THE SVISK HEARD ROUND SKOKLOSTER
Long ago and far away, in the beautiful sea-kissed land of Lagom, the noble Sir Carl made his way to the castle at Skokloster to slay, as Knights will, a Dragon. It was an old song, played countless times to many audiences, and should have been as simple as a Knightly task can be.
But even in the land of Lagom things are not always as they seem, and it would prove so for Sir Carl, for his was no ordinary Dragon.
This Dragon had terrorized Skokloster for nearly five years, bellowing and stamping about and spitting fire: woe to those who dared approach it! In that way it was quite a typical Dragon.
But there was more to the story: So Sir Carl would learn as he sat in the lavish royal chambers, sipping lattol with the lovely Princess Malaren of Skokloster. In the distance, plumes of smoke swirled about a high, forbidding tower.
The Princess poured Sir Carl some more lattol before speaking: “The Dragon was not always a Dragon,” she said at last, her voice breaking. “He was once a boy. The Prince Kalmar to be exact. My brother.”
While Sir Carl attempted to digest this information, as well as his beverage, the Princess continued.
Tears filled the Princess’s eyes. “Oh, he was a difficult boy, Sir Knight! Headstrong, willful…there were times the servants and governesses longed to whip his tail, like you might a puppy you were training or…or a horse. But, of course, such behavior is against the laws of the land, the laws my parents and their parents’ parents set forth. And so Prince Kalmar ran wild, until…the spell.”
“On the Prince’s sixteenth birthday, all of our subjects gathered here at Skokloster to celebrate his manhood. The Prince received beautiful gifts of gold and silver, as well as the adoration of all the people of the land. But when the royals began discussing the arrangement of a marriage, the Prince grew red in the face and threw a fit the likes of which I had never before witnessed. Then he left the party and ran to his chambers, most rudely, and slammed the door. The matchmaker who had hoped the arrange the marriage was angry to have her plans disturbed, angrier still that the Prince had called her a ‘wicked old hag’ before running away and was not punished for his impudence. Indeed, the Prince was never punished and had grown worse behaved by the year. Orebro, the mystical matchmaker, knew this. ‘We shall not celebrate his manhood, for he is not a man, but an animal!’ crowed Orebro, and with that she waved her switch and thunder rocked the castle. Suddenly the Prince’s chambers twisted and grew dark, and became the tower you see today. We all heard the roar from within and saw the flames and knew the dastardly truth: that my baby brother had been transformed into a hideous Dragon.
“Oh, we begged Orebro to reconsider but she refused. All she would say was this prophecy: that when a Knight of Most True Worthiness, a Knight of Top Worthiness, wielded the sword, the spell would be lifted and the people saved. If, however, this was not achieved within five years, by the Prince’s twenty-first year, then all hope would be lost, and the Dragon would terrorize my people forever. Many a Knight has come here and fought most bravely…but has not won. And so the spell continues.
“I am so glad you have come. But I am afraid the situation grows desperate.” The Princess twisted her hands in her lap. “You see, we have only one more day before…before it is too late.”
“Too late?” Sir Carl asked, his heart growing heavy.
“By sunset morrow, the Dragon will have terrorized the palace for five full years. And after that date, saving the palace and its innocent inhabitants will be impossible. Things will stay like this…forever.” Her voice caught and she covered her face with her hands.
“There, there.” The noble Knight nodded in sympathy; a lesser man might have taken advantage of the Princess’s despair, but mere pleasures of the flesh did not tempt Sir Carl. Nay, he had a higher calling: a duty to fulfill.
“The sun is moving lower,” Sir Carl spoke gravely. “Before the first pink tinges of twilight paint the sky, my journey must commence. For if I am to fight such a dastardly opponent, I must first seek the wisdom of my mentor.”
“Your mentor?” The Princess sniffed, and batted her blue eyes a bit. Perhaps the Knight did not find her despair appealing, but few could resist her dainty feminine bravery. She squared her shoulders.
