Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Golden Castle that Hung in the Air

There was, upon a time, a poor man who had three sons. When he died, the elder two would go out into the world to try their luck; but they would not, by any means, have the youngest with them. “You, then,” they said, “you are good for nothing but sitting and holding the pitch lantern, and digging in the ashes and blowing in the embers, you are!”

“Well, well, I shall go by myself alone, then,” said Askeladden, “and then I will not be in disagreement with my travelling companions, either.”

The two went on their way, and when they had travelled for some days, they came to a great forest; there they sat down to rest, and would take of the food they had packed, for they were both weary and hungry. As they sat there, an old woman came up through a tussock, and asked for a little food; she was so old and frail that her mouth quivered and her head shook, and she had to walk with a stick; she had not had a crumb of bread in her mouth in a hundred years, she said. But the boys just laughed and ate, and said that since she had survived for so long, then she would survive the rest, even if she did not eat up their crumbs; they had but little food, and none to lose.

When they had eaten both good and long, and rested, they set off again, and after a long time and distance, they came to the king’s farm; there they went into service, both of them.

A while after they had left home, Askeladden gathered together the crumbs his brothers had left behind, and put them in his small knapsack. And he took with him the old gun that was not locked, for he thought it would always be good to have on the road; then he set off.

When he had walked for some days, he too came into the great forest that his brothers had gone through, and since he grew both weary and hungry, he sat beneath a tree and would rest, and take a little to eat; but he was still sharp, and when he took out his food, he saw there was a portrait hanging on a tree, and it depicted a young maiden or a princess, whom he thought was so gorgeous that he could not take his eyes off it. He forgot his food and knapsack, and took down the portrait, and laid it down and gazed at it.

Just like that, the old woman came up through the tussock, quivering of lip, shaking her head, and walking with a stick, and she asked for some food; for she had not had a crumb of bread in her mouth these last hundred years, she said.

“It may be time you had a little to live on, then, old mother,” said the boy, and gave her some of the breadcrumbs he had. The woman said that no one had called her mother in a hundred years, and she would surely do him a mother’s deed in return, she said. She gave him a ball of grey yarn, which he should merely roll before him, and he would come to wherever he wanted to go. But the portrait, she said, he should not mind; he would only get in to trouble on its account. Askeladden thought this all well and good, but the portrait he would not be without. So he put it under his arm, and rolled the ball of woollen yarn before him, and it was not long before he came to the king’s farm, where his brothers were in service. He also asked to go into service, but they replied that they had no use for him, for they had recently taken on two footmen; but he asked so beautifully that at last he was allowed to go to the stable master and be trained to look after the horses. Askeladden was willing, for he liked horses, and he was both good and clever at it. So he soon learned to brush and groom them, and it was not long before everyone in the king’s farm held him dear. But every free moment he had, he was up beholding the portrait; for he had hung it on a hook in the stable loft.

His brothers were sleepy and lazy, and thus they often received harsh words and blows. And when they saw that things went better with Askeladden than with themselves, they grew envious of him, and told the head groom that he was an idolator—that he prayed to a picture, and not to Our Lord. Even though the head groom liked Askeladden, it was not long before he told the king. But the king merely ranted and raved at him; he was now nothing but sullen and mournful, for his daughters had been taken by a troll. But they trumped in the king’s ears for so long that he wanted to discover what the boy was about. When he came up to the stable loft and saw the portrait, it was his youngest daughter who was painted in it. But when Askeladden’s brothers heard it, they were soon ready to say to the head groom: “If our brother wanted to, he has said, he is good to return the king’s daughter to him.”

You may imagine it was not long before the head groom went to the king with this; he called for Askeladden and said: “Your brothers say that you can return my daughter, and now you shall do it.” Askeladden replied that he had never known it was the king’s daughter before the king had said so himself, and if he could save her, and fetch her, then he would certainly do his best; but he needed two days to prepare himself and equip himself in. This he would certainly have.

