by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
Many years ago there lived in the island of Fuhnen a noble knight,
called Froda, the friend of the Skalds, who was so named because he
not only offered free hospitality in his fair castle to every renowned
and noble bard, but likewise strove with all his might to discover
those ancient songs, and tales, and legends which, in Runic writings
or elsewhere, were still to be found; he had even made some voyages to
Iceland in search of them, and had fought many a hard battle with the
pirates of those seas--for he was also a right valiant knight, and he
followed his great ancestors not only in their love of song, but also
in their bold deeds of arms. Although he was still scarcely beyond
the prime of youth, yet all the other nobles in the island willingly
submitted themselves to him, whether in council or in war; nay, his
renown had even been carried ere now over the sea to the neighbouring
land of Germany.
One bright autumn evening this honour-loving knight sat before his
castle, as he was often wont to do, that he might look far and wide
over land and sea, and that he might invite any travellers who were
passing by, as was his custom, to share in his noble hospitality.
But on this day he saw little of all that he was accustomed to
look upon; for on his knees there lay an ancient book with skilfully
and richly painted characters, which a learned Icelander had just sent
to him across the sea: it was the history of Aslauga, the fair
daughter of Sigurd, who at first, concealing her high birth, kept
goats among the simple peasants of the land, clothed in mean attire;
then, in the golden veil of her flowing hair, won the love of King
Ragnar Lodbrog; and at last shone brightly on the Danish throne as
his glorious queen, till the day of her death.
To the Knight Froda it seemed as though the gracious Lady Aslauga
rose in life and birth before him, so that his calm and steadfast
heart, true indeed to ladies' service, but never yet devoted to one
particular female image, burst forth in a clear flame of love for the
fair daughter of Sigurd. "What matters it," thought he to himself,
"that it is more than a hundred years since she disappeared from
earth? She sees so clearly into this heart of mine--and what more can
a knight desire? wherefore she shall henceforth be my honoured love,
and shall inspire me in battle and in song." And therewith he sang a
lay on his new love, which ran in the following manner:
"They ride over hill and dale apace
To seek for their love the fairest face--
They search through city and forest-glade
To find for their love the gentlest maid--
They climb wherever a path may lead
To seek the wisest dame for their meed.
Ride on, ye knights: but ye never may see
What the light of song has shown to me:
Loveliest, gentlest, and wisest of all,
Bold be the deeds that her name shall recall;
What though she ne'er bless my earthly sight?
Yet death shall reveal her countenance bright.
Fair world, good night! Good day, sweet love!
Who seeks here in faith shall find above."
"Such purpose may come to good," said a hollow voice near the
knight; and when he looked round, he saw the form of a poor peasant
woman, so closely wrapped in a grey mantle that he could not discern
any part of her countenance. She looked over his shoulder on the
book, and said, with a deep sigh, "I know that story well; and it
fares no better with me than with the princess of whom it tells."
Froda looked at her with astonishment. "Yes, yes," pursued she, with
strange becks and nods; "I am the descendant of the mighty Rolf, to
whom the fairest castles and forests and fields of this island once
belonged; your castle and your domains, Froda, amongst others, were
his. We are now cast down to poverty; and because I am not so fair as
Aslauga there is no hope that my possessions will be restored to me;
and therefore I am fain to veil my poor face from every eye." It
seemed that she shed warm tears beneath her mantle. At this Froda was
greatly moved, and begged her, for God's sake, to let him know how he
could help her, for that he was a descendant of the famous northern
heroes of the olden time; and perhaps yet something more than
they--namely, a good Christian. "I almost think," murmured she from
beneath her covering, "that you are that very Froda whom men call the
Good, and the friend of the Skalds, and of whose generosity and
mildness such wonderful stories are told. If it be so, there may be
help for me. You need only give up to me the half of your fields and
meadows, and I should be in a condition to live in some measure such a
life as befits the descendant of the mighty Rolf." Then Froda looked
thoughtfully on the ground; partly because she had asked for so very
much; partly, also, because he was considering whether she could
really be descended from the powerful Rolf. But the veiled form said,
after a pause, "I must have been mistaken, and you are not indeed that
renowned, gentle-hearted Froda: for how could be have doubted so long
about such a trifle? But I will try the utmost means. See now! for
the sake of the fair Aslauga, of whom you have both read and sang--for
the sake of the honoured daughter of Sigurd, grant my request!" Then
Froda started up eagerly, and cried, "Let it be as you have said!" and
gave her his knightly hand to confirm his words. But he could not
grasp the hand of the peasant-woman, although her dark form remained
close before him. A secret shudder began to run through his limbs,
whilst suddenly a light seemed to shine forth from the apparition--a
golden light--in which she became wholly wrapped; so that he felt as
though Aslauga stood before him in the flowing veil of her golden
hair, and smiling graciously on him. Transported and dazzled, he sank
on his knees. When he rose up once more he only saw a cloudy mist of
autumn spreading over the meadow, fringed at its edges with lingering
evening lights, and then vanishing far over the waves. The knight
scarcely knew what had happened to him. He returned to his chamber
buried in thought, and sometimes feeling sure that he had beheld
Aslauga, sometimes, again, that some goblin had risen before him with
deceitful tricks, mocking in spiteful wise the service which he had
vowed to his dead mistress. But henceforth, wherever he roved, over
valley or forest or heath, or whether he sailed upon the waves of the
sea, the like appearances met him. Once he found a lute lying in a
wood, and drove a wolf away from it, and when sounds burst from the
lute without its being touched a fair child rose up from it, as of
old Aslauga herself had done. At another time he would see goats
clambering among the highest cliffs by the sea- shore, and it was a
golden form who tended them. Then, again, a bright queen, resplendent
in a dazzling bark, would seem to glide past him, and salute him
graciously,--and if he strove to approach any of those he found
nothing but cloud, and mist, and vapour. Of all this many a lay might
be sung. But so much he learnt from them all--that the fair Lady
Aslauga accepted his service, and that he was now indeed and in truth
become her knight.
Meanwhile the winter had come and gone. In northern lands this
season never fails to bring to those who understand and love it many
an image full of beauty and meaning, with which a child of man might
well be satisfied, so far as earthly happiness can satisfy, through
all his time on earth. But when the spring came glancing forth with
its opening buds and flowing waters there came also bright and sunny
tidings from the land of Germany to Fuhnen.
There stood on the rich banks of the Maine, where it pours its
waters through the fertile land of Franconia, a castle of almost royal
magnificence, whose orphan-mistress was a relation of the German
emperor. She was named Hildegardis; and was acknowledged far and wide
as the fairest of maidens. Therefore her imperial uncle wished that
she should wed none but the bravest knight who could anywhere be met
with. Accordingly he followed the example of many a noble lord in
such a case, and proclaimed a tournament, at which the chief prize
should be the hand of the peerless Hildegardis, unless the victor
already bore in his heart a lady wedded or betrothed to him; for the
lists were not to be closed to any brave warrior of equal birth, that
the contest of strength and courage might be so much the richer in
Now the renowned Froda had tidings of this from his German
brethren-in-arms; and he prepared himself to appear at the festival.
Before all things, he forged for himself a splendid suit of armour;
as, indeed, he was the most excellent armourer of the north, far-famed
as it is for skill in that art. He worked the helmet out of pure
gold, and formed it so that it seemed to be covered with bright
flowing locks, which called to mind Aslauga's tresses. He also
fashioned, on the breastplate of his armour, overlaid with silver, a
golden image in half relief, which represented Aslauga in her veil of
flowing locks, that he might make known, even at the beginning of the
tournament--"This knight, bearing the image of a lady upon his breast,
fights not for the hand of the beautiful Hildegardis, but only for the
joy of battle and for knightly fame." Then he took out of his stables
a beautiful Danish steed, embarked it carefully on board a vessel, and
sailed prosperously to the opposite shore.