Sir Carl nodded. “The Seer of Sverige. Many a time he has handed down advice of a most helpful variety. He is honest, insightful and true.”
“Oh, do hurry!” the Princess cried, forgetting her vow of bravery. She watched the Knight bow to her in an extremely courtly manor before mounting and galloping off on his steed.
Then, no longer needing to impress him, she allowed herself to collapse on her pink velvet throne, dropping her tiara-clad head into her bejeweled hands. It was useless even to hope.
A sudden crash distracted her for just a moment, followed by a mighty bellow that shook the castle walls. The Dragon.
The Princess wept.
The goodly Knight Carl rode over hill and dale, field and stream, astride his trusty stallion. Beneath his shining silver armor his grip was white-knuckled, for he knew he had little time to achieve the impossible. The ride was slow, and long. “I might as well have taken Malmbanan,” the Knight muttered.
Finally he reached the Cave of the Svenskan Hollow. He dismounted and approached the intimidating rock face slowly but surely. Once there he ran a hand over the mossy stone blocking the entrance until he hit upon the magic button and pressed firmly.
A mouse scurried out from beneath the rock; standing on its hind legs, hands on hips, it tilted its little head back to see the Knight. “Whence do you hail?” It squeaked. “What do they call you? Wherefore have you come?”
“I hail from Nynashamn. They call me Sir Carl,” the Knight said in his deep, manly voice. “I have come to consult the oracle, for a problem disturbs me and haunts the innocents of Skokloster.”
The mouse nodded gravely, dropped back to all fours and scampered under the rock. A moment later the rock swung open, slowly, amidst a great groaning noise.
Sir Carl strode into the dark recesses of the cave.
Boldly he stood before the Seer of Sverige.
Or rather, before the Seer of Sverige’s hairbrush.
But he had done this before; he knew what to do. He picked up the mighty wooden brush and struck it on the plump white cushions of the throne, three times in quick succession.
Suddenly the cave lit up with an otherworldly glow.
“Who has summoned me?” intoned the Seer, his voice filling the cave.
“Er…it is I, your Seerness, Sir Carl of Nynashamn.”
“Why have you come here?”
“O Wise One, a dilemma has arisen for which I require your assistance. Nay, I beg for it,” Sir Carl cried, dropping to his knees, which made quite a loud clatter in his armor.
“Speak!” commanded the seer.
“A Dragon terrorizes Skokloster,” Sir Carl began, and explained the story as best as he could.
“And so, as the prophecy goes, until a Knight of Top Worthiness wields the sword, the Dragon shall continue his reign of terror,” he finished. “Oh please, your wisdom, your grace, if you could be of any help to me; for I regret to say I approach this task with the greatest of ignorance and a sorry hint of fright. I know not how to overcome this nearly insurmountable obstacle. You see, many a braver Knight than I has attempted to wield the sword and failed miserably. I fear the same fait awaits me.”
There was a long pause. The Seer of Sverige was famously brief in his advice; in fact, he was in some circles known as the Succinct Seer of Sverige. He gave only one sentence of instruction before vanishing, and even the worthiest of suppliants was allowed only one request. In other words, for Sir Carl, the krona stopped here.
Breathless and quivering with anticipation, Sir Carl awaited the Seer’s words.
“It would seem,” began the Seer of Sverige at last, powerful voice echoing off the cave walls, “that perhaps the others did not correctly wield the sword.”
And with a mighty explosion and a sudden flash of blinding light, Sir Carl found himself outside the rock walls again. Slowly he mounted his horse, confusion marring his handsome features, or what you could see of his handsome features through his courtly Knight’s garb, which wasn’t much.
“That was IT?” he asked himself as he dug his heels into the steed, setting off at a gallop toward the palace.
Sir Carl, noblest of the Knights of Midsommarstang, or at least of the ones who were still alive, had no idea what to do. Over and over he replayed the seer’s words: what on earth could they mean?
