There was once a rich man who had seven sons, and they were all stout, well-grown lads.
When the man’s time came to die he called his sons about him that he might divide his goods among them. He asked each one, beginning at the eldest, what he wished to have left to him. One said one thing, and one another; one wanted the house, and one the land; one wanted gold, and one the flocks and herds. At last it came the turn of the youngest, who was called Boots, to say what he wished to have. But by this time nothing was left to choose but seven wild mares that ran about free on one of the farther hills. All the other things had been promised to his brothers.
“Very well,” said Boots; “I am satisfied. The seven mares will do for me. When they have colts, I will leave the colts with their mothers until they are big enough and then I will sell them, and so I will have enough to live upon.”
The six older sons thought Boots a great simpleton to be satisfied with so little, but since he was content, it was not for them to quarrel over it.
Soon afterward the man died, and the six older brothers divided his riches among them in very friendly fashion.
As for Boots, he asked for nothing, but he took his staff in his hand, and set out for the farther hill to look at his seven wild mares. It was half a day’s journey to the hill, but Boots thought nothing of that. He reached it before his shoes were worn out, and there were the seven wild mares grazing hither and thither, and each one had a foal with her. They were fat and well-grown foals, but beside the seven there was another colt there on the hill, and he was a wonder. His coat was a beautiful dappled grey, and shone like silk; and he was more than twice the size of any of the other foals.
“Now in all my life never have I seen a colt like that colt,” cried Boots. “The other seven foals I will leave here with their mothers, but this one I will take out into the world with me, for already he is big enough and stout enough for me to ride him.”
“Nay, Master,” answered the colt; “that is not what you should do. Do you leave me here for another year to run free and grow, and it will be well worth your while. But as for the other seven foals, take them to the market and sell them, and with the money you receive buy me fodder. Store the fodder in yonder old ruined building and leave the door open, so that I can go in and out and eat at will, and by next year I will be better fit for riding.”
Boots was willing to do this, so he gathered the seven foals together and drove them away to market. There he sold them as the dappled colt had bade him and bought fodder, and this fodder he stored in the old ruined building for the colt to feed upon at will. Then the lad went away to a city near-by and took service to wait until the year was up.
At the end of the year, to a day, Boots came back again to the hill, and there were the seven wild mares at graze, and again each had a well-grown foal beside her. But as for the dappled colt, it was a wonder. It was twice as large as before, and if before its coat had been like silk, now it was like satin, it shone so.
Boots looked and wondered and wondered and looked. “Well it is,” he said, “that I left you here a year longer. But now you must go with me, for with such a horse as you to ride upon, the king of the country himself will be glad to take me into his service.”
“Nay, Master,” answered the foal, “the time is not yet. Let me run free for still another year, but take the seven mares and their foals to market, and sell them for what you can get. With the money buy fodder and place it where you did before, and if you do this thing you will never regret it.”
Well, Boots was willing to do that too. He drove the mares and their foals to market, and sold them and bought fodder with the money. Then he went away to the city again and took service for another twelve months.
At the end of the year, to a day, Boots came back to the hill to look at his dappled colt, but before he reached there he saw a light in the sky and heard a sound as of thunder. The sound drew nearer and nearer, and then Boots saw the colt coming to meet him, and the noise was made by its hoofs, for it was so huge that the earth trembled under it as it came; and if its coat had been like satin before, now it shone like glass, so that the light was reflected all about it, and that was what Boots had seen.
“By my faith,” cried Boots, “never have I beheld such a horse before. The King himself hath not another like it.”
“That is true,” answered the steed. “And now, Master, the time has come for you to ride me out into the world, and together we will make your fortune.”
Then Boots tried to mount, but Dapplegrim (for so Boots named the horse) was so huge that he was obliged to lie down before his master could get upon his back.
Once Boots was up, away the horse went, so fast that the wind whistled past their ears, and they never stopped nor stayed until they came to the castle of the King of the country.
Here Boots knocked at the door and asked the King if he might take service with him, and the King could have jumped for joy at the thought of having him. For never in his life before had he seen such a horse as Dapplegrim; and as for Boots, the King was sure that only a hero could be the master of such a steed.
