IV. Journey to Osning

Next comes the second long story about Dietrich's heroes. It is very different from the Witig story, hitting first mythological overtones with the nightly fight in the forest, and then devolving into a series of fairly unbelievable hunting adventures.

Warning: this story is much less comprehensible than the Witig one that came before, or even the Detlef one that follows it.

In order to restore his tarnished fame Dietrich rides out from Bern on an adventure.

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King Dietmar was home in Bern, and his son Diet­rich with him, who was still suffering from his wounds. And these four heroes were with the king: Hildebrand, Witig, jarl Hornboge, and Heime.

When Diet­rich had healed he rode away from Bern alone, and nobody knew of it except for Witig. Because he had lost his fight, Diet­rich did not want to return to Bern before he had performed a heroic deed that would increase his fame.

He rode for seven days until he came to the forest called Osning, and he found lodging. There he heard of a castle on the other side of the forest called Drekanfils, and once this castle had been owned by king Drusian, who had died, and the queen had married or was engaged with; that's not entirely clear but it likely doesn't matter a man called Ecke. Ecke's brother was Fasold. It was Ecke's custom to ride in the forest hunting animals, but when he met someone who wanted to measure himself against him, he was willing to do so.

Diet­rich wasn't sure how to get through the forest without meeting Ecke. He didn't feel like fighting Ecke, since the wounds that Witig had given him still pained him, and he preferred to first fight a lesser man first.

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Now Diet­rich rode off at midnight, when it was darkest, and hoped to make it through the forest without Ecke noticing him. But Ecke saw him and asked who rode there. Diet­rich said: I am Heime Studa's son, riding to Bertangaland for my father, but I have nothing to do with you, and am not searching you out.

Ecke said that his voice sounded like Diet­rich von Bern, and if he was as brave a man as was said he shouldn't use a false name. Diet­rich acknowledged his name, but said he wanted to continue on his way. But Ecke had heard that he had lost his fight with Witig, and assumed he came here to find new honour. Also Diet­rich had lost good weapons in the fight, and here he could win others.

Diet­rich said he was not ready for a duel, and besides, how could they fight if they couldn't see one another? If it were day it would be another matter.

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Then Ecke said that nine royal daughters and their mother, his fiancée, had armed him for this battle, and he came here for their sake, and he went on to describe his armour in great detail, as well as his sword Eckisax, which was wrought by the same Alberich that made Diet­rich's sword Nagelring, deep under the earth, and when he was done he searched for the water to harden it in nine kingdoms, and found it in the stream called Treya. Blade and hilt are both made of red gold, and the sword was fitted with gemstones. And one had to search far and wide before one found a sword similar to it, but Alberich the dwarf, the great thief Compare 16; it appears that the smith Alberich and the thief Alberich are the same person stole it from his father under the mountain, and gave it to king Roseleif, and many princes after him carried it.

Then Diet­rich wondered aloud why he would flee for a sword he couldn't see, and from a man he knew nothing about except for his boasting. He had lost his way and his companions, and if Ecke wanted to keep his life he should not challenge him to a duel again.

Ecke is very boastful in these chapters. In the original the description of his gear, treasure, and sword takes about two pages. It is no wonder Dietrich gets a bit tired of his boasting.

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Ecke went on to describe his girdle and pouch with twelve pounds of red gold in great detail. Then Diet­rich said he would fight, not for the gold or the weapons, but for the honour of nine queens.

Diet­rich jumped from his stallion and said it was so dark he couldn't see anything. He drew his sword Nagelring and struck a stone so that sparks flew from it. In this light he saw an olive tree says Mb; A and B: linden tree to which he tied his horse. And he became angry.

Now that Diet­rich wanted to fight Ecke became happy and joyous, and he, too, struck a rock with his sword so that the heroes could see one another by the sparks.

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Now they fought, and sparks flew from their weapons as though it was lightning, and the sound of their blows sounded like thunder, and they cleaved each other's shields so that they became useless, and still they fought on. Then Ecke gave Diet­rich a terrible blow and he dropped down, and Ecke dropped on top of him and grabbed both of his arms, and said that in order to save his life Diet­rich should surrender himself, his weapons, and his horse, and come to the castle to be shown bound to the queens.

Diet­rich said he preferred to lose his life hear than endure the taunts of the nine ladies and their mother. He managed to free his hands and take Ecke by the throat, and they fought with all their power.

