THE ROSE-GARDEN OF LAREYN, THE LAST NORG-KING.
THE lineage of our kings had endured for countless generations, he said, and had always enjoyed the undeviating homage of our people.
In our kings were bound up our life and our strength; they were the fountain of our light and the guardians of our power. The royal race was a race apart which had never mingled with the race of the governed, yet which had never failed or been found wanting. But Adelgar cast his eyes on Hörele, one of the Norginnen of the common herd, and raised her to share his throne. The union not only was unblessed--what was worse, all the rest of the royal stock died out, and all the noble princes of his first marriage died away one after the other ; and when Hörele at last came to die herself, there was only one left.
This was Lareyn, the last of his race. Adelgar looked around him with tears, for there was none left to whom he could marry his son, and he had experienced in himself the ill effects of departing from the ancient tradition which forbade him from mingling his race with the race of the governed, and he bewailed his folly.
But Lareyn bethought him of a remedy; he determined to go out into the outer world, and choose him a wife among the daughters of its inhabitants, and bring her to reign over the mountain people and continue the royal stock. In a supreme council of the elders of the kingdom it was decided to approve what he proposed. But Adelgar only consented with much reluctance, and accompanied his permission with many conditions and counsels, the chief of which were that Lareyn and his suite should every one go forth clothed in a Tarnhaut , and that he should exercise his choice in a far distant country where the ways of the dwarfs were not known, and where, whatever might befall, no friend of the bride could think of coming to his palace to seek her, for the old king rightly judged that the Christian folk would not willingly give a daughter of theirs to the Norgs.
Lareyn promised his father to attend to his injunctions, and gave orders to prepare a thousand suits of diamond armour for his body-guard, and five hundred suits of silk attire for his pages, who were to bear the gifts with which he meant to captivate the maiden of his choice, and Tarnhauts to cover them all--and, above all, the presents themselves of jewels and priceless goldsmith's works, at which the Norgen were very expert.
While all these things were being got ready Adelgar died, and Lareyn succeeded to the crown. However much he desired to adhere to his father's injunctions, he was forced to decide that under the altered circumstances it could not be well for him to journey to a distance from his kingdom, and to leave it long without a head. He determined, therefore, to search the neighbourhood for a maiden that should please him. In the meantime he made use of his newly acquired power to prepare a dwelling to receive her which should correspond with the magnificence of his presents, and by its dazzling lustre should make her forget all that she might be inclined to regret in her earlier home. The highest title of honour was now promised to whoso of his subjects could point out to him an unexplored mine of beauty and riches. This was found in a vault all of crystal, which no foot of dwarf had ever trod. Lareyn was beside himself with gladness when he saw this; he ordered a hundred thousand dwarfs immediately to set to work and form of it a residence for his bride; to divide it into chambers for her use, with walls and columns encrusted with gold; to engrave the crystal with pleasing devices; and to furnish it with all that was meet for her service. Thus arose the great Krystallburg  ever famous in the lays of the Norgs, and which the cleverest and richest of the children of men might have envied. That so glorious a palace might be provided with a garden worthy of it, hundreds of thousands of other dwarfs were employed to lay out the choicest beds and bowers that ever were seen, all planted with roses of surpassing beauty, whose scent filled the air for miles round, so that, wherever you might be, you should know by the fragrant exhalation where to find the Rosengarten of King Lareyn . Engrossed with these congenial preparations, Lareyn forgot all his prudence and moderation: that they might be completed with all possible expedition the whole working community of the dwarfs was drawn off from their ordinary occupations; the cultivation of the land was neglected, and a famine threatened. Lareyn then would go out and make a raid on the crops of the children of earth, and take possession of whatever was required for the needs of his own people, without regard for the outcry raised against him, knowing that, strong in his supernatural strength, he had no retaliation to fear.
While thus he pursued his ravages every where with indiscriminating fury, he one day came upon the arativo  of a poor widow whose only son was her one support. The golden grain had been gathered into her modest barn just as Lareyn and his marauders came by; swift, like a flock of locusts, they had seized the treasure. The widow sobbed, and her stalwart son fought against them in vain; Lareyn was inexorable. At another time the good-nature of his Norg blood would have prompted him at least to repay what he had appropriated in the gold and precious stones of which he had such abundant store, but now he thought of nothing but the prompt fulfilment of his darling design; and he passed on his way unheeding the widow's curse.
At last the Krystallburg was complete, and the Rosengarten budding ready to burst into a bloom of beauty. To so fair a garden he would have no other fence but a girdle of silk, only he gave it for further defence a law whereby any who should violate that bound should forfeit his left foot and his right hand.
Lareyn looked round, and his heart was content. He felt satisfied now that he had wherewithal to make any daughter of earth forget her own home and her father's people, how delightful soever might have been the place of her previous sojourn.
Donning his Tarnhaut, he went forth with his followers marshalled behind him, all equally hidden from human sight.
He wandered from castle to castle, from Edelsitz  to Edelsitz, from palace to palace, but nowhere found he the bride of his heart, till he came to the residence of the Duke of Styria. Here, in a garden almost as lovely as his own Rose-garden, he found a number of noble knights assembled, and their ladies, all of surpassing beauty, taking their pleasure on the greensward amid the flowers.
Lareyn had never seen so much beauty and gallantry, and he lingered long with his attendant wights running from one to another, and scanning the attractions of each, as a bee hovers from flower to flower, gathering the honey from their lips. Each maiden was so perfect, that he would have been content with any one of them, but each was so guarded by her cavalier that he saw no way of approaching her; at last, driven to despair, he wandered away under the shade of a lonesome grove.
