Knös, translated by Frederick H. Martens
Once upon a time there was a poor widow, who
found an egg under a pile of brush as she was
gathering kindlings in the forest. She took it and
placed it under a goose, and when the goose had
hatched it, a little boy slipped out of the shell. The
widow had him baptized Knös, and such a lad was
a rarity; for when no more than five years old he
was grown, and taller than the tallest man. And
he ate in proportion, for he would swallow a whole
batch of bread at a single sitting, and at last the
poor widow had to go to the commissioners for the
relief of the poor in order to get food for him. But
the town authorities said she must apprentice the
boy at a trade, for he was big enough and strong
enough to earn his own keep.
So Knös was apprenticed to a smith for three
years. For his pay he asked a suit of clothes and a
sword each year: a sword of five hundredweights
the first year, one of ten hundredweights the second
year, and one of fifteen hundredweights the third
year. But after he had been in the smithy only a
few days, the smith was glad to give him all three
suits and all three swords at once; for he smashed
all his iron and steel to bits.
Knös received his suits and swords, went to a
knight's estate, and hired himself out as a serving-man.
Once he was told to go to the forest to gather
firewood with the rest of the men, but sat at the
table eating long after the others had driven off
and when he had at last satisfied his hunger and
was ready to start, he saw the two young oxen he
was to drive waiting for him. But he let them stand
and went into the forest, seized the two largest trees
growing there, tore them out by the roots, took one
tree under each arm, and carried them back to the
estate. And he got there long before the rest, for
they had to chop down the trees, saw them up and
load them on the carts.
On the following day Knös had to thresh. First
he hunted up the largest stone he could find, and
rolled it around on the grain, so that all the corn
was loosened from the ears. Then he had to
separate the grain from the chaff. So he made a
hole in each side of the roof of the barn, and stood
outside the barn and blew, and the chaff and straw
flew out into the yard, and the corn remained lying
in a heap on the floor. His master happened to
come along, laid a ladder against the barn, climbed
up and looked down into one of the holes. But
Knös was still blowing, and the wind caught his
master, and he fell down and was nearly killed on
the stone pavement of the court.
"He's a dangerous fellow," thought his master.
It would be a good thing to be rid of him, otherwise
he might do away with all of them; and besides,
he ate so that it was all one could do to keep him
fed. So he called Knös in, and paid him his wages
for the full year, on condition that he leave. Knös
agreed, but said he must first be decently provisioned
for his journey.
So he was allowed to go into the store-house himself,
and there he hoisted a flitch of bacon on each
shoulder, slid a batch of bread under each arm, and
took leave. But his master loosed the vicious bull
on him. Knös, however, grasped him by the horns,
and flung him over his shoulder, and thus he went
off. Then he came to a thicket where he slaughtered
the bull, roasted him and ate him together with a
batch of bread. And when he had done this he had
about taken the edge off his hunger.
Then he came to the king's court, where great
sorrow reigned because, once upon a time, when the
king was sailing out at sea, a sea troll had called
up a terrible tempest, so that the ship was about to
sink. In order to escape with his life, the king had
to promise the sea troll to give him whatever first
came his way when he reached shore. The king
thought his hunting dog would be the first to come
running to meet him, as usual; but instead his three
young daughters came rowing out to meet him in a
boat. This filled the king with grief, and he vowed
that whoever delivered his daughters should have
one of them for a bride, whichever one he might
choose. But the only man who seemed to want to
earn the reward was a tailor, named Red Peter.
Knös was given a place at the king's court, and
his duty was to help the cook. But he asked to be let
off on the day the troll was to come and carry away
the oldest princess, and they were glad to let him go;
for when he had to rinse the dishes he broke the
king's vessels of gold and silver; and when he was
told to bring firewood, he brought in a whole wagon-load
at once, so that the doors flew from their hinges.
The princess stood on the sea-shore and wept and
wrung her hands; for she could see what she had to
expect. Nor did she have much confidence in Red
Peter, who sat on a willow-stump, with a rusty old
sabre in his hand. Then Knös came and tried to
comfort the princess as well as he knew how, and
asked her whether she would comb his hair. Yes,
he might lay his head in her lap, and she combed his
hair. Suddenly there was a dreadful roaring out at
sea. It was the troll who was coming along, and he
had five heads. Red Peter was so frightened that
he rolled off his willow-stump. "Knös, is that
you?" cried the troll. "Yes," said Knös. "Haul
me up on the shore!" said the troll. "Pay out the
cable!" said Knös. Then he hauled the troll
ashore; but he had his sword of five hundredweights
at his side, and with it he chopped off all five of the
troll's heads, and the princess was free. But when
Knös had gone off, Red Peter put his sabre to the
breast of the princess, and told her he would kill
her unless she said he was her deliverer.
