Saturday, 17 March 2018

Some Women Are Such

There was once upon a time a man and a wife who should sow, but they had no seed grain, and had no money to buy any, either. They had a single cow, and this the man should go to town with, and sell to get some money for seed corn. But when it came to it, his wife dared not let her husband go, for she was afraid he would drink up the money. So she took the cow with her, and took with her a hen, too.

Close by the town, she met a butcher. “Will you sell the cow, mother?” he asked.

“I shall do so, certainly,” she said.

“What do you want for it, then?”

“I suppose I want a mark for the cow, but the hen you may have for ten dollars,” she said.

“Well, I have no use for the hen,” he replied, “and you will get rid of it when you come to the town; but I will give you a mark for the cow.”

She sold the cow and took her mark, but there was no one in the town who would give ten dollars for a dry, scabby hen. So she went back to the butcher and said: “I cannot get rid of the hen, father. You must take it too, you who took the cow.”

“We shall come to an agreement,” said the butcher. He asked her to sit at the table, then gave her food, and poured her so much brandy that she grew drunk and lost her sense and composure.

While she was sleeping it off, the butcher dipped her in a barrel of pitch, and laid her in a heap of feathers.

When she awoke, she was feathered all over, and began to wonder: “Is it me, or is it not me? No, it can never be me; it must be a great, strange bird. But what shall I do to find out whether it is me or if it is not me? Well, now I know: if the calves lick me, and the dog does not bark at me, when I get home, then it is me.”

The dog had never before seen such a beast, so it began to bark greatly, as if there were both thieves and rascals on the farm. “No, it certainly cannot be me,” she said. When she went into the barn, the calves would not lick her, for they smelt the pitch. “No, it cannot be me, it must be a strange bird,” she said.

Then she climbed up on to the roof of the stabbur,1 began to flap her arms, as if they were wings, and tried to fly into the air.

When her husband saw this, he came out with his rifle, and began to aim.

“Oh, don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” shouted the wife, “It’s me!”

“If it is you,” said her husband, “then don’t stand there like a goat, but come down and give a true account of yourself.”

She climbed down again, then, but she did not have a single shilling, for the mark she had got from the butcher she had thrown away in her drunkenness; and when the husband heard this, he said: “You are no more than one time crazier than you have been.” And he grew so angry that he would leave everything altogether, and never come back unless he met three more women who were just as crazy. And when he had come a way on the road, he saw a woman who sprang out and in of a newly-built cabin, with an empty grain sieve. Each time she sprang in, she threw her apron over the sieve, as if she had something in it, and tipped it out on the floor.

“Why do you do this, mother?” he asked.

“Oh, I only want to carry in a little sunshine,” replied the woman; “but I do not know how it is; when I am outside, I have the sunshine in the sieve, but when I come in, I have lost it again. When I was in my old cabin, I had enough sunshine, even though I never carried even a tiny bit in; if only someone could bring me some sunshine, I would give him three-hundred dollars.”

“Do you have an axe?” said the man; “then I shall manage to bring you some sunshine.”

He got an axe, and chopped out some window holes, for that had the carpenters forgotten; straightway the sunshine came in, and he got his three-hundred dollars.

There was one, thought the man, and went on his way again.

After a while, he came to a house, and there was terrible screaming and din. There he went in and saw a woman who was striking her husband on his head with a wooden washing beetle; over his head he had pulled a shirt in which there was no neck hole.

“Do you want to beat your husband to death, mother?” he asked.

“No,” she said; “I just want a neck hole in this shirt.”

The man screamed and carried on, and said, “Oh dear, dear me, who would put on a new shirt! If someone could teach my wife to put a neck hole in a shirt in a different manner, then I would gladly give him three-hundred dollars!”

“That will soon be done; just give me a pair of scissors,” said the other. He got a pair of scissors, cut a hole, and then left with his money.

There was the second, he said to himself.

After a long, long time, he came to a farm; there he thought to rest a while, and went in.

“Where are you from, father?” asked the woman.

“I am from Ringerike,” he said.

“Oh no, are you really from himmerike?2 So you know Per the second, my blessed husband, then?”

The wife had been married three times; the first and the last had been bad; she thought, therefore, that the second had been blessed, for he had been a kind man.

“Yes, I know him, of course,” said he who was a-wandering.

“How does he fare now, then?” asked the wife.

“Oh, it is quite embarrassing,” said he from Ringerike, “he wanders from farm to farm, and has no food, nor clothes on his body—money there is now no talk of.”

“Oh, comfort me for him, then!” cried the woman; “he has no need to go so humbly, he who left so much behind; here there is a big loft full of his clothes, and a large chest of money stands here, too. If you want to take it with you, then you shall have a horse and a cart to drive with; and the horse he can have, and on the cart can he sit and drive from farm to farm, for he need not walk.”

The one from Ringerike got a whole cartload of clothes, and a chestful of gleaming silver money, and as much food and drink as he wanted, and he drove on his way.

There was the third, he said to himself.

But over in the field went the third husband, ploughing; and when he saw a stranger fellow travelling off with a horse and tools, he went home and asked his wife who it was who was going off with the blue horse.

“Oh him,” she said. “That was a man from heaven; he said that Per the second, my blessed husband, fared badly, that he was going from farm to farm there, and has neither clothes nor money; so I sent with him all these old clothes that hung behind after him, and the old money-chest full of silver dollars.”

The man soon understood where this was going, saddled a horse, and flew off at a full gallop. It was not long before he lay tight behind he who sat on the cart, driving; but when the other noticed, he drove the horse and cart into the thicket, snatched out a fistful of horsehair from the horse, and then he ran up a bank; there he tied the horsehair fast to a birch, and beneath it, he lay down and began to glare and stare up into the clouds.

“No, no, no!” he said, as if to himself, when Per the third came riding up. “No, now I have never seen anything so strange! No, I have never seen the like!”

Per stood, looking at him for a while, and wondered if he had lost his mind, or what this might be; finally he asked him: “What are you lying there, looking at?”

“No, I have never seen the like!” said the other. “There went one up into the sky on a blue horse; here, you see its hair hanging after it on this birch, and up there in the clouds, you can see the blue horse.”

Per looked at the clouds, and from the clouds to him, and said: “I see nothing but the horsehair in the birch.”

“No, you cannot see it, where you stand, either,” said the other. “But come here and lie down, and stare up, and of course you must not take your eyes off the clouds.”

While Per the third lay, glaring up into the sky until his eyes ran with water, the one from Ringerike took his horse, mounted it, and rode off with both it and the cartload. When it began to rumble on the road, Per shot up, but he was so confounded that the other was leaving with his horse that he did not think to run after before it was too late.

Now he was both quick and fast; but when he came home to his wife, and she asked what he had done with his horse, he said: “I gave it to Per the second, too, I did, for I thought it was not worthy, his sitting on a cart, rattling from farm to farm; now he can sell the cart and buy himself a carriage to drive on.”

“I thank you for that! Never did I think that you were such a kind man,” said his wife.

When he now came home, he who had gathered together the six-hundred dollars, and the cartload of clothes and money, he saw that all the fields had been ploughed and sown. The first thing he asked his wife about, that was where she had got the seed grain from.

“Oh,” she said, “I have always heard that he who sows, he reaps; so I sowed the salt that the notherner left here, and if only there is some rain soon, then I think it might come up again.”

“Crazy are you, and crazy you shall remain for as long as you live,” said the man; “but it makes no difference, for the others are the same as you!”


Norwegian source.

  1. See the illustration. 

  2. Meaning heaven. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Cock and the Fox

Once upon a time, a cock stood on a dungheap and crowed and flapped its wings. Then the fox came up to him.

“Good day,” said the fox. “I did hear you crow,” he said, “but can you stand on one leg and crow and blink, like your father did?” said Mikkel.

“I can, both good and well,” said the cock, and he stood on one leg, but he winked only with one eye, and when he had done it, then he preened himself and flapped his wings, as if he had done something great.

