Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mumble Goose-egg

There were once upon a time five women who were reaping in the field. All of them were childless, and each wished she had a child. Just like that they saw an unreasonably large goose egg, almost as big as a man’s head.

“I saw it first,” said one.

“I saw it just as soon as you did,” cried another.

“I do believe I shall have it, for I was the firt to see it,” swore a third. So they carried on, disagreeing about the egg so that they almost flew at each other.

But then they agreed that they should own the egg, all five, and lie on it, as a goose does, and hatch out the gosling. The first lay there for eight days, and brooded and lazed around, and did nothing; meanwhile the others toiled or their keep, both theirs and hers. One of them began to berate her for this.

“You did not come out of your egg before you could whistle, either,” said the one who lay brooding. “But I think there will be folk of this, for I fancy it mumbles: ‘Herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ inside, over and over,” she said. “But now you may lie here for eight days, and we shall take turns to feed you.”

When the fifth had also lain for eight days, she heard clearly that there was a child inside the egg, which cried for ‘herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ and so she picked a hole in it; but instead of a gosling, out came a folk-ling; and terribly ugly was he, with a large head and a small body; and the first thing he cried for, when he came out, was “herring and gruel, porridge and milk.” So they called him Mumble Goose-egg.

As ugly as he was, they were still very fond of him, but it was not long before he grew so greedy that he ate up all the food they had. When they cooked themselves a bowl of gruel or a cauldron of porridge that they thought would be enough for them all six, then the child gobbled it all up. So they would not have him any more. “I have not felt full up at all since this changeling crept out of his egg shell,” said one of them; and when Mumble Goose-egg heard that the others agreed with this, he said that he could go on his way; if they did not need him, then he did not need them, and so he went on his way.

After a long, long time, he came to a farm that lay on a rocky bank, and asked to go into service; there they needed a working lad, and the fellow soon set him to work, collecting stones from the field. Well, Mumble Goose-egg fetched stones from the field, and took them so large that there were many horse-loads of them, and no matter whether they were big or small, he put them in his pocket. It was not long before he was finished doing that work, and then he wanted to know what else he should do.

“You must pluck the stones from the field,” said the man; “you must push yourself before you can finish, I know.”

But Mumble Goose-egg emptied his pockets and threw the stones in a heap. Then the fellow saw that he was finished doing the work, and understood that he should be careful with one who was so strong. He should come in and have some food, he said. Mumble Goose-egg thought so too, and he ate everything that had been made for the farmer folk and the servants, and even then he was but half full up.

He was certainly a worker fellow, but also a dangerous fellow for food, for there was no bottom to him, said the farmer. “Such a fellow can eat a poor farmer out of his farm and land before he knows of it,” he said.

He had no more work for him; it would be best if he went to the king’s farm.

Mumble Goose-egg swept off to the king, and got into service at once; at the king’s farm there was enough food and work. He should be a page boy and help the girls carry wood and water, and do other small work.

Then he asked what he should do first. He should split some firewood for now, they said.

Well, Mumble Goose-egg began to split and chop so that the splinters flew about him, both from the woodshed and the timber, both from the sawbench and the lumber, and when he was finished doing that, he came and asked what he should do now.

“You can finish chopping the wood, now,” they said.

“There is nothing more to chop,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

That was not possible, said the farm overseer, looking out into the shed. But yes, Mumble Goose-egg had chopped it all up; there was firewood from both the sawbenches and the lumber. This was infuriating, he thought, and so he said that he would not have a taste of food until he had been into the forest and chopped as much wood as he had split into firewood.

Mumble Goose-egg went into the smithy, and had the smith help him make an axe of fifteen quarters of iron.1 Then he went into the timber forest and began to chop rapidly; he took beam spruces and mast pines, everything he found, both on the king’s, and on the neighbouring plantations; he cut off neither the branches nor the tops, so it all lay as after a windfall. Then he laid a good load on the sled, and set all the horses before it, but they could not move from the spot with the load, and when he took them by their heads, to get them moving, he pulled their heads off; so he tipped them out of their harnesses up in the mark, and pulled the load alone.

