Theodoric the Goth - Barbarian Champion of Civilisation
by Thomas Hodgkin
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Still, in deference to the unanimous opinion of his counsellors, Justinian decided once more to avail himself of the services of Belisarius for the reconquest of Italy. But his unquenched jealousy of his great general's fame, and the almost bankrupt condition of the Imperial exchequer converged to the same point, and caused Justinian, while entrusting Belisarius with the command, to couple with it the monstrous stipulation that he was not to ask for any money for the war. And this, though it was clear to all men that the want of money and the consequent desertion of the Imperial standard by whole companies of grumbling barbarians, had been one main cause of the amazing success of Totila. Thus crippled by his master, and having his own spirit broken by Imperial ingratitude and domestic unhappiness, Belisarius, in the whole course of his second command in Italy, which lasted for five years—(544-549) did nothing, or I should rather say only one thing, worthy of his former reputation. This is the judgment which his former friend and admirer, Procopius, passes on this period of his life. "Thus then", (in 549) "Belisarius departed to Byzantium without glory, having been for five years in Italy, but having never been strong enough to make a regular march by land in all that time, but having flitted about from one fortress on the coast to another, and so left the enemy free to capture Rome and almost every other place which they attacked".

Notwithstanding this harsh sentence, it was in connection with the siege of Rome that the old Belisarius, the man of infinite resource and courageous dexterity, once more revealed himself, and while we gladly let all the other events of these five tedious years glide into oblivion, it is worth while devoting a few pages to the Second and Third Gothic sieges of Rome.

Totila had quite determined not to repeat the mistake of Witigis, by dashing his army to pieces against the walls of Rome, but, for all that, he could not feel his recovery of Italy to be complete so long as the Eternal City defied his power. He therefore slowly tightened his grasp on the City, capturing one town after another in its neighbourhood and watching the roads to prevent convoys of provisions from entering it. He was on good terms with the peasants of the surrounding country, paid liberally for all the provisions required by his army (far smaller than that of Witigis), and kept his soldiers in good heart and in high health, while the unhappy citizens were seeing the great enemy—Famine—slowly approach nearer and nearer to their homes.

Within the City there was now no such provident and resourceful general as Belisarius. Bessas, the commandant, himself an Ostrogoth of Moesia by birth, was a brave man, but coarse, selfish, and unfeeling. Intent only on filling his own coffers by selling the corn which he had stored up in his warehouses at a famine-price to the citizens, he was not touched by the increasing misery around him, and made no effectual attempt to break the net which Totila had drawn round Rome. Belisarius himself, "flitting from point to point of the coast", had come to Portus eighteen miles from Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber. It was no want of good-will on his part that prevented him from bringing his provision-ships up the river to the help of the famished City, but about four miles above Portus Totila had placed a strong boom of timber, protected in front by an iron chain and guarded by two towers, one at each end of the bridge which was above the boom. Belisarius made his preparations for destroying the boom: a floating tower as high as the bridge placed on two barges, a large vessel filled with "Greek fire" at the top of the tower, soldiers below to hew the boom in pieces and sever the chain, a long train of merchantmen behind laden with provisions for the hungry Romans, and manned by archers who poured a deadly volley of arrows on the defenders of the bridge. All went well with his design up to a certain point. The chain was severed, the Goths fell fast under the arrows from the ships, the vessel of "Greek fire" was hurled upon one of the forts, which was soon wrapped in flames. With might and main the Imperial soldiers began to hack at the boom, and it seemed as if in a few minutes the corn-laden vessels would be sailing up the Tiber, bringing glad relief to the starving citizens. But just at that moment a horseman galloped up to Belisarius with the unwelcome tidings—"Isaac is taken prisoner". Isaac the Armenian was Belisarius' second in command, whom he had left at Portus in charge of his stores, his munitions of war, and most important of all, the now reconciled Antonina. In spite of Belisarius' strict injunction to act solely on the defensive, Isaac, watching from afar the successful movements of his chief, had sallied forth to attack the Gothic garrison at Ostia on the opposite bank of the river. His defeat and consequent capture were events of little moment in themselves, but all-important as arresting the victorious career of Belisarius. For to the anxious soul of the general the capture of Isaac seemed to mean the capture of Portus, the cutting off of his army from their base of operations, the captivity of his beloved Antonina. He gave the signal for retreat; the attempt to provision Rome had failed; the Imperial army returned to Portus. When he found what it was that had really happened, and by what a combination of folly and ill luck he had been prevented from winning a splendid victory, his annoyance was so great that combined with the unwholesome air of the Campagna it threw him into a fever which brought him near to death and prevented him for some months from taking any part in the war.