“That was beautiful,” said the fox. “It was almost as beautiful as when the parson holds mass in church. But can you also stand on one leg and crow and blink with both eyes at the same time? I feel quite sure that you can,” said Mikkel. “Your father, well, he was a real man,” he said.

“Oh, I can do it just as well,” said the cock; and he stood on one leg and blinked with both eyes, and crowed.

In a flash, the fox jumped on him, took him by the neck, and threw him across his back, so he could not cry out; and then ran off into the woods with him, as fast as Mikkel managed to run.

When they were under an old bare spruce, Mikkel threw the cock to the ground, placed his foot on his breast, and desired to take a bite.

“You are not as god-fearing as your father,” said the cock. “He crossed himself and prayed for his food,” he said.

Well, Mikkel did want to be god-fearing—goodness! So he released his hold and moved to lay his paws in a cross and read. Just like that, the cock flew into a tree.

“You won't get away,” said Mikkel to himself. Then he went away, and came back with a couple of loose parchments left behind by some woodcutters. The cock looked and looked at what it might be.

“What do you have there?” he said.

“It's a letter I have received from the Pope in Rome,” said the fox; “won't you help me read it, for I am not so scholarly, myself.”

“I would very much like to, but I don't dare, now,” said the cock. “There comes a shooter; I'll sit behind the treetrunk. I see him, I see him!” he said.

When the fox heard the cock crowing about the shooter, he sprang off in the most convenient direction. On that occasion, it was the cock who outwitted the fox.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The World’s Pay is No Different

There was once upon a time a man who went into the forest to hew some poles for his haystacks. But he could not find forest that was as tall and as straight and as dense as it should be, before he came tight below a scree. There he heard complaining and screams, as if there were one in jeopardy of their life. So he went over to see what it was about, if there was anyone in need of help, and then he heard that it came from beneath a flat stone slab that lay in the scree. It was so heavy that it needed many men to lift it; but the man went down into the forest again, and felled a tree that he made into a beam, and with that he propped up the stone slab.

From under the stone slab came forth a dragon, which would eat up the man. “Indeed,” said the man, “I saved your life, and so you will eat me up for my trouble; that is shamefully ungrateful,” he said.

“It may be that,” said the dragon, “but you should know that I am hungry, I who have lain here for a hundred years without tasting meat; and the world’s pay is no different, either.”

The man spoke well for himself, and begged beautifully for his life, and so they agreed that the first who came would be their arbitrator, and if he judged differently, then the man would not lose his life, but if he said the same, then the dragon would eat the man.

The first one who came was an old dog that walked down beneath the scree. He they spoke to, and he should be judge.

“God knows I have served my master faithfully from when I was a small puppy,” said the dog. “I have lain awake many a night and many a season, while he has lain on his green ear, and I have saved his farm and goods from fire and the hands of thieves on more than one occasion, but now I can neither see nor hear any longer, and now will he shoot me, so I must flee, and wonder between the farms, and beg my way along until I die of starvation. No, the world’s pay is no different,” said the dog.

“Then I will eat you!” said the dragon, and would again devour the man.

But the man spoke so beautifully for himself, and begged so feebly for his life, and finally they agreed that the next one who came should be appointed arbitrator; and should he say the same as the dragon and the dog, then the dragon should eat him up and make a meal of man-flesh, but if he did not, then the man should escape with his life.

Then there came an old horse wandering down the road that followed along the rise. He they spoke with, and asked him to judge between them. Yes, this he would do, then.

“Now, I have served my master for as long as I have been able to draw and carry,” said the horse. “I have toiled and striven for him, so that my sweat has poured off every hair, and I have steadily striven until I have ached and grown stiff and exhausted from the work and old age; now I am no good any more, now I can do nothing worth my feed, and so now I shall have a bullet, he says. No, the world’s pay is no different!” said the horse.

“Yes, and so I will eat you!” said the dragon, opening its gaping mouth wide to devour the man.

He begged so beautifully for his life again.

But the dragon wanted a bite of man-flesh, he said; he was so hungry that he could not control himself any longer.

“Look, there comes one who looks as if he were appointed judge,” said the man—Mikkel the fox came skulking down towards them, between the rocks in the scree. “All good things are three,” he said. “Let me ask him too, and if he judges as the others, then you shall eat me on the spot,” he said to the dragon.

“Very well, then,” said the dragon; he had also heard that all good things are three, and thus it would be so.

The man spoke to the fox, as he had to the other two. “Oh yes,” said the fox; but then he took the man aside a little.

“What will you give me as a reward, if I save you from the dragon?” whispered the fox in his ear.

“You shall come to me, and look after all of my hens and geese every Thursday evening,” said the man.

“Well, this looks like a matter of tenancy law, my dear dragon,” said the fox. “I cannot get it into my head that you, who are so great and powerful an animal, could have space to lie under that stone slab.”

“Well, I lay up here, sunning myself, and then there was a rock slide that tipped the stone slab over me.”

“That is very plausible,” said Mikkel, “but I do not understand it, and cannot believe it until I see it,” he said.

Then they would have to try it, said the man, and the dragon slipped back down into the hole again. Straightway, he knocked the beam away, and so the stone slab crashed over the dragon again.

“Lie now till judgement day,” said the fox; “you will not devour the man, for he saved you.” The dragon screamed and complained and begged, but the pair walked away.

The first Thursday, the fox would look after the hens in the hen house, and he hid himself behind a pile of fence posts that lay there. When the girl went to feed the hens in the evening, Mikkel slipped in. She did not notice and she did not see, and she was hardly out again before he had bitten to death eight days’ worth, and eaten until he could not manage to move. When she returned in the morning, the fox lay snoring and sleeping in the morning sun, with all four legs sticking out, and he was as full and as stuffed as a sausage.

The girl went up for the wife, and she and all the girls came with poles and sticks, and they began to strike Mikkel until they had nearly beaten him to death; but then, at the end, when they thought he would end his life there, Mikkel found a hole in the floor; that he slipped out through, and he limped and dragged himself to the forest. “Ow! Ow! The world’s pay is no different, that is certain enough!” said Mikkel.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Boy with the Beer Keg

There was once upon a time a man from north of the mountains. This man was a master of brewing beer; it was so unreasonably good that its equal was not to be found. When the boy was to leave, and the man should pay him the wages he had earned, he would not have anything but a keg of Christmas beer. Well, he got it, and went off with it, and he carried it both far and wide, but the farther he carried it, the heavier it grew, and so he began to look around for someone to drink with, so the beer would diminish and the keg grow lighter.

After a long, long time, he met a man with a great beard.

“Good day,” said the man.

“Good day to you,” said the boy.

“Where are you off to?” said the man.

“I am looking for someone to drink with, so I can lighten my keg,” said the boy.

“Can you not just as easily drink with me as with another?” said the man. “I have travelled both far and wide, so I am both weary and thirsty.”

“Yes, I can,” said the boy, “but where do you come from, and what manner of man are you, then?” he said.

“I am Our Lord, and I come from the Kingdom of Heaven, I do,” said the man.

“I do not want to drink with you,” said the boy, “for you treat people so differently here in the world, and grant them rights so unfairly, so that some grow rich and others humble. No, I will not drink with you,” he said, tramping off again with his keg.

When he had gone a way more, the keg grew very heavy again, so that he thought that he could not manage to carry it any longer, unless someone came with whom he could drink, so the beer grew less in the keg. Well, then he met an ugly, gangling man, who came sweeping so quickly.

“Good day,” said the man.

“Good day to you.”

“Where are you off to?” said the man.

“Oh, I am looking for someone to drink with, so that I may lighten my keg,” said the boy.

“Can you not just as well drink with me as with another?” said the man. “I have travelled both far and wide, and a drop of beer would do some goo in my old carcass,” he said.

“Yes, I can,” said the boy, “but what manner of man are you, and where are you from?” he asked.

“I? I am known well enough; I am the devil, and I come from Hell,” said the man.

“No,” said the boy, “you only torment and bother folk, and if there is ever any bad luck abroad, then they usually say it is your fault. No, you will I not drink with,” said the boy.