When Falke, Diet­rich's stallion, became aware that his master needed help, he tore his rein with his teeth, ran to the two, lifted his forelegs and struck Ecke as hard as he could in the back. Diet­rich struggeled back to his feet and cut of Ecke's head.

Then Diet­rich took Ecke's weapons and armour and armed himself.

Ever since reading this story for the first time I cannot escape the notion that this is somehow a sacred fight, where the old king fights the new one, and by dying the old king renews the fertility of the land — roughly like the original Golden Bough story.

There is a little evidence to support this idea. Later in the saga179, when Dietrich's circle of heroes is described, Ecke is treated as if he is still alive, and his coat of arms is the inverse of Dietrich's, and he is the only other hero (along with Fasold, who used the same coat of arms) to use a lion. Has Dietrich become 'the Ecke' by his victory, winning sword and queen from the old one? Main problem: as far as we know he did not marry the queen.

Dietrich later marries one of the nine daughters240, but that chapter has its own problems that suggest this marriage was interpolated. And even if it did take place, quite some time elapses between Ecke’s death and Dietrich’s marriage.

Much more interesting is the second instance of a nightly fight in a forest272, where Ake, Dietrich's uncle, and jarl Iron fight for the hand of Bolfriana, who later is said to be a princess of Drekanfils, so apparently one of the nine daughters.

Next, the saga describes the queen recognising Ecke, then the joy in receiving him, then the mourning for the old Ecke. Mourining for the old king and joy for the new one would fit my theory. However, for this to fit perfectly Dietrich would have to be received at the castle and marry the queen, and that does not happen. Also, he'd have to be available for duels against his successor, eventually sacrificing himself for the land’s fertility, which also doesn't happen. So, sadly, this little idea of mine is not provable from the next chapter.

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Diet­rich mounted Falke and rode out of the forest, and it was already first light. Diet­rich decided to ride to the castle of Drekanfils because he thought that, once the people of the castle knew he had overcome Ecke, he would get the same marriage or engagement with the queen and honour that Ecke had received An important passage in support of my theory — if a proper English translation shows the same meaning as this summary.

Now the queen had gone to a tower and she saw this man ride to the castle, and she was glad and went in and told her daughters that lord Ecke, who had left last night, returned on a good horse, and therefore he has defeated some good knight. And all of them took their jewels, dressed well, and went out to the rider. But when Diet­rich came near they saw that it was not Ecke who rode there, but another man. And when the old queen saw this, she understood what must have happened: she recognised the weapons and armour, but not the man, and Ecke would never have given them away. She fell unconscious. Then they went back in and told everything to the men of the castle, and dressed in their mourning garb and threw their jewels from them.

When the men heard Ecke had been killed they took their weapons and wanted to avenge him. When Diet­rich saw this overwhelming force he turned his horse and rode back into the forest as quickly as he could. He did not know where to go in this strange land, and since he had killed the lord of the land he knew that people would be unfriendly towards him. The men of the castle returned and were angry about Ecke's death.

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Now Diet­rich rode out of the forest and saw a man riding towards him. This was Fasold, Ecke's brother. Fasold thought he was seeing his brother because he recognised his armour, and called: Is that you, brother Ecke? Diet­rich replied it was not.

Then Fasold called: You murderer, you killed my brother Ecke while he was asleep, because if he'd been awake he would have defeated you. Diet­rich said that was a lie; Ecke challenged me to a duel, and when I refused he called upon his riches and the queen and her nine daughters and thus forced me to fight. And if I had known how great and strong he was, I wouldn't have fought, but I took these weapons and armour when he was dead, and you don't have to doubt that.

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Fasold drew his sword, rode to Diet­rich and hit him on his helmet so that he fell from his horse unconscious. Fasold decided not to hit a man further who had fallen with one blow, nor to take his weapons, and he rode back to the castle.

But when Diet­rich came to he sprang on his horse and rode after Fasold and challenged him, and said that if Fasold rode on he was a coward, and didn't he want to avenge his brother? Fasold held his horse and waited for Diet­rich.

Then both dismounted and fought. Diet­rich was wounded three times, but none of them were serious. But Fasold had received five wounds, all of them serious, and he became tired and saw he would lose. Therefore he chose life, surrendered, and promised to become Diet­rich's follower. Diet­rich gladly took his surrender, but refused his service because he had killed his brother. Diet­rich proposed them to become brothers blood brothers?, and Fasold accepted. Then they swore an oath, mounted, and rode on.

