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

The Troll in the Ditch ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids

 

THE FARMER'S SON LARS was riding along the road with a happy heart. He and his horse would ride to the city, where he would buy a new jacket.  That evening he was expected at his love's house at six o'clock to ask the big question, and he wanted to look his best.

Lars felt rather sure that Lisa, his love, would not turn him down.  But her father was another matter.  Lars was the sort of fellow who did not always arrive to places when he said he would.  These were the days when fathers could say "yea" or "nay" on the matter of who their daughters married.  Lars knew what was important to Lisa's father.  And he was sure that as long as he got there by six o'clock that night, all would be well.

To reach the city more quickly, Lars turned off the road and through a field to a long deep forest.  As the woods opened to a green meadow, he suddenly saw something that seemed to be moving in a ditch. He drew nearer and realized it was a strange-looking woman, crawling along in the bottom of the ditch.

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 as puckered as dark bread crust.

"Will you do me a good turn?" she asked. "I will reward you for your trouble."

"What is it?" asked Lars.

The woman said that she had hurt her leg walking in the forest.  She continued limping along, she said, because there was a hill in the woods where seven pine trees grew. If she could reach those seven trees and gather a little resin from each one, the resin, if rubbed into her wound, would make the pain go away immediately. But then she had fallen in the ditch! And now her leg was worse than ever.  And she was helpless. She badly needed someone to collect the resin from the seven pines for her. She would see that he was well rewarded for his trouble.

Since early morning, she told Lars, 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. She held up a brightly shining gold coin before Lars.  She said she would give it to him if he would fetch the resin.

Lars stepped back. "Who are you, appearing all of a sudden in the woods like this, and with so many gold coins?  You must be a witch!"

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

"No, I don't hear anything," said 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, where are you, daughter of mine?
I look for you everywhere -
give me a sign!

"So why not give your mother a sign, so she can find you?" said Lars.

"I cannot!  For I am too weak with this hurt leg," said the horrid-looking figure before him.  She sank rapidly back into the ditch. But she kept her head over the edge, and her small peppercorn eyes shot fiery glances.

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

Lars stared at her.

"No, thank you," he said. "Now I know what you are.  You are a troll.  Keep your coins.  I don't want to have anything to do with trolls." He cracked his whip and continued his journey.

Lars 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 seven pine trees. Indeed, seven pine trees stood in a row, leaning softly with the wind. At that moment he heard someone singing from far away:

Where are you, where are you, daughter of mine?
I look for you everywhere - give me a sign!

He looked up at the pine trunks to see if there really was any resin to be found. But it would be impossible to collect it anyway without going more closely to look, 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, as I said I would be there at six.  And so he rode on.

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

Where are you, where are you, daughter of mine?
I look for you everywhere - give me a sign!

If only I had time to gather some of that resin, he thought, and turned his horse to move closer to the pine trees. But after a minute he changed his mind again. It's madness, he said to himself. What do I care about an ugly old troll woman? So he turned back to the road.

It did not take long before the horse stopped again.  Once more Lars he heard the song:

Where are you, where are you, daughter of mine?
I look for you everywhere - give me a sign!

I can't bear it, he thought. If I don't get the resin, I'm afraid I will never stop hearing that song. And so he galloped back to the seven pine trees waving in the wind.

He examined the trunks and branches, and did at least succeed in gathering resin from each one of those seven trees. By now it was almost dark, and he began to gallop along the road. "Why did I bother with?" he thought.  "She probably won't even be there when I get back to look for her, and look at all the time that I lost."  He came to the ditch.  The troll woman was still lying in there.

"Here, take it!" 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, much less to collect his gold coin. He was angry and anxious, sure that he would now be too late. And for what?

Suddenly he heard the tramp of horses' hooves nearby.  From around 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 Joseph called. For all knew about his appointment at Lisa's house tonight, at six.  As the two of them galloped on together, it was a quarter to six and they still had several miles to go.

"Go!" 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 Lars could think of was disappointing Lisa, and losing her father's favor. That was what you got for having anything to do with trolls.

Soon his horse began to pant and stumble and trip. Lars was afraid it might well 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 Lars' cape was billowing behind him.

Lars turned round in the saddle. It seemed to him that someone was sitting behind him on the horses' back. But no one was there.  Yet he imagined he saw what looked like a gray fuzzy shape behind him on the horse.

The ride became wilder and wilder. 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.  Every time 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 the open fields now, and his 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, Lars met his best friend Lucas, who had run out to find him and urge him to hurry.

"You will be too late, Lars!" shouted Lucas. "Only five minutes left."

"We'll see," 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," Lars called.  He disappeared so fast that the old man did not even see him go.

At the farmer's house, everyone was waiting. His love Lisa, her arm leaning on the window-sill, was listening for the beat of hooves, while her father frowned and tapped his feet impatiently.

"Now," said Lisa's father, looking at the clock on the wall. "There is only half a minute left. If he were going to come on time, we would have heard his horse on the bridge by now. Lisa, there is no point in marrying someone who cannot be here at an appointed time to ask for your hand in marriage.  If he cannot do this, he is not for you."

"I will wait until six o'clock," Lisa said. She stood there with a beating heart. It would be desperately hard for her to lose Lars.

The clock began to chime.

"It's too late!" cried Lisa's father.

The strong beat of hooves was heard on the bridge just then. 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.  There stood Lars dripping wet, his hair tousled, and his new jacket torn and dusty. Somehow he looked jaunty and dashing all the same, and Lisa ran to him.  She put her hand in his, so firmly and confidently that he knew she was giving it to him for life.

Her father could only gape. He could not understand how Lars had managed to arrive on time, and no one else understood it, either.

But this was not the last time people would marvel at Lars. From then on, regardless of how late he set out on any journey, he would always arrive on time, and no one ever 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 fuzzy shape slip down behind him on his horse or off the edge of his carriage the moment he turned his head. Yet inside himself 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

Bedtime Stories for Kids | Fairy Tales Short Bedtime Story for Children

Discussion Questions:

Question 1:  Why did Peder Lars get the resin for the ugly old troll when taking the time to do it would only make him too late?

Question 2: Though Peder Lars practically threw the resin at the troll, she rewarded him.  Why?

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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: