by Bill Leutz
During the 9½ years I lived in Norway, I collected many books of that area. Included in this collection were a number of 19th-century English travel, hunting, and fishing diaries, as well as a fair collection of Norwegian folktales. This story attempts to merge the material of these two collections. I hope the readers enjoy it.
A Hulder-eventyr of Old Norway
It was a cold, wet, and windy afternoon when Paul left the town. This was not unusual weather for the west coast of Norway, where the last remnants of the Gulf Stream meet the colder waters of the North Sea. The long hike ahead of them, traveling alone, and enclosed in the misty Norwegian weather, would provide a good time to collect his thoughts, to try to find some understanding of what had happened to him last year and what direction his life could possibly take now. His trail wandered up the mountain slope, following a noisy stream. Here and there a few scrub oaks stretched ragged arms through the clammy mist, water dripping from their leaves. Boulders, clad in green moss and yellow lichen, grew among their roots. Between the trees, the land was intermittently covered by an uneven growth of low, heather-like shrubs, while between them, scattered wherever there was an open space, the flat, grey-green tendrils of reindeer moss covered the ground. Through this mixture of rock and vegetation, the path wandered erratically; the moisture from the shrubbery continually soaking his trousers and leaving the scattered rocks of the path somewhat slick and slippery. The view of the cloud draped ridge, occasionally visible though the trees, hung in the distance like something from an old Icelandic saga; complete with huge errant boulders silhouetted against the gray clouds, scattered here and there as if by the hand of giants.
Starting at the little fjord town of Oevre Aardal, on a northerly stretching arm of Sognfjord, the trail wound upwards along the river bank. At the mouth of the third tributary, it turned and followed up the next valley to the junction with a small side stream that came racing down from the heights above. There he had stopped for a break, and to eat the light lunch of goat cheese, rye wafer and apple that he had purchased in the village. The cold clear water of the stream was ample to supply a drink to wash the food down. After lunch, he had followed the stream up another, still smaller, valley until it ended where the stream broke free from the mountain’s shoulder in a long cascade, falling from the heights. Beyond this cascade, over the cliff’s rim, there was a small lake, fed by the milky gray stream that ran out from under the tip of the distant glacier covering the high mountain plateau in front of him. On the far shore of the lake stood a small traveler’s hut. With luck he had found it unoccupied, and did not have to share this night with any other, inquisitive visitors.
In fair weather, much of this high land, between the cliff and the glacier, shone as fine green pasture. Here in the old days the village girls would bring their herds to graze in the high meadows. They lived alone all summer in their little saeter huts. Their time would be spent milking twice a day, and making the cheese that would sustain the families of the valley through the cold winter months. It had always seemed to be a good life here, high in the mountains. The air was clear and clean, and the milk and cream were always fresh. Small mountain gardens supplied the few root vegetables needed to fill out the simple diet. The only diversion would have been when one of the local boys came up to bring the few additional supplies needed over the summer, and to take the finished cheeses back down into the valley. In rare cases, some foreign hunter might come up to try his hand at the reindeer that roamed the high slopes, or, after fishing the lower river for salmon, come higher to catch a few lively trout. This hut in which he planned to stay was once part of such a saeter, but had been rebuilt by the Norwegian hiking society to act to provide a warm, dry shelter for those who wanted to explore the fjeld. Fjord and fjeld – those two Norwegian words that so amply described this country; the fjords, deep glacier carved bays and lakes extending dozens of mile inland through the fjeld, the high, rocky mountains and plateaus that made up so much of the Norwegian land.
He was still amazed that he remembered his first days in Norway as if they were only yesterday. He had thought about them throughout his voyage from England. In fact he’d been thinking about them for the entire year since his life had been changed. He still wasn’t entirely sure he understood what had happened in these Norwegian mountains last fall. But that something profoundly unusual had happened to him one night a year ago, he had no doubt. At least it had been only a year since he had come down out of the mountains, but he was no longer so sure when he had gone up into them for the first time.
