(a Danish folktale)
Once upon a time Niels and Dorte had a prosperous farm in Denmark, not far from Hobro. Niels was especially proud of his chickens that produced marvelous eggs. For many years all was well, even though Niels was inclined to think that Dorte bossed him around too much. One day Niels had enough and he told Dorte he was tired of her bossiness.
“I’m not bossy,” Dorte said. “Now, get back to work.”
Niels slinked back to the barn, wondering if there was a single house in the world where the man was master.
“What are you thinking?” Dorte called after him. “I can hear you thinking!”
All day Niels could not stop thinking about every farm, every house, every family he knew. In each one the woman was in charge.
That afternoon he went to see his friend Aksel.
“Who is in charge in your house?” Niels asked.
Aksel grinned. “I’m the boss!” he said.
A moment later Aksel’s wife, Birgitta, called from the field nearby, “What did you say?”
“Nothing, dear,” Aksel answered.
“Don’t say another word until I’m there,” Birgitta said, running. “What did you say?” she repeated.
“I only said I’m in charge of this household,” Aksel replied.
He looked down at the ground while he spoke and blushed bright red. Niels made a decision in that moment.
The next day at dawn, Niels woke and left the house quietly. He filled their cart with baskets of eggs and harnessed two horses to it, and tethered two more of their horses behind the cart, then off he set searching for a man who was master. He would visit every house he could. In those houses where the woman was in charge, he would give away eggs; if he found a man who was master, he would give him a horse, and that fellow would become his teacher.
Niels stopped first at a beautiful farm on the rise of a hill and knocked on the door.
“Answer that,” a woman called.
When the man answered, Niels smiled and politely said, “I wonder if you might offer a traveling man some breakfast.”
The man smiled in return. “One moment,” he said. He turned and called, “Dagmar, there’s a man at the door who wants some breakfast, what do you think?”
“Send him away,” Dagmar called. “Don’t be a fool!”
The man turned back and shrugged. “I’m sorry,” he said. “She’s the boss.”
“Thanks anyway,” Niels smiled, and to the man’s surprise, he handed over a basket of eggs.
He traveled on, stopping at house after house, farm after farm, at mansions and huts, in towns small and large. Everywhere he found women in charge.
Determined not to give up, he continued traveling — out of East Jutland, into the west, to Elsberg, and he turned north.
When the cart was nearly empty, he thought he must give up, and sighed, “There seems to be not a single home in all of Denmark where man is master!”
That very night he reached a beautiful house outside Alborg where a handsome man answered the door. The sun had set long ago, and Niels was exhausted.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have been traveling for days and I wonder if I could stay the night. My name is Niels.”
“Of course!” the man said heartily. “I’m Finn, my friend; happy to have you!”
Finn turned and called into the house, “Hege, my dear, we have a guest tonight. Prepare some extra supper for him!”
Niels was amazed. Here was a man who made decisions on his own. Here was a man who was in charge!
He couldn’t believe his ears as Finn led him to a lovely little bedroom.
“This will be your room tonight. Make yourself comfortable,” he said.
“I shall!” Niels finally found his voice. “So glad to meet you, Finn!”
“And I am glad to meet you, too,” Finn said.
Niels washed his face and hands and smiled at his reflection in the mirror.
“Here it is, at long last,” he said, “a man who knows his own mind. Here is a man who does not need to ask his wife for permission for every last thing. Here is the man I have sought!”
A few minutes later Finn led Niels in to supper, and the two men joined Hege at the table. They shared a fine meal and many laughs, and Niels sat admiring his new friend who spoke his opinions with gusto.
When they had finished eating, Niels said, “I wish to thank you for your hospitality. I have two horses, and in the morning I’d like to give one to you.”
“Very good!” Finn said. “A new horse would be very fine indeed.”
Niels smiled at this.
After a good night’s sleep, Niels and Finn walked outside the next morning.
“Choose either one,” Niels said. “The horse you like is yours!”
Finn looked them over. “I’ll take the black stallion here!” he said.
“He’s yours!” Niels said excitedly. But as he was handing over the reins, he heard Hege calling from the house.
“Wait there just one moment!” Finn said. “Let me see what Hege wants,” and he ran back to the house.
A few minutes later he returned. “Ah,” Finn said, “Hege says the bay is a better horse, so I’ll take him.”
Niels looked at Finn, and he looked back at Hege standing in the doorway.
“I’m sorry,” Niels said. “I was wrong. I’ll have to give you eggs instead.”
He handed over a big basket, tethered the horse to his cart and traveled back home.
“Alas,” he said to his horses, “I’m afraid there is no man in Denmark who is master of his house.”