Site Map
Danish Folktales
Section › 4   Set    Search  Previous Next

Reservations   Contents    

  1. A Funny Fellow
  2. Svend's Exploits
  3. Hans, the Mermaid's Son

A Funny Fellow

One day a man came along the road pushing in front of him a wheelbarrow containing a bushel of rye that he wanted to bring to the mill. He met another man, and they fell to talking.

"Good morning, my friend! Was the mill running?"

"I did not meet her along the road."

"Why!" cried the first, "you are a funny fellow, aren't you?"

"I am no fellow, for I am a married man, and so I was for the last twenty years."

"Grood enough for you!"

"No, it was not so very good."

"My wife was too old."

"Too bad, wasn't it?"

"No, it might have been much worse."

"How so?"

"She had a house and a heap of money."

"Pretty good for you, then!"

"No, it might have been better, for there was too much small coin in the heap."

"Bad enough for you!"

"No, it might have been worse, for we had enough to buy four good-sized pigs."

"Good for you!"

"No, it was bad enough, for when my wife melted off the lard, she set the house afire."

"That was pretty bad!"

"It might have been worse, for I built a new one."

"That was good!"

"Not for me. When my wife went into the new house to see what it looked like, she fell down the stairs and broke her neck."

"Too bad! Too bad!"

"I don't say so, for I married again. My second wife is young and pretty." "Good for you, then!"

"No, no. It might have been better, for she scolds and kicks me with a broomstick all the day long."

"That is too bad!"

"Yes, that is bad enough. Good-morning!"



Svend's Exploits

Once there lived a farmer on the Alhede in Jutland. When winter came, he and his wife suffered much; they were starving, and did not know what to do to support themselves. At last they determined to leave house and home and beg. Each took a different road, and the woman, laying their child in a basket, carried it on her back.

The man wandered the first few days from one town to another, and at last came to a great wood where there was a troll's house, and he knocked at the door. The troll came out and asked what he wanted. The man told how hard it went with him, and begged the troll to help him, if with ever so little.

"Yes, I can do that," said the troll. "Here is a purse. Every time you shake it you will find money. If you will give me your son the day he is fourteen years old, this purse shall be yours: but if you deceive me, you will have to come in his place."

The farmer at once agreed and got the purse. Then he went his way. In the meantime, one afternoon the woman met with a little man on the heath. He was crying and making doleful lamentations.

"Why are you so sorrowful?" asked the woman, when they had walked some way by the side of each other.

"Oh!" he answered, "my wife lies sick, and I fear our child will die; for I can get no nurse for it."

"I will help you," said the woman; "lead me to your house."

They walked on together, and when they came to a large mound, they crept into it. The woman understood that they were mount-folk, those who lived there. However, she cared little for that, but nursed the sick woman and her child, and scoured and cleaned the place, so that it was quite a pleasure to see. Before long the sick woman recovered, and the child began to thrive under the nurse's care.

The little man of the mount rejoiced to see this change, and one day he asked the farmer woman what she wished in return for her services.

"Nothing," answered the woman, "for if I have been of any help to you, you have also fed me and my son during the time we have been here; but as your wife is now well again, I should like to return home and see how things go on there."

"Yet, I must give you something," said the man of the mount, "and we can, I dare say, find some trifle in the cupboard, which can be of help either to you or your son."

On this he took a little packet out of a press in the wall, and gave it to the woman.

"See, here is a bear's hair, a fish's scale, and a bird's feather. Take good care of them; for when you squeeze one in your hand, then the king of such animals will appear and give you all the help he can."

The man of the mount also foretold that her son would marry a king's daughter. Having said this he led the woman out of the mount.

She took her little son by the hand, and they wandered towards home. There she found everything changed. Her husband, by the help of the troll's purse, had become so rich that he had built a fine house and lived in luxury and splendour.

The man of the mount's prediction was soon spread through the country, and many persons came from a distance to see a poor farmer boy who was destined to be the husband of a princess.

At last the report reached the palace. As the king one day came from a Ting in that area, he rode to the farmer's house and talked with him about taking the boy into his service. At this the parents, and particularly the mother, were delighted, for they imagined that the prophecy was already about to be fulfilled. Therefore the consented at once, and the king took the child.

But as soon as the king reached the river Skoldborg, he put the boy into a chest, threw him into the water, and rode away.

The chest floated down to a mill. When the miller's helper went the next morning to open the sluices, he saw the chest floating on the water, dragged it up, and was much surprised to find a little boy in it. He called his childless master, who resolved to take care of Svend, as the boy was called, and bring him up as his own son.

About the same time the king's daughter disappeared, and no one could discover what had become of her. The king was sorely afflicted and thought he was punished for his cruelty to the little boy he had thrown into the river.

In the meantime the boy grew up and asked the miller to let him go out in the world and seek his parents. The miller gave him much good advice and a purse well stocked to take with him, and Svend set out.

One evening, as he was passing across a heath, he met with an old woman who was crying and lamenting. When he asked why she grieved, she answered that the trolls had carried off her husband. While she was telling of her misfortunes, Svend found that he stood before his mother. He let her know he was her son and went home with her. Then the two of them agreed that next day Svend should travel on to see if he could find some traces of his father and rescue him.

When his mother took leave of him, she gave him the presents from the man of the mount, and explained to him how he was to act when he needed the help of the animals. Svend then left.