Tomorrow and the next day he would continue the hike beneath the peaks of the Hurriningen Mountains and around their end, into the Jotunheim, The Giant’s Home. From there he would continue through high valleys and passes to return to the lake at Gjende, beneath the tall peaks of Memurrabu.
But tonight, his thoughts turned back, tunneling deeply into his past; trying to find some reason for what had happened, why, how? How had his life been so completely altered from all he had expected from his youth? Perhaps, once he reached Gjende, he could resolve this feeling of complete confusion that had so plagued him over the last year. Perhaps there, he could find a direction for the remainder of it
It was a beautiful summer day in Year of our Lord, 1885, when Paul first sailed up the Romsdal Fjord. Blue-gray mountains piled above the small coastal town of Aandalsnes, sitting at the mouth of the Rauma River, at the end of the fjord. Behind the town the abrupt cone of the Romsdalshorn rising nearly 7000 feet above the valley, marked their destination long before the town came into view. The town was definitely rustic, with wooden houses painted in bright colors, visible on the hill above the few old Germanic warehouses of the harbor. Their porches and eaves were all decorated with ornate wooden carvings somewhat similar to the high Victorian architecture that was so popular at home in England, giving a slightly fanciful atmosphere to the simple fishing town. All of this picturesque scenery was made twice-lovely, almost ethereal, by it’s shimmering reflection in the placid, blue waters of the fjord. He wished he could share the view with his fiancée, Elizabeth. It was so Different from the warm tones of Sommerset that she loved, but he it would still delight her eyes and heart.
Their first landing in Norway, after sailing across the North Sea from Newcastle, had been at the coastal center of Bergen several days earlier. Leaving the ship, he had set his foot on foreign soil for the first time in his life. All around he heard the strange harmonies of a different, slightly throatier, language, and understood nothing he heard. The local women, in their colorful, regional costumes, bustled about the open market on their daily business, while the more austerely dressed men stood in groups talking, apparently of politics or fishing, Paul couldn’t be sure which. After all, Bergen was the second largest city of Norway, the main city on the west coast. But it was also the marketing center for the entire Norwegian cod fish business, as well as for all the other produce and manufacture of its immediate region.
Together with his companions, he explored the town like any tourist – the old German Hanseatic warehouse district, the Castle and fortifications of King Olav Kyrre, and the green hills above the town center, with their impressive views over the harbor. Looking down on the town was almost like looking at a three dimensional artist’s map, with every detail made clear. But after a few days of this, the excitement began to return, and it was time to catch the coastal schooner, to travel north up the coast to the excellent fishing grounds near Aandalsnes.
Back in March, John Moore, his close friend from Oxford, had begun encouraging Paul to join him on a summer of hunting and fishing in Norway. It was easier to reach then the usual British vacation sites in Central and Southern Europe, was reputed to be quite a bit cheaper, and promised much better sport then even the best hunting sites of the Alps or the German forests. This was John’s third sporting trip to Norway. He knew the hunting and fishing customs, had some familiarity with the local dialect, and had already engaged the services of Egil Grimmson, his favorite guide from Gudbrandsdalen, for the start of hunting on August 1st. Then they would go up into the high mountains in search of the wild reindeer. Just the very names of the mountains gave Paul goose bumps – Jotunheim and Dovrefjell – “The Giant’s Home’ and ‘Mountains of the Troll King.’ Egil had all but guaranteed them good reindeer hunting in these highest mountains of Norway. But first they were to tangle with the big salmon that spawned along the Rauma River.
After leaving Bergen, they spent five days sailing in and out of the fjords, calling at all the major towns and many of the minor ones. Today the morning was filled with sailing up the fjord, with views of rugged mountains and verdant valleys on every side, before finally reaching Aandalsnes. They would spend a month here, fishing the river and exploring the neighboring mountains, before heading up to the high country for the remainder of the summer for the reindeer hunting. To Paul, today was truly the start of the real adventure of his first foreign traveling vacation.
