The Golden Helmets in the Alleberg by August Strindberg
Anders was the son of poor people, and in his youth he had wandered
through many kingdoms, with a bale of cloth and a yard-measure on his
back. But as he grew older he carne to the conclusion that it would be
better to wear the king's uniform and carry a rifle on his shoulder,
and therefore he went and enlisted in the Vaestgotadal regiment. And
one day it happened that he was sent to Stockholm on sentry duty.
Friend Cask, as he was now called, was on leave one day, and he made
up his mind to spend it at the “Fort.” But when he came to the gate he
found that he had not a sixpence, and consequently he had to remain
For a long time he stood staring at the railings, and then he
thought, “I'll just walk round; perhaps I'll come across a stile; if
the worst comes to the worst, I'll climb over.”
The sun was setting; he walked along the shore, at the foot of the
mountain, and the railings were high above him; he could hear the sound
of music and singing. Cask went round and round, but found no stile,
and at last the railings disappeared in a forest of nut trees. When he
was tired he sat down on a hillock and began to crack nuts.
Suddenly a squirrel appeared before him and put up its tail.
“Leave my nuts alone!” it said.
“I will, if you'll take me to a stile,” said Cask.
“Part of the way, then,” said the squirrel. It hopped along and the
soldier followed, until all at once it had vanished.
Then a hedgehog came rustling along.
“Come with me and I'll show you the stile,” it said.
“Go with you? not if I know it.”
But in spite of his remark the hedgehog followed him.
Next an adder joined them. It was very genteel; it lisped and could
twist itself into a knot.
“Follow me,” it said, “I will show you the stile.”
“I follow,” said Cask.
“But you mutht be genteel; you muthtn't t stread as me. I like nithe
“Well, a soldier isn't exactly genteel,” said Cask, “but I'm not so
“Tread on it,” said the hedgehog, “else it will bite you, ever so
The adder reared its neck and rustled away.
“Stop!” shouted the hedgehog, attacking the snake. “I am not as
genteel as you are, but I show my bristles openly, I do!”
And then it killed the snake and disappeared.
Now the soldier was alone in the wood and very sorry he felt that he
had rejected the society of the prickly hedgehog.
It had grown dark, but the crescent of the moon shone between the
birch leaves, and it was quite still.
The soldier fancied that he could see a big yellow hand moving
backwards and forwards. He went close up to it, and then he saw that it
was a yellow leaf, which seemed to gesticulate with its fingers,
although nobody could possibly understand what it wanted to say.
As he stood there, watching it, he heard an asp trembling:
“Huh! I'm so cold,” said the asp, “for my feet are wet, and I am
“What are you frightened of?” asked the soldier.
“Well, of the dwarf who is sitting in the mountain.”
Now the soldier realised what the maple leaf meant, and there was no
doubt about it, he saw a dwarf sitting in the mountain, cooking
“Who are you?” asked the dwarf.
“I belong to the Vaestgotadal regiment; where do you come from?”
“I,” said the dwarf, “I am in the Alleberg.”
“The Alleberg is in the Vaestgota country,” answered the soldier.
“We have removed it to this place,” replied the dwarf.
“You lie!” exclaimed the soldier, seized the pot by its handle and
threw the porridge into the fire.
“Now we'll have a look at the mouse-hole,” he said, and went right
into the mountain.
There he found a giant sitting by a huge fire, making an iron bar
“Good day, good day,” said the soldier, stretching out his hand.
“Good day to you,” said the giant, giving him the red-hot iron bar.
Cask took the iron and pressed it so hard that it hissed.
“You have got very warm hands, I must say,” he said. “What's your
“I'm the giant Swede,” said the troll.
“That was a Swedish hand-shake of yours, anyhow, and now I realise
that I am in the Alleberg. Are the golden helmets still asleep?”
“Will you be quiet!” exclaimed the giant, threatening him with the
“You shall see them, because you belong to the Vaestgotadal
regiment, but first of all you must solve my riddle,” he continued.
