What you will now read is recorded several hundred years ago in a mythical book with the name: ”Legends from the Ancient Forest.” The columnist was a man named Olaus Holgersson. I don’t know much about him only that he worked as a monk at a monastery somewhere in Sweden and that he liked to decorate the pages with the most horrific images depicting all from nasty giants to seductive trolls.
My name is Magnus Bratt and I work at an antique store in Stockholm. I am not the most social person, when others go out and enjoy themselves, I rather sit at home and read my books. By chance, I stumbled across this book. At first, I was going to leave it in the carton. It was only when I saw who the sender was, that I decided to look more closely at the book. The cover appealed to me like no other book has ever done. The pages were yellowed by age. The language testified of a bygone era. There was no doubt. The book was old, how old I don’t know, but it didn’t seem to have aged much …
The story you will now be told is about one of the most horrific sorcerers who ever lived. His name was Gilbertil and this is the story of how the peasant Jens Jones met this fearsome sorcerer on an island somewhere in Sweden several hundred years ago…
For the reader’s sake, I have made the trouble to translate the text into modern English.
Jens Jones was a lazy peasant, the laziest one in the whole pedestal and everyone knew that. Therefore, Jens had a hard time getting a job, usually he was rejected at the front door. And when we meet Jens, this sunny summer day, in the middle of harvest times when there is plenty of work, he walks around hungry and restless on Olmstad’s streets. He has just been rejected a job at the miller. Now his stomach was screaming for food and he was planning on doing something very stupid. He thought of sneaking into the farmstead of farmer Runskes and stealing his meat and bread. But right before that, he met the sorcerer. In sheer desperation, Jens asked the sorcerer if he might have a job for him. The sorcerer laughed loudly – it was a horrible laugh, which gave you the creeps – but it seemed to not bother Jens.
”You are asking me for a job?”, the sorcerer said.
Jens studied the skinny man who reminded him of a scarecrow: the sorcerer had a tall and slim body and a raven black beard. Like all sorcerers, he also dressed very strangely. The long blood-red coat and the hood that hid the head brought thoughts to a priest’s holy screw.
”Well,” said the sorcerer at last. ”I have a job that would suit Mr Jones perfectly.”
”You know my name?” Jens said without hiding his surprise.
”Everyone knows who you are! You are Jens Jones, the laziest peasant in the whole kingdom!” Said the wizard and laughed mockingly. ”But listen now, because I will only say these words once. Meet me at Asmunds sea-lane at full moon. From there we shall ride my boat over to the Fenris Island, where you will help me start building my new fortress: Gilbertil’s hole!”
If Jens Jones had red more books, or had more sense, he would have reacted to the name Gilbertil. But the peasant was too lazy to read the history books that told about the terrible Gilbertil and his crimes against humanity. Instead, the boy replied that he would happily appear at Asmunds sea-lane at full moon.
So begins the first part of our history.
What happened next is ambiguous. But I have chosen to base my account on the testimony that Jens Jones stated to my friend, constable August Landin, shortly before he died.
Jens met up the sorcerer at Asmunds sea-lane the following night. Together, they ride the sorcerer’s little skiff out onto the black water and sailed towards the Fenris Island. It was a very nasty journey because it was storming that night. The waves were huge and put the little skiff in constant swing. Jens had to fight for his life to stay on the boat, however, the storm did not seem to bother the sorcerer, he sat motionless as a statue at the helm throughout the journey.
When they reached the beach of Fenris Island, the sorcerer commanded Jens to jump into the shallow water and wade up to the cape and tie the skiff to a big pale stone. This stone would later become Jens catcher in the rye because its pale color helped him remember where the skiff was moored.
The sorcerer and Jens walked in among the trees and in the shadows the boy saw something that made him start cold sweating. Sparkling teeth and amber-yellow eyes appeared in the full moon’s light and he could hear a dull growl. We don’t know exactly what Jens saw, according to Landin, it was the most horrific creatures.
