Sunday, 29 October 2017

Herre-Per

There was once, upon a time, a couple of poor folk; they had nothing except for three sons. What the elder two were called, I do not know; but the youngest was called Per.

When the parents were dead, the children should inherit them, but there was nothing more to have than a cauldron, a lefse iron, and a cat. The eldest, who was to have the best, took the cauldron: “When I lend the cauldron out, then I will always be able to scrape it,” he said.

The second took the lefse iron: “For when I lend out the iron, I will always have a taste of the lefses,” he said.

But the third, he had nothing to choose between; if he wanted anything, then it had to be the cat. “If I lend out the cat, then I will not have anything for her,” he said. “If the cat has a drop of milk, then she will have it for herself. But I will take her with me anyway; it would be a shame to leave her here to fend for herself.”

So the brothers went out into the world to try their luck, and each took his own way.

But when the youngest had walked a while, the cat said, “You will receive the same in return, for not leaving me behind in the old cabin to fend for myself. Now I shall go into the forest and find some strange animals; and you shall go to the king’s farm that you see away over there, and say that you come with a small gift for the king. When he then asks who it is from, you shall say it is from Herre-Per.”1

Well, Per had not waited long before the cat returned with a reindeer from the forest. She had jumped up on to the reindeer’s head and sat between its antlers. “If you do not go straight to the king’s farm, I will scratch your eyes out,” she said, and so the reindeer dared aught else.

When Per now came to the king’s farm, he went straight into the kitchen with the reindeer, and said: “I come with a small gift for the king, if he will not despise it.”

The king came out to the kitchen, and when he saw the big, fine reindeer, he was well pleased. “But my dear friend, who sends me such a fine gift, then?” said the king.

“Oh, it surely comes from Herre-Per,” said the boy.

“Herre-Per?” said the king. “Where does he live, then?” For he thought it a shame not to know such a good man.

But this the boy would by no means tell; he dared not for fear of his master, he said. So the king gave Per a lot of money as a tip, and bade him greet them at home, and sent his thanks for the gift.

The next day, the cat went into the forest again, and jumped up on to the head of a hart, sat between its eyes, and threatened it into going to the king’s farm. There, Per went into the kitchen with it again, and said that he came again with a small gift for the king, if he would not despise it. The king was even more pleased with the hart than he had been with the reindeer, and asked again whom it was who could have sent him so fine a gift.

“It is surely from Herre-Per,” said the boy. But when the king would know where Herre-Per lived, he received the same reply as he had the day before, and this time, Per received even more money as a tip.

The third day, the cat came back with a moose. When Per then came into the kitchen on the king’s farm, he said that he again had a small gift for the king, if he would not despise it. The king came out to the kitchen at once, and when he saw the beautiful moose, he was so glad that he did not know which foot he should stand on. And on that day, he gave Per even more—much, much more—money as a tip—it was certainly a hundred dollars. He would finally know where this Herre-Per lived, and dug and asked both about this and about the other. The boy said that he dared not tell him, for his master had forbidden it, both strictly and sternly.

“So ask this Herre-Per to look in to me,” said the king.

Yes, this would the boy do, he said.

But when he came out of the king’s farm again, and met the cat, then he said: “Yes, you have put me in a situation now; the king wants me to visit him, and I have nothing but the rags I stand and walk in.”

“Oh, do not be worried about that,” said the cat. “In three days, you shall have horses and a carriage, and such beautiful clothes that the gold shall drip from you; then you will be able to visit the king. But whatever you see at the king’s, you shall say that you have a much finer and more beautiful home; you must not forget this.”

No, Per would certainly remember that, he said.

When the three days were up, the cat came with a carriage and horses and clothes and everything Per needed. Everything was so beautiful that no one had seen the like before. So he travelled, and the cat ran with him.

The king received him both well and good, but whatever the king offered him, and whatever he showed him, then Per said that it was good enough, but that he had an even finer and more beautiful home. The king liked this no more than a bit. But Per insisted, and finally the king grew so angry that he could no longer control himself. “Now I want to go home with you,” said the king, “and see if it is true, that yours is a finer and more beautiful home. And if you are lying, then God help you! I say no more.”