“If you want to fight one of your own countrymen, well and good. But
first of all, put that fiery thing away!”
“Very well, Cask, you shall recite the history of Sweden while I
smoke my pipe. Then I will show you the golden helmets. The whole
history of Sweden, please.”
“I can easily do that, although I was not one of the top dogs at the
military school. Let me try and recall it to memory.”
“There is one condition: you must not mention the name of a single
king; for if you do, those inside will get angry; and when they get
angry, then, you know . ...”
“It will be awfully difficult. But light your pipe and I'll begin.
Here's a match!”
The soldier scratched his head and began:
“One—two—three! In the year 1161, or thereabouts, Sweden first
came into existence; a kingdom, a king, and an archbishop—is that
“No,” said Swede, “not at all. Begin again.”
“Very well, then! In the year 1359 the Swedish people became a
nation, for then the Parliament of the four estates first met, and it
continued to meet, with interruptions, until 1866.”
“Well, but you're a soldier,” said Swede, “surely you'll have a few
words to say about wars.”
“There are only two wars of any importance, and they ended, the
first with the peace of Broemsebro in 1645, when we got Herjedalen,
Jaemtland, and Gottland, and the second with the peace of Roeskilde in
1658, when we got Schonen, Halland, Blekinge, and Bohuslaen. And that
is all there is of the history of Sweden.”
“But you forget the constitutions?”
“Well, we had an autocracy from 1680 to 1718 then there followed a
period of freedom until 1789, and this was followed again by an
autocracy. Then came Adlersparre's revolution in 1809, and he got Hans
Jaerke to draw up the constitution which is still surviving. That is
all you need know. Haven't you finished your pipe yet?”
“There!” said the giant. “It wasn't so bad on the whole! And now you
shall see the golden helmets.”
The troll arose with difficulty and went into the inferior of the
mountain; the soldier followed at his heels.
“Tread softly!” said the giant, pointing to a light with a golden
helmet who was leaning against a door, made of rock, apparently fast
asleep. But before the words had been out of his mouth, Cask stumbled
and the iron on the heel of his shoe struck a stone so forcibly that it
emitted sparks. The golden helmet awoke at once, just as if he had been
a sleeping sentry, and called:
“Is it time?”
“Not yet!” answered the giant.
The knight with the golden helmet sat down again and instantly fell
The giant opened a mountain wall and the soldier looked into a huge
hall. A table, that seemed to have no end, ran through the centre of
the hall, and in the twilight the soldier could see a brilliant
gathering of knights with golden helmets sitting in arm-chairs, the
backs of which were decorated with golden crowns. At the head of the
table sat a man who seemed head and shoulders taller than the rest; his
beard reached to his waist, like the beard of Moses or Joshua, and he
held a hammer all his hand.
All of them seemed fast asleep, although it was neither the sleep
which restores strength, nor the sleep which is called eternal sleep.
“Now, pay attention,” said the giant, “to-day is the great
He pressed a finger on a lark garnet in the mountain rock, and a
thousand flames shot up.
The golden helmets awoke.
“Who goes there?” asked the man with the prophet's beard.
“Swede,” answered the giant.
“A good name!” replied Gustav Eriksson Wasa, for it was he. “How
much time has passed away?”
“In years, after the birth of Christ, one thousand nine hundred and
“Time flies. But have you made arty progress? Are you still a
country and a nation?”
“We are. But since Gustavus I, the country has grown. Jaemtland,
Herjedalen, and Gottland have been added.”
“Who conquered them?”
“Well, it was in the time of Queen Christina; but her guardians
really conquered them.”
“Then we got Schonen, Halland, Blekinge, and Bohuslaen.”
“The deuce you did! Who won them?”
“Well, and then?”
“Is that all?”
Somebody knocked on the table.
“Erich the saint wishes to speak,” said Gustav Wasa.
“My name is Erich Jedvardson, and I never was a saint. May I be
allowed to ask Swede what became of my Finland?”