Very curious story. If Fasold wanted to avenge his brother, why didn’t he simply kill Dietrich the first time? And if the first hit serves some other purpose, what is it?

And they become brothers in the end. Can this be construed as Dietrich becoming 'the Ecke' and thus Fasold's brother? Uncertain, unclear, unprovable.

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Now it is said that Diet­rich wanted to go home because he had achieved his goal and knew that he would be no less famous than before. In the evening they came to Aldinsaela Ritter says that they formalised their oath here, since it was a place of justice and staid there for the night. In the morning they rode on and traveled through the wood called Rimslo, and there they saw an animal called elephant elefans; different word than in 118, which is the largest and strongest of all animals. Then Diet­rich asked Fasold if he would help him fight the animal, because when they could vanquish it they would have done a heroic deed.

Fasold excused himself because he still suffered from the wounds he had received in the duel. Besides, Diet­rich would be even more heroic if he'd kill the elephant by himself.

Thus Diet­rich dismounted, bound his horse to an olive tree, drew Eckisax, and attacked the animal. But the sword didn't bite, and the animal attacked him with its front legs, so that he fell. When Fasold saw this he decided to help as much as he could, dismounted, and attacked, but he couldn't wound it, either. Then he said to Diet­rich, who was laying under the beast: If you can get your hands free and take your sword, hit it in the belly near the navel, because I think it will bite there. But the beast pressed Diet­rich to the ground so hard that he could not move.

When Falke saw the danger his master was in he tore the rein, jumped on the animal and hit it with its front legs in the loin that the animal fell over. Now Diet­rich could free himself, took his sword and stabbed it in the belly to the hilt. Then Diet­rich jumped from under the animal, with blood on both his hands, and the animal fell over dead. Before, Fasold had given the animal many blows, but his sword didn't bite. Still, Diet­rich saw that Fasold wanted to help him loyally, Then they mounted on their horses and rode on.

That’s the second time Falke saves Dietrich.

Also, the way Dietrich kills the elephant is the same as the way Sigurð kills Fafnir the dragon in the Vǫlsungasaga.

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When they exited the forest they saw something unusual: a great dragon flying, with strong forelegs and big claws. It flew close to the ground, and wherever it touched the ground with its claws it was as if the ground was cut with the sharpest iron. In its mouth it bore a man, whose legs and torso it had eaten until just below the arms, and only his head and shoulders stuck outside the dragon's maw. The man was still alive, and when he saw the heroes he called for help, and told them the dragon took him from his shield when he was asleep.

When Diet­rich and Fasold heard this they dismounted, drew their swords, and struck the dragon. Diet­rich's sword bit somewhat, but Fasold's not at all. Although the dragon was strong, he was not able to fly while carrying the man, and could neither flee nor defend itself.

The man in the maw saw Fasold's problem, and told him to get the sword in the dragon's maw that he swallowed together with the man. Fasold drew the sword from the dragon's mouth, and it cut the dragon like a razor cuts a beard.

Careful! the man said, don't cut my feet, which are deep in the dragon's throat, and I don't want to be wounded with my own sword. And hurry, good heroes, the dragon pressures me so hard with its mouth that blood flows from my mouth and nose.

And they went on until the dragon was dead.

Ritter has an interesting theory about the dragon. He first identified the place where this fight would have taken placeSorry, I don’t have the name at the ready; I didn’t find my notes and need to re-read Ritter’s books, and was then pointed to fossilised dinosaur tracks close to that village. He concluded that Dietrich and Fasold had seen those tracks, which inspired them to create a fanciful hunting story.

You may consider this a brilliant or a silly idea, but the fact remains that here there is a connection between saga and reality that has to be explained somehow.

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Thus the man was freed from the dragon. The man thanked them, and asked if he could get his sword back from Fasold The man knows his name. Diet­rich asked who he was, and he said he was Sintram son of Reginbald, jarl of Wenden, and he was traveling to his relative Hildebrand and his foster son Diet­rich von Bern. He had stopped to rest here when the dragon captured him.

Diet­rich told him he could keep his sword and had found Diet­rich von Bern.

Honour restored, Dietrich returns home with two new heroes. He now has six.

Continue

The next chapter is Detlef the Dane. How Detlef the Dane comes to Bern.