Peerifool
Scotland
There was once a king and queen in Rousay who had three daughters. The king died and the queen was living in a small house with her daughters. They kept a cow and a kale yard; they found their cabbage was all being taken away. The eldest daughter said to the queen, she would take a blanket about her and would sit and watch what was going away with the kale. So when the night came she went out to watch. In a short time a very big giant came into the yard; he began to cut the kale and throw it in a big cubby [straw basket]. So he cut till he had it well filled.

The princess was always asking him why he was taking her mother’s kale. He was saying to her, if she was not quiet he would take her too.

As soon as he had filled his cubby he took her by a leg and an arm and threw her on the top of his cubby of kale and away home he went with her.

When he got home he told her what work she had to do; she had to milk the cow and put her up to the hills called Bloodfield, and then she had to take wool, and wash and tease it and comb and card, and spin and make claith [cloth].

When the giant went out she milked the cow and put her to the hills. Then she put on the pot and made porridge to herself. As she was supping it, a great many peerie [little] yellow-headed folk came running, calling out to give them some. She said:

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

When she came to work the wool, none of that work could she do at all.

The giant came home at night and found she had not done her work. He took her and began at her head, and peeled the skin off all the way down her back and over her feet. Then he threw her on the couples [rafters] among the hens.

The same adventure befell the second girl. If her sister could do little with the wool she could do less.

When the giant came home he found her work not done. He began at the crown of her head and peeled a strip of skin all down her back and over her feet, and threw her on the couples beside her sister. They lay there and could not speak nor come down.

The next night the youngest princess said she would take a blanket about her and go to watch what had gone away with her sisters. Ere long, in came a giant with a big cubby, and began to cut the kale.

She was asking why he was taking her mother’s kale. He was saying if she was not quiet he would take her too. He took her by a leg and an arm and threw her on the top of his cubby and carried her away.

Next morning he gave her the same work as he had given her sisters.

When he was gone out she milked the cow and put her to the high hills. Then she put on the pot and made porridge to herself. When the peerie yellow-headed folk came asking for some she told them to get something to sup with. Some got heather cows and some got broken dishes; some got one thing, and some another, and they all got some of her porridge.

After they were all gone a peerie yellow-headed boy came in and asked her if she had any work to do; he could do any work with wool. She said she had plenty, but would never be able to pay him for it. He said all he was asking for it was to tell him his name. She thought that would be easy to do, and gave him the wool.

When it was getting dark an old woman came in and asked her for lodging. The princess said she could not give her that, but asked her if she had any news. But the old woman had none, and went away to lie out.

There is a high knowe [knoll] near the place, and the old woman sat under it for shelter. She found it very warm. She was always climbing up, and when she came to the top she heard someone inside saying, ” Tease, teasers, tease; card, carders, card; spin, spinners, spin, for Peerie Fool, Peerie Fool is my name.” There was a crack in the knowe, and light coming out. She looked in and saw a great many peerie folk working, and a peerie yellow-headed boy running round them calling out that.

The old woman thought she would get lodging if she went to give this news, so she came back and told the princess the whole of it.

The princess went on saying “Peerie Fool, Peerie Fool,” till the yellow-headed boy came with all the wool made into claith.

He asked what was his name, and she guessed names; and he jumped about and said, “No.”

At last she said, “Peerie Fool is your name.” He threw down the wool and ran off very angry.

As the giant was coming home he met a great many peerie yellow-headed folk, some with their eyes hanging on their cheeks, and some with their tongues hanging on their breasts. He asked them what was the matter. They told him it was working so hard pulling wool so fine. He said he had a good wife at home, and if she was safe, never would he allow her to do any work again.

When he came home she was all safe, and had a great many webs lying all ready, and he was very kind to her.

Next day when he went out she found her sisters, and took them down from the couples. She put the skin on their backs again, and she put her eldest sister in a cazy [basket], and put all the fine things she could find with her, and grass on the top.

When the giant came home she asked him to take the cazy to her mother with some food for her cow. He was so pleased with her he would do anything for her, and took it away.

Next day she did the same with her other sister. She told him she would have the last of the food she had to send her mother for the cow ready next night. She told him she was going a bit from home, and would leave it ready for him. She got into the cazy with all the fine things she could find, and covered herself with grass. He took the cazy and carried it to the queen’s house. She and her daughters had a big boiler of boiling water ready. They couped [overturned] it about him when he was under the window, and that was the end of the giant.

* Source: G. F. Black and Northcote W. Thomas, County Folk-Lore, vol. 3: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore concerning the Orkney and Shetland Islands (London: Published for the Folk-Lore Society by David Nutt, 1903), pp. 222-26.

* Black’s and Thomas’s source: “Taken down from the recitation of an Orkney woman by Mr. D. J. Robertson. Printed in Longman’s Magazine, vol. xiv. pp. 331-34.”

* The episode concerning Peerifool’s name is a type 500 folktale, best known in the Grimm brothers’ version Rumpelstiltskin.

* Rousay is a small island north of the mainland island of Orkney.

* Return to the table of contents.

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