ONCE upon a time there was a king who travelled to a strange country, where he married a queen. When they had been married some time the queen had a daughter, which gave rise to much joy through the whole land, for all people liked the king, he was so kind and just. As the child was born there came an old woman into the room. She was of a strange appearance, and nobody could guess where she came from, or to what place she was going. This old woman declared that the royal child must not be taken out under the sky until it was fifteen years old. If she was she would be in danger of being carried away by the giants of the mountains.
The king, when he was told what the woman had said, heeded her words, and set a guard to see that the princess did not come out into the open air.
In a short time the queen bore another daughter, and there was again much joy in the land. The old woman once more made her appearance, and she said that the king must not let the young princess go out under the sky before she was fifteen.
The queen had a third daughter, and the third time the old woman came, warning the king respecting this child as she had done regarding the two former. The king was much distressed, for he loved his children more than anything else in the world. So he gave strict orders that the three princesses should be always kept indoors, and he commanded that every one should respect his edict.
A considerable time passed by, and the princesses grew up to be the most beautiful girls that could be seen far or near. Then a war began, and the king had to leave his home.
One day, while he was away at the seat of war, the three princesses sat at a window looking at how the sun shone on the flowers in the garden. They felt that they would like very much to go and play among the flowers, and they begged the guards to let them out for a little while to walk in the garden. The guards refused, for they were afraid of the king, but the girls begged of them so prettily and so earnestly that they could not long refuse them, so they let them do as they wished. The princesses were delighted, and ran out into the garden, but their pleasure was short-lived. Scarcely had they got into the open air when a cloud came down and carried them off, and no one could find them again, though they searched the wide world over.
The whole of the people mourned, and the king, as you may imagine, was very much grieved when, on his return home, he learned what had happened. However, there is an old saying, "What's done cannot be undone," so the king had to let matters remain as they were. As no one could advise him how to recover his daughters, the king caused proclamation to be made throughout the land that whoever should bring them back to him from the power of the mountain-giants should have one of them for his wife, and half the kingdom as a wedding present. As soon as this proclamation was made in the neighbouring countries many young warriors went out, with servants and horses, to look for the three princesses. There were at the king's court at that time two foreign princes and they started off too, to see how fortunate they might be. They put on fine armour, and took costly weapons, and they boasted of what they would do, and how they would never come back until they had accomplished their purpose.
We will leave these two princes to wander here and there in their search, and look at what was passing in another place. Deep down in the heart of a wild wood there dwelt at that time an old woman who had an only son, who used daily to attend to his mother's three hogs. As the lad roamed through the forest, he one day cut a little pipe to play on. He found much pleasure in the music, and he played so well that the notes charmed all who heard him. The boy was well built, of an honest heart, and feared nothing.
One day it chanced that, as he was sitting in the wood playing on his pipe, while his three hogs grubbed among the roots of the pine-trees, a very old man came along. He had a beard so long that it reached to his waist, and a large dog accompanied him. When the lad saw the dog he said to himself--
"I wish I had a dog like that as a companion here in the wood. Then there would be no danger."
The old man knew what the boy thought, and he said--
"I have come to ask you to let me give you my dog for one of your hogs."
The lad was ready to close the bargain, and gave a gray hog in exchange for the big dog. As he was going the old man said--
"I think you will be satisfied with your bargain. The dog is not like other dogs. His name is Hold-fast, and if you tell him to hold, hold he will whatever it may be, were it even the fiercest giant."
Then he departed, and the lad thought that for once, at all events, fortune had been kind to him.
When evening had come, the lad called his dog, and drove the hogs to his home in the forest. When the old woman learnt how her son had given away the gray hog for a dog, she flew into a great rage, and gave him a good beating. The lad begged her to be quiet, but it was of no use, for she only seemed to get the more angry. When the boy saw that it was no good pleading, he called to the dog--
The dog at once rushed forward, and, seizing the old woman, held her so firmly that she could not move; but he did her no harm. The old woman now had to promise that she would agree to what her son had done; but she could not help thinking that she had suffered a great misfortune in losing her fat gray hog.
