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Myths Frieslandish

The Feast Of The Dwarfs



The Feast Of The Dwarfs






Category: Frieslandish

Source: Fairy Tales From All Nations

Not very far from Drontheim, in Norway, dwelt a powerful man, blessed
with all the gifts of fortune. A considerable portion of the land
around belonged to him; numerous herds grazed in his pastures, and a
numerous establishment of domestics contributed to the grandeur of his
dwelling. He had an only daughter called Aslog, whose beauty was
celebrated far and near. The most illustrious of her countrymen sought
to obtain her hand, but without success; and those who arrived gay and
full of hope, rode away in silence and with heavy hearts. Her father,
who thought that his daughter's rejection of so many suitors proceeded
from her anxiety to make a prudent choice, did not interfere, and
rejoiced to think that she was so discreet. At length, however, when
he perceived that the noblest and the most wealthy of the land were
rejected equally with all others, he grew angry, and thus addressed
her:--

"Hitherto I have left you at full liberty to make your own selection;
but, as I observe that you reject all indiscriminately, and that the
most eligible suitors are yet in your opinion not good enough for you,
I shall no longer permit such conduct. Is my race, then, to be
extinguished, and are my possessions to fall into the hands of
strangers? I am resolved to bend your stubborn will. I give you time
for consideration until the great winter nights' festival; if you
shall not then have made your election, be prepared to accept him whom
I determine upon for you."

Aslog loved a handsome, brave, and noble youth, whose name was Orm.
She loved him with her whole soul, and would have preferred death to
giving her hand to any one but him. But Orm was poor, and his poverty
compelled him to take service in her father's house. Aslog's love for
him was therefore kept secret, for her haughty father would never have
consented to an alliance with a man in so subordinate a position. When
Aslog beheld his stern aspect and heard his angry words, she became
deathly pale, for she knew his disposition, and was well aware that he
would put his threat in execution. Without offering a word in reply,
she withdrew to her chamber, there to consider how to escape the storm
that menaced her.

The great festival drew near, and her anxiety increased daily.

At length the lovers resolved to fly. "I know a hiding place," said
Orm, "where we can remain undiscovered till we find an opportunity of
quitting the country."

During the night, whilst all were asleep, Orm conducted the trembling
Aslog across the snow and fields of ice to the mountains. The moon and
stars, which always seem brightest in the cold winter's night, lighted
them on their way. They had brought with them some clothes and furs,
but that was all they could carry.

They climbed the mountains the whole night long, till they arrived at
a solitary spot completely encircled by rock. Here Orm led the weary
Aslog into a cave, the dark and narrow entrance to which was scarcely
perceptible; it soon widened, however, into a spacious chamber that
penetrated far into the mountain. Orm kindled a fire, and they sat
beside it, leaning against the rock, shut out from the rest of the
world.

Orm was the first who had discovered this cavern, which is now shown
as a curiosity; and, as at that time no one knew of its existence,
they were secure from the pursuit of Aslog's father. Here they passed
the winter. Orm went out to chase the wild animals of the lonely
region, and Aslog remained in the cave, attended to the fire, and
prepared their necessary food. She frequently climbed to the summit of
the rock, but, far as her eye could reach, it beheld only the
sparkling snow-fields.

Spring arrived, the woods became green, the fields arrayed themselves
in bright colours, and Aslog dared now only seldom, and with great
precaution, to emerge from her cavern.

One evening Orm returned home bringing news that he had recognised, at
a distance, her father's people, and that they had no doubt also
descried him, as they could see as clearly as himself. "They will
surround this place," continued he, "and not rest till they have found
us; we must therefore instantly be off."

