Norwegian Fairy Book, The | Annotated Tale

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Comrade, The

ONCE upon a time there was a peasant boy, who dreamed that he would get a princess, from far, far away, and that she was as white as milk, and as red as blood, and so rich that her riches had no end. When he woke, it seemed to him as though she were still standing before him, and she was so beautiful and winning that he could not go on living without her. So he sold all that he had, and went forth to look for her. He wandered far, and at last, in the winter-time, came into a land where the roads all ran in straight lines, and made no turns. After he had wandered straight ahead for full three months, he came to a city. And there a great block of ice lay before the church door, and in the middle of it was a corpse, and the whole congregation spat at it as the people passed by. This surprised the youth, and when the pastor came out of the church, he asked him what it meant. "He was a great evil-doer," replied the pastor, "who has been executed because of his misdeeds, and has been exposed here in shame and derision." "But what did he do?" asked the youth.

              "During his mortal life he was a wine-dealer," answered the pastor, "and he watered the wine he sold."

              This did not strike the youth as being such a terrible crime. "Even if he had to pay for it with his life," said he, "one might now grant him a Christian burial, and let him rest in peace." But the pastor said that this could not be done at all; for people would be needed to break him out of the ice; and money would be needed to buy a grave for him from the church; and the gravedigger would want to be paid for his trouble; and the sexton for tolling the bells; and the cantor for singing; and the pastor himself for the funeral sermon.

              "Do you think there is any one who would pay all that money for such an arrant sinner's sake?" inquired the pastor.

              "Yes," said the youth. If he could manage to have him buried, he would be willing to pay for the wake out of his own slender purse.

              At first the pastor would hear nothing of it; but when the youth returned with two men, and asked him in their presence whether he refused the dead man Christian burial, he ventured no further objections.

              So they released the wine-dealer from his block of ice, and laid him in consecrated ground. The bells tolled, and there was singing, and the pastor threw earth on the coffin, and they had a wake at which tears and laughter alternated. But when the youth had paid for the wake, he had but a few shillings left in his pocket. Then he once more set out on his way; but had not gone far before a man came up behind him, and asked him whether he did not find it tiresome to wander along all alone.

              "No," said the youth, he always had something to think about. The man asked whether he did not need a servant.

              "No," said the youth, "I am used to serving myself, so I have no need of a servant; and no matter how much I might wish for one, I still would have to do without, since I have no money for his keep and pay."

              "Yet you need a servant, as I know better than you do," said the man, "and you need one upon whom you can rely in life and death. But if you do not want me for a servant, then let me be your comrade. I promise that you will not lose thereby, and I will not cost you a shilling. I travel at my own expense, nor need you be put to trouble as regards my food and clothing."

              Under these circumstances the youth was glad to have him for a comrade, and they resumed their journey, the man as a rule going in advance and pointing out the way.

              After they had wandered long through various lands, over hills and over heaths, they suddenly stood before a wall of rock. The comrade knocked, and begged to be let in. Then the rock opened before them, and after they had gone quite a way into the interior of the hill, a witch came to meet them and offered them a chair. "Be so good as to sit down, for you must be weary!" said she.

              "Sit down yourself!" answered the man. Then she had to sit down and remain seated, for the chair had power to hold fast all that approached it. In the meantime they wandered about in the hill, and the comrade kept looking around until he saw a sword that hung above the door. This he wanted to have, and he promised the witch that he would release her from her chair if she would let him have the sword.

              "No," she cried, "ask what you will. You can have anything else, but not that, for that is my Three-Sisters Sword!" (There were three sisters to whom the sword belonged in common.) "Then you may sit where you are till the world's end!" said the man. And when she heard that she promised to let him have the sword, if he would release her.

              So he took the sword, and went away with it; but he left her sitting there, after all. When they had wandered far, over stony wastes and desolate heaths, they again came to a wall of rock. There the comrade again knocked, and begged to be let in. Just as before, the rock opened, and when they had gone far into the hill, a witch came to meet them with a chair and bade them be seated, "for you must be tired," said she.