When he came home to the king’s farm, the king and the forrester stood in the hall to receive him, for he had treated the forest very badly—the forrestr had been up and seen it. But when Mumble Goose-egg came home dragging half the timber forest with him, the king was angry, and frightened, and so he thought he had better treat him shrewdly, since he was so strong.

“That was great work,” he said, “but how much do you eat at a time?” he said. “For you are hungry, I suppose.”

“When I should have enough porridge, twelve barrels of meal go into it,” said Mumble Goose-egg; but when he had put it away, then he could go for a while, too.

It took time to cook such porridge, and in the meantime, he should take the wood in to the cook. He laid the whole stack of firewood on a sled, but when he should go through the door with it, he was careless again. The house was sorely tested until all the joints began to fail, so close was he to pulling down the whole king’s farm.

When the food was ready, they sent him out to call in the folk. He called so that it echoed from all the mountains and hills, but they did not come quickly enough, he thought, so he quarreled with them and killed twelve.

“He has killed twelve,” said the king, “and he eats for many times twelve, but how many does he do the work of?”

“That is many times twelve, too,” said Mumble.

When he had had some food, he should go to the barn to thresh. He took the ridge of the roof as a flail, and when the roof began to fall down, he took a large beam spruce, as full of branches as it was, and set it up as the ridge, and then he threshed the grain and straw and hay all together. This caused harm, for the grain and the chaff flew around together, and stood in a cloud over the king’s farm.

When he had almost finished the threshing, some enemies came into the country, and there should be war. Then the king said to him that he should take some folk with him, go on his way to receive the enemy, and wage war, for he thought they would kill him. No, folk he would not have, he thought; he would fight alone, said Mumble Goose-egg.

All the better, the quicker I get rid of him, thought the king.

But a good club he would need.

They sent for the smith, and he forged one of five quarters. That would be good for cracking nuts, said Mumble Goose-egg. So he forged one of fifteen quarters. That would be good for cobbling, said Mumble Goose-egg. Well, bigger could the smith not forge with his folk. So he laid to the forge himself, Mumble Goose-egg, and made a club of fifteen ship-pounds2, and a hundred men were needed to turn it in place. This Mumble Goose-egg thought might do him in a pinch. Then he needed a knapsack of food. They made one of fifteen bull hides, and stuffed it full of food; and so he tramped down the hill with his knapsack on his back and the club on his shoulder.

When he came so far that the soldiers saw him, they sent word, and asked if he would receive them.

“Wait a little until I have eaten,” said Mumble Goose-egg, throwing himself to the ground to eat behind his great knapsack of food. But they could not wait; they began to shoot at him at once, so the rifle bullets rained and hailed around him.

“These crowberries I do not mind,” said Mumble Goose-egg, and lay to eating some more; neither lead nor iron bit at him, and his food knapsack stood before him and took the bullets, like a bulwark.

So they began to lob bombs and shoot with cannons. He grinned a little at every jolt he took.

“Oh, it does no good!” he said. But then he had a bomb go down his throat the wrong way. “Huh!” he said, spitting it out again. And then came a chain shot, and it landed in his butter box, and another took the food from between his fingers.

Then was he angry, rose, took his great club, and struck the ground, asking if they would take the food from his mouth with the blueberries that they blew from their vulgar blowpipes. He struck some more strokes, until the mountains and hills crumbled; and the enemy bounced into the air like chaff in the wind, and that was the end of that war.

When he came home, and wanted more work, the king was plainly ill, for he thought he would be rid of him by now. He knew no better than to send him to hell.

“You shall go to Old Erik and collect the land rent,” he said. Mumble Goose-egg set off with his knapsack on his back and his club across his shoulder. He was not long on the way; but when he arrived, Old Erik was at the catechesis. There was no one home but his mother, and she said she had never heard of any land rent; he should come back another time.

“Yes, come to me tomorrow!” he said; he said it would show itself a lie; had he come there, then he could stay there, and the land rent he would have; he had time to wait. But when he had eaten up his food, time drew on for him, and so he demanded the land rent from the old mother again, and said that now she should out with it.

