The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

p. 131

Shortshanks

Once on a time there was a poor couple who lived in a tumble-down hut, in which there was nothing but black want, so that they hadn't a morsel to eat, nor a stick to burn. But though they had next to nothing of other things, they had God's blessing in the way of children, and every year they had another babe. Now, when this story begins, they were just looking out for a new child; and, to tell the truth, the husband was rather cross, and he was always going about grumbling and growling, and saying, "For his part, he thought one might have too many of these God's gifts." So when the time came that the babe was to be born, he went off into the wood to fetch fuel, saying, "he didn't care to stop and see the young squaller; he'd be sure to hear him soon enough, screaming for food."

Now, when her husband was well out of the house, his wife gave birth to a beautiful boy, who began to look about the room as soon as ever he came into the world.

"Oh, dear mother!" he said, "give me some of my brother's cast-off clothes, and a few days' food, and I'll go out into the world and try my luck; you have children enough as it is, that I can see."

"God help you, my son!" answered his mother; "that can never be, you are far too young yet."

But the tiny one stuck to what he said, and begged and prayed till his mother was forced to let him have a few old p. 132 rags, and a little food tied up in a bundle, and off he went right merrily and manfully into the wide world. But he was scarce out of the house before his mother had another boy, and he too looked about him and said--

"Oh, dear mother! give me some of my brother's old clothes, and a few days' food, and I'll go out into the world to find my twin-brother; you have children enough already on your hands, that I can see."

"God help you, my poor little fellow!" said his mother; "you are far too little, this will never do."

But it was no good; the tiny one begged and prayed so hard, till he got some old tattered rags and a bundle of food; and so he wandered out into the world like a man, to find his twin-brother. Now, when the younger had walked a while, he saw his brother a good bit on before him, so he called out to him to stop.

"Halloa! can't you stop? why, you lay legs to the ground as if you were running a race. But you might just as well have stayed to see your youngest brother before set you off into the world in such a hurry."

So the elder stopped and looked round; and when the younger had come up to him and told him the whole story, and how he was his brother, he went on to say,--

"But let's sit down here and see what our mother has given us for food." So they sat down together, and were soon great friends.

Now when they had gone a bit farther on their way they came to a brook which ran through a green meadow, and the youngest said now the time was come to give one another names; "Since we set off in such a hurry that we hadn't time to do it at home, we may as well do it here."

p. 133

"Well," said the elder, "and what shall your name be?"

"Oh!" said the younger, "my name shall be Shortshanks; and yours, what shall it be?"

"I will be called King Sturdy," answered the eldest.

So they christened each other in the brook, and went on; but when they had walked a while they came to a cross road, and agreed they should part there, and each take his own road. So they parted, but they hadn't gone half a mile before their roads met again. So they parted the second time, and took each a road; but in a little while the same thing happened, and they met again, they scarce knew how; and the same thing happened a third time also. Then they agreed that they should each choose a quarter of the heavens, and one was to go east and the other west; but before they parted, the elder said,--

"If you ever fall into misfortune or need, call three times on me, and I will come and help you; but mind you don't call on me till you are at the last pinch."

"Well!" said Shortshanks, "if that's to be the rule, I don't think we shall meet again very soon."

After that they bade each other good-bye, and Shortshanks went east and King Sturdy west.

Now, you must know when Shortshanks had gone a good bit alone, he met an old, old, crook-backed hag who had only one eye, and Shortshanks snapped it up.

"Oh! Oh!" screamed the hag, "what has become of my eye?"

"What will you give me," asked Shortshanks, "if you get your eye back?"

"I'll give you a sword, and such a sword! It will put p. 134 a whole army to flight, be it ever so great," answered the old woman.

"Out with it, then!" said Shortshanks.

So the old hag gave him the sword, and got her eye back again. After that Shortshanks wandered on a while, and another old, old, crook-backed hag met him who had only one eye, which Shortshanks stole before she was aware of him.

