Two woodcutters were going home through the forest. It was winter, and very cold. There was thick snow the ground and on the trees. The river was frozen. The snow was very deep, and the woodcutters went slowly They were careful, because it is easy to lose your way in the snow.
At last they saw the lights of their village far down below them. They laughed because they were glad. But then they were sad. “Why do we want to live? Life is so hard for poor people like us.”
Then a strange: thing happened: a very bright and beautiful star fell out of the sky. It seemed to fall behind some trees quite near them.
They ran towards it. “Perhaps there will be a pot of gold where it fell!” they thought.
The first woodcutter reached the place. He saw a coat of gold lying on the white snow. It had silver star on it. The woodcutters opened the coat to take the pieces of gold from it. But there was no gold. There was only a little child.
One of the men said, “This is a sad ending to our hopes! We do not need a child. We are poor men and we already have children. We cannot give their food to another child. Let’s leave it here.”
The other man said, “We cannot leave the child here. It will die in the cold. I am as poor as you are. I have many mouths to feed and not much food for them. But I will take the child home with me. My wife will look after it.”
So he picked up the child. He put the coat round it to keep out the cold. Then he went down the hill to his village.
When they came to the village, his friend said, “You have the child – give me the coat.” But the other man answered, “That coat isn’t ours. It belongs to the child.”
Then he went to his house. His wife opened the door and kissed him.
He said, “I have found something in the forest and I have brought it to you. I know that you will look after it.”
“What is it?” she asked. “We need many things.”
He opened the coat and showed her the sleeping child.
“Oh!” she said. “We have enough children! Why have you brought this strange child to live here?”
“It is a star child,” he said, and he told her about it.
“Our children haven’t enough bread. Must we feed another person’s child?”
A cold wind from the forest came through the open door. “Shut the door!” she said. “The wind is cold.”
He said, “A cold wind always comes into a house where the heart is cold.”
She did not answer, but went nearer to the fire.
Soon she turned round and looked at him, and her eyes were full of tears. He put the child in her arms. She kissed it and put it in a little bed with her youngest child.
The next day, the woodcutter took the golden coat and put it away in a big box.
The star child grew up with the woodcutter’s children. He sat at the table for meals with them and played with them. Every year he became more and more beautiful.
But the star child was only beautiful on the outside. He was proud and unkind. He thought that he was better than the village children. “They are ordinary people,” he thought, “but I am the child of a star. They are my servants.”
He threw stones at the poor and at people who asked for help: “Go to another place and ask for bread! We have none to give you!” He laughed at people who were weak and ugly. He loved himself. In summer, he sat by the water and smiled down at his beautiful face.
The woodcutter and his wife often spoke to him angrily: “We looked after you when you needed our help. Why are you so unkind to people who need your help?”
The star child did not listen to them. He went back to the other children. He could run fast, and dance, and make music. The other children followed the star child. When he pushed a stick into the eyes of a little rabbit, they laughed. When he threw stones at a sick man, they laughed. Their hearts became as hard as his.
One day, a poor woman came through the village. She looked like a beggar. Her clothes were old and dirty, and there was blood on her feet. She sat down under a tree to rest.
The star child saw her and said, “Look at that ugly old beggar woman. Lets send her away!”
So he came near and threw stones at her. She looked at him with fear in her eyes. The woodcutter saw what the star child was doing. He ran to him and said, “Why is your heart so cold? What has this poor woman done to you?”
The star child was angry. “You cannot question me. I am not your son.”
“That is true,” said the woodcutter, “but I helped you. I was sorry for you when I found you in the forest.”
When the old woman heard this, she made a loud noise. Then she fell to the ground. The woodcutter carried her into the house to his wife. They brought food to her, but she did not eat or drink.
She asked, “Did you say that the child was found in the forest? Was that ten years ago — ten years ago today?”
“Yes,” said the woodcutter. “I found him in the forest exactly ten years ago.”
“Did he have a coat of gold with silver stars on it?”
“Yes,” said the woodcutter. He took the coat out of the box and showed it to her.
“He is my little son. I lost him in the forest. I have travelled the world, trying to find him.”
The woodcutter went out and called to the star child: “Come into the house. Your mother is waiting there for you.”
The star child ran into the house. But when he saw the old woman, he laughed. “Where is my mother?” he asked. “I can only see this dirty old beggar woman.”
