The Army of Huns--Hildebrand and Hadubrand--The Challenge--Hildebrand identifies his Son--Hadubrand suspects Treachery--The Combat --Tragic Ending--Dietrich's Victory--Triumphant Return to Bern--Sibeche slain--The Aged King--A Deathless Hero--The Wild Huntsman.
Now the length of time which Dietrich passed in exile was thirty and two years. He had never ceased to long to return again unto Bern. Hildebrand, who shared with him his sorrow, shared also his hope. He had waxed aged, and men tell that he had grown a century old, yet was he fierce in conflict as of yore, and wise as he was brave.
When Dietrich, leading his army of Huns towards Bern, drew nigh to the northern frontier of the land of the Amelungs, Hadubrand came forth against him with a strong band. Then were the opposing forces drawn up in battle array. And it was fated that Dietrich should return alone unto Bern.
Ere the battle began two brave knights rode forth from either army, challenging one another to single combat. Fearless and of noble seeming were they both. One was old Hildebrand; the other was Hadubrand, his own son, who was but a babe when his father fared forth with Dietrich from Bern. Long had they been parted; now, at last, were they met, but to fight as foemen.
Son and father had adjusted their armour with care; they were clad in coats of mail; their swords were girded over their armour when they rode into the fight.
Hildebrand, Heribrand's son, spoke first when they drew nigh one to another. He was the older and the wiser man. Few were his words, but he asked:
"Who among men was thy sire? . . . Which generation's child art thou? If thou wilt give me the name of but one of thy kinsmen, I shall know the others; all the nobles of the kingdom are known unto me."
Hadubrand answered: "Wise old men who died long ago were wont to tell me that my sire's name was Hildebrand. . . . Mine own name is Hadubrand. In years past Hildebrand fled eastward with Dietrich and many of his men. He left behind him, helpless and alone, his wife and his child; he left his own people behind. Dietrich had lost his sire; he had become a friendless man, and my sire hated Ermenrich-that worthy hero! . . . Hildebrand was wont to be with Dietrich a leader of the people; he loved warfare; well known was he indeed unto valiant men. . . . I do not believe that ne is still alive."
Hildebrand was deeply moved, and he spake, saying: "Now do I call to witness Irmin, 1 the god of my people, that I dare not combat with thee, because that thou art so near of kin."
As he spake the old hero took from his arm the twisted armlet of fine gold which Dietrich had given him. He held it towards his son, saying: "This do I give unto thee for love's sake, Hadubrand."
The son advanced not to accept his father's proffered gift. He suspected treachery, so he spake, saying:
"A warrior must receive gifts with his spear--when lance is against lance. . . . Thou art an old and cunning hero. Fain wouldst thou entice me now with gentle speech. . . . Thou wilt throw thy spear at me betimes. . . . So old art thou grown and so cunning, that thou art become a hardened deceiver."
Mournfully did Hildebrand shake his head.
"Seafarers have told me, his son protested, "that they heard from the east of warfare above the Wendel-sea. 1 'Twas told them: 'Hildebrand, Heribrand's son, is dead.'"
"O ruling god! What fate is ours?" cried Hildebrand. . . . "For thirty summers and thirty winters have I wandered as a fugitive. Ever went I into battle against the bowmen, nor would one of them give me my death. . . . Now my own child will hew me with his sword or throw me down with his spear. or else I shall be his murderer. . . ."
In silence he gazed a moment upon his son; he regarded the noble form with sorrow and pride.
"Thou mayest easily win the fight with so old a man as I am he said, "if thy strength is great. If thou dost triumph, thou shalt have my treasure for booty."
Hadubrand made answer with softer voice, for he had spoken harshly: "I can see from thine armour," he said, "that thou hast a good master; and methinks thou didst never become a fugitive by compulsion."
Pleasant were the words of Hadubrand in the ears of his sire. Hildebrand loved his son because that he was fearless and bold and thirsted for the fray. He could delay not meeting him any longer, lest he should be called a coward by friends and foemen alike. So he spake, saying:
"He who would deny thee combat now would be the worst of eastern men. Greatly dost thou covet glory! By common right of war this conflict should show forth to-day which of us can make boast among men."