No, she would not; she stood as fast as the old pine, she said, that stood without the gates of hell, that was so large that fifteen men could hardly girth it. But Mumble went up into the top, and twisted and turned it like a withy band, and asked if she would not meet his demand for land rent now.

Yes—she dared aught else, and gathered together as many shillings as he thought he could carry in his knapsack. Then he went on his way homeward with the land rent. And as soon as he had gone, Old Erik came home. When he heard that Mumble had set off with his great knapsack full of money, first he slapped his mother, and then he went after him. And he caught up with him, too, for he ran without burden, and took to wing occasionally, and Mumble had to keep to the ground with the heavy knapsack; but when Old Eirk was on his heels, he began to jump and run as best he could, and then he held the club behind him, to protect himself from him. And so it went; Mumble held on to the shaft, and Old Erik struggled against the club, until they came to a deep valley; there Mumble jumped from one mountain top over to another, and Old Eirk was so eager in his following that he ran into the club and fell into the valley and broke one leg. There he lay.

“There you have the land rent,” said Mumble Goose-egg, when he came to the king’s farm, and he threw the knapsack of money before the king, so that it thundered in the hall.

The king thanked him, and feigned that all was well, and promised him both good pay and a pass to go home, if he wanted it; but Mumble Goose-egg wanted only more work.

“What shall I do now?”

Well, the king had a think for a while; then he said that he should travel to the mountain troll who had taken his grandfather’s sword, at the castle he had by the sea, there where no one dared go.

Mumble took with him some food in his great knapsack, and went on his way again, and he went both long and far, over forest and mountain and wild heath, until he came to some mighty mountains, where the troll should be, who had taken the king’s grandfather’s sword.

But the troll was not beneath the clear sky, and the mountain was closed, so Mumble was not fellow enough to get in. So he began to keep company with the stone breakers who kept themselves on a mountain enclosure, and lay out to break stone up there in the mountains. Such help had they never had, for he broke and struck the mountain so the rock ripped and large stones fell like houses. But when he should rest before dinner, and begin on one load of food, then it had all been eaten up.

“I usually have a mind to eat well,” said Mumble, “but the one who has been here is worse to eat, for he has eaten the bones as well,” he said.

So it went the first day, and it went no better on the second. The third day, he set off to break rocks again, and took with him the third load of food, but then he lay down behind it, and pretended to sleep.

Just like that a troll with seven heads came out of the mountain, and began to smack his lips and eat of the food.

“Now it is ready, now shall I eat,” said the troll.

“We shall quarrel about that!” said Mumble, striking with his club so that its heads rolled off it.

Then he went into the mountain that the troll had come out of, and in there stood a horse, eating from a barrel of glowing embers, and behind it there stood a barrel of oats.

“Why do you not eat from the barrel of oats?” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“Because I am not able to turn around,” said the hose.

“I should be able to turn you around,” said Mumble.

“Pull off my head, instead,” said the horse.

So he did so, and then the horse turned into a fine fellow. He said he had been troll-struck, and turned into a horse by the troll, and he helped him find the sword, which the troll had hidden on the bottom of his bed, and in the bed lay the troll’s mother, snoring.

The journey they took by sea, and when they had come out, the old woman came after them. She could not reach them, so she began to drink so that the sea grew smaller and the water fell; but the sea she could not manage to drink up—so she burst.

When they made land, Mumble Goose-egg sent word for the king to come and get the sword. He sent four horses, no they could not move it; he sent eight, and he sent twelve, but the sword remained where it was; they could not manage to move it from the spot. But Mumble Goose-egg took it alone and carried it forth.

The king could not believe his own eyes when he saw Mumble again, but he dissembled well, and promised both gold and green forests; and when Mumble wanted more work, he said that he should travel to the troll’s castle he had, the one that no one dared stay at, and stay there until he had built a bridge across the sound, so folk could come thither; was he good to do it, he would be well paid, yes he would even give him his daughter, he said.

Yes, he should be good to do it, said Mumble Goose-egg.

No one had returned alive from this; those who had reached so far that they had arrived, lay both slain and plucked like small meal, and the king thought he would never see him again when he got him to go thither.

