ONCE upon a time there was a couple who had an only son named Halvor. While he was still but a little lad, he would do nothing at all; but was always sitting at the hearth, digging in the ashes. His parents apprenticed him here and apprenticed him there, to be taught something, but Halvor never stayed. When he had been anywhere for a few days, he ran away again, went back home, sat down at the hearth, and dug in the ashes. But once a master mariner came along and asked whether Halvor would not like to go with him, and sail the seas, and see foreign lands. Indeed, Halvor would like to do so very much, and it did not take him long to make up his mind.
How long they sailed the seas I do not know, but suddenly a powerful storm arose, and when it had passed, and all had grown quiet once more, they did not know where they were. They had been driven off their course to a foreign shore, which none among them recognized.
And then, since not a breeze was stirring, they lay there, and Halvor begged the master mariner for permission to go ashore, and look around, for he would rather do that than lie down and sleep. "Do you think you are fit to appear before people?" asked the master mariner. "The only clothes you have are the rags in which you stand and walk!" Yet Halvor insisted, and finally he was given permission. But he was to come back when the wind blew up. Halvor went, and it was a fair land. No matter where he came, there were great plains, with fields and pastures; but he saw no people at all. The wind blew up again, but Halvor decided that he had not yet seen enough, and wanted to go a little further, and see whether there were no people to be found at all. After a time he came to a great highway, which was so even one could have rolled an egg along it with ease. Halvor went on along this highway, and as evening drew near, he saw a great castle in the distance, that shone afar. Since he had been wandering all day long, without much in the way of food, he had a fine appetite; but the nearer he came to the castle, the more frightened he grew.
In the castle there was a fire on the hearth, and Halvor went into the kitchen, which was beautiful. The kitchenware was all of silver and gold; but there were no human beings to be seen. After Halvor had waited a while, and no one came out, he went and opened a door. There he saw a princess sitting and spinning. "Alas, no!" cried she. "Has a Christian soul really come here! But it would be best for you to go again, if you do not want the troll to swallow you; for a troll with three heads lives here."
"And though he had four, I should like to see him," said the youth. "And I am not going away, for I have done no wrong. But you must give me something to eat, for I am terribly hungry." When Halvor had eaten his fill, the princess told him to try and see whether he could swing the sword that hung on the wall. But he could not swing it, nor even raise it. "Well," said the princess, "you must take a swallow from the bottle that hangs beside it, for that is what the troll does when he wants to use the sword." Halvor took the swallow, and then could swing the sword at once as though it were nothing at all. Now, thought he, the troll could just come along any time. And sure enough, he did come along, roaring. Halvor placed himself behind the door. "Hu! it smells like Christian blood here!" said the troll, and poked his head in through the door. "Yes, you shall find out it is here and at once," cried Halvor, and hewed off all his heads. The princess was filled with joy at her deliverance, and danced and sang. But then she happened to think of her sisters, and said: "If only my sisters could also be delivered!" "Where are they?" asked Halvor. So she told him that one of them had been carried off by a troll to a castle six miles further away, and the other to a castle that lay nine miles away from the other.
"But now," said she, "you must first help me get this body out." Halvor was very strong, so he quickly cleared everything out, cleaned up, and put all in order. Then they ate, and the following morning he started off at dawn. He did not rest for a moment, but wandered all day long. When he spied the castle, he once more felt a little afraid; it was even handsomer than the other one; but here, too, there was not a human being to be seen. Then Halvor went into the kitchen, yet did not stop at all, but stepped right into the next room. "No, it cannot be possible that a Christian should venture here!" cried the princess. "I do not know how long I have been here; but during all that time I have not seen a single Christian soul. It would probably be best if you went away quickly; for a troll with six heads lives here." "No, I am not going," said Halvor, "not even if he had six heads more." "He will seize you and swallow you alive!" said the princess. But that made no difference, Halvor would not go, and he did not fear the troll. But he would have to eat and drink, for he was hungry and thirsty after his long tramp. He had as much as he wanted; and then the princess wanted to send him away again. "No," cried Halvor, "I am not going. I have done no wrong, and need not fear any one."
"That will not worry the troll," said the princess. "He will seize you without any questions asked. Yet, if you positively will not go, why, try and see whether you can swing the sword that the troll uses in war." He could not swing it; but then the princess told him to take a swallow from the bottle that hung beside it, and when he had done so he could swing the sword. Suddenly the troll came, and he was so large and so fat that he had to move sideways in order to get through the door. When he had thrust in his first head, he cried: "Huhu! I smell the blood of a Christian!" And that very moment Halvor hewed off his first head, and then all the rest. The princess was pleased beyond measure; but then she happened to think of her sisters, and she wished that they also might be delivered. Halvor thought this might be done, and wanted to start out at once. But first he had to help the princess get the dead troll out of the way and then, the following morning, he set out. It was a long way to the castle, and he hurried and ran in order to get there in good time. Toward evening he spied the castle, and it was much handsomer than both the others. This time he felt hardly any fear at all; but went through the kitchen and right on in. There sat a princess who was extraordinarily beautiful. Like the others, she said that no Christian soul had ever come to the castle since she had been there, and told him to go away again, as otherwise the troll would swallow him alive, for he had nine heads. "And though he had nine more, and nine on top of those, I will not go," said Halvor, and stood by the stove. The princess earnestly begged him to go, so that the troll would not devour him, but Halvor said: "Let him come whenever he wishes!" Then she gave him the troll sword, and told him to take a swallow from the bottle, so that he could swing it.
