Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Jón Árnason - 1852

Adapted translation in English
  by Andrew Lang - 1903

Source: Crimson Fairy Book

Original title (Icelandic):
Karlssonur, lítill, trítill og fuglarnir

Country of origin: Iceland


English - aligned

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Litill, Tritill, the Birds and the Peasant Lad

Jón Árnason / Andrew Lang

THERE once reigned a king and a queen. The king had an only daughter, called Enid, who was greatly beloved by both her father and mother. They spared no expense, and she had the best masters and governesses, and a number of servants to wait on her; but even though she was so carefully watched and looked after, she suddenly disappeared. The head-governess said she had left her in her room only for a few minutes practising her harp with two of her maidens in attendance, and when she came back she found both the girls fast asleep, and the princess gone. Inquiries were made of everyone, but nothing could be heard of the princess. No one had seen her; she had vanished in the most mysterious way.

The king, in despair, sent out messengers in all directions, and spent a great part of his treasure searching for her; but all in vain. Then, at last, he vowed that he would give the princess in marriage to whoever should be fortunate enough to find her, and also give him the half of his kingdom.

But although many of the knights and nobles about the court, eager to secure so great a prize, went off in search of her, they one and all returned empty-handed.

Now, not far from the castle there lived a poor old man and his wife. They had three sons, Osmond, Tostig, and Harald. The two eldest boys were greatly loved by their parents; but his father and mother disliked Harald, the youngest and handsomest. And both his elder brothers ill-treated him and made him do all the work, while they went out shooting and fishing.

When the boys were grown up, Osmond came to his parents, and said he would like to start off and see the world and try to win fame and riches for himself. His father and mother were quite willing he should do so, and providing him with a new pair of boots and a large bag of food. Then he started off on his journey.

After he had gone a long, long way, he arrived at a little hillock. Here he sat down to rest, and unpacked his bag of provisions. Just as he was beginning to eat, a tiny little man, dressed in grey, came up to him, begging for a morsel of food. Osmond angrily ordered him away, threatening to beat him if he did not go quickly.

After he had rested, Osmond went on again a long way, till he came to another hillock. Here he again sat down to rest, and began to eat. But he had hardly commenced than a still smaller and shabbier little man, dressed in green, came up to him and asked him for a morsel of food. Osmond spoke angrily to him, and sent him away with a volley of abuse.

He then went on again a long, long way, until he reached a large open glade in the wood. Here he sat down on the soft, mossy grass at the foot of a big beech tree, and thought he would eat another morsel. But no sooner had he opened his bag and taken out the food, than a whole flock of birds flew down beside him. He angrily chased them away, and then, having rested himself, went on his way, till he came to a big cave.

Looking in, and seeing no one, only a lot of cattle, he thought he would go in and wait till dawn came.

Just as the sun was setting, an enormously big giantess walked in. Osmond was greatly startled, but took courage and went up to her, and asked whether he might stay the night there.

The giantess said yes, on condition that in the morning he would do the work she would ask of him. This he promised he would do; so she allowed him to remain the night, she herself retiring into an inner cave.

The next morning the giantess told him that he must clean out the cave and put down fresh bedding for the cattle, and that he must have it all finished before the evening, or else she would take his life. With these words she went away.

Osmond took up a prong he saw standing in a corner, but no sooner did he begin to turn up the straw than the prong stuck fast in the bedding. In vain he pushed and pulled and tried to drag it out, the prong remained firmly fixed; and when in the evening the giantess came home and found that the cave had not been cleaned out, she took hold of Osmond and hung him up to a nail in the cave.

Meanwhile Tostig, the second son, thought he, too, would like to go out into the world to seek his fortune, for he felt sure his brother by this time must be quite a rich man. So he told his parents that he did not care to remain at home now his elder brother was away, and with only that stupid Harald at home. After gained their consent, he too started off, provided with a pair of new boots and a big bag of provisions.

But he was not more fortunate than Osmond had been. He flouted the little men while he rested on the hillocks, he chased and killed some of the birds who came flocking round him for crumbs; and when he reached the cave, he also received leave from the giantess to remain the night, on condition that he cleaned out the cave next morning.

When he went and took up the prong to throw out the old bedding, it stuck fast in the straw, and no efforts of his could move it. So the giantess coming home, and finding that he had failed to accomplish his task, took him and hanged him beside his brother.

Now there was only the youngest son left. But although he was the only one at home, his parents did not love him any better for it. The poor lad often felt that he reminded them of their lost sons and that they regretted not having sent him away in their place. Therefore he decided to go away.

