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More stories by Robin Gordon
--- 1 ---
Under the hill where the Dwarf-Lord dwells
the hammers ring like the sound of bells.
They ring on the rock to extract the ore
that the Dwarves melt down by their Dwarvish lore.
When the ore is molten, the silver they take,
and from that silver they cunningly make
swords and knives no shield can withstand,
and rings too fine for any hand
save that of a princess of royal birth.
None are so skilful in all the earth
at miner's work and silversmith's arts
as the Dwarves who dwell in the mountainous parts.
--- 2 ---
High on a hill, overlooking his lands,
Duke Hermann's castle, the Watchtower, stands,
and never an English, French or German
Duke or King was as rich as Hermann.
Once a month, like his father before,
he rode to the mountain where the Dwarves mined ore.
He went to the mountain with horses and carts
to buy what they made by their Dwarvish arts.
The carts rolled down from the Watchtower's gate
on the first of the month as sure as fate,
and every cart was piled up high
with the finest food that money could buy.
Then all those carts rolled along the road
to the hill of the Dwarves to exchange their load,
and when they reached the Dwarf-Lord's hall
the Duke would dismount and loudly call:
"Hradlaub! Hradlaub! Bring me silver!
That is what I have come to your hill for.
Bring me silver, wrought so fine,
and I will give you food and wine."
Then one by one they unloaded the waggons
of bread, and ham, and wine in flagons -
enough of the best to keep them all fed
for a month at least - and in their stead
the Dwarves piled high all the things they had made,
and the Duke and the Dwarf were pleased with their trade.
Then the Dwarves took the food and they carried it down,
while the Duke and his men rode back to town,
where they climbed up the track to the Watchtower's door,
as their fathers and grandsires had done before.
Then Dwarves and Men both took their rest
and were grateful to God that their life was blessed.
--- 3 ---
Finally there came a day,
the Dwarves were waiting at their door
and looking out along the way:
the Duke was late and gloom now lay
on every face as ne'er before.
The hours went by, the sun had set.
The Dwarves took back within their halls
their silver, and as black as jet
the Dwarf-Lord frowned - he'd hoped to get
food for a month within his walls.
The next day, and the next again,
they waited on the mountain side.
They saw no carts, they saw no men,
the reason was beyond their ken.
No longer could they quietly bide.
Then Hradlaub called his chiefest lords.
"Our food is nearly gone," he said.
"We cannot live on silver hoards.
We cannot win our food with swords.
Unless the Duke arrives we're dead.
"Unto the Watchtower I will go.
Dole the food out, but be careful.
Is the Duke held by some foe?
That is something I must know.
You must wait and watch. Be prayerful!"
Next day Hradlaub took his hood
to shade him from the blazing heat,
in his hand a staff of wood,
his cloak about him, and a good,
stout pair of shoes upon his feet.
Evil things in darkness lurk.
Goblins are afraid of light.
Goblins fight and steal and shirk.
Dwarves, however, love to work.
Goblins prowl about by night.
So, despite the burning heat,
Dwarf- and Man-kind walk by day.
Hradlaub trudged on aching feet,
and the blazing sun did beat
down upon him all the way.
--- 4 ---
Hradlaub walked alone all day
underneath the blazing sun,
and long and weary was his way,
how weary none but he can say.
He walked till day was nearly done.
At last before his weary eyes
he saw a hill that stood alone.
On top, outlined against the skies,
a castle stood, immense in size,
the Watchtower, high upon its throne.
On he went till he espied
a very steep and narrow track
which spiralled round the mountainside,
that all who on it walk or ride,
who come as friends or to attack,
who come in war or come in love,
who climb towards the Watchtower's gate -
the fox, the serpent and the dove -
can be observed from high above
and each receive a worthy fate.
--- 5 ---
The castle gate was barred and locked.
A lesser mortal might have quailed,
but Hradlaub took his staff and knocked.
The keeper of the gate he hailed.
The guard within cried, "Who goes there?
Speak stranger! Are you foe or friend?
Announce your name, but take good care
lest you may meet a bloody end."
"Hradlaub is my name," replied
the Dwarf. "Pray let me come inside,
for I must see the Duke today."
