Popular Tales From the Norse
The Blue Belt
Once on a time there was an old beggar-woman, who had gone out to beg. She had a little lad with her, and when she had got her bag full, she struck across the hills towards her own home. So when they had gone a bit up the hill-side they came upon a little blue belt, which lay where two paths met, and the lad asked his mother's leave to pick it up.
"No," said she, "may be there's witchcraft in it;" and so with threats she forced him to follow her. But when they had gone a bit farther the lad said he must turn aside a moment out of the road, and meanwhile his mother sat down on a tree-stump. But the lad was a long time gone, for as soon as he got so far into the wood that the old dame could not see him, he ran off to where the belt lay, took it up, tied it round his waist, and lo! he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole hill. When he got back, the old dame was in a great rage, and wanted to know what he had been doing all that while. "You don't care how much time you waste, and yet you know the night is drawing on, and we must cross the hill before it is dark!" So on they tramped, but when they had got about half-way, the old dame grew weary, and said she must rest under a bush.
"Dear mother,"said the lad, "mayn't I just go up to the top of this high crag while you rest, and try if I can't see some sign of folk hereabouts?"
Yes, he might do that; so when he had got to the top p. 156 he saw a light shining from the north. So he ran down and told his mother.
"We must get on, mother; we are near a house, for I see a bright light shining quite close to us in the north." Then she rose and shouldered her bag, and set off to see; but they hadn't gone far, before there stood a steep spur of the hill, right across their path.
"Just as I thought!" said the old dame; "now we can't go a step farther; a pretty bed we shall have here!"
But the lad took the bag under one arm, and his mother under the other, and ran straight up the steep crag with them.
"Now, don't you see! Don't you see that we are close to a house! Don't you see the bright light?"
But the old dame said those were no Christian folk, but Trolls, for she was at home in all that forest far and near, and knew there was not a living soul in it until you were well over the ridge and had come down on the other side. But they went on, and in a little while they came to a great house which was all painted red.
"What's the good?" said the old dame, "we daren't go in, for here the Trolls live."
"Don't say so; we must go in. There must be men where the lights shine so," said the lad. So in he went, and his mother after him, but he had scarce opened the door before she swooned away, for there she saw a great stout man, at least twenty feet high, sitting on the bench.
"Good evening, grandfather!" said the lad.
"Well, here I've sat three hundred years," said the man who sat on the bench, "and no one has ever come and called me grandfather before." Then the lad sat down by the man's side, and began to talk to him as if they had been old friends.
"But what's come over your mother?" said the man, after they had chattered a while. "I think she swooned away; you had better look after her."
So the lad went and took hold of the old dame; and dragged her up the hall along the floor. That brought her to herself, and she kicked and scratched, and flung herself about, and at last sat down upon a heap of firewood in the corner; but she was so frightened that she scarce dared to look one in the face.
After a while, the lad asked if they could spend the night there.
"Yes, to be sure," said the man.
So they went on talking again, but the lad soon got hungry, and wanted to know if they could get food as well as lodging.
"Of course," said the man, "that might be got too." And after he had sat a while longer, he rose up and threw six loads of dry pitch-pine on the fire. This made the old hag, still more afraid.
"Oh! now he's going to roast us alive," she said, in the corner where she sat.
And when the wood had burned down to glowing embers, up got the man and strode out of his house.
"Heaven bless and help us! what a stout heart you have got," said the old dame; "don't you see we have got amongst Trolls?"
"Stuff and nonsense!" said the lad; "no harm if we have."
In a little while back came the man with an ox so fat and big the lad had never seen its like, and he gave it one blow with his fist under the ear, and down it fell dead on p. 158 the floor. When that was done, he took it up by all the four legs, and laid it on the glowing embers, and turned it and twisted it about till it was burnt brown outside. After that, he went to a cupboard and took out a great silver dish and laid the ox on it; and the dish was so big that none of the ox hung over on any side. This he put on the table, and then he went down into the cellar, and fetched a cask of wine, knocked out the head, and put the cask on the table, together with two knives, which were each six feet long. When this was done, he bade them go and sit down to supper and eat. So they went, the lad first and the old dame after, but she began to whimper and wail, and to wonder how she should ever use such knives. But her son seized one, and began to cut slices out of the thigh of the ox, which he placed before his mother. And when they had eaten a bit, he took up the cask with both hands, and lifted it down to the floor; then he told his mother to come and drink, but it was still so high she couldn't reach up to it; so he caught her up, and held her up to the edge of the cask while she drank; as for himself, he clambered up and hung down like a cat inside the cask while he drank. So when he had quenched his thirst, he took up the cask and put it back on the table, and thanked the man for the good meal, and told his mother to come and thank him too, and afeared though she was, she dared do nothing else but thank the man. Then the lad sat down again alongside the man and began to gossip, and after they had sat a while, the man said,--
"Well, I must just go and get a bit of supper too and so he went to the table and ate up the whole ox--hoofs, p. 159 and horns, and all--and drained the cask to the last drop, and then went back and sat on the bench.