Here, under a leafy lime , his eye met a form of loveliness which surpassed the loveliness of all the dames he had heretofore seen put together, and he felt thankful now that he had not been able to possess himself of any of them, for then he had never seen her who now lay before him in all the bloom of her virgin perfection. Lareyn, accustomed to associate his conceptions of beauty with a dazzling blaze of gold and jewels, found an entirely new source of admiration in the simple attire of the Styrian princess, for it was Simild, daughter of Biterolf, Duke of Styria, who lay before him, seeking rest amid the midday heat, draped only in virgin white, with wreathed lilies for her single ornament.
Lareyn stood absorbed for some time in contemplation of her perfect image. Then, hearing the voices of her companions drawing near, quickly he flung a Tarnhaut over her, so that they trooped by, searching for her, and passed on--seeing her not--to seek her farther. Then he beckoned to the bearers of a litter he had prepared in readiness to approach, into which her sylph-like form was soon laid; and over hill and dale he carried her towards the Rosengarten.
They had got some way before Simild woke. Lareyn rode by her side, watching for her eyes to open, and the moment she gave signs of consciousness he made a sign for the cortége to halt. Quick as thought a refection was laid out on the greensward, while a band of Norg musicians performed the most delicious melody.
Simild, enraptured with the new sights and sounds, gazed around, wondering where she was and what all the little creatures could be who hopped around ministering to her with so much thoughtfulness. Lareyn hastened to soothe her, but fancying that some of the Norgs were wanting in some of their due services to her, he rated them in such a positive tone of command that Simild began to perceive that he was the master of this regiment of ministrants, and hence she inferred that by some mysterious means she had fallen into his power; but what those means could be she was at a loss to conceive.
Lareyn now displayed his presents, and in presenting them poured forth the most enthusiastic praise of her beauty. Simild's vanity and curiosity were both won; yet the strangeness of the situation, the sudden separation from her friends, her ignorance of what might be going to befall her, roused all her fears, and she continued to repeat in answer to all his protestations of admiration that she could listen to nothing from him till he had restored her to her home.
"This is the one thing, sweet princess, that I cannot do at your bidding," he replied. "Whatever else you desire me to do shall be instantly executed. And it is hardly possible for you to exhaust my capacity of serving you."
Then he went on to describe the magnificence and riches of his kingdom, and all the glories over which, as his bride, she would be called to reign, till her curiosity was so deeply excited, and her opposition to his carrying her farther grew so faint, that he lost no time in taking advantage of her mood to pursue the journey.
In the meantime the greatest consternation had fallen on all the friends of Simild. The maidens whose duty it was to wait on her sought her every where, and not finding her they were afraid to appear before her father. The knights and nobles who had been in her company were distracted, feeling the duty upon them to restore her, and not knowing which way to begin. The old Duke Biterolf shut himself up within the palace and wept, objecting to see any one, for his heart was oppressed with sorrow; and he refused to be comforted till his child should be restored to him.
But Dietlieb, Simild's brother, a stout young sword , when he had exhausted every counsel that occurred to him for discovering his sister's retreat, determined to ride to Gardenna on the Garda-See, the castle where resided Hildebrand  the Sage, renowned for wisdom, and prudence, and useful counsel.
When Hildebrand the Sage saw him come riding yet a long way off, he said to those who stood beside him on the battlements, "See Dietlieb the Styrian, how he rides! His heart is full of indignation. Up, my men, there is work for us; some one has done him a great wrong, and us it behoves to stand by him, and see him righted."
Ute, Hildebrand's wife, and her daughters prepared a warm welcome for the prince, as was due; and the heroes gathered round Hildebrand held out their hands to him as to one whose integrity and valour claimed their respect. Hildebrand himself led him to his chamber, and left to no maiden the task of helping him off with his armour , but with his own hand lifted off his helmet and laid by his good shield.
Then they placed refreshing wine from the cool cellar in the rock before him, and a banquet of many dishes, as became so worthy a guest. When the tables had been removed , Hildebrand invited his young guest to detail the cause which had brought him. Dietlieb, who was burning to tell the story of his mishap, poured out the details of his sister's misadventure, without omitting the smallest incident which could serve Hildebrand to form an opinion as to the remedy to be adopted.
The event was so strange that Hildebrand himself could not venture all at once to divine the nature of the injury. But he forbore also to express his perplexity, lest the bold young Styrian should be discouraged. Without therefore expounding exactly what his views were, but determining to ponder the matter more deeply by the way, the advice he propounded in the first instance was, that they should all repair forthwith to seek the aid of Berndietrich .
The counsel was received with joyful acclamation; and loud was the clanging as every one ran to don his chain-armour, for all were glad to be called to deeds of high emprise, and such they deemed were in store for them if Dietrich von Bern was to be their leader.
Ute and her daughters, to whom their courage and mettle was well known, greeted them as they went forth with no sinking hearts, but gave them augury of good success.
As they journeyed along, they came to a broad heath, which they were about to pass over with their train, when up sprang a man of forlorn aspect, who cried after Hildebrand, and asked his aid.
Hildebrand, seeing him in such sorry plight, turned aside out of compassion, to ask what had befallen him. It was no other than the peasant--the widow's son--whom Lareyn had so deeply wronged, and, seeing the heroes go forth in such brave array, he besought their aid against the oppressor of his mother. Some of them laughed at his wild mien and uncouth gestures, but Hildebrand the Sage took him apart, and lost not a word of his story of how the Norg-king lived in the heart of the mountains, of how he came out with his mighty little men, and ravaged all the face of the country, contrary to all the habits of his former life, and of how it was all because his own labourers were engaged in preparing the most magnificent palace for the reception of a daughter of earth, whom he meant to make his bride.
Hildebrand now felt he knew all, and with the help of the poor countryman, the widow's son, would be able to conduct the heroes into his retreat, inflict condign punishment, and release the captive princess.