The woman said, “I am your mother.”
He said, “I am not your son! You are dirty and ugly. Go away! I do not want to see your face again!”
“But it is true. You are my son,” she cried. She fell on her knees and held out her arms to him. “Thieves stole you from me and left you in the forest. But I knew you when I saw you. And I knew the coat of gold with silver stars. So please come with me. For many years I have tried to find you. Come with me, my son. I need your love.”
But the star child did not move.
At last he spoke, and his voice was hard and angry. “If you are really my mother, I do not want to know you. I thought that I was the child of a star, not the child of a beggar. So go away. I do not want to see you again!”
“Won’t you kiss me before I go?” she cried. “I suffered so much while I was looking for you.”
“No,” said the star child. “I will not.”
So the woman went away, crying, into the forest.
The star child was glad and ran back to his friends. But when they saw him, they said, “Go away, ugly face! You cannot play with us.”
“Why did they say that to me?” thought the star child. He went to the water and looked into it. His face was ugly now.
He fell on the grass and cried. “This has happened to me because I have done wrong,” he thought. “I have been unkind to my mother and sent her away. I will go and look for her.
I will not rest until I find her.”
So he ran away into the forest. He called for his mother all day, but there was no answer. When the sun went down, he slept on the grass. The animals and birds remembered his sticks and stones, and they ran away from him.
In the morning, he walked through the forest. He asked everything he met, “Have you seen my mother?” But the animals said. “You pushed sticks into our eyes. You threw stones at us.” And the birds said, “You cut our wings. You stole our eggs.” The star child cried and asked them to forgive him. Then he continued walking.
On the third day, he came out of the forest and into open country. He passed through villages, and the children threw stones at him. The men sent him away.
The star child searched for three years. Sometimes he seemed to see his mother on the road in front of him. He called to her and ran after her, but he never reached her. People told him, “No, we have not seen her. Nobody has walked along this road.” They laughed at him.
One evening, he came to the gates of a great city. The soldier at the gate stopped him. “What do you want here?”
“I am looking for my mother,” he answered. “I want to come into this city, please. Perhaps she is here.”
“Your mother will not be pleased when she sees you. You are uglier than the ugliest animal. Go away!”
Another soldier said, “Who is your mother and why are you trying to find her?”
He answered, “My mother is a beggar. I have been very unkind to her. I want her to forgive me.” But they stopped him going in.
He turned away, crying. Then an officer came. “Who is trying to come into this city?” he asked.
“A beggar,” they answered, “and he is the child of a beggar. So we are sending him away.”
“No!” said the officer, laughing. “We will sell him as a slave. The price will be the price of a loaf of bread.”
A strange old man said, “I will buy him at that price.” He paid the money and took the star child into the city.
They went along many streets and came to a little door. The old man touched the door with his ring, and it opened. They went down five steps into a garden. Then the old man put a cloth over the star child’s eyes and pushed him into a building. When the cloth was taken away, the child was in a dark prison.
The old man gave him a piece of bread and said, “Eat!” And he gave him a cup of water and said, “Drink!” Then the old man went out. He shut and locked the door.
The old man was really a clever magician.
The next day, he came to the star child and said, “There is a forest near the south gate of the city. In it there are three pieces of gold. One is white gold, one is yellow gold, and the third is red gold. Today you must bring me the piece of white gold. If you do not bring it back, I will hit you. Go! This evening I will wait for you at the door of the garden.” He put a cloth over the eyes of the star child and took him through the house and the garden and up the five steps to the door. Then he sent him into the street.
The star child went out of the gate of the city and came to the forest. It was a beautiful forest, but the plants under the trees cut his skin. He could not find the piece of white gold anywhere. He looked for it all day. In the evening he turned back, crying.
As the star child came to the end of the wood, he heard a cry. He saw a rabbit. “Help me! Free me!” it cried.
“I am a slave,” said the star child, “but I can free you.” So he freed the rabbit.
The rabbit answered, “You have helped me. What shall I do for you?”
“I am looking for a piece of white gold. I cannot find it.”
“Come with me,” said the rabbit, “and I will take you to it. I know where it is hidden.”
So the star child went with the rabbit and found the piece of white gold in a tree. The rabbit ran away and the star child went towards the city.
