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7. King Lareyn's Garden

No one is perfectly certain of exactly where we can find King Lareyn's Garden, but at Wessobrun there is a marble slab bearing the inscription: König Lareyn's Rosengarten, while an arrow points to pleasant vineyards on the mountain slopes.

Was the wonderful garden near this spot? Can we be sure that King Larein lived? If so, when and where? Some people say that this story about his rose garden is only a myth that an old-time poet put into verse and sang up and down the countryside until people grew to believe it.

At any rate, when the rays of the sinking sun fall on the great fangs of the Dolomites, a rosy light spreads with a flush all over the summits of these sharp-peaked mountains, and people afar off point to the red and pink crests, exclaiming: "See! There is King Lareyn's Garden."

The king of the dwarfs

Ages ago, a prince named Adelgar looked with love and longing on Horele, one of the Norginnen, or women of the Norgs, or dwarfs, and married her. For a royal personage to wed a common cobbold was unwise. This was seen in the fate of the children born of the union. One after the other failed and died, till at length, when Horele passed away, only one prince was left to represent the royal race. This was Lareyn.

When Prince Lareyn became a young man he became restless, and when his father asked him why. The youth told him that nothing would satisfy him unless he married a woman from the big world beyond the mountains they lived in the depths of, and where they had long, underground passages, running here and there beneath the slopes of the earth.

When Adelgar knew why his son seemed so dissatisfied, he was sad; yet at length he let Lareyn leave to search for a wife that could make him happy. However, he insisted that the prince should be invisible and travel along with a host of dwarfs who were also to be invisible. Then there was much bustle to prepare for the expedition. Each member, as well as the prince himself must be fitted for a tarnhaut, a close-fitting garment: once it was donned it made the one who wore it, as invisible as the air.

But in the middle of all this hustle and bustle, Adelgar the old king died, leaving Lareyn ruler of the kingdom. More than ever did he now desire to find a wife; but, although he searched the country all around Schlein, the mountain region in which he ruled, nowhere could he discover any daughter of man who won his heart. Still, he believed that, sooner or later, the wife would be found, and so he resolved to make every preparation to receive her very well.

Among other wonderful gifts for his queen, he caused to be fashioned a great dome of crystal. More than one hundred thousand of his subjects toiled incessantly till the great palace, known as the Crystal Castle, stood gleaming in the middle of spacious gardens, the famous rosegarten of King Lareyn. However, so earnest were these denizens of the lower world in delving and hewing that as a result their crops and harvests began to fail from neglect, and dwarfs must eat.

And so King Lareyn and his hordes began to pillage the land far and wide, and showed no mercy. Rich and poor alike were plundered so that the work on the great vault might be completed.

At last the Crystal Castle stood ready. That no dwarf might enter the place, their sovereign caused a girdle of silk to be placed around the building. His bride, whoever she might be, should be the one to first set foot in this wondrous abode. Now the king again put on his dress of invisibility, and, accompanied by his similarly dressed followers, he set forth to find a woman fit to be his wife.

Far and wide they travelled, from castle to castle, from capital to capital, seeking diligently for the loveliness and charm the king had envisaged. Thus it was that, at last, they reached the castle of the duke of Styria at the time when he was holding a great reception. All the lords and ladies of his great realm were gathered there. Unseen, Lareyn and his comrades mixed with this glittering assembly. They were in the open, among park trees, garden flowers, leaping fountains of sparkling water and beautiful ladies.

The fair Similde

It was then that Lareyn, walking alone among the lovely women, caught sight of a girl that made his heart leap. All his life he had seen diamonds and rubies, opals and topazes, silver and gold. But here was the pure and unadorned loveliness of Similde, the lovely daughter of Duke Biterolf of Styria. The way she looked made him dumb with wonder in the middle of the glittering throng.