How, with purely natural means, to overcome the resistless strength of the Norgs did not indeed make itself apparent; this was matter for further consideration, and sufficed to engross his thoughts for the rest of the journey. Of one thing he was satisfied--that he was right in claiming the intervention of Berndietrich, whose traffic with the supernatural powers  made him, of all the wigands , alone capable of conducting such an expedition.
Hildebrand and his companions were received by Theodoric with hearty welcome and hospitable care and cheer. As they sat at table, all the heroes together vied with each other in lauding the prowess of Theodoric, till they had pronounced him the bravest sword of which the whole world could boast.
This was the time for Hildebrand. "No!" he cried, as he upsprang, and by his determined manner arrested the attention of all the wigands. "No, I say! there is one mightier than he; there is one with whom he has never yet ventured to measure his strength----"
"Who? Name him!" shouted Theodoric, rising to his feet, and glaring round him with defiant fury, only kept in check by his regard for Hildebrand.
"I speak of Lareyn, the Dwarf-king, the dweller in the depths of the mountains of Tirol," replied Hildebrand, in a voice of firm assurance.
"The Dwarf-king!" exclaimed Theodoric, with incredulity and contempt; and he sat down again.
"As long as the Dwarf-king is suffered to live in his mountain stronghold, and to ravage the lands of the peaceful peasants, I call no man who knows of him a hero. But him who overcomes this little one--him I will call a hero indeed, above all others!"
"If your Dwarf-king were so formidable, Meister Hildebrand," replied Theodoric, "you would have told me of him before now, I ween. How has he raised your wonderment just at this time?"
"Because just at this time his insolence has increased. He has built a palace surpassing all palaces in magnificence, which he calls his Krystallburg, and has surrounded it with a garden of beauty, which he calls his Rosengarten, fenced round only with a silken girdle, but of whomsoever crosses that boundary he forfeits the left foot and the right hand."
The report of this boast was enough to decide Theodoric, the impetuous sword. "If it is thus he vaunts him," he cried, "he shall know that there is one will dare brave his decree, and destroy the garden his ferocity guards after the manner you describe."
With that up he rose, and called for his Velsungen , for his armour he never put off, and he called for his helmet and his horse; and before another had time to frame his purpose, he had started, without parley and without guide.
Only Wittich the Wigand, his boon companion, who loved to share his rash ventures, and was familiar with his moods, could bestir himself to follow before he was too far gone to be overtaken.
To Tirol they rode by day and by night, without slacking rein, for their anger brooked no reprieve. They slacked not their speed for dell or mountain, and they rode forty miles through the dense forest; but every where as they went along they tested the air, as it was wafted past them, to see if they could discern the perfumes of the Rosengarten. At last, as they toiled up the mountain side, a majestic sight was suddenly opened to their view. The white shining rock of the living mountain was cut and fashioned into every pleasing device of turret and tower, diamonds and rubies were the windows, and the dome was of pure gold set with precious stones. "We have far to ride yet," said Wittich the Wigand, as he scanned the lordly place. "And yet the perfume of the Rose-garden reaches even hither," said the Bernäre . "Then we know we are on the right track," answered Wittich; so they put spurs to their horses, and rode forward with good heart.
They had pushed on thus many a mile when the blooming Rosengarten itself came in sight, entrancing their senses with its beauty and its odours.
"What was that?" asked Theodoric, who always rode ahead, as some light obstruction made his mount swerve for a moment.
"Why, you have burst the silken girdle of King Lareyn's Rosengarten!" said Wittich the Wigand; "so now we have incurred the vengeance of the little man."
"Ah!" said Theodoric, as he gazed around, "let us not harm this pleasant place; sweetly are the flowers disposed, and in the fragrant hours of evening and of morning it must be well to be here: let us destroy naught!"
"Nay!" said honest Wittich, "came we not forth to destroy this devil's-work, and to reduce the pride of the boasting Norg-king who spares none? Shall we return, and leave our work undone? I have no such mind; nothing will I leave of what we see before us now."
He dismounted to carry his threat into effect; and Theodoric, not to be behindhand, or to incur suspicion of fearing the Norg-king, dismounted too. Then with one consent they hewed down and rooted up the fair plants, till the whole garden was a wilderness, and they lay them down upon the grass to rest.
As they lay, there appeared before them, coming at full speed, as on swift wings, a knightly form clad in shining armour, so that Wittich cried, "See, Lord Dietrich, who comes to visit us--surely it is St. Michael, leader of the heavenly hosts!"
"I see no St. Michael," answered Theodoric, sullenly. "It is one of no heavenly build, albeit he bears him so bravely. We may rue that we have loosed our helmets and shields, for methinks he regards us with no loving eye."
While they spoke the rider had advanced over a good space of the way, and they could discern the manner of his bearing. His horse was lithe as a roe-buck upon the wild mountain heights, and its housings of cloth-of-gold gave back the rays of the golden sun; the bridle was studded with precious stones, and embroidered with cunning workmanship of gold, moreover it was held in a commanding hand. The saddle was dazzling with rubies, and so were the stirrups no less; but the armour was most dazzling of all, and all hardened in dragon's blood . His sword of adamant could cut through steel and gold; the handle was one carbuncle, which darted rays of light. Over his breast-armour he wore a tight tunic of cloth-of-gold, with his arms embroidered in glowing colours. His helmet was of burnished gold and topazes mingling their yellow light, and between them many a carbuncle which by night gave the light of day, and from within it there sang pleasant voices of birds--nightingales, bulfinches, and larks, with softened voices, as if they lived, and breathed their song upon the branches of their native trees.
His shield was likewise of gold, and recorded many a deed of prowess of him who bore it; on it was painted a leopard, too, with head erect, as though preparing to spring upon his prey. In his right hand was a spear, and from its point floated a small red banner , on which appeared two swift greyhounds intent on following the wild game. But more imposing than all this display of gold and art was the rider's majestic mien, which was as of one used to know no law but his own will, and to be obeyed by all who approached him; and yet, with all this, he was only a span high! For it was King Lareyn, and he wore tightly buckled his girdle of twelve-men's-strength.