“Finland belongs to Russia, by its own wish, after the peace of
Fredrikshamn in 1809, when the Finnish nation sore allegiance to the
Gustavus II., Adolfus, asked permission to speak.
“Where are the Baltic provinces?” he asked.
“Reclaimed by their rightful owner,” answered Swede.
“And the emperor? Is there still an emperor?”
“There are two; one in Berlin. and one in Vienna.”
“Two of the House of Habsburg?”
“No, one of the House of Habsburg and the other of the House of
“Incredible! And the Catholics in North Germany—are they
“No, the Catholics form the majority in the German Parliament, and
the emperor at Berlin is trying to put pressure on the College of
Cardinals, with a view to influencing the choice of the next Pope.”
“There is still a Pope, then?”
“Oh! yes, although one of them has just died.”
“And what does the Hohenzollern want in Rome?”
“No one knows; some say that it is his ambition to become
Roman-German emperor of the Evangelical Confession.”
“A syncretistic emperor dreamt of by John George of Saxony! I don't
want to hear anymore. The ways of Providence are strange, and we
mortals, what are we? Dust and ashes!”
Charles XII. asked permission to speak.
“Can Swede tell me what has become of Poland?”
“Poland is no more. It has been split up.”
“Split up? And Russia?”
“Russia recently celebrated the foundation of Petersburg, and the
Lord Mavor of Stockholm walked in the procession.”
“As a prisoner?”
“No, as a guest. All nations are on friendly terms now, and not very
long ago a French army, commanded by a German field-marshall, invaded
“Delicious! Are people now the friends of their enemies?”
“Yes, they are all penetrated by a Christian spirit, and there is a
permanent Committee for the Preservation of Peace established at the
“A permanent Committee for the Preservation of Peace.”
“Then my time is over! God's will be done!”
The king closed his visor and remained silent.
Charles, XI. claimed attention.
“Well, Swede, what about the finances of the old country?”
“It's difficult to answer your question, for I'm afraid they know
nothing of keeping accounts. But one or two things are certain: that
quite half kingdom has been pledged to the foreigner for about three
“And the municipal debts amount to about two hundred millions.”
“And in the years 1881 to 1885 one hundred and forty-six thousand
“Enough! I don't want to hear any more!”
Gustav Wasa knocked on the table with his hammer.
“As far as I can understand the matter, the country is in a bad way.
Sluggards you are, lazy, envious, irresponsible sluggards; too idle to
bestir yourselves, but quick enough to prevent anybody else from doing
anything. But tell me, Swede, what about my church and my priests?”
“The priests of the church are farmers and dairy-keepers. The
bishops have an income of thirty thousand crowns, and collect money,
exactly as they did before the Recess of Vesteraes; moreover, nearly
all of them are heretics, or free-thinkers, as they call themselves.
Men are beginning to expect some sort of a Reformation.”
“Indeed? ... And what is the meaning of this music and singing up
“This is the 'Fort.' That is, a mountain, where they have a
collection of all the national keepsakes, just as if the nation were
anticipating its end and making its last will and testament, gathering
together all the mementoes of the past. It shows reverence for the
ancestors, but nothing else.”
“What we have heard on this commemoration day seems to prove that
the deeds of our forefathers have been engulfed in the ocean of time.
One thing swims on the surface, another sinks to the bottom. Here we
are sitting like the shadows of our former selves, and to you, who are
alive, we must remain shadows . ... Put out the lights!”
The giant Swede extinguished the lights and went out; the soldier
followed close behind him and climbed into something which looked like
“If you say a word to anybody of what you have seen and heard,” said
the giant, “you will be sorry for it.”
“I can quite believe that,” answered Cask, “but shall always
remember it. That they should have squandered the old country in drink
and pledge to the foreigner! It's too bad—if it's true.”
“Click” went the turbine; and the lift with soldier shot upwards to
the “Fort.” And there stood, in the sunset, and the country looked just
as it had looked when the chimes in the belfry Haesjoer chimed, and
Gustav Wasa entered Stockholm, surrounded by his generals.