Retold by Terri Badham Wilks
The summer nights of Norway never get to dark to read a book outdoors. There is eeriness about the half light of the evenings. Perhaps that is what began the tales of the invisible ones and their gallivanting on the mid-summer night of Whitsun. The Norwegian countryside still celebrates the Mid Summer Night Festival with countless bonfires, but long ago, the fires were meant to keep away evil ones. They were called the invisibles, or invisible ones. Usually a whole village would collect the materials to fuel the enormous fires which light the skies at midnight. It was common knowledge at the time, that people susceptible to the bewitching of evil beings, could be at risk during this time, for evil flew and roamed about on this night, and all must beware.
For that reason a few of the local farmers had gathered one evening in the local pub. It was rare for farmers to gather during the mid-summer. A farmer’s summer work was too demanding to spend even one late night drinking ale. Farm work began early and lasted till a man would drop into bed.
Olav Berg’s angry voice howled over the rest, “Two years ago my mill burned to the ground on Whitsun Day. I built another, stronger, better than the last one, but the spirits set fire to it again. This time burnin my leg and leavin me lame. I’ve called ye here tonight, because I’m needin yer help. I can’t let the spirits take my place agin. With this lame leg I’m out matched by them.”
“Ye can’t say it were spirits. It could be yer own bad luck.” Retorted the less superstitious pub owner, as he used his sleeve to wipe the sweat dripping from his head onto the counter.
“I saw the new mill,” added a neighbor. “It was well built and safe. I’m believin that there was nothing on this earth that caused the blaze.”
“I need someone un a feared to guard my mill this Whitsun.” Olav spoke out loudly. There was only quiet. Each man looked at the other to see if another would stand. None did. Then Olav reached into his pocket and pulled out a money bag and held it high. “I will pay he who stays very well. It still will be less than the cost of a new grain mill.”
One of the farmers slapped both hands down on the table and rose to his feet. He stared directly at Olav and spoke to his face. “You can’t offer anyone here enough to risk their life. You must have offended the evil ones and they will burn yer mill to the ground again. We won’t be got up in it.”
“Think on it agin!” pleaded Olav. “I’ll double this amount. If my mill burns again, I’ll be forced to go back to that worn down forest cottage I started in. Men! My Friends! That’s no place fer me! I’m a businessman, an asset to the community! You need my mill in this town! I’m beggin ye! Someone help me to save the mill!” Olav fell back into his chair and looked about into the faces of his friends. The room was completely still as the men searched their consciences and their courage. Most of the men where burying their heads or downing an extra large gulp of ale.
“I will do it! The clear confident voice spoke out through the hush. The quiet was replaced by laughter and pointing when they realized it was the young tailor offering to stay.
“Your fiancée will not put up with that, young tailor!” teased one of the farmers, the beer spraying from his mouth as he spoke.
The tailor stood firm, unaffected by the words and laughter. “It is because I plan to marry that I need the money for supplies for my shop. What woman wants a house without a kitchen?”
“And a bedroom,” Laughed another farmer.
“Aye boy, but what good is the money if ye be dead?” taunted another, coldly with out expression.
The group hushed to hear what the tailor would say next, as he stepped onto the chair, then to the table to speak. “I don’t believe in the old tales. I listened for hours to my grandmother talking of the invisible ones and what one should do if ever you see one, but it is all story telling, and I won’t let such fears keep me from one night that will prosper my shop so well. So shake my hand on it now Olav Berg, sir, before all these witnesses who have heard you declare the price you would pay. I will be at your mill the afternoon of Whitsun.”
But even as they shook hands, the talk of the brave, but foolish tailor, Pedter Grieg had already began.
“Kierin, I will be fine.” Pedter tried his best to comfort his fiancée, but she had already heard the chattering in the town, of the unwise tailor.
“I do not believe the stories of the invisible evil ones, demons or phantoms, even though it was all my grandmother talked of.” Pedter promised, trying to console his frantic wife to be. “I was raised by a superstitious grandmother who worried constantly about witches and blamed them for every thing. I don’t believe in them, but I will remember all the protection pieces she taught me of, just to be sure and make you happy.”
