Billy Goats Gruff: The Origin

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The Lost Chapter


The three Billy Goats Gruff had been on the Seter for a long time. They had grazed and grazed and had never felt so good and full, but something was missing. The tribe was still in the valley and the little brother kept thinking about Mother.

“This outdoes everything,” he said to his big brother, “but I miss Mommy and our friends. Now that we are here, shall we not return to show them the way?”

The big brother nodded. He had been waiting for this. “Life has never been so good, but others are struggling,” he replied. There is room for everyone. Of course, we must go back. Have you talked to our brother?”

Second Billy Goat Gruff was laying in the grass, dreaming. But this time, something was different. Rather than pleasant dreams of flight and light and idyllic visions, he was in a desolate, snow-covered landscape and every-thing was bleak. He did not know who he was or where he was. All he had were his foot-prints. They walked backwards in the snow and he followed them.

He walked like this for a long time with nothing but the trail. The atmosphere was heavy and sorrow covered the land like a thick blanket. He walked and walked. Things did not get better. Instead, he came to a familiar place. He could not place where he had seen it before. Everything was hidden by a veil. There was only snow and footprints. But the more he traced them, the more he realised that he had crossed this path before. In fact, it dawned on him that he was going in a circle and that he was in the power of a secret being—something that was hidden and could not stand the light. He felt like a pawn in a great game and like he could not free himself from the magician’s control.

He did not know how he woke up or came to his senses, but suddenly, his little brother was there.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

Second Billy Goat Gruff rose to his legs and looked around. He understood what he was talking about and that they had to go. But this dream was strange, and so he told the others about it.

Big brother looked at him with concern. “Something is wrong,” he said. “This place is nice. But the dream would not have come if it were complete. I take it we have been here too long. I fear the herd is in danger. Let’s go.”

The three goats gathered all the grass they could carry and set out on the journey home. They walked and walked. As they followed the road back to the bridge, they were happy to discover that the troll was still gone.

The youngest brother nodded contentedly. “Well, that’s that!” he said. “That troll must have learned his lesson. I believe the rest of the way will be easy.”

The middle brother nodded too. “Yes,” he said. “Now there’s just the wolves and the snow. It went well when the weather was good, but things are not as before. I have no idea how long we’ve been gone, but the weather is colder and the landscape heavy with sorrow. It might have just been a dream, but I’m worried.”

They had all sensed this. The further they travelled from the Seter, the more it seemed like a memory, and gradually, the three goats sensed danger lurking. Their instincts were right. They had not journeyed for long when a snow leopard at the top of Last Mountain reminded them of their stark reality. The mother had to feed her kittens and Little Billy Goat Gruff almost had his leg torn off when she dug her teeth into him. It did not look good. Even so, the speed down the rocks was too much and the leopard had to let go to avoid the rapids when the goat tumbled down the incline.

Fortunately, he was able to drift off to safety and was greeted by his brothers on the other side. They still had the hay from the heath. The grass had begun to turn brown and taste dry. Even so, it helped the little kid get back on his feet, and after a few days, they were on their way.

With this episode in mind, they knew that the wolves could be their end. They enjoyed the fresh air and the freedom of the road, but an old, primal fear was back. All the way, the goats were on guard. They no longer felt safe, and the oldest brother stayed awake while the others slept.

This is how the journey proceeded. The happiness that they had felt on the heavenly heath faded like the grass, but they did not see wolves. Instead, a mysterious creature appeared on Third Mountain. It was a stoat, which was natural seeing that they inhabit this mountain, but this one was not as shy as others. He looked like one who had always wandered and always felt at home, and the three billy goats were impressed by the little fellow who came their way without fear.

“Who are you?” asked Big Billy Goat Gruff.

At a distance, they noticed an arctic fox on the prowl. It looked hungry, and with one eye on the creature, they listened to the stoat’s reply.

“If you are anyone, you are everyone. You should know that better than most.” He laughed a joyful, trilling laughter. The fox was getting closer, but he remained untouched. The tiniest billy goat said: “You see that fox? He looks hungry. Why don’t you hide among those rocks?”

The stoat looked at the youngest and said, “I see that you’ve been hurt and that you’ve been through great danger. But we are all here despite danger, visible and unseen.”

