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A Story From: Sweden
Read Time: ["20+mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs., 12 to 14yrs.

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PEDER LARS, the farmer’s son came riding along the highway.

His heart was happy. He was bound for the city to buy a new jacket because that evening he was going a-courting and wanted to look his best. And he felt rather sure that he would not be turned down. However proud and rich Lisa was, and even though Peder Lars was the poorest of all her admirers, she had looked at him kindly. His spokesman had extracted a promise that he and his father might come to her at six that afternoon to state their intentions.

Peder Lars rode across fields through a long deep forest, then he emerged from the forest on to a green meadow. Suddenly he saw something that seemed to be moving in a ditch. He drew nearer, and realized it was a strange-looking woman, crawling along.

She lifted her head and stared at him. He had never before seen anything as ugly and evil-looking as her face. Her small peppercorn eyes were almost hidden in matted dark hair. Her nose looked like a carrot, and her lips were brown as bread crust.

“Will you do me a good turn?” she asked. “I shall reward you for your trouble.”

“What is it?” asked Peder Lars.

The woman said that she had hurt her leg wandering in the forest, and had limped this far because, in the next wood closer to the city, near a path that climbed a hill, there grew seven pine trees. A little resin from each of these pines rubbed into her wound would make the pain go away immediately. But before she got very far from the forest she had collapsed, and so was lying here helpless in the ditch. She badly needed someone to collect resin from the wood for her. She would see that he was well rewarded for his trouble. Already, five people had accepted a gold coin from her for saying they would help, but they had probably enjoyed themselves with the money and taken another road home, because she had not seen yet any of them again, although she had been lying in the ditch since early morning. She held up a brightly shining gold coin before Peder Lars and said she would give it to him if he would fetch the resin.

Peder Lars stepped back. “Who are you that look so evil and have so many gold coins?”

She moaned, and rubbed her leg. “Oh, how it hurts! And my mother is walking in the forest looking for me, and calling me. Listen, can you hear?”

“No, I don’t hear anything,” said Peder Lars. But then the woman grabbed the mane of his horse, pulled herself up, and put her hand like a trumpet to his ear. Now he indeed heard someone singing deep in the forest:

Where are you, daughter, sweet and fair?
I’m looking for you everywhere.

Peder Lars could not help laughing, because he did not think that “sweet and fair” really suited the ugly one by his side.

The woman sank rapidly back into the ditch again. But she kept her head over the edge, and her small peppercorn eyes shot fiery glances.

“You laugh like all the rest,” she hissed, “and hate me! But I will give you money, as much money as you want, if only you will get me that pine resin.” And she rattled the gold coins in her fist.

Peder Lars stared at her.

“No, thank you,” he said. “You are a troll, and I don’t want to have anything to do with a troll.” And he cracked his whip and continued his journey.

He rode into the city, bought himself a bright jacket, and turned homeward again. When he came to the hill that the woman had mentioned, he could not help looking around for the seven pine trees. There they stood in a row, murmuring softly. At that moment he heard someone singing far, far away:

Where are you, daughter, sweet and fair?
I’m looking for you everywhere.

He looked up the pine trunks to see if there really was any resin to be found. But it would be impossible to collect it without looking carefully, now that the afternoon light was fading.

No, I must hurry, he thought, or I’ll reach Lisa late, and that might cost me dearly, proud and particular as she is. And so he rode on.

He had gone only a little farther when his horse stopped by itself and pricked up its ears, listening. Once again he heard the song:

Where are you, daughter, sweet and fair?
I’m looking for you everywhere.

If only I had time to gather some of that resin, he thought, and turned around. But after a minute he changed his mind. It’s madness, he said to himself. What do I care about an ugly old troll woman? And so he turned homewards again.

It did not take long before the horse stopped again and once more he heard the song:

Where are you, daughter, sweet and fair?
I’m looking for you everywhere.

I can’t bear it, thought Peder Lars. If I don’t get the resin, I’m afraid I will never stop hearing that song. And so he galloped back to the pine trees.

He examined the trunks and branches, and did at least succeed in gathering resin from each of the seven trees. By now it was almost dark, and he began to gallop along the road. He came to the ditch and saw the troll woman still sitting there.

“Here you are,” he shouted at her, practically throwing the resin into her lap. “And I hope I never see you again, for you have probably cost me my sweetheart’s hand!”

He spurred his horse on without waiting to hear whether she would thank him or not. He was angry and anxious, sure that he would be too late. And then what would Lisa’s father say? Peder Lars knew he wasn’t too happy to have a pauper for a son-in-law. And Lisa herself? Her pride might be hurt.

Suddenly he heard the tramp of horses’ hooves nearby, and from round a bend in the road a rider approached him. It was his brother. He looked a sight, and his horse was all in a lather.

