The Magic Pipe - A Norse Tale
Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies
There was once three brothers, all the sons of the same father and
The two elder were hard-working, thrifty lads, who had no care except
as to how they might better themselves in the world. But the youngest,
whose name was Boots, was not thrifty at all. He was a do-nothing and
was quite content to sit in the chimney corner and warm his shins and
think about things.
One day the eldest son came to his father and said, "I have it in mind
to go over yonder to the King's castle and take service there, for I
hear the King has need of a herdsman to take care of his hares for
him. The wages are six dollars a week, and if any one can keep the
herd together and bring them safe home every night without losing one
of them the King will give him the Princess for a wife."
The father was pleased when he heard this. Six dollars a week was fair
pay, and it would be a fine thing if the lad could win the Princess
for his wife. At any rate it was worth trying for.
So the eldest son cocked his hat over one ear, and off he set for the
He had not gone so very far when he came to the edge of a forest, and
there was an old crone with a green nose a yard long, and it was
caught in a crack of a log. She was dancing and hopping about, but for
all her dancing and hopping she got no farther than that one spot, for
her nose held her there.
The lad stopped and stared at her, and she looked so funny to his mind
that he laughed and laughed till his sides ached.
"You gawk!" screamed the old hag. "Come and drive a wedge in the crack
so I can get my nose out. Here I have stood for twice a hundred years,
and no Christian soul has come to set me free."
"If you have stood there twice a hundred years you might as well stay
a while longer. As for me, I'm expected at the King's palace, and I
have no time to waste driving wedges," said the lad, and away he went,
one foot before the other, leaving the old crone with her nose still
in the crack.
When the lad came to the palace, he knocked at the door and told the
man who opened it that he had come to see about the place of herdsman.
When the man heard this he brought the lad straight to the King, and
told him what the lad had come for.
The King listened and nodded his head. Yes, he was in need of a
herdsman and would be glad to take the lad into his service, and the
wages were just as the youth thought, with a chance of winning the
Princess to boot. But there was one part of the bargain that had been
left out. If the lad failed to keep the herd together and lost so much
as even one small leveret, he was to receive such a beating as would
turn him black and blue.
That part of the bargain was not such pleasant hearing as the rest of
it. Still the lad had a mind to try for the Princess. So he was taken
out to the paddock where the hares were, and a pretty sight it was to
see them hopping and frisking about, hundreds and hundreds of them,
big and little.
All morning the hares were kept there in the paddock with the new
herdsman watching them, and as long as that was the case everything
went well. But later on the hares had to be driven out on the hills
for a run and a bite of fresh grass, and then the trouble began. The
lad could no more keep them together than if they had been sparks from
a fire. Away they sped, some one way and some another, into the woods
and over the hills,--there was no keeping track of them. The lad
shouted and ran and ran and shouted till the sweat poured down his
face, but he could not herd them back. By the time evening came he had
scarce a score of them to drive home to the palace.
And there on the steps stood the King with a stout rod in his hands,
all ready to give the lad a beating. And a good beating it was, I can
tell you. When the King had finished with him he could hardly stand.
Home he went with only his sore bones for wages.
Then it was the second brother's turn. He also had a mind to try his
hand at keeping the King's hares, with the chance of winning the
Princess for a wife. Off he set along the same road his brother had
taken, and after a while he came to the place where the old crone was
dancing about with her long, green nose still caught in the crack of a
log. He was just as fond of a good laugh as his brother was, and he
stood for a while to watch her, for he thought it a merry sight. He
laughed and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and the old
hag was screaming with rage.
"You gawk! Come and drive a wedge into the crack so that I can get my
nose out," she bawled. "Here I have been for twice a hundred years and
no Christian soul has come to set me free."
"If you have been there that long it will not hurt to stay a bit
longer," said the youth. "I'm no woodsman, and besides that I'm on my
way to the King's palace to win a Princess for a wife." And away he
went, leaving the old woman screaming after him.
