Nibelungs - George Upton

Dietrich's Fight With Ecke

Now, it chanced one day that a knight of Siegmund's court returned after long wandering in foreign lands, and the King sent for him forthwith, that himself and his son Siegfried might hear what was toward in the world without. Thereupon the knight told them many stirring tales of King Gunther, of Hagen the Grim, of old Hildebrand, and yet others; and the last was the tale of Dietrich's Fight with Ecke.

In a distant heathen country there dwelt three beautiful queens. One day they sat together, and with them the three mightiest champions in the land; and they fell to praising the valor of Dietrich of Bern, of whose deeds great tales were told, and they vowed he must be the bravest and strongest knight alive. This greatly vexed the three heroes, and most of all the greatest of them, who was called Ecke; and he said:

"In truth unto this day there hath been no man who could withstand me, nor shall this mighty Dietrich of Bern!"

At these bold words the queens were glad, and one said to him:

"An thou shalt overcome Dietrich and bring him to us alive, so shalt thou choose which one of us thou wilt for thy wife!"

Then Ecke began forthwith to prepare for his departure, and did but laugh to scorn a certain knight who, having seen Dietrich and knowing of his great prowess, had warned Ecke to take heed for his life. When all was ready, one of the queens bestowed on him a coat of mail, the golden links of which had been toughened by being dipped in dragon's blood, and girded him with a shining sword; the second's gift was a splendid shield; while the third placed upon his head a helm of gold. And there was led forth for him their noblest steed; but this he refused, saying:

"I will not take the steed, for not long might he bear my weight; nor is it needful, since for fourteen days and nights I can fare, knowing neither hunger nor fatigue."

Thereupon Ecke set bravely forth and was soon lost in the depths of the forest, shield and harness ringing so loudly among the trees that bird and beast fled before him in affright. After some days' journeying he learned it was but a day since that Dietrich had been in Bern (Verona); whereat he hastened forthwith to that city. When the people beheld the gigantic hero they were stricken with

terror; for the flashing of his armor in the sunlight was like fire, and they feared lest this mighty being should set the whole city ablaze. But old Hildebrand, who had been Dietrich's master-at-arms, approached him fearlessly; whereupon Ecke asked him where Dietrich might be found, and Hildebrand said:

"It was but yester-morn that Dietrich rode hence toward the Tyrol. Seek him there an thou wilt, bold knight; methinks he will not avoid thee!"

So Ecke hastened after on the road which Dietrich had taken. But ere he had gone far he encountered a huge monster, half horse, half man, which he slew after a fierce struggle.

At last one day he came upon a horse tied to a linden tree, while on the ground near by lay a knight with wounds upon him so fearful it seemed to Ecke naught but a lightning stroke could have dealt them. But from the dying man he learned that the lightning had been no other than the stout arm of Dietrich of Bern. The knight with his three brethren had attacked Dietrich, whereby he had been wounded unto death and the three brethren slain. Then Ecke asked which way Dietrich had taken, and made off with all speed to overtake him; nor was it long ere he saw the gleam of the hero's great helm, called Hildegrimm, among the shades of the forest. But Ecke's armor glittered likewise, and Dietrich becoming aware of it, he halted and waited for Ecke to draw nigh. Then Ecke asked:

"Art thou that Dietrich of Bern, the three queens so greatly desire to look upon?"

And Dietrich answered: "Many are there of that name in Bern, but an thou seekest the son of Dittmar, of a truth thou hast indeed found him."

Then Ecke challenged him to mortal combat; but it was scarce an hour since Dietrich had fought with the four knights and vanquished them, so that he was nowise desirous for a struggle with Ecke, who in stature, moreover, was like a giant beside him. Then Ecke sought to tempt him, saying:

"Seest thou this gold armor of mine? With dragon's blood have its links been toughened, while this helm is the work of no less cunning hands than Wieland's, the mightiest smith in all Jutland. It was wrought from a dragon's skull. Overlaid with gold is it, and lined with steel. They shall be thine an thou overcomest me."

