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Lars, My Lad!
A Tale of Sweden

Told by Aaron Shepard

Printed in Australia’s School Magazine, March and April 2000


For more treats and resources, visit Aaron Shepard at
www.aaronshep.com

Copyright © 1997, 2000 by Aaron Shepard. May not be published or posted without permission.

PREVIEW: A penniless duke finds a magic charm that controls an invisible helper.

GENRE: Folktales
CULTURE: Swedish
THEME: Wealth vs. friendship
AGES: 7 and up
LENGTH: 2700 words

There was once a young duke who was down on his luck. He’d started with a good deal of money and a great many friends, but when his money ran out, his friends did too.

And so he found himself one night, ragged, cold, and starved, wandering through a lonely forest. He had nearly given up finding shelter for the night, when he came upon a deserted, ramshackle hut.

“It’s better than sleeping on the ground,” he said.

The duke went in, and there found nothing but a large chest, standing in the middle of the hut. Hoping it held some scraps of food, he unlatched it and lifted the lid.

Inside was another chest. He heaved out that one and opened it also, but found only another chest within. This too he pulled out and opened, but found still another chest inside it.

“Whatever’s in here must be of great value, to be tucked away so well,” he said, and he kept on taking out and opening chests, until the floor was quite covered by them.

Finally he came to a tiny box, and when he opened it, he found a scrap of paper.

“Is that all?” snorted the duke, and he was about to crumple and toss it aside, when he noticed some words written on it. They were so faded, he could hardly make them out.

“Lars . . . my . . . lad.”

“Master, what do you wish?”

The duke jumped in surprise. But when he looked around him, he could not see who had spoken.

“Let’s try that again,” said the duke, and holding the paper before him, he read, “Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

The duke could still see no one, but he had an idea it didn’t matter.

“Bring me a table,” he said, “and set it with the richest feast anyone ever sat down to.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and there in the hut was a banquet table such as the duke had never seen. He settled himself down and never stopped eating till he had made up for all his days of hunger.

When he was done, he pulled out the paper again and read, “Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“Take this table away, and bring me a four-poster bed with a canopy and seven mattresses.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and in place of the table stood an elegant bed, with carvings on every post.

The duke laid himself down on it, but before going to sleep, he said to himself, “It’s a shame to place such a fine bed in such a lowly hut.” So he reached again for the paper.

“Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“Change this room, so it is as fine as the bed.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and the duke found himself in a magnificent chamber, with a polished marble floor and curtained walls.

“That’s more like it,” said the duke, and he turned on his side and slept.

When the duke rose in the morning, he discovered that Lars had created not only a magnificent chamber, but a magnificent palace to set it in.

He wandered in astonishment from one luxurious room to the next, his eyes dazzled by the glint of gold and silver ornaments. Outside, he found the forest had been pushed back to make way for lawns and orchards and the finest flower gardens he had ever seen.

“It’s like heaven on earth,” said the duke. “But I can’t run it all by myself.” So he took out the paper.

“Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“I want servants to help take care of the palace.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and the palace came alive with people. Maids and stewards and servants of all kinds rushed about, bowing or curtseying to the duke as they passed.

“Perfect,” said the duke. “All I need now is friends to share good fortune. And with wealth like this, I shouldn’t have long to wait.”

Now, on the other side of the forest was the palace of the king, and as usual, when he rose that morning, he went over to the window and looked out. But what he saw was not what he expected.

“Chamberlain, come here!” he shouted, and his chamberlain rushed into the bedchamber.

“Tell me, what do you see?” said the king, pointing out the window.

The chamberlain stared and gasped. “A palace, your majesty!”

“That’s what I thought,” said the king. “Someone has built a palace in my forest without even asking me! Call up my troops. I’ll tear down that palace and hang the intruder!”

The king and his soldiers were soon heading through the forest to the sound of drums and trumpets. They were still far off when the duke heard the music, but he knew what it meant. So he took out his paper.

“Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“I need an army, twice as big as the one that approaches.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and there in front of the palace were long lines of soldiers and horses, guns and cannons.

The king and his men emerged from the forest, but when they saw the troops facing them, they came to a jumbled halt. As the king puzzled over what to do next, the duke rode up.

“Welcome, your majesty! To what do I owe this gracious visit?”

“I’ll tell you, you scoundrel!” said the king. “I mean to tear down your palace and string you up!”

