The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

Rich Peter the Pedlar - Cont'd

"Yes, I'll mind and do that," said the lad; and in that palace too he lived on the best, and when he went away he got both money and food.

So when evening drew on again he came at last to another king's palace. Here who should come out into the kitchen but the Queen, and she asked him whence he came, and on what errand he was bound.

"I'm going to the Dragon of Deepferry, to pluck three feathers out of his tail," said the lad.

"Then you'd better take a good piece of luck with you," said the Queen, "for I never heard of any one that came back from him. But if you find him, just be good enough to ask him from me where I shall find my gold keys which I have lost."

"Yes, I'll be sure to ask him," said the lad.

Well, when he left the palace he came to a great broad p. 207 river; and while he stood there, and wondered whether he should cross it or go down along the bank, an old hunch-backed man came up, and asked whither he was going.

"Oh, I'm going to the Dragon of Deepferry, if I could only find any one to tell where I can find him."

"I can tell you that," said the man; "for here I go backwards and forwards, and carry those over who are going to see him. He lives just across, and when you climb the hill you'll see his castle; but mind, if you come to talk with him, to ask him from me how long I'm to stop here and carry folk over."

"I'll be sure to ask him," said the lad.

So the man took him on his back and carried him over the river; and when he climbed the hill he saw the castle and went in.

He found there a Princess who lived with the Dragon all alone; and she said,--

"But, dear friend, how can Christian folk dare to come hither? None have been here since I came, and you'd best be off as fast as you can; for as soon as the Dragon comes home he'll smell you out, and gobble you up in a trice, and that'll make me so unhappy."

"Nay, nay!" said the lad; "I can't go before I've got three feathers out of his tail."

"You'll never get them," said the Princess; "you'd best be off."

But the lad wouldn't go; he would wait for the Dragon, and get the feathers, and an answer to all his questions.

"Well, since you're so steadfast I'll see what I can do to help you," said the Princess; "just try to lift that sword that hangs on the wall yonder."

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No; the lad could not even stir it.

"I thought so," said the Princess; "but just take a drink out of this flask."

So when the lad had sat a while, he was to try again; and then he could just stir it.

"Well! you must take another drink," said the Princess, "and then you may as well tell me your errand hither."

So he took another drink, and then he told her how one king had begged him to ask the Dragon how it was he couldn't get clear water in his well?--how another had bidden him ask what had become of his daughter, who had been lost many years since?--and how a queen had begged him to ask the Dragon what had become of her gold keys?--and, last of all, how the ferryman had begged him to ask the Dragon how long he was to stop there and carry folk over? When he had done his story, and took hold of the sword, he could lift it; and when he had taken another drink, he could brandish it.

"Now," said the Princess, "if you don't want the Dragon to make an end of you you'd best creep under the bed, for night is drawing on, and he'll soon be home, and then you must lie as still as you can lest he should find you out. And when we have gone to bed, I'll ask him, but you must keep your ears open, and snap up all that he says; and under the bed you must lie till all is still and the Dragon falls asleep; then creep out softly and seize the sword, and as soon as he rises, look out to hew off his head at one stroke, and at the same time pluck out the three feathers, for else he'll tear them out himself, that no one may get any good by them."

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So the lad crept under the bed and the Dragon came home.

"What a smell of Christian flesh," said the Dragon.

"Oh yes," said the Princess, "a raven came flying with a man's bone in his bill, and perched on the roof. No doubt it's that you smell."

"So it is, I daresay," said the Dragon.

So the Princess served supper; and after they had eaten, they went to bed. But after they had lain a while, the Princess began to toss about, and all at once she started up and said,--

"Ah! ah!"

"What's the matter?" said the Dragon.

"Oh," said the Princess, "I can't rest at all, and I've had such a strange dream."

"What did you dream about? Let's hear?" said the Dragon.

"I thought a king came here, and asked you what he must do to get clear water in his well."

"Oh," said the Dragon, "he might just as well have found that out for himself. If he dug the well out, and took out the old rotten stump which lies at the bottom, he'd get clear water fast enough. But be still now, and don't dream any more."

When the Princess had lain a while, she began to toss about, and at last she started up with her

"Ah! ah!"

"What's the matter now?" said the Dragon.

"Oh! I can't get any rest at all, and I've had such a strange dream," said the Princess.

"Why, you seem full of dreams to-night," said the Dragon: "what was your dream now?"

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"I thought a king came here, and asked you what had become of his daughter who had been lost many years since," said the Princess.

