Seven Years

GROA HEARD A VOICE OUTSIDE CALL GREETINGS. She wiped soapy hands on her apron and went to the door of Haugstogo’s summer kitchen for a look.

A stranger had just dismounted and spoke with the errand boy, who put down his water pails and dashed into the main house.

19th or early 20th century painting
A King’s Farm,” by Kitty Lange Kielland (1843-1914)

Groa went back to washing up. She’d fixed soup and pudding for dinner, enough for family and houseservants and fieldworkers, dirtying all the pots. Her back ached. “Too old for this,” she grumbled. “Move in with the grandson? Soon.”

The stranger spoke again. Something about his voice chimed in Groa’s memory. When had she heard it before?

A haughty voice answered. “What is it? Do you have business with Olav? No? Well, tramps are not welcome here. On your way.”

“Not a tramp, please. Just a dusty traveler wondering if you might offer a bite to eat.”

“Flatdal church is just down the road. Charity is their business.”

Groa cringed at the woman’s stinginess. There’d been plenty of leftovers.

“I tried there. No one answered.” The stranger’s tones still tugged at the washwoman’s memory. “I thought surely some kind soul in the parish—”

“You thought wrong. Proper folk don’t encourage drifters.”

Proper! Groa huffed at that. Proper folk here in the mountains of Telemark always offered hospitality to foot-weary travelers, even if they had nothing to share but flatbread.

Aslaug’s voice clamored on, piling abuse upon the poor man. How that woman had put on airs since her husband Olav had come into wealth.

And a charmed fortune it was, Groa knew. She’d overheard Olav brag about the magic five-dalar coin that never failed to return to its master’s pocket. Spend it how he would, Olav always got it back, leaving many mystified tradesmen in his wake. A few canny transactions led to small profit after small profit, building up at last to prosperity.

19th or early 20th century painting
Interior with Woman Reading,” by Kitty Lange Kielland (1843-1914)

You couldn’t spend that coin away, but you could give it, Olav had confided that drunken night. That’s how he’d gotten it in the first place, when a wiseman had taken pity on Olav’s penniless plight.

A wiseman. The wiseman of Kongsberg. Konungen. Groa had seen him there, the one time she had traveled fifty miles to town. And she had heard his voice. She darted to the doorway.

“So off with you!” Aslaug concluded her rant, slapping her hands in finality.

Konungen heaved a sigh, shaking his head. “I helped you to wealth and well-being within seven years.* Now I see you do no good with your wealth and are so hard-hearted as to deny a hungry wanderer a bite of food.* Therefore within seven years you will be so poor that you yourself must roam around the parish, begging for your meals.*” The wiseman turned to his horse, mounted, and rode out of the farmstead.

Groa took off her apron. Time to move in with her grandson. No use staying at this doomed place.

Just as Konungen had declared, so it came to be.*


* dialogue and line straight from the folktale, coming from Haugstogo, Flatdal, Telemark

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th century and early 20th century paintings. Public domain info here.

99-cent Blitz

$.99 or £.99, Old World or New

Did you take advantage of my free ebooks at the tail-end of October? Hope you enjoyed the spooky tales!

Quite a few people took a free copy of Hero’s Shield, first in a 5-book series set in Dark Ages Britannia. If you liked it, you can get the remaining four books of the series for only .99 each!

When?

Tuesday November 22 through Sunday November 27, 2022. (Yes, I’m coasting along on Black Friday’s coat-tails…)

> Beginning on November 22 at 8am PDT (3pm UTC)
> Ending on November 27 at 8am PDT (3 pm UTC)

What, where, and who?

Featuring the historical-fantasy series, “Tapestry of Cumbria,” each volume costing only 99 cents:
– book 2: Brigand’s Blade
– book 3: Vagabond’s Dagger
– book 4: Smith’s Hammer
– book 5: Minstrel’s Staff

Also on sale at the same price, my stand-alone historical-fantasy novel set in 9th century Norway:
Troll and Trylleri

Note: The links embedded above are for amazon(dot)com. My books should also be available at the following Amazon areas of distribution: US, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, NL, JP, BR, CA, MX, AU, IN

Did I get that right? Don’t ask me. I just write the books! (Come by and check out my Amazon Author Page.)