Theodoric would gladly have laughed his little figure to scorn, but when he caught the fire of his eye he was fain to acknowledge he was no puny antagonist in fierce intention, whatever was his height.
Nor did Lareyn spare angry words when he had come up with the knights, and saw what they had done; there was no epithet of scorn in his vocabulary that he did not pour out upon them. He told them their lives were forfeit for the mischief they had wreaked upon his roses, and they could only redeem them by the surrender of their left foot and right hand.
Theodoric was not slow to pay back his vituperation in corresponding measure. He bid him remember what a little, wee mannikin he was; that his was not the right tone in which he ought to talk to princes. Had he ventured to ask a money-compensation, it would have been impertinent enough, but what he had asked was a ludicrous pretention.
"Money!" shouted the Norg, in no way disconcerted; "I have more gold at command than any three of you together. You call yourselves princes, do you? You have done no princely deed to-day; you have incurred the common penalty which I have decreed for all alike who trespass on my Rose-garden--so no more words: hand over your horses, armour, and clothing , together with the left foot and right hand of each."
"Herr Dietrich!" interposed Wittich, "is it possible you have patience to listen to the insolent railing which this little mite pours out in his folly? Say but the word, and I will punish him once and for all. It needs but to take him and his mount by the leg, with one grasp of my strong hand, and knock their heads against the stone wall, that they may lie as dead as the roses we have already strewn around!"
"God is exhaustless in His wonders!" replied the Bernäre; "for aught we know, He has laid up within this mite's body all the strength of which he is so forward to boast: or by some magic craft he may have possessed himself of might commensurate with the riches which we can see plainly enough he has at command. If it comes to fighting, we will bear ourselves like men; but take my advice, and be not rash, for very much I doubt if we shall leave these mountains of Tirol alive this day."
"Now, prince of lineage high! if I knew not your prowess before this day," cried Wittich, beside himself with indignation, "I had said you were afraid of his sword, which a mouse might wield! Shall a Christian knight shrink before any pagan hound? But a thousand such wights as this could be overmatched by you; and without arms you could smite them down, and hang them all on the trees!"
"Your ideas of your powers are not weak," interposed King Lareyn; "you talk of one of you being a match for a thousand such as I: come on, and let us see how you will bear you against one 'tiny antagonist'!"
Wittich's impatience knew no bounds at the challenge; without exchanging another word with Theodoric he sprang into the saddle, and Lareyn, who had chafed at being spoken of as an unworthy adversary, now drew himself up, proud to find Wittich did not scorn to meet him mounted.
They rode out opposite each other on the greensward with their lances poised, and then dashed the one at the other like two falcons on the wing. Wittich, not at all wanting in the science of handling his lance, made sure to have hit Lareyn, but the spell that surrounded him protected him against the thrust, while his lance struck Wittich's throat where the helm was braced, and sent him backwards off the saddle on to the ground with great force. As he fell among the clover he vowed that no other lance had ever so offended him, for never before had victory appeared so easy. Hastily he sprang to his feet, to wipe away the shame by seeming indifference; but Lareyn stood before him in the long grass with his sword ready to take the forfeit he demanded, the left foot and the right hand,--and would have taken it, but Theodoric deemed it time to interfere; he said he should have reckoned it a shame on him could it have been said of him that he had stood by while a companion was made to pay so hard a penalty for so small a harm.
"What is a shame to you is no affair of mine," cried Lareyn in return; "but instead of defending your companion, it behoves you to defend yourself, for, as you had your part in the destruction of the garden, I demand my forfeit equally of you, and your left foot and right hand I must have. Stand on guard then! for I am a match for twelve such as you."
The words stung Theodoric to the quick. But with what celerity soever he vaulted into the saddle, the moment had sufficed for Lareyn to bind fast Wittich to a tree, and gain his stirrups in time to confront his foe.
"I perceive you are the Bernäre," he said, "by your shield and helm; and never have I poised lance so gladly against any foe, and never have had such satisfaction in triumph as I shall when I have you bound by the side of your companion, and when the great Dietrich von Bern shall lie in the bonds of the little Norg!"
"Dwarf! waste not words," cried Theodoric, in a terrible voice, his eyes flashing fire; his spear trembling in his hand with the fury that burnt within him. Before the foes could meet, however, and not a whit too soon, Hildebrand appeared upon the scene, having found his way, with the bold Wolfhart who never shrank from any fight, and Dietlieb the Steieräre , by the guidance of the injured widow's son.
Hastily Hildebrand reached Theodoric's ear: "Fight him not in that way," he said; "he has ever the advantage with the lance, and if he hurled you from the saddle, where would be your princely honour? Never could you again reign in your Hall of Verona. Dismount, and meet him on foot upon the grass, and watch for what further may be suggested to us."
Theodoric gladly accepted the counsel of the sage, and, standing once more on the ground, called to the Norg to meet him there. Lareyn refused not, but met him with many a valiant thrust, which the wigand parried, and returned too, as best he might, with Hildebrand's counsel, till the little man complained of the interference, without which, he swore, Dietrich had been bound even as Wittich. But Theodoric bid him not talk, but fight, and with that planted him a blow between the eyes which shut out the light of the sun. Hildebrand, meantime, released Wittich, as it behoved while one fought in his defence. But Lareyn, finding he could gain no signal advantage against the hero, drew his Tarnhaut from his pocket, and, slipping it over his head, became invisible to his antagonist. Now it was a weird running hither and thither, as the deft Norg paid out his cunning blows, and the bold wigand in vain sought him, that he might return them; now his blow fell on the stone wall, and now on a tree, while the Norg's mocking laughter echoed at each mistake.
