Monday, 15 October 2018

The Christmas Visit at the Parsonage

The first journey I undertook in my life was a Christmas journey. It was a pleasure without equal, and all the small episodes and events of the journey made such a vivid impression upon me as if it were yesterday. A parson’s family that lived a few leagues from town, whose sons were students and who lodged with my parents, had invited my sisters and me at Christmas.

We left town on Christmas Eve, at dinner time. It was a great sleigh trip, for a whole entourage, who would be visiting the parsonage or making their Christmas visits elsewhere in the village, had agreed to leave at the same time. There were fellows clothed in reindeer skins in their cutters, gentlemen and ladies in broad sleighs, and two-horse box sleighs full of numerous and mixed parties. In two of these drove the parson’s sons and their parties: ladies from the city, a couple of other students—of which one was a theologist, the other studying medicine, which was the cause of his being called the doctor—together with me and some children.

As the conditions on the country road were dire around the city, we drove on the ice, which had formed early. After about a league we turned up through the forest. The conditions were superb; it was fresh winter weather, and we travelled merrily along, the sleigh-bells ringing jollily; the company laughing and joking, the children rejoicing loudly; the steam of the horses competed with that from the students’ whistles; the rays of the sun broke through the fog, and glittered on the snow and ice, on trees and frosted bushes. When we had come up on the heights, where the views opened up, the sky stood in the glowing colours of the winter evening, and the sun cast its powerful red light over mighty, knurled tree trunks, groups of leafless trees, and forests and groves, which with uncertain boundaries emerged from the fog and mist; it spread its rose-coloured winter cast across the sea of fog, where the waves, like cover—here opaque, here translucent—lay broad across ice and fjord and villages. But our view point was higher; we were now out of the fog, high above the fog ceiling, and close before us the dark, forested hills rose clearly above the mist. Against the glittering evening sky, we could perceive each tree on the heights. From a church, the tower and white walls of which rose above a spruce copse some way from the road, loud, solemn tones rang towards us; the landscape itself lay in an atmosphere that affected them. Gripped by the mild evening mood, which in this manner was emphasised by the solemn knell of the bells, the company grew more silent and still, until we came to the change, where the horses could rest, and we eat supper.

When we again set off, the day had passed, but it was not too dark, for the white snow reflected the light of the stars and the sky. The drivers said that it would be cold during the night, because of the clear sky, they said. Eastwards, over the forest, cold, clear silver stripes glittered on the edge of the sky, and after a while the moon came out. Here we walked beside the sleighs up the slopes, there we chased off across hills and heights, where the spruces stood, powdered and weighed down with the snow, and we could look beneath the branches and between the trunks into secretive grottoes and passages, where it must have been cozy for elves and trolls to conduct their mocking games; now and then broad views of the dark forested landscape opened up, too. Then we went through plains of pine, where the road was as even as a parlour floor, where the upright trunks formed high halls of columns, between which fairy-tale characters from the animal- and fable worlds were merrily fancied forth, to show themselves in the uncertain light that the moon sparingly cast down through the forest, for so in the next moment to disappear again, or transform into snow-covered bushes, stumps, and windfalls. Now the road twisted itself down through a deep gorge, the steep sides of which framed the snow-covered landscapes in the shadow of the hills and dark forests, which broad and wide lay beneath. We had finally come down, and now our pace picked up again across the ice-covered fjord. The cold grew more noticeable; a sharp northerly wind blew here, which made it necessary for us to pull our hats further down over our ears, to tie our scarves tighter about our necks and waists, to stomp in the carriages and beat our hands together. The horses trotted sharply, and their long shadows flew quickly across the fjord. Once in a while a resounding crack came from the ice; the city ladies cried aloud, and a middle-aged gentleman, who had recently tried the value of his life by getting engaged, and who with his young sweetheart, drove behind us in a broad sleigh, cried even more loudly and each time it cracked, he cried, “God’s death, we ought to turn and drive to land!”

His driver quite drily made him aware of the fact that it was just as far to land in all directions. Another added sardonically that it would be more dangerous to drive back than forward; he would then be alone and find it difficult to save both horse and sweetheart from the pack of wolves, which someone on the estate said lived along the fjord beneath the forest. To the relief of the fearful one, we approached land quite quickly, despite the old proverb that the ice road is slow. During the journey one of the stranger students rose in his sleigh, and as he stared away into the shadows on one of the high islands that lay here, he cried:

“What is it, that is moving in there?”

“What?” — “Where?

“In there, on the ice below the island; it’s coming out into the moonlight, north of the deep mountain wall.”

“A pack of wolves!” everyone cried together.

“You mustn’t paint the devil on the wall!” exclaimed one of the party. “There are seven of them.”

“Yes, if only we had a rifle, and at least one of them would be fey!” said the doctor with an earnest conviction.

“They are following after us!” cried the driver of the broad sleigh.

“Hu! Hu!” cried our city ladies.

“Who?” asked the fiancé, for he had been sitting, slouched in deep conversation with his sweetheart, and now he didn’t know what we were talking about, or what was going on. “What is it?” he asked, frightened and confused.

“Oh, the pack of wolves there, north of the island,” said his driver.

“Where?” he cried quickly, and in fear, before he had caught sight of the wolves, he clicked with his mouth, and tapped the horse, so that with great speed it set off, past us and towards land. Our horses, which would not break up the party, followed this good example. But just as we turned up towards a headland, where the ice road touched land, the horses caught wind of the wolves, which had also come on to land, and which came loping, one after the other, showing themselves long and grey against the sky, on a small rise beyond the road. The horses were distracted; the great box sleigh careened at an angle, suddenly tipped, and deposited its entire load of gentlemen dressed for travelling, with tobacco pipes in their mouths, ladies with foot bags, us children, together with all kinds of pails, hat boxes, and travelling bags, tumbling over one another in a tight ball in the deep snow. There were screams and clamour and laughter; there was crunching and scurrying so that no one would suffocate in the snow or from the mass that lay on top, to come apart from one another and regain their feet. One had got a suitcase on their lap, another a couple of ladies, one had fallen headfirst into a hat box, another was feet first in a pail of food—certainly an unlucky position, but one that for the smiling children opened the prospect of pancakes and pastries. The doctor, who because of his eagerness and interest for the noble art of driving had taken possession of the coachman’s seat, had in overturning let go the reins and let the horses run. When he now discovered that no one had been hurt, he began to scold and tell off the whole party for making such a noise and fuss for nothing, most likely to distract attention from his own poor performance as coachman.

“Can you not come apart from one another?” he exclaimed.“ It looks as if that bed in the snow is not at all uncomfortable! I just wish I could fetch you a bigger pile of snow, for your pillows and bedspread! You laugh and scream both your lungs and heart out before you get up, and you may do so with good reason, for you look like ghosts and julebukker, and will probably want to present yourselves to the parson as a Christmas troll-procession. Make sure you get up again! The little rascal in the yellow cape—does he really think that now is the time to lie on his belly eating pancakes? Let us come away, all of us, and cease this noise and laughter!” he called eagerly.

His inappropriate behaviour, the powdery snow, the strange mumbling figures that raised themselves up or were pulled out into the moonlight, and the helpless condition in which certain members of the party found themselves, made the laughter and noise quite worrying. The coachman grew even angrier about this. No one thought of the wolves any more, which had been frightened by the clamour, the laughter, and the sleigh bells, and had run off—no one thought of the box sleigh or the horses before one of the parson’s sons raised himself up on his knees and said:

“Yes, let us! You will most certainly carry us all on your broad back—but take a breather first—you can see they are only laughing at you. Or perhaps you can tell us where our horses have got to. Didn’t you let them go?”

“What happened to the horses?! Let them go? Certainly I let them go, yes,” replied the coackman boldly; “do you think I can hold the horses back, when they take fright and run? Thank me rather that everyone is whole.”

“When you tip over, you must never let go the reins, my boy, but rather let the hoses drag you over log and stone.”

This driving lesson, which was given in an unusually deep voice, and so slowly and with great seriousness, came from the district governor, who at the head of the other party now came back to collect us here. He quickly looked to our helpless condition, instructed his driver to help us, and gave a helping hand himself. Now it was told us that the box sleigh lay in a hollow or grotto a little farther up; the shafts were broken, but fortunately the horses had been halted by the driver of the broad sleigh, who had driven ahead. Amidst a lot of talk and nonsense here and there, and after countless calls, our city ladies were picked up and packed together on some of the other newly-arrived sleighs, while certain gentlemen found it good to climb on to the runners like footmen. The whole company soon disappeared from us; we were left behind around the box sleigh and tried to keep warm by tramping in the snow and beating our arms like fishermen. After a while the footmen, who had been sent to one of the nearest farms, came back with some borrowed shafts, and we quickly repaired the damage. And at length, we arrived at the parsonage farm, pathetically frozen.

“Are you finally here? Welcome, welcome; God bless all of you!” said the old parson, who received us on the porch. “And twice welcome, since you weren’t hurt by the horses—and since the wolves didn’t get you,” he added, jokingly, following us—after our travelling clothes had been shed and our noses and ears accounted for—in to the families and the ladies, who were just installing themselves at the Christmas supper table.

