Once on a time there was a couple of humble cottagers who had no children until, at last, they were blessed with a boy, which made both of them very happy. They named him Faithful and when he was christened a hulder came to the hut, seated herself beside the child's cradle, and foretold that he would meet with good fortune. "What is more," she said, "when he is fifteen years old, I will give him a horse with many rare qualities, a horse that can speak!" And with that the hulder turned and went away.
The boy grew up and became strong and powerful. And when he had passed his fifteenth year, a strange old man came up to their hut one day, knocked, and said that the horse he was leading had been sent by his queen, and that from now on it was to belong to Faithful, as she had promised. Then the old man departed; but the beautiful horse was admired by all, and Faithful learned to love it more with every passing day.
At length he grew weary of home. "I must away and try my fortune in the world," said he, and his parents did not like to object; for there was not much to wish for at home. So he led his dear horse from the stable, swung himself into the saddle, and rode hurriedly into the wood. He rode on and on, and had already covered a good bit of ground, when he saw two lions engaged in a struggle with a tiger, and they were well nigh overcome.
"Hurry and take your bow," said the horse, "shoot the tiger and deliver the two lions!"
"Yes, that's what I will do," said the youth, fitted an arrow to the bowstring, and in a moment the tiger lay prone on the ground. The two lions drew nearer, nuzzled their preserver in a friendly and grateful manner, and then hastened back to their cave.
Faithful now rode along for a long time among the great trees until he suddenly spied two terrified white doves fleeing from a hawk that was on the point of catching them.
"Make haste to take your bow," said the horse, "shoot the hawk and save the two doves!"
"Yes, that's what I'll do," said the youth. He fitted an arrow to the bowstring, and in a moment the hawk lay prone on the ground. But the two doves flew nearer, fluttered about their deliverer in a tame and grateful manner, and then hurried back to their nest.
The youth pressed on through the wood and by now was far, far from home. But his horse did not tire easily, and ran on with him until they came to a great lake. There he saw a gull rise up from the water, holding a pike in its claws. "Make haste to take your bow," said the horse, "shoot the gull and save the pike!"
"Yes, that I'll do," answered the youth, fitted an arrow to his bowstring, and in a moment the gull was threshing the ground with its wings, mortally wounded. But the pike who had been saved swam nearer, gave his deliverer a friendly, grateful glance, and then dived down to join his fellows beneath the waves.
Faithful rode on again, and before evening came to a great castle. He at once had himself announced to the king, and begged that the latter would take him into his service.
"What kind of a place do you want?" asked the king, who was inclined to look with favour on the bold horseman.
"I should like to be a manservant," was Faithful's answer, "but first of all I must have stable-room and fodder for my horse."
"That you shall have," said the king, and the youth was taken on as a manservant, and served so long and so well that everyone in the castle liked him, and the king in particular praised him highly.
But among the other servitors was one named Unfaithful. He was jealous of Faithful and did what he could to harm him, for he thought to himself, "Then I would be rid of him, and will not have to see him continue to rise in my lord's favour."
Now it happened that the king was very sad, for he had lost his queen; a troll had stolen from the castle. The queen had not taken pleasure in the king's company, and had not loved him. Still the king longed for her greatly, and often spoke of it to Unfaithful his servant.
So one day Unfaithful said, "Do not distress yourself no longer, for Faithful has been boasting to me that he could rescue your beautiful queen from the hands of the troll."
"If he has done so," answered the king, "then he must keep his word."
He straightway ordered Faithful to be brought before him, and threatened him with death if he did not at once hurry into the hill and bring back the wife he had been robbed of. If Faithful was successful, great honour should be his reward.
In vain Faithful denied what Unfaithful had said of him. The king stuck to his demand and the youth withdrew, convinced that he had not long to live. Then he went to the stable to bid farewell to his beautiful horse, and stood beside him and wept.
"What grieves you so?" asked the horse.
Then the youth told him of all that had happened, and said that this was probably the last time he would be able to visit him.
"If it is nothing more than that," said the horse, "there is a way to help you. Up in the garret of the castle there is an old fiddle, take it with you and play it when you come to the place where the queen is kept. And fashion for yourself armour of steel wire, and set knives into it everywhere, and then, when you see the troll open his jaws, descend into his maw, and thus slay him. But you must have no fear, and must trust me to show you the way."
