TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Land of Giants
Maidens of Jochgrimm--The Storm Giant Ecke--His Search for Dietrich--Combat in Dark Forest--Giant slain--The Well Nymph--Maiden in Flight --Ecke's Brother Fasold--Overcome by the Prince--The Beast--Arrival at Castle--Giant's Treachery--The Knights who quarrelled--Heime becomes a Robber.
DIETRICH rode along through the forest in thick darkness. He journeyed towards Jochgrimm mountain, where dwelt the beauteous princesses who had heard of his fame and desired greatly to behold him. The prince dreamed not of their treachery, or of the perils that he must needs pass through.
Now there were three young giants who wooed the maidens. They were brothers, and their names were Ecke and Fasold and Ebenrot. Ecke, which signifies "The Terrifier", was but eighteen years old. He had already won fame as a warrior in single combat; but having slain one foeman he could find not another who dared to contend against him. Oft had he heard of Dietrich's valour and great deeds, and he vowed that he would lay him low. Unto Ecke was promise made in the land of giants that if he slew Dietrich he should have for wife Seburg, the fairest of the three princesses in Jochgrimm.
Ecke had wondrous strength. Twice seven days and twice seven nights he could fast and travel onwards, nor ever feel faint; from hill to hill he could leap like a leopard. He required no steed, nor was there one that could carry him.
When the strong giant came to know that Dietrich was to ride forth from Bern, he prepared to go against him. . . . The Princess Seburg clad her lover in bright armour and wished him well. He made swift departure. . . . When he entered the forest the birds fled terrified before him; branches were bowed down and rudely shaken as he passed; trees swayed and groaned, and those that he smote crashed down and were uprooted. . . . So rushed Ecke upon his way until he reached Bern, where he was told that Dietrich had gone towards Jochgrimm by another way.
Without pause the giant followed after the valorous prince. So swift was his pace that he came nigh to him ere night fell. He beheld four knights lying on the ground. But one alone was alive, and he was grievously wounded.
"Seek not the Knight of Bern," the wounded man said; "like to lightning is his sword stroke."
Ecke went onward; raging furiously he went. He feared not Dietrich; his heart's desire was to combat against the arrogant hero. Night fell as he went through the trees.
In the blackness he heard a horseman coming nigh.
Who art thou, he cried, "that rideth through the darkened forest?"
A deep strong voice made answer: "Dietrich of Bern."
"Thou shalt fight with me," Ecke cried, for he was impatient to win renown.
But Dietrich desired not to combat with any foeman in the darkness, and rode on.
Ecke strode beside the Knight of Bern, and made boast of his armour.
Click to enlarge
RETURN OF VICTORIOUS TEUTONS
From the painting by P. Thumann. By permission of Franz Hanfstaengl
"By Wieland, the wonder smith, was it fashioned," Ecke said; "nor can thy blade Naglering cleave it. Bright and sharp is mine own sword Ecke-sax. 'Twas forged by him who made Naglering; of gold is the hilt, and it is inlaid with gold. Of fine gold is my girdle also. Much booty will be thine if thou canst overcome me."
But Dietrich could not be tempted to fight for sword nor treasure in the forest blackness.
Ecke was made angry. "Thee shall I proclaim as a coward," he cried, "because thou art afraid. . . ."
"When day breaks," Dietrich said, "I shall combat with thee. Here in the darkness we can behold not one another."
But Ecke, confronting him, refused to wait. "Thou shalt have the Princess Seburg for thy bride if thou art ready now for combat. Fairest is she of all maidens upon earth."
Dietrich leapt from his horse. "By the gods," he cried, "I shall fight thee now, not for thy treasure nor even thy sword, but for Seburg the fair one!"
On stones did they strike their swords. . . . The firesparks flashed bright, and they beheld one another in the blaze and began to fight. Nor was there darkness then, for their swords glowed like flames as they smote together and flashed in the blackness. The clamour of battle roared like thunder through the forest; the heavens heard the clash of their shields. . . . The night was filled with terror; the trees were scorched about them; the grass was trodden under the ground by their feet.
