Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Honest Penny

There was once upon a time a poor woman who lived in a miserable cabin far away from the village. She had little to bite on, and nothing to burn, and so she sent a small boy she had into the forest to gather firewood. He jumped and sprang and jumped, to keep himself warm, for it was a cold, grey autumn day; and every time he gathered a branch or a root into his bundle, he had to beat his arms together against his shoulder blades, for his fists were as red as the tufts of lingon berries he walked past, just from the cold.

When his wood bundle was full, and he should return home, he came upon a wood stack. There he saw a rough white stone. “Oh, you poor old rock, so white and pale you are—you must be freezing terribly!” said the boy. He took off his tunic and put it on the stone.

When he now came carrying the bundle of wood, his mother asked what this should mean, his wearing his shirtsleeves in the cold of autumn. He told her that he had seen a rough old stone that was pure white and pale from the frost; this he had given his tunic. “You silly!” said the woman. “Do you think stones freeze? But even if it was freezing so that it was shivering, then everyone is closest to himself. It costs enough to put clothes on you, without you hanging them on stones in a wood stack.” And then she chased the boy back for his tunic.

When he came to where the stone lay, it had turned around and had lifted one edge up from the earth. “Yes, that is because you got the tunic, you poor thing!” said the boy. But when he looked a little better at the stone, there stood a money chest beneath, full of gleaming silver coins. “This is certainly stolen money,” thought the boy; “no one puts money he has come by in a honest fashion beneath a stone away in the forest.” So he took the chest and carried it down to a tarn close by, and emptied the whole chest into it. But a penny floated on the surface. “Yes, that is honest, for the honest never sink,” said the boy. He took the penny, and went home with it and his tunic.

Then he told his mother how it had gone with him, that the stone had turned, and that he had found a chest of silver money that he had turned out into the tarn, for it was stolen money. “But an honest penny floated, and I took that because it was honest,” said the boy.

“You are a fool!” said his mother; she was perfectly angry. “If nothing was honest but what floated on water, then there would not be much honesty in the world. And even if the money you found had been stolen ten times, you found it, and everyone is closest to himself. If you had taken the money, then we would have been able to live well and good for the rest of our days. But, fool that you are, and fool that you will be, now I do not want you as a tiresome burden around here any more. Now you must go out and earn your bread.”

The boy had then to go out into the wide world, and he walked far and wide, and asked to go into service. But wherever he came, folk thought him too small and feeble, and so they could not use him for anything. Finally, he came to a merchant; there he was allowed to be in the kitchen, and he should carry wood and water for the cook.

Once, when he had been there a long time, the merchant should travel on a long voyage to a foreign country, and so he asked all his servants what he should buy, to bring back for each of them. When all had now said what they would have, the turn of the boy who carried wood and water for the cook came. He held out his penny.

“Well, what shall I buy with this, then?” asked the merchant. “It will not be such a large purchase.”

“Buy what I can have for it; it is honest, that I know,” said the boy.

The master promised to do so, and then he sailed.

When now the merchant had unloaded and loaded in the foreign country, and bought what he had promised his servants, then did he come to remember that the cook’s boy had sent a penny with him, that he should buy something with. “Shall I now go up to the town for the sake of a penny? One has nothing but misfortune from undertaking such trouble,” thought the merchant.

Just then a woman came walking, with a bag on her back.

“What do you have in your bag, mother?” asked the merchant.

“Oh, it’s nothing more than a cat; I cannot afford to feed it any longer, so I have thought to throw it in the sea and get rid of it,” replied the woman.

“The boy said I should buy what I could with his penny,” said the merchant to himself, and then he asked the woman if she would take a penny for her cat.

Yes, the woman was not slow to agree, and thus the deal was struck.

When now the merchant had sailed a distance, there came a dreadful storm upon him, with such an unearthly tempest that there was no respite, and he drove and drove and knew not where he was headed.

Finally he came to a country he had never been to before, and there he went up to the town. At the guesthouse, where he went in, the table was set with a switch for each person who should sit at it. This the merchant thought was wondrous, for he could not understand what they should do with all the switches; but he sat down, thinking he would see what all the others did with them, so he could do likewise. Well, when the food came to the table, he saw what the switch was for, sure enough: then there swarmed forth thousands of mice, and each person who sat at the table had to use their switch and wave it and strike it about them, and there was nothing to hear other than that one struck his switch harder than the other. Once or twice they hit each other in the face, and then they had to take the time to say, “excuse me!”

“It is hard work to eat in this country,” said the merchant. “But why do people not keep cats here?”

“Cats?” they asked; they did not know what they were.

So the merchant had the cat fetched, which he had bought for the cook’s boy, and when the cat came on to the table, the mice had to go into their holes, and the folk had not had so much peace at the table for as long as anyone could remember. They begged and blessed the merchant, that he should sell them his cat. After a long, long time he promised to leave it, but a hundred dollars would he have for it; they gave it, and thanked him, too.

The merchant sailed again; but hardly had he made the deep sea before he saw the cat sitting up in the mainmast, and soon there was a storm and a tempest again, even worse than last time, and he drove and drove, until he came to a place he had never been before.

The merchant went up again into the guesthouse, and here too was the table set with switches, but they were much stouter and longer than those where he first had been. And they were needed, for here were even more mice, and all of them were twice the size of those he had seen before.

So he sold the cat again, and this time he got two-hundred for it, and that without haggling.

When he had sailed from there, and had come a distance out to sea, the cat sat up in the mast again, and soon the tempest began again, and again, after a long, long time, he was this time driven in to a country he had never been to.

He again went up to the guesthouse; there also was the table set with switches, but each switch was one-and-a-half cubits long, and as thick as a small besom, and the folk said that the worst burden they had was to sit and eat, for here there were thousands of great ugly rats; it was a close thing for them to get a bite of food into their mouths once in a while, such work it was to keep the rats away. So the cat had to come up from the ship again, and then the folk had peace to eat. They begged and pleaded the merchant to sell them his cat; for a long time he said no, but finally he promised that they should have it for three-hundred dollars. This they gave, and their thanks and blessings, too.

When now the merchant came out to sea, he thought of how much the boy had earned on the penny he had sent with him. “Yes, he shall have some of the money,” said the merchant to himself, “but not everything; it is I he has to thank for the cat I bought, and everyone is closest to himself.”

But as soon as the merchant thought this to himself, there was a storm and a tempest, so that everyone thought the ship would be lost. Then the merchant understood that there was nothing else for it than that he should promise that the boy should have everything. Hardly had he made this promise than that the weather turned fair, and he had fine conditions all the way home. When he made land, he gave the boy the six-hundred dollars, and his daughter beside; for now the cook’s boy was as rich as the merchant. And then the boy lived in glory and happiness. His mother he took in to himself, and did well by her; “for I do not believe that everyone is closest to himself,” said the boy.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Virgin Mary as Godmother

Far, far away in a great forest, there once lived a couple of poor folk. The wife was confined and bore a child, a beautiful daughter. But they were so poor that they did no know how they should bring the child to her Christening. The husband had to go out one day, to look for sponsors who could contribute; he walked the whole day, both to one and to another, and everyone said they would like to be sponsors, but none thought he had enough to be able to contribute. When he was walking home in the evening, he met a beautiful lady who was so finely dressed and who looked so inwardly kind and good; she offered to bring the child to her Christening, but afterwards she would have it. The man replied that he would have to ask his wife what she thought, but when he came home and told her, his wife just said no.

The second day, the man went out again; but no one would be sponsor if they had to contribute, and it did not help, for all his asking. As he walked home again in the evening, he again met the beautiful lady who looked so content, and she again made the same offer. He told his wife what had happened to him, and she said that if he could not find sponsors for the child the next day, then they should let the lady have it, since she looked so kind and good.

