It was a castle like no other in the world, magnificent, imposing, and for Astrid, the most wonderful home in the world. She was all of seven years old, was Astrid, and as the only child of King Lars and Queen Anette, the Crown Princess of Bergen. But the day’s events would change all that, forever.
It all started very innocuously. Astrid woke up with the cacophony of seagulls as usual, and spent some time giving them company, and moral support, till her governess came and hushed her, telling her that this is not how princesses were supposed to behave. Astrid took her revenge for the admonishment by sticking her tongue out at the hag, but only when her back was turned towards Astrid. Even her father, the king himself, was not brave enough to attempt this feat in front of the tyrant.
Astrid finally got ready, took her lessons, and then she was off like a bird, out to play with seagulls on the port. As usual, there were two soldiers with her, not to protect her, for Bergen was a peaceful place, and Astrid was loved by one and all, but to protect the common folks from becoming a victim of her pranks. And as usual, Astrid easily gave them the slip and reached a portion of the harbour that was not very populated.
The games were on in full swing. Astrid had a basket-full of fish with her. She would throw a fish into the air, seagulls would come swooping down, and try to catch the fish in their beaks before it fell to the ground. The air was filled with the cries of seagulls.
Suddenly, Astrid felt a tap on her shoulder. She quickly turned around, fearing that her bodyguards had finally caught up with her. But she was relieved to see that it was only an old wayfarer, with a long beard and a broad hat on his head. But the most distinctive feature of the old man were his eyes- he had only one eye, with which he was now looking very closely at Astrid.
Astrid was not unduly alarmed, it was her kingdom after all. So she asked the old man, “Can I help you with something Sir?” The wayfarer looked longingly at the bucket of fish, and said, “Little Miss, I have been traveling, and have not eaten anything for four days. Can I have some fish?”
Now Astrid was still in a playful mood, so she asked the old man, “Yes, but how will you pay me for it? This fish is not free, you know, I charge 100 Krones for one fish!” The old man appeared to be really disappointed on hearing this, and he said, “Alas, I have no money young lady. Can’t you have mercy on an old man and give him some fish for free?”
Still looking at it as a game, Astrid replied, “No money, no fish.”
At this, something akin to rage could be seen on the face of the old man, but he controlled himself, fished around in his pocket, and suddenly opened his right hand. Astrid was shocked to see that there was a bar of gold in his hand.
The old man said, “I don’t have money, but I do have some gold, will this do?” But Astrid wanted the game to continue some more, so she said, “No, I said I want money, and I will only accept money. I am the princess of this great land, I have enough gold of my own. The turrets and roof of my castle are made of gold, even my dolls wear a dress made of gold.”
The man seemed even more enraged on hearing this, but somehow controlled his temper. This time, he put his left hand in his left pocket, and after a few seconds, took it out and opened it in front of Astrid’s face with a flourish. This time, the hand was full of magnificent, glittering diamonds. “Will this do, little girl, ” he asked Astrid.
But Astrid too was now in a belligerent mood. Without realizing it, the game had given way to a clash of egos. She replied petulantly, “No means no, what will I do with diamonds? I can’t use it to buy fish for my seagulls. And anyways, I have enough diamonds at home, even the chandeliers in our great castle are made of diamonds!” So saying, she hit the old man’s hand hard, and the diamonds flew into the air.
And as she was watching the diamonds falling down from the air, Astrid saw a breath-taking transformation taking place in the old man. He was now wearing an armour of silver, and had a shiny spear in his hand. The colour quickly drained away from Astrid’s face, for she realized this was no ordinary wayfarer, but Odin, the father of Gods, about whose might her governess had been narrating stories ever since she was a small child.
And Odin was furious beyond belief. This slip of a young girl had so much pride in her kingdom, her riches, her power, and no kindness to shell out to an old, needy man? He thundered, “Thou hast refused my offer of riches because of thy arrogance, young girl, now thou shalt have to accept the consequences of my wrath!”
Astrid was whimpering, and shaking in her shoes. By now, all the fishermen in the harbour too had collected there to witness this awesome sight, and someone had called King Lars and Queen Anette also. They begged and pleaded in front of Odin, but his anger knew no bounds, and he said, “Thou hast trampled basic humanity and kindness in thy pride in thy riches and thy castle, so from this moment on, thy castle will lie on the streets, so that any passer-by can trample on it!”
And lo and behold, the castle started shrinking, while everyone looked on in horror, and in just a few seconds, the castle had shrunk into a round shaped iron gutter-cover, kept on the main street of the town.
The King, Queen and Astrid now started begging Odin for forgiveness. At his core, Odin was a very benevolent God, so he realized that he might have over-reacted, especially when he saw pearl-like tears in little Astrid’s blue eyes. His heart melted at this sight, and he said, “What is done cannot be undone, even by me. But let me tell you this: One day, I shall return to this town, it could be tomorrow, next year, or in a thousand years. And I shall try to buy a fish again, with gold or with diamonds. If the shopkeeper agrees to sell me the fish, I shall resurrect this castle.”
And since that day, dear readers, each shop in the Fish Market in Bergen Harbour has this sign posted on it:
For they know that Odin never breaks his promise, he WILL return one day, and on that day, someone will sell him fish against payment in gold or diamonds, and Bergen will have the most spectacular castle in the world again, and it will have a king again, and who knows, another lovely, playful, full of life princess like Astrid!
Narrator’s Note: Always good to remember that these stories have absolutely nothing to do with any facts, or with actual Norse mythology. The photographs, though, are 100% genuine, all from our travels, and clicked by us.
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