TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Dietrich of Bern
Hildebrand's Pupil--Alberich the Dwarf--Grim and Hilde--The Magic Sword--Conflict in the Cavern--Giant and Hag are slain--Great Sigenot--Dietrich taken Prisoner--In the Dragon's Lair--Hildebrand put to Shame--Giant overcome--Heime's Challenge--Wieland's son Witege--Fierce Combat --Dietrich in Peril--Peace Terms.
DIETRICH was the son of great Dietmar, King of Bern, whose brother was the fierce King Ermenrich. He was but seven years old when there came to his father's Court the battle hero, Hildebrand, far famed for valorous deeds. Unto that great warrior was given the care of the young prince, so that he might gain manly wisdom and skill in feats of arms. Fast friends they became ere long, and faithful were they one to another in after years, until death did thrust them apart.
It chanced that when the lad grew strong, and had desire for daring adventure, a giant and a giantess, whose names were Grim and Hilde, ravaged the land with fire, and did slaughter many goodly subjects. Dietmar raised a mighty army and went out against them, but he could discover not the hiding place of the monsters, who ever came forth unawares to work their evil designs.
Now Dietrich had great desire to combat with the giant and giantess, for he was brave as he was strong, and he sought most of all to win a warrior's renown.
With Hildebrand he hunted one fair morning in a deep forest. They came to a green and open space, when suddenly a dwarf started up and ran to escape them. The lad gave speedy chase, and soon he had the little man in his power. His name was Alberich, and he had fame as a cunning robber and a wonder smith. Dietrich desired to slay him, but the dwarf cried out:
"Kill me not, O Prince of Bern, and thou shalt have for thyself the great sword which I forged for Grim and Hilde. It is called Naglering, nor is its equal to be found in the world. I shall also guide thee unto a cavern where much treasure lies hidden."
Dietrich promised to spare the life of the dwarf if his promise were fulfilled, and Alberich said: "Thou must needs combat with Grim, who hath the strength of twelve men, and also with Hilde, who is even more to be feared, ere thou canst possess thyself of the treasure."
Binding vows were then taken by Alberich, who promised to return at eventide with the wondrous sword. As the dwarf promised so did he do. He met Dietrich and Hildebrand close to a great mountain cliff, and delivered up the shining sword, Naglering. Proud was the lad of that wondrous weapon, which brought him, as it befell, great fame in after years.
The dwarf then vanished, and Hildebrand and Dietrich went towards the cliff. Ere long they found the secret door and opened it. The sunlight streamed within, and they beheld, lying beside a fire, gaunt Grim and Hilde, who both at once sprang up angrily and desired vengeful combat. The giant sought for his Naglering, but found it not. Cunningly indeed had the robber dwarf taken it from him.
The giant then seized a burning log and leapt at Dietrich. Fast and ferocious were his blows, and the lad would full surely have been slain but for the sword he wielded.
Hilde sprang at Hildebrand and wrestled with him. Long and fierce was the struggle, because the warrior had great strength, but the giantess held him tightly round the neck, until, gasping for breath, Hildebrand fell to the ground. So was he completely overcome, and the end of his days seemed to be very nigh.
In vain the old warrior called upon Dietrich, who waged desperate conflict with the giant. But at length the lad prevailed. Leaping aside to escape a mighty blow, he smote Grim with Naglering and cut off his head. So perished the ferocious giant, who had laid desolate a great part of the kingdom of Dietmar.
Hildebrand was meanwhile in sore distress. Hilde began to bind him, so that he might be put to death by torture, but Dietrich smote her so great a blow that he clave her body in twain. But she relaxed not thereat her ferocious embrace of the swooning warrior. Such was her power that she united her severed parts before the lad's eyes, and caused herself to be made whole again. So Dietrich smote her the second time right through the middle, and yet again she was joined together as before.
Hildebrand cried faintly: "Leap thou between the Hag's severed body when thou dost strike next, and turn thine eyes from her."