So now Boots was one of the King’s own men, and soon he became such a favourite that the King would have him always by his side, and talked to him more than to anyone else.
But this made the noblemen who were about the castle very jealous. And not only did they have to make way for Boots, but all their own horses had to be taken out of the castle stable so that Dapplegrim might have the more room. Before long they began to plot and plan as to how they could rid themselves of Boots, and his great grey steed as well.
Now, though the King of that country was very rich and powerful, he was so sad that he was never seen to smile, for he had had only one child, a daughter, and her a troll had stolen away. The troll kept her a prisoner in his house at the top of a great glass hill. This hill was as slippery as ice and as steep as a house.
Many princes and brave men had tried to rescue the Princess, for she was as beautiful as the day, and the King had promised her in marriage to anyone who would bring her back to him. None had succeeded, however, and those who had tried had always lost their lives; for though the King had promised her as a wife to whoever could save her, he had also sworn to cut off the heads of all those who tried and failed.
Now one day several of the noblemen who were jealous of Boots came to the King and told him that Boots had been saying this and that, and that he could ride up the hill on Dapplegrim as easily as not, and could rescue the Princess if only the King would ask him to.
As soon as the King heard this he sent for Boots to come before him.
“How is this?” said he. “Why do you tell others that you can rescue the Princess if you choose, and yet you never tell me?”
“But I never said such a thing,” said Boots.
“Yes, but you did.”
“No, but I didn’t.”
The King would not listen to him, however. He was determined that Boots must set out on the adventure at once. If he rescued the Princess, he should have her for a wife, but if he failed his head should be cut from his shoulders.
As soon as Boots left the King, he went straight out to Dapplegrim’s stall, and he was down in the mouth, as you may well believe.
“What is the matter, Master?” asked Dapplegrim.
“Matter enough,” answered Boots; and then he told the great grey horse all that the King had been saying to him.
The great grey horse listened attentively. “This is no easy thing the King has asked of you,” he said; “but it might have been worse. And then it isn’t every day one has a chance of winning a princess for a wife. Do you go back to the King and ask him for ten pounds of iron and twelve pounds of steel, and six blacksmiths to do some work for us, for I must be properly shod before we start out on this adventure.”
Well, Boots went back to the King and asked him for just that, ten pounds of iron and twelve pounds of steel, and six blacksmiths to work for him.
The King did not say no. Ten pounds of iron and twelve pounds of steel were brought to the palace, and six blacksmiths came to shoe the great horse Dapplegrim, and it was a task for all six of them; for after the shoes were made, it took three blacksmiths to hold up each one of Dapplegrim’s feet and three more to fit the shoe to it, but when it was done never any other horse in all the world was shod like him.
Then Boots mounted and rode forth. On and on went Dapplegrim, so fast and far that you might have thought they would have ridden over the very edge of the world.
Finally Dapplegrim asked, “Master, do you see anything?”
“Yes,” said Boots, “I see something far before us. It looks like a wall of snow with a black spot on top of it no bigger than a nut.”
“That white wall is the hill of glass,” said the grey horse, “and the spot on top of it is the troll’s house, but we have still a journey to make before we reach it.”
Then on they went and on they went, and after a while they came to the foot of the hill. When Boots looked at it his heart sank within him, for he did not see how any living thing could keep a foothold on it.
“Well, here we are, Master,” said Dapplegrim. “And now, unless we can mount the hill, it is an ill day for you and me too.”
Then Boots gathered up the reins and rode the great grey horse straight at it, and the fire flashed from under Dapplegrim’s feet. Three times Boots rode Dapplegrim at the hill. The first time the great horse scarcely mounted as high as a man could reach, and then his feet slipped from under him and back he fell.
The second time he rode half-way up the hill, and then again back, back he slipped.
The third time he sprang forward upon the hill of glass, and as his great feet struck it the glass cracked and crashed beneath him, and up and up he went, to the very top, and on into the troll’s house.
The beautiful Princess was sitting beside the window, weeping, her golden hair all loose and falling about her, and the troll was there beside her.
Dapplegrim thundered into the hall and over to the Princess, and Boots stopped and caught her up to the saddle beside him. Then Dapplegrim wheeled, and away they went, faster than the wind, and the troll did not even have time to catch up the sword that lay beside him or to try to stop them.