Long they fought, nor did one wound the other. Then Ecke bounded against the prince with all his strength; their shields were interlocked, and Dietrich stumbled and fell. Ecke held him down and said:
"If thou wilt permit me to bind thee, thy life shall I spare. Fain would I deliver thee thus unto Seburg with thine armour and thy steed."
"Death is better than shame," Dietrich made answer.
So they wrestled one with another in the darkness. In vain did Ecke strive to overcome the Knight of Bern, who at length clutched the giant's great throat, and sought to roll over him. Long and terrible was that fierce struggle. Nor would one make peace with the other although they were of equal strength.
In vain did the prince beseech Ecke to swear oaths of fellowship with him.
Dietrich's steed at length broke free. It heard his cries and ran towards him in the night. Falke was its name, and it loved the prince better than life. Now it came to his aid, and, rearing high, the bold steed leapt upon the body of Ecke and broke his back.
Dietrich leapt to his feet, and seizing the giant's great sword he struck fire, and in the sudden blaze he smote off his foeman's head. Then was there silence in the forest.
When dawn broke through the trees Dietrich clad himself in the giant's shining armour; he girded on the mighty sword Ecke-sax, then rode on his way with the head of Ecke dangling from his saddle bow.
He had no great joy in his victory, because he feared that he would be accused of killing Ecke in his sleep. 1
Dietrich rode on until he came to a forest spring and beheld a water nymph lying beside it wrapped in soft slumber. He laid hands on her, and she awoke. Then did the nymph heal the prince's wounds, and he became strong again. She pointed out to him the path which led unto Jochgrimm mountain, and gave warning of the dangers which would beset him. Then did Dietrich mount his steed again and ride towards the land of the giants.
As he went through the forest a beauteous maid came running towards him. Swift were her steps, and her face was pale and terror-stricken, because that she was pursued by the giant Fasold, Ecke's brother, and his fierce hounds. 2
Dietrich gave the maiden his protection, and went against the giant who pursued her. When Fasold beheld the prince clad in Ecke's armour, he cried:
"Art thou my brother Ecke riding hither on a steed?"
Dietrich made answer: "I am not thy brother; him have I slain."
"Thou dog of death," bellowed Fasold, "thou hast murdered Ecke whilst he lay in sleep, else would he never have been overcome."
"I fling thee back thy falsehood," Dietrich answered. "Thy brother challenged me to fight in darkness for the sake of fair Seburg. Had I known he was of such great strength I should ne'er have crossed swords with him."
Wroth was Fasold, and he rushed against Dietrich. Stronger was he than Ecke. In combat he scorned to strike more than one blow; never before was a second required. Fiercely he smote his brother's slayer, and Dietrich fell from his horse and lay in a swoon. The giant then turned away and went towards the castle. He deemed that the prince was slain.
Dietrich lay not long upon the ground. His strength returned to him; he rose up; he leapt upon his horse; he hastened after the giant, for he desired to be avenged.
Now Fasold had vowed never to combat with any foeman who survived his first blow, but Dietrich taunted him, saying: "Thou art afraid to stand against me. A coward is Fasold, else would he combat with his brother's slayer."
The giant turned fiercely, for no longer could he endure the prince's words. Swiftly were their swords drawn, and hot but not brief was the conflict. Thrice was Dietrich wounded, but five times had he wounded with Ecke-sax the giant Fasold, who at length cried out for mercy.
"If thou wilt but spare my life," Fasold said, "thee shall I serve, and ever be thy faithful henchman."
"Had I not slain thy brother," answered Dietrich, "I would have thee gladly for my knight; but I can claim not the service of one whose kin I have wronged. Yet shall I take oaths of fellowship with thee. Let us pledge ourselves now to help one another in time of need, and be like unto brothers before all men."
So they swore oaths of knightly brotherhood, and went together towards Jochgrimm mountain.
A great beast came out against them, and men say that it was like unto an elephant. Fasold would fain have let it pass, but Dietrich dismounted and made fierce attack with Ecke-sax. Yet, although he gave the monster many wounds, he could not slay it. The beast came nigh to treading him underfoot, but once again did. his steed Falke come to his rescue; it broke free; it leapt against and kicked the monster, which turned from the prince a while. Then Dietrich crouched under its stomach and stabbed there with the keen sword Ecke, making nimble escape as the beast fell to die. 3
Then Dietrich and Fasold went on their way. They next beheld a great dragon flying towards them. It was flying very low, and in its jaws it carried a knight, who called loudly for help.