In one of those fair beech-woods which abound in the fertile land
of Germany he fell in with a young and courteous knight of delicate
form, who asked the noble northman to share the meal which he had
invitingly spread out upon the greensward, under the shade of the
pleasantest boughs. Whilst the two knights sat peacefully together at
their repast they felt drawn towards each other and rejoiced when on
rising from it, they observed that they were about to follow the same
road. They had not come to this good understanding by means of many
words; for the young knight Edwald was of a silent nature, and would
sit for hours with a quiet smile upon his lips without opening them to
speak. But even in that quiet smile there lay a gentle, winning
grace; and when from time to time a few simple words of deep meaning
sprang to his lips they seemed like a gift deserving of thanks. It
was the same with the little songs which he sang ever and anon: they
were ended almost as soon as begun; but in each short couplet there
dwelt a deep and winning spirit, whether it called forth a kindly
sigh or a peaceful smile. It seemed to the noble Froda as if a
younger brother rode beside him, or even a tender, blooming son. They
travelled thus many days together; and it appeared as if their path
were marked out for them in inseparable union; and much as they
rejoiced at this, yet they looked sadly at each other whenever they
set out afresh, or where cross-roads met, on finding that neither took
a different direction: nay, it seemed at times as if a tear gathered
in Edwald's downcast eye.
It happened on a time, that at their hostelry they met an
arrogant, overbearing knight, of gigantic stature and powerful frame,
whose speech and carriage proved him to be not of German but foreign
birth. He appeared to come from the land of Bohemia. He cast a
contemptuous smile on Froda, who, as usual, had opened the ancient
book of Aslauga's history, and was attentively reading in it. "You
must be a ghostly knight?" he said, inquiringly; and it appeared as if
a whole train of unseemly jests were ready to follow. But Froda
answered so firmly and seriously with a negative that the Bohemian
stopped short suddenly; as when the beasts, after venturing to mock
their king, the lion, are subdued to quietness by one glance of his
eye. But not so easily was the Bohemian knight subdued; rather the
more did he begin to mock young Edwald for his delicate form and for
his silence--all which he bore for some time with great patience; but
when at last the stranger used an unbecoming phrase, he arose, girded
on his sword, and bowing gracefully, he said, "I thank you, Sir
Knight, that you have given me this opportunity of proving that I am
neither a slothful nor unpractised knight; for only thus can your
behaviour be excused, which otherwise must be deemed most unmannerly.
Are you ready?"
With these words he moved towards the door; the Bohemian knight
followed, smiling scornfully; while Froda was full of care for his
young and slender companion, although his honour was so dear to him
that he could in no way interpose.
But it soon appeared how needless were the northman's fears. With
equal vigour and address did Edwald assault his gigantic adversary, so
that to look upon, it was almost like one of those combats between a
knight and some monster of the forest, of which ancient legends tell.
The issue, too, was not unlike. While the Bohemian was collecting
himself for a decisive stroke Edwald rushed in upon him, and, with the
force of a wrestler, cast him to the ground. But he spared his
conquered foe, helped him courteously to rise, and then turned to
mount his own steed. Soon after he and Froda left the hostelry, and
once more their journey led them on the same path as before.
"From henceforth this gives me pleasure," said Froda, pointing
with satisfaction to their common road. "I must own to you,
Edchen"--he had accustomed himself, in loving confidence, to call his
young friend by that childlike name--"I must own to you that hitherto,
when I have thought that you might perhaps be journeying with me to
the tournament held in honour of the fair Hildegardis, a heaviness
came over my heart. Your noble knightly spirit I well knew, but I
feared lest the strength of your slender limbs might not be equal to
it. Now I have learned to know you as a warrior who may long seek his
match; and God be praised if we still hold on in the same path, and
welcome our earliest meeting in the lists!"
But Edwald looked at him sorrowfully, and said, "What can my skill
and strength avail if they be tried against you, and for the greatest
earthly prize, which one of us alone can win? Alas! I have long
foreboded with a heavy heart the sad truth, that you also are
journeying to the tournament of the fair Hildegardis."
"Edchen," answered Froda, with a smile, "my gentle, loving youth,
see you not that I already wear on my breastplate the image of a liege
lady? I strive but for renown in arms, and not for your fair
"MY fair Hildegardis!" answered Edwald, with a sigh. "That she is
not, nor ever will be--or should she, ah! Froda, it would pierce your
heart. I know well the northland faith is deep-rooted as your rocks,
and hard to dissolve as their summits of snow; but let no man think
that he can look unscathed into the eyes of Hildegardis. Has not she,
the haughty, the too haughty maiden, so bewitched my tranquil, lowly
mind, that I forget the gulf which lies between us, and still pursue
her; and would rather perish than renounce the daring hope to win that
eagle spirit for my own?"
"I will help you to it, Edchen," answered Froda, smiling still.
"Would that I knew how this all-conquering lady looks! She must
resemble the Valkyrien of our heathen forefathers, since so many
mighty warriors are overcome by her."
Edwald solemnly drew forth a picture from beneath his breastplate,
and held it before him. Fixed, and as if enchanted, Froda gazed upon
it, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes; the smile passed away from
his countenance, as the sunlight fades away from the meadows before
the coming darkness of the storm.
"See you not now, my noble comrade," whispered Edwald, "that for
one of us two, or perhaps for both, the joy of life is gone?"
"Not yet," replied Froda, with a powerful effort; "but hide your
magic picture, and let us rest beneath this shade. You must be
somewhat spent with your late encounter, and a strange weariness
oppresses me with leaden weight." They dismounted from their steeds,
and stretched themselves upon the ground.
The noble Froda had no thought of sleep; but he wished to be
undisturbed whilst he wrestled strongly with himself, and strove, if
it might be, to drive from his mind that image of fearful beauty. It
seemed as if this new influence had already become a part of his very
life, and at last a restless dreamy sleep did indeed overshadow the
exhausted warrior. He fancied himself engaged in combat with many
knights, whilst Hildegardis looked on smiling from a richly-adorned
balcony; and just as he thought he had gained the victory the bleeding
Edwald lay groaning beneath his horse's feet. Then again it seemed
as if Hildegardis stood by his side in a church, and they were about
to receive the marriage-blessing. He knew well that this was not
right, and the "yes," which he was to utter, he pressed back with
resolute effort into his heart, and forthwith his eyes were moistened
with burning tears. >From yet stranger and more bewildering visions
the voice of Edwald at last awoke him. He raised himself up, and
heard his young companion saying courteously, as he looked towards a
neighbouring thicket, "Only return, noble maiden; I will surely help
you if I can; and I had no wish to scare you away, but that the
slumbers of my brother in arms might not be disturbed by you." A
golden gleam shone through the branches as it vanished.
"For heaven's sake", my faithful comrade," cried Froda, "to whom
are you speaking, and who has been here by me?"
"I cannot myself rightly understand," said Edwald. "Hardly had
you dropped asleep when a figure came forth from the forest, closely
wrapped in a dark mantle. At first I took her for a peasant. She
seated herself at your head; and though I could see nothing of her
countenance, I could well observe that she was sorely troubled, and
even shedding tears. I made signs to her to depart, lest she should
disturb your sleep; and would have offered her a piece of gold,
supposing that poverty must be the cause of her deep distress. But my
hand seemed powerless, and a shudder passed through me, as if I had
entertained such a purpose towards a queen. Immediately glittering
locks of gold waved here and there between the folds of her
close-wrapped mantle, and the thicket began almost to shine in the
light which they shed. 'Poor youth,' said she then, 'you love truly,
and can well understand how a lofty woman's heart burns in keenest
sorrow when a noble knight, who vowed himself to be her own, withdraws
his heart, and, like a weak bondman, is led away to meaner hopes.'