“You’ll be late, you’ll be late!” his brother called. And as the two of them galloped on together, he told Peder Lars that he and their old father and the spokesman had been waiting by Lisa’s farm-gate for Peder Lars to come, when suddenly the rich miller Jonas, who owned half the village, had pulled up in his carriage. He, too, was going in to ask for the beautiful Lisa’s hand. When miller Jonas heard that Peder Lars was turned down, he said, then he was ready to take his place. And so there he sat now, waiting. By the time Peder Lars and his brother met on the road it was a quarter to six and they still had several miles to go.

“Go!” Peder Lars called, urging his horse to the utmost and streaking along the forest path at breakneck speed. It was so dark he could hardly see the road before him. Branches tore at his handsome new jacket, and scratched his forehead until it bled, but he paid no attention. All Peder Lars could think of was that the beautiful Lisa might give her hand to the rich miller Jonas to punish him for being late. That was what you got for having anything to do with trolls.

Soon his horse began to pant and stumbled and trip, and Peder Lars was afraid it might collapse under him. The horse went slower and slower, no matter how much he urged it forward.

Then he felt the reins stiffen and go taut in his hands. The horse lifted its head, and its hooves began to fly over the ground. Something seemed to have brought it back to life, and it went so fast that Peder Lars’ cape was billowing behind.

Peder Lars turned round in the saddle. It seemed to him that someone was sitting behind him on the horses’ back. No one was there, though, and yet he imagined he saw what looked like a gray bundle slip down over the horse’s rump.

The ride became wilder and wilder. Peder Lars no longer felt in control of the reins at all; now the horse no longer followed the road, but turned in among bushes and undergrowth. It jumped hillocks and streams, and every time Peder Lars cast a look behind, he dimly glimpsed a gray bundle sliding farther back on the horse. And every time he looked ahead, he felt more and more sure that someone was sitting behind him.

They had reached open fields now, and the cape was flying straight up over his head, stretched as trim as a sail. The horse flew like a bird and its hooves barely touched ground. At the first fork in the road, Peder Lars met his spokesman, who had run out to find him and urge him to hurry.

“You are too late, Peder Lars!” shouted the spokesman. “Only five minutes are left.”

“We’ll see,” Peder Lars called and was gone in a flash.

A little further on he met his old father, who shook his head sadly. “You will never get there. You have only a minute left.”

“We’ll see,” Peder Lars called, and disappeared so fast that the old man did not even see him go.

At the farmer’s house everyone was waiting. Beautiful Lisa, her arm leaning on the window-sill, was listening for the beat of hooves, while her father and the miller rubbed their hands contentedly.

“Now,” said her father looking at the clock on the wall. “There is only half a minute to go. And if he were going to come on time, we would have heard his horse on the bridge by now. Lisa, you may as well give the miller your hand right away, for you would never be satisfied with a suitor who kept you waiting.”

“I will wait until six o’clock,” Lisa said. She stood there with beating heart. For though she was so proud that she would rather have made herself unhappy for the rest of her life than be kept waiting a single second by a suitor, it would be desperately hard to lose Peder Lars.

The clock began to chime.

“Too late!” cried the miller.

The strong beat of hooves was heard on the bridge just then, and Lisa’s eyes shone with joy.

“Listen, he is coming!” she exclaimed.

“Too late, though,” said her father.

But just as the clock was ready to chime for the sixth time, the door was flung open and there stood Peder Lars, dripping wet, his hair tousled, and his new jacket torn and dusty. Somehow he looked jaunty and dashing all the same. Lisa ran to him and put her hand in his, so firmly and confidently that he knew she was giving it to him for life.

The miller and the farmer could only gape. They could not understand how Peder Lars had managed to arrive on time, and no one else understood either.

But this was not the last time people would marvel at Peder Lars. From then on, regardless of how late he set out on any journey, he would always arrive on time, and no one every saw him anxious to get started. Whether he rode on horseback or in a carriage, he was calm and assured. And he could well afford to be, for he always felt he had someone with him, someone who held the bridle and reins in such a way that all his adventures always finished well. But how this was he never could discover, no matter how many times he thought he glimpsed a gray bundle slip down the rump of his horse or off the edge of his carriage the moment he turned his head. Yet inside himself Peder Lars knew who it was that sat behind him.

He had not asked any reward for what he had done for the troll in the ditch, but for all that, it had been an honest troll, and a reward he certainly did receive from her.

 

end

 

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SOURCE:


"The Troll's Ride," from Great Swedish Fairy Tales, by Anna Wahlenberg, (Dell Publishing Co., Inc.: USA), pp. 78-86.

Minor revisions by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.


FOOTNOTE: