Saga of Prince Hlini: An Icelandic Fairy Tale

Updated: 4 days ago

From the book: Icelandic Fairy Tales by Mrs. Angus W. Hall, 1897

Originally published as Sagan af Hlina kóngssyni

In a far country, there once lived a king and a queen. They had an only son, called Hlini, who even as a child showed wonderful talents, and grew up the handsomest, cleverest, and bravest man in all the land.

One day, the prince went out hunting with some of the courtiers. It was a beautiful morning ; the sun shone with unusual brilliancy, birds and game of all kinds were plentiful; and, well pleased with their good day's sport, the whole party turned homewards as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, when suddenly a thick fog arose, which soon completely surrounded them. They lost sight of the prince, and it was only with great difficulty that they made their way back to the castle.

When the king heard that his son had not returned, he became very anxious; and the fog having somewhat lifted, he at once sent out messengers to try and find him. But although they searched in all directions for three days and nights, they could find no trace of him,—no one had heard of or seen Prince Hlini.

This sudden disappearance of his son greatly grieved the king; and when, on the evening of the third day, the messengers returned without any news of him, the king retired to his room, and, throwing himself on his bed, gave way to the deepest grief. In vain the queen tried to cheer him, telling him that Hlini was so brave and clever, he would be sure to return safely. The king would not be consoled, and said he would gladly give the half of his kingdom to anyone who would bring him back his son.

Now, not far from the palace, in the middle of a wild moor, covered with yellow gorse and purple heather, there lived an old man in a little cottage with his only child, a daughter called Signy, who was both beautiful and clever. They were very poor, but lived happily and contented on wild honey and the berries that grew on the moors. When Signy heard from the shepherds that the prince had disappeared and that the king had offered the half of his kingdom to whoever should find him, she begged her father to let her go in search of him. At first he was very unwilling to part with her, dreading the dangers she might have to encounter; but Signy said she felt quite sure she would succeed in her search. All she wanted was a pair of new shoes and some food. And so, after a little more persuasion, her father gave her his blessing and started her on her journey.

Signy wandered on for several days, resting in the evenings in some sheltered nook, and ever going towards the north. It was now mid-summer, the days were long—in fact, there was scarcely any night; and on the fourth evening, just as the sun, like a huge red ball, was setting in a bed of crimson and gold, only to rise again, Signy saw some rocks in front of her, in one of which was a huge cave. Listening carefully for a few minutes and hearing no sound, Signy entered very softly, and there she saw two beds: one was covered with a beautiful blue silk quilt, embroidered with gold; the other had a crimson velvet quilt, embroidered with silver. Going cautiously forward, she saw the prince, lying fast asleep on the bed with the golden quilt.

Signy was delighted with her discovery, and went up to him to waken him ; but though she shook him, at first gently and then more roughly, she found she could not rouse him. Looking up, she saw some strange letters, or runes, cut into the wooden headboard of the bed.

Now, though her father, who was a learned old man, had taught Signy to read runes, she could make nothing of these. She therefore determined to wait and see who the owner of the cave was, and discovering a narrow recess near the opening, she crept quietly in.

Hardly had she got safely into her hiding-place, than she heard a terrible noise, like a peal of thunder. The earth began to quake, and presently two frightful giantesses entered the cave.

As they came in, the taller and elder of the two cried out angrily, "Pah! I smell the smell of a human being here!"

"Of course you do," replied her sister, "seeing that Hlini the king's son is asleep here."

They then went to the bed on which Hlini was lying, and moving the headboard, on which the wines were carved, to one side, out came two beautiful silver swans.

"Sing, my beautiful swans, sing, and waken Hlini," cried the giantesses.

'And as the swans, obeying, sang a lovely sweet song, the prince awoke.

The younger giantess then brought him a silver tray laden with delicious fruit and wine; but the prince would not touch anything.

"Will you marry me now?" then asked the giantess.