Then began they to fight. They tilted with their spears one against the other, but the heavy thrusts were parried by their shields. . . . Ere long they drew their swords--their hard-edged splitters--and fearfully they hewed until, at length, their white shields were splintered and battered. . . . They cast aside their broken bucklers. . . . They fought then with their swords alone.
Silence fell upon the opposing armies. No man spake. Every eye was turned upon the brave warriors in fierce conflict. . . . Neither side was confident of the issue. . . . Never before was Hildebrand so well matched; never did Hadubrand combat against so powerful a foeman.
Long they fought, so that it seemed the conflict would never end. . . . Then fell the last swordstroke. Sudden was its fall like lightning, and as sure, and Hadubrand sank upon the ground, bleeding from his deathwound.
Hildebrand flung his blade from him. He knelt beside the fallen hero. The stern old warrior wept bitter tears.
"Alas," he cried, "I have slain mine own son!"
Hadubrand, enduring sharp agony, looked up with death-bright eyes.
"Thou art, indeed, my sire," he said; "no man save Hildebrand could have prevailed against me."
Hildebrand wound his arms about the dying hero. Deathly white was his face like that of his son. Fate had stricken him sore. . . . The battle began to be waged nigh unto him and went past. . . . He spake not
to the nobles who came near at eventide.... The eyes of the fallen warrior were then glazed by death; his lips were cold; his armour was reddened by blood; Hadubrand had died of his wounds. Hildebrand, Heribrand's son, had died of grief. . . .
Victory was won by Dietrich. His enemies were scattered before him, and those who were not slain fled unto their homes.
But sad was Dietrich's heart when he rode in triumph into Bern because that old Hildebrand was dead. By the people he was received with great rejoicings; he went unto his palace; there did the nobles greet him and do him homage, laying at his feet gifts of gold and many gems. So was he acclaimed the rightful king.
Sibeche sought in vain to stem the tide of victory which thereafter fell to Dietrich's arms. He marched against the king with a great army; he fought but a single battle. By a brave knight was he challenged to single combat, and after fierce and prolonged fighting he was cleft in twain. Thereafter was his army defeated, and those who survived the vengeance of Dietrich laid down their arms and did him homage. Then was Dietmar's great son exalted among men, for he was crowned king over all the dominions which Ermenrich had held. When Etzel died he was made king of the Huns also. Thus did he become the greatest monarch of his time--he who had long been an exile from his own land.
Long was the reign of King Dietrich, and there was peace over all the wide dominions which he ruled, for it was given unto him to be wise as he was powerful.
To a great old age did he live. And minstrels, wandering from land to land to sing in the halls of heroes, have told that he never died. For it chanced that he went forth one day to hunt in a deep forest. Among
the huntsmen there was none who was his equal even although he was burdened with years. He bathed himself, after the chase was ended, in a small lake. A dwarf came nigh and cried out:
"O King, the greatest stag which man hath ever looked upon is rushing past; it escapeth the huntsmen."
Dietrich left the water; he wrapped a rug about himself and called for his horse, but he was not heard.
Then there burst through the trees a noble and high-stepping black steed. No man rode it. Dietrich sprang into the saddle; he urged it on, and the black steed ran faster than the wind.
The dwarf rode behind him: "Swiftly indeed thou dost ride," he cried; "when wilt thou return, O King?"
Dietrich made answer: "I can hold not back this evil steed, nor can I dismount from it. Nor can I return again until it is the will of God and the Holy Mary."
So Dietrich vanished from sight. And nevermore was he seen among men. Yet when the wind is high, and the world is tempest-stricken, the sound of hoofs are heard in mid-air, and men know then that Dietrich, seated on his black steed, is pursuing the stag as of old across the heavens. 1
449:1 Irmin's Way is the "Milky Way".
450:1 The Mediterranean.
453:1 Like Odin, Charlemagne, King Arthur, &c, he is the Wild Huntsman in the Raging Host.