It was a long way back to the castle, and Dapplegrim had two to carry now, but that was nothing to him. On and on they went, and when they thundered up to the castle gate the King and all his court came out to meet them. Then there were great rejoicings and kissings and shoutings, as you may believe.
Boots stood there among them, and he was the hero of it all. “And now, when am I to marry the Princess?” he asked.
At that the King began to hum and haw. It had been all very well to promise her to Boots as long as she was sitting in the troll’s house at the top of the hill, but now that she was back in the castle again it was a different matter.
“Listen,” said the King; “you shall have her as a bride, of course. I have never said anything different, but first you must level down the ridge of rock there in front of the castle, for it is so high and black that never a ray of sunlight comes in at the windows from one year’s end to the other.”
Well, that was not in the bargain at all, and Boots did not know how he was to level down a whole mountain of rock. But the King would not listen to him. Not till the ridge was levelled down could he marry the Princess, and moreover, if he failed in doing it, his head should be cut from his shoulders.
Then Boots went out to Dapplegrim’s stall, and his mouth was down at the corners, as you may well believe.
“Well, Master, and what is the matter now?” asked Dapplegrim.
Then Boots told him all about it, and what he had said, and what the King had said, and how he feared he was to lose his head after all.
“Oh, well, this is not such an easy task,” said the great grey steed, “but, after all, we may be able to do it. But first do you ask the King for twelve pounds of iron and fifteen pounds of steel, and have new shoes put upon my feet, for we will need them.”
That is just what Boots did. He asked the King for twelve pounds of iron and fifteen pounds of steel, and the King did not refuse him. And this time it took eight blacksmiths to shoe the great grey horse.
When Dapplegrim was newly shod, Boots mounted upon his back and rode away toward the ridge of rock, and the King and all his court came out to watch what he would do.
Dapplegrim rode up to the top of the rocky ridge, and then he stamped with his great iron-shod feet, and he was so heavy that at once the ridge sank down fifteen ells into the earth.
Then Boots rode up and down, and every time Dapplegrim stamped the ridge sank down under him, until at last it was as level with the earth as the palm of your hand.
“And now may I have the Princess for my wife?” asked Boots.
Of course, of course! The King had never intended anything else, but before she could go to church with Boots she must have a horse as great and fine as Dapplegrim to ride upon. Boots might have three days to find such a horse for his bride, but at the end of that time, if he had not found it, his head would be cut from his shoulders.
Well, that seemed a hard thing to Boots. That had never been in the bargain at all. Besides, he doubted if there was such another horse as Dapplegrim in all the world beside.
Out he went to Dapplegrim’s stall, and if he had been down in the mouth before he was ten times more so now.
“Well, Master, what is it this time?” asked the great grey horse. “Are you not to have the Princess for your wife?”
Yes, Boots was to have her, but not before he should do this and that, and he told the whole story to Dapplegrim.
“This is a harder task than either of the others,” said the great horse. “There is only one other horse in the whole world that is my match in size and strength. Whether or not we can get him I do not know, for he is very wild and fierce. But before we start out on this adventure I must be new shod with fifteen pounds of iron and fifteen pounds of steel. Besides this, you must ask the King to give you a barrel of tar, twelve sacks of grain, and the carcasses of twelve oxen, and twelve hides of bullocks set all over with sharp spikes. Have these loaded upon me, and then we will set out, and what is to happen will happen.”
Well, Boots went to the King and asked for all these things, and the King did not refuse him. Dapplegrim was new shod with fifteen pounds of iron and fifteen pounds of steel, and upon his back were loaded twelve sacks of grain, and the carcasses of twelve oxen, and the hides of twelve bullocks set all over with sharp spikes, and a barrel of tar.
Last of all, Boots mounted his steed and away they rode, and the earth shook beneath them, and the wind whistled past their ears.
They went on and on and on, till all the world seemed left behind, and at last they came out into a barren plain, and all the air around them and overhead seemed filled with the sound of the beating of great wings.
“Now tell me,” said Boots, “what is that sound I hear, for it almost makes me feel afraid?”
