SML
Book about profound theosophy of heathenry and asatru by Guðrún Kristín Magnúsdóttir.


Trolls in Iceland
children's short story
by Guðrún Kristín Magnúsdóttir
published 1994 in Reykjavík
author's illustration


ÓÐSMÁL (ODSMAL) book cover

An awarded short story for teenagers
-- build on folk-lore, wights and energy in Nature, of which we are a living part.
A very Icelandic story (saga).

Trolls in Iceland

The stone trolls

Tröllabarn (troella-barn, the bairn (child) of trolls).

The young farmer has borrowed a plough, and he ploughs an infertile, barren moore not far from the farmhouse.  He looks relaxed sitting on his tractor.  The weather is beautiful. But he is thinking about money.  He is ploughing this piece of land and he is going to sow in it, just grass, and he is in a hurry.  The reason for all this till and toil is that a road is planned here, and the young farmer is going to claim compensation for the land, as it is (will be i.e.) a cultivated piece of land, - his land.  If a road is constructed on a valuable land, the owner gets compensation.  Perhaps he will have success and get paid.
The tractor roars soothingly.  It is as if a huge cat is purring in the sunshine. Tractors and cats do not care if the small birds are making their nests and laying there eggs in the moore as now is spring.  Neither does the young farmer.

Sunshine, calmness, peace.  Even the sea is calm.  Well, it looks calm on the surface, but there is, or course,  the heavy under-currents in the fjord that always keep the sea moving in heavy waves.  The sea is always heavy at Trölladrangar (Troella-drangar, Troll-cliffs).

Grandfather and the boy saunter from the farmhouse, Drangar, towards the sea, passing the Trolls.
The name of the cliffs is Trölladrangar (Troelladrangar), the name of the farm is Trölladrangar (Troelladrangar), but the farm is always called Drangar and the cliffs are always called the Trolls. Drangar are in a remote part of Iceland.  Few people ever come to this place.  Hardly anyone apart from the family who lives here.  So it has been since the first people settled here many centuries ago.

When the boy says:  -Grandpa, shall we saunter a little,  then grandpa and the boy go out for a walk.  Grandpa does not stride fast any more, as he is getting old, and he calls his slow way of walking to saunter.  The boy finds it amusing.  Grandpa uses a lot of awkward words that the kids in the school in the village find laughable and do not understand.  The boy avoids these worlds when he talks to the kids in the village.  But here nobody can hear them.  Only the birds and the domestic animals and the sea and the mountains and perhaps the Trolls at Trolladrangar.  Who knows?

-Shall we go down to the sea shore, grandpa, and see if the road is in the sea or not just now?,   the boy suggests.  So they saunter down to the sea shore.
When the tide goes out it is possible to drive on the beach pebbles on the sea side of the Trolls. But when the tide comes in again, there is no way to get to and fro on a horse or using a vehicle.  The farm Drangar is very very out-of-the-way in every sense of the expression.  This is how things have been since nobody knows when.  Nobody ever had a reason to visit this place No-one ever seemed to have errands here apart from the people that lived here.

Sometimes the surf and huge ocean waves are so fierce that it is better to wait than to take the chance of travelling on the sea side of the Trolls to get to the farm or from it again.  This is how it has always been and still is.

Grandpa and the boy saunter.

-Grandpa, says the boy.  -When the big black-backed seagull laughs like this, it sounds as if a man is laughing!
-Aye, lad.  The gull,  the old man says tardy.

The huge waves batter the coast unceasingly, even if the sea is not rough at all to-day.  The roaring sound of the ocean waves  when they collapse on the shore contrasts the screech of the hovering sea birds that glide in the air unceasingly in search for food.
The old man and the young boy walk on in silence.
The old man does not know why his son on the tractor is ploughing a piece of the moore.  His son is the framer now.  The old man does not even hear the tractor from here.
-Grandpa, the boy says.  -There are earth movers and trucks and loaders under the gravel slip on the other side of the Trolls. I saw them when I took a walk while you were taking your nap, grandpa.  They are making a good road, a highway, they told me, grandpa.  They use the gravel from the mountain slopes  for it.

