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Giants and Monsters
Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm


THE goodman of Leegarth was a well-to-do Udaler, who lived on and farmed his own land. His farm lay in a valley, watered by a burn, and sheltered by surrounding hills. His goodwife was a thrifty and active housewife. She bore him seven sons and one daughter. The youngest son was called Assipattle. Now his brothers looked down upon Assipattle, and treated him with contempt. And perhaps this was natural, for he did little or no work on the farm. He ran about the doors and over the bridge-stones all day, in ragged clothes and uncombed hair, from which every breath of wind blew a puff of ashes. And in the evenings he would lie wallowing in the ashes. Assipattle had to sweep the floor, bring peats to the fire, and do any other little job too degrading for his elder brothers. His brothers cuffed and kicked him; the women laughed at him; so that he had but a dog’s life. And most folk thought be deserved no better. But his sister was kind to him. She would listen to his long stories, about trolls and giants, and encourage him to tell more; while his brothers would throw clods at him, and order him to stop his lying tales. What made his stories more provoking to his brothers was that he himself was always the great man in his tales, and was sure to come off on the winning side.

It fell on a day that the king’s messengers came to Leegarth with a message to the goodman from the king. The king asked the goodman to send his daughter to live in the king’s house, and be maid to the princess, the king’s only child. So the damsel was dressed in her best; and with his own hands her father made her a pair. of rivlins, to wear in the king’s house. And of them she was proud, because she had always gone bare-footed before. The lass was set on a pony, and sent to the princess. And after that Assipattle was more silent and dull than before.

Now it fell out that doleful tidings came to that part of the country. It was said that the Stoorworm was drawing near the land. And this news made the boldest heart beat faster. And, truly, the Stoorworm came, and set up his head to the land. He turned his awful mouth landward; and yawned horridly; so that when his jaws came together they made a noise that shook the earth and the sea. And this he did to show that, if not fed, he would consume the land. Now, you must know that this was the largest, the first, and the father of all the Stoorworms. Therefore was he well named the Mester Stoorworm. With his venomous breath he could kill every living creature on which it fell, and could wither up everything that grew. Fear fell on every heart, and there was lamentation in the land. Now, there was a mighty sorcerer in the kingdom, who was said. to know all things. But the king loved not the sorcerer, thinking him a deceitful man. When the king and the Thing had taken counsel for three days, and could find no plan by which they might escape the Stoorworm, or turn him from the land, and when the Thing had come to its wits’ end, the queen came in to the Thing. She was a stern, bold wife, and very big and manlike withal, and she said to the Thing-men, "Ye are all brave men and great warriors, when ye have only men to face. But now ye deal with a foe that laughs at your strength, and before him your weapons are straw. It is not by sword and spear, but by the power of sorcery, that this monster can be overcome. Take counsel with the great sorcerer, who knows all things; for wisdom wins where strength fails." To her counsel they all agreed. So the sorcerer was called, and asked to give counsel. He was grisly and bokie like. He said the question was a great one, and hard to be answered yet would he give them counsel by sunrise on the following day. On that day the sorcerer told the Thing-men that the only way to satisfy the Stoorworm, and to save the land, was to feed him once a week with seven virgins. If this does not suffice, and soon remove the monster, there is only one remedy to save us. That remedy is so horrid that it may not be uttered unless the first plan fails. So spake the sorcerer. And his counsel was law; and so was it doomed. Every Saturday seven damsels were bound and laid on a rock in front of the monster. And he would stretch forth his terrible tongue, and sweep the lasses into his horrid mouth. It was a pitiful and heart-grieving sight to see the maidens, young and bonnie, devoured by the merciless monster.

