The collector of fairytales Peter Christen Asbjørnsen is at home recording fairytales after returning from one of his many collecting trips around Norway. He is visited by two children hoping to hear one of the new tales.
Once upon a time there was a king who proclaimed that anyone who could build a ship that sailed as well on land and water - and through the air too, would get the princess's hand in marriage and half the kingdom. The three brothers, Peter, Paul and Ash Lad, decided to try their luck. Peter and Paul, who were the eldest, went out into the forest to build the ship. Along the way they met a bent and wizened old man, who asked politely for a bite to eat. But the brothers just mocked him, saying there was nothing but swill and manure in the knapsack, and went on their way. But no matter how much they chopped and hammered, strangely enough, it all turned to nothing but swill and manure. And so they gave up and went back home.
They mocked their brother when Ash Lad said he wanted to try his luck too. But when Ash Lad met the little wizened man out in the forest, he felt sorry for him and gave him what he had in his knapsack. The old man knew what his mission was, and said that he should just lie down and get some rest. Next morning a magnificent ship was standing right there in front of him - and it could sail as well on land as on water - and through the air too. Ash Lad climbed aboard the ship and the old man said he should pick up anyone he met on the way to the king's manor.
Along the way, he met a skinny knave who said he was so hungry for meat he had to eat rubble to get his fill. A long, leaping fellow he took along with him was so fleet-footed he had to have seven hundredweights on his leg. A third, fat fellow they met had his hand clasped over his mouth because he had seven winters and seven summers inside him, and if he took his hand away they would all escape and put an end to the world there and then.
When they arrived at the king's manor, the king refused to accept Ash Lad as the princess's suitor, and so he set him three impossible tests. But Ash Lad took along his good helpers, and together they managed to past the tests so both the king and his people were quite dumbfounded.
At last the king had to give in, and so Ash Lad won the princess and half the kingdom.