The pleasant home, these friendly people, and this evening remain in my memory among the best memories of my childhood. The merry lighting and table setting, the mild peace that in the shadow of unfeigned piety appeared to made its dwelling there, the benevolent impression of evening devotion before the Lord’s table, the old, friendly parson folk, their contented, modest daughters, their steady, solemn sons, the lively conversation with jokes and laughter (which later moved on to the remembrance and telling of the events and the accidents of our journey), the quick students, and the nonsense and foolery of the light-hearted ladies—all this was as if it placed me in a new, unknown country.

A great deal of that which was said and spoken, has in the intervening years been lost from my memory; the best of what has remained is the stories, legends, and tales that were told. I have also had occasion to refresh them later, by listening to them again in the meadows where they have their home. In the following, I will, as well as I can, attempt to retell them and that which is connected to them.

One of the ladies from the city set this entertainment in motion when she, during the conversation—I forget how it started—expressed her belief that the hulder-folk and subterraneans are extinct. The students disagreed, giving examples from the immediate vicinity of the city. The eldest of the parson’s sons said that in Valdres, where he had spent part of his childhood, one was certain of these “offspring of superstition” just as surely as of the gospel.

“Yes,” said the old parson, “that is unfortunately all too true, and I shall in that connection tell you a story which in all seriousness has been told to me as if it really happened and was experienced in Valdres, a couple of years ago.”

The party drew together; those who stood sat down, and the parson began his tale.

“There was a schoolmaster from Etnedalen, who went fishing in the hills. He always had a great desire to read, this man, and so he always had some book or other with him, that he lay reading on holidays, or when the weather forced him to stay inside his fishing hut. One Sunday morning as he lay thus, reading his book, he thought he perceived the pealing of church bells—sometimes the sound was weak, as if it were far away, but sometimes it sounded loud, as if the wind carried the ringing to him. He listened to this for a long time and wondered about it; he did not want to trust his senses, for he knew it was impossible to hear the village church bells so far out in the hills, but the the ringing did not stop in his ears.

“Now he laid aside his book, got up, and went out. The sun was shining; it was beautiful weather, and one group of church folk after the other went past, with their hymn books, and dressed in their best. A little way off on the hill, where before he had never seen anything but forest and scrub, there stood an old wooden church. After a while the parson came walking past, and he was so old and weak that his wife and daughter supported him. When they came past the place where the schoolmaster stood, they stopped, and asked him to go with them to the church to listen to the mass. The schoolmaster thought a little about this, but as he thought it would be fun to hear how these folk worshipped God, he replied that he would go with them, if it would not do him any harm. No, no harm would come to him, but rather good, they said.

“In the Church things went quietly and calmly; there were no dogs or screaming children there to disturb the service, and the singing was beautiful, but he could not understand the words. When the parson was led up to the pulpit, he preached (in the schoolmaster’s ears) A beautiful, edifying sermon, but it had, it occurred to him, a strange line of reasoning, which he was not always able to follow. ‘Our father’ did not ring true, either, and he did not hear ‘deliver us from evil’ at all; never was the name of Jesus mentioned, and when it was over, no blessing was proclaimed, either.

“When the mass was finished the schoolmaster was invited to the parsonage. He replied to this in the same way he had replied at first, that he would like to go, if it would not do him any harm, and they said the same as they had already said, that if he obliged them, then it would be of benefit, not harm for him. So he went with them to the parsonage, and it was like a neat and good country parsonage usually is. There was a garden of flowers and apple trees and a pretty picket fence around it. They invited him to eat dinner, and it was well made and prettily served. He said as before that he would like to do as they asked, if it would not do him any harm, and he received the same reply. He ate there, therefore, and said later that he could find no difference between their food and the Christian food he had eaten a couple of times he had sat at the parson’s table in the village.

“When he had taken some coffee, the parson’s wife and daughter took him out to a chamber, and the wife complained that father was so old and delicate that he could not do it any more, then she said that the schoolmaster was a quick and lithe man, and finally both she and her daughter said that they would like to have him as parson, after the old father, if he wanted to stay with them; for there was no danger of a visitation from the bishop or an interrogation from the provost; they had nothing to do with that kind of thing. When the schoolmaster heard this, he said that even though he were in possession of the necessary learning, he doubted that he had the gifts, and as it was such an important matter, both for him and them to make a hasty decision about, then he required a year in which to consider the matter. After he had said this, he stood by a tarn by the hill, and could see neither parsonage nor church, and so he thought the story was done.

“But a year later, on exactly the day when his time of consideration should come to an end, he was working on a building, for when school was not in session he did joinery or fished. As he sat with his axe, astride one of the walls, he saw the parson’s daughter, whom he had seen in the mountains, walking straight towards him. She asked if he was now finished considering. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I have considered, but I cannot do it; I cannot defend doing it before my God and my conscience.’ The subterranean parson’s daughter was gone the that very moment, but immediately afterwards, he hewed himself on the knee, so that he was a cripple the rest of his days.”

The parson and the students now began to discuss what had brought about these legends, and what it was that was so vivid that it had imprinted this superstition on the public’s imagination. One said that it came from the old tales, which in varying forms returned in dreams, until one thought one had experienced them. The doctor guessed that they most often came from confused minds, a sickly condition of the soul or physical illness; for one had often heard, he said, that they who thought they had experienced something supernatural, grew ill or crazy, as it was called, afterwards, but this was not correct; the illness or confusion had come first, and the visions, the tales of trolls, nisses, etc. afterwards, during the sickness. That many such stories came from drunkenness and imbibing beer was all too certain. One had good reason to conclude that these visions, legends, or supernatural stories were something that had no home outside, only within the souls of certain persons, and thus such narratives generally vivdly intervened in the daily business and habits of the narrator. Was it a smith who was telling, then he would have heard the subterranean tread the bellows and swing the sledgehammer, and seen the fire and the sparks fly in the smithy from their hammer strokes; was it a woodcutter, he would have heard axe strokes after that he had ended his work; were it a miller, he would have heard the slapping of the mill; were it a minstrel, he would hear melodies in the mounds and mountains, and the hulder playing the langeleik. All this was so natural that it needed no explanation; he needed only remind the ladies of the sound of song in their ears when they had danced a number of evenings in a row at Christmas; he needed merely to remind the gentlemen who had been at sea, of the memory of the sailing trip the unexperienced man has, long after he has come ashore, as the floor or the ground appears to gyrate with the waves. So was it also with most sounds and sights that are considered supernatural; it was something that in reality that was no more, but which through nerves and the sensory apparatus, which had long been affected by natural means, still thought them present. A schoolmaster hearing peeling bells was nothing remarkable, for that belonged in a way to his field; perhaps he wished to be a sexton or a bellringer.

That which had been recounted, said the youngest of the parson’s sons, could in many cases be true and right, especially the last point, but with the condition that one took the superstition as a remnant of the ideas of the remote olden times, and not simply and plainly as a trick of the mind and drunkenness or stomach ache or hysteria. Such an understanding of the matter was so sensory and coarse that it it could not stand up to scrutiny. Superstition was the poetry of the folk and had once been their religion; the old ideas of creatures that were hidden or hostile to humans was their foundation. Who among us didn’t know of the old legends of the jotner, riser, elves, and dwarves? For the original people it was a natural thought that the wide sea, the wild mountains, the uneven forest, the deep lakes, the desolate moors, with their loneliness and foreboding, with their strange, shifting play of light and shadow, with all their sounds and gripping natural tones, was a home for supernatural creatures. There were a multitude of them in the age of the sagas. At the time Christianity was introduced, St. Olav and the priests conjured them into logs and stones, but the old faith was far too ingrained; the old ideas would not let themselves be bound, so long as the mighty surroundings remained in the view of the folk in the same way; and it is so even today. And subsequently, the old legends of the gods, and ancient ideas would, even though they had been fractured and distorted through the ages, still, under certain moods and conditions of the soul, be able to be called to life as living and present. That is the way it was, too; a multitude remained still in folk beliefs; there are even some that may be said to be overpopulated, as in each pasture, every tarn, every prominent point, according to the sagas was inhabitated by hulders and subterraneans. One might not want to admit that such ancient material was everywhere. But anyone who knows anything of the Nordic olden times, and of the poetry that still lives among the folk, knows and feels how much heathenism appears in our folktales, legends, and signing-verses. Anyone who had looked a little deeper into this, knows that most of the folktales and legends contain remnants of such from the most remote past faith, which shows itself in the figurative understanding of supernatural things. But, he continued, a famous author has in truth said that the mystical in these god-legends lies like fragments of a gem that have sprouted from the ground that is so overgrown with grass and flowers that it demands the sharpest of eyes to discover them. This is certain and true; for though the meaning of it was certainly lost a long time ago, we still feel it, and it is this which gives the folktales and legends their content and meaning, at the same time that it satisfies the desire for the wonderful. It is never merely and only the play of colour on an empty power of imagination. The farther we go back, the wider the mystical has spread, and it looks as if the god-legends formed the only content of the oldest poetry. But neither has this repudiated the most unbelievable, uncanny, and terrible, when—unconcerned with reality—depicts the secretive forces and effects of nature, carried away with the greatness of the material and its edifying character. One ought in the meantime not believe that remnants of such an ancient faith were only with us; he knows that most of our folktales also occur in many European countries, yes, some even in the farthest reaches of Asia; that something like that was the case with the legends of the supernatural creatures with which the public still populates our mountains and wildernesses, he thought was certain; that some of them nearly word-for-word occur both in Germany and among the Scots, he knows for certain. Many have probably experience that the same legend and folktales occur in differing forms, widely dispersed in this country. “I know one like that from Gudbrandsdalen,” he said, “which in several points agrees with the one from Valdres that father has but newly told. If you still want to, and have the patience to hear it, then I shall tell it.”