They stopped at the middle of the island and in front of them there was a cave that led down into the underworld. They both went down the steep staircase and arrived at a mine shaft. A shovel and a lantern laid on the ground.
”You shall dig a great hall for me,” preached the sorcerer.
”I don’t think that a single boy can do that,” Jens replied.
The sorcerer laughed once more, down in the underground cavity; the laughter got an echoing sound that made it even more horrific. ”Stretch out your hand and I will give you powers you have never imagine existed.”
Jens did as he was told. The sorcerer placed his claw-like fingers around Jens stretched out hand and began to chant on an old spell that sounded something like this:
”Count a year,
for each hair,
goes out of the skin;
you will never get your freedom back!”
There and then, Jens did not understand what the words meant, but he would be aware of that later.
”Now you can dig for one hundred people,” said the sorcerer. ”Lift the shovel and try it for yourself!”
Jens did as he was told. The shovel felt like a feather in his hand and he started digging. He continued to dig for a whole week, without eating or sleeping. After a month he had built a great hall with grey columns and a granite floor. It was a hall worthy of a king. Jens was happy and expected to get paid for his work.
The sorcerer came to inspect, he looked satisfied.
”A solid work,” he said. ”But now I need guest rooms so I can invite my friends from afar!”
”What about my salary?”
”If you do this work, I promise you ten times as much gold as you would have received for your work with the hall.”
”It sounds like a good deal. I take it!” Jens said.
For another month, the peasant worked more diligently than ever. He dug out twenty guest rooms, all furnished with the most comfortable beds. When he was finished, the sorcerer returned.
”A solid work,” he said. ”But now I need a dungeon where I can lock up guests who become unbearable!”
”What about my salary?”
”If you do this work, I promise you fifty times as much gold as you would have received for your work with the guest rooms.”
”Deal,” said Jens.
For three months, the boy worked with the dungeons under the great hall. The prison cells would be able to hold up to a hundred prisoners combined. When he was finished the sorcerer came by to inspect his work. They went down into the dungeons together.
”What about my salary?” Jens asked.
The sorcerer grabbed his hand and looked at him with his tireless eyes. He muttered something inaudible and suddenly Jens felt powerless again. He fell to the ground and the sorcerer dragged him into one of the prison cells and locked the door.
”Let me out!”, Jens shouted.
”Now I’ll tell you a secret my boy,” said the sorcerer. ”The power I gave you was actually a curse. If I remember correctly, which I do, then the last line reads: you will never get your freedom back. Here your body will rot, and no one will grieve you, Jens Jones!”
With those words spoken the sorcerer left the boy to his fate.
Here ends the second part of our story. What happens next is a bit unclear but according to Landin this is was happend:
Several days passed. And finally, Jens managed to escape from the dungeons. He did what he was best at. He dug himself out under the cell door! One night, when the sorcerer’s snoring echoed from the granite hall, he sneaked up the steep stairs towards freedom. Up there the moon shone on the clear starry sky. For the first time in over six months he breathed fresh air again. But he just had time to enjoy the freedom for a few seconds before he started running through the forest …
Jens Jones ran like never before, he set course against the pale stone which he saw between the trees. He heard the howl from the beasts he had seen before. But the sound was too far away, he would make it to the skiff, which he did, just in time to see the beasts at the beach. By now, Jens was already out on the black water and sat comfortably behind the helm on the sorcerer’s skiff. It was now that he heard a trembling sound, something that he later understood was the sorcerer’s shout when he discovered that the dungeon was empty.
Jens managed to escape and returned to Olmstad’s streets. He told the whole story to constable Landin, and this one contacted farmer Runske who promised to go and investigate. Unfortunately, Jens died a day later because the curse forbade him from ever walking on the mainland again. The last thing he said before he died on a stretcher in the constable’s house was a few dizzy words about the sorcerer he met.
”Gilbertil, Gilbertil, Gilbertil”, whispered the words…
What happened to Gilbertil and his horrible hole in the Fenris Island is written down much later in a completely different story for a completely different day…