"One counsel only I see," cried good Hildebrand, distressed to see his prince so hard thrust; "call to him to drop his sword, and wrestle with you; so shall you reach him, and at least know where he stands."
The hero followed the counsel of his master, nor did the Norg refuse. True, Theodoric now could at least feel his unseen foe, but he felt him to his cost, for it was impossible to stand against his strength, nor was it long before the dwarf forced the hero down upon his knees on the grass. Great was the wigand's distress, for never had antagonist so dealt with him before.
"Dietrich! beloved lord," cried Hildebrand, "list to my word. One way of safety there is: wrench from him his girdle--his girdle which gives him twelve men's strength!"
Gladly Theodoric heard the counsel, nor was he long in finding with his hand the girdle; by it he raised King Lareyn from the ground, and dashed him down again, till the girdle burst and fell beneath their feet. Hildebrand quickly caught it up, lest the dwarf should again possess himself of it; but Lareyn gave a cry of despair which might have been heard o'er mountain and forest three days' journey off! Then, with doleful voice, he said,--
"Dietrich von Bern! if you are the noble sword for which men hold you, you will be now content, and will give me my life; while I will be your tributary, and mighty are the gifts I have to offer you."
"No!" replied Theodoric; "your haughtiness and pretensions have been too gross. I pardon not such as you so easily; we must have another trial, in which you must yield up your worthless life."
"I have no power in fighting against such as he now, without my girdle," mused the Norg; "my only chance of safety lies in getting one of the heroes who is equal to him to fight for my cause in my place. So he made up to Dietlieb the Steieräre, and conjured him, as he was his brother-in-law, to help him in his need--even as he loved his sister's honour."
"True!" replied Dietlieb; "since you confess honestly that you have my sister, it is meet that I should be your champion; and I will deliver you or die." With that he went to Theodoric, and prayed him earnestly four times, by his regard for knightly honour, for woman's worth, for friendship, and for virtue--four things which, at receiving his sword, every knight bound himself to honour, that he would spare Lareyn. But Theodoric was not to be moved, and each time only swore the harder that he would fight it out to the last; that Lareyn had offended him too deeply, and that he could not be suffered to live. When Dietlieb found the ambassage he had undertaken unsuccessful, and that he would have to own his failure, he grew impatient and wroth, and riding his horse up to Theodoric, he proclaimed in a loud voice,--
"Be it known, Prince Dietrich, highly praised, that I declare King Lareyn, great in power and riches, shall not be bound your prisoner, nor his life taken; that I appear here to answer for him with brotherly service, and that either he shall be let go scot free, or in my person only shall the death-blow be dealt out for him."
Theodoric, unwilling to enter a feud of life and death with one of his own allies, and yet too proud to refuse the challenge, answered him nothing. But Dietlieb took the Norg and hid him away in safety in the long grass out of Theodoric's sight, and then returned ready to confront him. Theodoric, finding he was determined in his attack, called for his horse, and bound on his helmet, his shield he took in his hand, and hung his sword to his girdle.
"Think not I spare you more than another, Lord Theodoric, when I have found the cause I ought to defend," cried Dietlieb, and his flashing eye told that he would fight his fight to the end.
Theodoric still said no word, but his anger was the more desperate.
Thus minded, they rode at each other, and the lance of each hurled the other from his horse upon the grass. Up each sprang again, and drew his trenchant sword; the one struck, and the other pierced, till the grass all around, as high as their spurs, was dyed as red as the roses they had destroyed anon. Then Theodoric dealt such a mighty stroke on Dietlieb's helmet that the fire flashed again, and he thought, "Now have I conquered him and Lareyn at one blow." But Dietlieb, recovering from the momentary shock, struck Theodoric's shield with such force that he dashed it from his grasp; you might have heard the clash a mile off!
When the bold Theodoric found he had his shield no longer, he took his sword in both his hands, and gave the wigand such a mighty Schirmschlag  that he felled him to the ground.
"Now then, foolish man!" he cried, in scorn, "do you still hold out for Lareyn?"
Dietlieb sprang to his feet once more with a start which made his armour ring again, and, for an answer, ran at Theodoric, and tried to repeat his stroke; but Theodoric was more difficult to bring down, and answered his attack by striking him on the rim of his shield so forcibly that he loosed the band by which he held it.
Meantime, Hildebrand had been occupied stirring up the other wigands to part the combatants, and at this moment Wittich and Wolfhart came up to Dietlieb and seized him, and with main force dragged him off the field; while Hildebrand reasoned with Theodoric about the merit and friendship of Dietlieb, and the advantage of compromise now that he had done enough to prove his superiority in the fight. Theodoric, who ever gave weight to Hildebrand's reasoning, agreed to be friends again with Dietlieb, and to leave Lareyn his life and liberty, only exacting homage and tribute of him. To these terms Dietlieb also agreed, and all entered the bonds of good friendship.
Lareyn, who had watched the combat and listened to the treaty of peace from his hiding-place in the long grass, gave in his adhesion, promising to pay tribute of all his wealth.
"And now, good brother-in-law," he said, addressing Dietlieb, "or brother-in-law that-is-to-be,--for Simild has not yet given her consent to be my wife--let us talk a little about your lovely sister. You are doubtless burning to know how I became possessed of her, and I no less to tell." Then he told him how he had found her under the linden-tree, and had enveloped her in the Tarnhaut and carried her away unseen by mortal eye; and of how all Norgdom was subject to her, of how he had laid an empire of boundless wealth at her feet, and how, if she preferred reigning on earth, he was able to buy a vast kingdom to endow her with. Then he noticed that the day was declining, and they far from shelter, and bade them all welcome to his underground home, promising them good cheer and merry pastime. Dietlieb, anxious to see his dear sister again, accepted the offer, and the other wigands agreed to follow him. Stern Hildebrand the Sage would have preferred camping in the open air, but Theodoric told him it would be a shame on his name before all heroes if, having been so near the Norg kingdom, of which all had heard, he should have feared to make acquaintance with its economy and government. All the others were of his mind, but Hildebrand reminded Theodoric, that as he whom all were ready to obey had counselled incurring the danger, he made himself responsible for all their lives. "He who gave us prudence will guard our lives and honour," said the prince; and without further parley they rode on, after Lareyn's guidance.