              "Sit down yourself!" said the comrade. And what had happened to her sister happened to her, she had to seat herself, and could not get up again. In the meantime the youth and his comrade went about in the hill, and the latter opened all the closets and drawers, until he found what he had been searching for, a ball of golden twine. This he wished to have, and promised he would release her from the chair if she would give it to him. She told him he might have all she possessed; but that she could not give him the ball, since it was her Three-Sisters Ball. But when she heard that she would have to sit in the chair till the Day of Judgment, she changed her mind. Then the comrade took the ball, and in spite of it left her sitting where she was. Then they wandered for many a day through wood and heath, until they came to a wall of rock. All happened as it had twice before, the comrade knocked, the hill opened, and inside a witch came to meet them with a chair, and bade them sit down. The two had gone through many rooms before the comrade spied an old hat hanging on a hook behind the door. The hat he must have, but the old witch would not part with it, since it was her Three-Sisters Hat, and if she gave it away she would be thoroughly unhappy. But when she heard that she would have to sit there until the Day of Judgment if she did not give up the hat, she at last agreed to do so. The comrade took the hat, and then told her to keep on sitting where she sat, like her sisters.

              At length they came to a river. There the comrade took the ball of golden twine and flung it against the hill on the other side of the river with such force that it bounded back. And when it had flown back and forth several times, there stood a bridge, and when they had reached the other side, the comrade told the youth to wind up the golden twine again as swiftly as possible, "for if we do not take it away quickly, the three witches will cross and tear us to pieces." The youth wound as quickly as he could, and just as he was at the last thread, the witches rushed up, hissing, flung themselves into the water so that the foam splashed high, and snatched at the end of the thread. But they could not grasp it, and drowned in the river.

              After they had again wandered on for a few days, the comrade said: "Now we will soon reach the castle in which she lives, the princess of whom you dreamed, and when we reach it, you must go to the castle and tell the king what you dreamed, and your journey's aim." When they got there, the youth did as he was told, and was very well received. He was given a room for himself, and one for his servant, and when it was time to eat, he was invited to the king's own table. When he saw the princess, he recognized her at once as the vision of his dream. He told her, too, why he was there, and she replied that she liked him quite well, and would gladly take him, but first he must undergo three tests. When they had eaten, she gave him a pair of gold shears and said: "The first test is that you take these shears and keep them, and give them back to me to-morrow noon. That is not a very severe test," she said, and smiled, "but, if you cannot stand it, you must die, as the law demands, and you will be in the same case as the suitors whose bones you may see lying without the castle gate."

              "That is no great feat," thought the youth to himself. But the princess was so merry and active, and so full of fun and nonsense, that he thought neither of the shears nor of himself, and while they were laughing and joking, she secretly robbed him of the shears without his noticing it. When he came to his room in the evening, and told what had occurred, and what the princess had said to him, and about the shears which she had given him to guard, his comrade asked: "And have you still the shears?"

              The youth looked through all his pockets; but his shears were not there, and he was more than unhappy when he realized that he had lost them.

              "Well, well, never mind. I will see whether I can get them back for you," said his comrade, and went down into the stable. There stood an enormous goat which belonged to the princess, and could fly through the air more swiftly than he could walk on level ground. The comrade took the Three-Sisters Sword, gave him a blow between the horns, and asked: "At what time does the princess ride to meet her lover to-night?" The goat bleated, and said he did not dare tell; but when the comrade had given him another thump, he did say that the princess would come at eleven o'clock sharp. Then the comrade put on the Three-Sisters Hat, which made him invisible, and waited for the princess. When she came, she anointed the goat with a salve she carried in a great horn, and cried out: "Up, up! over gable and roof, over land and sea, over hill and dale, to my dearest, who waits for me in the hill!"

