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The Dwarfs' Banquet

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scandinavian

There lived in Norway, not far from the city of Drontheim, a powerful
man who was blessed with all the goods of fortune. A part of the
surrounding country was his property, numerous herds fed on his
pastures, and a great retinue and a crowd of servants adorned his
mansion. He had an only daughter, called Aslog, the fame of whose beauty
spread far and wide. The greatest men of the country sought her, but all
were alike unsuccessful in their suit, and he who had come full of
confidence and joy, rode away home silent and melancholy. Her father,
who thought his daughter delayed her choice only to select, forbore to
interfere, and exulted in her prudence, but when at length the richest
and noblest tried their fortune with as little success as the rest, he
grew angry and called his daughter, and said to her--

"Hitherto I have left you to your free choice, but since I see that you
reject all without any distinction, and the very best of your suitors
seems not good enough for you, I will keep measures no longer with you.
What! shall my family become extinct, and my inheritance pass away into
the hands of strangers? I will break your stubborn spirit. I give you
now till the festival of the great winter-night. Make your choice by
that time, or prepare to accept him whom I shall fix on."

Aslog loved a youth named Orm, handsome as he was brave and noble. She
loved him with her whole soul, and she would sooner die than bestow her
hand on another. But Orm was poor, and poverty compelled him to serve in
the mansion of her father. Aslog's partiality for him was kept a secret,
for her father's pride of power and wealth was such that he would never
have given his consent to a union with so humble a man.

When Aslog saw the darkness of his countenance, and heard his angry
words, she turned pale as death, for she knew his temper, and doubted
not that he would put his threats into execution. Without uttering a
word in reply, she retired to her chamber, and thought deeply but in
vain how to avert the dark storm that hung over her. The great festival
approached nearer and nearer, and her anguish increased every day.

At last the lovers resolved on flight.

"I know," said Orm, "a secure place where we may remain undiscovered
until we find an opportunity of quitting the country."

At night, when all were asleep, Orm led the trembling Aslog over the
snow and ice-fields away to the mountains. The moon and the stars,
sparkling still brighter in the cold winter's night, lighted them on
their way. They had under their arms a few articles of dress and some
skins of animals, which were all they could carry. They ascended the
mountains the whole night long till they reached a lonely spot enclosed
with lofty rocks. Here Orm conducted the weary Aslog into a cave, the
low and narrow entrance to which was hardly perceptible, but it soon
enlarged to a great hall, reaching deep into the mountain. He kindled a
fire, and they now, reposing on their skins, sat in the deepest solitude
far away from all the world.

Orm was the first who had discovered this cave, which is shown to this
very day, and as no one knew anything of it, they were safe from the
pursuit of Aslog's father. They passed the whole winter in this
retirement. Orm used to go a-hunting, and Aslog stayed at home in the
cave, minded the fire, and prepared the necessary food. Frequently did
she mount the points of the rocks, but her eyes wandered as far as they
could reach only over glittering snow-fields.

The spring now came on: the woods were green, the meadows pat on their
various colours, and Aslog could but rarely, and with circumspection,
venture to leave the cave. One evening Orm came in with the intelligence
that he had recognised her father's servants in the distance, and that
he could hardly have been unobserved by them whose eyes were as good as
his own.

"They will surround this place," continued he, "and never rest till they
have found us. We must quit our retreat then without a minute's delay."

They accordingly descended on the other side of the mountain, and
reached the strand, where they fortunately found a boat. Orm shoved off,
and the boat drove into the open sea. They had escaped their pursuers,
but they were now exposed to dangers of another kind. Whither should
they turn themselves? They could not venture to land, for Aslog's father
was lord of the whole coast, and they would infallibly fall into his
hands. Nothing then remained for them but to commit their bark to the
wind and waves. They drove along the entire night. At break of day the
coast had disappeared, and they saw nothing but the sky above, the sea
beneath, and the waves that rose and fell. They had not brought one
morsel of food with them, and thirst and hunger began now to torment
them. Three days did they toss about in this state of misery, and Aslog,
faint and exhausted, saw nothing but certain death before her.

