Read CHAPTER XIX - THE THEODORIC OF SAGA of Theodoric the Goth Barbarian Champion of Civilisation, free online book, by Thomas Hodgkin, on

It is one of the most striking testimonies to the greatness of Theodoric’s work and character, that his name is one of the very few which passed from history into the epic poetry of the German and Scandinavian peoples. True, there is scarcely one feature of the great Ostrogothic King preserved in the mythical portrait painted by minstrels and Sagamen; true, Theodoric of Verona would have listened in incredulous or contemptuous amazement to the romantic adventures related of Dietrich of Bern; still the fact that his name was chosen by the poets of the early Middle Ages as the string upon which the pearls of their fantastic imaginations were to be strung, shows how powerfully his career had impressed their barbaric forefathers. Theodoric’s eminence in this respect, his renown in mediaeval Saga, is shared apparently but by three other undoubtedly historic personages: his collateral ancestor, Hermanric; the great world-conqueror, Attila; and Gundahar, king of the Burgundians, about whom history really records nothing, save his defeat in battle by the Huns.

As it would be a hopeless attempt in a short chapter like the present to discuss the various allusions to Dietrich von Bern in the Teutonic and Scandinavian Sagas, I shall invite the reader’s attention to one only, that which concerns itself most exclusively with his life, and which is generally called the “Wilkina Saga", though some German scholars prefer to call it by the more appropriate name of “Thidreks Saga”.

The earliest manuscripts of this Saga at present known are attributed to the first half of the thirteenth century. There are many allusions in the work to other sources of information both written and oral, but the Saga itself in its present form appears to contain the story of Theodoric as current in the neighbourhood of Bremen and Muenster, translated into the old Norse language, and no doubt somewhat modified by the influence of Scandinavian legends on the mind of the translator. In its present form it is not a poem but a prose work, and though the flow of the ballad and the twang of the minstrel’s harp still often make themselves felt even through the dull Latin translation of Johan Peringskiold, there are many chapters of absolutely unredeemed prose, full of genealogical details and the marches of armies, as dry as any history, though purely imaginary.

I will now proceed to give the outline of the story of Theodoric as told in the “Wilkina Saga”, I shall not harass the reader by continual repetitions of the phrase “It is said”, or “It is fabled”, but will ask him to understand once for all that the story so circumstantially told is a mere romance, having hardly the slenderest connection with the actual history of Theodoric, or with any other event that has happened on our planet.

The Knight Samson, the grandfather of Theodoric, was a native of Salerno and served in the court of Earl Roger, the lord of that city Tall and dark, with black brows and long, thin face, he was distinguished by great personal strength, and his ambition was equal to his prowess. Earl Roger had a most lovely daughter, Hildeswide, to whom Samson dared to raise his eyes in love. Being sent one day by her father to the tower where she dwelt, with dainty morsels from his table for her repast, he persuaded her to mount his servant’s horse and ride away with him into the forest. For this Earl Roger confiscated his possessions and sought his life. Enraged at the decree of exile and death which had been passed against him, Samson issued forth from his forest to ravage Earl Roger’s farms. In his return to the forest, being intercepted by the Earl and sixty of his knights, he was seized with sudden fury, and struck down the Earl’s standard-bearer, dealt so terrible a blow at the Earl that he lopped off not only his head but that of the steed on which he rode, slew fifteen knights besides, and then galloped off, himself unwounded, to the forest where Hildeswide abode. Thus did Salerno lose her lord.

Brunstein, the brother of Earl Roger, sought to avenge his death, but after two years of desultory warfare was himself surprised in a night attack by Samson, compelled to flee, overtaken and slain. So Samson went on and increased in strength, treading down all his enemies; but not till he had persuaded the citizens of Salerno to accept him as their lord would he assume the title of king. Then did he send out messengers to announce to all the other kingdoms of the world his royal dignity. He governed long and wisely, extending his dominions to the vast regions of the West (apparently making himself lord of all Italy), and by his wife Hildeswide becoming the father of two sons, whose names were Hermanric and Dietmar.

After twenty years of wise and peaceful rule, as Samson sat feasting in his palace he began to lament the decay of energy in himself and his warriors, and to fear that his name and fame would perish after his death. He therefore resolved on war with Elsung, Earl of Verona, and to that end despatched six ambassadors with this insulting message: “Send hither thy daughter to be the concubine of my youngest son. Send sixty damsels with her, and sixty noble youths each bringing two horses and a servant. Send sixty hawks and sixty retrievers, whose collars shall be of pure gold, and let the leash with which they are bound be made of hairs out of thine own white beard. Do this, or in three months prepare for war”.

This insolent demand produced the expected result. Elsung ordered the leader of the embassy to be hung. Four of his companions were beheaded. The sixth, having had his right hand lopped off, was sent back with no other answer to Salerno. When he reached that city, Samson appeared to treat the matter as of no importance and went on with his hunting and hawking and all the amusements of a peaceful court. He was, however, quietly making his preparations for war, and at the end of three months, at the head of an army of 15,000 men, commanded by three under-kings and many dukes he burst into the territories of Earl Elsung who had only 10,000 men, drawn from Hungary and elsewhere, with whom to meet his powerful foe. There was great slaughter on the battle-plain. Then the two chiefs met in single combat. Elsung inflicted a wound on Samson, but Samson cut off Elsung’s head and clutching it by the hoary locks exhibited it in triumph to his men. The utter rout of the Veronese army followed. Samson went in state to Verona, received the submission of the citizens and laid hands on the splendid treasure of Earl Elsung. He then celebrated with great pomp the marriage of Odilia, the daughter of the slain earl, to his second son Dietmar, whom he made lord of Verona and all the territory which had been Elsung’s. He marched next toward “Romaborg” (Rome) intending to make his eldest son, Hermanric, lord of that city, but died on the journey. Hermanric, however, after many battles with the Romans achieved the desired conquest, and became Lord of Romaborg and the country round it, even to the Hellespont and the isles of Greece.

Dietmar, son of Samson, King of Verona, was brave, prudent, and greatly loved by the folk over whom he ruled. His wife Odilia was one of the wisest of women. Their eldest son was named Theodoric, and he, when full grown, though not one of the race of giants, surpassed all ordinary men in stature. His face was oval, of comely proportions; he had gray eyes, with black brows above them; his hair was of great beauty, long and thick and ending in ruddy curls. He never wore a beard. His shoulders were two ells broad; his arms were as thick as the trunk of a tree and as hard as a stone. He had strong, well-proportioned hands. The middle of his body was of a graceful tapering shape, but his loins and hips were wondrously strong; his feet beautiful and well-proportioned; his thighs of enormous bigness. His strength was much beyond the ordinary strength of men. The size of Theodoric’s body was equalled by the qualities of his mind. He was not only brave but jovial, good-tempered, liberal, magnificent, always ready to bestow gold and silver and all manner of precious things on his expectant friends. It was the saying of some that the young warrior was like his grandfather, Samson; but others held that there was never any one in the world to compare unto Theodoric. When he had attained the fifteenth year of his age he was solemnly created a knight by his father, Dietmar.

Now, while Theodoric was still a child there came to his father’s court one who was to have a great influence on his after life. This was Hildebrand, commonly called Master Hildebrand, son of one of the Dukes of Venice. He was a brave knight and a mighty one, and when he had reached the age of thirty he told his father that he would fain see more of the world than he could do by lingering all his days at Venice. Upon which his father recommended him to try his fortune at the court of Dietmar, King of Verona. He came therefore and was received very graciously by Dietmar, who conferred great favours upon him and assigned to him the care of the young Theodoric then about seven years of age. Hildebrand taught Theodoric all knightly exercises; together they ever rode to war, and the friendship which grew up between them was strong as that which knit the soul of David to the soul of Jonathan.