How much?

99 cents in the USA, £.99 in the UK, something similar in the other areas — down from the already low price of $2.99 per ebook.

Too busy to buy them during the sale? A mere $14.95 will get you the whole series, “Tapestry of Cumbria,” at normal prices.

Promo image for the series, Tapestry of Cumbria, featuring the cover of book one and glimpses of books 2 and 3.

If you’d like a preview before buying, read blurbs and reviews for each of these novels on my website, joyceholt.com

Why?

Well, I should hope because you like what you’ve seen so far! Thanks for coming along on Hindsight’s forays into the past. 😀


Note: All my books are also available as print-on-demand paperbacks which, sadly, I cannot offer either free or at promotional prices. They’re each priced from $10 to $12, still a good deal!

Soon: Back to our normally scheduled queue of quirky accounts drawn from history and folklore…



Antics

EGELEIV SHOULDERED SCYTHE AND RAKE and headed upslope to Utgarden’s hayfield. Tusse-haug crowned the rise, a knoll cloaked in heavy spruce against a darkening sky. The widow’s stride faltered. Both weather and haug looked forbidding. Not a good day for haying.

The purple clouds swelled and tumbled, rolling east. Egeleiv sniffed at the breeze and glanced into the west. Blue skies coming. No whiff of rain. Bad weather not so likely after all.

Tusse-haug still threatened, as it did every day. She drew a deep breath and went on. The haying must get done. She’d been delayed too long already, for she was the only midwife for miles around and three women had taken to child-bed in the last week.

19th century painting
Two Girls Seated on a Meadow,” by Kitty Lange Kielland (1843-1914)

Egeleiv sang a threshing song as she swung the scythe, mowing down the tall grass. She kept her voice low so as not to annoy the tussar, the Otherworldly folk who dwelled in the great mound.

A belch broke into her song. Startled, Egeleiv glanced around. A big fat toad stared back at her.

“You like my singing?” she asked it. “Or protest my poor voice?”

The toad croaked again and hopped closer. It was so big it thumped like a stout man’s footsteps.

Egeleiv switched to the rake and gathered the scattered grass into one long row. She couldn’t settle into her normal rhythm, for the toad kept hopping into the path of the rake. At first she laughed at the creature’s antics, and the ugly thing seemed to grin back with its wide mouth.

Wherever she turned with the rake, there plopped the toad. “You’re slowing me down,” she told it.

The creature belched a chuckle.

“It’s not so funny as that. I still have to gather the grass into bundles and drape them over the drying racks, and I’m behind, as it is.”

The toad winked.

Egeleiv plunked hand on hip and huffed at the little beast. “Go on home now, and if ever you take to child-bed I’ll come help with the birth,” she jested.

To her surprise the toad cocked its head then leaped around and lurched uphill through the stubble. Egeleiv gaped after it until the creature vanished into the undergrowth up Tusse-haug.

She shrugged and went back to work.

19th century painting
Forunderlig,” by Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1857-1914)

Months later a knock came at her door. An odd-looking little man greeted Egeleiv. “Will you come and tend my wife now? She’s gone to child-bed.”

Midwife to a tusse-woman? Egeleiv shook her head sharply. “No, that’s not possible!”

“Oh, but you vowed to do so,” the tusse-man said.

“I never vowed such a thing to any of your folk!” Egeleiv said.

“Don’t you remember? A toad came to you in the field when you were scything. That was my wife, having some fun with you. And you promised her you’d tend her at the birthing the day she went to child-bed.”

As Egeleiv numbly gathered her midwifery supplies, she made one more vow. To herself. To sell the hayfield below Tusse-haug.


folktale from Utgarden farm, Selgjord, Telemark

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th century century paintings. Public domain info here.

Take the Rake

MARTE GLANCED OVER HER SHOULDER as she raked hay. Still no sign of Tore returning from the forest.

He’d thrown down his rake and stormed out of sight, furious as a cat in a bag after arguing all morning, but she would not give in. She would not let him use her inheritance to buy Olav’s stud bull. That money she meant for their daughter’s dowry.