At length, on the evening of the third day, they discovered an island of
tolerable magnitude, and surrounded by a number of smaller ones. Orm
immediately steered for it, but just as he came near to it there
suddenly arose a violent wind, and the sea rolled higher and higher
against him. He turned about with a view of approaching it on another
side, but with no better success. His vessel, as often as he approached
the island, was driven back as if by an invisible power.

"Lord God!" cried he, and blessed himself and looked on poor Aslog, who
seemed to be dying of weakness before his eyes.

Scarcely had the exclamation passed his lips when the storm ceased, the
waves subsided, and the vessel came to the shore without encountering
any hindrance. Orm jumped out on the beach. Some mussels that he found
upon the strand strengthened and revived the exhausted Aslog so that she
was soon able to leave the boat.

The island was overgrown with low dwarf shrubs, and seemed to be
uninhabited; but when they had got about the middle of it, they
discovered a house reaching but a little above the ground, and appearing
to be half under the surface of the earth. In the hope of meeting human
beings and assistance, the wanderers approached it. They listened if
they could hear any noise, but the most perfect silence reigned there.
Orm at length opened the door, and with his companion walked in; but
what was their surprise to find everything regulated and arranged as if
for inhabitants, yet not a single living creature visible. The fire was
burning on the hearth in the middle of the room, and a kettle with fish
hung on it, apparently only waiting for some one to take it off and eat.
The beds were made and ready to receive their weary tenants. Orm and
Aslog stood for some time dubious, and looked on with a certain degree
of awe, but at last, overcome with hunger, they took up the food and
ate. When they had satisfied their appetites, and still in the last
beams of the setting sun, which now streamed over the island far and
wide, discovered no human being, they gave way to weariness, and laid
themselves in the beds to which they had been so long strangers.

They had expected to be awakened in the night by the owners of the house
on their return home, but their expectation was not fulfilled. They
slept undisturbed till the morning sun shone in upon them. No one
appeared on any of the following days, and it seemed as if some
invisible power had made ready the house for their reception. They spent
the whole summer in perfect happiness. They were, to be sure, solitary,
yet they did not miss mankind. The wild birds' eggs and the fish they
caught yielded them provisions in abundance.

When autumn came, Aslog presented Orm with a son. In the midst of their
joy at his appearance they were surprised by a wonderful apparition. The
door opened on a sudden, and an old woman stepped in. She had on her a
handsome blue dress. There was something proud, but at the same time
strange and surprising in her appearance.

"Do not be afraid," said she, "at my unexpected appearance. I am the
owner of this house, and I thank you for the clean and neat state in
which you have kept it, and for the good order in which I find
everything with you. I would willingly have come sooner, but I had no
power to do so, till this little heathen (pointing to the new-born babe)
was come to the light. Now I have free access. Only, fetch no priest
from the mainland to christen it, or I must depart again. If you will in
this matter comply with my wishes, you may not only continue to live
here, but all the good that ever you can wish for I will cause you.
Whatever you take in hand shall prosper. Good luck shall follow you
wherever you go; but break this condition, and depend upon it that
misfortune after misfortune will come on you, and even on this child
will I avenge myself. If you want anything, or are in danger, you have
only to pronounce my name three times, and I will appear and lend you
assistance. I am of the race of the old giants, and my name is Guru. But
beware of uttering in my presence the name of him whom no giant may hear
of, and never venture to make the sign of the cross, or to cut it on
beam or on board of the house. You may dwell in this house the whole
year long, only be so good as to give it up to me on Yule evening, when
the sun is at the lowest, as then we celebrate our great festival, and
then only are we permitted to be merry. At least, if you should not be
willing to go out of the house, keep yourselves up in the loft as quiet
as possible the whole day long, and, as you value your lives, do not
look down into the room until midnight is past. After that you may take
possession of everything again."