Hereupon she arose, and, sighing, disappeared in yonder thicket. It
almost seemed to me, Froda, as though she uttered your name."
"Yes, it was me she named," answered Froda; "and not in vain she
named me. Aslauga, thy knight comes, and enters the lists, and all
for thee and thy reward alone! At the same time, my Edchen, we will
win for you your haughty bride." With this he sprang upon his steed,
full of the proud joy of former times; and when the magic of
Hildegardis' beauty, dazzling and bewildering, would rise up before
him, he said, smiling, "Aslauga!" and the sun of his inner life shone
forth again cloudless and serene.
From a balcony of her castle on the Maine Hildegardis was wont to
refresh herself in the cool of the evening by gazing on the rich
landscape below, but gazing more eagerly on the glitter of arms, which
often came in sight from many a distant road; for knights were
approaching singly, or with a train of followers, all eager to prove
their courage and their strength in striving for the high prize of the
tournament. She was in truth a proud and high-minded maiden--perhaps
more so than became even her dazzling beauty and her princely rank.
As she now gazed with a proud smile on the glittering roads a damsel
of her train began the following lay:--
"The joyous song of birds in spring
Upon the wing
Doth echo far through wood and dell,
And freely tell
Their treasures sweet of love and mirth,
Too gladsome for this lowly earth.
"The gentle breath of flowers in May,
O'er meadows gay,
Doth fill the pure and balmy air
With perfume rare;
Still floating round each slender form,
Though scorched by sun, or torn by storm.
"But every high and glorious aim,
And the pure flame
That deep abiding in my heart
Can ne'er depart,
Too lofty for my falt'ring tongue,
Must die with me, unknown, unsung."
"Wherefore do you sing that song, and at this moment?" said
Hildegardis, striving to appear scornful and proud, though a deep and
secret sadness was plainly enough seen to overshadow her countenance.
"It came into my head unawares," replied the damsel, "as I looked
upon the road by which the gentle Edwald with his pleasant lays first
approached us; for it was from him I learnt it. But seems it not to
you, my gracious lady, and to you too, my companions, as if Edwald
himself were again riding that way towards the castle?" "Dreamer!"
said Hildegardis, scornfully--and yet could not for some space
withdraw her eyes from the knight, till at length, with an effort,
she turned them on Froda, who rode beside him, saying: "Yes, truly,
that knight is Edwald; but what can you find to notice in the
meek-spirited, silent boy? Here, fix your eyes, my maidens, on this
majestic figure, if you would behold a knight indeed." She was
silent. A voice within her, as though of prophecy, said, "Now the
victor of the tournament rides into the courtyard;" and she, who had
never feared the presence of any human being, now felt humbled, and
almost painfully awed, when she beheld the northern knight.
At the evening meal the two newly-arrived knights were placed
opposite to the royal Hildegardis. As Froda, after the northern
fashion, remained in full armour, the golden image of Aslauga gleamed
from his silver breast-plate full before the eyes of the haughty lady.
She smiled scornfully, as if conscious that it depended on her will
to drive that image from the breast and from the heart of the
stranger-knight. Then suddenly a clear golden light passed through the
hall, so that Hildegardis said, "0, the keen lightning!" and covered
her eyes with both her hands. But Froda looked into the dazzling
radiance with a joyful gaze of welcome. At this Hildegardis feared
him yet more, though at the same time she thought, "This loftiest and
most mysterious of men must be born for me alone." Yet could she not
forbear, almost against her will, to look from time to time in
friendly tenderness on the poor Edwald, who sat there silent, and with
a sweet smile seemed to pity and to mock his own suffering and his own
"When the two knights were alone in their sleeping-chamber Edwald
looked for a long time in silence into the dewy, balmy night. Then he
sang to his lute:
"A hero wise and brave,
A lowly, tender youth,
Are wandering through the land
In steadfast love and truth.
"The hero, by his deeds,
Both bliss and fame had won,
And still, with heartfelt joy,
The faithful child looked on."
But Froda took the lute from his hands, and said, "No, Edchen, I
will teach you another song; listen!--
"'There's a gleam in the hall, and like morning's light
Hath shone upon all her presence bright.
Suitors watch as she passes by--
She may gladden their hearts by one glance of her eye:
But coldly she gazeth upon the throng,
And they that have sought her may seek her long.
She turns her away from the richly clad knight,
She heeds not the words of the learned wight;
The prince is before her in all his pride,
But other the visions around her that glide.
Then tell me, in all the wide world's space,
Who may e'er win that lady's grace?
In sorrowful love there sits apart
The gentle squire who hath her heart;
They all are deceived by fancies vain,
And he knows it not who the prize shall gain.'"
Edwald thrilled. "As God wills," said he, softly to himself. "But
I cannot understand how such a thing could be." "As God wills,"
repeated Froda. The two friends embraced each other, and soon after
fell into a peaceful slumber.
Some days afterwards Froda sat in a secluded bower of the castle
garden, and was reading in the ancient book of his lovely mistress
Aslauga. It happened at that very time that Hildegardis passed by.
She stood still, and said, thoughtfully, "Strange union that you are
of knight and sage, how comes it that you bring forth so little out of
the deep treasures of your knowledge? And yet I think you must have
many a choice history at your command, even such as that which now
lies open before you; for I see rich and bright pictures of knights
and ladies painted amongst the letters."
"It is, indeed, the most surpassing and enchanting history in all
the world," said Froda; "but you have neither patience nor
thoughtfulness to listen to our wonderful legends of the north."
"Why think you so?" answered Hildegardis, with that pride which
she rejoiced to display towards Froda, when she could find courage to
do so; and, placing herself on a stone seat opposite, she commanded
him at once to read something to her out of that fair book.
Froda began, and in the very effort which he made to change the
old heroic speech of Iceland into the German tongue, his heart and
mind were stirred more fervently and solemnly. As he looked up from
time to time, he beheld the countenance of Hildegardis beaming in
ever-growing beauty with joy, wonder, and interest; and the thought
passed through his mind whether this could indeed be his destined
bride, to whom Aslauga herself was guiding him.
Then suddenly the characters became strangely confused; it seemed
as if the pictures began to move, so that he was obliged to stop.
While he fixed his eyes with a strong effort upon the book,
endeavouring to drive away this strange confusion, he heard a
well-known sweetly solemn voice, which said, "Leave a little space for
me, fair lady. The history which that knight is reading to you
relates to me; and I hear it gladly."
Before the eyes of Froda, as he raised them from his book, sat
Aslauga in all the glory of her flowing golden locks beside
Hildegardis, on the seat. With tears of affright in her eyes, the
maiden sank back and fainted. Solemnly, yet graciously, Aslauga
warned her knight with a motion of her fair right hand, and vanished.
"What have I done to you?" said Hildegardis when recovered from
her swoon by his care, "what have I done to you, evil- minded knight,
that you call up your northern spectres before me, and well-nigh
destroy me through terror of your magic arts? "Lady," answered Froda,
"may God help me, as I have not called hither the wondrous lady who
but now appeared to us. But now her will is known to me, and I commend
you to God's keeping."
With that he walked thoughtfully out of the bower. Hildegardis
fled in terror from the gloomy shade, and, rushing out on the opposite
side, reached a fair open grass-plot, where Edwald, in the soft glow
of twilight, was gathering flowers, and, meeting her with a courteous
smile, offered her a nosegay of narcissus and pansies.
