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Gudbrand on the Hill-Side

Norwegian folktales There was a man whose name was Gudbrand; he had a farm which lay far, far away, upon a hillside, and so they called him Gudbrand on the hill-side.

Now, you must know this man and his good wife lived so happily together, and understood one another so well, that all the husband did the wife thought so well done, there was nothing like it in the world, and she was always glad whatever he turned his hand to. The farm was their own laud, and they had a hundred dollars lying at the bottom of their chest, and two cows tethered up in a stall in their farmyard.

So one clay his wife said to Gudbrand,

"Do you know, dear, I think we ought to take one of our cows into town and sell it; that's what I think; for then we shall have some money in hand, and such well to do people as we ought to have ready money like the rest of the world. As for the hundred dollars at the bottom of the chest yonder, we can't make a hole in them, and I'm sure I don't know what we want with more than one cow. Besides, we shall gain a little in another way, for then I shall get off with only looking after one cow, instead of having, as now, to feed and litter and water two."

Well, Gudbrand thought his wife talked right good sense, so he set off at once with the cow on his way to town to sell her; but when he got to the town, there was no one who would buy his cow.

"Well, well! never mind," said Gudbrand, "at the worst, I can only go back home again with my cow. I've both stable and tether for her, I should think, and the road is no farther out than in," and with that he began to toddle home with his cow.

But when he had gone a bit of the way, a man met him who had a horse to sell, so Gudbrand thought it was better to have a horse than a cow, so he swapped with the man. A little farther on he met a man walking along and driving a fat pig before him, and he thought it better to have a fat pig than a horse, so he swapped with the man. After that he went a little farther, and a man met him with a goat; so he thought it better to have a goat than a pig, and he swapped with the man that owned the goat.

Then he went on a good bit till he met a man who had a sheep, and he swapped with him too, for he thought it always better to have a sheep than a goat. After a while he met a man with a goose, and he swapped away the sheep for the goose; and when he had walked a long, long time, he met a man with a cock, and he swapped with him, for he thought in this wise, "it's surely better to have a cock than a goose."

Then he went on till the day was far spent, and he began to get very hungry, so he sold the cock for a shilling, and bought food with the money, for, thought Gudbrand on the Hill-side, "it's always better to save one's life than to have a cock."

After that he went on home till he reached his nearest neighbour's house, where he turned in.

"Well," said the owner of the house, "how did things go with you in town?"

"Rather so so," said Gudbrand. "I can't praise my luck, nor do I blame it either," and with that he told the whole story from first to last.

"Ah!" said his friend, "you'll get nicely called over the coals, that one can see, when you get home to your wife. Poker help you, I wouldn't stand in your shoes for something."

"Well," said Gudbrand on the Hill-side, "I think things might have gone much worse with me; but now, whether I have done wrong or not, I have so kind a good wife, she never has a word to say against anything that I do."

"Oh!" answered his neighbour, "I hear what you say, but I don't believe it for all that."

"Shall we lay a bet upon it?" asked Gudbrand on the Hill-side." I have a hundred dollars at the bottom of my chest at home; will you lay as many against them?"

Yes, the friend was ready to bet; so Gudbrand stayed there till evening, when it began to get dark, and then they went together to his house, and the neighbour was to stand outside the door and listen, while the man went in to see his wife.

"Good evening!" said Gudbrand on the Hill-side.

"Good evening!" said the good wife." Oh, is that you? Snout be praised."

Yes! it was he. So the wife asked how things had gone with him in town.

"Oh! only so so," answered Gudbrand; "not much to brag of. When I got to the town there was no one who would buy the cow, so you must know I swapped it away for a horse."

"For a horse," said his wife; "well, that is good of you; thanks with all my heart. We are so well to do that we may drive to the church just as well as other people; and if we choose to keep a horse we have a right to get one.. So run out, child, and put up the horse."

"Ah!" said Gudbrand, "but you see I've not got the horse after all; for when I got a bit farther on the road I swapped it away for a pig."