The next day the boy went once more to the forest with his dog and the two hogs. When he arrived there he sat down and played upon his pipe as usual, and the dog danced to the music in such a wonderful manner that it was quite amazing. While he thus sat, the old man with the gray beard came up to him out of the forest. He was accompanied by a dog as large as the former one. When the boy saw the fine animal, he said to himself--
"I wish I had that dog as a companion in this wood. Then there would be no danger."
The old man knew what he thought, and said--
"I have come to ask you to let me give you my dog for one of your hogs."
The boy did not hesitate long, but agreed to the bargain. He got the big dog, and the man took the hog in exchange. As he went, the old man said--
"I think you will be satisfied with your bargain. The dog is not like other dogs. He is called Tear, and if you tell him to tear, tear he will in pieces whatever it be, even the fiercest mountain giant."
Then he departed, and the boy was glad at heart, thinking he had made a good bargain, though he well knew his old mother would not be much pleased at it.
Towards evening he went home, and his mother was not a bit less angry than she had been on the previous day. She dared not beat her son, however, for his big dogs made her afraid. It usually happens that when women have scolded enough they at last give in. So it was now. The boy and his mother became friends once more; but the old woman thought she had sustained such a loss as could never again be made good.
The boy went to the forest again with the hog and the two dogs. He was very happy, and, sitting down on the trunk of a tree he played, as usual, on his pipe; and the dogs danced in such fine fashion that it was a treat to look at them. While the boy thus sat amusing himself, the old man with the gray beard again appeared out of the forest. He had with him a third dog as large as either of the others. When the boy saw it, he said to himself--
"I wish I had that dog as a companion in this wood. Then there would be no danger."
The old man said--
"I came because I wished you to see my dog, for I well know you would like to have him."
The lad was ready enough, and the bargain was made. So he got the big dog, giving his last hog for it. The old man then departed, saying--
"I think you will be satisfied with your bargain. The dog is not like other dogs. He is called Quick-ear, and so quick does he hear, that he knows all that takes place, be it ever so many miles away. Why, he hears even the trees and the grass growing in the fields!"
Then the old man went off, and the lad felt very happy, for he thought he had nothing now to be afraid of.
As evening came on the boy went home, and his mother was sorely grieved when she found her son had parted with her all; but he told her to bid farewell to sorrow, saying that he would see she had no loss. The lad spoke so well that the old woman was quite pleased. At daybreak the lad went out a-hunting with his two dogs, and in the evening he came back with as much game as he could carry. He hunted till his mother's larder was well stocked, then he bade her farewell, telling her he was going to travel to see what fortune had in store for him, and called his dogs to him.
He travelled on over hills, and along gloomy roads, till he got deep in a dark forest. There the old man with the gray beard met him. The lad was very glad to fall in with him again, and said to him--
"Good-day, father. I thank you for our last meeting."
"Good-day," answered the old man. "Where are you going?"
"I am going into the world," said the boy, "to see what fortune I shall have."
"Go on," said the old man, "and you will come to a royal palace; there you will have a change of fortune."
With that they parted; but the lad paid good heed to the old man's words, and kept on his way. When he came to a house, he played on his pipe while his dogs danced, and so he got food and shelter, and whatever he wanted.
Having travelled for some days, he at last entered a large city, through the streets of which great crowds of people were passing. The lad wondered what was the cause of all this. At last he came to where proclamation was being made, that whoever should rescue the three princesses from the hands of the mountain giants should have one of them for his wife and half the kingdom with her. Then the lad remembered what the old man had told him, and understood what he meant. He called his dogs to him, and went on till he came to the palace. There, from the time that the princesses disappeared, the place had been filled with sorrow and mourning, and the king and the queen grieved more than all the others. The boy entered the palace, and begged to be allowed to play to the king and show him his dogs. The people of the palace were much pleased at this, for they thought it might do something to make the king forget his grief. So they let him go in and show what he could do. When the king heard how he played, and saw how wonderfully his dogs danced, he was so merry that no one had seen him so during the seven long years that had passed since he lost his daughters. When the dancing was finished, the king asked the boy what he should give him as a return for the amusement he had given them.