He was still turning the words over in his mind when he arrived back at the gates of Skokloster before dawn the next morning. In the peaceful dark outside the castle walls, he dismounted and let his stallion drink from a cool nearby stream while his master pondered the seer’s puzzling words.
The other Knights had wielded the sword incorrectly? But how could that be?
Sir Gustaf, who had failed in the mission, had been the mightiest swordsman in all of Osterlangg. The other Knights had been highly trained and perfectly practiced as well. How was it possible that they had wielded the sword incorrectly? Puzzeld, Sir Carl drew his sword from its sheath and swung it through the air a few times. “Ya! Ya!” he whispered, jabbing the sword into an imaginary enemy.
It was hard being a noble Knight, of course, but the actual wielding of the sword? How could they have done it wrong?
Sir Carl modified his query: how many ways could there BE to wield a sword?
When the sky was no longer black, but streaked with pale gray, Sir Carl knew he could wait no longer. A mere half a day remained before his window of opportunity closed and the innocent inhabitants of Skokloster faced certain destruction. Sir Carl had one chance to end the Dragon’s reign of terror, and as a noble Knight, he was required to take the chance.
Princess Malaren met him in front of the palace, her face streaked with tears, wringing her hands. “O Sir Knight!” she cried. “I have slept nary a wink for fear that you should not return! How my heart sings to lay eyes upon you!”
She did not look like her heart was singing, Sir Carl noticed. Worry was etched across her lovely pale face, and suspicious dents at the top of her golden head suggested she had attempted to fall asleep in her tiara. She scuffed the toe of a dainty satin slipper. Sir Carl placed manly hands on his hips. “Never fear, Princess,” he spoke. “For I have returned from the Seer of Sverige to end the Dragon’s reign of terror once and for all.”
“Oh, do tell me what the Seer said!” the Princess cried, clapping her hands.
“Er…” fear stabbed Sir Carl’s heart. He couldn’t exactly repeat what the Seer had said, could he? He imagined telling her that the Seer had implied the dozen Knights who failed the mission had been…holding their swords incorrectly?
“I am afraid I cannot reveal the Seer’s words,” he said finally, puffing up his chest a bit. “Such powerful prophecy is not fit for the ears of a lady.”
“Oh, indeed, Sir Knight,” agreed Princess Malaren, her cheeks flushing a charming pink. She made a depreciating moue. “Let me not waste any more of your time; I shall summon the guards to take you to the Dragon’s lair.”
“Wait, er, I…”
But it was too late. “Remember,” the Princess called after him as he was led away. “If the Dragon is not stopped by sunset today, all will be finished!”
The Knight swallowed hard. There were precious few hours of daylight to accomplish this task. With terror in his heart, cloaked of course in a cape of bravery, he allowed himself to be escorted to the vast iron door leading to the Dragon’s dungeon.
“Oh, do you really have to leave so soon?” he asked, but to no avail, for the guards vanished and Sir Carl found himself alone, facing a door ten times his own height, leading to an immense stone tower. It was the tower from which he’d seen the billows of smoke and flame earlier. Inside breathed the Dragon.
The noble Knight steeled himself and pushed open the door. It clanged aside with a terrifying echo and then slammed shut all too quickly, leaving Sir Carl standing, one hand on the head of his sword where it was tucked into its sheath.
The tower was silent. In one corner a large shadowy creature appeared to be curled up, sleeping peacefully. Sir Carl breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps this would be easier than he thought. He reached for his sword, tiptoed a few steps closer to the corner, and suddenly tripped and clattered to the ground. The sound was loud in the huge empty tower…loud enough to wake a sleeping beast.
Noble Knights were born to do brave things, you see. It was just what they did. They faced Dragons, the likes of which would send lesser men running for the hills.
Noble Knights did not, you see, scream like little girls when confronted with hideous Dragons.
But even noble Knights have their moments of weakness, so we shall forgive our hero his.
With a mighty roar the Dragon rose onto his hind legs, his short but powerful forearms scrabbling in the air for prey. A ribbon of fire shot out of his mouth and illuminated the dank tower enough to reveal bulging green eyes, row after row of terrible teeth, and scaly green spines, all capped with a long, writhing tail.