Meanwhile dire famine bore sway in the beleaguered city. Wheat was sold for L22 a quarter, and the greater part of the citizens were thankful to live on coarse bread made of bran, which was doled out to them by Bessas at a quarter of the price of wheat. Before long even this bran became a luxury beyond their power to purchase. Dogs and mice provided them with their only meals of flesh, but the staple article of food was nettles. With blackened skin and drawn faces, mere ghosts of their former selves, the once proud and prosperous citizens of Rome wandered about the waste places where these nettles grew, and often one of them would be found dead with hunger, his strength having suddenly failed him while attempting to gather his wretched meal.

At length this misery was suddenly ended. Some Isaurian soldiers who were guarding the Asinarian Gate in the south-east of the City made overtures to the Gothic soldiers for the betrayal of their post. These Isaurians were probably part of the former garrison of Naples whom Totila had treated with great generosity after the surrender of that city. They remembered the kindness then shown them; they were weary of the siege, and disgusted with the selfish avarice of their generals, and they soon came to terms with the besiegers. Four of the bravest Goths being hoisted over the walls at night by the friendly Isaurians, ran round to the Asinarian Gate, battered its bolts and bars to pieces, and let in their waiting comrades. Unopposed, the Gothic army marched in,[150] unresisting, the Imperial troops marched out by the Flaminian Gate. The play was precisely the same that had been enacted ten years before when Belisarius won the city from Leudaris, but with the parts reversed. What Witigis with his one hundred and fifty thousand Goths had failed to accomplish, an army of not more than a tenth of that number[151] had accomplished under Totila. Bessas and the other generals fled headlong with the rest of the crowd that pressed out of the Flaminian Gate, and the treasure, accumulated with such brutal disregard of human suffering, fell into the hands of the besiegers.

[Footnote 150: 17th December, 546.]

[Footnote 151: Apparently, but we do not seem to have a precise statement of the numbers of Totila's army at this time.]

At first murder and plunder raged unchecked through the streets of the City, the exasperation which had been caused by the events of the long siege having made every Gothic heart bitter against Rome and Romans. But after sixty citizens had been slain, Totila, who had gone to St. Peter's to offer up his prayers and thanksgivings, listened to the intercession of the deacon Pelagius[152] and commanded that slaughter should cease. But there were only five hundred citizens left in Rome to receive the benefit of the amnesty, so great had been the depopulation of the City by war and famine.[153]

[Footnote 152: Pelagius was at this time, owing to the absence of Pope Vigilius on a journey to Constantinople, the most influential ecclesiastic in Rome, and eight years later he succeeded Vigilius in the Papal Chair]

[Footnote 153: At a certain point of the siege the non-combatants had been sent out of the City by Bessas, but the number of those who passed safely through the lines of the besiegers was not great.]

And now had come a fateful moment in the history of Roma AEterna. A conqueror stood within her walls, not in mere joyousness of heart like Alaric, pleased with the exploit of bringing to her knees the mistress of the world, not intent on vulgar plans of plunder like Gaiseric, but nourishing a deep and deadly hatred against that false and ungrateful City, and, by the ghosts of a hundred and fifty thousand of his countrymen who had died before her untaken walls, beckoned on a memorable revenge. Totila would spare, as he had promised, the lives of the trembling citizens, but he had determined that Rome herself should perish. The walls should be dismantled, the public buildings burned to the ground, and sheep should graze again over the seven hills of the City as they had grazed thirteen hundred years before, when Romulus and Remus were suckled by the wolf. From this purpose, however, he was moved by the intercession of Belisarius, who, from his couch of fever, wrote a spirit-stirring letter to Totila, pleading for Rome, greatest and most glorious of all cities that the sun looked down upon, the work not of one king nor one century, but of long ages and many generations of noble men. Belisarius concluded with an appeal to the Gothic king to consider what should be his own eternal record in history, whether he would rather be remembered as the preserver or the destroyer of the greatest city in the world.

This appeal, made by one hero to another, was successful. Totila was still bent on preventing the City from ever again becoming a stronghold of the enemy, and therefore determined to lay one-third of the walls level with the ground, but he assured the messengers of Belisarius that he would leave the great monuments of Rome untouched. Having accomplished the needed demolition of her defences, he marched forth with his army from the desolate and sepulchral City and took up a position in the Alban Mountains, which are seen by the dwellers in Rome far off on their south-eastern horizon.