“Protect yourself also from the pranksters. Some of those men might make you disappear, just to keep others frightened.” Kierin spoke with conviction, then her voice softened to a whisper, “I love you! I don’t want to lose you! Nor do I want to have the whole town callin you a fool”
Pedter kissed her cheek, and twisted her blonde braid around his finger. “We’ll be the one’s callin them foolish when we march through town with our bags of money and build our fine house and shop. You have to trust me.”
As Pedter had promised, he met Olav at his mill early on the eve of the mid-summer holiday. He had prepared well, with everything he needed to fight off phantoms or men pretending to be. Olav and his wife greeted Pedter with open arms and wished him well. Together they checked the mill well for any possible fire hazards. Olav explained that he and his wife would spend the night in their old cottage in the woods to the north. Being superstitious folk, they were anxious to get to there before dark. They told Pedter he should come to them at the cottage at first morning sunlight.
Inside the mill, Pedter built a small flame inside the fireplace. He ate the small meal he had prepared for himself, to make sure no sleeping potions could be added by anyone or anything. He laid out his bedroll and put around and under him anything he thought he might need. As darkness came, Pedter took a piece of his tailors chalk and began to draw a circle around himself and his things. Around the outside of the circle he wrote the words of the Paternoster, also called the Lord’s Prayer. Then he waited inside the circle.
Suddenly with a blast of wind and slamming crash, the door flew open. In swarmed a pack of furious black cats. They prowled around the ring of chalk and words, hissing and snarling as if they were lions. Their yellow eyes fixed upon the brave tailor. They seemed intent on ripping him to shreds. No matter how they tried, they could not reach him, somehow the white ring of chalk was protecting him.
Pedter’s mind was filled with doubt and he feared for his life. “Perhaps his grandmother’s stories were true, for these cats were not of this world. If they were the evil ones of this grandmother’s tales, he hoped he could remember all the advice she gave.
Some of the cats walked upright, bringing in a caldron of black pitch and hanging it in the fireplace. Others threw wood upon the fire.
Pedter called to the cats. “What are your plans for that black pitch old cat?”
One of the cats began to tip the caldron. Some of the pitch dripped in the fire and onto the rocks around the fireplace, it caught fire immediately. The liquid fire sizzled and smoked, but this time it did not touch the floor. Pedter knew if it did spill out onto the wood floor it would surely set the whole place ablaze.
“I must not appear afraid.” He thought. Laughing, he joked, “Look out cat, you’ll burn yourself.”
The cat glared at the tailor with a look that might be perceived as a smile; then the cat spoke, in an almost whining growl of a voice. “Did you hear the tailor?” It spoke to the other cats. “He told me to look out not to burn myself.” The cats began to dance around the circle of chalk until all the tailor could see were hundreds of yellow eyes glaring at him.
The tailor started to fall back, dizzy from watching the eyes spinning about him. He fell back far enough that some of the cats’ claws reached him, shredding one of the sleeves of his shirt and drawing blood from his arm. Still the tailor managed to keep his head. He reached for the knife he had placed under his bedroll, but he was careful not to allow the cats to see it. When one of the cats thrust its paw just inside the circle, like a flash, Pedter pulled out the knife and chopped off the cat’s paw.
Not just one cat, but all the cats began to howl and run out of the room. It was an unearthly scream that they made, so ear piercing that Pedter dropped the knife and covered his head, fearing that this was the end.
When he raised his head, he was surprised to find all was quiet. Not one cat remained. The tailor waited and watched for a long time and finally fell asleep on his bedroll.
At mornings light, Pedter gathered his belongs and went to Olav’s cottage. “Good day to you Olav!” Spoke Pedter cheerfully as he entered the cottage. “The mill is standing and I am alive!”
“Thank you, brave, brave tailor. You are worth every piece of gold it cost me.” Olav exclaimed, genuinely hugging him with both arms. “Because of you, I still have a mill!” He started toward another room, but added, “Wait here, I will get your money.”
Pedter walked toward Olav’s wife, She was pale and quiet; as if she had just been awakened. She was still wrapped in her bed quilt. She extended her left hand to Pedter, for her right hand was missing.