On the ship from England, the days had grown long. Then he had really missed Elizabeth, John’s second cousin. She would be spending this summer as usual, with her family on their estate at Mannerling, in Sommerset. He had visited there often last year, joining her brothers and John for the occasional shoot, or riding to the hounds with the family. He had seen her regularly that summer, and they had grown very close, culminating in his proposal and her acceptance last April. And now, here in Norway, with adventure looming on the horizon, he still realized how fortunate he was to have found her. The hardest part of being in Norway for two and a half months, would be the absence of her company.
After the first month of their travels had passed, and the fishing on the river above Aandalsnes had been everything John had said it would be, it was now time to travel back into the country to reach the hunting grounds. Paal, the local boy who had stood as their gillie, had shown them over every inch of the river, and the poor fish had paid severely for his expertise. They had fished from the river banks where it was open, fished from stations or wooden scaffolding set up over the river, where the shear rock of the mountain came straight down to the water’s edge, and fished from open boats rowed by Paal over the calmer passages. And they had caught salmon until their arms ached. Paul’s own best day had been seven fish, with the largest at over forty pounds. They had eaten salmon freshly grilled, poached, smoked, cured in dill, and every other way the local cooks could imagine, and they were more than a little tired of it. Of course that was not their only fare, the Norwegian lamb and mutton were good, there was no shortage of fish from the sea, and the mountain ptarmigan, or ryppe, were very tasty in the red currant sauce the Norwegians used, but Paul was beginning to long for a fine English roast of beef. Now, however, August 1st was near, and he was eager for the change to the high country, and the rigors of stalking reindeer across the snowy plateaus that rolled beneath the mountain ridges.
John had made the arrangements for two carioles, locally called stolkjaere, for the next morning. These small one-man carriages were the norm for distance traveling on the rugged Norwegian roads. The passenger sat in front on a box seat with no springs, while the driver sat in back on whatever luggage was carried. At each stop along the way, the local community supplied fresh horses and a boy to drive them. At the next stop a new team and driver was provided, and the first boy returned home with his horses. It would take four days for the drive up the narrow mountain passage of the Rauma river to Lake Lesjaa, and then following the Losna River down Gudbransdal to Otta. From Otta the road turned back into the mountains to reach the lake at Gjende, nestled in its valley on the east edge of the Jotunheim, highest mountains in Norway. This would be the base for their hunting expeditions into the mountains.
The ride in the open cariole provided an expert opportunity to get better acquainted with the country and the language. Travel speed was only slightly faster than a walk, and in fact on the steeper climbs it was better to get off and walk to save the horses for the long day ahead. As they started up the valley, they soon came to the spot where the Troll’s Wall soared up into the air above the other side of the river. An immense vertical cliff soaring some three thousand feet, it was topped by sharp fangs of rock visible form the valley below, and named the Troll’s Teeth. It was certainly foreboding, perhaps even mystical, glinting through the morning mists. Beyond, the mountain cliffs bordered the river closely on both sides for many miles. Periodically small waterfalls cascaded down from the snowfields high above, some falling almost directly into the river. In places the drive seemed like wandering through a dark forbidding chasm, with very little sunlight reaching the trail along the bottom.
It was mid-afternoon before they finished climbing out of the abyss, following the road up in switch-backs, along the side of waterfalls and the rapids of the river flowing down to the sea, whence they had come. Finally they reached an area where a valley opened out and trees were able to find purchase again; where small flowers and shrubs became plentiful. It was like returning to life after a long sojourn in the valley of death. To the North, the rounded mountains of Dovrefjell climbed into the early gathering stars.
The days had been getting steadily shorter since midsummer, and the twilight stole in on them a little earlier each night. In mid-June, when the big St. Hans’s day celebration went on all night, it never really got dark. The sun disappeared behind the horizon for a few hours at midnight, but it remained like early twilight. But now, six or seven weeks later the sun was setting noticeably earlier. By mid-September, he knew that the days and nights would be the same length, as at home. And after that he understood that the lengthening nights would continue to stretch out until mid-winter, when the sun would only clear the horizon for a few hours, and never climb very high in the sky. He was curious about this period, and thought he might like to come back one winter, after he was finished at Oxford, to experience it.