On they rode, through thick forest and narrow mountain-path, till, as it grew dark, they came to a golden door in the rock. It opened at Lareyn's approach, and the moment they had passed within they found themselves surrounded by a light above the light of day from the shining stones that glittered around. Trumpets sounded to herald their entrance. As they advanced through the sparkling trees friendly birds warbled a sweet welcome; and as they neared the hall soft melodies of lutes and harps enchanted their ear. All around them the Norgs disported themselves, ready to render any service the wayfarers might require. Refreshment was all ready, as if they had been expected; and when the wigands had done justice to the spread, they were led each to his apartment to take their rest, which they well needed.
In the morning Lareyn prayed them to stay and enjoy the wonders of his kingdom and taste his hospitality, whereupon new debate arose. Theodoric was disposed to trust him; and Dietlieb desirous to keep friends with him for the sake of his sister; while Wolfhart was ready for any sort of adventure; but Wittich, who had tasted the effects of Lareyn's guile and strength, used all his persuasion to induce the others to return, and prudent Hildebrand deemed it the wiser part. At last, however, Wolfhart said, scornfully to Wittich, that if he was afraid to stay he could go back; he had no need to spoil their pleasure. After that Wittich said no more, but by his sullen looks he showed he disapproved the venture.
Lareyn, seeing them doubtful, came up, and with much concern bid them have no hesitation or fear, for all they saw was at their service--they had but to command. To which Theodoric made answer that such words were princely indeed, and if his deeds accorded therewith he never would have reason to rue the league he had made with them.
Then with delight Lareyn led them through the riches of his possessions. So much heaped-up gold, so many precious stones, such elaborate handiwork none of Theodoric's band had ever seen before; and the place rang with their exclamations of wonder.
But all this was nothing to the cunning feats of the Norgs, who, at a sign from Lareyn, displayed their various talents before the astonished eyes of the heroes. Some there were who lifted great stones bigger than themselves, and threw them as far as the eye could reach, then by swiftness attained the goal before the stone they threw! Others rooted up great pine-trees, and broke them across as sticks. Others did feats of tilting and horsemanship, and others danced and leapt till the knights were lost in wonder at their agility and strength.
Lareyn now called his guests in to dine; and all manner of costly dishes were set before them, arranged with greater care and taste than Theodoric was used to in his own palace, while sweet-voiced minstrels sang, and nimble Norgs danced. In the midst of the repast, Simild, summoned by Lareyn, entered the hall, attended by a train of five hundred choicely-robed Norginnen; her own attire a very wonder of art. It was all of silk and down, and set off with ornaments of jewellery beyond compare with any on earth; stones there were of value enough to ransom three kingdoms; and in her coronet one which lighted up the hall with its radiance--meet crown of her own loveliness! At Lareyn's courteously worded request she gave all the guests a joyful welcome, with a word of praise from her rosy lips for each, for their fame of knightly deeds. But when she saw Dietlieb her joy knew no bounds; they embraced each other with the heartfelt joy of those who have been long and cruelly separated.
"Tell me, sister mine," said Dietlieb, anxiously turning to account the brief opportunity her embrace gave him of whispering into her ear, "is it of your own will that you are here, in this strange mountain dwelling? is this Lareyn dear to you? and do you desire to dwell with him? Or has his artifice been hateful to you? Say, shall I rid you of his presence?"
"Brother, it is your help I need to decide this thing," replied the maid. "Against Lareyn's mildness I have no word to say: gift upon gift has been heaped upon me; with honour after honour have I been endowed; and every wish of mine is fulfilled ere it is born. But when I think of Him of whom all our pleasures are the bounty, I feel no pleasure in pleasures so bestowed. This pagan folk holds Christ, our dear Lord, in hate--and when I think of Him, I long to be again in Christendom ."
"Yes, Simild, sister dear, in Christendom is your place, not here; and since such is your mind, cost what it will, I will set you free from the Norg-king's power," was Dietlieb's answer; and there was no time for more, for Lareyn called them back to the fresh-dressed banquet.
"Come, new allies but trusted friends!" cried the dwarf, "come, and let us be merry, and pledge our troth in the ruby bowl! Lay aside your heavy arms and armour, your sword and shield. Let us be light and free as brothers together."
As he spoke a whole host of waiting-men appeared, who helped the knights off with their armour, and brought them robes of rich stuffs and costly work. The guests suffered them to do their will, for they were lost in admiration at the choice banquet; at the table, all of ivory inlaid with devices of birds and game so lifelike they seemed to skim across the board; at the vessels of silver and gold and crystal of untiring variety of design; and, above all, at the order and harmony with which all was directed.
Cool wine from cellars under earth was now served round ; then various dishes in constant succession, each rarer than the last; and then again sounded soft, clear voices to the accompaniment of the harmonious strings. And again and again the tankards were filled up with Lautertrank, Moras , and wine.
At last the tables were drawn away, and at the same time Simild and her maids withdrew; but many an hour more the guests sat while the music and the singing continued to charm them. But lest even this should weary, King Lareyn, as if determined there should be no end to the change of pastimes with which he had undertaken to amuse his guests, sent to fetch a certain conjuror who dwelt in the heart of a high mountain, and whose arts surpassed any thing that had been done before. The magician came at his bidding, and exhibited surprising evidences of his craft, till at last the king said,--
"You are a cunning man, no doubt, but there is one exhibition of your power you have never been able to give me, and I shall think nothing of your art till you can satisfy me. In this country within the mountains, these jewels fixed in vault, wall, and sky, weary one with their perpetual glare. Make them to move as the luminaries of earth, so that we may have calm, peaceful night for repose."
