The Witch In The Stone Boat

: The Yellow Fairy Book

From the Icelandic.

There were once a King and a Queen, and they had a son called

Sigurd, who was very strong and active, and good-looking. When

the King came to be bowed down with the weight of years he spoke

to his son, and said that now it was time for him to look out for

a fitting match for himself, for he did not know how long he

might last now, and he would like to see him married before he
r /> died.

Sigurd was not averse to this, and asked his father where he

thought it best to look for a wife. The King answered that in a

certain country there was a King who had a beautiful daughter,

and he thought it would be most desirable if Sigurd could get

her. So the two parted, and Sigurd prepared for the journey, and

went to where his father had directed him.

He came to the King and asked his daughter's hand, which he

readily granted him, but only on the condition that he should

remain there as long as he could, for the King himself was not

strong and not very able to govern his kingdom. Sigurd accepted

this condition, but added that he would have to get leave to go

home again to his own country when he heard news of his father's

death. After that Sigurd married the Princess, and helped his

father-in- law to govern the kingdom. He and the Princess loved

each other dearly, and after a year a son came to them, who was

two years old when word came to Sigurd that his father was dead.

Sigurd now prepared to return home with his wife and child, and

went on board ship to go by sea.

They had sailed for several days, when the breeze suddenly fell,

and there came a dead calm, at a time when they needed only one

day's voyage to reach home. Sigurd and his Queen were one day on

deck, when most of the others on the ship had fallen asleep.

There they sat and talked for a while, and had their little son

along with them. After a time Sigurd became so heavy with sleep

that he could no longer keep awake, so he went below and lay

down, leaving the Queen alone on the deck, playing with her son.

A good while after Sigurd had gone below the Queen saw something

black on the sea, which seemed to be coming nearer. As it

approached she could make out that it was a boat, and could see

the figure of some one sitting in it and rowing it. At last the

boat came alongside the ship, and now the Queen saw that it was a

stone boat, out of which there came up on board the ship a

fearfully ugly Witch. The Queen was more frightened than words

can describe, and could neither speak a word nor move from the

place so as to awaken the King or the sailors. The Witch came

right up to the Queen, took the child from her and laid it on the

deck; then she took the Queen, and stripped her of all her fine

clothes, which she proceeded to put on herself, and looked then

like a human being. Last of all she took the Queen, put her into

the boat, and said--

'This spell I lay upon you, that you slacken not your course

until you come to my brother in the Underworld.'

The Queen sat stunned and motionless, but the boat at once shot

away from the ship with her, and before long she was out of


When the boat could no longer be seen the child began to cry, and

though the Witch tried to quiet it she could not manage it; so

she went below to where the King was sleeping with the child on

her arm, and awakened him, scolding him for leaving them alone on

deck, while he and all the crew were asleep. It was great

carelessness of him, she said, to leave no one to watch the ship

with her.

Sigurd was greatly surprised to hear his Queen scold him so much,

for she had never said an angry word to him before; but he

thought it was quite excusable in this case, and tried to quiet

the child along with her, but it was no use. Then he went and

wakened the sailors, and bade them hoist the sails, for a breeze

had sprung up and was blowing straight towards the harbour.

They soon reached the land which Sigurd was to rule over, and

found all the people sorrowful for the old King's death, but they

became glad when they got Sigurd back to the Court, and made him

King over them.

The King's son, however, hardly ever stopped crying from the time

he had been taken from his mother on the deck of the ship,

although he had always been such a good child before, so that at

last the King had to get a nurse for him--one of the maids of the

Court. As soon as the child got into her charge he stopped

crying, and behaved well as before.

After the sea-voyage it seemed to the King that the Queen had

altered very much in many ways, and not for the better. He

thought her much more haughty and stubborn and difficult to deal

with than she used to be. Before long others began to notice

this as well as the King. In the Court there were two young

fellows, one of eighteen years old, the other of nineteen, who

were very fond of playing chess, and often sat long inside

playing at it. Their room was next the Queen's, and often during

the day they heard the Queen talking.