Now it fell on a day that the folk about Leegarth went up to the top of a hill where they might see the Stoorworm; and they saw him devour his Saturday feast. To see that sight women wept and screamed. Strong men groaned, and their faces grew grey as cold ashes. While all lamented and wondered if there was no other way of saving the land, Assipattle stood up, staring at the Stoorworm with both eyes. And says he, "I’m not afraid; I would willingly fight the great monster." With that, his eldest brother gave Assipattle a kick, and bade him go home to the ash-hole. And as the sons of Leegarth went home together, Assipattle persisted in saying that he would kill the Stoorworm. Then his brothers were so provoked by his bragging, that they pelted him with stones, till he ran away. At night, the goodwife of Leegarth sent Assipattle into the barn, with a message for his brothers to come to supper. The brothers were threshing the supper straw for the cattle. His brothers threw Assipattle on the barn floor, heaped straw on the top of him, and would have smothered him had not his father come, and delivered him out of their hands. At supper, when the father was quarrelling with his sons for what they did in the barn, Assipattle said to his father, "You needed not to have come to my help; for I could have fought them all, and would have beat every one of them had I wished." Then they all laughed, and said, "Why did you not try?" "I wanted to save my strength," said Assipattle, "until I fight the Stoorworm." Then all roared with laughter. And his father said, "You'll fight the Stoorworm when I make spoons from the horns of the moon!"

Now there arose great murmuring and lamentation over all the land about the death of so many young damsels. Folk said, if this goes on, there will not be a woman to bring forth men left in the land. So the Thing was called, and the Thing-men called for the sorcerer, and demanded to know what was his second remedy. The sorcerer raised his ill-favoured form, his beard hanging down to his knees, and his hair hanging around him like a mantle, and he said, "With cruel sorrow do I say it, but there is only one remedy.—Oh, that I had never been born, or lived to see the day on which I have to tell this remedy! The king’s daughter, the Princess Gemdelovely must be given to the Stoorworm. Then shall the monster leave our land." There was then great silence in the Thing. At last the king arose, tall, grim, and sorrowfuL He said, "She is my only child. She is my dearest on earth. She should be my heir. Yet, if her death can save the land, let her die. It beseems her well that the last of the oldest race in the land should die for her folk." Then the Lawman asked if this was the doom of the Thing. None spoke, yet all held up their hands in approval. They did so in sorrow, for Gemdelovely was beloved by all the folk. When the Lawman, with sore heart, was about to rise, the king’s Kemperman arose and said, "I ask that this doom, like other beasts, should have a tail. And that the tail shall be, if after devouring the dear princess the monster departeth not, then the sorcerer shall be the next diet of the Stoorworm." This was hailed with a shout of approval.

Before doom was said, the king asked a respite of three weeks, that he might offer his daughter to any champion that would fight the Stoorworm. This was granted; then the Lawman spake the doom accordingly.

Then the king sent messengers to all the neighbouring kingdoms, to tell all men that whosoever would by war or craft remove the Stoorworm from the land should have Gemdelovely for his wife, and with her the kingdom to which she was heir, and the famous sword Sickersnapper. And that was the sword with which the renowned Oddie fought his foes, and drove them to the back side of the world. Many a prince and great warrior thought this threefold prize the three greatest blessings on earth,—a wife, a kingdom, and a sword. But the danger of winning them made the heart of the boldest stand still.

When the goodman of Leegarth came from the Thing with this news, that the beautiful Gemdelovely was to be given to the monster, there was great lamentation made; for she was beloved of all except the queen, who was her step-mother. But Assipattle, whatever he thought, said nothing.

Now six-and-thirty great champions came to the king’s house, hoping to win the prize. But when they looked on the Stoorworm, twelve of them fell sick, and were carried home. Twelve were so terrified that they ran home to their own countries. And twelve stayed at the king’s house with their hearts in their stomachs.

On the evening before the great day, the king made to his men, and the twelve champions who abode with him, a great supper. It was a dreary feast—little eaten, and less said. And albeit the men drank deep, they had no spirit to make fun; for, you see, the dool of the morrow lay heavy on their hearts. And the king turned the back of the lamp to himself that night.