When the old woman had thus spoken she vanished, and Aslog and Orm, now
at ease respecting their situation, lived, without any disturbance,
content and happy. Orm never made a cast of his net without getting a
plentiful draught. He never shot an arrow from his bow that missed its
aim. In short, whatever they took in hand, were it ever so trifling,
evidently prospered.

When Christmas came, they cleaned up the house in the best manner, set
everything in order, kindled a fire on the hearth, and, as the twilight
approached, they went up to the loft, where they remained quiet and
still. At length it grew dark. They thought they heard a sound of flying
and labouring in the air, such as the swans make in the winter-time.
There was a hole in the roof over the fire-place which might be opened
or shut either to let in the light from above or to afford a free
passage for the smoke. Orm lifted up the lid, which was covered with a
skin, and put out his head, but what a wonderful sight then presented
itself to his eyes! The little islands around were all lit up with
countless blue lights, which moved about without ceasing, jumped up and
down, then skipped down to the shore, assembled together, and now came
nearer and nearer to the large island where Orm and Aslog lived. At last
they reached it and arranged themselves in a circle around a large stone
not far from the shore, and which Orm well knew. What was his surprise
when he saw that the stone had now completely assumed the form of a man,
though of a monstrous and gigantic one! He could clearly perceive that
the little blue lights were borne by dwarfs, whose pale clay-coloured
faces, with their huge noses and red eyes, disfigured, too, by birds'
bills and owls' eyes, were supported by misshapen bodies. They tottered
and wobbled about here and there, so that they seemed to be, at the same
time, merry and in pain. Suddenly the circle opened, the little ones
retired on each side, and Guru, who was now much enlarged and of as
immense a size as the stone, advanced with gigantic steps. She threw
both her arms about the stone image, which immediately began to receive
life and motion. As soon as the first sign of motion showed itself the
little ones began, with wonderful capers and grimaces, a song, or, to
speak more properly, a howl, with which the whole island resounded and
seemed to tremble. Orm, quite terrified, drew in his head, and he and
Aslog remained in the dark, so still that they hardly ventured to draw
their breath.

The procession moved on towards the house, as might be clearly perceived
by the nearer approach of the shouting and crying. They were now all
come in, and, light and active, the dwarfs jumped about on the benches,
and heavy and loud sounded, at intervals, the steps of the giants. Orm
and his wife heard them covering the table, and the clattering of the
plates, and the shouts of joy with which they celebrated their banquet.
When it was over, and it drew near to midnight, they began to dance to
that ravishing fairy air which charms the mind into such sweet
confusion, and which some have heard in the rocky glens, and learned by
listening to the underground musicians. As soon as Aslog caught the
sound of the air she felt an irresistible longing to see the dance, nor
was Orm able to keep her back.

"Let me look," said she, "or my heart will burst."

She took her child and placed herself at the extreme end of the loft
whence, without being observed, she could see all that passed. Long did
she gaze, without taking off her eyes for an instant, on the dance, on
the bold and wonderful springs of the little creatures who seemed to
float in the air and not so much as to touch the ground, while the
ravishing melody of the elves filled her whole soul. The child,
meanwhile, which lay in her arms, grew sleepy and drew its breath
heavily, and without ever thinking of the promise she had given to the
old woman, she made, as is usual, the sign of the cross over the mouth
of the child, and said--

"Christ bless you, my babe!"

The instant she had spoken the word there was raised a horrible,
piercing cry. The spirits tumbled head over heels out at the door, with
terrible crushing and crowding, their lights went out, and in a few
minutes the whole house was clear of them and left desolate. Orm and
Aslog, frightened to death, hid themselves in the most retired nook in
the house. They did not venture to stir till daybreak, and not till the
sun shone through the hole in the roof down on the fire-place did they
feel courage enough to descend from the loft.

