Once on a time there was a king, and that king had heard talk of a ship that went as fast by land as it did by water; so he set his heart on having such a ship, and he gave his word that the man who could build it should have the princess and half the kingdom. And this promise he had given out in every parish church in the realm, and at every parish meeting. There were many that tried their hands, you may fancy; for it was a nice thing to have half the kingdom, and it was brave to get the princess into the bargain; but it went ill with most of them.
So there were three brothers away in the wood; the eldest was called Peter, the second Paul, and the youngest Espen Ashlad, because he used to sit and grub in the ashes. But it so happened that on the Sunday when the king's promise was given out, he was at church too. So when he got home and told the story, his eldest brother, Peter, begged his mother for some food, for he was bent on setting off and trying his luck, if he couldn't build the ship and win the princess and half the realm. So when he had got his wallet full, he strode off from the farm, and on the way he met an old, old man, who was so bent and wretched.
"Where away?" asked the old man.
"Oh," said Peter, "I'm off to the wood to make a platter for my father, for he doesn't like to eat out of the same dish with us."
"A platter it shall be," said the man; "but what have you in your knapsack?"
"Muck," said Peter.
"Muck it shall be," said the man, and they parted.
So Peter strode on till he came to a grove of oaks, and then he fell to chopping and carpentering; but for all his hewing and all his carpentering he could turn out nothing but platter after platter. So when it got towards midday he was going to take a snack, and opened his wallet. But there was not a morsel of food in it. And as he had nothing to eat and did not get on any better with the carpentering, he got weary of the work, and took his axe and wallet on his back, and strode off home to his mother again.
Next Paul was for setting off to try if he had any luck in shipbuilding and could win the king's daughter and half the kingdom. He, too, begged his mother for food; and when he had got it, he threw his wallet over his shoulder and set off from their farm. On the way he met an old man, who was so bent and wretched.
"Where away?" said the man.
"Oh, I'm just going to the wood to make a pig trough for our little pig," said Paul.
"A pig trough it shall be," said the man.
"What have you got in your wallet?" asked the man.
"Muck," said Paul.
"Muck it shall be," said the man.
So Paul trudged off to the wood, and fell to hewing and carpentering as hard as he could. But however he hewed and however he carpentered, he could turn out nothing but pig troughs and pig tubs. Still he wouldn't give in, but worked till far on in the afternoon before he thought of taking a little snack; then he got so hungry all at once that he must take out his knapsack, but when he opened it there was not a morsel of food in it.
Then Paul got so cross that he rolled up the knapsack and dashed it against a stump, and then he shouldered his axe and trudged away home from the wood as fast as he could.
So when Paul had come home, the Ashlad was all for setting out in his turn, and begged his mother for food.
"Maybe I might be man enough to get the ship built and win the princess and half the kingdom." That was what he said.
"Yes, yes, a likely thing," said his mother. "You look like winning the princess and the kingdom, that you do, you who have done nothing else than grub and poke about in the ashes. No, no, you don't get any food," said the goody.
But the Ashlad would not give in and begged so Iong that at last he got leave. As for food, he got none; was it likely? But he got by stealth two oatcakes and a drop of stale beer, and with them he trudged off from the farm.
Well, when he had walked a while he met the same old man, who was so bent and vile and wretched.
"Where away?" asked the man.
"Oh, I'm going into the wood to build me a ship which will go as well on land as on sea; for you must know that the king has given out that the man who can build such a ship shall have the princess and half the realm."
"What have you got in your wallet?" asked the man.
"Not much to brag of," said the Ashlad, "though it's called travelling fare."
"If you'll give me some of your food, I'll help you," said the man.
"With all my heart," said the Ashlad; "but there's nothing but two oatcakes and a drop of stale beer."
It was all the same to him what it was, said the man, so that he got something; and he would be sure to help him.