After a confirming and encouraging answer, he began:

“There was a farmhand or labourer at a parsonage in Gudbrandsdalen. He was unusually eager to work; he was up early in the morning and late in the evening; he always thought that he had most left undone on Sunday, and he therefore worked Sunday after Sunday. When the parson became aware of this, he arrested him for his impropriety, and said that it was better to spend Sunday as a Christian should spend it, listening to the preaching of the word of God. This he promised to do, and as there next Sunday should be a mass at the annex-church, he should walk thither. He walked both far and at length, and even though he knew the road well, he thought that he must have got lost and walked on different paths. After a while he arrived at a church, but it was closed and locked, and he saw neither parson nor congregation. Close by the church lay a farm, and there he went in. Inside was a gorgeous girl, making dinner. Now he understood that he hadn’t come to the annex church but that he had, as he had supposed, got lost and come to another village church, and that this was the parsonage he had come into. The girl gave him food and drink and looked after him, and when he wanted to leave, she said: ‘father is preaching at the annex today, and that is where all our folk are, but next Sunday there shall be a mass here; you should come again, and listen to our liturgy.’ The farmhand replied neither yes nor no, but he thought: ‘The liturgy ought to be the same everywhere, and blast it if I am going to walk so far for a sermon, when I can listen to one across the road; next Sunday the sermon shall be preached at the main church at home.’ But when the weekend came around, he began to think of the beautiful girl, and finally he started on his way. He met her in the kitchen this time, too, just like the previous Sunday, and she knew no limit to all the good she could do him. She gave him beer and brandy and good food, and when he had eaten and drunk, she took him to church. The parson stood in the pulpit, and had begun his sermon, but when they came in, the church grew restless, for everyone turned to take a look at this stranger fellow. When the girl noticed, she said: ‘It’s best we go out, for when father is finished in the pulpit, there will be such gazing at you; they aren’t used to such folk here?’ They went out, then, and he had again to go with her to the parson­age, where he was given dinner and coffee, when the parson and the parson’s wife came from the church. When they had drunk their coffee, the parson-folk took him into a chamber and told him that their daughter liked him so well that she could no longer resist. To this the farmhand replied that he certainly thought she was beautiful, but that he was not cut out for such, he said. The parson’s wife both threatened and pleaded but he would not have her; finally the daughter came too, but that did no good, either.

“‘Will you by no means have our daughter?’ asked the parson’s wife at last.

“‘No,’ he said, he would not. Then she struck him on his shoulder. Immedi­ately he fell lame and went out of his mind. How he got home, he did not know, but he was abed for a long time.

“A year to the day afterwards, he began to recover and regain his senses. As the day drew on, a man whom he thought he had seen before came into him. ‘How do you feel?’ said the man. ‘Oh, pretty bad,’ replied the farm labourer, ‘for I have not been myself for a whole year.’ — ‘Now you shall sleep for an hour,’ said the man, taking out a pocket flask; he poured him a dram: ‘Perhaps you shall feel better when you wake. In the meantime, I shall sit here,’ he said, and took a chair over to the bed. The sick man fell asleep immediately, and when he awoke, he was as healthy and rested as he thought he had never been. He thanked the parson—for it was him—for the cure; but this one said: ‘Now it is well and good with you again, but at my home things are worse; my wife is dead, and my daughter is dead too, because she couldn’t have you.’”

“It may sound strange enough,” said one of the parson’s daughters, “but I have really believed that I have seen and experienced something similar.”

“Experienced?” asked one of the visiting students. “Is that possible? You must be so good as to tell us!” — “That you haven’t told us this!” said her sisters. — “Dear marie, you cannot mean that you have really seen the subterraneans or anything supernatural!” said the madame, in a tone that was both questioning and scolding.

“Experienced? No, that is not the right word, but the whole scene of legendary visions and the tale about them stood living for me, as if I had seen them myself, as if I had heard the bells and the church singing; in short, as if I had experienced it, and after this impression, I wrote it down in my journal.”

“Yes, yes, we are familiar with Marie’s experiences,” said her eldest brother, who went by the name The Prosaist, mockingly. “It’s a shame that they most often come out a little sentimental and overwrought. She is capable of making an enchanted prince of a beggar boy, and a poem of a twittering bird.”

His sister grew a little indignant at these exclamations, and held her tongue, but after repeated encouragements to tell, she said:

“While the impression was still fresh, I wrote down these experiences in my journal, and since it is now demanded, I shall fetch my journal and read it out.” After a moment she returned and read the following with beautiful expression and a sonorous voice:

“The first year we had moved here from Valdres, I spent some time in the city; but I did not like it at all there, and lay with a great illness. When I had somewhat recovered, the doctor advised me to come home—which was also my dearest wish—and that I should travel and spend as much time as possible in the open air. There was no opportunity of a big journey, you understand, but then father, at the beginning of the summer should undertake his usual trip to the annex in the valley, and I was allowed to go along with him. I felt so well now. Health coursed through my veins again; I thought it was so glorious to be alive; I found a childish joy in the surroundings, over the often appealing, often pathetic, but gripping meadows and landscapes we travelled through, over the transparent river we rowed up, with its reflections of deciduous forests, green slopes and hills, with its whorls and currents and falls. Certain of these landscapes are so vivid for me that I can still see them. Thus I walked that Sunday afternoon, when father had gone on parish business in the hills, from Sundgårgen across the moor to a tributary where I met Hans, the son on the farm we were staying at; he was fly fishing, an art he understood best of any, far and wide; and a number of young girls had gathered them­selves by the river bank to look at the fish and the fisherman. Here I heard of the invisible church on the moor and of the subterraneans in Bratteberget.

“But there is not only one, but many who have heard the church bells ringing in the invisible church on the Bratteberg moor; they sound almost like the church bells of the annex church. During the time that mother Sundet was home in Tverrdalen, she should once fetch some water in the evening. Then she heard ringing from north of the moor; she laid aside her buckets to listen, and it sounded like the annex church. Hans has also heard the same. When he was a small boy, and he had spent a night fishing in the tributary, together with a tenant’s boy, who was a little older, they heard the church bells ringing on the moor, and they thought there was ‘mumbling and shuffling’ all over the moor, where they were. When they came to the place, Hans dared not go home alone, but the tenant’s boy had to go with him to the gate, and when he came home, he dared not lie in his bed in the barn, but stayed in the parlour for the night. They had only heard the pealing of the bells; but when Elling Hvitmyr, who was a tenant under Sundet, had been at the fishing in the tributary one night, and he went home by the north hay moor, as they called it, he suddenly thought the path that goes between the tributary and Sundet close by Bratteberget, and which is just not broad enough, was as broad as a church road; and before he knew how it had happened, he was close by the church wall. It was brown with new pitch. There was a tower on the church, and on the tower a pennant of gold, as large as a gate. Inside, the church was full of people; they sang, and there was a bright light there, so that it shone from all the windows; behind the church there were green meadows, broad and wide, but he could not see any farm. The key stood in the church door and a great gleaming ring hung there; he thought the door was no further away than that he could stab his knife into it. As he stood looking at the door and at the church and at all this glory, and began to reach for and fumble after his knife, it was as if someone swept his legs from beneath him, for he fell with his nose in the dirt, right against the church wall. When he came to himself again, he lay in the middle of the path, and saw neither church, nor church road, nor any of all these glories; the path and moor lay before him, Bratteberg to his left, and to his right rose Bjørndalskollen high above the hill.

“This Bratteberg is not supposed to be quite right, either. It is a small forested knoll, the east side of which falls off in a smooth, sheer wall that turns right towards the aforementioned path across the moor. One winter evening, the same Elling Hvitmyr and another man, who was called Nils, came from the mill by the tributary.

“Each went to his sleigh-load; Elling’s load was not terribly heavy; he therefore went quickly in the lead, so that Nils had to hold on tight, and go as quickly as he could to keep up with him. When they came to the middle of Bratteberg, they sat down for a rest, each on his load, and turned their back on the knoll. Nils, who had his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, soon began to nod and nap; but Elling, who was wide awake, saw a glimt away on the hill on the other side of the moor, and then it grew so bright that he could see well enough to thread a needle. When he turned around, a great door was open in the mountain; he could look right in to an excellent, high parlour; there was a fire beneath the chimney, which gave such a strong light that he could see all the nail heads in a row across the floor. Women went back and forth in front of the fire; they were very busy, and it looked to him as though they were making ready a banquet. “Do you see this?” he cried to Nils. “Oh, cross in Jesus’ name, what is this, then?” cried Nils as he awakened, and the light shone in his eyes. But he had hardly uttered these words before a gate was slammed shut in the mountain, with a screech and a bang. The clang was so loud that it echoed in Bjørndalskollen and the hill on the other side of the moor, and all at once they sat in the deepest darkness. Elling Hvitmyr compared the sound with one he had heard before, and said that it was just like when one slammed shut the great fortress doors, when he was in the infantry in Fredrikstad.