When Totila withdrew Rome was left, we are told, absolutely devoid of inhabitants.[154] The Senators he kept in his camp as hostages, and all the less influential citizens with their wives and children were sent away to the confines of Campania. For forty days or more the great City which had been for so long the heart of the human universe, the city which, with the million-fold tide of life throbbing in her veins, had most vividly prefigured the London of our own day, remained "waste and without inhabitants", as desolate as Anderida in Kent had been left half a century before by her savage Saxon conquerors.

[Footnote 154: As the passage is an important one I will give a literal translation of the words of Procopius ("De Bell. Gotthico", iii., 22): "Of the Romans, however, he kept the members of the Senate with him, but sent away all the others with their wives and children to the regions bordering on Campania, having permitted not a single human being to remain in Rome, but having left her absolutely desolate". (Greek: en Roome anthropon oudena eassas, all' eremon auten to parapan apolipoon.)

The contemporary chronicler Marcellinus Comes confirms this statement: "Post quam devastationem XL. aut amplius dies Roma fuit ita desolata ut nemo ibi hominum nisi bestiae morarentur".]

And then came another change—one of the most marvellous in the history of that City whose whole life has been a marvel. While Totila abode in his camp on the Alban Hills, Belisarius, rising from the bed to which fever had for so many weeks chained him, made a visit to Rome, accompanied by a thousand soldiers, that he might see with his own eyes into what depth of calamity she had fallen. At first, it would seem, mere curiosity led him to the ruined City, but when he was there, gazing on Totila's work of devastation, a brilliant thought flashed through his brain. After all the demolitions of Totila, the ruin was not irretrievable. By repairing the rents in the walls, Rome might yet be made defensible. He would re-occupy it, and the Goths should find that they had all their work to do over again. The idea seemed at first to his counsellors like the suggestion of delirium, but as it rapidly took shape under his hands, it was recognised as being indeed a masterstroke of well-calculated audacity. Leaving a small body of men to guard his base of operations at Portus, he moved every available man to Rome, crowded them up to the gaps made by Totila, bade them build anyhow, with any sort of material—mortar was out of the question; it must be mere dry walling that they could accomplish,—only let them preserve some semblance of an upright wall, and crown the summit of it with a rampart of stakes. The deep fosse below fortunately remained as it was, not filled up. So in five and twenty days the circuit of the walls was completed, truly in a most slovenly style of building, the marks of which we can see even to this day, but Rome was once again a "fenced city". As soon as Totila heard the unwelcome tidings, he marched with his whole army to Rome, hoping to take the City, as his soldiers said, "at the first shout". But he had Belisarius to deal with, not Bessas. There had not yet been time even to make new gates for the City instead of those which Totila had destroyed, but Belisarius planted all his bravest soldiers in the void places where the gates should be, and guarded the approach by caltrops (somewhat like those wherewith Bruce defended his line at Bannockburn), so as to make a charge of Gothic cavalry impossible. Three long days of hard-fought battle were spent round the fateful City. In each the Goths, whatever temporary advantages they might gain, were finally repulsed, and at length Totila, who was not going to repeat the error of Witigis, marched away from the too well-known scene, amid the bitter reproaches of the Gothic nobles, who before had praised him like a god for all his valour and dexterity in war, but now, on the morrow of his first great blunder, loudly upbraided him for his imprudence, adding the obvious and easy piece of Epimethean criticism, "that the City ought either to have been utterly destroyed, or else occupied with a sufficient force". Meanwhile Belisarius at his leisure completed the repair of the walls, hung the massive gates on their hinges, had keys made to fit their locks, and sent the duplicate keys to Justinian. The Roman Empire once again had Rome.

And yet this re-occupation of the Eternal City, brilliant and striking achievement as it was, had little influence on the course of the war. Rome was now like a great stone left in an alluvial plain showing where the river had once flowed, but the currents of commerce, of politics, of war, flowed now in other channels. Belisarius, leaving a garrison in Rome, had to betake himself once more to that desultory warfare, flitting round the coast from one naval fortress to another, in which the earlier years of his second command had been passed; and at length, early in 549, only two years after his re-occupation of Rome, he obtained as a great favour, through the intercession of Antonina, permission to resign his command and return to Constantinople. It was on this occasion that Procopius passed that harsh judgment as to the inglorious character of these later operations of his in Italy, which was quoted on a previous page.[155]

[Footnote 155: See page 349.]