The third day the man went out, he still could not find any sponsors, and when he met the lady again in the evening, he promised her the child when she had it Christened and gave it Christendom. In the morning, she came to where the man lived, together with two menfolk, took the child, went to church with it, and there it was Christened. Then she took it home with her, and there the little girl lived with her for several years, and her foster mother was always kind and good towards her.

When the girl had grown so big that she had learned to understand, her foster mother got ready to travel away. “You have permission to go where you will,” she said to the girl, “just not into the three chambers that I will now show you.” And then she travelled away. But the young girl could not leave off opening one of the chamber doors a little, anyway, and WHOOSH! Out flew a star. When her foster mother returned, she grew sad, and threatened to chase her foster daughter away; but the child wept and begged until finally she was allowed to stay.

After a while, her foster mother should travel away again, and so she forbade the girl from going into the two chambers he had not been in. She promised to control herself, but when she had been alone for a while, and thought and wondered what might be in the second chamber, she could not help but open the door a crack, to look inside, and WHOOSH! Out flew the moon. When her foster mother returned, and saw that the moon had been let out, she grew sorrowful, and said that she now could by no means have her with her any more; now she had to go. But the girl wept so heartily, and pleaded so beautifully, and so she was allowed to stay this time, too.

A time afterwards, her foster mother should travel away again—the girl was half-grown by this time—and so she laid upon her heart that she must not by any means go into, or even look into the third chamber. But when her foster mother had been away for a while, and the girl had been alone for a long time, and had grown both weary and bored, she thought, “No, it would be fun to look a little into the third chamber!” She thought at first that she would not do it, for the sake of her foster mother, but when she thought of it for the second time, she could not prevent herself; she thought she should and would go to look into the chamber. She opened the door a crack, and WHOOSH! Out flew the sun. When her foster mother returned now, and saw that the sun had flown out, she was simply aghast, and said that now she could by no means be allowed to stay with her any longer. The foster daughter wept and pleaded even more beautifully than before, but it did not help.

“No, now I must punish you,” said her mother, “but you may have the choice: either you will be the most beautiful of all, yet not be able to speak; or you will be the ugliest of all, yet be able to speak. But you must go away from me.”

“Then I would prefer to be beautiful,” said the girl. And that she was, too; but from that time, she had no voice.

When she had come away from her foster mother, she walked and wandered through a great, great forest; but however she walked, there was no end to it. When it drew towards evening, she clambered up a large tree that hung over a spring, and sat to sleep through the night. Close by lay a castle, and from it, in the morning, came a maid, who should fetch some tea-water from the spring for the prince. The maid saw the beautiful face in the spring and thought it was herself; so she threw down the water butt, ran home again, and struck her neck, saying: “I am so beautiful that I am too good to go carrying water.” Then another should go for the water, but it went the same way with her; she came back, too, saying that she was too beautiful and too good to go after water for the prince. So the prince went himself, for he wanted to see how all this hung together. When he came to the spring, he also saw the image, and he immediately looked up; and then he became aware of the beautiful maiden up in the tree. Be beckoned her down, and took her home with him, and eventually would have her as he queen, for she was so beautiful. But his mother, who yet lived, would not. “She cannot talk,” she said; “and it may well be a troll-person.” But the prince did not give in until he got her.

When they had lived together a time, she was with child, and when she should give birth, the prince set a strong guard around her, but at the hour of delivery, they all fell asleep, and when she had given birth, her foster mother came, cut the child on its little finger, and smeared the queen around her mouth and on her finger with its blood, and said to her: “Now shall you be as sorrowful as I was when you let out the star.” And then she disappeared with the child. When they had awoken, those who stood guard, they thought that the queen had eaten her own child. And the old queen would have her burned; but the prince held her so dear, and finally he pleaded her free from punishment, but it was a close thing.

The second time the young queen should be confined, the guard was twice as strong as the time before. But it went exactly the same way, except that her foster mother said: “Now you shall be as sorrowful as I was when you had let out the moon.” The queen wept and pleaded—for when her foster mother was there, then she could talk—but it did not help. Now the old queen would certainly have her burned; but the prince pleaded for her to be freed this time, too.

When the queen for the third time should be confined, the guard around her was tripled. But it went the same way: her foster mother came while the guard slept, took the child and cut its little finger, and smeared the queen around her mouth with its blood; and then she said that now the queen should be as sorrowful as she herself had been shen she had let out the sun. Now could the prince by no means save her; she had to and should burn. But just as they led her up on to the pyre, they saw her foster mother, who came with all three children; she led two by the hand, and carried the third in her arms. She went over to the young queen and said: “Here are your children; now you shall have them back. I am the Virgin Mary, and so sorrowful as you now have been was I when you had let out the sun, the moon, and the star. Now you have suffered punishment for what you did, but from now on you shall be able to speak again.” So glad the queen and the prince grew can anyone easily imagine, but no one can say; they were ever happy afterwards, and the prince’s mother also held the young queen dear from that time.


Norwegian source: Jomfru Maria som gudmor.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Merchant’s Boy with the Load of Gamalost

There was once upon a time a merchant’s boy; he was so well liked by everyone where he was that they thought he was too good to stand behind the counter with cubits and balances. They wanted to help him with a cargo to travel to foreign parts with, and so they let him choose what he would travel with. He chose gamalost1 and went to Turkey with it. There he sold it well; but when he should make the journey home, he met two who had killed a man, and it was not enough that they had killed him when he was alive, but they had also treated his corpse badly after his death. He could not stand to see that they behaved so badly, so he bought the corpse from them, and a plot with his money, too, and got it into the ground.

After a long, long time, he came home happy; and it was both well and ill. Some of those who had helped equip him thought he had done a good deed, but others were dissatisfied that he should throw his money away in such a manner. But they would try him, to see if he could do better a second time, and so they let him choose one more cargo. He took the same cargo, and travelled the same way, and was even better paid. But when he was on the journey home, he met two who had kidnapped a king’s daughter. They had put a harness on her, and were driving with her; they had undressed her to her belt, and one stood on each side of her and whipped her. The boy felt sorry for her, for she was a beautiful maiden. So he asked them if they would sell her. Yes, if he could weigh her up with silver coin, he should have her. And the haggling did not take long; he paid what they demanded.

After a long, long time, he came home, happy again. But those who had equipped him were so distraught at his trading that they banished him. So he had to travel off to England. There he kept himself for four years, together with his sweetheart. They lived off her mastery at lacemaking, which he sold for two marks a day.

One day, he met two who disagreed, and one would whip the other because he owed him a mark-and-a-half. The boy thought this unfair, and paid for him.

Another day he met two travellers who got talking to him, and they asked if he had anything to sell. He had nothing other than lace, he said. Yes, they wanted to buy it for three marks, and asked him where he lived, and set a day when they should come; on that day they came, too. When they came, one was the brother of the king’s daughter, and the other was he to whom she was engaged, an emperor’s son. They got the lace they had asked for, and they they would have her come home with them. But she would not go with them unless they would take the boy and look after him; for she would not forsake he who had saved her, so long as she had life. They had to agree to this, if they wanted to have her go with them.

When they should go aboard, the brother and the sister got into the boat first, but when the emperor’s son should get in, he shoved off from land and threw himself in, so the boy was left standing behind. The ship lay ready to make sail, and sailed as soon as they had come aboard. But there came he whom he had paid a mark-and-a-half for, with a boat, and took him to board the ship. Then was the king’s daughter so glad that she took her gold ring off her finger and gave it to him, and then he should go down into the cabin where she lay.

