into the sea. But Finnur watched closely and saw one scrap of paper floating. He reached out and grabbed it and found six shillings wrapped inside.
This was now all the money he had in the world.
Ever the optimist, Finnur slipped the coins into his pocket.
"I'll save this, and it may come in handy one day," he said.
For the next few weeks, he tended the family garden and cultivated enough fruits and vegetables for him and his mother to eat.
But one day in early spring, his mother fell ill. Soon after, she died.
As Finnur buried his mother, he wept. "I cannot stay in this place any longer," he said to himself, and so he shut the door to the hut and wandered into the forest, determined to find his way somehow.
That night, he came to a hut in the forest. Tired and hungry, he knocked upon the door. When a woman answered, he asked if he might have a cup of milk.
"Of course," the old woman said, "but please, come in. Eat with us and sleep here tonight. I will charge you nothing. You look so tired."
When Finnur walked in, he saw the old woman's family at a supper table enjoying a meal. They made room for him, and he gladly joined them. When he had finished eating, he looked around and was amazed to see a creature such as he had never seen sitting by the fire, staring into the flames.
The creature was small and gray, but Finnur was dazzled by its eyes, which were quite large and seemed to glow.
"What is that?" he asked the old woman.
"We call it a cat," the woman said.
"If it isn't too expensive, I'd like to buy it. I need the company," Finnur said.
"I can sell it for six shillings," the woman said.
Finnur took the last of his money from his pocket and gave it to the woman, and that night he slept more peacefully than he ever had. The next morning, holding the cat in his arms, he departed.
Finnur and the cat wandered on through the forest. Before long, they saw the royal palace before them. Finnur had heard that the king was a kind and good man, so Finnur decided he would ask for work.
He knocked upon the palace gates. "I'm looking for work," Finnur told the guards.
The servants told the king there was a lad with a strange creature at the palace gates, and the king told them to send him inside.
When Finnur walked into the court holding the cat, he discovered the king was at supper with his family, and he bowed low. But when he stood again, he was amazed to see a sea of small, furry creatures scurrying about, stealing food from the table, even from the king's own plate.
"What are those?" Finnur asked the king, staring at the strange creatures. The cat was staring too, and a moment later, it leapt from Finnur's arms.
"They are called rats, and we are helpless to stop them. They are taking over our palace," the king said mournfully.
But just at that moment, the cat pounced on a fat rat and seized it in its jaws, shaking it violently.
Everyone was stunned.
In mere minutes, the cat had grabbed several of those rats and shaken them to death. Soon, the dining hall was clear of rats.
The king stared in wonder at this miracle. "What kind of animal is that you have?" the king asked.
"It's called a cat," Finnur said. "I bought it for six shillings."
The king smiled. "You have brought great fortune to our palace, and for that I will give you my daughter's hand in marriage. You shall reign over this kingdom after me."
And so it was. Finnur, the princess and their well-fed cat lived happily ever after.
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.