So he took his beer keg, and walked far, and farther than far, until he thought that it grew so heavy that he could not bear to carry it any farther. He began to look around again, to see if there did not come anyone he could drink with, so the keg could grow lighter. Yes, after a long time, again a man came, and he was so dry and rattle-boned that it was nothing less than a miracle of God that he hung together.

“Good day,” said the man.

“Good day to you,” said the boy.

“Where are you off to?” asked the man.

“I would see if I can find someone to drink with, so that my keg may be a little lighter; it grows so heavy to carry,” said the boy.

“Can you not drink with me, just as well as with another?” said the man.

“Well, I can, yes,” said the boy. “What manner of man are you, though?” he said.

“They call me Death,” said the man.

“I will drink with you,” said the boy, laying down the keg, and tapping some beer into a bowl. “You are a hearty man, for you make all alike, both poor and rich.”

Then he drank to him, and Death thought it was a wonderful drink, and as the boy offered him more, they drank until they had drunk their fill, so the beer decreased, and the keg grew lighter.

Finally Death said: “I have never know drink taste better, and do me so much good as the beer you have poured me; I feel like a man newly-born on the inside, and I do not know what to do to thank you for it.” But when he had thought about it for a while, he said that the keg should never be empty, however much they drank from it, and the beer should be a cure, so the boy could make the sick well, better than any doctor. And then he said that when he came in to someone sick, then should Death always be there, and show himself for him; and it should be a sure sign that when Death sat at the feet, then he would be able to save the sick one with a healing draught from the keg, but if he sat at the headboard, then there was no advice or cure for death.

The boy was soon sought after, and he was called for from both far and wide, and he helped many back to health, for whom there had been no help. When he came in, and saw where Death sat with the sick one, he foresaw either life or death, and he was steadily right. He became both a rich and a powerful man, and eventually he was fetched for for a king’s daughter, far away in the countries. She was so sick that no doctor dared help her more, and so they promised him everything he could wish for and demand, if only he could save her.

When he came in to the king’s daughter, Death sat at her headboard, but he sat there napping and nodding, and while he sat like that, she felt better. “Here it is a matter a life and death,” said the doctor, “and there is no saving her, if I see things right,” he said. But they said that he had to save her, no matter if it cost them country and kingdom. So he looked at Death, and while he sat there napping again, he winked at the servants to turn the bed around in a hurry, so that Death would be sitting at her feet, and as soon as that was done, he gave her the health draught, so she was saved.

“Now you have betrayed me,” said Death, “and now it is over between us.”

“I had to, if I was to win both country and kingdom,” said the boy.

“It will not help you much,” said Death. “Your time is up, for you belong to me now.”

“Yes, if that is the way it has to be, then let it be so,” said the boy. “But I suppose you will let me read out the Lord’s Prayer first,” he said.

Yes, this he would be allowed, but he made sure never to read the Lord’s Prayer; everything else he read, but “Our Father” never crossed his tongue, and finally he thought he had cheated Death properly. But when Death thought it had gone on for long enough, then he went one night, and hung up a large blackboard with “Our Father” on it, above the boy’s bed. When he awoke, he began to read it, and did not pull himself properly together before he reached the “Amen.” But by then it was too late.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Bear and the Fox

I. Let Go the Spruce Root and Take the Fox’s Leg

There was once upon a time a bear that sat on a sunny bank, sleeping. Just like that a fox came past and saw it.

“Do you sit there lazily, grandfather?” said the fox. “Now I shall play you a prank,” thought Mikkel to himself. So he found three forest mice and laid them on a stump close before the nose of the bear. “Puh, bear! Per the shooter lies behind the stump!” he screamed into the bear’s ear, and took off by foot, away through the forest.

The bear jumped awake, and when he saw the three mice, he grew so angry that he had already lifted his paw, to strike them, for he thought it was they who had screamed in his ear. But then he saw Mikkel’s tail between the bushes on the edge of the forest, and set off so that the woodland whistled; and the bear was so close behind Mikkel that he grasped hold of his right hind leg, just as he was about to shoot down beneath a spruce root. There sat Mikkel fast, but helpless he was not; he screamed: “Let go the spruce root and take the fox’s leg!” and the bear let him go. But then the fox laughed from deep within his hole, and said: “Did I not fool you this time, too, grandfather?”

“Hidden is not forgotten,” said the bear, angrily.

II. They Wager on Bacon and a Bumblebee Hive

In the morning of the second day, the bear came walking across the marsh with a slaughtered pig. Mikkel sat up high on a rock on the bank of the marsh.

“Good day, grandfather,” said the fox. “What is that tasty morsel you have there?” he said.

“Bacon!” said the bear.

“I too have something good to eat,” said the fox.

“What is that?” said the bear.

“It is the largest bumblebee hive I have ever found,” said Mikkel.

“Indeed,” said the bear, groaning and drooling, so good he thought it would be to have a little honey. “Shall we swap food?” he said.

“No, I will not,” said Mikkel.

But then they made a wager, and agreed that they should name three kinds of tree. If the fox could do so more quickly than the bear, then he would be allowed a single bite of the bacon; but if the bear could do it more quickly, then he would be allowed a suck from the bee hive. He would probably be able to suck all the honey out in one go, thought the bear.

“Yes,” said the fox, “this is all well and good, but I tell you, if I win, then you must pull the bristles out from where I will bite,” he said.

“Very well. I will help you, since you do not care to help yourself,” said the bear.

Then they should name the trees.

“Fir, pine, fatwood,” growled the bear—his voice was coarse. But this was only one kind of tree, for the fir is nothing but a pine.

“Ash, alder, oak,” screamed the fox so that the forest resounded.

So he had won, and he came down and took the heart out of the pig in a single bite, and would run; the bear had grown so angry that he had taken the best bit of the whole pig, and he caught hold of his tail and held on to him.

“Stay a little,” said the bear, angrily.

“Well, it is all the same, grandfather; if you let me go, you shall taste my honey,” said the fox.

When the bear heard this, he let him go, and the fox ran for the honey.

“Here, suck on this bumblebee hive,” said Mikkel. “I hold a leaf, and beneath the leaf there is a hive you can suck through,” he said. And as soon as he held the bumblebee hive beneath the bear’s nose, he took away the leaf, jumped up on to a rock, and sat down to grin and to laugh, for it was neither a bumblebee hive, nor honey, it was a wasp’s nest as big as a man’s head, full of wasps; and the wasps swarmed out and stung the bear in his eyes, and ears, and mouth, and on his nose. And he had so much to do, batting them away, that he had no time to think about Mikkel.

From that day, the bear has been afraid of wasps.

III. They Should Own a Field in Common

Once upon a time the bear and the fox should own a field in common; they had a small clearing up in the forest. The first year they sowed rye. “Now, we should share fairly,” said Mikkel. “If you want the roots, then I shall have the tops,” he said. Yes, the bear would have this. But when they had threshed, the fox got the grain, but the bear got nothing but straw and roots. The bear did not like this, but the fox said that it was what they had agreed upon. “This year I have the profit,” said the fox, “another year you will have it; then you shall have the tops and I shall have the roots.”

But when the spring came, Mikkel asked the bear what he thought of turnips. Yes, they make better fare than grain, he said; and so thought the fox, too. When the autumn came, the fox took the turnips and the bear got the leaves. And then the bear grew so angry that he parted company with Mikkel immediately.

IV. Mikkel Wants to Taste Horse Meat

Then there was a day that the bear lay eating from a horse he had slain. Then was Mikkel abroad again, and he came slinking and drooling for a good piece of the horse meat. He bent and twisted until he came behind the bear, then he jumped to the other side of the horse carcass, and snatched a mouthful as he went past. The bear was not slow either; he struck out after Mikkel so that he caught the tip of his red tail in his paw. Since that time the fox has had a white tip to his tail.

