Marigold lived in a cottage with her mother and two older sisters. As the youngest, she stayed behind to tend the cottage when they went into the village. Marigold was the one to sew the dresses, wash the floors, make the bread, feed the chickens, and get water from the well. She also had to water the toadstools along the mossy path leading away from the cottage. Her mother said the toadstools would die without water and then their family would no longer be able to follow the path into the village.
Marigold’s mother prized Marigold’s long, flaxen hair and would not allow anyone to cut it because, she said, when it reached Marigold’s waist, she would develop magical powers to see the future and to grant wishes. This would bring the family fame, recognition, and wealth.
Marigold came to see her hair as a burden when it fell like a curtain down her back and draped at her sides as she did her chores. As it continued to grow, Marigold would go outside each morning to brush it herself so that when strands of the golden hair fell out, they would collect on the mossy ground. The birds carried the hair into a tree near the well where they used the long strands to weave a soft nest.
One day, Marigold’s mother and sisters came home from the market with a green-eyed goat which had two curved horns and a long scruff of hair beneath his chin.
“Marigold, hold this goat while we ready his pen,” her mother said, handing her the rope tied round his neck.
No sooner than Marigold took the rope did the goat begin to buck and jump, tearing away from her grip. He followed the toadstool path out of the yard and toward the village.
“Stop him!” Marigold’s mother demanded. “We need that goat. He carries a spell. As long as he drinks water from the well, it will never run dry.”
Marigold’s mother insisted that her two sisters find the goat and bring him back.
“You fool!” Marigold’s sisters taunted her. “Look what you have done!”
But they obediently left the cottage in search of the goat.
The sisters searched until dark, knocking on every door in the village, but they could not find the goat.
“What will we do if our well runs dry?” Marigold’s mother asked her.
The next day, an old man knocked on the door. With him was the green-eyed goat.
“I have come to see the girl with the flaxen hair,” he told the mother. “This goat has told me that she can see the future and grant wishes. My son is sick and I wish for a cure. His body rages with fever and his skin burns with rash. Grant my wish that he be well and I will give you back your goat.”
Marigold searched through her cupboards for a tincture of lemon, echinacea root, and peppermint. She gave the tincture to the old man and told him to put two drops into his son’s cup twice a day for three days.
The old man handed over the goat.
“Very well. If I do not return on the fourth day, you may keep the goat, but if my son does not recover from his illness, the goat is mine.”
Four days went by, and then a fifth, and the man did not return.
Marigold continued to tend the cottage. When she brought the goat his water from the well, he began to insult her.
“You foolish girl” the goat said. “You do nothing right! The birds that have built a nest from your hair keep me up at night. I am tired and famished. How do you expect me to survive on this bitter water and coarse grass? Let me out of this pen at once, for I am not a goat who can be confined to such a small pen.”
The goat glared at Marigold with his green eyes. She shuddered at the tangled scruff of fur beneath his chin.
As she turned to leave, the goat pushed past Marigold, knocking her down. He ran to the toadstool path and began eating the toadstools until most were gone. She pulled and tugged at the rope round his neck, but she could not stop the goat from destroying the toadstool pathway. Finally, Marigold grabbed him by the scruff of his chin and led him back to his pen. As she left him, the scruff of his hair came off of his chin and remained in her hand.
“Foolish girl,” the goat warned. “Without my scruff, I will not be able to drink the water from the well and it will go dry. You must cut your hair and bury it beneath the tree where the birds nest or the water will go dry and your family will perish.”
Marigold did as the goat told her, burying her hair beneath the tree at sunset.
The next morning, the goat was gone, and so were the birds who nested in the tree above the well. When Marigold dropped the bucket into the well, it was dry.
“How could you do this?” her mother and sisters asked. “With no water and no toadstool path, we will surely perish here.”
Days later, there was a knock at the cottage door. A tall, handsome man with green eyes stood with a goat and a long golden rope made from Marigold’s hair.
“Give me the girl who grew this hair and I will give you back your magic goat,” the man said.
Because they had no water and no toadstool path, Marigold’s mother and sisters told her she must go with the man. He brought her to a stone tower and demanded that she grant his wishes. First, he wanted a feast. Then he wanted a large bed with a mattress of soft feathers covered in the finest silks. Finally, he told Marigold she must tend the tower each day while he was away from morning until sunset for 24 seasons.
“If you have the magic that the goat spoke of, you can do all of this with ease,” the man said.
But Marigold had no magic, so she prepared the feast herself and she built the bed with feathers and she sewed the covers with fine silk. The man would leave each morning at sunrise and return at night for his feast and soft bed.
Each day, Marigold would walk outside the tower and brush her hair so that the birds could use the strands to build a nest. In a tree near the bedroom window, the birds chattered and kept her company during her long, lonely days as she tended the tower, doing the most mundane chores. There were no books for her to read or brushes with which to paint.
As the days passed, Marigold’s hair grew very long, finally reaching her waist. She continued to brush it outside so that the birds could use it.
One morning, the man came to her.
“Those birds awaken me far too early. I am a man of great importance and can not go without sleep. When I return this evening, I will cut your hair and bury it so that those birds may never nest in it again.”
Knowing that the birds would leave her, Marigold remained in bed that day instead of tending to the chores. She wished that the man would not return at sunset, and when the time came, she found that he did not. Hours passed and the sky grew dark. Marigold walked outside the tower and heard the birds call down:
“Run, Marigold! Run away now and he’ll never find you.”
Marigold ran into the forest and walked on all through the moonlit night. When the sun rose over the horizon, she stopped at a stream for a drink. As she bent to get a drink of water, she thought she saw in the water’s reflection the face of the goat with the green eyes, but when she turned to face him, the goat was gone.
Hungry, tired, and frightened, Marigold hurried on until she reached the village, where she found a seamstress.
“I beg a favor,” Marigold said. “If you lend me your scissors to cut my hair, I will stay and make beautiful dresses for you to sell for 24 seasons.”
“Twenty-four seasons is a very long time,” the seamstress said. “Are you certain you will stay?”
“Yes,” promised Marigold. “I will stay forever.”
Marigold cut off her long, flaxen hair and left it beneath a tree for the birds. She lived happily ever after, making beautiful dresses for all the ladies of the village, until she died of old age with the birds singing at her window.