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Strongfist

2006-07-13 23:23

  There were once a man and a wife who had one son, a big, strong, healthy lad whom everyone called Strongfist. When Strongfist reached the age of eighteen he made up his mind to walk around the world. He forged himself a stick of iron weighing all of twenty poods, and not a day passed but he would beg his parents to let him go. The father agreed at once but the mother said:

  “I won't let you go until you root out that old oak yonder and plant it in front of my window for me to remember you by.”

  That seemed a simple enough task to him and Strongfist only smiled. On the following morning, before breakfast was on the table, the oak was already swaying in front of his mother's window. Seeing it there, the mother put together a whole sack of food for Strongfist walked along the road at first, but when he saw that the people he met, alarmed by his size and bulk, were apt to run from him he turned off into the forest. He followed the forest path to its end, and, coming out of the forest, saw a man ploughing a field and wiping the sweat from his brow as he ploughed. The ploughman, however, was wiser than the others and made no attempt to run away. This pleased Strongfist no end.

  “It is so very hard to plough a field, then, friend?” asked he.

  “What do you think! Can't you see that the sweat is pouring from me and my horse is all covered with lather?”

  “See here, friend,” Strongfist said, “it seems to me that your horse hasn't been fed properly. Unharness it and let it graze in the glen, and I'll pull the plough in its stead in the meantime.”

  The ploughman let loose his horse in the glen and harnessed Strongfist to the plough in its stead. But here was trouble anew-try as he might, the ploughman could not keep pace with Strongfist. He was forced to run after the plough and was soon completely worn out.

  “This won't do at all!” Strongfist cried. “You'd better go and fetch us some dinner. I'll plough the field by myself.”

  By the time the ploughman brought the food Strongfist had ploughed the whole field. They sat down, both of them, and began to eat. When they had finished, the ploughman thanked Strongfist for his help and prepared to take his plough home. But Strongfist stopped him, saying:

  “How will you ever feed yourself with a field so small? Why, the crop it will yield is not big enough for yourself alone, to say nothing of your wife and children. Let me have the plough and I'll plough you a field that will reach to the king's palace.”

  “You must be off your head! Why, it will only make the king angry.”

  “If he's so foolish as to be angry because of such a trifle, then let him be, I'll plough it anyway.”

  Strongfist began ploughing the field, and when he had ploughed for a day there was the king glancing out of a palace window. Strongfist ploughed for a second day, and the king began to chafe and to fume. Strongfist ploughed for a third day, and the king appeared before him.

  “Who gave you permission to plough here?” asked he.

  “No one. I did it because I wanted to. And how could it be otherwise? So tiny is the plot of land belonging to the ploughman that he'll never be able to feed himself but will die of hunger. And this large field lies idle and you neither plough it yourself nor let anyone else do it.”

  “What's that to you!” the king replied. “If you don't put your plough aside of your own free will my soldiers will drive you away from here.”

  “Do you really think you can frighten me with those soldiers of yours?” Strongfist snapped, and he went back to his ploughing.

  At this the king flew into a towering rage. He summoned three hundred soldiers and bade them drive out Strongfist, but Strongfist took up his iron stick and struck them all down. The king then summoned six hundred soldiers, but Strongfist took up his iron stick again and did away with the lot. He was about to do the same to the king, but the king began begging him for mercy and even promised to give him his own daughter in marriage if only he spared his life.

  “Very well, I agree!” Strongfist cried, well pleased. “I'll finish my ploughing by evening and then you can send your coach for me.”

  Evening came, and the king ordered his strongest horses to be harnessed to his beat coach and himself went to fetch Strongfist. But no sooner had Strongfist got into the coach with his heavy stick of iron and settled down in the seat than-crash! -the axles broke down. Another coach was sent for but the same thing happened. So then the strongest-built coach the king had was brought and they just managed to drag to the palace in it.

  The princess herself met them at the gate. Strongfist got out of the coach, and, coming up to her, asked:

  “Well, fairest of maids, will you have me for your husband?”

  “I couldn't very well refuse a man so strong and have, could I!” the princess said. “But there is something I want you to do and you must promise to do it before we are wed.”

  “Gladly! Anything you wish.”

