Third Knot:
folktale from Sweden

by Joyce Holt

Third Knot

    Rask rowed into the chop of Kattegat, the shallow sea off Sweden's coast. His sloop wallowed low, weighed down by twenty-four bushels of rye. Not a breath of wind stirred to aid him on his way.
    Rask would gladly row all day, clear to the shores of Denmark, with such a sight to feast on as the one perched in the stern.
    The loveliest woman he'd ever seen sat daintily atop her cargo of rye. Skin pure as pearls, eyes the color of evening sky, a brow like seafoam. Silvery hair streamed like silk on a breeze, though no wind blew. Her gown shimmered with blue-green hues, bright as fish scales.
    Rask's heart beat giddy with delight. He grinned like an idiot, pulled at the oars, ignored one wise corner of his mind. She had promised a fine fare, but had never said how much.
    "Here," the woman said at last. "We've come to my home. Please unload."
    Rask glanced around at the rolling billows. No land in sight. "Unload?"
    "Yes. Just toss them overboard."
    That wise corner of his mind shouted warning, but Rask heard none of it over the happy thrumming of his heart. One by one he hoisted the barrels over the sloop's edge to plummet into the depths.
    The woman stood amidships, smiling at Rask. "For your payment, come with me. Take my hand and jump.*"
    "Fool!" screamed the tiny voice of sense.
    Rask jumped.
    Without even a splash, he found himself, still at the woman's side, in a great hall beneath the sea.
    "Is that you, Daughter?" queried an old man sitting upon a whalebone chair. His eyes stared, blank and sightless.
    "I'm home with the rye, Father," she answered.
    The blind man's nostrils flared. "I smell the blood of a Christian,* " he grumbled. "Come over here, man. Let me finger wrestle with you.* "
    The woman whispered to Rask, "Hand over an anchor hook instead of your finger." Rask did as told, and barely managed to hang onto the anchor with both hands as the fellow wrenched with a giant's strength. The old man chuckled in defeat. "Not bad, not bad at all.* Daughter, pay this fine skipper his due."
    The lovely woman gave Rask a handkerchief in which three knots had been tied. "When you get into a lull," she told him, "you can open one knot. And if you want to go really fast, untie two knots, but never untie the third.* "
    Rask found himself back in his sloop, handker- chief in hand. A breeze tugged at the sails and soon swept him home where he told the tale to any and all.

    Not long after, Rask found himself becalmed with a heavy load of wares and an urge to hasten home. He untied one knot in the handkerchief.
    The sail filled with wind.
    He opened the second, and the sloop sped so fast it made the water hiss.
    He must have opened the third knot too, for nobody ever saw him again.*

* dialogue and lines taken straight from the folktale

Copyright 2017 by Joyce Holt

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