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The Fearless Boy

There once was a boy so courageous and free-spirited that his relations despaired of ever frightening him into obedience to their will, and there-fore took him to the local gođi to be brought up proper. But the priest could not subdue the lad in the least, though the boy never showed either obstinacy or ill-temper towards him in any way.

Once during Winter's reign, three dead bodies were brought to be buried, but as it was late in the noon-tide they were put into the Gathering-Hall till next day, when the Gođi would be able to bury them with the proper rites. In those days it was the custom to bury folk wrapped only in fine linens. The gođi ordered these bodies to be laid a little distance apart, across the middle of the hall.

After even-tide the gođi said to the lad, "Run into the hall and fetch me the galdrbok which I left upon the alter."

With his usual willingness, the lad ran into the gathering-hall, which was quite dark by now, as there were no windows, and half way to the alter he stumbled against something which lay on the floor, and fell down upon his face. Not in the least bit alarmed, he got to his knees, and, after groping about, found that he had stumbled over one of the corpses, which he took in his arms and pushed into the side benches out of his way. He tumbled like-wise over the other two, and disposed of them in a similar manner. Then, taking the grimoire from the alter, he left the hall, shut the door behind him, and gave the volume to the gođi, who asked him if he had encountered anything extraordinary within the hall.

"Not that I can recall," said the lad.

The gođi asked once again, "Did you not find three corpses lying across your route?"

"Oh yes," replied he, "but what about them?"

"Did they not lie in your way?"

"Yes, but they did not hinder me."

The priest then asked, "How did you gain access to the alter?"

The boy replied, "I stuck the good folk into the side benches, where they lie quietly enough."

The gođi shook his head, but said nothing more that night.

Next morn-tide he said to the lad, "You must leave me; for I cannot keep near to me any longer one who is shameless enough to break the repose of the dead."

The boy, nothing loth, bade farewell to the gođi and those folk of his family, and wandered about for some little time without a home.

Once during his wanderings he came upon a cottage, where he slept the night, and it was here the good folk told him of the news that the Gođi of Skálholt was just dead. So the next morn off he went to Skálholt, and arriving there during noon-tide, begged a night's lodging.

The folk said to him, "You may have it and welcome, but mind, you must take care for yourself."

"Why is there such need to take care of myself so much?" asked the young lad.

They told him then that after the death of the gođi, no one could stay within the house after the fall of night, as some ghost or goblin walked about the place, and that on this account every one had to leave the home before even-tide.

The boy answered then, "Well and good; that will suit me just."

As twilight approached, all the folk left the place, taking leave of the boy, whom they did not expect to see again alive in the morn.

When they had all gone, the boy lighted a single candle and examined every room within the home till he came upon the kitchen, where he found large quantities of smoked mutton hung up to the rafters. So, as he had not tasted meat for some time, and had a capital appetite, he cut some of the dried mutton off with his blade, and placing a pot on the fire, which was still burning, prepared to cook it.

When he had finished cutting up the meat, and had put the lid on the pot, he heard a voice from up the chimney, which said, "Might I come down?"

The lad answered in return, "Yes, why not?"

Then there fell down on to the floor of the kitchen half a giant, – head, arms, hands, and body, as far as the waist, and lay there motionless.

After this he heard another voice from up the chimney, asking, "Might I come down?"

"If that is what you like," said the boy; "why not?"

Accordingly down came another part of the giant, – from the waist to the thighs, and lay upon the floor motionless.

Then he heard yet again a third voice from the same direction, which in turn asked, "Might I come down?"

"Of course," he replied; "you must have something to stand upon."

So down came the rest of the giant, – a huge pair of legs, the knees and calves and feet, came down and lay by the rest of the body, motionless.

After a bit the boy, finding this want of movement from the giant rather tedious, said, "Since you have contrived to get yourself all in, you had better to get up and go away."

Upon uttering this, the pieces crept together, and the giant rose to his feet from the floor, and, without uttering a word, stalked out the kitchen. The lad followed him, till they came to a large hall within the home, in which stood a wooden chest. This chest the goblin then opened, and there-in the lad saw that it was over-full of monies. Where-upon the goblin-giant took the monies out in great handfuls, and poured it like water over his head, till the floor was covered with heaps of it; and having spent half the night thus, spent the other half in restoring the riches to the chest in the like manner. The boy stood by and watched him filling the chest again, and gathering all the stray coins together by sweepng his great arms violently over the floor, as if he dreaded to be interupted before he could get them all in, which the lad fancied must be because the dawn was approaching.

When the goblin had shut up the coffer, he rushed past the lad as if to get away out of the hall; but the latter said to him, "Do not be in too great a hurry."

"I must make haste," replied the former, "for the day does begin to dawn."

But the boy took hold him by the sleeve and begged him to remain yet a little while longer for friendship's sake.

At this the goblin-giant waxed angry, and, clutching hold of the youth, said, "Now shall you delay me no longer."

But the lad clung tight to him, and slipped out of the way of every blow dealt towards him, and some time passed away in this kind of a struggle. It happened, however, at the last, that the giant turned his back to the open doorway, and the boy, seeing his chance, tripped him up and butted at him with his head, so that the other fell heavily backwards, half in and half out of the hall, and his spine broke solid upon the threshold. At the very same moment the first rays of the morn struck his eyes through the open door of the house, and he instantly sank into the ground in two pieces, one to each side of the door of the hall. Then the courageous boy, though half dead from fatigue, made two separate runes of protection from out of wood and drove them into the ground where the two parts of the goblin-giant had fallen and disappeared. This done, he fell asleep till, when the sun was well up, the folk came back to Skálholt. They were amazed and rejoiced to find him still alive, asking him whether he had seen anything in the night.

