Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Tale of Ashlad and Redfoks

There was no help for it, Ashlad thought. So he committed himself to his herb mixture again. There was no end to his work, for as soon as he bound herbs the sheep they ate it off one another’s backs.  As he went on binding, they went on eating and they ate faster than he could bind.  At last he made an ointment with tar and rubbed it well into them, and then they stopped eating it. Then the cattle and the horses got the same treatment, and so they had peace from the troll. But the buildings next bore the wrath of the troll, who spent the whole night rending and tearing the barns and storage houses to pieces.

Ashlad then burned the nine herbs and smudged the ashes on the house. Then he went to an old gnarled mountain ash and said, “Help me now as you have helped Thor.” He then pulled out his knife and said to the mighty rowan, “Grant me leave to cut some branches.” He then took some berry laden branches and hung them over the troughs where the cows and horses and sheep fed.

“How did you learn your plantcraft?” asked the king.

“Treat the spirits of plants like you treat other human beings, then the plants will speak and teach us their use as medicines.” said Espen.

That night such an endless rain of boulders besieged the folk that the king was finally convinced to send out a hunting party. He gathered his best warriors and they rode out that very morning to much fanfare. Redfoks had managed to stay behind. The king and his men made their way onto a mountain pass. A huge waterfall thundered by from on high. The men dismounted from their horses and made slow and wary progress, swords and shields at hand. Three abreast they could walk along the narrow tract. As they approached the waterfall they realized there was no way past. Attempting to pass through the torrent meant a personal greeting with the jumble of rocks hundreds of feet below. The cliff face went straight up for an equal measure on the other side as well. There was no going up.

Then with a piercing shriek and a deafening thud the troll was upon them. The beast leapt down from above into the midst of the warriors. He grew until he towered above them.  All they could do was fall back, shields raised. The king raised his sword to charge toward the troll, but the bodies of all his men lay between them. In just a few passing heartbeats the king stood alone with the troll. The troll stepped over the king, shrunk down in size, and walked directly through the waterfall.

The king, unable to deal with his loss, rode round and round for many days bewildered and lost.  He had nothing either to eat or drink, and his clothing fared so ill in the thorns and thickets that at last he had scarcely a rag upon his back.

Then the troll came to him, bending trees out of his way, and said, “If you promise to grant me the first thing you set eyes on when you get back on your own land, I will guide you home to your grange.”

“Yes,” agreed the king, he could have that, for the king thought it would surely be his little dog, which always came hustling out to meet him.

Just as he got near his grange, out came his eldest daughter and all the people after her to meet the king and to welcome him back safe and sound.

When the king realized that she was the first to meet him, he was so cut to the heart that he fell to the ground on the spot sobbing. From that moment forward he remained befuddled and addled. The trees parted and the troll allowed himself to be seen so all would know how the king had come to be home again. Everyone was in great despair, not knowing how to break the spell the troll had cast over their king. Finally it was decided that the princess would have to be delivered to the troll.

One evening the troll was to come and fetch the princess. She was dressed out in her best and sat in a field out by the lake, weeping. Redfoks was to go with her, but he was so afraid that he climbed up into a tall spruce tree, and there he stuck. Just then up came Ashlad, who sat down on the ground by the side of the princess.  She was so glad to see that there were still good folk who dared to stay by her after all. Then she took a gold ring off her finger and knitted it into his hair.

There was a great silence in the forest.  Up came the troll, puffing and blowing.  He was so heavy footed that all the wood groaned and cracked for a whole mile round.  When the troll saw Redfoks sitting up in the treetop like a little rooster, right at the troll’s eye level, he spat at him.  He let loose a little breath, like blowing out a candle, and down toppled Redfoks and the spruce tree to the ground. There he lay sprawling like a fish out of water.

The troll roared then, spotting Espen he said, “To fight with me is not a child’s task.”

“Uffda!” said Ashlad. He was not slow, he pulled the cheese rind out of his knapsack in a heartbeat, and squeezed it till the whey spurted out. “Hold your tongue!” he cried to the troll, “or, I’ll squeeze you as I squeeze the water out of this white stone.”

“Huh,” said the troll, “Huh, who are you?”

“I am Espen, son of…”

“Never heard of you,” interrupted the troll. As he said that he hurled his iron spear at Ashlad so that it sliced deeply into the rock.  Ashlad was so quick and ready on his feet that he easily dodged the spear as the troll hurled it.

Ashlad then looked at the troll through his silver key.  Emboldened by what he saw, he taunted the troll for being so afraid of one as little as himself and took to running and jumping like a deer in an effort to lure the troll away from the princess. They went in and out of the wood, and the troll ran and stumbled over the stumps, so that the dust flew and the wood rang.

Now that the troll was gone, Redfoks found his courage and came out of the felled treetop and carried off the princess to the grange as though he had been the one to set her free. There was such joy in the king’s grange that it was heard and talked of over land and realm, and Redfoks was to be married to the oldest daughter.

When Espen arrived back at the grange he was asked by the other kitchen boys what had happened, for they knew Redfoks well enough not to trust the words of the fox.

“He proved no match for me, ‘Hand over your toothpick, and you shall see something like a throw,’ I commanded the troll.  His spear was as big as three gate poles.

“‘Hu!’ grunted the troll, ‘What are you gazing at now?’

“‘I am looking out for a star at which to throw,’ said I. ‘Do you see that tiny little one due north? That’s the one I choose.’

“‘Nay,’ said the troll, ‘let it be as it is. You must not throw away my iron stake.’

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘you may have it again then, but perhaps you would not mind if I tossed you up to the moon just once.’

“No, the troll would have nothing to say to that either.

“‘Haven’t you a mind to play blind man’s buff?’ I asked him.

“‘Yes, that would be fine fun,’ the troll said, ‘but you shall be blindfolded first,’ said the troll.

“‘Oh yes, with all my heart,’ I told him, ‘but the fairest way is that we draw lots, and then we shall not have anything to quarrel about.’

“‘Yes, yes, that would be best.’

“I took care to make sure the troll should be the first to have his eyes covered, and was the first buff. We went in and out of the wood, and the troll ran and stumbled over the stumps, so that the dust flew and the wood rang.