“That,” answered Dapplegrim, “is the beating of the wings of all the birds of the air that have been sent out to stop us. But do not be afraid. Cut a hole in each of the bags we carry, so that the grain will run out, and the birds will be so busy picking it up that they will never notice us.”
This Boots did, and the grain ran out in a stream behind them. Then the birds gathered in such countless numbers that the whole plain was covered with them. But they were so busy pecking up the grain that they never even looked at Boots or the great grey horse.
On rode Boots and on he rode, and after a while he and Dapplegrim came into a great black forest.
Then from all around there sounded a mighty roaring that fairly shook the trees, it was so loud.
“What is that sound?” asked Boots. “Now tell me, for it almost makes me feel afraid.”
“That,” said Dapplegrim, “is the roaring of all the beasts of the earth that have been sent out to stop us, but do you throw down the twelve carcasses of the oxen, and the beasts will be so busy eating them that they will never even look at us.”
Boots did as Dapplegrim bade him, and immediately from behind the trees and thickets sprang out a multitude of wild beasts, and they fell upon the carcasses and began to tear them and eat. They did not even so much as look at Dapplegrim or his master.
On and on went Boots and his great grey steed, and now they came out of the forest upon a place that was covered with great rocks and boulders, and here Dapplegrim bade Boots light down.
“Master, the time has now come for the hardest part of all our venture,” said the horse. “It may be I will not come out of it alive, nor you either, but that is as it may be. Take down the barrel of tar and set it yonder among the rocks, take off my bridle and then cover me all over with the spiked hides. When this is done, do you climb up in yonder tree, where you will be out of harm’s way. Presently the steed that we are in search of will come, and he and I will fight together. Watch carefully that barrel of tar, for while we are fighting it will be set on fire. If the fire burns low and smoky, I will be overcome, and then you must try to escape as best you can, but if the flame rises straight and clear, then I am winning. In that case make haste to come down and slip the bridle over the head of the strange horse. Then he will become gentle and quiet, and you may do with him what you will.”
Boots obeyed Dapplegrim in everything. He took down the barrel of tar and set it among the rocks. He took off Dapplegrim’s bridle and covered him all over with the spiked hides. Then he climbed up in the tall tree near-by and hid himself among its leaves.
No sooner had he done all this than Dapplegrim struck the ground three times and neighed loud and clear.
At once from far away there came a sound of neighing. Nearer and nearer it came, and so loud and terrible it was that Boots was filled with fear. Then from beyond the rocks came galloping a great grey dappled horse, and if Dapplegrim was big, this one was full as large. If Dapplegrim was strong, this one was as strong, if not stronger. Fire flashed from his eyes and smoke poured from his nostrils.
At once he and Dapplegrim began to fight. Up and down they fought, and sometimes one seemed to be winning and sometimes the other, but always, whenever the strange horse tried to seize Dapplegrim with his teeth, he could not, because of the spiked hides that covered him.
As they fought, a spark from their hoofs fell upon the barrel of tar and set it on fire. The flame of it rose straight and clear through the air.
At once Boots slipped down from the tree and ran over to where the two horses were fighting. As soon as he did so, he saw that Dapplegrim had seized the strange horse by the neck and was holding him with his teeth.
Boots made haste to slip the bridle over the strange horse’s head, and at once it became quiet and gentle, only it still shook and sweated from the fight.
Then Boots mounted on the new Dapplegrim’s back and rode back toward the castle, and the old Dapplegrim trotted along beside him. Safely they passed through the forest and crossed the plain, and as they neared the castle they saw that the King and all his court had come out to meet them, for they had heard the news of their coming.
Boots lighted down from the new Dapplegrim and led both horses to the King, and the King was filled with wonder and amazement at the sight of two such horses, and both exactly alike.
“And now,” said Boots, “can you tell me which is the new Dapplegrim and which the old?”
Well, the King looked them all over from head to tail; he looked at their eyes and their ears and their hoofs, and not a hair did one have that was different from the other’s. The King was obliged to own that he could not tell which was which.
“So I have brought the horse as you bade me,” said Boots, “and now am I to have the Princess for a wife?”
Well, there was nothing more for the King to do but to let Boots marry the Princess. But now the Princess herself had something to say about it.
