The Great Game: East of Moon, West of Sun

Once upon a time there was a King, and the King had three sons. One day he called them all three to his throne room, and said “My sons, I grow old. We must settle the question of who is to succeed me; and for this purpose I will set you a task. To the east lies the land of a thousand lakes, whose king sends me each year a gift of lumber. Now you will each travel to that land, and ask the King there to give over his crown to me; and whoever succeeds in this task shall be King after me. And because Håkon is the eldest, he shall have the first attempt.”

So Håkon set out east, and walked both long and well. When he came to the King’s-garth he entered boldly, and asked to see the King. Then when Håkon came before the King, he said, “Is it not a pity that such a great man as yourself should rule such a poor kingdom? I have rich gifts for you : I have silk and gold, jewels and myrrh, incense and ivory; all these things can be yours, if only you will give me your crown, and you can live in luxury for the rest of your days.” But the King answered “Better to be poor in one’s own house, than rich from the charity of foreigners; and as for my crown, it was given me by my father, and I will not sell it for a stranger’s gift.” And he had Håkon whipped to the border of the kingdom, and salt strewn on his back.

So the second son Harald now set out; but he did not go east. Instead he went south, and he walked both long and well; and at last he came to the garth of the King of the Hungarians. There he spoke thus to the King : “All men know how many soldiers you have. I have heard that if they stood shield to shield, a man could not walk the length of their line from sunup to sunset; is this true?” “Yes,” replied the King of the Hungarians, “that is true. But why do you come asking of the size of my armies?” Then Harald said, “Why, only because I wish to help you. Is it not expensive to feed so many men?” “Indeed that is true,” said the Hungarian king, “my army are so many, that each year they eat all the calves that are born in the land, and half the grain, and all the pigs; and still they complain that they are hungry. And they have drunk three streams dry this year, and I am at my wits’ end, for I don’t know where I shall get more water for them.”

“Well then”, said Harald, “I know just the thing! Far to the north lies the land of a thousand lakes; and the king there has a magic horn, which is always filled with meat and apples and good things to eat. If you had that horn, your soldiers would never be hungry again. So here is what I propose : I will show you the way north, and we will take the Finn-king’s land from him; you can have the horn, and I will have his crown.” And this was very fair, so the Hungarian King agreed.

Now Harald led the Hungarian army north, and they walked both long and well; and so they came at last to the Finn-land. Then Harald went ahead to talk to the Finn-king; and he said “There is a vast host at the border of your kingdom. They are far too many for you to fight; but I know a way to make them go, if you will only agree to give me your crown in exchange.” But the King said, “I think perhaps you know somewhat more of this army than you tell.” And he had Harald put in chains, and himself went to speak with the Hungarian King; but because he was a careful King, he took his army with him, and they were all mounted on great bears – some brown, some black, and the largest all white and very terrible to look at. Then when the Hungarian King saw this, he said to himself “It seems our foes come man-strong to meet us; perhaps I had best speak to them and learn what has happened to Harald.” So it happened that the two kings spoke together, and they reasoned out what trick Harald had meant to play on them. Therefore they agreed that there should instead be peace between them, and the Finn-king would each year send a thousand reindeer south to feed the Hungarian army, and in exchange the Finns should receive a hundredweight of costly spices. And when all this was agreed to, Harald was stripped naked, and whipped to the border of the kingdom; and then he had salt rubbed in the wounds and his ears sliced off.

So now the youngest Kings-son, Espen, was to try his hand; but the old King did not want to see him, too, whipped to the border of the kingdom, so he held him back at first. But Espen pleaded so piteously to be allowed to go, from morning till night, that at last on the third day the King agreed. So Espen set off, and he walked east both long and well. And when he came to Finn-land, he smeared ashes in his blond hair, and on his face, so the King would not see that he looked like his brothers. Then when he came to the king’s-garth, he did not ask to see the King, but instead he went to the kitchens and asked for a place there. And this he got; but because his face was so dark with ashes, and because his job was to turn the meat over the fire, so all the smoke went in his face and made it darker still, they called him the Soot-boy.

Now the Finn-king had one daughter, and she was as pretty as the day is long. One day she saw the Soot-boy sitting close to the fire, turning the meat; and she felt sorry for him and went to ask if there was anything she could do to help. “Well,” said the Soot-boy, “many times at night the kitchen help tells old stories. But I am not so clever at that, so it is always bedtime before my story is finished. If you would sit and listen, I could practice my stories and learn to tell them faster; and then they wouldn’t laugh at me.” And this was quite agreeable, so the princess sat and listened. And this is the story he told her.