I will briefly summarise the subsequent events in the life of the old hero:

Once more, ten years after the return of Belisarius (in 559), his services were claimed by Justinian in order to repel a horde of savage Huns who had penetrated within eighteen miles of Constantinople. The work was brilliantly done, with much of the old ingenuity and fertility of resource which had marked his first campaign in Italy, and then Belisarius relapsed into inactivity. He was again accused (562), probably without justice, of abetting a conspiracy against the Emperor, was disgraced and imprisoned in his own palace. After seven months he was restored to the Imperial favour, the falsity of the accusation against him having probably become apparent. He died in 565, in about the sixtieth year of his age, and only a few months before his jealous master. He had more than once had to endure the withdrawal of that master's confidence, and some portions of his vast wealth were on two occasions taken from him. But this is all that can be truly said as to the reverses of fortune undergone by the conqueror of the Vandals and the Goths. The stories of his blindness and of his beggary, of his holding forth a wooden bowl and whining out "Date obolum Belisario", rest on no good foundation, and either arise from a confusion between Belisarius and another disgraced minister of Justinian, or else are simply due to the myth-making industry of the Middle Ages.



Totila again takes Rome—High-water mark of the success of the Gothic arms—Narses, the Emperor's Chamberlain, appointed to command another expedition for the recovery of Italy—His character—His semi-barbarous army—Enters Italy—Battle of the Apennines—Totila slam—End of the Gothic dominion in Italy.

Soon after the return of Belisarius to Constantinople came the Fourth Siege of Rome. Totila, who had sought the hand of a Frankish princess in marriage, received for answer from her father, "that the man who had not been able to keep Rome when he had taken it, but had destroyed part and abandoned the rest to the enemy, was no King of Italy".[156]

[Footnote 156: Procopius, "De Bello Gotthico", iii., 37. This is one of the passages which make me somewhat doubtful whether we are not too confident in our denial of the title "King of Italy" to Odovacar and Theodoric. The words are clear.]

The taunt stung Totila to the quick. We know not whether he won his Frankish bride or no, but he was determined to win Rome. Assault again failing, he occupied Portus and instituted a more rigorous blockade than ever. But it had become a matter of some difficulty to starve out the defenders of Rome, for there were practically no citizens there, only a garrison, for whose food the corn grown within the enclosure of the walls was nearly sufficient. The economic change from the days of the Empire thus revealed to us is almost as great as if the harvests of Hyde Park and Regent's Park sufficed to feed the diminished population of London.

There was, however, among the Imperial soldiers in the garrison of Rome, as elsewhere, deep discontent, amounting sometimes to mutiny, at the long withholding of their arrears of pay; and the sight of the pomp and splendour, which surrounded the former betrayer of Rome when they rode in the ranks with Totila, was too much for their Isaurian countrymen. The men who kept watch by the Gate of St. Paul (close to the Pyramid of C. Sestius, and now overlooking the English Cemetery and Keats' grave) offered to surrender their post to the Gothic king. To distract the attention of the garrison he sent by night a little band of soldiers on two skiffs up the Tiber as far as they could penetrate towards the heart of the City. These men blew a loud blast with their trumpets, and thereby called the bulk of the defenders down to the river-walls, while the Isaurians were opening St. Paul's Gate to the besiegers, who marched in almost unopposed. The garrison galloped off along the road to Civita Vecchia, and on their way fell into an ambush which Totila had prepared for them, whereby most of them perished (549).

Totila, now a second time master of Rome, determined to hold it securely. He restored some of the public buildings which he had previously destroyed; he adorned and beautified the City to the utmost of his power; he invited the Senators and their families to return; he celebrated the equestrian games in the Circus Maximus: in all things he behaved himself as much as possible like one of the old Emperors of Rome.

The year 550 was the high-water mark of the success of the Gothic arms. In Italy only four cities—all on the sea-coast—were left to the Emperor; these were Ravenna, Ancona, Otranto, and Crotona. In Sicily most of the cities were still Imperial, but Totila had moved freely hither and thither through the island, ravaging the villas and the farms, collecting great stores of grain and fruit, driving off horses and cattle, and generally visiting on the hapless Sicilians the treachery which in his view they had shown to the Ostrogothic dynasty by the eagerness with which, fifteen years before, they had welcomed the arms of Belisarius.