They immediately descended the mountain on the other side, and reached
the sea-shore, where they fortunately found a boat. Orm pushed off,
and the boat was driven into the open sea. They had, it is true,
escaped their pursuers, but they were now exposed to perils of another
kind. Whither should they turn? They dared not land, for Aslog's
father was lord of the whole coast, and they would so fall into his
hands. Nothing remained, therefore, for them, but to commit the boat
to the winds and waves, which pursued its way all night, so that at
day-break the coast had disappeared, and they saw only sky and water;
they had not brought any provisions with them, and hunger and thirst
began to torture them. Thus they drove on for three days, and Aslog,
weak and exhausted, foresaw their certain destruction.

At length, on the evening of the third day, they beheld an island of
considerable size, surrounded by a multitude of lesser islets. Orm
immediately steered towards it, but, as they approached it, a gale
arose and the waves swelled higher and higher; he turned the boat in
hopes to be able to land on some other side, but equally without
success. Whenever the bark approached the island, it was driven back
as if by some invisible force.

Orm, gazing on the unhappy Aslog, who seemed dying from exhaustion,
crossed himself, and uttered an exclamation, which had scarcely passed
his lips, when the storm ceased, the waves sank, and the little bark
landed without further obstruction. He then sprang on shore, and a few
mussels which he collected, so revived and strengthened the exhausted
Aslog, that in a short time she also was able to quit the boat.

The island was entirely covered with dwarf mushrooms, and appeared to
be uninhabited; but when they had penetrated nearly to the centre of
it they perceived a house, half of which only was above the ground,
and the other half under it. In the hope that they might find human
help they joyfully approached it; they listened for some sound, but
the deepest silence prevailed all around. At length Orm opened the
door and entered with his companion; great was their astonishment,
however, when they perceived everything prepared as if for
inhabitants, but no living being visible. The fire burnt on the hearth
in the middle of the room, and a kettle with fish hung over it,
waiting, probably, for some one to make a meal of its contents; beds
were ready prepared for the reception of sleepers. Orm and Aslog stood
for a time doubtful, and looked fearfully about; at length, impelled
by hunger, they took the food and eat it. When they had satisfied
their hunger, and, by the last rays of the sun, could not discover any
one far and wide, they yielded to fatigue and lay down on the beds, a
luxury which they had so long been deprived of.

They had fully expected to be awakened in the night by the return of
the owners of the house, but they were deceived in their expectation;
throughout the following day, also, no one appeared, and it seemed as
if some invisible power had prepared the house for their reception.
Thus did they pass the whole summer most happily; it is true they were
alone, but the absence of mankind was not felt by them. The eggs of
wild-fowl and the fish which they caught afforded them sufficient
provision.

When autumn approached, Aslog bore a son, and in the midst of their
rejoicing at his arrival they were surprised by a wonderful
apparition.--The door opened suddenly, and an old woman entered; she
wore a beautiful blue garment, and in her form and manner was
something dignified, and at the same time unusual and strange.

"Let not my sudden appearance alarm you," said she. "I am the owner of
this house, and I thank you for having kept it so clean and well, and
that I now find everything in such good order. I would willingly have
come sooner, but I could not until the little heathen there--pointing
to the infant--had established himself here. Now I have free access;
but do not, I pray you, fetch a priest here from the main-land to
baptise him, for then I shall be obliged to go away again. If you
fulfil my wish, not only may you remain here, but every good you can
desire I will bestow on you; whatever you undertake shall succeed;
good fortune shall attend you wherever you go. But if you break this
condition, you may assure yourselves that misfortune on misfortune
shall visit you, and I will even avenge myself on the child. If you
stand in need of anything, or are in danger, you have only to
pronounce my name thrice: I will appear and aid you. I am of the race
of the ancient giants, and my name is Guru. Beware, however, of
pronouncing, in my presence, the name that no giant likes to hear, and
never make the sign of the cross, nor cut it in any of the boards in
the house. You may live here the year round; only on Yule evening be
so kind as to leave the house to me as soon as the sun goes down. Then
we celebrate our great festival, the only occasion on which we are
permitted to be merry. If, however, you do not like to quit the house,
remain as quietly as possible under ground, and, as you value your
lives, do not look into the room before midnight; after that hour you
may again take possession of all."