He looked at the others and continued, “Like you, I have been through more than it seems. I have also met the Capricorn. I too have encountered the nastiness of trolls, but in the appearance of a charming ferret. I know that the unseen dangers should be feared more. And I have yet to meet a fox worse than her.”

He laughed again. “We are sustained by a force, a pulse, which has a bigger picture in mind than you and I who are just trying to get through each day. We animals eat each other, as it has always been. But a time will come when we shall live side by side. You are part of this plan, and that is why we are all here, including the fox.”

“I know she can hear me. I know she has her own problems. She herself is afraid of the eagle, which soars up there, and she has lost several litters to the snow. It just spreads. As winter gets tougher, summer gets shorter and we are all under this strain. We thus have an interest in finding a solution.”

The fox could not understand how the stoat knew her so well. But she took a liking to the little guy. She looked up and spotted an eagle high up there circling for prey.

“I hear you,” she said.

“The mountain life is getting harder and harder. There are hardly any eggs to be found, and my cubs are starving. But so are others. There are rumours of a curse. The crows are everywhere. They bring bad news, and many are getting sick. I don’t know what to do.”

The eagle circled closer. The stoat was still calm, and the fox would not be worse. She resisted the urge to hide and tried instead to appear untouched by matters of life and death.

The eagle swooped down for a landing. It aimed at a murder of crows, which made a racket before it disappeared. The eagle moved closer and began to speak.

“I hear you too, rascal, and I have news. A cabin has been found on First Mountain in the eternal snow. Around it, the crows gather, but not even our seers have observed who lives there. All they know is that he does not come from this side. He changes shape and is surrounded by a darkness. Our seers therefore call it Murk Mountain.”

Big Billy Goat Gruff looked at the eagle. He had many questions, but the stoat spoke first.

“The darkness has been gathering for a long time. Only now do we begin to see what we are dealing with.”

He studied the eagle. “We ermines know that your seers are not the most observant, and we have long known that the earth is deteriorating. Even the plants have gathered as much. They know there is a poison in their roots. They know that it comes from the water of a wizard on First Mountain. The First Spring is not well. The fact that the eagles have gotten wind of the obvious merely indicates a shift. It means that we have reached the end of a cycle and that we have a job to do.”

He looked at the others. “These are the times of which the Prophet foretold. Long ago, the Wisest had a vision where he saw the Ages as chapters in a great book. He saw time as a river that paved way for greater creation, a force whose purpose was to fully know itself, and that we were all part of this river. He said not only are we part of it but that an era would come when we would see the world with new eyes and understand that we are all this great river—in its entirety.”

“Ever since, our oracles have been watching the stars. They have seen smaller cycles come and go but believe that a greater upheaval is near.”

Middle Billy Goat Gruff looked at him. “You would have liked Old Hermit,” he said. “You would have had much to talk about.”

“But the world is only getting darker. What if we talk to our friends and they talk to theirs? Could we tell them about a place, just five mountains away? There, there is a meadow like none other. One where the world is no longer terrible. One where everything is fresh and there is room for all. We can go there to recuperate. We can also discuss tactics and what should be done with Murk Mountain.”

The youngest billy goat nodded. He missed his family and looked forward to seeing his friends. It would be quite an exodus, he imagined, when they together defied the darkness and headed for the Seter.

“Let’s go,” he said. “I cannot wait to tell Mother what happened. Let’s now travel back and gather those we can. We’ll tell them about the darkness, about the wizard who destroys the water, and then go back to the heavenly heath.”

Everyone agreed, except the stoat. He believed the solution was closer. He thought of the trolls and wanted to talk to them. But where were they?

The three brothers had not seen anyone on their way back. The stoat therefore wanted to head north, towards the Wretched Mounds and the Towering Heights. The eagle mentioned the possibility of finding trolls in that direction.

Even so, the journey was long and the goats were not ready for a diversion. They wanted to go home and warn the valley. As a result, the stoat flew with the eagle north. The fox went to alert the wolves, while the three brothers continued on their journey home.

They were heartened by the meeting with new friends and after a few days, they saw the snow on Murk Mountain. There was obviously something amiss. The water was worse, but the goats had to drink, and they felt the unrest rising.

Up there was another enemy, maybe worse than the troll. Who was he? Why did he poison the water? Not even the big brother had any idea what to do. But they had to get to the valley. The climate, which had been good on the trek to the Seter, was now cold and unfavourable, and they were trying to move unseen.

Still, they felt as if someone was constantly watching them. The atmosphere was thick and more and more crows were flying over them towards the snowy peaks.

They decided to head towards Grayrise and cross Goblin Gorge, a ravine that ran like a wound in the landscape. It was a rocky and difficult area in the south. However, it was easy to find shelter there, and on the other side were forests. The three bucks hoped that they would help them get home unseen. There were rumours of a big bad wolf, but they would rather risk it.

They were all anxious about what was to come, but they did not spot any wolves. Instead, as night approached, they encountered a little lamb.

He was extremely cute. His wool was white as snow, and he said he was the Capricorn’s emissary and had a message. He seemed trust-worthy, and to prove that he was a heavenly herald, he set fire to a bush. Without any matches. The three goats had never seen such a thing. Then the little lamb continued in his finest voice, “Hear this message: The Seter is set far away and the troll put in between because the goats shall stay in the valley. You are not supposed to go to paradise yet but wait for a calf to come.”

Big Billy Goat Gruff replied, “I hear you. But why should we believe you?”

The little lamb continued in his sweetest voice, “It is not part of the plan that you should overcome the troll. Nor have you. The nasty brute is not only alive but is now more dangerous than before. He will soon be back under the bridge. The Capricorn asks you to stay away. Understand that you are part of a larger plan and that the Seter must wait. The troll lives there to guard the road, and you disturb a greater clockwork by bringing the herd.”

Middle Billy Goat Gruff buttered in, “And you want us to wait for how long? There is a blight affecting these mountains that only gets worse. Everything eats at itself and nothing gets better. Even the water is poisoned.”

The lamb looked at the three goats. He was obviously not omniscient. “So, you know about the water,” he said. “Then you must have talked to the plants or the stoats, but it does not matter. They do not know everything either, and I advise you to stay away. The process is almost complete. Wait for the calf.”

He looked up at the stars.

“The Capricorn wants it that way,” he said.

“So, you have advised us,” replied Big Billy Goat Gruff. “For that I thank you. But I will ask you to leave, because such trust is an unreliable contract. I have met the Capricorn and you are not of the light. You have a distinctly different smell.”

As the little lamb looked at him, he suddenly began changing shape. The wool turned dark and soon, in front of them stood a rugged and grey-black goat. He was huge, his horns as old as the mountains. He took a few steps forward. And the closer he got, the darker the night became.

The biggest billy goat met his eyes. He prepared for battle, but the stranger grinned. He watched the crows gather in the sky. “I could easily crush you,” he said, setting another tree on fire. “But I am a force aware of my purpose. I do not intervene in that way. I am also part of a plan.”

“And what’s the plan?” asked the second brother. “Why is it okay to create problems for others, when everyone could be fine?”

The stranger replied, “This is not for goats to know. You are insignificant. You merely live on the edge of a larger universe, and a cycle is about to end. You will have access to the Seter, just wait.”

“So everyone’s coming to the Seter soon?” asked the little brother, confused.

The stranger smiled. “Yes,” he said. Then, after a pause, he added, “Those who want to.”

Chills ran down the big brother’s spine. He knew that he had to save the herd at all costs.

He countered, “You say a lot, but you are not all-seeing. You didn’t know that we knew about the water, or that we had talked to the stoats. Instead, you reveal that you have poisoned the earth, so why should we listen to you? Why are you intent on destroying us?”

The stranger replied, “It’s not about you. As I said, you are insignificant. It’s the Water of Life I’m concerned with, and it’s only a coincidence that the source is here.”

The three goats stared into the abyss that was the stranger’s eyes. He clearly had a bigger plan in mind, one that did not bode well for goats, but they could not see the big picture. The reason remained obscure.

The stranger noticed their bewilderment. He sneered and continued, “But know that I have no ambition to destroy. Actually, I like you, and that’s why I want you to wait. The Seter is not for you, not yet. You must wait until the world is ready, and the herd is of no use. Their will is weak. The formerly proud tribe of mountain goats is now like sheep seeking their shepherd’s safety, and this would have been the case even without my help.”

As he continued, his voice revealed a hatred. “There never was much spirit in them, and I have taken the water to speed up a larger process. A new era is approaching, and they have been sitting on the fence for too long. Now they must show who they are, and every-one will get what they deserve. Just wait for the calf.”