So when they got up to the old oak in the wood, the man said to the lad,
"Now you must chop out one chip, and you must put it back where it came from, and when you have done that you may lie down and sleep.
Yes; the Ashlad did as he said; he laid him down to sleep, and in his slumber he thought he heard someone hewing and hammering, and carpentering, and sawing, and planing, but he could not wake up till the man called him, and then there stood the ship all ready alongside the oak.
"Now you must go aboard her, and everyone you meet you must take as one of your crew," he said.
Yes; the Ashlad thanked him for the ship, and sailed off, saying he'd be sure to do what he said.
When he had sailed a while, he came on a great, long, thin fellow, who lay away by the hillside and ate granite.
"What kind of chap are you," said the Ashlad, "that you lie here eating granite?"
Well, he was so sharp set for meat he could never have his fill, and that was why he was forced to eat granite. That was what he said; and then he begged if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
"Oh, yes," said the Ashlad; "if you care to come, step on board."
Yes, he was willing enough, and he took with him a few big granite boulders as his sea stores.
When they had sailed a bit farther they met a man who lay on a sunny slope and sucked at a tap.
"What sort of a chap are you?" asked the Ashlad, "and what good is it that you lie there sucking at that tap?"
"Oh," said he, "when one hasn't got the cask, one must be thankful for the tap. I am always so thirsty for ale, that I can never drink enough ale or wine;" and then he asked if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
"If you care to come, step on board," said the Ashlad.
Yes, he was willing enough, and he stepped on board and took the tap with him lest he should become thirsty.
When they had sailed a bit farther they met one who lay with one ear on the ground listening.
"What sort of a chap are you?" asked the Ashlad; "and what good is it that you lie there on the ground listening?"
"I am listening to the grass growing," he said, "for I am so keen of hearing that I can hear it grow;" and so he begged that he might be one of the ship's company. Well, he too did not get "Nay."
"If you care to come, step on board," said the Ashlad. Yes, he was willing enough, and so up he, too, stepped into the ship.
When they had sailed a bit farther, they came to a man who stood aiming and aiming.
"What sort of a chap are you?" said the Ashlad; "and why is it that you stand there aiming and aiming?"
"I am so sharp-sighted," he said, "that I'm a dead shot up to the world's end;" and so he, too, asked if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
"If you care to come, step in," said the Ashlad.
Yes, he was willing enough, and so he stepped up into the ship and joined the Ashlad and his comrades.
When they had sailed a bit farther, they came on a man who went about hopping on one leg, and on the other he had seven hundredweight.
"What sort of a chap are you?" asked the Ashlad; "and what's the good of your limping and hopping on one leg, with seven hundredweight on the other?"
"Oh," said he, "I'm as light as a feather, and if I went on both legs I should be at the world's end in less than five minutes;" and so he, too, begged if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
"If you care to come, step in," said the Ashlad.
Yes, he was willing enough, and he stepped on board to the Ashlad and his comrades.
When they had sailed a bit farther, they met a man who stood holding his throat.
"What sort of a chap are you?" asked the Ashlad; "and why in the world do you stand here holding your throat?"
"Oh," said he, "you must know I have got seven summers and fifteen winters inside me, so I've good need to hold my gullet, for if they all slipped out at once they'd freeze the whole world in a trice." That was what he said, and so he begged leave to be with them.
"If you care to come, step in," said the Ashlad.
Yes, he was willing enough, and so he, too, stepped on board the ship to the rest.
When they had sailed a good bit farther, they came to the king's grange. Then the Ashlad strode straight into the king, and said that the ship was ready out in the courtyard, and now he was come to claim the princess, as the king had given his word.
But the king wouldn't hear of it, for the Ashlad did not look very nice; he was grimy and sooty, and the king was loath to give his daughter to such a fellow. So he said he must wait a little; he couldn't have the princess till they cleared a barn which the king had with three hundred casks of salt meat in it.
"All the same," said the king, "if you can do it by this time tomorrow, you shall have her."
"I can but try," said the Ashlad; "I may have leave, perhaps, to take one of my crew with me?"
Yes, he might have leave to do that, even if he took them all six, said the king; for he thought it quite beyond his power, though he had six hundred to help him.
But the Ashlad only took with him the man who ate granite and was always so sharp set; and so when they came next morning and unlocked the barn, if he hadn't eaten all the casks, so that there was nothing left but half-a-dozen spare-ribs, and that was only one for each of his other comrades. So the Ashlad strode in to the king, and said now the barn was empty, and now he might have the princess.
Then the king went out to the barn, and empty it was, that was plain enough; but still the Ashlad was so sooty and smutty that the king thought it a shame that such a fellow should have his daughter. So he said he had a cellar full of ale and old wine, three hundred casks of each kind, which he must have drunk out first, and said the king,
"All the same, if you are man enough to drink them out by this time tomorrow, you shall have her."
"I can but try," said the Ashlad; "but I may have leave, perhaps, to take one of my comrades with me."
"With all my heart," said the king, who thought he had so much ale and wine that the whole seven of them would soon get more than their skins could hold.
But the Ashlad only took with him the man who sucked the tap, and who had such a swallow for ale, and then the king locked them both up in the cellar.
So he drunk cask after cask as long as there were any left, but at last he spared a drop or two, about as much as a quart or two, for each of his comrades. Next morning they unlocked the cellar, and the Ashlad strode off at once to the king, and said he was done with the ale and wine, and now he must have his daughter as he had given his word.
"Ay, ay! but I must first go down into the cellar and see," said the king, for he didn't believe it. But when he got to the cellar, there was nothing in it but empty casks. But the Ashlad was still black and smutty, and the king thought he never could bear to have such a fellow for his son-in-law. So he said, "No, but all the same, if he could fetch him water from the world's end in ten minutes for the princess's tea, he should have both her and half the realm; for he thought that quite out of his power.
"I can but try," said the Ashlad; so he laid hand on him who limped on one leg with seven hundredweight on the other, and said he must unbuckle the weights, and use both his legs as fast as he could; for he must have water from the world's end for the princess's tea in ten minutes.
So he took off the weights, got a pail and set off, and was out of sight in a trice. But time went, and yet he did not come back. At last there were no more than three minutes left till the time was up, and the king was as pleased as though someone had given him a horse. But just then the Ashlad bawled out to him who heard the grass grow, and bade him listen and hear what had become of the other.
"He has fallen asleep at the well," he said. " I can hear him snoring, and a troll is combing his hair."
So the Ashlad called him who could shoot to the world's end, and bade him put a bullet into the troll. Yes, he did that, and shot him right in the eye, and the troll set up such a howl that he woke up at once the one that was to fetch the water for tea; and when he got back to the king's grange, there was still one minute left of the ten.
Then the Ashlad strode into the king, and said there was the water, and now he must have the princess, there must be no more words about it. But the king thought him just as sooty and smutty as before, and did not at all like to have him for a son-in-law. So the king said he had three hundred fathoms of wood, and he was about to dry corn in the malt-house with them, and "all the same, if you are man enough to get inside it while I burn up all that fuel, you shall have her, and I will make no more bones about it."
"I can but try," said the Ashlad; "but I must have leave to take one of my crew with me."
"Yes, yes," said the king, "all six of them if you like;" for he thought it would be warm enough in there for all of them.
But the Ashlad took with him the man who had fifteen winters and seven summers inside him, and they trudged off to the malt-house at night. But the king had laid the fuel on thick, and there was such a fire burning, it almost melted the stove. Out again they could not come, for they had scarce set foot inside than the king shot the bolt behind them, and hung two padlocks on the door besides. Then the Ashlad said,
"You'd better slip out six or seven winters at once, so that it may be a nice summer heat."
Then the heat fell, and they could bear it, but on in the night it began to grow chilly; so the Ashlad said he must make it milder with two summers, and then they slept till far on next day.