At the gate of the city, there was a man. His face and skin were eaten away by a terrible illness. A grey cloth covered his face and there were two holes in the cloth for his eyes. When he saw the star child, he cried out, “I have no food. Give me some money or I will die.”
“I only have one piece of gold,” said the star child. “If I do not take it to my employer, he will hit me.”
The sick man said again sadly, “Please give me some money, or I shall die.” The star child felt sorry for him and gave him the piece of white gold.
When the star child came to the magician’s house, the magician asked, “Have you got the piece of white gold?”
“No,” said the star child, “I have not.”
So the magician hit him. Then he said, “Eat!” but he did not give him any bread. He said, “Drink”, but he gave him a cup with no water in it.
The next day, the magician came to the child and said, “Bring me the piece of yellow gold today. If you do not bring it, I will hit you harder than yesterday. And I will keep you as my slave.”
The star child went to the forest. All day he tried to find the piece of yellow gold. In the evening, he sat down and began to cry. The little rabbit came to him.
“Why are you crying?” asked the rabbit.
“I am looking for a piece of yellow gold which is hidden here. If I do not find it, my employer will hit me again.”
“Follow me,” said the rabbit, and it ran through the forest to a little stream. The piece of yellow gold was lying in the sand at the bottom of the stream.
“How can I thank you?” said the star child. “This is the second time that you have helped me.”
“You helped me first,” said the rabbit, and it ran away. The star child took the piece of yellow gold and hurried back to the city. The sick beggar saw him. He cried out, “Give me some money, or I will die!”
The star child said, “I only have one piece of gold. If I do not take it to my employer, he will hit me. He will keep me as his slave.” The sick man cried, and the star child felt sorry for him. He gave him the piece of yellow gold.
When the star child came to the magician’s house, the magician opened the door.
“Have you got the piece of yellow gold?”
“No,” said the star child, “I have not.”
So the magician hit him and put him in the prison.
The next day, the magician came to him and said, “If you bring me the piece of red gold today, you will be free. But, if you do not bring it, I will kill you.”
The star child went to the forest. He looked for the piece of red gold all day. In the evening, he sat down and cried. The little rabbit came to him.
The rabbit said, “The piece of red gold is in that hole in the rock behind you.”
“How can I thank you?” said the star child. “This is the third time that you have helped me.”
“You helped me first,” said the rabbit, and it ran quickly away.
The star child looked in the hole and found the piece of red gold. He hurried back to the city. The sick man saw him coming. He stood in the middle of the road and cried out to him, “Give me the piece of red gold or I must die.”
The star child gave him the piece of red gold, saying, “You need it more than I do.” But he was very sad.
As the star child walked through the gate of the city, the soldiers greeted him. “That is a beautiful young man!” they said. A crowd of people followed him, shouting, “Nobody in the world is as beautiful as this man!” The star child thought, “They are laughing at me because I am so unhappy.”
He lost his way in the crowd and suddenly he was in the great square. In that square was the king’s palace.
The palace gate opened. Government officers ran out to greet him. They said, “We have waited for you. You are the son of our king.”
The star child answered, “I am not a king’s son. I am the ugly child of a poor beggar woman.”
Then an officer held up a mirror and asked, “Why do you think you are not beautiful?”
The star child saw that his face was beautiful again. But something new shone from his eyes. It was love and kindness.
The officers stood in front of him and said, “Wise men told us about this day a long time ago. We are waiting for you — for our new king. Take this crown and be our king.”
The star child said, “I cannot be your king, because I have been unkind to my mother. I must find her and ask her to forgive me. I cannot stay here.”
He turned away towards the city gate. Then, in the crowd, he saw the beggar woman who was his mother. At her side stood the sick man.”
He cried out in happiness. He ran to them and threw himself down and kissed his mother’s feet. “Mother,” he said, “I was proud and unkind. Now please forgive me and take me as your son.”
He held out his hands and touched the sick man’s feet and said, “I gave you money three times because I was sorry for you. Ask my mother to speak to me.”
The star child’s mother put her hand on his head and said, “Stand up”.
He stood up and looked at them. Now they were a king and queen.
The queen said, “This is your father. You helped him when he was the sick man.”
And the king said, “This is your mother.”
Then they kissed him and took him into the palace.
So the star child became king. He gave bread and clothes to the poor, and was kind and good to everyone. There was happiness in the land.