"Think of that, now!" said the wife; "you did just as I should have done myself; a thousand thanks! Now I can have a bit of bacon in the house to set before people when they come to see me, that I can. What do we want with a horse? People would only say we had got so proud that we couldn't walk to church. Go out, child, and put up the pig in the sty."

"But I've not got the pig either," said Gudbrand; "for when I got a little farther on I swapped it away for a milch goat."

"Bless us!" cried his wife, "how well you manage everything! Now I think it over, what should I do with a pig? People would only point at us and say, "Yonder they eat up all they have got. "No! now I have got a goat, and I shall have milk and cheese, and keep the goat too. Run out, child, and put up the goat."

"Nay, but I haven't got the goat either," said Gudbrand, "for a little farther on I swapped it away, and got a fine sheep instead."

"You don't say so!" cried his wife; "why, you do everything to please me, just as if I had been with you; what do we want with a goat! If I had it I should lose half my time in climbing up the hills to get it down. No! if I have a sheep, I shall have both wool and clothing, and fresh meat in the house. Run out, child, and put up the sheep."

"But I haven't got the sheep any more than the rest," said Gudbrand; "for when I had gone a bit farther I swapped it away for a goose."

"Thank you! thank you! with all my heart," cried his wife; "what should I do with a sheep? I have no spinning-wheel, nor carding-comb, nor should I care to worry myself with cutting, and shaping, and sewing clothes. We can buy clothes now, as we have always done; and now I shall have roast goose, which I have longed for so often and, besides, down to stuff my little pillow with. Run out, child, and put up the goose."

"Ah!" said Gudbrand, "but I haven't the goose either; for when I had gone a bit farther I swapped it away for a cock."

"Dear me!" cried his wife, "how you think of everything! just as I should have done myself. A cock! think of that! why it's as good as an eight-day clock, for every morning the cock crows at four o'clock, and we shall be able to stir our stumps in good time. What should we do with a goose? I don't know how to cook it; and as for my pillow, I can stuff it with cotton-grass. Run out, child, and put up the cock."

"But after all I haven't got the cock," said Gudbrand; "for when I had gone a bit farther, I got as hungry as a hunter, so I was forced to sell the cock for a shilling, for fear I should starve."

"Now, Snout be praised that you did so!" cried his wife; "whatever you do, you do it always just after my own heart. What should we do with the cock? We are our own masters, I should think, and can lie in bed in the morning as long as we like. Poker be thanked that I have got you safe back again; you who do everything so well that I want neither cock nor goose; neither pigs nor cattle."

Then Gudbrand opened the door and said,

"Well, what do you say now? Have I won the hundred dollars?" and his neighbour was forced to allow that he had. (3)

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The Seven Foals

Norwegian folktales There was a poor couple who lived in a wretched hut far away in the wood. How they lived I can't tell, but I'm sure it was from hand to mouth, and hard work even then. They had three sons, and the youngest of them was the Ashlad. He did little else than lie there and poke about in the ashes.

One day the eldest lad said he would go out to earn his bread, and he soon got leave, and wandered out into the world. There he walked and walked the whole day, and when evening drew in, he came to a king's palace, and there stood the king out on the steps, and asked where he was bound.

"Well, I'm going about, looking after a place," said the boy.

IMAGE

"Will you serve me and watch my seven foals?" asked the king. "If you can watch them one whole day, and tell me at night what they eat and what they drink, you shall have the princess to wife, and half my kingdom. But on the other hand, if you can't, I'll cut three red stripes out of your back. Do you hear?"

Yes, that was an easy task, the boy thought; he'd do that fast enough, never fear.