“It was a lovely afternoon, when I heard this; during the conversation and stories, the river bubbled and rushed beneath the deciduous trees; the fish jumped high out of the water for the flies and butterflies, and flashed in the sunshine, and the birds sang so eagerly in the green crowns; there was something mild and warm in their song, which I have never felt before or since—it was for me as if the summer and its healthy life celebrated its entrance that day. One of these songs, which has always been a favourite, although I have never known its name, began now to sing in low, dampened tones that lulled me into a mild, dreamlike, summery mood. The song called forth favourite images, which changed with the intonation. First it occurred to me that it sang of the dark Nordic autumn, of the yearning of creation for the sunny clear sky of the south. Then I thought it whispered of how it sat there in the deep shadow and cool of the evergreen crowns, when the mid-day sun burned hot, and no living creature was to see, except the wild buffalo, which wallowed in the bogs; I thought it sang of how it sat in evening in the pine crown, listening to the guitar, to the lovers’ whispering, which sounded like song in a strange tongue; but ‘soon came a third man, dark and foreboding; I was afraid of the harsh words, of the steel that flashed in the moonlight; I flew far away between the tall mountains, where strutted the wild robbers.’

“It sang of shots, of murder and assault, of gorgeous women, who were taken far into the deep forest. It flew farther south in fear, across the blue shining sea, and visited Shiraz, Damaskus and Cairo’s palm groves; in cheerful tones it sang of the gorgeous daughters of the east and of the wonderful, colorful lives, which in clear colours have appeared for the one who with the whole of her mind has lost herself in the enchanting land of the Arabian tales. But now the tones were melting, for soon to climb in dampened rejoicing. It was the Nordic longing for spring; it was the journey to the north; the parade in the summer-fresh leafy crowns; it was the river and the falls and the forest and the summer’s night, that rang through the lush tones.

“I walked alone across the moor. To my right lay Bjørndalskollen; only its naked top was illuminated by the evening sun, whilst a cloud cast its shadow on its dark forested masses, and made it even darker; from the foot of this, the moor stretched out with its upright pines, even and flat towards the stout Bratteberget, where it makes a depression and forms a valley; on the other side of this mountain runs the great river, which in one place only may be glimpsed between the trunks. When I got there, a ray of sunshine slipped beneath the cloud that shaded the evening sun, and played a red cast between the trees. While the rushing of the river and the bird song from away there still rang in my ears like the sweetest melody, a mistle thrush began it’s cheerful ballad; another small bird followed it tirelessly with a monotonous song. I heard and listened; suddenly the whole forest was filled with the loveliest fragrance; I felt as if I myself was a bird, hovering between flower and birdsong, like a smaller terrestrial creature between higher creatures, in short, like something invisible, supernatural was close by me. Hymn-singing and distant church-bells sounded in my ears—so I thought—and it occurred to me that I saw the old church they had told me should stand between the trees, and when I turned to look at the blinking of the river between the tree trunks, the church suddenly stood before me; in the afternoon haze that rose from the river, I could not discern its outline clearly, but high up on the tower flew the golden pennant and out through its windows came a light stronger than the afternoon light in the forest. Confounded, I got up to go closer, to see better; the song still sounded in my ears; but I had not taken a step before the whole thing disappeared.”

Here the reading ended, and she continued orally:

“This event has, once in a while, popped up for me as a remote and indistinct remembrance, but during the conversation and the stories this evening, it has come forth with unusual clearness. Until now I have thought it really was the invisible church I saw, that it was the subterranean song and bells I heard, but after what has been said this evening, I suppose it was nothing but an echo in my soul of the legends that I had but recently heard, a reflection of my surroundings, and of the natural sounds I had listened to.” The parson and his wife shook their heads from time to time at this story, while her eldest brother still now and then interjected some words about badly digested novels, sentimentality, and overwroughtness; the others appeared to listen with wonder and approval, as they were quick to smile, soon to nod at the narrative. When it was finished the doctor spoke up:

“I cannot else,” he said as, bowing, he approached the racontense. “I can but thank the young miss for this poetic realisation of the opinion I have set forth. I am nevertheless not completely certain that it was your intention to defend it in this way.” The young miss sat with her distant, confounded, and inquisitive face up towards this speech, like the other listeners. Some even burst out laughing, upon which the doctor continued: “No, it was not meant like that. If it may be permitted me to continue concerning the origins of the visions or feelings you had, by means of the sights and sounds you experienced, then it is my unassailable opinion that a fever of the nerves, and the increased vigour that came after the illness, further increased by the effect of the sunshine on the trees and forest, and the oxygen this caused to richly flow out of them, instilled an excitement or overwrought mood, whereof the visions came naturally.” The whole party began to laugh, after which the youngest of the parson’s sons, to everyone’s enjoyment tried to affirm that the whole narrative was clear and concrete evidence of what he had said earlier.

During the argument that now ensued, the elder of the parson’s sons returned from a trip out to the folk cabin. “Do you want,” he said, “to hear riddles and tales? Do you want to play Christmas games, or watch, then go out to the servants’ cabin, where it is in full swing.”

Friday, 28 September 2018

Herding the King’s Hares

There was once upon a time a man who had given up his farm to his heir in return for an allowance. But he had three more sons, and they were called Per and Pål and Espen Askeladd. They remained at home, and wanted to stay there, too; they did not want to work at anything, for they were too comfortable, and they thought themselves too good for everything, and considered nothing good enough for them.

After a long, long time, Per heard that the king wanted a herdsmen to herd his hares, and so he said to his father that he would go; it might suit him, for he would serve no humbler a man than the king himself, he said. The fellow thought there might be some work that better suited him, for the one to herd the hares would have to be lithe, and light, and no lazy boy, and when the hares took to skipping and running, then it would be a different dance from wandering from room to room. Well, that didn’t help; Per wanted to go, and go he would, so he put his knapsack over his shoulder and loped off down the slope. And when he had walked far, and farther than far, he came to an old woman, who had her nose caught fast in a wooden stump, and when he saw how she tugged and toiled to come loose, he began to roar with laughter.

“Don’t stand there grinning,” said the woman, “but come and help a crooked old woman, I was going to split a little wood, but then I got my nose caught here, and here I stand, tugging and toiling; I haven’t tasted a crumb of food for a hundred years,” she said.

But Per laughed all the more. He thought it nothing but funny, and said that if she had stood like that for a hundred years, then she could hold out for a hundred more.

When he came to the king’s farm, they took him as herdsman at once, for not many folk wanted to go into service there, but he would receive good food and good wages, and perhaps the king’s daughter, too. But if so much as a single one of the king’s hares should be lost, then they would carve three red stripes into his back and throw him in the pit of serpents.

Per had all the hares in a flock was, as long as they were in the cattle trail or the garden. But as the day drew on, and they came up into the forest, they began to run, and fly about the hills. Per went after them, and ran and ran for as long as he knew he had one left, but when the last one was gone, he was almost exhausted; afterwards he saw no more of them.

In the evening, he began to wander homeward, and stood in the pen, looking and staring around for them. But no, no hares came; and when he came home to the king’s farm in the evening, the king stood ready with his knife, and took him and carved three red stripes in his back, sprinkled pepper and salt on them, and cast him into the pit of serpents.

After a while, Pål, wanted to go on his way to herd the king’s hares. The fellow said the same to him, and even more, but he had to go, and he wanted to go; there was nothing to be done about it. And things went neither worse nor better with him than they had gone with Per. The woman stood there and tugged and toiled with her nose in the tree stump, and he laughed and thought it nothing but funny, and left her standing there, tugging.

He went into service that very hour, he wasn’t refused. But the hares scattered away from him, all across the mounds, even though he ran as quickly as he could after them, until he was panting like a cattle dog in the scorching sunshine. And when he, hareless, returned to the king’s farm in the evening, the king stood ready with his knife in the yard, and took him and carved three broad red stripes in his back, sprinkled pepper and salt in them, and then—into the pit of serpents with him.

After some time had passed, Askeladden would go on his way to herd the king’s hares, and he told the fellow that he thought it might be suitable work for him, running around the forest and moor, and across the strawberry patches, wandering after a flock of hares, and lying and sleeping and lazing about on the sunny banks from time to time. The fellow thought there might be work that was better suited for him; even if things did not go worse, neither they would go better for him than they had for his brothers. The one who would herd the king’s hares would not be able to laze around like a dead log with his socks on, or like a louse on a tar brush. And when the hares began to run around the sunny banks, then it would at least be as bad as catching fleas while wearing mittens; the one who escaped with his back intact would have to be more than lithe and light, and he would have to fly no worse than a dry skin or a bird’s wing.

Well, that would do no good, said Espen Askeladd; he would go to the king’s farm to serve the king, for he would not serve a humbler man, he said. And he would be able to herd the hares; they couldn’t be much worse than goats or calves. So Askeladden put his knapsack over his shoulder and loped down the slope.

When he had gone far, and farther than far, he began to grow very hungry, and he came to the old woman who stood with her nose in the treestump, and tugged and toiled and tried to free herself.

