Read an Excerpt
Great Norse, Celtic, and Teutonic Legends
By Wilhelm Wägner
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
HUGDIETERICH AND FAIR HILDBURG.
WHILE ORTNIT'S ancestors ruled over Lombardy, the great Emperor Anzius lived at Constantinople, and governed Greece, Bulgaria, and many other lands. When he died, he confided his son, Hugdieterich, to the care of his faithful friend, Berchtung, duke of Meran, whom he had himself brought up, and afterwards covered with honours.
Berchtung felt that his first duty was to choose a wife for his ward, and that only a princess of equal rank and great beauty and wisdom would be a suitable helpmeet for so mighty a prince. He had travelled far and wide, and amongst all the princesses he knew there was one and only one that he could propose as a wife for his liege lord. But there were many difficulties in the way. Berchtung confided his troubles to the prince, and told him how much he wished to bring about a marriage between him and Hildburg, daughter of King Walgund of Thessalonica; but he feared it would be impossible, for Walgund loved the maiden so dearly that he had shut her up in a high tower, and permitted no one to speak to her except the old watchman, himself, her mother, and her maid. This he did, fearing lest she should marry and leave him.
Hugdieterich listened to the strange story with great interest, and determined to get a sight of the maiden if he could. So he set to work to learn all that he might of women's works and women's ways, even going so far as to dress himself in women's garments. After which he announced his intention of going to Thessalonica to make fair Hildburg's acquaintance.
He arrived in due course at Thessalonica, disguised as a great lady, with a numerous train of female servants. Hearing of the new arrival, the king and queen invited the stranger to visit them. She did so, and gave their majesties to understand that she was Hilgunde, sister of the emperor Hugdieterich, and that she had been outlawed by her brother. She begged the king to protect her, and to provide her with a lodging in his palace, and at the same time presented the queen with a costly piece of embroidery, as a sign of her good will. Her request was granted. The queen then begged her to teach her ladies to embroider as she did herself. After this all went so well that Berchtung and his men-atarms were sent back to Constantinople, their protection being no longer needed.
Fair Hildburg heard what was going on, and begged her father to allow her to see the embroideries, and the artist who worked them. No sooner had she done so than she wished to learn the art. Walgund gave his consent, thinking the stranger a very suitable companion for his daughter, and Hildburg found great pleasure in her company. It was not until weeks afterwards that she discovered who her teacher was, and when she did their friendship became stronger than before, until it grew into acknowledged love.
The fear lest their secret marriage should be discovered, one day reached a climax.
"What will become of us?" cried Hildburg. "My father will never forgive us. He will order us both to be slain."
"Then, at least, we shall die together," replied Hugdieterich, "but I hope for better things. The guards and your personal attendants are on our side, and I expect Berchtung very soon to come and take me home to Constantinople, on the plea that my brother has forgiven me. I shall then send an ambassador to ask for your hand in marriage; and when your father knows our secret, he will not refuse his consent."
Berchtung came as Hugdieterich had expected, and fetched him away; but the wooing had to be put off till a more convenient season, as war had broken out on the frontier, and the emperor was obliged to take the field. Meantime Hildburg was in greater danger at home than her husband in the midst of battle. She had a son. He was born quietly in the tower, without any one except the three faithful friends who guarded the princess there knowing aught about it. It was not until months after this event that the queen, her mother, sent to say that she was coming to visit her daughter. She followed almost on the heels of the messenger. The porter pretended to have great difficulty in unlocking the door, and by the time he succeeded, the watchman had smuggled the child down to a safe hiding-place beside the moat. It was already evening, so the queen spent the night with her daughter. When she was gone next morning, the faithful servant hastened to where he had hidden the child, and it was not to be found. After long and anxious search, he returned to his mistress, and told her that he had taken the boy to a nurse, who had promised to bring him up careful and well.
Soon after this, Berchtung arrived at Thessalonica to thank the king in his master's name for the reception he and his family had given the princess, his sister, and to ask for the hand of the Lady Hildburg, with whom the emperor had fallen in love from his sister's description. The king put off giving any immediate answer to this request, and asked Berchtung to a great hunt he intended to give in his honour on the following day.
It was a lovely morning when the hunters set out for the forest. They rode on cheerily, and had a good day's sport. At length chance led the king and Berchtung past the tower where sad Hildburg spent her weary days in waiting for the husband who came not. As they rode along, they discovered the fresh track of a wolf leading towards a spring. They followed the spoor, which led them to a den in a thicket close by, and in the den was a strange sight.
