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The Harvest That Never Came
A Swedish Legend

Told by Aaron Shepard

Printed in Cricket, January 1993, and Australia’s School Magazine, May 1996


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Copyright © 1993 by Aaron Shepard. May not be published or posted without permission.

PREVIEW: A prisoner of war must somehow return home to be with the woman he loves.

GENRE: Legends, folktales
CULTURE: Swedish
THEME: Farsightedness
AGES: 7 and up
LENGTH: 500 words

My dearest Arild,

I promised to wait for you forever, but I fear I will not be allowed to. My father says you will never return, and he has chosen another man to be my husband. Though I pleaded with him, he has already set the marriage date.

I will love you always.

Your faithful Thale

Arild Ugerup, son of a noble Danish family, sat on his cot, reading the letter by the dim light of his prison cell. How cruel the tricks played by war, he thought, his eyes filling with tears.

Though Arild and his family were nobles of Denmark, they had long lived peaceably in Sweden. When King Erik of Sweden was crowned, Arild had been one of his honored guests. But then Denmark and Sweden declared war on each other, and Arild was drafted into the Danish navy. He was captured in battle and imprisoned by King Erik.

Arild’s childhood sweetheart, Thale Thott, had promised to marry him when he came back from the war. Now it seemed he would lose Thale as well as his freedom.

Arild sat thinking for many hours, the letter lying loose in his hand. At last he crossed to a small table. Dipping his pen in an inkwell, he began to write.

Your Royal Majesty,

Though I am now your prisoner, you once counted me as a friend. Grant me one favor. Let me go home to marry the woman I love. Then allow me to stay only long enough to plant a crop and harvest it.

On my word of honor, I will return to your prison as soon as the harvest is gathered.

Arild signed and sealed the letter, then called the jailer.

The reply came the next day. King Erik had agreed! Arild was free—at least until the harvest.

Arild returned home, where Thale met him joyfully. Her father was not happy to have his plans changed, but in the end the two were married.

Now it was spring, the time for planting. And, in only a few months, Arild would have to harvest his crop and return to King Erik’s prison.

Arild thought long and hard about what he would plant. At last he went to the fields and planted his seeds, placing each of them six paces from the rest.

Late that fall, a messenger arrived from King Erik. “The harvest season is past,” he said. “The King awaits your return.”

“But my crop is not harvested,” said Arild. “In fact, it has not yet sprouted!”

“Not sprouted?” said the messenger. “What did you plant?”

“Pine trees,” replied Arild.

When King Erik heard what Arild had done, he laughed and said, “A man like that does not deserve to be a prisoner.”

Arild was allowed to remain home with his beloved Thale. And a magnificent forest stands today as a testament to his love.


About the Story

This legend is retold from “The Master of Ugerup,” in Swedish Folk-Lore, by Herman Hofberg, translated by W. H. Myers, Belford, Clarke & Co., Chicago and New York, 1888; and reprinted in Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales, edited by Claire Booss, Avenel, New York, 1984. Whatever the truth of the legend, it concerns an actual place and actual families of the mid-1500s, and a forest existing at least in Hofberg’s time.