At length the day fixed for the tournament arrived, and a
distinguished noble, appointed by the German emperor, arranged all
things in the most magnificent and sumptuous guise for the solemn
festival. The field of combat opened wide, and fair, and level,
thickly strewn with the finest sand, so that, both man and horse might
find sure footing; and, like a pure field of snow, it shone forth from
the midst of the flowery plain. Rich hangings of silk from Arabia,
curiously embroidered with Indian gold, adorned with their various
colours the lists enclosing the space, and hung from the lofty
galleries which had been erected for the ladies and the nobles who
were to behold the combat. At the upper end, under a canopy of
majestic arches richly wrought in gold, was the place of the Lady
Hildegardis. Green wreaths and garlands waved gracefully between the
glittering pillars in the soft breezes of July. And with impatient
eyes the multitude, who crowded beyond the lists, gazed upwards,
expecting the appearance of the fairest maiden of Germany, and were
only at times drawn to another part by the stately approach of the
combatants. Oh, how many a bright suit of armour, many a silken
richly-embroidered mantle, how many a lofty waving plume was here to
be seen! The splendid troop of knights moved within the lists,
greeting and conversing with each other, as a bed of flowers stirred
by a breath of wind; but the flower-stems had grown to lofty trees,
the yellow and white flower-leaves had changed to gold and silver, and
the dew-drops to pearls and diamonds. For whatever was most fair and
costly, most varied and full of meaning, had these noble knights
collected in honour of this day. Many an eye was turned on Froda,
who, without scarf, plume, or mantle, with his shining silver
breastplate, on which appeared the golden image of Aslauga, and with
his well- wrought helmet of golden locks, shone, in the midst of the
crowd, like polished brass. Others, again, there were, who took
pleasure in looking at the young Edwald; his whole armour was covered
by a mantle of white silk, embroidered in azure and silver, as his
whole helmet was concealed by a waving plume of white feathers. He
was arrayed with almost feminine elegance, and yet the conscious power
with which he controlled his fiery, snow-white steed made known the
victorious strength and manliness of the warlike stripling.
In strange contrast appeared the tall and almost gigantic figure
of a knight clothed in a mantle of black glossy bearskin, bordered
with costly fur, but without any ornament of shining metal. His very
helmet was covered with dark bearskin, and, instead of plumes, a mass
of blood-red horsehair hung like a flowing mane profusely on every
side. Well did Froda and Edwald remember that dark knight, for he was
the uncourteous guest of the hostelry. He also seemed to remark the
two knights, for he turned his unruly steed suddenly round, forced his
way through the crowd of warriors, and, after he had spoken over the
enclosure to a hideous bronze-coloured woman, sprang with a wild leap
across the lists, and, with the speed of an arrow, vanished out of
sight. The old woman looked after him with a friendly nod. The
assembled people laughed as at a strange masquing device; but Edwald
and Froda had their own almost shuddering thoughts concerning it,
which, however, neither imparted to the other.
The kettle-drums rolled, the trumpets sounded, and led by the aged
duke, Hildegardis advanced, richly apparelled, but more dazzling
through the brightness of her own beauty. She stepped forward beneath
the arches of the golden bower, and bowed to the assembly. The
knights bent low, and the feeling rushed into many a heart, "There is
no man on earth who can deserve a bride so queenly." When Froda bowed
his head, it seemed to him as if the golden radiance of Aslauga'a
tresses floated before his sight; and his spirit rose in joy and pride
that his lady held him worthy to be so often reminded of her.
And now the tournament began. At first the knights strove with
blunted swords and battle-axes; then they ran their course with lances
man to man; but at last they divided into two equal parties, and a
general assault began, in which every one was allowed to use at his
own will either sword or lance. Froda and Edwald equally surpassed
their antagonists, as (measuring each his own strength and that of his
friend) they had foreseen. And now it must be decided by a single
combat with lances to whom the highest prize of victory should
belong. Before this trial began, they rode slowly together into the
middle of the course, and consulted where each should take his place.
"Keep you your guiding-star still before your sight," said Froda,
with a smile; "the like gracious help will not be wanting to me."
Edwald looked round astonished for the lady of whom his friend seemed
to speak, but Froda went on, "I have done wrong in hiding aught from
you, but after the tournament you shall know all. Now lay aside all
needless thoughts of wonder, dear Edchen, and sit firm in your saddle,
for I warn you that I shall run this course with all my might. Not my
honour alone is at stake, but the far higher honour of my lady."
"So also do I purpose to demean myself," said Edwald, with a
friendly smile. They shook each other by the hand, and rode to their
Amidst the sound of trumpets they met again, running their course
with lightning speed; the lances shivered with a crash, the horses
staggered, the knights, firm in their saddles, pulled them up, and
rode back to their places. But as they prepared for another course,
Edwald's white steed snorted in wild affright, and Froda's powerful
chestnut reared up foaming.
It was plain that the two noble animals shrunk from a second hard
encounter, but their riders held them fast with spur and bit, and,
firm and obedient, they again dashed forward at the second call of the
trumpet. Edwald, who by one deep, ardent gaze on the beauty of his
mistress had stamped it afresh on his soul, cried aloud at the moment
of encounter, "Hildegardis!" and so mightily did his lance strike his
valiant adversary, that Froda sank backwards on his steed, with
difficulty keeping his seat in his saddle, or holding firm in his
stirrups, whilst Edwald flew by unshaken, lowered his spear to salute
Hildegardis as he passed her bower, and then, amidst the loud applause
of the multitude, rushed to his place, ready for the third course.
And, ah! Hildegardis herself, overcome by surprise, had greeted him
with a blush and a look of kindness; it seemed to him as if the
overwhelming joy of victory were already gained. But it was not so,
for the valiant Froda, burning with noble shame, had again tamed his
affrighted steed, and, chastising him sharply with the spur for his
share in this mischance, said in a low voice, "Beautiful and beloved
lady, show thyself to me--the honour of thy name is at stake." To
every other eye it seemed as if a golden rosy-tinted summer's cloud
was passing over the deep-blue sky, but Froda beheld the heavenly
countenance of his lady, felt the waving of her golden tresses, and
cried, "Aslauga!" The two rushed together, and Edwald was hurled
from his saddle far upon the dusty plain.
Froda remained for a time motionless, according to the laws of
chivalry, as though waiting to see whether any one would dispute his
victory, and appearing on his mailed steed like some lofty statue of
brass. All around stood the multitude in silent wonderment. When at
length they burst forth into shouts of triumph, he beckoned earnestly
with his hand, and all were again silent. He then sprang lightly from
his saddle, and hastened to the spot where the fallen Edwald was
striving to rise. He pressed him closely to his breast, led his
snow-white steed towards him, and would not be denied holding the
stirrups of the youth whilst he mounted. Then he bestrode his own
steed, and rode by Edwald's side towards the golden bower of
Hildegardis, where, with lowered spear and open vizor, he thus spoke:
"Fairest of all living ladies, I bring you here Edwald, your knightly
bridegroom, before whose lance and sword all the knights of this
tournament have fallen away, I only excepted, who can make no claim to
the choicest prize of victory, since I, as the image on my breastplate
may show, already serve another mistress."
The duke was even now advancing towards the two warriors, to lead
them into the golden bower, but Hildegardis restrained him with a look
of displeasure, saying immediately, while her cheeks glowed with
anger, "Then you seem, Sir Froda, the Danish knight, to serve your
lady ill; for even now you openly styled me the fairest of living
"That did I," answered Froda, bending courteously, "because my
fair mistress belongs to the dead."
A slight shudder passed at these words through the assembly, and
through the heart of Hildegardis; but soon the anger of the maiden
blazed forth again, and the more because the most wonderful and
excellent knight she knew had scorned her for the sake of a dead
"I make known to all," she said, with solemn earnestness, "that
according to the just decree of my imperial uncle, this hand can never
belong to a vanquished knight, however noble and honourable he may
otherwise have proved himself. As the conqueror of this tournament,
therefore, is bound to another service, this combat concerns me not;
and I depart hence as I came, a free and unbetrothed maiden."
