Storytime Friday: The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 4
Here it is! Without further ado, may I present the conclusion to the story of the Giant Who Had No Heart.
The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 3
Askeladen told the wolf all about the past three days at the giant’s castle, and what he had learned there. Sadly the wolf did not know where the lake was, for the woods contained many lakes, and many of them had islands. There was nothing for it but to search. The wolf could move as fast as the wind but the woods were wide and deep. They spent many days searching it. They came to dozens of lakes, some large, some small, some clear and clean, some stagnant and muddy, and when the lake had an island they would swim to it and search; but there was no sign of any church or well. As the days passed it became difficult to find food and the wolf began to slow and weaken. Askeladen was hungry as well and began to despair in spirit; every day that passed made it seem all the more likely that their strength would give out and they would die in the woods, never to save the princess or his brothers. Perhaps that is what would have happened, but on the ninth day of searching they came to a lake the wolf had never seen before.
Its waters were still and its surface was like brilliant silver. In the morning mists Askeladen could just make out the shadow of an island far out in the cold and deep waters. The wolf plunged in with Askeladen clinging to his back as he slowly swam to the island’s shore. As they swam the fog thickened until all around them was solid grey and white. The only sound was the wolf’s paws paddling through the water. It was an eerie crossing, and Askeladen’s heart began to beat quickly. He felt that this lake was different from the others. It was only a few moments later when they reached the island’s pebbly beach that he saw that he was right. Rising out of the mist was a stone steeple which sat over a stone archway whose wooden doors stood cold and black in the white fog. It was a small stone church that had been abandoned many decades ago. Many bricks had fallen from the walls, and the whole building was crawling with moss and ivy. Askeladen went up to the archway, but he found that the thick oak doors had grown as hard as iron with age, and were locked tightly shut. He slowly made his way around the outside of the church, looking for a hole or a gap in the walls that he could slip through; but there was none. He came back to the door and was still puzzling over how he would get inside the building when he saw a gleam of silver light coming from the top of the ruined steeple.
Askeladen looked closer and saw that the reflecting light came from a small silver key that hung from an iron hook near the steeple’s top. “Well this is good luck!” he said “I’ll bet that silver key will unlock the doors. On the other hand, bad luck too. That steeple is far too broken up and ruined for me to climb.” Askeladen considered this problem for some time, but the longer he thought the more hopeless he became. Finally he cried aloud “Blast it all! Unless I suddenly sprout wings I’ll never be able to get that key!”
The wolf, who had been watching from the shade of a small pine tree, turned to him and said “Didn’t you tell me that you had saved a ravens life once? Call him, and maybe he can help.”
That’s right! Askeladen had forgotten about the bird entirely. Still, would the bird come to his aid? There was nothing for it but to try. He called out over the misty lake, “Raven! Raven! My need is great! Come now and repay your debt!” Askeladen did not have to wait long, for only a few minutes later a raven’s caw rang out from the fog. Soon after the raven landed on the shore, bowed, and croaked “I am here! How may I show my gratitude?”
Askeladen soon explained the problem and as quick as wink the raven flew to the steeple’s top and retrieved the silver key. Askeladen tried the key in the door’s lock and with the sound of a click the doors swung open, revealing a dim and ruined sanctuary within. With another bow the raven said “Farewell! I wish you luck on your quest.” Then the raven flew away to parts unknown.
Askeladen and the wolf carefully made their way into the church. The only light came from holes in ceiling and the air smelled musty with mildew. There were several rows of wooden pews that had fallen to pieces and rotted over the years. Hanging from the walls were torn and moldy tapestries, black with age. It was an unfriendly place. At the far end of the room, near the southern wall, was a small stone well that sunk through the church’s stone floor. Askeladen hurried to it and looked down its shaft. The water was cloudy and dark, but its surface was only a few feet down. Sure enough, a duck was swimming peacefully atop the water.
Askeladen immediately called out to the duck, talking softly to it, doing his best to coax it out of the well. He searched his pockets for old breadcrumbs and offered them with an outstretched hand. Eventually the duck gave in, and with a great flap of its wings flew to the wells edge; but wouldn’t you know it as soon as the duck landed it laid its egg, which fell and sunk to the very bottom of the well.
Meanwhile, not too many miles away in another part of the forest, the giant was walking through the woods as he did every day. Today he was very annoyed, for there were less and less things to eat or turn to stone, and he never did find the magpie who had dropped bones down his chimney. Suddenly, as the egg that held his heart fell into the cold water of the well miles and miles away, he knew that something was very wrong. “Ug!” He yelled in a voice like an earthquake. “Something feels very off.” The giant began to feel a bit afraid. He did not fear swords or spears or arrows for they could not harm him as long as his heart was locked safely away; but if someone ever found his heart he’d be in a lot of trouble indeed. Stroking his chin, he began to run toward the island as fast as his long legs could take him.