Their second evening’s rest was not too far in front of them now. A plain mountain guest house, it would provide the warm Norwegian hospitality of the owner, a simple dinner, and a bed to sleep on, but not much more. Beneath the peaks of Dovrefjell, the smooth surface of the water on Lake Lasjaa glistened in the early rising moon, when they finally arrived.
The next day they followed the river, now much shrunken as it came out the east end of the lake, up the last few miles to Dombaas, crossed the gentle pass, and started the long trek down the gradual slope the Loesen river carved through the valley of Gudbrandsdal. Forested slopes gave way to pastures and farms as the valley widened and the river gathered more force from all the freshets and streams that came done the surrounding mountain sides to join its growing flow on the two hundred and fifty mile journey to the sea at Christianna Fjord.
Two more days along the Loesen brought them to where it was joined by the waters of the Vaagaa, nearly doubling its size. There they found the little town of Otta, where they finally met Egil Grimmson. Somehow he was just exactly what Paul had expected. A wiry man of about forty, a little taller than either Paul or John, with a shock of uncombed sandy brown hair and a face weathered by much exposure to the sun and wind. He informed them that he had been in Otta for a few days now, Having left his home near Hammar at about the same time that they left the coast. He had gathered up almost all the supplies they would need for a month in the mountains. If they would get a good nights sleep, they could help pack the horses in the morning and then make the walk up to Gjende in and easy two days. Paul and John were now both eager to get underway.
After a few weeks in the mountains, they had settled into a general routine that was only varied during heavy rainfall. They would be up and about before five each morning, preparing for the days hunt. Daybreak was still coming early enough that they had enough light to begin climbing by five thirty. A light breakfast of hard bread, boiled eggs, goat cheese, and coffee would be eaten, and lunch was packed. As soon as all was ready they would break camp. The lake was quite long, so many days they would take a boat down the lake to reach the various valleys that they would use to climb into the high mountains to the west. Each day they would work a different area of the high country in hopes of catching a few deer moving about in the search for the soft mosses they grazed upon.
Here, in the fjeld, with the highest points in Norway visible in the west, was a world of great, stark beauty. No trees grew here, all was open and covered with rock or snow. In the low places between the ridges of the high plateau, bracken and reindeer moss added a splash of olive green, but the dominant colors were grey, and white, and blue. From the heights, the blue sky was usually a half-dome, clouded and grey to the west where the storm clouds coming in off the North Sea hung on the first high ridges of the mountains. In the west, the storm shadow almost created a high northern desert, as in Idaho and Eastern Washington. Thus, overhead, the sky was a bright blue; not the darker blue of real height, that you can see in the high peaks of the alps, around Zermatt or Courmayeur, where the air has thinned enough to allow the first hints of the blackness of space to creep through. And beneath this blue, the rocky crags, with their snow-covered slopes become the entirety of existence to all who go there, and for however long they stay.
They had seen many reindeer but couldn’t get close enough for a shot. The weather was unsettled, and that had left the animals a bit more cautious than usual. They would usually see a small herd on the opposite side of a valley, and by the time they had worked their way to a hidden, downwind position, the deer had moved on. Paul had felt that he was in very good shape after the summer of steady exercise involved in chasing the salmon, but the combination of altitude, and the strenuous nature of clambering over the rocks all day, going either up or down, was leaving him very tired every evening. After a long day filled with climbing one ridge, searching the surrounding area for game, and then climbing down, into a valley only to climb the next ridge to search the area in sight from it, they would work their way around to return to camp by mid-afternoon. There they would prepare their evening meal, and perhaps visit their neighbors.
About an hour further down the path towards Gudbrandsdal, there was a Norwegian chalet or saeter. Two piker, or young girls, from the village, were spending the summer there, tending their herd of dairy cows. Every day they milked, and made butter and cheese; and, in the afternoon, they might spin cloth for next year’s clothing. But they always enjoyed the novelty of a visit by the English hunters. Fresh milk, bread, cheese, and roemme, a sour milk delicacy much favored by the Norwegians, were lavished on their visitors. And a warm afternoon might be spent in sharing stories, of the men’s hunt, or of the girl’s experiences over the summer in the mountains.