“There’s not much chance of that!” said the duke. “Your majesty can see the size of my forces. So why doesn’t your majesty make me an ally, instead?”

“I suppose that might make more sense,” the king said thoughtfully.

The duke invited the king into the palace for a splendid feast. Never had the king been dined more royally. Then the duke led a tour of the palace, and the king could only stare wide-eyed at the great riches shown him. Before long, he was completely brought around by the duke’s wealth and charm.

While enjoying a second magnificent meal, the king began to tell the duke of his daughter.

“She’d make a wonderful wife for a man of your position,” said the king, “I’ll speak to her about you on the morrow.”

“Thank you, your majesty!” said the duke.

It was late that night before the king left. As soon as the duke was alone, he pulled out his paper.

“Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“Take me to the princess’s bedchamber.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and the duke stood by the princess’s bed. He found her so lovely lying there, he could scarce catch his breath.

“Princess,” he called softly.

She awoke with a start, and sat up in terror. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I am merely an admirer,” said the duke. “And I have come only to make your acquaintance.”

Well, when the princess got over her shock, she found the duke quite charming. They talked and talked through the night, and before it passed, they were very much in love.

Just before dawn, the duke took her hands. “Do you care for me as much as I for you?”

“I do,” she said.

“Then tell the king you’ll gladly be my wife.”

He kissed her once, and crept quietly from the room.

“Lars, my lad!”

“Master, what do you wish?”

“Shhhhh! Not so loud! Take me back.”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and back he was.

That morning, when the king asked his daughter about marrying the duke, he was more than a little surprised by her eagerness. The wedding was held just a few days later, and a finer time was never had by any.

“But there’s still one thing that puzzles me,” the king remarked to the duke during the grand ball. “How did you manage to build your palace so quickly? It’s almost as if it sprang up overnight!”

“Overnight?” said the duke. “Why, what a curious notion, your majesty! Most likely, you just didn’t notice it going up.”

“I suppose that must be it,” sighed the king. “Still, your builders must have been marvelously fast.”

“Oh, I’ll grant you that, your majesty,” said the duke. “Marvelously fast indeed.”

Late that night, the duke lay blissfully in bed with the princess asleep in his arms. He had just begun to drift off himself, when he heard a voice he knew well.

“Master, what do you wish?”

“Lars? Can you come without my calling?” said the duke in surprise. “Anyway, you must know I wish for nothing, for I have everything I could want.”

“Then, master, grant a wish for me. I wish for the scrap of paper you found in the chest.”

“The paper? Well, I suppose I don’t really need it. After all, I’ll not likely forget the words!”

The duke reached over to his clothes, took the paper from a pocket, and held it out to the darkness. He felt the paper being snatched from his hand. Then he rolled over and went to sleep.

The next morning, the duke awoke shivering, with the feel of something hard beneath him. He reached for the covers, but could not lay his hands upon them. He opened his eyes.

Not only the covers were gone, but also the bed and the bedchamber itself. The duke was wearing his tattered old clothes, and he and the princess were lying on the big chest, in the middle of the ramshackle hut.

The duke shot upright. “Lars! Lars, my lad!” But no voice answered. “Lars, my lad! Lars, my lad!”

Then the duke realized what had happened. By giving Lars the scrap of paper, the duke had given him his freedom, and along with that, Lars had taken back all he had given the duke. And there was not one thing the duke could do about it.

The princess, roused from sleep by the duke’s cries, asked drowsily, “What are you doing, husband?” Then her eyes opened, and she too sat upright. “Where are we?”

There was nothing then for the duke but to tell her the whole story. “So you had best go back to your father,” he concluded miserably, “for I have nothing now to offer you.”

“Don’t be silly,” said the princess. “You’re my husband!”

“But you wedded me wealthy, and now I’m a pauper!”

“That has nothing to do with it,” said the princess. “I married the man, not the palace!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, the king woke up as usual, wandered over to the window, and looked out. But what he expected was not what he saw.

“Chamberlain, come here!”

The chamberlain rushed in.

“Tell me, what do you see?”

The chamberlain stared and then stared harder out the window. “Why, nothing, your majesty!”

“That’s what I thought. Now, can you please tell me where is the palace with my daughter and son-in-law?”

“I have no idea, your majesty!”

“Then I’d best go and find out!”

So the king rode over with a couple of guards. There was no sign of a palace, but after a while they came upon the hut, and found the duke and princess inside.