One day when Theodoric and Hildebrand were hunting in the forest, a little dwarf ran across their path, to which Theodoric gave chase. This dwarf proved to be Alpris, the most thievish little creature in the world. Theodoric was about to kill it, but Alpris said: “If you will spare my life I will get you the finest sword that ever was made, and will show you where to find more treasure than ever your father owned. They belong to a little woman called Hildur and her husband Grimur. He is so strong that he can fight twelve men at once, but she is much stronger than he, and you will need all your strength if you mean to overcome them”. Having bound himself by tremendous oaths to perform these promises, the dwarf was dismissed unhurt, and the two comrades went on with their hunting. At evening they stood beside the rock where Alpris was to meet them. The dwarf brought the sword, and pointed out the entrance to a cave. The two knights gazed upon the sword with wonder, agreeing that they had never seen anything like it in the world. And no marvel, for this was the famous sword Nagelring, the fame whereof went out afterwards into the whole world. They tied up their horses and went together into the cave. Grimur, seeing strangers, at once challenged them to fight; but looking round anxiously for Nagelring, he missed it, whereupon he cursed the knavish Alpris, who had assuredly stolen it from him. However, he snatched from the hearth the blazing trunk of a tree and therewith attacked Theodoric. Meanwhile Hildebrand, taken at unawares, was caught hold of by Hildur, who clung so tightly round his neck that he could not move. After a long struggle they both fell heavily to the ground, Hildebrand below, Hildur on top of him. She squeezed his arms so tightly that the blood came out at his finger-nails; she pressed her fist so hard on his throat and breast that he could hardly breathe. He was fain to cry for help to Theodoric, who answered that he would do all in his power to save his faithful friend and tutor from the clutches of that foul little wench. With that he swung round Nagelring and smote off the head of Grimur. Then he hastened to his foster-father’s aid and cut Hildur in two, but so mighty was the power of her magic that the sundered halves of her body came together again. Once more Theodoric clove her in twain; once more the severed parts united. Hereupon quoth Hildebrand: “Stand between the sundered limbs with your body bowed and your head averted, and the monster will be overcome”. So did Theodoric, once more cleaving her body in twain and then standing between the pieces. One half died at once, but that to which the head belonged was heard to say: “If the Fates had willed that Grimur should fight Theodoric as toughly as I fought Hildebrand, the victory had been ours”. With these words the brave little woman died.

Hildebrand congratulated his pupil on his glorious victory, and they then proceeded to despoil the cave of its treasures. One of the chief of these was a helmet of wonderful strength, the like of which Theodoric had never seen before. It was made by the dwarf Malpriant, and so greatly had the strange couple prized it that they had given it their united names Hildegrimur. This helmet guarded Theodoric’s head in many a fierce encounter, and by its help and that of the sword Nagelring he gained many a victory. Bright was the renown which he won from this deed of arms.

So great was the fame of the young hero that striplings from distant lands, thirsting for glory, came to Dietmar’s court that they might be enrolled among the comrades of Theodoric. There were twelve of these who, when they came to manhood, were especially distinguished as the chiefs of his army, and among these Theodoric shone pre-eminent, even as his contemporary, Arthur, king of Bertangenland, among the Knights of his Table Round.

But there were two of these comrades, friendly to Theodoric, though by no means friendly to one another, who were more renowned than any of the rest for their knightly deeds and strange adventures. These were Witig and Heime, each of whom, having first fought with Theodoric, was afterwards for many years his loyal and devoted knight.

Heime was the son of a great horse-breeder who dwelt north of the mountains, and whose name was Studas. He was short and squat of figure and square of face, but was all made for strength; and he was churlish and morose of disposition, wherefore men called him Heime (which was the name of a strong and venomous serpent), instead of Studas, which was of right his name as well as his father’s. One day Heime, having mounted his famous grey horse Rispa, and girded on his good sword Blutgang, announced to his father that he would ride southward over the mountains to Verona, and there challenge Theodoric to a trial of strength. Studas tried to dissuade his son, telling him that his presumption would cost him his life; but Heime answered: “Thy life and thy calling are base and inglorious, and I would rather die than plod on in this ignoble round. But, moreover, I think not to fall by the hand of Theodoric. He is scarce twelve winters old, and I am sixteen; and where is the man with whom I need fear to fight?” So Heime rode over the rough mountain ways, and appearing in the court-yard of the palace at Verona, challenged Theodoric to fight. Indignant at the challenge, but confident of victory, Theodoric went forth to the encounter, having donned his iron shoes, his helmet and coat of mail, and taking his great thick shield, red as blood, upon which a golden lion ramped, and above all, his good sword Nagelring.

The young heroes fought at first on horseback, and in this encounter, though Theodoric’s spear pierced Heime’s shield and inflicted upon him a slight wound, a stumble of his horse had nearly brought him to the ground. But then, as both spears were shivered, the combatants sprang from their horses, waved high their swords, and continued the fight on foot. At last Heime dealt Theodoric a swashing blow on his head, but the good helmet Hildegrimur was so strong that it shivered the sword Blutgang to pieces, and there stood Heime helpless, at the mercy of the boy whom he had challenged. Theodoric gladly spared his life, and received him into the number of his henchmen, and after that they were for many years sworn friends.

It was some time after this that another young man appeared at Verona and challenged Theodoric to single combat. This was Witig, the Dane, son of that mighty worker in iron, Wieland, who had in his veins the blood of kings and of mysterious creatures of the deep, but who spent all his days in his smithy, forging strange weapons, and whose wrongs and terrible revenges and marvellous escapes from death are sung by all the minstrels of the North. When he was twelve years old, Witig, drawn like so many other brave youths by the renown of the young Theodoric, announced to his father that he was determined to seek glory in the land of the Amelungs. Wieland would fain have had him stay in the smithy and learn his own wealth-bringing craft; but Witig swore by the honour of his mother, a king’s daughter, that never should the smith’s hammer and tongs come into his hand. Thereupon Wieland gave him a coat of mail of hard steel, which shone like silver, and greaves of chain-armour; a white shield, on which were painted in red the smith’s hammer and tongs, telling of his father’s trade, and three carbuncles, which he bore in right of the princess, his mother. On his strong steel helmet a golden dragon gleamed and seemed to spit forth venom. Into his son’s right hand Wieland gave the wondrous sword Mimung, which he had fashioned for a cruel king, and which was so sharp that it cut through a flock of wool, three feet thick, when floating on the water. Witig’s mother gave him three golden marks and her gold ring, and he kissed his father and his mother and wished them a happy life, and they wished him a prosperous journey and were sore at heart when he turned to go.

But he grasped his spear and sprang into the saddle, all armed as he was, without touching the stirrup. Then Wieland’s face grew bright again, and he walked long by the side of his son’s horse and gave him full knowledge of the road he must take. So they parted, father and son, and Witig rode upon his way.

Long before he reached Verona he had met with many adventures, especially one in which he overcame twelve robbers who held a strong castle by a bridge and were wont to take toll of travellers. These robbers seeing Witig draw nigh parted among them in anticipation his armour and his horse, and planned also to maim him, cutting off his right hand and right foot, but with the good sword Mimung he slew two of them and was fighting valiantly with the rest when certain knights whom he had before met on the road came to his help, and between them they slew seven of the robbers and put the others to flight. These knights were Hildebrand and Heime, and a stranger whom they were escorting to the court of Verona. Heime, who was already jealous of Witig’s power and prowess, had sought to dissuade his companions from going to his help; but Hildebrand refused to do so unknightly a deed as to let their road-companion be overpowered by ruffians before their very eyes without giving him succour. So now, the victory being won and Witig having displayed his might, they all made themselves known unto him. Hildebrand swore “brotherhood in arms” with Witig, but having heard of his determination to challenge Theodoric to single combat, secretly by night changed the sword Mimung for one less finely tempered. For he feared for his young lord’s life if that sword, wielded by Witig’s strong hand, should ever descend upon Theodoric’s helmet.

At length the wayfarers all entered the gates of Verona. Great was Theodoric’s joy to behold again the good Master Hildebrand; but great was his indignation when the young Dane, who came with Hildebrand, challenged him to single combat. Said Theodoric: “In my father’s land and mine I will establish such peace that it shall not be permitted to every rover and rascal to come into it and challenge me to the duel”.

Hildebrand: “Thou sayest not rightly, my lord, nor knowest of whom thou speakest. This is no rover nor rascal, but a brave man; and in sooth I know not whether thou wilt get the victory over him”.

Then interrupted Reinald, a follower of Theodoric: “That were in truth, my lord, a great offence that every upstart urchin in thine own land should come and challenge thee to the fight”.

Hildebrand: “Thou shalt not assail my journey-companion with any such abusive words”.

And thereat he dealt Reinald such a blow with his fist on his ear that he fell senseless to the ground. Then said Theodoric: “I see thou art determined to be this man’s friend; but thou shalt see how much good that does him. This very day he shall be hung up yonder outside the gates of Verona”.

Hildebrand: “If he becomes thy prisoner, after you have both tried your might, I will not complain however hard thy decision may seem to me; but he is still unbound, and I think thou hast a hard day’s work before thee, ere thou becomest lord of his fate”.

Theodoric in a rage called for his horse and armour and rode, followed by a long train of courtiers, to the place of tourney outside the walls of Verona, where Witig and Hildebrand, with few companions, were awaiting him. Witig sate, arrayed in full armour, on his horse, battle-ready and stately to look upon. Then Heime gave Theodoric a bowl of wine and said: “Drink, my lord, and may God give thee the victory”. Theodoric drank and gave back the bowl. Likewise Hildebrand offered a bowl to Witig, who said: “Take it to Theodoric and pray him to drink to me from it”. But Theodoric in his rage refused to touch the bowl that Witig was to drink from. Then said Hildebrand: “Thou knowest not the man with whom thou art so enraged, but thou wilt find him a true hero and not the good-for-nothing fellow thou hast called him to-day”. Then he gave Witig the bowl and said: “Drink now, and then defend thyself with all manhood and bravery, and may God give thee his succour”. And Witig drank and gave it back to Hildebrand, and with it the gold ring of his mother, saying: “God reward thee for thy true help-bringing”.