At this time, Similde was seventeen years old. She was tall, slender and nimble. With brown hair, Her eyes were blue; her even teeth like a row of pearls and her lips, parted in a smile, were as red as rose. She wore a simple, white robe. As Lareyn looked at her, his heart hummed with delight and a deep sigh burst from his lips. The humans he was standing among, wondered at the intense sigh, and looked at one another to see who it came from. Lareyn, unseen, still stood looking at Similde. Love-longing pulsed through his veins. He signalled to an attendant to bring him an extra invisible cloak. Taking this he went nearer to Similde and swiftly threw it over her while she was talking with a group of maidens under a linden tree, - and then she was gone all of a sudden! The maidens heard her cry in despair. After a while the agonized cry was repeated from afar, and then all was still.

The lords and ladies stood confounded. Where was Similde? How could she have disappeared like that? No good explanation was found, and all the while her father and brothers ran here and there, looking for her. On the grass near the entrance of the grounds, one of her friends picked a wreath of lilies that had crowned her hair. That was the only trace they could find of the fair daughter of Duke Biterolf.

The council

A hurried meeting was summoned. The duke of Styria presided over it and resolved to call in the assistance of his sages and readers of signs. Among these was a white-haired old man. At last, during a period of silence, he rose, and leaning on his staff said to the council:

"I should say I can bring light on Similde's disappearance. In chanced that only yesterday, a servant of one of the lords present here told me of strange events that had taken place far off in a mountainous region named Tyrol. He spoke of a certain Lareyn, who, in his search for a bride, was harrying the land. The man added that, in Lareyn's underground realm they had been preparing for a long time to build a castle for the Lareyn's bride, if he could find one! They had to toil and build the castle and gardens around it, so much that they their crops failed them, and then they started to rob the countryside until death was on the land. Perhaps someone here can confirm these tidings."

A certain lord rose. He had lands near the realm of Lareyn. Bowing to the duke and his fellows, he said:

"These things about the dwarfs are true. The wise old man had suggested who may have stolen fair Similde from us. She disappeared in a way that looks like how dwarfs like to take people. So maybe King Lareyn was here in a tarnhaut, in clothes that made him invisible to us, and carried her off. If we are to deal with this king of dwarfs, may Heaven help us!" - he crossed himself devoutly - " for in Lareyn we have a subtle, dangerous foe, one who hardly knows of gentle and knightly customs."

Then they discussed what to do, and the outcome was that it was decided to send messengers to ask for reliable news about King Lareyn. It took some weeks for these men to go and return; but when they arrived at last before the duke of Styria, they brought many tidings of the great disturbances that had been going on in the dwarf-world. It was known that the king had left his land some time before; at a datethat matched well the date Similde was gone. And after he had been away for long, he suddenly returned. Then, by night, sounds of mirth and merriment, mingled with great gusts of shrill laughter, had pierced the open places of the mountains, to the dread of the dwellers on the earth.

Then the old man with the silver-white hair, rose and spoke:

"It seems to me that to deal with Lareyn we must use cunning rather than force. Foresight and skill are necessary if we desire to release this beautiful maiden. To send an army would be useless. This business must be handled by one man, or at the most, a few men. It is a matter for those who are brave enough to get into the underworld, and risk their lives in seeking for fair Similde."

For a long while no one spoke.

Dietrich of Berne

Then, from the outskirts of the council, came a voice. All turned to look at the speaker. He was a youth of about twenty-one years of age, tall and powerfully built, and with eyes that shone brightly in an open, handsome face. One hand rested on his sword hilt, the other was partly raised after the manner of a man about to address an audience.

"Duke Biterolf and his sons Dietlieb and Leonhard will perhaps remember Dietrich of Berne, who, as a child, was privileged to play with Similde in the castle grounds."

Duke Biterolf and his two sons nodded.

The young warrior went on. "Since those days, I have wandered far and wide, and have fought in many battles, till last year during the Crusade in the East, I was knighted for my services. Yet, wherever I have been, and whatever I have done, the memories of glorious Similde has never been away from my thoughts night or day. In my childhood I loved her, and love has grown with life. Were it not for this grievous loss, I could scarcely have spoken of this, seeing that, as yet, my sword has won fame but little wealth. Now, however, it seems to me that the occasion justifies that I tell about these matters. And if duke Biterolf approves, I will go and search for her."