They sailed for many days; then they came to a wild island. There would they lay to and look for game, and so they arranged it such that the brother and the Norwegian who had saved the life of the king’s daughter, they should each go to an end of the island, with the emperor’s son in the middle, and when the boy was alone, so that they could not see him, nor he them, they went aboard, so that he was left alone there. He knew of nothing else to do than that he should stay there; and he stayed there for seven years. His food he got from a bounteous tree that he found, and when the seven years were over, an old man came to him and said to him that “today shall your sweetheart stand as bride,” he said; “they have not had a word from her in the seven years since she was separated from you; but even so, the emperor’s son will marry her, for he understands that she is shrewd, and that she is rich.” And then the man asked him if he did not want to go to the wedding. Well that was something anyone could know, said the boy; but he would have to make himself happy wherever he found himself. But in a little while, he found himself on the farm where the wedding was to be held. Now he wanted to know what manner of man it was who had taken him there. He was no person, he said, but a spirit; it was he whom he had bought and buried in Turkey. Then he gave him a glass and a bottle of something to drink and said that he should go in with a message for the kitchen master, that he should come out to him. “First you shall pour into a glass and drink, yourself,” he said; “then you shall pour into a glass and give it to the kitchen master; then you shall pour into a glass and send it in to the bride; but first you shall take the ring off your finger and put it into the glass you send her.”

When the kitchen master came in with the drink, everyone said that she should not drink; but the kitchen master said: “First he drank, then I drank, so it must be safe for her to drink.” When she had drunk finished, she felt the ring at the bottom of the glass, and she wanted to go out, and when she came out, she recognised him and held him around his neck and kissed him, even though he had such a beard; for you may imagine that neither brush nor blade had touched his beard for seven years.

But then the king came after her, and wanted to know what manner of love there was between them. They were brought into a room and they told how things had gone, from first to last. Then the king commanded that a barber should come, to scrape the brush off him and trim him, and the tailor, with new stately clothes. And then the king went into the wedding parlour and asked the emperor’s son, what manner of punishment he would sentence one to, who had stolen the life and honour from a person. He replied that such a cormorant should first be hanged, and then his body burned. He was taken in the same way as the sentence he had passed upon himself, and the merchant’s boy married the king’s daughter, and lived both long and happy.

Then I was not around any longer, and I do not know how things went, but what I do know is that the one who last told this tale still lives today, and that was Ole Olsen Hilli in Røldal.

  1. Gamalost (“old cheese”) is an especially Norwegian cheese, originally matured in the hay beneath the barn. There is little reason to use it as the cargo in this tale except for the humourous aspect: everyone in Norway knows that no one who isn’t Norwegian can get past the smell to try it, let alone like it. 


Norwegian source: “Krambugutten med Gammelostlasten

Thursday, 10 May 2018

A Note on “Prince Lindworm”

The last thing I want to do with this post is tread on people’s toes, put their backs up, or ruin anybody’s day. However, I do want to correct an error that is propagating on the Internet concerning the provenance of the Danish folktale with the English title “Prince Lindworm.” It is hardly surprising that people misattribute it, when World of Tales says it is a Norwegian folktale, from the collection of Asbjørnsen & Moe, or when TVTropes claims that it is “a 19th century Norwegian Fairy Tale,” or even when The Paris Review reproduces “[t]he version anthologized in the seminal Asbjornsen and Moe collection”. In fact, the error has also made it into the introduction to Kate Forsyth’s recent retelling of the tale as “A Bride for Me Before A Bride for You” in Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women (Serenity Press, 2017). (I highly recommend Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, by the way—my daughter loves listening to the tales, and looking at the haunting illustrations by Lorena Carrington.)

It is a simple matter to verify that “Prince Lindworm” does not in fact come from Asbjørnsen & Moe; take a quick look at the table of contents.

Here is the second edition of Asbjørnsen & Moe (1852), considered the seminal edition.

And here are George Webbe Dasent’s books, first Popular Tales from the Norse (1859):

And then Tales from the Fjeld (1896):

Not a title in sight that even mentions a lindworm. In fact, the Norwegian tale “Lurvehette” (“Tatterhood” in both Dasent’s translation and mine) shares a number of motifs with the lindworm tale, but no worm or serpent appears.

No, “Prince Lindworm” is actually a Danish tale called “Kong Lindorm”, collected by N. Levinsen in 1854 from Maren Mathisdatter in Fureby by Løkken, and published in Axel Olrik’s Danske Sagn og Æventyr fra Folkemunde (1913), p. 21ff.

What the source is for the tale that people all over the Interwebs are claiming is a Norwegian folktale, I cannot divine.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Farmer Weatherbeard

[Note on the title.]

There was once upon a time a husband and wife who had only one son, and he was called Hans. The wife thought he should go out to work, and said to her husband that he should go with him. “You shall do so well by him for me that he becomes the master of all masters,” she said, and then she put some food and a roll of tobacco in a sack for them.

Well, they were with many masters, and all of them said they could make the boy as good as themselves, but better they could not make him.

When the man came home to his wife with that reply, she said: “Well, I do not mind what you make of the boy, but this I say, that you do so well by him for me that he becomes the master of all masters.”

Then she put some food and a roll of tobacco in his sack again, and the man and his son had to go off again.

When they had walked a way, they came to a glacier; there they met one who came driving with a black horse.

“Where are you going?” he said.

“I was to go out and bind my son into an apprenticeship with one who is able to teach him; for my wife comes from such good folk that she will have him taught to be a master of all masters,” said the man.

“You have met well,” said he who drove, “for that is what I am fellow enough for, and such an apprentice do I travel for. Stand here behind me,” he said to the boy.

Then they set off up through the air.

“No, no, wait a little!” cried the boy’s father. “I would like to know what you are called, and where you live,” he said.

“Oh, I am at home both north and south and east and west, and Farmer Weatherbeard am I called,” said the master. “In one year you can come back, and I shall tell you whether he has grown so good,” he said. Then off they went, and gone were they.

When the year had passed, the man came to hear of his son. “It is just not done, to be fully apprenticed in only one year,” said the master; “now he has learned to walk alongside the stools.” Well, they agreed that Farmer Weatherbeard should have him for a year more, and teach him fully, and then should the man come back.

When the year was done, they met in the same place again.

“Has he now completed the apprenticeship?” asked the father.

“Now he is my master, and you will never see him again,” said Farmer Weatherbeard, and before the man really sensed what had become of them, they were both gone, both he and the boy.

When the man came home, his wife asked if their son would not be coming, or what had become of him.

“Oh, God knows what has become of him,” said the man; “they went into the air,” and then he told her how things had gone.

But when the wife heard that her husband did not know where their boy was, then she sent him on his way again. “You shall fetch the boy, even if you have to go to Old Erik2 himself!” she said, and she gave him a sack of food and a roll of tobacco.

When he had walked a distance, he came to a great forest, and it lasted all day, as far as he walked, but when it grew dark, he saw a great light; so he walked towards it. After a long, long time, he came to a small cabin close by a mountain, and outside it stood a woman, drawing water from a well, with her nose, so long it was.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the wife. “No one has called me mother in a hundred years,” she said.

“May I stay here, tonight?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco, burned a little, and gave the wife some snuff. So glad was she that she began to dance, and so the man would be allowed to stay there for the night. Just like that, he asked after Farmer Weatherbeard. She knew nothing of him, she said, but she ruled over all four-footed animals; perhaps some of them would know of him. So she blew them together with a whistle she had, and asked them, but there was none that knew of Farmer Weatherbeard. “Well, we are three sisters,” said the woman; “perhaps one of the other two knows where he is to be found. You shall borrow a ride from me, so that you arrive there this evening; but it is three-hundred leagues by the shortest route.”

The man travelled, and he made it in the evening. When he arrived, the woman stood, also drawing water from a well, with her nose.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the woman. “Now, no one has called me mother in a hundred years.”

“May I stay here, tonight?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco, burned a little, and gave the woman some snuff on the back of her hand. Then she was so glad that she began to dance, and then the man would be allowed to stay there for the night. But just like that, he asked after Farmer Weatherbeard. No, she did not know anything of him, but she ruled over all the fish, she said; perhaps some of them would know something of him; but there was none that knew anything of Farmer Weatherbeard. “Well, I have one more sister,” said the woman. “Perhaps she may know something of him. She lives six-hundred leagues from here, but you shall have a ride from me, so you will arrive there this evening.”