“Good day, grandmother,” said Askeladden, “do you stand here, sharpening your nose, you poor crooked thing?” he said.

“Now, no one has called me that in a hundred years,” said the woman; “but come now and help me free, and I shall repay you with a grandmotherly deed,” she said.

Well, he thought she might need both food and drink, afterwards, said Espen Askeladd. Then he split the stump for her, so she could get her nose out, and sat down to eat, and shared his food with her—and the woman was hungry, you can imagine, so she ate most of his food.

When they were finished, she gave Askeladden a whistle that was such that when he blew in one end, it would scatter in all directions, and when he blew in the other, then it gathered together again; and if the whistle was separated from him, he could get it back again, merely by wishing for it back. “That is a lot of whistle!” thought Espen Askeladd.

When he came to the king’s farm, they took him as herder immediately—it was difficult to find servants there—and he would have board and wages; and were he fellow enough to herd the king’s hares, so that none got away, then he would have the king’s daughter, too. But if any of them got away, even if it was no more than the least of the leverets, then they would carve three red stripes into his back. And the king was so sure of him that he went over and sharpened his knife at once.

It should be a simple matter to herd these hares, thought Espen Askeladd; for when they went out, they were almost as tame as a flock of sheep. And as long as he was in the cattle trail and the garden, he had control of them in a flock. But then they came up beneath the wooded bank, and time drew on towards dinner time, so the sun began to burn and shine on mounds and hills, they began to run and scatter among all the mounds.

“Eia Mei, then! Hey, will you go!” cried Espen Askeladd, blowing in one end of his whistle so that they went to all the corners of the world, and were gone. But then he came to an old charcoal heap, and he blew in the other end of the whistle, and before he knew it the hares were there, standing in rows and columns, so that he could inspect them as if they were a troop of soldiers on the parade ground. “That is a lot of whistle!” thought Espen Askeladd.

Then he lay down for a nap on a sunny bank, and the hares frolicked and looked after themselves until the evening. Then he blew them all together again and brought them to the king’s farm as if they were a flock of sheep.

The king and the queen, and the princess too, they stood on the porch, wondering what manner of fellow this was, who herded hares such that he brought them home again, and the king counted and counted them again, but not so much as the smallest leveret was missing. “That’s my boy!” said the princess.

The next day he went to the forest to herd again. But as he lay lazily on a strawberry patch, they sent one of the maids from the king’s farm to him; she should discover how it was that he was fellow enough to herd the king’s hares so well. Well, he took out the whistle and showed her, and then he blew in one end, so that they scattered like the wind across all the mounds and hills, and then he blew in the other end, so they came trotting to the patch, and stood in rows and columns.

That was an interesting whistle, thought the maid; she would give a hundred dollars for it, if he would sell it to her.

“Well, it is a lot of whistle,” said Espen Askeladd; it was not for sale for money, but if she would give him the hundred dollars and a kiss for each dollar, then she could have it, he said. Well, she got the whistle. But when she arrived at the king’s farm, the whistle was gone, for Espen Askeladd had wished for it to return to him again. And when evening drew in, he came home with the hares as if they were a flock of sheep, and no matter how the king counted and pointed, it did no good: not a hair [sic] was missing.

The third day he went out aherding, they sent the princess after him, so that she might get the whistle from him. She made herself as happy as a lark, and then she offered him two hundred dollars, if he would sell her the whistle, and tell her what she should do to be able to take it home with her.

“Well, it is a lot of whistle,” said Espen Askeladd, and it was not for sale, he said. But it was all the same; he would do it for her sake, if she would give him two hundred dollars, and a kiss for each dollar on top. Then she would have the whistle, and would keep it, if she looked after it. But that was her concern, that was.

It was a stiff price for the hare whistle, thought the princess, and she had qualms about giving the kisses, but since they were in the forest, and no one would see or hear it, then she would let it go, for she had to have the whistle, she said. And when Espen Askeladd had what he wanted, she got the whistle, and she went holding it and treasuring it all the way. But when she arrived at the king’s farm, and should show it forth, it had disappeared from between her fingers.

The next day, the queen herself would go on her way to take from him his whistle, and she thought she would be able to bring it home with her, too. She was tight with her shillings, she was, and offered no more than fifty dollars, but she had to add to it, so that it was three-hundred.

Askeladden said that it was a lot of whistle, and that the offer was shameful. But for her sake, it could be the same; if she would give him three hundred dollars and a great big kiss on top of each dollar, then she would have it. He had it all nicely measured out, for with that kind of thing she was not so tight.

When she had got the whistle, she both tied it fast, and hid it well, to boot. But things did not go a whit better for her than they had for the others; when she should take it forth, the whistle was gone. And in the evening, Espen Askeladd came marching with the king’s hares, as if with a tame flock of sheep.

“This was rubbish all along,” said the king. “I shall just have to go myself, if I am to part him from this silly whistle; there’s nothing else for it, I see.”

And when on the following day, Espen Askeladd was settled in the forest with the hares, then the king rushed after him, and found him on the same grassy bank on which the women had dealt with him.

Yes, they were good friends, and got on very well! And Espen showed him the Whistle, and blew both in one end, and in the other end of it, and the king thought it an interesting whistle, and would ultimately buy it, even if he had to give a thousand dollars for it.

“Well, it is a lot of whistle,” said Espen Askeladd, “but it is not for sale for money,” he said, “But do you see the white mare there, the one walking down there on the moor, behind the great pine?” he said, pointing away in the forest.

“Yes, it’s my own horse; it’s Kvita,” said the king, and he should know.

“Well, if you will give me a thousand dollars, and kiss Kvita, then you shall have my whistle.”

“Is it not for sale for any other price?” said the king.

“No, it’s not,” said Espen.

“Well, but I must be allowed to place my silken kerchief between us,” said the king.

Yes, he would be allowed this, and so he got the whistle and laid it in his money pouch, and put it in his pocket, and buttoned the flap tight shut. And then he rushed back home; but when he came to the king’s farm, and went to take out the whistle, things had gone the same way with him as it had gone with the women: he had no more whistle than they had. And Espen Askeladd came marching home with the flock of hares, and there was not a hair [also sic] missing.

The king was both spiteful and angry, for Askeladden had fooled them all, and cheated him of the whistle too, and so now he would lose his life, there was no question about it; and the queen said the same—it was best to make an end of the prankster.

Espen said that it was neither just nor right, for he had done nothing but what they had said he should do, and then he had saved his back and his life, as well as he could.

And the king said that it was all the same; if he was fellow to lie the great brewing vat so full that it overflowed, then he would save his life.

That was not hard work, nor would it take long, that’s what he believed, said Espen Askeladd. And then he began to tell how things had gone with him, from first to last; he told of the woman with her nose in the treestump, and then suddenly he said: “I must cook something together, if the vessel is to be full.” Then he told of the whistle he got; and about the maid, who had come to him and would buy it from him for a hundred dollars, and of all the kisses she had to give on top of the wooded bank; and then he told of the princess, how she had come to him and kissed him so well for the whistle, for there was no one else there to see or hear it, away there in the forest. “I have to cook something together if the vessel is to be full,” said Espen Askeladd. Then he told of the queen, how tight she was with her shillings, and how loose she was with her big kisses. “I have to cook something together, if the vessel is to be full,” said Askeladden.

“Well, I think it is quite full, I do,” said the king.

“Yes, indeed,” said the queen.

Then he began to tell of how the king had come to him, and of the white mare that walked around down on the moor—and if he wanted the whistle, then he would have to... then he would have to... “Yes, if you please, I must cook something together, if the vessel is to be full,” said Espen Askeladd.

“Stop! Stop! It’s full, boy!” screamed the king; “don’t you see that it’s running over?”

Then the king and the queen thought it best he got the princess and half the kingdom; there was nothing else for it.

“That was a lot of whistle, that was!” said Espen Askeladd.


Norwegian source: Gjete kongens harer.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Golden Bird

There was once upon a time a king who had a garden. In that garden stood an apple tree, and on that apple tree, every year there grew a golden apple—but when it came time to pluck it, then it was gone; no one knew who took it, nor where it went, but gone it was!

This king had three sons. And he said to them one day, that the one who could recover the apple, or discover the thief, he would have the kingdom after him, whether he was the eldest or the youngest or the middle one.

The eldest went on his way first, and sat beneath the tree to discover the thief. As night fell, a golden bird came flying, and it shone from afar. And when the king’s son saw the bird, and how it shone, he grew so afraid that he dared not stay, but went inside again as quickly as he could.

In the morning, the apple was gone. By then, the king’s son’s heart was no longer in his throat, and so he made himself some food, to set off to see if he could find the bird. The king equipped him well, and spared nothing of clothing or money.

When the king’s son had gone a distance, he grew hungry, opened his knapsack and sat down by the road to refresh himself. Then a fox came out from a spruce copse and sat watching.

“Dear me, give me a little food,” said the fox.

“I’ll give you burnt horn, I will!” said the king’s son. “I need my food for myself; no one can know how long or how far I shall fare,” he said.

“Well that’s that,” said the fox, and then it went back into the forest again.