At noon he came to a thick wood. There he wanted to eat his dinner. While he sat enjoying his meal, there came a swarm of ants and collected all the crumbs that had fallen and carried them away. Svend crumbled a morsel of his bread for the little creatures, so that each might have a portion. No sooner had he done so, than it seemed to him as if a soft voice rose out of the ant-hill, saying: "You shall not have done this for nothing. A time will come when we can repay you."

Svend now went on his journey. When he entered further into the wood, he met with an old woman who was staggering under a heavy load of sticks that she had gathered.

"I think it will be best for me to give you a helping hand, mother!" said Svend. "If you are willing, you may place your wood on my back, for I have younger shoulders than you."

"Thanks," answered the old woman, pleased. "I am now more than eighty years old."

While Svend carried the old woman's wood, they talked with each other, and Svend told her why he was travelling.

She said. "Now you have done me a service, I will repay you. I serve a troll who can tell you what you wish to know if I can get you well and safely into his house. During the day he changes himself into an owl and sits over the door to take care that no stranger enters his dwelling and robs him of the precious treasure he has hoarded there, but I think we shall find a way. You had better wait here and let me take the wood on my back. I will soon come back and smuggle you in."

Svend did as she said, and when night came on, the old woman came back to him, tied him fast under the belly of the troll's cow, and in this way got him safely past the owl that sat looking out over the door. When Svend had got some supper, he crept under the bed. Soon after the troll came into the room.

"Oh!" he cried, "I smell folk's blood."

The woman answered, "Maybe a crow let fall a little bone as he flew over our house at noon."

The troll now sat down to his supper, and then went to bed. In the night the woman gave a loud scream, and when the troll woke and asked her what the matter was, she said, "I have had such an unpleasant dream about a troll that took a poor man instead of his son."

"Well, that has happened over at my brother's," answered the troll.

A little while after this the woman gave another scream, and begged the troll to tell her where his brother lived.

The troll said, "He lives on an island at the other end of the forest. In the daytime he changes into a dragon and his twelve sons fly about as crows; but every night they become men again. Leave me now in peace, for if you wake me again, it might be the worse for you."

Svend listened to every word the troll said, and stayed quite quiet under the bed until it was daylight.

When the troll had gone out, the old woman gave him something to eat, and then led him out in the same way that she had brought him into the house. When they parted, she advised him that before he approached the dragon, to get a sword made by her brother, for "he was a smith and understood a little of the black art."

So Svend went to the smith's. The smith made a sword for him, but advised Svend not to battle with the dragon. But his words helped nothing. Svend paid the smith for his work and bade him farewell.

He now wandered about for a long time in the forest. His food supply was all gone, and he did not know what to do. Then he suddenly remembered the presents his mother had given him when they parted. He then drew forth the eagle's feather, and as soon he had pressed it in his hand, a huge bird came clattering through the air and descended at his feet.

"What are your commands?" the eagle asked.

When Svend had somewhat recovered from his fright, he told the eagle what he was up to, and asked if he could fly him over to the dragon's island.

"That could be difficult," said the eagle," but we can try. So spring up on my back and hold fast."

The eagle now soared up in the air with Svend, and in a short tune began to descend on a small island. But the dragon approached at once; and every time the eagle would alight on the island, he hissed and spat a long stream of fire at them.

"I see that we will not succeed," said the bird as he flew back; "but try what the fishes can do for you."

Svend then went down to the sea and drew forth the scale. As soon as he had pressed it a merman appeared and asked what he could do for him.

When the merman had heard what Svend wanted, he bound up Svend's mouth and ears, and then plunged under the water with him. In this manner they reached the island. However, as soon as Svend set his foot on shore, the dragon came creeping towards him. It would have fared ill with Svend, but all of a sudden a swarm of little birds perched on him and thus hid him from head to foot while the dragon crept past.

This dragon had three crowned heads, and could spit fire. His powerful tail was long and covered with scales. All the same, Svend did not lose courage, but wanted to rest until next day to fight with the dragon. He made a couch of leaves and moss, under some elder-trees, and laid down to rest there.

Just as he was going to sleep, twelve crows came flying and perched in the elder-trees over Svend's head. They began to talk together, and the one told the others what had happened, to him that day. When they were about to fly away, one crow said, "I am so hungry, so hungry! Where shall I get something to eat?"

"We shall have food enough tomorrow, when father has killed Svend," answered the crow's brother.

"Do you then think that Svend dares to fight with our father?" said another.

"Yes, it is probable enough, but our father cannot be overcome but with the man of the mount's sword, and that sword hangs in the mound, within seven locked doors. And in front of each door are two fierce dogs that never sleep."

Svend understood from what he had overheard that he had to get the man of the mount's sword first of all if he ever wanted to succeed. Therefore, as soon as it dawned he hastened down to the sea and called on the merman. He appeared at once, and Svend asked him to take him across to the wood again.

When Svend got into a thick part of the forest, he drew forth the bear's hair, and at once the king of the beasts came running towards him, asking what Svend wanted. Svend said that he wanted to know where the man of the mount was. At once the bear called in all the four-footed animals and asked them one by one as they came. But no one knew the place until the hare came running. The bear chided her because she came so late; but the hare excused herself by saying that she had been watching something odd.

"And what might that be?" the bear asked.

The hare told that while she was skipping and playing outside the cave where the man of the mount lives, an old witch came out. She had made herself a fingerstall that made her invisible every time she put it on.

"That must be a strange kind of fingerstall," said the bear. "Svend, do you know what, this may be of use to you. We will try to get the fingerstall.