As the warrior bade, so did Dietrich do. He cut Hilde in twain, and immediately separated her body with his own, nor did he look round.
That was the end of Hilde. 1 No longer could she work her evil will. So she cried:
"If Grim had fought with Dietrich as well as I have fought with Hildebrand, we should ne'er have been overcome.
Then life went from her, and Hildebrand was set free. The old warrior embraced the prince, praising his valour and skill, and the glory of battle gleamed in the eyes of Dietrich.
Great was the treasure which was concealed in the cavern. Dietrich took for himself a wondrous shining helmet. It was named Hildegrim, after the giant and the giantess, and it gave more than a mortal's strength to the hero who wore it.
The prince put the helmet on his head. He triumphed in the power it gave him. Then with Hildebrand he returned unto his sire, King Dietmar, who rejoiced greatly because of the valorous deeds of his son, and he made him a full knight before all the people.
There lived among the mountains to the west a great giant whose name was Sigenot, and he vowed to be avenged upon Dietrich because that he slew Grim, his uncle, and Hilde, his aunt, and possessed himself of their treasure, and especially the helmet Hildegrim. One day Dietrich rode forth alone to hunt in the deep forest, and in the midst of it he found Sigenot lying fast asleep. Proud was the lad of his strength, and overconfident withal, and he desired greatly to combat with the giant. So he dismounted and went fearlessly towards him and kicked his body. Sigenot leapt up in anger.
"At last thou art come," he cried. "Long have I waited for thee, Prince of Bern, so that I might take vengeance for the slaying of my kinsman Grim.
The giant seized his great spear, and Dietrich drew his sword Naglering. But unequal was the combat.
The giant smote but a single blow with the spearhaft and felled the prince, whom he speedily bound. Then he bore Dietrich through the forest, and cast him into a dark, underground cavern, which was a dragon's lair. Snakes crept about and hissed in the darkness; the prince had need to combat with them.
Meanwhile Hildebrand went through the forest searching for the prince. He wondered because he could not hear his huntsman's horn, and when he found his horse bound to a tree, he feared greatly that Dietrich had been slain. Great was the grief of Hildebrand. . . .
Suddenly he heard heavy footsteps coming through the trees, and ere long the great Sigenot confronted him.
"Who art thou, and whom dost thou seek?" the giant bellowed.
"Hildebrand is my name," answered the bold warrior, "and I seek for Dietrich, Prince of Bern."
The giant thrust his spear at him, but Hildebrand fought fiercely with his sword. Ere long, despite his valour, the warrior was disarmed, and Sigenot caught him by the beard, and dragged him through the forest, bellowing the while:
"Follow me, Longbeard, follow me; now are Grim and Hilde avenged. Soon shalt thou find thy Prince of Bern."
Now never before had a foeman dared to lay hands upon Hildebrand's beard, and for that reason he was more wroth with than afraid of the giant. As the warrior was being thus ignobly dragged to the cave in which Dietrich lay bound, he saw the sword Naglering lying on the ground. Nimbly he clutched it ere his captor was aware, and, striking fiercely, he wounded the giant, who suddenly relaxed his hold so that the warrior leapt free.
Click to enlarge
From the statue in the Church of the Franciscans at Innsbruck
Then did fearless Hildebrand smite Sigenot and slay him with a single blow. So perished the kinsman of Grim when he deemed proudly that his vengeance was complete.
Deep was the underground cavern in which Dietrich was kept captive. The prince heard the voice of Hildebrand calling to him, and entreated him to make haste.
"Many vipers still remain alive," he said, "although not a few have I slain and devoured."
Hildebrand cast off his clothing, and each garment did he tear in shreds; then he made a rope which he lowered into the dark, snake-infested cavern, so that the prince might have release from his torture and unceasing conflict.
Dietrich seized the rope; but when Hildebrand began to pull him up, it snapped asunder.
'Twas then that the dwarf Eggerich came nigh, rejoicing because that Sigenot was slain. He speedily procured a rope ladder, and it was lowered to Dietrich, who was thus given escape from the dragon's cave and the hissing snakes that swarmed there.