Marte knew how fickle fate could be with livestock. Calves all up and down the dale had gone missing ever since summer pasture season had begun. Three of their own cows had calved this spring, and only one calf survived, now kept safely in a pen close to home.

“I’m not risking our daughter’s chances at making a good marriage,” Marte had said, refusing to budge. Now she cupped hands and yelled toward the forest, “Tore! I can’t do this by myself! Come help!”

Her words echoed from the cliffs above the hayfield. She turned and scowled at the haystack, remembering Tore’s last muttered words: “If something should come, just climb on the haystack, and take the rake with you.”*

Something? What kind of something?

19th century painting
Slåttonn På Kvalbein, Jæren,” 1884, by Kitty Lange Kielland (1843-1914)

Marte glimpsed movement beneath the gloomy spruces. “At last,” she huffed, ready to give her husband a good tongue-lashing for leaving her so long.

From the shadows darted an ulf. With gaping jaws the wolf ran straight at Marte.

She squealed, clutched the hayrake like a climber’s pick, and hauled herself up the haystack. “Tore! Help!” she screamed, swinging the rake to fend attack.

Her husband did not appear.

The ulf snarled, snapped, leaped high up the stack’s slope first on one side then another. One last lunge, and the wolf’s jaw snagged the hem of Marte’s skirt.

R-r-rip! The fabric tore.

She swung again, thumping the ulf between the ears.

It grunted, shook its head, a scrap of fabric in its jaws. It loped back to the forest verge and vanished.

Marte sat atop the stack, shaking with fright, unwilling to come down. How glad she was that her daughter had gone to visit cousins for the week.

Evening drew on. The ulf did not return. Neither did Tore.

Marte slid down the haystack and trudged downhill, back to the farmstead, muttering curses about lazy good-for-nothing menfolk. At the pen beside the house, she stopped in shock. Their last calf, half-eaten, lay in a pile of gore.

Knees shaking, Marte scurried indoors. There at last she found Tore, lying in bed, groaning, writhing, too sick to rise.

Her heart melted. She brought him a dipper of water, mopped his brow, tended him for hours. Near dawn, Tore gagged, half rose, and spewed over the edge of the bed. Finally he found relief, and sank deeply asleep.

Marte rose at first light to clean up the mess on the floor. In the puddle of vomit she saw calf hooves and hair — and the scrap torn from her skirt.

Her husband was a var-ulf.


Folktale from Vest-Agder, Norway

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th century century painting. Public domain info here.

The Haunted Tarn

reposted from 2021 as a Halloween treat

Old Hæge Everywhere pattered along the trail from Gjelstad Farm to Aase. Puffing, she caught up at last with Sakris Gravdal. “They told me you were passing through,” she called. “I need your opinion.”

“Opinion? On what?” the elderly man asked.

“Come on this side trail with me. There’s something you need to see. Can’t trust my own failing eyesight.”

“Up to Myrk-Water?” Sakris eyed the path doubtfully.

“If my old bones can handle the trek, then yours can, too. Come along.”

"Pale Fog Drifts Over the Water," 1900, by Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1857-1914)
Pale Fog Drifts Over the Water, 1900, by Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1857-1914)

“What’s this about?” Sakris grumbled.

“You knew Jørund Gjelstad as well as anyone,” Old Hæge said.

“To my sorrow.”

“I saw you there, reading to him on his deathbed. Even then he couldn’t leave off his scheming and money-grubbing.”

Sakris snorted a laugh. “Ah ja, you were house servant then, weren’t you?”

“To my sorrow,” she said, echoing his own words. “I heard him cussing about this very tract of land. ‘If only I’d gotten to live a little longer, the forest around Myrk Water would have been mine.’ Remember?”

“He shouted that, then sank back on his pillow, dead as winter. He’d had me reading aloud his outstanding lawsuits, the old miser, looking for ways he could bluff the judges, ways he could trample anyone standing in his way.”

The two old folk crested a rise in the trail and came down to the shores of Myrk-Water tarn.

“Sit,” Hæge Everywhere ordered, pointing to a boulder, and produced flatbread and cheese. “Eat.”

“What—” Sakris began.

“Just wait. It’ll come. Eat while we wait.”

He scowled at her but did as she commanded.

Halfway through his meal, Sakris broke off and stared out in the tarn. “Who’s that?”