Of the fierce battle between the two heroes which now followed it were too long to tell the tale. They fought first on horseback, then they fought on foot. Witig dealt a mighty blow with his sword at Theodoric’s helmet, but the helmet Hildegrimur was too strong for the sword which Hildebrand had put in the place of Mimung, and which now was shivered into two pieces. “Ah, Wieland!” cried Witig in vexation, “God’s wrath be on thee for fashioning this sword so ill! If I had had a good sword, I had this day proved myself a hero; but now shame and loss are mine and his who forged my weapon”.

Then Theodoric took the sword Nagelring with both his hands and was about to cut off Witig’s head. But Hildebrand stepped in between and begged Theodoric to spare Witig’s life and take him for a comrade, telling of his brave deeds against the twelve robbers, and declaring that never would Theodoric have a more valiant or loyal follower than this man, who was of kingly blood on both his father’s and mother’s side, and was now willing to become Theodoric’s man. But Theodoric, still indignant at being challenged, as he deemed, by a son of a churl, said sullenly: “No; the dog shall hang, as I said he should, before the gates of Verona”. Then Hildebrand, seeing that nought else would avail, and that Theodoric heeded not good counsel, drew Mimung from the scabbard and gave it to Witig, saying: “For the sake of the brotherhood in arms which we swore when we met upon the journey, I give thee here thy sword Mimung. Take it and defend thyself like a knight”. Then was Witig joyous as a bird at daybreak. He kissed the golden-hilted sword and said: “May God forgive me for the reproach which I hurled at my father, Wieland. See! Theodoric, noble hero! see! here is Mimung. Now am I joyous for the fight with thee as a thirsty man for drinking, or a hungry hound for feeding”. Then he rained on Theodoric blow on blow, hacking away now a piece of his coat of mail, now a splinter from his helmet. Theodoric, bleeding from five great wounds, and thinking only now of defence, never of attack, called on Master Hildebrand to end the combat; but Hildebrand, still sore at heart because Theodoric seemed to accuse him of lying when he called Witig a hero, told him that he might now expect to receive from the conqueror the same disgraceful doom which he in his arrogance and cruelty had adjudged to the conquered.

Then King Dietmar came and besought Witig to spare his son’s life, offering him a castle and an earl’s rank and a noble wife; but Witig spurned his gifts, and told him that it would be an unkingly deed if he, by his multitude of men-at-arms, stayed the single combat which was turning against his son. So, after these words, they renewed the fight; and now, by a mighty blow from the good sword Mimung, even the stout helmet was cloven asunder from right to left, and the golden hair of Theodoric streamed out of the fissure. With that Hildebrand relented, and springing between the twain, begged Witig, for the sake of the brotherhood that was sworn between them, to give peace to Theodoric and take him for his comrade“And when you two shall stand side by side there will be none in the world that can stand against you”. “Though he deserves it not”, said Witig, “yet since thou askest it, and for our brotherhood’s sake, I grant him his life”.

Then they laid their weapons aside and clasped one another’s hands, and became good friends and comrades. So they rode back to Verona, and were all merry together.

Many days lay Theodoric at Verona, for his wounds in the fight were grevious. At length he rode forth on his good steed Falke, in quest of adventures, to brighten again his honour which was tarnished by the victory of Witig. After many days he reached a certain forest which was near the castle of Drachenfels. Through that forest, as he was told, there was wont to wander a knight named Ecke, who was betrothed to the chatelaine of Drachenfels, a widowed queen with nine fair daughters. Having heard of the might of the unconquered Ecke, Theodoric, who was still somewhat weakened by his wounds, thought to pass through the forest by night and so avoid an encounter. But as luck would have it, the two knights met in the thick wood where neither could see the other, and Ecke, having called upon the unseen traveller to reveal his name, and finding that it was Theodoric, tempted him to single combat by every taunt and lure that he could think of, by sneering at him for Witig’s victory and by praising his own good sword Ecke-sax, made in the same smithy as Nagelring, gold-hilted and gold-inlaid, so that when you held it downwards a serpent of gold seemed to run along the blade from the handle to the point. Neither this temptation nor yet that of the twelve pounds of ruddy gold in Ecke’s girdle prevailed on Theodoric, who said again and again: “I will fight thee gladly when day dawns, but not here in the darkness, where neither of us can see his foe”. But when Ecke began to boast of the stately queen, his betrothed, and of the nine princesses who had armed him for the fight, said Theodoric: “In heaven’s name I will fight thee, not for gold nor for thy wondrous sword, but for glory and for the prize of those nine fair daughters of a king”. Then they struck their swords against the stones in the road, and by the light of the sparks they closed on one another. Shield was locked in shield, the weapons clashed, the roar of their battle was like the roar of a thunderstorm, but or ever either had wounded his foe, they fell to the ground, Ecke above, Theodoric below, “Now, if thou wouldst save thy life”, said Ecke, “thou shalt let me bind thee, and take thy armour and thy steed, and thou shalt come with me to the castle, and there will I show thee bound to the princesses who equipped me for this encounter”. “Rather will I die”, said Theodoric “than be made mock of by these nine princesses and their mother, and by all who shall hereafter see or hear of me”. Then he struggled, and got his hands free, and clutched Ecke round the neck, and so they wrestled to and fro upon the turf in the dark forest. But meanwhile the good steed Falke, hearing his master in distress, bit in two the bridle by which Theodoric had fastened him to a tree, and ran to where the two knights lay struggling on the earth. Stamping with his forefeet, with all his might, upon Ecke, Falke broke his spine. Then sprang Theodoric to his feet, and drawing his sword he cut off the head of his foe. Equipping himself in Ecke’s arms he rode forth from the forest at daybreak, and drew near to the castle of Drachenfels. The queen, standing on the top of her tower, and seeing a man clad in Ecke’s armour approach, riding a noble war-horse, called to her daughters: “Come hither and rejoice. Ecke went forth on foot, but he rides back on a noble steed. Doubtless he has slain some knight in single combat”. Then the queen and all her daughters, dressed in their goodliest raiment, went forth to meet the conqueror. But when they came nearer and saw that the arms of Ecke were borne by an unknown stranger, they read the battle more truly. Then the queen sank to the ground in a swoon, and the nine fair princesses went back to the castle and put on robes of mourning, and told the men-at-arms to ride forth and avenge their champion. So Theodoric perceived that the princesses were not for him, and rode away from the castle.

Now, Ecke had one brother named Fasold, and this man had bound himself by a vow never to smite more than one blow at any who came against him in battle. But so doughty a champion was he that this one blow had till now been sufficient for every antagonist. When Fasold saw Theodoric come riding through the wood towards him he cried out: “Art thou not my brother Ecke?”

Theodoric: “Another am I, and not thy brother”.

Fasold: “Base death-dog! thou hast stolen on my brother Ecke in his sleep and murdered him; for when he was awake thou hadst never overcome that strifeful hero”.

Theodoric: “Thou liest there. He forced me, to fight for honour’s sake and for the sake of his betrothed and the nine fair princesses, her daughters. But a brave man truly he was, and had I known how great a warrior I would never have ventured to match myself against him”.

Then Fasold rushed at Theodoric with drawn sword, and dealt a terrible blow upon his helmet, which stunned Theodoric and stretched him senseless on the ground. Remembering his vow, Fasold then turned away and rode towards the castle.

Before long, however, Theodoric’s soul returned into him, and springing on his horse he rode furiously after Fasold, and with taunting words provoked him to the fight, declaring that he was a “Nithing” if he would not avenge his brother. With that Fasold turned back, and the two heroes leaping from their horses began the fight on foot. It was a long and terrible combat, but it began to turn against Fasold. He had received five grievous wounds, while Theodoric had but three, and of a slighter kind. Perceiving, therefore, that the longer the fight lasted the more certain he was to be at last slain, and as to each man his own life is most precious, this great and valiant hero begged his life of Theodoric, and offered to become his henchman. “Peace I will have with thee”, said Theodoric, “but not thy service, seeing that thou art so noble a knight, and that I have slain thy brother. On this one condition will I grant thee thy life, that thou wilt clasp my hand and swear brotherhood in arms with me, that each of us shall help the other in all time of his need as if we were born brothers, and that all men shall know us for loyal comrades”. Fasold gladly took the oath, and they mounted their horses and rode together towards Verona.

On their road they met a mighty beast which is called an elephant. Theodoric, in spite of Fasold’s dissuading words, persisted in attacking it, but failed, even with the good sword Ecke-sax, to reach any vital part. Then was he in great danger; nor would the help which Fasold loyally rendered have availed him much, for the huge beast was trampling him under its great forefeet; but the faithful steed Falke again broke its bridle and came to the help of its master. The fierce kicks which it gave the elephant in its side called off its attention from Theodoric, who once more getting hold of Ecke-sax, stabbed the elephant in the belly, and sprang nimbly from under it before it fell down dead.

