Glimminge Castle

Black Rats and Gray Rats

In southeastern Skåne⁠—not far from the sea there is an old castle called Glimminge. It is a big and substantial stone house; and can be seen over the plain for miles around. It is not more than four stories high; but it is so ponderous that an ordinary farmhouse, which stands on the same estate, looks like a little children’s playhouse in comparison.

The big stone house has such thick ceilings and partitions that there is scarcely room in its interior for anything but the thick walls. The stairs are narrow, the entrances small; and the rooms few. That the walls might retain their strength, there are only the fewest number of windows in the upper stories, and none at all are found in the lower ones. In the old war times, the people were just as glad that they could shut themselves up in a strong and massive house like this, as one is nowadays to be able to creep into furs in a snapping cold winter. But when the time of peace came, they did not care to live in the dark and cold stone halls of the old castle any longer. They have long since deserted the big Glimminge castle, and moved into dwelling places where the light and air can penetrate.

At the time when Nils Holgersson wandered around with the wild geese, there were no human beings in Glimminge castle; but for all that, it was not without inhabitants. Every summer there lived a stork couple in a large nest on the roof. In a nest in the attic lived a pair of gray owls; in the secret passages hung bats; in the kitchen oven lived an old cat; and down in the cellar there were hundreds of old black rats.

Rats are not held in very high esteem by other animals; but the black rats at Glimminge castle were an exception. They were always mentioned with respect, because they had shown great valour in battle with their enemies; and much endurance under the great misfortunes which had befallen their kind. They nominally belong to a rat-folk who, at one time, had been very numerous and powerful, but who were now dying out. During a long period of time, the black rats owned Skåne and the whole country. They were found in every cellar; in every attic; in larders and cowhouses and barns; in breweries and flour-mills; in churches and castles; in every man-constructed building. But now they were banished from all this⁠—and were almost exterminated. Only in one and another old and secluded place could one run across a few of them; and nowhere were they to be found in such large numbers as in Glimminge castle.

When an animal folk die out, it is generally the human kind who are the cause of it; but that was not the case in this instance. The people had certainly struggled with the black rats, but they had not been able to do them any harm worth mentioning. Those who had conquered them were an animal folk of their own kind, who were called gray rats.

These gray rats had not lived in the land since time immemorial, like the black rats, but descended from a couple of poor immigrants who landed in Malmö from a Libyan sloop about a hundred years ago. They were homeless, starved-out wretches who stuck close to the harbour, swam among the piles under the bridges, and ate refuse that was thrown in the water. They never ventured into the city, which was owned by the black rats.

But gradually, as the gray rats increased in number they grew bolder. At first they moved over to some waste places and condemned old houses which the black rats had abandoned. They hunted their food in gutters and dirt heaps, and made the most of all the rubbish that the black rats did not deign to take care of. They were hardy, contented and fearless; and within a few years they had become so powerful that they undertook to drive the black rats out of Malmö. They took from them attics, cellars and storerooms, starved them out or bit them to death, for they were not at all afraid of fighting.

When Malmö was captured, they marched forward in small and large companies to conquer the whole country. It is almost impossible to comprehend why the black rats did not muster themselves into a great, united war-expedition to exterminate the gray rats, while these were still few in numbers. But the black rats were so certain of their power that they could not believe it possible for them to lose it. They sat still on their estates, and in the meantime the gray rats took from them farm after farm, city after city. They were starved out, forced out, rooted out. In Skåne they had not been able to maintain themselves in a single place except Glimminge castle.

The old castle had such secure walls and such few rat passages led through these, that the black rats had managed to protect themselves, and to prevent the gray rats from crowding in. Night after night, year after year, the struggle had continued between the aggressors and the defenders; but the black rats had kept faithful watch, and had fought with the utmost contempt for death, and, thanks to the fine old house, they had always conquered.

It will have to be acknowledged that as long as the black rats were in power they were as much shunned by all other living creatures as the gray rats are in our day⁠—and for just cause; they had thrown themselves upon poor, fettered prisoners, and tortured them; they had ravished the dead; they had stolen the last turnip from the cellars of the poor; bitten off the feet of sleeping geese; robbed eggs and chicks from the hens; and committed a thousand depredations. But since they had come to grief, all this seemed to have been forgotten; and no one could help but marvel at the last of a race that had held out so long against its enemies.

