Boots and his Brothers, A Scandinavian Story

Once upon a time there was a King who had seven sons. One day he said to the six older ones: “You must go forth into the world, each one, and seek a bride. But Boots is too young to go, so he shall stay at home. And when you have found brides for yourselves, each one, you shall seek the fairest Princess in all the seven kingdoms, and bring her home with you, and she shall be a bride for Boots.”

So the six sons set out, and each found a bride, all so lovely that it was not possible to say which was the most beautiful. But the brothers were so interested, each one, in his own bride, that all forgot they were to seek a bride for Boots, and they started home again.

One night on the way they were forced by a storm to seek shelter in the castle of a Giant, and the next morning while they were standing in the front of the castle, with their retainers about them and their horses saddled ready to mount and depart, the Giant suddenly turned them all into stone where they stood—the brothers into large stone pillars, the brides into smaller pillars, the retainers into small stones, and the horses into stone horses. And there all stood in front of the castle, and the Giant went away laughing.

After a long time of waiting at home, one day the King said to his youngest son: “It must be that your brothers are dead. My heart is broken, and had I not you, my son, to console me in my old age, I should die of sorrow.”

“But, my father,” said Boots, “for long I have been thinking that I must go forth into the world and find my brothers.”

“Do not say that,” said the King, “for evil has certainly befallen them, and the same evil may befall you, and I shall be left alone.”

“Nay,” said Boots, “whatever evil has befallen them I must fare forth and find out; and I will come back to you and bring my brothers with me, that will I.”

So at last the King yielded, and Boots set out. But there were no retainers to go with him, and his father had only an old, broken-down horse to give him, for the other brothers had taken all the fine horses from the stables, for their own riding, and to bring back their brides upon. But Boots set forth right merrily on the old horse, often stopping to let him rest, for he could not go fast, as could a younger steed.

As they journeyed through the woods a Raven fell almost at the horse’s feet, and Boots pulled him back quickly, that the bird might not be stamped upon.

“I thank you, good master,” said the Raven. “I am so hungry that I was faint, and fell from the tree. Will you give me something to eat, and I will serve you faithfully?”

“As for that,” said Boots, “I see not how you can serve me, and I have but scant food. But if you are so hungry that you fell from a tree, you must need food badly, so I will give you a share of my own.”

So Boots gave the Raven some food, and went on through the forest. At last he came to a stream, and saw a Salmon swimming feebly about near the shore. “Oh,” cried the Salmon, as Boots stopped to give his horse a drink, “will you give me food? I am so hungry that I can scarce swim about in the stream.”

“Well,” said Boots, “everybody seems to be hungry to-day, and for the matter of that, so am I. And how can you serve me, I would like to know? Nevertheless, since you are so hungry I will give you food, for it is not pleasant to be hungry, as I well know.”

So he gave the Salmon some of his food, and went on through the forest.

By-and-by he came to a Wolf, looking so gaunt and lean that he was almost afraid to pass by where the animal stood. But the Wolf stopped him and said: “Will you give me something to eat? I am so hungry that I can scarce follow  a trail.”

“Well, now,” said Boots, “this is getting a little thick. First a Raven, and then a Salmon, and now a Wolf.”

“That is so,” said the Wolf, “but there is little food in the forest. Nevertheless, with but a morsel I could follow the trail, and find plenty, and I would serve you at any time that I could.”

“Now have I many servants,” laughed Boots—“a Raven, and a Salmon, and a Wolf. I will give you food, however, for you look as if you needed it sorely!”

So he gave the Wolf food, and when he had eaten, the Wolf said: “Do you follow the trail which I make, and I will lead you where you would go.”

Boots laughed merrily, for since he did not know which way to go himself it hardly seemed as if the Wolf could lead him in that way. Nevertheless, since all ways were alike, he thought, he might as well follow the Wolf, so he turned his horse’s head in that direction.

The Wolf trotted along before, and at last he turned and said: “This is the Giant’s castle, and the pillars yonder are your brothers and their wives which the Giant has turned to stone. It is for you to go into the castle and find a way to set them free.”

“That will I,” said Boots, “but how will I prevent the Giant’s making a stone pillar out of me?”

“Climb up on my back,” said the Wolf, “and I will take you into the castle, but once there you must look out for yourself. But if you need me, whistle, and I will be beside you.”

“That will I,” said Boots, “and you, mind that you are not far, for I think I shall need you right speedily.”

So the Wolf trotted out and left Boots standing in the hall of the castle. And Boots turned about and looked toward the inner room, and there he saw a Princess which he knew at once was the fairest Princess in all the seven kingdoms; and he said to himself: “When I have set my brothers free I shall not need to seek far for my own bride.”

The Princess greeted him, and told him that it was true that the Giant had turned his brothers, and their brides, and their retainers into stone, and that he would turn them back again, one by one, when he wanted to eat them.

“And what will he do with me?” exclaimed Boots.