  “Then listen to me. Beyond the thrice-three realm there stands a castle surrounded by high, thick walls. In that castle lives my elder sister and the king her husband. They were very happy together for a long time, but one day a terrible misfortune occurred. A devil attacked the castle, seized it and plunged it in such darkness that those living there are deprived of the light of day. Deliver them from the devil's claws, and you and I will be wed at once.”

  “All right, I suppose I'll have to do that!” Strongfist agreed. “But since I have to go a long way it would be a good thing if the king your father gave me a horse to ride on.”

  To this the king readily agreed and gave Strongfist the best horse that could be found in the whole of the realm. Off rode Strongfist at a gallop but halfway to the castle the horse was so worn out that it could take him no farther. There was nothing to be done, so Strongfist stripped a lime-tree of some of its bark, plaited a rope out of it, and, finding a grassy glade, tethered the horse there that it might nibble the grass all it wanted. Then, talking his stick, he went on, on foot. He had not gone far, however, when he heard a strange noise coming from another glade. He stopped and listened but could not make out what it was. He came up very close, and, stepping out on to the glade, saw a tiny little man fighting a huge serpent. No sooner did the little man catch sight of Strongfist than he asked him to help him kill it.

  “Gladly!” said Strongfist, and with one blow of his stick he struck the serpent down, dead.

  “Thank you for helping me!” said the tiny little man. “I have nothing I can give you to show my gratitude, but if ever you need me, I'll be there in time to help you.”

  Off Strongfist went and on and on he walked till he came to the castle where the king languished in darkness under the devil's yoke.

  But Strongfist did not attack the devil all at once. He decided to rest after his long journey and pick up some strength first.

  But no rest did he get. For he was just about to sit down when a fearful giant emerged from out of the forest and fell on him like a wild beast. But Strongfist was too quick for him. He snatched up his iron stick and drove the giant to his chest into the ground. The giant cried out at this and begged Strongfist to spare his life, promising to be a friend to him always if he did.

  “Since you speak to me of friendship, tell me who forced you to attack me,” said Strongfist.

  “What can I say, my friend!” the giant brought out in sorrowful tones. “The devils who dwell in these parts have me in their power and it is they who forced me to kill everyone who comes here. I would have been glad to be rid of them if only I could find someone who would help me to do it.”

  “Good, good! Only tell me how many devils there and where I can meet them, for my purpose in coming here is to do battle against them and rid the king's castle of their presence.”

  “That is not as simple as you may think,” said the giant. “You may be able to get the better of the three devils but I am not so sure about the old witch, she may prove to be too much for you. But, anyway, here is a piece of advice: do not get into a fight with the devils too near the castle lest the witch hear you and come running to help them. Hide in this cave for a day. In the evening, when the devil goes prancing home, I'll call him here and you'll do away with him and take away the witch's apple that he always has with him. It is a magic apple: take a bite of it, and you will turn into whoever you wish; take another bite, and you will get back your proper shape again. The best thing to do is to turn into a mosquito. Then you'll be able to get close to the witch and hear what she says.”

  Well and good. In the evening there was the devil prancing by on his way to the castle, and the giant waved to him and beckoned him near.

  “What do you want?” the devil asked, prancing up to him.

  “Someone, a stranger, has got into the cave, and I can do nothing with him. You had better deal with him yourself,” said the giant.

  “Let him come out, then!” roared the devil angrily.

  Out came Strongfist, and the devil and he came together and grappled and fought for a long time. At last Strongfist got the better of the devil, he struck him with his iron stick and the devil gave a jerk and another and breathed his last. Strongfist then took a bite of the apple, turned into a mosquito, and, making straight for the castle, flew into the witch's chamber through the keyhole. The witch never saw him nor felt his presence, but she sat there troubled, mumbling to herself:

  “Say what you will, but someone must have fallen on my husband and done him to death or he would have been home long before now!”

  Said the little devils, trying to comfort her:

  “Do not be grieved! Father must just have been held up on the way.”

  “No, that cannot be! He must be dead and gone. If only I knew who killed him I'd have gobbled him up alive!”

  After a while Strongfist flew back to the giant, took a bite of the apple, and, getting back his proper shape again, told him what he had heard in the witch's chamber.

  “Good!” said the giant. “What we must do now is get the better of those two other devils. After that we'll deal with the witch and find a way of tricking her.”

