House Island

: The Best Popular Stories Selected And Rendered Anew

There lived in Norway, not far from the city of Drontheim, a rich and

prosperous gentleman. He had an only daughter, called Aslog, the fame

of whose beauty spread far and wide. The greatest men of the country

sought her, but all were alike unsuccessful in their suit. Her father,

who thought his daughter delayed her choice only that she might choose

the better, forbore to interfere, and exulted in her prudence. But

at length, the richest and noblest had tried their fortune with

as little success as the rest, he grew angry, called his daughter, and

said to her:--

Hitherto I have left you to your free choice, but since I see that

you reject all without any distinction, and the very best of your

suitors seem not good enough for you, I will keep measures no longer

with you. What! shall my family become extinct, and my inheritance

pass away into the hands of strangers? I will break your stubborn

spirit. I give you now till the festival of the great Winter-night; by

that time you must make your decision, or prepare to accept the

husband whom I myself shall select.

Now Aslog secretly loved a youth named Orm, handsome, noble and brave.

She loved him with her whole soul, and would sooner die than bestow

her hand on another. But Orm was poor, and poverty compelled him to

keep his love as secret as her own.

When Aslog saw the darkness of her father's countenance, and heard his

angry words, she turned pale as death, for she knew his temper, and

doubted not but that he would put his threats into execution. Without

uttering a word in reply, she retired to her chamber, and pondered

vainly how to escape the storm that hung over her. The great festival

approached nearer and nearer, and her anguish increased every day.

At last the lovers resolved on flight. Orm knew a secure place, where

they could hide until they found an opportunity of quitting the

country. So at night, when all were asleep, he led the trembling Aslog

over the snow and ice-fields away to the mountains. The moon and the

stars lighted them on their way. They had under their arms a few

articles of dress and some skins of animals, which were all they could

carry. They ascended the mountains the whole night long, till they

reached a lonely spot inclosed with lofty rocks. Here Orm conducted

the weary Aslog into a cave, the low and narrow entrance to which was

hardly perceptible, but it soon enlarged to a great hall, reaching

deep into the mountain. He kindled a fire, and they now, reposing on

their skins, sat in the deepest solitude far away from all the world.

Orm was the first who had discovered this cave, which is shown to this

very day. But as no one then knew anything of it, they were safe from

the pursuit of Aslog's father. They passed the whole winter in this

retirement, contented and even happy; for they knew they were married,

and belonged to one another, and no cruel father could separate them

more. Orm used to go a-hunting, and Aslog stayed at home in the cave,

minded the fire, and prepared the necessary food. Frequently did she

mount the points of the rocks, but her eyes, did they wander ever so

far, saw only glittering snow-fields.

The spring now came on--the woods were green--the meadows put on their

various colors, people began to wander out for summer pleasuring, and

Aslog could but rarely and with circumspection venture to leave the

cave. One evening Orm came in with the intelligence that he had

recognised her father's servants in the distance, and that he could

hardly have been unobserved by them. They will surround this place,

continued he, and never rest till they have found us; we must quit

our retreat, then, without a moment's delay.

They accordingly descended on the other side of the mountain, and

reached the strand, where they fortunately found a boat. Orm pushed

off, and the boat drove into the open sea. They had escaped their

pursuers, but they were now exposed to dangers of another kind:

whither should they turn? They could not venture to land, for Aslog's

father was lord of the whole coast, and they would infallibly fall

into his hands. Nothing then remained for them but to commit their

bark to the wind and waves. They were driven along the entire night.

At break of day the coast had disappeared, and they saw nothing but

the sky, the sea, and the waves. They had not brought one morsel of

food with them, and thirst and hunger began now to torment them. Three

days did they toss about in this state of misery, and Aslog, faint and

exhausted, saw nothing but certain death before her.

At length, on the evening of the third day, they discovered an island

of tolerable magnitude, and surrounded by a number of smaller ones.