When the old woman had thus spoken, she disappeared, and Aslog and
Orm, thus rendered easy as to their position, lived on without
disturbance contented and happy. Orm never cast his net without a good
draught--never shot an arrow that did not hit--in short, whatever he
undertook, however trifling it might be, prospered visibly.

When Christmas came they made the house as clean as possible, set
everything in order, kindled a fire on the hearth, and on the approach
of twilight descended to the under part of the house, where they
remained quiet and silent. At length it grew dark, and they fancied
they heard a rustling and snorting in the air, like that which the
swans make in the winter season. In the wall over the hearth was an
aperture that could be opened and shut to admit light, or to let out
smoke. Orm raised the lid, which was covered with a skin, and put out
his head, when a wonderful spectacle presented itself. The little
surrounding islets were illuminated by countless little blue lights,
which moved incessantly, danced up and down, then slid along the
shore, collected together, and approached nearer and nearer to the
island in which Orm and Aslog dwelt. When they reached it they
arranged themselves in a circle round a great stone, which stood not
very far from the shore, and which was well known to Orm. But how
great was his astonishment, when he saw that the stone had assumed a
perfectly human form, although of gigantic stature. He could now
clearly distinguish that the lights were carried by dwarfs, whose pale
earth-coloured faces, with large noses and red eyes, in the form of
birds' beaks and owls' eyes, surmounted mis-shapen bodies. They
waddled and shuffled here and there, and seemed to be sad and gay at
the same time. Suddenly the circle opened, the little people drew back
on either side, and Guru, who now appeared as large as the stone,
approached with giant steps. She threw her arms around the stony
figure, which at that moment received life and movement. At the first
indication of this, the little people set up, accompanied by
extraordinary grimaces and gestures, such a song, or rather howl, that
the whole island resounded and shook with the noise. Orm, quite
terrified, drew in his head, and he and Aslog now remained in the dark
so quiet, that they scarcely dared to breathe.



The procession arrived at the house, as was clearly perceived by the
nearer approach of the howl. They now all entered. Light and
active, the dwarfs skipped over the benches; heavy and dull sounded
the steps of the giants among them. Orm and his wife heard them lay
out the table and celebrate their feast with the clattering of plates
and cries of joy. When the feast was over and midnight was
approaching, they began to dance to that magic melody which wraps the
soul in sweet bewilderment, and which has been heard by some persons
in the valleys and amid the rocks, who have thus learnt the air from
subterranean musicians.

No sooner did Aslog hear the melody than she was seized with an
indescribable longing to witness the dance. Orm was unable to restrain
her. "Let me look," said she, "or my heart will break." She took her
infant and placed herself at the furthest extremity of the chamber,
where she could see everything without being herself seen. Long did
she watch, without turning away her eyes, the dance, and the agile and
wonderful steps and leaps of the little beings, who seemed to float in
the air and scarcely to touch the ground, whilst the enchanting music
of the elfs filled her soul.

In the mean time the infant on her arm grew sleepy and breathed
heavily, and, without remembering the promise she had made to the old
woman, she made the sign of the cross (as is the custom) over the
child's mouth, and said, "Christ bless thee, my child!" She had
scarcely uttered the words when a fearful piercing cry arose. The
sprites rushed headlong out of the house, their lights were
extinguished, and in a few minutes they had all left the house. Orm
and Aslog, terrified almost to death, hid themselves in the remotest
corner of the house. They ventured not to move until day-break, and,
not until the sun shone through the hole over the hearth, did they
find courage to come out of their hiding-place.