"Why, you are she," said the Dragon; "but he'll never set eyes on you again. But now, do pray be still, and let me get some rest, and don't let's have any more dreams, else I'll break your ribs."

Well, the Princess hadn't lain much longer before she began to toss about again. At last she started up with her

"Ah! ah!"

"What! Are you at it again?" said the Dragon. What's the matter now?" for he was wild and sleep-surly, so that he was ready to fly to pieces.

"Oh, don't be angry" said the Princess; "but I've had such a strange dream."

"The deuce take your dreams," roared the Dragon; what did you dream this time?"

"I thought a queen came here, who asked you to tell her where she would find her gold keys, which she has lost."

"Oh," said the Dragon, "she'll find them soon enough if she looks among the bushes where she lay that time she wots of. But do now let me have no more dreams, but sleep in peace."

So they slept a while; but then the Princess was just as restless as ever, and at last she screamed out--

"Ah! ah!"

"You'll never behave till I break your neck," said the Dragon, who was now so wroth that sparks of fire flew out of his eyes. "What's the matter now?"

p. 211

"Oh, don't be so angry," said the Princess; "I can't bear that; but I've had such a strange dream."

"Bless me!" said the Dragon; "if I ever heard the like of these dreams--there's no end to them. And pray, what did you dream now?"

"I thought the ferryman down at the ferry came and asked how long he was to stop there and carry folk over," said the Princess.

"The dull fool!" said the Dragon; "he'd soon be free if he chose. When any one comes who wants to go across he has only to take and throw him into the river, and say 'Now, carry folk over yourself till some one sets you free.' But now, pray let's have an end of these dreams, else I'll lead you a pretty dance."

So the Princess let him sleep on. But as soon as all was still, and the miller's lad heard that the Dragon snored, he crept out. Before it was light the Dragon rose; but he had scarce set both his feet on the floor before the lad cut off his head, and plucked three feathers out of his tail. Then came great joy, and both the lad and the Princess took as much gold, and silver, and money, and precious things as they could carry; and when they came down to the ford, they so puzzled the ferryman with all they had to tell, that he quite forgot to ask what the Dragon had said about him till they had got across.

"Halloa, you sir," he said, as they were going off, "did you ask the Dragon what I begged you to ask?"

"Yes, I did," said the lad, "and he said, 'When any one comes and wants to go over, you must throw him into the midst of the river, and say 'Now, carry folk over yourself till some one comes to set you free,' and then you'll be free."

p. 212

"Ah, bad luck to you," said the ferryman; "had you told me that before you might have set me free yourself."

So when they got to the first palace, the Queen asked if he had spoken to the Dragon about her gold keys.

"Yes," said the lad, and whispered in the Queen's ear; "he said you must look among the bushes where you lay the day you wot of."

"Hush! hush! don't say a word," said the Queen, and gave the lad a hundred dollars.

When they came to the second palace the King asked if he had spoken to the Dragon of what he begged him.

"Yes," said the lad, "I did; and see, here is your daughter."

At that the King was so glad he would gladly have given the Princess to the miller's lad to wife, and half the kingdom beside; but as he was married already he gave him two hundred dollars, and coaches and horses, and as much gold and silver as he could carry away.

When he came to the third King's palace, out came the King and asked if he had asked the Dragon of what he begged him.

"Yes," said the lad, "and he said you must dig out the well, and take out the rotten old stump which lies at the bottom, and then you'll get plenty of clear water."

Then the King gave him three hundred dollars, and he set out home; but he was so loaded with gold and silver, and so grandly clothed, that it gleamed and glistened from him, and he was now far richer than Peter the Pedlar.

When Peter got the feathers he hadn't a word more to say against the wedding; but when he saw all that wealth, he asked if there was much still left at the Dragon's castle.

p. 213

"Yes, I should think so," said the lad; "there was much more than I could carry with me--so much, that you might load many horses with it; and if you choose to go you may be sure there'll be enough for you."

So his son-in-law told him the way so clearly that he hadn't to ask it of any one.

"But the horses," said the lad, "you'd best leave this side the river; for the old ferryman, he'll carry you over safe enough."

So Peter set off, and took with him great store of food, and many horses; but these he left behind him on the river's brink, as the lad had said. And the old ferryman took him upon his back; but when they had come a bit out into the stream he cast him into the midst of the river, and said,--

"Now you may go backwards and forwards here, and carry folk over till you are set free."

And unless some one has set him free, there goes Rich Peter the Pedlar backwards and forwards, and carries folk across this very day.

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