When all but the king and his Kemperman had gone to bed, the king opened the great chest on which he sat. It was the high seat in the hall, in which his precious things were kept. The king took out the great sword Sickersnapper. "Why take ye out Sickersnapper?" said the Kemperman; "my lord, four-score and sixteen years will it be the morrow since you came into the world. And many a doughty deed have ye done in your time; but your day for fight is gone. Let Sickersnapper lie, my good lord; ye are too old to wield her now." "Wheest!" said the king, "or I’ll try my strength on thy body. Thinkest thou that I, who have the great Oddie for my forebear, would abide to see my only bairn devoured by a monster and not strike a blow for my own flesh and blood? I tell thee— and with my thumbs crossed on the edge of Sickersnapper I swear it—that I and this good sword shall perish before my daughter die. Yes, dear Sickersnapper! thou shalt draw blood from the Stoorworm ere he tastes the blood of an Oddie. And now, my trusty Kemper, hie thee to the shore by cock-crow. Prepare my boat, with mast up, and sail ready to hoist, and with her bow seaward. And see thou guard her till I come. It is the last service thou wilt do for me. Good-night, old comrade!" And while the Kemperman stood with a tear in each eye, the king’s rhymer, who lay on a bench pretending to be asleep, jumped up and made for the door. And as he reached the door, he sang in a doleful voice—

"Whar’ fire brunt, is ammers cald;
The man that ance wus bright an’ bald
Is noo unfeerdie, duff an’ auld,
An’ cinno Sickersnapper wald.
A slockid cinder an’ cald ass
Can niver save the bonnie lass."

The king threw a cog at the rhymer’s head, but he was too quick for the ale cog. So that was the way the supper ended.

Now at Leegarth that night were great preparations; for all were to go on the morrow to witness the death of Gemdelovely. All were to go but Assipattle, who had to stay at home and herd the geese. And as he lay that night in the ashes, he could not sleep, being troubled with thought. And as he lay, he heard his father and mother discoursing in bed. Says the goodwife, "You are all going to see the princess eaten to-morrow." "Indeed, goodwife, thou’ll come with us to-morrow," says the goodman. Says the goodwife, "I do not think I will. I’m not able to go on my feet, and I do not care now to ride alone." "Thou needest not ride alone," says the goodman; "I’ll take thee behind me, and we’ll both ride on Teetgong; and I’ll be bound there will none go before us while we ride on him." Now Teetgong was the fastest horse in all the land. Then quoth the goodwife, "Why wouldst thou care to take an old wife like me behind thee before all the folk?" "What havers!" said the goodman. "Does thou think there is any one in the world I would like better to sit behind me than my ain goodwife?" "I do not know," says the goodwife; "but I have sometimes thought thou did not love me as a husband should love his wife." "What puts such a notion in thy head?" said the goodman; "thou knows I love thee better than any woman on earth. What did I ever do or say to make thee think I did not love thee?" "It is not what thou sayest, it’s what thou wilt not say, that makes me doubt thee. For the last five years I have lain at thee to tell me how thou makest Teetgong run so fast that he beats every other horse in the land; but I might as well ask the stone in the wall. Is that a sign of true love?" "Indeed, goodwife," said the goodman, "maybe it was want of trust, but not want of love. For thou seest we men-folk think the women have a leak in their mind somewhere, maybe in the tongue; so I thought best to keep to myself what might hurt me in telling, but could not hurt thee by not knowing. But this shall not be a heart-vexer to thee any longer,—I shall tell thee the whole secret. When I want Teetgong to stand, I give him a clap on the left shoulder; when I want him to ride fairly fast, I. give him two claps on the right. And when I want him to run full speed, I blow through the wind-pipe of a goose. I aye keep the goose thrapple in the right-hand pouch of my coat, to be handy. And when Teetgong hears that, he goes swift as a storm of wind. So, now thou knowest all, keep thy mind at ease, and let us sleep, for it is late."

Assipattle heard all this, and lay quiet as a mouse till he heard the old folk snoring. He did not rest long then, I can tell you. He pulled the wind-pipe of the goose. out of his father’s pocket, and slipped to the stable like a thief. He bridled Teetgong and led him out. There the horse pranced and reared madly, knowing he was not held by his own master. Assipattle clapped his hand on Teetgoong's left shoulder; then the horse stood like a rock. Assipattle jumped on his back and clapped his right shoulder. So away they went. But, when starting, the horse gave a loud, loud neigh. This neigh awoke the goodman, for he knew the cry of his horse; he sprang up, aroused his sons, and all mounted and galloped after Teetgong, crying, thief! The goodman, who was foremost in the pursuit, roared— 

"Hie, hie! ho!
Teetgong, wo!"

