The Feast Of The Dwarfs





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.





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