(A Norwegian Folktale)
Once upon a time, a king had seven sons he adored. When they grew up, they wanted to find brides. But Boots, the youngest, decided he would stay with his father to keep him company.
“Don’t forget to bring back a princess for me,” Boots told his older brothers.
The king gave his sons fine clothes and bags of money and handsome steeds. Off they rode, around the world.
At long last, they reached a kingdom where a king had six daughters, and the princes and princesses fell in love. The lads headed home with their brides, but they had no sweetheart for Boots.
As they were riding home, they passed a giant’s house. When the giant saw them, he cast a spell and turned them all into stone.
Back home, Boots and the king waited, but when months passed with no sign of the princes, the king began to mourn.
“I could not live if I did not still have you, son,” he told Boots.
“But, I’ve been thinking I should go find my brothers,” Boots admitted, reluctantly.
“No! I can never let you go away,” the king urged.
But Boots begged for so long, the king had to say yes. He had only a broken-down horse, so that’s what Boots took.
Boots left the next morning. After he had ridden for a while, he saw a raven in the road that was unable to move.
“Please feed me, and I’ll always help you,” the raven said.
“I have little food,” Boots said, “but I can spare some for you.” He fed the raven some bread, and the poor creature revived.
Boots rode on and came to a salmon that was lying on dry land thrashing about, trying to reach the nearby stream.
“Push me in!” the fish cried, “and I’ll help you in every way I can.”
Boots shoved the salmon into the water and kept going until he met a wolf slowly crawling down the road.
“I am starving,” the wolf whispered. “Let me eat your horse since he’s near death, and I’ll help you in every way I can.”
“I can’t do that,” Boots explained. “How will I travel?”
“Please, don’t worry. I’ll carry you on my back,” the wolf begged, and Boots could not say no.
After the wolf ate the horse, Boots put the saddle on his back, and they set off.
“I’ll take you to your brothers,” the wolf said. “A giant has cast a spell on them.”
Soon they came to the giant’s house, and Boots saw his brothers and their six brides turned to stone.
“Go inside,” the wolf said. “You’ll find a princess who will tell you what to do.”
Boots stepped inside and saw a princess so lovely, he nearly stopped breathing.
“No one can kill the giant,” the princess told him. “He has no heart in his body.”
But love made Boots brave. “I can try to fell the giant,” he said. So he and the princess made a plan.
Boots crept under the giant’s bed. After some time had passed, he heard the giant roar, “I smell human blood!”
The princess said, “Yes, a raven flew inside and let a man’s bone fall down the chimney. I threw it out, but the smell remains.”
“All right, then,” said the giant.
“Dear giant,” the princess said, ever so sweetly, “where do you keep your heart?”
“That’s none of your business,” the giant said. “But I love you, so I’ll tell you … It’s under the doorsill.”
So, in the morning, when the giant departed, Boots and the princess dug under the doorsill, but they found no heart.
They filled the hole and covered it with a rug, and Boots climbed under the bed. Yet when the giant returned, he roared, “I smell human blood!”
“The raven dropped a bone down the chimney again,” the princess said.
“And what is that pretty rug by the door?” the giant asked.
“I wanted to keep your heart warm,” the princess said.
The giant laughed snidely. “Ha! My heart’s not there. I fooled you.”
“Where is it, then?” the princess asked.
“You’ll never find it,” he said. “I keep my heart far away. On an island in a nearby lake, there’s a church with a well inside. There’s a duck that lives in the church and swims in the well. In that duck is an egg. In that egg is my heart. But you’ll never get it from the duck.”
In the morning, when the giant was gone, Boots ran outside to the wolf and explained where the giant’s heart was. He asked that the wolf take him to the church.
So they rode over mountains and across valleys, until at last they came to the lake. The wolf swam through the water with Boots on his back until they reached the island. They finally arrived at the church.
But the keys were hanging way up in the church’s tall tower.
“Raven!” Boots called out. “I need your help!”
Hearing Boots’ plea, the raven flew to the top of the tower and fetched the keys. He dropped them to Boots. Then Boots opened the church and walked inside. There, in the well, he saw the duck. Boots coaxed it to swim to him. But, instead, as if sensing what Boots wanted, the duck flew out the church’s window, dropping the egg in the lake.
Boots ran to the window, calling out, “Salmon, I need you! Grab that egg!”
The salmon came and fetched the egg. He safely returned it to Boots.
Holding the egg with care, Boots and the wolf rode back to the giant’s house. When the giant saw Boots with the egg, his face turned dark with fury.
“Squeeze the egg!” the wolf told Boots.
Boots squeezed the egg, and the giant screamed, “Stop! What do you want from me? I’ll give you anything!”
“Restore my brothers and their brides to life,” Boots demanded.
And so the giant did.
“Now, squeeze the egg again!” ordered the wolf.
And Boots squeezed as hard as he could. With that, the giant burst. That was the end of him.
Boots then declared his love for the princess.
“I love you, too,” she said.
And so, all seven brothers and their seven brides-to-be rode home, and there they married. They lived happily ever after, and there was never such a happy king.