But Mumble went on his way; he took with him his knapsack of food, and a suitably difficult, knarled pine log, and broad axe, a wedge, and some fatwood sticks, and then the small page boy at the king’s farm.

When he came to the sound, the river ran full of ice, and was as rapid as a waterfall; but he set his feet fast on the bottom and waded across, so that he got across at last.

When he had warmed and fed himself, he wanted to sleep; but it was not long before there was a noise and din such as if they should turn the castle upside down. The door flew open, and he saw nothing more than a broad, gaping mouth, from the doorstep to the lintel.

“Here is a morsel, taste it!” said Mumble, throwing the page boy into the gape. “Let me see what kind you are; perhaps I know you.”

He did, for it was Old Erik who was abroad. They began to play cards, for he would try to win back some of the land rent money Mumble had threatened out of his mother when he had gone collecting for the king. But however it did or did not go, Mumble was the one who won, for he set a cross on the best cards; and when he had won everything that he had on him, Old Erik had to give Mumble from the gold and silver that was in the castle.

Just like that, the fire went out, so that they could not tell the cards one from the other.

“Now we should chop some wood,” said Mumble, chopping the broad axe into the pine log, and driving in the wedge; but the awkward stump was difficult, and it would not immediately split, no matter how Mumble twisted and wrestled with the axe.

“They say you are strong,” he said to Old Erik. “Spit in your hands, set your claws in it, twist and wrestle, and let me see what you are good for,” he said.

Erik did so, and put both hands into the split, and wrestled for all he was worth; but when Mumble suddenly knocked out the wedge, then Old Erik sat, caught fast; and then he used the poll of the axe on his back. Old Erik begged thinly and beautifully that he might be let go, but Mumble Goose-egg would not listen in that ear before he promised never to come back and make mischief again; and he also had to promise to build a bridge over the sound, so folk could cross at any time of the year, and it should be finished by the time the ice had disappeared.

“That is hard,” said Old Erik.

But there was no other way; if he wanted to come loose, then he had to promise. But he set the condition that he should have the first soul to cross the bridge; that was to be the toll across the sound.

This he should have, said Mumble. Then he was set loose and returned home. But Mumble Goose-egg lay down to sleep on it, and he slept until long into the day.

When the king came to see if he had been hacked to pieces, or whether they had merely picked at him, he had to wade through money before he got to the bed; it lay in heaps and sacks that reached far up the wall; and in the bed lay Mumble, snoring.

“God help both me and my daughter,” he said when he understod that Mumble was alive and well. Well, all things were well and good, no one could deny that, but it was not worth speaking of a wedding until the bridge was finished, he said.

But one day, the bridge stood finished, and Old Erik stood upon it, and he would have the toll he had claimed.

Mumble Goose-egg would have the king go with him to try the bridge, but he hd no mind to do so; so he sat himself upon a horse, and threw the king’s farm’s large milkmaid across the saddle before him—she looked most like a huge pine log—and then he rode across the bridge so that it thundered.

“Where is the sound toll? Where is the soul?” shrieked Old Erik.

“She is in this pine log; if you want it, then you should spit into your hands, and take it,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“No thank you—if she does not take me, then I shall not take her,” said Old Erik; “one squeeze have you put me in, you shall not put me in one more,” he said; and with that he flew straight home to his old mother; and he has been neither heard of nor asked of since.

But Mumble Goose-egg went home to the king’s farm and desired the pay that the king had promised him, and when the king tried to get out of giving him it, and would go back on his word, Mumble said that it would be best he made himself a good-sized knapsack of food, for he would take his pay himself. This the king did, and when it was ready, Mumble took the king out on to the road and gave him a proper kick, so that he flew into the air. The knapsack he threw after him, so that he should not be without food; and if he has not come down again, then he floats between heaven and earth with his knapsack, even until today.


  1. The Norwegian unit of weight used here is the våg, which was the equivalent of nearly 18kg. The quarter, roughly 13kg, is a reasonable approximation, despite the finished axe weighing 75kg more than the English indicates.  

  2. The ship-pound (Norwegian: skippund) was a measure of about 160kg, making the weight of the club 2.4 metric tonnes. 

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