              As the goat flew upward, the comrade swung himself up in back, and then they were off like the wind through the clouds: it was not a long journey. Suddenly they stood before a wall of rock, she knocked, and then they took their way into the interior of the hill, to the troll who was her dearest. "And now a new suitor has come who wants to win me, sweetheart," said she. "He is young and handsome, but I will have none but you," she went on, and made a great time over the troll. "I have set him a test, and here are the shears that he was to keep and guard. You shall keep them now!" Then both of them laughed as though the youth had already lost his head. "Yes, I will keep them, and take good care of them, and a kiss from you shall pledge the truth, when crows are cawing around the youth!" said the troll; and he laid the shears in an iron chest with three locks. But at the moment he was dropping the shears into the chest, the comrade caught them up. None could see him, for he was wearing the Three-Sisters Hat. So the troll carefully locked the empty chest, and put the key into a hollow double-tooth, where he kept other magic things. "The suitor could hardly find it there," said he.

              After midnight the princess set out for home. The comrade swung himself up in back again, and the trip home did not take long.

              The following noon the youth was invited to dine at the king's table. But this time the princess kept her nose in the air, and was so haughty and snappish that she hardly condescended to glance in the youth's direction. But after they had eaten, she looked very solemn, and asked in the sweetest manner: "You probably still have the shears I gave you to take care of yesterday?"

              "Yes, here they are," said the youth; and he flung them on the table so that they rang. The princess could not have been more frightened had he thrown the shears in her face. But she tried to make the best of a bad bargain, and said in a sweet voice: "Since you have taken such good care of the shears, you will not find it hard to keep my ball of gold twine for me. I should like to have it back by to-morrow noon; but if you cannot give it to me then, you must die, according to the law." The youth thought it would not be so very hard, and put the ball of gold twine in his pocket. Yet the princess once more began to toy and joke with him, so that he thought neither of himself nor of the ball of gold twine, and while they were in the midst of their merry play she stole the golden ball from him, and then dismissed him.

              When he came up into his room, and told what she had said and done, his comrade asked: "And have you still the ball of gold twine?"

              "Yes, indeed," said the youth, and thrust his hand into the pocket in which he had placed it. But there was no ball in it, and he fell into such despair that he did not know what to do.

              "Do not worry," said his comrade. "I will see whether I cannot get it back for you." He took his sword and his hat, and went to a smith and had him weld twelve extra pounds of iron to his sword. Then, when he entered the stable, he gave the goat such a blow between the horns with it that he staggered, and asked: "At what time does the princess ride to her dearest to-night?"

              "At twelve o'clock sharp," said the goat.

              The comrade once more put on his Three-Sisters Hat, and waited until the princess came with the horn of ointment and anointed the goat. Then she repeated what she had already said: "Up, up! over gable and tower, over land and sea, over hill and dale, to my dearest who waits for me in the hill!" And when the goat arose, the comrade swung himself up in back, and off they were like lightning through the air. Soon they had reached the troll-hill, and when she had knocked thrice they passed through the interior of the hill till they met the troll who was her dearest.

              "What manner of care did you take of the golden shears I gave you yesterday, my friend?" asked the princess. "The suitor had them, and he gave them back to me."

              That was quite impossible, said the troll, for he had locked them up in a chest with three locks, and had thrust the key into his hollow tooth. But when they had unlocked the chest and looked, there were no shears there. Then the princess told him that she had now given him her ball of golden twine.

              "Here it is," said she. "I took it away from him again without his having noticed it; but what are we to do if he is a master of such arts?"

              The troll could not think of anything to suggest; but after they had reflected a while they hit on the idea of lighting a great fire, and burning the ball of gold twine, for then the suitor could surely not regain it. Yet when she threw it into the flames, the comrade leaped forward and caught it, without being seen, for he was wearing the Three-Sisters Hat. After the princess had stayed a little while she returned home, and again the comrade sat up behind, and the trip home was swiftly and safely made. When the youth was asked to the king's table, the comrade gave him the ball. The princess was still more sharp and disdainful in her remarks than before, and after they had eaten she pinched her lips, and said: "Would it not be possible for me to get my ball of gold twine again, which I gave you yesterday?"

