Olav Torgjusson stacked two more twigs atop his pile,
log-cabin style. It stood almost up to shoulder-level,
the highest teetering tower he'd built yet.
"Whatcha doing?" someone asked.
Olav jumped, whirled -- knocking over the flimsy tower --
and stared at the skinny boy
who leaned against a birch tree at the forest edge.
"I'm watching my family's herd."
He waved at the cattle grazing down the mountain slope
in soft evening light.
"Watching really good," the boy laughed.
"What if I'd been a wolf?
You wouldn't have seen me!"
"Wolves aren't hungry this time of year,"
"Whatcha doing there?"
The boy pointed at the tumble of sticks.
"Building a tower."
"For fun." Olav shrugged.
"Watching cows graze don't even take half a mind.
What're you doing?"
"Sneaking up on lazy herd-boys.
Seeing how close I can come
without them hearing me."
"You gave yourself away this time, speaking up like that.
"Bored with sneaking.
And you're bored with herding. Right?"
The boy bounded to Olav's tower ruins,
knelt and started stacking.
"I had it almost to my chin
before you came along and made it fall," Olav said.
He plopped down and watched the boy's hands twist and twine.
The twigs soon formed a jagged spiral,
rising with the grace of a smoke plume.
"Where did you come from anyway?"
he asked the boy.
"Up and down and over and around."
"Where?" Olav insisted.
"You believe me if I say I live
under the mountain?" The boy grinned.
"Ja, sure," Olav said in scorn.
"Dwarves and giants live underground. Which are you?
Too big for one, too small for the other."
"Maybe I'm one of the tusse-folk."
"Right. Lovely and rich and magical and full of mischief.
Well, you're as ugly and poor as me, it looks.
And I can be full of mischief, too,
so says my father's belt."
Olav leaned toward the tower and blew hard.
The graceful construction toppled.
Laughing, the other boy sprang to his feet.
"Lovely and rich," he cackled, spinning in a circle,
"and mischievous and magical!
And very, very fast."
He took off running downhill.
Olav leaped up and chased after, calling,
"I'm not so slow myself!"
Whenever it seemed he would catch up,
the other boy put on a burst of speed and flew out of reach.
The two laughed and crowed,
darting in and out among the cows,
which shook heads at them
like at bothersome flies.
"Come on," Olav shouted.
"Tell me how to get to your farm."
"Up and down and over and around!"
"Tell me! I'll come to your place
when it's my brother's turn to herd."
"My place is really hard to find.
Especially for someone like you."
"Clumsy and slow,
and not a pinch of magic to you."
"Magic, magic, ja sure."
They came to the bottom of the sloping pasture,
ringed by birch and spruce and one hollow ash stump.
The boy stopped beside the stubby ash.
"Up and down and over and around,"
he sang out, "and through!"
He leaped into the hollow,
and vanished from the world of mankind.
Folktale from Sønnstveiten.
"Peer Gynt in the Hall of the Mountain King," 1890,
by Theodor Severin Kittelsen
When Gunhild heard the jingle of harness bells,
she set aside her knitting and limped to the door.
Her son-in-law, Steinar Strond,
drove his sledge into the snow-packed farmyard,
coming home from checking the buildings
at an unoccupied subfarm further up the mountainside.
In the last light of the short winter day,
two farm workers jumped off the sledge,
laughing and shouting. "Where do you want it?"
"On the rise next to the house," Steinar said,
"the first thing folks will see
when they come visiting."
Gunhild took one look at the boulder on the sledge
and drew herself erect.
"That is the Stone Chair itself!" she snapped.
"Ja, sure, it is." Steinar grinned.
"You've stolen it from Stone Chair Farm!"
"Stone Chair Farm is mine,
so it's hardly stealing to move the stone
from one site to another."
Gunhild crossed her arms.
"The Steinstol belongs on its own hillside.
It was there before any norseman cleared the forest to make a farm.
It belongs to the mountain
and the folk in the mountain."
"No, Mother," Steinar said with a soothing note.
"It belongs to me.
I own this whole stretch of mountain."
Gunhild tapped her toes, glaring at her son-in-law's smug grin.
How it grated, the way he treated her like a child.
She could see he wouldn't back down.
"No good will come of it, I tell you,"
she said and stomped back indoors.
She could hear the young men grunting with effort out in the courtyard,
and several thuds, then jesting and laughter.
She shook her head over her knitting.
"No good," she muttered.
In the middle of the night, everyone at Strond
jarred awake to the sound of thuds and thumps and rumbles
out in the courtyard. The clamor went on for hours.
No one dared open the door to see the cause.
In the morning, the massive chair-shaped stone
stood blocking the cowbarn entry...
"You're cheating again," Knut growled.
"No worse than you," said Lars.
Gunnar threw down his cards.
"For all the good it did you. I win."
He scooped coins from the table.
Knut and Lars eyed Gunnar. "Biggest cheat of all," Knut muttered.
"You're slick enough to be the devil himself."
"Not quite." Lars tipped back his drink.
"The devil's cousin, perhaps."
The inn's outer door creaked.
Another fellow entered the common room,
glanced around, and ambled over.
"Deal me in?" the stranger asked.
The locals glanced at each other then shrugged.
"Sure, have a seat," Lars said.
They played several hands. The newcomer lost each one.
The locals didn't smirk openly,
but they traded looks loaded with sly humor.
The smell of cheating hung so heavy in the air
that Liv, the innkeeper, glared warning at the three
as they competed to see who could
pull the most spectacular win.
Knut's best scam was to drop a card on the floor
as cover for sleight of hand.
But while he scrabbled down low for the deuce,
ready to switch for an ace,
he saw the stranger's feet.
No boots. Bare feet. Ugly toes.
Tipped with great curling claws,
now dug into the rungs of his stool,
Knut lurched up, sat there staring
at the newcomer's gnarled fingers and horny nails.
The stranger chuckled, voice hard as hammer on anvil.
"Why hello, Cousin," he said.
Knut gulped. "Lars, go fetch the priest."
Lars hesitated, face turning ashen,
then leaped up and ran for the door.
"Your turn, Cousin Knut," the stranger said.
"Four of a kind. Aces all. Correct?
Ah, so good to chat face to face with my kin.
Cousin Gunnar, your turn."
The door creaked. In came the parish priest with crucifix and Bible.
"Old Eirik, you say? We'll see about--"
"Cousin Sveinung," crowed the stranger.
"How good to see you!
Still beating your wife every evening? Good, good.
That makes you mine."
The priest fled.
"Send for the priest at Bø!"
Knut yelled at Lars, who still stood shivering in the doorway...
[SPUN AGAIN 2 contains the rest of this story]
But wait, there's more...
Do you share Holt's fascination
with cultures and events
around the world?
Check out her "current events" articles
reported as if on location in years past,
and published in earlier issues of Banners in the Mist.