The man travelled, and he arrived in the evening, where the woman stood, raking the fire, and she did so with her nose, so long it was.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the woman. “Now, no one has called me mother in a hundred years,” she said.

“May I stay here for the night?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco again, and burned some, and gave the woman the whole of the back of her hand covered in snuff. Then she was so glad that she began to dance, and then the man was allowed to stay there for the night. Just like that, he asked about Farmer Weatherbeard. She knew nothing of him, she said, but she ruled over all the birds, and she blew them together with her whistle.

When she had heard with all of them, she missed the eagle; but a little while afterwards, it came, and when she asked it, it said that it had just come from Farmer Weatherbeard’s. Then the woman said that it should take the man there. But the eagle would have something to eat first, and then it would rest until the second day, for it was so tired after the long journey that it could hardly take off from the ground.

When it was well-fed and rested, the woman plucked a feather out from it tail, and put the man in its stead, and then it flew off with him; but they did not arrive at Farmer Weatherbeard’s before midnight. When they arrived, then the eagle said: “There are bones and carrion before the door, but you must not mind. Those who are inside sleep so soundly that they cannot be woken; but you are to go straight to the draw in the table, and take three pieces of bread; and if you hear one snore, then pluck three feathers from his head; he will not wake from it.”

The man did so; when he had got the three pieces of bread, he plucked first one feather. “Uff!” cried Farmer Weatherbeard. Then he plucked another, then he cried “Uff!” again; but when he plucked the third, Farmer Weatherbeard cried so that the man thought the foundations and walls would collapse, but he slept just as soundly.

Then the eagle told him how he should behave later, and that he did. He went to the door of the barn, and there he stumbled against a boulder; this he picked up. Beneath it lay three wooden splinters; these he also picked up. Then he knocked on the door of the barn, and it opened immediately. He let go the three pieces of bread, and a hare came out and ate them; he took it. The eagle bade him pluck three feather from its tail, and put the hare, the stone, and the splinters, and himself in their stead, and then it would take them home.

When the eagle had flown a long way, it alighted on a stone. “Do you see anything?” it asked.

“Yes, I see a flock of crows, flying after us,” said the man.

“We shall travel a distance more, we shall,” said the eagle, and set off.

After a while, it asked, “Do you see anything now?”

“Yes, I see the crows close by us,” said the man.

“Drop the three feathers you plucked from his head,” said the eagle.

Well, the man did so, and as soon as he dropped them, the feathers turned into a flock of ravens that chased the crows home again.

Then the eagle flew flew far away with the man; finally, it alighted on a stone, to rest. “Do you see anything?” it said.

“I am not certain of it,” said the man, “but I think I see something coming, far away.”

“We shall travel a distance more, then,” said the eagle.

“Do you see anything now?” it said after a while.

“Yes, now he is close by us,” said the man.

“You shall drop the splinters that you took from beneath the granite stone by the door of the barn,” said the eagle.

Well, the man did so, and as soon as he had dropped them, they grew up into a great, dense forest, so that Farmer Weatherbeard had to travel home for axes, so he could chop his way through.

Then the eagle flew far away again; but then it grew so weary that it alighted in a pine tree. “Do you see anything?” it said.

“Yes, I am not certain,” said the man, “but I think I can glimpse something far away.”

“Then we shall travel a distance more,” said the eagle, and so it set off.

“Do you see anything now?” it asked, after a while.

“Yes, now he is close by us,” said the man.

“You shall drop the boulder you took from before the door of the barn, then,” said the eagle.

The man did so, and it became a great, tall stone mountain that Farmer Weatherbeard had to break himself through first. But when he had come to the middle of the mountain, he broke one of his legs, and so he had to go home, and tend to it.

But while that happened, the eagle flew home to the man, both with him, and the hare, and when they had come home, the man went into the churchyard and put Christian soil on it, so that it became Hans his son again.

When they came to the mark, the boy turned himself into a buckskin horse, and asked his father to travel the mark with him. “When you come to one who will buy me, you shall say that you want a hundred dollars for me; but you must not forget to take off the bridle, else I will never escape Farmer Weatherbeard, for it is he who will come to trade,” he said.

So it went, too; there came a horse trader who had a great mind to buy his horse, and the man got a hundred dollars, but when the deal was done, and Hans’s father had got the money, the horse trader would have the bridle. “No, that is not part of the agreement,” said the man, “so you cannot have the bridle, for I have more horses I want to take to town.” So each went on his way. But they had not come far before Hans turned himself into himself, and when he had come home, he was sitting on the bench by the stove.

The second day, he turned himself into a brown horse, and said to his father that he should travel the mark with him. “When one who will buy me comes, you shall say you want two-hundred dollars, for he will give it, and he will pour you a dram too; but whatever you drink, and whatever you do, then do not forget to take the bridle off me, or you will never see me again,” said Hans. Well, so it went; he got two-hundred dollars for the horse, and a dram too, and then they parted, it was a close thing that he remembered to take off the bridle. But they had not come far on the way before the boy turned himself back, and when the man returned, Hans sat on the bench by the stove.

The third day went the same way. The boy turned himself into a great black horse, and said to his father there would come one offering three-hundred dollars, and to get him good and drunk as well; but whatever he did, and however much he drank, then he must not forget to take off the bridle, else he would not get away from Farmer Weatherbeard in this life. No, he would certainly not forget that, said the man.

When he came on to the mark, he got the three-hundred dollars; but Farmer Weatherbeard got him so drunk that he forgot to take off the bridle, and so Farmer Weatherbeard went away with the horse. When he had come a distance on the way, he would go in and have some more brandy, so he sat a smoldering nail barrel under the horse’s nose, and a trough of oats under the tail of his horse, hung the reins on to a hand rake, and went in to the innkeeper. The horse stood there, tramping and kicking and whinnying and snorting. Then there came a girl in, who felt sorry for it. “Oh, you poor thing! What manner of farmer have you, who treats you this way?” she said, pushing the reins off the hand rake, so that the horse could turn around and taste the oats.

“That is me, that is!” cried Farmer Weatherbeard, coming out through the door.

But the horse had already shaken off the bridle, and thrown itself into the goose-pond, and turned itself into a small fish at the same moment. Farmer Weatherbeard went after it, and turned himself into a large pike. So Hans turned himself into a dove, and Farmer Weatherbeard turned himself into a large hawk, and flew after, to catch the dove.

But now, there stood a princess at a window of the king’s farm, watching this contest. “If you knew as much as I do, then you would come in through the window to me, you would,” said the king’s daughter to the dove. The dove came in through the window, turned itself into Hans again, and told how things stood.

“Turn yourself into a gold ring, and put yourself on my finger,” said the king’s daughter.

“No, that does no good,” said Hans, “for then Farmer Weatherbeard will make the king sick, and then there will be none who can make him well again before Farmer Weatherbeard comes to make him so, and for that he will demand the ring.”

“I shall say I have it after my mother, and that I certainly will not part with it,” said the king’s daughter.

So Hans turned himself into a gold ring and put himself on the king’s daughter’s finger, and there could Farmer Weatherbeard not get at him. But then it went as the boy had said it would; the king fell sick, and there was no doctor who could heal him, before Farmer Weatherbeard came, and he wanted the king’s daughter’s ring for it. So the king sent to his daughter for her ring. But she did not want to part with it, she said, for she had it after her mother. When the king heard this, he was sorry, and said that he would have the ring, no matter whom she had it after.

“Well, it does no good that you are sorry,” said the king’s daughter. “I cannot get it off me; if you want the ring, you will have to take the finger, too.”

“I shall help, and the ring will come off,” said Farmer Weatherbeard.

“No thank you, I shall try myself,” said the king’s daughter, and she went to the hearth and put ash on it.

Then the ring came off, and was lost among the ashes. Farmer Weatherbeard turned himself into a cock, which scratched and kicked for the ring in the chimney, so the ash flew about their ears. But Hans turned himself into a fox and bit the cock’s head off—and if there was any evil in Farmer Weatherbeard, then it is over for him now.

