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The Danish Fairy Book
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  1. Trillevip
  2. The Snake


A girl of the island of Fyn had been to church one Sunday, and on her way home passed through a forest that belonged to a great landowner's estate. She passed along lost in thought, and had counted to twenty, when she looked around and noticed the landowner's son, with his musket over his shoulder, walking directly behind her. Then she blushed, for she felt sure he had heard her talking to herself. True enough, he at once asked her why she talked to herself as she was doing. Then, in her embarrassment she said the first thing that came into her head, "I was only calculating how many spindles of yarn I could spin of an evening."

He went home, and told his mother about the girl to whom he had spoken in the woods, who could spin twenty spindles of yarn in a single evening. She was not like his mother's maids. Then his mother could not send for the girl quickly enough, and was ready to promise her the moon itself to induce her to come to her as a spinning-girl. The girl at once agreed, for she had no idea that the woman knew of her lightly uttered words. So she engaged herself, and that very evening the woman brought her yarn for full twenty spindles.

"For I have heard," said she, "that you can spin that number."

The girl span and span, as hard as ever she could, and it grew late. Midnight came and her task was not yet half accomplished. Poor girl, she span and cried as she span, and yet could make no headway. At midnight a little dwarf with a red cap suddenly appeared to her and said, "Why do you sit there and cry? Can I help you!"

"Yes, this is how it is," said she. "I was to have spun all that yarn this evening, and I have not as yet spun half of it. If you could help me it would make me very happy."

"That's easily done," said the dwarf, "but first of all you must promise to be my sweetheart, and later you must marry me."

And in her need the girl promised, not without anxious thought of the future. And one, two, three, all the work was done.

From that time on the little fellow helped her every evening with her spinning. And the woman took such a fancy to her she was no longer treated as a serving-maid; but her mistress decided to marry her to her son, because she was so industrious. That was bad, for she had promised her hand to the little dwarf, though she was afraid to say anything about it. The wedding preparations were under way; but the nearer came the appointed day, the sadder grew the girl, so that the dwarf could not help but notice that something was not as it should be. She told him how matters stood, and he grumbled a bit, but then informed her that if she could guess his name, he would release her from her promise. And he gave her three days grace, and told her she could have three guesses. She decided to try, although she had no idea at all as to how to go about it. Then it happened by a fortunate chance, that the huntsman of the estate, who had to go hunting every day in anticipation of the wedding, passed a near-by hill late at night. And he saw an innumerable number of lights inside the hill, and the dwarfs were dancing. The merriest of all was a little dwarf with a red cap, who leaped about singing:

"I'm always busy spinning

A maiden fair I'm winning,

And Trillevip's my name!"

In the meantime, the spinning-girl had confided her secret betrothal and the embarrassment it caused her to another of the maids, and the other maid had just heard the huntsman tell of his experience that evening, so she repeated his story to the spinning-girl, word for word. Yet when the dwarf came and asked her to guess, she did not want to undeceive him too soon, so at first she guessed "Peter," and then she guessed "Paul," and the dwarf danced about and shone with happiness like a coin fresh from the mint. But his happiness was of short duration; for when she guessed for the third time she said, "Trillevip's your name."

And that was the end of the dwarf's betrothal. He could not win her now, but he did wish to help her once more, for he well knew that she would need his assistance. Her young master had chosen her because she could spin so well, and he would fall into a rage and disown her, if he learned the truth. So when he left her the dwarf said, "On your wedding day three old women will enter the room when you sit down to dinner. You must call the first one mother, the second one grandmother, and the third one great grandmother. And no matter how horrible they look, nor how vexed your husband may be, you must entertain them as well as you possibly can."

And it happened just as he had said; and the girl did just as he had advised her, though she could see no object in it all. The first to arrive was a horrible old woman with two great red eyes that hung far down on her cheeks. When the young man asked her how it was that her eyes were so red, she said, "Because I used to sit up night after night spinning."

When she had gone, came the second one, and she also was an ugly old woman, with a mouth that stretched nearly to her ears.