When the king’s son had eaten and rested, he began on his way again. After a long, long while he came to a great city, and in that city there was a guest house where there was only gladness and never grief, so he thought it would be fine to go in—and then he remained there. There was such dancing and drinking and pleasure and glory that he simply forgot the bird and the feather and his father and his journey and the whole kingdom. Gone he was, and gone he remained.

The next year, the middle king’s son should discover the apple thief in the garden. Well, he too sat down beneath the tree as the apple was ripening. But just like that, the golden bird came one night and shone like the sun, and the boy grew so afraid that he began to run, and went inside as quickly as he could.

In the morning, the apple was gone, but then the king’s son had found his courage again, and would set off to see if he could find the bird. Yes, he made himself some food, and the king equipped him well, and spared neither clothing nor money.

But then things went with him the same way they had gone with his brother; when he had gone a distance, he grew hungry, took out his knapsack and sat down to have a meal beside the road. Then a fox came out of a spruce copse and sat, watching.

“Dear me, give me a little food,” said the fox.

“I’ll give you burnt horn, I will,” said the king’s son. “I need my food for myself; no one can know how long or how far I shall fare,” he said.

“Well that’s that, then,” said the fox; and he went back into the forest.

When the king’s son had eaten and rested a while, he started on his way again. After a long, long time, he came to the same city and the same guesthouse where there was only gladness and never grief, and he too thought it would good to stay there. And the first one he met was his brother, and so he stayed there. His brother had caroused and revelled until he had nearly no clothes left on his body. And now they began again, and there was such dancing and drinking and pleasure and glory that the other one also forgot the bird and the feather and his father and his journey and the whole kingdom. Gone he was, and gone he remained, too.

When the time approached for the apple to ripen again, the younger son should go into the garden and discover the apple thief. He took with him a friend who should help him up into the tree, and he took a beer keg and a pack of cards to pass the time, so that he should not fall asleep. Just like that, it shone like the sun, so they could see every feather on the bird, long before it reached them. The king’s son climbed up into the tree, and as the golden bird swooped down and took the apple, he tried to grab it. But he got only a feather from its tail. Then he went into the chamber where the king lay sleeping, and when he came in with the feather, it grew as light as the clear day.

Then he too would go out on his way and try to track down his brothers and catch the bird; he had been so close that he had left a mark on it, and got a feather from its tail, he said. Well, the king thought for a long time, reflecting on whether he should let him go; it was likely that things would go no better with he who was younger than they had with the two eldest, who ought to have a better understanding of the world, and he was afraid he would lose him, too. But the king’s son begged so beautifully, and so he was allowed at last. So he made himself some food, and the king equipped him well, both with clothing and money, and then he went on his way.

When he had travelled a way, he grew hungry and took out his knapsack and sat down to have a meal. Just as he was enjoying it, a fox came out of a spruce copse and sat himself beside him, watching.

“Oh dear me, give me a little food!”

“I might need my food for myself,” said the king’s son, “for I don’t know how far I shall fare,” he said. “But I always have enough to be able to give a little.”

When the fox had bitten on a piece of meat, he asked the king’s son where he was going. Well, he told him.

“If you will obey me, then I shall help you, so you will always have good fortune with you,” said the fox. The king’s son promised to do so, and so they joined together. They travelled a while, until they came to the same city and the same guesthouse where there was always gladness and never grief.

“I should probably go around; the dogs are terrible here,” said the fox. And then he told him where his brothers were, and what they were doing. “But if you go in, then you won’t come out again either,” he said.

The king’s son promised—and he gave him his hand on it, too—that he wouldn’t go in, and so each went in his own direction. But when he came to the guesthouse and heard the playing and merriment going on, there was no question but that he had to go in. And when he met his brothers, there was such a commotion that he forgot both the fox and the journey and the bird and his father. But when he had been there a while, the fox came—he had dared come into the city, regardless—and cracked the door open and winked at the king’s son and said that they now had to go on their way. Then the king’s son came to his senses again, and so they went on their way.

When they had walked a time more, they saw a great mountain, far away. Then said the fox: “Three hundred leagues beyond that mountain, stands a gilded linden with golden leaves, and in that linden sits the golden bird the feather comes from.”

They travelled thence together. When the king’s son should go away and take the bird, the fox gave him some beautiful feathers that he was to wave in his hand to lure the bird, so that it would come and light on his hand. But the fox said that he mustn’t touch the linden, for a great troll owned it, and if the king’s son so much as touched the least of its twigs, then the troll would come out and kill him on the spot.

No, the king’s son would surely not touch it he said. But when he had the bird on his hand, he thought that he must have a twig from the linden—it was so little to ask for—for it gleamed so, and was so beautiful. So he took one, just the smallest one. But the troll came out immediately.

“Who is it who steals my linden and my bird?” screamed the troll, and it was so angry that it spat fiery sparks.

“A thief thinks every man steals,” said the king’s son; “but only those who properly steal are hanged,” he said. The troll said it was all the same, and he would kill him. But the king’s son said he should spare his life.

“Well then,” said the troll, “if you can recover the horse my closest neighbour has taken from me, then you shall escape with your life,” he said.

“Where shall I find him, then?” said the king’s son.

“Oh, he lives three hundred leagues beyond that great mountain that grows blue against the sky,” said the troll.

The king’s son promised he would do his best. But when he came to the fox, it was less than fully pleased.

“Now you have made trouble for yourself,” said the fox. “Had you obeyed me, then we might now have been on our way home,” he said.

They had to go on their way again, since it concerned his life and the king’s son’s promise, and after a long, long time, they arrived.

But when he should go in and take the horse, the fox said: “When you come into the stable, there are many different bridles on the stable wall, both of gold and silver; these you must not touch, for then the troll will come out and kill you that very hour. But the ugliest one you see, that one shall you take.”

Yes, the king’s son promised, but when he came into the stable, he thought it most unfair, for there were enough of those that were beautiful, and so he took the shiniest he found; it gleamed like gold. But at the same moment, the troll came out, so angry that the sparks flew from it.

“Who is it who would seal my horse and my bridle?” he screamed.

“The thief thinks every man steals,” said the king’s son. “But only those who properly steal are hanged,” he said.

“Well, it’s all the same; I will kill you on the spot,” screamed the troll.

The king’s son said he should spare his life.

“Well, well,” said the troll. “If you can recover the gorgeous maiden, whom my closest neighbour has taken from me, then I shall spare you.”

“Where does he live, then?” asked the king’s son.

“Oh, he lives three-hundred leagues beyond the great mountain that grows blue against the sky,” said the troll.

Well, the king’s son promised he would fetch the maiden, so he was permitted to go, and escaped with his life. But when he came out again, the fox was not pleased, you know.

“Now you have made trouble for yourself again,” said the fox. “Had you obeyed me, we would have been on our way home a long time ago. Now I don’t think I much want to go with you any more.”

But the king’s son pleaded so earnestly and beautifully, and promised that he would never do anything other than what the fox said, if only he would go with him. Finally the fox gave in, and they were friends and in agreement, so they set off on their way again, and after a long, long time, they arrived at where the gorgeous maiden was.

“Well,” said the fox, “you have promised well, but I dare not let you into the troll anyway; this time I shall go myself,” said the fox. Then he went in, and after a little while he came out again with the maiden, and then they travelled back the same way they had come.

When they came to the troll who had the horse, they took both it and the most beautiful bridle; and when they came to the troll who had the linden and the bird, then they took both the linden and the bird with them.

When they had travelled like this for a while, they came to a field of rye. Then the fox said: “I hear a rumbling. Now you must travel alone; I will remain here a while,” he said. Then he plaited clothing for himself of rye straw, and then stood there as one preaching. Just like that, all three trolls came hurrying, thinking they would catch up with them again.

“Have you seen one who travels with a gorgeous maiden, with a horse with a golden bridle, with a golden bird, and a gilded linden?” they screamed at he who stood there preaching.

“Yes, I have heard tell from my grandmother’s grandmother that there was once such a procession here, but that was in the good old days, when her grandmother’s grandmother baked shilling cakes, and gave two for a shilling, and gave a shilling back in change.”

Then the trolls began to roar with laughter: “Ha, ha, ha, ha!” they said, holding on to one another. “If we have slept for so long, then we may as well turn our noses home again and go to bed,” they said, and then they went the same way back.

The fox set off again after the king’s son. But when they came to the city with the guest house and his brothers, the fox said, “I dare not go through the city for fear of the dogs; I must go my own way around; but now you must watch yourself, so that your brothers do not get ahold of you.”

But when the king’s son came into the city, he thought it too bad that he should not see his brothers again and speak a word with them, and so he stopped there a little. But when his brothers saw him, they came out and took from him both the maiden and the horse and the bird and the linden, and everything, and they stuffed him into a barrel and threw him into the sea. And then they travelled with the maiden and the horse and the bird and the linden, with everything, home to the king’s farm. But the maiden would not talk, and grew pale to look at; the horse grew so thin and miserable that it barely held together; the bird grew silent, and shone no more; and the linden withered.

Meanwhile, the fox skulked without the city, waiting for the king’s son and the gorgeous maiden, wondering why they did not come. He went both here and there, and waited and reflected, and finally he came down to the strand, and when he saw the barrel that lay drifting out at sea, he cried: “Are you drifting there, you empty barrel?”

“Oh, it’s me,” said the king’s son out in the barrel.