“What is the meaning of this!” the king demanded of the duke. But the duke was too proud to tell the king the truth, so he refused to say a word.

“Never mind,” said the king. “You’re a scoundrel, just as I first thought, so you’ll hang, just as I first wanted!”

“But, father!” cried the princess. “He’s my husband!”

“Don’t worry, my dear, we’ll get you a better husband,” said the king. “Guards, take him to the ridge and string him up!”

The guards dragged the struggling duke from the hut, with the princess following after, begging and pleading for his life. But before the guards could ride off with him, the princess changed her tune.

“I’ll make you both rich,” she whispered, “if you string him up safely, then bring me to him after dark.”

Well, the guards didn’t mind being rich. When they got to the ridge, they wound the rope many times around the duke’s chest before hoisting him from a strong branch. Then they rode to catch up with the king and the princess on their way back to the palace.

“Someday you’ll thank me for this,” the king told his daughter with a glance at the duke on the ridge.

And so the duke was left dangling, in no great pain, but in no great comfort either. As he waited through the long day for the coming of night and his rescuers, he had plenty of time to think about the princess and her loyalty.

“She is surely worth more than any friend ever gained through riches,” mused the duke. “From now on, I’ll seek less wealth and better friends!” He sighed deeply. “Though it wouldn’t hurt to have both.”

At last the sun went down, and the duke was quite glad to see it go. But as the twilight deepened, he heard a noise far off. It grew louder and nearer, till it became a great cry and clatter.

Climbing up the ridge came a caravan of seven carts, strung together in a line, and all piled high with what looked like boots. At first the duke thought the carts moved by themselves. But as they drew closer, he saw they were all pulled by one ugly little man, no more than two feet high.

“What on earth . . . ?” muttered the duke. “I’d best play dead, till I know what’s up.”

From under half-closed eyelids, he watched the carts approach, till the lead cart stopped right before him. The little man clambered on top.

“So they hanged you, did they?” mocked the little man with a voice the duke knew well. “It serves you right, with your ‘Lars, my lad’ this, and your ‘Lars, my lad’ that. I’ve worn out seven cartloads of boots on all your grand wishes!”

Then Lars—for it was none other—took the old scrap of paper from his pocket and waved it under the duke’s nose. “Why don’t you take it, master?” he taunted. “Why don’t you read the words, master?”

The duke’s eyes flew open. “All right, I will.”

The little man froze in terror, and the duke snatched the paper from his hand. Lars, the carts, the boots, all vanished from sight in an instant.

“Lars, my lad!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO, NOT AGAIN! MASTER, WHAT DO YOU WISH?”

“Get me down from here and bring me the princess. Then put all I wished for back in place—the palace, the servants, everything!”

A whisk, a whir, and a whoosh, and . . .

The next morning, the king got up as usual, went over to the window and looked out.

“Oh, no,” he moaned. “Chamberlain, come here!”

In came the chamberlain.

“Tell me, what do you see?”

The chamberlain’s eyes bulged. “The palace, your majesty!”

The king sighed. “That’s what I thought.”

So the king and the two guards went again, and found the duke and the princess on the steps of the palace.

The princess said, “Greetings, father,” and the duke said, “Welcome, your majesty!”

“Now, tell me this,” said the king to the duke. “Didn’t I have you hanged yesterday?”

“Hanged, your majesty? Why, what a strange notion! Why would you ever wish such evil on me?”

“Well . . . ,” said the king uncertainly. He glanced at the guards, but they kept their eyes on the ground. “I’m not entirely sure. But didn’t I come here yesterday and find a hut instead of a palace?”

“Your majesty has such wild ideas! You must have been dreaming, for you certainly see the palace now!”

“Yes, I certainly do,” the king reflected. “Well, then! Let nothing more be said of it!”

And nothing ever was.

So the duke and the princess lived happily, as also did Lars, for the duke grew mindful of him and hardly ever called him after that. And when the duke himself became king, he replaced the paper in its many chests and buried it under a secret marker, so Lars would never be bothered again.

There are some, though, who search for that paper to this very day.


About the Story

This tale is retold from “‘Lars, My Lad!’” in Fairy Tales from the Swedish of Baron G. Djurklou, edited and translated by H. L. Braekstad, Heinemann, London, 1901. Djurklou was an important collector of Swedish folktales in the late 1800s. Though the tale is wonderfully fresh in many elements, it is also a clear cousin to both “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” and “The Tinder Box.”