TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Wonderful Rose Garden
Dietleib the Dane--How he became a Knight--Kunhild stolen by the Dwarf King--Knights to the Rescue--The Garden laid waste--Laurin's Vengeance--Witege overcome--Combat with Prince--The Invisible Combatant--Laurin is spared--Visit to Mountain Dwelling--The Banquet--Knights made Prisoners--Dietrich's Fiery Breath--Battle with Dwarfs and Giants--The End of Strife.
FIRST be it told of the lady Kunhild's brother, Dietleib the Dane. He had fame in his own land for strength and prowess, and great and glorious were the deeds of his sire, the brave Yarl Biterolf. It chanced that when the three journeyed towards Bern they were set upon by Heime and his robber band in the midst of a forest. Boldly fought the Danes, and the robbers were all killed, save Heime alone, whom Dietleib, with his sword Welsung, wounded on the forehead and put to flight.
Thereafter the young Dane became a servant unto Dietrich, making pretence that his name was Ilmenrik. It chanced that the prince paid visit to the Court of Ermenrich, and there was his Danish servant taunted by Walter of Wasgenstein. Dietleib was wroth, and he challenged the arrogant knight, wagering life against life, to prevail against him in performing feats of strength. All the Court assembled to behold the sport, and the knight was boastful and proud. But great was the might of Dietleib the Dane. He could putt the stone and throw the hammer so that men marvelled to behold, nor could Walter of Wasgenstein prevail against him.
Then did King Ermenrich pay life ransom in money for the boastful knight, and the Dane gave a great feast to which his master did invite many valorous war men.
Proud was Dietrich of his servant, and he made him a knight. Heime, who had returned, was present at the feast, and Dietleib sat beside him, and ere long he spake, saying:
"On thy forehead is an evil scar, Heime. How came thou by it?"
Heime made answer: "I shall tell thee in secret, Ilmenrik. Wounded was I in combat with Dietleib the Dane. I shall rest not until my shame be wiped out with his life blood."
"Know then," the new knight whispered, "that I am he whom thou didst attack with thy robber band. Look in my face. . . . I am no other than Dietleib. Fast was thy horse, else thou hadst not escaped me. But I seek not now to denounce thee before Dietrich. Let this secret be kept between us."
It chanced upon a day thereafter that fair Kunhild, Dietleib's sister, danced with her maids upon a green meadow. She went towards a linden tree; then suddenly she vanished from sight. The King of Dwarfs, whose name was Laurin, had long loved her for her beauty, and desired to have her for his bride. So he came secretly towards the maiden, and below the linden tree he cast over her his Cloak of Obscurity; then did he carry fair Kunhild away towards his castle among the Tyrolese mountains.
The heart of Dietleib was filled with sorrow, because that he loved his sister very dearly. He hastened unto Hildebrand, who dwelt in his castle at Garda, and besought his aid, saying:
"The castle of Laurin is in the midst of a Tyrol mountain, and in front of it he hath a wondrous Rose garden."
Many a life may be lost ere Kunhild is rescued,
Hildebrand said; "but let us unto Dietrich and his knights, so that we may take counsel with them."
When that the knights came to know that Kunhild was taken away by the dwarf king, Wolfhart spake boldly, as was his wont, and said:
"Alone shall I ride forth and rescue this fair maid."
Dietrich heard the boast, nor made answer. He spake to wise old Hildebrand, saying: "Knowest thou aught of Laurin's Rose garden?"
"'Tis told," Hildebrand said, "that it hath four gates of gold. But no wall shields it. Round the Rose garden is drawn a silken thread, and he who breaks it shall have his right hand and left foot cut off. Laurin, King of Dwarfs, ever keeps watch o'er his wondrous garden, which is of exceeding great beauty."
Witege spake: "Laurin can punish not an offender who entereth his garden until he doth prevail against him in single combat."
"Then shall we fare forth," Dietrich said. "We seek but Kunhild, and need not despoil the Rose garden."
So the Prince rode towards the Tyrol mountain in which Laurin, King of Dwarfs, had his dwelling. With him went Hildebrand, Heribrand's son; Witege, Wieland's son; Dietleib the Dane, and Wolfhart, Hildebrand's kinsman.
Dietrich and Witege rode in front, because that Hildebrand had taunted the prince, as was his wont, for he had been his master. "Were I not with thee," he said, "thou couldst not overcome the dwarf."