What is of the other side of the Trolls is of no concern of the old man.  He has had the responsibility for his farm, his family, his boat.  And he has toiled and laboured.  He has always been a reliable man.  But what other men are doing in other places is none of his business at all.  That is the reason for that the old man does not react to what the boy is telling him.  Here, on this side of the huge cliffs, Trolladrangar, is his world.  The mountains and the sea and the huge glacier up there in the vast wilderness enclose this farm and it is a world of its own.  It has been so since nobody knows when.

-Beautiful is our isle is at this early hour of the day, lad,  the old man mutters.

-Tell me, grandpa, the story about the fairy maid.  You know, when she lit her lights under Black Rock on Cliffs' Isle.

-You have heard that story often, my boy, haven't you?

-You rowed you boat, grandpa, far out, and then, all of a sudden, the weather changed to the worse .....   eh?, grandpa ....

-Oh, aye.  I did row my boat far out.  I knew the best fishing grounds as well as the palms of my own two hands.  There is a cleft out there in the bottom of the sea.  I knew how to find it:  Seen from there the Trolls should bear onto the tallest peak of mount Horn.  The furthermost isle should bear onto the glacier's head.  There the big yellow cod used to swim.  And the halibut, lad, gliding along the bottom.  There I sank my angle.  There the food waited for me to bring home to my good blessed wife and our bairns.

-Aye, grandpa, -- and then .....

-In the autumn I used to get up long before sunrise.  The wind was often calmer during the night and in the early morning.  Oh, aye, my boy.  I was back to the shore before the morning winds began to blow.

-......Then the weather changed all of a sudden to the worse, grandpa ....

-One can never know when the weather changes without a warning here, as the twinkle of an eye.   We live right by the huge open ocean, boy.  That you know.  The weather is not always as it is to-day, boy.  That you know, lad.

- ...... And then, grandpa, all of a sudden the storm came, and the dark rain clouds started to pile up on the sky.  You could no longer see the shore, grandpa.....

-I pulled in my line, of course, and took to the oars.  I rowed towards land, and the waves got heavier and heavier, the swamping half filled the boat.   I had to change the course if the boat was not to go down.
Oh, aye, my boy.  So it was.

-And when you did not see land and hardly knew where you were heading, grandpa, then you looked back to the stem of the boat, to see if one of the isles could be seen through the rainstorm, and then you saw the light, grandpa!

-Light, in the dark rainstorm, my boy.  I headed towards it, rowing as vigorously as I could  -- I was strong and sturdy then, my boy --  and it was as if the boat was carried on the surf of the grand waves, as if Njord himself was pushing it on.
Black Rock was there, even darker than was the night and the rain, but it showed me where to head to.  Then I saw the light on the shore.  A maid holding a lit torch.  For a brief moment the sea calmed down as I passed the skerries and got into the inlet.  There I could land and pull my boat ashore.  When I looked up again, the woman with the torch was no longer to be seen.
 

The boy and the old man are silent and saunter on.  There is always silence when this story has been told.

The sun feels warm, because the boy and the old man know that spring will come soon.  Still there is snow in the mountains.  These thick snow heaps in the mountain gullies sometimes do not thaw away at all during summertime.  Who cares.  Just if the grass on lowland grows, we call it summer.
 

-Once I saw a maid under the cliffs in our mountain, grandpa, said the boy.  -She wore a blue gown.  I thought she was sweeping the grass with a broom.  I was very small then.  Only four.  Then I said to mom:  -Look at the blue woman sweeping the grass!   -What woman?,  mom asked.  I never saw the maid again.  Mom told me that probably I had seen a fairy damsel that was gathering her hay, not with a broom but with a rake.  Do you think it was as fairy maid, grandpa?

-The fairies, oh aye, lad.  She was most likely gathering her hay with her rake.