The gray rats that lived in the courtyard at Glimminge and in the vicinity, kept up a continuous warfare and tried to watch out for every possible chance to capture the castle. One would fancy that they should have allowed the little company of black rats to occupy Glimminge castle in peace, since they themselves had acquired all the rest of the country; but you may be sure this thought never occurred to them. They were wont to say that it was a point of honour with them to conquer the black rats at some time or other. But those who were acquainted with the gray rats must have known that it was because the human kind used Glimminge castle as a grain storehouse that the gray ones could not rest before they had taken possession of the place.

The Stork


Early one morning the wild geese who stood and slept on the ice in Vomb Lake were awakened by long calls from the air. “Trirop, Trirop!” it sounded, “Trianut, the crane, sends greetings to Akka, the wild goose, and her flock. Tomorrow will be the day of the great crane dance on Kullaberg.”

Akka raised her head and answered at once: “Greetings and thanks! Greetings and thanks!”

With that, the cranes flew farther; and the wild geese heard them for a long while⁠—where they travelled and called out over every field, and every wooded hill: “Trianut sends greetings. Tomorrow will be the day of the great crane dance on Kullaberg.”

The wild geese were very happy over this invitation. “You’re in luck,” they said to the white goosey-gander, “to be permitted to attend the great crane dance on Kullaberg!”

“Is it then so remarkable to see cranes dance?” asked the goosey-gander.

“It is something that you have never even dreamed about!” replied the wild geese.

“Now we must think out what we shall do with Thumbietot tomorrow⁠—so that no harm can come to him, while we run over to Kullaberg,” said Akka.

“Thumbietot shall not be left alone!” said the goosey-gander. “If the cranes won’t let him see their dance, then I’ll stay with him.”

“No human being has ever been permitted to attend the Animal’s Congress, at Kullaberg,” said Akka, “and I shouldn’t dare to take Thumbietot along. But we’ll discuss this more at length later in the day. Now we must first and foremost think about getting something to eat.”

With that Akka gave the signal to adjourn. On this day she also sought her feeding-place a good distance away, on Smirre Fox’s account, and she didn’t alight until she came to the swampy meadows a little south of Glimminge castle.

All that day the boy sat on the shores of a little pond, and blew on reed-pipes. He was out of sorts because he shouldn’t see the crane dance, and he just couldn’t say a word, either to the goosey-gander, or to any of the others.

It was pretty hard that Akka should still doubt him. When a boy had given up being human, just to travel around with a few wild geese, they surely ought to understand that he had no desire to betray them. Then, too, they ought to understand that when he had renounced so much to follow them, it was their duty to let him see all the wonders they could show him.

“I’ll have to speak my mind right out to them,” thought he. But hour after hour passed, still he hadn’t come round to it. It may sound remarkable⁠—but the boy had actually acquired a kind of respect for the old leader-goose. He felt that it was not easy to pit his will against hers.

On one side of the swampy meadow, where the wild geese fed, there was a broad stone hedge. Toward evening when the boy finally raised his head to speak to Akka, his glance happened to rest on this hedge. He uttered a little cry of surprise, and all the wild geese instantly looked up, and stared in the same direction. At first, both the geese and the boy thought that all the round, gray stones in the hedge had acquired legs, and were starting on a run; but soon they saw that it was a company of rats who ran over it. They moved very rapidly, and ran forward, tightly packed, line upon line, and were so numerous that, for some time, they covered the entire stone hedge.

The boy had been afraid of rats, even when he was a big, strong human being. Then what must his feelings be now, when he was so tiny that two or three of them could overpower him? One shudder after another travelled down his spinal column as he stood and stared at them.

But strangely enough, the wild geese seemed to feel the same aversion toward the rats that he did. They did not speak to them; and when they were gone, they shook themselves as if their feathers had been mud-spattered.

“Such a lot of gray rats abroad!” said Iksi from Vassipaure. “That’s not a good omen.”

The boy intended to take advantage of this opportunity to say to Akka that he thought she ought to let him go with them to Kullaberg, but he was prevented anew, for all of a sudden a big bird came down in the midst of the geese.

One could believe, when one looked at this bird, that he had borrowed body, neck and head from a little white goose. But in addition to this, he had procured for himself large black wings, long red legs, and a thick bill, which was too large for the little head, and weighed it down until it gave him a sad and worried look.

