The Alfqueen

A farmer lived on a farm up between the mountains, but nowhere is it mentioned what he or the farm was called. The farmer was unmarried, but had a caretaker whose name was Hildur, whose sex was unknown. She presided over the inner household and was quick in all things. She was popular with the servants of the court and with the farmer as well, but there was never any sign that the relationship between them exceeded the bounds of propriety. But she was also a settled woman, quite withdrawn, but friendly in traffic.

The farmer’s domestic circumstances were very good, except that he found it difficult to find a shepherd; but he was a rich sheep farmer and believed that his house would lose its foundation if the shepherd was absent. This was due neither to the farmer being harsh to his shepherds nor to the fact that the caretaker neglected what belonged to her territory. Rather, the reason they could not agree was that the shepherds never grew old in the service and were always found dead in their beds on Christmas Day.

In those days it was the custom all over the country to worship on Christmas Eve, and it was considered just as solemn to go to church then,[25] as on the first holiday itself. But on mountain farms far from the church it was no small matter for those who, because of their circumstances, could not get ready to leave the house until the star was between morning and noon to come to church, and it was customary for this farmer’s shepherds not to come home early. Certainly they did not have to look after the court, as was the custom for one or the other to do it on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, while the other people of the court were in church; for ever since Hildur had come to the farmer’s she had always offered to do it herself, while at the same time taking care of what had to be arranged for the festival: cooking food and other things that went with it, and she was always up late into the night , so that the church-goers would sometimes come back, go to bed, and be asleep before she went to bed. When it had been going on for a while that the farmer’s shepherds all suddenly died on Christmas Eve, people began to talk about it in the villages, and it was therefore very difficult for the farmer to hire someone for this work, and the more died, the harder it got. Neither he nor his servants were suspected of being responsible for the shepherds’ deaths, since they had all died without a wound being visible on them. Finally the farmer said that he could no longer bring himself to hire shepherds who that the farmer’s shepherds had all died suddenly on Christmas Eve, people began to talk about it in the villages, and it was therefore very difficult for the farmer to hire someone for this work, and the more died, the more difficult it became . Neither he nor his servants were suspected of being responsible for the shepherds’ deaths, since they had all died without a wound being visible on them. Finally the farmer said that he could no longer bring himself to hire shepherds who that the farmer’s shepherds had all died suddenly on Christmas Eve, people began to talk about it in the villages, and it was therefore very difficult for the farmer to hire someone for this work, and the more died, the more difficult it became . Neither he nor his servants were suspected of being responsible for the shepherds’ deaths, since they had all died without a wound being visible on them. Finally the farmer said that he could no longer bring himself to hire shepherds who that they were responsible for the deaths of the shepherds, since they all died without a wound to be seen on them. Finally the farmer said that he could no longer bring himself to hire shepherds who that they were responsible for the deaths of the shepherds, since they all died without a wound to be seen on them. Finally the farmer said that he could no longer bring himself to hire shepherds who[26] expected certain death, and that fate might now decide what would happen to his livestock and prosperity.

When the farmer had decided to do this and was determined not to hire anyone for this purpose, a quick and strong man came and offered him his service. The farmer said: “I don’t need your service so much that I have to take you on.” The stranger asked: “Have you hired a shepherd for next winter?” The farmer replied: “No” and said that he had made up his mind “I have heard of it,” said the stranger, “but their fate should not frighten me.” Da gave the farmer, because the other asked him so urgently, took him into his service as a shepherd. Now a time passed; the farmer and the herdsman were very happy with each other, and everyone welcomed him,

Nothing happened until Christmas came; then it went as usual: the farmer went to church with his people on Christmas Eve, only his caretaker stayed behind in the house, and the herdsman stayed with the cattle; so the farmer moved away and left the two alone. It was getting dark before the shepherd came home as usual; he ate his porridge and then went to[27] Quiet. It occurred to him that perhaps it would be safer for him to stay awake than to sleep in case something happened, although he was not afraid, and so he lay awake. When most of the night had passed he heard the churchgoers coming; they got a bite to eat and then went to bed. He didn’t notice anything yet, but when he thought everyone had fallen asleep, he felt his strength beginning to wane, which wasn’t particularly remarkable, as tired as he was after the day’s toil.