But when they heard the king rattling at the door outside, the Ashlad said,
"Now you must let slip two more winters, but lay them so that the last may go full on his face."
Yes, he did so; and when the king unlocked the malt-house door, and thought to find them lying there burnt to cinders, there they sat shivering and shaking till their teeth chattered, and the man with the fifteen winters let slip the last right into the king's face, so that it swelled up at once into a big frost-bite.
"May I have your daughter now?" said the Ashlad.
"Yes, yes; pray take her and keep her, and half the realm besides," said the king, for he couldn't say no any longer.
So they held the bridal feast, and kept it up and rejoiced and fired off witch-shots, and meanwhile they went looking about for charges; and then they took me and gave me porridge in a flask and milk in a basket, and then they shot me off here to you, that I might tell you all how the wedding went off.
Once on a time there was a man who lived far, far away in the wood. He had many, many goats and sheep, but never a one could he keep for fear of Greylegs, the wolf.
At last he said, "I'll soon trap Greyboots," and so he set to work digging a pitfall. When he had dug it deep enough, he put a pole down in the midst of the pit, and on the top of the pole he set a board, and on the board he put a little dog. Over the pit itself he spread boughs and branches and leaves, and other rubbish, and atop of all he strewed snow, so that Greylegs might not see there was a pit underneath.
So when it got on in the night, the little dog grew weary of sitting there: "Bow-wow, bow-wow," it said, and bayed at the moon. Just then up came a fox, slouching and sneaking, and thought here was a fine time for marketing, and with that gave a jump head over heels down into the pitfall.
And when it got a little farther on in the night, the little dog got so weary and so hungry, and it fell to yelping and howling: "Bow-wow, bow-wow," it cried out. Just at that very moment up came Greylegs, trotting and trotting. He too thought he should get a fat steak, and he too made a spring head over heels down into the pitfall.
When it was getting on towards grey dawn in the morning, down fell snow, with a north wind, and it grew so cold that the little dog stood and froze, and shivered and shook. It was so weary and hungry. "Bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow," it called out, and barked and yelped and howled. Then up came a bear, tramping and tramping along, and thought to himself how he could get a morsel for breakfast at the very top of the morning, and so he thought and thought among the boughs and branches till he too went bump head over heels down into the pitfall.
When it got a little farther on in the morning, an old beggar wife came walking by. She toddled from farm to farm with a bag on her back. When she set eyes on the little dog that stood there and howled, she couldn't help going near to look and see if any wild beasts had fallen into the pit during the night. So she crawled up on her knees and peeped down into it.
"Are you come into the pit at last, Reynard?" she said to the fox, for he was the first she saw; "a very good place, too, for such a hen-roost robber as you: and you, too, Greypaw," she said to the wolf. "Many a goat and sheep have you torn and rent, and now you shall be plagued and punished to death. Bless my heart! You too, Bruin! Are you, too, sitting in this room, you mare-flayer? You too will we strip and flay, and your skull shall be nailed up on the wall." All this the old lass screeched out as she bent over towards the bear. But just then her bag fell over her ears, and dragged her down, and slap! Down went the old crone head over heels into the pitfall.
So there they all four sat and glared at one another, each in a corner. The fox in one, Greylegs in another, Bruin in a third, and the old crone in a fourth.
But as soon as it was broad daylight, Reynard began to peep and peer and to twist and turn about, for he thought he might as well try to get out.
But the old lass cried out, "Can't you sit still, you whirligig thief, and not go twisting and turning? Only look at Father Bruin himself in the corner, how he sits as grave as a judge," for now she thought she might as well make friends with the bear. But just then up came the man who owned the pitfall. First he drew up the old wife, and after that he slew all the beasts, and neither spared Father Bruin himself in the corner, nor Greylegs, nor Reynard the whirligig thief. That night, at least, he thought he had made a good haul.