So next morning as soon as the first peep of dawn came, the king's coachman let out the seven foals. Away they went, and the boy after them. You can fancy how they tore over hill and dale, through bush and bog. When the boy had run so a long time, he began to get weary, and when he had held on a while longer, he had more than enough of his watching, and just there, he came to a cleft in a rock, where an old hag sat and spun with a distaff. As soon as she saw the boy, who was running after the foals till the sweat ran down his brow, this old hag bawled out,

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

Yes, the boy was willing enough; so he sat down in the cleft of the rock with the old hag, and laid his head on her lap, and she combed his hair all day whilst he lay there, and stretched his lazy bones.

So, when evening drew on, the boy wanted to go away.

"I can just as well toddle straight home now," said he, "for it's no use my going back to the palace."

"Stop a bit till it's dark," said the old hag, "and then the king's foals will pass by here again, and then you can run home with them, and then no one will know that you have lain here all day long, instead of watching the foals."

So, when they came, she gave the boy a flask of water and a clod of turf. Those he was to show to the king, and say that was what his seven foals ate and drank.

"Have you watched true and well the whole day, now?" asked the king, when the boy came before him in the evening.

"Yes, I should think so," said the boy.

"Then you can tell me what my seven foals eat and drink," said the king.

"Yes!" and so the boy pulled out the flask of water and the clod of turf, which the old hag had given him.

"Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink," said the boy.

But then the king saw plain enough how he had watched, and he got so wroth, he ordered his men to chase him away home on the spot; but first they were to cut three red stripes out of his back, and rub salt into them. So when the boy got home again, you can fancy what a temper he was in. He'd gone out once to get a place, he said, but he'd never do so again.

Next day the second son said he would go out into the world to try his luck. His father and mother said "No," and bade him look at his brother's back; but the boy wouldn't give in; he held to his own, and at last he got leave to go, and set off. So when he had walked the whole day, he, too, came to the king's palace. There stood the king out on the steps, and asked where he was bound; and when the boy said he was looking about for a place, the king said he might have a place there, and watch his seven foals. But the king laid down the same punishment and the same reward as he had settled for his brother. The boy was willing enough; he took the place at once with the king, for he thought he'd soon watch the foals, and tell the king what they ate and drank.

So, in the grey of the morning, the coachman let out the seven foals, and off they went again over hill and dale, and the boy after them. But the same thing happened to him as had befallen his brother. When he had run after the foals a long time, till he was both warm and weary, he passed by the cleft in a rock, where an old hag sat and spun with a distaff, and she bawled out to the boy,

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

That the boy thought a good offer, so he let the foals run on their way, and sat down in the cleft with the old hag. There he sat, and there he lay, taking his ease, and stretching his lazy bones the whole day.

When the foals came back at nightfall, he too got a flask of water and clod of turf from the old hag to show to the king. But when the king asked the boy,

"Can you tell me now what my seven foals eat and drink?" and the boy pulled out the flask and the clod, and said, "Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink."

Then the king got red-hod angry again, and ordered them to cut three red stripes out of the boy's back, and rub salt in, and chase him home that very minute. When the boy got home, he too told how he had fared, and said he had gone out once to get a place, but he'd never do so any more.

The third day he Ashlad wanted to set out; he had a great mind to try and watch the seven foals, he said. The others laughed at him, and made game of him, saying,

"When we fared so ill, you'll do it better - a fine joke; you look like it - you, who have never done anything but lie there and poke about in the ashes."

"Yes," said the Ashlad; "I don't see why I shouldn't go, for I've got it into my head, and can't get it out again."

And so, in spite of all the jeers of the others and the prayers of the old people, there was no help for it, and the Ashlad set out.

So after he had walked the whole day, he too came at dusk to the king's palace. There stood the king out on the steps, and asked where he was bound.

"Oh," said the Ashlad, "I'm going about seeing if I can hear of a place."

"Where do you come from, then?" said the king, for he wanted to know a little more about them before he took any one into his service.

So the Ashlad said where he came from, and how he was brother to those two who had watched the king's seven foals, and ended by asking if he might try to watch them next day.