But at the end of a long and exhausting war it is often seen that victory rests with that power which has enough reserve force left to make one final effort, even though that effort in the earlier years of the war might not have been deemed a great one. So was it now with Justinian's conquest of Italy. Though he himself was utterly weary of the Sisyphean labour, he would not surrender a shred of his theoretical claims, nor would he even condescend to admit to an audience the ambassadors of Totila, who came to plead for peace and alliance between the two hostile powers.

In his perplexity as to the further conduct of the war he offered the command to his Grand Chamberlain Narses, who eagerly accepted it. The choice was indeed a strange one. Narses, an Armenian by birth, brought as an eunuch to Constantinople, and dedicated to the service of the palace, had grown grey in that service, and was now seventy-four years of age. But he was of "Illustrious" rank, he shared the most secret counsels of the Emperor, he was able freely to unloose the purse-strings which had been so parsimoniously closed to Belisarius, and he had set his whole heart on succeeding where Belisarius had failed. Moreover, he was himself both wealthy and generous, and he brought with him a huge and motley host of barbarians, Huns, Lombards, Gepids, Herulians, all eager to serve under the free-handed Chamberlain, and to be enriched by him with the spoil of Italy.

In the spring of 552, the Eunuch-general, with this strange multitude calling itself a Roman army, marched round the head of the Adriatic Gulf and entered the impregnable seat of Empire, Ravenna. By adroit strategy he evaded the Gothic generals who had been ordered to arrest his progress in North-eastern Italy and—probably by about midsummer—he had reached the point a little south-west of Ancona, where the Flaminian Way, the great northern road from Rome, crosses the Apennines. Here on the crest of the mountains[157] Narses encamped, and here Totila met him, eager for the fight which was to decide the future dominion of Italy.

[Footnote 157: There is some little difference of opinion as to the site of this battle. I place it near the Roman posting station of Ad Ensem, represented by the modern village of Scheggia, in latitude 43 25' north.]

A space of about twelve miles separated the hostile camps. Narses sent some of his most trusted counsellors to warn Totila not to continue the struggle any longer against the irresistible might of the Empire; "but if you will fight", said the messengers, "name the day". Totila indignantly spurned the proposal of surrender and named the eighth day from thence as the day of battle. Narses, however, suspecting some stratagem, bade his troops prepare for action, and it was well that he did so, for on the next day Totila with all his army was at hand.

A hill, which to some extent commanded the battle-field, was the first objective point of both generals. Narses sent fifty of his bravest men over-night to take up their position on this hill, and the Gothic troops, chiefly cavalry, which were sent to dislodge them, failed to effect their purpose, the horses being frightened by the din which the Imperial soldiers made, clashing with their spears upon their shields. Several lives were lost on this preliminary skirmish, the honours of which remained with the soldiers of Narses.

At dawn of day the troops were drawn up in order of battle, but Narses had made all his arrangements on a defensive rather than an offensive plan and Totila, who was expecting a reinforcement of two thousand Goths under his brave young lieutenant Teias, wished to postpone the attack. Both generals harangued their armies: Totila, in words of lordly scorn for the patch-work host of various nationalities which Justinian, weary of the war, had sent against him. It was the Emperor's last effort, he declared, and when this heterogeneous army was defeated, the brave Goths would be able to rest from their labours. Narses, on the other hand, congratulated his soldiers on their evident superiority in numbers to the Gothic host. They fought too, as he reminded them, for the Roman Empire, which was in its nature, and by the will of Providence, eternal, while these little barbarian states, Vandal, Gothic, and the like, sprang up like mushrooms, lived their little day, and then vanished away, leaving no trace behind them. He had recourse also to less refined and philosophical arguments. Riding rapidly along the ranks, the Eunuch dangled before the eyes of his barbarian auxiliaries golden armlets, golden collars, golden bridles. "These", said he, "and such other ornaments as these, shall be the reward of your valour, if you fight well to-day".