Once upon a time there was a King; and the King had three daughters. And as well might be, the two eldest were ugly and evil; but the third was as pure and clean as the light of day, and all loved her. Now, once she dreamed of a golden circlet, which was so lovely that she could not live without it. But as she could not have it, she became so sad she could not speak for sorrow. When the king heard that it was the circlet she grieved for, he sent word to all the goldsmiths in the land, that they should make her such a circlet as she had dreamt of. But some of their efforts she threw in the fire, and the rest she would not even look at. But now once when she was out in the forest crying, she saw a great white bear, which had that circlet she had dreamt of, and played with it. So at once she wanted to buy it.

Well, the circlet was not to be had for money, but only if the bear could have she herself. Well, it was not worth living without it, and she cared not where she went or who she married if only she could have the circlet, so they agreed that he should fetch her in three days, which was the Thursday.

So when she got home, everybody was glad that she was happy again, and the king said that it could not be so much of a much, to stop a white bear. So the third day the whole army went out to meet it. But there was none could stand against the white bear, for neither steel or silver would bite him; he beat them down to all sides, so they lay in heaps. And this the king could not abide, so he sent out his eldest daughter, and the white bear took her on his back and ran away with her. So when they had gone far, and further than far, the bear said, “Have you seen further? Have you sat softer?” “Aye,” said the girl, “at my father’s garth I saw farther, my mother’s lap was softer.” “Then you are not the one,” said the bear, and chased her back home.

So the next Thursday he came back, and it went likewise. The army was out to meet him, but neither iron nor bronze would bite him, and he beat them down like grass. So the king had to ask him to stop, and sent out his second daughter, and the bear put her on his back and rushed off with her. And when they had gone far, and further than far, the bear said, “Have you seen further? Have you sat softer?” “Aye,” said the girl, “my mother’s lap was softer, at my father’s garth I saw farther.” “Then you are not the one,” said the bear, and chased her back home.

The third Thursday he came again, and fought even better than the other times; so the king thought he could not let him kill the whole army, and sent out his youngest daughter. So the bear took her on his back and set out for the woods; and when they had gone far, and further than far, he asked her as he had the others : “Have you seen further? Have you sat softer?” And the princess replied, “Nay, never sat I softer, never saw I further!” “Well then, you are the one,” said the bear.

Now here the Soot-boy ceased in his tale; and the Finn-princess said, “And what happened then?” “Well,” said the Soot-boy, “you can learn that for the price of a kiss.” And the princess thought that he might be dirty, but a kiss was not so much, so this was well worth while. And so the Soot-boy continued his story.

Now they came to a palace, and it was so fine, that her father’s looked like the poorest tenant-farmer’s home. There she was to be and live well, and have nothing to do except watch that the fire did not go out. The bear was gone during the day; but at night in the dark he was with her, and then he had the shape of a man. So all went well for three years; but each year, she bore a child, and the bear took away the child, as soon as it saw the world. So she became more and more sad, and asked if she could visit her parents. Well, there was nothing against that, but she must promise that she should follow her father’s advice, and not do as her mother said. So she came home, and when they were alone, she told how it was with her. And her mother wanted to give her a light, so she might see what her man looked like. But her father said, “No, you should not do this; it is for woe and not for weal.”

But however it was with that, when she went back she had a candle in her pocket. The first thing she did when he had fallen asleep, was to light the candle and look at him; and he was so lovely that she thought she could never look enough. But as she was lighting, a drop of wax fell to his brow, and he woke. “What have you done?” he said. Now you have made us both unhappy; there was not more than a month left, and had you only bided that, I had been saved. For it is a witch who has spellbound me, so I am a white bear in the day. But now it is done with us, for I must go to her and have her to wife.”

Here again the Soot-boy stopped his tale, and would not go on until the princess had given him a kiss, and her slip. So the princess said to herself, “Kisses are cheap, and slips I have many of; it is not so bad a bargain.” So he got his wish, and went on telling his tale.

The princess wept and pled piteously; but he was bound to go and meant to go. So she asked if she could not go with him. That could not be done, he said, but when he went away in his bear-shape, she took a grip on his tail and held on. So they went away over log and stone, over mountain and hill, through forest and marsh, until the clothes were ripped from her back; and she was so deathly tired that she lost her grip and knew nothing more. When she woke, she was in a great forest, so she set out again; but she knew not where the journey went. After long and long she came to a hut, and in the hut were two womenfolk, an old wife and a beautiful girl-child. The princess asked if they had seen anything of the White-bear, King Valemon. “Were you his intended, perhaps?” they asked. Well, so she was. “Yes, he was here this morning, but he went so fast, you’ll never catch him up.”