The three goats did not know that the wizard had tainted the spirit of the times before destroying the First Spring. The last step was just additional insurance for things to go his way and he felt confident of the stupidity of others. In fact, he had relied upon it thus far. He therefore registered the three goats as no threat to him. He saw how they had lost a lot of fat and knew that the winter would be hard. He also knew what it was like in the valley and he was confident that the goats would stay there till the end. Fear kept them there, and fear had a good hold over them.

But little did he know that the three brothers were not like others. The youngest may have been shaking, but he stepped forward and said, “I don’t know much about your game. But I know that there is a Seter so generous that we can all go there. Every other animal knows that too. And they are on their way. That troll is nothing to us.”

The stranger suddenly realized that he could not change the will of the goats. He therefore said mockingly to the big brother: “I could have put ten trolls on that bridge but no matter. One is more than enough. There is no chance that you can rouse the herd, and I have never seen anything more stupid than the Capricorn. Do you think the others will see the light?”

He laughed. A wicked laugh. “His prophets have walked the earth for thousands of years. Yet the world remains the same.”

He spat on the ground before continuing, “Never have I seen a weaker lineage. Fear reigns from cradle to grave. And you think things will get better?”

He laughed contemptuously. “You can do nothing about the stupidity of the herd. They all eat out of my hand. I’ve been to your valley. I am in fact coming from there now. Go and see. Things have not improved.”

The stranger then transformed into a crow, and, in a flash, was gone with the murder.

The three brothers felt their hearts racing. They were left with more questions than answers, but the biggest billy goat said, “You did the right thing, brother. I am proud of you. The valley is not far. Let’s go home and tell others what we have seen.”

Some time passed before the three goats reached the vale. First, they had to climb the rocky walls to the highland plateau. It was a treacherous climb, but there it was—the valley. A cold wind blew through the forests as they moved along, making them shiver. To their surprise, not a soul could be seen in the first village. Nor in the second, or the third. Just a lot of signs everywhere.

They were walking on a forest path and almost home when they met a band of sheep from the Kongsgård.* This group came marching towards them and did not seem pleased. The leader stepped forward. “This is the king’s guard,” he announced. “I am the Sergeant. What are you doing here? Why do you not obey the king’s command?”

The three billy goats glanced at each other. They knew the sergeant from school. He had been a lively sheep but was now changed. His eyes were dim, the light in them almost extinguished. He did not even seem to remember them, so the little brother spoke, “Hi Alastair, do you not recognise us? It’s us, the three brothers Gruff.”

was convinced that Alastair was in there somewhere and desperately hoped that their old friend would recognise them. However, the sergeant assumed a grim look and continued, “Announcements have been made every-where that the mountain air is dangerous. You must have authorisation to be outside.”

The three goats looked at each other again. The big brother replied, “Listen, we know nothing about the king’s directives. We have had a long journey. We have fought against the troll and been on the Seter. But we have vital news. Can you carry a message for the king?”

There was a discussion amongst the sheep before the sergeant said, “Read the decree!”

He pulled down a poster from a tree and showed it to the three goats. Big Billy Goat Gruff read from it:

“O-R-D-E-R-F-R-O-M-T-H-E-K-I-N-G.”

“T-H-O-S-E-W-I-T-H-O-U-T-P-E-R-M-I-S-S-I-O-N-S-H-A-L-L-S-T-A-Y-I-N-S-I-D-E.”

“T-A-L-K-I-N-G-A-B-O-U-T-T-H-E-T-R-O-L-L-A-N-D-S-E-T-E-R-I-S-A-L-S-O-F-O-R-B-I-D-D-E-N.”

The three goats glanced at each other yet again, but not for long. The sergeant barked, “Arrest these criminals! It’s 20 years for breaching the king’s law. You get sixty for breaching three!”

The three goats were instantly surrounded by sheep. The sergeant, pleased, thought of his promotion. “This turned out very fine,” he mused. Here, he had captured three triple-criminals, a rare commodity. He would receive infinite rewards for this feat

“You will be taken to the king’s court,” he announced. “Attempts to escape will be punishable by death.”

Terrified, the little brother sought the warmth and comforting presence of his big brother. A cruel chill was in the air, but it was not coming from the mountains. Nearby, a couple of heads stuck out of windows. Some of these were familiar, but no one said a thing in their defence. Big Billy Goat Gruff assured the others that there would be a solution as soon as they talked to the king. They therefore did not resist when they were cuffed by the flock of sheep.