The bear then sent a little mouse to get it, and let the hare go with it as its guide. Soon after the mouse came back with the fingerstall, and the bear gave it to Svend, saying: "Now seat yourself on my back. In a trice you will be at the cave of the man of the mount. By putting on the fingerstall you can pass securely in and out of the mount." The hare had to show the way again. Mounted on the bear's back, Svend soon reached the hill.

"Thus far have I helped you," said the bear, "the rest you must take care of yourself. Wait out here till the watchmen come to open the door. Then you will have a chance to slip in unnoticed."

After the bear had told Svend how to get in and out of the cave, he ran back to the forest. Soon after Svend saw the guards opened the doors. He ran in and passed safely by the fierce dogs too. The troll's palace was covered with pure gold. The room where the magic sword was hanging was the most costly of them all. The sword was so heavy that Svend could not lift it from the wall. After he had tried many times in vain and was on the brink of giving up, he saw some little flasks that hung under the sword. On one flask was written, "Seven men's strength."

Svend emptied the flask, and now he could almost lift the sword. Then he drank from another flask, "Twenty men's strength". Then he emptied a third flask, "Thirty men's strength." When he had done it he could swing the sword as easily as a straw.

He then stole quietly away; but while he was going out of the door he accidentally made a rattling with the sword. At once a whole swarm of trolls came about him, screaming and howling. However, they could not see him because he wore the fingerstall, so he managed to get out of the mount unharmed.

"Well! How did it go?" asked the bear, who had waited for him a little way off in the wood. Svend told him what had passed, then mounted on the bear's back, and away they went over hill and dale till they came down to the water that ran between the forest and the dragon's island. Here Svend called the merman, who bound up his mouth and ears as before, and then led him over to the island. The monster came at once towards him, but Svend was prepared. He had become much stronger from emptying the three small flasks in the troll's mount, and felt braver too.

The dragon did not want to fight all at once, but the next day instead. Svend therefore went into the thicket, made himself a couch of moss and leaves, and lay down to sleep after he had put on the fingerstall.

When night came the dragon called together the twelve crows and asked them what was best to be done. They all agreed that they would fly away and pick Svend's eyes out while he slept. But no matter how they searched for him they could not find him since he was invisible.

Svend rose with the sun and went to fight with the dragon. The monster was already on the spot, lashing the earth with his tail. A furious fight began. The whole island trembled under it, but in the afternoon the dragon had to yield. Svend thought of his father and slew the monster. He then went up to the palace. All the doors stood open, and his father came out to meet him, threw his arms round his son's neck and kissed him. Soon after the old man prepared a good meal, and while they ate Svend told him all he had done.

His father answered that he feared there were more adventures in store for him, for as soon as night came on, the dragon's twelve sons would come to avenge his death; "but I will see whether we cannot get rid of them," said the old man. He then went to the spot where the dragon lay, and cut off twelve pieces of his flesh. These he roasted and prepared so that anyone who ate a mouthful of them must die. When evening came the twelve crows came. They did not know of their father's death, and Svend hid himself from them. They laid aside their feathery garb and called for supper. The old farmer then brought them the dragon's flesh. The ate a morsel each before they fell down under the table and died. Svend and his father were the lords of the palace, and went to rest for the night.

The next morning they walked all over the palace, and came at last to a cellar in which was a young damsel who cried and lamented. She thought that it was the dragon who came to kill her. Svend comforted her by telling her that he had slayed the dragon. Then she rejoiced, and told him that she was a princess who had been carried away from her parents.

Scarcely had Svend heard these words when he remembered the prophecy of the mount- folk when he lived in their mound with his mother. He therefore wanted to take the princess home to the king.

So one afternoon he took leave of his father, who wished him a happy journey. Svend and the princess left the dragon's island while Svend's father returned to his own house and lived happily there.

To travel from the island to Denmark was toilsome. When they had wandered about for some days they could find neither road nor path. As they had not taken with them much supply, they resorted to live on wild fruits and berries they found in the wood.

In the evening of the fourth day they saw a light at a great distance glimmering through the trees. They went towards it and came to a little cottage. At the door stood an old woman.

"Now," said Svend to the princess, "say yes to all I tell, for I want to find out of something by it." The princess promised.

Svend asked for shelter for the night.

"Come in," said the old woman.

They entered the cottage, and the old woman placed victuals before them.

While they were eating, the woman thought it was safe enough to tell she had twelve sons who were robbers, and then asked if the other woman could make some dishes for her sons."

"Yes, soon," answered the princess, and boiled and roasted what the old woman had set out. In the meantime Svend whispered to her to make the evening-drink as strong as possible.

When everything was ready, the robbers came home. They sat down and all agreed that the supper that evening was much better than they used to have it. When they had had a hearty meal, they began to drink. Svend was invited to drink with them, but he understood they planned evil against him and the princess all the same, so he was careful not to drink with them, but excused himself by saying that he was tired.

The woman then showed the strangers a sleeping chamber and went back to her sons. But hardly was she gone before Svend crept softly down after her, and heard how the old crone agreed with the robbers to murder both him and the princess. In the meantime the strong drink began to take effect, so that one after another they fell down under the table in a deep sleep. When Svend saw that they were all dead drunk he drew his sword, sprang into the room where they lay, and killed every one of them, together with the old woman. He then went upstairs and lay down outside the door of the princess's sleeping chamber.

The next morning they continued their journey. The next afternoon they came to the inhabited part of the country and saw a large mansion. There they entered and asked a lodging for the night. They were now in the territory where her father was king. The knight that the mansion belonged to, was called Peter. He received them in the most courteous manner when he heard that it was his princess he should entertain. A great banquet was prepared at once, and all the chief persons of the neighbourhood came to the mansion. When they were all gathered at table, Svend told of his adventures.