At first, Paul had found it difficult to talk to the girl’s, as their mountain dialect was so different from the bits and pieces of Norwegian he had learned fishing with Paal, and in Aandelsnes. But as August wore on, and early September arrived, he was learning to understand more and more. On one of their afternoon visits, he was sitting in front of the hut talking with Berit, the oldest of the two girls, who must have been about seventeen. She was warning him to be careful on the fjell, because only last month she and Anna had heard a huldra calling to her goats, and they had long known that after they took their herds back to the valley by the end of September the hulder used their saeter buildings for the winter. They knew this as the inside of the huts always showed use when they returned the next spring.
“What is a huldra, or hulder? Paul asked.
“Oh,” said Berit, ‘the hulder are the hill people. Some call them the tussefolk. They live under the ground, in the hills and don’t come out in the bright daylight. You can only see them when they want you to. Some say they can change shapes. A woman is called huldra”.
“You mean something like fairies?” he responded, somewhat incredulously.
He had never met anyone that had actually believed in fairies that was over the age of ten. So this seemed a little strange to him. He had heard many tales of trolls and giants in the last few months, and knew that the Norwegian folk lore had many different kinds of mythical creatures, but still was surprised to hear Berit talk of them as if she actually believed in them.
“I’m not sure what you mean by fairies,” she said. “But the hulder are much like you and me, except they can’t be seen easily, and they don’t like the daylight. They can be very helpful if you respect them, or they can cause you many problems if you insult them and make them angry. That is why I leave a little butter out each evening; to let them know I respect their permission to use the saeter in the summer.”
She went on to say, ” My Gram says that they are the children of Adam’s other wife, Lilith, and that the Lord made them the hidden folk as a punishment for something long forgotten. Some say that if a huldra or hulden can marry a Christian, the curse can be broken for them, and that individual can live above ground.”
“Well, what do they look like?” he asked.
“Not much different than us”. she responded. ” They are usually quite good looking I am told. I only remember seeing one. But some days you can hear them calling their herd together in the morning”
” When did you see one?”
“Two winters ago. We were having a dance over at the Roenevik’s, and about mid-evening a new pika showed up. She was very pretty, dressed much like us except her jacket was a deeper red as I recall. She had a bright face, and long blond pigtails, and she really loved to dance to the fiddler’s music. That was her undoing.”
“What do you mean, her undoing?”
“Oh, the main difference between a huldra and a human pika is that they have a long tail, like a cow’s. They usually roll it up under their dress to hide it when they are around regular folk, but I guess in the excitement of the dance, it came loose. Everyone was very shocked, and then she just disappeared.”
“What do you mean she just disappeared? That isn’t possible.”
“She was embarrassed and she didn’t want to be seen by us, so she wasn’t. The door opened and closed, and there was no one there. It happens that way with hulder.”
Berit then changed the subject to someone she and Anna had met at the party, and a little later, as it was getting darker, Paul left to walk back to camp. Berit was a sweet girl, but she was also just a simple farm girl. Actually believing in some mystical others that lived in the ground? He struggled not to chuckle aloud.
All the way back he thought of Elizabeth. It would not be much longer before the fall rains arrived for good. The weather would get steadily worse, finishing all potential for hunting. Then it would be time to return to England, and to Elizabeth.
But that night he had a strange dream. He dreamt about a beautiful home under the hill. It wasn’t like a cave, although the walls and ceiling were earth and rock. It had many colorful cloth hangings, and was bright with candlelight. He heard a male and female voice arguing in his dream, but didn’t see anyone there; and he awoke in the morning feeling very restless.
It was now nearly the middle of September. Their hunting had improved a bit and they had both had a number of shots and some success. Both had shot reindeer, and would be taking a nice warm reindeer hide rug home with them. Paul really enjoyed the meat the first time he had eaten it. More like beef than venison, but still not quite the same. There was very little fat, and it smelled almost as good as it tasted as they grilled it over the open fire.
