Friday, 17 March 2017

Askeladden and the Good Helpers

Once upon a time there was a king, and this king had heard tell of a ship that sailed as swiftly on land as on water; so he also wanted such a one, and to the one who could build it he promised the king’s daughter and half the kingdom, and he pronounced this in churches all over the country. There were many who tried, you know, for half the kingdom would be good to have, and the king’s daughter could be good, too; but things went badly for most.

Well, there were three brothers away in a forest village; the eldest was called Per, the second was called Pål, and the youngest was called Espen Askeladd, due to his habit of sitting, digging and raking in the ashes. But on the Sunday the king’s pronouncement was read out in church, it was fortunate that he too was in church. When he came home and told about it, Per, who was eldest, asked his mother for a parcel of food, for now he would go off on his way and try to build the ship, and win the king’s daughter and half the kingdom.

When he had his knapsack on his neck, he swept off. On his way, he met an old man who was crooked and frail.

“Where are you off to?” said the man.

“I am off to the forest, to make a trough for my father; he does not like to eat together with the rest of us,” said Per.

“A trough it shall be!” said the man.

“What do you have in your sack?” asked the man.

“Muck,” said Per.

“Muck it shall be!” said the man.

So Per swept into the oak forest and chopped and logged as best he could; but for all his chopping and for all his logging, he got nothing but trough after trough. When dinner time came around, he would have something to eat, and took up his knapsack. But it was not food that was in his knapsack. As he now had nothing to eat, and his carpentry went no better, he grew weary of his work, shouldered his axe and sack, and rushed home to his mother again.

Then Pål would go on his way and try his luck, to build the ship and win the king’s daughter and half the kingdom. He asked his mother for some food, and when he had it, he shouldered his sack and set off across the mark. On his way, he met an old man who was crooked and in need of God’s grace.

“Where are you off to?” said the man.

“Oh, I am going to the forest, to make a pig’s trough for our little pig,” said Pål.

“A pig’s trough it shall be!” said the man.

“What do you have in your sack?”

“Muck,” said Pål.

“Muck it shall be!” said the man.

So Pål swept off to the forest, and began to chop and log with all his might; but however he chopped, and however he joined, there was never anything other than trough forms and pig troughs. He did not give in yet, but carried on until late in the afternoon before he thought about taking any food; then he suddenly grew so hungry that he had to take out his sack of food immediately; but when he took it up, there was not a crumb of food in the sack. Pål grew so wroth that he turned the sack inside out and beat it against a treestump, took his axe, and swept out of the forest and home, just like that.

When Pål had come home, Askeladden wanted to go on his way, and asked his mother for some food. “Perhaps I will be the fellow to build the ship and win the king’s daughter and half the kingdom,” he said.

“Yes, I expect you will!” said his mother; “you who does nothing but stir and rake in the ashes! No, you may not have any food!” said the woman.

Askeladden did not give up for that; he asked for so long that eventually he was allowed. He did not get any food, but that did not matter, for he stole away a couple of oat lefses and a little flat beer, and set off.

When he had walked for a while, he met the same old fellow, crooked and pathetic and frail.

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

“Oh, I am going to the forest, if that might help, to build a ship that sails as swiftly on land as on the water,” said Askeladden; “for the king has pronounced that the one who can build such a ship shall have the king’s daughter and half the kingdom,” he said.

“What do you have in your sack?” asked the man.

“Oh, it is not much to speak of; it is supposed to be some food,” Askeladden replied.

“If you give me a little of your food, then I shall help you,” said the man.

“You are welcome,” said Askeladden, “but it is nothing more than two oat lefses and a little flat beer.”

It did not matter what it was; if only he could have it, then he would surely help.

When they came up to the old oak forest, the man said this: “Now, you should cut out a splinter and then you should put it back in again as it stood before, and when you have done so, you can lie down and sleep.”

Well, Askeladden did as he said; he lay down to sleep, and in his sleep, he thought he heard chopping and hammering and logging and sawing and carpentry, but he could not awaken before the man woke him. Then the ship stood fully clad with oak.

“Now you should climb aboard, and everyone you meet, you should take with you,” said the fellow. So Espen Askeladd thanked him for the ship, sailed away, saying he would do so.

When he had sailed a distance, he came to a tall, thin wretch who lay close by a mountain, eating granite.

“Who are you for a fellow, lying here, eating granite?” said Askeladden.

Well, he was so hungry for meat that he could never be sated, and therefore did he have to eat granite, he said; and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

“If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

He wanted to, yes, and so he took with him some big granite rocks for food.

When they had sailed a distance more, they met one who lay on a sunny bank, sucking at a barrel tap.

“Who are you for a fellow?” said Espen Askeladd, “and what good does it do, lying, sucking at a barrel tap?”

“Oh, when one has no barrel, then one must be satisfied with the tap,” said the man; “I am so thirsty for beer that I can never slake my thirst for beer and wine,” he said; and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

“If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

He wanted to, yes, and so he climbed aboard, and brought the tap along, for the sake of his thirst.

When they had sailed a distance more, they met someone who lay with one ear to the ground, listening.

“Who are you for a fellow, and what shall lying, listening to the ground be good for?” said Espen Askeladd.

“I am listening to the grass, for I have such hearing that I hear it growing,” he said; and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

There was no refusal to that. “If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

When they had sailed a distance more, they came to one who aimed and aimed.

“Who are you for a fellow, and what good does standing aiming do?” said Askeladden.

“I see so sharply,” he said, “that I can easily shoot to the end of the world;” and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

“If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

Yes, that he would, and so he climbed up.

When they had sailed a distance more, they came to one who jumped on one foot, and the other had seven ship’s ballast weights fastened to it.

