LONG, long ago, in the days when the light of Christian teaching yet struggled with the gloom of heathendom, there lived in the Edelsitz of Ruggburg, by Bregenz, a most beautiful maiden--Kriselda by name. So fair she was that, from far and near, knights and nobles came to ask her hand; but though she was not proud or haughty, she would have none of them, because there was not one of them all that came up to her expectations. It was not that she said they were not good enough for her, but high or noble, or rich or renowned, as they might be, they all failed to satisfy her longings; and with gentle words and courteous demeanour, she dismissed them all. And yet she looked out with hope, too, that the next should supply the bright ideal of her heart; but when that other came he always still fell short of what she had imagined.
One evening she went out to walk amid the dark pines, where the golden light of the setting sun gleamed between their bare stems. At the foot of one of them lay a poor wayworn beggar woman, fainting with hunger and fatigue.
Kriselda was full of compassion for her sad state, and sent her maidens to fetch restoratives, and ministered them to her with her own hands.
But the beggar woman, instead of cringing with gratitude and surprise at the interest the noble lady had shown in her, was no sooner able to speak than she reproached her bitterly.
"It is well for you," she said, "who live daintily, and have your will every day, now and then to show a little charity for those who suffer! but what is it, think you, to suffer every day, and to have your own will never?"
"It must be very sad!" said Kriselda, compassionately; "that is not your case, I hope?"
"How can you know it is sad? How can you hope any thing about it?" retorted the beggar woman, sternly; "you who know not what it is to suffer. Believe me, it is not fine clothes and a grand palace, a beautiful face, or deeds of fame which make one great. Those to whom all these things appertain are, for the most part, little worth. To do well is so easy to them, that what merit have they to boast? The truly great is one who suffers, and yet does well; who goes through toil and travail, sorrow and grief, and bears it in silence, and in secret, and has no fame and no praise of men to sound sweetly in his ears."
Kriselda listened to her words full of excitement, for it seemed as if a chord in her heart had been touched which none had ever reached before. And the picture the old beggar woman had drawn was nearer her mind's bright ideal than any image she had approached heretofore.
"What, then, is this same travail and grief?" she asked, with simplicity.
"If you really desire to know with good desire," answered the beggar woman, "take this end of a hank of yarn, and follow its leading, winding it up as you go along, till you come to the bobbin, where it is made fast; and when you arrive there you will know what travail and grief are. But you must go forth alone."
Kriselda dismissed all her maidens, and taking the yarn, cheerfully followed the steep path through which it led. On it led her, and on and on. Her light garments were rent by the thorns and briars, and her hands and delicate cheeks too; her feet were cut by the stones of the way, and her knees began to tremble with fatigue. Darkness fell around, and loneliness crept over her, with fear, for she had never been in the forest by night alone before; but still the yarn led on, and on, and it was thick night before she reached the bobbin, where it was made fast.
When she reached the place a dim light gleamed around, and in the midst of the dim light a Kreuzstöcklein : and on the cross, One fairer than the sons of men, but wan and wayworn, even as the fainting beggar woman; His brow rent by thorns, even as her own; His knees bent with weariness; His body wasted by want.
But in His face the majesty and sweetness she had sought so long; the perfect ideal of her heart, which none who had approached her had ever presented before.
"This, then, is He for whom my soul longed!" she cried, and clasped her hands. "I have found Him, and will not leave Him more! But who is He? what does He here? and is it He who knows travail and grief?"
"In truth, have I known travail and grief!" He sighed, and the silvery tones of His plaintive voice filled her with unutterable joy; "and, in truth, must all those who would abide with Me know travail and grief too!"
She strained her ears that she might hear those sweet notes again, but she listened in vain; only its echoes seemed to live on in her heart, as though they would never die there. But without, there was no sound, save of the terrible Föhn  moaning through the tall black pines, and drifting round her masses of heaped-up snow, which had long lain by the wayside. Even the Kreuzstöcklein she saw no more, nor the dim light, nor knew how to find the way home. All alone, with terror only for her companion, she stood and wondered what that cross could mean, and who He could be who hung thereon. Soon she ceased to wonder, for numbness crept over her, and unconsciousness which was not sleep.
When she opened her eyes again the grey light of morning had fallen around, and there was a sound as of men in deadly combat. A terrible sound, yet less terrible than the deathly stillness of the night.
It was a hermit and a giant who strove, as men who give no quarter, and yet neither prevailed against the other. The giant was accoutred in burnished steel; and his polished weapons flashed with angry fire. The hermit bore no arms--or rather, those he bore were invisible, for when he wielded them you saw the giant shrink, though you saw not the blow; and, in like manner, many a stroke of the giant's sword was harmlessly warded off, though no shield was seen.
"Wherefore fight you so furiously?" said Kriselda, at length. "Put up your arms, and be at peace."
"We fight for you, fair maiden!" said both, speaking together.
"For me!" cried Kriselda.
"Yes, even for you," said the giant; "anon you were lying here asleep, and I would have carried you to rule over my castle, when up started this puny man in brown, and dared me to lay finger on you; and till you have pronounced which of us you approve, neither can prevail. Say only one word, and I will hurl him down the cliff, like this pebble, with one spurning of my foot; and you shall come and reign with me in my castle, where I will fulfil your every desire."
A brave enthusiasm kindled his eye as he spoke; his well-knit frame, terrible in its strength, was bowed to hear her word; and his arms, anon so furiously raised, were now folded before her, seemingly awaiting his life to be rekindled at her lips.
Kriselda looked at him, and met his rapt gaze, and asked herself was there not here the strength, the majesty, the nobility, her soul had desired. Almost she had spoken the word he craved. But first she addressed the hermit.
"And you--why measured you your strength with him for my sake?"
"Because," said the hermit, meekly, "I am the servant of Him who knows travail and grief; because you have lifted up your eyes to Him, and to all such He sends help, that they may be strengthened to follow Him."
Then the dim light seemed once more present to Kriselda's mind, and she recalled the Kreuzstöcklein, and the majesty and beauty of Him who hung thereon; and the musical tones of His plaintive voice which said, "Truly I have known travail and grief; and all they who would abide with Me must know grief and travail too!"
The giant's nobility paled before the thought; she looked at him again, and his strength and his power had lost their charm, for the image of One stronger than he was present to her mind. Then she turned and followed the hermit, and said, "Where is He whom I seek? Take me to Him."
The hermit raised his hand and beckoned her to follow still higher up the steep path.
But the giant was forced to sheathe his sword and to depart alone; Kriselda had spoken, and he knew he could not prevail against the hermit contrary to her will. He turned away sorrowful, casting in his mind who it could be whose attractions were more powerful on Kriselda than his own; and as he walked he determined he would not sleep or eat till he had found out Him who hung upon the Kreuzstöcklein, and knew travail and grief.
Kriselda, meantime, followed the hermit to where the crystal brook flowed, and there he signed her with the token of Him who knew travail and grief. Then he took her to where other maidens dwelt who loved that same ideal; and there she lived many years, waiting for the time when the hermit promised her she should be united with Him for ever.
That day came at last; and she called her sisters round her, and told them the joy of her soul. Already she saw a dim light, as on that first night under the black pines, and she knew it was the dawn of the bright unending day, and the soft voice that had spoken to her there was calling to her to come to Him.
But when they carried her earthly form out to burial, they found one already lying in the grave. It was the giant, who had journeyed thus far, and had there laid him down and died in the place where Kriselda should be laid; and he held, clasped to his breast, the Kreuzstöcklein of the black pine-forest.