But he had often been troubled by that re-occurring dream. Sometimes when he heard the voices he thought it sounded like Elizabeth and him talking, except they were talking in Norwegian, and he understood every word, other times, the voices were unfamiliar, and he might not understand as much. He hadn’t told anyone about it as he felt a little foolish.
Yesterday they had been down to the saeter to say goodby to Berit and Anna. The girls were returning to the valley with their herds, in preparation for the longer winter months. As they left, Berit took Paul aside to warn him again.
“You look too tired.” she said. “You should rest more. But remember to be careful of the huldra. Now that we are gone, they will be coming back to the saeter. Since you have been here, we have heard voices more often, as if she was looking for someone. If one of them has decided she likes you they can be very persistent, and tricky.”
Somehow, Paul wasn’t too concerned about fairies, dreams or no dreams. He felt that he just missed Elizabeth, and that was the reason for his dreams. And with his mind on her, he slowly walked back to the camp.
Next morning they arose early for one last day of hunting. After climbing high on the slopes around Memerrubu, and working thier way in and out of the valleys on its northern and eastern reaches without seeing any sign of reindeer, they finally decided to head back to camp early. Paul, remembering that he had left a jacket at the saeter yesterday, one that Berit had been mending for him, told the others that he would stop off there first, meeting the rest back at camp before dinner. It was a long walk over the mountains to reach the saeter, and he was relatively tired when he reached the huts. After picking up his jacket, he starting up the slowly rising trail over the hill that separated the huts from camp, about half way up, he decided to sit down for a brief rest before continuing on. The late afternoon sun was warm, and the turf was soft, and it wasn’t long before he slipped away into a light sleep. Once again he dreamed of Elizabeth.
He awoke when he heard the voices. There in front of him was his Elizabeth and a man he didn’t recognize. They seemed to be seated in front of a fire, in that warmly decorated room that he had seen in his dreams; rock walls covered with draperies in earth tones of gold and green, sturdy wooden furniture, lit by candles and the light from the fireplace. Elizabeth introduced her companion as Peter, a distant cousin, and seemed to be completely at home in this room, and with this man. Paul was so delighted to see her that he never even thought of asking how she came to be here.
Dinner was ready, and it was an excellent meal of Roast Saddle of Reindeer, served with a delicious brown gravy, fresh new potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. They all talked well into the evening, drinking home-made beer and aquavit. Even today, the memory of that evening is cloudy in Paul’s mind. When he awoke in the morning he felt fine, no effects of what must have been a heavy round of drinking last night – just a little disoriented. He heard humming over by the fire, and looking up saw a young girl preparing breakfast. She was relatively short, nicely figured, with long blond braids.
“Hello?” he said. “Who’s there? Where am I?”
She turned and smiled at him. It was a nice, warm, loving smile that extended from her red lips to her sky blue eyes. “Guten morgen Paal”, she answered. “Why do you ask such questions? It is I, Sigrun, your wife, And here, is your home beneath the hill.”
He was dumfounded. Had she said the words wife? and home? What could she mean? And then he noticed, as she turned back towards her cooking, the soft swish of the tail; beneath the hem of her skirt. Could it be? Was he in the lair of a huldra? Berit had warned him, but he was with Elizabeth last night. Wasn’t he?
Paul quickly got to his feet and finished dressing. He then took another long look at the girl, Sigrun she had said her name was. Her bone structure may be a little like Elizabeth’s, but there were no other similarities. “Where is Elizabeth? Is she sleeping somewhere else? I know she was here last night.” The questions tumbled out of him.
Sigrun smiled softly as she looked at him, “I don’t know anything about any Elizabeth. There was no one here last night except my cousin Petr. It was he that married us. Now you are my husband, and in a few days we can return to the world under the sky, and be married in the church, if you wish.”
“But I can’t be married! I am engaged to be married too Elizabeth Moore, in England. We are to be married in the spring.”
“You don’t need her anymore,” said Sigrun, with her red lips turned into a slight pout. “She is far away and I am here. Besides, you can’t marry her, you are married to me. Don’t you remember last night?