Askeladen did not know this of course, or else he would have become very frightened indeed. All he knew was that the egg had fallen to the well’s bottom, and he was stumped on how to get it back. The well was small and the sides were slippery with algae and mold. If Askeladen tried to swim down he’d probably never be able to get out again. The wolf watched him for a time, and then said “Didn’t you tell me that you’d saved a salmon’s life once?”
Askeladen grinned; to tell the truth, he’d forgotten the salmon entirely. Askeladen ran out to the lakeshore and called out in a loud voice: “Salmon! Salmon! My need is great! Come now and repay your debt!” Askeladen did not have to wait long, for only a few minutes later he could see silver scales flashing through the water heading his way. Soon after the salmon leaped out of the lake with a brilliant spray of water, and cried “I am here! How may I show my gratitude?”
Askeladen explained his problem to the salmon, and the noble fish began to search around the island until he found a passageway into the bottom of the well. Askeladen ran back inside, and stared down the well. Soon enough the salmon squeezed his way in, and grabbed the egg in its mouth. With a burst of speed the salmon leaped out of the well and dropped the egg into Askeladen’s hands. “I’ve paid my debt.” the fish called out, “Farewell!”
Askeladen held the egg carefully in his hands. Though it had been sitting in ice cold water the egg itself was warm to the touch. He took it outside into the morning light and studied it carefully. It gently and slowly throbbed in his hand, and when Askeladen put it to his ear he could hear a thudding heartbeat.
Suddenly the air rang out with the sharp crack of breaking tree limbs. On the far side of the lake the giant appeared, his eyes peering from place to place. When he spotted Askeladen he howled with anger; but when he saw the egg in his hands he shuddered with fear. The giant leaped into the lake and ran with incredible speed toward the island.
The wolf, his voice wavering with fear, yelped “Quickly master, quickly master! Squeeze the egg as hard as you can! Hurry!” Askeladen wasted no time and began to squeeze the egg between his hands. The giant stopped in his tracks and howled with pain, clutching his chest where his heart had once sat. “That’s it! That’s it! Squeeze again master, we’ve got him now!” howled the wolf with glee. Askeladen squeezed a little harder and the giant screamed and shouted, falling to his knees. The once proud giant began to whimper, and reached out his hand toward Askeladen. “Please!” he cried. “Please stop! I beg you! If you spare my life I shall give you all your heart desires. Money, fame, and power, it will all be yours! Just let me go!”
I would be lying if I said that Askeladen was not tempted by the giant’s words. But he only considered them for a moment. No good comes from giant wishes, if they are even granted at all (for giants are notorious liars when their lives are in danger). Instead he took the egg and squeezed it again, with all his might. The giant shouted, and raised his hand to crush Askeladen to the ground; but it was too late. Askeladen had squeezed the egg until it burst, and the giant breathed his last. His body sunk into the water, never to be seen again. Soon after the waters of that lake became strangely black and stagnant. To this day all animals of the forest avoid it, no matter how thirsty they are.
When Askeladen saw that the giant was dead he let out a whoop of triumph, and the wolf danced a doggie dance of joy. Soon songbirds came, each one singing “The giant is dead! We all will be fed! All hail Askeladen, Giant Slayer of men!” Soon the whole forest began rang out with the happy calls of animals that had lived in fear of the giant’s wrath. Askeladen didn’t celebrate too long before saying “Come wolf! We must ride to the castle and see if my brothers are still turned to stone!” So he hopped on the wolf and they were away in a flash, running like the wind through the forest.
Before long they emerged from the trees in front of the giant’s mountain. There they found a joyous sight, for in the road his brothers and their loves were dancing and singing, celebrating their freedom. The giant’s spell was broken, never to return again. And there, coming down the mountainside, was the princess herself, a wide smile on her face. Askeladen ran to meet her and they embraced. She was free.
So the tale comes to a close. Askeladen returned as a hero to his father with his brothers following behind. There was a great celebration throughout the kingdom, and the king was so pleased that all his sons had returned home that he wept with joy. Askeladen was given the title Giant Slayer and was hailed as the bravest and most resourceful prince in all of Norway. He and the princess were soon wed; and when his father died (of old age and happiness, many years later) Askeladen became king after him. The people say that he was as just, wise, and brave a ruler as had ever lived. As for the wolf, he stayed at the castle and was given the title Royal Wolf and Steed, and never went hungry again to the end of his days. And that is the end of the story of Askeladen and the giant who had no heart.
I hope you all enjoyed the tale. I have several tales I’d like to write next. This coming friday I’ll post the names of two or three I’m intrested in and put it up to a vote.