"As for beds," he said, "I don't know what's to be done. I've only got one bed and a cradle; but we could get on pretty well if you would sleep in the cradle, and then your mother might lie in the bed yonder."
"Thank you kindly, that'll do nicely," said the lad; and with that he pulled off his clothes and lay down in the cradle; but to tell you the truth, it was quite as big as a four-poster. As for the old dame, she had to follow the man, who showed her to bed, though she was out of her wits for fear.
"Well," thought the lad to himself, " 'twill never do to go to sleep yet. I'd best lie awake and listen how things go as the night wears on."
So after a while the man began to talk to the old dame, and at last he said,--
"We two might live here so happily together, could we only be rid of this son of yours."
"But do you know how to settle him? Is that what you're thinking of?" said she.
"Nothing easier," said he; at any rate he would try. He would just say he wished the old dame would stay and keep house for him a day or two, and then he would take the lad out with him up the hill to quarry corner-stones, and roll down a great rock on him. All this the lad lay and listened to.
Next day the Troll--for it was a Troll as clear as day-- asked if the old dame would stay and keep house for him a few days; and as the day went on he took a great iron crowbar, and asked the lad if he had a mind to go with p. Page 160 him up the hill and quarry a few corner-stones. With all his heart he said, and went with him; and so, after they had split a few stones, the Troll wanted him to go down below and look after cracks in the rock; and while he was doing this, the Troll worked away, and wearied himself with his crowbar till he moved a whole crag out of its bed, which came rolling right down on the place where the lad was; but he held it up till he could get on one side, and then let it roll on.
"Oh!" said the lad to the Troll, "now I see what you mean to do with me. You want to crush me to death; so just go down yourself and look after the cracks and refts in the rock, and I'll stand up above."
The Troll did not dare to do otherwise than the lad bade him, and the end of it was that the lad rolled down a great rock, which fell upon the Troll, and broke one of his thighs.
"Well! you are in a sad plight," said the lad, as he strode down, lifted up the rock, and set the man free. After that he had to put him on his back and carry him home; so he ran with him as fast as a horse, and shook him so that the Troll screamed and screeched as if a knife were run into him. And when he got home, they had to put the Troll to bed, and there he lay in a sad pickle.
When the night wore on the Troll began to talk to the old dame again, and to wonder however they could be rid of the lad.
"Well," said the old dame, "if you can't hit on a plan to get rid of him, I'm sure I can't."
"Let me see," said the Troll; "I've got twelve lions in a garden; if they could only get hold of the lad they'd soon tear him to pieces."
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So the old dame said it would be easy enough to get him there. She would sham sick, and say she felt so poorly, nothing would do her any good but lion's milk. All that the lad lay and listened to; and when he got up in the morning his mother said she was worse than she looked, and she thought she should never be right again unless she could get some lion's milk.
"Then I'm afraid you'll be poorly a long time, mother," said the lad, "for I'm sure I don't know where any is to be got."
"Oh! if that be all," said the Troll, "there's no lack of lion's milk, if we only had the man to fetch it;" and then he went on to say how his brother had a garden with twelve lions in it, and how the lad might have the key if he had a mind to milk the lions. So the lad took the key and a milking pail, and strode off; and when he unlocked the gate and got into the garden, there stood all the twelve lions on their hind-paws, rampant and roaring at him. But the lad laid hold of the biggest, and led him about by the fore-paws, and dashed him against stocks and stones, till there wasn't a bit of him left but the two paws. So when the rest saw that, they were so afraid that they crept up and lay at his feet like so many curs. After that they followed him about wherever he went, and when he got home they laid down outside the house, with their fore-paws on the door sill.
"Now, mother, you'll soon be well," said the lad, when he went in, "for here is the lion's milk."