"True, O king! I have never before been able to accomplish this desire," replied the magician; "but now I have acquired this art also, and waited for a fitting occasion to make the first display of the same."
"No occasion can be more fitting than the present," answered Lareyn, "when by its inauguration you shall celebrate the visit of my honoured guests, and also by its achievement afford them that rest from the glare of day to which they are accustomed in their own nights."
"I desire but to obey," replied the magician; and forthwith he threw on to the fire that burnt on a black stone before him, a powder which no sooner touched the flame than a pale blue smoke arose with pleasing scent, and, curling through the hall, presently extinguished the brilliant shining of every countless jewel with which the walls and roof were set.
"Now, if you are master of your art," continued the king, "let us have light once more."
The magician, wrapt in his incantation, spoke not, but dropped another powder on the flame, which at once sent up a wreathing fume of rainbow hues, carrying back to every precious stone its lustre.
"Wondrous!" "Brave artist!" "Wondrous show indeed!" were the exclamations which broke spontaneously from every lip.
"Now let it be dark again," said the king; and the magician quenched the sparkling light as before.
"Now light," he cried; and so alternated until the sight was no longer new. Now, it was dark, and this time Lareyn called no more for light, nor spoke, and the silence was long; till the heroes grew anxious, and Wittich turned to where Wolfhart had sat, and said, "I like not this: who knows but that while we can see naught the Norgs may fall upon us and destroy us?" But Wolfhart answered not, for a stupor had fallen upon him that the fumes had been gifted to convey; and Wittich, too, felt their influence before he could utter another word; so it was with Hildebrand the Sage no less. Theodoric only had time to answer, "Such treachery were not princely; and if Lareyn means harm to us, he may be sure he will rue this day," and then sleep fell upon him as on the others.
Dietlieb had already left the hall, thinking under cover of the darkness to find his sister, but being met by a page had been conducted to his apartment, and knew nothing of what had befallen the others.
Lareyn, meanwhile, sought out Simild in anxious mood. "Ever lovely virgin!" he exclaimed, "support me with your prudent counsel in this strait. I have already told you how your people have avenged on me that I have loved you; how they have laid low my silken fence and golden gates, and wasted my choice garden of roses. Good reprisals I had thought to have taken, and had I been left man to man against them I had overcome them all; but Hildebrand the Sage interposed his advice: it was thus the Bernäre had the advantage over me, and had it not been for your brother Dietlieb's stout defence, he had even taken my life. But in all the other four beside him there is no good, and in one way or another I had found means to rid me of them, but for Dietlieb's sake, who would be as ready to oppose me in their defence as he opposed Dietrich in mine. So, fair lady mine, say how shall I end this affair?"
"If you would follow my advice," replied Simild, "be not rash; and, above all, use no treachery; keep to the pact of peace that you have sworn; and be sure the Christian knights will not go back from their plighted word. But in place of the little girdle of twelve-men's-strength that they took from you, here is a ring of equal power which your seven magicians welded for me: with that you will feel all your old consciousness of strength and dignity. But, by all you hold dear, let the wigands go forth with honour!"
Lareyn was not slow to own that the counsel was good, and spoke as if he would have followed it. But when he put on the ring, and found himself endowed once more with twelve men's strength, he could not forbear taking his sweet revenge for his yesterday's defeat and danger.
First, he had sevenfold bolts put on Dietlieb's door, that he might not be able to come forth and aid his brethren; and then he sent and called for one of the giants, who were always true allies to the dwarfs, and entreated him to carry the heroes to a deep dungeon below the roots of the mountains, where they should be bound, and shut out from the light of day, and never again be able to do him harm.
The feat pleased the giant well; and, having bound a cord round the waist of each of the sleeping heroes, slung the four over his shoulder as if they had been no heavier than sparrows, and carried them to the dungeon below the roots of the mountains, whither Lareyn led the way, now skipping, now dancing, now singing, now laughing in high glee, to think how well he had succeeded in ridding him of his foes--but forgetting all about Simild's advice, and his promise to her.
It was not till next morning that the heroes woke; and then all was cold and dark around them, and they knew they were no longer in the hall of the banquet, for the iron chains and stanchions, the chill, and must, and damp, and slime, told them they were in a dungeon under earth.
Loudly they all exclaimed against the deceit with which they had been caught, and loudly they all swore to find means to punish the treacherous captor. But Theodoric's anger was greater than the anger of them all; and the fiery breath  glowed so hot within him that it scorched away the bonds with which he was bound!
Once more, then, his hands at least were free, and his companions gave him joy; but his feet were still held to the rock by chains of hard steel, the links as thick as a man's arm. Nevertheless, his indignation was so great that when he beat them with his fists they were obliged to yield, as they had been made of egg-shell; and when he had broken his own chains he set to work and released the others also.
Great was their joy and thankfulness; but heaviness came down on them again when they saw themselves closed in by the cruel rock, and all their armour and weapons of defence locked up far away from them in the Norg's castle. Another day they lay there in despair, and another, for wise Hildebrand saw no way of passing through the rock .
Meantime Simild had grown uneasy at the silence that reigned in the palace; there was no more sound of revel and festivity, and of entertaining guests. She was no more sent for to entertain them, and Lareyn hid himself from her, and avoided her. In dire fear she hunted out the right key of her brother's apartment, and having covered the glowing carbuncle in her coronet, which lighted up every place, crept along silently till she had reached him.