“Wait now, Mikkel, and come here,” said the bear, “and I will teach you to catch horses.” Yes, Mikkel would like to learn, but he went no closer than he thought he should. “When you see a horse lying on a sunny bank, sleeping,” said the bear, “then you should tie yourself fast with the locks of its tail, and bite your teeth into the horse’s thigh,” he said.

It was not long before the fox found a horse sleeping on a sunny bank, you can imagine, and then he did as the bear had said; he bound himself well into the horse’s locks, and bit his teeth into the horse’s thigh. And it jumped up and began to kick and run, so Mikkel was thrown against both stock and stone, and he was not far from losing both sense and reason.

Suddenly they flew past a hare.

“Where are you off to, who flies so quickly, Mikkel?” said the hare.

“I am being taken for a ride, my dear Jens!” said the fox.

And the hare sat up on two legs and laughed so well that his mouth popped open, up to his ears, for Mikkel travelled so nicely on a ride.

But since that ride, the fox has not thought of catching a horse. That time it was the bear who was bad; otherwise they say he is as gullible as the troll.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Quern that Stands Milling on the Bottom of the Sea

Once in the old olden days, there were two brothers, one of whom was rich and the other poor. When Christmas Eve came, the poor one had not so much as a crumb of food in his house, neither milk nor bread, and so he went to his brother to ask for some for Christmas, in God’s name. It was not the first time his brother had to give him some; measured was he always, but he was not too much fond of him now, either.

“If you will do what I ask you, then you shall have a whole hock of ham,” he said. This the unfortunate one promised on the spot, and he thanked him for it.

“Here you have it; go straight to hell!” said the rich one, throwing the ham to him.

“Well, what I have promised, I must keep,” said the other. He took the ham and set off.

He walked and he walked the whole day, and at twilight he came to a place that shone so beautifully. You shall see it is here, thought the man with the ham. Out in the woodshed stood and old man, chopping firewood for Christmas.

“Good evening,” said he with the ham.

“Good evening to you! Where are you off to so late?” said the fellow.

“I am most likely going to hell, if I am on the right road,” replied the poor man.

“Yes, you have gone right enought; it is here,” said the other. “When you come in, the others will want to buy your ham, for flesh is seldom fare in hell; but you must not sell it unless it is for the hand quern that stands behind the door. When you come out again, I shall teach you to stop the quern; it is useful for this and that, it is.”

Well he with the ham thanked him for the good guidance, and knocked on the devil’s door.

When he came in, it went as the old man had said; all the devils, both big and small, surrounded him like ants and worms, and the one overbid the other for the ham. “Sure enough, my wife and I were to have it for dinner on Christmas Eve, but since you are so eager to have it, then I shall relinquish it,” said the man. “But if I am to sell it, then I want the hand quern that stands behind the door over there.” This the devil would rather not lose, and he bargained and haggled; but the man held by his demand, and so the devil had to give him it.

When the man came out into the yard, he asked the wood cutter how he should stop the quern, and when he had learned to do so, he thanked him, and set off homeward as quickly as he could; but even so, he did not arrive before the clock struck twelve on Christmas morn.

“And where on earth have you been, then?” said his wife. “Here have I been sitting, hour out and hour in, yearning and waiting, with not so much as two sticks to place in a cross beneath the Christmas porridge cauldron.”

“Oh, I could not come before; I had a little of everything to get, and a long road I had, too. But now you shall see!” said the man. He put the quern on the table, and asked it first to mill candles, then a cloth, then food, and beer, and everything that was good food on Christmas Eve; and according to what he told it to, the quern milled it.

His wife crossed herself time after time, and wanted to know where the man had got the quern from, but he would not tell; “it does not matter where I got it; you see the quern is good, and the quern water does not freeze,” said the man. Then he milled food and drink and all good things for the whole of Christmas; and on the third day, he invited his friends, for he wanted to hold a feast.

When his rich brother saw everything that was at the feast, he grew both angry and wild, for he could not wish his brother anything good. “On Christmas Eve, he was in such want that he came to me and asked for a little in God’s name, and now he holds a feast, as if he were both a count and king,” he said.

“But where in the heat of hell have you got all your riches from?” he said to his brother.

“Behind the door,” said he who owned the quern; he did not care to give him an account for it.

But in the evening, when a little had gone to his head, he could not help himself, and he brought the quern forth. “There you see what has brought me all this wealth!” he said, and then he let the quern mill both this and that.

When his brother saw it, on his life, he wanted it, and after a long, long time, he should have it, too, but three hundred dollars would he have to give for it, and then the other should have it until the haymaking season, “for if I have it for so long, then I will be able to mill food for many years,” he thought. In that time, you can imagine the quern did not grow rusty, and when the haymaking season came, his brother got it; but the other had been very careful not to teach him how to stop it.

It was in the evening that the rich one brought the quern home, and in the morning, he bade his wife go out and help the haymakers; he would make the meal himself today, he said.

When meal time came around, he put the quern on the kitchen table. “Mill herring and gruel, and that both quickly and well!” said the man. And the quern began to mill both herring and gruel, first so that all the plates and troughs were full, and then across the whole kitchen floor. The man fiddled and poked and tried to get the quern to stop, but no matter how he turned and fingered it, the quern continued, and in a little while, the gruel reached so far up that the man was close to drowning. Then he pulled open the parlour door, but it was not long before the parlour was full too, and it was a close thing that the man was able to grasp hold of the catch, down in the deluge of gruel. When he opened the door, he was not long in the cabin, I would not think; he ran out, and herring and gruel came after him so that it flowed out across both farm and fields.

Now, the woman, who was turning the hay, thought that the meal was taking too long to make ready. “If my husband does not call us home, then we shall go anyway; he cannot cook gruel very well; I must help him,” said the wife to the haymakers.

Well, they wandered homewards. But as they came up the hill a bit, they met herring and gruel and bread, all mixed together, and the man himself before the flood.

“I wish each of you had a hundred bellies! But watch out that you do not drown in the gruel,” he screamed as he ran past them, as if the evil one were on his heels, down to where his brother lived. He bade him for God’s sake to take the quern back, and that immediately; “if it mills for another hour, then the whole village will be lost to herring and gruel,” he said. But his brother would not at all take it back before the other had paid him three hundred dollars, and so he had to.

Now the poor one had both money and the quern, and so it was not long before he had built a farm much finer than the one his brother lived in; with the quern he milled so much gold that he clad it in bare gold plates, and this farm lay close by the seafront, and gleamed and shone far out across the fjord. All who sailed past had to drop in and greet the rich man in the golden farm, and everyone wanted to see the wondrous quern, for word of it spread both far and wide, and there was no one who had not heard of it.

After a long, long time, a skipper came, who would also see the quern; he asked if it could mill salt. Yes, of course it could mill salt, said he who owned it. And when the skipper heard this, he wanted the quern, by fair means or foul, whatever it cost; for if he had it, he thought, then he would not have to sail far across the sea and waves for a cargo of salt. To begin with, the man would not be without it, but the skipper both begged and pleaded, and finally he sold it, and received many, many thousands of dollars for it.

When the skipper had got the quern on his back, he did not stop long there, for he was afraid the man would change his mind; to ask how he should stop it, that he had no time at all for. He went down to his ship as quickly as he could, and when he had come a little way out to sea, he took out the quern. “Mill salt, and that both quickly and well!” said the skipper. Yes, the quern began to mill salt so that it flew. When the skipper had a full ship, he would stop the quern, but however he behaved, and no matter how he treated it, the quern continued to mill in the same way, and the heap of salt grew higher and higher, until at last the ship went to the bottom.

There stands the quern on the bottom of the sea, milling, even until today, and that is why the sea is salty.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Green Knight

There was once upon a time a king who was a widower, and he had an only daughter. But there is an old proverb that says the grief of a widower is like striking your elbow: it hurts, but it soon passes; and so he married a queen who had two daughters. And this queen, she was no better than stepmothers usually are: mean and troll-like was she always towards her stepdaughter.

