The Giant with No Heart in His Body

a folktale from Norway

Once upon a time there was a King who had seven sons, and he loved them all so much that he couldn’t bear to have them all gone at once. He must have at least one nearby at all times. When they were grown into young men, the six older brothers set off to woo princesses, but the youngest had to stay with his father. These brothers were given the finest of clothes, money and horses. Anyone could see them a great way off the way that sunlight sparkled on them. They promised Boots, their brother, they would bring home a princess for him too.

They traveled through a number of kingdoms and were favored by many princesses in those lands, but then they came to a King who had six daughters, so lovely that these men fell in love, and each wooed a princess for his own. So they set out for home. But they had forgotten to bring back a princess for their brother, so much in love were they. They were traveling along a steep mountain. It was really a giant’s house, and the giant came out, stared down with his eyes and turned them all to stone, prince, princess, and every last horse.

The King waited at home, waited…waited…waited, getting sadder and sadder. He thought that he would never be glad again. He looked at Boots. “If I didn’t have you then I would die.”

“Well, I will go find them for you, Father!”

“No, Boots, for then I would lose you too. I would lose all hope.”

As time passed the King’s grief did not change, but Boots kept after him every day, praying and pestering, until the King must let him go. But there were no fine clothes for Boots, no money and no riding horse. The only horse in the stable was an old nag on his last legs.

But Boots didn’t care. He sprang to his broken down horse and waved to the King, “Goodbye Father, I will return, don’t worry, and I’ll bring home my brothers!”

He rode along on his old horse awhile and came to a fledgling raven, starving and too weak to fly. It begged for some food. Boots had only a couple of ash cakes, but the raven gobbled them and took wing into the upper branches.

“You helped me, and sometime I’ll help you!” the bird called down.

Boots laughed at this and went on until he came to a big salmon that had got wedged upon the dry rocks and could not get free. It lay gasping and begging for life. Boots got down, wetted his hands and lifted the salmon back into the stream where it dove deep.

“You helped me, and sometime I’ll help you!” said the salmon leaping again.

Boots laughed again and went on until he came to a big wolf that lay helpless in the dirt, so starved was he. And as starved as he was, the wolf spoke. “Friend, please let me have your old horse. I am so weak. I’ve had nothing to eat in two years.”

“What? You want my horse?” He got angry and stomped his feet. “I’ve done my share of helping for one day. You think I can walk from now on just to save you?”

“No, friend, once I regain my strength I can help you. You can get on my back and I will take you to your brothers.”

Boots heard that and began to weep. “I can’t see how you can help at all, but I will put down my horse for you to eat.”

But Boots was astonished when the wolf began to eat. In spite of his weeping that weakling changed into the greatest wolf he had ever seen.

“Now hop on my back and I’ll take you to your brothers.” Boots rode him through the mountains. “Look over at that steep mountain. That is where your brothers and their brides have been turned to stone. That is where the giant lives, but he cannot be killed outright, for he has no heart in his body. That is where you must go.”

Boots felt his anger flash out. “But he’ll kill me!” And these words caused him to weep.

“Calm down,” said the wolf. “There’s a princess lives under his spell. She will help you. She knows how you may put an end to him. Do as she tells you, then come back here. ”

So Boots left the wolf and climbed up to a large door in the mountain. The giant was not around, but he saw a lovely princess who was startled to see him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to put an end to the giant!” Boots was shaking as he spoke.

“You’re hopeless. He can’t be killed. He has no heart in his body. So get away right now.”

There wasn’t princess like her, and the sight of her gave him steadiness. “But I’m here.  I must set free my brothers turned to stone down there. Can you help?”

“Well, let’s see. We need a plan. Crawl under the bed over there and listen when he comes home and he and I are talking.” Boots got under just in time. The giant came home.

“Ha! What a smell of human blood in the house.”

“Yes,” she said, “some magpie dropped a loose finger down the chimney, and I couldn’t drive the smell out all day. You’ll just have to put up with it.”

The giant said no more about it. When night came he lay down and she began combing his hair. “Ah, I don’t dare to ask you, but there is one thing I would like to know.”

“What’s that?” he said.

“Only where it is that you keep your heart. It’s a mystery to me. And you know how fond of you I have become.”