"I do not suppose I shall win riches and fame. All I hope is that I may be able to earn enough to support myself and no longer be a burden to you."

Then his parents told him he might go. But instead of nice strong new boots they only gave him an old pair of his brother's, and his sack contained nothing but some hard, dry crusts.

But Harald started off with a light heart. As it chanced he took the same road his brothers had done. He came to the first hillock. "I think my brothers must have rested here, if they felt as tired as I do," he said, "so I will do the same." And seating himself on the small hill, he began to eat one of his dry crusts, when, looking up, he saw a little old man in grey standing beside him.

"Will you share your crust with me? I am very hungry, and have had no food today," he said.

Harald pitied the old man, who looked so feeble and tired. He begged him to sit down beside him and share his meal. When they had done, the old man got up, and, after thanking him, said, "My name is Tritill. Although I am old and feeble, if ever you are in need of help, call me, and I will come to you." So saying, he went round the back of the small hill and disappeared.

Harald then continued his journey until he came to the second hillock.

"I feel sure my brothers must have rested here," he said. "It is a long way from the last hillock. I, too, will rest here awhile." And he sat down, and opening his bag, took out another crust. Hardly had he done so when a tiny, shabby, little old man, dressed in green, came up to him and asked for a morsel of food. Harald very good-naturedly asked him to sit down beside him, and shared his crust with him. When they had finished eating, the little green man got up, and, after thanking Harald, said, "Call me, if ever you think I can do you a service. My name is Litill."

And he, too, went away, and was soon out of sight.

Harald then continued his journey until he came to the large open glade in the wood.

"I am sure my brothers must have rested here," he thought. "I will do the same." And he sat down and took out another crust. No sooner had he done so than a great flock of birds came down. They circled round and round him, and seemed so hungry and fought so eagerly over every crumb he threw them, that Harald's heart was filled with pity. "Poor little things!" he said; "they need it more than I do." And he broke up the remaining crusts and threw the crumbs among them.

When they had eaten up every crumb, the biggest bird alighted gently on Harald's shoulder and whistled softly, "If ever you think we can do you a service, call us. We shall hear you wherever we are, for we are your birds." And before he had recovered from his astonishment, they had all flown away and were out of sight.

Harald then continued his journey, till he, too, came to the big cave. Looking in, he saw it was full of cattle, and hanging from a beam in one corner he saw the bodies of his two brothers.

Startled at the sight, Harald's first impulse was to go away; but he thought he must first bury his brothers. So he took down the bodies, and seeing a spade near the entrance, he speedily dug a grave and buried them in the sand outside the cave. Just as he had finished, the giantess arrived.

Harald, who was very tired, asked her if he might stay the night there.

"You may do so, if you will promise to do what I tell you in the morning," answered the giantess.

This Harald agreed to, and he slept that night in the cave.

Next morning, the giantess, who had slept in an inner cave, told him that he would have to clean out the cave, and put down clean bedding for the oxen.

"But remember, if your work is not finished when I come home, I shall hang you as I did the two you buried in the sand; "and so saying she went away.

Harald took up the prong standing in the corner and began his work. But no sooner had he pushed the prong into the bedding and tried to lift it than it stuck fast to the ground. In vain he used all his strength, the prong remained firmly fixed. In his despair he called out: "Oh, Tritill, come and help me!"

No sooner had the words passed his lips than he saw Tritill standing beside him, asking what he could do for him. Harald showed him the difficulty he was in.

Then Tritill called out: "Prick prong and shovel spade!" and at once the prong pricked up the bedding and the spade shovelled it away, till in a very short time the cave was all cleaned out and fresh straw put down. Harald thanked him warmly for his great help, and Tritill went away.

When the giantess came home in the evening and saw that the work was done, she said to Harald.

"Oh, man, man! You have not done this by yourself! But I will let it pass!" and she retired into the inner cave.

The next morning the giantess told Harald that she had some fresh work for him to do. He was to carry her own bedding outside the cave, take out all the feathers, spread them out in the sun to air, and then put them back again.

"But remember, if when I come back in the evening there is a single feather missing, I shall hang you as I did your brothers!" And with these words she went away.

Harald carried out the great featherbed and the big pillows; and as the sun was shining warm and bright, and there was not a breath of wind, he ripped open the seams and spread out the feathers in the sun.

No sooner had he done so than a strong wind arose, and in one moment all the feathers were whirled away, not a single one remaining.

