Once before the giants came in a forest far away, there was a woodchopper everyone called Honest, because he never told a lie. In this forest, which was called Dreadful, lies took a shape to them, and hunted under the trees at night.

Honest kept himself safe from lies, but his life was difficult nevertheless. In the winter snow came, and many froze, and in the summer the baking heat made the sickly woozy and faint. The taxmen from the Kingdom of Weal and Woe took what Honest earned, and on one muddy, misty, cold and hungry day, his axe got stuck in a knot and the haft broke off.

Honest cursed his fortune and his axe, but was interrupted in his ranting by a flock of little forest-birds diving out from the treetops above and circling around him, close enough to touch. They smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg, and faint clouds of scent filled the air they flew through. The flock landed on the branches of a cork tree.

“Honest, honest man,” the birds whispered, “look in the hollow of this high cork tree.”

Honest did so, and found in the hollow of the tree a new axe, sharp and well-balanced. He chortled in his joy, and the birds settled in the branches of another.

“Honest, honest man,” the birds whispered again, “look in the hollow of this high cork tree.”

Honest did so, and found in the hollow of the tree a pitcher of nourishing milk and a loaf of hot buttered bread. As he wolfed the meal down, the birds flew from their perches and settled in another tree.

“Honest, honest man,” the birds whispered again, “look in the hollow of this high cork tree.”

Honest did so, and found in the hollow of the tree a new pair of boots and a warm overcoat. As he cast off his muddy rags and dressed himself, the birds flew from their perches and circled him in the air, filling his lungs with the aromas of saffron and cloves.

“Honest, honest man,” the birds whispered again, “down in the ravine to the north is a little cottage. Look behind the bookshelf, and find the treasure-room. Find the silver ring with the emerald wasp, and put it on.”

Honest tread carefully down the ravine, slipping only once in the mud. He found a little cottage, barely big enough for one person, all moss and wet stone and a rusty tin roof. The door was latched, so he knocked.

“Go away! We don’t want any! There aren’t any here!” came the response.

Honest opened the door. “I’m disregarding you,” he said as he stepped into the cottage, for he was indeed honest.

Inside the cottage was a little old woman, dressed in filth and rags, perched on a narrow little cot and eating a plate of polite-oysters. “Get out of here!” she screeched at Honest, but he ignored her and stepped past her to the rickety bookshelf in the corner.

“You aren’t allowed to do that!” the old woman shouted, as Honest pulled down the bookshelf and found the tight little hole with the tight little ladder going down.

“I’m still disregarding you,” Honest told the old woman, and climbed down the ladder.

Underneath the cottage Honest found a treasure-room, piled high with silver cutlery, gold coins, and beautiful things studded with gems and lined with silk. He ignored the noisy woman, who followed him down the ladder, and searched for a silver ring with an emerald wasp. He could not find it.

“Get away! Get away from here!” The old woman waved her arms in Honest’s face, and spit at him.

He looked past her, and spied a door. Honest pushed around the woman, opened the door, and found an aviary, full of little birds that smell of cinnamon and spice, all caged and sad.

“Honest, honest man,” the birds said. “We are the children of a village to the south. The old woman is a witch, and she ensorcelled us and turned us into birds, but if you put on the ring in her pocket, we will be saved.”

Honest hefted his new axe, and turned to the old woman, who had stuffed her hands in a pocket and was holding something tightly.

“This doesn’t concern you,” the old woman said. “Don’t you swing that axe at me! Take whatever you want from the treasure-room, but you leave here and don’t you come back!”

“All right,” said Honest.

“No!” said the incense children. “Save us! We helped you!”

“I never agreed to anything,” said Honest, which was a truth. He took a sack of silver pennies and a golden belt from the treasure-room, moved to Habadad, and lived comfortably for the rest of his days.

SEE ALSO: Habadad, the Kingdom of Weal and Woe, Polite-Oysters


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