Cowering against the tower wall, Sir Carl uttered a brief curse aimed at the Seer of Sverige. Why, oh why, had he given such cryptic advice?
“It would seem that perhaps the others did not correctly wield the sword.”
Sir Carl grasped the head of his sword, wondering once again what the seer had meant.
The Dragon, meanwhile, roared as it stomped across the tower floor toward the Knight, who ducked nimbly to the other side of the tower. They continued this dance for quite a while. Sir Carl began to grow tired; was this how the other Knights had lost their valiant fights? Surely he was smaller, quicker, more graceful than the Dragon, but for how long could that prove his saving grace?
He withdrew his sword and waved it menacingly. Was that…a twinkle in the Dragon’s eye? It did not look frightened in the least. Sir Carl trembled. Again he heard the words of the Seer of Sverige:
“It would seem that perhaps the others did not correctly wield the sword.”
He checked his grip, thrust the sword toward the Dragon’s heaving green flesh. The beast howled, lumbering to the side just in time to avoid being slashed. This seemed only to incite his anger, however; his stamping feet rocked the tower and the flames shooting from his mouth flashed through the tiny, high windows and ignited a tree outside.
“Damn you!” Sir Carl cried, forgetting almost for a moment that he was a gentleman, a noble Knight. Why, this Dragon was just plain frustrating! He watched the beast slither its tail behind him as it stamped its feet hard, folding its small arms and, to the Knight’s shock, sticking out a long, forked tongue at him. The impudence of the monster!
He remembered the words of Princess Malaren:
“Sometimes the servants and governesses longed to whip his tail!”
“I think I understand now how they felt,” Sir Carl murmured to himself.
Just then the Dragon stamped its foot particularly hard, tossing its huge horned head and swirling around in anger, the tip of its tail catching Sir Carl across the leg.
“Ye gads!” The Knight cried, clutching his wounded leg. “Why, you…you…” A glance outside showed him the sky was starting to turn pink. In but a short while the sun would set and any chance of peace in the land would cease to exist. And with that he suddenly flipped the grip of his weapon and, grasping it tightly, charged at the Dragon and smacked its tail with the flat of the sword.
A mighty roar rose in the tower. The walls shook. For miles peasants trembled at the horrors they overheard. Surely this signified the end of their beautiful land. The Dragon could never be stopped! It would mean tantrum after tantrum until all the people in the land had been driven mad!
“Take that! And that!” Shouted Sir Carl, wielding the flat of the sword against the heaving tail of the irate Dragon. “Ya! Ya!” he added for good measure, as he’d been taught in Knight School.
The Dragon howled, attempting to lurch out of the way, but his superior size and bulk proved a disadvantage in this particular duel. His little forearms were too short to reach his burning posterior while his enormous, powerful legs could only move him in clumsy bursts. With each blow he grew even slower, while Sir Carl seemed to grow in power, darting with an enviable speed and quickness about the shrieking Dragon, applying smack after smack with the flat of the sword until suddenly the last ray of light pouring through the tiny high windows disappeared and
A jolt shook the tower; the stone walls shuddered, the iron door squealed, mist poured in and billowed through the air, filling Sir Carl’s eyes and mouth until he thought he might choke. He was a noble Knight however, and he would go down fighting! And so even as the blasts shook the tower he wielded that sword with finesse and vigor. Then just as he thought it was all over, the mist cleared.
Swish! He landed another powerful smack on the tail of the Dragon…
…except the Dragon was nowhere to be seen, and Sir Carl found himself swinging the flat of his sword against the velvet-clad bottom of a very human boy who had somehow landed across the mighty thighs of the Knight.
“Ouch! Gads, let me up, you varmint!” cried the boy, kicking his legs, which were encased in purple velvet breeches, white silk stockings and satin slippers.
Sir Carl gasped. “Prince Kalmar…can it be he?”