-Grandpa.  Do you think the road is in the sea now.  Do we have ebb or flood now. Shall we go and see if the tide is in or out, grandpa?

-We can just as well saunter to the sea shore, lad.  Is there anything more important we must do right now?

The boy laughs. He knows that grandpa can not do any hard work any more.  And he knows that grandpa is not happy with that.  Grandpa has worked hard since he was a little boy.  It is not a good feeling to be too feeble to be of any help to anyone.

-The tide is coming in,  the old man continues.  -Then, after we have found out if the tide is in and the road is in the sea, we go back home to see if you mother has cooked lunch.

-Once  - that was long ago -  the old man continues,  -a huge wave almost caught the horse and the carriage.  I was on my way home from the village.  Oh, aye.  The waves, my boy.  The tide comes in fast here under the Trolls, you know, lad.  So is that.
It was just as if the horse knew that we had to be hasty.  The carriage was heavy with goods from the village, and he used all his strength to get home.  Blessed animal.  He did his very best to get us fast to the safety on this side.  He knew he could do it.  That is why he could do it.  If we find our inner strength, my boy, and know that we can do what we are doing, we can.

-Tell me, grandpa, when the trolls were alive, -  when they really were alive, eh, grandpa.  And when they were not quick enough to get back home and the sun rose before they reached their mountain cave.

-You have heard that story many a time, lad.

-Were they alive, grandpa, when you were a little boy?  Were they then real trolls?

-Of course they were alive,  grandpa said.  -But that was long ago.  That was when all men in Iceland were heathens.  Then the trolls were the good wights in the mountain caves.  They showed only love and good will towards men and nature.

-But they did not live when the sun shone on them.

-Men no longer wanted them to be their friends.  We made up some evil false tales about them.  They turned into stones, poor creatures.

-Yes, grandpa, the boy said.  They turned into stones.  They went out to Cliffs' Isle, eh, grandpa,.....

-You have heard this story over and over again, boy,  grandpa uttered as if he was not going to tell the story once more.  But of course the old man was going to tell it once more.  The boy knew he would.

-They went to Cliffs' Isle during the night, eh, grandpa,...

-Oh, aye, my lad.  It took them a long time to gather eggs and sea tangle.  Sea weed is good food, you know.  So it is, my lad.

-And then, grandpa, troll papa said to troll mamma and troll girl (the boy lowers his voice to the deepest bass tone he can reach and looks trollishly determined):  -Now we leave and get back home. Night will not last much longer.

-Right, says the old man.  -And then troll mamma said (the old man lowers his voice to the deepest bass tone he can reach and looks trollishly determined):  -Where is troll boy?  Go, girl and find boy.

-The troll boy was picking shells on the other side of the isle,  the boy says laughingly,  -and they did not have any idea about where he was.  So the troll girl went to look for her brother.

-Troll girl, the old man says,  found troll boy, and she also saw all the pretty shells on the sea shore.  She started to pick shells too and forgot to tell him what troll papa and troll mamma had said!

The boy laughs as he always finds this part of grandpa's troll story tickingly funny.

-Then,  grandpa continues,  -troll mamma had to go and look for them, both of them.
But troll papa was getting worried and shouted:  Come!  Soon there will be the break of day!  I can see the twilight on the eastern sky.  They all heard him.  They ran into the sea and ran towards land.  It is not easy to run in water.  They hurried as they possibly could.  When they reached the shore, here right in front of our farm, my boy, there was the break of day.  The trolls only had a few more steps to go, but it was too late.
The old man adds slowly and firmly: The big troll papa shouted so that it could be heard over the whole of Iceland his spell:
  If any man ever harms us
  the stones of the tall mountain
  shall fall and crush.

-And ever since, the boy says,  -the trolls have been here on our farm.  That is why the road goes into the sea and we can only use it when the tide is low.  It is our ebb-way, grandpa. Isn't it?

-Oh, aye, my lad,  says the old man.  -Only the birds have wings to fly above our Trolls, you know.

-The aeroplanes can too, grandpa.