Then came the turn of the second princess. Once
more Red Peter sat on the willow-stump with his
rusty sabre, and Knös asking to be let off for the
day, went to the sea-shore and begged the princess
to comb his hair, which she did. Then along came
the troll, and this time he had ten heads. "Knös,
is that you?" asked the troll. "Yes," said Knös.
"Haul me ashore!" said the troll. "Pay out the
cable!" said Knös. And this time Knös had his
sword of ten hundredweights at his side, and he
cut off all ten of the troll's heads. And so the second
princess was freed. But Red Peter held his sabre
at the princess' breast, and forced her to say that
he had delivered her.
Now it was the turn of the youngest princess.
When it was time for the troll to come, Red Peter
was sitting on his willow-stump, and Knös came
and begged the princess to comb his hair, and she
did so. This time the troll had fifteen heads.
"Knös, is that you?" asked the troll. "Yes,"
said Knös. "Haul me ashore!" said the troll.
"Pay out the cable," said Knös. Knös had his
sword of fifteen hundredweights at his side, and
with it he cut off all the troll's heads. But the
fifteen hundredweights were half-an-ounce short,
and the heads grew on again, and the troll took the
princess, and carried her off with him.
One day as Knös was going along, he met a man
carrying a church on his back. "You are a strong
man, you are!" said Knös. "No, I am not strong,"
said he, "but Knös at the king's court, he is strong;
for he can take steel and iron, and weld them together
with his hands as though they were clay." "Well,
I'm the man of whom you are speaking," said Knös,
"come, let us travel together." And so they
Then they met a man who carried a mountain of
stone on his back. "You are strong, you are!"
said Knös. "No, I'm not strong," said the man
with the mountain of stone, "but Knös at the king's
court, he is strong; for he can weld together steel
and iron with his hands as though they were clay."
"Well, I am that Knös, come let us travel together,"
said Knös. So all three of them traveled
along together. Knös took them for a sea-trip;
but I think they had to leave the church and the hill
of stone ashore. While they were sailing they grew
thirsty, and lay alongside an island, and there on
the island stood a castle, to which they decided to go
and ask for a drink. Now this was the very castle in
which the troll lived.
First the man with the church went, and when he
entered the castle, there sat the troll with the
princess on his lap, and she was very sad. He asked
for something to drink. "Help yourself, the goblet
is on the table!" said the troll. But he got nothing
to drink, for though he could move the goblet from
its place, he could not raise it.
Then the man with the hill of stone went into the
castle and asked for a drink. "Help yourself, the
goblet is on the table!" said the troll. And he got
nothing to drink either, for though he could move
the goblet from its place, he could not raise it.
Then Knös himself went into the castle, and the
princess was full of joy and leaped down from the
troll's lap when she saw it was he. Knös asked
for a drink. "Help yourself," said the troll, "the
goblet is on the table!" And Knös took the goblet
and emptied it at a single draught. Then he hit
the troll across the head with the goblet, so that he
rolled from the chair and died.
Knös took the princess back to the royal palace,
and O, how happy every one was! The other princesses
recognized Knös again, for they had woven
silk ribbons into his hair when they had combed it;
but he could only marry one of the princesses, whichever
one he preferred, so he chose the youngest.
And when the king died, Knös inherited the kingdom.
As for Red Peter, he had to go into the nail-barrel.
And now you know all that I know.
The leading personage of our first story, Knös (Tecknigar og Toner
ur skanska allmogenslif, Lund, 1889, p. 14. From Gudmundstorp,
Froste Harad) is one of those heroes of gigantic build, beloved of
the North, who even when he eats, accomplishes deeds such as the
old Norsemen told of their god Thor: the motive of the goblet with
which the hero slays the giant, has been used in the Hymiskvida.
(Comp. with v. d. Leyen, Märchen in den Göttsagen der Edda, p. 40.)