The fox swam out in the sea as quickly as he could, got hold of the barrel, and pulled it to land. Then he began to gnaw on the hoops, and when he had got them off the barrel, he said to the king’s son: “Kick and push!”

The king’s son kicked and pounded and pushed, so that every plank sprung apart, and he jumped out of the barrel. Then they went to the king’s farm together. And when they arrived, the maiden was beautiful again, and began to speak; the horse grew so sleek and beautiful that each hair glistened; the bird shone and sang; the linden began to blossom and its leaves flashed. And the maiden said: “There is he who has saved us.”

They put the linden in the garden, and the youngest king’s son should have the king’s daughter, for that is what she was. But they put each of the two elder brothers into a nail barrel, and rolled them down a steep mountain.

Then they made ready a wedding. But first the fox said to the king’s son that he should lay him on the chopping block and chop off his head, and even though he protested and complained, it did not help, he had to do it. But as soon as he chopped, the fox turned into a handsome prince, and he was the brother of the princess whom they had freed from the troll. Then there was a wedding, both great and beautiful and they celebrated so much that it was asked of, even as far as to here.


Norwegian source: Gullfuglen.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Kari Woodenskirt

There was once upon a time a king who had become a widower. After his queen he had a daughter, who was so kind and beautiful that no one could be kinder or more beautiful. He grieved for his queen, whom he had held most dear, for a long time, but finally he grew weary of living alone, and married again—a widowed queen, who also had a daughter; but her daughter was as ugly and mean as the other was kind and beautiful. The stepmother and her daughter were envious of the king’s daughter because she was so gorgeous, but for as long as the king was at home they dared not do anything to her, for he held her dear.

After a while the king went to war against another king, and went out with his host. Then the queen thought she could do what she liked, and so she both starved and struck the king’s daughter and was after her in every corner. Finally, she considered all things too good for her, and so she made her go aherding. She just went herding the livestock in the forest and on the mountain. She got little-to-no food; she grew pale and lean, and was sorrowful nearly the whole time as she went .

Amongst the livestock there was a great blue bull, which always kept itself so fine and sleek, and it often came to the king’s daughter and let her coddle it. Once, when she started weeping, and was distraught again, the bull came to her and asked her why she was so sorrowful. She did not reply, but continued weeping.

“Well,” said the bull, “I suppose I know, even though you won’t tell me; you weep because the queen is so mean to you, and because she will starve you to death. But you don’t have to look far for food; in my left ear is a tablecloth, and when you take it and unfurl it, you can have as many dishes as you choose.” She did so, she took the tablecloth and unfurled it on the grass, and it dished up the finest dishes anyone could want; there was both wine and mead and sweetcake. She soon recovered and grew so red and round and white that the queen and her contrary daughter grew both blue and pale in envy. The queen could by no means understand how her stepdaughter could still look so well on such poor food. So she said to a maid that she should go after her into the forest and make sure to see how things hung together, for she thought that some of the servant-folk were giving her food. The girl then went after her into the forest and watched, and so she saw that the king’s daughter took the tablecloth out of the blue bulls air and on the federal debt, and that it dished up the finest dishes, which the king’s daughter satisfied herself from. The girl went home and told this to the queen.

When now the king came home and had won over the other king whom he had been at war with, there was great joy throughout the whole castle, and no one was happier than the king’s daughter. But the queen went to bed ill, and paid the doctor a lot of money so that he would say that she would not grow well again unless she was given the meat of the blue bull to eat. Both the king’s daughter and the folk asked the doctor if nothing else could help, and begged for the bull, for all held him dear, and they said there was not the like of a bull in the whole kingdom; but no, it had to be slaughtered and it would be slaughtered—there was no other cure. When the king’s daughter heard this, she was full of regret and went down to the barn, to the bull. It stood there still, and hung its head and looked so sorrowful that she began to weep.

“Why are you weeping?” said the bull.

So she told him that the king had returned home, and that the queen had gone to bed ill, and that she had got the doctor to say that she could not be made well except that she had the fresh meat of the blue bull, and that now he should be slaughtered.

“If first they kill me, then they will soon kill you too,” said the bull. “If you want to do as I do, then we shall leave tonight.”

Yes, the king’s daughter thought it was difficult to leave her father, but it would be even worse to remain in the house with the queen, and so she promised the bull she would come.

In the evening, when everyone else had gone to bed, the king’s daughter tiptoed down to the barn, to the bull; he put her on his back and went off as quickly as he could. When now the folk who were to slaughter the bull came the next morning, it had gone. And when the king came up and asked after his daughter, she too was gone. He sent messages out in all directions to look for them, and advertised for them from the church mounds, but there was none who had seen aught of them.

Meanwhile the bull went through many countries with the king’s daughter on his back. And then they came to a great copper forest; trees and branches and leaves and blossom and all things were of copper.

But before they went into the forest the bull said to the king’s daughter: “When we come into the forest you must take care that you do not touch so much as a leaf of it, or it will be over, both for you and me, for a troll with three heads lives here, who owns it.”

No—cross!—she would take extra good care not to touch anything.

She was so careful to bend aside for the branches, and pushed them away before her with her hands, but it was so densely forested that it was almost impossible to get through. And however careful she was, she eventually pulled off a leaf, which ended up in her hand.

“Oh, oh, what have you done now?” said the bull. “Now we shall have to fight for life and death. But hide the leaf well!”

Soon afterwards they came to the end of the forest, and then came a troll with three heads charging.

“Who is it who touches my forest?” said the troll.

“It’s just as much mine as it is yours,” said the bull.

“We shall quarrel about that,” shrieked the troll.

“That we shall,” said the bull.

Then they ran at each other and fought, and the bull butted and kicked for all he was worth. But the troll struck out just as well. And it lasted the whole day before the bull put an end to it, and then he was so full of wounds and so poorly that he was hardly able to walk. And then they had to rest for a day, and the bull said to the king’s daughter that she should take the grease horn that hung from the trolls belt, and smear him with the grease. Then he recovered, and the following day they went on their way again.

They travelled now for many, many days, and then they came, after a long, long time, to a silver forest; trees and branches and leaves and blossom and all things were of silver.

Before the bull went into it, he said to the king’s daughter: “When we now come into this forest, you must for God’s sake be careful not to touch anything, not to pull off so much as a leaf, for otherwise it is over for both you and me. A troll with six heads owns it, and I do not think I can beat it.”

“No,” said the king’s daughter, “I shall certainly take care not to touch what you don’t want me to touch.”

But when they came into the forest, it was so dense and close that they could hardly go through. She moved as carefully as she could, and bent herself aside for the branches, and pushed them away before her with her hands, but at every turn the twigs struck her in the eyes, and no matter how careful she was, she eventually pulled off a leaf.

“Ow, ow! What have you done now?” said the bull; “now there will be a fight for life and death, for this troll has six heads and is twice the strength of the other. But just look after the leaf and hide it well.”

Just like that the troll came. “Who is it who touches my forest?” It said.

“It’s just as much mine as it is yours,” said the bull.

“We shall quarrel about that!” shrieked the troll.

“That we shall,” said the bull—and it charged the troll, and butted out it’s eyes and drove its horns right through it, so that its entrails fell out. But it fought just as well, and it lasted for three whole days before the bull took its life from it. But then he was so poorly and hopeless that he could barely move, and so full of wounds that his blood ran. Then he told the king’s daughter that she should take the grease horn that hung on the troll’s belt, an smear him from it. This she did, and so he recovered, but they had to sleep there for a week before he could manage to go on.

Finally they set off again, but the bull was still weak, and they did not go as quickly as they had at first. The king’s daughter wanted to spare the bull, and said that she was so young and light-footed that she could walk, but she was not allowed; she had to sit upon his back again.

Then they travelled for a long time, and through many countries, and the king’s daughter did not at all know where they were going. But after a long, long time, they came to a golden forest; it was so rich that the gold dripped from it, and trees and branches and blossom and leaves were of pure gold.

Here things went the same way as in the copper forest and in the silver forest. The bull told the king’s daughter that she must not at all, in any way touch it, for a troll with nine heads owned the forest, and it was much bigger and stronger than both of the others together, and the bull didn’t think he could beat it at all.

No, she would certainly mind herself, and not touch the forest, he should know that.

But when they came into the forest, it was even denser than the silver forest, and the farther they came into it, the worse it grew, and the forest grew denser and denser and tighter and tighter, and finally she thought that they could by no means come through it. She was so afraid of pulling something off that she sat and twisted and turned herself both here and there before the twigs and pushed them away before her with her hands; but everything struck her in her eyes, so she could not see where she grasped, and before she knew it, she had a golden apple in her hand. She was so heartily afraid that she wept, and would throw it away again; but the bull said that she should not, merely hide it well. And though he comforted her as well as he could, he thought there would be a hard struggle, and he doubted it would end well.

Just like that, the troll with nine heads came; it was so terrible that the king’s daughter hardly dared to look at it.

“Who is it who touches my forest?” it shrieked.

“It’s just as much mine as it is yours,” said the bull.

“We shall quarrel about that,” shrieked the troll.

“That we shall,” said the bull.

