The following story is based on a dim memory of another story I read years ago and is written through my own personal filters since then.
Once upon a time a large group of very different people began a long journey together. None of them were quite sure why they were making the journey but they all knew it was important; it may have been a pilgrimage, it may have been a holiday, it may even have been a diaspora. Who knows?
None of the people had had much time to pack or prepare for the journey and on the first evening as night fell, fires were lit and people settled down to rest. Tummies began to rumble and the question of food came up. No one had brought food, it seemed.
A little away from the main group of fires a man alone was tending his fire and to the surprise of everyone, he went to the stream nearby and filled a cooking pot to the brim with water and set it over the fire to heat. As the steam began to rise, he was heard muttering, “MMMmmm, soup!!”
Curious, a few people drifted over wondering what he might be cooking.
“It’s stone soup,” he said when asked. “You see, I have here a stone that makes the most amazing soup. It’s an ancient magic from the time of Atlantis and I quested long and hard to find it. Anyone who owns this soup-stone will never go hungry. It’s time to put it in; the water’s about hot enough now.”
Out of his small knapsack he pulled a medium size round pebble, big enough that you could hold it in your hand but never close your fingers round it, and he dropped it with a plop into the steaming water. After a moment, he inhaled loudly.
“Ooh, that smells SO good!” he said. “Doesn’t it, just? Hmm, but I do think it needs some thing else. Let me taste it. Yes, it needs a little onion.”
One of the bystanders suddenly rushed away and returned with an onion.
“It was in the bottom of my bag,” she said, and the onion was duly chopped and added.
“MMM,” said the man. “Smelling sooo fine now. But…” he breathed in the steam again. “I can’t help feeling it would benefit from a little bit of potato.”
Within moments another bystander had brought a large potato and was peeling it and adding it.
“This is going to be such an awesome soup,” said the man. “Don’t you just smell the goodness now? Hmmm, I think it needs something….Yes, just as I thought, it needs bacon.”
Bacon was duly brought out of a bag and added.
“Yummy,” said the man, tasting it. “It’s going to be superb. The stone magic never fails. I think it needs something though. Cabbage, and maybe some carrots.”
Bit by bit, the crowd grew and so too did the soup. Lentils, and beans and a host of other things were found to be lurking in people’s bags and before long the whole party were waiting and watching as the soup simmered away and the glade where they rested was filled with the savoury smell of delicious soup.
“I think it’s ready,” said the man and began dishing up a few spoonfuls to each of the people in their bowls. When all had had a little, and had gone back to their own fires, he ate what remained in the pot. When he had finished, he patted his now very full tummy and sighed. The soup-covered stone waited in the bottom of the pot and he managed to get to his feet and stagger to the stream to wash it.
During the dark hours of the night, many of the travellers found they were unable to sleep well. The little soup had merely taken the edge off their hunger and most had the same thought going through their minds: If I owned that stone, I could make enough soup for me and my family and we’d never go hungry again.
Needless to say, the man with the soup-stone had little sleep that night as one by one many of the travellers crept to his bivouac and begged him to sell them the stone.
“Well,” he said, in a whisper. “I might just part with it but….it will cost you all the money you have. You see, that stone would have fed me my whole life and if I sell it, I will always have to buy food again. So it’s only fair that I get a decent amount of money to compensate for it.”
Willingly, they gave him their money and in the morning, few travellers were left at the resting place and those were the ones who had not crept to the man’s bivouac. Hungry but ready to start the day, a man went to the stream to wash and ready himself for the new day ahead. As he splashed in the water, he noticed that the bed of the stream was made up of many rounded pebbles, though there seemed to be gaps where others might once have been.
“That’s strange,” he said out loud. “Those stones look very like the soup-stone. I wonder where he got his from?”