The Curious Troll and the Bright Sunbeam
Trolls are wealth-suckers, they steal mountains. They are born from an ancient light, a moon-child of Earth, rich they are beyond the human capacity of wonder. A troll receives his long life through the light of the moon and is shy of the sun’s light-daggers, as trolls see how quickly they cut the years of humankind. Their appearance would be repellent to you in its grandeur. Their hair sits platted and dyed with saffron and inlaid with golden luxuriant threads. The tunic they wear carries beryls and black diamonds whilst buckskin covers their shoulders in glinting amber and gold. When moonlight breaks through the small holes in the granite rocks of their homes, they reveal deep chambers in the mountain. Pillars hold up lofty-vaulted roofs, painted and carved with contours and colours of linden leaves; a shine of deep-sea green spirals spinning towards the high vault; there to portray wild flowers and lightning streaks, underlaid complete with the mother-of-pearl. Every cloth hanging on the walls are woven from the jewel dust of corals, garnets, rubies and topaz. Each strand tells old stories of stone, axe and metal many ages past. Scattered around their studies are sculptures of the finest minerals, many are dragon heads carved and hewn. The carving of their fanged mouths is made of such troll artistry that you’ll hear it roar the moment your eyes dwell on it. Know that their treasure is unfathomable. Take heed, for those greedy souls who seek their riches, the paths that lead to their hiding place have laid silent and unstirred for any mortal foot to seek out. A troll can be bartered with, but never trusted, just like you cannot trust a mountain top, a hurricane or a naked sea-wave. Trolls and humans do not share morality. But I will tell you this secret: those who are born from the ages of giants are now slowly starting to wake from a long sleep, they are waking from the forest, the forest you once called home. Stories come to us from that twilight forest and this one is about how trolls do fall in love. The troll child’s bed was adorned in the form of a hollow tree stump and the duvet was stuffed with the finest down. With all this wonder around him, the little troll was not happy. He laid there and turned and twisted and whined. His father would yell: “What does this mean? Will he never get any of his teeth? Why does he not sleep? By the beard of the troll King! It’s broad daylight” A good and healthy troll child should only play during the night and sleep by day, for the rest of the time, he should not even murmur. His mother would call to a human maid, she would come from a nearby farm to sing songs, but only in all the minor keys, as major keys are intolerable to troll ears. As she sang the troll-songs, he would listen to the dark tones of the music and it filled him with delight. After a while, poor Sunna would start to whimper because the minor keys of troll music were full of melancholy. When she had left, the little troll thought to himself: “In the whole world there is not one troll who cares about me.” He pressed his hands to his stomach and began to cry. Only his mother could endure the sound. There is only one thing that can be worse than a troll baby crying and that is a troll father snoring and the house shook to both sounds. Whilst the troll house was quaking from crying and snoring, something happened: a silent large black cloud floated above the tree tops with bright sunlight behind it; a sunbeam burst free and flew like an arrow towards the Earth. Sun arrows germinate seeds, others can persuade a hesitant flower to bud, a third can sneak heat into an old man’s blood. But not one of them are ever ordered to look into a troll’s home. It was by pure chance and partly because there was a tiny hole in one of the mossy tiles, and also because sunbeams are irrepressibly curious. A small sunbeam peaked through the split and looked around and discovered the little troll as he lay there in his bed. Her light almost went out, such was her fright at seeing the troll. She had never seen a creature as ugly as a troll before. The eyes of the little troll opened wide. Never had he dreamed of anything as beautiful as a sunbeam. “Hello you little troll? I must have accidentally entered your house. But I do not want to disturb you, you belong to the moonlight world, not the sun. I must be gone.” When she wanted to leave, he cried. The sunbeam, who had a warm heart, stroked his cheek and said: “Do you not sleep during the day?” He rolled around in despair whilst down feathers started to whirl around the room. With the feathers flying everywhere, the sunbeam started to play with the delirious blanket, and then she danced with the down feathers and ran the length and breadth of the whole dark nursery. Everything she touched got colour, life and movement: the green roof was in motion as if it consisted of leaves and twigs, the cobwebs glistened as clear as dewdrops, and flowers opened from their dark soiled chalices. The dust grains shone with the light of stars and created a small spiral galaxy that floated and moved in slow circles. The troll did not even dare to blink for fear that the spectacle would end. The more he looked, the happier was his heart. His troll tail waved when he tried to catch the sunbeam with his paws. He understood that he could catch it with his eyes but not with his paws. He thought to himself: “There is light in the world, whoever can catch a sunbeam will never know sorrow” he thought. As he laid there looking at her, she replied: “if you want to catch me you need to look for me.” She managed to creep into his parents bedroom to tickle his mother on her nose. Up she flew and sneezed and sneezed. She beheld the sunbeam: “a sunbeam, a sunbeam in our house! Wake up, father! A sunbeam! Kill her, kill her!” Swiftly and decisively the troll-father grabbed a hammer and a plug, rushed into the nursery and thrashed his arms and fists around, but to no avail. Then he spotted the small, small hole in the ceiling and bang! Sunbeam was gone. Exhausted by sheer terror the troll mother held the little troll tenderly and wailed: “My beloved toad! My sweet snake! My sweet bat!” What has happened to your mind? So, so terrible…a sunbeam in the nursery! Have you been scarred for life?” There was nothing wrong with his health, nor did he become sick. As an adolescent troll he grew up and learnt his fathers ways to conjure and work with the old magic, in the twilight forest he built a large magic house which had a mill that transformed all the dead leaves, grasses and flowers into black, fat and fertile soils. When he turned two hundred years of age, he was already