Charcoal Nils and the Troll-Woman
In the old days there lived on a headland that
juts out into the northwestern corner of Lake
Rasval, in the neighborhood of the Linde mining-district,
a charcoal-burner named Nils, generally
known as Charcoal Nils. He let a farm-hand attend
to his little plot of land, and he himself made his
home in the forest, where he chopped wood in the
summer and burned it to charcoal in the winter.
Yet no matter how hard he struggled, his work was
unblessed with reward, and no one ever spoke of him
save as poor Charcoal Nils.
One day, when he was on the opposite shore of
the lake, near the gloomy Harsberg, a strange woman
came up to him, and asked whether he needed
some one to help him with his charcoal burning.
"Yes, indeed," said he, "help would be welcome."
So she began to gather blocks of wood and tree-trunks,
more than Charcoal Nils could have dragged
together with his horse, and by noon there was
enough wood for a new kiln. When evening came,
she asked the charcoal-burner whether he were
satisfied with the day's work she had done, and if
she were to come back the next day.
That suited the charcoal-burner perfectly, and
she came back the next day and all the following
ones. And when the kiln had been burned out she
helped Nils clear it, and never before had he had
such a quantity of charcoal, nor charcoal of so fine
So she became his wife and lived with him in the
wood for three years. They had three children,
yet this worried Nils but little, seeing that she
looked after them, and they gave him no trouble.
But when the fourth year came, she grew more
exacting, and insisted on going back to his home with
him, and living with him there. Nils wished to hear
nothing about this; yet since she was so useful to
him in his charcoal-burning, he did not betray his
feelings, and said he would think it over.
It happened one Sunday that he went to church—where
he had not been for many years, and what
he heard there brought up thoughts he had not known
since the innocent days of his childhood. He began
to wonder whether there were not some hocus-pocus
about the charcoal-burning, and whether it
were not due to the forest woman, who aided him so
Preoccupied with this and other thoughts, he forgot
while returning to his kiln, that he had promised
the strange woman at the very beginning, when she
had first helped him, that, whenever he had been
home and was returning to the kiln, he would rap
three times with his ax against an old pine-tree
not far from it. On this occasion, as we have said,
he forgot the sign, and as a result he saw something
that nearly robbed him of his wits.
As he drew near the kiln, he saw it all aflame, and
around it stood the three children and their mother,
and they were clearing out the kiln. They were
pulling down and putting out so that flames, smoke
and ashes whirled sky-high, but instead of the
spruce-branches that were generally used to put
out the fire, they had bushy tails which they dipped
in the snow!
When Charcoal Nils had looked on for a while, he
slunk back to the old pine-tree, and made its trunk
echo to the sound of his three ax-strokes till one
could hear them on the Harsberg. Then he went to
the kiln, as though he had seen nothing, and all
went on as before. The kiln was glowing with a
handsome, even glow, and the tall woman was about
and working as usual.
As soon as she saw Charcoal Nils, she came back
with her pressing demand that he take her home to
his little house, and that they live there.
"Yes, that shall come about," said Nils to console
her, and turned back home to fetch a horse. But
instead he went out on the headline of Kallernäs,
on the eastern shore of Lake Rasval, where a wise
man lived, and asked the latter what he should do.
The old man advised him to go home and hitch
his horse to his charcoal-wagon, but to hitch the
horse in such wise that there would be not a single
loop either in the harness or traces. Then he was
to mount the horse and ride back to the kiln without
stopping, have the troll-woman and her children
get into the wagon, and at once drive out on the ice
The charcoal-burner did as the old man told him,
saddled his horse, paying strict attention that there
were no loops in saddle or bridle, rode across the ice
through the wood to his kiln, and told the troll-woman
and her children to get in. Then he quickly
turned back through the wood, out on the ice, and
there let his horse run as fast as he could. When
he reached the middle of the lake, he saw a pack
of wolves running along in the direction of Aboda-land,
at the northern end of the lake, and heading
for the ice. Then he tore the saddle-harness from
the traces, so that the wagon with the troll-folk was
left standing on the bare ice, and rode as fast as his
horse could carry him for the opposite shore.
When the trolls saw the wolves they began to
"Turn back, turn back!" cried the mother. "And
if you will not for my sake, then at least do so for
the sake of Vipa (Peewee), your youngest daughter!"
But Charcoal Nils rode for the shore without
looking back. Then he heard the troll-woman
calling on others for aid.
"Brother in the Harsberg,
Sister in Stripa,
Cousin in Ringfels;
Take the loop and pull!"
"There is no loop to pull!" came the answer from
deep within the Harsberg. "Then catch him at
Harkallarn." "He is not riding in that direction."
The reply came from Ringfels.
And indeed Charcoal Nils did not ride in that
direction; but over stick and stone straight to his
own home. Yet when he reached his own courtyard,
the horse fell, and a shot from the trolls tore
away a corner of the stable. Nils shortly after fell
sick, and had to lie a-bed for a number of weeks.
When he was well again he sold his forest land,
and worked the little farm by the cottage until his
death. So that was one occasion when the troll-folk
came off second best.
In "Charcoal Nils and the Troll-Woman" (Hofberg, p. 148. From
Vestmanland) we have the story of a strange union. Malicious as
the troll-folk are, when a marriage takes place between a troll-woman
and a human being, the woman is beyond reproach, good
and kind, the only reproach that can be made her is that she is
not a Christian.