There was a boy who was very clever but lazy. He wasn’t the seventh son of a seventh son, nothing so remarkable. In the grandest way, he was a nobody, nothing of import. Just a clever boy. But this clever boy had dreams, grand dreams. Dreams of kingdoms and fiefdom, of adventure and his own cleverness. He was just simply too lazy to complete them.
The kingdom of Mercel was just beside and overtop of the giants’ kingdom of Wata. This made them frightful neighbours. When the boy was sixteen, he set out to make his way in the world. An ambitious youngest son would have performed heroic deeds to win the heart of a princess. This last son only found his way to being a carriage boy.
Through no great thinking of his own — in fact it was considered by some a punishment — he found himself the carriage boy of the Queen’s Royal Sleigh. His duty was to be sure nothing happened to the esteemed lady’s luggage. Now the Queen was quite spoiled and vain, drastically unhappy as it were, caring little for the needs of her own servants, so she gave him the ugliest of uniforms and set him atop her coach to watch the luggage. Often this meant he rode the carriage in the rain. She didn’t trust anyone with her finest of gems and wore all of them so the her person sparkled and shone. All except one particularly ugly brooch set all in gold. That she gave to the boy to watch over.
The boy had been her carriage boy for six miserable months of rain and muck when she decided she had had enough of this kingdom. She declared that she would see the borders of her kingdom, even the most dangerous ones next to the giants’ kingdom. So her sleigh was packed high with furs and jewels, all manner to keep her comfortable. Thirty of the best of the King’s geld were assigned to guard her on this latest folly. The boy thought to himself that this was foolishness. Who willingly went to the borders to seek out giants? Thirty of the best geld would be nothing against giants. The king, in his opinion, was looking to see the Queen kidnapped.
But the boy kept his own counsel. Sometimes it was best not to speak up.
They left on a sunny day in November, when the frost was still new upon the ground. The boy, relieved that today he would not be soaked by rain, sat atop of the rear of the sleigh and plotted how best to get out of lifting more boxes.
“Aye boy!” declared the coachman. “Be sure to clean the bags as the leaves fall atop them!”
The boy didn’t have the heart to say that the leaves had long since fallen dead. So he sat atop the luggage to guard it against non-existent leaves and dreamt his day away.
The sleigh rumbled along happily by itself for two days, stopping only to water the horses or for the Queen to stretched her long stockinged legs.
The boy was riding atop on the second day, letting it lure him to dozing with its soft swaying motion and the jingle of horses’ bits and the creaks of leather, when with a particularly hard bounce it set him off the top to the ground with a spectacular bounce. He sat up, bewildered, and stared at the carriage as it slowly rumbled away. He sat there, considering what next to do.
There was only one thing to do, he decided. He stood up, headed down the path and followed the sleigh until it pulled out of sight. Then he was stuck in the swampy forest and hopelessly lost.
With nothing else to be done, he stood in the middle of the swampiest area of the forest and tried to decide his best course of action. As he stood, something began to suck at his boot heels. The boy was so lost in thought that to his surprise, he sank down to his armpits before he could stop.
“There’s nothing for it,” he decided aloud and soon he was up to his neck. “Best to sink.”
He did sink up to his chin and he took a deep breath before sinking into the ground. He slid down and down, through tight tunnels and into caverns of sand. He slid and slid until at last he reached the bottom of his fall.
To the clever’s boy great surprise, he had landed right side up in a world of ice. It sparkled around him in tendrils of ice and blankets of snow. It was an even greater surprise when he turned about and saw the Queen’s sleigh, now without a coachman or the thirty geld. The six fine bay horses remained, prancing in place and eager to go.
There was nothing to do but climb aboard. The horses were spirited but easy to manage, and they shifted restlessly until he clicked his tongue and set them out at a merry trot. They drove through the gathered snow, where massive tracks had lain out the way to go. They carried on at a clipping pace, passing large huts of wood and stone, castles made of icicles, and halls made of old bones. They passed fields of polar bears and lakes of seals, until finally, steaming with sweat and cold, they arrived at the doorstep of a massive inn. The boy rang the bell for service and unhitched his horses. There he spent the night of a kindly frost giant, not at all the sort you’d think to meet for he was kind and elderly. The next day, the boy carried on until coming to yet another forest.