"Oh, stuff!" said the king, for he got quite cross if he even thought of them; "if you're brother to those two you're not worth much, I'll be bound. I've had enough of such scamps."

"Well," said the Ashlad; "but since I've come so far, I can just as well get leave to try, I too."

"Well, then," said the king, "if you will have your back flayed, you're quite welcome."

"I'd much rather have the princess," said the Ashlad.

So next morning the coachman let out the seven foals again, and away they went over hill and dale, through bush and bog, and the Ashlad behind them. And so, when he too had run a long while, he came to the cleft in the rock where the old hag sat spinning at her distait. So she bawled out to the Ashlad,

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

"Kiss my buttocks," said the young boy as he ran along, leaping and jumping and holding on by one of the foals' tails. And when he had got well past the cleft in the rock, the youngest foal said,

"Jump up on my back, my lad, for we've a long way before us still."

So the Ashlad jumped up on his back. They went on, and on, a long, long way.

"Do you see anything now?" said the foal.

"No," said the Ashlad.

So they went on a good bit farther.

"Do you see anything now?" asked the foal.

"Should I?" said the boy.

So when they had gone a great, great way farther - I'm sure I can't tell how far - the foal asked again,

"Do you see anything now?"

"Yes," said the Ashlad; "See something that looks white just like a tall, big birch trunk."

"Yes," said the foal; "we're going into that tree-of-life-trunk."

When they got to the trunk, the eldest foal took and pushed it on one side, and then they saw a door where it had stood, and inside the door was a little room, and in the room there was barely anything but a little fireplace and one or two benches; but behind the door hung a great rusty sword and a little pitcher.

"Can you brandish the sword?" said the foals; "try."

So the Ashlad tried, but he couldn't; then they made him take a pull at the pitcher; first once, then twice, and then thrice, and then he could wield it like anything.

"Yes," said the foals, "now you may take the sword with you, and with it you must cut off all our seven heads on your wedding-day, and then we'll be princes again as we were before. For we are brothers of that princess whom you are to have when you can tell the king what we eat and drink; but an ugly troll has thrown this shape over us. Now mind, when you have hewn off our heads, to take care to lay each head at the tail of the trunk which it belonged to before, and then the spell will have no more demon power over us."

The boy promised all that, and then on they went. And when they had travelled a long way, the foal asked,

"Do you see anything?"

"No," said the Ashlad.

So they travelled a good bit still.

"And now?" asked the foal.

"No, I see nothing," said the Ashlad.

So they travelled many miles again, over hill and dale.

"Now then," said the foal, "do you see anything now?"

"Yes," said the Ashlad, "now I see something like a blue stripe, far away."

"Yes," said the foal, "that's a river we've got to cross."

Over the river was a long, grand bridge; and when they had got over to the other side, they travelled on a long, long way. At last the foal asked again

"If the Ashlad didn't see anything?"

"Yes, this time he saw something that looked black far away, just as though it were a church steeple."

"Yes," said the foal, "that's where we're going to turn in."

Urnes stave church, from the 1100-1200s, on the Unesco world heritage list
Urnes stave church

When the foals got into the church yard, they became men again, and looked like firm princes, with such fine clothes that it glistened from them; and so they went into the church, and took the bread and wine from the good priest who stood at the counter. And the Ashlad went in too; but when the good priest had laid his hands on the goods, and kept the change, they went out of the church again, and the Ashlad went out too, but he took with him a flask of wine and a wafer.

As soon as ever the seven princes came out into the church yard, they were turned into foals again. The Ashlad got up on the back of the youngest, and they all went back the same way that they had come; only they went a lot faster. First they crossed the Gjallar bridge, next they passed the trunk, and then they passed the old, used and worn woman who sat at the cleft and span. They went by her so fast that the Ashlad couldn't hear what the she screeched after him; but he heard so much as to know she was in an awful rage.

It was almost dark when they got back to the palace, and the king himself stood out on the steps and waited for them.