Orm immediately steered for it, but, just as he came near it, there

suddenly rose a violent wind, and the sea rolled every moment higher

and higher. He turned about with a view of approaching it on another

side, but with no better success; his vessel, as often as it neared

the island, was driven back as if by an invisible power. God help

us! he cried, and crossed himself, and looked on poor Aslog, who

seemed to be dying of weakness before his eyes. But scarcely had the

exclamation passed his lips when the storm ceased, the waves subsided,

and the vessel came to the shore without encountering any hindrance.

Orm jumped out on the beach; some mussels that he found on the strand

strengthened and revived the exhausted Aslog, so that she was soon

able to leave the boat.

The island was overgrown with low dwarf shrubs, and seemed to be

uninhabited; but when they had reached the middle of it, they

discovered a house, which appeared to be half under the surface of

the earth. In the hope of meeting with human help, the wanderers

approached it. They listened, but the most perfect silence reigned

there. Orm at length opened the door, and they both walked in: but

what was their surprise, to find everything regulated and arranged as

if for inhabitants, yet not a single living creature visible. The fire

was burning on the hearth, in the middle of the room, and a kettle

with fish hung on it, apparently only waiting for some one to take it

up and eat it. The beds were made, and ready to receive their wearied

tenants. Orm and Aslog stood for some time dubious, and looked on with

a certain degree of awe, but at last, overcome by hunger, they took up

the food and ate. When they had satisfied their appetites, and still

discovered no human being, they gave way to weariness, and laid

themselves in the beds, which looked so peaceful and inviting to their

wearied limbs.

They had expected to be awakened in the night by the owners of the

house on their return home, but their expectation was not fulfilled;

they slept undisturbed till the morning sun shone in upon them. No one

appeared on any of the following days, and it seemed as if some

invisible power had made ready the house for their reception. They

spent the whole summer in perfect happiness: they were, to be sure,

solitary, yet they did not miss mankind. The wild birds' eggs, and the

fish they caught, yielded them provisions in abundance.

When autumn came, Aslog brought forth a son. In the midst of their

joy at this, they were surprised by a wonderful apparition. The door

opened on a sudden, and an old woman stepped in. She wore a handsome

blue dress; there was something proud, but at the same time something

strange, in her appearance.

Do not be afraid, said she, at my unexpected appearance. I am the

owner of this house, and I thank you for the clean and neat state in

which you have kept it, and for the good order in which I find

everything with you. I would willingly have come sooner, but I had no

power to do so till this little heathen (pointing to the new-born

babe) was come to the light. Now I have free access. Only fetch no

priest from the mainland to christen it, or I must depart again. If

you will in this matter comply with my wishes, you may not only

continue to live here, but all the good that ever you can wish for I

will do you. Whatever you take in hand shall prosper; good luck shall

follow you wherever you go. But break this condition, and depend upon

it that misfortune after misfortune will come on you, and even on this

child will I avenge myself. If you want anything, or are in danger,

you have only to pronounce my name three times, and I will appear and

lend you assistance. I am of the race of the old giants, and my name

is Guru. But beware of uttering in my presence the name of Him whom no

giant may hear of, and never venture to make the sign of the cross, or

to cut it on beam or board in the house. You may dwell in this house

the whole year long, only be so good as to give it up to me on Yule

evening, when the sun is at the lowest, as then we celebrate our great

festival, and then only are we permitted to be merry. At least, if you

should not be willing to go out of the house, keep yourselves up in

the loft as quiet as possible the whole day long, and as you value

your lives do not look down into the room below until midnight is

past. After that you may take possession of everything again.

When the old woman had thus spoken she vanished, and Aslog and Orm

lived without any disturbance, contented and happy. Orm never made a

cast of his net without getting a plentiful draught; he never shot an

arrow from his bow that it was not sure to hit; in short, whatever

they took in hand, were it ever so trifling, evidently prospered.

