Continued from the Last Issue
NO sooner had the trolls set eyes on the human than they crowded round, shrieking with glee.
'Let me slice his fingers into shreds,' piped up a tiny troll.
'Let me take a big bite from his rump,' yelled a fat troll maiden.
'Shall we have him mashed up in porridge or minced stew?' screamed a troll witch, brandishing a spoon.
'Wait!' came the king's roar. 'Our affairs have gone downhill of late. We could do with a rich prince to set us right. If I marry my daughter to this ugly brute he'd be sure to help us out.'
Turning to Peer, he said, 'So you wish to wed my daughter?'
'I never said so,' replied Peer. 'But since you ask I'll take her if you like - and your kingdom too as dowry.'
'I'll grant you half my kingdom now,' the Troll King said, 'the rest you'll get on the day I die. But you must past the test of the trolls. Should you fail, you won't leave here alive. First you must close your mind to the outside world the sunlit day, the starry night.'
'If I'm to be king that should make it easy,' Peer answered with a grin.
'Next you must wear a tail like one of us,' the king continued.
Peer did not take to this at all; but the king was firm.
'You can't wed my daughter with a bare backside,' he cried. 'Anyway, a tail is our mark of high esteem.'
'If I must, I must then, to be king,' Peer sighed.
When the tail was fixed, he wagged and whisked it about in style.
'Is there anything else I've got to do?'
The king waved a hand and two trolls with pigs' heads brought in food and drink.
'Our cows give cakes and our pigs give meat,' the king explained. 'You will have to get used to our homely fare.
Peer pushed the bowls away; they smelt foul and putrid.
'Remember, Prince Peer,' the Troll King warned, 'whoever takes the bowl takes my daughter too.'
Peer swallowed hard, pinched his nose and mumbled to himself, 'No doubt I'll grow accustomed to the taste in time. Well, here goes...'
He drank the pig-made mead, but spat it out at once pulling a hurried face. The troll courtiers laughed.
'Now we'll give our eyes and ears a treat, 'King Brose cried. 'Harpist: pluck softly on your harp-strings. Dancer: step lightly upon the floor.'
At this command music and dancing commenced. After while, the king asked Peer whether he enjoyed the concert; and he, unthinking, blurted out, 'What a racket! Fancy a cow in knickerbockers scraping her horns and a sow in stockings prancing round!'
The trolls all stared aghast.
'Let's lop off his ears, let's scratch out his eyes,' troll maidens cried.
The maid in green, Peer's bride-to-be, began to weep. How
can you be so cruel when I and my sister play so well?' she sobbed.
'Was that you?' he cried astonished. 'I was only teasing.' But the trolls would not forgive the insult to the royal pair.
'It's a strange thing, this human nature,' the Troll King mused. 'It sticks to a man like skin. My future son has willingly drunk our bowl of mead and fastened on a tail; I thought I'd
chased away the man in him for good. But no. I must perform one final act to cure his human ills.'
The king waved his hand once more and sharp knives were carried in at once.
'Now, my son,' the king began, "i shall cut out your eyes so that nothing will seem ugly to you.'
Peer drew back in horror, his hands held to his eyes. 'There's a limit to being king,' he muttered nervously. 'I'll wear a tail; I'll even swear a cow's a girl, and a sow's a princess, if you like. But I won't give up my eyes. You must be mad!'
'It's the king's decision, Prince Peer,' intoned an older troll. 'He is the wise one; it's you who's mad.'
'Let me out of here,' yelled Peer. 'I'm not a prince; nor am I rich. I made that up.'
The king glared at him in anger, then declared, 'Dash him to bits upon the rocks.'
At that a dozen shrill troll voices clamoured loudly, May we not torment him first, Your Majesty?'
The king nodded wearily and went to bed. Peer meanwhile rushed in panic through the hall chased by the shrieking trolls. 'Clear off, you devils,' he shouted, climbing up the chimney.
They pulled him down, biting his bottom and tearing out his hair.
'Ouch! Oh! Stop it!' shrieked Peer, trying to escape now through a trapdoor to the cellar.
'Shut all the exits,' yelled the younger imps. Their elders smiled: 'They are so enjoying themselves, the little devils,' they said.
Peer was now fighting off a tiny troll which was clinging to his ear. 'Let go, you maggot,' he shouted out.
And off he rushed again, a host of ugly trolls in fierce pursuit. Suddenly, he fell full-length and the trolls pounced on him in a heap, pinning him to the ground.
'We've got him now,' they screamed in triumph.
'Skin him alive!'
Above the hubbub came the feeble cries of poor Peer Gynt, buried beneath a pile of trolls. 'Mother, help, help they're killing me...'
All of a sudden, there came the distant tolling of church bells. As if by magic, the imps released their victim and amid wild shrieks, they all fled in uproar from the hall.
Peer could scarcely believe that he was still alive. Whoever could have rung the bell and saved me?' he wondered, limping out into the cool night air.
He stumbled over clump and tussock, pitching and rolling down the hills, until he came in the dead of night to the parish church at Heggstad. And there, to his amazement, he discovered Solveig, ringing the church bell with all her might.
'I heard there were trolls in the mountains and I feared for you,' she shyly said. 'But you must not linger here, for the whole village is chasing you.’
To Be Continued
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