The father of Similde arose, and smiling sadly on Dietrich of Berne, said:

"I know you are an honourable and pure knight, but after all, my lovely daughter has been spirited away. It may be awfully hard to find her."

Dietrich still offered to look for her. Either he would go alone, he assured them, or, at the most, with two others to get into the kingdom of Lareyn. He would either die in the attempt or return with the beautiful Similde. If they met with success and Similde said yes to him, he might ask her father of her hand in marriage.

After his offer a buzz of approval rose from all the council. Men were rejoiced to find that one of their number was brave enough to risk his life in this attempt. And, in the middle of this subdued applause, Dietlieb and Leonhard, the brothers of Similde, having whispered together, the elder, Dietlieb, arose, and said simply: "We two, brothers of the stolen maiden, will go with our old playfellow to try to rescue her." In the middle of great enthusiasm the three young knights embraced one another, and swore to be faithful in the middle of all dangers.

Dietrich rides off

As soon as preparations could be made, Dietrich, Dietlieb, and Leonhard rode from the territory of the duke of Styria and towards the place where Lareyn held sway. To lead an army there would be unwise, for the more secretly the young knights could approach, the better it would be for their plans. Therefore, only thirty horsemen rode with them, but these were the pick of the land and were armed from head to foot. However, the duke of Styria should follow at a distance with an army in case of need. Yet, before the little band left, the silver-haired old man sent for Dietrich, and told him:

"I have been struck by your courage and earnestness in love. I wish to aid you in this expedition but can do little, for you are going out to match your wit and strength against the most subtle foe you could find on earth. Any arts I may possess are but child's play to his. However, go without clanking armour into a cave that lies near the summit of the Schlein mountain, pointing straight south. Enter from there the dark passages leading down to Lareyn's kingdom. Steal quietly along. Let no one see you. Use your eyes and ears, and do not strike hurriedly. Search, find, prepare. Then, if you are fortunate enough to escape, go back and fetch your fellows, and so to the rescue. Farewell."

These words ran in Dietrich's mind as he rode along. "Search, find, prepare." He thought the old man's advice was good. He resolved to journey with soft, grey woollen clothing under his armour, so that in the darkness of the underworld he might more readily creep softly here and there.

The three knights rode unobserved and unchallenged with their retinue to the foot of the Schlein mountain in the Dolomites. Finding a sheltered and peaceful valley, the thirty knights settled down, to keep watch and ward till their leaders came back. These, leaving their horses with their followers, climbed by night to the summit of the Schlein mountain, and, by observing the stars, made their way to the southern side. Groping here and there, at last, soon after midnight, they hit on the cave that faced straight south. After entering it, they found it best to wait till the day dawned, when they could better explore the recesses for a passage down to the realm below. That there was such a passage was clear, for a muffled sounds of music came in faint bursts from the deeps somewhere.

Soon the pale dawn broke, and gradually the light increased so that Dietrich and his comrades could examine the cavern. It ran back deep into the mountainside. Advancing cautiously, they found an opening behind a great rock that seemed to have fallen from the roof. There was just room for one man to squeeze through, as they supposedthat this was one way to the kingdom of King Lareyn.

Then they sat down to discuss what should be done. Dietrich, however, made it plain what course he wanted to take. He insisted that Similde's brothers should wait in or near the cave until he returned. He had volunteered to go to their sister's rescue because he loved her. It was not befitting now that any should seek to deter him. The brothers agreed, and wished him safety and success. They were to wait two days and two nights near the cave. If he did not return by then, they were free to do as they found fit themselves.

The kingdom of King Lareyn

Dietrich took off his armour till he stood dressed only in the dark, grey, woollen clothing he wore under it. He chose from his weapons his bare sword, and, grasping it in his hand, without a word, turned and entered the gap behind the fallen rock. It was with difficulty that he forced himself through the crevice, for he was a big and powerful man, but after one sturdy thrust he found himself in a passage-way that was large enough for him to stand upright and move his arms freely. The air he breathed was as fresh as that of the mountain-side. As he was now in Lareyn's territory, he determined to move ahead as silently as a cat that moves about in the dark night. After some time in the passage-way he noticed there was a dim light all around, so he could place stones as guiding marks at various corners if he needed to retreat hurriedly.

