Tomten: A Yule Tale

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Gudrun knew that the tomten lived in the rock, under the tree, out in the corner of the garden. She could even see that rock from her bedroom window. Gudrun asked her mother and father if they had ever actually seen the tomten. Her mother replied that she had not. Her father said that he hadn't either, but his father had told him about it, so he knew it had to be true. Gudrun noticed, however, that, when he said this, he had that smile on his face that parents often have when telling their children things that might be true only in a story.

But finding the tomten was important. That was because of the fox, which had been raiding the henhouse regularly recently, and with much success. To put a stop to this, her father had first tried blocking all possible points of entry. But the fox always found another way in. The next approach was the trap. This resulted in her father having a black-and-blue thumb for a week. The third approach, which involved him sleeping in the henhouse with a shotgun, resulted in a large hole in the side of the henhouse, but no damage to the fox.

Gudrun appreciated that her father knew much about many things, like history and geography, and certainly about farming, and a lot of other things, too, all of which were good to know. But on the topic of how to keep a fox out of a henhouse, she thought perhaps their tomten might know better.

She had heard that a tomten could only be seen going about at night, and you'd have to be lucky to see one even then. She was determined, though. Staying up very late one night after the rest of the house was dark, she parted the window curtains her mother had made just enough to let her see out across the snowy yard to the corner of the garden. Then she watched and she waited, and she waited and she watched. And she watched and waited some more. And nothing happened. She waited longer still, still watching carefully, and still nothing happened. Gudrun yawned, and stretched, and looked away for just a moment. And when she looked back, there he was, standing by the side of the rock, under the tree, out in the corner of the garden.

Quickly and quietly, she ran out of her room to the door of the house. She opened it. Not all the way, but enough to put her head out. Then she said:

"Pssst!"

The tomten looked over at her. He turned his head one way, and then another. Gudrun was starting to think he might not come. Then he did, walking slowly across the snow, but not in a straight line. He walked from his rock to another part of the garden and examined her from there. Then, to the far side of the yard to examine her from there. After several stops, he stopped on the step before the door.

Gudrun opened the door a little farther and stepped out into the cold. She couldn't quite believe what she was seeing. He was an odd-looking little man, with a round moon of a face with large dark eyes, and a little round belly, and short little legs. Not very tall at all, really. She reached out a finger and poked him in his belly, just to be sure he was real. The tomten jumped back a step and looked at her a little indignantly. Then he moved closer, reached out his little hand, and tweaked her on the nose, just to be sure she was real. As it turned out, she was. Pleased with this discovery, he said:

"And what can I do for you, dear one?"

His voice was strange, like no voice she had ever heard before, but like so many things she had. He sounded like the wind in the trees around her house, and like the little song of the nearby brook when it ran fast. All that, and also, his voice sounded something like her father's, and her mother's, and her grandfather's and grandmother's, too. And there were other voices in his voice that she couldn't identify, but that she found familiar anyway. She couldn't take time to wonder over this, though, because she had such serious business to transact with the tomten.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Tomten, for coming to talk with me. I'm hoping you can help us with a problem."

Gudrun was speaking very quickly, which her mother had told her was rude and that she needed not to do. But she just couldn't help herself, because this was so important.

"You see, Mr. Tomten," she went on in a torrent, "the fox has been raiding our henhouse, and he's oh so very good at it, and Daddy has been trying oh so very hard to stop him, and, well, someone might get hurt especially the chickens and probably Daddy and maybe even the fox and can you help us please?"

Whatever extra time Gudrun didn't devote to her message, the tomten devoted to thought before he answered. That much time, at least, and more. He wasn't one to hurry. Then he said: