Short summary - Ride This Night
The setting of the novel is the author's birthplace, the forests of the southern province of Varend, or rather, the village of Brendabol (the name is fictitious). The people living in the twelve courtyards of Brendabol become dependent on a new neighbor, the landowner Kleven, who arrived from Germany: he serves at the court of the Swedish Queen Christina and introduces a new order in the district - serfdom.
Kleven acts with self-confidence, characteristic of a person with unlimited power. First, he is given the right to collect taxes, then the right to the working time of the peasants: a little more - and they will all become his serfs. Realizing the depth of the danger that awaits them, the villagers take an oath to protect their ancient liberties: they will seek intercession from the queen, and if necessary, they will take up arms. However, the local head of the administration, a guard serving the landowner, takes the peasants by cunning: after waiting for some time, he enters the village at dawn with a detachment of reiters. Taking advantage of surprise and the threat of force, he forces the local elected headman Jon Stonge to agree to corvée. Then, with the help of the elder, he forces all the men of the village to agree one by one, with the exception of two: the hero of the novel, the young bond (peasant) Svedye and the local blacksmith-gunsmith. , will injure one of the reiters who raised a hand against him, and goes into the forest. And from now on, a Vogt settles in his estate: from here he oversees the peasants: instead of working in their own fields, they now go to corvée (they are building a new house for the German Kleven), as a result, the hungry winter that the village has just experienced turns into hungry summer and autumn.
However, in the depths of their souls, the peasants of Brendabol remain unbroken, they are sure that the lost liberties will be returned - either by the queen, or they will return them themselves. That's just to do it with the least losses - the dead do not have freedom for the future. And then a relay race (in a peasant way, “shtafet”) is secretly delivered to Brendaball - a wooden board a cubit long, charred and bloody, with a sign carved on it - a flail. In other, prosperous times, another baton was passed through the villages of the district every few years - a burning torch, from the fire of which the stoves were rekindled - the “new fire” helped to discard the memory of the misfortunes experienced by the owners and forget about the mistakes they had made. In a dashing time, when the enemy was seriously threatening the peasant community, a “shtafet” was launched - a call for insurrection and unity - it was passed from village to village on horseback or on foot, night or day, personally or on behalf. But the "shtafet" brought to Brandabol was not lucky: he fell into the hands of the same elected headman Jon Stong, who had already lost to the Vogt once. Having weighed all the pros and cons, the judicious headman celebrates the coward this time too: he buries the “staple” in the ground, which is also not easy for him - the one who delayed the “staple” was punished by death according to custom. But hiding the "stuff" from the authorities also deserves to be executed. From now on, the headman lives in constant fear: either an unringed pig will dig a cursed board out of the ground, or it will be washed by an underground source found in this place.
Double-dealing does not bring happiness to the headman. From longing for Svedya, who has gone into the forest, the daughter of the headman Bottila almost goes crazy. The father refused the word given to Svedya, now he promises his daughter's hand to another. In addition, the wandering village widow Annika accuses her of witchcraft and secret relations with the Unclean - otherwise why would she go to the forest, where there can be no one? In utter desperation, Bottila lays hands on herself. However, the headman is ready to lose his daughter rather than give her to the hated Svedya - he envies the determination and inner freedom of the young bond. Even the food that is now in the house of Stand, thanks to the patronage of the Vogt, is more than enough, he does not please him: all of it is devoured by the long and white worms that have wound up in the headman's womb. Both literally and figuratively, something gnaws at him from the inside.
But Svedye, who left the village, kept peace in his soul, although he also had a hard time on the run: he lives alone in a fox hole among the rocks until he finds another outcast - a village thief, whose name is Ugge Blesmolsky thief. Ugge is a great master in his profession, he is not without a kind of morality: he steals only from the rich, distributing part of the booty to the poor people. Ugge saves Svedje, who almost died in the forest from illness, who did not want to know him before. But even a highly experienced and quirky thief has his own weakness - excessive self-confidence: which is why he dies at the hands of the Earless - another outcast, albeit of a completely different type. Bezukhy is a local executioner who agreed to this position for forgiving him an accidental murder (in memory of which his ear was nevertheless cut off). Thus he saved his life, but hated the whole world. The Earless did not pay the corrupt girl, who earns her craft to feed her sick and impoverished parents. Ugge reproached the Earless for this and received a knife in the back.
A true peasant, Svedye firmly believes in justice, it is immutable for him, like the daily path of the sun from east to west or the innocence of his bride Bottila, with whom he shares a bed at night, not touching her until the wedding. Svedje believes that the efforts of the local priest, to whom his mother turned, will not be in vain and a petition describing the injustice committed against him will reach the queen. Unfavorable news (Queen Christina completely took the side of the nobility at the Council of the Estates in 1650, refusing to help the petty clergy and peasants) forced him to take the matter of restoring justice into his own hands. Svedye openly challenges Kleven to a duel: he knocks on his estate at night to call the landowner to account, but the frightened servants say: Kleven is far away, he is at the court in Stockholm. Having learned about the threats to Svedya, Kleven takes them seriously: he asks the local authorities to judge the one who escaped into the forest and start searching for him. In the end, Svedya was besieged like a wolf in a winter swamp, wounded with a musket shot and buried - by court order! - still alive in the ground.
And yet, the justice that Svedje believed in is eventually restored. Jon Stonga managed to hide the "staple" from the community. But instead of him, a new one appears in the village: the men of Brandabol made it on their own initiative - the baton is still passed on.