  1. The title is tentative, and subject to change. The problem is with the interpretation of the farmer’s name. The Norwegian “vær,” the first part of “Værskjegg” may mean “weather,” or “air,” or “ram,” or “small fishing village.” The orthography as originally published was “veirskjægg,” which brings Old Norse into play; “veir” there means “look,” or “see,” perhaps making the eponymous character even more magical than the action of the tale would suggest. Other Norwegian variants of this tale have been given the title “Farmer Redbeard,” “Farmer Generous-beard,” and even “Vraal [a given name] Horse-cloud.” English translations have previously given “Farmer Weathersky” and “Farmer Weatherbeard.” Until I am struck with better inspiration, I will keep the latter title, as both plausible and familiar to readers of English. 

  2. Old Erik is a folk-name for the devil. 


Norwegian source: Bonde værskjegg

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Twelve Wild Ducks

There was once upon a time a queen who went out driving; it was in the winter, and fresh snow had just fallen. When she had come a distance on her way, her nose began to bleed, and she had to leave the sleigh. While she stood up against the fence, looking at the red blood and the white snow, she began to think that she had twelve sons and no daughter, and so she said to herself: “Had I a daughter as white as snow and as red as blood, then my sons may as well not matter.” This was barely said before a witch came to her.

“A daughter you shall have,” she said, “and she shall be as white as snow and as red as blood, and then your sons shall be mine; but you may have them with you until the child is Christened.”

When the time came, the queen had a daughter, and she was as white as snow and as red as blood, as the witch had promised, and so they called her Snow-White and Rose-Red. There was great joy on the king’s farm, and the queen was happy beyond measure; but when she remembered what she had promised the witch, she had a silversmith make twelve silver spoons, one for each prince, and then she had him make one more, and that she gave to Snow-White and Rose-Red.

Just as the princess was Christened, the princes were transformed into twelve wild ducks and flew away, and they saw no more of them; they were gone, and remained gone. The princess grew up, and she became both big and beautiful, but she was often so strange and sorrowful, and no one could understand what was the matter with her.

But then there was an evening when the queen was sorrowful, too, for she had just as many strange thoughts, when she thought of her sons; then she said to Snow-White and Rose-Red: “Why are you so sorrowful, my child? If something ails you, then say so. If there is something you want, you shall have it.”

“Oh, I think it so lonely,” said Snow-White and Rose-Red; “everyone else has siblings, but I am so alone; I have none; it is this I grieve for.”

“You have also had siblings,” said the queen; “I have had twelve sons, who were your brothers, but I gave them all away, to have you,” she said, and then she told her how everything had happened.

When the princess heard it, she had no peace; no matter how the queen wept and carried on, it did not help; she wanted to go away and she thought everything was her fault; and at last, she also left the king’s farm. She walked and she walked, so far out into the wide world that you would not think that such a fine maiden would manage to walk so far.

Once she walked for a long time in a great big forest. Then there was a day she grew tired and sat on a tuffet, and there she slept. Then she dreamed that she walked farther into the forest, to a small log cabin, and there were her brothers. Straightway she woke up, and right before her she saw a worn path in the green moss, and that path went farther into the forest. She followed it, and after a longer than long time, she came to a small log cabin like the one she had dreamed of.

When she came into the cabin, there was no one in; but there stood twelve beds and twelve chairs and twelve spoons and twelve of everything there was. When she saw it, she grew as happy as she had never been for many years, for she soon understood that her brothers lived there, and that it was they who owned the beds and the chairs and the spoons. She lighted a fire, and swept and made the beds and cooked food and ordered and tidied as best she could; and when she had cooked and prepared for them all, then she ate—but her spoon she forgot on the table—and then she crept under the bed of the youngest brother and slept there.

She had hardly lain down before she heard a rushing and whistling in the air, and then came all twelve wild ducks in; but as they crossed the threshold, they became princes.

“Oh, so good and warm it is here!” they said. “God bless the one who has made the fire and cooked such good food for us!” And then each took his silver spoon and would eat.

But when each had taken his, there was one left behind, and it was so like the others that they could not tell the difference. Then they looked at one another and wondered: “It is our sister’s spoon,” they said, “and if her spoon is here, then she cannot be far away, either.”

“If that is our sister’s spoon, and she is here, then she must be killed, for she has a share in the cause of the evil we suffer,” said the eldest of the princes, and she lay beneath the bed, listening to this.

“No,” said the youngest, “it would be shameful to kill her for it; it is not her fault that we suffer evil; should anyone be at fault, then it would have to be our own mother.”

They began to search for her, both high and low, and finally they all looked beneath their beds, and when they came to the bed of the youngest prince, they found her and pulled her forth.

The eldest prince would again that she should be killed, but she wept and pleaded so beautifully for herself: “Oh dear me, do not kill me,” she said, “I have walked for many years, looking for you, and if I could save you, then I would willingly give my life.”

“Well, if you will save us,” they said, “then you shall live; for if you will, then you will be able.”

“Yes, just tell me how it can happen, and I shall do it, whatever it is,” said the princess.

“You shall gather cottongrass,” said the princes, “and you shall card it and spin it and weave a weave from it, and when you have done that, you shall cut and sew twelve caps and twelve shirts and twelve kerchiefs from it, one for each of us; and while you do this, you shall neither speak nor laugh nor weep. If you can do this, we shall be saved.”

“But where shall I find cottongrass for so many kerchiefs and shirts and caps?” said Snow-White and Rose-Red.

“We shall certainly show you,” said the princes, and then they took her to a great big moor; there it was full of cottongrass, swaying in the wind, and gleaming in the sun, so that it shone like snow, from a great distance.

Never had the princess seen so much cottongrass before; and that very hour she began to pluck and gather, as best and as quickly as she could, and when she came home in the evening, she began to card it and spin yarn from the cottongrass. So it went both well and long; she gathered cottongrass and carded it; and in between it all, she tidied for the princes; she cooked and made their beds; in the evening they came rushing and whistling home as wild ducks, and at night they were princes, but in the morning, they flew off again, and were wild ducks the whole day.

But then it happened once, when she was on the moor, gathering the cottongrass—and if I am not mistaken, then I think it was the last time she should go there—that the young king who ruled the kingdom was out hunting, and came riding to the moor and saw her. He stopped and wondered who the gorgeous maiden could be, who walked up on the moor, gathering cottongrass. And he asked her, too, and when he received no answer, he wondered even more. And he thought so well of her that he would take her with him home to the castle and marry her. So he said to his servants that they should take her and lift her on to his horse. Snow-White and Rose-Red, she wrung her hands and gestured to them and pointed at the sacks she had all her work in, and when the king understood that she would have them with her, he said to his servants that they should take and load up the sacks, too. When they had done so, the princess eventually began to make herself agreeable, for the king was both a kind man and a handsome man, and he was as happy and friendly towards her as if she were a toy.

But when they came home to the king’s farm, and the old queen, who was his stepmother, saw Snow-White and Rose-Red, she grew so angry and envious of her beauty that she said to the king: “Can you not understand that the one whom you have brought with you, and whom you will marry, is a witch; she neither speaks nor laughs nor weeps.”

The king paid no mind to what she said, but held a wedding and married Snow-White and Rose-Red, and they lived in great joy and glory; but she did not forget to sew the shirts, for all that.

Before a year had passed, Snow-White and Rose-Red had a little prince, and the old queen grew even angrier and more envious on his account. And when night came, she crept in to Snow-White and Rose-Red while she slept, took the child and threw it into the pit of serpents; then she cut the queen on her finger and smeared blood around her mouth, and then went to the king.

“Come and see now,” she said, “what manner of queen you have taken; now she has eaten up her own child!”

Then the king was so ill that he almost wept, and said: “Well, it must be true, since I can see it with my own eyes; but I do not suppose she will do it again. This time I will spare her.”