Riding some way from thence and emerging from a wood, the two comrades saw a vast dragon flying through the air at no great distance from the ground. It had long and sharp claws, a huge and terrible head, and from its mouth protruded the head and hands of an armed and still living knight whom it had half swallowed and was attempting to carry off. The unhappy victim called on them for help, and they struck the dragon with their swords, but its hide was hard, and Fasold’s sword was blunt, and only Theodoric’s sword availed aught against it, “Mine is sharper”, cried the captive, but it is inside the creature’s mouth. Use it, if you can, for my deliverance. Then the valiant Fasold rushed up and plucked the knight’s sword from out of the jaws of the dragon. “Strike carefully”, said the captive, “that I be not wounded by mine own sword, for my legs are inside the creature’s mouth”. Even so did they. Both Fasold and Theodoric struck deft blows and soon killed the dragon, by whose dead body the three heroes stood on the green turf. They asked the liberated knight of his name and lineage, and he turned out to be Sintram, grandson of Bertram, Duke of Venice, and cousin of good Master Hildebrand, and then on his way to Verona to visit his kinsman and to take service under Theodoric.

Eleven days and eleven nights had he been riding, and at length being weary had laid him down to rest, when that foul monster stole upon him in his sleep, and first robbing him of his shield, had then opened its mouth to swallow him up and bear him away.

Then Theodoric made himself known to Sintram, who pleaded earnestly that his faithful sword might be restored to him. Great was the joy when the heroes were made known one to another. And so Sintram became one of Theodoric’s henchmen, and served him long and faithfully.

Thus passed the youth of Theodoric

“When every morning brought a noble chance.
And every chance brought out a noble knight”.

Ere many years were gone King Dietmar died, having scarcely reached middle age, and Theodoric succeeded him in the kingdom. And he was the most renowned amongst princes; his fame spread wide and far over the whole world, and his name will abide and never be forgotten in all the lands of the South so long as the world shall endure. After he had reigned some years, he willed to marry, and having heard of the fame of the beautiful Princess Hilda, daughter of Arthur, King of Britain, he sent his sister’s son, Herbart, to ask for the maiden’s hand. King Arthur liked not that Theodoric should not have come himself to urge his suit, and he would not suffer Herbart to have speech of the princess; but Herbart, who was a goodly youth and a brave knight, pleased Arthur well, and he kept him at his court and made him his seneschal. Now the Lady Hilda was so closely guarded that no stranger might see her face. She never walked abroad, except when she went to the church, and then twelve counts walked on either side holding up her girdle, and twelve monks followed after, bearing her train, and twelve great Earls, in coats of mail, with helmet and sword and shield, brought up the rear, and looked terrible things on any man who should be bold enough to try to speak with her. And over her head was a canopy, in which the plumes of two great peacocks shielded her beautiful face from the rays of the sun. Thus went the Lady Hilda to the place of prayer.

Now Herbart had waited many days, and had never caught sight of the princess; but at length there was a great church festival, and she went, thus magnificently attended, to perform her devotions. But neither on the road nor yet in the church could Herbart see her face. But he had prepared two mice, one adorned with gold and one with silver, and he took out first one and then the other, and they ran to where the princess was sitting. Each time she looked up to see the mouse running, and each time he saw her beautiful face, and she saw that he beheld her, and signals passed between them. Then she sent her maid to ask him of his name and parentage, and he said: “I am Herbart, nephew of Theodoric of Verona, and I crave an interview, that I may tell mine errand to thy mistress”. When they met outside the church porch, he had only time to ask the princess to arrange that he might have longer speech of her, when a monk, one of her twelve watchers, came by and asked him how he, a foreigner, could be so bold as to speak with the princess. But Herbart took the monk by the beard and shook him so violently that all his teeth rattled, and told him that he would teach him once for all how to behave to strangers.

That evening the princess asked her father at the banquet to let her have whatever she should desire, and he, for his heart was merry with wine, consented to her prayer. Then she asked that Herbart, his handsome seneschal, might be her servant, and King Arthur, though loath to part with him, for his honour’s sake granted her request. Thereupon Herbart sent back half of the knights who had accompanied him from Verona to tell Theodoric that he had seen Hilda and spoken with her, and that she was the fairest of women. Glad at heart was Theodork when he heard these tidings.

And now Herbart had speech often with his mistress, and began to tell her of his errand and to urge his uncle’s suit. But she said, “What manner of man is Theodoric of Verona?” “Greatest of all heroes”, said Herbart, “and kindest and most generous of men; and if thou wilt be his wedded wife thou shalt have no lack of gold or silver or jewels”. She said, “Canst thou draw his face upon this wall?” “Yea”, answered he, “and so that every one seeing it would say, ’That is the face of King Theodoric.’” Then he drew a great, grim face on the wall, and said: “Lady, that is he; only, God help me! he is far more terrible-looking than that”. Thereupon she thought, “God cannot be so wroth with me as to destine me for that monster”. And she looked up and said, “Sir! why dost thou ask for my hand for Theodoric, of Verona, and not for thyself?” He answered: “I was bound to fulfil the message of my lord; but if thou wilt have me, who am of the seed of kings, though I am not a king myself, gladly will I be thy husband, and neither King Arthur nor King Theodoric nor all their men shall part us twain”.

So the two plighted troth to one another, Herbart and Hilda: and watching their opportunity they stole away on horseback from the castle. King Arthur sent after them thirty knights and thirty squires, with orders to slay Herbart and to bring Hilda back again; but Herbart defended himself like a hero, killing twelve knights and fourteen squires: and the rest fled back to the castle. Herbart, though sore wounded, mounted his steed and escaped with his wife to the dominions of a certain king, who received him graciously, and made him duke, and gave him broad lands. And he became a great warrior and did mighty deeds.

After this Theodoric married the eldest of the nine fair princesses of Drachenfels, for the love of whom he had fought with the strong man Ecke. The name of Theodoric’s wife was Gudelinda. Two of her sisters were married to two of Theodoric’s men, namely, to Fasold, and the merry rogue and stout warrior, Dietleib, whose laughter-moving adventures I have here no room to chronicle. And the mother, Bolfriana, who was fairest of all the race, was wooed and won by Witig. But this marriage, which Theodoric furthered with all his power, brought ill with it in the end and the separation of tried friends. For, in order to marry Bolfriana and receive the lordship of her domains, Witig was obliged to enter Hermanric’s service and become his man. And though Hermanric promoted him to great honour and made him a count, this was but a poor amends for the necessity which, as you shall soon hear, lay upon Witig, to lift up his sword against his former master.

Now, Hermanric, as has been said, was sovereign lord of Rome and of many other fair lands beside: and all kings and dukes to the south of the great mountains served him, and, as it seems, even Theodoric himself owned him as over-lord, and he was by far the greatest potentate in the south of Europe. For the Emperor himself then ruled only over Bulgaria and Greece, while King Hermanric’s dominions included all that lay west of the Sea of Adria.

Till this time Theodoric and his uncle, Hermanric, had been good friends. The young hero had visited the older one at Romaborg, and they had fought side by side against their enemies. But now came a disastrous change, which made Theodoric a wanderer from his home for many years; and this was all the work of that false traitor, Hermanric’s chief counsellor, Sibich. For Sibich’s honour as a husband had been stained by his lord while he himself was absent on an embassy; but instead of avenging himself with his own right hand on the adulterous king, he planned a cruel and wide-reaching scheme of vengeance which should embrace all the kindred of the wrong-doer. Of Hermanric’s three sons he caused that the eldest should be sent on an embassy to Wilkina-land demanding tribute from the king of that country, and should be slain there by an accomplice; that the second should be sent on a like embassy to England, and sailing in a leaky ship, should be swallowed up by the waves; and that the youngest should be slain by his father in a fit of rage provoked by the slanderous accusations of Sibich. Then he set Hermanric against his nephews, the Harlungs, sons of his half-brother, Ake; and these hapless young men were besieged in their Rhine-land castle, to which Hermanric set fire, and issuing forth, sword in hand, that they might not die like rats in a hole, were captured and hung by their enraged uncle on the highest tree in their own domains. So was all the family of Hermanric destroyed except Theodoric and his young brother Diether: and against Theodoric Sibich now began to ply his engines of calumny. He represented to Hermanric that Theodoric’s kingdom had for some time been growing large, while his own had been growing smaller, and hinted that soon Theodoric would openly attack his uncle. Meanwhile, and in order to test his peaceable disposition, Hermanric, by Sibich’s advice, claimed that he should pay him tribute for Amalungen-land. When Theodoric refused to do this Hermanric was persuaded of the truth of Sibich’s words, and declared that Theodoric also should be hanged, “for right well do both he and I know which of us is the mightier”.