“You don’t need to know, but for once I’ll tell you. If you must know, it’s under the doorsill,” said the giant.

Next morning he stalked away over the mountains and into the valleys beyond. Boots crawled out from under the bed, and both he and the princess dug up the doorsill, a great flagstone at the foot of the door. They searched everywhere in the hard clay, but nowhere did they find the giant’s heart. Boots felt himself desperately near tears.

“He has fooled us this time,” said the princess, “but we’ll try him again.” She went on the mountainside and picked pretty flowers while Boots reburied the doorsill as best he could. Then she strewed those flowers all around the door where the dirt had been packed down. About then the giant returned and Boots crawled under the bed.

“What has happened here?” said he.

“What do you mean?” and she looked up at him.

“Why are all these pretty flowers strewn on the doorsill?”

“Ah, you know how fond I am of you. That is where your heart is, and I just decorated it with flowers.”

“That is so foolish, girl. I don’t keep my heart there at all.”

“How am I to know, since that was what you told me?”

She could see he was getting tired. He lay down on the bed and she combed his hair. And she whispered her question, “Where do you keep your heart? It’s a mystery to me. And you know how fond I am of you.”

“Well, if you must know…it’s in the far cupboard against the wall.”

Next morning the giant went over the mountains, and Boots and the princess searched the far cupboard. Yet after unpacking everything the heart wasn’t there. Boots felt shaky.

“Well, we just have to try him again,” said the princess. So she picked some very pretty flowers and made them into garlands. Boots put everything back the way it was, and she hung garlands of flowers from door to door along the cupboard. Then the giant was on his way home and Boots crawled under the bed.

“What is all this?” said the giant when he saw the cupboards decorated with garlands.

“Well you know how fond I am of you. I couldn’t help making garlands of mountain lilies for the place where your heart is.”

“You’re a goose to believe that!” he shouted.

“Why shouldn’t I believe it since you tell me?”

“You will never know where my heart is.” He was quite tired and lay on the bed.

She began to comb his hair. “But it would give me such pleasure to know for sure.”

Then the giant saw how endless this had become. “For your pleasure, girl, I will tell you. Far away over the mountains is a lake, and in that lake lies an island, and on that island stands a church, and in that church sits a well for a baptistery, and in that well swims a duck, and in that duck is hidden an egg, and within that egg, ah, there lies my heart. So, little girl, now you see your foolishness. No one can ever find it.”

Next day as the giant strode away, Boots crawled out and said goodbye to the princess. He returned to the wolf, and they traveled over the mountains and came at last to that lake.

Then the wolf said, “Hold my tale while we swim to that island.” Boots and the wolf went through the water. But on the island the church was locked and the church key was hanging on the tip of the steeple. Boots got so angry that he stomped around, and then he began to sob streams of tears. “Calm down,” said the wolf. “Remember the raven?”

Boots looked up to the sky and called out. From deep in the forest came a lone raven. It flew straight to the steeple and dropped the church key to the ground.

“Now I have repaid you,” it called and flew off.

Boots unlocked the church and went inside. Within the well, swimming round and round, was a duck. Boots coaxed the duck quietly to him, grabbed it by the neck and lifted it up. The duck quacked and dropped her egg down the well. Boots let go and the duck flew out the door. Boots stomped and stomped and then sobbed a flood of tears.

The wolf said, “Remember the salmon?”

Boots calmed down and called into the depths of the well. After some time the salmon came, and the fish knew what was needed. He swam down again and retrieved the egg.

“Now I have repaid you,” it called and swam off.

“Now,” said the wolf, “you must squeeze the egg. Show no mercy!”

Boots squeezed, and in the distance the giant cried out to the skies.

“Squeeze it again,” said the wolf, and when the prince squeezed then the giant begged and begged for mercy.

“Tell him if he returns the lives of your brothers and their brides, then you will spare him,” said the wolf. Yes, giant would set them all alive right now. And so it was done.

“Now,” said the wolf, “smash the egg in your hands!”

The prince showed no mercy and made a big clap, and the egg smashed into pieces.

Then he rode the wolf back to his brothers and he asked the princess who had helped him to be his bride. They all returned to their kingdom. And the king called for Boots, with his bride to sit at the head of the table. “You have the loveliest bride of all.” And he called for a wedding feast, and the joy and celebration lasted long and loud.

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