After a long, long time, when they were grown up, these princesses, there was a war, and the king had to go out to fight for his country and kingdom. The three daughters were allowed to to tell the king what he should buy and bring home, if he won over the enemy. His stepdaughters had to tell him first what they wanted, you know. Well, the first asked for a golden spinning wheel, so big that it could stand on a silver eight-shilling piece, and the other, she asked for a golden spinner’s weasel, so big that it could stand on a silver eight shilling piece.1 That is what they wanted; and it was for neither winning nor spinning for either of them. But his own daughter, she had nothing to ask for, but that he should greet the Green Knight.

The king went to war, and however it went, he won, and however it happened, he bought what he had promised his stepdaughters; what his own daughter had asked for, he had simply forgotten. But then he held a banquet because he had won. There he saw the Green Knight, and so he remembered, and greeted him from his rightful daughter. The knight thanked him for the greeting, and gave him a book that looked like a hymn book with a buckled cover. This the king should take with him and give to her; but he must not open it up, and neither must she until she was alone. When the king was done with the war and with the banquet, he returned home again, and had hardly come in through the door before his stepdaughters pestered him for what he had promised to buy them. Yes, he had it. But his own daughter, she kept back, and asked for nothing, and the king did not remember, either, before one day, when he would go out, he put on the tunic he had worn at the banquet, and as soon as he reached into his pocket for a kerchief, he felt the book. So he gave it to her, and said he should greet her from the Green Knight, and that she must not open it before she was alone.

In the evening, when she was by herself in her chamber, she opened up the book, and straightway she heard a beautiful melody such as she had never heard before, and then came the Green Knight. He said that the book was such that when she opened it up, he would come to her, no matter where she was, and when she closed it again, he would straightway be gone.

Yes, she often opened up the book in the evening. When she was alone, and at peace, the knight always came quietly to her. But her stepmother had her nose in everything; she understood that there was someone in with her, and she was not slow in telling the king. He did not want to believe it; they should first look to see if it was so before they came in to take her for it. One evening they stood outside, listening, and they thought they clearly heard talk from within. When they came in, there was no one.

“Who was it you spoke with?” her stepmother asked, both hard and sharp.

“It was no one,” said the king’s daughter.

“Yes, I heard it clearly,” she said.

“I was just lying, reading a prayer book.”

“Show me it,” said the queen.

Well, it was nothing other than a prayer book, and she must certainly have leave to read that, said the king. But her stepmother believed the same as before, and so she drilled a hole in the wall, and lurked there.

One evening she heard the knight was there, she tore the door open, and flew like the wind in to her stepdaughter; but she was not slow in closing the book, either, and so he disappeared very quickly. But no matter how quick she had been, her stepmother caught a glimpse of him, so she was certain that someone had been there.

Then the king had to go on a long journey; in the meantime, the queen had a deep hole dug in the earth; there they built a house; and in the wall she laid rat poison and other strong poisons, so that there should not come in so much as a mouse. The bricklayer was well paid, and he promised to leave the country, but he did not—he stayed where he was, he did. Down there the king’s daughter was put, with her maid, and then they bricked up the entrance, with nothing but a small hole left, so they could send food down to her. Here she sat, mourning, and time passed slowly, and slower than slowly. Then she felt that she had the book with her, and she took it and opened it up. First she heard the same beautiful melody she had heard before, and then a pathetic, mournful song, and just like that the Green Knight came.

“I am almost dead, now,” he said, and told her how her stepmother had laid poisons in the wall, and he did not know if he could get out again with his life. When she had to close the book again, she heard the same mournful song again.

But the maid who was with her had a sweetheart, and she had a message sent that he should go to the bricklayer and ask him to make the hole so big that they could crawl up through it; the king’s daughter would pay him so well that he would have enough for the rest of his days. Yes, he did it. They got out, and travelled far, far away to a strange country, both she and her maid, and wherever they came, they asked after the Green Knight. After a long, long time, they came to a castle that was dressed in black, and as they should go in, there came a heavy shower of rain upon them; so the king’s daughter went in to the vestibule of the church, and she would stand there until the downpour had passed. As they stood so, a young man and an old man came in, to take shelter from the rain, too; but the princess went further into the corner, so they did not see her.

“What is the meaning of this, that the king’s farm is dressed in black?” said the younger.

“Do you not know?” said the old one. “The prince here is sick unto death, he they called the Green Knight.” And then he told how it had happened. When the younger one had heard how he had got it, he asked if there was no one who could make him well again.

“No, there is no more than one piece of advice,” he said, “and that is if the maiden who sat in the house beneath the ground comes and plucks healing herbs from the mark, boils them in sweet milk, and washes him thrice with it.” And then he recounted what manner of herbs that were necessary to make him well. This she heard, and she listened carefully, too. When the rain had passed, the pair left, and she wasted no time either.

When they came home to where they were staying, they had to go out and collect all kinds of herbs in the mark and the forest, both she and her maid, and they plucked and gathered both late and early of all those she had to boil. Then she bought herself a doctor’s hat and a doctor’s coat, went up to the king, and offered to make the prince well again.

No, that would do no good, said the king; there had been so many there trying, but he had steadily grown worse rather than better. She did not give in, but promised firmly that he would get better, and that both quickly and well. Well, she would be allowed to try, then; and she came in to the Green Knight to wash him for the first time. When she returned on the second day, he was so well that he could sit in bed; the next day he was fellow enough to walk across the floor of the chamber; and the third day, he was as healthy as a fish in water. He should go out hunting, said the doctor. Now the king was as fond of the doctor as the bird is of the light of day. But the doctor wanted to go home. So she discarded the coat and hat, made herself up, and made a meal, and then she opened the book. It was the same joyous melody as before, and immediately the Green Knight came. He wondered how she had come there. But when she told him how everything had happened, and when he had eaten and drunk, he took her straight up to the castle and told the king how things had happened, from first to last.

So there was a wedding, and wedding trumpeting, and when they were finished this, they travelled home. Then there was great joy for her father. But her stepmother they took and rolled in a nail-barrel.

  1. There has never been such coin as the eight shilling piece minted in Norway; the Spanish dollar (Real de a Ocho, the Piece of Eight (Peso de Ocho), familiar from pirate tales), which was worth eight reales, fits the description nicely, however. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Østen and Anne-Lotta

There are several legends about this local Sámi couple. First this one:

Østen and Anne-Lotta lived periodically in Kvarnes on Sandhorn Island. One day their reindeer came down on to Ulrik’s field. He was none too pleased to have the reindeer in his field, and chased the reindeer away.

Anne-Lotta was known as a feisty woman. When she saw that Ulrik chased the reindeer away, she said to Østen: “Now he and his descendents will be hairless.”

The story goes that both Ulrik, his children, and his grandchildren had problems with their hair, and that several of them had to wear wigs.

And this one:

Østen came to Midthun farm to ask if a couple of men would help him take a large bull reindeer to the farm for slaughtering. Østen received help; Emma’s father Sivert, together with Hans, came back with him. The reindeer stood bound by the Lapp-stone, and was ready to be led to the farm.

Emma was known for making good food, and Anne-Lotta wanted to go to the farm to eat.

The men didn’t want Anne-Lotta with them; she was both ill-tempered and badly groomed. But she didn’t give up so easily. Østen begged her to remain calm, but she grew both wroth and possessed. Østen composed and manned himself. He said to his wife that she should calm herself down. Anne-Lotta was still angry, but she gave in.

When the men began on their way to the farm with the reindeer, Anne-Lotta called after them, “You’ve not come to the farm yet!”

Immediately afterwards, the bull turned difficult, and trampled Østen on the ground. Both Sivert and Hans had to take the bull by the head to get it off. Østen stood up and the journey continued, but again, the reindeer had an attack, and Østen ended up on the ground beneath the reindeer. He was helped up and managed to stand. But now he had had enough, and he understood what had happened. “She’ll hear about this. She’ll hear about this when I get home,” he cried. The reindeer was thenceforth calm, and the men came to the farm with no further trouble, where the reindeer was slaughtered.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mumble Goose-egg

There were once upon a time five women who were reaping in the field. All of them were childless, and each wished she had a child. Just like that they saw an unreasonably large goose egg, almost as big as a man’s head.