The long morning of waiting was partly occupied by a duel between two chosen champions. A warrior, named Cocas, who had deserted from Emperor to King, rode up to the Imperial army, challenging their bravest to single combat. One of Narses' lifeguards, an Armenian' like his master, Anzalas by name, accepted the challenge. Cocas couched his spear and rode fiercely at his foe, thinking to pierce him in the belly. Anzalas dexterously swerved aside at the critical moment and gave a thrust with his spear at the left side of his antagonist, who fell lifeless to the ground. A mighty shout rose from the Imperial ranks at this propitious omen of the coming battle. Not yet, however, was that battle to be gained. King Totila rode forth in the open space between both armies, "that he might show the enemy what manner of man he was". His armour was lavishly adorned with gold: from the cheek-piece of his helmet, from his pilum and his spear hung purple pennants; his whole equipment was magnificent and kingly. Bestriding a very tall war-horse he played the game of a military athlete with accomplished skill. He wheeled his horse first to the right, then to the left, in graceful curves; then he tossed his spear on high to the morning breezes and caught it in the middle as it descended with quivering fall; then he threw it deftly from one hand to another, he stooped low on his horse, he raised himself up again. Everything was done as artistically as the dance of a well-trained performer. All this "was beautiful to look at, but it was not war". The ugly, wrinkled old Armenian in the other camp, who probably kept his seat on horseback with difficulty, knew, one may suspect, more of the deadly science of war than the brilliant and martial Totila.

At length the long-looked-for two thousand arrived, and Totila gave the signal to charge upon the foe. It was the hour of the noon-tide meal, and he hoped to catch the Imperial troops in the disorder of their repast; but for this also Narses, the wary, had provided. Even the food necessary to support their strength was to be taken by the soldiers, all keeping their ranks, all armed, and all watching intently the movements of the enemy. Narses had purposely somewhat weakened his centre in order to strengthen his wings, which, as the Gothic cavalry charged, closed round them and poured a deadly shower of arrows into their flanks. Again, as in the campaigns of Belisarius, the Hippo-toxotai, the "Mounted Rifles" of the Empire, decided the fate of the battle. Vain against their murderous volleys was the valour of the Gothic horseman, the thrust of the Gothic lance, the might of the tall Gothic steed. Charge upon charge of the Goths was made in vain; the cavalry could never reach the weak but distant centre of the Imperialists. At length, when the sun was declining, the horsemen came staggering back, a disorganised and beaten band. Their panic communicated itself to the infantry, who were probably the weakest section of the army; the rout was complete, and the whole of the Gothic host was seen either flying, surrendering, or dying.

As evening fell Totila, with five of his friends hastened from the lost battle-field. A young Gepid chief, named Asbad, ignorant who he was couched his lance to strike Totila in the back. A young Gothic page incautiously cried out, "Dog! would you strike your lord?" hereby revealing the rank of the fugitive and, of course, only nerving the arm of Asbad to strike a more deadly blow. Asbad was wounded in return and his companions intent on staunching his wound let the fugitives ride on, but the wound of Totila was mortal. His friends hurried him on, eight miles down the valley, to the little village of Caprae, where they alighted and strove to tend his wound. But their labour was vain; the gallant king soon drew his last breath and was hastily buried by his comrades in that obscure hamlet.

The Romans knew not what had become of their great foe till several days after, when some soldiers were riding past the village, a Gothic woman told them of the death of Totila and pointed out to them his grave. They doubted the truth of her story, but opened the grave and gazed their fill on that which was, past all dispute, the corpse of Totila. The news brought joy to the heart of Narses, who returned heartiest thanks to God and to the Virgin, his especial patroness, and then proceeded to disembarrass himself as quickly as possible of the wild barbarians, especially the Lombards, by whose aid he had won the victory which destroyed the last hopes of the Ostrogothic monarchy in Italy.[158]

[Footnote 158: A gallant stand was made by Teias, who was elected king on the death of Totila, but his reign lasted only a few months. He was defeated and slain early in 553 at the battle of Mons Lactarius, not far from Pompeii, and the little remnant of his followers, the last of the Goths, marched northward out ot Italy and disappear from history.]

(568) Not thus easily, however, was the tide of barbarian invasion to be turned. The Lombards had found their way into Italy as auxiliaries. They returned thither sixteen years after as conquerors, conquerors the most ruthless and brutal that Italy had yet groaned under. From that day for thirteen centuries the unity of Italy was a dream. First the Lombard King and the Byzantine Emperor tore her in pieces. Then the Frank descended from the Alps to join in the fray. The German, the Saracen, the Norman made their appearance on the scene. Not all wished to ravage and despoil; some had high and noble purposes in their hearts, but, in fact, they all tended to divide her. The Popes even at their best, even while warring as Italian patriots against the foreign Emperor, still divided their country. Last of all came the Spaniard and the Austrian, by whom, down to our own day, Italy was looked upon as an estate, out of which kingdoms and duchies might be carved at pleasure as appanages for younger sons and compensations for lost provinces. Only at length, towards the close of the nineteenth century, has Italy regained that priceless boon of national unity, which might have been hers before it was attained by any other country in Europe, if only the ambition of emperors and the false sentiment of "Roman" patriots would have spared the goodly tree which had been planted in Italian soil by Theodoric the Ostrogoth.