The table was still covered as the sprites had left it, with all their
precious and wonderfully wrought silver vessels. In the middle of the
room stood, on the ground, a high copper vessel half filled with sweet
metheglin, and by its side a drinking-horn of pure gold. In the corner
lay a stringed instrument, resembling a dulcimer, on which, as it is
believed, the female giants play. They gazed with admiration on all,
but did not venture to touch anything. Greatly were they startled,
however, when, on turning round, they beheld, seated at the table, a
monstrous form, which Orm immediately recognised as the giant whom
Guru had embraced. It was now a cold hard stone. Whilst they stood
looking at it, Guru herself, in her giant form, entered the room. She
wept so bitterly that her tears fell on the ground, and it was long
before her sobs would allow her utterance; at length she said:--

"Great sorrow have you brought upon me; I must now weep for the
remainder of my days. As, however, I know that you did it not from any
evil intention, I forgive you, although it would be easy for me to
crumble this house over your heads like an egg-shell.

"Ah!" exclaimed she, "there sits my husband, whom I loved better than
myself, turned for ever into stone, never again to open his eyes. For
three hundred years I lived with my father in the island of Kuman,
happy in youthful innocence, the fairest amongst the virgins of the
giant race. Mighty heroes were rivals for my hand; the sea that
surrounds that island is full of fragments of rock which they hurled
at each other in fight. Andfind won the victory, and I was betrothed
to him. But before our marriage came the abhorred Odin into the
country, conquered my father, and drove us out of the island. My
father and sister fled to the mountains, and my eyes have never since
beheld them. Andfind and I escaped to this island, where we lived for
a long time in peace, and began to hope that we should never be
disturbed. But Destiny, which no one can escape, had decreed
otherwise; Oluff came from Britain. They called him the Holy, and
Andfind at once discovered that his journey would be fatal to the
giant race. When he heard Oluf's ship dashing through the waves, he
went to the shore and blew against it with all his strength. The waves
rose into mountains. But Oluf was mightier than he; his vessel flew
unharmed through the waves, like an arrow from the bow. He steered
straight to our island. When the ship was near enough for Andfind to
reach it, he grasped the prow with his right hand, and was in the act
of sending it to the bottom, as he had often done with other ships.
But Oluf, the dreadful Oluf, stepped forwards, and crossing his hands,
cried out with a loud voice:--'Stand there, a stone, until the last
day!' and in that moment my unhappy husband became a mass of stone.
The ship sailed on unhindered towards the mountain, which it severed,
and separated from it the little islands that lie around it.

"From that day all my happiness was annihilated, and I have passed my
life in loneliness and sorrow. Only on Yule evening can a petrified
giant recover life for seven hours, if one of the race embraces him,
and is willing to renounce a hundred years of life for this purpose.
It is seldom that a giant does this. I loved my husband too tenderly
not to recall him to life as often as I could, at whatever cost to
myself. I never counted how often I had done it, in order that I might
not know when the time would come when I should share his fate, and in
the act of embracing him become one with him. But ah! even this
consolation is denied me. I can never again awaken him with an
embrace, since he has heard the name which I may not utter, and never
will he again see the light until the dawn of the last day.

"I am about to quit this place. You will never again behold me. All
that is in the house I bestow on you. I reserve only my dulcimer. Let
no one presume to set foot on the little surrounding islands. There
dwells the little subterranean race, whom I will protect as long as I
live."

With these words she vanished. The following spring, Orm carried the
golden horn and the silver vessels to Drontheim, where no one knew
him. The value of these costly utensils was so great, that he was
enabled to purchase all that a rich man requires. He loaded his vessel
with his purchases, and returned to the island, where he lived for
many years in uninterrupted happiness. Aslog's father soon became
reconciled to his wealthy son-in-law.

The stone figure remained seated in the house. No one was able to
remove it thence. The stone was so hard that axe and hammer were
shivered against it, without making the slightest impression on it.
There the giant remained till a holy man came to the island, and with
one word restored it to its former place, where it still is to be
seen.

The copper vessel which the subterranean people left behind them, is
preserved as a memorial in the island, which is still called the
Island of the Hut.





Next: The Three Dogs

Previous: The Lucky Days



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