“I saw it first,” said one.

“I saw it just as soon as you did,” cried another.

“I do believe I shall have it, for I was the firt to see it,” swore a third. So they carried on, disagreeing about the egg so that they almost flew at each other.

But then they agreed that they should own the egg, all five, and lie on it, as a goose does, and hatch out the gosling. The first lay there for eight days, and brooded and lazed around, and did nothing; meanwhile the others toiled or their keep, both theirs and hers. One of them began to berate her for this.

“You did not come out of your egg before you could whistle, either,” said the one who lay brooding. “But I think there will be folk of this, for I fancy it mumbles: ‘Herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ inside, over and over,” she said. “But now you may lie here for eight days, and we shall take turns to feed you.”

When the fifth had also lain for eight days, she heard clearly that there was a child inside the egg, which cried for ‘herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ and so she picked a hole in it; but instead of a gosling, out came a folk-ling; and terribly ugly was he, with a large head and a small body; and the first thing he cried for, when he came out, was “herring and gruel, porridge and milk.” So they called him Mumble Goose-egg.

As ugly as he was, they were still very fond of him, but it was not long before he grew so greedy that he ate up all the food they had. When they cooked themselves a bowl of gruel or a cauldron of porridge that they thought would be enough for them all six, then the child gobbled it all up. So they would not have him any more. “I have not felt full up at all since this changeling crept out of his egg shell,” said one of them; and when Mumble Goose-egg heard that the others agreed with this, he said that he could go on his way; if they did not need him, then he did not need them, and so he went on his way.

After a long, long time, he came to a farm that lay on a rocky bank, and asked to go into service; there they needed a working lad, and the fellow soon set him to work, collecting stones from the field. Well, Mumble Goose-egg fetched stones from the field, and took them so large that there were many horse-loads of them, and no matter whether they were big or small, he put them in his pocket. It was not long before he was finished doing that work, and then he wanted to know what else he should do.

“You must pluck the stones from the field,” said the man; “you must push yourself before you can finish, I know.”

But Mumble Goose-egg emptied his pockets and threw the stones in a heap. Then the fellow saw that he was finished doing the work, and understood that he should be careful with one who was so strong. He should come in and have some food, he said. Mumble Goose-egg thought so too, and he ate everything that had been made for the farmer folk and the servants, and even then he was but half full up.

He was certainly a worker fellow, but also a dangerous fellow for food, for there was no bottom to him, said the farmer. “Such a fellow can eat a poor farmer out of his farm and land before he knows of it,” he said.

He had no more work for him; it would be best if he went to the king’s farm.

Mumble Goose-egg swept off to the king, and got into service at once; at the king’s farm there was enough food and work. He should be a page boy and help the girls carry wood and water, and do other small work.

Then he asked what he should do first. He should split some firewood for now, they said.

Well, Mumble Goose-egg began to split and chop so that the splinters flew about him, both from the woodshed and the timber, both from the sawbench and the lumber, and when he was finished doing that, he came and asked what he should do now.

“You can finish chopping the wood, now,” they said.

“There is nothing more to chop,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

That was not possible, said the farm overseer, looking out into the shed. But yes, Mumble Goose-egg had chopped it all up; there was firewood from both the sawbenches and the lumber. This was infuriating, he thought, and so he said that he would not have a taste of food until he had been into the forest and chopped as much wood as he had split into firewood.

Mumble Goose-egg went into the smithy, and had the smith help him make an axe of fifteen quarters of iron.1 Then he went into the timber forest and began to chop rapidly; he took beam spruces and mast pines, everything he found, both on the king’s, and on the neighbouring plantations; he cut off neither the branches nor the tops, so it all lay as after a windfall. Then he laid a good load on the sled, and set all the horses before it, but they could not move from the spot with the load, and when he took them by their heads, to get them moving, he pulled their heads off; so he tipped them out of their harnesses up in the mark, and pulled the load alone.

When he came home to the king’s farm, the king and the forrester stood in the hall to receive him, for he had treated the forest very badly—the forrestr had been up and seen it. But when Mumble Goose-egg came home dragging half the timber forest with him, the king was angry, and frightened, and so he thought he had better treat him shrewdly, since he was so strong.

“That was great work,” he said, “but how much do you eat at a time?” he said. “For you are hungry, I suppose.”

“When I should have enough porridge, twelve barrels of meal go into it,” said Mumble Goose-egg; but when he had put it away, then he could go for a while, too.

It took time to cook such porridge, and in the meantime, he should take the wood in to the cook. He laid the whole stack of firewood on a sled, but when he should go through the door with it, he was careless again. The house was sorely tested until all the joints began to fail, so close was he to pulling down the whole king’s farm.

When the food was ready, they sent him out to call in the folk. He called so that it echoed from all the mountains and hills, but they did not come quickly enough, he thought, so he quarreled with them and killed twelve.

“He has killed twelve,” said the king, “and he eats for many times twelve, but how many does he do the work of?”

“That is many times twelve, too,” said Mumble.

When he had had some food, he should go to the barn to thresh. He took the ridge of the roof as a flail, and when the roof began to fall down, he took a large beam spruce, as full of branches as it was, and set it up as the ridge, and then he threshed the grain and straw and hay all together. This caused harm, for the grain and the chaff flew around together, and stood in a cloud over the king’s farm.

When he had almost finished the threshing, some enemies came into the country, and there should be war. Then the king said to him that he should take some folk with him, go on his way to receive the enemy, and wage war, for he thought they would kill him. No, folk he would not have, he thought; he would fight alone, said Mumble Goose-egg.

All the better, the quicker I get rid of him, thought the king.

But a good club he would need.

They sent for the smith, and he forged one of five quarters. That would be good for cracking nuts, said Mumble Goose-egg. So he forged one of fifteen quarters. That would be good for cobbling, said Mumble Goose-egg. Well, bigger could the smith not forge with his folk. So he laid to the forge himself, Mumble Goose-egg, and made a club of fifteen ship-pounds2, and a hundred men were needed to turn it in place. This Mumble Goose-egg thought might do him in a pinch. Then he needed a knapsack of food. They made one of fifteen bull hides, and stuffed it full of food; and so he tramped down the hill with his knapsack on his back and the club on his shoulder.

When he came so far that the soldiers saw him, they sent word, and asked if he would receive them.

“Wait a little until I have eaten,” said Mumble Goose-egg, throwing himself to the ground to eat behind his great knapsack of food. But they could not wait; they began to shoot at him at once, so the rifle bullets rained and hailed around him.

“These crowberries I do not mind,” said Mumble Goose-egg, and lay to eating some more; neither lead nor iron bit at him, and his food knapsack stood before him and took the bullets, like a bulwark.

So they began to lob bombs and shoot with cannons. He grinned a little at every jolt he took.

“Oh, it does no good!” he said. But then he had a bomb go down his throat the wrong way. “Huh!” he said, spitting it out again. And then came a chain shot, and it landed in his butter box, and another took the food from between his fingers.

Then was he angry, rose, took his great club, and struck the ground, asking if they would take the food from his mouth with the blueberries that they blew from their vulgar blowpipes. He struck some more strokes, until the mountains and hills crumbled; and the enemy bounced into the air like chaff in the wind, and that was the end of that war.

When he came home, and wanted more work, the king was plainly ill, for he thought he would be rid of him by now. He knew no better than to send him to hell.

“You shall go to Old Erik and collect the land rent,” he said. Mumble Goose-egg set off with his knapsack on his back and his club across his shoulder. He was not long on the way; but when he arrived, Old Erik was at the catechesis. There was no one home but his mother, and she said she had never heard of any land rent; he should come back another time.

“Yes, come to me tomorrow!” he said; he said it would show itself a lie; had he come there, then he could stay there, and the land rent he would have; he had time to wait. But when he had eaten up his food, time drew on for him, and so he demanded the land rent from the old mother again, and said that now she should out with it.

