ONCE upon a time there was a peasant who had a wheat-field, which was trampled down every Saturday night. Now the peasant had three sons, and he told each one of them to spend a Saturday night in the field, and to watch and see who trampled it down. The oldest was to make the first trial. So he lay down by the upper ridge of the field, and after he had lain there a while he fell asleep. The following morning the whole field had been trampled down, and the young fellow was unable to tell how it had happened.
Now the second son was to make the attempt; but he had the same experience. After he had lain a while he fell asleep, and in the morning he was unable to tell how the field had come to be trampled down.
Now it was the turn of John by the Ashes. He did not lie down by the upper ridge of the field; but lower down, and stayed awake. After he had lain there a while, three doves came flying along. They settled in the field, and that very moment shook off all their feathers, and turned into the most beautiful maidens one might wish to see. They danced with each other over the whole field; and while they did so, the young fellow gathered up all their feathers. Toward morning they wanted to put on their feathers again, but could not find them anywhere. Then they were frightened, and wept and searched and searched and wept. Finally, they discovered the young fellow, and begged him to give them back their feathers. "But why do you dance in our wheat-field?" said the young fellow. "Alas, it is not our fault," said the maidens. "The troll who has enchanted us sends us here every Saturday night to trample the field. But now give us our feathers, for morning is near." And they begged for them in the sweetest way. "I do not know about that," said the young fellow, "you have trampled down the field so very badly; perhaps--if I might choose and have one of you?" "That would please us," returned the maidens, "but it would not be possible; for three trolls guard us, one with three, one with six and one with nine heads, and they kill all who come to the mountain." But the young fellow said that one of them pleased him so very much that he would make the attempt, in spite of what they had told him. So he chose the middle one, for she seemed the most beautiful to him, and she gave him a ring and put it on his finger. And then the maidens at once put on their garments of dove feathers, and flew back across forest and hill.
When the young fellow returned home, he told what he had seen. "And now I must set out and try my luck," said he. "I do not know whether I will return, but I must make the venture." "O John, John by the Ashes!" said his brothers, and laughed at him. "Well, it makes no difference, even though I am worthless," said John by the Ashes. "I must try my luck." So the young fellow set out to wander to the place where the maidens lived. They had told him it was farther south than south, and farther north than north, in the great hill of gold. After he had gone a while, he met two poor lads who were quarreling with each other about a pair of old shoes and a bamboo cane, which their mother had left them. The young fellow said it was not worth quarreling about such things, and that he had better shoes and better canes at home. "You cannot say that," returned the brothers, "for whoever has these shoes on can cover a thousand miles in a single step, and whatever is touched with this cane must die at once." The young fellow went on to ask whether they would sell the things. They said that they ought to get a great deal for them. "But what you say of them is not true at all," the young fellow replied. "Yes, indeed, it is absolutely true," they answered. "Just let me see whether the boots will fit me," said the young fellow. So they let him try them on. But no sooner did the young fellow have the boots on his feet, and the cane in his hand, than he took a step and off he was, a thousand miles away.
A little later he met two young fellows who were quarreling over an old fiddle, which had been left them. "Now is that worth while doing?" said the young fellow. "I have a brand-new fiddle at home." "But I doubt if it has such a tone as ours," said one of the youths, "for if some one is dead, and you play this fiddle, he will come to life again." "That really is a good deal," said the young fellow. "May I draw the bow across the strings?" They told him he might, but no sooner did he have the fiddle in his hand than he took a step, and suddenly he was a thousand miles away.
A little later he met an old man, and him he asked whether he knew where the place might be that was "farther south than south, and farther north than north, and in the great hill of gold." The man said yes, he knew well enough, but it would not do the young fellow much good to get there, for the troll who lived there killed every one. "O, I have to make the attempt, whether it lead to life or death," said the young fellow, for he was fonder than fond of the middle one of the three maidens. So he learned the way from the old man, and finally reached the hill. There he had to pass through three rooms, before he came into the hall to the maidens. And there were locks on every door, and at each stood a watchman. "Where do you want to go?" asked the first watchman. "In to the maidens," said the young fellow. "In you may go, but you'll not get out again," said the watchman, "for now the troll will be along before long." But the young fellow said that, at any rate, he would make the attempt, and went on. So he came to the second watchman. "Where do you want to go?" asked the latter. "In to the maidens," said the young fellow. "In you may go, but you'll not get out again," said the watchman, "for the troll will be here any minute." "And yet I will make the attempt," said the young fellow, and the watchman let him pass. So he came to the third watchman. "Where do you want to go?" the latter asked him. "In to the maidens," said the young fellow. "In you may go, but you'll never get out again, for the troll will be here in three shakes of a lamb's tail," said the watchman. "And yet I will make the attempt," said the young fellow, and this watchman also let him pass. Then he reached the inner chamber where the maidens sat. They were so beautiful and distinguished, and the room was so full of gold and silver, that the young fellow never could have imagined anything like it. Then he showed the ring, and asked whether the maidens recognized it. Indeed they did recognize him and the ring. "But you poor unfortunate, this is the end of us and of you!" said they. "The troll with three heads will be along before long, and you had better hide behind the door!" "O, I'm so frightened, I'm so frightened!" wailed the maiden whom the young fellow had chosen. "Just you stop crying," said the young fellow. "I think fortune will favor us!"
The troll came that very moment and thrust his three heads into the door. "Uff, it smells like Christian blood here!" said he. The young fellow struck at the heads with his bamboo cane, and the troll was dead in a minute. So they carried out the body and hid it. A little later the troll with six heads came home. "Uff, it smells like Christian blood here!" said he. "Some one must have crept into the place! But what has become of the other troll?" said he, when he did not see the troll with three heads. "He has not yet come home," said the maidens. "He must have come home," said the troll. "Perhaps he has gone to look for the fellow who crept in here." At that moment the young fellow struck all six of his heads with his bamboo cane, and the troll at once fell dead to the ground. Then they dragged out the corpse.
A while later came the troll with nine heads. "Uff, it smells like Christian blood here!" said he, and grew very angry. "But where are the two others?" said he. "They have not yet come home," said the maidens. "Indeed they have come," said the troll, "but they are probably looking for the Christian who has crept in here!" At that moment, the young fellow sprang from behind the door, and struck one head after another with his bamboo cane. But he had no more than reached the eighth than it seemed to him that the troll was getting the upper hand, and he ran out of the door. The troll was so furious that he came near bursting. He seized all the maidens and killed them, and then out he flew after the young fellow. The latter had hidden behind a big rock, and when the troll came darting up, showering sparks in his rage, he struck at his ninth head, too, and the troll fell on his back, dead. Then the young fellow ran in again, took his fiddle and played, and all the maidens came back to life. Now they wanted to go home; but did not know how to find the long road back. "I know what we must do," said the young fellow, "I will take you on my back, one by one, and then the journey will not be long for us." And this he did. He carried home all the gold and silver he found in the hill, and then celebrated his wedding with the middle one of the maidens, and if they have not died, they are living this very day.