And then they charged one another and fought, and it was so terrible to watch that the king’s daughter was close to fainting. The bull butted out the troll’s eyes, and drove his horns right through it, so that its entrails tumbled out. But the troll struck just as well, for when the bull managed to butt to death one of its heads, the others blew life back into it. And it was a whole week before he was able to take its life from it. And then the bull was so poorly and weak that he couldn’t move himself. He had wounds everywhere; he could not even say so much as instruct the king’s daughter to take the troll’s grease horn and smear him from it. But she did so anyway, and then he came to himself again, too. But they had to stay there and rest for three weeks before he was well enough to go on.

Then they just about set off, for the bull said that they should go a bit farther, and then they went over many great hills of dense forest. This lasted a while, and then they came up the mountain.

“Do you see anything?” asked the bull.

“Yes, I see a small castle, far, far away,” said the king’s daughter.

“It’s not quite so small,” said the bull.

After a long, long time, they came to a great mound, where there was a sheer rock wall.

“Do you see anything now?” said the bull.

“Yes, now I see the castle close by; now it is much, much bigger,” said the king’s daughter.

“That is where you are going,” said the bull. “Close below the castle is a pigsty; you shall go there, where you will find a wooden skirt. You shall put it on, and go to the castle, and say that your name is Kari Woodenskirt, and ask to go into service. But now you shall take your small knife and cut my head off with it, then skin me and roll the skin together and lay it below the rock wall there, and you shall lay the copper leaf, the silver leaf and the golden apple in the skin. Over by the rock there stands a stick; when you want something with me, then simply knock upon the rock wall with it.”

At first she would not, but the bull said that it was the only thanks he would receive for what he had done for her, and so she could do aught else. She thought it so heartily painful, but she toiled and cut the big animal with her knife, until she got its head and skin off it. Then she laid them together below the rock wall, and laid the copper leaf and the silver leaf and the golden apple in it.

When she had done this, then she went over to the pigsty, and as she went she wept and was clearly distresed. There she put on the wooden skirt, and then she went to the king’s farm. When came into the kitchen, she asked to go into service, saying she was called Kari Woodenskirt. Yes, said the cook, she could. She could remain there, washing, for the one who had done it before had but newly left; “but when you grow tired of staying here, then you will probably go off on your way, too,” she said.

No, that she would certainly not do.

She was both quick and good at washing. On Sunday, a stranger should come to the king’s farm. So Kari asked leave to go with the prince’s washing water, but the others laughed at her, and said, “What do you want to do there? Do you think the prince wants anything to do with you, the way you look?”

She did not give in, though, but continued to beg until at last she was allowed to go.

When she went up the stairs, her wooden skirt rattled, so that the prince came out and asked: “What manner of one are you?”

“I was to bring you your washing water,” said Kari.

“Do you think I want the water you carry?” said the prince, and he tipped the water over her. With that she had to go.

But then she asked leave to go to the church that stood close by. But first she went to the mountain and knocked with the stick that stood there, as the bull had instructed. Straightway there came out a man, asking what she wanted. The king’s daughter said that she had now been given leave to go to church, to listen to the parson, but that she had no clothes to wear. Then he came with a dress for her; it gleamed like the copper forest, and she received a horse and saddle, too.

When she arrived at church, she was so beautiful and fine that everyone wondered who she was, and nearly no one listened to what the parson had to say, for they looked too much at her; the prince himself liked her so well that he could not take his eyes off her for even a moment.

As soon as she left the church, the prince sprang after her, and pulled the door closed behind her, and took one of her gloves in his hand. When then she mounted her horse, the prince came after her again and asked her where she was from.

“I am from Washerland,” said Kari. And when the prince took out her glove, to give it to her, she said:

Light before, and darkness behind,
So the prince sees not where I ride today.

The prince had never seen the like of the glove, and he went both far and wide and asked about the country the proud lady had said she was from, but there was none who could tell him where it lay.

On Sunday, someone was to go up with a towel for the prince.

“Oh, may I have leave to go up with it?” said Kari.

“What good will that do?” said the others who were in the kitchen. “You saw how things went last time.”

Kari did not give in, but continued to ask until she was allowed, and then she sprang up the stairs so that her wooden skirt rattled. The prince came out, and when he saw it was Kari, he snatched the towel off her and threw it right in her face.

“Off with you now, you ugly troll!” he said; “do you think I want a towel that you have touched with your black fingers?”

Afterwards, the prince went to church, and Kari also asked leave to go. They asked what she had to do in church, she who had nothing to wear other than that horrible, black wooden skirt. But Kari said she thought the parson such a fine fellow to preach; it did her good to listen to what he had to say. And so she was finally allowed.

She went to the mountain and knocked, and then the man came out and gave her a dress that was much finer than the first; it was sewn with silver everywhere, and it shone like the silver forest, and she was given a fine horse with a silver-embroidered mantle and silver bridle, too.

When the king’s daughter came to the church, the church folk stood yet outside on the knoll. Everyone wondered at what manner she was, and the prince was soon at work, coming to hold her horse for her while she dismounted. But she jumped off and said that he need not bother, for the horse was so tame that it stood still when she told it to, and came when she called for it. Then they all went together into church. But there was nearly no one who listened to what the parson said; they looked so much at her. And the prince was even more infatuated with her than the last time.

When the sermon was over, and she left the church and should mount her horse, the prince came again and asked where she was from.

“I am from Towelland,” said the king’s daughter, and immediately she let go her riding crop. When the prince bent over to pick it up, she said:

Light before, and darkness behind,
So the prince sees not where I ride today.

She was gone again, and the prince could not know what had become of her; he went both far and wide, asking after the country she said she had come from, but there was none who could tell him where it lay, and the prince had to settle down again.

On Sunday, someone should go up to the prince with a comb. Kari asked leave to go with it, but the others reminded her how things had gone last time, and scolded her for wanting to show herself to the prince, as black and as terrible as she was in her wooden skirt. But she did not give up asking before they let her go up to the prince with the comb. When she came rattling up the stairs, the prince came out, took the comb, and threw it after her, and told her to go away.

Afterwards the prince went to church, and Kari also asked leave. They asked again what she had to do there, she who was so black, and who had no clothes to show herself in among folk; if the prince or anyone else saw her, they said, then both she and they would be unhappy. But Kari said that they had other things to look at, and she did not give up asking before she got leave to go.

Now, things went the same way as on both previous occasions: she went over to the mountain and knocked on it with the stick, and then the man came out and gave her a dress that was even much finer than the others; it was of nearly all gold and precious stones, and she received a brave horse with a golden-embroidered mantel and golden bridle, too.

When the king’s daughter came to the church, the parson and the congregation were still outside, waiting for her. The prince came running, and wanted to hold her horse for her, but she jumped off and said, “No thank you; that is not necessary. My horse is so tame that it stands still when I tell it to.” Then they all hurried into the church, and the parson went up to the pulpit. But no one listened to what he had to say, for they looked too much at her and wondered where she was from. And the prince was even more in love than on both of the other times; he did not sense anything, but merely looked at her.

When the sermon was over, and the king’s daughter should leave the church, the prince had tipped out a quarter of raw pitch in the vestibule, so that he might help her over it. She did not mind it, but put one foot in the midst of the pitch and sprang across. Then one golden shoe remined behind, and when she had mounted her horse, the prince came running out of the church, and asked her where she was from.

“From Combland,” said Kari. When when the prince would reach the golden shoe to her, she said:

Light before, and darkness behind,
So the prince sees not where I ride today.

The prince could then not know where she had gone to this time, either, and so he went for a long time around in the world, asking after comb-land. But when no one could tell him where it lay, he had it proclaimed that he would marry the one who fit the golden shoe. Then there came together both the beautiful and the ugly from all parts, but there was none who had such a small foot that she could put on the golden shoe. After a long, long time, Kari’s evil stepmother came, with her daughter, too, and the shoe fit her. But she was ugly, and so lamentably did she look that the prince was loath to do what he had promised. Even so, the wedding was prepared, and she was bedecked as bride. But as they rode to church, a little bird sat in the tree, singing:

A little piece of heel,
A little piece of toe,
Kari Woodenskirt’s shoe
is full of blood.

And when they looked, the bird had sung true, for the blood oozed out of the shoe. Then all the servant girls and all the womenfolk who were at the castle had to come forth and try the shoe on, but it did not fit any of them.

“But where is Kari Woodenskirt, then?” asked the prince, when everyone else had tried; he understood the birdsong, and remembered well what the bird had said.

“Oh, her!” said the others. “It will never do any good that she comes forth, for she has feet like a horse.”

“Perhaps,” said the prince, “but since everyone else has tried, then Kari may, too.”

“Kari,” he cried out through the door, and Kari came up the stairs, and her wooden skirt rattled, as if it were a whole regiment of dragoons marching.

“Now you too may fit the shoe and become a princess!” said the other girls, laughing and mocking her.

Kari picked up the shoe, and put her foot into it as easily as she liked, threw her wooden skirt off her, and stood there in her golden dress, so that she shone. And on her other foot she had a matching golden shoe. The prince recognised her at once, and was so happy that he went directly to her, took her by the waist and kissed her; and when he heard that she was a king’s daughter, he was even gladder. And then there was a wedding.

Snip, snap, snout, the tale’s told out!


Norwegian source: Kari Trestakk.