Witig and Heime, who were now at Hermanric’s court, when they heard these wrathful words, tried in vain to abate the fury of the king and to open his eyes to Sibich’s falseness; but as they availed nothing, they mounted their horses and rode with all speed to Verona. At midnight they reached the city and told Theodoric the evil tidings, that on the next day Hermanric would burst upon him with overwhelming force determined to slay him. Then Theodoric went into his great hall of audience and bade the horns blow to summon all his counsellors and men of war to a meeting there in the dead of night. He told them all the tidings that Witig had brought and asked their counsel, whether it were better to stay in Verona and die fightingfor of successful resistance to such a force there was no hopeor to bow for a while to the storm and fleeing from the home-land seek shelter at some foreign court. Master Hildebrand advised, and all were of his opinion, that it was better to flee, and that with all speed, before morning dawned. Scarcely had Hildebrand’s words been spoken, when there arose a great sound of lamentation in Verona, women and children bewailing that their husbands and fathers were about to leave them, brothers parting from brothers and friends from friends. And with all this, in the streets the neighing of horses, and the clank of arms, as the warriors, hastily aroused, prepared themselves for their midnight march.

So Theodoric, with the knights his companions, rode away from Verona, which Hermanric entered next morning with five thousand men. And Theodoric rode first to Bacharach on the Rhine, where dwelt the great Margrave, Rudiger, who was his trusty friend. And from thence he rode on to Susat, where was the palace of Attila, King of the Huns. And when Attila heard that Theodoric was coming, he bade his men blow the great horns, and with all his chieftains he poured forth to welcome him and do him honour. So Theodoric tarried in the palace of Attila, a cherished and trusted guest, and there he abode many years.

Now King Attila had long wars to wage with his neighbours on the north and east of Hun-land. These were three brothers, mighty princes, Osantrix, king of Wilkina-land (Norway and Sweden) whose daughter Attila had married, and Waldemai, king of Russia and Poland, and Ilias, Earl of Greece, With all Attila waged war, but longest and hardest with Waldemar. And in all these encounters Theodoric and his Amalung knights were ever foremost in the fray and last to retreat, whilst Attila and his Huns fled often early from the battle-field, leaving the Amalungs surrounded by their foes. Thus, once upon a time, Theodoric and Master Hildebrand, with five hundred men, were surrounded in a fortress in the heart of Russia: and they suffered dire famine ere King Attila, earnestly entreated, came to their rescue. And Master Hildebrand said to the good knight, Rudiger, who had been foremost in pressing on to deliver them, “I am now an hundred years old and never have I been in such sore need as this day. We had five hundred men and five hundred horses, and seven only of the horses are left which we have not killed and eaten”.

In this campaign Theodoric took prisoner his namesake, Theodoric, the son of Waldemar, and handed him over into the keeping of his good host and ally, King Attila. By him the captive was at first thrown into a dreary dungeon, and no care was taken of his many wounds. But Erka, the queen of the Huns, who was a cousin of Theodoric, son of Waldemar, besought her husband that she might be allowed to take him out of prison and bring him to the palace and heal his wounds. “If he is healed, he will certainly escape”, said Attila. “If I may only heal him”, said Erka, “I will put my life on the hazard that he shall not escape”. “Be it so”, said Attila, who was going on another campaign into fat Russia: “If when I return I find that the son of Waldemar has escaped, doubt not that I will strike off thy head”.

Then Attila rode forth to war, and Erica commanded that Theodoric, the son of Waldemar, should be brought into the palace, and every day she had dainty dishes set before him, and provided him with warm baths, and delighted his soul with gifts of jewels. But Theodoric of Verona, who was also sore wounded, was left under the care of an ignorant and idle nurse, and his wounds were not tended, and were like to become gangrened. So before many days were passed, the son of Waldemar was again whole, and clothed him with his coat and greaves of mail and put his shining helmet on his head, and mounted his horse and rode from the palace. Queen Erka implored him to stay, saying that her head was the pledge of his abiding; but he answered that he had been all too long already in Hun-land, and would ride forth to his own country. Then the queen, in her terror and despair, sought Theodoric of Verona, where he lay in his ungarnished chamber with his gangrened wounds; and he, though he could not forbear to reproach her for her little kindness to him, and though his wounds made riding grievous and fighting well-nigh impossible, yet yielded to her prayers and tears, and rode forth after the son of Waldemar. Striking spurs into the good steed Falke, he rode fast and far, and came up at length with the fugitive. “Return”, he cried, “for the life’s sake of thy cousin, Erka; and she and I together will reconcile thee to Attila, and I will give thee silver and gold”. But Waldemar’s son utterly refused to return and to be reconciled with either of his enemies, and scoffed at the foul wounds of his namesake. “If thou wilt not return for silver and gold, nor to save the life of thy cousin, Erka, thou shalt stay for thine own honour’s sake, for I challenge thee here to combat; and never shalt thou be called aught but a ‘Nithing’ if thou ridest away when challenged by one wounded man”. At these words the son of Waldemar had no choice but to stay and fight. The battle was long and desperate, and once both champions, sore weary, leaned upon their shields and rested a space, while he of Verona in vain renewed to the son of Waldemar his offers of peace and friendship; but the combat began again with fury, and at last, with one mighty sword-stroke, Theodoric of Verona struck the right side of the neck of the other Theodoric so that his head rolled off on the left side, and the victor rode back to Susat with that trophy at his saddle-bow. Queen Erka, when her cousin’s head was thrown by Theodoric at her feet, wept and bitterly lamented that so many of her kindred should lose their lives for her sake.

At length, after many days, Theodoric was healed of his wounds, and went with Attila on one more expedition into Russia, in the course of which they took the cities of Smolensko and Pultowa, and Theodoric slew King Waldemar on the battle-field.

And now had Theodoric been twenty winters in Hun-land. He had fought in many great battles, and had gained broad lands for his host-friend, Attila. His young brother, Diether, who had been brought as a babe from Verona, had grown into a goodly stripling; and the two sons of Attila, Erp and Ortwin, who had grown up with him, loved him as a brother; and Erka, their mother, loved Diether as her own son. Great, too, was the reverence shown to Theodoric, who sat at the high-seat by the side of Attila, and was honoured as his chief counsellor and friend.

But Theodoric’s heart pined for his home and his lost kingdom, and one day he sought the presence of Queen Erka and poured out the longings of his soul. “Good friend, Theodoric”, said she, “I will be the first to aid thee in thine endeavour. I will send with thee my two sons, Erp and Ortwin, and a thousand well-armed knights. And now will I seek Attila, my lord, and adjure him to help thee”. Attila at first took it ill that Theodoric came not himself to urge his suit, but when Erka had persuaded him that it was not from pride but from modesty that he made the request through her, and when she said that she was willing to send her own sons into danger for his sake, Attila gladly yielded, and bade his trusty friend Rudiger, with a body of chosen knights, accompany Theodoric and his exiled followers back to their own land.

Then Queen Erka called her two sons to her and showed them the coats of mail and the greaves of mail, bright as silver and of hardest steel, but embellished with ruddy gold, and the helmets and the thick red shields that she had prepared for their first day of battle. “Now be brave”, said she, weeping, “oh, fair sons of mine, even as your arms are strong: for great as is my longing that you return in safety to my embraces, I long yet more that all men should say that you bore yourselves as brave men and heroes in the fight”. And then she armed Diether in like manner, and said: “Dear foster-son, behold here my sons Erp and Ortwin, whom I have armed for war to help thee and Theodoric in the recovery of your kingdom. You three youths, who are now here, have loved one another so dearly that never were you in any game in which you could not be on the same side and give one another help. Now you ride forth to war for the first time: keep well together and help one another in this great game on which you are now entering”. “May God help me, dear lady”, said Diether, “that I may bring back both thy sons safe and sound; but if they fall in the storm of war, I will not live to tell the tale”.

Of the clang of iron and steel in all the armourers’ shops at Susat, of the stillness which fell upon the shouting host when Attila, from a high tower, gave his orders to the army, of the setting forth of the gallant band, ten thousand knights with many followers, it needs not to be told at length. Enough, they crossed the mountains and entered the land that had been theirs; and Theodoric, to take no unknightly advantage of his foe, sent messengers to Rome to apprise Hermanric of his coming and challenge him to battle outside the walls of Ravenna.