The little girl was running about playing with a pair of golden scissors, which were so well made that she had only to snip in the air with them, and silk and velvet would fly about her. Where they were, there was never a shortage of clothes. “But this good woman who has so far to go on such an evil road, she has a hard lot,” said the girl; “she could use the scissors, she more than I, to cut herself clothes.” And she asked if she could not give her scissors to the princess. And this was allowed.

So the king’s-daughter travelled on through the forest, which there was never an end to, both day and night; and next morning she came to another hut. And this one also had two womenfolk, an old wife and a young girl. “Good day,” said the princess, “have you seen the White-bear, King Valemon?” “Were you perhaps his intended?” asked the old wife. Well, so she was. “Yes, he was here yesterday; but he went so fast you’ll never catch him up.”

The little girl was sitting on the floor playing with a bottle, which was so made that it would pour anything you wanted, and where it was, there was always to drink. “But this good woman who has so far to go on such an evil road, she might be plagued by thirst and suffer much else that is evil,” said the girl; “she could use the bottle, she more than I.” And she asked if she could not give her bottle to the princess. And this was allowed.

So the princess got the bottle, and thanked the girl kindly and went again though the same forest, day and night both. So the third morning she came to another hut, and there also there was an old wife and a girl. “Good day,” said the princess. “Good day again,” said the wife. “Have you seen the White-bear, King Valemon?” asked the princess. “Were you maybe his intended?” replied the wife. Well, so she was. “Yes, he was here two days ago; but he went so fast, you’ll never catch him up.”

The girl was playing on the floor with a cloth that was so made, that if you said to it “Cloth, spread yourself and dish out all good food!” it would do so, and where it was, there was never a lack of fine meats. “But this good woman who has so far to go on such an evil road, she might be both hungry and suffer much else that is evil,” said the girl; “she could use the cloth, she more than I.” And she asked if she could not give her cloth to the princess. And this was allowed.

So the king’s-daughter took the cloth, and thanked the girl kindly; and went out both far and further than far, through the same dark forest, the whole day and the night through. And in the morning she came to a cliff, steep as a wall, and so high and wide that she could see no end to it. Here too there was a hut, and when she entered, she said right away : “Good day; have you seen the White-bear, King Valemon, come this way?” “Good day again,” said the wife, “perhaps you were his intended?” Well, so she was. “Yes, he went up the cliff three days ago; but nothing land-bound can follow that way.”

Now once again Espen Soot-boy stopped his tale, and this time nothing would do to continue but that the Finn-king’s daughter should give him her dress. Now she thought this was a hard thing, that he should see her naked; but he held to his, and she was so eager to hear how the White-bear’s wife should manage that at last she gave in, and gave him another kiss with the deal, for encouragement. So he went on :

Now this hut was full of little children, and every last one hung in their mother’s skirts and cried for bread. The goodwife had a pot full of round stones on the fire, and the princess asked what this was good for. They were so poor, said the wife, that they had neither food nor clothes, and it hurt to hear the children cry for bread; but when she put the pot on the fire and said : “The apples will soon be cooked”, then the hunger was abated, and they could live a while longer. Now you may know that the while was not long before the princess got out her bottle and her cloth, and when the children were fed and happy, she cut them clothes with her golden shears.

“Well,” said the goodwife, “since you have been so kind to me and mine, it was a shame if I did not do what I could, to help you. My husband is a master smith. Now sit you here until he comes home, and I will ask him to forge you claws for hands and feet, so you can crawl up the wall.”

When the smith came home, he started on the claws right away, and the second morning they were done. The princess had not time to sit, but thanked her hosts, and made herself fast and crawled and climbed all day, and all night. And when she was so tired, so tired that she thought she could not lift another hand, but wanted to let go and fall, that was when she reached the top. It was a plain, with fields and pastures so large and wide that she had never imagined anything so far and even; and close by was a castle, filled with workers of all trades, all busy as ants in a hill.

“Now what is going on here,” asked the princess. Well, this was the place where the witch lived who had enchanted the White-Bear King Valemon, and in three days they would be wed. So the princess asked if she might speak with the witch. No, what would you, that was impossible. So she sat below a window, and took to snipping her golden shears, so silk and velvet flew about her like snow. As soon as the troll-woman saw this, she wanted to buy the shears; “for all my tailors sew, it’s no good,” she said, “there are too many to be clothed.”