Akka at once straightened out the folds of her wings, and curtsied many times as she approached the stork. She wasn’t specially surprised to see him in Skåne so early in the spring, because she knew that the male storks are in the habit of coming in good season to take a look at the nest, and see that it hasn’t been damaged during the winter, before the female storks go to the trouble of flying over the East sea. But she wondered very much what it might signify that he sought her out, since storks prefer to associate with members of their own family.

“I can hardly believe that there is anything wrong with your house, Herr Ermenrich,” said Akka.

It was apparent now that it is true what they say: a stork can seldom open his bill without complaining. But what made the thing he said sound even more doleful was that it was difficult for him to speak out. He stood for a long time and only clattered with his bill; afterward he spoke in a hoarse and feeble voice. He complained about everything: the nest⁠—which was situated at the very top of the rooftree at Glimminge castle⁠—had been totally destroyed by winter storms; and no food could he get any more in Skåne. The people of Skåne were appropriating all his possessions. They dug out his marshes and laid waste his swamps. He intended to move away from this country, and never return to it again.

While the stork grumbled, Akka, the wild goose who had neither home nor protection, could not help thinking to herself: “If I had things as comfortable as you have, Herr Ermenrich, I should be above complaining. You have remained a free and wild bird; and still you stand so well with human beings that no one will fire a shot at you, or steal an egg from your nest.” But all this she kept to herself. To the stork she only remarked, that she couldn’t believe he would be willing to move from a house where storks had resided ever since it was built.

Then the stork suddenly asked the geese if they had seen the gray rats who were marching toward Glimminge castle. When Akka replied that she had seen the horrid creatures, he began to tell her about the brave black rats who, for years, had defended the castle. “But this night Glimminge castle will fall into the gray rats’ power,” sighed the stork.

“And why just this night, Herr Ermenrich?” asked Akka.

“Well, because nearly all the black rats went over to Kullaberg last night,” said the stork, “since they had counted on all the rest of the animals also hurrying there. But you see that the gray rats have stayed at home; and now they are mustering to storm the castle tonight, when it will be defended by only a few old creatures who are too feeble to go over to Kullaberg. They’ll probably accomplish their purpose. But I have lived here in harmony with the black rats for so many years, that it does not please me to live in a place inhabited by their enemies.”

Akka understood now that the stork had become so enraged over the gray rats’ mode of action, that he had sought her out as an excuse to complain about them. But after the manner of storks, he certainly had done nothing to avert the disaster. “Have you sent word to the black rats, Herr Ermenrich?” she asked.

“No,” replied the stork, “that wouldn’t be of any use. Before they can get back, the castle will be taken.”

“You mustn’t be so sure of that, Herr Ermenrich,” said Akka. “I know an old wild goose, I do, who will gladly prevent outrages of this kind.”

When Akka said this, the stork raised his head and stared at her. And it was not surprising, for Akka had neither claws nor bill that were fit for fighting; and, in the bargain, she was a day bird, and as soon as it grew dark she fell helplessly asleep, while the rats did their fighting at night.

But Akka had evidently made up her mind to help the black rats. She called Iksi from Vassijaure, and ordered him to take the wild geese over to Vonib Lake; and when the geese made excuses, she said authoritatively: “I believe it will be best for us all that you obey me. I must fly over to the big stone house, and if you follow me, the people on the place will be sure to see us, and shoot us down. The only one that I want to take with me on this trip is Thumbietot. He can be of great service to me because he has good eyes, and can keep awake at night.”

The boy was in his most contrary mood that day. And when he heard what Akka said, he raised himself to his full height and stepped forward, his hands behind him and his nose in the air, and he intended to say that he, most assuredly, did not wish to take a hand in the fight with gray rats. She might look around for assistance elsewhere.

But the instant the boy was seen, the stork began to move. He had stood before, as storks generally stand, with head bent downward and the bill pressed against the neck. But now a gurgle was heard deep down in his windpipe; as though he would have laughed. Quick as a flash, he lowered the bill, grabbed the boy, and tossed him a couple of metres in the air. This feat he performed seven times, while the boy shrieked and the geese shouted: “What are you trying to do, Herr Ermenrich? That’s not a frog. That’s a human being, Herr Ermenrich.”