The duke seemed about to reply, but she turned haughtily away, and
left the bower. Suddenly a gust of wind shook the green wreaths and
garlands, and they fell untwined and rustling behind her. In this the
people, displeased with the pride of Hildegardis, thought they beheld
an omen of punishment, and with jeering words noticed it as they
The two knights had returned to their apartments in deep silence.
When they arrived there, Edwald caused himself to be disarmed, and
laid every piece of his fair shining armour together with a kind of
tender care, almost as if he were burying the corpse of a beloved
friend. Then he beckoned to his squires to leave the chamber, took
his lute on his arm, and sang the following song to its notes:--
"Bury them, bury them out of sight,
For hope and fame are fled;
And peaceful resting and quiet night
Are all now left for the dead."
"You will stir up my anger against your lute," said Froda. "You
had accustomed it to more joyful songs than this. It is too good for
a passing-bell, and you too good to toll it. I tell you yet, my young
hero, all will end gloriously."
Edwald looked a while with wonder in his face, and he answered
kindly: "Beloved Froda, if it displeases you, I will surely sing no
more." But at the same time he struck a few sad chords, which sounded
infinitely sweet and tender. Then the northern knight, much moved,
clasped him in his arms, and said: "Dear Edchen, sing and say and do
whatever pleases you; it shall ever rejoice me. But you may well
believe me, for I speak not this without a spirit of presage--your
sorrow shall change, whether to death or life I know not, but great
and overpowering joy awaits you." Edwald rose firmly and cheerfully
from his seat, seized his companion's arm with a strong grasp, and
walked forth with him through the blooming alleys of the garden into
the balmy air.
At that very hour an aged woman, muffled in many a covering, was
led secretly to the apartment of the Lady Hildegardis. The appearance
of the dark-complexioned stranger was mysterious, and she had gathered
round her for some time, by many feats of jugglery, a part of the
multitude returning home from the tournament, but had dispersed them
at last in wild affright. Before this happened, the tire-woman of
Hildegardis had hastened to her mistress, to entertain her with an
account of the rare and pleasant feats of the bronze-coloured woman.
The maidens in attendance, seeing their lady deeply moved, and
wishing to banish her melancholy, bade the tire-woman bring the old
stranger hither. Hildegardis forbade it not, hoping that she should
thus divert the attention of her maidens, while she gave herself up
more deeply and earnestly to the varying imaginations which flitted
through her mind.
The messenger found the place already deserted; and the strange
old woman alone in the midst, laughing immoderately. When questioned
by her, she did not deny that she had all at once taken the form of a
monstrous owl, announcing to the spectators in a screeching voice that
she was the Devil--and that every one upon this rushed screaming home.
The tire-woman trembled at the fearful jest, but durst not return
to ask again the pleasure of Hildegardis, whose discontented mood she
had already remarked. She gave strict charge to the old woman, with
many a threat and promise, to demean herself discreetly in the castle:
after which she brought her in by the most secret way, that none of
those whom she had terrified might see her enter.
The aged crone now stood before Hildegardis, and winked to her, in
the midst of her low and humble salutation, in a strangely familiar
manner, as though there were some secret between them. The lady felt
an involuntary shudder, and could not withdraw her gaze from the
features of that hideous countenance, hateful as it was to her. The
curiosity which had led the rest to desire a sight of the strange
woman was by no means gratified, for she performed none but the most
common tricks of jugglery, and related only well-known tales, so that
the tire-woman felt wearied and indifferent and, ashamed of having
brought the stranger, she stole away unnoticed. Several other maidens
followed her example, and, as these withdrew, the old crone twisted
her mouth into a smile, and repeated the same hideous confidential
wink towards the lady. Hildegardis could not understand what attracted
her in the jests and tales of the bronze-coloured woman; but so it
was, that in her whole life she had never bestowed such attention on
the words of any one. Still the old woman went on and on, and already
the night looked dark without the windows, but the attendants who
still remained with Hildegardis had sunk into a deep sleep, and had
lighted none of the wax tapers in the apartment.
Then, in the dusky gloom, the dark old crone rose from the low
seat on which she had been sitting, as if she now felt herself well
at ease, advanced towards Hildegardis, who sat as if spell-bound with
terror, placed herself beside her on the purple couch, and embracing
her in her long dry arms with a hateful caress, whispered a few words
in her ear. It seemed to the lady as if she uttered the names of
Froda and Edwald, and from them came the sound of a flute, which,
clear and silvery as were its tones, seemed to lull her into a trance.
She could indeed move her limbs, but only to follow those sounds,
which, like a silver network, floated round the hideous form of the
old woman. She moved from the chamber, and Hildegardis followed her
through all her slumbering maidens, still singing softly as she went,
"Ye maidens, ye maidens, I wander by night."
Without the castle, accompanied by squire and groom, stood the
gigantic Bohemian warrior; he laid on the shoulders of the crone a
bag of gold so heavy that she sank half whimpering, half laughing, on
the ground; then lifted the entranced Hildegardis on his steed, and
galloped with her silently into the ever-deepening gloom of night.
"All ye noble lords and knights, who yesterday contended gallantly
for the prize of victory and the hand of the peerless Hildegardis,
arise, arise! saddle your steeds, and to the rescue! The peerless
Hildegardis is carried away!"
Thus proclaimed many a herald through castle and town in the
bright red dawn of the following day; and on all sides rose the dust
from the tread of knights and noble squires along those roads by which
so lately, in the evening twilight, Hildegardis in proud repose had
gazed on her approaching suitors.
Two of them, well known to us, remained inseparably together, but
they knew as little as the others whether they had taken the right
direction, for how and when the adored lady could have disappeared
from her apartments was still to the whole castle a fearful and
Edwald and Froda rode as long as the sun moved over their heads,
unwearied as he; and now, when he sank in the waves of the river, they
thought to win the race from him, and still spurred on their jaded
steeds. But the noble animals staggered and panted, and the knights
were constrained to grant them some little refreshment in a grassy
meadow. Secure of bringing them back at their first call, their
masters removed both bit and curb, that they might be refreshed with
the green pasture, and with the deep blue waters of the Maine, while
they themselves reposed under the shade of a neighbouring thicket of
alders. And deep in the cool, dark shade, there shone, as it were, a
mild but clear sparkling light, and checked the speech of Froda, who
at that moment was beginning to tell his friend the tale of his
knightly service to his sovereign lady, which had been delayed
hitherto, first by Edwald's sadness, and then by the haste of their
journey. Ah, well did Froda know that lovely golden light! "Let us
follow it, Edchen," said he in a low tone, "and leave the horses a
while to their pasture." Edwald in silence followed his companion's
advice. A secret voice, half sweet, half fearful, seemed to tell him
that here was the path, the only right path to Hildegardis. Once only
he said in astonishment, "Never before have I seen the evening glow
shine on the leaves so brightly." Froda shook his head with a smile,
and they pursued in silence their unknown track.
When they came forth on the other side of the alder-thicket upon
the bank of the Maine, which almost wound round it, Edwald saw well
that another glow than that of evening was shining on them, for dark
clouds of night already covered the heavens, and the guiding light
stood fixed on the shore of the river. It lit up the waves, so that
they could see a high woody island in the midst of the stream, and a
boat on the hither side of the shore fast bound to a stake. But on
approaching, the knights saw much more; a troop of horsemen of
strange and foreign appearance were all asleep, and in the midst of
them, slumbering on cushions, a female form in white garments.