a wealthy troll, and when he reached five hundred, he was extremely wealthy, and at six hundred, he turned into a solitary troll, living amongst his hills with his gold. But every day of his life he had thought of the sunbeam. One day, he decided to visit the wisest troll in the forest. His reputation was well deserved, because for two thousand years, he had never provided wrong council. “I will give you a tenth of my wealth, if you tell me one thing: where can I buy one sunbeam?” “Go to the old man in the moon! He is a retailer of sunbeams and has large inventories.” He gave him a tenth of his wealth. To get to the moon, he took a hazel shaft and attached it to a long line and at the other end of it he placed a bronze sickle. He hurled the sickle and it flew into dark space and took hold right between the old man’s feet and the moon-man shouted to help him along, “Troll! Heave and pull, heave and pull!” How he pulled and pulled! It took one hundred years, until he finally set his foot on the moon. The old man said to him. “If you are looking for a sunbeam, then you’ve come to the right place. “You will receive two tenths of my wealth,” the troll said, “for one sunbeam.” The old man took the bag, which was full of gold, “look around and choose at will! Take a dozen and you will get thirteen with the bargain, I am not fussy.” There was a large gap in the moon-mountains. It welled up a flood of shining beams. When he looked at them he realised that they were not sunbeams. “Where I come from, we call these moonbeams.” The old man replied, “sunbeams they are, I have taken the sting off them to make them bearable for trolls.” The troll took to his sickle and cast it towards his home, he flew like a large black bird through space, followed by millions of moonbeams. It took him another one hundred years again until he could stand back on earth. When other trolls saw him return to their forest they crawled out of their holes and stumps and asked how he was faring. He shouted: “much of my wealth I have offered, and yet I have not had one single sunbeam. I will give you all my wealth to anyone who can help me!” They shook their large heads. They told him to go to the human realm, to get out of the moon-lit forests. For in the troll-world he would never find the sunbeam he was looking for, such light was forbidden here. They chased him out of the woods and he ran out of his world and found himself in the middle of a human village. It was a dark night, and all the doors and windows where closed. All except one. In the room inside sat a man next to a burning lamp reading a book. All kinds of books were weighing down on his table and piled on chairs and sofas, books lined the walls from floor to ceiling. The troll thought to himself: “With all his knowledge, maybe he can offer one sunbeam to a poor old troll?” He took courage and jumped into the room and ended up on all fours in the middle of the pile of books. The scholar was brave, “Science has long ago proved that there are no trolls in this world, but there you are in the middle of my living room. What do you want from me?” “I am a poor troll who has given away all my wealth away for one sunbeam. When I was little, I saw one, and have hidden my desire in my heart since, can you please help me?” “Your wish can easily be met. Sleep for only an hour or two, and when you wake you can choose between billions of sunbeams.” The scholar took a thick blanket and spread it over him, the troll closed his eyes and went to sleep. When the sun rose up and shone straight in through the window, the scholar woke and whispered to the troll: “Look up now and tell me what you see.” As he lifted the blanket from his head and opened his eyes wide in the human world, a violent pain shot into his eyes, he saw for an instant the glow of thousands and thousands of lightning bolts. “I don’t understand, why is it so dark? Now I cannot even see the moon, nor the stars, not even my paws in front of me!” The man then attempted to bind him. He would finally earn his fame as the one who had caught a troll. But the troll jumped straight into a busy avenue. Commotion sounded all around him, there were old women and children, men and women, and their dogs. Through only his senses he hurried across fields and forests all day until he reached the edge of the twilight forest. At first, the other trolls refused him to enter as he smelt of the human world. But when they discovered that he was blind, they let him stay. A sunbeam is all that he wanted, and see what happened? Now his eyes were just empty deep wells. He sighed and sobbed at his predicament. Sitting on a branch nearby an owl said: “Sigh not so heavily upon your own sorrows and sob not so wildly of your own pain.” The next morning he woke by the sounds of faint crying, not from himself, but from a woman, a human woman, she cried and cried, because wolves were chasing her down the path. Even though he had lost his eyesight, he managed to run up to her and lift her and protect her in his arms. But the woman kicked and punched, scratched his face and pulled his woolly hair. He tried to speak with a voice as soft and gentle as possible. But she screamed: “You do not fool me, ugly troll! She had learnt about the nature of trolls, and she kicked and clawed. The wolves were ready to pounce. As long as he held her in his arms, she was safe, and he didn’t let her go. Round and round he wandered with her in his arms, the wolves were out of strength to challenge him. The baying and snarling of the wolves faded and they both sat by an old pine tree together. “Tell me your name?” He asked her. She answered, “they call me Sunbeam, if you want to know.” He lifted her on a pine branch high above the ground, he wanted her to be able to see the dawn. He guarded the tree from any dangers that night as he would guard his own life. He was fulfilled. The next morning Sunbeam climbed down the tree and laid down into his arms. From that night onwards, she never left his side, fate gave them many long years in the woven troll forests. But human years are brief, whilst trolls live for thousands of years. One day Sunbeam passed away just as she left him when his father had filled the crack on the wall. How easy and pretty had she played with the down feathers and dust, and how she dazzled and lit up his home. Now he is old and blind. As he wanders in the forest, heavy with gold, he listens to the humming trees overhead and at times, when the clouds break, a sunbeam comes and caresses his old face. And for an instant he is able to see the entire sun. ©andreas kornevall Artwork by Lucy Campbell This story was inspired and translated from Swedish folklorist Hjalmar Bergman, 1920.