In Print

Peerie Fool

There was once a king and queen who lived with their three daughters on the island of Rousay. The king died, and the queen lived with the princesses in a small house. They had a kailyard and a cow that gave them milk. One day the queen found that someone had been stealing their kail from the yard. The oldest daughter said that she would catch the thief, so she took a blanket and sat in the kailyard all night.

After a time what should she see but a huge great giant coming striding into the kailyard. He cut the kail and threw it into a caisie on his back. As he filled his caisie the princess was always asking him why he was taking her mother’s kail. The giant just replied that if she would not be quiet he would take her too, and so it was. When the giant had filled his caisie he took the princess by the arm and leg and threw her into the caisie on top of the kail and off home he went.

When they arrived at the giant’s house he set her down and told her what work she had to do. First she must milk the cow, then put her up to the hills called Bloodfield. Then she had to take wool, wash it, tease it, comb it, card it, spin it and make it into cloth.

The giant left her to get on with her work. She milked the cow and put her up to the hills, then she put on a pot to make some porridge for her breakfast. As she sat down to sup her porridge she found that she was not alone. A hoard of little yellow-headed folk came running in, and they all begged her for some of her porridge, but this she refused, saying

“Little for one, and less for two,
And never a grain have I for you.”

When she took up the wool she found that, try as she liked, it would not work for her. When the giant returned he found that she had not done her work. He took her, and starting with her head he pulled all her skin off down her back and over her heels. He then threw her body over the rafters among the hens.

That night the giant took his caisie and off he went to the queen’s kailyard again. When he got there who should he meet but the second princess. As he cut the kail she kept on asking him why he was stealing her mother’s property. He warned her that if she did not hold her tongue he would take her too. When the caisie was full he picked up the princess and tossed her on top and off home he went.

He gave the second princess the same tasks as he had given her sister. She milked the cow and put her to the hills, then put on her pot of porridge. The same little yellow-headed people came running in begging for a share, but they got the same answer;

“Little for one, and less for two,
And never a grain have I for you.”

If the wool had not worked for her sister, it worked even worse for her. When the giant came home he found the work had not been done. He took the princess and tore a strip of skin from her head down her back and over her heels. He threw her over the rafters alongside her sister and the hens.

The next night the youngest princess said she would take a blanket and spend the night in the kailyard. She would find out who the thief was who was stealing the kail, and her sisters. Before too long the giant arrived and started to cut the kail. The youngest princess asked him why he was stealing her mother’s kail, but the giant would only say that he would take her too if she was not quiet, and so he did. He picked her up by the arm and leg and tossed her into the caisie.

At the giant’s house he gave her the same orders as he had given her sisters, and off he went. She milked the cow and put it to the hills, then she put on a pot of porridge. Again the little yellow-headed folk came running in begging for some food. She was a kind girl and told them to go and get something to sup with, and so they did. Some took heather stalks, some took bits of broken dishes, some got one thing and some another. They supped the porridge until it was all done. After they had left a little yellow-headed boy came in and asked her if she had any work to do; he could do any work with wool. She said that she had a lot of work to do, but she could not pay him. He said that all he asked for was that she should tell him his name when he had finished. She agreed thinking that it should be easy enough, so she gave him the wool.

When it was getting dark an old woman came asking for a bed for the night. The princess said that she could not put her up for the night, but asked her if she had any news. The old woman said she had none and went off to sleep outside.

There was a knowe near to the giant’s home and the old woman took shelter under its lee side. She lay down on the side of its slope and found it to be very warm. As she lay on the knowe she was always climbing a little way up it until she found herself at its top. She thought she could hear a voice coming from inside the knowe, so she listened. The voice said, “Tease, teasers, tease; card, carders, card; spin, spinners, spin, for Peerie Fool, Peerie Fool is my name.” There was a crack in the top of the knowe and the old woman peered inside. There were a great number of little people working, and a little yellow-headed boy running around them repeating that rhyme.

The old woman now thought that she had news that might win her a night’s lodgings after all. She headed back to the giant’s house and told the princess all that she had seen and heard. The princess kept on saying “Peerie Fool, Peerie Fool,” over and over to herself. At last the little yellow-headed boy came in with the cloth. He asked her what his name was, and she made a few wrong guesses. Every time she guessed wrong, the tiny yellow-headed boy would jump about shouting “No!” At last she said, “Peerie Fool is your name!” He threw down the cloth in a perfect rage and ran out of the house.

When the giant came home he met a great many little yellow-headed folk, and they were a terrible sight! Some had their eyes hanging out on their cheeks; some had their tongues hanging down to their breasts. He asked them what was the matter, how had they ended up like that. They said it was with working so hard pulling wool so fine. The giant said that if his own goodwife at home was alright he would never make her do any work again. When he came home he was very relieved to find her well, and stunned to see all the webs of cloth that she had made. The giant was as good as his word and the princess had no more work to do. In fact, he was very kind to her.

The next day the princess found her sisters and took them down from over the rafters. She put the skin on their backs again, and they were as good as new. She set her oldest sister in the caisie with some of the giant’s fine things on top of her and covered it all over with grass. When the giant came home she asked him to take the caisie to her mother, saying it was food for her cow. The giant did as she wished, for he was fond of her now.

The next day she did the same thing with her other sister. The giant again set off with her in the caisie, along with other fine things from his home. When he got home the princess told him that she would have another caisie of grass for her mother’s cow ready for him the following night. She wouldn’t be at home though, as she wanted to go somewhere. The next night the caisie containing the youngest princess and all the other fine things that she could find in the giant’s house was left by the door for him. He could not see any of this, as it was covered over with grass. The giant picked it up and set out with it to the queen’s house. When he got there the queen and her two daughters were waiting for him with a big boiler full of boiling water. When he was under the window they poured it over him, and that was the end of the giant.

Credit goes to Tom Muir for allowing me to reproduce this from
his book The Mermaid Bride and other Orkney Folk Tales.
Also to Bryce Wilson for the use of his illustration.