[Footnote 159: This chapter is based on Peringskiold's Latin translation of the "Wilkina Saga", and on the German translation contained in F.H. von der Hagen's "Alt-deutsche und Alt-nordische Helden-Sagen". I am also much indebted to the spirited rendering of the Sagas contributed by Madame Dahn to her husband, Professor Dahn's, volume, "Walhall".]


The fame of Theodoric attested by the Saga dealing with his name, utterly devoid as they are of historic truth—The Wilkma Saga—Story of Theodoric's ancestors—His own boyhood—His companions, Master Hildebrand, Heime, and Witig—Death of his father and his succession to the throne—Herbart wooes King Arthur's daughter, first for Theodoric and then for himself—Hermanric, his uncle, attacks Theodoric—Flight and exile at the Court of Attila—Attempt to return—Attila's sons slain in battle—The tragedy of the Nibelungs—Theodoric returns to his kingdom—His mysterious end.

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

As it would be a hopeless attempt in a short chapter like the present to discuss the various allusions to Dietrich von Bern in the Teutonic and Scandinavian Sagas, I shall invite the reader's attention to one only, that which concerns itself most exclusively with his life, and which is generally called the "Wilkina Saga",[160] though some German scholars prefer to call it by the more appropriate name of "Thidreks Saga".

[Footnote 160: So called because it contains a large number of episodes as to King Wilkinus, his descendants, and the land known by his name, Wilkina-land (Norway and Sweden). Some suppose the name to be a corruption of Viking.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So great was the fame of the young hero that striplings from distant lands, thirsting for glory, came to Dietmar's court that they might be enrolled among the comrades of Theodoric. There were twelve of these who, when they came to manhood, were especially distinguished as the chiefs of his army, and among these Theodoric shone pre-eminent, even as his contemporary, Arthur, king of Bertangenland,[161] among the Knights of his Table Round.

[Footnote 161: Britain.]

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

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

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

It was some time after this that another young man appeared at Verona and challenged Theodoric to single combat. This was Witig, the Dane, son of that mighty worker in iron, Wieland,[162] who had in his veins the blood of kings and of mysterious creatures of the deep, but who spent all his days in his smithy, forging strange weapons, and whose wrongs and terrible revenges and marvellous escapes from death are sung by all the minstrels of the North. When he was twelve years old, Witig, drawn like so many other brave youths by the renown of the young Theodoric, announced to his father that he was determined to seek glory in the land of the Amelungs.[163] Wieland would fain have had him stay in the smithy and learn his own wealth-bringing craft; but Witig swore by the honour of his mother, a king's daughter, that never should the smith's hammer and tongs come into his hand. Thereupon Wieland gave him a coat of mail of hard steel, which shone like silver, and greaves of chain-armour; a white shield, on which were painted in red the smith's hammer and tongs, telling of his father's trade, and three carbuncles, which he bore in right of the princess, his mother. On his strong steel helmet a golden dragon gleamed and seemed to spit forth venom. Into his son's right hand Wieland gave the wondrous sword Mimung, which he had fashioned for a cruel king, and which was so sharp that it cut through a flock of wool, three feet thick, when floating on the water. Witig's mother gave him three golden marks and her gold ring, and he kissed his father and his mother and wished them a happy life, and they wished him a prosperous journey and were sore at heart when he turned to go.

[Footnote 162: The Wayland Smith of English legend.]

[Footnote 163: This was the name of Italy, Theodoric and all his house being known as Amelungs.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodoric: "Another am I, and not thy brother".

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

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

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

Before long, however, Theodoric's soul returned into him, and springing on his horse he rode furiously after Fasold, and with taunting words provoked him to the fight, declaring that he was a "Nithing" [164] if he would not avenge his brother. With that Fasold turned back, and the two heroes leaping from their horses began the fight on foot. It was a long and terrible combat, but it began to turn against Fasold. He had received five grievous wounds, while Theodoric had but three, and of a slighter kind. Perceiving, therefore, that the longer the fight lasted the more certain he was to be at last slain, and as to each man his own life is most precious, this great and valiant hero begged his life of Theodoric, and offered to become his henchman. "Peace I will have with thee", said Theodoric, "but not thy service, seeing that thou art so noble a knight, and that I have slain thy brother. On this one condition will I grant thee thy life, that thou wilt clasp my hand and swear brotherhood in arms with me, that each of us shall help the other in all time of his need as if we were born brothers, and that all men shall know us for loyal comrades". Fasold gladly took the oath, and they mounted their horses and rode together towards Verona.