The boy took out the ball of grey woollen yarn and threw it on its way, and it went before and he came after, until he came to the old woman from whom he had received it. He asked her what he should do; and she said that he should take his old gun with him, and three-hundred crates of nails and horseshoe-nails, and three-hundred barrels of meal, and three-hundred pigs and three-hundred bull carcasses, and roll the ball of yarn on his way until he met a crow and a troll-child. Then he would certainly arrive, for they were of her kin. Yes, the boy did what she said; he went into the king’s farm and took his old gun, and asked the king for meat and flesh, and horses and boys and vehicles to carry it. The king thought it was a lot to need; but since he could return his daughter, he would have everything he demanded, even it it were half the kingdom.

When the boy had equipped himself, he rolled the ball of yarn on his way; and he had not walked for many days before he came to a tall mountain. There sat a crow up in a pine tree. Askeladden went under the tree and began to aim and point with his gun.

“No, don’t shoot! Don’t shoot me, and I will help you,” cried the crow.

“I have never heard anyone boast about roast crow,” said the boy, “and since you value your life, then I may just as well spare you.” Then he threw down his gun, and the crow flew down, and said:

“Up here on the mountain is a young troll-child who has got so lost that he cannot find his way down again; I will help you up, and then you can take the child home, and receive a reward that you may well need. When you get there, the troll will offer you anything of the finest things he has, but you shall take nothing other than the grey ass that stands behind the stable door.”

Then the crow took the boy on his back and flew up the mountain and set him down up there. When he had walked a little, he heard the troll-child whining and complaining that he could not get down again. The boy spoke kindly enough wih him; they became friends, and liked each other, and he took it upon himself to help him down. And then he would take the troll-child home to the troll garden, so he would not get lost on the way home. So they went to the crow, and he took them on his back, the both of them, and carried them to the mountain troll.

When the troll saw his child again, he was so glad that he forgot himself, and said to the boy that he could come in and take what he wanted, for he had saved his son; he offered both gold and silver and everything rare and costly; but the boy said he would rather have a horse. Yes, he should have a horse then, said the troll, and so they went to the stable. There it was full of the finest horses, which shone like the sun and the moon, but the boy thought every one of them too large for him. Then he peeked behind the stable door, and then he saw the grey ass that stood there. “This I will have,” he said, “for it suits me; if I fall off, then it is not further to the ground than this.” The troll was reluctant to lose his ass, but since he he had said it, then he had to stand by it. So the boy got the ass, with saddle and bridle and everything that went with it, and then he set off on his way.

They travelled through forest and mark, over mountain and broad moors. When they had travelled farther than far, the ass asked if the boy saw anything. “No, I see nothing but a tall mountain on the horizon,” said the boy.

“Yes, that mountain shall we pass through,” said the ass.

“Really?” said the boy. When they came to the mountain, a unicorn charged them, as if it would eat them alive.

“I think I am mostly afraid,” said the boy.

“Oh, don’t be,” said the ass. “Unload two-score bull carcasses, and bid it bore a hole and clear a way through the mountain,” it said. The boy did so.

When the unicorn had eaten itself satisfied, they promised two-score slaughtered pigs, if it would go before them and bore a hole in the mountain so that they could get through. When it heard this, it bore a hole and cleared a way through the mountain, so quickly that they could hardly keep up; and when it was finished, they threw two-score pigs to it.

When they had come well from this, they travelled far away through the countries, and they went across forest and mark, over mountain and wild moors again. “Do you see anything now?” asked the ass.

“Now I see nothing but sky and wild mountains,” said the boy. So they travelled far, and farther than far, and when they came higher up, the mountain grew more even and flatter, so they could see widely around them.

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

“Yes, I see something far, far away,” said the boy; “it glitters and shines like a small star.”

“It is certainly not so small,” said the ass.

When they had travelled far, and farther than far again, it asked: “Can you see anything now?”

‪“Yes, now I see something far away; it shines like a moon,” said the boy.‬

‪“That’s no moon,” said the ass; “it is the silver castle we are going to,” it said. “When we arrive, three dragons lie guard by the gate; they have not woken in a hundred years, so moss has grown on their eyes.”

“I think I will be mostly afraid of them,” said the boy.