No, she would not; she stood as fast as the old pine, she said, that stood without the gates of hell, that was so large that fifteen men could hardly girth it. But Mumble went up into the top, and twisted and turned it like a withy band, and asked if she would not meet his demand for land rent now.

Yes—she dared aught else, and gathered together as many shillings as he thought he could carry in his knapsack. Then he went on his way homeward with the land rent. And as soon as he had gone, Old Erik came home. When he heard that Mumble had set off with his great knapsack full of money, first he slapped his mother, and then he went after him. And he caught up with him, too, for he ran without burden, and took to wing occasionally, and Mumble had to keep to the ground with the heavy knapsack; but when Old Eirk was on his heels, he began to jump and run as best he could, and then he held the club behind him, to protect himself from him. And so it went; Mumble held on to the shaft, and Old Erik struggled against the club, until they came to a deep valley; there Mumble jumped from one mountain top over to another, and Old Eirk was so eager in his following that he ran into the club and fell into the valley and broke one leg. There he lay.

“There you have the land rent,” said Mumble Goose-egg, when he came to the king’s farm, and he threw the knapsack of money before the king, so that it thundered in the hall.

The king thanked him, and feigned that all was well, and promised him both good pay and a pass to go home, if he wanted it; but Mumble Goose-egg wanted only more work.

“What shall I do now?”

Well, the king had a think for a while; then he said that he should travel to the mountain troll who had taken his grandfather’s sword, at the castle he had by the sea, there where no one dared go.

Mumble took with him some food in his great knapsack, and went on his way again, and he went both long and far, over forest and mountain and wild heath, until he came to some mighty mountains, where the troll should be, who had taken the king’s grandfather’s sword.

But the troll was not beneath the clear sky, and the mountain was closed, so Mumble was not fellow enough to get in. So he began to keep company with the stone breakers who kept themselves on a mountain enclosure, and lay out to break stone up there in the mountains. Such help had they never had, for he broke and struck the mountain so the rock ripped and large stones fell like houses. But when he should rest before dinner, and begin on one load of food, then it had all been eaten up.

“I usually have a mind to eat well,” said Mumble, “but the one who has been here is worse to eat, for he has eaten the bones as well,” he said.

So it went the first day, and it went no better on the second. The third day, he set off to break rocks again, and took with him the third load of food, but then he lay down behind it, and pretended to sleep.

Just like that a troll with seven heads came out of the mountain, and began to smack his lips and eat of the food.

“Now it is ready, now shall I eat,” said the troll.

“We shall quarrel about that!” said Mumble, striking with his club so that its heads rolled off it.

Then he went into the mountain that the troll had come out of, and in there stood a horse, eating from a barrel of glowing embers, and behind it there stood a barrel of oats.

“Why do you not eat from the barrel of oats?” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“Because I am not able to turn around,” said the hose.

“I should be able to turn you around,” said Mumble.

“Pull off my head, instead,” said the horse.

So he did so, and then the horse turned into a fine fellow. He said he had been troll-struck, and turned into a horse by the troll, and he helped him find the sword, which the troll had hidden on the bottom of his bed, and in the bed lay the troll’s mother, snoring.

The journey they took by sea, and when they had come out, the old woman came after them. She could not reach them, so she began to drink so that the sea grew smaller and the water fell; but the sea she could not manage to drink up—so she burst.

When they made land, Mumble Goose-egg sent word for the king to come and get the sword. He sent four horses, no they could not move it; he sent eight, and he sent twelve, but the sword remained where it was; they could not manage to move it from the spot. But Mumble Goose-egg took it alone and carried it forth.

The king could not believe his own eyes when he saw Mumble again, but he dissembled well, and promised both gold and green forests; and when Mumble wanted more work, he said that he should travel to the troll’s castle he had, the one that no one dared stay at, and stay there until he had built a bridge across the sound, so folk could come thither; was he good to do it, he would be well paid, yes he would even give him his daughter, he said.

Yes, he should be good to do it, said Mumble Goose-egg.

No one had returned alive from this; those who had reached so far that they had arrived, lay both slain and plucked like small meal, and the king thought he would never see him again when he got him to go thither.

But Mumble went on his way; he took with him his knapsack of food, and a suitably difficult, knarled pine log, and broad axe, a wedge, and some fatwood sticks, and then the small page boy at the king’s farm.

When he came to the sound, the river ran full of ice, and was as rapid as a waterfall; but he set his feet fast on the bottom and waded across, so that he got across at last.

When he had warmed and fed himself, he wanted to sleep; but it was not long before there was a noise and din such as if they should turn the castle upside down. The door flew open, and he saw nothing more than a broad, gaping mouth, from the doorstep to the lintel.

“Here is a morsel, taste it!” said Mumble, throwing the page boy into the gape. “Let me see what kind you are; perhaps I know you.”

He did, for it was Old Erik who was abroad. They began to play cards, for he would try to win back some of the land rent money Mumble had threatened out of his mother when he had gone collecting for the king. But however it did or did not go, Mumble was the one who won, for he set a cross on the best cards; and when he had won everything that he had on him, Old Erik had to give Mumble from the gold and silver that was in the castle.

Just like that, the fire went out, so that they could not tell the cards one from the other.

“Now we should chop some wood,” said Mumble, chopping the broad axe into the pine log, and driving in the wedge; but the awkward stump was difficult, and it would not immediately split, no matter how Mumble twisted and wrestled with the axe.

“They say you are strong,” he said to Old Erik. “Spit in your hands, set your claws in it, twist and wrestle, and let me see what you are good for,” he said.

Erik did so, and put both hands into the split, and wrestled for all he was worth; but when Mumble suddenly knocked out the wedge, then Old Erik sat, caught fast; and then he used the poll of the axe on his back. Old Erik begged thinly and beautifully that he might be let go, but Mumble Goose-egg would not listen in that ear before he promised never to come back and make mischief again; and he also had to promise to build a bridge over the sound, so folk could cross at any time of the year, and it should be finished by the time the ice had disappeared.

“That is hard,” said Old Erik.

But there was no other way; if he wanted to come loose, then he had to promise. But he set the condition that he should have the first soul to cross the bridge; that was to be the toll across the sound.

This he should have, said Mumble. Then he was set loose and returned home. But Mumble Goose-egg lay down to sleep on it, and he slept until long into the day.

When the king came to see if he had been hacked to pieces, or whether they had merely picked at him, he had to wade through money before he got to the bed; it lay in heaps and sacks that reached far up the wall; and in the bed lay Mumble, snoring.

“God help both me and my daughter,” he said when he understod that Mumble was alive and well. Well, all things were well and good, no one could deny that, but it was not worth speaking of a wedding until the bridge was finished, he said.

But one day, the bridge stood finished, and Old Erik stood upon it, and he would have the toll he had claimed.

Mumble Goose-egg would have the king go with him to try the bridge, but he hd no mind to do so; so he sat himself upon a horse, and threw the king’s farm’s large milkmaid across the saddle before him—she looked most like a huge pine log—and then he rode across the bridge so that it thundered.

“Where is the sound toll? Where is the soul?” shrieked Old Erik.

“She is in this pine log; if you want it, then you should spit into your hands, and take it,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“No thank you—if she does not take me, then I shall not take her,” said Old Erik; “one squeeze have you put me in, you shall not put me in one more,” he said; and with that he flew straight home to his old mother; and he has been neither heard of nor asked of since.

But Mumble Goose-egg went home to the king’s farm and desired the pay that the king had promised him, and when the king tried to get out of giving him it, and would go back on his word, Mumble said that it would be best he made himself a good-sized knapsack of food, for he would take his pay himself. This the king did, and when it was ready, Mumble took the king out on to the road and gave him a proper kick, so that he flew into the air. The knapsack he threw after him, so that he should not be without food; and if he has not come down again, then he floats between heaven and earth with his knapsack, even until today.