For money it could not be had, said the princess; but she might have it, if she could but sleep a night with her beloved. Well, that was all right, but the troll-woman would herself sleep him and wake him. So she made him a sleeping draught, and he never woke all the night, however much the princess wept and shouted.

So the next day the king’s-daughter again went outside the window, and sat down to pour from her flask; and a river of beer and wine poured forth. When the witch saw this, nothing would do but that she would buy it, for “all they strive to brew and burn, it’s no good; there are too many who want their drink.” Well, it wasn’t for sale for money, but a night with her beloved, that was the price. Yes, that was fine, said the witch; but she herself would sleep him and wake him. So she gave him another draught, and it was no better this night, than before; he wasn’t to be woken, whatever the weeping and shouts. But this night one of the workers was in the room beside, and he heard the weeping. He understood how it was with the princess, and the next day he said to the white bear that she had come, the king’s-daughter who was to free him.

One more time the Soot-boy ceased his tale, and for all the princess wept and pleaded, nothing would make him continue except that she should sleep with him. So at last she agreed; “but first,” she said, “you must take a bath, for I don’t want the others to see that I’ve given the Soot-boy my favours.” Well, that was well wnough; but when he had bathed the soot away, she saw that his hair shone like gold and that his face was kingly-handsome; and she thought she had not made such a bad bargain of it at all.

That day it went with the cloth as it had with the shears and the bottle; around dinnertime, the princess went outside the castle, and said “Cloth, spread yourself, and dish out all good foods!” So dinner was served, enough for a hundred men, but the princess sat to eat alone. When the witch saw this, nothing would do but that she should buy the cloth; for “all that they cook and fry, it’s no good, there are too many mouths to feed.” Well, no money could buy such a cloth, but a night with the white bear, that was the price. That was a reasonable price, said the troll-woman; but she herself would sleep him and wake him. Again she gave the bear a draught; but now he watched for it and did not swallow it. The witch did not trust him more than a finger’s breadth; she took a pin and stuck it through his arm, to see if he slept well enough. But whatever the pain he did not move a muscle. So the princess was allowed in to him.

Now all was good and well, and if only they could be rid of the witch, he would be freed. So he told the carpenters to make a trapdoor in the bridge the bridal train would pass over; for they had the custom there, that the bride rode first. When she came onto the bridge, the trapdoor swiveled, and down they went, both the troll-woman and all the witches who were her bridesmaids. But the White-bear, King Valemon, and the princess, and all the guests, went back to the castle, and took what they could carry of the witch’s gold and money, and went back to his country to hold the true wedding. But on the way Valemon fetched the three little girls along, and now the princess saw why he had taken them away : It was so that they could help her on her way to him. So they drank the wedding both stiff and strong; and if they aren’t all dead, why, they must still be living.

Here the Soot-boy’s tale ended, and he took his price from the princess; and that did not displease her too much, as you must understand. So he went to the Finn-king, and told him what had occurred, and asked for his daughter’s hand. At first the King was angry that anyone should have taken his daughter’s favour, and would have whipped Espen to the border of his land. But she wept for him, and pleaded; and he was a tall and handsome lad after all, and so at last the King agreed. So they held a wedding on the seventh day, and the King gave Espen half the country for a dowry, and the promise of the rest when the King should die. And snip, snap, snail, here ends the tale.


Whew! White-Bear-King-Valemon is rather longer to translate than it looks at first glance. Still, I needed a story where the teller could stop at several points – after all, one could hardly expect a princess to lie down in the straw on the first asking. It makes one hell of a writing just for diplo-annexing Finland, though; but as that was basically all that happened this session, well, I thought I might make a story from it. The bit with the Hungarians was inspired by the real events, as follows. The Finns have owned, by some weird CK inheritance, Azerbaijan for a while. Thus they’ve been at war with various small nations in that area off and on during the game. And since neither party has been able to get at the other, the Finns had quite an army by the time I’d bribed them up to 200 relations. They turned me down flat, several times in fact.

So when Ear asked me if I would sell Azerbaijan, I was quite willing, provided he smacked the Finns around a bit for me. A mil-access later, Hungarian troops were marching into Finland by way of Bohemia, Skagerrak, and Sweden. As it turned out, it was the winter and the splendid Finnish troops that did the smacking around; but after the third wave of reinforcements, Ear was able to get Azerbaijan, for which he paid me 150 gold. So we were both happy, because the Finns were now far enough down that they accepted my next annexation offer.

Norway after the annexation of Finland :
Baltic 1466
Come to think of it, there was a quick war with the Livonian Order at some point, too. Well, really, when a former vassal is dumb enough to send you a diplomatic insult, they deserve what they get.


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