These words filled the youth with fresh courage, he went to the king and was permitted to leave, secretly fashioned his steel armour, took the old fiddle from the garret of the castle, led his dear horse out of the stable, and without delay set forth for the troll's hill.
Before long he saw it, and rode directly to the troll's abode. When he came near, he saw the troll, who had crept out of his castle, lying stretched out at the entrance to his cave, fast asleep, and snoring so powerfully that the whole hill shook. But his mouth was wide open, and his maw was so tremendous that it was easy for the youth to crawl into it. He did so, for he was not afraid, and made his way into the troll's inwards where he was so active that the troll was soon killed. Then Faithful crept out again, laid aside his armour, and entered the troll's castle. Within the great golden hall sat the captive queen, fettered with seven strong chains of gold. Faithful could not break the strong chains, but he took up his fiddle and played such tender music on it that the golden chains were moved, and one after another fell from the queen until she was able to rise and was free once more. She looked at the courageous youth with joy and gratitude, and felt very kindly toward him because he was so handsome and courteous. And the queen was perfectly willing to return with him to the king's castle.
The return of the queen gave rise to great joy, and Faithful received the promised reward from the king. But now the queen treated her husband with even less consideration than before. She would not exchange a word with him, she did not laugh, and locked herself up in her room. This greatly vexed the king, and one day he asked the queen why she was so sad.
"Well," said she, "I cannot be happy unless I have the beautiful golden hall which I had in the hill at the troll's, for a hall like that is to be found nowhere else."
"It will be no easy matter to get it for you," said the king, "and I cannot promise you that anyone will be able to do it."
But when he complained of his difficulty to his servant Unfaithful, the latter answered: "The chances of success are not so bad, for Faithful said he could easily bring the troll's golden hall to the castle."
Faithful was at once sent for, and the king commanded him, as he loved his life, to make good his word and bring the golden hall from the troll's hill. It was in vain that Faithful denied Unfaithful's assertions: go he must, and bring back the golden hall.
Inconsolable, he went to his beautiful horse, wept and wanted to say farewell to him forever.
"What troubles you?" asked the horse.
And the youth answered, "Unfaithful has again been telling lies about me, and if I do not bring the troll's golden hall to the queen, my life will be forfeited."
"Is it nothing more serious than that?" said the horse. "See that you get a great ship, take your fiddle with you and play the golden hall out of the hill, then hitch the troll's horses before it, and you will be able to bring the glistening hall here without trouble."
Then Faithful felt somewhat better, did as the horse had told him, and was successful in reaching the great hill. And as he stood there playing the fiddle, the golden hall heard him, and was drawn to the sounding music, and it moved slowly, slowly, until it stood outside the hill. It was built of virgin gold, like a house by itself, and under it were many wheels. Then the youth took the troll's horses, put them to the golden hall, and thus brought it aboard his ship.
Soon he had crossed the lake, and brought it along safely so that it reached the castle without damage, to the great joy of the queen. Yet despite the fact, she was as weary of everything as she had been before, never spoke to her husband, the king, and no one ever saw her laugh.
Now the king grew even more vexed than he had been, and again asked her why she seemed so sad.
"Ah, how can I be happy unless I have the two colts that used to belong to me, when I stayed at the troll's! Such handsome steeds are to be seen nowhere else!"
"It will be anything but easy to obtain for you what you want," declared the king, "for they were untamed, and long ago must have run far away into the wildwood."
Then he left her, sadly, and did not know what to do. But Unfaithful said, "Have no concern, for Faithful has declared he could easily secure both of the troll's colts."
They sent for Faithful at once, and the king threatened him with death if he did not show his powers in the matter of the colts. But should he succeed in catching them, then he would be rewarded.
Now Faithful knew quite well that he could not hope to catch the troll's wild colts, and he once more turned to the stable in order to bid farewell to the hulder's gift.
"Why do you weep over such a trifle?" said the horse. "Hurry to the wood, play your fiddle, and all will be well!"
Faithful did as he was told, and after a while the two lions that he had rescued came leaping toward him, listened to his playing and asked him if he was in distress.
"Yes, indeed," said Faithful, and told them what he had to do.
They at once ran back into the wood, one to one side and the other to the other, and returned quickly, driving the two colts before them. Then Faithful played his fiddle and the colts followed him, so that he soon reached the king's castle in safety, and could deliver the steeds to the queen.