The prince embraced his rescuer, but Hildebrand did chide him much because that he had ventured forth in the forest alone.
Then they took leave of the dwarf Eggerich, and returned together unto Bern. When the people came to know that the giant Sigenot was slain, they rejoiced greatly, and acclaimed Hildebrand and the fearless son of Dietmar.
Now there was not in all the kingdom a young warrior who was Dietrich's equal. His fame went far and wide, and bold knights came riding to Bern so that they might win his favour with challenge to feats of arms. Those who were worthy and of high birth did the prince choose to be his followers. In time he had thus command of many valorous knights. Among these were Witege and Heime, who had great fierceness and daring, and were so gloomy and cruel of heart that in peace as in war they were dreaded and shunned. Men they smote and women they hated and scorned; many young warriors they slew in conflict. Churls were they both, and how they came to be honoured by Dietrich must now be told.
Heime came first unto Bern. Dwarfish was he in stature, but his heart was full of valour, and he had strength beyond his years. He feared not the prince, despite his mighty fame. Unto him did his sire Studas, who was a breeder of war steeds amidst the mountains, give a swift grey horse, which was named Rispa, and the sword Blutgang.
When he rode boldly into the courtyard of the castle at Bern, Heime challenged Dietrich to single combat. The prince was made angry thereat. Hastily did he put his armour on and the shining helmet Hildegrim; then with his spear in one hand, and in the other his great red shield on which was pictured a golden lion, he charged the bold and low-born stranger. Terrible was the shock. Heime's shield was pierced through, but Dietrich's horse stumbled so that he came nigh to being thrown. Both their spears were broken in twain.
Then did the young warriors, leaping to the ground, cast aside their spearshafts and draw their shining swords. Fiercely did they combat one against the other. But Blutgang rang faintly against Naglering. Heime had skill and valour, but ere long his sword was cloven and shattered so that he was placed at Dietrich's mercy. But the prince was drawn towards him by reason of his prowess, and slew him not. He honoured, in generous mood, the surly stranger, and gave him place among his knight followers.
Ere many days passed another young warrior, seeking adventure, challenged the son of Dietmar to combat. His name was Witege, and he did hie from Denmark. The prince was moved with wrath against him, for he grew weary of the conflicts with each bold stranger who sought to put his skill and valour to test. But in that fierce Dane he met a knight who was more than his equal.
Now Witege was the son of Wieland, the wonder smith, a cunning and far-famed worker in iron. Skilful was the lad with bow and arrows, as was Eigel, his uncle.
He scorned to work at the forge, and desired to seek adventures, so that he might win renown as a warrior. Of the fame of Dietrich he heard one day, and he resolved to challenge him to single combat.
Wieland could not prevail upon him to remain at home, so he fashioned for Witege a suit of shining armour, a great helmet, dragon-mounted, a spear of much strength, and a white shield on which was painted a hammer and tongs. Unto the lad he also gave a wonder sword of great sharpness, named Mimung, which he had aforetime forged by compulsion for a tyrant king.
Witege then set out to journey towards Bern in the land of the Amelungs. On his way he met Hildebrand and Heime, who were also riding to Dietmar's Court with a stranger knight. Witege waited them not, for they sought to rest awhile.
Soon he drew nigh to a strong castle in which twelve robbers had their dwelling. These, when they did behold the young knight coming towards them, spake one to another, saying--"His shining armour shall we take from him, and his right hand shall we cut off, and then send him homeward."
So they sallied forth against Wieland's strong son. Two rode in front and bade the lad surrender; but Witege drew the sword Mimung and slew them right speedily. The others charged against him and waged fierce and unequal conflict.
'Twas then that Hildebrand and Heime and the strange knight came nigh. Hildebrand urged his companions to hasten to Witege's aid, but Heime said: "Help him not; his pride is great; now let his valour be put to proof."
