The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

The Mastermaid

p. 71

Once on a time there was a king who had several sons--I don't know how many there were--but the youngest had no rest at home, for nothing else would please him but to go out into the world and try his luck, and after a long, time the king was forced to give him leave to go. Now, after he had travelled some days, he came one night to a Giant's house, and there he got a place in the Giant's service. In the morning the Giant went off to herd his goats, and as he left the yard he told the Prince to clean out the stable; "And after you have done that, you needn't do anything else to-day; for you must know it is an easy master you have come to. But what is set you to do you must do well, and you mustn't think of going into any of the rooms which are beyond that in which you slept, for if you do, I'll take your life."

"Sure enough, it is an easy master I have got," said the Prince to himself, as he walked up and down the room, and carolled and sang, for he thought there was plenty of time to clean out the stable.

"But still it would be good fun just to peep into his other rooms, for there must be something in them which he is afraid lest I should see, since he won't give me leave to go in."

So he went into the first room, and there was a pot boiling on a hook by the wall, but the Prince saw no fire underneath p. 72 it. I wonder what is inside it, he thought; and then he dipped a lock of his hair into it, and the hair seemed as if it were all turned to copper.

"What a dainty broth," he said; "if one tasted it, he'd look grand inside his gullet;" and with that he went into the next room. There, too, was a pot hanging by a hook, which bubbled and boiled; but there was no fire under that either.

"I may as well try this too," said the Prince, as he put another lock into the pot, and it came out all silvered.

"They haven't such rich broth in my father's house," said the Prince; "but it all depends on how it tastes," and with that he went on into the third room. There, too, hung a pot, and boiled just as he had seen in the two other rooms, and the Prince had a mind to try this too, so he dipped a lock of hair into it, and it came out gilded, so that the light gleamed from it.

" 'Worse and worse,' said the old wife; but I say better and better," said the Prince; "but if he boils gold here, I wonder what he boils in yonder."

He thought he might as well see; so he went through the door into the fourth room. Well, there was no pot in there, but there was a Princess, seated on a bench, so lovely, that the Prince had never seen anything like her in his born days.

"Oh! in Heaven's name," she said, "what do you want here?"

"I got a place here yesterday," said the Prince.

"A place, indeed! Heaven help you out of it."

"Well, after all, I think I've got an easy master; he p. 73 hasn't set me much to do to-day, for after I have cleaned out the stable my day's work is over."

"Yes, but how will you do it?" she said; "for if you set to work to clean it like other folk, ten pitchforks full will come in for every one you toss out. But I will teach you how to set to work; you must turn the fork upside down, and toss with the handle, and then all the dung will fly out of itself."

"Yes, he would be sure to do that," said the Prince; and so he sat there the whole day, for he and the Princess were soon great friends, and had made up their minds to have one another, and so the first day of his service with the Giant was not long, you may fancy. But when the evening drew on, she said 'twould be as well if he got the stable cleaned out before the Giant came home; and when he went to the stable he thought he would just see if what she had said were true, and so he began to work like the grooms in his father's stable; but he soon had enough of that, for he hadn't worked a minute before the stable was so full of dung that he hadn't room to stand. Then he did as the Princess bade him, and turned up the fork and worked with the handle, and lo! in a trice the stable was as clean as if it had been scoured. And when he had done his work he went back into the room where the Giant had given him leave to be, and began to walk up and down, and to carol and sing. So after a bit, home came the Giant with his goats.

"Have you cleaned the stable?" asked the Giant.

"Yes, now it's all right and tight, master," answered the Prince.

"I'll soon see if it is," growled the Giant, and strode p. 74 off to the stable, where he found it just as the Prince had said.

"You've been talking to my Mastermaid, I can see," said the Giant; "for you've not sucked this knowledge out of your own breast."

"Mastermaid!" said the Prince, who looked as stupid as an owl, "what sort of thing is that, master? I'd be very glad to see it."

"Well, well!" said the Giant; "you'll see her soon enough."

Next day the Giant set off with his goats again, and before he went he told the Prince to fetch home his horse, which was out at grass on the hill-side, and when he had done that he might rest all the day.

"For you must know it is an easy master you have come to," said the Giant; "but if you go into any of the rooms I spoke of yesterday, I'll wring your head off."

So off he went with his flock of goats.