Hermanric, too old to go forth himself to war, gave the chief command to the false counsellor, Sibich. Under him were Reinald and Witig, both of whom had been friends and comrades of Theodoric in times past, and were most unwilling to fight against him, though thirsting for battle with any number of Huns. It was appointed, therefore, that Sibich, bearing Hermanric’s banner, should fight against Theodoric and his Amalungs, Reinald against the gallant Rudiger, and Witig against the two sons of Attila. The whole army of Hermanric numbered seventeen thousand men. And now were the two armies drawn up on the opposite banks of a river, and it was the night before the battle. Master Hildebrand, desiring to learn the position of the enemy, rode some way up the stream till he found a ford by which he crossed to the other side. It was so dark that he had almost ridden up against another knight coming in the opposite direction, before either perceived the other. Dark as it was they soon recognised one another by their voices, though they had not met for twenty years. The stranger was Reinald, who had come forth on the same errand as Hildebrand. No blows were fought; only friendly words were exchanged, with lamentations over this miserable war between the brother Amalungs, and curses on the false Sibich, whose intrigues had brought it to pass. Then the moon shone forth, and Reinald showed Hildebrand from afar the great yellow tent with three golden tufts where the traitor Sibich was sleeping; and the green tent with the silver tuft in which Witig and his Amalungs were dreaming of battle with the Huns; and the black tent, then empty of its lord, that was the tent of Reinald himself. And Hildebrand told Reinald the ordering of the troops of Theodoric, showing him Theodoric’s tent with five poles and a golden tuft, and the tent of the sons of Attila, made of red silk with nine poles and nine tufts of gold; and the green tent of Margrave Rudiger. Then the two warriors kissed each other and wished one another well through the day of battle, and so they parted. And when Reinald, returning to the camp, told whom he had met, Sibich wished to send him to slay Master Hildebrand before he returned to his friends. But Reinald would in no wise permit so unknightly a deed, saying that Sibich must first slay him and all his friends ere such a thing should befall.

When day dawned Theodoric set forward his array and bade all his trumpets blow. They rode up the stream to the ford which Hildebrand had discovered the night before, and crossed thereby. And Sibich and Witig, seeing them approach, sounded their trumpets and marshalled their men. Theodoric, seeing the false Sibich’s banner waving, cried to his followers: “Forward, my men! Strike this day with all your courage and knighthood. Ye have striven often against the Russians and the Wilkina-men, and have mostly gotten the victory; but now in this strife we fight for our own land and realm, and for the deathless glory that will be ours if we win our land back again”. Then he spurred his brave old steed Falke through the thickest ranks of the enemy, raising ever and anon his good sword Ecke-sax and letting it fall, with every blow felling a warrior or his horse to the ground. Likewise his brave standard-bearer Wildeber, who went before him, hewed down the ranks of the foe. Against him came Walter, Sibich’s standard-bearer, who rode in hero-mood towards him, and aiming the banner-staff full against his breast, pierced him through, the staff coming out through his shoulders. But Wildeber, though wounded to the death, lopped off with his sword the end of the banner-staff, and then riding fiercely at Walter struck him on his thigh so terrible a blow that the sword cut right through the coat of mail and stuck fast in the saddle below. Then did both the standard-bearers fall from their horses and lie dead on the field side by side.

When Sibich saw his standard droop and the brave knight Walter fall, he turned his horse and fled from the field, and all his division of the army with him. Theodoric and his men rode after them fast and far, and wrought dire havoc among them, but when Theodoric was miles away from the battle-plain he was overtaken by one of his men, his horse all covered with foam, who brought him evil tidings from another part of the field.

For Witig, when he saw the flight of Sibich, not terrified but all the more enraged, had ridden fiercely towards the place where the banner of Attila’s sons was waving and had struck down their standard-bearer. “Seest thou”, said Ortwin to Helfric, his sworn henchman, “what evil that base dog, Witig, is doing? He has slain our brave standard-bearer; let us ride up to him and stop his deadly work”. So spake Ortwin, but in the fierce fray that followed both he and his good comrade Helfric, and then his brother Erp, fell dead around Witig and his standard-bearer. Oh! then, great was the wrath of the young Dietherwho meanwhile had fought and killed the standard-bearer of Witigwhen he saw both of his foster-brothers slain. Eager to avenge them, he struck oft and hard at Witig’s armour. “Art thou Diether, King Theodoric’s brother?” cried Witig; “for his sake I am loth to do thee any hurt. Ride away and fight with some other man”. “Since my young lords Erp and Ortwin are dead, and thou, base hound, hast slain them, I care not for my life unless I can have thine”. So said Diether, and struck with all his might on Witig’s helmet. The helmet, of hardest steel, resisted the blow, but the sword, glancing off, descended on the neck of Witig’s war-horse, Schimming, and severed its head from its body. “God knows”, cried Witig, as he sprang to earth, “that I fight now but to save mine own life”. And with that he grasped the handle of his sword Mimung with both hands and struck Diether so terrible a blow that he clove his body in twain.

These were the tidings which the breathless knight brought to Theodoric and which stayed him in his pursuit of the fugitives. “Ah! how have I sinned”, said he “that so evil a day should come upon me? Here am I untouched by a wound, but my dearest brother is dead and my two young lords also. Never may I now return to Hun-land, but here will I die or avenge them”. And with that he turned and set spurs to Falke and rode so swiftly that none of his men could keep up with him; and so full was he of rage and fury that a hot breath, like sparks of fire, came forth from his mouth, and no living man might dare to stand before him. And when he reached Witig, who was riding Diether’s horse, his own being slain, Witig, like all others turned to flee from that terrible countenance. “Evil dog”, cried Theodoric, “if thou hast any courage stand and wait till I come up to thee and avenge the death of my brother”. “I slew him against my will”. said Witig, “and because I had no other way to save my life; and if I can pay forfeit for his blood with any quantity of gold and silver, that will I gladly do”. But still he fled as fast as his steed could carry him, down the course of a stream to where it poured itself into a lake, and still Theodoric rode after him. But when Theodoric hurled his spear, in that very moment Witig sank beneath the waters of the lake and the spear-shaft was driven deep into the shore, and there it may be seen to this day. But some men thought that Witig was received by a mermaid and kept hidden in her cave for many days. For his grandfather had been born long ago of this mermaid, having been begotten by Wilkinus, King of Norway.

So the battle had been won by Theodoric and his allies (for in other parts of the field the Margrave Rudiger had vanquished Reinald) yet was it a bootless victory by reason of the death of Attila’s sons. And Theodoric, riding back to the battle-field, came where his brother Diether was lying; and lamented him saying: “There liest thou; my brother Diether. This is the greatest sorrow that has befallen me, that thou art thus untimely slain”. And then he came to the place where lay the young princes, with their stout coats of mail and their strong helmets, which had not been able to save them from death, and he said: “Dear young lords, this is the greatest of my sorrows that I have lost you; and how shall I now return to Susat? God knows that I would gladly have many a gaping wound, if only you might be whole again”. Then he bade Rudiger lead back the army to its king, for he would neither claim his own kingdom nor return to the palace of Susat, after he had cost Attila the lives of so many brave knights and of his own sons. So Rudiger returned to the palace, but Theodoric and Master Hildebrand dwelt in a little hut in the neighbourhood of the city of Susat.

When Rudiger stood in the presence of Attila, who asked him of the welfare of Theodoric and of the host, he made answer: “King Theodoric lives, and the Huns have been conquerors in the battle, yet have we had evil fortune, since we have lost the young lords, Erp and Ortwin”. Then Queen Erka and almost all who were in the palace-hall lifted up their voices and wept. And Rudiger told Attila how Diether and many another brave knight had fallen in the battle. But Attila answered with steadfast soul: “It has happened now as it ever does. They fall in the fight for whom it is so appointed, and neither mail nor muscle avails them anything. My sons Erp and Ortwin and their foster-brother Diether had the best arms that could be fashioned in the smithy, yet there they all lie dead”. And after a space he added: “Where is my good friend, King Theodoric?” “He and Master Hildebrand are sitting together in a mean hut, and they have laid their arms aside and dare not come into thy presence, O King! because they have lost the young lords”. Then Attila sent two knights to beg Theodoric to come into his presence, but he would not for grief and shame. Then Queen Erka rose up weeping and went with her maidens to the cottage where Theodoric abode: and when she entered it she said: “My good friend, Theodoric! how did my sons fare in the war, and fought they as good knights ere they fell?” But Theodoric, with mournful face, answered: “Lady! they fought as good knights and parried the blows bravely, and neither of them would part from the other”. And with that she went up to him and threw her arms round his neck and said: “Good friend! King Theodoric! come now into the palace-hall to King Attila, and take thy welcome there, and be merry once more. Often before now have the brave men for whom it was appointed, fallen in the battle; and they who live still must take thought for themselves, since it profits not to be ever bewailing the dead”. So Theodoric went with the queen into the palace-hall, and Attila stood up and gave him a kiss of welcome and bade him sit beside him on the high-seat. Thus he returned to Attila’s palace, where he dwelt for yet many years, and all was friendship between them as before.