In the center of the nest, and surrounded by a litter of wolf-cubs so young as to be still blind, lay a beautiful child. He was playing with the little wolves, pulling their ears, and chatting in baby language such as only mothers and nurses can translate. But evidently his companions did not like his attentions, and the mother-wolf's ire was so roused against him, that it wanted very little more to make her spring upon the child, and put a sudden end to his play. The old wolf came up at the same moment, so that the danger was much increased. Seeing this, the two hunters flung their spears with so much skill as to kill both the old wolves on the spot. Then the king lifted the baby in his arms as gently as if it had been his own child.
"It's very strange," he said, "how much I feel drawn to this boy. But he must be hungry, poor little man. My daughter's tower is close to here; we shall find some fresh milk there, and she will be glad to see the little fellow; she is so fond of children, and seldom gets a chance of seeing them."
They walked on slowly, Berchtung carrying the child, while the king examined the wolf's track with great interest and attention.
"Look here," he said, "is it not strange? The tracks lead straight from the den to the moat; I wonder if the wolf stole the child from anywhere near this."
Fair Hildburg was not a little astonished when she heard her father's tale. She took the child in her arms, and at once recognised him by a birth-mark on his arm in the shape of a red cross. She struggled to conceal her feelings, and offered as calmly as she could to take care of the child, and only begged her father to send a nurse as quickly as possible.
When he got home, the king told the queen of his adventure, and she was very curious to see the child. She sent for a nurse, and accompanied her to the tower. Arrived there, the queen sought her daughter, and found her busied with the child.
"How I wish," said the queen, taking it in her arms, "that I knew who the boy's mother is! She must be in such distress."
"Yes," answered Hildburg; "but look at his clothes, how fine they are! They show that he is of princely descent."
"Oh dear," sighed the queen, "what a lucky woman I should think myself if I had a grandson like that!"
Hildburg could keep her secret no longer. She threw herself into her mother's arms, and told her, with many tears, that she was secretly married to Hugdieterich, and that the child was theirs. The queen was startled, angry,—but—it was done, and could not be undone. It was at least a comfort to think that the child's father was a mighty emperor. She told her daughter she would say nothing; but would think what was best to be done.
Walgund felt strangely attracted by the child. He came to the tower almost every day to visit it and his daughter. On such occasions the queen would tell him how much she wished for a son-in-law and such a grandchild as this. She reminded him that they might in their old age fall a prey to the barbarous tribes in the neighbourhood, if they had not some young, strong man to take their part, and added that in her opinion Hugdieterich would not be amiss. In short, the queen prepared the way so well that when Berchtung made his formal offer for the princess' hand, the king after slight hesitation gave his consent, on the sole condition that Hildburg was not averse to taking Hugdieterich as a husband. The queen then told her lord the whole story.
"Wonderful!" he exclaimed, too much astonished to be angry.
Hugdieterich arrived soon afterwards, and was publicly married to the Lady Hildburg. After the wedding festivities were over, he set out for Constantinople, accompanied by his beautiful wife, and the little boy, who was named Wolfdieterich, in remembrance of his first adventure.
With the empress went Sabene, one of the notables of Thessalonica, as her father had much confidence in his wisdom, and wished him to be his daughter's counsellor in any matters of difficulty. He made himself so useful, that he soon became necessary to her, and at the same time won the confidence of honest Duke Berchtung so completely that he persuaded the emperor to make Sabene regent during their absence on a foreign campaign.
The high position he had gained through the duke's kindness, made the false-hearted man bolder and more self-confident than ever. One day he went so far as to speak unbecomingly to the empress. The noble lady reproved him severely, and he fell at her feet, begging her pardon, and entreating her not to tell the emperor of his impertinence. She promised, but commanded him never more to appear in her presence.
When Hugdieterich returned victorious, Sabene was the first to meet him. He gave him an account of his stewardship, and at last remarked, as though by chance, that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the people regarding Wolfdieterich, the heir-apparent, who rumour said was not the king's child, but the son of an elf, or, worse still, of an alraun, who had been palmed off upon the royal family by a witch. Hugdieterich laughed at the story as at a nursery tale. The only effect it had on him was to make him take his son from under the charge of Sabene, and give him into the care of faithful Berchtung, that he might learn all knightly exercises with the duke's sixteen sons.
