The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

The Seven Foals

Once on a time there was a poor couple who lived in a wretched hut, far far away in the wood. How they lived I can't tell, but I'm sure it was from hand to mouth, and hard work even then; but they had three sons, and the youngest of them was Boots, of course, for he did little else than lie there and poke about in the ashes.

So one day the eldest lad said he would go out to earn his bread, and he soon got leave, and wandered out into the world. There he walked and walked the whole day, and when evening drew in, he came to a king's palace, and there stood the King out on the steps, and asked whither he was bound.

p. 303

"0h, I'm going about, looking after a place," said the lad.

"Will vou serve me?" asked the King "and watch my seven foals. If you can watch them one whole day, and tell me at night what they eat and what they drink, you shall have the Princess to wife, and half my kingdom; but if you can't, I'll cut three red stripes out of your back. Do you hear?"

Yes, that was an easy task, the lad thought; he'd do that fast enough, never fear.

So next morning as soon as the first peep of dawn came, the King's coachman let out the seven foals. Away they went, and the lad after them. You may fancy how they tore over hill and dale, through bush and bog. When the lad had run so a long time, he began to get weary, and when he had held on a while longer, he had more than enough of his watching, and just there, he came to a cleft in a rock, where an old hag sat and spun with a distaff. As soon as she saw the lad, who was running after the foals till the sweat ran down his brow, this old hag bawled out,--

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

Yes, the lad was willing enough; so he sat down in the cleft of the rock with the old hag, and laid his head on her lap, and she combed his hair all day whilst he lay there, and stretched his lazy bones.

So, when evening drew on, the lad wanted to go away.

"I may just as well toddle straight home now," said he, "for it's no use my going back to the palace."

"Stop a bit till it's dark," said the old hag, "and then the king's foals will pass by here again, and then you can p. 304 run home with them, and then no one will know that you have lain here, all day long, instead of watching the foals."

So, when they came, she gave the lad a flask of water and a clod of turf. Those he was to show to the King, and say that was what his seven foals ate and drank.

"Have you watched true and well the whole day, now?" asked the King, when the lad came before him in the evening.

"Yes, I should think so," said the lad.

"Then you can tell me what my seven foals eat and drink," said the King.

"Yes!" and so the lad pulled out the flask of water and the clod of turf, which the old hag had given him.

"Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink," said the lad.

But then the King saw plain enough how he had watched, and he got so wroth, he ordered his men to chase him away home on the spot; but first they were to cut three red stripes out of his back, and rub salt into them. So when the lad got home again, you may fancy what a temper he was in. He'd gone out once to get a place, he said, but he'd never do so again.

Next day the second son said he would go out into the world to try his luck. His father and mother said "No," and bade him look at his brother's back; but the lad wouldn't give in; he held to his own, and at last he got leave to go, and set off. So when he had walked the whole day, he, too, came to the King's palace. There stood the King out on the steps, and asked whither he was bound; and when the lad said he was looking about for a place, the King said he might have a place there, and p. 305 watch his seven foals. But the King laid down the same punishment, and the same reward, as he had settled for his brother. Well, the lad was willing enough; he took the place at once with the King, for he thought he'd soon watch the foals, and tell the King what they ate and drank.

So, in the gray of the morning, the coachman let out the seven foals, and off they went again over hill and dale, and the lad after them. But the same thing happened to him as had befallen his brother. When he had run after the foals a long long time, till he was both warm and weary, he passed by the cleft in a rock, where an old hag sat and spun with a distaff, and she bawled out to the lad,--

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

That the lad thought a good offer, so he let the foals run on their way, and sat down in the cleft with the old hag. There he sat, and there he lay, taking his ease,and stretching his lazy bones the whole day.

When the foals came back at nightfall, he too got a flask of water and clod of turf from the old hag to show to the King. But when the King asked the lad,--

"Can you tell me now what my seven foals eat and drink?" and the lad pulled out the flask and the clod, and said,--

"Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink,"--

Then the King got wroth again, and ordered them to cut three red stripes out of the lad's back, and rub salt in, and chase him home that very minute. And so when the p. 306 lad got home, he also told how he had fared, and said he had gone out once to get a place, but he'd never do so any more.

The third day Boots wanted to set out; he had a great mind to try and watch the seven foals, he said. The others laughed at him, and made game of him, saying,--

"When we fared so ill, you'll do it better--a fine joke; you look like it--you, who have never done anything but lie there and poke about in the ashes."

"Yes," said Boots; "I don't see why I shouldn't go, for I've got it into my head, and can't get it out again."

And so, in spite of all the jeers of the others and the prayers of the old people, there was no help for it, and Boots set out.

So after he had walked the whole day, he too came at dusk to the King's palace. There stood the King out on the steps, and asked whither he was bound.

"Oh," said Boots, "I'm going about seeing if I can hear of a place."

"Whence do you come then?" said the King, for he wanted to know a little more about them before he took any one into his service.

So Boots said whence he came, and how he was brother to those two who had watched the King's seven foals, and ended by asking if he might try to watch them next day.

"Oh, stuff!" said the King, for he got quite cross if he even thought of them; "if you're brother to those two you're not worth much, I'll be bound, I've had enough of such scamps."