The king now expected that his wife would be gay and happy. But she did not change, never said a word to him, and only seemed a little less sad when she happened to speak to the daring youth.
Then the king asked her to tell him what she lacked, and why she was so discontented.
She answered, "I have secured the colts of the troll, and I often sit in the glittering hall of gold; but I can open none of the handsome chests that are filled to the brim with my valuables, because I have no keys. And if I do not get the keys again, how can I be happy?"
"And where may the keys be?" asked the king.
"In the lake by the troll's hill," said the queen, "for that is where I threw them when Faithful brought me here."
"It seems like a ticklish affair, getting those keys you want!" said the king. "And I can scarcely promise that you will ever see them again."
In spite of this, however, he was willing to make a try, and talked it over with his servant Unfaithful. "Why, that is easily done," said the latter, ''for Faithful boasted to me that he could get the queen's keys without any difficulty if he wished."
"Then I shall compel him to keep his word," said the king. And he at once ordered Faithful, on pain of death, to get the queen's keys out of the lake by the troll's hill without delay.
This time the youth was not so depressed, for he thought to himself, "My wise horse will be able to help me."
And so he was, for he advised him to go along playing his fiddle, and to wait for what might happen. After the youth had played for a while, the pike he had saved thrust his head out of the water, recognized him, and asked whether he could be of any service to him.
"Yes, indeed!" said the youth, and told him what it was he wanted. The pike at once dived, quickly rose to the surface of the water with the golden keys in his mouth, and gave them to his deliverer. The latter hastened back with them, and now the queen could open the great chests in the golden hall to her heart's content.
Notwithstanding, the king's wife was as sorrowful as ever, and when the king complained about it to Unfaithful, the latter said, "No doubt it is because she loves Faithful. I would therefore advise that my lord have him beheaded. Then there will be a change."
This advice suited the king well, and he determined to carry it out shortly.
But one day Faithful's horse said to him, "The king is going to have your head chopped off. So hurry to the wood, play your fiddle, and beg the two doves to bring you a bottle of the water of life. Then go to the queen and ask her to set your head on your body and to sprinkle you with the water when you have been beheaded."
Faithful did so. He went to the wood that very day with his fiddle, and before long the two doves were fluttering around him, and shortly after brought back the bottle filled with the water of life. He tested a few drops of the water on a dead squirrel in his way, and saw it worked. Then he took it back home with him and gave it to the queen, so that she might sprinkle him with it after he had been beheaded. She did so, and at once Faithful rose again, as full of life as ever, but far better looking.
The king was astonished at what he had seen, and told the queen to cut off his own head and . . . She at once seized the sword, and in a moment the king's head rolled to the ground. But she sprinkled none of the water of life on it, and the king's body was quickly carried out and buried.
Then the queen and Faithful celebrated their wedding with great pomp; but Unfaithful was banished from the land and went away in disgrace. The wise horse dwelt contentedly in a wonderful chamber, and the king and queen kept the magic fiddle, the golden hall, and the troll's other valuables, and lived in peace and happiness day after day.
Once on a time there lived two peasants on a homestead called Vaderas. In those days the roads were good, and the women were in the habit of riding when they wanted to go to church.
One Christmas the two women agreed that they would ride to Christmas night mass, and whichever one of them woke up at the right time was to call the other, for in those days there was no such thing as a watch.
It was about midnight when one of the women thought she heard a voice from the window, calling, "I am going to set out now." She got up hurriedly and dressed herself, so that she might be able to ride with the other woman; but since there was no time to eat, she took a piece of bread from the table along with her. In those times it was customary to bake the bread in the shape of a cross. It was a piece of this kind that the woman took and put in her pocket, in order to eat it underway. She rode as fast as she could, to catch up with her friend, but could not overtake her.
The way led over a little stream which flows into Vidostern Lake, and across the stream was a bridge, known as the Earth Bridge, and on the bridge stood two witch trolls, busy washing. As the woman came riding across the bridge, one of the witch trolls called out to the other, "Hurry, and tear her head from her shoulders!"
"That I cannot do," returned the other, "because she has a bit of bread in the form of a cross in her pocket."
The woman, who had been unable to catch up with her neighbour, reached the church at Hanger alone.
