There was once a poor cordwainer who was very poor indeed. He had made shoes for the town's populace and earned his living and daily bread from it. Now there came the time he was down to but one loaf of bread and his luck had run out. Even the birds had to do without since he could no longer lay crumbs for them on the windowsill. All this and through no fault of his own. The man was sad and he sat in front of the hearth, thinking to himself "unless I find more food, I shall surely die." The man thought to himself until he remembered hearing of a wise wizard who was said to give sage advice to the common folk. People came from all over to listen to the wizard at his castle. He decided to go to this wizard and ask him his advice for he knew not how he might eat otherwise. And so the poor cordwainer set off on his journey and left his sad workshop behind.
The cordwainer had been walking not an hour when he came upon a beggar sitting at the town's gate. "Alms, alms for the poor!" cried the beggar, drawing attention to himself.
Being one not to let the destitute go hungry, the cordwainer said "here, take and eat, you are famished." With that, he took the bread and broke off a piece, and handed it to the beggar.
"You are a good man," said the beggar, "and surely God will bless you. I have naught but this old walking stick to give you. Use it well and may your feet never tire."
Thus the cordwainer set off anew on his journey, walking stick now in hand. He walked several miles that day, yet his feet never grew tired. The next day, the cordwainer walked several miles more before he came across a cottage in the rolling country by the sea.
A fisherman was out on his boat and when the fisherman's son saw the cordwainer, he hurried up the hill to meet him. "Sir," he asked, "have you some food to spare? The catch has been poor and we may go hungry soon."
"Alas but I cannot, I dare not, for I have only this one loaf of bread." The cordwainer felt poorly of his decision, that it was not just to leave this young man with no supper whilst he had so kindly given to the beggar, no, not at all, and with compassion in his heart, he broke off a second piece.
"Thank you sir, your kindness shall not go unrewarded." The fisherman's son took a chipped wooden bowl and said "'tis not much, but I am sure you will put it to good use."
The cordwainer accepted the gift nonetheless and thanked the lad, thinking to himself "I shall at least be able to fill it with water."
The cordwainer continued his journey along the path and out of sight and out stepped a dark shadow of a man from a boulder's cover, behind the cordwainer. Hidden from the sea cottage, he watched as the cordwainer disappeared over the horizon, and he thought in his heart as thick as tar "that bowl shall I have."
After another night's rest, the cordwainer began looking at his loaf more closely. "Surely I must make haste and eat this now for I am entering a dark and mysterious wood and I shall need whatever strength I have."
An ominous house guarded the entrance, its windows like keen eyes ever watching. The cordwainer shivered as he walked on a few paces further and past the house. He presently came to a small brook streaming forth from the forest. Thinking of how stale his bread had become, he stooped down to gather fresh water of the brook into the chipped wooden bowl. Strange birds sang in that forest of which few men ever heard. Twisted forms laid dormant in the brush, one would have sworn some of them moved every now and then. After the cordwainer drank his fill and even dampened the bread a little, he turned around, and found himself gazing into the eyes of a great red fox.
"Gadzooks!" The cordwainer raised his walking stick to scare the fox away, then it spoke.
"I have come to help you," said the fox in a quiet and deep voice.
"A talking fox! Are you a demon?"
"That I am not. Balaam's donkey spoke and she was not a demon, neither am I. 'tis against the nature of demons to assist. Come now, give me your bread and you may have a tuft of my fur."
Not knowing why, the cordwainer knelt and did the fox's bidding, feeling drawn to the fine fur.
"Take the fur from my chest where it is white. There is trouble ahead of you and this will come in handy if you are to survive. When needed, 'twill give you the strength of ten men."
The cordwainer glanced unbelievingly at the tuft of white fur in his palm and when he looked back up, the fox had vanished. "I must be near," he presumed, "otherwise that fox would not be talking." He continued on his way and even though the sun was beaming high in the sky, the forest was as black as death itself, but the cordwainer soon found his way out.
And there stood the castle in the distance. After what seemed a short time, the cordwainer entered the abode of the wizard, and the halls seemed as grand as those of the kingdom's greatest cathedrals. The very air tingled with magic. As the cordwainer gazed in awe about him, he noticed the wizard afar, consulting with several commoners. A full hour of waiting passed before the peasants dispersed and he found the wizard waving him over.
"Come," he said. "You are the cordwainer who has traveled far to see me and I have known of your coming for a long time."
"Yes I am," said the cordwainer uneasily, "and I was hoping you might be able to guide me-"
"That I can," interrupted the wizard. "Show me the wooden bowl with a chip in it. You see, this is no ordinary bowl, 'tis actually quite special. Now if you will repeat this three times and," the wizard's voice trailed off, whispering now into his listener's ear.
The wizard slowly drew back his head while an expression of surprise dawned on the cordwainer's face. "But-"
"Yes, 'tis quite true. You can will the bowl into providing bread to the rim by doing that, like this," and doing so, bread spontaneously appeared in the wooden bowl, just like that. One second it was empty and then it was full. "You have proven yourself worthy by giving to the three who came asking of you and presently, you have everything you need: stick, bowl, and fur. Butter with your roll?" he said, taking a bite out of one. "I warn you, there is one more trial you must overcome before you make it back home. Do not forget what I have told you!"
The cordwainer was soon asleep by the roadside again when the dark shadow of a man approached from the fog. A soldier was he, grizzled and past his prime. He was one to dabble in the dark arts and had seen his desired path through his crystals. The bowl was tucked between the cordwainer's arm and side and the soldier prepared to claim his plunder. With a start, the cordwainer reached into his pocket where he kept the fox fur. Drawing his sword, the soldier meant to hack the cordwainer's heart in two, but the cordwainer seized the soldier's clasped hands, pushed the sword away, and with the strength of ten men, he kicked the soldier back over his head from where he laid on the ground.
Realizing the trap he was falling into, the soldier got away before the cordwainer could raise himself from the ground, and thus the cordwainer kept his treasure and his life. He lived happily thereafter and I think he still lives to this day.