Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Three Princesses in Kvittenland

Once upon a time there was a fisherman who lived close by the castle and fished for the king’s table. One day when he was out fishing, he caught nothing, no matter how he baited his hooks—whether he baited and fished or fished and baited, not a bone hung on the hook. But as the day drew on towards evening, a head bobbed up from the water and said: “If I have what your wife bears beneath her belt, then you shall have fish enough.” The man quickly agreed, yes, for he knew not that she was with child. And then he caught fish enough, as many as he would have. But when he came home in the evening and told of how he had caught all the fish, his wife began to weep and complain, for the promise her husband had made, and asked God to help her; for she bore a child beneath her belt, she said.

There were soon questions about why the wife was so sorrowful, up at the castle, and when the king heard of it, he promised to take the child in and make sure to save it. Time passed and time went by, and when it was time, the wife bore a boy-child; the king took him in, and brought him up as his own son, until the boy was grown.

Then one day the boy asked for leave to go out fishing with his father; he had such an inner desire to do so, he said. The king would loath allow it, but finally the boy was allowed; he went with his father, and things went well and good enough all day, until they came in to land again in the evening. Then the boy left behind his kerchief, and would run down to the boat to fetch it. But as soon as he got into it, the boat set off with him, so the water rushed by; and no matter how the boy tried to pull against it with the oars, it did not help; it went and it went all night, and eventually he came far, far away to a white strand. There he went ashore, and when he had walked a distance, he met an old man with a long white beard.

“What is this place called?” said the boy.

“Kvittenland,” replied the man. And then he asked the boy to tell him where he was from, and what he wanted, and the boy told him.1

“Well,” said the man, “when you go along the strand here, you will come to three king’s daughters who stand in the earth, so that they only have their heads up. Then the first will call—she is the eldest—and ask so beautifully for you to come and help her; and the second one will, too; but neither of them shall you go to. But the third shall you go to, and do what she asks of you; that will be your happiness, it will.”

When the boy came to the first of the princesses, she called to him and asked so beautifully that he should come to her; but he walked as if he had not seen her; in the same way, he went past the second; but the third he went up to.

“If you will do as I say, then you may have which of the three of us you will,” said the princess.

Yes, he would like that; and so she told him that three trolls had buried them, all three, in the ground there, but before, they had lived in the castle he could see away in the forest. “Now you shall go into the castle and let the trolls whip you for a night for each of us,” she said; “if you can mangage that, then you will save us.”

Yes, replied the boy, he would certainly try.

“When you go in,” continued the princess again, “there are two lions standing in the gate, but if you walk right between them, then they will not harm you. Go straight ahead, into a small dark room; there you shall lie down. Then the troll will come to beat you; but then you shall take take the flask that hangs on the wall, and anoint yourself there where he has beaten you; then you will be just as good again. Grasp hold of the sword that hangs beside the flask, and hack the troll to death.”

Yes, he did what the princess said; he walked right between the lions, as if he did not see them, and straight into the small chamber, and there he lay down.

The first night there came a troll with three heads and three switches, and whipped the boy sinfully; but he held out until the troll was finished, then he took the flask and anointed himself, and then grasped the sword and hacked the troll to death. When he then came out in the morning, the princesses were above the ground to their belts.

The second night went the same way, but the troll that came then had six heads and six switches, and it whipped even worse than the first; but when he came out in the morning, the princesses stood above ground to their calves.

The third night, there came a troll that had nine heads and nine switches, and it beat and whipped the boy until at last he fainted away; then the troll took him and threw him against the wall, so that the jar fell down again, so that it splashed over him, and then he was just as good again. Then he was not slow; he grasped the sword and hacked the troll to death, and when he that morning came out of the castle, the princesses stood comepletely upon the earth. So he took the youngest of them as queen, and lived well and good with her for a long time.

But finally he desired to travel home for a little and see his parents. This the queen was not much for; but as he yearned so much, and ultimately ought to and had to go, she said to him: “One thing you must promise me, that you do what your father asks you, but not that which your mother asks you;” and he promised. Then she gave him a ring that was such that the one who wore it could wish for two things, whatever he wanted. And so he wished to be home, and his parents could not stop wondering at how fine and beautiful he was.