"Hildegardis!" murmured Edwald to himself, with a smile, and at
the same time he drew his sword in readiness for the combat as soon as
the robbers should awake, and beckoned to Froda to raise the sleeping
lady, and convey her to a place of safety. But at this moment
something like an owl passed whizzing over the dark squadron, and they
all started up with clattering arms and hideous outcries. A wild
unequal combat arose in the darkness of night, for that beaming light
had disappeared. Freda and Edwald were driven asunder, and only at a
distance heard each other's mighty war-cry. Hildegardis, startled
from her magic sleep, uncertain whether she were waking or dreaming,
fled bewildered and weeping bitterly into the deep shades of the
Froda felt his arm grow weary, and the warm blood was flowing from
two wounds in his shoulder; he wished so to lie down in death that he
might rise up with honour from his bloody grave to the exalted lady
whom he served. He cast his shield behind him, grasped his sword-hilt
with both hands, and rushed wildly, with a loud war-cry, upon the
affrighted foe. Instantly he heard some voices cry, "It is the rage of
the northern heroes which has come upon him." And the whole troop
were scattered in dismay, while the exhausted knight remained wounded
and alone in the darkness.
Then the golden hair of Aslauga gleamed once more in the
alder-shade; and Froda said, leaning, through weariness, on his
sword, "I think not that I am wounded to death; but whenever that time
shall come, 0 beloved lady, wilt thou not indeed appear to me in all
thy loveliness and brightness?" A soft "Yes" breathed against his
cheek, and the golden light vanished.
But now Hildegardis came forth from the thicket, half fainting
with terror, and said feebly, "Within is the fair and frightful
spectre of the north--without is the battle. Oh, merciful heaven!
whither shall I go?"
Then Froda approached to sooth the affrighted one, to speak some
words of comfort to her, and to inquire after Edwald; but wild shouts
and the rattling of armour announced the return of the Bohemian
warriors. With haste Froda led the maiden to the boat, pushed off
from the shore, and rowed her with the last effort of his failing
strength towards the island which he had observed in the midst of the
stream. But the pursuers had already kindled torches, and waved them
sparkling here and there. By this light they soon discovered the
boat; they saw that the dreaded Danish knight was bleeding, and gained
fresh courage for their pursuit. Hardly had Froda pushed the boat to
the shore of the island, before he perceived a Bohemian on the other
side in another skiff, and soon afterwards the greater number of the
enemy embarked to row towards the island. "To the wood, fair maiden,"
he whispered, as soon as he had landed Hildegardis on the shore;
"there conceal yourself, whilst I endeavour to prevent the landing of
the robbers." But Hildegardis, clinging to his arm, whispered again,
"Do I not see that you are pale and bleeding? and would you have me
expire with terror in the dark and lonely clefts of this rock? Ah!
and if your northern gold-haired spectre were to appear again and seat
herself beside me! Think you that I do not see her there now, shining
through the thicket!"
"She shines!" echoed Froda, and new strength and hope ran through
every vein. He climbed the hill, following the gracious gleam; and
Hildegardis, though trembling at the sight, went readily with her
companion, saying only from time to time, in a low voice "Ah, Sir
Knight!--my noble wondrous knight--leave me not here alone; that would
be my death." The knight, soothing her courteously, stepped ever
onwards through the darkness of dell and forest, for already he heard
the sound of the Bohemians landing on the shore of the island.
Suddenly he stood before a cave thick-covered with underwood, and the
gleam disappeared. "Here, then," he whispered, endeavouring to hold
the branches asunder. For a moment she paused, and said, "If you
should but let the branches close again behind me, and I were to
remain alone with spectres in this cave! But, Froda, you will surely
follow me--a trembling, hunted child as I am? Will you not?" Without
more misgivings she passed through the branches; and the knight, who
would willingly have remained without as a guard, followed her.
Earnestly he listened through the stillness of the night, whilst
Hildegardis hardly dared to draw her breath. Then was heard the tramp
of an armed man, coming ever nearer and nearer, and now close to the
entrance of the cave. In vain did Froda strive to free himself from
the trembling maiden. Already the branches before the entrance were
cracking and breaking, and Froda sighed deeply. "Must I, then, fall
like a lurking fugitive, entangled in a woman's garments? It is a
base death to die. But can I cast this half-fainting creature away
from me on the dark, hard earth, perhaps into some deep abyss? Come,
then, what will, thou, Lady Aslauga, knowest that I die an honourable
"Froda! Hildegardis!" breathed a gentle, well-known voice at the
entrance, and recognising Edwald, Froda bore the lady towards him into
the starlight, saying, "She will die of terror in our sight in this
deep cavern. Is the foe near at hand?" "Most of them lie lifeless on
the shore, or swim bleeding through the waves," said Edwald. "Set
your mind at rest, and repose yourself. Are you wounded, beloved
Froda?" He gave this short account to his astonished companions--how,
in the darkness, he had mixed with the Bohemians and pressed into the
skiff, and that it had been easy to him on landing to disperse the
robbers entirely, who supposed that they were attacked by one of their
own crew, and thought themselves bewitched. "They began at last to
fall on one another"--so he ended his history; "and we have only now
to wait for the morning to conduct the lady home, for those who are
wandering about of that owl-squadron will doubtless hide themselves
from the eye of day." While speaking, he had skilfully and carefully
arranged a couch of twigs and moss for Hildegardis, and when the
wearied one, after uttering some gentle words of gratitude, had sunk
into a slumber, he began, as well as the darkness would allow, to bind
up the wounds of his friend. During this anxious task, while the dark
boughs of the trees murmured over their heads, and the rippling of the
stream was heard from afar, Froda, in a low voice, made known to his
brother-in-arms to the service of what lady he was bound. Edwald
listened with deep attention, but at last he said tenderly, "Trust me,
the noble Princess Aslauga will not resent it, if you pledge yourself
to this earthly beauty in faithful love. Ah! even now doubtless you
are sinning in the dreams of Hildegardis, richly-gifted and happy
knight! I will not stand in your way with my vain wishes; I see now
clearly that she can never, never love me. Therefore I will this very
day hasten to the war which so many valiant knights of Germany are
waging in the heathen land of Prussia, and the black cross, which
distinguishes them for warriors of the Church, I will lay as the best
balm on my throbbing heart. Take, then, dear Froda, that fair hand
which you have won in battle, and live henceforth a life of surpassing
happiness and joy."
"Edwald," said Froda, gravely, "this is the first time that I ever
heard one word from your lips which a true knight could not fulfil.
Do as it pleases you towards the fair and haughty Hildegardis, but
Aslauga remains my mistress ever, and no other do I desire in life or
death." The youth was startled by these stern words, and made no
reply. Both, without saying more to each other, watched through the
night in solemn thought.
The next morning, when the rising sun shone brightly over the
flowery plains around the Castle of Hildegardis, the watchman on the
tower blew a joyful blast from his horn, for his keen eye had
distinguished far in the distance his fair lady, who was riding from
the forest between her two deliverers; and from castle, town, and
hamlet, came forth many a rejoicing train to assure themselves with
their own eyes of the happy news.
Hildegardis turned to Edwald with eyes sparkling through tears,
and said, "Were it not for you, young knight, they might have sought
long and vainly before they found the lost maiden or the noble Froda,
who would now be lying in that dark cavern a bleeding and lifeless
corpse." Edwald bowed lowly in reply, but persevered in his wonted
silence. It even seemed as though an unusual grief restrained the
smile which erewhile answered so readily, in childlike sweetness, to
every friendly word.
The noble guardian of Hildegardis had, in the overflowing joy of
his heart, prepared a sumptuous banquet, and invited all the knights
and ladies present to attend it. Whilst Froda and Edwald, in all the
brightness of their glory, were ascending the steps in the train of
their rescued lady, Edwald said to his friend, "Noble, steadfast
knight, you can never love me more!" And as Froda looked in
astonishment, he continued-- "Thus it is when children presume to
counsel heroes, however well they may mean it. Now have I offended
grievously against you, and yet more against the noble Lady Aslauga."