The church was full of lights, as was always the case when the Christmas mass was said. As quickly as ever she could the woman tied up her horse, and hurriedly entered the church. It seemed to her that the church was crowded with people; but all of them were headless, and at the altar stood the priest, in full canonicals but without a head. In her haste she did not at once see how things were; but sat down in her accustomed place. As she sat down, it seemed to her that someone said, "If I had not stood godfather to you when you were christened, I would do away with you as you sit there. But now hurry and make yourself scarce, or it will be the worse for you!"
Then she realized that things were not as they should be, and ran out hastily.
When she came into the churchyard, it seemed to her as if she were surrounded by a great crowd of people. In those days people wore broad mantles of unbleached wool, woven at home, and white in colour. She was wearing one of these mantles and the spectres seized it. But she flung it away from her and managed to escape from the churchyard, and run to the poor-house and wake the people there. It is said it was then one o 'clock at night.
So she sat and waited for the early mass at four o'clock in the morning. And when day finally dawned, they found a little piece of her mantle on every grave in the church-yard.
Once on a time there was a high-born duke who did not want to stay at home. And so he travelled about the world, and wherever he went he was well received, and hobnobbed with the very finest people, for he had an unheard of amount of money. He at once found friends and acquaintances, no matter where he came. But since he handled his money as he did, it grew less and less, and at last he was left high and dry. With it, there was an end to all his many friends. They soon scattered, each about his own business. And there he stood, abandoned by all. There was nothing left for him to do but to wander back home again like a journeyman apprentice, and beg his way as he went.
Late one evening he found himself in a big forest, without any idea as to where he might spend the night. As he was looking around, he saw an old hut among the bushes. He went into the hut. Against one of the walls there was a great chest. What might there be in the chest? He opened the chest. Within the chest was another chest, and in that chest still another chest, and so it went, one smaller than the other, until they were nothing but little boxes. Whatever was hidden away so carefully must be something special, he considered.
At last he came to a tiny box, and in the tiny box was a slip of paper. Something was written on it, and he was even able to spell out the words, though they looked strange. He read, "Lasse, my lad!"
No sooner had he spoken these words than something answered, close to his ear, "What does my master want?"
He looked around, but saw no one. That's strange, thought he, and once more read aloud, "Lasse, my lad!"
And just as before came the answer, "What does my master want?"
"If there is someone about who hears what I say, he might be kind enough to get me a little something to eat," he said. And at that very moment a table was standing in the hut, covered with good things to eat. He at once began to eat and drink. "I have never had a better meal in my life," he thought. When he was satisfied, he grew sleepy and took up his scrap of paper again.
"Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?"
"Now that you have brought me food and drink, you must also bring me a bed to sleep in, a fine bed," he said. At once fine and handsome a bed stood in the hut. When he had lain down, he decided that, after all, the hut was far too wretched for such a fine bed. He took up the scrap of paper, "Lasse, my lad!"
''What does my master want?"
"I would like a better room; for I am used to sleeping in a castle," said he.
No sooner had he spoken the words, than he was lying in the most magnificent room he had ever seen. He was quite content as he turned his face to the wall and closed his eyes.
But the room he had slept in was not the last of it. When he woke the following morning and looked around, he saw that he had been sleeping in a great castle. There was one room after another, all glittering so splendidly when the rays of the sun fell on them that he had to put his hand to his eyes. Wherever he looked, everything sparkled with gold and silver. Then he glanced out of the window and began to realize how beautiful everything was. Gone were the fir-trees and juniper bushes, and in their place showed the loveliest garden one might wish to see, filled with beautiful trees and roses of every variety, in bush and tree form. But there was not a cat in sight, no less humans.
He took up the scrap of paper, reading, "Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?"
"I think I am going to stay here," said he, "but I cannot live here all alone in this way. I must have serving-men and serving-maids, at my command."
And so it was. Servants and lackeys and maids and serving women arrived, and some of them bowed and others curtseyed, and now the duke really began to feel content.
Now it happened that another great castle lay on the opposite side of the forest. In it lived a king who owned the forest and many broad acres of field and meadow round about. When the king happened to look out of his window, he saw a new castle with weathercocks swinging to and fro on the roof.
"This is remarkable," thought he, and sent for his courtiers. They came at once.
"Do you see the castle over there?" said the king.
Their eyes grew large as they looked. Yes, they saw the castle.
"Who has dared to build such a castle on my ground?"
The courtiers did not know. So the king sent for his soldiers. They came tramping in and presented arms.