“Oh, don’t be,” said the ass; “you must wake the youngest and throw him two-score bull carcasses and slaughtered pigs; then he will talk to the other two, and then you will get into the castle.”

They travelled far, and farther than far, before they arrived at the castle; but when they arrived, it was big and fine, and everything they saw was cast in silver. And outside the gate lay the dragons, blocking it so that no one could get in; but they had been left in peace and quiet, and had not been much bothered on their watch, for they were so covered in moss that no one could see what they were made of; and between them there were two small patches of forest growing among the moss.

The boy woke the smallest of them, and it began to rub its eyes, to clear away the patches of moss. When the dragon saw that there were folk, it came towards him with its mouth gaping; but then the boy stood ready, and threw in it bull carcasses and hurled in it pigs, until it had eaten enough, and grew a little more reasonable to talk to. The boy asked it to wake the others, and ask them to move away so that he could go into the castle. But it dared and would not, said the dragon, for they had not been awake and had not tasted food for a hundred years; it was afraid they would move around in a daze and gobble up anything, be it alive or dead. The boy thought there would be no danger, for they could leave a hundred bull carcasses and a hundred slaughtered pigs, and move away a little, and so they could eat themselves full, and gather themselves together before they returned. Yes, this the dragon wanted, too, and thus they did so; but before the dragons were fully awake and rubbed the moss away from their eyes, they stumbled about in a daze, and snapped at both this and that; and the youngest dragon had work enough avoiding them before they had eaten enough meat. Then they swallowed down whole bull- and pig carcasses, and ate until they were satisfied; and then they grew quite placid and good-natured, and let the boy go between them, into the castle.

There was everything so fine that he had never thought there could be such finery anywhere; but it was empty of folk, for he went from room to room and opened every door, but he saw no one.

But yes; finally he peeped through a doorway into a chamber he had not yet seen. Inside sat a princess, spinning; and she was happy and glad when she saw him.

“No, no! Do Christian-folk dare come here?” she cried. “But it would be best you left again, or the troll might kill you; for a great troll with three heads lives here.” The boy said he would not remove himself, even if the troll had seven. When the princess heard this, she wanted him to try to wield the great, rusty sword that hung behind the door; no, he could not wield it, he could not even lift it.

“Well,” said the princess, “since you cannot do it, then you may take a draught from the flask that hangs beside it, for that is what the troll does when he takes it out to use.” The boy took a couple of swigs; then he could wield it as if it were a baker’s lefse stick.

Just like that the troll swept in. “Hu! Here it smells of a Christian man!” it screamed.

“It does so,” said the boy, “but you do not need to snort out of your nose for that; you will no longer have any trouble from the smell,” he said. And then he hacked all its heads off it.

The princess was as happy as if she had received something good. But as time passed, she grew sullen; for she yearned for her sister, who was taken by a troll with six heads, and lived in a castle of gold, three hundred leagues beyond the end of the world. The boy thought this was not so bad; he could fetch both the princess and the castle, and so he took the sword and the vessel, mounted the ass, and asked the dragons to come with him and bring the meat and flesh and nails he had.

When they had been on the way for a while, and travelled far, far away, across both land and strand, the ass said one day: “Do you see anything?”

“I see nothing but land and water and sky and tall mountains,” said the boy. So they travelled far, and farther than far.

“Do you see anything now?” said the ass. Yes, he had seen something before him, he said, something far, far away; it shone like a small star, said the boy.

“It will certainly grow bigger,” said the ass. When they had travelled a long distance further, it asked: “Do you see anything now?”

“Now I see it shines like a moon,” said the boy.

“Well, well,” said the ass.

When they had travelled far, and farther than far, across land and strand, over mound and moor again, the ass asked: “Do you see anything now?”

“I think it shines most like the sun,” said the boy.

“Yes, it is the golden castle we are going to,” said the ass; “but outside lies a lindworm that blocks the road and keeps guard.”

“I think I will be scared,” said the boy.

“Oh, don’t be,” said the ass. “We will bend layers of branches over it, and between them, layers of horseshoe nails, and light it on fire, and we will be well rid of it.”