“That’s what I want you to tell me,” Hæge said.

Someone stood waist-deep in the cold mountain lake, half-submerging himself to pick up an object from the tarn bed.

“Is that a stone?” Sakris said.

The object the man grappled with slipped from his grasp and splashed back into the water. The figure moaned in distress, and bent to fish around again.

“Recognize his shape? His face? His voice?”

Sakris swallowed his last bite, staring at the scene. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s Jørund Gjelstad.”

“Come back from the dead.” Hæge Everywhere nodded in smug satisfaction. “I thought so.”

Sakris pointed a trembling finger. “He’s come back. He’s a border-ghost!”

“Sure looks like it.”

“That must be a boundary stone. A boundary stone he threw into the tarn. He was moving property lines!”

“Illegal land-grabbing.” Hæge nodded again.

The ghost of Jørund wailed again. He couldn’t keep hold of the boundary stone. He couldn’t bring it back to land. He couldn’t atone for his sin.

Hæge cackled. “Doomed to scrabble for eternity in the murky waters of Murk-Water. How appropriate.” She stood and dusted off her hands. “Well, that’s all. Just wanted someone else to witness it. Will make a tasty tale, now won’t it?”

With ashen-faced Sakris right on her heels, Hæge Everywhere pattered away from the tarn and the ghost of Jørund Gjelstad.


folktale from from Gjelstad Farm, Seljord, Telemark, Norway

first posted: February 2021

text: © 2021 Joyce Holt

artwork: early 20th century century painting. Public domain info here.

Witch’s Gift

reposted from 2021 as a Halloween treat

By the time Huw reached the bluff overlooking Lligwy Bay, he nursed second thoughts about going fishing. The rain didn’t bother him, but that wind, it was picking up, howling into a gale.

Huw took shelter in the lee of Arthur’s Quoit, the only stone left standing in an ancient circle atop the bluff. Some people feared the site, believing it haunted, but to Huw it spoke of sighing sorrow and the ruined hopes of an age long past.

19th century painting by John constable of Stonehenge
Stonehenge,” 1835, by John Constable

There came a lull in the gale. Huw ventured out, took a glance down toward the bay, and saw his fishing boat still safely drawn up on the shingle, out of reach of the thundering surf.

Something white flailed in the billows a good ways out. Huw sucked in a gasp of alarm. Someone was fighting the waves, but losing. And beyond, the dim shape of a ship beating its way eastward through veils of rain. Someone had fallen overboard.

19th century painting of a stormy coast
Stormy Coast, County Clare,” by Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917)

Huw ran down the hillside, stripping out of his oilskin. He kicked off his boots and plunged into the turbulent billows, swimming with the sure strokes of someone born to ship and sea.

He angled in behind the drowning woman, whose long dark hair floated like kelp. He grabbed her around the chest with one arm. Fought his way against ferocious ground swells back to shore. Staggered up the shingle above the high water line where he went to lay her down.

The woman shook her head as she choked and sputtered. “Up,” she gasped and pointed at the skyline. “To the huge stone. Please.”

Huw helped her up the hill. Once again he took shelter in the lee of Arthur’s Quoit, setting her down to rest against the stone pillar. Only then did he notice the jeweled bracelets on her arms, the fine weave of her white gown. As she brushed her long limp tresses from her face, his breath stopped. So young and beautiful she was, it stunned him, choked off the questions he’d been about to ask.

“Ha, ha!” she cried in a harsh, raspy voice. “If I had been swimming in my usual raiment, you would have allowed me to sink. I am a witch, and was thrown off a ship in Lligwy Bay. But I disguised myself, and was rescued.”

Huw shrank back in terror.

“Don’t be frightened,” said the witch. “One good turn deserves another. Here, take this.” In the palm of her hand she held a small wooden ball. “It is for you,” she said, “and as long as you keep it concealed in a secret place where nobody can find it, good luck will be yours. Once a year you must take it out of hiding and dip it in the sea, then safely return it to its place of concealment. But remember, if it is lost, misfortune will follow.”

Huw took the ball and ducked his head, stammering his thanks. When he looked up again, she had vanished.

