The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

The Widow's Son -Cont'd

"You'd best go down to the gardener," said he; "you're best fit to go about and dig in the garden."

So he got leave to be with the gardener, but none of the other servants would sleep with him, and so he had to sleep by himself under the steps of the summer-house. It stood upon beams, and had a high staircase. Under that he got some turf for his bed, and there he lay as well as he could.

So, when he had been some time at the palace, it happened one morning, just as the sun rose, that the lad p. 318 had taken off his wig, and stood and washed himself, and then he was so handsome, it was a joy to look at him.

So the Princess saw from her window the lovely gardener's boy, and thought she had never seen any one so handsome. Then she asked the gardener why he lay out there under the steps.

"Oh," said the gardener, "none of his fellow-servants will sleep with him; that's why."

"Let him come up to-night, and lie at the door inside my bedroom, and then they'll not refuse to sleep with him any more," said the Princess.

So the gardener told that to the lad.

"Do you think I'll do any such thing?" said the lad. "Why, they'd say next there was something between me and the Princess."

"Yes," said the gardener, "you've good reason to fear any such thing, you who are so handsome."

"Well well," said the lad, "since it's her will, I suppose I must go."

So, when he was to go up the steps in the evening, he tramped and stamped so on the way, that they had to beg him to tread softly, lest the King should come to know it. So he came into the Princess' bedroom, lay down, and began to snore at once. Then the Princess said to her maid,--

"Go gently, and just pull his wig off;" and she went up to him.

But just as she was going to whisk it off, he caught hold of it with both hands, and said she should never have it. After that he lay down again, and began to snore. Then the Princess gave her maid a wink, and this time she whisked off the wig; and there lay the lad so lovely, p. 319 and white, and red, just as the Princess had seen him in the morning sun.

After that the lad slept every night in the Princess' bedroom.

But it wasn't long before the King came to hear how the gardener's lad slept every night in the Princess' bedroom; and he got so wroth he almost took the lad's life. He didn't do that, however, but threw him into the prison tower; and as for his daughter, he shut her up in her own room, whence she never got leave to stir day or night. All that she begged, and all that she prayed, for the lad and herself, was no good. The King was only more wroth than ever.

Some time after came a war and uproar in the land, and the King had to take up arms against another King who wished to take the kingdom from him. So when the lad heard that, he begged the gaoler to go to the King and ask for a coat of mail and a sword, and for leave to go to the war. All the rest laughed when the gaoler told his errand, and begged the King to let him have an old worn-out suit, that they might have the fun of seeing such a wretch in battle. So he got that and an old broken-down hack besides, which went upon three legs, and dragged the fourth after it.

Then they went out to meet the foe; but they hadn't got far from the palace before the lad got stuck fast in a bog with his hack. There he sat and dug his spurs in, and cried, "Gee up, gee up!" to his hack. And all the rest had their fun out of this, and laughed, and made game of the lad as they rode past him. But they were scarcely gone before he ran to the lime-tree, threw on his coat of p. 320 mail, and shook the bridle, and there came the horse in a trice, and said,--

"Do now your best and I'll do mine."

But when the lad came up the battle had begun, and the King was in a sad pinch; but no sooner had the lad rushed into the thick of it than the foe was beaten back and put to flight. The King and his men wondered and wondered who it could be who had come to help them but none of them got so near him as to be able to talk to him, and as soon as the fight was over he was gone. When they went back there sat the lad still in the bog, and dug his spurs into his three-legged hack, and they all laughed again.

"No! only just look," they said; "there the fool sits still."

The next day when they went out to battle, they saw the lad sitting there still, so they laughed again, and made game of him but as soon as ever they had ridden by, the lad ran again to the lime-tree, and all happened as on the first day. Every one wondered what strange champion it could be that had helped them, but no one got so near him as to say a word to him; and no one guessed it could be the lad; that's easy to understand.

So when they went home at night, and saw the lad still sitting there on his back, they burst out laughing at him again, and one of them shot an arrow at him and hit him in the leg. So he began to shriek and to bewail; 'twas enough to break one's heart; and so the King threw his pocket-handkerchief to him to bind his wound.

When they went out to battle the third day the lad still sat there.

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"Gee up, gee up!" he said to his hack.

"Nay, nay," said the King's men; "if he won't stick there till he's starved to death."

And then they rode on, and laughed at him till they were fit to fall from their horses. When they were gone, he ran again to the lime, and came up to the battle just in the very nick of time. This day he slew the enemy's king, and then the war was over at once.

When the battle was over, the King caught sight of his handkerchief, which the strange warrior had bound round his leg, and so it wasn't hard to find him out. So they took him with great joy between them to the palace, and the Princess, who saw him from her window, got so glad, no one can believe it.

"Here comes my own true love," she said.

Then he took the pot of ointment and rubbed himself on the leg, and after that he rubbed all the wounded, and so they all got well again in a moment.

So he got the Princess to wife; but when he went down into the stable where his horse was on the day the wedding was to be, there it stood so dull and heavy, and hung its ears down, and wouldn't eat its corn. So when the young King--for he was now a king, and had got half the kingdom--spoke to him and asked what ailed him, the Horse said,--

"Now I have helped you on, and now I won't live any longer. So just take the sword, and cut my head off."

"No, I'll do nothing of the kind," said the young King; but you shall have all you want, and rest all your life."

"Well," said the Horse, "if you don't do as I tell you, see if I don't take your life somehow."

So the King had to do what he asked; but when he p. 322 swung the sword and was to cut his head off, he was so sorry he turned away his face, for he would not see the stroke fall. But as soon as ever he had cut off the head, there stood the loveliest Prince on the spot where the horse had stood.

"Why, where in all the world did you come from?" asked the King.

"It was I who was a horse," said the Prince; "for I was king of that land whose king you slew yesterday. He it was who threw this Troll's shape over me, and sold me to the Troll. But now he is slain I get my own again, and you and I will be neighbour kings, but war we will never make on one another."

And they didn't either; for they were friends as long as they lived, and each paid the other very many visits.

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