But the old warrior would suffer not that the robbers should slay the youthful hero; so he rode forward and the others followed him. Against the fierce band did they all battle together, save Heime, who looked on, and ere long seven lay dead on the ground, and the others were making swift escape.
Witege gave thanks unto Hildebrand, and together they took vows of knightly fellowship to be ever brotherly and true in after-time.
"Whither goest thou, valorous youth?" asked the elder warrior.
"I ride towards Bern," the son of Wieland made answer, "for it is my desire to meet with Dietrich in single combat."
Hildebrand cared not to hear speech so bold from that valiant young hero. Indeed he feared for Dietrich's safety. So when night fell, and the Dane lay fast asleep, he drew from the lad's scabbard the sword Mimung and placed in it his own.
At morningtide Witege called upon Dietrich to display his valour. As the tale has been told, Dietmar's son waxed wroth, because that the Dane was of lowly birth, being, indeed, but the son of a smith. In vain did Hildebrand warn him of the youth's prowess and skill at arms.
"The time is at hand," Dietrich said, "when peace must prevail in the kingdom. I shall allow no churlish stranger to challenge me to conflict. Heavily shall he pay for his boldness."
"It may be," Hildebrand said, "that thou shalt not prevail against this valorous youth."
"Him shall I have this day hanged outside the gates of Bern," answered the prince.
"Ere thou art able to accomplish that," Hildebrand said, "thou hast a fierce battle to fight. I bid thee success, but not without fear."
Never before did Dietrich meet a doughtier war-man. Strong and rapid were the blows which Witege gave. He smote the prince heavily on the head, but the helmet Hildegrim resisted the edge of Hildebrand's sword, and the Dane cursed his sire Wieland because that his sword was of so little avail.
"Had I but a sword worthy my strength," he cried, "victory would speedily be mine."
Dietrich pressed him hard. With both hands he grasped the sword Naglering, and made daring onslaught with purpose to smite off the head of Wieland's son. But Hildebrand went between the warrior youths and called a truce.
"Spare thou his life," he cried to Dietrich, "and thou shalt have still yet another brave knight amidst thy followers."
"The dog shall die this day," the prince made angry retort; "stand thou aside, so that his life may have end." The old knight was angry. He drew from his scabbard the sword which Wieland fashioned, and gave it unto Witege, saying:
"Thine own sword Mimung I return unto thee. Now defend thyself as befits thy valour."
Glad thereat was the heart of Wieland's son. "Alas," he cried, "that I did curse my sire! Behold, O Dietrich, the sword Mimung; now have I as great desire for battle as a thirsty man hath for drink and a hungry dog for its food."
'Twas then the swords sang loud. Mimung clove armour and shield as they were but cloth. The son of Wieland indeed struck mighty blows, and in time he wounded Dietrich, Indeed, five wounds did he give unto the prince, so that he was forced to call upon Hildebrand to put end to the fray. But the old warrior was wroth with Dietrich, and did heed him not.
King Dietmar then called upon Wieland's son to cease fighting, and promised him great gifts and a noble bride; but Witege waxed in battle fury, and sought for naught else but the death of that arrogant prince. Blow after blow he gave, until at length he split asunder the helmet Hildegrim, so that Dietrich's golden hair appeared.
Hildebrand desired not the prince's death. His wrath was melted when he perceived he was in peril, and he leapt forward and ended the fray. Then besought he Witege, because of the vows they had taken one with another, to swear fellowship with Dietrich and become his knight.
As the old warrior desired him, so did Witege do. He sheathed his sword and took oath of service to the prince, and they became fast friends. Together they went into the castle and drank wine.
But ill-pleased was Dietrich because that he was not the victor as aforetime, and he made resolve to go forth to seek further daring adventure, so that his fame might not be sullied in the land of the Amelungs.
1 When Hercules fought with the nine-headed Hydra, each head, save one, which could not be hurt, grew again as fast as it was cut off. Then his nephew assisted him by searing the wounds with a torch. See Classic Myth and Legend, page 103.