"Send out all my soldiers and horsemen," said the king, "tear down the castle at once, hang whoever built it, and see to this at once."
The soldiers gathered in great haste and set forth. The drummers beat their drums and the trumpeters blew their trumpets, and the other musicians practiced their art, each in his own way; so that the duke heard them long before they came in sight. This was not the first time he had heard music of this sort, and he knew what it meant, so once more he took up the scrap of paper, reading, "Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?"
"There are soldiers coming," said he, "and now you must provide me with soldiers and horsemen until I have twice as many as the folk on the other side of the forest. And sabres and pistols and muskets and cannons, and all that goes with them but you must be quick about it!"
Quick it was, and when the duke looked out there was a countless host of soldiers drawn up around the castle.
When the king's people arrived, they stopped and did not dare to advance. But the duke was by no means shy. He went at once to the king's captain and asked him what he wanted.
The captain repeated his instructions.
"They will not gain you anything," said the duke. "You can see how many soldiers I have, and if the king chooses to listen to me, we can agree to become friends, I will aid him against all his enemies, and what we undertake will succeed."
The captain was pleased with this proposal, so the duke invited him to the castle together with all his officers. While the duke and the officers were eating and drinking there, there was more or less talk, and the duke learned that the king had a daughter. She was yet unmarried and so lovely that her like had never been seen. She would make a good wife for the duke, they said. And as they talked about it, the duke himself began to think it over.
The worst of it was, said the officers, that she was very haughty, and never even deigned to look at a man.
But the duke only laughed. "If it is no worse than that," he said, "it is a trouble that may be cured."
When at last the soldiers had stowed away as much as they could hold, they shouted hurrah until they woke the echoes in the hills, and marched away, even though some of them had grown a little loose-jointed in the knees after hard drinking in the castle. The duke asked them to carry his greetings to the king and say that he would soon pay the king a visit.
When the duke was alone once more, he began to think of the princess again, and whether she were really as beautiful as the soldiers had said. He decided he would like to find out for himself. Since so many strange things had happened that day, it was quite possible, thought he.
"Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?"
"Only that you bring the king's daughter here, as soon as she has fallen asleep," said he. "But mind that she does not wake up, either on her way here, or on her way back."
Before long there lay the princess on the bed. She was sleeping soundly, and looked charming as she lay there asleep. The duke walked all around her; but she appeared just as beautiful from one side as from the other, and the more the duke looked at her, the better she pleased him.
"Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?'
"Now you must take the princess home again," said he, "because now I know what she looks like and tomorrow I shall ask for her hand in marriage."
Next morning the king stepped to the window. "Now I shall not have to see that castle across the way," he thought to himself. But there stood the castle just as before, and the sun was shining brightly on its roof, and the weather vanes were sending beams into his eyes.
The king once more fell into a rage, and shouted for all his people, who hurried to him.
"Do you see that castle there?" roared the king.
Yes, they saw it.
"Did I not order you to tear down that castle and hang its builder?" he said.
They could not deny that; but now the captain himself stepped forward and told what had happened, and what an alarming number of soldiers the duke had, and how magnificent his castle was.
Then he also repeated what the duke had said, and that he had sent his greetings to the king.
All this made the king somewhat dizzy, and he had to set his crown on the table and scratch his head. As he sat there and thought, the princess came in.
"Greetings, father, "she said, "I had a most strange and lovely dream last night."
"And what did you dream, my girl?" said the king.
"I dreamt that I was in the new castle over there, and there was a duke, handsome and so splendid beyond anything I could have imagined, and now I want a husband."
"What, you want a husband, and you have never even deigned to look at a man. That is very strange!" said the king.
"Be that as it may," said the princess, "but that is how I feel now; and I want a husband, and the duke is the husband I want," she concluded.
The king simply could not get over the astonishment the duke had caused him.
Suddenly he heard an extraordinary beating of drums, and sounding of instruments of many kinds. A message came that the duke had arrived with a great retinue. And very soon he king, in his crown and finest robe of state, stood looking down the stairway.
The duke greeted the king pleasantly, and the king returned his greeting in the same way, and they discussed their affairs together they became good friends. There was a great banquet, and the duke sat beside the princess at the table. What they said to each other I do not know, but the duke knew so well how to talk that, no matter what he said, the princess could not say no, and so he went to the king and begged for her hand in marriage. The king could not exactly refuse it, for the duke was the kind of a man whom it was better to have for a friend than for an enemy. But the king could not give his answer out of hand, either. First he wished to see the duke's castle, and know more of know how matters stood.
