THERE were two little boys and they had no father and no mother, and they went out every day hunting ptarmigan, and they had never any weapons save a bow. And when they had been out hunting ptarmigan, the men of that place were always very eager to take their catch.
One day they went out hunting ptarmigan as usual, but there were none. On their way, they came to some wild and difficult cliffs. And they looked down from that place into a ravine, and saw at the bottom a thing that looked like a stone. They went down towards it, and when they came nearer, it was a little house. And they went nearer still and came right to it. They climbed up on to the roof, and when they looked down through the air hole in the roof, they saw a little boy on the floor with a cutting-board for a kayak and a stick for a paddle. They called down to him, and he looked up, but then they hid themselves. When they looked down again, he was there as before, playing at being a man in a kayak. A second time they called to him, and then he ran to hide. And they went in then, and found him, sobbing a little, and pressing himself close in against the wall.
And they asked him:
"Do you live here all alone?"
And he answered: "No, my mother went out early this morning, and she is out now, as usual."
"We have come to be here with you because you are all alone."
And when they said this, he ventured to come out a little from the wall.
In the afternoon, the boy went out again and again and when he did so, they looked round the inside of the house, which was covered with fox skins, blue and white.
At last the boy came in, and said:
"Now I can see her, away to the south."
They looked out and saw her, and she seemed mightily big, having something on her back. And she came quickly nearer.
Then they heard a great noise, and that was the woman throwing down her burden. She came in hot and tired, and sat down, and said:
"Thanks, kind little boys. I had to leave him alone in the house, as usual, and now you have stayed with him while I was fearing for him on my way."
Then she turned to her son, and said:
"Have they not eaten yet?"
"No," said the boy. And when he had said that, she went out, and came in with dried flesh of fox and reindeer, and a big piece of suet. And very glad they were to eat that food. At first they did not eat any of the dried fox meat, but when they tasted it, they found it was wonderfully good to eat.
Now when they had eaten their fill, they sat there feeling glad. And then the little boy whispered something in his mother's ear.
"He has a great desire for one of your sets of arrows, if you would not refuse to give it." And they gave him that.
In the evening, when they thought it was time to rest, a bed was made for them under the window, and when this was done the woman said:
"Now sleep, and do not fear any evil thing."
They slept and slept, and when they awoke, the woman had been awake a long time already.
And when they were setting off to go home again, she paid them for their arrows with as much meat as they could carry; and when they went off, she said:
"Be sure you do not let any others come selling arrows."
But in the meantime, the people of the village had begun to fear for those two boys, because they did not come home. When at last they appeared in the evening, many went out to meet them. And it was a great load they had to carry.
"Where have you been?" they asked.
"We have been in a house with one who was not a real man."
They tasted the food they had brought. And it was wonderfully good to eat.
"That we were given in payment for one set of arrows," they said.
"We must certainly go out and sell arrows, too," said the others.
But the two told them: "No, you must not do that. For when we went away, she said: 'Do not let any others come selling arrows.'"
But although this had been said to them, all fell to at once making arrows. And the next day they set out with the arrows on their backs. The two little boys did not desire to go, but went in despite of that, because the others ordered them.
Now when they came to the ravine, it looked as if that house were no longer there. And when they came down, not a stone of it was to be seen. They could not see so much as the two sheds or anything of them. And no one could now tell where that woman had gone.
And that was the last time they went out hunting ptarmigan.