When Christmas came, they cleaned up the house in the best manner, set

everything in order, kindled a fire on the hearth, and as the twilight

approached they went up to the loft, where they remained quite still

and quiet. At length it grew dark; they thought they heard a sound of

whizzing and snorting in the air, such as the swans used to make in

the winter time. There was a hole in the roof over the fireplace,

which might be opened and shut either to let in the light from above,

or to afford a free passage for the smoke. Orm lifted up the lid,

which was covered with a skin, and put out his head. But what a

wonderful sight then presented itself to his eyes! The little islands

around were all lit up with countless blue lights, which moved about

without ceasing, jumped up and down, then skipped to the shore,

assembled together, and came nearer and nearer to the large island

where Orm and Aslog lived. At last they reached it, and arranged

themselves in a circle around a large stone not far from the shore,

and which Orm well knew. But what was his surprise when he saw that

the stone had now completely assumed the form of a man, though a

monstrous and gigantic one! He could clearly perceive that the little

blue lights were borne by Dwarfs whose pale clay-coloured faces, with

their huge noses and red eyes, disfigured too by birds' bills and

owls' eyes, were supported by misshapen bodies, and they tottered and

wabbled about here and there, so that they seemed to be at the same

time merry and in pain. Suddenly, the circle opened; the little ones

retired on each side, and Guru--who was the woman Guru, whom Orm

recognised immediately, though she had risen in stature and size so as

to be almost as gigantic as the stone man--advanced towards it. She

threw both her arms round the image, which immediately seemed to

receive life and motion. Then the Dwarfs, with wonderful capers and

grimaces, began a song, or, to speak more properly, a howl, with which

the whole island resounded and almost trembled at the noise. Orm,

quite terrified, drew in his head, and he and Aslog remained in the

dark, so still that they hardly ventured to draw their breath.

The procession moved on towards the house, as might be clearly

perceived by the nearer approach of the shouting and crying. They were

now all come in, light and active; the Dwarfs were heard jumping about

on the benches, and heavy and loud sounded at intervals the steps of

the giants. Orm and his wife listened to the clattering of the plates,

and the shouts of joy with which they celebrated their banquet. When

it was over and midnight drew near, they began to dance to that

ravishing fairy-tune, which some have heard in the rocky glens, and

learned by listening to the underground musicians. As soon as Aslog

caught the sound of this air, she felt an irresistible longing to see

the dance. Nor was Orm able to keep her back. Let me look, said she,

or my heart will burst. She took her child and placed herself at the

extreme end of the loft, whence, without being observed, she could see

all that passed. Long did she gaze, without taking off her eyes for an

instant, on the dance--on the bold and wonderful springs of the little

creatures, who seemed to float in the air, and not so much as to touch

the ground, while the ravishing melody of the Elves filled her whole

soul. The child, meanwhile, which lay in her arms grew sleepy and drew

its breath heavily, and, without ever thinking on the promise she had

given the old woman, she made, as is usual, the sign of the cross over

the mouth of the child, and said, Christ bless you, my babe!

The instant she had spoken the word there was raised a horrible,

piercing cry. The Dwarfs tumbled head over heels out at the door with

terrible crushing and crowding, their lights went out, and in a few

minutes the whole house was clear of them and left desolate. Orm and

Aslog, frightened to death, hid themselves in the most retired nook

they could find. They did not venture to stir till daybreak, and not

till the sun shone through the hole in the roof down on the fireplace

did they feel courage enough to descend from the loft.

The table remained still covered as the underground people had left

it; all their vessels, which were of silver, and manufactured in the

most beautiful manner, lay upon it. In the middle of the room, there

stood upon the ground a huge copper kettle half full of sweet mead,

and by the side of it a drinking-horn of pure gold. In the corner

rested, against the wall, a stringed instrument, not unlike a

dulcimer, which, as people believe, the Giantesses used to play on.