"My lord king," said the boy, "I am not come here for silver, goods, or gold! I ask one thing of you, that you will give me leave to go and seek the three princesses who are now in the hands of the mountain giants." When the king heard this he knit his brow--"So you think," said he, "that you can restore my daughters. The task is a dangerous one, and men who were better than you have suffered in it. If, however, any one save the princesses I will never break my word."
The lad thought these words kingly and honest. He bade farewell to the king and set out, determined that he would not rest till he had found what he wanted.
He travelled through many great countries without any extraordinary adventure, and wherever he went his dogs went with him. Quick-ear ran and heard what there was to hear in the place; Hold-fast carried the bag; and on Tear, who was the strongest of the three, the lad rode when he was tired. One day Quick-ear came running fast to his master to tell him that he had been near a high mountain, and had heard one of the princesses spinning within it. The giant, Quick-ear said, was not at home. At this the boy felt very glad, and he made haste to the mountain with his dogs. When they were come to it, Quick-ear said--
"We have no time to lose. The giant is only ten miles away, and I can hear his horse's golden shoes beating on the stones."
The lad at once ordered his dogs to break in the door of the mountain, which they did. He entered, and saw a beautiful maiden who sat spinning gold thread on a spindle of gold. He stepped forward and spoke to her. She was much astonished, and said--"Who are you, that dare to come into the giant's hall? For seven long years have I lived here, and never during that time have I looked on a human being. Run away, for Heaven's sake, before the giant comes, or you will lose your life."
The boy told her his errand, and said he would await the troll's coming. While they were talking, the giant came, riding on his gold-shod horse, and stopped outside the mountain. When he saw that the door was open he was very angry, and called out, in such a voice that the whole mountain shook to its base, "Who has broken open my door?" The boy boldly answered--
"I did it, and now I will break you too. Hold-fast, hold him fast; Tear and Quick-ear, tear him into a thousand pieces!"
Hardly had he spoken the words when the three dogs rushed forward, threw themselves on the giant, and tore him into numberless pieces. The princess was very glad, and said--
"Heaven be thanked! Now I am free." She threw herself on the lad's neck and kissed him. The lad would not stop in the place, so he saddled the giant's horses, put on them all the goods and gold he found, and set off with the beautiful young princess. They travelled together for a long time, the lad waiting on the maiden with that respect and attention that such a noble lady deserved.
It chanced one day that Quick-ear, who had gone before to obtain news, came running fast to his master and informed him that he had been to a high mountain, and had heard another of the king's daughters sitting within it spinning gold thread. The giant, he said, was not at home. The lad was well pleased to hear this, and hastened to the mountain with his three dogs. When they arrived there, Quick-ear said--
"We have no time to waste. The giant is but eight miles off. I can hear the sound of his horse's gold shoes on the stones!"
The lad ordered the dogs to break in the door, and when they had done so he entered and found a beautiful maiden sitting in the hall, winding gold thread. The lad stepped forward and spoke to her. She was much surprised, and said--
"Who are you, who dare to come into the giant's dwelling? Seven long years have I lived here, and never during that time have I looked on a human being. Run away, for Heaven's sake, before the giant comes, or you will lose your life."
The lad told her why he had come, and said he would wait for the giant's return home.
In the midst of their talk the giant came, riding on his gold-shod horse, and stopped outside the mountain. When he saw the door was open he was in a great rage, and called out with such a voice that the mountain shook to its base.
