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Friday night folktales: The Mountain Man

Tales of the unknown abound in Icelandic folklore, and they teem with stories of mysterious strangers, elves, trolls, outlaws and other strange folk. Here is one:

Once upon a time there was a couple living on an isolated farm on a high moor in Iceland. They had one young child. They were poor but self-sufficient for food. They never closed the house for any reason or in any season. The house was an old-fashioned building with a loft where the people slept and a cow-byre on the ground floor. The loft was closed off from the byre with a hatch with a handle on top for opening. 

One night they were sitting up in the loft with the hatch open. Suddenly a very big man came up the stairs and sat on the edge of the opening. They had never seen such a large man, but he did not look like a troll for all that. No-one spoke to him and he sat there in silence the whole night without speaking a word. They were frightened of him but tried not to show it. When bed-time came the woman put her already sleeping child to bed. Then she took a large askur (a traditional wooden food container) and went past the man down into the byre where she milked one of the cows into the askur, filling it to the brim. This she brought to the visitor without saying a word. He accepted it just as silently and drank it empty before leaving the house. 

The next night he returned and the story repeated itself: He sat there silently all night, accepted an askur full of milk and left in silence. On the third night, when he had drunk his fill of milk he finally spoke, saying, “Thank you, good people, for the milk. I have nothing with which to pay you for your kindness, except I foretell and hereby spell that you shall always enjoy good luck and never want for anything. But take my advice and do not let the house stand open all the time as you do now, especially not when the nights are dark, for there are many hereabouts who are worse visitors than I. Remember the old saying: Many are those who dare enter an open door.”

With that he gave them a friendly look and then departed. They believed he must have been a giant or a half-troll of the better sort. But from that night onward they always kept the house locked at night and were never again visited by any strangers or uninvited visitors.

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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