Icelandic folk-tale: Rich Rusty

There once was a farmer who lived with his wife on a very poor farm in the north-east of Iceland. They owned a bitch that gave birth to a rust-brown puppy. This puppy the farmer raised and used as a sheep-dog, calling him Rusty. He gave the dog an ewe-lamb as payment for his faithful service.

The ewe-lamb grew up to have lambs of her own, and so on, and the dog was very lucky in that none of his sheep ever went missing and all the ewes always had twins, most of them ewes. Over time Rusty came to own all the sheep on the farm and finally the farm as well. People started calling him Rich Rusty, and the farm was now prosperous and doing very well.

Rusty was much loved by his owners, so much so that when people were served food or given favours and people thanked the couple, they would reply and say not to thank them but Rich Rusty.

Once when the bishop of northern Iceland was on a tour of inspection of his diocese he arrived at the farm. He and his men were welcomed with a grand feast and served an abundance of food. Instead of plates, the food was served in troughs, instead of bottles, drink was served in casks, and instead of glasses, they drank from tankards. 

At the end of the feast the bishop thanked the couple for the grand welcome, but they said not to thank them but Rich Rusty, who owned the whole farm. The bishop asked if Rusty was a man, but they replied that he was their dog. The bishop then said that he must see this remarkable and hospitable animal and so they led him out to the dung-heap where there lay, enjoying the warmth from the fermenting dung, a decrepit, ancient dog, deaf and blind and covered in matted fur.

The bishop stood looking at the dog for a while and then looked at his servant and said: “See you the cur?”

The servant kicked Rusty hard in the head so that his brain lay exposed. The bishop then turned to the couple and scolded them soundly and ordered their parish priest to make them publicly confess their sins and then give them absolution for their idolatry and backwardness.

But after Rusty was dead, all the riches he had accumulated dwindled away to nothing and finally the old couple died of hunger and poverty.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

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