Two years after this Queen Erka fell sick of a grievous disease and lay at the point of death. Sending for Theodoric, she rehearsed to him how he had ever been the best friend of her husband and herself; and as it might well happen that this sickness would sever that long friendship, she desired to give him fifteen marks of red gold in a beaker and a costly purple robe, as memorials of the same, and she prayed him to take her young kinswoman, Herauda, to wife. Theodoric said: “Good lady and queen! thy sickness is doubtless a dangerous one. True friendship hast thou ever shown to me and mine; and better it were for Attila to lose the half of his kingdom than to lose thee”. Thereat he wept like a child and could say no more words, but went quickly forth of the chamber.

Then Erka desired to see her dear friend, Master Hildebrand, and spake to him too of the true friendship which was now about to be severed, in remembrance whereof she gave him a ring of gold. And then sending for Attila she spake to him of her coming death. “Thus wilt thou become a widower”, said she, “but so thou wilt not long remain. Choose, therefore, a good and loving wife, for if thou choosest a wicked woman she may work much harm to thee and many others beside. Good King Attila! take no wife out of Nibelungen-land, nor from the race of Aldrian, for if thou dost, thou wilt sorely repent of it, and harm unspeakable will be wrought to thee and the children whom she may bear thee”. Soon after she had spoken these words, she gave up the ghost; and great was the lamentation in all Hun-land when they heard that the good Queen Erka was no more in life.

The warning given by the dying queen was, like most such warnings, unheeded. After three years of widowerhood, Attila sent one of his nephews into Nibelungen-land to ask for the hand of Chriemhild, daughter of Aldrian, loveliest and wisest of the women of her time; but maddened by secret grief for the loss of her first husband, Siegfried, who had been slain by her brothers, Hagen and King Gunther. The suit prospered; with strange blindness of heart, King Gunther gave his consent to the union of the sister who was his deadliest enemy with the mightiest king in Europe. For seven years Chriemhild waited for her revenge; then came that invitation to the Nibelungs to visit the court of Attila, which, in the infatuation of their souls, King Gunther and his brethren accepted, taking with them a chosen band of a thousand warriors. The scheme of vengeance prepared by Chriemhild, the quarrel which she provoked at the banquet, the terrible slaughter suffered and inflicted by the Nibelungs in the palace garden, their desperate rush into the palace-hall, the stand made therein by their ever-dwindling band on the pavement which was slippery with the gore of heroesall this has been sung by a hundred minstrels, and need not here be repeated. We have only to do with the share Theodoric and his friends took in the fatal combat. Long the Amalungs stood utterly aloof from the fray, grieving sorely that so many of their friends on both sides were falling by one another’s hands. For to the Nibelungs, as well as to Attila and the Huns, were they bound by the ties of guest-friendship, and in happier days Theodoric had ridden with Gunther and with Hagen, to test the mettle of their knights against the chivalry of Britain. So Theodoric and his men stood on the battlement of his palace, which looked down on the garden of Attila, and watched from afar the ghastly conflict. But at length they saw the good Margrave Rudiger, the ally of the Amals on so many a hard-fought battle-field, fall by the hand of his own daughter’s husband, the young prince, Giselher; and then could Theodoric bear it no longer, but cried, saying: “Now is my best friend, Margrave Rudiger, dead. Take your weapons, comrades, and let us avenge his fall”. He descended into the street. He forced his way into the palace-hall. Terrible was the clang of the strong sword Ecke-sax on the helmets of the Nibelungs. Many of them fell before him, but alas! many of his faithful Amals fell there also, far from their home. At length, in all that stately palace-hall, there remained but four men still able to deal blows, and these were Theodoric and Master Hildebrand of the Amalungs, Hagen and Giselher of their foes. And Hagen stood up to fight with Theodoric, and Giselher with Hildebrand. Then, as King Attila came from his tower to watch the combat, Hagen shouted to him: “It were a knightly deed to let young Giselher go unhurt, for he is innocent of the death of Siegfried the Swift”. “Yea, truly”, said Giselher; “Chriemhild, my sister, knows that I was a little child of five years old in my mother’s bed when her husband was killed. I am innocent of this blood-feud, yet care I not to live now that my brethren are slain”. Therewith he closed in fight with Master Hildebrand, and soon received his death-wound from the old hero.

Now there remained but one terrible encounter, that between Hagen and Theodoric. Hagen said: “It seems that here our friendship must come to an end, great as it has ever been. Let us each fight bravely for his life, and knight-like, call on no man for aid”. Theodoric answered: “Truly, I will let none meddle in this encounter, but will fight it with warlike skill and knightliness”. They fought long and hard, and exchanged grievous blows, and both were weary and both were wounded. Then Theodoric waxed exceeding wroth with himself for not overcoming his foe, and said: “Truly, this is a shame for me to stand here all the day and not to be able to vanquish the elfin’s son”. “Why should the elfin’s son be worse than the son of the devil himself?” answered Hagen. At that Theodoric was seized with such fury that fiery breath issued from his mouth. Hagen’s coat of mail was heated red-hot by this breath of fire, and he was forced to cry out: “I give myself up. Anything to end this torture and doff my red-hot armour. If I were a fish, and not a man, I should be broiled in this burning panoply”. Then Theodoric sat down and began to unbrace his adversary’s armour; and while he was doing this, Queen Chriemhild came into the hall with a blazing torch, which she thrust into the mouth of one after another of the prostrate warriors, her brothers, to see if they were already dead, and to slay them if they were still living. Beholding this, Theodoric said to Attila: “See how that devil, Chriemhild, thy wife, torments her brethren, the noble heroes. See how many brave men, Huns and Amalungs and Nibelungs, have yielded up their life for her sake. And in like fashion would she bring thee and me to death, if she had the power”. “Truly, she is a devil”, answered Attila. “Do thou slay her; and it had been a good deed if thou hadst done it seven nights ago. Then would many a noble knight be still living who now is dead”. And with that Theodoric sprang up and clove Chriemhild in twain.

Theodoric bore the sore-wounded Hagen to his palace and bound up his wounds; but they were mortal, and in a few days Hagen died, having bequeathed to the woman who nursed him the secret of the great Nibelung hoard, for the sake of which he had slain Siegfried the Swift.

In the terrible encounter there had fallen one thousand Nibelungs, being all their host, and four thousand Huns and Amalungs. No battle is more celebrated in the old German Sagas than this. But Hun-land was wasted by reason of the death of so many valiant warriors, and thus had come to pass all the evil which the good Queen Erka had foretold.

And now after thirty-two years of exile, and with so many of his brave followers dead, Theodoric’s heart pined more than ever for his native land, and he said to Master Hildebrand: “I would rather die in Verona than live any longer in Hun-land”. To return with an army was hopeless, so scanty a remnant was left of the Amalungs. The only hope was to steal back secretly and try if it were possible to find friends enough in the old home to win back the crown. Master Hildebrand knew of one thing which made the outlook less desperate: “I have heard that the Duke who rules over Verona is a brave knight named Alebrand; and I cannot but think that this is my son, born of my wife, Uta, shortly after I fled hither”. So they got together four horses, two for Theodoric and Hildebrand, one for the lady, Herauda, Theodoric’s wife, and one to carry their raiment and store of silver and gold; and after leave taken of Attila, who wept bitterly at Theodoric’s departure, and prayed him to stay till he could fit out another army for his service, they set forth from Susat and rode westward night and day, avoiding the towns and the haunts of wayfarers. On their road they were met by a band of two and thirty knights commanded by Earl Elsung, a kinsman of that Elsung of Verona, whom Theodoric’s grandfather, Samson, had slain. The blood-feud was now old, but Elsung yearned to avenge it on Theodoric. The lady Herauda wept when she saw so many well-armed knights approaching, but Theodoric bade her be of joyous heart till she saw one of her two protectors fall, and that, he deemed, would never be. And in truth, in the fight that followed, so well did the aged Hildebrand wield the sword Gram, the wondrous sword of Siegfried the Swift, and such mighty blows dealt Theodoric with Ecke-sax, that Earl Elsung himself and sixteen of his men were left dead on the field. The rest fled, all but a nephew of Elsung, a brave young knight. Him also Hildebrand vanquished in fight, and from him, as ransom for his life, the victors received great tidings from Amalungen-land. For he told them that Hermanric was grievously sick, and that the remedies which the false Sibich had persuaded him to resort to had left him far weaker than before, and, in short, the great Hermanric was already as good as dead.

They came next in their journey to a castle which was held by Duke Lewis and his son Conrad. To them Master Hildebrand, riding forward, made himself known, and from them he received joyous welcome. They rode back with him into the forest, where Theodoric was tarrying with the Lady Herauda, and bent the knee before him. For they had heard that Hermanric was dead, and though the false Sibich aspired to be king after him, both they and all the people in those parts chose rather to obey Theodoric, and had sent a messenger into Hun-land to pray him to return. Theodoric received Duke Lewis graciously, but would not enter into his castle, for he had sworn that Verona should be the first stronghold in Amalungen-land within whose walls he would enter.

