|Date:||August 8, 2014|
Even if he had never lost her, it would still have been bad, for there was a troll who was forever making such waste and worry there that folk could hardly travel to the king’s grange in peace. First the troll let all the horses loose, and they trampled down fields and meadows, and ate up the grain. Next he tore the heads off all the king’s ducks and geese. Sometimes he killed the king’s cattle in the barns. Sometimes he drove the king’s sheep and goats over the cliffs, and broke their necks. Every time folks went to fish in the mill pond, he had driven all the fish to land, and left them lying there dead. People lived in fear of the dark and cowered inside at night, and on all the days that Sunna hid so did they.
There was an old couple who had three sons, the first was called Per, the second Anders, and the third Espen, called Ashlad, for he always sat and poked about in the ashes, dreaming the day away.
They were capable youths. Per, who was the eldest, was said to be the most capable. One day he asked his father if he might have leave to go out into the world and try his luck.
“Yes, you shall have it,” said the old fellow. “Late is better than never, my boy.”
So Per got mead in a skin, and food in his knapsack, and then he threw his pack on his back and trotted down the hill. When he had walked a while, he passed an old moss-green troll hag who lay by the roadside.
“Ah, my dear boy, give me a morsel of food today,” said the old troll hag.
But Per hardly so much as looked to one side, and then he held his head straight and went on his way.
“Ay, ay!” said the troll hag, “go along, and you shall see what you shall see.”
So Per went far, and farther than far, till he came at last to the king’s grange. There stood the king in the dooryard, feeding the roosters and hens.
“Good evening, and Frey bless your majesty,” said Per.
“Chicky! Chicky!” said the king, and scattered corn both east and west, and took no heed of Per.
“Well,” said Per to himself, “you may just stand there and scatter corn and cackle chicken-tongue till you turn into a bear,” and so he went into the kitchen and sat down on the bench as though he were a great man.
“What sort of a runt are you?” said the cook, for Per had not yet gotten his beard. That, Per thought, mocking so he fell to berating the cook. While he was hard at it, in came the king, who made the cook cut three red stripes out of Per’s back, and then they rubbed salt into the wound and sent him home again the same way he had come.
Once Per was home, Anders decided it was his turn. He too got mead in his skin, and food in his knapsack. He threw his pack on his back and trotted down the hill. When he had gotten on his way, he too met the old troll hag who begged him for food, but he strode past her and made no answer. At the king’s grange he did not fare at all better than Per. The king called, “Chicky,” and the kitchen maid called Anders a clumsy boy. When he was going to beat her for that, in came the cook with a butcher’s knife and cut three red stripes out of him and rubbed hot embers in them, and sent him home with a sore back.
Then, Ashlad crept up from the hearth and began to brush himself. The first day he shook all the ashes off him. The second day he washed and combed himself, and the third he dressed himself in his best clothes.
“Just look at him,” said Per. “Now we have a new sun shining here. I suppose you are off to the king’s grange to find his daughter and win half the kingdom? Better stay in the ashes and lie on the hearth.”
Anders said, “You have spent all your time in the pantry at Mother’s skirts, what do you know of the world? Best crawl back in the ashes where you belong.”
But Ashlad paid his brothers no mind, and he went to his father and asked leave to go out a little into the world.
“What are you to do out in the world?” said the graybeard. “It did not fare so well for either Per or Anders, and what do you think will become of you? Your thoughts are never on what you are doing.”
Ashlad would not give up, and so at last he had leave to go.
His brothers were not in favor of letting him have a morsel of food with him, but his mother gave him a cheese rind and a bone with very little meat on it. With these, he trotted away from the cottage. As he went he took his time.
“You’ll be there soon enough,” he said to himself. “You have all the day before you, and afterwards the moon will rise if you have any luck.” So he breathed deeply of the air, and wandered up the hills, and all the while he looked around him on the road.
After a long, long way he met the old woodwife who lay by the roadside. She sat before an open door in the earth and sang softly.
“The poor old cripple,” said Ashlad, “I guess you are starving.”
The wolf crone nodded, yes, she was.
“Are you? Then I’ll share with you,” said Ashlad, and as he said that he gave her the meat bone. “You are freezing, too,” he said, as he saw how her teeth chattered. “You must take this old sweater of mine. It’s not good in the arms, and thin in the back, but once on a time, when it was new, it was warm.”
“Bide a bit,” said the old woodwife, as she fumbled down in her big pocket. “Here you have an old silver key. I have nothing better or worse to give you but when you look through the hole at the top, you can see what may be.”
“Many thanks,” said Ashlad. He looked up and she was gone, and the door in the mound was closed.
When he got to the king’s grange, the kitchen maid was hard at work drawing water, and that was great toil to her.
“It is too heavy for you,” said Ashlad, “but it is just what I am fit to do.”
“I am glad for the help.” said the kitchen maid, “Come with me, my lad.” From that day on, she always let Ashlad scrape the porridge pot. Some of the other kitchen helpers were envious of Espen. They went and told lies to Jarl Redfoks about him, who was not slow in telling the king.
One day the king came and asked Ashlad, “Is it true that you could protect the fish in the mill pond so that the troll could not harm them? For that is what they tell me you have said.”
“I have not said so,” said Ashlad, “but if I had said it, I would have been as good as my word.”
“Well, however it was, whether you said it or not, you must try this task if you wish to keep a whole skin on your back,” the king said.
“Well, if I must, I must,” said Ashlad, “I have no need to go about with red stripes under my jacket.”
In the evening Ashlad set to work. He knew what herbs were needed to ward off trolls. He began plucking all that he could find of the nine needed herbs. Some of these he spread in the pond and some on land. The rest he spread over the brink of the dam. The troll had to leave the fish in peace, but now the sheep suffered for it, for the troll chased them all over the cliffs and crags the whole night.
Then one of the servants came to Redfoks and said that Ashlad knew a charm to protect the sheep as well, if he only chose to use it. That Ashlad had said he was capable enough to do it was the very truth, insisted the servant boy.
In short order Redfoks told the king, who then went out to Espen and spoke to him as he had spoken the first time. The king threatened that he would cut three broad stripes out of Ashlad’s back if he did not do what he claimed he could.