Thordur was a man who lived at Thrastastadir in Skagafiordur. One day in the winter he started from home, heading towards the trading-town of Hofsos. The snow had drifted so deeply that the way was thought unsafe. Without caring for this, he carried his merchandise in a bag and walked off across a bog, for he knew this was his shortest path to Hofsos.
When he had gone a little way, he quite lost the track, but still walked straight on till nightfall. Then he saw before him some warehouses. They were so lofty and beautiful that he was very surprised. Going up to them he saw a light in one of the windows and heard some delightful music. So he looked in at the window and saw many people dancing. He then went to the door and knocked. At once it was opened by a well-dressed man who asked him what he wanted. Thordur told him he had lost his way, and asked for a night's shelter, if it were possible.
"Come in and be welcome," said the man, "you will get shelter here. Bring in your bag too, and tomorrow I will trade with you. I promise you that the bargains of Hofsos will not be better than mine."
Thordur could scarcely believe his ears, but the man let him into the chief room, despite Thordur's plain and muddy dress. There were many gathered there: The lady of the house, her children, and her servants, all were gaily and brightly dressed and making merry.
The man who had opened the door to Thorlur was the master of the house. He said to the lady, "Wife, here is a man who has lost his way and who needs both rest and food. Treat him well."
"I'm sorry to hear of his distress," she answered. Then she rose and brought in a good and plentiful supper and placed it before Thordur while the master of the house fetched wine and glasses and invited Thordur to drink with him. Thordur did so. He had never tasted such wine in all his life, and never been in such goodly company. He drank glass alter glass of wine, and by-and-by got so tipsy that he went to bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Next morning at breakfast he was offered wine again. It tasted even better than that of the night before. After he had drunk it, he was led by the master to the trading-room. It was well filled with every kind of merchandise. Thordur opened his bag and showed the man his wares, and got in exchange one and a half more money for it than what he would have got for them at Hofsos. With the money he bought corn, linen and many small things from his host, and at much lower price than he was used to pay elsewhere for the like, and filled with them his bag.
When the trading was finished, the master offered him as a gift a cloak for his wife and cakes for his children, saying, "These and many other good turns are tokens of my gratitude to you for having saved my son from death."
Thordur wondered what the man could mean, and the other said, "Once you were standing under the rock called Thordar-Ness in company with other young men. You were all waiting for a good wind to take your boat to Drangey. Your companions amused themselves by throwing stones against the rock. Under it my son had lain himself down to sleep, for the sun was very hot and he was tired after beein up all night. You told your company to stop throwing stones as that did; it was such a useless pastime, you said. They laughed at you for it, but stopped. If they had not stopped in time, they would have killed my son."
After this Thordur took leave of all in the house, for the sky was now clear and the path good. He started on his homeward way, and the other walked some steps with him to wish him "God-speed." Thordur marched on steadily for a while. But when he chanced to look back for the house he had passed the night in, he saw nothing but the rocks of the Thordar-Ness. Then he understood that the kind merchant was an grateful elf. Hastening home, he told his wife all that had befallen him and gave her the cloak. As for the wares he had got instead of his own, he showed them to all his neighbours. Never were the like of them seen in all that country, nor in any other country they had heard of.
An old man and his wife once lived in a cottage by the sea, far away from any other homes. They had three daughters. The youngest was called Helga.
The parents were not rich, but they owned a few acres of land they tilled themselves. The two eldest daughters were treated as if they were princesses. They never did any work, but sat all day amusing themselves and decking themselves in any finery their father brought them home from the neighbouring town.
Helga was far more beautiful and clever than her sisters, but she was kept in the background. She never shared in the pleasures her sisters often enjoyed. None of her parents ever brought home presents for her. She had to work and toil for the whole family from early morning till late at night, and got only sour looks from her sisters, if not worse.
One day the fire on their hearth went out while Helga was busy working in the fields. The family had to send a long way to fetch fresh fire, and the old man told the eldest sister to go for it.