              "Yes," said the youth, "you can have it; there it is!" and he flung it on the table with such a thud that the king leaped up in the air with fright.

              The princess grew as pale as a corpse; but she made the best of a bad bargain, and said that he had done well. Now there was only one more little test for him to undergo. "If you can bring me what I am thinking about by to-morrow noon, then you may have me and keep me."

              The youth felt as though he had been condemned to death; for it seemed altogether impossible for him to know of what the princess was thinking, and still more impossible to bring her the thing in question. And when he came to his room his comrade could scarcely quiet him. He said he would take the matter in hand, as he had done on the other occasions, and at last the youth grew calmer, and lay down to sleep. In the meantime the comrade went to the smith, and had him weld an additional twenty-four pounds of iron on his sword. When this had been done, he went to the stable, and gave the goat such a smashing blow between the horns that he flew to the other side of the wall.

              "At what time does the princess ride to her dearest to-night?" said he.

              "At one o'clock sharp," bleated the goat.

              When the time came, the comrade was standing in the stable, wearing his Three-Sisters Hat, and after the princess had anointed the goat and spoken her formula, off they went through the air as before, with the comrade sitting in back. But this time he was anything but gentle, and kept giving the princess a cuff here, and a cuff there, until she had received a terrible drubbing. When she reached the wall of rock, she knocked three times, the hill opened, and they flew through it to her dearest.

              She complained bitterly to him, and said she would never have thought it possible that the weather could affect one so; it had seemed to her as though some one were flying along with them, beating her and the goat, and her whole body must be covered with black and blue spots, so badly had she been thrashed. And then she told how the suitor had again had the ball of twine. How he had managed to get it, neither she nor the troll could guess.

              "But do you know the thought that came to me?" said she. Of course the troll did not.

              "Well," said she, "I have told him he is to bring me the thing I am thinking of by to-morrow noon, and that thing is your head. Do you think, dear friend, that he will be able to bring it to me?" and she made a great time over the troll.

              "I do not think he can," said the troll, who felt quite sure of himself, and laughed and chortled with pleasure in the most malicious way. For he and the princess were firmly convinced that the youth would be more apt to lose his own head, and be left to the ravens, than that he would be able to bring the princess the head of the troll.

              Toward morning the princess wanted to fly home again, but she did not venture to ride alone; the troll must accompany her. He was quite ready to do so, took his goat from the stable--he had one just like that of the princess--and anointed him between the horns. When the troll had mounted, the comrade swung up in back of him, and off they were through the air in the direction of the king's castle. But on the way the comrade beat away lustily at the troll and his goat, and gave him thump after thump, and blow after blow with his sword, until they were flying lower and lower, and at last nearly fell into the sea across which their journey led them. When the troll noticed how stormy the weather was, he accompanied the princess to the castle, and waited outside to make sure that she really came home safely. But the moment when the door closed on the princess, the comrade hewed off his head, and went up with it to the youth's room.

              "Here is the thing of which the princess was thinking," said he. Then everything was in apple-pie order, and when the youth was invited to the king's table and they had eaten, the princess grew as merry as a lark. "Have you, perhaps, the thing of which I was thinking?" "To be sure," said the youth, and he drew forth the head from beneath his coat, and flung it on the table so that the table and all that was on it fell over. The princess looked as though she had come from the grave; yet she could not deny that this was the thing of which she had thought, and now she had to take the youth, as she had promised. So the wedding was celebrated, and there was great joy throughout the kingdom.