Dietrich struck at the monster, but even Ecke-sax could not pierce it. Whereat the knight said: "By my sword alone can the dragon be slain, but it lies within the monster's mouth."
The Prince of Bern thrust his hand between the dragon's jaws. He pulled forth the sword.
"Wound me not when thou dost strike," the knight cried.
Dietrich smote the monster with the keen-edged sword and slew it, and the captive knight was drawn forth.
"Thy name and lineage?" the prince demanded of him.
"My name is Sintram," answered the knight, "and kinsman am I to Hildebrand at Bern. I was journeying towards Bern, so that I might become a follower of Prince Dietrich. The dragon came upon me while I slept, else would it not have carried me away."
Dietrich's heart was made glad, and he restored unto Sintram his wondrous sword, saying: "I am he whom you seek to serve, even Dietrich, Prince of Bern."
So they went together on their way with Fasold. Then, as they drew nigh unto Jochgrimm mountain, the giant forgot his vows, and sought to take flight. But Dietrich would not have him go free until he reached the castle in which the princesses had their dwelling.
Ere long they reached a great castle. Two giant statues stood on each side of the door, and Fasold led him in. But when the prince came between the statues their arms fell, and had he not made swift escape he would have been slain by their stone clubs.
Dietrich was made wroth. He turned upon Fasold forthwith, and slew him because of his treachery. Then he entered the hall, and the three princesses and their mother, the queen, came towards him, for they deemed he was Ecke.
"'Twas your desire," the prince said, "to behold Dietrich of Bern. He now greets thee thus."
So saying, he flung at their feet the head of the giant Ecke, and then turned from them. . . . He hastened without, and, mounting his steed, rode with Sintram towards Bern.
Heime came forth to meet Dietrich and greeted him with such warmth that Dietrich gave unto him the sword Naglering, which Alberich 4 had forged for the giant Grim. Ecke-sax he did keep for himself.
Witege was ill-pleased because that his fellow knight was thus honoured.
"I forget not," he said unto Heime, "that when I was beset by robbers thy sword remained in its sheath."
"Evil is thy tongue, thou self-sufficient man. Fain would I have it silenced," Heime said.
Both knights drew their swords to combat one against the other. Dietrich was wroth and stepped between them. Then he spake to Heime saying:
"Rash knight, thou shalt now go hence. 'Twas unseemly that thou didst not aid thy fellow when robbers came against him. . . . When by thy deeds thou hast proved thyself a hero, thou mayest return again unto Bern."
"With the sword thou hast given me," Heime said, I shall win more than any man can take away."
He went forth alone. He waged war against the robbers and slew them, and became chief of a robber band. Many a wayfarer fell by his sword, and he was dreaded by valiant knights. He re, turned not unto Dietrich again until he was possessed of much treasure by his evil doings.
Against many giants did the prince combat, but never was he in greater peril than when Laurin, the dwarf, had power over him and his knights and held them all in captivity.
1 This story was originally a storm myth, in which Dietrich was Thunor (Thor), and Ecke a tempest. The three princesses are the giant maids of a Tyrolese folk tale, who brew storms on Jochgrimm mountain. A Highland hag is also a storm-brewer. She is associated with the first week of April which is called "Cailleach". At Cromarty an April hag causes the south-westerly gales and, according to a local saying, still current, "harries the crooks" (empties the pots) of the fisher-folk who can't go to sea.
2 Another nature myth. So do the maidens of the Boyne, Tay, Ness, and other rivers flee before the outraged well demon, who may be a giant, a dragon, or a kelpic, because they had neglected, when drawing water, a ceremonial observance, or had committed a theft. Probably the Severn story, as related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, was originally of similar character. There are also Greek parallels.
3 So was the dragon in Beowulf and the Fafner dragon, which Sigurd stabbed, put to death. The underpart only can be mortally wounded.
4 Alberich was called in French legend Auberon. Spenser introduced him to this country as Oberon. Alberich signifies "elf King".