(a Scandinavian tale)
Once upon a time, villagers in Sweden worried because the snow did not stop falling. It was April, but the rivers stayed frozen, snow drifted and the sun looked bleak. No one could plant crops, for the Earth remained frozen.
At last, the villagers gathered to discuss the problem. They built a fire in the fireplace to warm the chilly city hall. Everyone wore snowsuits, mittens and scarves. Old Man Winter had decided to kidnap Spring, and many brave people had gone to convince him to let her go. But no one had returned.
A handsome young man named Lars who was all alone in the world stood and told the people he would go north to try to convince Old Man Winter to free Spring.
“If I don’t survive,” he said, “no one will miss me. I’m an orphan, after all, but I am cunning, and my wits will help me in this task.”
Dressed in his warmest clothes, Lars began the trek. As he traveled, the air grew colder and the wind shrieked, but he battled onward, driven by his love of Spring. The thought of her warmed his heart. As he traveled, he grew sadder and sadder, for he walked through villages destroyed by the cold, and the sight of starving animals and people broke his heart.
They also strengthened his resolve.
After many weeks, he reached a glistening white castle, and knew he had reached Old Man Winter’s home. He began to search for secret entryways, for he had decided he must surprise the old man.
Suddenly, guards dressed in thick armor and carrying swords surrounded Lars, grunting, “Come with us.” They forced him into a spacious hall empty of furniture but filled with forest creatures — deer and guinea pigs and rabbits and bats and hedgehogs and voles, all shivering with cold.
“You’ll stay here,” the guards commanded.
Lars sat down and fell immediately to sleep.
“Wake up,” a voice whispered, and Lars opened his eyes. He could see no one. He looked down at his hands and nearly screamed. They had turned into paws. He quickly stood, but discovered that he could not stand on his two legs. Instead, he stood on four. Soon he realized that he had turned into a tiger — large and heavy, with soft striped fur.
Not far away, a tiny white rabbit looked into Lars’ eyes, and when he looked at her, his stomach rumbled with hunger. He lunged forward.
The rabbit was fast — faster than Lars, and it raced away, leading Lars down a long corridor before disappearing into a hole in the wall.
Lars stood, lost and confused as his memory slowly returned. He knew he had done wrong; he could never kill a rabbit. He began to shake with the terrifying realization that he almost harmed that poor creature.
Then he heard the whispering voice again.
“It’s all right,” the rabbit said as she poked her head out of the wall. “Old Man Winter has turned those of us who came to seek Spring into creatures who forget we are human.”
“What can I do?” Lars asked.
“Give me your paw,” the rabbit said, “and I will tattoo your name there. Whenever you are filled with animal rage, you will see your name and remember your purpose.”
“I am Lars,” he said, and the rabbit carved his name in the paw.
“I’m Anka,” the rabbit said. “I come from a northern village, where everyone has frozen to death.”
“What can we do to save Spring?” Lars asked. “I am sure the soldiers hunt down all who are not animals.”
“Come, live underground with us. We are digging a tunnel to reach Spring, who is in prison in Old Man Winter’s castle. You have such large claws that you’ll be able to dig faster than the rest of us can.”
Anka led Lars to the underground cave, and right away he began to dig. He dug for days, until at last he reached a place just beneath the jail.
“Stop digging,” Anka said. “We must find more large animals to fight the guards before we break through.”
She raced out to the hall to search for help. The next day, she arrived with a wolf — Anton was his name — and he explained that he was the leader of a pack. So he left and later returned to the hall with his pack — Carolus, Jakob, Jorgen and Nels. Together, the pack of wolves convinced the bears — Garth, Georg and Gregor — to join their army.
Lars cautiously raised his large head out of the tunnel he’d dug.
There was Spring locked up behind bars of ice and guarded by soldiers.
“Go!” Lars called, and the animals burst out of the tunnel.
At the sight of the fierce creatures, the guards ran away. The tigers, wolves and bears flung themselves against the bars, trying to wake Spring. Nothing budged those bars, but Anka knew what to do. She held a torch against the bars, and they melted away.
Spring opened her eyes, and the air began to turn warm. The scent of lilac and jasmine filled the air.
“Follow us!” the animals cried, and they raced out of the jail. Spring’s hair and dress flowed, and violets sprouted at her feet. The sun soon burst out of the clouds and poured light over the world.
The animals cheered. Spring bent down to touch them, and as she did, they each turned human again.
Lars saw that Anka was a beautiful woman who looked to be his age. She was smiling at him.
“I know your village is gone,” Lars said to her. “But you can come with me to mine.”
He took her hand, and they returned to Lars’ village. There, they married and lived happily ever after, their tattooed hands a reminder of their struggles.