              But the comrade took the youth aside, and said that on their wedding-night he might close his eyes and pretend to sleep, but that, if he loved his life, and followed his advice, he would not sleep a wink until the princess was freed from her troll-skin. He must whip it off with nine new switches of birch-wood, and strip it off with three milk-baths beside; first he must scrub it off in a tub of year-old whey, then he must rub it off in a tub of sour milk, and finally, he must sponge it off in a tub of sweet milk. He had laid the birch switches beneath the bed, and had stood the tubs of milk in the corner; all was prepared. The youth promised to follow his advice, and do as he had told him. When night came, and he lay in his bed, the princess raised herself on her elbows, to see if he were really asleep, and she tickled him under the nose; but he was sleeping quite soundly. Then she pulled his hair and his beard. But it seemed to her that he slept like a log. Then she drew a great butcher's knife out from beneath her pillow, and wanted to cut off his head. But the youth leaped up, struck the knife from her hand, seized her by the hair, whipped her with the switches, and did not stop until not one was left. Thereupon he threw her into the tub of whey, and then he saw what sort of creature she really was, for her whole body was coal-black. But when he had scrubbed her in the whey, and rubbed her in the sour milk, and sponged her in the sweet milk, the troll-skin had altogether disappeared, and she was lovelier than she had ever been before.

              On the following day the comrade said that now they must get on their way. The youth was ready to set forth, and the princess, too, for her dower had long since been made ready. During the night the comrade had brought all the gold and silver, and all the valuables which the troll had left in the hill to the castle, and when they wanted to start in the morning, the castle court-yard was so full they could scarcely get through. The dower supplied by the troll was worth more than the king's whole country, and they did not know how they were to take it home. But the comrade found a way out of the difficulty. The troll had also left six goats who could fly through the air. These he loaded so heavily with gold and silver that they had to walk on the ground, and were not strong enough to rise into the air; and what the goats could not carry, had to be left at the castle. Thus they traveled for a long time, but at last the goats grew so weary and wretched that they could go no further. The youth and the princess did not know what to do; but when the comrade saw that they could not move from the spot, he took the whole treasure on his back, topped it with the goats, and carried it all until they were no more than half a mile from the youth's home. Then the comrade said: "Now I must part from you, for I can stay with you no longer." But the youth would not hear of parting, and would not let him go at any price.

              So he went along another half mile, but further than that he could not go, and when the youth pressed him, and insisted that he come home with him, and stay there; or that he at least celebrate their home-coming, he merely said no, he could not do so. Then the youth asked him what he wished in the way of payment for his company and aid. "If I am to wish for something, then I would like to have half of all that you may gain in the course of the next five years," said his comrade. And this was promised him.

              Now when the comrade had gone, the youth hid all his treasure, and went straight home. And there they celebrated a home-coming feast that was talked about in seven kingdoms; and when that was over they spent the whole winter going back and forth with the goats, and his father's twelve horses, bringing all the gold and silver home.

              After five years the comrade came again and asked for his share. Then the man divided all his possessions into two equal parts.

              "Yet there is one thing you have not divided," said the comrade.

              "What could that be?" asked the man. "I thought I had divided everything."

              "You have been blessed with a child," said the comrade, "and that you must also divide into two equal parts."

              Yes, such was really the case. Then he took up his sword, but when he raised it and was about to divide the child, his comrade seized the point of the sword so that he could not strike.

              "Are you not happy, since you need not strike?" said he.

              "Yes, indeed, I never was happier," said the man.

              "That is how happy I was when you delivered me out of the block of ice," said the comrade. "Keep all you have: I need nothing, for I am a disembodied spirit." And he told him he was the wine-dealer who had lain in the block of ice before the church door, spat upon by all; and that he had become his comrade, and had aided him, because the youth had sacrificed all he had in order that he might have peace, and a burial in consecrated ground. He had been permitted to accompany him for the space of a year, and the time had run out when he had first parted with him. Now he had once more been allowed to visit him; yet on this occasion he would have to part for all time, for the bells of heaven were calling him.


In no event originally Norse, but thousands of years old, current in many lands, and even recounted in the book of Tobias--though in other words--is the story of the grateful dead man, "The Comrade." (Asbjörnsen, N.F.E., No. 100, p. 201. From Aadal, together with variants from Valders and Aamot.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Comrade, The
Tale Author/Editor: Stroebe, Klara
Book Title: Norwegian Fairy Book, The
Book Author/Editor: Stroebe, Klara
Publisher: Frederick A. Stokes Company
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1922
Country of Origin: Norway
Classification: ATU 505: The Grateful Dead

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