20 August 2010

Friday night folklore: Kindness repaid


There was once upon a time a farmer and his wife in Eyjafjörður. They were rich and wanted for nothing. The pantry of their house was built in such a way that a large rock that had been impossible to move when the pantry was built had become part of the wall and jutted into the room.

One evening in early winter the woman was doling out food for the household and noticed a large, unfamiliar askur* sitting on the rock. She asked the maid if she knew to whom the askur belonged, but she had never seen it before. She decided to put some fresh milk in the askur, and then they left and locked the room.
In the morning when she came into the pantry the askur was there, but empty. The woman put milk in the askur every day throughout the winter, reasoning that she had milk to spare and someone clearly needed it. The askur would be empty after every meal.

This continued until spring. On the first night of summer the woman dreamt that a strange woman came to her and said
“You have been very kind to give me milk all through the winter although I have not paid you back. Please accept my thanks and keep what you find in the cowshed when you wake in the morning.”

The she was gone. In the morning the farmer’s wife came into the cowshed there was a beautiful grey heifer there among the farm cows, that was assumed to be the elf woman’s payment for the milk. The heifer grew into a good milking cow and served her owners well.

Notes:
*An askur is a wooden container with a lid, often ornamentally carved. In the old days, people ate their food from an askur, and each person had their own.

Stories of elves repaying favours are very common in Icelandic folklore, as are tales of what evils can befall those who do not treat them with respect or honour their requests. They would often appear to people in their dreams.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

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