“Do you hide under the bed there,” said the Princess, “and I will take care of you. For you must know that no matter how brave and strong you may be you cannot kill this Giant, for he does not keep his heart in his body. It is hidden away somewhere, for he is afraid that some one will kill him, so he keeps it no one knows where. But to-night I will ask him where it is, and do you listen, and it may be that we can find it and kill him, and you can set your brothers and their brides and me free.”

“That will I,” said Boots, looking at her with eyes that told what he would do when he had set them all free.

So at last the Giant came home, and after he had eaten and was feeling very good-natured, the Princess said to him: “I have always wondered where it is that you keep your heart, for it is evident that it is not in your body.”

“Indeed, and it is not,” said the Giant, “for if it were I should have been dead long ago. But I will tell you where it is—it is under the great doorstep at the entrance of the castle.”

The next morning, after the Giant had gone out, Boots and the Princess dug and tugged, and tugged and dug, until at last they lifted the great doorstep at the entrance of the castle. But there was no heart under it. Then the Princess piled flowers about, that it might not show where she had been digging, and when the Giant came back he laughed loudly, and said: “What sort of nonsense is this? You thought my heart was there, you silly, and have piled flowers about it. But my heart is not there. It is in the back of the big cupboard in the deepest dungeon keep.”

The next day after the Giant had gone Boots and the Princess went down to the deepest dungeon keep, and they dug and tugged, and tugged and dug, until at last they had moved the cupboard from the wall; but there was no heart there. So the Princess piled flowers about, as she had done before. That night when the Giant came home he went down into the dungeon and saw the flowers, and said: “You did, indeed, wish to pay honor to my heart, you foolish child, but it is not there.”

Then tears stood in the beautiful eyes of the Princess, and she said: “Oh, then, tell me where it is, that I may place flowers about the place.”

“That is not possible,” said the Giant, “for it is too far away from here, and you could not get to it. On a great hill in the forest stands a church, and in the church is a well, and in the well there is a duck, swimming backward and forward on the water; and in the duck is an egg, and in the egg is my heart; so you had best give up your foolish notion.”

Boots, under the bed, heard every word; and the next morning, after the Giant had set out, he, too, started, whistling to the Wolf, who came at  once. Boots told him that he wished to go to the church that stood on the high hill in the forest; and the Wolf said: “I know just where the place is. Jump on my back, and we will be there in no time.”

So Boots jumped upon the Wolf’s back, and they set off through the forest, and soon came to the church on the high hill. But the great doors were locked, and it was not possible for Boots to break them down, though he tried hard enough.

“Now,” said the Wolf, “we must call the Raven.”

So they called the Raven, and he came and flew up over the top of the church, and into the belfry, and down into the porter’s room, and caught up the keys of the church, and in a moment he was back with them. Then Boots opened the doors and he and the Wolf and the Raven entered; and in the church they found a well, as the Giant had said, and on the water in the well there was a duck swimming backward and forward. Then Boots caught up the duck in his hands, and thought that now he had the Giant’s heart, when suddenly the duck let the egg drop into the water.

“Now,” said the Wolf, “we must call the Salmon.”

So they called the Salmon, and he swam down into the water and brought up the egg in his mouth, and Boots caught up the egg in his hand and squeezed it hard, and at once the Giant far off in the forest cried out.

“Squeeze it harder,” cried the Salmon, “and I shall be free.”

But the Giant far off in the woods begged hard for his life, and the Wolf said: “Tell him that if he would have you spare his life he must at once set free your brothers and their brides and their retainers,” said the Wolf.

So Boots cried aloud this message to the Giant, squeezing the heart which he held in his hand as he did so; and the Giant called to him from far off in the forest that he had already done this, even as Boots had asked him, and now would he please let his heart sink back into the water.

“No,” said the Raven, “squeeze it but a little harder, and I shall be free!”

So Boots squeezed the heart harder and harder, until at last it was squeezed quite in two, and what was his surprise to see standing beside him two young Princes, fair, almost, as the fair Princess in the Giant’s castle, who Boots knew was the most beautiful in all the seven kingdoms.

“Let us hasten back to the castle, now,” said the Wolf, “that we may tell the Princes and their brides and the Princess in the castle that the Giant is dead, and they have nothing more to fear.”

Then the Wolf lifted up his voice and howled, and at once two other wolves stood beside them. “Climb up, each one of you,” said the first Wolf, “and we will be back at the castle in no time.”

So Boots and the two Princes climbed up each on the back of a wolf, and they were soon back at the castle; and Boots found his brothers, and their fair brides, and the Princess waiting for them. Then they all set out for the kingdom of their father, who was very glad to see them, to be sure. And Boots said: “I have brought back your sons to you, but I have brought back the fairest Princess in the seven kingdoms to be my own bride.”

Although the brides of the other Princes were very fair, yet all agreed that the bride of Boots was the most beautiful of all.