He stood there a long time, cradling the ball, wondering where to hide it. The standing stone seemed to whisper to him. “Aye,” he murmured as he knelt. “You’ll guard it well.” At the base of the great pillar he buried the witch’s ball, deep in ancient Brytish soil.

Every year Huw returned in secret to Arthur’s Quoit, dug up the witch’s ball, and tramped down to Lligwy bay to dip it in the waves. He always returned it to the watchful care of the ancient standing stone.

Huw’s fishing boat never foundered. He never scraped the keel over sunken rocks. His nets never split under the heavy loads of whiting and bass that brought his family prosperity. His wife bore several children who all grew up strong, healthy, cheerful, good-hearted.

19th century painting of fishing boats in a cove
Fishing Boats at Villefranche,” 1880, by Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917)

But one year when Huw dug in the shadow of the great stone, the ball was nowhere to be found. He couldn’t imagine who had stumbled onto his secret. With dread souring his stomach, he tamped the dirt back into the hole, stood and gazed out to sea. The sparkling waves mocked his fear. On a foul-weather day he’d come into good fortune. On a glorious sunny day he’d lost it.

From that day on Huw’s luck turned sour. His nets fouled. His boat sprang leaks every time he set to sea. Three of his children sickened and died.

For seven years Huw struggled against misfortunes of all kinds. Then one day an ailing neighbor called Huw to his deathbed. The feeble man pointed to a box on the shelf, which Huw fetched down.

“It’s yours,” the dying man confessed. “I followed you one day. Dug it up. Took it for myself. Never had half the luck you did. Saw you’d lost all yours. Guilt riddles my soul. I’m sorry.”

Huw opened the box, and there lay the witch’s ball.

The next day he trekked to the sea and dipped the ball in the salty waves. Found a new place to hide it. Never told another soul, except his oldest son.

Good fortune returned and followed Huw to his dying day.

When Huw’s two surviving sons voyaged to Australia in the mid-1800’s, the ball went with them. They joined the mad throng of miners trekking inland to the gold fields, but made sure to visit the sea once a year to dip the ball in the waves.

19th century painting by Julian Ashton of a headland in New South Wales, Australia
Terrigal Headland, New South Wales,” 1892, by Julian Ashton (1851-1942)

The witch’s luck stayed with them. They found rich diggings and prospered beyond belief while so many of their fellows labored in vain.

The enchanted family heirloom was last heard of in the 1870’s, in the keeping of Huw’s granddaughter who dwelled in India. She lived, as one may expect, within a day’s drive of the coast. Among all the rich furnishings of her prosperous home, she counted as her most precious treasure the old wooden ball once buried under a standing stone half the world away.


Folktale from Anglesey, Wales; all the witch’s dialogue came straight from the folktale

First posted: March 2021

text: © 2021 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th century century paintings. Public domain info here.

Grab a free ebook!

October 28 – November 1

Here it is, the tail end of October. In my country we’re gearing up for Halloween frivolity and warm Thanksgiving gatherings.

In thanks to the followers of Hindsight, I’m opening up free season on a few ebooks of the eerie sort — including anthologies that contain many of the blog tales you’ve been enjoying here!

Starting tomorrow, Friday October 28, through Tuesday November 1, come grab all the spooky tales in:

Also free Oct 28 – Nov 1:

  • Hero’s Shield [a historical fantasy novel, first in a series] wherein you’ll find magical talismans twisted to dark purposes, the curse of shape-changing enchantments, the barbs of ill-humored wee folk, and pursuit by perilous creatures from the Otherworld.
detail from 18th century painting
detail from “The Bard,” 1774, by Thomas Jones (1742-1803)

There’s time to read Hero’s Shield before the rest of the series comes on sale (a whopping 99 cents each) in late November. Stay tuned for updates on the ebook sale of The Tapestry of Cumbria!

Oct 28 – Nov 1: get these ebooks free!

Find these books and more on my “Joyce Holt” Amazon author page!

To learn more about my books – including reviews, trailers, and audio selections – check out my web page: joyceholt.com


artwork: 17th century painting. Public domain info here.

Stranded

I SEE A LIGHT!” cried Nils as he bailed.  “To starboard, to starboard!”