“Who are you for a fellow,” said Askeladden, “and what good does jumping around on one leg, with seven ship’s ballast weights on the other, do?”

“I fly so easily,” he said. “If I walked on both feet, I would come to the ends of the earth in five minutes;” and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

“If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

Yes, this he would, and so he climbed aboard the ship with Askeladden and his companions.

When they had sailed a distance more, they met one who stood holding his mouth.

“What manner of fellow are you?” said Askeladden, “and what good does standing there, holding your mouth do?” he said.

“Oh, I have seven summers and fifteen winters in my body,” he said, “so I must hold my mouth; for were they all to slip out, then they would straightway destroy all the world,” he said; and then he asked if he might be allowed to sail with the ship.

“If you want to come, then climb aboard,” said Askeladden.

Yes, he would go with them, and so he climbed aboard, with the others.

When they had sailed a good distance, they arrived at the king’s farm.

Askeladden swept straight in to the king and said that now the ship stood ready out in the yard, and now he would have the king’s daughter, as the king had promised.

The king was none too pleased at this, for Askeladden did not look too special, but was both black and sooty, and the king would fain give his daughter to such a wretch. So he said that he would have to wait a little; he could not have the king’s daughter before he had emptied the king’s meat store of three-hundred barrels of meat; “it is the same if you can do it before tomorrow, then you shall have her,” said the king.

“I will try,” said Askeladden, “and I suppose I am allowed to take one of my friends with me.”

Yes, this he was allowed, even if he wanted to take all six, said the king, for he believed it was impossible, even if he had six-hundred.

Askeladden took only he who ate granite and was always so hungry for meat; and when they came and opened the store, he had eaten everything, so there was nothing left but six small cured shoulders, one each for the other friends. So Askeladden swept in to the king and said that now that the meat store was empty, he would have the king’s daughter.

The king went out to the store, and it was empty, sure enough; but Askeladden was both black and sooty, and the king thought it far too bad that such a wretch should have his daughter. So he said that he had a cellar full of beer and old wine, three-hundred barrels of each kind, which he would have drunk up first. “And it is the same if you are fellow enough to drink it up by this time tomorrow, then you shall have her,” said the king.

“I shall try,” said Askeladden; “but may I take one of my friends?” he said.

“By all means,” said the king; he thought he had so much beer and wine that they would find it impossible, all seven.

Askeladden took with him he who sucked at the tap and was always thirsty for beer, and the king locked them in the cellar. There he drank barrel after barrel, as long as there was some left, but in the last he left some, so that there was a couple of pots for each of the friends.

In the morning they opened up the cellar and straightway Askeladden swept in to the king, and said that he was finished with the beer and the wine, and now he would have the king’s daughter, as he had promised.

“Well, first I must go down into the cellar to see,” said the king, for he did not believe it; but when they came down into the cellar, there was nothing but empty barrels. But Askeladdden was both black and sooty, and the king thought it would be unseemly to have such a son-in-law. So he said it was the same to him if he could get water from the ends of the earth in ten minutes, for the princess’s tea, then he would have both her and half the kingdom; for that was simply impossible, he thought.

“I shall try,” said Askeladden.

So he went to he who hopped on one foot and had seven ship’s ballast weights on the other, and said that he could untie the weights and use his legs as quickly as he could, for he should have water from the ends of the earth, for the king’s daughter’s tea, in ten minutes.

He took off the weights, took a pail, and gone was he straightway. But time passed, seven long and seven broad, and he did not return; finally there were no more than three minutes until his time was up, and the king was as content as if he had won a mark.

But then Askeladden called for he who could hear the grass grow, and said that he should listen for what had become of him.

“He has fallen asleep at the well,” he said; “I can hear him snoring, and the trolls are nit-picking him,” he said.

Then Askeladden called for he who could shoot straight to the ends of the earth, and asked him to put a bullet in the troll. Yes, he did so, he shot it right in its eye; the troll let out a roar, so he awoke, he who should fetch the tea water, and when he came to the king’s farm, there was still a minute left of the ten.

Askeladden swept in to the king, and said that here was the water, and now he should have the king’s daughter, he should think; there was now nothing more to talk about. But the king thought him black and sooty, now as before, and did not like to have him as son-in-law. So the king said that he had three-hundred embraces of wood that he would dry grain with in the sauna, “and it is the same if you are a fellow to sit in there and burn it all up, then you shall have her, there is no doubt about it,” he said.

“I must try,” said Askeladden; “but I suppose I am allowed to take one of my friends.”

“Yes, or all six,” said the king, for he thought it would be warm enough for them all.

Askeladden took with him he who had the fifteen winters and the seven summers in his body, and swept down to the sauna in the evening; but the king had built up the fire so that it was such a bonfire that they might have cast coke ovens. They could not come out again, for they had hardly gone in before the king threw the bolt across and hung a couple of padlocks besides.

Then said Askeladden: “You should let out six–seven winters, so that it is about summer-warm.” Then it grew so that they could bear it there; but as the night drew on, it got a little too chilly. Then Askeladden said that he should temper it with a couple of summers, and then they slept until long into the day.

But when they heard the king moving about outside, Askeladden said: “Now you should let out a couple more winters, but make the last one go straight in his face.” Yes, he did so, and when the king opened the door to the sauna, thinking they lay burnt up, they sat there, shivering from the cold so that their teeth chattered; and he with the fifteen winters in his body let the last one out right in the king’s face, so he got a big frost-blister.

“Do I get the king’s daughter now?” said Askeladden.

“Yes, take her, and have her, and take the kingdom, as well,” said the king; he dared not say no any longer.

So they held a wedding and trumpeted and made a spectacle and sent up fireworks. While they went grasping after charges, they took me for one and gave me porridge in a bottle and milk in a basket, and then they shot me all the way here, so that I might tell how things went.

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