-They are of no concern of ours,  the old man answers snappy.

-We can climb up and in between the trolls, grandpa, to get over to the other side.

-Aye,  but no man can take his horse and carriage that way, boy.  Remember, boy, that we must not harm the trolls.  It will bring bad luck.  Remember that, my lad, when you become a farmer to take over our Drangar.  Remember what troll papa said.

They saunter back home after having looked at the tide come in and cover the road and turn it into a sea bottom for a few hours.  That is how it has always been here at Trolladrangar.
 

The raven has a nest in the troll boy.  The raven has always had his nest there.  The raven flies a long way to gather food for his youngs.  He is the first bird to lay eggs  every spring.  The night frosts sometimes spoil his eggs.  We can hardly say that spring has yet come when the raven has to find something to eat for his terribly hungry youngs.

-The ravens do not make a happy sound,  the old man murmurs.  -They should, you know, on this beautiful day.  They, may-be, foresee not the continuation of this good weather.  Perhaps they foresee some rainstorm.
We think that the raven does not know further than his beak extends from his head, my lad, but that is not the whole story.

(The boy is used to the old man's way of putting things.  To "know further than one's nose extends" means that the person (the nose-owner) has intuition. The old man and the boy know that the raven is a bird of prophesy.)

The old man continues:  -Something is troubling  the raven to-day.  Uneasy he is. Awkwardly uneasy he is, the raven, to-day.  It is as if he is trying to tell us something, my boy.  He makes circles over our heads.  Some event ....  some unwanted event not yet come ....  as if .....  maybe some terrible blizzard coming to us soon ... something is troubling him.  I wonder what he might be trying to tell us.....

-Grandpa.  Tell me the story when the bad lads with the guns were going to shoot our ravens, the boy says,  -and about the little lassie, eh, grandpa.

The old man gazes up towards the sky.  His face shows his heavy thoughts, his eyebrows sink.  His eyes do not seem to be actually seeing anything in spite of their fixed gaze on something.  His sight penetrates the air as if he looks at something that is not to be seen at all.

-Grandpa,  the boy repeats.  -Tell me when the bad lads were going to shoot our ravens.  And tell me about the little lass.

-Our ravens, the old man utters, without seeming aware of that he is talking.

-Yea, grandpa ......

The old man seems to come into contact with the surroundings again, and says:
-These blasted lads.  Such callow and irresponsible chaps should not be allowed to handle weapons.
There is a little pause.  Then he continues, as he feels the impatient waiting in the boys mind:
-They thought they were going to get a fox.  Of course they did not catch a fox.
They descended from the mountain, here, right above the farmhouse.  Then they spotted the ravens that glided on their wings in a long graceful flight from the Trolls.  From the troll boy. They headed for the Lowbourgh by the brook.

As there was another pause, the boy impatiently added:
-The little lassie fed them, the ravens, and they got used to her and always arrived when they saw her approach the Lowbourgh.  They recognised her and trusted her and demanded the leftovers with which she fed them.  Right?

-En, yea,  said the old man.  During winter she got the leftovers to feed the ravens, wee lassie.  Brought the leftovers onto the Lowbourgh.  They trusted her.  Just jumped to and fro on the ground  -  as ravens do.
To begin with they only sat down after she had gone back from the Lowbourgh.  But gradually they got so used to her that they arrived as they saw her coming!  Clever little ravens.  They knew what she had in store for them:  The leftovers.

-And then the silly dudes arrived, grandpa, and saw the ravens, and then the wee lass was bringing the leftovers up to the Lowbourgh.  Right, grandpa? They saw the ravens glide on their wings in a long graceful flight from the Trolls.........

The boy was getting impatient as the old man never was in a hurry when he was telling him old tales.  But at this point in the story grandpa would get angry and talk fast and show his temperament:
-They descended from the mountain, here, right above the farmhouse, these immature dudes.  They saw the ravens glide on their wings in a long graceful flight from the Trolls.  They lifted their guns. Such callow and irresponsible chaps should not be allowed to handle weapons.  They took the aim on the ravens that sat down on the Lowbourgh.......