Now of Verona the lord was (as Hildebrand had heard) his son Alebrand, born after he had left the country. He was a brave knight, and a courteous, but fiery, and when the aged Hildebrand, riding towards Verona, met him in the way, the two champions rushed at one another, and fought long and desperately. The battle ceased from the mere weariness of the fighters once and again. At every pause each knight, the old and the young, asked the other of his name, and each refused to tell his name till he had heard that of his antagonist. And this, though all the time Hildebrand more than guessed that it was his own son from whom he was receiving, and to whom he was dealing, such dreadful blows. At length, after Hildebrand had given his opponent a great gaping wound in the thigh, he fell upon him and bore him to the earth, and then with his sword at his breast said: “Tell me thy name or thou shalt die”. “I care not for life”, said the other, “since so old a man has vanquished me”. “If thou wilt preserve thy life, tell me straightway if thou art my son Alebrand; if so, I am thy father, Hildebrand”. “If thou art my father Hildebrand, I am thy son Alebrand”, said the younger hero. And with that they both arose, threw their arms around each other’s necks, and kissed one another; and both were right glad, and they mounted their horses and rode towards Verona. From the gates the Lady Uta, Alebrand’s mother, was coming forth to meet her son; but she wept and wailed when she saw his streaming wound, and said: “Oh, my son, why art thou so sore wounded, and who is that aged man that is following thee?” Alebrand answered: “For this wound I need have no shame, sith it was given me by my father, Hildebrand, and it is he who rides behind me”. Then was the mother overjoyed, and greeted her husband lovingly, and with great gladness they entered into the city, where Hildebrand tarried for the night, and the Lady Uta bound up the wounds of Alebrand.

After this Theodoric’s course was easy. He was received with joyous welcome by the citizens of his native Verona, as he rode through the streets on his faithful Falke, Master Hildebrand of the long white beard holding high his banner. Alebrand handed back to his keeping Verona and all Amalungen-land, which he had received to hold from the dead Hermanric. Theodoric sat in the high-seat of the palace; the people brought him rich presents, and all the nobles took him for their rightful lord and ruler.

The false Sibich marched against him with a larger army, thirteen thousand to Theodoric’s eight thousand; but Theodoric and Hildebrand rode as they pleased through the armed throng, dealing death on every side; and Duke Alebrand, engaging Sibich in single combat, after long fight, waxed exceeding wroth, and smiting a dreadful blow, clove him through from the shoulder to the saddle-bow. Then all the Romans gave up the strife, and fell at Theodoric’s feet, praying him to be their lord. So was Theodoric crowned in the city of Rome; and now he was king over all the lands which had once owned the sway of Hermanric.

It needs not to tell at length of the deeds of Theodoric after he had recovered his kingdom. He caused a statue to be cast in copper of himself, seated on his good steed Falke, and this statue many pilgrims to Rome have seen.

Also a statue of himself, standing on a high tower, brandishing his good sword Ecke-sax towards the north; and this statue is at Verona.

In his old age he and many of his subjects turned to the Christian faith. One of those that were baptized along with him was Master Hildebrand, who died soon after his conversion, being either one hundred and eighty or two hundred years old. Theodoric’s wife, Herauda, died also about this time, a good woman and much loved of the people for all her gracious deeds, even as her cousin, Erka, had been loved by the Huns. After Herauda’s death Theodoric married Isold, widow of Hertnit, King of Bergara, whose husband had been slain by a terrible dragon, which Theodoric vanquished. She was fair to look upon and wise of heart.

Of all his old warriors only Heime was left, and Heime had buried himself in a convent, where he sang psalms every day with the monks, and did penance for his sins. Theodoric, hearing that he was there, sought him out, but long time Heime denied that he was Heime. “Much snow has fallen”, said Theodoric, “on my head and on thine since our steeds drank the stream dry in Friesland. Our hair was then yellow as gold, and fell in curls over our shoulders; now is it white as a dove”. And then he plied him with one memory after another of the joyous old times of the battle and the banquet, till at length Heime confessed, and said: “Good lord Theodoric, I do remember all of which thou hast spoken, and now will I go forth with thee from this place”. And with that he fetched his armour from the convent-chest, and his good old steed Rispa from the convent-stable, and once more rode gladly after his lord. After doing many more brave deeds, he fell in battle with a giant, the biggest and clumsiest of his tribe. Theodoric, riding forth alone, sought out the giant’s lair, and with his good sword Ecke-sax avenged the death of his friend; and that was the last battle that the son of Dietmar fought with mortal foe.

The years of Theodoric’s old age were given to the chase of the beasts of the forest, for he was still a mighty hunter when his other strength was gone.

One day as he was bathing at the place which is still called “Theodoric’s Bath”, a groom called out to him: “My lord! a stag has just rushed past, the greatest and the finest that ever I saw in my life”. With that Theodoric wrapped a bathing-cloak round him, and calling for his horse, prepared to set off in chase of the stag. The horse was long in coming, and meanwhile a mighty steed, coal-black, suddenly appeared before him. Theodoric sprang upon the strange charger’s back, and it flew off with him as swiftly as a bird. His best groom on his best horse followed vainly behind. “My lord”, cried he, “when wilt thou come back, that thou ridest so fast and far”. But Theodoric knew by this time that it was no earthly steed that he was bestriding, and from which he vainly tried to unclasp his legs. “I am ill-mounted”, cried he to the groom. “This must be the foul fiend on which I ride. Yet will I return, if God wills and Holy Mary”. With that he vanished from his servant’s sight, and since then no man has seen and no man ever will see Theodoric of Verona. Yet some German minstrels say that it has been opened to them in dreams that he has found grace at last, because in his death-ride he called on the names of God and the Virgin Mary.

I have thus endeavoured to bring before the reader (I hope not with undue prolixity) the chief events in the life of the mythical Theodoric of the Middle Ages. Still, as late as the sixteenth century the common people loved to talk of this mighty hero. The Bavarian “Chronicle” (translated and continued about 1580) says: “Our people sing and talk much about ‘Dietrich von Bern.’ You would not soon find an ancient king who is so well known to the common people amongst us, or about whom they have so much to say". What they had to say was, as the reader will have observed, strangely removed from the truth of history. How all this elaborate superstructure of romance could be reared on the mere name of Theodoric of Verona is almost inconceivable to us, till we call to mind that the minstrels were in truth the novelists of the Middle Ages, not pretending or desiring to instruct, but only to amuse and interest their hearers, and to beguile the tedium of existence in dull baronial castles.

Of the thousand and one details contained in the foregoing narrative, there are not more than three or four which correspond with the life of the real Theodoric, He was, as the Saga says, of Amal lineage. His father’s name, Theudemir, is fairly enough represented by Dietmar. He was for some years of his life (but not his middle or later life) a wanderer more or less dependent on the favour of a powerful sovereign. His life during this period did get entangled with that of another Theodoric, even as the life of the hero of Saga becomes entangled with the life of Theodoric of Russia. After subduing all his enemies, he did eventually rule in Rome, and erect statues to himself there and at Verona. Ravenna and Verona were the places of his most frequent residence. In his mature years, when his whole soul was set on the maintenance of civilitas, he might very fitly have spoken such words as he is said to have used to Witig in his boyhood, “I will establish such peace in my father’s realm and mine, that it shall not be in the power of every wandering adventurer to challenge me to single combat”. Moreover, throughout all the wild vagaries of the narrative, character, that mysterious and indestructible essence, is not wholly lost. No two books can be more absolutely unlike one another than the “Wilkina-Saga” and the “Various Letters of Cassiodorus”, yet the same hot-tempered, impulsive, generous man is pourtrayed to us by both.

As for the other names introduced, they are, of course, brought in at the cost of the strangest anachronisms. The cruel uncle, Hermanric, is really a remote collateral ancestor who died nearly eighty years before Theodoric was born. The generous host and ally, Attila, died two years before his birth, and the especial gladness of that birth was that it occurred at the same time with a signal victory of the Amal kings over the sons of Attila. To take an illustration from modern history, the general framework of the “Wilkina-Saga” is about as accurate as a romance would be which should represent Queen Victoria as driven from her throne by the Old Pretender, remaining for thirty years an exile at the court of Napoleon, and at length recovering her kingdom on the Old Pretender’s death.

But, as has been often and well pointed out, the most marvellous thing in these old German Sagas is the utter disappearance from them of that Roman Empire which at the cost of such giant labour the Teutonic nations had overthrown. The Roman Imperator, the Roman legions, even the Catholic priests with their pious zeal against Arianism, count for nothing in the story. Just as the knightly warriors prick to and fro on their fiery steeds to the court of Arthur of Britain, with no mention of the intervening sea, so these German bards link together the days of Chivalry and the old barbarian life which Tacitus paints for us in the “Germania”, without apparently any consciousness of the momentous deed which the German warriors had in the meanwhile performed, full of significance for all succeeding generations of men, the overthrow of the Empire of Rome.