ONCE upon a time there was a fisherman, who lived near the king's castle, and caught fish for the king's table. One day when he had gone fishing, he could not catch a thing. Try as he might, no matter how he baited or flung, not the tiniest fish would bite; but when this had gone on for a while, a head rose from the water and said: "If you will give me the first new thing that has come into your house, you shall catch fish a-plenty!" Then the man agreed quickly, for he could think of no new thing that might have come into the house. So he caught fish all day long, and as many as he could wish for, as may well be imagined. But when he got home, he found that heaven had sent him a little son, the first new thing to come into the house since he had made his promise. And when he told his wife about it, she began to weep and wail, and pray to God because of the vow her husband had made. And the woman's grief was reported at the castle, and when it came to the king's ears, and he learned the reason, he promised to take the boy and see if he could not save him. And so the king took him and brought him up as though he were his own son, until he was grown. Then one day the boy asked whether he might not go out fishing with his father, he wanted to so very much, said he. The king would not hear of it; but at last he was given permission, so he went to his father, and everything went well all day long, until they came home in the evening. Then the son found he had forgotten his handkerchief, and went down to the boat to get it. But no sooner was he in the boat than it moved off with a rush, and no matter how hard the youth worked against it with the oars, it was all in vain. The boat drove on and on, all night long, and at last he came to a white strand, far, far away. He stepped ashore, and after he had gone a while he met an old man with a great, white beard. "What is this country called?" asked the youth. "Whiteland," was the man's answer, and he asked the youth where he came from, and what he wanted, and the latter told him. "If you keep right on along the shore," said the man, "you will come to three princesses, buried in the earth so that only their heads show. Then the first will call you--and she is the oldest--and beg you very hard to come to her and help her; and the next will do the same; but you must go to neither of them; walk quickly past them, and act as though you neither saw nor heard them. But go up to the third, and do what she asks of you, for then you will make your fortune."
When the youth came to the first princess, she called out to him, and begged him most earnestly to come to her; but he went on as though he had not seen her. And he passed the next one in the same manner; but went over to the third. "If you will do what I tell you to, you shall have whichever one of us you want," said she. Yes, he would do what she wanted. So she told him that three trolls had wished them into the earth where they were; but that formerly they had dwelt in the castle he saw on the edge of the forest.
"Now you must go to the castle, and let the trolls whip you one night through for each one of us," said she, "and if you can hold out, you will have delivered us." "Yes," said the youth, he could manage that. "When you go in," added the princess, "you will find two lions standing by the door; but if you pass directly between them, they will do you no harm. Go on into a dark little room and lie down, and then the troll will come and beat you; but after that you must take the bottle that hangs on the wall, and anoint yourself where he has beaten you, and you will be whole again. And take the sword that hangs beside the bottle, and kill the troll with it." He did as the princess had told him, passed between the lions as though he did not see them, and right into the little room, where he lay down. The first night a troll with three heads and three whips came, and beat the youth badly; but he held out, and when the troll had finished, he took the bottle and anointed himself, grasped the sword and killed the troll. When he came out in the morning the princesses were out of the ground up to their waists. The next night it was the same; but the troll who came this time had six heads and six whips, and beat him worse than the first one. But when he came out in the morning, the princesses were out of the ground up to their ankles. The third night came a troll who had nine heads and nine whips, and he beat and whipped the youth so severely that at last he fainted. Then the troll took him and flung him against the wall, and as he did so the bottle fell down, and its whole contents poured over the youth, and he was at once sound and whole again. Then he did not delay, but grasped the sword, killed the troll, and when he came out in the morning, the princesses were entirely out of the ground. So he chose the youngest of them to be his queen, and lived long with her in peace and happiness.
But at last he was minded to travel home, and see how his parents fared. This did not suit his queen; but since he wanted to go so badly, and finally was on the point of departure, she said to him: "One thing you must promise me, that you will only do what your father tells you to do, but not what your mother tells you to do." And this he promised. Then she gave him a ring which had the power of granting two wishes to the one who wore it. So he wished himself home, and his parents could not get over their surprise at seeing how fine and handsome he had become.