-...... and the wee lassie,  the boy continued exited,  -saw what the chaps were up to and shouted:  -Don't shoot!  Don't shoot!  These are our ravens!  They belong to our farm!  They did not hear her shouting and they did not see her either.  She ran towards the ravens, flapping her arms in dismay, and shouted:  Fly!  Fly, ravens!  Fly!

The old man takes over and slowly adds:  -The little lassie, that usually was quiet and calm, ran and shouted and tried all she could to scare the ravens up.  The ravens jumped one little jump to the side, jumped on the ground  -  as ravens do.  Then the shot was fired, and hit the poor wee lassie's hand.

-Then the dudes were scolded terribly much, the boy happily ended the story,  -and the doctor came and cured the little lassie's arm, and the ravens just got the leftovers as usually during winter, and always have their nest in the troll boy.  They are our ravens, grandpa.  Right?

Oh, aye, my lad.  They are our ravens.  

They saunter over the moor, the old man and the boy.  Small birds fly up when they approach.  The birds are probably laying eggs or makings nests as now is spring and nature is about to wake up in this cold country, Iceland, where winter is long and dark as the sun hardly rises above the horizon in December,  but summer is warm and bright as the midnight sun shines from north during the night in June.

They saunter, the old man and the boy, on their way back to the farmhouse.  They change the course a little, as they have ample time, and head towards the tractor.   When they come further away from the roaring ocean waves, they can hear the roaring of the tractor.  The old man and the boy just saunter as they are waiting for lunch to be ready.
 

The young farmer is about to finish ploughing the piece of land he is going to saw into.  The piece of land is a long and narrow stretch.  The planned road is what determines that specific piece of land being ploughed.  Perhaps he gets some compensation.  He has not told anyone.  Not even his wife.
He jumps down from the tractor's seat, stretches his back, quite contented with the  task he has accomplished this very morning.
He sees his father and his son as they saunter towards him.  They walk very slowly as the weather is very good and they have very ample time.

-I wonder, the young framer thinks as he sees the old man approach,  -how he will react to all this, that old-fashioned old father of mine.

When the old man and the boy get all the way to the tractor and the young farmer, the old man asks:
-What is it that you were ploughing here?

-Me?  asks the young farmer.

-Yea, you,  says the old man.

-I was ploughing a piece of the moore.

-You were ploughing a piece of the moore, eh?  I can see that,  the old man spits out.  -I can see that you were ploughing a piece of the moore, son.

-The road is planned right here,  the young farmer says.

-What road?  What blasted road?  the old man asks.

-The new road, dad.

-What blasted new road?  the old man asks.

-They need to get the trucks and loaders to get the gravel from Steep-slant Valley.  They need a road.

-We have a road,  the old man says.

-Do we?  the young farmer says, dryly.

-Aye, sure we do.

-No, dad.  We do not have a road here at Drangar.  Where on earth do you think there is to be found anything like this pathless tract in the sea as we have here at Drangar and you call a road?  We live close to the civilisation but Trolladrangar are as remote as can be because there is no road.
They plan a skiing resort for the town-people in Steep-slant Valley too.  They need a road.

It takes the old man some time to let these words penetrate and make sense.

-They are going to blow up the boy soon, dad.  The troll boy.  The road is planned to get through there.
The young farmer points towards the Trolls, the huge stone-trolladrangar.  But the old man does not look in the direction in which his son is pointing.  He looks right into his son's face.  He gazes at his son.
He is not sure if he heard what he heard  -  if he understands.

-TNT, dad.  Dynamite,  the young farmer repeats.  -They have already placed it in the troll boy, dad.  The road will be going through there.

The little boy did not realise, no better than the old man, that the road, that he did know about, was planned to be where the troll boy is.  He always thought of the road on the shore where the sea-tides reveals it and swallows it rhythmically the whole year round, year after year, century after century.  But now he realises what is about to happen and exclaims:
-Our raven has his nest in the troll boy!  And his youngs!  They must not explode the troll boy.  Troll papa will be angry.  Terribly, terribly angry!  He laid a spell.