Before a year had passed, she had a son again, and it went the same way with him as with the first. The king’s stepmother grew even angrier and more envious, so she crept in to the queen during the night, while she slept, took the child and threw it into the pit of serpents, cut the queen on her finger and smeared blood around her mouth, and then she told the king that she had eaten up this child, too. Then the king grew as sorrowful as you never could believe, and then he said: “Yes, I suppose it must be true, since I can see it with my own eyes; but she will certainly not do so again, so I will spare her on this occasion, too.”

Before a year had passed, Snow-White and Rose-Red bore a daughter, and she too the old queen took and threw into the pit of serpents. Whilst the young queen slept, she cut her on her finger and smeared blood around her mouth, and then went to the king and said: “Now you may come and see if it is not true, what I say, that she is a witch, for now she has eaten up the third child, too.”

Then the king grew so sorrowful that there was no end to it, for now he could not spare her any longer, but had to command that she should be burned alive on a pyre. When the pyre stood afire, and she should be put on to it, she made gestures to them that they should put twelve boards around the pyre, and on them she laid the kerchiefs and the caps and the shirts for her brothers, but the shirt of her youngest brother lacked its left arm; she had not managed to have it finished. Hardly had they finished doing this, before they heard a rushing and whistling in the air, and then came flying twelve wild ducks over the forest, and each of them took his clothing in his bill, and went off with it.

“Do you see now?” said the bad queen to the king. “Now you can properly see that she is a witch; hurry now and burn her, before the wood burns up.”

“Oh,” said the king, “we have enough wood—we have the forest to take from; I will tarry a little yet, for I want to see what the end of this will be.”

Straightway came twelve princes riding, as handsome and well-grown as one would expect, but the youngest prince had a duck’s wing instead of his left arm.

“What is going on?” asked the princes.

“My queen shall burn, for she is a witch and has eaten up her children,” replied the king.

“She has not eaten up her children,” said the princes. “Speak now, sister; now you have saved us, save yourself!”

So Snow-White and Rose-Red spoke, and told how everything had happened, that every time she had been delivered, the old queen, the king’s stepmother, had crept in to her in the night, taken the child from her, and cut her finger and smeared the blood around her mouth. And the princes took the king and led him to the pit of serpents; there lay the three children, playing with serpents and toads, and more gorgeous children you could not imagine.

The king took them with him, and carried them to his stepmother, and asked her what manner of punishment she thought the one should receive, who had the heart to betray an innocent queen and three so blessed children.

“They ought to be tied between twelve unbroken horses, so that each has its portion,” said the old queen.

“You have passed judgement yourself; you shall suffer it, too,” said the king, and so the old queen was tied between twelve unbroken horses, and each took its portion of her. But Snow-White and Rose-Red took the king and his children and the twelve princes, and then they travelled home to her parents and told them what had happened to them, and now there was great rejoicing and joy across the whole kingdom, for the princess was saved, and had saved her twelve brothers, too.


Norwegian source: De tolv villender.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Gudbrand on the Hill

There was once upon a time a man called Gudbrand; he had a farm that lay far away on the side of a hill, and they therefore called him Gudbrand on the Hill. He and his wife lived so nicely together, and agreed so well together that everything the husband did, his wife thought it done so well that it could never be done better; however he behaved himself, she was just as happy. They owned their land, and had a hundred dollars at the bottom of a chest, and in the barn, they had two tethered cows.

But then the woman said one day: “I think we should go to town with one of the cows and sell her, I do, so we may have some shillings to buy with. We are such good folk that we would do well to have some shillings in our hands, like others have. The hundred dollars that is at the bottom of the chest we cannot begin to use, but I do not know what we are to do with more than one cow. And it will be better for us too, that I will not have to look after it, not having to sweep for and tend to two.” Well, this thought Gudbrand was both well and correctly spoken; he took the cow and went to town with it, and should sell it. But when he came to town, there was no one who would buy the cow. Well, well, thought Gudbrand, then I can go home again with the cow, I can; I know I have both stall and tether, and it is just as far back as forth. And with that he began to wander homewards again.

But when he had come a way on the road, he met one who had a horse he would sell, and Gudbrand thought it better to have a horse than a cow, and so he swapped with him. When he had gone a way farther, he met one who drove a fat pig before him, and then he thought it better to have a fat pig than a horse, and so he swapped with the man. He went a way more; then he met a man with a goat, and then he thought that truly it was better to have a goat then a pig, and therefore he swapped with the man. Then he went a long distance, until he met a man who had a sheep: he swapped with him, for he thought it is always better to have a sheep than a goat. When he had gone a while more, he met a man with a goose; then he swapped the sheep for the goose. And when he had gone a long distance, he met a man with a cock; he swapped with him, for he thought like this: it is always better to have a cock than a goose. Then he walked until it grew late in the day; but by then he had begun to grow hungry, and so he sold the cock for twelve shillings, and bought himself food with it; “for it is better to save one’s life than to have a cock,” though Gudbrand on the Hill.

Then he walked homewards until he came to the farm of his nearest neighbour; there he dropped in.

“How did things go with you in town?” the folk asked.

“Oh, they went so so,” said Gudbrand on the Hill. “I cannot praise my fortunes, but I cannot blame them, either.” And with that, he told everything, how things had gone from first to last.

“Well, you are going to have a reception when you come home to your wide,” said the man on the farm. “Help me! I would not want to be in your shoes!”

“I think things could have been much worse,” said Gudbrand on the Hill, “but whether things went ill or well, I have such a kind wife that she will never say anything, no matter what I do.”

“Yes, I know that well, but not because I believe you” said his neighbour.

“Shall we wager on it?” said Gudbrand on the Hill. “I have a hundred dollars at home, at the bottom of a chest; do you dare to meet it?”

Well, they wagered, and then he remained there until evening; in the twilight they wandered together over to Gudbrand’s farm. There the neighbour remained outside the door, listening, while the man himself went in to his wife.

“Good evening,” said Gudbrand on the Hill, when he came in.

“Good evening,” said his wife, “and thanks be to God that you are here.”

Yes, he was that.

Then his wife asked him how he had fared in town.

“Oh, so so,” replied Gudbrand, “it is nothing to praise. When I came to town, there was no one who would buy the cow, so I swapped the cow for a horse, I did.”

“Well, thank you very much for doing that,” said his wife; “we are such good folk that we can drive to church, we as well as others, and as we can afford to keep a horse, then we can add another. Go down and bring the horse in, child!”

“Well, I do not actually have the horse; when I came a distance on the road, I swapped it for a pig.”

“No, no!” cried his wife, “it is almost as if I had done it myself; I thank you truly for it! Now we may have meat in the house, and something to offer people, when they look in to us, we too. What would we want with a horse? People would think we were too fine to go to church as before. Go down and bring the pig in, child!”

“But I do not actually have the pig, either,” said Gudbrand; “when I came a distance farther, I swapped it for a milking goat.”

“Oh no, oh no! So well you do everything,” cried his wife. “What should I do with the pig, when I think properly about it? Folk would have just said, ‘over there they eat up everything they have;’ now that I have a goat, I have both milk and cheese, and I keep the goat, too. Let the goat in, child!”

“No, I do not actually have the goat, either,” said Gudbrand. “When I came a distance on the road, I swapped the goat, and got a good sheep instead.”

“No!” cried the wife, “You have done everything just as I would have, just as if I had been along. What would we do with a goat? I would have had to clamber over mountains and valleys to bring it down again in the evening. No, if I have a sheep, I can have wool and clothes in the house, and food, too. Go down and let the sheep in, child!”

“But I do not have the sheep any longer,” said Gudbrand, “for when I had walked a while, I swapped it for a goose!”

“Thank you for that,” said his wife, “and many thanks, too! What would I do with the sheep? I have neither spinning wheel nor spindle, and neither can I be bothered with the pulling and toil, or making clothes, either; we can always buy clothes, now as before. Now I will have goose meat, which I have long wanted, and now I can have down for my small pillow. Go down and let in the goose, child!”