Suddenly the troll came roaring along. He was even larger and more powerful than both the others, and he also had to squeeze himself in at the door sideways. "Hu! I smell the blood of a Christian!" That very moment Halvor hewed off his first head, and then all of the others; but the last clung to life most toughly, and it cost Halvor a good deal of trouble to cut it off, though he found himself so very strong.
Now all the princesses met at the castle, and were happy as they never had been before, in all their lives, and they fell in love with Halvor and he with them, and he was to choose the one whom he loved best; but it was the youngest who loved him the most of all. Yet Halvor acted strangely, and grew quite silent and uncommunicative; so the princess asked him what he was longing for, and whether he did not enjoy being with them. Yes, he enjoyed it very much, for they had enough to live on, and he was well enough off, but yet he was homesick, for his parents were still living, and he would like to see them again. That could easily be arranged, said the princess. "You shall go and return without harm, if you will follow our advice." Indeed, and he would surely do nothing against their wishes, said Halvor. Then they dressed him up until he looked as handsome as a king's son, and put a ring on his finger that made it possible for the one wearing it to wish himself away, and back again. But he must not throw the ring away, and he must not mention their names, said the princesses, otherwise its power would be gone, all their joy would come to an end, and he would never see them again.
"I wish I might be back at the house at home!" said Halvor, and his wish was at once realized, and he was standing in front of his parents' house before he knew it. It was dusk, and when the old folk saw such a handsome, well-dressed stranger coming, it embarrassed them so that it seemed as though their bowing and scraping would never end. Halvor now asked them whether they could not give him a night's lodging. "No, they really could not do so, for they were quite unprepared for it," said they, "and we are lacking one thing, and another, which such a distinguished gentleman would wish to have. It would be best if the gentleman went up to the castle, whose chimney he can see from here, where the folk are well prepared." "No," said Halvor, "I'll not go there until to-morrow morning. And now let me stay here overnight. I will be content to sit by the hearth." The old folk could make no objection to this, and so Halvor sat down by the hearth, and began to dig in the ashes, as he used to when he was the lazybones at home. Then they chatted about all sorts of matters, and told Halvor about one thing and another, and finally he asked them whether they had no children. Yes, they had a son; but did not know whither he had wandered, or even whether he were still alive, or already dead.
"Could I not be this Halvor?" said Halvor.
"No, I am quite sure you could not," said the woman, starting up. "Halvor was so slow and lazy, and never wanted to do anything, and beside, he was so tattered that one rag got in the way of the other. He could never have turned into so fine a looking gentleman as yourself."
After a time the woman had to go to the hearth, and rake the fire, and as the firelight fell on Halvor, just as it used to when he dug in the ashes, she recognized him.
"No, can it really be you, Halvor?" she cried, and then the two old folk were happy beyond all power of words, and Halvor had to tell all that had happened to him, while his mother was so pleased with him, that she wanted to take him up to the castle at once, and show him to the girls who had always been so proud, and had turned up their noses at her son. So she went first and Halvor followed. When they came up, she told how Halvor had come back, and that they ought to see how fine he looked, just like a prince, said she. "We can imagine that," said the girls, and tossed their heads. "He is probably the same ragged fellow that he used to be." At that moment Halvor stepped in, and then the girls were so embarrassed that they ran out of the house without their caps. And when they came in again, they were so ashamed that they did not venture to look at Halvor, whom they had always treated with such scorn and contempt. "Well, you always acted as though you were so fine and handsome that no one on earth could compare with you. But you ought to see the oldest princess, whom I delivered," said Halvor. "Compared to her you look like dairy-maids, and the middle princess is still handsomer; while the youngest princess, who is my sweetheart, is more beautiful than the sun and moon. Would to God she were here, so that you might see her!" said Halvor.
No sooner had he finished speaking than there they stood; but then he was very much upset, for now he remembered what they had told him.
At the castle they gave a great feast in honor of the princesses, and made a great deal of them. But they would not stay. "We want to go to your parents," they said to Halvor, "and then we want to go out and look around." He went with them, and they came to a big sheet of water beyond the court-yard. Close beside it was a fair green hill, and there the princesses decided to sit and rest a while, "for it was so pleasant to look out over the water," said they. They sat down, and after they had rested a while, the youngest princess said: "Let me stroke your hair a little, Halvor!" Halvor laid his head in her lap, and she stroked his hair, and before very long Halvor fell asleep. Then she drew the ring from his finger, and gave him another in place of it, and said: "All hold on to me--I wish we were in Soria-Moria Castle!"