The old man starts to shiver.  He is gradually overcome by anger:
-I,  -- I shall talk to the authorities!
His voice is harsh and shows the strain and ire.

-The authorities have already decided on all this, dad.

-This is never going to be!  the old man continues.  -I shall get the Trolls  preserved.  There must be a nature preservance  --   preservation -- something.  There must be some authorities that can do something!  There is a spell!

-Oh, dad,  the young farmer says.  -Come on.  It is all decided upon.
They are going to remove the troll boy.  It will be sooner than later.  Just one of these days.  Perhaps to-day.
Maybe they are at it right now.  The new road is almost getting here at the other side of the Trolls.  The earth mowers are right here.  The troll boy is in their way, man.  Don't you understand?  Don't you understand, man?

The ravens in the Trolls fly in the air above them.  Their fright and worries can be seen by their behaviour.  It tells the old man that some intruders are close to the troll boy where the ravens have their nest.  Oh-aye.  They have spotted some ravaging intruders, the ravens.  That is obvious.

-I have the feeling, dad,  the young farmer says,  -that they are just about to blow the troll boy.  Now, dad.

-It is never going to be!   IT  IS  NEVER  GOING  TO  BE !!!
The old man has lost self-control:   IT  IS  NEVER  GOING  TO  BE !!!
He starts to run towards the Trolls, but he can not run.  He is an old man now.  He is running but does not get anywhere.

-Dad!  the young farmer yells.  -Dad, stay!   Don't go any closer to the Trolls!  They are igniting the dynamite, man!   IT IS  DANGEROUS  TO  GO  ANY  CLOSER!

The old man now spots the men in the troll boy as they hastily go away from it.  The old man keeps running, but it does not get him anywhere.  He breaths heavily.

The little boy just stands there as doomed.
The young farmer just stands there and waits.  Watches and waits.

A roaring noise follows the explosion.  The troll boy collapses.  Stones and dust fills the air around him for a spell of time.

The old man stops.  He threatens the explosion by his twisted fist:
-Do you know what you have done?  he shouts towards the exploded troll boy.
-DO  YOU  KNOW  WHAT  YOU  HAVE  DONE?

The little boy stands there by the tractor and his father and stares at the heap that was the troll boy a minute ago.  He stares at the ravens that are scared and angry at the same time.  He stares at his grandfather that is out of his mind from rage and ire.  He stares at his father that does not show the slightest sign of emotions, calm and quiet as always.  -Dad knew it all the time, he vaguely thinks.  -Why didn't he tell us?  The boy does not utter a word, though.  He knows he would not get an answer, anyway.  The boy didn't foresee the possibility of the road going were the troll boy was.  Of course he knew that the road was going to be laid on from where is was already on the other side of the Trolls.  Only he did not think of this possibility.  In a way he accuses himself of not thinking of it .....

All of a sudden some roaring noise is heard again.  The young farmer looks up towards the mountain.  So does the old man, that now stops threatening with his twisted fist.  So do the labourers that are laying the new road.  What is going on?
The little boy looks at his father, then at his grandfather.  The noise becomes greater and clearer:  There is an avalanche and gravel-slide coming from the mountain, heading towards the earth mowers and the men that are working at the new road.
They run, each one of them, run as fast as they can away from the equipment. Run for their lives.

The old man straightens his back.  It is as if he becomes decades younger than he is.  He stands still and straight and watches the frightened labourers run away from the mountain.  He knows that the trolls are angry.  His nostrils widen, he bites on his teeth, his haggard jaws show his temperament, his eyes are on fire, and a triumphant smile lingers on his old lips.  These roars in the mountain above the new road give him great pleasure:
-I told you,  he whispers to himself out of his grinding teeth and stiff mouth.
-I told you.
 

- - o 0 o - -

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