  On the next evening the second devil went prancing by on his way to the castle, and the giant waved to him and beckoned him near.

  “What do you want?” the devil asked, prancing up to him.

  “Someone, a stranger, has got into the cave and I can do nothing with him. You'd better deal with him yourself.”

  “Where is he? Let him climb out of there!” roared the devil.

  Out came Strongfist, and the two of them came together and grappled and fought for a long time. At last Strongfist got the better of the devil and struck him with his iron stick, and the devil gave a jerk and another and breathed his last.

  On the third evening the third devil went prancing by, and the giant waved to him and beckoned him near.

  “What do you want?” the devil asked.

  “Someone, a stranger, has got into the cave and I can do nothing with him. You'd better deal with him yourself!”

  “Where is he? Let him climb out of there!” roared the devil.

  Out came Strongfist and they grappled and fought together for a long time till at last Strongfist got the better of the devil. He struck him with his iron stick, and the devil gave a jerk and another and breathed his last.

  “Well, that's that!” said the giant. “Now it's time for me to do my bit. I must get us a good pair of pincers and some nails first. Then, while you hide in the cave, I'll go to the witch whose trusted servant I am and tell her that all the three devils are dead, killed by a giant so strong that neither she nor anyone else can get the better of him. She'll ask me what I think she should do and I will tell her to creep up quietly to the cave and lick a hole in the rock big enough for her to thrust her tongue through. I will explain to her that the giant will want to see what it is and that as soon as he grasps her tongue she will be able to swallow him. The witch will believe me, I know. But mind that you don't touch her tongue with your bare hands. Seize it with the pincers and hold it fast, and I'll come running and-rap! Tap! -nail it to the rock. The witch will then be forced to stay in the cave and will languish there for ever and the little devils with her, for we'll drive them into it, too. And the darkness cloaking the castle will vanish and descend on the cave instead.”

  As the giant said so it was. No sooner had the which thrust her tongue in through the whole than Strongfist seized it with the pincers and the giant nailed it to the rock. After that they drove the little devils into the cave, the darkness enveloping the castle vanished, and it sparkled and shone like a great nugget of gold.

  The king was overjoyed and did not know how to repay Strongfist for all he had done, but Strongfist would take nothing from him, saying:

  “I am not one to accept payment from my kin. I only delivered you from the devils because I wanted your wife's sister to marry me.”

  At this the king and queen were more pleased than ever, for to have someone so brave and strong for a kinsman was nothing if not enviable.

  On the third day Strongfist prepared to leave for home where his bride awaited him, and they all went to see him off and promised to attend his wedding.

  Off went Strongfist, and the selfsame giant met him on the way.

  “I want to thank you for helping me to rid myself of the witch and the devils, ”said he. “Now I am free. But I helped you, too, so you must give me the witch's apple in reward.”

  “Why not?” Strongfist replied. “Only I don't feel like going on foot any further. If you fetch me a cart that will carry me through the air to my bride I'll let you have the apple.”

  “Just bide here a bit, and you'll have it in no time!”

  The giant soon brought the cart and gave it to Strongfist, and Strongfist let him have the apple in return.

  Off went Strongfist in the cart, sailing through the air, and before he could count to two there he was in the forest glade where he had tethered his horse. The horse had eaten its fill and was waiting for him, but Strongfist decided not to go on just yet.

  “I'm dead weary,” said he to himself. “I think I'll lie down here and sleep for a spell. I'll get me home in time in any case.”

  Down he lay and fell asleep, and while he slept the giant decided that he needed his cart for himself and rushed of after him. Seeing Strongfist lying there fast asleep, he fell on him and killed him and took away the cart.

  Strongfist lay there for a day and he lay there for a night, and in the morning the tiny little man whom Strongfist had saved from the serpent appeared. He put a magic salve on Strongfist's wounds, brought him back to life and told him of all that had happened to him while he slept. Strongfist thanked him not once but a hundred times, and then, jumping on his horse's back, rode off in all haste for his bride's house.

  Soon after that Strongfist and the princess were married and held a wedding feast, and all the people who had been kept in the castle by the devils and freed by Strongfist attended it. Strongfist's mother and father came, too, and they all feasted and made merry for nine days and nine nights on end.

  And when the old king died Strongfist became king in his stead.

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