Before Svend and the princess left next morning, the knight led Svend over the mansion and showed him all its splendour. At length they came to a den of lions. While Svend stood viewing these fierce animals, Peter seized him round the waist, cast him down into the den, and fastened the door on him. Then he went to the princess and told her that Svend was weary of accompanying her, had asked him to lead her to the king.

The princess at once doubted this story, partly because he had at all times shown her so much devotion. But she had no alternative, she had to continue her journey with the knight Peter. At the end of a few days they came to the king's palace. There was rejoicing over the whole land when it was known that the princess was saved. The king was so delighted that he promised the princess to the knight.

Thus the treacherous Peter rose to great favours.

In the meantime Svend had survived the hungry lions, for as soon as he fell into their den he pressed the bear's hair in his hand. At once the animals became friendly, wagging their tails, licking his hands and feet, and were devoted to him. He shared in their food, and thereby lived on for some time. He longed to know what was passing in the upper world, and one day remembered to summon the king of the birds to get some news. The eagle told him that the princess was back home, that the king wanted to marry her to the knight Peter, and that in a few days there was to be a great tournament at the palace.

Svend wanted to be there, said goodbye to the lions and got out of the den with the help of the eagle. Next he summoned the king of the animals, who gave him a horse. Then Svend rode to the tournament. Svend was a good rider and his horse galloped away as if it flew.

Svend reached the palace just as the tournament was about to end. The knight Peter had defeated all his opponents, and was about to be declared the winner of the tournament when Svend rode into the place. He had hidden his face, and refused to give his name when asked by Peter.

The two now started to battle. Svend strove to fell the other. The knight was chased from one side of the place to the other. But suddenly he remembered the fingerstall that he had taken from Svend the morning when he cast him into the lions' den, and that he had always carried about with him since then. He drew it on at once and became invisible. Svend could now no longer defend himself against him, and was wounded. Peter then hid the fingerstall, and drove Svend close up to the throne, that the king might see how Svend had to give up the fight.

The knight called his attendants and ordered them to carry the wounded man into the tent. There Svend was undressed and his wounds were bound up. Hardly was this done when a messenger from the king came and ordered the stranger to be led to the palace.

When he stood in front of the king, Svend told of all that had happened. The king could not believe what he heard, and sent for his daughter so that she might say whether she knew Svend. But she did not recognise the pale and emaciated Svend, and so he was driven out of the palace. Even worse, when Peter's servants had bound up his wounds, they took off his bloody clothes and gave him others in their place. In this way he lost his sword, his feather, his animal hair and his fish-scale, and was more helpless than he had ever been before.

Svend now wandered for many days until he reached home. There he found his father enjoying wealth; for still had the troll purse that brought forth money as often as he wanted it. The farmer received his son with open arms When Svend had told about all his adventures, his father tried to persuade him to stay quietly at home and think no more of the princess. But Svend would not, for he had come to like the king's daughter a lot, and besides he also relied on the man of the mount's prediction to his mother.

They then agreed to shake the purse till it had yielded money enough to last the old man's lifetime, and then Svend should take it and again set out to see what fortune had yet in store for him.

The father started to shake the purse for a month. By that time Svend had recovered a lot from his wounds. He bade his father farewell and left with the troll's purse. Just as he stood ready to begin his journey, his father said,

"Wait a little, son, I have got a small present for you. It may perhaps prove of use. When I came back from the dragon's island, I found in my pocket an apple-pip that I set in our garden. It has shot up rapidly, and this year, for the first time, has borne three apples. Take them with you and take good care of them."

The father then gave his son the apples. Two appeles were large and red, while the third was small and green.

"Do not eat the apples yourself," said his father, "and take special care of the least. For although it looks the worst, it is far better than the other two, and can cure any injury caused by the others."

Then the father bade him farewell and gave him his blessing.

Svend now set out from home for a second time. On reaching a town, he went to an inn and stayed there for some days while he ordered new clothes, bought horses, and found a splendid carriage. He also shook the purse so often that he got a large sack full of money. Then went on his journey till he came to the town where the palace stood. There the princess lived. He took up his quarters in the best inn, lived well, and drove out every day at the same hour as the princess.

The news of the rich man soon reached the palace, and the king sent for him. Svend behaved courteously, scattered money around and sent the most precious gifts to the king and princess. Finally he became almost a daily guest at the palace.

One day he drove with them down to the seaside to enjoy the view at a spot there, when the princess said how much she loved it - and only missed shadows of trees there. When Svend heard this, he sent for gardeners to plant sheltering trees around the princess's favourite spot. When all was done, he went up to the palace and invited the king and his daughter to ride out with him to the spot again - and the princess was happy that the spot had been even better.

The knight Peter seemed to have some misgivings about the wealthy stranger, for the princess spent so much time with the other, and had postponed her marriage; with Peter.

"There is certainly some mystery in all this," said Peter to himself. "Either this stranger is Svend or a troll. But I can find out if I put on my fingerstall."

When he had put it on, he went up in the evening to the inn where Svend lodged, but no matter how often and hard he tried to open the door to Svend's room, he could not open it and get in. It was all due to the power of the three magic apples in Svend's trunk near the door. Peter therefore had to return.

When Svend had been a year in the city, he began to indicate that he loved the princess. The king did not seem to mind getting a rich son-in-law; but he had promised her to the knight Peter already. He saw that the princess had but little regard for Peter, and was always finding excuses to delay her wedding. The king then consulted an old courtier. He advised the king to say that he who could show he had as much money as there was in the treasury of the country, might have the princess.