"An easy master you are indeed," said the Prince; but for all that, I'll just go in and have a chat with your Mastermaid; may be she'll be as soon mine as yours." So he went in to her, and she asked him what he had to do that day.

"Oh! nothing to be afraid of," said he; "I've only to go up to the hill-side to fetch his horse."

"Very well; and how will you set about it?"

"Well, for that matter, there's no great art in riding a horse home. I fancy I've ridden fresher horses before now," said the Prince.

"Ah, but this isn't so easy a task as you think; but I'll teach you how to do it. When you get near it, fire p. 75 and flame will come out of its nostrils, as out of a tar barrel; but look out, and take the bit which hangs behind the door yonder, and throw it right into his jaws, and he will grow so tame that you may do what you like with him."

Yes! the Prince would mind and do that; and so he sat in there the whole day, talking and chattering with the Mastermaid about one thing and another; but they always came back to how happy they would be if they could only have one another, and get well away from the Giant; and, to tell the truth, the Prince would have clean forgotten both the horse and the hill-side, if the Mastermaid hadn't put him in mind of them when evening drew on, telling him he had better set out to fetch the horse before the Giant came home. So he set off, and took the bit which hung in the corner, ran up the hill, and it wasn't long before he met the horse, with fire and flame streaming out of its nostrils. But he watched his time, and as the horse came open-jawed up to him, he threw the bit into its mouth, and it stood as quiet as a lamb. After that it was no great matter to ride it home and put it up, you may fancy; and then the Prince went into his room again, and began to carol and sing.

So the Giant came home again at even with his goats; and the first words he said were--

"Have you brought my horse down from the hill?"

"Yes, master, that I have," said the Prince; "and a better horse I never bestrode; but for all that I rode him straight home, and put him up safe and sound."

"I'll soon see to that," said the Giant, and ran out to the stable, and there stood the horse just as the Prince had said.

p. 76 "You've talked to my Mastermaid, I'll be bound, for you haven't sucked this out of your own breast," said the Giant again.

"Yesterday master talked of this Mastermaid, and to-day it's the same story," said the Prince, who pretended to be silly and stupid. "Bless you, master! why don't you show me the thing at once? I should so like to see it only once in my life."

"Oh, if that's all," said the Giant, "you'll see her soon enough.

The third day, at dawn, the Giant went off to the wood again with his goats; but before he went he said to the Prince--

"To-day you must go to Hell and fetch my fire-tax. When you have done that you can rest yourself all day, for you must know it is an easy master you have come to;" and with that off he went.

"Easy master, indeed!" said the Prince. "You may be easy, but you set me hard tasks all the same. But I may as well see if I can find your Mastermaid, as you call her. I daresay she'll tell me what to do;" and so in he went to her again.

So when the Mastermaid asked what the Giant had set him to do that day, he told her how he was to go to Hell and fetch the fire-tax.

"And how will you set about it?" asked the Mastermaid.

"Oh, that you must tell me," said the Prince. "I have never been to Hell in my life; and even if I knew the way, I don't know how much I am to ask for."

"Well, I'll soon tell you," said the Mastermaid; "you must go to the steep rock away yonder, under the hill-side, and take the club that lies there, and knock on the face of the rock. Then there will come out one all glistening with fire; to him you must tell your errand; and when he asks you how much you will have, mind you say, 'As much as I can carry.' "

Yes; he would be sure to say that; so he sat in there with the Mastermaid all that day too; and though evening drew on, he would have sat there till now, had not the Mastermaid put him in mind that it was high time to be off to Hell to fetch the Giant's fire-tax before he came home. So he went on his way, and did just as the Mastermaid had told him; and when he reached the rock he took up the club and gave a great thump. Then the rock opened, and out came one whose face glistened, and out of whose eyes and nostrils flew sparks of fire.

"What is your will?" said he.

"Oh! I'm only come from the Giant to fetch his fire-tax," said the Prince.

"How much will you have then?" said the other.

"I never wish for more than I am able to carry," said the Prince.

"Lucky for you that you did not ask for a whole horse-load," said he who came out of the rock; "but come now into the rock with me, and you shall have it."

So the Prince went in with him, and you may fancy what heaps and heaps of gold and silver he saw lying in there, just like stones in a gravel-pit; and he got a load just as big as he was able to carry, and set off home with it. Now, when the Giant came home with his goats at p. 78 even, the Prince went into his room, and began to carol and sing as he had done the evenings before.

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page