After a while the second brother came to the palace, and when the
servants heard why he had come they were not slow in bringing him
before the King. Yes, the King was as much in need of a herdsman for
his hares as ever, but was the lad willing to run the risk of having
only a beating for his pains?
Yes, the lad was willing to run that risk, for he was almost sure he
could keep the herd together, and it was not every day one had a
chance of winning a Princess for a wife.
So they took him out to the paddock where the hares were. All morning
he herded them there as his brother had done before him, and that was
an easy task. But it was in the afternoon that the trouble began. For
no sooner did the fresh wind of the hillside ruffle up their fur than
away they fled, this way and that, kicking up their heels behind them.
It was in vain the lad chased after them and shouted and sweated; he
could not keep them together. In the end he had scarcely threescore of
them to drive back to the palace in the evening.
And the King was waiting for him with a cudgel in his hands, and if
the lad did not get a good drubbing that day, then nobody ever did.
When the King finished with him he was black and blue from his head to
his heels, and that is all he got for trying to win a Princess for a
Now after the second son had come home again with his doleful tale,
Boots sat and thought and thought about what had happened. After a
while, however, he rose up and shook the ashes from his clothes and
said that now it was his turn to have a try at winning the Princess
for his wife.
When the elder brothers heard that they scoffed and hooted. Boots was
no better than a numskull anyway, and how could he hope to succeed
where they had failed.
Well, all that might be true or it might not, but at any rate he was
for having a try at this business, so off he set, just as the other
two had before him.
After a while he came to the log where his brothers had seen the hag
with her nose caught in the crack, and there she was still, for no one
had come by in the meantime to set her free. He stood and stared and
stared, for it was a curious sight.
"Oh, you gawk! Why do you stand there staring?" cried the old hag.
"Here I have been for twice a hundred years, and no Christian soul
will take the trouble to set me free. Drive a wedge into the crack so
that I may get my nose out."
"That I will and gladly, good mother," said the youth. "Two hundred
years is a long time for one to have one's nose pinched in a crack."
Quickly he found a wedge and drove it into the crack with a stone, and
then the old hag pulled her nose out.
"Now you have done me a good turn, and I have it in mind to do the
same for you," she said. With that she took a pretty little pipe out
of the pocket of her skirt. "Do you take this," she said, "and it will
come in handy if you're on your way to the King's palace. If you blow
on the right end of the whistle the things around you will be blown
every which way as if a strong wind had struck them, and if you blow
on the wrong end of it they will be gathered together again. And those
are not the only tricks the pipe has, for if any one takes it from
you, you have only to wish for it, and you can wish it back into your
Boots took the pipe and thanked the old hag kindly, and then he bade
her good-by and went on his way to the King's palace.
When the King heard what Boots had come for, he was no less ready to
take him for a herdsman than he had been to take his brothers. "But,
mind you, you shall have a drubbing that will make your bones ache if
you come back in the evening with even the smallest leveret missing
from the herd," said the King.
Yes, that was all right. The lad was ready to take the risk, so all
morning Boots herded the hares in the paddock, and in the afternoon he
took them out to the hills, as the bargain was. There the hares could
no longer be kept in a herd. They kicked up their heels and away they
went, every which way.
So that was the game, was it? Boots was very willing to play it, too.
He took out his pipe and blew a tune on the right end of it, and away
the hares flew faster than they had intended, as though a strong wind
had blown them. Presently there was not one left on the hill. Then the
lad lay down in the sun and fell asleep.
When he awoke it was toward evening and time to be bringing the hares
back to the castle, but not one of them was in sight.
Then Boots sat up, and shook the hair out of his eyes and blew on the
wrong end of the pipe. Immediately there was the whole herd before
him, drawn up in ranks just like soldiers. Not even one of the
smallest leverets was missing.
"That is well," said Boots. "And now we'll be going home again."