“Well, you have put me in a situation,” said Per to the cat. “Now the king wants to come home with me, but my home is not good to find.”

“Oh, do not worry about that,” said the cat. “You just travel behind where I run before.”

So they travelled. First Per, who drove behind where the cat ran before, and then the king with all his.

When they had driven a good distance, they came to a great big flock of sheep that had wool so long that it almost reached the ground.

“If you will say that the flock of sheep belongs to Herre-Per, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver spoon,” said the cat to the shepherd; she had taken the silver spoon from the king’s farm.

Yes, he would do so.

So when the king came, he said to the shepherd: “Well, I have never seen such a beautiful, big flock of sheep. Who owns it, my little boy?”

“It is certainly Herre-Per’s,” said the boy.

After a little while, they came to a great herd of striped cattle; they were so fat that they gleamed.

“If you say that the cattle belong to Herre-Per, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver ladle,” said the cat to the herder girl—the silver ladle had she also taken from the king’s farm.

“Yes, of course,” said the herder girl.

When the king then came, he wondered at the great big cattle, for such beautiful cattle had he never seen before, he said. And so he asked the girl who was herding them, who owned the striped herd there.

“Oh, that is Herre-Per,” said the girl.

So they travelled a little farther, and then they came to a great, great string of horses; they were the most beautiful horses one might see, big and sleek, and six of each kind—both red and bay and blue.

“If you will say that the string of horses is Herre-Per’s, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver stirring stick,” said the cat to the herder—she had also taken the stirring stick from the king’s farm.

Yes, he certainly would, said the boy.

So when the king came, he was simply in wonder at the large string of beautiful horses, for such horses had he never seen the like of, he said. He then asked the herder boy who the red and bay and blue horses belonged to.

“Oh, they are certainly Herre-Per’s,” said the boy.

When they had travelled a good distance more, they came to a castle. First there was a gate of brass, then one of silver, and then one of gold; the castle itself was of silver, and it gleamed so that it hurt one’s eyes, for the sun began to shine on it, the moment they arrived. There they went in, and there the cat said that Per should say he lived.

Inside the castle was even finer than the outside; everything was of gold, both chairs and tables and benches. When the king had now walked around and seen everything, both high and low, he grew full of shame.

“Yes, it is grander at Herre-Per’s than at mine; it can do no good to deny it,” he said. And then he wanted to leave again. But Per bade him stay to eat supper with him, and the king did so, but grim and grumpy was he the whole time.

While they sat at the table, the troll who owned the castle came knocking at the gate.

“Who is it who eats my food and drinks my mead like pigs in here?” cried the troll.

As soon as the cat heard him, she sprang out to the gate.

“Wait a little while and I will tell you how the farmer treats the winter crop,” said the cat. “First the farmer harrows his field,” she said, “then he manures it, and then he harrows it again.”

Suddenly the sun began to shine.

“Look around, and you shall see the gorgeous, beautiful maiden behind you!” said the cat to the troll.2

Then the troll turned around and saw the sun, and then it burst.

“Now all this is yours,” said the cat to Herre-Per. “And now you shall chop off my head; it is the only thing I require of you for what I have done for you.”

“No,” said Herre-Per, “that is something I will not do.”

“Well,” said the cat, “if you do not do it, then I will scratch out your eyes.”

Well, Herre-Per had to do it then, even though he did not want to. He chopped off the cat’s head.

Immediately she became the most gorgeous princess anyone could see with their eyes, and Herre-Per was completely taken with her.

“Yes, this glory has been mine before,” said the princess, “but the troll there had transformed me, so I had to be your parents’ cat. Now you may do with me what you will, if you will have me as queen or not; for now are you king over the whole kingdom,” said the princess.

Oh yes, it may well be that Herre-Per would have her as queen. So there was a wedding and a feast for eight days, and then I was Herre-Per and his queen no longer.


  1. Herre-Per: “Mr Per,” “Master Per,” or even “Sir Per” or “Lord Per.” No matter how I translate the name, I risk the imposition of societal structures from English-speaking countries upon Norwegian society. 

  2. Thomas Grønbukt has produced a beautiful illustration of this moment

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