When he had been home a few days, his mother wanted him to go up to the castle and show the king what a man he had grown to be. His father said: "No, he had better not do that, for we will have to do without him in the meantime." But there was no help for it, the mother begged and pleaded until he went. When he got there he was more splendidly dressed and fitted out than the other king. This did not suit the latter, and he said: "You can see what my queen looks like, but I cannot see yours; and I do not believe yours is as beautiful as mine." "God grant she were standing here, then you would see soon enough!" said the young king, and there she stood that very minute. But she was very sad, and said to him: "Why did you not follow my advice and listen to your father? Now I must go straight home, and you have used up both of your wishes." With that she bound a ring with her name on it in his hair, and wished herself home.
Then the young king grew very sad, and went about day in, day out, with no other thought than getting back to his queen. "I must try and see whether I cannot find out where Whiteland is," thought he, and wandered forth into the wide world. After he had gone a while he came to a hill; and there he met one who was the lord of all the beasts of the forest--for they came when he blew his horn--and him the king asked where Whiteland was. "That I do not know," said he, "but I will ask my beasts." Then he called them up with his horn, and asked whether any of them knew where Whiteland might be; but none of them knew anything about it.
Then the man gave him a pair of snowshoes. "If you stand in them," said he, "you will come to my brother, who lives a hundred miles further on. He is the lord of the birds of the air. Ask him. When you have found him, turn the snowshoes around so that they point this way, and they will come back home of their own accord." When the king got there, he turned the snowshoes around, as the lord of the beasts had told him, and they ran home again. He asked about Whiteland, and the man called up all the birds with his horn, and asked whether any of them knew where Whiteland might be. But none of them knew. Long after the rest an old eagle came along; and he had been out for some ten years, but did not know either.
"Well," said the man, "I will lend you a pair of snowshoes. When you stand in them you will come to my brother, who lives a hundred miles further on. He is the lord of all the fishes in the sea. Ask him. But do not forget to turn the snowshoes around again." The king thanked him, stepped into the snowshoes, and when he came to the one who was lord of all the fishes in the sea, he turned them around, and they ran back like the others. There he once more asked about Whiteland.
The man called up his fishes with his horn, but none of them knew anything about it. At last there came an old, old carp, whom he had called with his horn only at the cost of much trouble. When he asked him, he said: "Yes, I know it well, for I was cook there for fully ten years. To-morrow I have to go back again, because our queen, whose king has not come home again, is going to marry some one else." "If such be the case," said the man, "I'll give you a bit of advice. Out there by the wall three brothers have been standing for the last hundred years, fighting with each other about a hat, a cloak and a pair of boots. Any one who has these three things can make himself invisible, and wish himself away as far as ever he will. You might say that you would test their possessions, and then decide their quarrel for them." Then the king thanked him, and did as he said. "Why do you stand there fighting till the end of time?" said he to the brothers. "Let me test your possessions if I am to decide your quarrel." That suited them; but when he had hat, cloak and boots, he told them: "I will give you my decision the next time we meet!" and with that he wished himself far away. While he was flying through the air he happened to meet the North Wind. "And where are you going?" asked the North Wind. "To Whiteland," said the king, and then he told him what had happened to him. "Well," said the North Wind, "you are traveling a little quicker than I am; for I must sweep and blow out every corner. But when you come to your journey's end, stand on the steps beside the door, and then I'll come roaring up as though I were going to tear down the whole castle. And when the prince who is to have the queen comes and looks out to see what it all means, I'll just take him along with me."
The king did as the North Wind told him. He stationed himself on the steps; and when the North Wind came roaring and rushing up, and laid hold of the castle walls till they fairly shook, the prince came out to see what it was all about. But that very moment the king seized him by the collar, and threw him out, and the North Wind took him and carried him off. When he had borne him away, the king went into the castle. At first the queen did not recognize him, for he had grown thin and pale because he had wandered so long in his great distress; but when he showed her the ring, she grew glad at heart, and then they had a wedding which was such a wedding that the news of it spread far and wide.