"Oh! Oh! whatever has become of my eye?" screamed the hag.

"What will you give me to get your eye back?" asked Shortshanks.

"I'll give you a ship," said the woman, "which can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and deep dales."

"Well, out with it!" said Shortshanks.

So the old woman gave him a little tiny ship, no bigger than he could put in his pocket, and she got her eye back again, and they each went their way. But when he had wandered on a long, long way, he met a third time an old, old, crook-backed hag, with only one eye. This eye too, Shortshanks stole; and when the hag screamed and made a great to-do, bawling out what had become of her eye, Shortshanks said,--

"What will you give me to get back your eye?"

Then she answered,--

"I'll give you the art how to brew a hundred lasts of malt at one strike."

Well, for teaching that art the old hag got back her eye, and they each went their way.

But when Shortshanks had walked a little way, he thought it might be worth while to try his ship; so he p. 135 took it out of his pocket, and put first one foot into it, and then the other; and as soon as ever he set one foot into it it began to grow bigger and bigger, and by the time he set the other foot into it, it was as big as other ships that sail on the sea. Then Shortshanks said,--

"Off and away, over fresh water and salt water, over high hills and deep dales, and don't stop till you come to the king's palace."

And lo! away went the ship as swiftly as a bird through the air, till it came down a little below the king's palace, and there it stopped. From the palace windows people had stood and seen Shortshanks come sailing along, and they were all so amazed that they ran down to see who it could be that came sailing in a ship through the air. But while they were running down, Shortshanks had stepped out of his ship and put it into his pocket again; for as soon as he stepped out of it, it became as small as it was when he got it from the old woman. So those who had run down from the palace saw no one but a ragged little boy standing down there by the strand. Then the king asked whence he came, but the boy said he didn't know, nor could he tell them how he had got there. There he was, and that was all they could get out of him; but he begged and prayed so prettily to get a place in the king's palace, saying, if there was nothing else for him to do he could carry in wood and water for the kitchen-maid, that their hearts were touched, and he got leave to stay there.

Now when Shortshanks came up to the palace he saw how it was all hung with black, both outside and in, wall and roof; so he asked the kitchen-maid what all that mourning meant.

p. 136

"Don't you know?" said the kitchen-maid; "I'll soon tell you: the king's daughter was promised away a long time ago to three Ogres, and next Thursday evening one of them is coming to fetch her. Ritter Red, it is true, has given out that he is man enough to set her free, but God knows if he can do it; and now you know why we are all in grief and sorrow."

So when Thursday evening came, Ritter Red led the Princess down to the strand, for there it was she was to meet the Ogre, and he was to stay by her there and watch; but he wasn't likely to do the Ogre much harm, I reckon, for as soon as ever the Princess had sat down on the strand Ritter Red climbed up into a great tree that stood there, and hid himself as well as he could among the boughs. The Princess begged and prayed him not to leave her, but Ritter Red turned a deaf ear to her, and all he said was,--

" 'Tis better for one to lose life than for two."

That was what Ritter Red said.

Meantime Shortshanks went to the kitchen-maid, and asked her so prettily if he mightn't go down to the strand for a bit.

"And what should take you down to the strand?" asked the kitchen-maid. "You know you've no business there."

"Oh, dear friend," said Shortshanks, "do let me go! I should so like to run down there and play a while with the other children; that I should."

"Well, well!" said the kitchen-maid, "off with you; but don't let me catch you staying there a bit over the time when the brose for supper must be set on the fire, and the p. 137 roast put on the spit; and let me see, when you come back mind you bring a good armful of wood with you."

Yes, Shortshanks would mind all that; so off he ran down to the strand.

But just as he reached the spot where the Princess sat, what should come but the Ogre tearing along in his ship, so that the wind roared and howled after him. He was so tall and stout it was awful to look on him, and he had five heads of his own.

"Fire and flame!" screamed the Ogre.

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