She hought a walk through the woods might be pleasant, so she started. After she had gone some little distance, she came to a hillock and heard a deep voice saying, "Would you rather have me with you or against you?"
The eldest sister thought it was some labourer or woodcutter, and went on to the cave they fetched their fire from. When she got there, she saw a big cauldron, filled with meat, boiling on the fire. Beside it stood a pan, filled with dough, waiting to be made into cakes, but no one was in sight.
The eldest sister was hungry after her long walk. She stirred up the fire beneath the cauldron to make the meat boil quickly, and then began baking some cakes. She made one specially nice for herself, but let all the others burn, so that they were quite uneatable. Then, as soon as the meat was cooked, she took a bowl from a shelf, filled it with all the best bits, and sat down and made a good meal, finishing up with the cake.
Just as she had finished, a big black dog ran up to her and began wagging his tail in the hope of some food. But she angrily gave him a slap and chased him away. Then the dog grew angry, jumped on her, and bit one of her hands.
Screaming with fright and pain, she jumped up and ran home and told her parents what had happened. In her hurry to get away, she had forgotten all about the fire she was to bring, though.
The parents felt sorry for her sore hand. and bathed and bandaged it. They alse felt sorry for lacking fire, so they asked their second daughter to go. She was so spoilt that she thought she ought always to have the best of everything. When she reached the cave, she too helped herself to all the best bits of meat. Then, after she had made a nice cake for herself, she threw the rest of the dough on the fire.
Now the dog came up to her and wagged his tail and sat up for some food. The girl took up some of the boiling broth and threw it on him. This made the dog jump up and bite the point of her nose. Olga ran home crying and screaming, with a badly hurt nose and no fire.
The parents dressed her nose as best they could, and decided that Helga must go and fetch the fire. If she succeeded, well and good. They only feared she would flee, after years of bad treatment at home.
Helga took up the big fire-shovel and went to the cave. As she passed the hillock, she too heard a voice, saying, "Would you rather I was with you than against you?"
She answered, "I think it may not be better to have it against you than for you. As I do not know who you are who ask me this question, I would rather that you were with me than against me."
Afterwards she heard and saw nothing more from the hillock. She went on her way till she reached the cave. Here she found everything as her sisters had done. The cauldron was on the fire and the dough was ready for baking. But Helga also looked after the meat and saw to it that it was nicely cooked. Then she made up the dough into cakes, and did it with great care. She did not think of taking anything for herself, but she was very hungry. for she had had only some hard, dry crusts and a glass of cold water for breakfast that day, and nothing else. She would not help herself to any of the fire either, without asking leave from the owner of the cave.
Helga felt awfully tired after her long walk, so she sat down on a bench to rest. She had hardly done so when she heard a loud rumbling noise and the ground began to tremble. She feared that the cave might fall in and rose hastily from her seat. But as she turned to run out, she saw a three-headed giant standing at the cave opening. A large black dog followed him.
Helga was very frightened, but patted the dog when it came up to her. The giant said kindly, "You have done it well, the work you found waiting here. So it is only proper that you should get your share. Sit down on that bench and share my dinner. Afterwards you can take home some of the fire you have come for."
The giant then got a bowl from the shelf and helped Helga to some broth out of the big cauldron. He was careful to give her the tenderest bits of meat. As he did so, the ground again began to shake and tremble, and sounds like claps of thunder frightened Helga.
But the giant said kindly, "Please sit down beside me again," and she finished her broth.
Then the giant got up and gave her one of the cakes she had baked. No sooner had she finished it than the ground again began to shake and tremble, thunder pealed, and flash after flash of lightning lit up the inside of the cave. Helga got so scared that she ran up to the giant for protection. As she clung to his arm, the noises ceased, and as the darkness passed away Helga saw that the giant was gone and that she was holding on to the arm of a handsome young prince.