“Well, I do not have the goose, either,” said Gudbrand. “When I have come a way longer on the road, I swapped it for a cock.”

“I do not know how you came up with it all!” cried his wife. “It is, all of it, just as if I had done it myself. A cock! That is the same as if you a bought an eight-day clock; every morning the cock crows at four, so we can also get up at the right time. What would we do with the goose? I do not know how to cook goose meat, and my pillow I can fill with sedge. Go out and let in the cock, child!”

“But I do not have the cock, either,” said Gudbrand. “When I had walked another distance, I grew terribly hungry, and so I had to sell the cock for twelve shillings, to save my life.”

“Well, thanks be to God for what you did!” cried his wife. “No matter how you behave, you do everything just the way in which I would want it done. What would we do with the cock? We are our own masters, we can lie in in the morning for as long as we like. Thank God—just so long as I have you back, who behaves so well, I need neither cock nor goose, neither pig nor cow.”

The Gudbrand opened the door.

“Have I won the hundred dollars now?” he said. And his neighbour had to confess that he had.


Norwegian source: Gudbrand i Lia.

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Three Aunts

There was once upon a time a poor man, who lived in a cabin far away in the forest, and he lived by shooting. He had an only daughter, and she was both beautiful and fine. As her mother was dead, and the girl was half grown, she said that she would away to folk, so that she could learn to earn her keep, too. “Yes, my daughter,” said her father, “surely you have learned nothing from me but to pluck a bird and roast it, but you must try to earn your keep anyway.”

So the girl went out to ask to go into service, and when she had walked for a while, she came to the king’s farm. There she stayed, and the queen thought so well of her that the other servant girls simply grew envious of her. They found it good to tell the queen that the girl had said she was good to pin a pound1 of flax in four and twenty hours; for the queen made such a fuss of all manner of handiwork. “Well, if you have said it, then you must do it,” said the queen, “but you may have a little longer time.” The poor girl dared not tell her that she had never spun, but merely asked for a chamber to herself; this she got, and up there they carried both spinning wheel and flax. There she sat, miserable and weeping, and did not know what to do; she fiddled with the spinning wheel, and turned and spun it, and did not know how she should use it—she had never even seen a spinning wheel.

But as she sat there, an old wife came in to her.

“What is wrong with you, my child?” she said.

“Oh,” replied the girl, “it will do no good to tell you; you cannot help me anyway.”

“No one can know that,” said the wife. “It may be I can help you in any matter.”

Well, I can tell her, even so, thought the girl, and so she told her that the other servant girls had said that she had said that she was good to spin a pound of flax in four and twenty hours, “and I, poor unfortunate,” she said, “I have never in all my days seen a spinning wheel, much less spin so much in a day.”

“Well, it makes no difference, child,” said the wife. “If you will call me aunt on your day of honour, then I shall spin for you; so you can go away and lie down to sleep.”2

Yes, the girl would like that, and went away to bed.

In the morning, when she awoke, all the flax lay spun on the table, and it looked so nice and fine that no one had seen such even and beautiful yarn. The queen was so pleased with the fine yarn she had got, and held the girl even dearer than before. But the others grew even more envious of her for this, and so they decided to tell the queen that she had now said that she was good to weave the yarn she had spun in four and twenty hours. The queen said again that had she said it, then she should do it; but if it did not take exactly four and twenty hours, then she could take a little longer day. The girl dared not say no now, either, but asked for a chamber to herself, and she would try.

There she sat again, weeping and complaining, and she knew not what she should do; then came in an old wife again, and asked: “What is wrong with you, my child?”

The girl would not out with it, at first, but she eventually told her what she was so sorrowful for.

“Yes,” replied the wife, “no matter; if you will call me aunt on you day of honour, I shall weave for you; so you can go away and lie down to sleep.”

The girl did not need to be asked twice, but went deliberately to bed.

When she awoke, the heap lay on the table, woven as neatly and densely as it could be woven. She took the heap and went with it down to the queen, and she was pleased with the beautiful weave she had got, and held the girl even dearer than before. But the others grew even more envious of her, and thought of nothing other than what they could contrive.

Finally, they told the queen that she had now said that she was good to sew the heap of weaving into shirts in four and twenty hours. Yes, things went the same way as before: the girl dared not say that she could not sew; she came up to a chamber to herself, and sat there weeping, and at her wits’ end. But then there again came an old wife to her, who promised to sew for her, if only she would call her aunt on her day of honour. This the girl promised, more than willingly, and then she did what the wife said, and went away to lie down to sleep. In the morning, when she awoke, she found the heap of sewn shirts lying on the table. Such beautiful needlework had no one seen, and the shirts had names and were completely finished.

When the queen saw the work, she was so pleased with the needlework that she clapped her hands together, “for such beautiful needlework have I neither had nor seen,” she said; and after that, she held the girl as dear as her own child.

“If you want the prince, then you may have him,” she said to the girl, “for you will never have to send out anything; you can sew and spin and weave it all yourself.”

As the girl was so beautiful, and the prince thought so well of her, there was soon a wedding. But as the prince had just sat down at the wedding table, together with her, and ugly old woman with a long nose—it was certainly three cubits long—came in.

Then the bride stood up and curtseyed and said: “Good day, aunt!”

“Is that an aunt to my bride?” said the prince.

Yes, she was that.

“Well, then, she had better sit at the table, then,” said the prince; but both he and the others thought it terrible to sit at the table with her.

But just like that there again came an ugly old woman in; she had a backside so fat and broad that she only just managed to squeeze herself through the door. Straightway the bride rose and greeted her: “Good day, aunt!” and the prince asked again if that was aunt to his bride. Both replied yes, and the prince said that since it was, then she should sit at the table, too.

But she had hardly sat down before there again came an ugly old woman, with eyes as big as plates, and so red and runny that it was horrible to see. The bride rose again and greeted her: “Good day, aunt!” and the prince asked her also to sit at the table; but pleased he was not, and thought to himself: “God help me! What aunts my bride has!”

When he had sat a little, he could not help himself, but asked: “But how in all the world can it be that my bride, who is so beautiful, can have such horrible, disfigured aunts?”

“I shall tell you,” said the first. “I was just as beautiful as your bride, when I was her age„ but I have got such a long nose from constantly sitting all the time, teasing and nodding from the spinning, so that my nose has stretched until it is as you now see it.”

“And I,” said the second, “from the time I was young have I sat and scooted back and forth on the loom bench, and from that has my backside grown and swollen, as you see.”

Then the third said: “from the time I was quite small have I sat, staring and sewing, night and day; from that have my eyes grown so horrible and red, and now I do not know what to do with them any more.”

“Well, well,” said the prince. “It is a good thing I got to know this; for if folk can grow so horrible and ugly from it, then my bride shall neither spin nor weave not sew for the rest of her days.”


Norwegian source: “De tre mostrene

  1. Depending on the kind of pound being spoken about, and the time the tale dates from, the pound could be an equivalent of 0.46 kg (pund), 5.59 kg or 5.97 kg (bismerpund), 7.97 kg (lispund), or even 151.16 kg or 159.49 kg (skibspund). Source. The implication in the tale is that, no matter the amount of flax, the task of spinning it in 24 hours is a daunting one. 

  2. The Norwegian word, moster denotes a maternal aunt. A paternal aunt would be called faster

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Boy Who Would Be a Merchant

There was once upon a time a widow who had a son, and he did not want to do anything but become a merchant. But they were so poor that they did not have anything that he could take to begin trading with. The only thing his mother owned, that was a sow, and this he asked and begged for for so long and so well that she finally had to let him have it. When he had got it, he wanted to go off with it and sell it, so that he would have something to begin trading with. He offered it up to both like and unlike, but there was no one who would buy a sow at that time. Finally, he came to a rich big-shot; but much will have more, and this one was of the sort who could never have enough.

