"Pinch of Magic"

a tale from Telemark, Norway

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," Olav said.

"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. Some sneak!"

"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 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."

"Like me?"

"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.

This story is found in the anthology...

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