"Do not be frightened," he said; "I can never thank you enough, for you have rescued me from a horrible enchantment. I am the son of the king on the neighbouring island; but because my father refused to marry a wicked fairy and chose my mother instead, the fairy condemned me to go through life a three-headed monster till some young girl should place trust and confidence in me despite my frightful appearance."
As the prince said this, he seated himself beside Helga on a stone, thickly covered with soft green moss. Helga told him her history and why she came to the cave, and also what had happened to her sisters when they had gone to the cave on the same errand. Then she remembered what she had been asked to at home, and added that she had to hasten back with the fire, or else her father and mother would scold and beat her.
"You will not be ill-treated any more," replied the prince. He went to the back of the cave and returned with a casket and a small bundle in his hands.
"See, this casket contains gold, pearls and precious stones," he said. "You can give some of them to your sisters." Then he placed the bundle on a stool, "But wear this under your dress when you get home, and be very careful that no one sees it."
So saying, he undid the bundle and unfolded a beautiful dress of cloth of gold, all worked with silver and precious stones.
Helga thanked the prince for all the beautiful gifts.
He then filled her fire-shovel with burning coals and carried it for her some part of the way home. But before they came in sight of the cottage he stopped, took her hand, and placed a heavy gold ring on her finger.
"Keep this ring, dear," he said. "Let no one take it from you. It will not be long before I come to claim my bride, but I must first return to my parents and tell them the joyful news that the wicked charm is broken at last."
With these words he took a loving farewell, and started her on her homeward journey.
When she reached the cottage and her parents saw that she had succeeded in bringing back the fire, Helga for once received a kind word of welcome. But when she showed them the casket and was about to give her sisters some of the jewels, they seized on it, and dividing the contents among themselves, returned Helga the empty casket. They might also have taken away her beautiful dress, but after the princel left her, she had slipped it on under her old gown, so no one knew anything about it.
Some days passed on as before. Helga's older sisters did nothing all day but deck themselves with jewels out of the casket, quarrelling and fighting over them. Helga had to do the work for the whole family as before.
Then one day the mother, who had been to the higher meadow for some herbs she wanted, came back and said that she had seen a ship lying at anchor on the shore below their cottage.
The old man hastened down to the strand to find out who the ship belonged to. It showed up to be a handsome young man. But the old man could not find out his name.
Then the young man in his turn began to question him, and asked him how many children he had.
"Only two daughters," replied the old man, "and such good and beautiful girls they are too," he added.
"I should like to see them," said the stranger.
The old man thought here was a chance to marry off one of them, and greatly delighted he led the way back to his cottage. There his two eldest daughters had hurried on their best frocks and decked themselves with all the jewels out of Helga's casket.
The stranger said they looked fine. "But why has one of your daughters got her hand tied up with a cloth, and the other one a handkerchief fastened across her nose?" he asked.
The father said they had met with an accident each. When pressed, he told how they had been bit by a dog they did not want near them.
"But surely you have another daughter?" said the stranger, "one who is kind to animals?"
Only much hesitation the old man said they had another girl. "But she is more like some wild animal than a human being to us."
The stranger said he did not mind that at all, and that he must see her. So the old man at last had to call Helga.
The girl came out from the kitchen in her shabby old dress, and the young man went up to her. As he took her hand, the ragged old gown slipped from her shoulders, and there she stood, clothed in the nice garment the prince had given her.
Her sisters were astonished, and started to rage.
The prince scolded the old man and the two wicked sisters for mistreating Helga and lying about her. "It is so unnatural!" he added. He also made the sisters give up all the jewels they had taken from her.
Then the prince from the neighbouring island kingdom led Helga down to the shore and took her on board his beautiful ship. There his sister gave her a kindly welcome, and when they reached his own country, the king and queen prepared a great wedding-feast, and the prince and Helga were married. They loved each other long and well and prospered all their life.