One day they paid more attention than usual when they heard her

talk, and put their ears close to a crack in the wall between the

rooms, and heard the Queen say quite plainly, 'When I yawn a

little, then I am a nice little maiden; when I yawn half-way,

then I am half a troll; and when I yawn fully, then I am a troll


As she said this she yawned tremendously, and in a moment had put

on the appearance of a fearfully ugly troll. Then there came up

through the floor of the room a three-headed Giant with a trough

full of meat, who saluted her as his sister and set down the

trough before her. She began to eat out of it, and never stopped

till she had finished it. The young fellows saw all this going

on, but did not hear the two of them say anything to each other.

They were astonished though at how greedily the Queen devoured

the meat, and how much she ate of it, and were no longer

surprised that she took so little when she sat at table with the

King. As soon as she had finished it the Giant disappeared with

the trough by the same way as he had come, and the Queen returned

to her human shape.

Now we must go back to the King's son after he had been put in

charge of the nurse. One evening, after she had lit a candle and

was holding the child, several planks sprang up in the floor of

the room, and out at the opening came a beautiful woman dressed

in white, with an iron belt round her waist, to which was

fastened an iron chain that went down into the ground. The woman

came up to the nurse, took the child from her, and pressed it to

her breast; then she gave it back to the nurse and returned by

the same way as she had come, and the floor closed over her

again. Although the woman had not spoken a single word to her,

the nurse was very much frightened, but told no one about it.

Next evening the same thing happened again, just as before, but

as the woman was going away she said in a sad tone, 'Two are

gone, and one only is left,' and then disappeared as before. The

nurse was still more frightened when she heard the woman say

this, and thought that perhaps some danger was hanging over the

child, though she had no ill-opinion of the unknown woman, who,

indeed, had behaved towards the child as if it were her own. The

most mysterious thing was the woman saying 'and only one is

left;' but the nurse guessed that this must mean that only one

day was left, since she had come for two days already.

At last the nurse made up her mind to go to the King, and told

him the whole story, and asked him to be present in person next

day about the time when the woman usually came. The King

promised to do so, and came to the nurse's room a little before

the time, and sat down on a chair with his drawn sword in his

hand. Soon after the planks in the floor sprang up as before,

and the woman came up, dressed in white, with the iron belt and

chain. The King saw at once that it was his own Queen, and

immediately hewed asunder the iron chain that was fastened to the

belt. This was followed by such noises and crashings down in the

earth that all the King's Palace shook, so that no one expected

anything else than to see every bit of it shaken to pieces. At

last, however, the noises and shaking stopped, and they began to

come to themselves again.

The King and Queen embraced each other, and she told him the

whole story--how the Witch came to the ship when they were all

asleep and sent her off in the boat. After she had gone so far

that she could not see the ship, she sailed on through darkness

until she landed beside a three-headed Giant. The Giant wished

her to marry him, but she refused; whereupon he shut her up by

herself, and told her she would never get free until she

consented. After a time she began to plan how to get her

freedom, and at last told him that she would consent if he would

allow her to visit her son on earth three days on end. This he

agreed to, but put on her this iron belt and chain, the other end

of which he fastened round his own waist, and the great noises

that were heard when the King cut the chain must have been caused

by the Giant's falling down the underground passage when the

chain gave way so suddenly. The Giant's dwelling, indeed, was

right under the Palace, and the terrible shakings must have been

caused by him in his death-throes.

The King now understood how the Queen he had had for some time

past had been so ill-tempered. He at once had a sack drawn over

her head and made her be stoned to death, and after that torn in

pieces by untamed horses. The two young fellows also told now

what they had heard and seen in the Queen's room, for before this

they had been afraid to say anything about it, on account of the

Queen's power.

The real Queen was now restored to all her dignity, and was

beloved by all. The nurse was married to a nobleman, and the

King and Queen gave her splendid presents.