“Look,” said she to Boots. “You have shown how brave you are: now let us see whether you are clever as well. I will hide twice, and you shall hide twice. If you can find me, and I cannot find you, then we will know you are more clever than I am, and I will marry you. But if you fail, then you must look elsewhere for a wife.”
Well, Boots did not like that very much, but he did not know how to refuse. “Very well,” said he. “Then that is the bargain.”
The Princess was to hide first, and this is what she did. She changed herself into a white duck and floated on the pond that was behind the castle stable.
Boots hunted for her high and low; he looked everywhere, but he could not find her. Then he went out to Dapplegrim’s stall and told him all about it.
“You should have come to me in the first place,” said Dapplegrim. “Do you take a gun and go out to the pond behind the castle stable. Aim at the white duck that is floating there, as though you meant to shoot it, and you will find the Princess fast enough.”
Boots did as Dapplegrim bade him. He took his gun out to the pond behind the stable, and there, sure enough, was a white duck floating about in the sunshine.
Boots took aim at it as though to shoot. Then the Princess was terribly frightened. “Do not shoot,” she cried; “it is I, the Princess.”
So Boots had found her once.
The next time the Princess hid she turned herself into a loaf of bread, and lay with the other loaves on the kitchen table. Boots hunted for her high and low, but nowhere could he find her. Then he went out to Dapplegrim’s stall.
“What shall I do about it now?” he said. “I have hunted for the Princess everywhere, and still I cannot find her.”
“Why did you not come to me in the first place?” asked Dapplegrim. “Do you take a knife and lay it on the middle loaf that is on the kitchen table, as though to cut it, and you will find the Princess fast enough.”
Well, Boots was not slow to do as Dapplegrim bade him. He took a sharp knife and went into the castle kitchen, and there were seven fresh loaves of bread on the table.
Boots drew the middle loaf toward him, and laid the sharp edge of the knife on it as though to cut it.
Then the loaf cried aloud in a woeful voice, “Alas, do not cut me! It is I, your Princess.”
And so Boots had found the Princess for the second time.
Now it was Boots’ turn to hide, and while the Princess was not looking he changed himself into a fly and hid in Dapplegrim’s ear.
The Princess hunted for him everywhere, all through the castle, but she could not find him. Last of all she came to Dapplegrim’s stall to look there, but when she tried to enter Dapplegrim would not let her. He kicked and snorted and bit until the Princess was fairly frightened.
At last she was obliged to own that she could not find Boots. Then at once he stood before her in his own proper shape.
“You have failed once,” he said. “Now let us see whether you will be any more clever the second time.”
The next thing Boots did was to change himself into a clod of earth and hide in the hollow of Dapplegrim’s foot.
The Princess hunted for him everywhere, but she could not find him. Then she came to Dapplegrim’s stall, and this time he let her enter. The Princess looked him all over but could not find Boots. Last of all she tried to lift Dapplegrim’s feet to look under them, but this she could not do. The great grey horse stood like a rock, and she could not move him.
Then the Princess was obliged to own herself beaten.
At once Boots stood before her. “Now,” said he, “I have fairly won you for a bride, and you shall not say no to me.”
“Yes, yes; that is right,” said the Princess. “Now I know that you are the cleverest as well as the bravest man in all the world, and you and you alone shall be my husband.”
So Boots and the Princess were married with great rejoicing and magnificence, and if anyone were sorry it was not the Princess nor Boots.
As for Dapplegrim, nothing was too good for him. If he had wished it, he might have had a bridle of gold and a saddle set with precious gems, and a silver bed to lie on. He lived to a good old age, and they were all happy for ever after.
NORDIC SHORT STORY BY KATHARINE PYLE
Illustration from Pixabay with thanks.
LET’S CHAT ABOUT THE STORIES ~ IDEAS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
1. The King breaks his promise many times before allowing Boots to have the Princess as his wife. Do you think he was right to break his promises? Why or why not?
2. Do you think the King had the right to promise his daughter’s hand in marriage without asking the daughter? Why or why not?
3. Why do you think Dapplegrim was so helpful to his friend Boots?
4. Do you think that one good deed always deserves another? How does helping each other make both Boots and Dapplegrim better off?