While he thus examined the passage he suddenly heard voices near at hand. He slid silently into a niche in the passage-way and waited, listening eagerly. Two dwarfs, servants of the court, came slowly by, chatting as they walked.

They passed on, leaving Dietrich glad at heart. From what they had said he understood the wedding was not yet, and there might be time to save Similde yet.

As soon as all was quiet, he moved out again, even more carefully, for any moment he might easily blunder into a group of dwarfs. Dietrich noticed that the dwarfs were only about two feet tall, but even so, he desired to move secretly to do what he came for, to rescue Similde. As he moved along, he noticed the light got brighter. He pressed himself against a wall and felt for a gap to hide in. This he did as best he could, and looked out to find out why the light was brighter, and aAt the end of the passage he caught sight of a great open space.

The Crystal Castle

He had come to the very spot where Lareyn had built the great crystal hall to receive his bride. There it stood, and dwarfs were forbidden to enter it for now. A girdle of silk marked that. A gap in the mountain crest made bright sunlight flood over the Crystal Castle with its many changing colours. Dietrich could see through the crystal walls to what was happening on the other side. As he gazed in wonder. he saw Similde pace slowly into view. She looked sad and dejected, he thought.

Dietrich pondered. What was he to do next? The answer came with the approaching darkness at the end of the day. Dietrich wondered: Would they illumine the open crystal dome with torches? He found a deeper recess and waited to know better how to go on. Before long he became aware of a flickering light that cast shadows along the pathway. Then, for a while, he heard footsteps and voices. Dwarfs were carrying torches here and there to lighten the darkness of the underworld. He thought they would go to sleep later, and so he had a chance to get to the crystal prison where Similde was held.

As he lay hiding, he heard two dwarfs discussing the wedding, and the day after next was the time set for it! There was no time to lose. At the risk of being seen, Dietrich crept out, put outone torch, and put it where he could find it. The hours passed by and the lit torches here and there flickered and went out. They were not replaced. Dietrich crept out again and got nearer to the great space where stood the Crystal Hall.

There too, light was growing fainter. He stood in a recess and watched the torches fade one by one. Then, when all was quiet and dark and no other light than that of the stars fell on the dome, he lay on the ground and crawled like a snake nearer and nearer to the silken girdle. In the deep shadow of the night no one saw him and sounded any alarm. He stepped over the soft barrier, and now he touched the cold, hard walls of the transparent palace. There was no light within. He groped his way till he chanced on what at first seemed like a crack in the crystal. His hand moved carefully up and down to find out what this might be, and then to his joy he realised it was a door. Slowly and with intense caution he pressed the crystal, and the door yielded. He entered the palace of King Lareyn! Here and there he crept, but saw neither male nor female dwarf. Suddenly he stopped and bent low, for at his feet lay Similde, his old playfellow.

The Escape from the Crystal Castle

There was no time to lose, and there must be no noise. Gently he knelt by Similde's side, and with a gesture of a child who touches the feathers of a bird, he laid his fingers on her lips. She stirred. Dietrich repeated the action, and Similde, half awake, murmured: "Who's that?" Then, leaning over the girl, as she collected he senses, Dietrich whispered the names of her father and brothers, till she had come to full consciousness and understanding. Then in hurried tones he explained his errand. Her brothers were waiting. They had an armed force in the valley. Would she come with her old playfellow away from this captivity and make a bid fo freedom? Would she? She must choose a once.

Without a word, Similde got up and threw a cloak over her shoulders and put her hand confidingly in that of Dietrich. She led him to the doorway and there both of them stepped over the silken girdle and followed the dark corridor till Dietrich arrived at the place where he had hidden the torch. Close at hand a remnant of embers glowed faintly. He placed his torch in these and fanned them till a flame sprang up, and kindled the resin in the wood. Then, raising the light above his head, he gave his left hand to Similde, and, with eager steps, they hastened up the sloping path towards safety.