"Have you watched well and true the whole day?" he said to the Ashlad.

"I've done my best, sir."

"Then you can tell me what my seven foals eat and drink," said the king.

Then the Ashlad pulled out the flask of wine and the wafer, and showed them to the king.

"Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink," he proudly said.

"Yes," said the king, "you have watched true and well, and you shall have the princess and half the kingdom."

So they made ready the wedding-feast, and the king said it should be such a grand one, it should be the talk far and near.

But when they sat down to the bridal feast, the bridegroom got up and went down to the stable, for he said he had forgotten something, and must go to fetch it. And when he got down there, he did as the foals had said, and hewed their heads off, all seven, the eldest first, and the others after him; and at the same time he took care to lay each head at the tail of the foal to which it belonged; and as he did this, lo! they all became princes again.

So when he went into the bridal hall with the seven princes, the king was so glad he both kissed the Ashlad and patted him on the back, and his bride was still more glad of him than she had been before.

"Half the kingdom you have got already," said the king, "and the other half you shall have after my death; for my sons can easily get themselves lands and wealth, now they are princes again."

And so there was mirth and fun at that wedding. I was there too. Was that a great shame?

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Thumbikin

Norwegian folktales There was a woman who had an only son, and he was no taller than your thumb; and so they called him Thumbikin.

When he had come to be old enough to know right and wrong, his mother told him to go out and woo him a bride, for now she said it was high time he thought about getting a wife. When Thumbikin heard that, he was very glad; so they got their driving gear in order and set off, and his mother put him into her bosom. Now they were going to a palace where there was such an awfully big princess, but when they had gone a bit of the way, Thumbikin was lost and gone. His mother hunted for him everywhere, and bawled to him, and wept because he was lost, and she couldn't find him again.

"Huzzah, whee," said Thumbikin, "here I am, "and he had hidden himself in the horse's mane.

So he came out, and had to give his word to his mother that he wouldn't do so any more. But when they had driven a bit farther on, Thumbikin was lost again. His mother hunted for him, and called him and wept; but gone he was, and gone he stayed.

"Huzzah, whee," said Thumbikin at last; and then she heard how he laughed and tittered, but she couldn't find him at all for the life of her.

"Huzzah, whee, why, here I am now!" said Thumbikin, and came out of the horse's ear.

So he had to give his word that he wouldn't hide himself again; but they had hardly driven a bit farther before he was gone again. He couldn't help it. As for his mother, she hunted, and wept, and called him by name; but gone he was, and gone he stayed; and the more she hunted, the less she could find him in any way.

"Huzzah, whee, here I am then," said Thumbikin.

But she couldn't make out at all where he was, his voice sounded so dull and muffled.

So she hunted, and he kept on saying, "Huzzah, whee, here I am," and laughed and chuckled, that she couldn't find him; but all at once the horse snorted, and it snorted Thumbikin out, for he had crept up one of his nostrils.

Then his mother took him and put him into a bag; she knew no other way, for she saw well enough he couldn't help hiding himself.

So when they came to the palace the match was soon made, for the princess thought him a pretty little chap, and it wasn't long before the wedding came on too.

Now, when they were going to sit down to the wedding feast, Thumbikin sat at the table by the princess's side; but he had worse than no seat, for when he was to eat he couldn't reach up to the table; and so, if the princess hadn't helped him up on to it, he wouldn't have got a bit to eat.

Now it went good and well so long as he had to eat off a plate, but then there came a great bowl of porridge - that he couldn't reach up to; but Thumbikin soon found out a way to help himself; he climbed up and sat on the lip of the bowl But then there was a pat of melting butter right in the middle of the bowl, and that he couldn't reach to dip his porridge into it, and so he went on and took his seat at the edge of the melting butter; but just then who should come but the princess, with a great spoonful of porridge to dip it into the butter; and, alas! she went too near to Thumbikin, and tipped him over; and so he fell over head and ears, and was drowned in the melted butter.

Notes

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