Finally the stork put the boy down entirely unhurt. Thereupon he said to Akka, “I’ll fly back to Glimminge castle now, mother Akka. All who live there were very much worried when I left. You may be sure they’ll be very glad when I tell them that Akka, the wild goose, and Thumbietot, the human elf, are on their way to rescue them.” With that the stork craned his neck, raised his wings, and darted off like an arrow when it leaves a well-drawn bow. Akka understood that he was making fun of her, but she didn’t let it bother her. She waited until the boy had found his wooden shoes, which the stork had shaken off; then she put him on her back and followed the stork. On his own account, the boy made no objection, and said not a word about not wanting to go along. He had become so furious with the stork, that he actually sat and puffed. That long, red-legged thing believed he was of no account just because he was little; but he would show him what kind of a man Nils Holgersson from West Vemminghög was.

A couple of moments later Akka stood in the storks’ nest. It had a wheel for foundation, and over this lay several grass-mats, and some twigs. The nest was so old that many shrubs and plants had taken root up there; and when the mother stork sat on her eggs in the round hole in the middle of the nest, she not only had the beautiful outlook over a goodly portion of Skåne to enjoy, but she had also the wild brier-blossoms and house-leeks to look upon.

Both Akka and the boy saw immediately that something was going on here which turned upside down the most regular order. On the edge of the stork-nest sat two gray owls, an old, gray-streaked cat, and a dozen old, decrepit rats with protruding teeth and watery eyes. They were not exactly the sort of animals one usually finds living peaceably together.

Not one of them turned around to look at Akka, or to bid her welcome. They thought of nothing except to sit and stare at some long, gray lines, which came into sight here and there⁠—on the winter-naked meadows.

All the black rats were silent. One could see that they were in deep despair, and probably knew that they could neither defend their own lives nor the castle. The two owls sat and rolled their big eyes, and twisted their great, encircling eyebrows, and talked in hollow, ghostlike voices, about the awful cruelty of the gray rats, and that they would have to move away from their nest, because they had heard it said of them that they spared neither eggs nor baby birds. The old gray-streaked cat was positive that the gray rats would bite him to death, since they were coming into the castle in such great numbers, and he scolded the black rats incessantly. “How could you be so idiotic as to let your best fighters go away?” said he. “How could you trust the gray rats? It is absolutely unpardonable!”

The twelve black rats did not say a word. But the stork, despite his misery, could not refrain from teasing the cat. “Don’t worry so, Monsie house-cat!”5 said he. “Can’t you see that mother Akka and Thumbietot have come to save the castle? You can be certain that they’ll succeed. Now I must stand up to sleep⁠—and I do so with the utmost calm. Tomorrow, when I awaken, there won’t be a single gray rat in Glimminge castle.”

The boy winked at Akka, and made a sign⁠—as the stork stood upon the very edge of the nest, with one leg drawn up, to sleep⁠—that he wanted to push him down to the ground; but Akka restrained him. She did not seem to be the least bit angry. Instead, she said in a confident tone of voice: “It would be pretty poor business if one who is as old as I am could not manage to get out of worse difficulties than this. If only Mr. and Mrs. Owl, who can stay awake all night, will fly off with a couple of messages for me, I think that all will go well.”

Both owls were willing. Then Akka bade the gentleman owl that he should go and seek the black rats who had gone off, and counsel them to hurry home immediately. The lady owl she sent to Flammea, the steeple-owl, who lived in Lund cathedral, with a commission which was so secret that Akka only dared to confide it to her in a whisper.

The Rat Charmer

It was getting on toward midnight when the gray rats after a diligent search succeeded in finding an open air-hole in the cellar. This was pretty high upon the wall; but the rats got up on one another’s shoulders, and it wasn’t long before the most daring among them sat in the air-hole, ready to force its way into Glimminge castle, outside whose walls so many of its forebears had fallen.

The gray rat sat still for a moment in the hole, and waited for an attack from within. The leader of the defenders was certainly away, but she assumed that the black rats who were still in the castle wouldn’t surrender without a struggle. With thumping heart she listened for the slightest sound, but everything remained quiet. Then the leader of the gray rats plucked up courage and jumped down in the coal-black cellar.