So it fell that Dietrich and Wieland's son were first to reach the wondrous Rose garden. Witege broke to pieces a golden gate, and they entered together. Fair were the roses, and of sweet and refreshing fragrance; their beauty gladdened Dietrich's eyes, and he was loath to despoil them. But Witege sought to defy the dwarf, and he rode through the blossoming shrubs, trampling them ruthlessly underfoot. Soon was the fair garden made desolate as a wilderness.
Wroth was Laurin, King of the Dwarfs. He rode forth on his steed, clad in full armour; his spear was in his hand. But three spans high was he, yet had he wondrous strength and skill in conflict.
"What evil have I done thee that thou shouldst thus destroy my roses?" he cried bitterly. "Thy right hand and thy left foot I now demand, and must needs obtain."
Witege defied the dwarf with laughter and scorn. He deemed not that he was endowed with magical power. Diamonds sparkled upon Laurin's armour; these made it swordproof and spearproof. He also wore a girdle which gave him the strength of twelve men. On his head was a shining crown, and therein was his weakness. Golden birds sang forth from it as if they were alive.
Witege lowered his spear. Laurin charged fiercely, and at the first thrust swept him from the saddle. In great peril was Wieland's son, for the dwarf bound him; but Dietrich made offer of gold to atone the evil he had done.
"Thy roses," he told Laurin, "will bloom again in May."
The dwarf made answer that he possessed already gold in abundance, but that his roses could not be restored unto him.
Witege taunted Dietrich. "Fearest thou to tilt with him?" he said; "must I die because thou dost shrink from Laurin?"
The prince was wroth, and he challenged the dwarf king forthwith to single combat, taking upon himself the blame for the evil which his knight had accomplished.
'Twas well for Dietrich that old Hildebrand then rode up with Wolfhart, his kinsman, and Dietleib the Dane. The old warrior counselled the prince to tilt not with the dwarf. "Rather shouldst thou fight him on foot with sword against sword," he said. "His armour thou canst not pierce, for by reason of the diamonds it is charmed against all weapons. Smite thou him upon the head."
As Hildebrand counselled, so did Dietrich do. He leapt from the saddle and challenged Laurin to combat with swords. Fierce was the conflict. The prince smote upon the dwarf's head blow after blow, so that he was made faint. But Laurin drew round him his Cloak of Obscurity and fought then unbeholden by the Prince of Bern.
Many wounds did Dietrich receive; but he waxed in battle fury and suddenly took the unseen dwarf in his arms and wrestled with him. From the prince's mouth issued forth flames of fire, but without avail; he could not injure Laurin.
"Snatch off his waist girdle," Hildebrand cried.
Ere long Dietrich possessed himself of the magic girdle, which gave to the dwarf his great strength. Then the prince had him in his power. He cast the little king on the ground and tore off the Cloak of Obscurity.
Laurin feared that he would be put to death, so he called upon Dietleib, Kunhild's brother, who pleaded for his life, for the young Dane desired most of all to discover where his fair sister was held in captivity. Thus did the dwarf king escape the vengeance of Dietrich. He gave thanks unto Dietleib, and when he had sworn oaths of brotherhood with him, he invited the prince and all his knights into his mountain castle.
They went together over a pleasant plain, and through a fair forest. A great linden tree was there, and many fruit trees whose odours were sweet. Birds sang merrily in the branches, and Dietrich was glad of heart. He began to make answer to the birds; but old Hildebrand warned him not to whistle until he had left the wood. All the knights were lighthearted save Witege. He had bitter memory of how the dwarf had prevailed against him, and suspected treachery. Wolfhart taunted him, but Wieland's son rode in front. He was first to reach the castle entrance. He saw there a bright golden horn suspended on a chain. He blew a loud blast upon it. When he did that the door opened wide and they all went within. An iron door was opened; it closed behind them. Then through a door of shining gold they went; it was shut fast like to the other.
Soon Dietrich and his knights found themselves in a bright and spacious hall. Hundreds of dwarfs were there. They made merry; they danced and they held tournaments. Delicious wine was given unto the strangers, and even Witege forgot to be suspicious, and made merry with the others. Then did Laurin begin to work his evil designs. He cast a spell upon Dietrich and his knights, so that they could behold not one another. They saw but the merry dwarfs and the glories of the mountain dwelling.
At length fair Kunhild appeared. She had been made Laurin's queen, and wore a gleaming crown. Many maidens came with her, but she was fairest of them all. Dwarfs playing harps, and dancing and performing strange feats, skipped before her and around. In her crown shone a bright jewel. It dispelled the magic mist, and the warriors beheld one another again.