Farulf leaned on the tiller. Sleet pelted at his back. Waves reared like a furious sea serpent, wrenching the small fishing craft about, hurling watery walls across the deck. If not for the safety lines tethering the two fishermen in place they’d have washed away long ago.

“Rock dead ahead,” Nils yelled. “Swerve to port!” He braced himself against the rail with a pole, ready to push off the obstacle. “We’re entering a channel. Hear the waves crashing on cliffs?”

“Ja, and none too soon,” Farulf said, peering through the gloom and spray. They needed the day’s last light if they hoped to make it to shore alive.

19th century painting: shipwreck
Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway,” 1832, by Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857)

“To starboard again, hard, hard, hard!”

The keel thudded, scraping over a submerged pile, boards screeching. The keel screamed again, the boat bucked.

Nils staggered in the prow, rose, slashed his safety line, leaped over the bow.

“Nils, you fool!” Farulf yelled.

His partner’s head appeared. “Beach!” he spluttered, hauling on the bow line.

Farulf joined Nils. Waves rose to his shoulders, sucked at his legs, swamped his mouth. The two Swedes managed to drag the boat up a shingled shore, then collapsed against each other, shuddering with cold and fatigue.

“Always ‘good fishing right before a storm,’ huh?” Farulf muttered through chattering teeth.

Early 20th century painting
Fishing,” 1905, by Carl Larsson (1853-1919)

“That gale has blown us all the way across the Skagerrak to Norway!” he complained.

“My cousin married a Norwegian,” Nils said. “He’s a decent sort. I’ll wager these’ll take us in.”

“Where’s that light you saw?”

The Swedes blundered uphill in the dark, followed a dim glow which led not to a hut or a hall but to a crack in the mountainside. The light beckoned. They stepped inside.

A fire blazed in the middle of the cave. Beside the stony hearth sat a hulking figure which turned its head, twitching large pointed ears in the fishermen’s direction. “Who’s there?” growled the troll.

Nils and Farulf stood frozen with fear, soaked and chilled to the bone.

“Two travelers,” Nils said with a gulp. “May we warm ourselves at your fire?”

The troll blinked eyes as large as oarlocks — blank, white, sightless eyes. “Welcome, welcome!” he rumbled. “Your speech, like my kin! I been gone from home for ages. You from my old haunts! Welcome!”

Nils and Farulf edged closer.

The troll flared nostrils. “You smells of sea. You swim across?”

“Did some swimming,” Farulf said. To Nils he mouthed, “He thinks we’re trollkind!”

“Give me your hand,” the troll ordered Farulf. “Wanna see if still runs warm, the blood in trollfolks back home.”

Nils gaped, glanced around, grabbed the troll’s bronze fire poker, shoved it into Farulf’s grasp.

Farulf laid the poker in the troll’s waiting hand. The huge, horny fingers closed so tight around the bronze rod that it heated, glowed red-hot, melted like butter and trickled out between his claws. “Huh,” the troll grunted. “Not bad, but not quite like in the old days.”


Folktale from Orust, Bohuslän, Sweden

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th century and early 20th century paintings. Public domain info here.

Stockings

SYNNØVE KNITTED AS SHE HIKED UPHILL. All summer, it seemed, she’d had to trek up and down that mountain, and she couldn’t waste the time, not when stockings needed making. Tending the dairy herd in the heights morning and evening, cooking and cleaning for her sick sister down in Dale village at midday, she never had a moment’s rest.

Early 20th century painting
Girl Knitting,” 1901, by Anders Zorn (1860-1920)

Just as the trail plunged into a stretch of deep dark forest, the dairymaid heard a voice shout, “Tell them at the mountain farm that Rynjus is dead!”*

Synnøve stumbled, swung about, looked every direction. No one in sight.

The dairymaid drew a deep breath and set off on her way again, needles clicking a little faster than before. After a long climb through the woods she broke out into the first wind-swept fields and gazed all about. No creature moved but birds on the wing.

Synnøve cleared her throat and said to the empty air, “I don’t know whether to keep quiet or to speak, but someone shouted to me in Dale: tell them on the mountain farm that Rynjus is dead!”*

Out of nowhere a small woman appeared. “Oh no,” she cried, “is Rynjus dead?!”*

“Yes, that’s what they told me,”* answered the dairymaid, backing off a step.