” I can’t remember much of anything about last night. That aquivit was very strong, and I must have drunk a great deal of it. But we can’t be married, there was no minister here. Just that cousin of yours, Peter or Petr, whatever you said.”
“Yes, but Petr is a minister. Or at least he performs the functions of one here, beneath the hill. That was why I sent for him.”
“No, no, no,” Paul shouted. “This isn’t possible. I love Elizabeth. You are very pretty, but I love Elizabeth. I can’t be married to you. And this Petr couldn’t be a licensed minister if he only acts like one under the hill. The marriage can’t be binding. How do I get out of here? Where is the door? I should be leaving for Christiania. If I don’t hurry, I’ll miss my ship to England.”
Sigrun stepped back from this outburst as if she had been slapped. “You don’t want me?” She asked menacingly. “You wish to leave me and go back to some washed out cow in England? You certainly wanted me last night, aquivit or no, or have you forgotten already?” and she looked at the bed meaningfully. “Forget her! And stay with me. It’s too late to go back anyway.” She sneered.
“No I must go.” And he started for the door.
“It’s too late, I say. You’ll find out if you go out that door. And you won’t be able to find it again to come back in.” Sigrun called. But Paul had already opened the door and stepped out.
And that was how he remembered it. He had come out into another rainy day. Walking to the camp to get his belongings, he had found that it was gone. Someone must have come and stolen everything. Could the hulder have done that? Could his belongings be under the hill? If so, they could stay there, He wasn’t going back. He still had his money and steamship ticket in his pocket. His next step was to walk to the saeter to get his bearings for the long walk down the mountain. Everything there had changed too. The buildings looked old, and out of repair. There was a fair sized birch tree growing up out of the sod roof of one of them. It wasn’t there yesterday, but it would have taken at least a dozen years to have grown that large.
And that was just the start of his troubles. When he got down out of the mountains the changes left him dumbfounded. The roads were all covered with a hard tar-like substance. Loud, smelly, metal horse-less carriages ran along them, incredibly fast. All the people sat inside above a motor, and steered for themselves, with no other drivers. In the villages there was so much activity. All the house looked the same, except for the different colors of paint. Here and there an old house might still stand, an island of comfort in this pool of insanity. And none of this prepared him for Christiania when he finally got there. It seemed to be total chaos. And they had even changed the name. Oslo! What kind of city name was that? What was wrong with a city named for a King of this place. In the city, people looked at him, in his old-fashioned clothes and stared or laughed outright.
This must have been what Sigrun had meant when she called to him that it was too late. Berit had once mentioned that time under the hill ran on a different schedule than above ground, but all of this made no sense.
It turned out that his purse of gold sovereigns was an oddity in this time, but once he had found someone that recognized it, he was able to exchange it for quite a lot of money. But it was strange money, made of paper, and all different colors. The people wanted him to climb into some metal object that flew in the air for his trip back to England, but he wouldn’t do that. He took a ship instead. But it was quite different then the steamer that brought him here. It was called a ferry, but it was much larger than any ferry he had ever seen, with the bottom three decks open for these ‘cars’ that these people drove everywhere.
When he got back to England, it was worse. Everyone he knew was dead. Elizabeth had married when he failed to return. Her son had been killed in the first great war with Germany in 1915, and she had never recovered, dying about three years later during the birth of a daughter. John had settled down, married, had his family, and died a comfortable old man at Mannerling. He was introduced to one of John’s grandsons who told him the whole history of the family. Of course no one believed his story, but his presence and his obvious youth astounded everyone. He heard that Elizabeth’s daughter was still alive, but he could not bring himself to see her, his memories were too fresh and too painful for him; and he knew they would be incomprehensible to her.
Finally he could take the chaos of this new world no more, and late in the fall, he returned to Norway where his life had been so ruined. The map he bought had shown him that the most direct way back to Gjende was this walk from Aardal. Oh, he could have gotten there in a day if he had taken one of those cars. But after his first ride in England, careening down the road at sixty miles per hour, he was never getting back in one of those things again. So he decided to take this long solitary walk. It would let him compose his thoughts. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there. But the rest of the world no longer held anything for him.