“Indeed it is I, and I order you to let me up, you…you…” The Prince swung his legs wildly. Sir Carl responded with a powerful smack of the sword. The Prince howled.
“You have terrorized this castle long enough!” The Knight spoke loudly to be heard over the Prince’s wails and the steady thwacking of the sword against the boy’s flesh. “I say it shall stop and stop now!”
“Gads, sir, I acquiesce then, whatever you would like, if you’d only please stop!” the Prince cried.
“I shan’t until you’ve learned the errors of your ways,” retorted the Knight. The sword swished through the air and landed hard on the Prince’s bottom with an odd whistling sound. Swish! It landed again. Svish! And again. Swisk! Once more. Svisk! One final time and the Knight tossed the sword aside and let the boy slide down off his lap. “Have you learnt your lesson?” he inquired as the Prince wailed out his frustration and pain, pressing his bottom anxiously to the cooling stone of the tower floor.
“Indeed, sir!” cried the Prince.
“Very well then,” said Sir Carl agreeably, and pretended to be quite interested in polishing his armor while the boy cried himself out, wanting to give him a bit of dignity.
The small voice interrupted his thoughts. “Yes, child?” responded Sir Carl.
The Prince blinked large blue eyes, wiping one silk sleeve across his cheeks, smearing the tear marks there. “It’s been an awfully long time since my party,” he sniffled, long golden curls tangled on his shoulders. “Probably I oughtn’t to have swiped my door shut with such force, but I thought someone would surely come after me.”
“Remember what?” the Prince asked innocently.
“If you’re lying, I shall…” Sir Carl looked at his sword. What would he do, exactly? Brandish the sword? That sounded dreadfully menacing when one was only brandishing the flat side. He remembered the peculiar sound of the sword swishing through the air and landing hard on the Prince’s royal rear. “I shall … svisk you again!” he declared confidently.
“You shan’t!” The Prince cried when a gesture made Sir Carl’s meaning clear. “The laws of this land do not allow such brutality!”
“Brutality, ha!” Cried the Knight. “Why, it’s only the flat of my sword! And you’ve been needing it for years, I should say. Considering the way you’ve terrorized your poor subjects and this castle for the last five – nay, the last twenty-one – years, it’s the very least you deserved! I was quite easy on you.”
“Nonetheless, it is still against the law,” the Prince replied primly, though he lost some dignity by the fact that he was clutching his velvet-clad bottom with both hands, seeking some relief from the sting.
“Oh, but you forget one important fact, my lad,” Sir Carl said, a smile starting to spread across his Knightly face. “You are no longer a child and those laws shan’t protect you. You are twenty-one years of age, a full adult, and in this most beautifully liberal of lands two adults can engage in any behavior they choose.”
“But…but…” the Prince’s eyes widened.
“Come now,” Sir Carl ordered, filled with a growing sense of rightness as he realized the mission he had accomplished. “Let us away to the castle, where your sister will be anxious to see you.”
“You will come with me, Sir Knight?” The Prince asked shyly, looking up at the older man from beneath his lashes.
“Indeed I shall,” Sir Carl said and as the Prince’s hand slipped trustingly into his he was suddenly very very glad that he had taken the Seer’s advice to heart.
The two men strode hand in hand out of the tower; no longer a dungeon; it had morphed into a beautiful stone erection climbing with ivy and drenched with sweetheart roses. Birds chirped around them in the soft glow of the moonlight. All across the land, peasants and noble men alike rejoiced the change of fate, thanks to the quick thinking – not to mention svisking – of the noble Sir Carl.
And thus ends the story of the Dragon who terrorized Skokloster for five long years – or twenty-one long years, depending on how you looked at it. It was not, of course, the end of Sir Carl’s new invention, the svisk. He found many opportunities in the future to put it to use, for Sir Carl and Prince Kalmar moved together to Sodermalm, where they spent the rest of their days eating messmor and filmjolk, drinking starkol, and, of course, living Happily Ever After.