They gazed on what was before them, full of admiration, but without

venturing to lay their hands on anything; how great and fearful was

their amazement, when, on turning about, they saw sitting at the table

an immense figure, which Orm instantly recognised as the Giant whom

Guru had animated by her embrace. He was now a cold and hard stone.

While they were standing gazing on it, Guru herself entered the room

in her giant form. She wept so bitterly, that her tears trickled down

on the ground. It was long ere her sobbing permitted her to utter a

single word; at last she spoke:--

Great affliction have you brought on me, and henceforth I must weep

while I live; yet as I know that you have not done this with evil

intentions, I forgive you, though it were a trifle for me to crush the

whole house like an egg-shell over your heads.

What have we done? cried Orm and Aslog, penetrated with the deepest


Alas! answered she, my husband, whom I love more than myself, there

he sits, petrified for ever; never again will he open his eyes! Three

hundred years lived I with my father on the island of Kunnan, happy in

the innocence of youth, as the fairest among the Giant-maidens. Mighty

heroes sued for my hand; the sea around that island is still filled

with the rocky fragments which they hurled against each other in their

combats. Andfind won the victory, and I plighted myself to him. But

ere I was married came the detestable Odin into the country, who

overcame my father, and drove us all from the island. My father and

sisters fled to the mountains, and since that time my eyes have beheld

them no more. Andfind and I saved ourselves on this island, where we

for a long time lived in peace and quiet, and thought it would never

be interrupted. But destiny which no one escapes, had determined it

otherwise. Oluf came from Britain. They called him the Holy, and

Andfind instantly found that his voyage would be inauspicious to the

Giants. When he heard how Oluf's ship rushed through the waves, he

went down to the strand and blew the sea against him with all his

strength. The waves swelled up like mountains. But Oluf was still

more mighty than he; his ship flew unchecked through the billows like

an arrow from a bow. He steered direct for our island. When the ship

was so near that Andfind thought he could reach it with his hands, he

grasped at the forepart with his right hand, and was about to drag it

down to the bottom, as he had often done with other ships. But Oluf,

the terrible Oluf, stepped forward, and crossing his hands over each

other, he cried with a loud voice, Stand there as a stone till the

last day, and in the same instant my unhappy husband became a mass of

rock. The ship sailed on unimpeded, and ran direct against the

mountain, which it cut through, and separated from it the little

island which lies out yonder.

Ever have I passed my life alone and forlorn. On Yule-eve alone can

petrified Giants receive back their life for the space of seven hours,

if one of their race embraces them, and is at the same time willing to

sacrifice a hundred years. I loved my husband too well not to bring

him back to life every time that I could do it, even at this price,

and I have not even counted how often I have done it, that I might not

know the hour when I myself should share his fate, and at the moment

when I threw my arms around him become stone like him. But, alas! even

this comfort is taken from me; I can never more by any embrace awake

him. He has heard the Name which I dare not utter, and never again

will he see the light until the dawn of the last day shall bring it.

I now go hence, and you will behold me no more. All that is here in

the house I give you; my dulcimer alone will I keep. But let no one

venture to fix his habitation on the small islands that lie around

here. There dwell the little underground people whom you saw at the

festival, and I will protect them as long as I live!

With these words Guru vanished. The next spring Orm took the golden

horn and the silverware to Drontheim, where no one knew him. The value

of these precious metals was so great that he was able to purchase

everything requisite for a wealthy man. He laded his ship with his

purchases, and returned back to the island, where he spent many years

in unalloyed happiness, and Aslog's father was soon reconciled to his

wealthy son-in-law.

The huge image remained sitting in the house; no human power was able

to move it. So hard was the stone, that hammer and axe flew in pieces

without making the slightest impression upon it. The giant sat there

till a holy man came to the island, who with one single word removed

him back to his former station, where he stands to this hour. The

copper kettle, which the underground people left behind them, was

preserved as a memorial upon the island, which bears the name of House

Island to the present day.