After a long, long time, they came to where the castle hung; but the lindworm lay before, blocking the road in. So the boy gave the dragons a good measure of bull- and pig carcasses so that they would help him, and bent over it a layer of branches, then a layer of horseshoe nails, until they had used up the three-hundred cases that they had; and when that was done, they set it on fire, and burned up the lindworm alive.

When they were well finished with this, one dragon flew underneath, and lifted the castle up, and the other two went far up into the sky, and loosed the chain hooks that it hung on, and put it down on the ground. When this was done, the boy went in, and here it was even finer than in the silver castle; but he saw no folk, until he came into the innermost room; there lay the princess on a golden bed. She slept so soundly that she should have been dead, but that she was not, even though he was not the fellow enough to wake her, and she was as red and white as milk and blood.

Just as the boy stood there, looking at her, the troll swept in. No sooner had it got its first head through the door than it said: “Huff! Here it smells of a Christian man!”

“Perhaps,” said the boy, “but you don’t need to snort so hard through your nose, anyway; you shall not long have the trouble of it,” he said, and then he hacked off all its heads, as if they were set on cabbage stalks. Then the dragons took the golden castle on their backs and went home with it—it did not take them long, I wouldn’t think—and placed it beside the silver castle, so they shone both far and wide.

When the princess from the silver castle came to the window in the morning and saw it, she was so glad that she ran over to the golden castle at the very same hour; but when she saw her sister, who lay sleeping as if she were dead, she said to the boy that they could not bring her back to life before they had the waters of death and life, and that these stood in two wells on each side of a golden castle that hung in the air, nine-hundred leagues beyond the end of the world, and there lived the third sister.

Well, there was nothing else to do, said the boy; he would have to fetch her too, and it was not long before he was on his way. And he travelled far, and farther than far, through many kingdoms, through mark and forest, over mountains and shore, over rock and wave. Finally he came to the end of the world, and then he travelled both far, and farther than far, over heath and mound and tall peaks.

“Do you see anything?” said the ass one day.

“I see nothing but the sky and the earth,” said the boy.

“Do you see anything now?” said the ass, when a few days had passed.

“Yes, now I think I can glimpse something high up and far away, like a small star,” said the boy.

“It certainly is not so small,” said the ass.

When they had travelled for some days more, it asked: “Do you see anything now?”

“Yes, now I think it shines like the moon.”

“Indeed,” said the ass. And they travelled for some days more. “Do you see anything now?” asked the ass.

“Yes, now it shines like the sun,” replied the boy.

“That is where we are going,” said the ass; “it is the golden castle that hangs in the air. There lives a princess who has been taken by a troll with nine heads; but all the wild animals of the earth there are lie guard, blocking the way in,” said the ass.

“Huff! I think I am most afraid now,” said the boy.

“Oh don’t be,” said the ass. And then it said he would be in no danger if he did not try to stop there, but travel again after he had filled his vessels with water; for it was not passable for more than an hour of the day, and that was high day; but was he not fellow enough to be finished in that time, and get away, then he would be ripped into a thousand pieces.

Yes, he would do this, said the boy; he would certainly not stop for too long.

They arrived at twelve o’clock. Then all the wild and dangerous animals there are lay as a fence outside the gate, and on both sides of the road; but they slept like logs and rocks, and there was not one of them that even lifted a leg. The boy went between them, making certain that he did not tread on toes or tail tips, and filled his vessels with the waters of life and death; and while he did so, he looked at the castle that was cast in gleaming gold. It was the finest thing he had seen, and he thought it must be even finer on the inside. “Puh! I have time,” thought Askeladden. “I can always look around for half-an-hour.” And so he opened up and went inside. But there it was more beautiful than beautiful; he went from one stately room to the next; it was covered in gold and pearls and everything costly. There were no folk there. But finally he came into one chamber; there lay a princess, sleeping on a golden bed again, as if she were dead; but she was as beautiful as the most beautiful queen, and red and white as blood and snow, and so beautiful as nothing he had ever seen, except for her portrait; for it was she who was depicted there. They boy forgot both the water he should fetch, and the animals, and all the castle, and gazed only at the princess, and he thought he could never have enough of looking at her; but she slept as one dead, and he was not good to wake her.

