Once there was a king who had seven sons. He loved them so much that he could never bear to be without them all at once; one of them always had to be with him. When they were grown up, six were to set off to woo. But as for the youngest, his father kept him at home; the others were to bring back a princess for him to the castle.
When they had been to many castles, and seen many princesses, at last they came to a king who had six daughters. They were such lovely king’s daughters they had never set eyes on. They fell to wooing them, each one. And when they had got them for sweethearts, they set off home again.
When they had gone a good bit on their way, they passed close by a steep hill-side that looked like a wall. Behind it, inside the rocks, was the house of a giant. Now, all at once the giant came out, set his eyes on them, and turned them all into stone, princes and princesses and all.
“If I didn’t have you left,” he said to Boots, “I wouldn’t live any longer, I’m so full of sorrow for the loss of your brothers.”
“No, no!” said his father, “then you would stay away too.”
But Boots had set his heart on it; go he would. He begged and prayed so long that the king had to let him go. However, the king had no other horse to give Boots but an old broken-down jade, for his six other sons and their train had carried off all the others horses he had. But Boots did not care a bit for that, he sprang up on his old steed.
“Bye, dad,” he said sprightly; “I’ll come back, never fear. And when I do I’ll bring my six brothers back with me.” With that he rode off.
“No,” said Boots, “that won’t do. First I came to a raven and I was forced to give him my food; next I came to a salmon and had to help into the water; and now you want my horse. It can’t be done, it can’t, for then I should have nothing to ride on.”
When the wolf had eaten the horse, Boots took the bit and put it into the wolf’s jaw and laid the saddle on his back. And look, the wolf was so strong from what he had eaten that he set off with the prince like nothing. Boots had never ridden so fast before.
After a while they came to that place.
“look, here is the giant’s house,” said the wolf, “and look, here are your six brothers: The giant has turned them into stone. look, here are their six brides. Over there is a door; you have to go into it in order to save them.”
Boots went in, even though he was very much afraid. When he came in the giant was away, but in one of the rooms sat the princess, just as the wolf had said. So lovely a princess Boots had never yet set eyes on.
She said as she saw him, “good heavens! Where do you come from? Coming in here will surely be your death. No one can make an end of the giant who lives here, for he has no heart at all, not in his body.”
“Well, Well!” said Boots; “but now that I am here, I may as Well try what I can do with him. ; and I will see if I can’t bring help to my brothers, who are standing turned to stone out of doors; and you, too, I will try to save. Yes, I will.”
“Well, if you must, you must,” said the princess; “Let’s see if we can’t hit on a plan. Creep under the bed over there, and listen carefully to what he and I talk about. But you have to lie as still as a mouse.”
“Yes, I know there is,” said the princess, “for there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone, and let it fall down the chimney. I made all the haste I could to get it out, but all one can do, the smell doesn’t go off so soon.”
“There’s one thing I’d be awfully glad to ask you about, if I only dared.”
“What is that?” asked the giant.
“Only where you keep your heart, since you carry it about you,” said the princess.
“Ah, that’s a thing you have no business to ask about. But if you must know, it lies under the door-sill,” said the giant.
“Ho, ho,” said Boots to himself under the bed, “then we’ll soon see if we can find it.”
Next morning the giant got up very early and strode off to the wood. He was hardly out of the house before Boots and the princess set to work to look under the door-sill for his heart. But for all they dug, and looked, they were unable to find it.
“He has blocked us this time,” said the princess, ” but we’ll try him once more.”
Now she picked all the prettiest flowers she could find and strewed them over the door-sill, which they had laid in its right place again. Then, when the time came for the giant to come home again Boots crept under the bed. Just as he was Well under, back came the giant.
“Oh, I, of course,” said the princess.
“What’s the meaning of that?” said the giant.
“Is that a fact?” thought Boots and the princess. “We’ll soon try to find it.”
Then back came the giant.
“I know,” said the princess; ” for a little while ago a magpie came flying with a man’s bone in his bill and let it fall down the chimney. I got it out of the house again; but maybe that’s what you smell.”
When the giant heard that, he said nothing more about it. A little while after, he saw how the cupboard was all decked out with flowers and garlands. This time too he asked who had done it. Who could it be but the princess?
“And what do you mean by all this tomfoolery? ” the giant asked her.
“How can you be so silly as to believe any such thing?” said the giant.
“Far, Far away in a lake lies an island. On that island stands a church. In that church is a Well. In that Well swims a duck. In that duck there’s an egg, And in that egg lies my heart, little darling.”
“I must set off too,” said Boots; “if I only knew how to find the way.”
He took a long, long farewell of the princess.
When he got out of the giant’s door, the wolf stood there waiting for him. Boots told him all that had happened inside the house and said now he wished to ride to the Well in the church, if he only knew the way. The wolf bade him jump on his back, he would soon find the way, assuredly.
Away they went, till the wind whistled after them, over hedge and field, over hill and valley. After they had travelled many, many days, at last they came to the lake. Then the prince did not know how to get over it.
Now the prince got into the church. When he came to the Well and found the duck there, it was swimming backwards and forwards as the giant had said. He coaxed and coaxed it till it came to him. Then he grasped it in his hand. But just as he lifted it up from the water, the duck dropped the egg into the Well. Boots was beside himself to know how to get it out again.
“Why don’t you call on the salmon?” said the wolf, and the king’s son called on the salmon. The salmon came and fetched up the egg from the bottom of the Well. The wolf told him to squeeze the egg, and as soon as he squeezed it the giant screamed out.
“Squeeze it again,” said the wolf; and when the prince did so, the giant screamed still more. He begged and prayed so prettily to be spared, saying he egg would do all that the prince wished if he would only not squeeze his heart in two.
Now that he had made an end of the giant, Boots rode back again on the wolf to the giant’s house, and there stood all his six brothers alive and merry, with their brides. Then Boots went into the hill-side after his bride. Next they all set off home again to their father’s house.