  1. The Norwegian unit of weight used here is the våg, which was the equivalent of nearly 18kg. The quarter, roughly 13kg, is a reasonable approximation, despite the finished axe weighing 75kg more than the English indicates.  

  2. The ship-pound (Norwegian: skippund) was a measure of about 160kg, making the weight of the club 2.4 metric tonnes. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Three Lemons

There were once upon a time three brothers who had lost their parents, and there was nothing left after them, so they had to go out into the world and try their luck. The two eldest equipped themselves as best they could, but the youngest, he they called Tyrihans, because he always sat in the hearth, looking after the fatwood candles,1 he they would not have with them. They travelled out in the grey light of morning. But however it did or did not go, Tyrihans was just as early at the king’s farm as the others.

When they had arrived, they asked to go into service. The king said he did not have work for them, but since they were in such need, he would find them something—there was always something to do on such a large farm; they could knock nails into the wall, and when they had done that, they could pull them out again; and when they were finished with that, they could carry wood and water for the cook in the kitchen. Tyrihans was the best at knocking nails into the wall, and at taking them out again, and he was the best at carrying wood and water, too. His brothers were envious of him, therefore, and said that he had said that he was good to fetch the king the most beautiful princess there was in twelve kingdoms—for the king had lost his queen, and had become a widower. When the king heard this, he said to Tyrihans that he should do as he had said; could he not do it, then they would lay him on the chopping block, and strike his head off him.

Tyrihans replied that he had neither said nor thought it, but since the king was so determined, he would have to try. So he was given some food in a bundle over his shoulder, and went on his way. But he had not come far in the forest before he grew hungry, and would take of the food they had given him at the king’s farm. When he had sat himself well, in peace and quiet beneath a spruce beside the road, an old woman came hopping along, and asked what he had in his knapsack.

“Meat and flesh,” said the boy; “if you are hungry, then come and have some, old mother.” Yes, she thanked him and ate, and said that she would pay him a motherly turn in return, and then she hopped away into the forest.

When Tyrihans was good and full, he threw his knapsack over his shoulder, and set off again; but he had not gone far before he found a pipe. This he thought would be fun to have, to blow on the road, and it was not long before he got some sound from it, I would not think. But then small trolls swarmed forth, and they all asked at the same time: “What does my master have to command?”

Tyrihans said that he did not know that he was their master, but if he was to command, then he would have them find him the most beautiful princess there was in twelve kingdoms.

Well, that was no matter, said the small trolls; they knew well where she was, and they could take him on the way, so he could go and fetch her himself, for they had no power to touch her. They took him on the way, and such that he arrived both well and good; there was no one who as much lay two sticks in a cross before him. It was a troll castle, and there sat three gorgeous princesses; but when Tyrihans came in, they grew so foolish that they ran around like startled lambs, and just like that, they turned into three lemons that lay on the windowsill. Tyrihans was so aghast and simply dismayed at this that he knew not what to do. But when he had thought about it a little, he took the lemons and stuck them in his pocket; he thought they would be good to have if he grew thirsty on the way, for he had heard that lemons were supposed to be sour.

When he had come a way on the road, he grew very hot and thirsty. There was no water to be found anywhere, and he knew not what to do to slake his thirst. Then he began to think of the lemons, and took one out and bit a hole in it. But inside sat a princess to her armpits, and she cried: “Water! Water!” If she did not get some water, she would die, she said. Well, the boy ran in circles, looking for water, until he was out of his mind, but there was no water, and he found no water, and just like that, she was dead.

When he had gone a way more, he grew even hotter and even more thirsty, and when he found nothing with which to slake his thirst, he took the second lemon and bit a hole in it. Inside sat a princess to he armpits, too, and she was even more gorgeous than the first. She cried for water, and said that if she did not have water, then she would die within the hour. Tyrihans went looking around, beneath both stone and moss, but water found he none, and so died that princess, too.

Tyrihans thought things grew worse and worse, and they did, too, for the farther he went, the warmer it grew. The ground was so dry and scorched that there was no drop of water, and it was not long before he was almost half dead with thirst. He refrained for a long time before he bit a hole in the lemon he had left, but finally there was nothing esle for it. When he had bitten a hole, there sat a princess in it, too; she was the most gorgeous in twelve kingdoms, and she cried, saying that if she did not have water, then she would die within the hour. Tyrihans ran and would fetch water, and this time, he met the king’s miller; he showed him the way to the millpond. When he came to the pond, and gave her water, she came all the way out of the lemon, and was stark naked. Tyrihans had to let her have the garment he wore, to throw around her, and then she hid herself in a tree, while he went up to the king’s farm, to get her some clothes, and tell the king that he had fetched her, and how things had gone altogether.

Meanwhile, the cook girl came down to the millpond to fetch some water. When she saw the beautiful face reflected in the pond, she thought that it was hers, and she was so glad that she began to spin and dance because she had grown so beautiful. “The devil fetch the water, not you who are so beautiful!” she said, casting aside the water buckets . But after a while, she saw that the face in the water belonged to the princess who sat in the tree. Then she grew so angry that she pulled her out of the tree and threw her out into the pond. The dress that belonged to Tyrihans she threw about herself, and she climbed into the tree.

When the king came and saw the ugly black kitchen wench, he turned both red and pale; but when he heard that she was the most gorgeous in twelve kingdoms, then he could do nothing but believe there was something in it, and he felt sorry for Tyrihans, too, who had been through so much before he fetched her. She would probably grow more agreeable, he thought, when she could groom herself and put on costly clothes, and so he took her with him home. Word was sent for wigmakers and seamstresses; she was decorated and dressed like a princess, but for all the washing and decorating, she was black and ugly, and remained so, too.2

After a while, the assistant cook should go down to the pond for water, and she caught a large silver fish in her bucket. She carried it up and showed it to the king there, and he thought it bold and fine; but the ugly princess said it was some enchantment, and that they should burn it up, for she understood straight away what it was. Yes, the fish was burned, and the next morning, they found a nugget of silver in the ashes. This the cook came up to tell the king, and he thought it strange; but the princess said that it was merely enchantment, and bade them bury it in the dungheap. The king would rather not, but she gave him neither peace nor quiet, and so he finally said that they should do it. But on the next day, there was stood a beautiful, fine linden tree there where they had buried the nugget of silver, and the linden had leaves that glittered like silver. When they told the king this, he thought it strange; but the princess said it was nothing but enchantment, and that the linden should be chopped down within the hour. The king did not want to, but the princess bothered him for so long that he at last had to give her satisfaction in this, too.

When the girls went out to take bits of wood off the linden, to burn, they were pure silver. “It is not worth telling the king or the princess about it, again,” said one of them, “for then these shall also be burned and melted; it is better we hide them in our chest. They can be good to have when there, one day, comes a person and we shall marry.” Yes, they agreed to this. But when they had carried it a while, it became unreasonably heavy. When they should look to see why ths may be, the wood had been reformed into a child, and it was not long before it was the most gorgeous princess anyone would see. The girls understood that this was not at all usual; they brought her clothes, and flew after the boy who should fetch the most gorgeous princess in twelve kingdoms, and told him about it. And when Tyrihans came, she told him how everything had happened, that the cook had pulled her down into the pond, and that she had been both the silver fish and the silver nugget and the linden and the wood, and that she was the right one. It was not so easy to get hold of the king, for the ugly black cook hung over him, both late and early—but finally they found they could say there had come a declaration of war from the neighbouring king. So they got him out, and when he saw the gorgeous princess, he was so taken with her that he wanted to drink to his wedding within the hour, and when he heard how badly the ugly black cook had dealt with her, he said that they should take her and roll her in a nail barrel. Then they trumpeted the wedding so tat it was heard and asked about across twelve kingdoms.

  1. Fatwood (Norwegian: tyrived), the resinous wood found at the base of the branches of evergreens, was the preferred firestarter of rural Norway. The name Tyrihans thus means Fat(wood)-Hans. 

  2. Could this be the appearance of a person of colour in Asbjørnsen & Moe? Is there any reason to doubt that it is?