When the evening drew in, the troll came sweeping in and banged and bumped into the gates and the doors, so that the noise went throughout the castle.

“Huff! Here it smells of a Christian man!” it said, sticking its first head in through the door, sniffing.

“That may be,” said the boy, “but you have no business huffing so that the bellows tear; you shall not have the trouble of the smell for long,” he said, and with that, he hacked off all its heads. But when he was finished, he grew so tired that he could not keep his eyes open; so he lay down on the bed beside the princess. And she slept both night and day, as if she would never wake; but at midnight, she was awake for a moment, and then she said to him that he had saved her; but she had to remain there three more years; if she did not come home to him then, then he should come to fetch her.

He did not wake up until it was past one o’clock on the next day, and heard that the ass had begun to bray and carry on, and so he thought it best to start off on his way home; but first he cut a fold off the princess’s dress, and took it with him. But however it was or was not, he had dawdled for so long that the animals had begun to wake up and move around, and by the time he had climbed the hill, they surrounded him so that he thought it looked hopeless. But the ass said he should splash a few drops of the water of death on them. He did so, and then they fell down on the spot, and moved not a limb more.

While they were on the way home, the ass said to the boy: “When you have attained honour and glory, you will see that you forget me and what I have done for you, so that I am brought to my knees with hunger.” No, that would never happen, said the boy.

When he arrived at the home of the princess, with the water of life, he splashed some drops on his sister so that she awoke, and then you can be sure there was joy and happiness.

Then they went home to the king, and he was also glad and happy because he had got them back; but he went and waited and waited for the three years to pass, until his youngest daughter should come. The boy who had fetched them, he made a powerful man, so that he was the first in the country beside the king. But there were many who were envious that he had become such a great fellow, and there was one—his name was the Red Knight—who they said would have the eldest princess; he got her to splash some of the water of death on the boy, so that he slept.

When the three years were over, and it was some time into the fourth, a foreign sailing ship came sailing, and on it was the third sister, and she had with her a three year-old child. She sent a messenger up to the king’s farm, and said that she would not set foot on land before they sent he who had been to the golden castle and saved her. So they sent one of the highest ranking there in the king’s farm, and when he came aboard, he struck his hat from his head and bowed and bent himself.

“Can this be your father, my son?” said the princess to the child, who played with a golden apple.

“No, my father does not crawl like a cheese maggot,” said the boychild. Then they sent another of the same kind, and it was the Red Knight. But things went no better for him than they had for the first one; and the princess sent word with him that if they did not send the right one, then things would go badly with them.

When they heard this, they had to wake the boy, with the water of life, and then he went down to the princess’s ship; but he did not bow too much, I would not think; he just nodded his head, and took out the fold that he had cut out of her dress at the golden castle.

“There is my father!” cried the boy, and gave him the golden apple that he had been playing with. Then there was great joy and gladness over the whole kingdom, and the old king was the happiest of them all, for he had got back his favourite again.

When it was discovered what the Red Knight and the eldest princess had done to the boy, the king would have them rolled in a barrel of nails each; but Askeladden and the youngest princess interceded, and they were let off.

When they trumpeted the wedding in the king’s farm, then there came a day the boy stood looking out of the window—it was the beginning of spring, this was, and they were slipping the horses and the livestock, and the last to come out of the stable was the ass; but it was so starved that it came out on its knees through the stall door. Then he was so badly affected because he had forgotten it, that he went down and did not know what good he could do it; but the ass said that the best he could do was to chop its head off it. He was loath to do it, but the ass pleaded so nicely that he had to do it at last; and as soon as the head fell on to the ground, the enchantment that had been cast on him came to an end, and there stood the most beautiful prince that anyone could want to see. He got the second princess, and then they trumpeted a wedding that was heard of and asked of across seven kingdoms.

Then they built houses,
Then they patched shoes,
Then they had princes,
Whene’er they did choose.

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