"Who," said he, "has broken open my door?" The lad answered boldly--
"I did it, and now I will break you. Hold-fast, hold him fast; Tear and Quick-ear, tear him into a thousand pieces!" The dogs straightway sprang forward and threw themselves on the giant, and tore him into pieces as numberless as are the leaves which fall in the autumn. Then the princess was very glad, and said--
"Heaven be thanked! Now I am free!" She threw herself on the lad's neck and kissed him. He led her to her sister, and one can well imagine how glad they were to meet. The lad took all the treasures that the giant's dwelling contained, put them on the gold-shod horses, and set out with the two princesses.
They again travelled a great distance, and the youth waited on the princesses with the respect and care they deserved.
It chanced one day that Quick-ear, who went before to get news, came running fast to his master, and told him he had been near a high mountain, and had heard the third princess sitting within, spinning cloth of gold. The giant himself was not in. The youth was well pleased to hear this, and he hurried to the mountain accompanied by his dogs. When they came there, Quick-ear said--
"There is no time to be lost. The giant is not more than five miles off. I well know it. I hear the sound of his horse's gold shoes on the stones."
The lad told his dogs to break in the door, and they did so. When he entered the mountain he saw there a maiden, sitting and weaving cloth of gold. She was so beautiful that the lad thought another such could not be found in the world. He advanced and spoke to her. The young princess was much astonished, and said--
"Who are you, who dare to come into the giant's hall? For seven long years have I lived here, and never during that time have I looked on a human being. For Heaven's sake," added she, "run away before the giant comes, or he will kill you!"
The lad, however, was brave, and said that he would lay down his life for the beautiful princess.
In the middle of their talk home came the giant, riding on his horse with the golden shoes, and stopped at the mountain. When he came in and saw what unwelcome visitors were there he was very much afraid, for he knew what had happened to his brethren. He thought it best to be careful and cunning, for he dared not act openly. He began therefore with fine words, and was very smooth and amiable. He told the princess to dress meat, so that he might entertain the guest, and behaved in such a friendly manner that the lad was perfectly deceived, and forgot to be on his guard. He sat down at the table with the giant. The princess wept in secret, and the dogs were very uneasy, but no one noticed it.
When the giant and his guest had finished the meal, the youth said--
"I am no longer hungry. Give me something to drink."
"There is," said the giant, "a spring up in the mountain which runs with sparkling wine, but I have no one to fetch of it."
"If that is all," said the lad, "one of my dogs can go up there."
The giant laughed in his false heart when he heard that, for what he wanted was that the lad should send away his dogs. The lad told Hold-fast to go for the wine, and the giant gave him a large jug. The dog went, but one might see that he did so very unwillingly.
Time went on and on, but the dog did not come back. After some time the giant said--
"I wonder why the dog is so long away. It might, perhaps, be as well to let another dog go to help him. He has to go a long distance, and the jug is a heavy one to carry."
The lad, suspecting no trickery, fell in with the giant's suggestion, and told Tear to go and see why Hold-fast did not come. The dog wagged his tail and did not want to leave his master, but he noticed it, and drove him off to the spring. The giant laughed to himself, and the princess wept, but the lad did not mark it, being very merry, jested with his entertainer, and did not dream of any danger.
A long time passed, but neither the wine nor the dogs appeared.
"I can well see," said the giant, "that your dogs do not do what you tell them, or we should not sit here thirsty. It seems to me it would be best to send Quick-ear to ascertain why they don't come back."
The lad was nettled at that, and ordered his third dog to go in haste to the spring. Quick-ear did not want to go, but whined and crept to his master's feet. Then the lad became angry, and drove him away. The dog had to obey, so away he set in great haste to the top of the mountain. When he reached it, it happened to him as it had to the others. There arose a high wall around him, and he was made a prisoner by the giant's sorcery.
When all the three dogs were gone, the giant stood up, put on a different look, and gripped his bright sword which hung upon the wall.
"Now will I avenge my brethren," said he, "and you shall die this instant, for you are in my hands."
The lad was frightened, and repented that he had parted with his dogs.
"I will not ask my life," said he, "for I must die some day. I only ask one thing, that I may say my Paternoster and play a psalm on my pipe. That is the custom in my country."
