Tales from The Old Norse

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Folk & Fairy Tales, Legends, Myths & Sagas from Sweden, Norway & Denmark

And so we reach the final volume in this small collection of tales from the north. Originally I intended to complete the series with the Finnish volume, but as ever, there were just too many fabulous stories in my archive to call such an immediate halt.

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SAMPLE chapter

GERTRUDE's BIRD

Translated by George Webbe Dasent in Popular Tales from the Norse, 1912, taken from an original in Asbjørnsen & Moe’s Norske Folkeeventyr

 

IN THOSE DAYS WHEN OUR LORD and St Peter wandered upon earth, they came once to an old wife’s house, who sat baking. Her name was Gertrude, and she had a red mutch on her head. They had walked a long way, and were both hungry, and our Lord begged hard for a bannock to stay their hunger. Yes, they should have it. So she took a little tiny piece of dough and rolled it out, but as she rolled it, it grew and grew till it covered the whole griddle.

Nay, that was too big; they couldn’t have that. So she took a tinier bit still; but when that was rolled out, it covered the whole griddle just the same, and that bannock was too big, she said, they couldn’t have that either.

The third time she took a still tinier bit - so tiny you could scarce see it; but it was the same story over again - the bannock was too big.

“Well”, said Gertrude, “I can’t give you anything; you must just go without, for all these bannocks are too big.”

Then our Lord waxed angry, and said, “Since you loved me so little as to grudge me a morsel of food, you shall have this punishment: you shall become a bird, and seek your food between bark and bole; and never get a drop to drink save when it rains.”

He had scarce said the last word before she was turned into a great black woodpecker, or Gertrude’s bird, and flew from her kneading- trough right up the chimney; and till this very day you may see her flying about, with her red mutch on her head, and her body all black, because of the soot in the chimney; and so she hacks and taps away at the trees for her food, and whistles when rain is coming, for she is ever athirst, and then she looks for a drop to cool her tongue.