"How is it that you have such a large mouth?" asked the young husband.

"Well, it is because I had to moisten my finger so often when I was spinning, since otherwise the thread would not have been smooth. And I have been spinning so many years, day and night, that it is a wonder my mouth is not larger than it is."

At last there appeared the most horrible old hag of them all; she hobbled along on two crutches, and her legs were so weak that she could neither stand nor walk.

"What is the matter with you, mother?" asked the man. "Why do you drag yourself along so painfully?"

"Well, it is because I have grown so weak from treading, for I have been spinning time out of mind, and I hope that no one will ever have to reap what I have sown, and grow to be as wretched as I am."

And when she had hobbled off the young master said to the spinning-girl, who was now his wife, "From now on you are never to touch a spinning wheel, since I should not want you to look like your mother, or your grandmother, or your great-grandmother for anything in the world."

Then she understood what the dwarf had in mind, and was glad she had followed his instructions to the letter.



The Snake

There was once an old man who lived in a forest, and the only fire-wood he had was the old, rotted trees he could chop down. One day when his wife was standing before the hut splitting the rotted wood into small lengths, a young snake crawled out.

"Oh," said the woman to herself, "to look at that dumb creature crawling along the ground; it can have young while we human beings are childless!"

But the snake said, "If you want children so badly, why not take me in and bring me up?"

"What," cried the woman, "you know how to talk?"

Then she took the snake into her room, and made a bed for him under the stove. When her husband came home his wife told him that a little snake had crawled out of the rotted wood, and had at length said they should bring him up.

So they kept him under the stove until he was seven years old, when the snake thought he would like to marry. And the man said, "Well, I will have to look around in the forest and see whether I cannot find a snake lady for you."

But the snake answered, "No, foster-father, I do not want a snake lady, I want a princess. Please, foster-father, start out early tomorrow morning, and find a princess for me."

"No, that is something I dare not do," said his foster-father, "for I am afraid the king will cast me into prison."

But the snake told him that it was quite safe to start out, if only he went about things in the right way. So he really did go to the castle, came to the grand stairway, and fell on his knees. Then he came to a grand room, and fell on his knees once more, and begged the king not to punish him, if he presented a request.

The king said, "Speak freely! Nothing shall be done to you."

"Whereupon the man said, "There is a snake which I have kept under my stove of glazed tiles for all of seven years; and this snake wants to marry, and he wants the princess for a bride."

"Well," said the king, "if he can manage so that all the fruit-trees in my garden bear apples of gold and apples of silver, and golden and silver leaves, then he can have the princess."

When the man came home the snake said, "What luck did you have, foster-father?"

And he told him, "You will have to make all the fruit-trees in the king's garden bear apples of gold and apples of silver, and golden and silver leaves."

"That is easily done, foster-father," said the snake. "But you must go out now and gather all sorts of fruit pits, prune-pits, cherry-pits, and all the rest, in your little basket. Then in the evening you must go to the king's garden and throw a handful of them into each tree, and you must keep on doing this until you have visited every tree. Then, when you reach the garden gate, look around and see what has happened."

And when he reached the garden gate and looked around, it seemed as though the trees were all a-fire; they looked like pure gold.

The next day the man went to the king early in the morning, and asked him if he had seen his garden. The king said yes, he had seen it, and there was no doubt but that the snake had earned his daughter's hand; yet he would have to stand one more test, that is, he would have to inlay all his garden benches, and lay out all his garden walks with pearls and precious stones.

When the man came home the snake asked, "What luck did you have, foster-father?"

He answered, "You are to inlay all the king's garden benches, and lay out all his garden walks with pearls and precious stones. How are we going to do it?"

The snake replied, "Oh, that is easily done, foster-father. You must go out and collect all sorts of old pots and pans and break them into small pieces, and in the evening you must put them in your little basket, and when it is quite dark, you must go to the castle, and throw the potsherds about everywhere on the benches and the garden walks. Then, when you leave the garden, you must look around and see how beautiful it has grown."

When he came home the snake asked him whether he had seen anything. He answered, "Yes, everything looked as though it had been gilded, all the benches and the garden walks."

Then the snake said, "And will you go to the castle tomorrow morning early and ask the king if he will give me his daughter now?"

So the next day, early in the morning, he went and asked the king, "Have you seen your garden?"

"Yes," answered the king, "yes, I have seen it, and there is no doubt but that the snake has earned my daughter's hand; yet he must stand one more test, he must gild my whole castle."

So the man went home to the snake.

"Well, what did the king say this time?" asked the latter.

"He says you are not through yet: you must gild his whole castle for him."

"That is easily done," said the snake. "All that foster-father need do is to go into the forest, and fetch all sorts of green leaves, and tie them up in a bundle. Then he must put the bundle in his little basket, go to the castle, and rub the walls as high as he can reach, with the bundle. And before he goes out of the door, he should look around."

And when he did, the whole castle seemed made of gold.

So the snake said to his foster-father, "Will you go now and ask the king if he will give me his daughter!"

And the king said, "Yes, he has earned her hand, and now he shall have her."

So the foster-father went home to the snake, and said to him, "Now you are to have the princess, so now you can crawl up to the castle." But the snake said, no, he wished to ride in a coach, and foster-father was to go to town, and order a coach for such and such a day, to drive the snake up to the castle. And as they drove through the streets the people were all curious, and ran along beside the coach to see the snake. But when they saw him they were seized with such fear that they ran back again into their houses, and did not dare look at him again. They drove up before the castle, the snake opened the coach-door, crawled out and crawled toward the stairway. The royal father and mother were standing at a window, and saw the terrible reptile. They called to their daughter, "Take care, or he will devour you!"

She said, no, the snake had worked too hard to earn her. Then her parents ran into another room, and locked the door behind them, and the daughter was left standing there alone. The snake came crawling up and wound himself around her as she stood there, around her feet, her legs, till at last his mouth touched the girl's face. And then, suddenly, the snake's skin fell away from him, and there stood a most handsome prince. She embraced him with great joy, and was quite beside herself with happiness. And he told her the name of the kingdom from which he came, and the name of his father the king, and the way to get there.

As they were standing there, laughing and happy, the father and mother of the princess, hearing them laugh, thought that their child could not be in much danger. So they opened the door, and went in and saw the handsome prince standing before them. And they, too, were happy. Then the father saw the snake's skin, which lay on the floor, and he threw it into the fire and burned it up.

All at once the prince looked toward the ground and saw that his snake's skin had disappeared.

So he said, "What has become of my snake's skin!"

The father said, "I burned it up."

Then the prince said: * "Here I am, out of luck once more."

For he should have given the skin to the person who had aided him. Now, since the skin had been burned up, he had nothing to give the one in question, and once more had to assume the forms of all sorts of animals. At length he turned into a dove, and flew all around the room because he could not get out, the doors and windows being shut. So he flew to a window, broke a pane and won free through the hole. But the broken glass was sharp, and cut his head in criss-cross fashion. Once out, he flew home to his father's castle. There he lay a-bed, so weak and ill that they had to fetch the doctors, though none of them were able to cure him. And there he abode in pain and misery, and not a soul could help him.

The princess thought of this, and felt very unhappy to think she should lose him in this way. Then it occurred to her that she could go to him. In the evening, when all was calm and quiet, she took what gold she had and started out. She also had a little flask of smelling-salts, which she took along, containing a small quantity of precious essence, to sniff in case she felt ill. With her little package under her arm she glided into the forest.

When she had entered the forest, she met a fox. "Where are you going?" said he to her. She told him that she was going to such and such a place, to the royal castle where, so she had heard, the prince was lying ill. And she asked the fox, "Will you show me the way?" for the country was new to her, and she did not know the road. So the fox went on ahead.

They went on and on until they came to a green glade in the forest through which a small brook was running. Then the fox said, "You must lie down here, and drink of this water, for this water had strengthening qualities, and the princess was much wearied by her wanderings. The fox asked her whether she could hear the lovely bird-song that sounded in the forest at night. She told him that she could. Then the fox asked her again whether she could not understand what the birds were singing.

"No," said she, she did not know.

"They are singing that if the wounds of the prince who is now lying ill, were to be anointed with their blood, he would get well again."

"Can you get the blood of these birds?" she asked the fox.

"What will you give me if I can get it for you?" asked the fox.

"I will give you the whole package of gold I have with me," said the princess.

"Well, I can do nothing until I have slipped behind their green curtains," said the fox.

So when the birds had all gone to sleep, the fox climbed the trees and bit their heads off, one after another, and threw them down to the princess. She had nothing in which to catch the blood, so she emptied her little flask of smelling-salts, and let some blood from each bird drip into it.

Then the fox said, "Now you think you have gained your end because you have the blood of the birds. But it will do you no good without some of my own as well." And he prepared to say good-by. "I cannot go any further in your company."

Then the princess said, "Oh, but you must show me the way through the forest!"

"What will you give me if I do?" said the fox.

So she said, "I have nothing more to give you, for you have all my gold; but perhaps you might like to have the little gold ring on my finger?"

He took the little gold ring and showed her the way through the forest. And as she went she thought of how she might arrange to secure some of the blood of the fox. The fox went on ahead, and she followed him, and as they went along her foot struck a pebble, and she picked it up. The fox ran with his head thrown back, because of the package of gold he was holding in his jaws. So the princess took the pebble that she had stumbled against, and struck the fox in the neck with it until the blood gushed forth. Then she ran up to him, held her little flask under the wound, and filled it with the blood of the fox. She then took back the gold she had given him as a reward for leading her through the forest, for the fox could not prevent it.

Now she went on until she reached the castle. She entered, giving herself out for a wise woman who could restore the prince to health. They informed the king, and he came to her and inquired whether she really thought that she could cure his son.

"Yes," said she, "but you must make an agreement with me that in case I cure him, he is to be my husband."

"It shall be as you say, my daughter," said the king. "If you can cure him, then he shall be your husband."

So she asked to be shown the room in which the prince was lying. When she came in, the window was darkened, for his head was so weak that he could not stand the light. So she went to him and pushed back the hair from the wounds on his head, and allowed the blood from her little flask to drip on them. Then she patted him on the head as hard as she could, so that the blood might penetrate deeply into the wounds. And when the blood had been well driven into his wounds, the prince regained his strength, could sit up in bed, and in a few minutes was completely cured. Then she slipped behind the curtain so that he might not see her.

His father came in, having heard him stirring about the room, and the prince asked his father who had cured him. And his father told him it was a wise young girl, who claimed him for a husband now that she had restored him to health. But the prince said, "Oh, no, father! I have a love in such and such a kingdom, and I strove mightily to gain her hand, and she delivered me from my snake's skin."

And when the princess heard how true he was to her, she came out from behind the curtain and said, "Here I am, who delivered you from your snake's skin!"

Then they were glad and happy in each other's company as they had never been before. She told him how she had cured him with the blood of the birds and of the fox. And he asked his father, the king, if he might have the kingdom, and the princess whom he wished to marry. She was the princess so and so, from such and such a kingdom. And could he travel with her to her father's castle and celebrate the wedding there?

So they all set forth, the king's son and the princess, the king and the queen, in two coaches; the old folk in one and the young folk in the other. And they travelled on until they came to the hut of the foster-parents in the forest. They begged them to ride to the castle along with them, and help celebrate the wedding; and after the wedding the bride and groom invited the foster-parents to come to the castle, where he would treat them as well as they had treated him when he was only a snake.

Notes to Danish fairy tales



 The Danish Fairy Book, ed Clara Stroebe, tr. Frederick Herman Martens, Danish folktales, fairy tales of Denmark, To top    Section     Set    Next

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