One after another of the gray rats followed the leader. They all kept very quiet; and all expected to be ambushed by the black rats. Not until so many of them had crowded into the cellar that the floor couldn’t hold any more, did they venture farther.

Although they had never before been inside the building, they had no difficulty in finding their way. They soon found the passages in the walls which the black rats had used to get to the upper floors. Before they began to clamber up these narrow and steep steps, they listened again with great attention. They felt more frightened because the black rats held themselves aloof in this way, than if they had met them in open battle. They could hardly believe their luck when they reached the first story without any mishaps.

Immediately upon their entrance the gray rats caught the scent of the grain, which was stored in great bins on the floor. But it was not as yet time for them to begin to enjoy their conquest. They searched first, with the utmost caution, through the sombre, empty rooms. They ran up in the fireplace, which stood on the floor in the old castle kitchen, and they almost tumbled into the well, in the inner room. Not one of the narrow peepholes did they leave uninspected, but they found no black rats. When this floor was wholly in their possession, they began, with the same caution, to acquire the next. Then they had to venture on a bold and dangerous climb through the walls, while, with breathless anxiety, they awaited an assault from the enemy. And although they were tempted by the most delicious odour from the grain bins, they forced themselves most systematically to inspect the old-time warriors’ pillar-propped kitchen; their stone table, and fireplace; the deep window-niches, and the hole in the floor⁠—which in olden time had been opened to pour down boiling pitch on the intruding enemy.

All this time the black rats were invisible. The gray ones groped their way to the third story, and into the lord of the castle’s great banquet hall⁠—which stood there cold and empty, like all the other rooms in the old house. They even groped their way to the upper story, which had but one big, barren room. The only place they did not think of exploring was the big stork-nest on the roof⁠—where, just at this time, the lady owl awakened Akka, and informed her that Flammea, the steeple owl, had granted her request, and had sent her the thing she wished for.

Since the gray rats had so conscientiously inspected the entire castle, they felt at ease. They took it for granted that the black rats had flown, and didn’t intend to offer any resistance; and, with light hearts, they ran up into the grain bins.

But the gray rats had hardly swallowed the first wheat-grains, before the sound of a little shrill pipe was heard from the yard. The gray rats raised their heads, listened anxiously, ran a few steps as if they intended to leave the bin, then they turned back and began to eat once more.

Again the pipe sounded a sharp and piercing note⁠—and now something wonderful happened. One rat, two rats⁠—yes, a whole lot of rats left the grain, jumped from the bins and hurried down cellar by the shortest cut, to get out of the house. Still there were many gray rats left. These thought of all the toil and trouble it had cost them to win Glimminge castle, and they did not want to leave it. But again they caught the tones from the pipe, and had to follow them. With wild excitement they rushed up from the bins, slid down through the narrow holes in the walls, and tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get out.

In the middle of the courtyard stood a tiny creature, who blew upon a pipe. All round him he had a whole circle of rats who listened to him, astonished and fascinated; and every moment brought more. Once he took the pipe from his lips⁠—only for a second⁠—put his thumb to his nose and wiggled his fingers at the gray rats; and then it looked as if they wanted to throw themselves on him and bite him to death; but as soon as he blew on his pipe they were in his power.

When the tiny creature had played all the gray rats out of Glimminge castle, he began to wander slowly from the courtyard out on the highway; and all the gray rats followed him, because the tones from that pipe sounded so sweet to their ears that they could not resist them.

The tiny creature walked before them and charmed them along with him, on the road to Vallby. He led them into all sorts of crooks and turns and bends⁠—on through hedges and down into ditches⁠—and wherever he went they had to follow. He blew continuously on his pipe, which appeared to be made from an animal’s horn, although the horn was so small that, in our days, there were no animals from whose foreheads it could have been broken. No one knew, either, who had made it. Flammea, the steeple-owl, had found it in a niche, in Lund cathedral. She had shown it to Bataki, the raven; and they had both figured out that this was the kind of horn that was used in former times by those who wished to gain power over rats and mice. But the raven was Akka’s friend; and it was from him she had learned that Flammea owned a treasure like this. And it was true that the rats could not resist the pipe. The boy walked before them and played as long as the starlight lasted⁠—and all the while they followed him. He played at daybreak; he played at sunrise; and the whole time the entire procession of gray rats followed him, and were enticed farther and farther away from the big grain loft at Glimminge castle.