Then was a great feast held. Kunhild sat with Laurin, and Dietleib, whom she embraced tenderly, she took beside her. They spoke in low voices one to another. Great was her desire to leave all the splendour and wealth that was there, and return once again to her own kin.
The dwarf persuaded all the knights to lay down their arms. So merry were they that they did so without fear.
Evening came on, and Laurin led Dietleib to a chamber apart, where he made offer to him of rich treasure if he would desert Dietrich and his knights. But the young Dane refused resolutely to be a traitor, whereat the dwarf vanished and the door was locked securely. Dietleib was made blind.
Then were the strangers given wine, which caused them all to fall into a deep sleep. The vengeful king Laurin thus had them in his power. He caused them to be bound, and they were all cast together into a deep dungeon, so that vengeance might be wreaked upon them, because that the Rose garden had been despoiled. There they lay helpless and blind.
Kunhild wept for them. When the dwarfs were all asleep she stole in secret to her brother's chamber and gave to him a golden ring which dispelled his magic blindness. Then did the young Dane secure possession of his weapons and those of his fellow knights.
Meanwhile Dietrich woke up. Wroth was he when he found that he was fettered. The dwarf's girdle restored his sight, and flames issued from his mouth, which melted his bonds of iron, so that he rose up. He went towards each of his companions and set them free one by one.
Dietleib then came with all their weapons, and with the prince he fought fiercely against the dwarfs. At length Dietrich wrenched from one of them a golden ring. He gave it unto Hildebrand, and his sight was restored. Then did the old warrior enter the conflict. The dwarfs fell fast before them. Thousands were put to death, for there was none in Laurin's castle who could prevail against the three great warriors.
At length Laurin rushed without. He blew a great blast upon his horn, and five giants armed with clubs came to his aid.
Wolfhart and Witege were still blind, but they could rest not while the clamour of battle raged about them, so they rushed into the fray and fought bravely. Then gave Kunhild unto them jewelled rings, and their blindness was dispelled.
The five giants fought against the five knights, and long and terrible was the struggle which ensued; but one by one the monsters were slain, and Dietrich and his knights were triumphant. The heroes waded knee deep in blood, so great was the slaughter which they accomplished in the kingdom of Laurin.
Then was the dwarf king made prisoner and Kunhild set free. Dietrich and his knights possessed themselves of much treasure, and they returned unto Bern, taking with them Laurin and Dietleib's fair sister.
Laurin was laughed at and put to shame, and he brooded over his evil lot, desiring greatly to be avenged upon Dietrich and his victorious knights. So he sent a secret message unto his uncle, Walberan, who was king over the giants and dwarfs in the eastern Caucasus, and besought him to come to his rescue.
He spoke secretly thereanent unto Kunhild, whereat she made promise that if he swore oaths of friendship with Dietrich, she would return with him to his mountain dwelling and be his queen once again.
So she prevailed upon Laurin to do her will. "My Rose garden", he said, "I shall plant again that the roses may bloom fair and fragrant in the sunshine of May."
The dwarf king drank wine with the prince of Bern and made peace, vowing to be his lifelong comrade and helper.
As they sat together at the feast, a message was borne unto Dietrich from King Walberan, demanding all the treasure and all the weapons that were in Bern, and the right hand and left foot of every knight who had wrought destruction in the Rose garden. Defiantly did the prince make answer and prepared for battle.
Dietrich and Walberan challenged each other to single combat, and they fought with great fierceness. Numerous were their wounds, nor could one prevail over the other. It seemed as if they would both be slain.
Then did Laurin ride forth, and, embracing his uncle, he prevailed upon him to make peace. Hildebrand pleaded likewise with Dietrich, and the combat was brought to an end. Together they then sat down to feast and drink wine, and they vowed oaths of friendship, so that there might be lasting peace between them.
Kunhild returned with Laurin unto his mountain dwelling. The Rose garden was planted once again, and it bloomed fair in the sunshine of May.
Herdsmen among the hills, and huntsmen who wend thither, have been wont to tell that they could behold on moonlight nights Laurin and fair Kunhild dancing together in the green forests and in the valleys below the Tyrolese mountains. Dietleib's sister hath still her dwelling in the bright castle as in other days. She is Queen of the Dwarfs and can never die.
The Rose garden blooms ever fair, but unbeholden by men, in the sunshine of May, and many have sought to find it in vain.