When Svend heard this he asked to be shown into the room where the king wished the money to be placed, and when evening came he went in and began shaking his purse till he got the sum required. He did not notice, though, that the knight Peter had put on the fingerstall and stolen into the room, snatched up the purse when Svend had laid it down, and disappeared with it.

Peter then went to another room. He had watched how Svend got the money and did likewise. He went on shaking the purse till he also had got the desired sum. As soon as this was done, he went to the king and told him that Svend was a troll and gained his wealth by witchcraft. To prove the truth of his words he showed the king the stolen purse and promised to give it in return for the king's daughter.

The king was delighted and surprised to learn this, and discussed with the knight how to get rid of Svend. When morning came, the king said to Svend:

"You have fulfilled your promise and brought forth the money; but so has the knight Peter, as you see. I therefore give you another test: In the granary are seven barrels of wheat and seven barrels of rye, in one heap. You will have to separate all the wheat from the rye by the morning, so that each kind of grain may lie apart. If you can do this, my daughter shall be yours."

On hearing this, Svend was much troubled, and still more so when he found that he had lost his purse. He sought after it the whole day in vain, and in the evening he was led up into a granary where the grain lay that he was to sort. While sitting there he heard people underneath talking about the princess's wedding, which was to take place the next day, and how busy they all were in preparing for the entertainment. In his sorrows for the misfortunes which constantly attended him, he began to weep and think of destroying himself, as now everything was lost, and he could not live to see his rival victorious.

But just as Svend was most sorrowful, he thought he heard a little rustling in the heap of grain. The moon was shining in the granary, and by its light he saw that the wheat and the rye were gently separating, each into its own heap. Here were all the ants he had crumbled his bread for when he first set out on his wanderings. They had promised they would return his kindness in due time. They had now all crept up into the granary, and each taking a grain on its back, went from heap to heap. Some stood and loaded the others, while others received the grains. In this way they kept at it all night long. In the morning the wheat lay all in one heap, the rye in another.

When they had finished their task, the little ant king placed himself on the top of the heap of wheat, and asked Svend, in a small voice if he was content now.

"Frankly, no," answered Svend, "not until I get my fingerstall back, and I fear it is too difficult for you to get it here."

The ants went their way. Svend was very weary with having watched all night to see how the work was going on, fell asleep, but when he awoke again, he found the fingerstall by his side. Now he was really glad; he paced up and down the room, and sang so merrily that it echoed; and when the messenger came from the king, the work was done.

While all this was going on. the knight Peter, as soon as he missed the fingerstall in the morning, went to Svend's lodging to seek for it. There he found nothing save the three apples that Svend's father had given Svend when he left home. The knight took the two ripe and finest-looking apples, and as it was just that time of the year when this fruit was a rarity, he sent them up to the palace as a present to the king and the princess. The small apple, which was green, and looked far from tempting, was left behind.

The king and his daughter ate the apples. Soon after Peter was sent for to show the whole gathered court how he could produce money by shaking a purse well. He pulled out the purse and let it pass from hand to hand among all those present. However, he was not aware that Svend was there, he too, wearing the fingerstall,. The invisible Svend snatched up the purse and replaced it with another that looked just like it. Therefore Peter could not shake a single skilling out of the purse that was returned to him. He shook and shook the purse with all his might; but it did not help. The king got angry and felt his knight was making a fool of him.

But still worse was that while the king and princess were thus sitting among their courtiers, their noses began to grow, and in a few moments had become so long that nobody could look at them without laughing. The king and princess had eaten the apples in the morning.

Peter was threatened with the severest punishment, if he did not confess everything. Thus, the king came to know how he had acted towards Svend. A messenger was then instantly sent after Svend. By then Svend had returned to the granary. There he sat, thinking he would let the king suffer a little for all the wrongs and troubles he had caused.

When he appeared before the assembly, he confirmed all that Peter had confessed. Svend added that now he intended to return to the place where he was born and to resign the princess to anyone the king might find fit for her.

The king wept and begged of him to help him and the princess get rid of their long noses. The princess asked him too, with tears in her eyes. Then Svend could resist no longer and went to fetch the green apple. Cutting it in two, he gave one half to the king and the other half to the king's daughter. Hardly had they eaten a morsel before their long noses began to shrink and get normal again.

Svend was married to the princess, as the troll had foretold, and they lived many happy years together. But the knight Peter was cast into a pen of serpents.




Hans, the Mermaid's Son

In a village there once lived a smith called Basmus, who was in a very poor way. He was still a young man, and a strong handsome fellow to boot, but he had many little children and there was little to be earned by his trade. He was, however, a diligent and hard-working man, and when he had no work in the smithy he was out at sea fishing, or gathering wreckage on the shore.

It happened one time that he had gone out to fish in good weather, all alone in a little boat, but he did not come home that day, nor the following one, so that all believed he had perished out at sea. On the third day, however, Basmus came to shore again and had his boat full of fish, so big and fat that no one had ever seen their like. There was nothing the matter with him, and he complained neither of hunger or thirst. He had got into a fog, he said, and could not find land again. What he did not tell, however, was where he had been all the time; that only came out six years later, when people got to know that he had been caught by a mermaid out on the deep sea, and had been her guest during the three days that he was missing. From that time forth he went out no more to fish; nor, indeed, did he have to do so, for whenever he went down to the shore it never failed that some wreckage was washed up, and in it all kinds of valuable things. In those days everyone took what they found and got leave to keep it, so that the smith grew more prosperous day by day.