And when Teetgong heard that, he stood stock still. Assipattle out with the goose thrapple, and blew with all his might. When Teetgong heard that, he went off like the wind, so that Assipattle could scarcely hold his breath. And the goodman and his sons returned home in doleful dumps for the loss of Teetgong.

Assipattle came near the shore as day began to light in the east. He came to a valley, and there tethered his horse; he had rolled the tether loosely round the neck of the horse. He walked till he came to a little house, where an old woman lay asleep. Here he found an old pot, in which he placed a live peat from the rested fire. And with pot and peat he went to the shore. There he saw the king’s boat afloat, fastened to a stone on the beach. In the boat sat the man whose duty it was to watch till the king came. "A nippie morning," says Assipattle to the man. "I think I may know that," said the man. "I have sitten here all night, till the very marrow of my bones is sturtened." "Why don’t you come on shore for a run to warm yourself?" said Assipattle. "Because," said the man, "if the Kemperman found me out of the boat, he would half kill me." "Wise enough," says Assipattle; "you like a cold skin better than a hot. But I must kindle a fire to roast a few limpits, for hunger’s like to eat a hole in my stomach." And with that he began to scrape a hole in the ground, wherein to make a fire. In a minute he cried out, "My stars! gold! gold! As sure as I am the son of my mother, there’s gold in this earth!" When the man in the boat heard this, he jumped on shore, and pushed Assipattle roughly aside. And while the man scraped in. the earth, Assipattle seized his pot, loosened the boat-rope, jumped into the boat, and pushed out to sea, while the man roared to, and banned him from the land. As the sun began to peep over the hills, Assipattle hoisted his sail and steered for the head of the Stoorworm. The monster lay before him like an exceedingly big and high mountain, while the eyes of the monster—some say he had but one eye—glowed and flamed like a ward fire. It was a sight that might well have terrified the bravest heart. The monster’s length stretched half across the world. His awful tongue was hundreds on hundreds of miles long. And, when in anger, with his tongue he would sweep whole towns, trees, and hills into the sea. His terrible tongue was forked. And the prongs of the fork he used as a pair of tongs, with which, to seize his prey. With that fork he would crush the largest ship like an egg-shell. With that fork he would crack the walls of the biggest castle like a nut, and suck every living thing out of the castle into his maw. But Assipattle had no fear.

By this time the king and all his men-folk came to the shore. They saw the boat, and the king knew it to be his boat; whereat he was in great wrath.

Assipattle sailed up to the side of the Stoorworm’s head; then, taking down his sail, be lay quietly on his oars, thinking his own thoughts. When the sun struck the Stoorworm’s eyes, then he gave a hideous yawn—the first of the seven that he yawned before his awful breakfast. There was a while between each yawn; and you must know it took him a good while to yawn. Now, whenever the monster yawned, a great tide of water rushed into his mouth. Assipattle rowed close to the side of the Stoorworm’s mouth; and at the second yawn, the boat was caught on the in-rushing tide, and swept into the monster’s mouth. But she did not stay there; for the tide carried her down the monster’s black throat, that yawned like a bottomless pit. You may think it was very dark for Assipattle; but no—the roof and sides of the throat being covered with meeracles, that gave a soft, silvery light in the awful creature’s throat. On and on, down and down, went Assipattle, for a long length of a way. Take a care of us all! But so might I thrive, as I would not like to go down such a stair! He steered his boat in mid-stream; and as he went down, the water became more shallow, by reason of the many passages that opened on each side of the throat, like the mouths of great caves. Part of the water went through these passages. Now the roof of the throat began to get lower, till the boat’s mast stuck its end in the roof, and her keel stuck on the bottom of the throat.

Then Assipattle jumped out; and, pot in hand, waded and ran, and better ran, till he came to the enormous liver of the monster. Then he took his gully, and cut a hole in the liver, and placed the live peat in the hole. And if he did not blow on the burning peat, he did nothing. He blew till he thought his lips would crack. At length the peat began to flame; the flame caught the oil of the liver, and in a minute there was a stately euse. In troth, I think it gave the Stoorworm a hot harskit. Then Assipattle ran back to the boat as fast as his feet could carry him. When the Stoorworm felt the heat of the fire in his inside, he began to spew as if he would have brought up the bottom of his bowels. Then there arose from his huge stomach terrible floods. One of these floods caught the boat, snapped the mast like a trinlie pin, and flung boat and man high and dry on the land.