He thought it would be bad for him if sleep overcame him now, and he used all his willpower to keep himself awake. It wasn’t long before he heard someone come up to his bed, and he thought he saw that it was Hildur, the caretaker, who was doing her thing there. He pretended to be fast asleep and realized she was putting something in his mouth. That was, he felt, a bridle for the Witch Ride, and he let himself be bridled. When she had put the bridle on him, she fastened the reins as was most convenient to her, sat on his back, and rode on at breakneck speed until, as it seemed to him, she came to a ditch or crevasse in the earth. Then she jumped down from him, onto a stone, and let the reins hang, whereupon she disappeared into the gap before his eyes.[28] that he knew what had become of her; But he noticed that he couldn’t get very far with the bridle on, there was so much magic in it. He therefore resorted to rubbing his head against the said stone until he had rubbed off his bridle, and then left it. Then he threw himself into the crevasse she had jumped into before him.

It seemed to him that he hadn’t got far down the cleft when he saw Hildur again; she had arrived at some beautiful meadows, over which she had soon covered her way. After all this he could well understand that things were not right with Hildur, and that she surely had more tricks under her fur than one could see when she was among the people on earth. He could also understand that she would soon see him if he followed her across the meadow. He therefore took out of his pocket a stone that made him invisible and hid it in his left hand, then ran after her and hastened as much as he could. As he got further into the meadow, he saw a large and magnificent hall, and Hildur followed the path that led to it. He saw a great crowd of people coming towards her from the hall; first, at the head, went a man who was most splendidly dressed of all, and it seemed to the shepherd that he greeted his wife when Hildur came, and welcomed her; but the others who were in the chief’s retinue greeted them cheerfully[29] as their queen. Two half-grown children came towards Hildur with the chief, and they greeted their mother with great joy. When the whole multitude had paid their homage to the queen, they all escorted her and the king to the hall, and there they gave her an honorable reception, clothed her in royal robes, and set gold rings on her arm. The shepherd followed the crowd down the hall, all the while staying where there were least people, though in such a way that he could see everything that was going on. In the hall he saw so much pomp and splendor that he had never seen anything like it. Tables were brought out and set, and he marveled at all the glory. After a while he saw Hildur entering the hall, dressed in the splendid robe of which was spoken before. Everyone was assigned their place; Queen Hildur took the honorary seat next to the king; but the whole entourage seated themselves on either side, and the meal now lasted a while. Then the tables were again cleared, after which the men and the maidens, as many pleased, began to dance, while others chose amusements more to their liking; but the king and queen sat and talked together, and their conversation seemed to the shepherd mixed with both joy and sorrow. while others chose pleasures more to their liking; but the king and queen sat and talked together, and their conversation seemed to the shepherd mixed with both joy and sorrow. while others chose pleasures more to their liking; but the king and queen sat and talked together, and their conversation seemed to the shepherd mixed with both joy and sorrow.

During the king’s conversation with the queen, three children younger than the aforesaid came[30] walked in on them and also expressed their joy at seeing their mother again. Queen Hildur lovingly returned her greeting, took the youngest child on her lap and stroked it, but it was in a bad mood and restless. The Queen then lowered the child, slipped a ring off her finger, and gave it to him to play with. Then the child became quiet and played with the gold for a while, but eventually lost the ring on the ground. The shepherd stood nearby, hastened, and caught the ring as it fell to the ground, tucked it in his pocket and hid it well without anyone noticing; but it seemed strange to all that the ring was nowhere to be found when they looked for it. When the night was mostly over, Queen Hildur began preparing to leave, but all who were in the hall begged her