Time passed on, and the empress presented her husband with two other sons, named Bogen and Waxmuth, who were also sent to Berchtung to be educated. The old duke loved all his pupils dearly, but Wolfdieterich was his special favourite, for he showed himself full of every quality that makes a true knight and noble warrior. The busy emperor seldom found time to go to Lilienporte, the castle of Meran, and Hildburg was a still less frequent visitor, so that Wolfdieterich had grown accustomed to look upon Berchtung as his father, and the duchess as his mother. His brothers, Bogen and Waxmuth, had long since returned to Constantinople, where crafty Sabene did all that he could to gain their friendship and confidence. Their mother was sorry to see it; and fearing lest evil should come of it, she told her husband all that had happened between them many years before. Hugdieterich's wrath blazed forth, and Sabene scarcely escaped alive. He fled from the country, and sought refuge amongst his kindred in the land of the Huns.
Hugdieterich, worn out by many anxieties and battles, grew old before his time. When he felt his end approach he arranged all his affairs with the utmost care. He bequeathed to his eldest son Constantinople and the larger part of the empire, while the two younger sons were given kingdoms farther to the south, and the empress and Berchtung were to see the will carried out. But scarcely was the emperor laid in the grave, when the notables of the land met in council, and demanded the recall of Sabene, because otherwise they feared he might carry out his threat of bringing the wild Huns upon them. The empress did not feel herself strong enough to withstand the clamour of the nobles, so she sent for the traitor.
WOLFDIETERICH AND HIS ELEVEN.
NO SOONER had Sabene returned than he began to scheme again. He spread amongst the people his silly tales about the origin of Wolfdieterich. He said that the empress had been secretly wedded to an elf while she lived in that solitary tower; and that it was elfish spells that had prevented the wolves from tearing the child in pieces. The populace believed the story more easily from its utter incredibility, and demanded that Wolfdieterich should remain at Meran. Sabene even succeeded in making the royal brothers, Waxmuth and Bogen, believe his tale, and give him the power for which he hungered. Sure of his own position, he acted with the utmost harshness. He bade the empress leave the palace and go to her son at Meran. He only allowed her to take with her a maidservant, a horse, and her clothes. Everything else that she possessed, whether through her father or her husband, had to be left behind. The two young kings did not interfere on her behalf, for Sabene had shown them that her treasures would be very useful to them in equipping an army, supposing Wolfdieterich and the Duke of Meran attacked them.
When Hildburg arrived at Hugelwarte, an outwork of Lilienporte, she was travel-stained and sorely spent. At first duke Berchtung refused to admit her, because she had recalled Sabene contrary to his advice. But at last, filled with pity for the unhappy woman, he led her into the castle, and treated her there with royal honours. The duchess received her surrounded by seventeen young men, who all called her mother. The empress did not at once recognise her son, who was the tallest and stateliest amongst them; but as soon as each knew the other, Wolfdieterich, throwing himself into her arms, tried to comfort her by promising to restore her to her former rank and splendour.
Duke Berchtung at first counselled peace, because the position of the two kings seemed to him so strong and unassailable; but at length, carried away by his foster-son's enthusiasm, he not only gave his consent, but placed his sixteen sons and their sixteen thousand followers at the disposal of the prince. It was settled, while the men were being called together, that the duke and Wolfdieterich should set out for Constantinople, and see whether they might not attain their end by peaceful means.
The day after their arrival, they met Sabene and the kings in council. Berchtung was received with all honour, while nobody seemed even to see his companion. When Wolfdieterich rose, and demanded his rightful share of the royal heritage, Bogen answered that a changeling had no right to any share; and Sabene added that he ought to apply to the alraun, his father, for a kingdom in the realms of hell. Wolfdieterich laid his hand on his sword; but his foster-father's words and looks of entreaty sufficed to calm him down and prevent any open expression of anger. The kings and Sabene did their utmost to persuade the duke to join their party, but in vain; and when the council broke up, the old man went away, hiding his displeasure as best he could. He and Wolfdieterich mounted their horses and returned to Lilienporte without loss of time.
After a few days' rest they set out again for Constantinople, but this time in battle array. On reaching the borders of Meran, they found the royal forces drawn up to meet them. As evening was closing in, they encamped in a wide valley surrounded on all sides by a forest. Next morning the troops rose refreshed, and each side made sure of victory.
The battle-song was now raised, and echoed amongst the mountains like rolling thunder. Next instant the armies met. Wolfdieterich was always to be seen in front. All at once he turned to Berchtung, and said:
"Do you see Sabene and my brothers on yonder hill? I will go and see whether they or the alraun's son are the better men."
With these words, he set spurs to his horse and dashed through the enemy's ranks. Old Berchtung, who had vainly tried to restrain him, now followed with his sons and a small body of his men-at-arms.
Excerpted from Great Norse, Celtic, and Teutonic Legends by Wilhelm Wägner. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.