He finally arrived at Gjende after three more days of walking over the mountains. The views had been very good during the few hours when it cleared slightly, but this was now October, and the autumn rains were setting in to stay and the nights were getting steadily longer and colder. It might not be too much longer before the first snow of winter began to fly.
He had been glad to find, as he walked over the mountains, that in this new day and age the string of mountain inns was complete. They were about a day’s walk apart, where a traveler could find a bed for the night. They were certainly cleaner than any hut he had seen during his first visit to Norway, and the food was more varied. But they were far more expensive. Funds, however, were of no concern. The few investments he had held before visiting Norway had increased in value tremendously. If money had been all it took to be happy, he might have stayed in England and found someone new, but somehow he couldn’t accept that now. The mountain inn above the lake was called Gjendesheim.. It was a rambling affair on the north end of the lake. It would provide a good base of operations to re-explore the mountains. They, at least, had not changed.
The next morning he set out to find the saeter where Berit had first told him of the hulderfolk. It was a good two hours over the hill behind the inn to the saeter. The buildings looked the same as they did last spring, when he had come out from under the hill. The birch tree had fresh green leaves then, but now they were yellow to brown, and beginning to fall. The buildings were rundown, but someone had taken the effort to put a padlock on the door. He wondered what the hulderfolk thought of that.
After looking around, he found one of the shutters was loose, and if he climbed up on a stack of firewood, he could look in the window. All was a complete mess inside. The bedclothes were all gone. They had either been taken down into the valley years ago, or they had rotted away. Utensils were scattered everywhere, and spider webs and dust covered everything. No one had been in these buildings, human or hulder, in many years.
He than began to wander the mountains, trying to find the entrance to that world under the hill. It wasn’t hard to find the spot where he had sat in the sun that afternoon, and fallen asleep. But after that, all the hills and mounds looked the same. Every day for weeks, he came back and wandered listlessly, and every day it got colder.
At night his dreams were often of Elizabeth, as they had been most nights since he came back above ground. Sometimes he dreamed of what their lives could have been – the house they would have lived in, the children they would have seen grow to adulthood. But lately, occasionally, he got glimpses of that warm room, lit by candle and fire, with the wall hangings over the earthen walls, and the warmth of Sigrun’s laughter. She no longer looked like Elizabeth, as she had done so long ago. But she was certainly lovely in her own right. Finally he said to himself, “I have to put a stop to this aimlessness. If I don’t find it soon, I’ll go back to England and try to make the best of it.” But then he went out into the mountains one more time.
And so a day came when he was sitting on a rock near the stream, with his back to a hill. He thought he could hear soft singing, and he turned and looked but nothing, or no one, was in sight. So he settled back to listen. He was so engrossed in his thoughts, and the singing, that he didn’t notice the first snowflakes as they began to fall, as he slipped into sleep in the rapidly settling twilight.
Hours later, the hillside opened, and the light of a fire streamed across the fallen snow. Sigrun stepped out, and shivered slightly. Something had been bothering her for the last day or two, and she couldn’t tell what. She didn’t go out much anymore. Since her Paal had left, times had changed. The girls no longer brought their cows up to graze on the good mountain meadows. It was lonely in the summer without their bright laughter. The saeter was locked and unavailable, and had fallen into disrepair. So now she stayed under the hill all year now. Not as bright, but perhaps it was warmer in the winter. And now that winter was here, it would get even lonelier. Shivering, she was about to turn and go back in when she noticed the odd shaped lump under the snow. She knew this hill like the back of her hand, and that shouldn’t be there.
Walking over to it she began to brush the snow off of it. There was a jacket, with an arm inside. She quickly uncovered the rest, and saw that it was Paal. He was cold, very cold, and barely breathing. Had she come out to late? She didn’t know, but grabbing him under the arms with urgency, she began to drag his inert body back, into the light and the warmth of her fire.