"Because you would have plucked every flower of your own garden to
gladden me with them?" said Froda. "No; you are my gentle
brother-in-arms now, as heretofore, dear Edchen, and are perhaps
become yet dearer to me."
Then Edwald smiled again in silent contentment, like a flower
after the morning showers of May.
The eyes of Hildegardis glanced mildly and kindly on him, and she
often conversed graciously with him, while, on the other hand, since
yesterday, a reverential awe seemed to separate her from Froda. But
Edwald also was much altered. However he welcomed with modest joy the
favour of his lady, it yet seemed as if some barrier were between them
which forbade him to entertain the most distant hope of successful
It chanced that a noble count, from the court of the Emperor, was
announced, who being bound on an important embassy, had wished to pay
his respects to the Lady Hildegardis by the way. She received him
gladly, and as soon as the first salutations were over, he said,
looking at her and at Edwald, "I know not if my good fortune may not
have brought me hither to a very joyful festivity. That would be
right welcome news to the Emperor my master." Hildegardis and Edwald
were lovely to look upon in their blushes and confusion, but the
count, perceiving at once that he had been too hasty, inclined
himself respectfully towards the young knight, and said, "Pardon me,
noble Duke Edwald, my too great forwardness, but I know the wish of my
sovereign, and the hope to find it already fulfilled prompted my
tongue to speak." All eyes were fixed inquiringly on the young hero,
who answered, in graceful confusion, "It is true; the Emperor, when I
was last in his camp, through his undeserved favour, raised me to the
rank of a duke. It was my good fortune, that in an encounter, some of
the enemy's horse, who had dared to assault the sacred person of the
Emperor, dispersed and fled on my approach." The count then, at the
request of Hildegardis, related every circumstance of the heroic deed;
and it appeared that Edwald had not only rescued the Emperor from the
most imminent peril, but also, with the cool and daring skill of a
general, had gained the victory which decided the event of the war.
Surprise at first sealed the lips of all; and even before their
congratulations could begin, Hildegardis had turned towards Edwald,
and said in a low voice, which yet, in that silence, was clearly heard
by all, "The noble count has made known the wish of my imperial uncle,
and I conceal it no longer, my own heart's wish is the same--I am Duke
Edwald's bride." And with that she extended to him her fair right
hand, and all present waited only till he should take it, before they
burst into a shout of congratulation. But Edwald forbore to do so; he
only sunk on one knee before his lady, saying, "God forbid that the
lofty Hildegardis should ever recall a word spoken solemnly to noble
knights and dames. 'To no vanquished knight,' you said, 'might the
hand of the Emperor's niece belong'--and behold there Froda, the noble
Danish knight, my conqueror." Hildegardis, with a slight blush,
turned hastily away, hiding her eyes, and as Edwald arose, it seemed
as though there were a tear upon his cheek.
In his clanging armour Froda advanced to the middle of the hall,
exclaiming, "I declare my late victory over Duke Edwald to have been
the chance of fortune, and I challenge the noble knight to meet me
again to-morrow in the lists."
At the same time he threw his iron gauntlet ringing on the
But Edwald moved not to take it up. On the contrary, a glow of
lofty anger was on his cheeks, and his eyes sparkled with indignation,
so that his friend would hardly have recognised him; and after a
silence he spoke--
"Noble Sir Froda, if I have ever offended you, we are now even.
How durst you, a warrior gloriously wounded by two sword-strokes,
challenge a man unhurt into the lists to- morrow, if you did not
"Forgive me, Duke Edwald," answered Froda, somewhat abashed, but
with cheerfulness, "I have spoken too boldly. Not till I am
completely cured do I call you to the field."
Then Edwald took up the gauntlet joyfully. He knelt once more
before Hildegardis, who, turning away her face, gave him her fair
hand to kiss, and walked, with his arm in that of his noble Danish
friend, out of the hall.
While Froda's wounds were healing Edwald would sometimes wander,
when the shades of evening fell dark and silent around, on the flowery
terraces beneath the windows of Hildegardis, and sing pleasant little
songs; amongst others the following:--
"Heal fast, heal fast, ye hero-wounds;
O knight, be quickly strong;
For fame and life,
O tarry not too long!"
But that one which the maidens of the castle loved best to learn
from him was this, and it was perhaps the longest song that Edwald had
ever sung in his whole life:--
"Would I on earth were lying,
By noble hero slain;
So that love's gentle sighing
Breathed me to life again!
"Would I an emperor were,
Of wealth and power!
Would I were gathering twigs
In woodland bower!
"Would that in lone seclusion
I lived a hermit's life!
Would, amid wild confusion,
I led the battle-strife!
"O would the lot were mine,
In bower or field,
To which my lady fair
Her smile would yield!"
At this time it happened that a man who held himself to be very
wise, and who filled the office of secretary to the aged guardian of
Hildegardis, came to the two knightly friends to propose a scheme to
them. His proposal, in few words, was this, that as Froda could gain
no advantage from his victory, he might in the approaching combat
suffer himself to be thrown from his steed, and thus secure the lady
for his comrade, at the same time fulfilling the wish of the Emperor,
which might turn to his advantage hereafter in many ways.
At this the two friends at first laughed heartily; but then Froda
advanced gravely towards the secretary, and said, "Thou trifler,
doubtless the old duke would drive thee from his service did he know
of thy folly, and teach thee to talk of the Emperor. Good-night,
worthy sir, and trust me that when Edwald and I meet each other, it
will be with all our heart and strength."
The secretary hastened out of the room with all speed, and was
seen next morning to look unusually pale.
Soon after this Froda recovered from his wounds; the course was
again prepared as before, but crowded by a still greater number of
spectators; and in the freshness of a dewy morning the two knights
advanced solemnly together to the combat.
"Beloved Edwald," said Froda, in a low voice, as they went, "take
good heed to yourself, for neither this time can the victory be
yours--on that rose-coloured cloud appears Aslauga."
"It may be so," answered Edwald, with a quiet smile; "but under
the arches of that golden bower shines Hildegardis, and this time she
has not been waited for."
The knights took their places--the trumpets sounded, the course
began, and Froda's prophecy seemed to be near its fulfilment, for
Edwald staggered under the stroke of his lance, so that he let go the
bridle, seized the mane with both hands, and thus hardly recovered his
seat, whilst his high-mettled snow-white steed bore him wildly around
the lists without control. Hildegardis also seemed to shrink at this
sight, but the youth at length reined-in his steed, and the second
course was run.
Froda shot like lightning along the plain, and it seemed as if the
success of the young duke were now hopeless; but in the shock of their
meeting, the bold Danish steed reared, starting aside as if in fear;
the rider staggered, his stroke passed harmless by, and both steed and
knight fell clanging to the ground before the steadfast spear of
Edwald, and lay motionless upon the field.
Edwald did now as Froda had done before. In knightly wise he
stood still a while upon the spot, as if waiting to see whether any
other adversary were there to dispute his victory; then he sprang from
his steed, and flew to the assistance of his fallen friend.
He strove with all his might to release him from the weight of his
horse, and presently Froda came to himself, rose on his feet, and
raised up his charger also. Then he lifted up his vizor, and greeted
his conqueror with a friendly smile, though his countenance was pale.
The victor bowed humbly, almost timidly, and said, "You, my knight,
overthrown--and by me! I understand it not."
"It was her own will," answered Froda, smiling. "Come now to your
The multitude around shouted aloud, each lady and knight bowed
low, when the aged duke pointed out to them the lovely pair, and at
his bidding, the betrothed, with soft blushes, embraced each other
beneath the green garlands of the golden bower.