"Well," said Boots; "but since I've come so far, I may just as well get leave to try, I too."

p. 308

"Oh, very well; with all my heart," said the King, "if you will have your back flayed, you're quite welcome."

"I'd much rather have the Princess," said Boots.

So next morning, at gray of dawn, the coachman let out the seven foals again, and away they went over hill and dale, through bush and bog, and Boots behind them. And so, when he too had run a long while, he came to the cleft in the rock where the old hag sat spinning at her distaff. So she bawled out to Boots,--

"Come hither, come hither, my pretty son, and let me comb your hair."

"Don't you wish you may catch me?" said Boots. "Don't you wish you may catch me?" as he ran along leaping and jumping, and holding on by one of the foals' tails. And when he had got well past the cleft in the rock, the youngest foal said,--

"Jump up on my back, my lad, for we've a long way before us still."

So Boots jumped up on his back.

So they went on, and on, a long, long way.

"Do you see anything now?" said the foal.

"No," said Boots.

So they went on a good bit farther.

"Do you see anything now?" asked the foal.

"Oh no," said the lad.

So when they had gone a great, great way farther--I'm sure I can't tell how far--the foal asked again,--

"Do you see anything now?"

"Yes," said Boots; "now I see something that looks white--just like a tall, big birch trunk."

"Yes," said the foal; "we're going into that trunk."

p. 308

So when they got to the trunk, the eldest foal took and pushed it on one side, and then they saw a door where it had stood, and inside the door was a little room, and in the room there was scarce anything but a little fireplace and one or two benches; but behind the door hung a great rusty sword and a little pitcher.

"Can you brandish the sword?" said the foals; "try."

So Boots, tried but he couldn't; then they made him take a pull at the pitcher; first once, then twice, and then thrice, and then he could wield it like anything.

"Yes," said the foals, "now you may take the sword with you, and with it you must cut off all our seven heads on your wedding-day, and then we'll be princes again as we were before. For we are brothers of that Princess whom you are to have when you can tell the King what we eat and drink; but an ugly Troll has thrown this shape over us. Now mind, when you have hewn off our heads, to take care to lay each head at the tail of the trunk which it belonged to before, and then the spell will have no more power over us."

Yes, Boots promised all that, and then on they went.

And when they had travelled a long long way, the foal asked,--

"Do you see anything?"

"No," said Boots.

So they travelled a good bit still.

"And now?" asked the foal.

"No, I see nothing," said Boots.

So they travelled many many miles again, over hill and dale.

"Now then," said the foal, "do you see anything now?"

p. 309

"Yes," said Boots, "now I see something like a blue stripe, far far away."

"Yes," said the foal, "that's a river we've got to cross."

Over the river was a long, grand bridge; and when they had got over to the other side, they travelled on a long, long way. At last the foal asked again

"If Boots didn't see anything?"

"Yes, this time he saw something that looked black far far away, just as though it were a church steeple."

"Yes," said the foal, "that's where we're going to turn in."

So when the foals got into the churchyard, they became men again, and looked like Princes, with such fine clothes that it glistened from them; and so they went into the church, and took the bread and wine from the priest who stood at the altar. And Boots he went in too; but when the priest had laid his hands on the Princes, and given them the blessing, they went out of the church again, and Boots went out too; but he took with him a flask of wine and a wafer. And as soon as ever the seven Princes came out into the churchyard, they were turned into foals again, and so Boots got up on the back of the youngest, and so they all went back the same way that they had come; only they went much, much faster. First they crossed the bridge, next they passed the trunk, and then they passed the old hag, who sat at the cleft and span, and they went by her so fast, that Boots couldn't hear what the old hag screeched after him; but he heard so much as to know she was in an awful rage.

It was almost dark when they got back to the palace, p. 310 and the King himself stood out on the steps and waited for them.

"Have you watched well and true the whole day?" said he to Boots.

"I've done my best," answered Boots.

"Then you can tell me what my seven foals eat and drink," said the King.

Then Boots pulled out the flask of wine and the wafer, and showed them to the King.

"Here you see their meat, and here you see their drink," said he.

"Yes," said the King, "you have watched true and well, and you shall have the Princess and half the kingdom."

So they made ready the wedding-feast, and the King said it should be such a grand one, it should be the talk far and near.

But when they sat down to the bridal feast, the bride-groom got up and went down to the stable, for he said he had forgotten something, and must go to fetch it. And when he got down there, he did as the foals had said, and hewed their heads off, all seven, the oldest first, and the others after him; and at the same time he took care to lay each head at the tail of the foal to which it belonged; and as he did this, lo! they all became Princes again.

So when he went into the bridal hall with the seven Princes, the King was so glad he both kissed Boots and patted him on the back, and his bride was still more glad of him than she had been before.

"Half the kingdom you have got already," said the King, "and the other half you shall have after my death; p. 311 for my sons can easily get themselves lands and wealth, now they are princes again."

And so, like enough, there was mirth and fun at that wedding. I was there too; but there was no one to care for poor me; and so I got nothing but a bit of bread and butter, and I laid it down on the stove, and the bread was burnt and the butter ran, and so I didn't get even the smallest crumb. Wasn't that a great shame?

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page