The shepherd had observed that at one point in the hall sat an ancient woman who was horrible to behold; she was the only one of all who had neither rejoiced at Queen Hildur’s arrival, nor begged her to stay when she was about to leave. When the king saw Hildur’s wanderlust and that she would not be persuaded to stay, either by his pleas or by others’ pleas, he went to the woman and said: “Now take back your curses, mother, and hear my pleas, so that my queen no longer needs to be far from me and my joy about[31] Our meetings are as brief as they have been.’ The old woman answered him in anger, ‘All my curses shall stand, and nothing shall soften me to revoke them.’ The king said nothing, and went away in sorrow to his queen, put his arm around her neck and kissed her, and begged her again in gentle words not to go away. The queen said that his mother’s curses forbade her to act otherwise; she said there was little likelihood that they would see each other more often, because of the fate that was in store for them, and that the killings that had happened because of them, of which there had now been so many, were no longer hidden could stay, and that she would therefore have to suffer the well-deserved punishment for her deeds,

While she was breaking out in these laments, the shepherd, seeing how things stood, withdrew from the hall; he went straight across the meadow to the crevasse and back up onto the path. Then he hid the magic stone, put the reins on himself again and waited for Hildur to come. After a short time Queen Hildur came alone and sad-faced; she sat on his back and rode home. When they got there, she put him back in his bed, unbuckled him, then went to bed herself and began to sleep. Although the shepherd had been wide awake the whole time, he turned himself in[32] sleeping so that Hildur shouldn’t notice anything. But when she had gone to bed he no longer cared to be careful; he fell into a deep sleep and, as might be expected, slept well into the day.

Next morning the farmer got out of bed first of everyone in the yard; for he was anxious to see his shepherd, but instead of the joy of Christmas he expected the sorrow of finding him dead in his bed, as had happened before. While the peasant was getting dressed, the rest of the people in the yard woke up and got dressed too, but the peasant went to the shepherd’s bed and touched him with his hand. Then he found that he was alive, and was glad of it, and praised God in high tones for this mercy. Then the shepherd awoke fresh and lively and got dressed. Meanwhile, the farmer asked him if anything new had happened during the night. The shepherd replied, “No, but I had a very strange dream.”

“What was the dream like?” asked the farmer. Then the shepherd began his account from the moment we have related, when Hildur came to his bedside and put the horse in his harness, and then he repeated every word and event as accurately as he could remember. When he had finished telling the story, everyone sat in silence except Hildur, who said, ‘Everything you said is a lie unless you tell it by clear signs[33] can prove that it happened the way you tell it.” The shepherd didn’t allow himself to be embarrassed by this, but took out the ring that he had picked up from the ground in the Alfheim that night and said: “Even if I didn’t do it for consider it my duty to prove a dream legend with signs, it is so fortunate that I have clear evidence that I was with the Huldren that night; or isn’t that your ring, Queen Hildur?’ Hildur answered, ‘It is so, and God bless you for freeing me from the slavery my mother-in-law imposed on me; I was loath to commit all the misdeeds she commanded me.’ Queen Hildur then began her story thus:

‘I was a humble maiden of low sex, but he who is now king of the Alfheim fell in love with me, and though it was much against his mother’s will, took me to wife. My mother-in-law got so angry that she promised her son that he should only enjoy me for a short time, but we would be allowed to see each other from time to time. But she enjoined on me that I should become a slave among men, and with this the misfortune was connected, that every Christmas I should cause the death of a man, in such a way that while he slept I would put the harness on him, and on him the same way should ride, whom I rode on the shepherd that night[34] am to visit the king; and this was to last until I should be convicted of this wickedness, and killed for it, unless I could find a man so bold and bold as to dare to follow me to Alfheim, and then prove that he had come there and seen what with the people employed there. Now it is clear that all the farmer’s previous shepherds have died for my sake since I came here, and I hope that I shall not be held accountable for what was done against my free will; for no one has found the subterranean way and entered the dwelling place of the Benevolent out of curiosity before this brave man who has now redeemed me from my slavery and from my curse, and I will reward him for it, though not right away.

Having thus spoken, Queen Hildur disappeared, and afterwards she was never seen among men again.

But it is said of the shepherd that he married and set up a household the following spring. He could, too, for first of all the peasant showed himself generous to him when he retired from his service, and secondly he was not without wealth himself. He became very familiar with his area[35] great benefit, and always turned to him for advice and help; but he was so popular and so happy that people could not really understand how it was done and thought that every animal with him had two heads.

But he said he had Queen Hildur to thank for all his wealth.

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