Off he set for the palace, driving the hares before him, and as soon
as he came near enough he could see the King standing on the steps
waiting for him with a stout cudgel in his hand,--for he had no
thought but that Boots would fail in his task.
When he saw the whole herd come hopping home, as tame as sheep, and
turning into the paddock, he could hardly believe his eyes. He hurried
after and began to count them. He counted them over and over again,
and not one was missing.
Well, Boots had brought them all back safely that time, but the
question was whether he could do it again.
Boots thought he could. Indeed, he was sure he could. So the next
afternoon he set out for the hills, whistling merrily as he tramped
along with the hares hopping before him.
That day things happened just as they had before. As soon as the hares
began to stray Boots took his pipe and blew them away as though they
were so much chaff. He lay down and slept until it was time to take
them home again, and then he blew them together with the wrong end of
When the King found the lad had brought the whole herd home again for
the second time he was greatly troubled, for he had no mind to give
the Princess to Boots for a bride. So the third day he bade the
Princess go out to the hills and hide herself among the bushes and
watch and see how it was that Boots managed to keep the hares
This the Princess did. She hid back of the bushes; she saw Boots come
tramping up the hill with the hares frisking before him; she saw him
blow them away with his pipe as though they had been so many dry
leaves in the wind, and then, after he had had a nap, she saw him blow
them together again.
Then the Princess must and would have that pipe. She came out from the
bushes and offered to buy it. She offered ten dollars for it.
"No." Boots had no wish to sell, but as it was the Princess, and as
she seemed so set and determined on having it, he would tell her what
he would do; he would sell the pipe for a hundred dollars if she would
give him a kiss for every dollar she paid.
The Princess did not know what to say to that. It was not becoming
that a Princess should kiss a herdsman; still she wanted the pipe and
as that was the only way to get it she at last agreed. She paid the
lad a hundred bright silver dollars, and she also gave him a hundred
kisses out there on the hillside, with no one to look on but the
Then she took the pipe and hastened home with it.
But small good the pipe did her. Just as she reached the palace steps
the pipe slipped out of her fingers as though it had been buttered,
and look as she might she could not find it again.
That was because the lad had wished it back to himself. At that very
moment he was on his way home with the pipe in his pocket and the
hares hopping before him in lines like soldiers.
When the King heard the story he thought and pondered. The Princess
had told him nothing of the kisses. He thought she had bought the pipe
for a hundred dollars, so the next day he sent the Queen out to the
hillside with two hundred dollars in her pocket.
"The Princess is young and foolish," said he. "She must have lost the
pipe on the hillside, and no doubt the lad has it back by this time.
Do you go out and see if you can buy it from him and if you once have
your fingers on it you'll not lose it, I'll wager."
So the Queen went out to the hillside and hid herself in the bushes,
and she saw Boots blow the hares away and lie down to sleep and
afterward blow them together again in a twinkling.
Then she came out from the bushes and offered to buy the pipe. At
first the lad said no, and again no, and then no for the third time,
but in the end he sold the pipe to the Queen for two hundred dollars
and fifty kisses to go with them, and the Queen hoped the King would
never hear of it. She took the pipe and hastened home with it, but she
fared no better than the Princess, for just before she reached the
palace the pipe disappeared from her fingers, and what had become of
it she did not know.
When the King heard that he was a wroth and angry man. Now he himself
would go out to the hill and buy the pipe, for there was no trusting
the womenfolk. If he once had the pipe in his hands there would be no
losing it again, and of that he felt very sure. So he mounted his old
mare Whitey and rode over to the hillside. There he hid himself among
the bushes, and he hid old Whitey there with him, and he watched until
he had seen all that the others had told him about. Then he came out
and tried to strike a bargain with the lad. But this time it seemed as
though Boots would not sell the pipe,--neither for love nor money. The
King offered him three hundred dollars, and four hundred dollars, and
five hundred dollars for it, and still Boots said no.
