Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Tale of Ashlad and Redfoks

“‘Haw!’ screamed the troll at last, ‘I’ll not be the blind buck any longer,’ for he was in a great rage.

“‘Bide a bit,’ I said, ‘and I’ll stand still and call till you come and catch me.’

“Meanwhile, I pulled up some tree roots and ran round to the other side of the lake, which was so deep it seemed bottomless. ‘Now come, here I stand,’ I called out.

“‘I dare say there are logs and stumps in the way,’ said the troll.

“‘Your ears can tell you there is no wood here,’ I said to him and then assured him that there were no stumps or logs. ‘Now come along!’

“So the troll set off again, and splashed into the water, and there lay the troll in the lake.  I flicked out an eye with the root whip every time he got his head above water.

“Now the troll begged so prettily for his life that I thought it was a shame to take it, but first the troll had to give up the princess and to bring back the other whom he had stolen before. Besides that, he had to promise that folk and flock should have peace. Then I let the troll out.”

“So where is the young princess?” asked the boys.

“I am off to the troll’s home to fetch the youngest princess now,” answered Ashlad.

Laughing mightily, off the boys ran to find Redfoks and spread the fanciful tale.

Ashlad arrived at the troll’s mountain home, a large barrow atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. The troll met him there and in they went, and down. The walls were artfully sculpted out of the living rock and the whole chamber gleamed gold and silver from torch-lit reflections in huge piles of gold and silver and all things precious to men strewn about. Tapestries, lush with golden and silver threads, hung on the walls and finely wrought furniture stood before them. Carvings and paintings depicted forest and mountain scenes. He peeped through his silver key and saw, through the wall, the princess chained to the wall along with some cows, amid an enormous heap of skulls.

“You promised to set her free in exchange for your life,” said Ashlad.

The troll, in no mood to argue, opened a huge door in the wall by pounding on it with a pole, and they both went inside. The troll bent down and snapped the chain.

“There is the princess,” said the troll.

“Can you walk?” Ashlad asked the princess.

“I’ll damn well walk out of here,” she said.

The huge door then slammed closed, bones rattled, sounding like voices, and there was nothing but fear and dark and bones. They were trapped in the huge damp chamber filled with skulls.

Espen pulled out his silver key once again and peered through the hole.  He saw a great waterfall and a narrow path.  Ashlad saw a wolf and the princess escaping along the ledge. Trusting in his fylgja, Ashlad and the princess went to the back of the cavern and, pressing their backs to the wet wall, inched themselves through the waterfall and out onto the ledge beyond. All the land between them and the sea stood open to his gaze.

Espen had seen a drinking horn hanging on the wall and taken it on their way out.

“What is in the horn?” asked the princess.

“Saliva from tortured snakes, gives magic strength,” answered Ashlad. Ashlad always felt more comfortable in the mountains, hard was the climbing but he did not mind it. Espen and the princess journeyed together back to the king’s manor. Ashlad had brought the youngest princess as far as the garden when they heard the news that Redfoks was to marry the oldest princess that very day. Redfoks himself was there to meet them.

Redfoks, whom all thought had saved the princess was to drive off the troll.  There was no help for it but to send in Ashlad again. Redfoks went at Ashlad with threats, claiming he was born of bear, not wanted. He then told them that just as they were preparing to feast, the troll had gone down under earth and stopped all the springs of water. “I heard the troll say, ‘If I cannot do them any other harm, they shall not have water to boil,’” Redfoks said.

In the end, Espen agreed to help once more.

Redfoks then led the young princess home to take credit for her rescue as well.

Water soaking had not worked, so Espen decided to try burning the troll instead. “I will need that iron spear which the troll had, which is twenty-five feet long.  Six smiths also I need, to make it red hot,” Ashlad said.

The smiths did as they were bid. Then Ashlad peeped through his key and saw the troll just as easily underground as he would have if the beast were above ground. He took a gulp from the troll’s drinking horn, then, utilizing his newly gotten troll-strength, he drove the spear down through the ground and into the troll’s backbone.  There was a smell of burnt hair for fifteen miles around.

“Haw!” bellowed out the troll, “let me out!” In an instant he came tearing up through the hole, and all his back was burnt and singed up to his neck.

Burning did not work, but Ashlad was not slow.  He caught the troll on a stake that had thyme twisted round it, and there he was forced to lie till he told Ashlad where he had gotten fresh eyes from after those he had were poked out.

“If you must know,” said the troll, “I stole a turnip, and rubbed it well over with ointment, and then I cut it to the sizes I needed, and nailed them in tight with ten penny nails.  Better eyes I hope no human will ever have!”

Then the king came with the two princesses and wanted to see the troll, and Redfoks walked so bent and bowed, his rump was higher than his neck. Then the king caught sight of something glistening in Ashlad’s hair.

“What have you got there?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Ashlad, “nothing but the ring your daughter gave me when I freed her from the troll.”

And now it came out how it had all truly happened, for the troll himself related the tale.  Redfoks begged and prayed for himself, but for all his trying and all his crying there was no help for it, down he had to go into a pit full of snakes.

The king then asked, “Who is your grandfather?”

Espen, wanting not to insult the king, told the truth.  His grandfather was a coal biter.

“My offer was for a prince,” the king announced, “There will be no wedding today.”

The king learned that it was the felling of the great trees of the wood by the folk for their homesteads that had so offended the troll and the king agreed to let the old trees be.

The troll laughed, and agreed to pay for all the damage he had wrought.

“What did you say your name was?” asked the troll, ignoring the king and directing his question to Ashlad.

“Espen,” replied Ashlad.

“I’ll remember you,” said the troll, and he departed.

Ashlad went and gathered a score of cattle and headed on up into the mountains after the troll. Upon his return everyone wanted to know what had happened, and whether the troll would return. Espen was happy to tell the tale.