"Nothing out of the common," he said to that.

So he stayed there all that day, both because he was worn and tired, and because the folk were loth to let him depart for other lands before he had rested up.

Just at even-tide, when the folk began as usual to leave the place, he begged them stay, assuring them that they would be troubled no more by neither ghost nor goblin-giant. But in spite of his sound assurances they insisted upon going, though they left him this time without any fear for his safety. When they were gone, he slept the more soundly till the morn.

On the return of the folk this following day, he told them of his struggle with the goblin two nights before, showed them then the runes he had placed, and the chestful of monies in the hall, and once again assured them that they would never again be troubled at night, so need not leave the place in fear. They thanked him most heartily for his spirit and courage, and asked him to name any reward he would like to receive, whether monies or other precious things, inviting him, in addition, to remain with them as long as ever he chose. He was grateful for their offers, but said, "I do not care for monies, nor can I make up my mind to stay the longer with you."

Next day he addressed himself to his journey, and no persuasion could induce him to remain at Skálholt. For he said, "I have no more business here, as you can now, without fear, live within the gođi's home." And taking leave of them all, he directed his steps northwards into the wilderness.

For the longest time nothing new befell the lad, until one day he came unto a large cave, into which he entered. In a smaller cave within the former he found twelve beds, all in dis-order and unmade. As it was yet early, he thought he could do no better than employ himself in making them, and having thus made them, he then threw himself onto the one nearest the entrance, covered himself up, and went to sleep.

After a little while he awoke to the voices of men talking in the larger cave, and wondering who had made the beds for them, saying that, who-so-ever this good folk were to do such, the men were much obliged to them for their pains. The boy saw upon looking out, that they were twelve armed men of noble aspect. When after they had had their supper, they came into the inner cave and eleven of them went to bed. But the twelfth man whose bed was next to the entrance, found the lad in it, and calling to the others they rose and thanked the boy for having maid their beds for them, and begged him to remain with them as their servant, for they said that they never found the time to do any work for themselves, as they were compelled to go out every morn before the rise of the sun to fight their enemies, and never once returned till well after even-tide. The lad asked of them why they were forced to fight day after day? Where-upon they answered that they had over and again fought, and overcome their enemies, but that though they killed them, over the night they always again came back to life before the morn, and would themselves come unto the cave and slay them all while they lie asleeping in their beds if they were not up and ready on the field by the rise of the sun.

In the morn the men of the cave went out fully armed, leaving the lad behind to look after the household work.

Around about noon-tide, after finishing the chores, the boy went out in the same direction as the men had taken, in order to find out where the battle-field was located, and as soon as he had espied it in the distance, he began the journey back to the cave.

Well after even-tide the warriors returned weary and dis-spirited, but were glad to find that the boy had arranged everything for them, so that they had nothing more to do than repair their arms, eat their supper and go to bed.

When they were all asleep, the lad wondered to himself how it could possibly come to pass that their enemies rose every night from the dead. So moved with curiosity was he, that as soon as he was sure that his companions were comfortable in their sleep, he took what weapons and armour he found to fit him best, and moving quietly out of the cave, made off in the direction of the battle-field. There was nothing at first to be seen there but corpse and trunkless heads, so he waited a little time to see what he could see. About the time of the cock-crow he percieved a mound near to him open of itself, and an old woman in a blue cloak come out with a glass phial in her hand. He noticed her go up to a dead warrior, and having picked up his head, she began to smear his neck with some ointment out of the phial she carried, and then she placed the head and trunk together. Instantly the warrior stood erect, a living man. The hag repeated this to two or three more, until the boy seeing now the secret of the thing, rushed up to her and stabbed her to death, as well as the men she had raised, who were as yet stupid and heavy as if after a deep sleep. Then taking the phial, he tried whether he could revive the corpses with the ointment, and found on experiment that he could indeed do so successfully. So he amused himself for a while in reviving the dead and killing them again, till, as morn-tide began, his companions arrived on the field ready for battle.

They were mighty astonished to see him there, and told him that they had sorely missed him as well as some of their weapons and armour; but they were rejoiced to find their enemies lying dead on the field instead of being alive and awaiting them in battle array, and asked of the boy how he had got the idea of thus going at night to the battle-field, and of what he had done.

He told them of all that had passed, showed them the phial of ointment, and, in order to prove its power, smeared the neck of one of the corpses, who at once rose to his feet, but was instantly killed again by one of the men of the cave. They then thanked the boy heartily for the service he had rendered them, and begged him to remain among them, offering him at the same time monies for his work. He declaired that he was quite willing, paid or unpaid, to stay with them, as long as they liked to keep his company. The men of the cave were well pleased with his answer, and having embraced the lad, set to work to strip their enemies of their weapons and armour; made a heap of them with the old woman on the top and set the pyre alite, a custom of olde; and then, going into the mound, appropriated to themselves all the treasures they found there-in. After this they proposed the game of killing each other, to try how it was to die, as they could restore one another to life again with the ointment from the phial. So they kiled each other, but by smearing themselves with the ointment, they at once returned again to life.

Now this was great sport for them all for a while as they laughed and shouted gleefully on the battle-field.

But once, when they had cut of the head of the boy, they put it on again wrongside before. And as the lad saw himself from behind, he became as if mad with fright, and begged the men to release him by all means from such a painful sight as was this.

So then the cave-folk ran him thru, and cutting off his head, they placed it on as right again, and the boy came back to his full senses much the wiser, and lived with them ever afterwards, and no more stories are told of him.

Source: Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales: 1936


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