So easy had been the recapture of Similde, that Dietrich could realise that he was not dreaming only by clasping her hand more firmly in his to assure himself of her presence. On they went, and in silence. Now and then they dislodged a stone, but there was no one to notice this. Occasionally the knight of Berne saw the marks he had placed as guides. He had never dreamed that success would come so easily and so soon! And now they reached the opening leading to the cavern. Gently Dietrich guided his fair companion through, then, he himself following with more difficulty, they both stood in the fresh air.

"Come," he said. "Your brothers wait outside."

He led her to the mouth of the cave, and there, sure enough, lying fast asleep on the ground was Leonhard, while Dietlieb sat silent at his side, keeping watch. At the sound of approaching footsteps he sprang to his feet and drew his sword, but a whispered caution from Dietrich made himexclaim in surprise.

"Hush!" muttered Dietrich, "we are not safe yet. Wake Leonhard and follow me." Then, catching Similde in his arms as easily as a mother lifts her child from its bed, he sped with swift swinging steps down the mountain-side, followed by the astonished brothers, who with drawn swords, and bearing the armour of Dietrich, trod close behind him.

The further flight

Before dawn they rejoined their escort of thirty men, and told them hurriedly what had happened. A speedy meal was made, and, even while they ate, men saw to their horses and their armour. Similde was mounted on a spare horse and placed in the middle of a chosen band of twenty warriors. The other ten, with Dietrich, now armed, and Dietlieb and Leonhard, were close behind them, to serve as a rear guard if they were attacked.

They rode off in the early dawn, out of the valley at the foot of the Schlein mountain. Crossing a pine wood, at last they entered on an open space. Beyond it they hoped to find the territory of the lord who was the neighbour of Lareyn, for they wanted to bring Similde speedily to a place where she might be served by others of her own sex. Just as they had begun to urge their horses to a gallop, there came a noise like the howling of the wind through the tree-tops when a gale is at its height. They all turned and looked backward.

From hundreds of openings in the mountain-side, from behind rocks, out from under the roots of trees, and moss-covered boulders poured thousands and thousands of King Lareyn's dwarfs, shrieking and screaming with anger.

They had discovered that Similde was gone. Those who lived in the strange underground world, and Lareyn and his hosts were hurrying to get Similde back for the wedding. They streamed out like ants, and the earth seemed black with angry dwarfs whoran with incredible speed after the fugitives

"Onward!" cried Dietrich to those ahead. "Save Lady Similde, and think only of her. Cut your way through any who try to stop you, and bring her to safety. We will guard the rear."

They were now at the entrance of another valley and, as far as they could see, the road ahead was unhindered. The band of warriors guarding Similde plunged forward, while Dietrich and his companions took a stance close to the entrance of the valley.

The battle in the valley

Dietrich turned to his comrades, and said: "The dwarfs will be on us in a few moments. Fighting in close order we shall only hinder one another. Open out, friends, and leave such space between us that allow for our swordplay. And whatever happens, don't let any of these guys pass through our lines."

Then, fastly, he divided his slender forces into two lines of five, while he and the two brothers rode out to meet the onrush of the enemy.

They did not have to wait for long. Like a flood of dark waters the hosts of Lareyn swept up against the three young knights, threatening to engulf them. As they rushed on the armed men, the dwarfs shrieked and screamed wildly. The wide sword-sweeps of Dietrich and the brothers flashed. The dwarfs fell and fell. The blood of a hundred creatures poured on the ground. The discordant cries of the dwarfs rang like cries of sea-fowl over a ship at sea.

Every now and again some dwarf would penetrate near enough to stab one of the knights with his little sword or lance till Leonhard and his brother were weary and bled at the knee. Dietrich remained unwounded, but as he kept mowing down foes, he began to feel weak with weariness. Then, with Leonhard and Dietlieb he drew back for a little to recover behind the two rows of their ten warriors, and let them fight for a while.