“Do you want to buy a sow today?” said the boy; “both a big sow, a good sow, and a rightly fat sow,” he said. What would he have for it? said the big-shot. She was worth at least half a score of dollars, if it had been between brothers, said the boy; but these were such times of want, and money was scarce, so he would sell her for four dollars; that was as good as giving it away. No, the bog-shot would not have it; he would not give so much as a dollar; he had more sows than he cared for, there was no lack on that account; but since he was so eager to sell he would do him the favour of buying it; but the most he would give for the whole sow was four shillings; if he wanted that, then he could put her in the pigsty with the others, he said.

The boy thought it enraging that he should get no more for his sow, but he thought that something was better than nothing, and so he took the four shillings and put the sow in, and so he had money in his hands. But when he got on the road again, he began to consider that he had been swindled out of the sow, and that he would not come far with four shillings; the longer he went and reflected on this, the angrier he grew, and so he thought to himself: “If I could play him a proper prank in return, then neither the sow nor the shillings would matter.”

So off he went and took himself a couple of strong straps, and a riding crop, put on a long tunic and put on a buck’s beard, and then went back to the farmer and said that he came from foreign parts, where he had learned to be a master carpenter—he knew the man was to build, you understand.

Yes, he would like to have him as his building foreman, he said, for there in the village they had nothing but simple, home-taught carpenters. When they went away to look at the timber, it was the stoutest ore-pine anyone could want in a house wall, and the boy said too that it was stout timber, no one could claim otherwise.; but in foreign parts they had a new custom, which was much better than the old; they did not chop log timbers to lay in the wall, but they cut them up into short logs, and baked them in the sun and fastened them back together, and it was both stronger and more beautiful than an old-fashioned log house. “It is in use everywhere in foreign parts,” said the boy.

“That will do nicely,” said the big-shot, and so he gathered together all the timber men and wood cutters there were in the village, and got them to chop up the timber into short logs.

“But then there should be some big trees, truly of the largest mast pines, for sill beams; perhaps there are no such big trees in your forest,” said the boy.

“Well, if they are not in my forest, then a curse on such trees!” said the man, and so they struck out into the forest, the two of them.

A little way into the mark, they came to a big tree. “I wonder if this is big enough,” said the man.

“No, it is not big enough; if you do not have bigger trees, then we will come no further with the building, not according to the new method, anyway,” said the boy.

“Well, I have them bigger, you will see,” said the man, “but then we have to go farther in.” So they went far across the hills, and then they came to a huge tree, one of the largest mast trees in the forest.

“Do you think this is big enough?” said the man.

“I think it must be,” said the boy; “we will fathom it, so that we can see. You go around the other side of the pine, and I will stay here; if we cannot reach our hands together, then it is big enough; but stretch well, I say,” said the boy, taking out a strap. The man did what the boy said.

“Yes, we can probably reach each other,” said the boy. “Wait a little, and I shall stretch you better,” he said, slipping a running snare over his wrists, then pulling and binding him fast to the pine. Then he took his riding crop and began to beat the man for as long as he managed. “Here is the boy you bought the sow from; oh, here is the boy you bought the sow from!” he screamed, not stopping before he thought he had had enough himself, and had received what was fair for his sow; then he loosed him, and left him lying there.

When the big-shot did not return home, they went on a man hunt for him from the village, and searched all over the mark, and finally found him beneath the mast pine, and he was more dead than alive. When they had got him safely to the farm, the boy came, disguised as a doctor, and said that he came from foreign parts, and that he knew the cure for all kinds of ill. When the man heard this, he wanted him as his doctor, and the boy said that it would not take too long, but he had to have him out in a cabin by himself, and there he had to be alone with him. “If you hear him scream,” said the boy, “then you should pay no attention; for the more he screams, the quicker he shall recover.”

“First I shall bleed you,” he said; and so he laid the man face down on the long bench and tied him well with his strap; then he took out his riding crop and began to beat him again with all his might. The man whooped and screamed, for his back was sore, and it stung in his raw flesh, and the boy beat him without restraint. “Here is the boy you bought the sow from; oh, here is the boy you bought the sow from!” he said. The man behaved as if there were a knife sticking in him; but there was no one who cared about it, for the more he screamed, the quicker he should recover, they thought. When the boy had done with his doctoring, he went off as quickly as he could. But they went after him and got hold of him and caught him, and so he was sentenced to hang.

And the big shot was so angry that he did not want him to hang before he had recovered enough that he could do it himself.

While the boy sat there waiting to be hanged, one of the man’s tenants was out one night, stealing from him, and the boy saw this. You are a good thief, he thought, and it would be fun if I could play you a prank before they hang me, he said to himself.

Time went by, until the man was well enough that he thought he could manage to hang him, he had them set up a gallows down by the mill road, so he could see the body hanging every time he went to the mill.

When they had come a way on the road, the boy said:

“You won’t refuse me leave to speak in private with your tenant who is milling in the mill, will you? I once played a prank on him, and I want to confess and ask his forgiveness before I die.”

Yes, he would be allowed.

“God help you!” he said to the tenant. “Here comes the farmer to hang you up for what you stole from his cabbage patch.”

When the tenant heard this, he grew so ill that he did not know what to do to save himself, and he asked the boy what he should do.

“Come now, and swap clothes with me, and hide behind the door, so he will think it none other than me,” said the boy, “and if he takes anyone, then it will not be you, but me.”

It took some time for them to swap clothes and dress again, so the man began to grow afraid that the boy had perhaps escaped. He set off for the mill house door.

“Where is he?” he said to the boy, who stood there as white as a miller.

“He was here just now; I think he hid himself behind the door,” said the boy.

“Yes, I will teach you to hide yourself away, you scoundrel!” he said, taking the tenant in his anger. He strode off to the gallows with him, and hanged him up immediately, and he knew nothing other than that it was the boy he had hanged.

When this was well done, he wanted to go into the mill house and speak with his tenant, who was milling there.

The boy had lifted up the upper stone, and was feeling below it with his hands.

“Come here and feel how strange this millstone is,” said the boy.

The man went over and felt it with one hand.

“No, you won’t feel it unless you touch it underneath, and feel it with both hands,” said the boy.

Yes, he did so, but the boy immediately snatched the support away, and slipped the upper stone on him, so he was caught fast between the stones; and then he took out his riding crop and beat him as much as he could manage again.

“Oh, here is the boy you bought the sow from!” he screamed.

When he had beaten him as much as he wanted and could, he went home to his mother, and when some time had passed, such that he thought the man had recovered again, then he said to her:

“Well, now he will come soon, this man I sold the sow to. Now I have no way of saving myself from him any longer; I will dig myself a hole, south on our land, and there will I lie during the day, and you must say to him what I tell you to,” said the boy, and he told her what to say and do.

He dug a hole, then, as he had said, and took with him a big, long butcher’s knife, and lay down in it, and his mother laid branches and twigs and moss over him, so that he was well hidden. There he lay during the day. After a while the man came travelling, asking after the boy.

“Well, he became quite the fellow, even though he had nothing from me but a sow,” said the woman; “he was a doctor and a master carpenter, and then he was hanged and rose again from the dead, and even so, I only hear all sorts of things about him. The other day, he came flying home and made me as happy as he ever made me when he lay down to die,” said the woman. “I did not care enough for him that I should afford him a parson and Christian soil; but I dug down here, south on our land, and raked some twigs and branches over him,” she said.

“You see, he tricked me, and escaped in the end!” said the man. “But since I did not get to avenge myself on him while he lived, then I shall do him a dishonour on his grave.”

He strode south on the land, and was about to squat down, but the boy immediately stuck the knife in him, all the way to the handle, and screamed: “Here is the boy you bought the sow from! Oh here is the boy you bought the sow from!”

The man ran off with the knife in his body, and was so scared and afraid that he has neither been heard of nor seen since.


Norwegian source: Gutten som ville bli handelskar.

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.