[Footnote 164: Coward, good-for-nothing man.]

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

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

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

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

Thus passed the youth of Theodoric—

"When every morning brought a noble chance. And every chance brought out a noble knight".

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

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

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

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

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

After this Theodoric married the eldest of the nine fair princesses of Drachenfels, for the love of whom he had fought with the strong man Ecke. The name of Theodoric's wife was Gudelinda. Two of her sisters were married to two of Theodoric's men, namely, to Fasold, and the merry rogue and stout warrior, Dietleib,[165] whose laughter-moving adventures I have here no room to chronicle. And the mother, Bolfriana, who was fairest of all the race, was wooed and won by Witig. But this marriage, which Theodoric furthered with all his power, brought ill with it in the end and the separation of tried friends. For, in order to marry Bolfriana and receive the lordship of her domains, Witig was obliged to enter Hermanric's service and become his man. And though Hermanric promoted him to great honour and made him a count, this was but a poor amends for the necessity which, as you shall soon hear, lay upon Witig, to lift up his sword against his former master.

[Footnote 165: Some of these adventures remind us of the story of the kitchen-knave as told in Tennyson's Gareth and Lynette.]

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

Till this time Theodoric and his uncle, Hermanric, had been good friends. The young hero had visited the older one at Romaborg, and they had fought side by side against their enemies. But now came a disastrous change, which made Theodoric a wanderer from his home for many years; and this was all the work of that false traitor, Hermanric's chief counsellor, Sibich.[166] For Sibich's honour as a husband had been stained by his lord while he himself was absent on an embassy; but instead of avenging himself with his own right hand on the adulterous king, he planned a cruel and wide-reaching scheme of vengeance which should embrace all the kindred of the wrong-doer. Of Hermanric's three sons he caused that the eldest should be sent on an embassy to Wilkina-land[167] demanding tribute from the king of that country, and should be slain there by an accomplice; that the second should be sent on a like embassy to England, and sailing in a leaky ship, should be swallowed up by the waves; and that the youngest should be slain by his father in a fit of rage provoked by the slanderous accusations of Sibich. Then he set Hermanric against his nephews, the Harlungs, sons of his half-brother, Ake; and these hapless young men were besieged in their Rhine-land castle, to which Hermanric set fire, and issuing forth, sword in hand, that they might not die like rats in a hole, were captured and hung by their enraged uncle on the highest tree in their own domains. So was all the family of Hermanric destroyed except Theodoric and his young brother Diether: and against Theodoric Sibich now began to ply his engines of calumny. He represented to Hermanric that Theodoric's kingdom had for some time been growing large, while his own had been growing smaller, and hinted that soon Theodoric would openly attack his uncle. Meanwhile, and in order to test his peaceable disposition, Hermanric, by Sibich's advice, claimed that he should pay him tribute for Amalungen-land.[168] When Theodoric refused to do this Hermanric was persuaded of the truth of Sibich's words, and declared that Theodoric also should be hanged, "for right well do both he and I know which of us is the mightier".

[Footnote 166: In the Norse Siska, sometimes Bicki.]

[Footnote 167: Norway.]

[Footnote 168: Perhaps North Italy.]

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

So Theodoric, with the knights his companions, rode away from Verona, which Hermanric entered next morning with five thousand men. And Theodoric rode first to Bacharach[169] on the Rhine, where dwelt the great Margrave, Rudiger, who was his trusty friend. And from thence he rode on to Susat,[170] where was the palace of Attila, King of the Huns. And when Attila heard that Theodoric was coming, he bade his men blow the great horns, and with all his chieftains he poured forth to welcome him and do him honour. So Theodoric tarried in the palace of Attila, a cherished and trusted guest, and there he abode many years.

[Footnote 169: Bakalar or Bechelaren.]

[Footnote 170: Susat is identified with Soest in Westphalia, an allocation which is doubtless due to the region in which "Wilkina Saga" was committed to writing (the neighbourhood of Muenster and Bremen). The geographical conditions of the story would be better suited by Buda on the Danube, which would, of course, be nearer to historical fact.]

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

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

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

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