The sleigh rumbled down the path until coming to a guard station with a cross bar barring the way. The guard, a troll in a fine green suit of crushed velvet, held out his hand and cleared his mighty throat.
“Do you carry gold upon you?” he asked.
The boy thought of his charge, the golden brooch. “No, good sir, not gold coin,” he answered.
“Any coin will do. All coin must be left with the toll booth as payment into the kingdom of Wata,” the guard said.
Without thought, the boy tossed him his only silver coin left and was sent on his way once more. The sleigh coasted down the icy path until it came to another tool booth. A troll in purple tweed popped his head out of the window.
“Oy, got you any gold, like?” he asked in a grumble that shook the earth.
“Your friend up the path took it,” said the boy. The troll sighed.
“Any weapons then, eh?” he asked.
The boy gave him his tiny paring knife, used to whittle little sticks. Again he was sent on his way. The roads were growing treacherous now. The sleigh carried on and on until they came to the last toll booth guarding the castles of Wata. This booth was guarded by the largest troll dressed in a full suit of silver armour. This troll in turn asked where he went.
“To save my Queen,” declared the boy.
“Then you need to give me something or I will not let you pass,” said the troll.
“All I have left is my cleverness and that is only so good.” Then he thought of something. “But you may have my laziness.”
The troll took a moment to consider this and nodded. “I will take your laziness,” he said. “Ride on.”
The sleigh lurched down the path and the boy was struck by a sudden drive he had never had before. He drove the horses harder than ever, determined to rescue his Queen and prove his worth to his King. He only stopped when the horses began to lag and found another inn, where an enormous cook was making his meal in the open barbecue.
“May I share your meal?” the boy asked.
“Only if you finish all that I put before you. If you don’t, I will have to kill you for your waste,” warned the giant who began to pile huge rations atop the table.
The giant’s daughter, a slender nymph who worked the fire, saw the boy from her place at the fire and fell instantly in love with him. As the boy sat beside the cook, staring at the mountains of food, she took his rations and divided them between them while her father’s back was turned. The boy ate with gusto, until he might burst, and the maiden ate the rest. The father, grumbling that he had looked forward to eating the boy, allowed it only because the girl’s mother frightened him so.
The next morning, the boy left with the giant’s daughter and came to the castle where the tracks led. This castle belonged to the Duke of Wata, a handsome giant of great wealth. The sleigh rolled into the courtyard where hung the 30 geld from the gallows. To the boy’s shock, the Queen was there, waltzing beneath the swinging bodies with the gigantic Duke.
“My lady!” cried the boy. “I’ve come to rescue you!”
The giant’s guard surrounded the sleigh but at a wry look from the giant’s daughter, they stepped back. They could sense that she was the daughter of a monster. The boy, none the wiser, only held up his hands. “Come with me, my Queen, back to your husband.”
The Queen sniffed her delicate nose and turned away. “I do not care to be rescued,” she said.
The boy stared. “But I came all this way,” he whispered.
“Go to my husband then and tell him I wish to remain,” she answered and she turned to dance with her handsome Duke.
The boy had no choice, not when the Duke’s guard looked ready to eat him. He picked up his reins and drove the sleigh away with the giant’s daughter holding his other hand. He knew what he needed to do. His home could afford no wars with the giants but the King would need to know his wife was not about to come home.
Over icy lands, past the castles of icicles, the lakes of seals, and the fields of polar bears, into the swampy forest and through the meadows of Mercel, he drove his sleigh. When they arrived at the King’s castle, it was the King himself who greeted them. His dumpy face was sweated with worry. It turned a horrible shade of red when he realized his wife was not with the boy.
“Where is my wife?” he demanded.
“I never found her,” said the boy. “I believe she ran off, never wanting to be found.”
“Blasted woman,” said the King. “She was ever so flighty.”
The King did not grieve long for his wife. He took another the next day, this time a woman who was more than happy to be Queen of the tiny kingdom and who had no fondness for giants. The boy married the giant’s daughter and as a reward for his service was given a pleasant cottage and a crop of land. With the ugly brooch tucked in his pocket, he decided to never betray the truth of his Queen. He tucked the brooch beneath his bed and carried on a happy life of farming.
At least, until the next time he was called to the land of the giants.