The giant granted him his wish, but said he would not wait long. The lad knelt down, and devoutly said his Paternoster, and began to play upon his pipe so that it was heard over hill and dale. That instant the magic lost its power, and the dogs were once more set free. They came down like a blast of wind, and rushed into the mountain. Then the lad sprang up and cried--
"Hold-fast, hold him; Tear and Quick-ear, tear him into a thousand pieces."
The dogs flew on the giant, and tore him into countless shreds. Then the lad took all the treasures in the mountain, harnessed the giant's horses to a golden chariot, and made haste to be gone.
As may well be imagined, the young princesses were very glad at being thus saved, and they thanked the lad for having delivered them from the power of mountain giants. He himself fell deep in love with the youngest princess, and they vowed to be true and faithful. So they travelled, with mirth and jest and great gladness, and the lad waited on the princesses with the respect and care they deserved. As they went on, the princesses played with the lad's hair, and each one hung her finger-ring in his long locks as a keepsake.
One day as they were journeying, they came up with two wanderers who were going the same way. They had on tattered clothes, their feet were sore, and altogether one would have thought they had come a long distance. The lad stopped his chariot and asked them who they were and where they came from. The strangers said they were two princes who had gone out to look for the three maidens who had been carried off to the mountains. They had, however, searched in vain, so they had now to go home more like beggars than princes.
When the lad heard that, he had pity on the two wanderers, and he asked them to go with him in the beautiful chariot. The princes gave him many thanks for the favour. So they travelled on together till they came to the land over which the father of the princesses ruled.
Now when the princes heard how the poor lad had rescued the princesses, they were filled with envy, thinking how they themselves had wandered to no purpose. They considered how they could get rid of him, and obtain the honour and rewards for themselves. So one day they suddenly set on him, seized him by the throat, and nearly strangled him. Then they threatened to kill the princesses unless they took an oath not to reveal what they had done, and they, being in the princes' power, did not dare to refuse. However, they were very sorry for the youth who had risked his life for them, and the youngest princess mourned him with all her heart, and would not be comforted.
After having done this, the princes went on to the king's demesnes, and one can well imagine how glad the king was to once more see his three daughters.
Meanwhile the poor lad lay in the forest as if he were dead. He was not, however, forsaken, for the three dogs lay down by him, kept him warm, and licked his wounds. They attended to him till he got his breath again, and came once more to life. When he had regained life and strength, he began his journey, and came, after having endured many hardships, to the king's demesnes, where the princesses lived.
When he went into the palace, he marked that the whole place was filled with mirth and joy, and in the royal hall he heard dancing and the sound of harps. The lad was much astonished, and asked what it all meant.
"You have surely come from a distance," said the servant, "not to know that the king has got back his daughters from the mountain giants. The two elder princesses are married to-day."
The lad asked about the youngest princess, whether she was to be married. The servant said she would have no one, but wept continually, and no one could find out the reason for her sorrow. Then the lad was glad, for he well knew that his love was faithful and true to him.
He went up into the guard-room, and sent a message to the king that a guest had come who prayed that he might add to the wedding mirth by exhibiting his dogs. The king was pleased, and ordered that the stranger should be well received. When the lad came into the hall, the wedding guests much admired his smartness and his manly form, and they all thought they had never before seen so brave a young man. When the three princesses saw him they knew him at once, rose from the table, and ran into his arms. Then the princes thought they had better not stay there, for the princesses told how the lad had saved them, and how all had befallen. As a proof of the truth of what they said, they showed their rings in the lad's hair.
When the king knew how the two foreign princes had acted so treacherously and basely he was much enraged, and ordered that they should be driven off his demesnes with disgrace.
The brave youth was welcomed with great honour, as, indeed, he deserved, and he was, the same day, married to the youngest princess. When the king died, the youth was chosen ruler over the land, and made a brave king. There he yet lives with his beautiful queen, and there he governs prosperously to this day.
I know no more about him.