Jakob finds the Bowl-Licker under his parents’ bed and gets a good deal for his whole family!
Bowl Licker, the sixth one, was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself – he was sure good at that!
“Jólasveinarnir” by Jóhannes úr Kötlum
Translated by Hallberg Halmundson
Illustration by Olafur Petursson
Once upon a time, there was a young boy by the name of Jakob who lived with his pabbi and mamma. They lived in a house on River Laxá. Every day, Jakob and his father would go out and fish for the trout and salmon on the great River Laxá. Mamma would stay at home, tending to their chickens, drying fish, and tending to the household. Jakob and his pabbi always had a great time out fishing and duck hunting. Then they would all come close together at night after dinner, where Jakob and mamma would sing songs together as pabbi played the langspil. They enjoyed their life out on the Laxá and lived happily.
One night, mamma and Jakob were singing a Christmas song.
Eternal Son of God we see,
The true God, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
This place where he was first known
Him who is the refuge of sinners.
Be glory of the Lord!
They ate well, their bowls filled with potatoes and duck, and even carrots! They drank and were happy around their hearth. It was a blessed night, and they thought fondly of the Christmas day to come in another week. But it had gotten late, and Jakob, mamma and pabbi went to bed. Pabbi and mamma went to sleep first, warmed spice wine still in their stomachs to keep them warm.
This left Jakob, smiling to himself, thinking of the next Jolasveinar who would come tonight if he were lucky! He tried very hard to fall asleep. He still had his bowl on the floor and wondered if he might have a little left for a snack! He turned over and looked over the bed. He must have put the bowl on the other side of the bed, though, since it was not there. He rolled to the other side of the bed. Still no bowl!
Jakob was confused. He sat up in bed. He could hear the deep rumbling from his father in his bed.
Jakob sighed. He lept down from his bed and heard another sound.
It was quiet, but he heard it! He walked to his shoe by the windowsill. It was empty.
There, he heard it again! Jakob raced to where he thought he heard it – under mamma and pabbi’s bed. Pabbi’s snoring was getting louder, and he wondered if maybe his mamma had made the sound. He stood there, watching them both sleep, when something touched his foot! Jakob lept up onto their bed without a sound!
He heard laughing! There was some sort of monster under the bed! He peaked over the side of the bed. A hand reached out and grabbed mamma’s bowl. It was gone in a flash into a wrinkled, craggy hand in a hairy sleeve. A troll!
Jakob looked at pabbi and mamma. They still slept soundly. Pabbi still snored soundly! If mamma could sleep through that, she could sleep through anything!
Jakob lept back down off of the bed and ran to the hearth. Grabbing up a poker, he ran back to the bed and laid down to look underneath. And who do you think was looking back at him? It was indeed a troll, wiping his fingers around the inside of mamma’s bowl, and he was slavering and licking all over! He stopped and looked at Jakob and smiled, showing his teeth. His bushy beard was full of crumbs and gravy.
“Go away,” the troll told him! Then, he went back to his mamma’s bowl.
“No!” Jakob hissed, trying not to wake his parents. “You unhand my mamma’s bowl and come out! I know it is you, Askaleikir!” he told the troll, for Askaleikir he was indeed, the Bowl-Licker Yule lad.
“Not until I’m done with this bowl,” the little troll growled.
“By God, will you come out from under that bed now, or I will strike you with this poker!” Jakob hissed back again. For good measure, he took a swing at Askaleikir, nearly missing his head, but hitting his mother’s bowl out of his hand.
Pah! Bowl-Licker was shocked and feared for himself! He jumped out from under the bed where Jakob stopped him.
“You Bowl-Licker, you got your treat from us now. I hope you have something fine for us!” Jakob told him, still holding the iron poker from the hearth.
“Ha! Well, I suppose I have at that!” Askaleikir answered. He eyed the poker and looked at Jakob. “And I suppose I just might have something for you,” he told the boy, smiling a prankster’s smile.
“You should have something for all of us since you took from everyone’s bowl. It’s only fair!”
The troll laughed to hear such a thing. “Oh, fine, I suppose you must all receive something from me. But I shan’t leave a thing while you are not in bed,” Askaleikir told him. “No go on with yourself!”
Jakob agreed after a moment’s thought and after the troll promised to leave. The troll followed him to his bed and tucked him in. Then Bowl-Licker, looking about, whispered to him, “And another thing. Tell your friends to look out for me mum, Grýla,” he warned, peering slowly left and right and tapping his nose. “She’ll be looking for the naughty children by now. Finds them tasty, she does! She makes a great, big stew!”
Jakob scowled. “She better stay away from here, then! I’m a Christian, and I’m not afraid of trolls!”
“Ha! So I see! So I see!” he laughed. “You have naught to fear! Do not forget the shoe! Remember to Check it in the morning! Yes, you and your mamma’s and pabbi’s, child! You are persistent, aren’t you?” At that, Askaleikir laughed again.
And with that, the troll looked at the bowl next to Jakob’s bed, lifted its lid, and jumped right in, disappearing into the bowl even though he was much too big to fit inside!
The next morning, Jakob sprang out of bed, wondering he would find. First, he checked his pabbi’s shoe.
“Pabbi, look!” he shouted as he ran to his Pabbi still in his bed. He turned over the shoe, and a new knife fell out. It was keen and shiny as gold!
Then, he ran for mamma’s shoe. “Mamma, look!” he shouted as he turned over her shoe. A new hairpin fell out, in the shape of a large salmon leaping from the water!
Finally, Jakob found his shoe. It was heavy, but he took it to his mamma and pabbi’s bed to turn it over as he had done the others. He felt something like a stick or pole inside. Curious, he started pulling. And he pulled, and he pulled, and he pulled. After pulling for six feet, it was finally all out – a brand new fishing pole! They all looked closely at the new pole and other gifts, marvelling at how finely made they were. And they still laugh to this day when they remember how Jakob pulled and pulled and pulled a fishing pole out of his little shoe!