But Dietrich shook his head and made answer that his own helm and harness were good and he asked no better. None the less did Ecke still persist, and drawing his sword, said:

"Behold this wondrous blade. It was cunningly forged by dwarfs in the Tyrol. Twelve months was it in the tempering, and many it hath slain, among them the giant Grimm. From a diamond was the fastening wrought, the hilt from a griffin's horn; inlaid with gold is the sheath, and the tip of it is a ruby. Mighty is it for length and breadth, and Sachs is its name!"

At last, seeing his boasting words were of no avail, he grew angry and cried out, scornfully: "Dietrich thou mayst call thyself, forsooth, but never art thou Dietrich of Bern, the son of Dittmar, the world-renowned hero whom I seek. As for thee, before all men, aye and women likewise, I will hold thee up to scorn as a laggard knight!"

Then Dietrich warned him, saying: "Fool and braggart! An I deign to fight with thee but one of us shall leave this place alive!"

At this Ecke was overjoyed and he shouted: "Draw thy sword, Sir Champion, and of a truth thou shalt have need of the help of thy God!"

Now by this time it had grown so dark they could distinguish each other only by the gleam of their armor. Ecke called on God to assist Dietrich, but for himself he invoked the aid of the devil.

This roused Dietrich to anger; quickly dismounting he tied his horse to a tree and drew his sword. Thereupon they rushed at each other with such fury that even the gleam of helm and shield was no longer visible, and the air was full of flying sparks.

After they had striven for a space, Dietrich said: "Weary am I from my encounter with the four knights. Let us rest till the morning!"

To this Ecke agreed, and laying himself down forthwith, he slept while Dietrich watched beside him. Toward midnight he roused the sleeper and lay down in his turn. But Ecke burned to renew the conflict, and scarce had the east begun to redden when he awoke Dietrich with a kick, whereat Dietrich sprang to his feet in a rage and there began such a furious combat as would have filled a timid spirit with terror. The earth shook beneath the feet of the warriors, while links from their harness flew jangling into the grass and the ground was red with their blood. Now they fall, but rise again and lean on their swords a space to recover their breath; then, glaring at each other, they rush to the attack with renewed fury.

As the sun rose, Ecke grasped his great sword with both hands, and with a mighty blow clove the lion on Dietrich's shield and shore through the shield itself, so that Dietrich was fain to seek shelter in a thicket. But Ecke so hotly pressed his yielding foe that Dietrich raised his hands on high and besought the help of God. Then he smote once with all his strength and bore Ecke to the earth. But Ecke sprang up again forthwith and dealt Dietrich so fierce a blow that it crushed through Hildegrimm and made a great wound on his head beneath, while his steed, terrified by the sound, neighed piteously.

Once more Dietrich called on God, but Ecke on the devil; and now for a space each stood firm as a rock mid thunder and lightning, while the blows fell so fast and their blades flashed so swiftly in air, it seemed as there were a dozen swords aloft at once. Foaming with rage, Ecke reviled Dietrich and swore the devil must be helping him; but Dietrich shouted:

"God alone is my aid!" and again hurled Ecke to the ground. A second time he rose and again the fight began. At length, when the sun was far above the mountain tops, Ecke fell for the third time; whereupon Dietrich sprang upon him, tore off his helm and bade him yield. But Ecke, putting forth all his strength, gripped Dietrich with such force that the blood spurted from his wounds. Long and fiercely they strove together upon the ground, till at last Dietrich plunged his sword through a cleft in Ecke's corselet and into the heart of his fierce foe.

Dietrich looked with awe and even with pity upon the dead form of the gigantic warrior. Seizing a fallen tree, he pried a great rock from the earth and made a grave. In this he laid the body and covered it with earth; then kneeling down he thanked God for his victory and prayed for the lost soul. The carbuncle from Ecke's helm he set in his own cloven Hildegrimm. Then he took the sword Sachs, mounted his horse, and rode back to his own land to bide there till his wounds should be healed. And from that day he bore no other sword than that which he had so hardly won from Ecke in their terrible fight,—the wonderful great Sachs.