So it was agreed that they should pay the duke a visit and bring the princess with them so that she might examine the duke's possessions. With that they parted.
When the duke reached home, Lasse had a lively time of it, for he was given any number of commissions. But he rushed about, carrying them out, and everything was arranged so well that when the king arrived with his daughter and they went through all the rooms and looked around, everything was even better than it should be, thought the king, who was very happy.
Then the wedding was celebrated and when it was over and the duke returned home with his young wife, he, too, gave a splendid banquet.
After some time had passed, the duke one evening heard the words, "Is my master content now?" It was Lasse, though the duke could not see him.
"I am well content," answered the duke, "for you have brought me all that I have."
"But what did I get for it?" said Lasse.
"Nothing," answered the duke, "but what could I give you, who are not flesh and blood, and that I cannot see?" said he. "Yet if there is anything I can do for you, let me know what it is."
"I would very much like to have the little scrap of paper that you keep in the box," said Lasse.
"If that is all you want, and if such a trifle is of any service to you, your wish shall be granted, for I believe I know the words by heart now," said the duke.
Lasse thanked him, and said that all the duke needed do, would be to lay the paper on the chair beside his bed when he went to sleep, and that he would fetch it during the night
This the duke did, and then he went to bed and fell asleep.
But toward morning the duke woke up, freezing so that his teeth chattered, and when he had fully opened his eyes, he saw that he had been stripped of everything, and had scarcely a shirt to his name. And instead of lying in the handsome bed in the handsome bedroom in the magnificent castle, he lay on the big chest in the old hut. He at once called out, "Lasse, my lad!" But there was no answer.
Then he cried again, "Lasse, my thrall!" Again there was no answer. So he called out as loudly as he could, "Lasse, my thrall!" But this third call was also in vain.
Now he began to realize what had happened, and that Lasse, when he obtained the scrap of paper, no longer had to serve him, and that he himself had made this possible. But now things were as they were, and there stood the duke in the old hut, with scarcely a shirt to his name. The princess herself was not much better off, though she had kept her clothes; for they had been given her by her father, and Lasse had no power over them.
Now the duke had to explain everything to the princess, and beg her to leave him, since it would be best if he tried to get along as well as he could himself, said he. But this the princess would not do. She had a better memory for what the pastor had said when he married them, she told him, and that she was never to leave him.
At length the king awoke in his castle, and when he looked out of the window, he saw not a single stone of the other castle in which his son-in-law and his daughter lived. He grew uneasy and sent for his courtiers.
They came in, bowing and scraping.
"Do you see the castle there, on the other side of the forest?" he asked. They stretched their necks and opened their eyes. But they could see nothing.
"What has become of it?" said the king. They could not say.
In a short time the king and his entire court set out, passed through the forest, and when they came to the place where the castle, with its great gardens, should have been standing, they saw nothing but juniper-bushes and scrub-pines. And then they happened to see the little hut amid the brush. He went in and there stood his son-in-law with scarcely a shirt to his name. His daughter had none too much to wear either, and was crying and sniveling.
"For Pete's sake, what is the trouble here?" said the king. But he got no answer; for the duke would rather have died than tell him the whole story.
The king urged and pressed him, first amiably, then in anger; but the duke remained obstinate and would have nothing to say. Then the king fell into a rage, which is not very surprising, for now he realized that this fine duke was not what he purported to be, and he therefore ordered him to be hung on the spot. The princess pleaded earnestly for him, but tears and prayers were useless now, for he was a rascal and should die a rascal's death, said the king.
And so it was. The king's people set up a gallows and put a rope around the duke's neck. But as they were leading him to the gallows, the princess got hold of the hangman and gave him a gratuity, for which they were to arrange matters in such a way that the duke would not die. And toward evening they were to cut him down, and he and the princess would disappear. So the bargain was made. In the meantime they strung him up and then the king, together with his court and all the people, went away.
Now the duke was at the end of his rope. Yet he had time enough to reflect about his mistake in not contenting himself with an inch instead of reaching out at once for an ell; and that he had so foolishly given back the scrap of paper to Lasse annoyed him most of all. "If I only had it again, I would show everyone that adversity has made me wise," he thought to himself. And then he dangled his legs, since for the time being there was nothing else for him to do.
