|Once upon a time, a king lived in a great castle, not far from a huge forest which provided his table with all sorts of wild game. One day, he sent out his huntsman to bring back a large buck for a special feast. The huntsman set out, alas, he never returned. The king was concerned that some accident had befallen the man, so he organised a search party to comb the forest. But none of searchers returned, neither men nor dogs; they were never seen again. From that day on, no-one dared to enter the forest.
Many years passed, the forest grew wild and forgotten. Then one day, a stranger came before the king looking for employment. He volunteered to check out the forest, but the king wouldn't hear of it, he did not want the woods to take another victim. The man assured him that he knew how to look after himself and he was not afraid of what he might find. Finally, he got permission to go ahead.
So the man set out, accompanied only by his dog. They had walked a ways into the forest, the dog always a few steps ahead of the man, when the animal stopped in front of what seemed like a very large and deep puddle. As he sniffed at the dark waters, a huge brown arm appeared and next thing you know, the dog had disappeared into the murky depth.
The man hurried back and reported to the king, who offered prizes to some brave men who finally went into the wood and with the help of ropes and pulleys, managed to drain the puddle, bucket by bucket.
What they found at the bottom was a wild-looking creature, a man so brown of hair and skin, he seemed covered in rust. They managed to overcome him and soon had him in irons, then took him to the king. A heavy cage constructed in the court yards to keep this living oddity as in a zoo. The only existing key the king gave to his queen, so she could keep it well hidden.
The woods were once again safe for man and beast.
Now it happened that the king's eight-year-old son liked to play with his golden ball in the garden. And wouldn't you know, one day the ball rolled right into the cage. No amount of pleading would get the wild man to return it to the child. He wasn't going to get his ball unless he released the prisoner.
The boy's begging and the man's reply, the ball for his freedom, went on for a few days until finally the boy remarked that even if he wanted to, he had no way of opening the cage. Whereupon the inmate told him that the key was hidden under the pillow of the queen. Well, the child wanted his toy, so he managed to make his way to his mother's bed chamber, unseen, to retrieve the key.
As soon as the cage door swung open, the brown man cut a bee line to the woods. But the child cried for him to come back, there would be hell to pay when his father, the king, found out what he had done. So the man turned around, grabbed the boy, put him on his shoulder ... and away into the woods they went.
When the empty cage was discovered, and the child was nowhere to be found, the king suspected the worst. Search parties were sent, to no avail. Great sadness settled over the court.
Meanwhile, man and boy went deeper and deeper into the woods.
|Finally, after what seemed forever to the child, the man set the boy down and informed him that even though he was never to see his home again, he felt sorry for him since he had been good enough to free him.
There was one condition to his staying, he would have to perform as task: Guard a well, to take good care that nothing whatsoever fell into the water.
What could the child do but agree. Day after day he sat at the edge of the well, mostly staring into the crystal-clear water. Every so often, he noticed a golden fish or snake flitting about, otherwise, everything was eerily quiet. Having nothing better to do, he guarded the waters well.
One day, the boy injured his finger and it was swollen and quite sore. The pain got worse and worse and without thinking, he stuck his finger into the water to cool the burning pain. Quickly realising what he had done, he pulled back. Too late ... his finger shone golden in the sunlight. And no amount of rubbing would remove the gilding.
When the man appeared at nightfall, the boy tried to hide his finger, to no avail. The man was dis-appointed but said that since it had only happened once, he would overlook it and the boy should go on as before. Just don't let it happen again.
Which of course it did. The very next day. As the boy pulled his still-throbbing finger through his hair, one fell into the well and was instantly gilded, just like the finger had been.
Again, forgiveness and the admonishment that it really must not happen again or the boy would have to leave!
The boy took great care from now on, but it was a very boring job after all. So he started to amuse himself by bending over the water and making faces at himself. But once he bent down too far ... his hair was immersed! No matter that he pulled back immediately, his hair now was a rich golden colour.
It didn't do any good that he tied a kerchief around his head, the man knew. Sadly, he informed the boy that he had failed in his task and must leave. But at least his intentions had been good and he was without malice, so he would be granted this: Whenever he was in real trouble, he should come to the edge of the wood and call out for "Iron John".
So the boy took his leave and wandered off, his golden hair carefully hidden under his cap.
Finally, the boy came to a city. The going was tough because he really wasn't trained for any kind of work. He finally ended up at the king's castle, where someone took pity upon him and after a while of doing the meanest of labour, he ended up in the kitchen as a cook's helper. But always, always, he wore his cap.
So it happened that one day, the cook was short-handed and ended up sending our boy to wait at table. The king didn't take to kindly to the help not bearing their head in his presence, but the boy begged of by saying his head was all scabby so he hid it under the hat. Naturally, the king was a tad upset that someone like that should be handling his food, and the boy ended up as a helper to the gardners.
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