"Listen!" said Boots suddenly. "If you'll go over there in the bushes
and kiss old Whitey on the mouth five-and-twenty times, I'll sell you
the pipe for five hundred dollars, but not otherwise."
That was a thing the King was loath to do, for it ill befitted a king
to kiss an old horse, but have the pipe he must and would; and besides
there was nobody there to see him do it but Boots, and he did not
count. "May I spread a handkerchief between old Whitey's mouth and
mine before I do it?" asked the King.
Yes, he might do that.
So the King went back into the bushes and spread his handkerchief over
old Whitey's mouth and kissed her through it five-and-twenty times.
Then he came back and the lad gave him the pipe, and the King mounted
and rode away with it, and he was well pleased with himself for his
cleverness, and he held the pipe tight in one hand and the bridle in
the other. "No danger of my losing it as the Queen and the Princess
did," thought he. But scarcely had the King reached the palace steps
when the pipe slipped through his fingers like water, and what became
of it he did not know.
But when Boots drove the hares home that evening he had the pipe
safely hidden away up his sleeve, though nobody knew it.
And now how about the Princess? Would the King keep his promise and
give her to the herdsman for a wife?
But that was a thing the King and Queen could not bear to think of.
They put their heads together and talked and talked, and the more they
talked the more unwilling they were to have a herdsman in the family.
So in the end this is what they said. The Princess was a very clever
girl, and she must have a clever lad for a husband. If Boots could
tell bigger stories than the Princess then he should have her for a
wife, but if she could tell bigger stories than he, then he should
have three red strips cut from his back and be beaten all the way
To this Boots agreed.
Then the Princess began. "I looked out of my window," said she, "and
there was a tree that grew straight up to the sky, and the fruit of it
was diamonds and pearls and rubies. I reached out and picked them and
made myself such a necklace as never was, and I might have it yet only
I leaned over the well to look at myself in the waters, and the
necklace fell off, and there it lies still at the bottom of the well
for any one who cares to dive for it."
"That is a pretty story!" said Boots; "but I can tell a better. When I
was herding hares the Princess came up on the hill and gave me a
hundred bright silver dollars and a hundred kisses as well, one for
Then the King scowled till his brows met, and the Princess grew as red
as fire. "Oh, what a story!" cried she.
Then it was her turn again.
"I went to see my god-mother, and she took me for a ride in a golden
coach drawn by six fleas, and the fleas were as big as horses, and
they went so fast we were back again a day before we started."
"That's a good story," said Boots, "but here's a better. The Queen
came out on the hillside and made me a present of two hundred dollars,
and she kissed me over and over again; fifty kisses she gave me."
"Is that true?" said the King to the Queen; and his face was as black
"It's a great wicked story," cried the Queen, "and you must know it
Then the Princess tried again. "I had six suitors, and I cared for one
no more than another, but the seventh one was a demon, and he would
have had me whether or no. He would have flown away with me before
this, but I caught his tail in the crack of the door, and he howled
most horribly. There he is still, if you care to look, unless he has
vanished in a puff of smoke."
"Now it is my turn," said Boots, "and you may believe this or not, but
it's mostly true. The King came up on the hillside and kissed the old
white mare twenty-five times. I was there and I saw. He kissed her
twenty-five times, and he gave me five hundred dollars not to tell."
When Boots told this right out before every one, the King was so
ashamed he did not know which way to look. "There's not a word of it
true. It's the biggest story I ever heard," said he.
"Very well, then I have won the Princess," said Boots. "And when shall
we be married?"
And married they were that day week, for the King and Queen could no
longer refuse to give Boots the Princess for a wife.
The Princess was willing, too, for Boots was a handsome, fine-looking
lad. They had a great feast at the wedding, with plenty of cake and
ale flowing like water. I was there, and I ate and drank with the best
Pfst! There goes a mouse. Catch it and you may make a fine big cloak
of its skin,--and that's a story, too.
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