Charcoal Nils And The Troll-woman

: The Swedish Fairy Book

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 strugg
ed, 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 a quality.

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


"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 Kallernaes, 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 with them.

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 scream.

"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.