In despair Harald called out: "Tritill, Litill, and all my birds, come and help me if you can!" And almost before the words had passed his lips, Tritill, Litill, and the whole flight of birds came bringing the feathers with them; and while Tritill and Litill helped Harald to fill the bed and the pillows, and sew them up again, the birds flew round picking up all the stray feathers, so that none were missing. But out of each pillow they took one feather, and, tying them together, told Harald that when the giantess missed them and threatened to kill him, he was to tickle her nose with the feathers.

Then Tritill, Litill, and the birds all disappeared.

When the giantess came home in the evening, she went up to her bed, and threw herself down on it so heavily that the whole cave shook. Then she began carefully feeling all over the bed, and when she came to the pillows she cried out

"Aha, man! I have caught you there is a feather missing in each pillow! Now I shall hang you like your brothers! "

But as she took hold of him, Harold quickly pulled the two feathers out of his pocket and tickled her nose with them.

At once the giantess fell back on her bed looking terribly white and frightened; but Harald laughingly gave her back her feathers, telling her he did not want to keep them.

"Ah, man, man!" said the giantess, "I know you did not do this alone; but I will let it pass this time!"

So this third night too Harald passed in the cave, and in the morning the giantess said to him

"I have some fresh work for you today. You must kill one of my oxen. Then you must scrape and clean the skin to make a leather bag; cut up the animal in joints ready for cooking; clean all the entrails, and make spoons out of its horns. All must be finished before I return this evening. I have fifty oxen, as you see. It is one of these I want killed. But I shall not tell you which one I have fixed on; that you must find out for yourself. If all is done as I wish when I return, you can leave in the morning and go wherever you like. And as a reward you may also choose three things from among my treasures. But if everything is not finished or if you kill the wrong animal, then it will cost you your life, and I shall hang you as I did to your brothers." And so saying the giantess departed.

Harald was sorely puzzled. How could he possibly decide which of the animals the giantess wished killed? Then he remembered his friends. "Tritill, Litill, come once again to my aid," he cried.

Hardly had the words passed his lips than he saw them both coming towards him, leading a huge ox between them. They at once set to work and killed the ox, and while Harald cleaned the entrails and cut up the joints, Tritill scraped the skin and prepared it for making the bag. And Litill began fashioning the spoons out of the horns. In this way the work sped along quickly and merrily, and all was ready before the sun sank to rest.

Harald now told his friends what the giantess had promised him if he should have finished his task before she returned.

"Can you advise me what to ask for?" he said.

They told him he should first ask for that which was over her bed, then for the chest that stood beside her bed, and lastly for that which was behind the wall of her bed.

Harald thanked them warmly for all they had done for him, and said he would do as they had told him, and then the little men disappeared.

When the giantess came home in the evening and found that Harald had finished all the tasks she had set him, she exclaimed, "Ah, man, man! You never did all this alone; but you have conquered, so I must let it pass." So saying she retired to rest.

Next morning the giantess called Harald into the inner cave and told him he might choose the reward she had promised him, and that then he might go where he liked.

"Then," said Harald, "if I may have whatever I like, I choose, first, that which is above your bed; then the chest beside your bed; and, lastly, that which is behind the wall of your bed."

"Ah, man, man!" cried the giantess. "You have not chosen these things by yourself; but I cannot refuse you; you are too strong for me, and you have conquered, and I must give you the reward you claim."

So saying, she mounted some steps above her bed cut into the rock, and, opening a secret door, she led forth a beautiful maiden. This was none other than the fair Princess Enid, who had disappeared so mysteriously some time ago.

"Take her back to her father, and he will reward you as you deserve," said the giantess as she placed the princess's hand in that of Harald.

She then opened the lid of the chest beside her bed. The chest was filled with gold, pearls, and precious stones. And then moving aside the bed, she touched a secret spring, and the wall sliding back, they saw the blue sea, and anchored close to the cave lay a beautiful ship completely fitted out, her sails all set, and her pennant flying, and possessing the power of sailing wherever its owner wished, without aid of either captain or crew.

When the giantess had handed him over these gifts, she told Harald that he would from now on be one of the happiest and luckiest of men.

Harald then carried the chest containing the gold and precious stones on board ship. And then, after arranging some soft cushions for Princess Enid in the stern of the vessel, they quickly departed and reached her father's country.

The delight of the king and queen on recovering their long-lost daughter can be more easily imagined than described. They never tired of hearing of the wonderful adventures Harald had gone through, and the king ordered a great feast in honour of the rescuer of his child, which ended with the wedding of Enid and Harald.

The king then made Harald his prime minister; and so well and so wisely did he rule the country that on the king's death he was chosen to succeed him, and he and Queen Enid lived long and happily together, seeing their children and grandchildren growing up around them.