When seven years had passed since the smith went out to sea, it happened one morning, as he stood in the smithy, mending a plough, that a handsome young lad came in to him and said, "Good-day, father; my mother the mermaid sends her greetings, and says that she has had me for six years now, and you can keep me for as long."

He was a strange enough boy to be six years old, for he looked as if he were eighteen, and was even bigger and stronger than lads commonly are at that age.

"Will you have a bite of bread?" said the smith.

"Oh, yes," said Hans, for that was his name.

The smith then told his wife to cut a piece of bread for him. She did so, and the boy swallowed it at one mouthful and went out again to the smithy to his father.

"Have you got all you can eat?" said the smith.

"No," said Hans, "that was just a little bit."

The smith went into the house and took a whole loaf, which he cut into two slices and put butter and cheese between them, and this he gave to Hans. In a while the boy came out to the smithy again.

"Well, have you got as much as you can eat?" said the smith.

"No, not nearly," said Hans; "I must try to find a better place than this, for I can see that I shall never get my fill here."

Hans wished to set off at once, as soon as his father would make a staff for him of such a kind as he wanted.

"It must be of iron," said he, "and one that can hold out."

The smith brought him an iron rod as thick as an ordinary staff, but Hans took it and twisted it round his finger, so that wouldn't do. Then the smith came dragging one as thick as a waggon-pole, but Hans bent it over his knee and broke it like a straw. The smith then had to collect all the iron he had, and Hans held it while his father forged for him a staff, which was heavier than the anvil. When Hans had got this he said, "Many thanks, father; now I have got my inheritance." With this he set off into the country, and the smith was very pleased to be rid of that son, before he ate him out of house and home.

Hans first arrived at a large estate, and it so happened that the squire himself was standing outside the farmyard.

"Where are you going?" said the squire.

"I am looking for a place," said Hans, "where they have need of strong fellows, and can give them plenty to eat."

"Well," said the squire, "I generally have twenty-four men at this time of the year, but I have only twelve just now, so I can easily take you on."

"Very well," said Hans, "I shall easily do twelve men's work, but then I must also have as much to eat as the twelve would."

All this was agreed to, and the squire took Hans into the kitchen, and told the servant girls that the new man was to have as much food as the other twelve. It was arranged that he should have a pot to himself, and he could then use the ladle to take his food with.

It was in the evening that Hans arrived there, so he did nothing more that day than eat his supper–a big pot of buck-wheat porridge, which he cleaned to the bottom and was then so far satisfied that he said he could sleep on that, so he went off to bed. He slept both well and long, and all the rest were up and at their work while he was still sleeping soundly. The squire was also on foot, for he was curious to see how the new man would behave who was both to eat and work for twelve.

But as yet there was no Hans to be seen, and the sun was already high in the heavens, so the squire himself went and called on him.

"Get up, Hans," he cried; "you are sleeping too long."

Hans woke up and rubbed his eyes. "Yes, that's true," he said, "I must get up and have my breakfast."

So he rose and dressed himself, and went into the kitchen, where he got his pot of porridge; he swallowed all of this, and then asked what work he was to have.

He was to thresh that day, said the squire; the other twelve men were already busy at it. There were twelve threshing-floors, and the twelve men were at work on six of them–two on each. Hans must thresh by himself all that was lying on the other six floors. He went out to the barn and got hold of a flail. Then he looked to see how the others did it and did the same, but at hte first stroke he smashed the flail in pieces. There were several flails hanging there, and Hans took the one after the other, but they all went the same way, every one flying in splinters at the first stroke. He then looked round for something else to work with, and found a pair of strong beams lying near. Next he caught sight of a horse-hide nailed up on the barn-door. With the beams he made a flail, using the skin to tie them together. The one beam he used as a handle, and the other to strike with, and now that was all right. But the barn was too low, there was no room to swing the flail, and the floors were too small. Hans, however, found a remedy for this–he simply lifted the whole roof off the barn, and set it down in the field beside. He then emptied down all the corn that he could lay his hands on and threshed away. He went through one lot after another, and it was ll the same to him what he got hold of, so before midday he had threshed all the squire's grain, his rye and wheat and barley and oats, all mixed through each other. When he was finished with this, he lifted the roof up on the barn again, like setting a lid on a box, and went in and told the squire that the job was done.

The squire opened his eyes at this announcement; and came out to see if it was really true. It was true, sure enough, but he was scarcely delighted with the mixed grain that he got from all his crops. However, when he saw the flail that Hans had used, and learned how he had made room for himself to swing it, he was so afraid of the strong fellow, that he dared not say anything, except that it was a good thing he had got it threshed; but it had still to be cleaned.

"What does that mean?" asked Hans.

It was explained to him that the corn and the chaff had to be separated; as yet both were lying in one heap, right up to the roof. Hans began to take up a little and sift it in his hands, but he soon saw that this would never do. He soon thought of a plan, however; he opened both barn-doors, and then lay down at one end and blew, so that all the chaff flew out and lay like a sand-bank at the other end of the barn, and the grain was as clean as it could be. Then he reported to the squire that that job also was done. The squire said that that was well; there was nothing more for him to do that day. Off went Hans to the kitchen, and got as much as he could eat; then he went and took a midday nap which lasted till supper-time.