When he had been at home some days, his mother said that he should go up to the castle so that the king could see what manner of man he now had become. His father said: “No, he ought not do that, for that hour will not bring us any joy.” But it did not help; his mother begged and pleaded until he went.

When he arrived up there, he was finer of clothes and all things than his foster father. This he did not much like, and so he said: “Yes, but now you may see how my queen is; I cannot see yours. I do not think you have such a beautiful queen.”

“I wish she stood just here, so you could see!” said the young king, and immediately she stood there.

But she was so sorrowful, and said to him: “Why did you not do as I asked you, and listen to what your father said to you? Now I must soon go home again, and you have used both your wishes.” With that, she tied a ring in his hair, on which her name was written, and wished herself home again.

Then the young king was full of grief, and went day out and day in, thinking only of how he might return to his queen. I should see if there is anywhere I might ask anyone where it is, he thought, and so he went out into the world.

When he had walked a while, he came to a mountain; there he met one who was lord of all the animals of the forest—for they came to him when he blew a horn he had—and so the king asked of Kvittenland.

“Well, I do not know,” replied the man, “but I shall ask my animals.” Then he blew them in, and asked if any of them knew where Kvittenland lay; but there were none that knew.

So the man gave him a pair of skis. “When you stand on these,” he said, “then you will come to my brother, who lives a hundred leagues from here; he is lord over all the birds of the air; ask him! When you have arrived, then turn the skis around so that the ends point here, and they will go home by themselves.”

When the king arrived, he turned the skis, and the lord of the animals had said, and they went back.

He asked again of Kvittenland, and the man blew in all the birds, and asked if any of them knew where Kvittenland lay. No, none of them knew of it. A long time after the others came also an old eagle; she had been away for ten years, but she knew not of it, either.

“Well, well,” said the man, “then you shall borrow a pair of skis from me; when you stand on them, then you will come to my brother, who lives a hundred leagues from here; he is lord of all the fish in the sea; you should ask him. But do not forget to turn the skis!”

The king thanked him, and got on to the skis; and when he had come to he who was lord of the fish of the sea, he turned them, and then they went back again. Then he asked of Kvittenland again.

The man blew in all the fish, but none of them knew anything. Finally came an old, old pike, which he had a terrible time blowing in. When he asked her, she said: “Yes, I am very familiar there, for now I have been cook there for ten years. Tomorrow I am going there again, for then shall the queen whom the king was lost to will be holding a wedding with another.”

“Since that is so, then I shall give you some advice,” said the man. “Over here on a moor stand three brothers who have stood there for a hundred years, fighting over a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots; when one has these three things, he can make himself invisible and wish himself as far away as he wants. You can tell them that you want to try the things, and then pass judgement between them.”

So the king thanked him, and went and did so. “What is it you stand here, forever fighting about?” he said to the brothers; “let me try the things, and I will judge between you.” This they wanted; but when he had got the hat and the cloak and the boots, he said: “When we meet next time, you shall hear the judgement.” And with that, he wished himself on his way.

While he flew through the air, he went the same way as the North Wind.

“Where are you going?” asked the North Wind.

“To Kvittenland,” said the king, and then he told what had happened to him.

“Well,” said the North Wind, “you travel a little faster then I, you do; I have to reach in to every nook and gust and blow, I do. But when you arrive, then stand on the stair, beside the door; then I shall come, howling as if I would blow down the whole castle. When the prince who would have the queen comes out to see what is going on, you take him by the neck and throw him out, and then I will see to get him to go away.”

Yes, as the North Wind said, so the king did; he stood on the stair, and when the North Wind came gusting and howling, and took hold of the castle wall and shook it, the prince came out to see what was going on; but straightway he came, the king took him by the neck and threw him out, and then the North Wind took him and left with him. When he was rid of him, the king went into the castle. At first the queen did not recognize him, for he had grown thin and pale because he had been travelling so far and been so sorrowful; but when he showed her the ring, she grew heartily glad, and so the right wedding was held, which was asked about, both far and wide.


  1. The name of the place means “White Land,” but as it has no relevance to the plot, I have elected to let it remain in the Norwegian. 

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