That very day were they solemnly united in the chapel of the
castle, for so had Froda earnestly desired. A journey into a
far-distant land, he said, lay before him, and much he wished to
celebrate the marriage of his friend before his departure.
The torches were burning clear in the vaulted halls of the castle,
Hildegardis had just left the arm of her lover to begin a stately
dance of ceremony with the aged duke, when Edwald beckoned to his
companion, and they went forth together into the moonlit gardens of
"Ah, Froda, my noble, lofty hero," exclaimed Edwald, after a
silence, "were you as happy as I am! But your eyes rest gravely and
thoughtfully on the ground, or kindle almost impatiently heavenwards.
It would be dreadful, indeed, had the secret wish of your heart been
to win Hildegardis--and I, foolish boy, so strangely favoured, had
stood in your way."
"Be at rest, Edchen," answered, the Danish hero, with a smile. "On
the word of a knight, my thoughts and yearnings concern not your fair
Hildegardis. Far brighter than ever does Aslauga's radiant image
shine into my heart: but now hear what I am going to relate to you.
"At the very moment when we met together in the course--oh, had I
words to express it to you!--I was enwrapped, encircled, dazzled, by
Aslauga's golden tresses, which were waving all around me. Even my
noble steed must have beheld the apparition, for I felt him start and
rear under me. I saw you no more--the world no more--I saw only the
angel-face of Aslauga close before me, smiling, blooming like a flower
in a sea of sunshine which floated round her. My senses failed me.
Not till you raised me from beneath my horse did my consciousness
return, and then I knew, with exceeding joy, that her own gracious
pleasure had struck me down. But I felt a strange weariness, far
greater than my fall alone could have caused, and I felt assured at
the same time that my lady was about to send me on a far-distant
mission. I hastened to repose myself in my chamber, and a deep sleep
immediately fell upon me. Then came Aslauga in a dream to me, more
royally adorned than ever; she placed herself at the head of my couch,
and said, 'Haste to array thyself in all the splendour of thy silver
armour, for thou art not the wedding-guest alone, thou art also the--'
"And before she could speak the word my dream had melted away, and
I felt a longing desire to fulfil her gracious command, and rejoiced
in my heart. But in the midst of the festival I seemed to myself more
lonely than in all my life before, and I cannot cease to ponder what
that unspoken word of my lady could be intended to announce."
"You are of a far loftier spirit than I am, Froda," said Edwald,
after a silence, "and I cannot soar with you into the sphere of your
joys. But tell me, has it never awakened a deep pang within you that
you serve a lady so withdrawn from you--alas! a lady who is almost
"No, Edwald, not so," answered Froda, his eyes sparkling with
happiness. "For well I know that she scorns not my service; she has
even deigned sometimes to appear to me. Oh, I am in truth a happy
knight and minstrel!"
"And yet your silence to-day--your troubled yearnings?"
"Not troubled, dear Edchen; only so heartfelt, so fervent in the
depth of my heart--and so strangely mysterious to myself withal. But
this, with all belonging to me, springs alike from the words and
commands of Aslauga. How, then, can it be otherwise than something
good and fair, and tending to a high and noble aim?"
A squire, who had hastened after them, announced that the knightly
bridegroom was expected for the torch-dance, and as they returned,
Edwald entreated his friend to take his place in the solemn dance next
to him and Hildegardis. Froda inclined his head in token of friendly
The horns and hautboys had already sounded their solemn
invitation; Edwald hastened to give his hand to his fair bride; and
while he advanced with her to the midst of the stately hall, Froda
offered his hand for the torch-dance to a noble lady who stood the
nearest to him, without farther observing her, and took with her the
next place to the wedded pair.
But how was it when a light began to beam from his companion,
before which the torch in his left hand lost all its brightness?
Hardly dared he, in sweet and trembling hope, to raise his eyes to
the lady; and when at last he ventured, all his boldest wishes and
longings were fulfilled. Adorned with a radiant bridal crown of
emeralds, Aslauga moved in solemn loveliness beside him, and beamed on
him from amid the sunny light of her golden hair, blessing him with
her heavenly countenance. The amazed spectators could not withdraw
their eyes from the mysterious pair--the knight in his light silver
mail, with the torch raised on high in his hand, earnest and joyful,
moving with a measured step, as if engaged in a ceremony of deep and
mysterious meaning. His lady beside him, rather floating than
dancing, beaming light from her golden hair, so that you would have
thought the day was shining into the night; and when a look could
reach through all the surrounding splendour to her face, rejoicing
heart and sense with the unspeakably sweet smile of her eyes and lips.
Near the end of the dance she inclined towards Froda, and
whispered to him with an air of tender confidence, and with the last
sound of the horns and hautboys she had disappeared.
The most curious spectator dared not question Froda about his
partner. Hildegardis did not seem to have been conscious of her
presence, but shortly before the end of the festival Edwald approached
his friend, and asked in a whisper, "Was it?"
"Yes, dear youth," answered Froda; "your marriage-dance has been
honoured by the presence of the most exalted beauty which has been
ever beheld in any land. Ah! and if I rightly understood her meaning,
you will never more see me stand sighing and gazing upon the ground.
But hardly dare I hope it. Now good-night, dear Edchen, good-night.
As soon as I may I will tell you all."
The light and joyous dreams of morning still played round Edwald's
head when it seemed as though a clear light encompassed him. He
remembered Aslauga, but it was Froda, the golden locks of whose helmet
shone now with no less sunny brightness than the flowing hair of his
lady. "Ah!" thought Edwald in his dream, "how beautiful has my
brother-in-arms become!" And Froda said to him, "I will sing
something to you, Edchen; but softly, softly, so that it may not
awaken Hildegardis. Listen to me.
"'She glided in, bright as the day,
There where her knight in slumber lay;
And in her lily hand was seen
A band that seemed of the moonlight sheen.
"We are one," she sang, as about his hair
She twined it, and over her tresses fair.
Beneath them the world lay dark and drear:
But he felt the touch of her hand so dear,
Uplifting him far above mortals' sight,
While around him were shed her locks of light,
Till a garden fair lay about him spread--
And this was Paradise, angels said.'"
"Never in your life did you sing so sweetly," said the dreaming
"That may well be, Edchen," said Froda, with a smile, and
But Edwald dreamed on and on, and many other visions passed before
him, all of a pleasing kind, although he could not recall them when,
in the full light of morning, he unclosed his eyes with a smile.
Froda alone, and his mysterious song, stood clear in his memory. He
now knew full well that his friend was dead; but the thought gave him
no pain, for he felt sure that the pure spirit of that
minstrel-warrior could only find its proper joy in the gardens of
Paradise, and in blissful solace with the lofty spirits of the ancient
times. He glided softly from the side of the sleeping Hildegardis to
the chamber of the departed. He lay upon his bed of rest, almost as
beautiful as he had appeared in the dream, and his golden helmet was
entwined with a wondrously-shining lock of hair. Then Edwald made a
fair and shady grave in consecrated ground, summoned the chaplain of
the castle, and with his assistance laid his beloved Froda therein.
He came back just as Hildegardis awoke; she beheld, with wonder
and humility, his mien of chastened joy, and asked him whither he had
been so early, to which he replied, with a smile, "I have just buried
the corpse of my dearly-loved Froda, who, this very night, has passed
away to his golden- haired mistress." Then he related the whole
history of Aslauga's Knight, and lived on in subdued, unruffled
happiness, though for some time he was even more silent and
thoughtful than before. He was often found sitting on the grave of
his friend, and singing the following song to his lute:--
"Listening to celestial lays,
Bending thy unclouded gaze
On the pure and living light,
Thou art blest, Aslauga'a Knight!
"Send us from thy bower on high
Many an angel-melody,
Many a vision soft and bright,
Aslauga's dear and faithful Knight!"