Meanwhile the squire was quite miserable, and made his moan to his wife, saying that she must help him to find some means to getting rid of this strong fellow, for he durst not give him his leave. She sent for the steward, and it was arranged that next day all the men should go to the forest for fire-wood, and that they should make a bargain among them, that the one who came home last with his load should be hanged. They thought they could easily manage that it would be Hans who would lose his life, for the others would be early on the road, while Hans would certainly oversleep himself. In the evening, therefore, the men sat and talked together, saying that next morning they must set out early to the forest, and as they had a hard day's work and a long journey before them, they would, for their amusement, make a compact, that whichever of them came home last with his load should lose his life on the gallows. So Hans had no objections to make.

Long before the sun was up next morning, all the twelve men were on foot. They took all the best horses and carts, and drove off to the forest. Hans, however, lay and slept on, and the squire said, "Just let him lie."

At last, Hans thought it was time to have his breakfast, so he got up and put on his clothes. He took plenty of time to his breakfast, and then went out to get his horse and cart ready. The others had taken everything that was any good, so that he had a difficulty in scraping together four wheels of different sizes and fixing them to an old cart, and he could find no other horses than a pair of old hacks. He did not know where it lay, but he followed the track of the other carts, and in that way came to it all right. On coming to the gate leading into the forest, he was unfortunate enough to break it in pieces, so he took a huge stone that was lying on the field, seven ells long, and seven ells broad, and set this in the gap, then he went on and joined the others. These laughed at him heartily, for they had laboured as hard as they could since daybreak, and had helped each other to fell trees and put them on the carts, so that all of these were now loaded except one.

Hans got hold of a woodman's axe and proceeded to fell a tree, but he destroyed the edge and broke the shaft at the first blow. He therefore laid down the axe, put his arms round the tree, and pulled it up by the roots. This he threw on his cart, and then another and another, and thus he went on while all the others forgot their work, and stood with open mouths, gazing at this strange woodcraft. All at once they began to hurry; the last cart was loaded, and they whipped up their horses, so as to be the first to arrive home.

When Hans had finished his work, he again put his old hacks into the cart, but they could not move it from the spot. He was annoyed at this, and took them out again, twisted a rope round the cart, and all the trees, lifted the whole affair on his back, and set off home, leading the horses behind him by the rein. When he reached the gate, he found the whole row of carts standing there, unable to get any further for the stone which lay in the gap.

"What!" said Hans, "can twelve men not move that stone?" With that he lifted it and threw it out of hte way, and went on with his burden on his back, and the horses behind him, and arrived at the farm long before any of the others. The squire was walking about there, looking and looking, for he was very curious to know what had happened. Finally, he caught sight of Hans coming along in this fashion, and was so frightened that he did not know what to do, but he shut the gate and put on the bar. When Hans reached the gate of the courtyard, he laid down the trees and hammered at it, but no one came to open it. He then took the trees and tossed them over the barn into the yard, and the cart after them, so that every wheel flew off in a different direction.

When the squire saw this, he thought to himself, "The horses will come the same way if I don't open the door," so he did this.

"Good day, master," said Hans, and put the horses into the stable, and went into the kitchen, to get something to eat. At length the other men came home with their loads. When they came in, Hans said to them, "Do you remember the bargain we made last night? Which of you is it that's going to be hanged?" "Oh," said they, "that was only a joke; it didn't mean anything." "Oh well, it doesn't matter, 'said Hans, and there was no more about it.

The squire, however, and his wife and the steward, had much to say to each other about the terrible man they had got, and all were agreed that they must get rid of him in some way or other. The steward said that he would manage this all right. Next morning they were to clean the well, and they would use of that opportunity. They would get him down into the well, and then have a big mill-stone ready to throw down on top of him–that would settle him. After that they could just fill in the well, and then escape being at any expense for his funeral. Both the squire and his wife thought this a splendid idea, and went about rejoicing at the thought that now they would get rid of Hans.

But Hans was hard to kill, as we shall see. He slept long next morning, as he always did, and finally, as he would not waken by himself, the squire had to go and call him. "Get up, Hans, you are sleeping too long," he cried. Hans woke up and rubbed his eyes. "That's so," said he, "I shall rise and have my breakfast." He got up then and dressed himself, while the breakfast stood waiting for him. When he had finished the whole of this, he asked what he was to do that day. He was told to help the other men to clean out the well. That was all right, and he went out and found the other men waiting for him. To these he said that they could choose whichever task they liked–either to go down into the well and fill the buckets while he pulled them up, or pull them up, and he alone would go down to the bottom of the well. They answered that they would rather stay above-ground, as there would be no room for so many of them down in the well.

Hans therefore went down alone, and began to clean out the well, but the men had arranged how they were to act, and immediately each of them seized a stone from a heap of huge blocks, and threw them down above him, thinking to kill him with these. Hans, however, gave no more heed to this than to shout up to them, to keep the hens away from the well, for they were scraping gravel down on the top of him.

They then saw that they could not kill him with little stones, but they had still the big one left. The whole twelve of them set to work with poles and rollers and rolled the big mill-stone to the brink of the well. It was with the greatest difficulty that they got it thrown down there, and now they had no doubt that he had got all that he wanted. But the stone happened to fall so luckily that his head went right through the hole in the middle of the mill-stone, so that it sat round his neck like a priest's collar. At this, Hans would stay down no longer. He came out of the well, with the mill-stone round his neck, ad went straight to the squire and complained that the other men were trying to make a fool of him. He would not be their priest, he said; he had too little learning for that. Saying this, he bent down his head and shook the stone off, so that it crushed one of the squire's big toes.

The squire went limping in to his wife, and the steward was sent for. He was told that he must devise some plan for getting rid of this terrible person. The scheme he had devised before had been of no use, and now good counsel was scarce.