In this way the fight went on while their twenty fellows led Similde away from the horde. As each line withdrew to rest, the reserve line came forward and fought on so well that the ground lay strewn with bodies. The blood of the slaughter stained the rocks. But each time the knights in the first line of five wearied and stepped backwards to let the rested line behind them fight on, they had to withdrew a few yards. As they fought and backed in such a way, they gradually got nearer to the mouth of the narrow valley path. When they saw it, the horde of dwarfs uttered shrill cries of triumph, for they could soon pass behind the slowly retreating and fighting knights.

Therefore, at the sign from some leader, many dwarfs now pressed to the right and left and began to clamber up rocks and roots in order to attack the narrow line of knights from behind.

The knights saw this, and by the command of Dietrich withdrew faster, step by step, in hope to reach a point their enemies could not easily pass. Such a place they found, but it was narrow, and, what was worse, the steep sides were littered with rocks that lay loose on the ground.

The dwarfs now rushed to this place, and thrust rocks from their places so that they came hurtling down on the band of warring knights below.

Dietrich realised that they had to retreat. Bidding two of his fellows lift one of their comrades who had fallen wounded, he and Leonhard served as a rear-guard as the others hurried on to safety. Then, falling back step by step, they too retreated till they reached a wider place, and there, once again, the bitter fight went on. AThe vast hosts of the underworld began to realise that the knights might not fight back much longer. Stimulated by this, they increased their efforts.

At this point King Lareyn himself came into sight. Dietrich could see him not far away, shouting orders to his army. The sight made Dietrich angry, and by his anger he felt stronger. Hardly knowing what he did, he sprang from his fellows, and whirled his sword, bursting into the throng of enemies. Cutting his way rapidly, he mowed a path to the circle that King Lareyn stood in.

A dead silence followed. The dwarfs were horrified to see how he mowed them down, and the wounded knights gladly rested a little as Dietrich cut his way as in a harvest field.

Then from behind in the valley rose the clarion call of a hundred trumpets, and splendid army of armed warriors came riding fiercely to the rescue. The duke of Styria's army had met the fugitives and after hearing the news, hastened without a halt to join the fight in the narrow valley.

King Lareyn is taken prisoner

With a wail of agony and anger the surviving dwarfs turned towards home and safety. All, except their king. As he turned to flee, a mighty warrior arm grabbed him and held him fast. Then Dietrich, swinging his sword with one hand, carried the monarch back to the little band of comrades and held him there among them. Lareyn was a prisoner and could not hope to escape.

The newly arrived knights swept the mountainside clear of enemies and turned to rejoin Dietrich, but he had mounted a horse and, carrying Lareyn before him across the saddle, rode fast and furiously till he reached a town where he could find a wizard to make the dwarf king harmless and unable to get help by any tarnhaut or other means to get invisible and powerful again.

Fortunately, he did not have to ride far. A wandering wizard came in sight, and Dietrich rapidly told his story. Then the wisard asked the knight to hold the angry dwarf while the wizard said magic incantations over him. The wizard suggested that they should also strip the dwarf and dip him several times into a healing source of water, and thus get unacceptable to his people. Dietrich himself thrust the king's body several times and then six more times, face downwards, in the healing water.

Afterwards, Dietrich thanked and rewarded the wizard and hastened to carry Lareyn to the duke of Styria. He was told what had been done, smiled a benignant smile and sent the prisoner to a place with thick, solid walls and many people always on guard.

Dietrich and Similde are married

About a month after the terrible fight, Dietrich the crusader led fair Similde to the altar. There, in the presence of her father and two brothers, and all the company of knights who had ridden to her rescue, she was married to her brave knight. Clad in a white dress and carrying an armful of lilies she passed through the ranks of warriors, smiling gratefully. The happy pair were granted an estate by the duke of Styria. He rejoiced to have such a noble couple as neighbours. In due course Similde and Dietricht brought into this world a brood of merry and sturdy boys, and their loving parents lived long and bright days to the end.

[Retold]

⚶⚶⚶

The older the billy-goat, the stiffer are his horns. (Proverb from Tyrol)

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