The table remained still covered as the underground people had left it.
All their vessels, which were of silver, and manufactured in the most
beautiful manner, were upon it. In the middle of the room there stood
upon the ground a huge copper kettle half-full of sweet mead, and, by
the side of it, a drinking-horn of pure gold. In the corner lay against
the wall a stringed instrument not unlike a dulcimer, which, as people
believe, the giantesses used to play on. They gazed on what was before
them full of admiration, but without venturing to lay their hands on
anything; but great and fearful was their amazement when, on turning
about, they saw sitting at the table an immense figure, which Orm
instantly recognised as the giant whom Guru had animated by her embrace.
He was now a cold and hard stone. While they were standing gazing on it,
Guru herself entered the room in her giant form. She wept so bitterly
that the tears trickled down on the ground. It was long ere her sobbing
permitted her to utter a single word. At length she spoke--

"Great affliction have you brought on me, and henceforth must I weep
while I live. I know you have not done this with evil intentions, and
therefore I forgive you, though it were a trifle for me to crush the
whole house like an egg-shell over your heads."

"Alas!" cried she, "my husband, whom I love more than myself, there he
sits petrified for ever. Never again will he open his eyes! Three
hundred years lived I with my father on the island of Kunnan, happy in
the innocence of youth, as the fairest among the giant maidens. Mighty
heroes sued for my hand. The sea around that island is still filled with
the rocky fragments which they hurled against each other in their
combats. Andfind won the victory, and I plighted myself to him; but ere
I was married came the detestable Odin into the country, who overcame
my father, and drove us all from the island. My father and sisters fled
to the mountains, and since that time my eyes have beheld them no more.
Andfind and I saved ourselves on this island, where we for a long time
lived in peace and quiet, and thought it would never be interrupted.
Destiny, which no one escapes, had determined it otherwise. Oluf came
from Britain. They called him the Holy, and Andfind instantly found that
his voyage would be inauspicious to the giants. When he heard how Oluf's
ship rushed through the waves, he went down to the strand and blew the
sea against him with all his strength. The waves swelled up like
mountains, but Oluf was still more mighty than he. His ship flew
unchecked through the billows like an arrow from a bow. He steered
direct for our island. When the ship was so near that Andfind thought he
could reach it with his hands, he grasped at the fore-part with his
right hand, and was about to drag it down to the bottom, as he had often
done with other ships. Then Oluf, the terrible Oluf, stepped forward,
and, crossing his hands over each other, he cried with a loud voice--"

"'Stand there as a stone till the last day!' and in the same instant my
unhappy husband became a mass of rock. The ship went on unimpeded, and
ran direct against the mountain, which it cut through, separating from
it the little island which lies yonder."

"Ever since my happiness has been annihilated, and lonely and
melancholy have I passed my life. On Yule eve alone can petrified giants
receive back their life, for the space of seven hours, if one of their
race embraces them, and is, at the same time, willing to sacrifice a
hundred years of his own life. Seldom does a giant do that. I loved my
husband too well not to bring him back cheerfully to life, every time
that I could do it, even at the highest price, and never would I reckon
how often I had done it that I might not know when the time came when I
myself should share his fate, and, at the moment I threw my arms around
him, become the same as he. Alas! now even this comfort is taken from
me. I can never more by any embrace awake him, since he has heard the
name which I dare not utter, and never again will he see the light till
the dawn of the last day shall bring it."

"Now I go hence! You will never again behold me! All that is here in the
house I give you! My dulcimer alone will I keep. Let no one venture to
fix his habitation on the little islands which lie around here. There
dwell the little underground ones whom you saw at the festival, and I
will protect them as long as I live."

With these words Guru vanished. The next spring Orm took the golden horn
and the silver ware to Drontheim where no one knew him. The value of the
things was so great that he was able to purchase everything a wealthy
man desires. He loaded his ship with his purchases, and returned to the
island, where he spent many years in unalloyed happiness, and Aslog's
father was soon reconciled to his wealthy son-in-law.

The stone image remained sitting in the house. No human power was able
to move it. So hard was the stone that hammer and axe flew in pieces
without making the slightest impression upon it. The giant sat there
till a holy man came to the island, who, with one single word, removed
him back to his former station, where he stands to this hour. The copper
kettle, which the underground people left behind them, was preserved as
a memorial upon the island, which bears the name of House Island to the
present day.

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