"Oh, no" said the steward, "there are good enough ways yet. The squire can send him this evening to fish in Devilmoss Lake: he will never escape alive from there, for no one can go there by night for Old Eric."

That was a grand idea, both the squire and his wife thought, and so he limped out again to Hans, and said that he would punish his men for having tried to make a fool of him. Meanwhile, Hans could do a little job where he would be free from these rascals. He should go out on the lake and fish there that night, and would then be free from all work on the following day.

"All right," said Hans; "I am well content with that, but I must have something with me to eat–a baking of bread, a cask of butter, a barrel of ale, and a keg of brandy. I can't do with less than that."

The squire said that he could easily get all that, so Hans got all of these tied up together, hung them over his shoulder on his good staff, and tramped away to Devilmoss Lake.

There he got into the boat, rowed out on the lake, and got everything ready to fish. As he now lay out there in the middle of the lake, and it was pretty late in the evening, he thought he would have something to eat first, before starting to work. Just as he was at his busiest with this, Old Eric rose out of the lake, caught him by the cuff of the neck, whipped him out of the boat, and dragged him down to the bottom. It was a lucky thing that Hans had his walking-stick with him that day, and had just time to catch hold of it when he felt Old Eric's claws in his neck, so when they got down to the bottom he said, 'stop now, just wait a little; here is solid ground." With that he caught Old Eric by the back of the neck with one hand, and hammered away on his back with the staff, till he beat him out as flat as a pancake. Old Eric then began to lament and howl, begging him just to let him go, and he would never come back to the lake again.

"No, my good fellow," said Hans, "you won't get off until you promise to bring all the fish in the lake up to the squire's courtyard, before tomorrow morning."

Old Eric eagerly promised this, if Hans would only let him go; so Hans rowed ashore, ate up the rest of his provisions, and went home to bed.

Next morning, when the squire rose and opened his front door, the fish came tumbling into the porch, and the whole yard was crammed full of them. He ran in again to his wife, for he could never devise anything himself, and said to her, "What shall we do with him now? Old Eric hasn't taken him. I am certain that all the fish are out of the lake, for the yard is just filled with them."

"Yes, that's a bad business," said she; "you must see if you can't get him sent to Purgatory, to demand tribute." The squire therefore made his way to the men's quarters, to speak to Hans, and it took him all his time to push his way along the walls, under the eaves, on account of the fish that filled the yard. He thanked Hans for having fished so well, and said that now he had an errand for him, which he could only give to a trusty servant, and that was to journey to Purgatory, and demand three years tribute, which, he said, was owing to him from that quarter.

"Willingly," said Hans; "but what road do I go, to get there?"

The squire stood, and did not know what to say, and had first to go in to his wife to ask her.

"Oh, what a fool you are!" said she, "can't you direct him straight forward, south through the wood? Whether he gets there or not, we shall be quit of him."

Out goes the squire again to Hans.

"The way lies straight forward, south through the wood," said he.

Hans then must have his provisions for the journey; two bakings of bread, two casks of butter, two barrels of ale, and two kegs of brandy. He tied all these up together, and got them on his shoulder hanging on his good walking-stick, and off he tramped southward.

After he had got through the wood, there was more than one road, and he was in doubt which of them was the right one, so he sat down and opened up his bundle of provisions. He found he had left his knife at home, but by good chance, there was a plough lying close at hand, so he took the coulter of this to cut the bread with. As he sat there and took his bite, a man came riding past him.

"Where are you from?" said Hans.

"From Purgatory," said the man.

"Then stop and wait a little," said Hans; but the man was in a hurry, and would not stop, so Hans ran after him and caught the horse by the tail. This brought it down on its hind legs, and the man went flying over its head into a ditch. "Just wait a little," said Hans; "I am going the same way." He got his provisions tied up again, and laid them on the horse's back; then he took hold of the reins and said to the man, "We two can go along together on foot."

As they went on their way Hans told the stranger both about the errand he had on hand and the fun he had had with Old Eric. The other said but little but he was well acquainted with the way, and it was no long time before they arrived at the gate. There both horse and rider disappeared, and Hans was left alone outside. "They will come and let me in presently," he thought to himself; but no one came. He hammered at the gate; still no one appeared. Then he got tired of waiting, and smashed at the gate with his staff until he knocked it in pieces and got inside. A whole troop of little demons came down on him and asked what he wanted. His master's compliments, said Hans, and he wanted three years' tribute. At this they howled at him, and were about to lay hold of him and drag him off; but when they had got some raps from his walking-stick they let go again, howled still louder than before, and ran in to Old Eric, who was still in bed, after his adventure in the lake. They told him that a messenger had come from the squire at Devilmoss to demand three years' tribute. He had knocked the gate to pieces and bruised their arms and legs with his iron staff.

"Give him three years'! give him ten!" shouted Old Eric, "only don't let him come near me."

So all the little demons came dragging so much silver and gold that it was something awful. Hans filled his bundle with gold and silver coins, put it on his neck, and tramped back to his master, who was scared beyond all measure at seeing him again.

But Hans was also tired of service now. Of all the gold and silver he brought with him he let the squire keep one half, and he was glad enough, both for the money and at getting rid of Hans. The other half he took home to his father the smith in Furreby. To him also he said, "Farewell;" he was now tired of living on shore among mortal men, and preferred to go home again to his mother. Since that time no one has ever seen Hans, the Mermaid's son.

Notes to Danish folktales



Danish folktales and fairy tales, tales of Denmark, To top    Section     Set    Next

Danish folktales and fairy tales, tales of Denmark. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2007–2018, Tormod Kinnes [Email]