"Sister mine!" exclaimed Dietlieb, "what does this mean? why am I held fast by seven locks? and why do no tidings of my companions reach me? Oh! had I but my sword and shield, I would release them from the hands of Lareyn, and of how many Norgs soever he may have at his command! or at least I would not survive to bear the shame of living while they are in I know not what plight."
"Dietlieb, be guided by me," replied the maiden: "we must deliver them out of the dire dungeon in which Lareyn has treacherously confined them, but also we must have your life and honour safe. Take this ring upon your hand, for against him who wears it none can prevail; and then go and deliver your companions." With that she took him along to where his armour lay concealed; and having girt him with it, she said many a fervent blessing  over him, to preserve him from harm.
Endowed with the strength the ring gave him, Dietlieb was able to load himself with the arms and armour of all the four heroes; and at its command a way was made in the rock, through which he passed it in to them. As each piece fell upon the hard floor, the clang re-echoed through the far-off mountains.
Lareyn heard the noise, and knew what had befallen, so he sounded on his horn the note that was known far and wide through all the lands of the Norgs; and at the call three hundred thousand dwarfs appeared swarming over the whole face of the country.
"To me, my men! to me!" cried Lareyn, as they drew near. "Before you stands he who has essayed to release our enemies whom I and the giant had bound under the roots of the mountains. He has given them back their strong armour and their weapons of war, and if they get loose and come among us, great havoc will they make of us, therefore smite him down and destroy him!"
The dwarfs rushed on Dietlieb at the bidding of the king; but Lareyn would not engage him himself, because he had fought for his release. Dietlieb, young and strong, stood planted against a vault of the rock, and as the mannikins approached him, he showered his blows upon them, and sent them sprawling, till the dead and mangled were piled up knee-deep around him.
The heroes heard the sound of the battle in their prison, and they longed to take their part in the fray; but they saw no means of breaking through the rock to reach him, till Hildebrand bethought him that he had yet with him the girdle he had picked up when Theodoric tore it from the Norg-king's body. This he now handed to the hero.
Theodoric took it, and spoke not for joy, but with its strength tore down the living rock round the opening Dietlieb's ring had made, and burst his way to stand beside the brave young Steieräre. This done, scorning the girdle's strength, he cast it back to Hildebrand, trusting in his good sword alone.
"Now, treacherous dwarf, come on!" he cried. "No knightly troth has bound you, but against us, your guests and allies, you have acted as one who has no right to live! Come here, and let me give you the guerdon you have earned!"
Lareyn refused not; and the two fought with fury terrible to behold. And yet Theodoric prevailed not. Then Hildebrand discerned the ring of twelve-men's-strength on Lareyn's hand, where it was not before, and knew it was a talisman, so he called to Theodoric, and said,--
"Dietrich, my prince, seize yonder ring upon the Norg-king's hand! so shall his strength be no more increased by the powers of his magic."
Theodoric, ever prone to be guided by the advice of the Sage, directed a mighty blow upon the ring, so that the hoop must fain give way; and the dwarf's power went from him.
"Now all your hosts, and all your arts, and all your gold shall profit you nothing more!" So cried the Bernäre; "but condign penalties you must suffer for your crime. My prisoner you are, nor is there any can deliver you more."
The Norgs, grieving for their king's loss, trooped round Theodoric and attacked him on every side; but he swang his good sword Velsungen around, and at every sweep a hundred Norg's heads fell pattering at his feet. Suddenly a little dwarf came running out from the mountain rock, and seizing Lareyn's horn, blew on it notes which wandered wild through all the forest-trees.
Five giants lived in the forest, and when they heard those notes they knew the Norgs were in dire distress. With swift strides they came; their helmets flashed like lightning over the tops of the pines; and each brought his sword and pike of trenchant steel. The little dwarf saw his brethren mown down like grass before the scythe, and again sent forth his far-sounding notes of distress. The giants heard it, and marched over hill and dale, till they came before the mountain-side. Again the little dwarf sent out his appeal, and the giants burst their way through the mountain; but albeit they came with such speed, twelve thousand Norgs were meantime lost to King Lareyn by Velsungen's strokes.
Dietlieb and Hildebrand, Wittich and Wolfhart mowed down their harvest too.
Now they had to prepare for another kind of attack, for in fearful array the five giants came down upon them, brandishing their clubs of steel. But neither could these stand before the swords of the heroes, and each several one laid low his adversary.
When the Norgs saw that their king was bound, and their best fighting-men destroyed, and the giants themselves without breath, they knew they could stand no longer before the wigands, but each turned him and fled for refuge to the mountains.
The heroes then, seeing no more left to slay, went into the banquet-hall, where only Simild stood, for all the Norgs had hidden themselves in fear.
"Welcome, noble brother! and welcome, bold swords all!" cried the maid; "you have delivered us from this treacherous king. Now you will go home to your own land with glory and honour, and take me with you."
The heroes returned her greeting, and rejoiced in her praise; then they piled up the treasure on to waggons, all they could carry, and in triumph they made their way to earth, and Lareyn with them, bound.
First they directed their steps to Styria, till they came to the spreading linden-tree whence Simild had first been taken; for there sat Duke Biterolf, her father, bewailing his bereavement, and around him trooped her maidens lamenting their companion.
All was restored to joy and gladness now that Simild was at home again. They passed seven days in high festival, the heroes all together; and many a time they had to tell the tale of their bold deeds, and the wonders of the mountain-world. And the minstrels sang to the merits of the conquerors, while the merry bowl passed round and round.
At last Theodoric rose and thanked Biterolf for his hospitality, who thanked him in return right heartily for the help he had lent his son. With that Theodoric took his leave, and along with him went Hildebrand the Sage, and Wittich the Wigand, and the strong Wolfhart, and King Lareyn too, of whom Theodoric made his court-fool in his palace at Verona.