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The ash lad

Once there was a boy. It was long ago in cold cold Norway. They called him the ‘ash lad’. He had two older brothers. Each was very good at one thing or another and always helpful tending the farm that they lived on. But they considered the ‘ash lad’ to be good for only one thing; tending the fire. Of course this was very important with the cold winters in a time when there were no matches or electricity. But it was all they trusted him with. The boy spent all his time gazing into the coals dreaming.

At the same time there was a king. He had a daughter who thought a lot of herself who always had to have the last word. This trait of the princess so infuriated the king that one day he issued a proclamation.
“Anyone who can have the last word with the Princess can have half my kingdom and the Princess in marriage. The news of this contest went even beyond the boundaries of the kingdom. Princes from many lands arrived at the castle. One by one they tried and failed. The king was at his wits end and tired of having so many guests who had to be fed and housed, he added this condition.
“Anyone who tries and fails to have the last word with my daughter will have his ears burned off with a branding iron. Well, you can imagine, there were not many suitors after that.

Meanwhile, not very far from the castle, the ash lad’s brothers decided one day, talking at the dinner table, that they might try to win half the kingdom and the Princess in marriage. They were smart boys, and why not give it a try?
“Oh, let me try too.” Begged the ash lad.
The older brothers didn’t think he had the wits about him to best the arrogant princess, but Father insisted that he had a right to try at any rate. And the next day, Mother packed some bread and cheese in each of their knapsacks and with tears in her eyes bid goodbye to her three sons.

Not long after they started on the road to the castle the ash lad found a dead magpie.
“Look what I have found.” He said to his brothers. One asked,
“What are you going to do with that?”
“Oh, leave it.” Said the other brother.
“Well, I have all this room in my pack and nothing better to do, and nothing better to carry.” And he stuffed the dead bird into his sack.
A little further along he found a hoop made of a willow hank.
“Pooh! What are you going to do with that? Drop it.” They said.
“If I am to win the princess and half the kingdom, I may need this.”
Then he found a bit of a broken saucer. This he also picked up.
“Boys, now look at what I have found.” He chimed happily.
“And what is it that you have found?” Asked one.
“It’s a bit of a broken saucer.” Answered the ash lad proudly.
“Awww, leave it. That is not something to take along.”
“Well, I still have a lot of room in this knapsack and I have nothing better to carry.” And he tossed it in.
Then he found a wooden wedge.
“Oh no, not again… “ Whined the brothers. “We don’t know you.”
“I don’t care what you say, I might find a use for this wedge.” Into the sack it went.
Then what should he find but a lovely twisted rams horn. And a little further on, he found its mate. The older brothers were tired of objecting and continued on their way.
When the ash lad picked up an old boot stuck in a cow pod, the brothers ignored him and walked a few paces ahead.

Finally, they got to the castle and the oldest brother went in to the Princess’s chamber first. He greeted the Princess jovially.
“Nice day, princess.”
She was sitting by the fire and in a very bad mood.
“What’s so nice about it? It’s bound to rain, and then when you are finished with your impossible task here, you are bound to get soaked on the way home.”
The boy loosened his collar.
“Hot in here, isn’t it? He said nervously.
“Oh yeah, you think this is hot? It’s a lot hotter over there in the fire where the branding iron is that’s going to burn your ears off.! She shrieked angrily.
The poor boy was at a loss for words and the guard burned his ears off.

The second brother entered the chamber.
“Hello Princess. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet me? Nice to meet me? I don’t think you will think so later.”
“Isn’t it a little hot in here”, said the lad, adjusting his collar. She sat up straight and pointed to the fire,
“Not as hot as it is in the fire there where the branding iron sits that is going to burn your ears off.”, and she chuckled evilly.
The poor boy was struck dumb and the guard came out and burned his ears off and two guards dragged him off.
The ash lad walked in.
“Good morning, Princess. He said with a smile.
“Oh no, not another one. It isn’t a good morning. How would you know anyway? If only you would…. Oh fie on you. Good day? In a pigs eye! See that branding iron over there in the fire? That brand…
He cut her off with,
“Oh, you have a fire? You don’t mind if I roast my magpie do you?”, and he walked over to the fire.
“I’m afraid she’ll burst.” Said the king’s daughter.
“Oh, that will be no trouble! I’ll put this willow hank around it.” Replied the boy.
“It’s too wide! She said.
“I’ll drive in this wedge.”
“The fat will run off her! Screamed the exasperated Princess.
“I’ll catch it in this”, replied the boy and held up the broken saucer.
“You’re twisting my words! Said she.
“No, your words are not twisted, but this is, he replied, and took out one of the ram’s horns.
“Well, I never saw the like of it!! Shouted the Princess.
“Here’s the like of it!”, said the boy, laughing, and took out the other one.
“You’re bent on wearing me out, aren’t you? She said.
“No, you’re not worn out, but this is.” Replied the boy, and pulled out the old boot with the cow pod stuck to it.
The Princess opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She was beaten.
The King came out from hiding where he had watched the whole show. He exclaimed,
“You’ve done it. My dear boy, you may have half the kingdom and my daughter in marriage.”
“Why thanks for that your Highness. I will gladly take half your kingdom. But as for your daughter, you go ahead and keep her.” And with a neat bow to the king and a glance at the exhausted Princess he whistled a tune and left the chamber.
While the ash lad was binding the wounds of his brothers, the documents of property ownership, castles and villages and seaports were tendered to the boy by the grateful king himself.