“You wouldn’t be so kind as to take care of things for me while I go to the funeral?* My cattle are grazing among yours and my buckets stand among yours.”*

“Why, y-y-yes, I’ll do that for you.” Synnøve blinked, for the mound woman had vanished like the popping of a soap bubble.

The dairymaid found her cattle gathered at the dairy building in the highest field, lowing their discomfort. She could tell at a glance there were more cows than usual. And one white goat. Long into the evening she milked, each and every one, her own herd and the beasts from Under-the-Mountain. She set aside the mound woman’s buckets, filled with milk from the visiting cows, at the back of the dairy.

The sleek nanny-goat nuzzled up to Synnøve as if asking for a petting. “What soft fleece you have,” the dairymaid told the friendly creature as she gave in to the unspoken request. Each stroke yielded strands of silken wool, shedding with the season.

Lovely wool, perfect for spinning into the softest knitting yarn. “What luxuriant stockings I could knit from your fleece!” But Synnøve set the gleanings aside, near the milk buckets. She dared not offend the mound folk by taking what was rightfully theirs.

19th century painting
Birch in a Storm,” 1848, by Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857)

Several evenings later, the herd came back from grazing without their otherworldly companions. “Well,” said Synnøve in relief, “the mound woman must be back from the funeral.” She checked the corner of the dairy. The extra buckets were gone. The pile of wool, still there.

The white nanny gave the dairymaid a gentle butt in the thigh.

Synnøve smiled in delight. The silken-coated goat must be her pay for taking care of the mound folk’s cattle.

What fine stockings she would make!


* dialogue taken straight from the folktale, coming from Tangelo, Valdres, Norway

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: 19th and early 20th century paintings. Public domain info here.

Rooted

RAGNA COOKED UP SOME BARLEY PORRIDGE for her husband’s supper. Pot after pot after pot, which she poured into a great copper tub on wheels, keeping warm over a smoldering brazier.

She wheeled the vat out to the houseyard just in time for Vrål’s return. He’d carried a dozen hefty iron plowshares from his friend’s smithy to the next town as if they’d weighed no more than a dozen arrowheads.

Vrål thumped into the houseyard. His friend, Dag the smith, trotted to keep up. Few people could match Dag’s long-legged stride, but no one could match Vrål’s. Ragna’s husband, a jätte, stood taller than two cookhouses one atop the other, and took most of his meals out of doors. The farm had two barns. One for the livestock, and one to serve as Vrål’s bedchamber.

“Welcome, Dag!” Ragna said, producing a ladle and two bowls. “Join us at supper, why don’t you.”

Vrål used the largest farm wagon as a low stool, and a hefty shovel as a dainty spoon.

Ragna scooped out porridge for herself and Dag. They quickly ate their fill, but it seemed Vrål might go on eating all evening.

When the jätte took a moment to chat with his wife, Dag drew a clinking bag from his belt and emptied it into the vat. He threw a grin at Ragna, who rolled her eyes. The fellow was always teasing her good-natured husband.

Vrål shoveled up another mouthful from the copper tub.

“Tasty porridge your wife serves,” Dag said.

Vrål answered, “The porridge is fine, but there’s some rather big bran in it.* “

The smith hooted with laughter. “Horseshoe nails,” he said to Ragna.

Vrål shrugged, and ground the nails to bits between his massive jaws.

An early 20th century painting of a troll
An Old Mountain Troll,” 1904, by John Bauer (1882-1918)

The jätte lived a long easy-going life in the environs of Hästeskede farm. But every life comes to an end.

Vrål had warned his friends that when he died they must get him to his grave at the churchyard before sunrise. Before dawn or not at all.

As it turned out, they were delayed. The large farm wagon carrying Vrål’s body came to a sudden stop the moment the sun rose.

More horses were brought and hitched, but the wagon stood as if rooted. They had to dig Vrål’s grave right there beside the road, then pile it with stones and turf.

Vrål’s Mound is there to this very day.*


* dialogue and lines taken straight from the folktale, coming from Näsinge, Bohuslän, Sweden

text: © 2022 Joyce Holt

artwork: early 20th century painting. Public domain info here.