The king and the folk drew back to a high hill, where they were safe from the floods sent out by the monster, and from his fearful rifts of fire and smoke. The Stoorworm was a terrible sight to see; and every one who saw it could only say, "What am I born to see!" After the floods of water, there came from the monster’s mouth and nose great clouds of smoke black as pitch. It was dismal to see the agonies of the Stoorworm, as the fire grew great within him. He flung out his awful tongue and waved it to and fro. Then, in his agony of pain, he flung up his tongue till its end struck the moon. He gripped one of the moon’s horns in the fork of his tongue. Some say he shifted the moon. Now, by good luck, the fork slipped over the end of the horn, otherwise he might have brought down the moon. The tongue fell on the earth with a terrible, travellye. So vehement was its fall that it clove the earth, and made a long length of a sea where was once dry land. That is the sea that now divides Denmark from Swedeland and Norawa. They say that at the head of that sea are two great bays, formed by the two prongs of the fork on the Stoorworm’s tongue. Then the Stoorworm drew in his long tongue; and his struggles and twisting were a world’s terror to behold. He drew himself slowly together in a lump; and, as he did so, the fiery pain made him fling up his head to the clouds; and, anon, it would fall into the sea with a force that shook the world. Take a care of us all! Once, as his head fell, the force of the fall knocked out a number of his teeth, and these teeth became the Orkney Islands. Another time his head rose and fell,. when he shed a lot more of his teeth; and these teeth became the Shetland Islands. A third time his head fell from the sky, again throwing out a number of teeth, which became the Faroe Islands. Then the Stoorworm coiled himself up into a great lump; and that lump became Iceland. And then the Stoorworm died. And so may all evil end! Folk say he was a bairn of the Devil. And, troth, he was very like his father, and did his father’s will. But, by my certie, he got hard wages for all his work. And so all are served that serve the Devil.

The Stoorworm died; but he still burns under the island. And the fire of that burning makes the burning mountains in Iceland.

And now I must tell you how it fared with Assipattle. The king took him in his arms, and kissed him, and blessed him, and called him his son. The king took off his own mantle and put it on him. And the king took the hand of Gemdelovely and put it in Assipattle’s hand. And he girded the great sword Sickersnapper on Assipattle. Assipattle mounted Teetgong, and rode by Gemdelovely’s side. And as they all rode in joy for the king’s house, Assipattle’s sister came running to meet them. She whispered in Gemdelovely’s ear, and Gemdelovely told the king what she said. Then the king’s face grew dark and door. For she told him the sorcerer had been making love to the queen all the morning. "I’ll go and kill him," said the king. "Nay," said the maid, "they have both fled, on the two best horses in the stable." "They’ll ride fast if I don’t find them," said Assipattle. And, with that, he went off like the wind on Teetgong. Assipattle soon came close up with the two evil-doers. And when the sorcerer saw him come so near, he said to the queen, "It’s only some halflin brat; I’ll cut off his head in a minute." So he turned and drew his sword. For he well knew that no common steel could pierce his enchanted body. Then Assipattle drew Sickersnapper; and with one dread thrust he drove the sword through the sorcerer’s heart till its point came out at his back. And his blood ran on the ground, black as pitch. The queen was shut up all her days in a high tower.

Assipattle and Gemdelovely were married. And there was a great wedding feast, that lasted nine weeks. The king’s Scald made a long rhyme; and the Menyesingers sang a beautiful song. I do not know the words of the song, but this was the owercome— 

"The bonniest steen i’ a’ the land’s abeun the king’s ha’ door;
He cam’ oot o’ a filty hol’, whar’ he lay lang afore."

At that wedding all went jolly as a feast in Yule. Assipattle and Gemdelovely were king and queen, and lived in joy and splendour. And, if not dead, they are yet alive.


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