Elves or hidden people are often quite mean in Icelandic folktales. You can never take them for granted, and being the capricious creatures they are; you should never be in their way.

Dancing Elves by August Malmstrom, 1866

The folktale below tells of just such creatures. They take what they want, when they want and do not shy away from killing anyone or anything in their way. However, the tale could also have been a person’s explanation as to how they got the treasure they suddenly had.

It might be more likely that it was simply stolen. What do you think really happened? Do you think elves exist or are the tales people’s explanations as to how they got expensive items which shouldn’t really be in their position?

Read other fairytales and legends:

The Manservant and the Water-elves

Once upon a time, a farmer lived in a house with paneled walls. The farmer’s ill fate was that every servant was left alone to guard the house on Christmas Eve while the family went to church and was found dead when they returned.

As soon as the news spread, the farmer had the greatest difficulty hiring servants who would consent to be alone on Christmas eve. At last, a strong and muscular man offered him his services to sit up alone and guard the house. The farmer told him what fate awaited him for his rashness. But the man despised such fear and persisted in his determination.

The Family Leaves

On Christmas eve, when the farmer and his family were preparing for church, the farmer said to the servant:

“Come with us to church; I cannot leave you here to die.”

But the other replied, “I intend to stay here. It would be unwise of you to leave your house unprotected. Besides, the cattle and sheep must have their food at the proper time.”

“Never mind the beasts,” answered the farmer. “Do not be so rash as to remain in the house this night. We have always found every living thing in the house dead, with all its bones broken.”

But the man was not to be persuaded, as he considered all these fears beneath his notice. Hence, the farmer and the rest of the servants went away and left him behind, alone in the house.

As soon as he was by himself, he considered how to guard against anything that might occur. He had started to dread the coming night despite his courage and believed something strange was about to take place. At last, he thought that the best thing to do was to light up the family room and then find someplace to hide. As soon as he had lighted all the candles, he moved two planks out of the wainscot at the end of the room. He crept into the space between it and the wall and restored the planks to their places. Making sure he could see into the room but not be seen.

Elf Dance by Martin Brandenburg (1870-1919)

Guests arrive

He had scarcely finished concealing himself when two fierce and strange-looking men entered the room and began looking about.

One of them said, “I smell a human being.”

“No,” replied the other, “there is no human being here.”

Then they took a candle and continued their search until they found the man’s dog asleep under one of the beds. They took it up, dashed it on the ground till every bone in its body was broken and hurled it from them. When the manservant saw this, he congratulated himself for not falling into their hands.

Suddenly the room was filled with people. They were laden with tables and all kinds of table furniture, silver and cloths, which they spread out. Then sat down to a rich supper, which they had also brought with them. They feasted noisily and spent the remainder of the night drinking and dancing. Two of them were appointed to keep guard. They had to warn the company of either the approach of anybody or the day. Three times they went out, always returning with the news that they saw neither the approach of any human being nor yet the break of day.

The Night Comes to an End

When the manservant suspected the night to be far spent, he jumped from his place of concealment into the room. He began clashing the two planks together with as much noise as he could make, and shouted like a madman:

“The day! the day! The day! “

Hearing these words, the whole company rose, scared from their seats. It rushed headlong out. Leaving behind them their tables and all the silver dishes. They even left the very clothes they had taken off for ease in dancing. In the hurry of flight, many were wounded and trodden underfoot. At the same time, the rest ran into the darkness, the manservant after them, clapping the planks together and shrieking, “The day! the day! The day! ” Until they came to a large lake, the whole party plunged headlong and disappeared.

From this, the man knew them to be water elves.

The Happily Ever After

Then he returned home, gathered the corpses of the elves killed in the flight, killed the wounded ones, and, making a great heap of them all, burned them. When he finished this task, he cleaned up the house and took possession of all the treasures the elves had left behind.

On the farmer’s return, his servant told him all that had occurred and showed him the spoils. The farmer praised him as a brave fellow and congratulated him on escaping with his life. The man gave him half the treasures of the elves and ever afterward prospered exceedingly.

This was the last visit the water elves ever paid to that house.

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