When Halvor woke up he saw very well that he had lost the princesses, and began to weep and wail, and was so beside himself with despair that no one could comfort him. And no matter how hard his parents begged him, he would not stay at home, but bade them farewell, and said that he would probably never see them again, for if he did not find his princesses, then it would not be worth his while to go on living.
He still had three hundred dollars, and these he put in his pocket and started out. After he had gone a while he met a man with a nice-looking horse. He decided to buy it, and began to talk with the man. "It is true I did not intend to sell the horse," said the man, "but perhaps we can come to an understanding." Halvor asked him what he wanted for it. "I did not pay much for it, nor is it worth very much: it is a good saddle horse, but as a draft horse it does not amount to much. Yet it could carry you and your knapsack without difficulty, if you were to walk a bit from time to time," said the man. At last they agreed on the price, and Halvor slung his knapsack across the horse, and from time to time he walked, and then he rode again. Toward evening he came to a green hill on which stood a large tree, beneath which he seated himself. He turned the horse loose, yet did not lie down to sleep, but took out his knapsack instead. When day came he wandered on again, for it seemed to him as though there were no place in which he could rest. He walked and rode all day long through a great forest, in which were many green clearings, that shimmered cheerfully among the trees. He did not know where he was, nor did he know whither he was going; but he allowed himself no more time to rest than his horse needed to feed in one of the green clearings, and himself to eat from his knapsack. He walked and rode, on and on, and thought the forest would never end.
But on the evening of the following day he saw something gleaming among the trees. "If the people there are still up, I could warm myself a little, and get something to eat!" thought Halvor. When he got there it was a wretched little hut, and through the window he saw an old couple sitting in it, as ancient and gray-headed as doves, and the woman had so long a nose that she used it at the hearth for a poker. "Good evening! Good evening!" said the old woman. "But what are you doing here? No Christian soul has come this way for the past hundred years." Halvor told her he was looking for Soria-Moria Castle, and asked whether she knew the way to it. "No," was the woman's answer, "I do not know, but here comes the moon, I will ask him. He ought to know, for he shines on everything." And then, when the moon rose bright and clear above the tree-tops, the woman went out. "You moon, you moon," she cried, "can you tell me the way to Soria-Moria Castle?" "No," said the moon, "I cannot do that, because when I was shining there, a cloud lay in my way."
"Just wait a little while," said the old woman to Halvor. "The West Wind will be right along, and he is sure to know, for he sweeps and blows about in every corner. Well, I declare, you have a horse, too!" said the old woman when she came in again. "Now don't let the poor beast stand by the door there and starve to death; but take it out to the pasture instead. Or would you like to change with me? We have a pair of old boots, that carry you twelve miles further with every step. I will give them to you in exchange for the horse, and then you will reach Soria-Moria Castle more quickly." Halvor at once agreed, and the old woman was so pleased with the horse, that she almost started dancing then and there. "For now I can ride to church, too," said she.
Halvor was very restless, and wanted to go right on again, but the woman said there was no need to hurry. "Lie down on the bench by the stove, and take a nap, for we have no bed for you," said she. "I will watch for the West Wind's coming."
All of a sudden the West Wind came rushing along so that the walls creaked. The woman ran out: "You West Wind! You West Wind! Can you tell me the way to Soria-Moria Castle? There is a fellow here who wants to know." "Yes, indeed," said the West Wind, "I have to go to that very place, and dry the wash for the wedding soon to be held. If he is quick afoot, he may come along with me." Halvor ran out. "You must hurry if you are going with me," said the West Wind; and at once he was up and off over hill and dale, land and sea, so that Halvor could hardly keep up with him. "Now I have no more time to keep you company," said the West Wind, "because I have first to tear down a stretch of pine forest, before I come to the bleaching-field and dry the wash. But if you keep going along the hills, you will meet some girls standing there and washing, and then you will not be far from Soria-Moria Castle."
After a time Halvor came to the girls who were washing, and they asked him whether he had seen anything of the West Wind, who was to come and dry the clothes for the wedding. "Yes," said Halvor. "He is only tearing down a stretch of pine forest, and will soon be here," and then he asked the way to Soria-Moria Castle. They showed it to him, and when he reached the castle it was fairly alive with men and horses. But Halvor was so tattered and torn because he had followed the West Wind over stick and stone, and through thick and thin, that he kept to one side, and could not come forward until the last day of the feast. Then all the folk, as was the custom, had to drink the health of the bride and groom, and the cupbearer had to pledge all of them in turn, knights and serving-men. So at length they came to Halvor. Halvor drank the health, and then let the ring which the princess had put on his finger when he lay by the water fall into the glass, and told the cupbearer to greet the bride, and bring her the ring. And the princess at once rose from the table. "Who do you think has first claim to the hand of one of us," she asked, "the man who delivered us, or the one who now sits here in the bridegroom's place?" There was only one opinion as to that, and when Halvor heard it, he did not delay, but cast off his rags and dressed himself as a bridegroom. "Yes, he is the right one!" cried the youngest princess when she caught sight of him, and she drove the other one away, and celebrated her wedding with Halvor.