The king himself lived in a larger city. He rarely visited the remote estate, but the local animals now had their own thing going. Ringer, the old goat at the abbey, had been visited by a distant relative. He had arrived as unnoticed as he departed but, in the meantime, several laws had been made. These laws were designed to protect against looming danger and the royal estate had become an important place. The animals living there liked the idea of defending the valley and soon, a major project connected to this was in progress.

Under the leadership of Ringer and the monastery, more and more animals had been put in charge of others, and the small valley had seen its first court system. The pigs were eager to become judges, while the sheep and dogs had an inclination for law and order. The cats were totally useless. The cows too—they did not see the point. But the rats, chickens and mice organised the bureaucracy. In this manner, the king’s estate stopped producing food and instead, was provided food by animals in the valley.

To sustain this new state of affairs, new laws were made. The horses, bulls, and asses were set to manage these laws, and Kongsgården was rebuilt. It represented the king’s authority, and those in authority now had to have prisons, of course, to punish criminals who dared to break the law.

This is where the three billy goats were taken.

On their way, they saw more signs than animals. Fear was running rampant across the king’s land, and the brothers were put in custody.

There they sat for a while. Friends and family visited, but there was nothing anybody could do. Only a few were allowed to visit and when the brothers spoke about the troll, the Seter, and the wizard, only mother did not look away. She believed in her children but could not speak the truth. The more she tried, the more problems she had. And because no one wanted to hear her, good old mom settled for aiding with practical affairs.

The three brothers did not fare much better.

After spending the winter in custody, they were presented at the king’s court. There, they got to explain themselves before a judge; however, they never saw the king himself.

At first, the pigs assumed that the three Billy Goats Gruff were lying. Then, when they realised that the goats believed in their own story, they surmised that they had lost their sanity in the Misty Mountains or that the mountain air had become too much. That the three brothers had stood up against trolls and wizards and grazed themselves fat on the heavenly heath—this, the animals could not accept. Instead, it was certain that the air up there had become even more dangerous and that the three bucks had imagined it all.

On these grounds, they felt confident that the mystery had been solved. Only perilous mountain air could explain why someone would openly defy the king’s order. To protect against this threat, the animals wrote new laws stating that under no circumstances was contact with the mountain allowed. Mammals were only allowed to leave the house after drinking the antidote to mountain air that Ringer and his group had brewed, although it did not seem to help much.

In the meanwhile, the three goats were told that they would be forgiven if they declared that they had been under the influence of the mountain air when the crime took place.

This was a stroke of luck for the brothers. They could choose between this or 60 years in prison. The latter did not particularly hum of fun. They also thought of their mother, who said that they could not change the world from prison and that it was best to escape the king’s clutches.

Still, the three brothers Gruff could not accept this alternative. Such a deception, the big brother stated, was worse than 60 years in prison. He would rather live for the truth than the king’s laws. The others agreed, and so they decided to flee. It was simple enough, the big brother said, and devised a plan.

During the winter, more and more animals had become dissatisfied with the new regime. The roedeer were the first to disappear, and friends outside spoke of a life that only got worse. Those who prospered were either in the king’s service or simply lucky. Food was scarce. What could be found was not distributed fairly, and more and more people started talking about the Seter—in secret, of course.

No one dared to oppose the authorities openly, for this fear was too great. Despite this, as darkness engulfed the valley, the animals sensed a new fire within. More and more realised that something was wrong, and the big brother thought that they could do some good on the run.

He proposed a heroic struggle of resistance and revolt against Kongsgården. After this, they would guide as many as possible to the Seter. There, together with those waiting, they would find a way to finally defeat the wizard in the snow.

The brothers were, of course, easy to sway. Despite the prohibition, they sensed the crisp mountain air and spring on its way. They felt the urge to fight for truth and justice. They were ready. One quiet night therefore they snuck out of prison and set course for the highlands.


*The Kongsgård (Swedish: Kungsgård) is a residence, estate, or farmland that belonged to the Scandinavian monarchs or royal families. During the Viking Age and early Middle Ages, the nations of Scandinavia were organised as frail political unions. To remain in control, kings would frequently travel the land. The Kongsgård would then function as temporary residencies for the kings and gradually developed into larger main estates and fortresses.riting here…

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