It had been a long, hard day for him. But just as the sun was setting he suddenly heard a most tremendous Yo ho! and when he looked down, there were seven carts of worn-out shoes coming along the road, and on top of the last cart was a little old man in grey, with a night-cap on his head. He had the face of some horrible spectre, and was not much better to look at in other respects.
He drove straight up to the gallows, and stopped when he was directly beneath them, looked up at the duke and laughed, that horrible old creature!
"What is a fellow of your sort unless he puts his stupidity to some use?" he said, and then he laughed again. "Yes, there you hang, and here I am carting off all the shoes I wore out going about on your silly errands, he said laughingly and waving the scrap of paper under the duke's nose.
But all who are hanging on the gallows are not dead, and the duke tore the scrap of paper from his hand, saying,
"Lasse, my lad!"
"What does my master want?"
"Cut me down from the gallows at once, and restore the castle and everything else just as it was before, then when it is dark, bring the princess back to it."
Everything was attended to with alarming rapidity, and soon all was exactly as it had been.
When the king awoke next morning, he looked out of the window as usual, and there the castle was standing as before, with its weathercocks gleaming handsomely in the sunlight. He sent for his courtiers, and they came in bowing and scraping.
"Do you see the castle over there?" asked the king.
Yes, they could see the castle.
Then the king sent for the princess; but she was not there. The king set off to see whether his son-in-law was hanging in the appointed spot; but no, there was not a sign of either son-in-law or gallows.
Then he had to take off his crown and scratch his head. Yet that did not change matters, and he could not for the life of him understand why things should be as they were. Finally he set out with his entire court, and when they reached the spot where the castle had been standing, there it stood.
The gardens and the roses were just as they had been, and the duke's servitors were to be seen in swarms beneath the trees. His son-in-law in person, together with his daughter, dressed in the finest clothes, came down the stairs to meet him.
So strange did all seem to the king that he did not trust the evidence of his own eyes.
"God greet you and welcome, father!" said the duke. The king could only stare. "Are you my son-in-law?" he asked.
"Who else am I supposed to be?" said the duke.
"Did I not have you strung up yesterday as a thief and a vagabond?" inquired the king.
The duke laughed.
"Should I allow myself to be hanged so easily? Come, now! How could it be possible?"
Now the king was really at a loss to know what to think. When he looked at the duke he felt sure that he could never have wished to harm him, and yet he was not quite sure. The king rubbed his eyes and looked around.
"It must be as you say," he told the duke. "And it would have been a sin and shame if I had had you hung," said he. Then he grew joyful and no one gave the matter further thought.
Adversity teaches one to be wise, people say, and the duke now began to attend to most things himself, and to see to it that Lasse did not have to wear out so many pairs of shoes. The king at once bestowed half the kingdom on him, which gave him plenty to do, and people said that one would have to look far in order to find a better ruler.
Then Lasse came to the duke one day, and though he did not look much better than before, he was more civil and did not venture to grin and carry on.
"You no longer need my help," said he, "for though formerly I used to wear out all my shoes, I now cannot even wear out a single pair, and I almost believe my legs are moss-grown. Will you not discharge me?"
The duke thought he could. "I have taken great pains to spare you, and I really believe that I can get along without you," he answered. "But the castle here and all the other things I could not well dispense with, since I never again could find an architect like yourself, and you may take for granted that I have no wish to ornament the gallows-tree a second time. Therefore I will not, of my own free will, give you back the scrap of paper," said he.
"While it is in your possession I have nothing to fear," answered Lasse. "But should the paper fall into other hands, then I should have to begin to run and work all over again and just that is what I would like to prevent. When a fellow has been working a thousand years, as I have, he is bound to grow weary at last."
So they came to the conclusion that the duke should put the scrap of paper in its little box and bury it seven ells underground, beneath a stone that had grown there and would remain there as well. Then they thanked each other for pleasant comradeship and separated. The duke did as he had agreed to do, and no one saw him hide the box. He lived happily with his princess, and was blessed with sons and daughters. When the king died, he inherited the whole kingdom and, as you may imagine, he was none the worse off thereby, and no doubt he is still living and ruling there, unless he has died.
As to the little box containing the scrap of paper, many are still digging and searching for it.