"The Duke lies sick, you know full well,
the victim of a Dwarvish spell,"
the guardian said. "Go on your way!"
"The Duke's our friend, in him we trust
our silver artifacts to buy.
If he should die then we too must.
A Dwarvish spell? Vile knave, you lie!"
"For five long nights the Duke has lain,
gasping, groaning, on his bed.
Some evil spell has worked this bane -
Dwarvish magic, it is said,
for ever and anon he cries
as on his bed of pain he lies,
Hradlaub! Hradlaub! Bring to me
Silver! That is what I crave!
The Dwarves will bring him to his grave.
If you're Dwarf you'd better flee.
The Duke is loved throughout his land.
From his foes we'll all defend him.
If there should fall into our hand
the author of the spell, we'll rend him
limb from limb. We'll show no mercies
to those who cast such evil curses.
If you're a Dwarf you'd better go,
for every Dwarf we count as foe."
Sadly Hradlaub left the gate
to wander thence where'er his fate
might take him in the dark of night.
Should he go back to his hill?
No cure lay there for Hermann's ill:
the Dwarves could not help Hermann's plight.
--- 6 ---
Evil things in darkness lurk.
Goblins are afraid of light.
Goblins fight and steal and shirk,
love to plunder those who work.
Goblins prowl about by night.
Hradlaub gripped his trusty staff.
Fearfully he glanced around him.
Had he heard a Goblin laugh?
Were they trying to surround him?
In the darkness all around him
fearful shadows to confound him,
misty shapes he couldn't see
stole about from tree to tree.
Evil things in darkness lurk.
Goblins claw and scratch and bite,
rob and murder those who work,
stabbing them with sword or dirk.
Goblins prowl about by night.
As the clouds beneath the moon
fled like sheep before the wind,
sending shadows all aswoon
of wicked beasts, some horned, some finned,
running, slinking through the hedges,
across the fields and round the edges,
black and shapeless, grey, unclear,
the stoutest soul begins to fear.
Evil things in darkness lurk,
Goblins eager for a fight,
armed with sword or knife or dirk,
and wicked hands that with a jerk
would break a victim's neck by night.
Unclear shadows on the rock,
stealthy movements in the trees,
swirling clouds that seem to mock
the eye that knows not what it sees.
Did something swoop across the sky?
Had Hradlaub heard an anguished cry?
Would he survive this evil night
and see again the morning light?
Evil things in darkness lurk,
Goblins filled with hate and spite,
loathing all who live by work,
wreaking havoc in the murk,
killing travellers lost by night.
--- 7 ---
At length a fresher wind began
to blow, at once the clouds all ran,
and by the moonlight he could scan
the peaceful place around him
No wicked Goblins could he see
creeping up in murderous glee.
From all his fears at last set free,
they could no more confound him.
Then, from a window in the tower,
he heard a noise that made him cower.
The Duke lay prey to some dread power
that overcame and bound him.
Hradlaub found a place to hide,
while fearful moans came from inside.
He saw the guardian had not lied
or made up tales to hound him.
A voice - and it could only be
the Duke's - cried, "Hradlaub, bring to me
silver! Set Duke Hermann free!"
He heard. It did astound him.
--- 8 ---
Hour after hour the groans went on,
the Duke fought for his breath,
and Hradlaub, listening down below,
feared he might hear Death.
He feared the Duke might gasp and die,
crushed by all his pain,
that in a lonely, painful death
his friend might end his reign.
Hour after hour throughout the night
Duke Hermann gasped and groaned.
"Hradlaub, Hradlaub, bring me silver!"
the voice now shrieked, now moaned.
Hradlaub shivered down below.
The night was damp and cold.
He hoped and prayed that with the dawn
the bane might loose its hold,
and with the coming of the light
Duke Hermann be released.
He prayed the night might quickly pass,
and stared towards the East.
At last the black of night turned grey.
At last he could discern
the Watchtower, dark against the sky,
before his nose a fern.
--- 9 ---
From the window in the tower
where the Duke groaned on his bed
rose a shriek in that grey hour,
a shriek that made the Dwarf-Lord cower,
a shriek to wake the dead.
"Hradlaub! Hradlaub!" came the cry.
"Bring me silver from your mine!"
It rose, then fell, soft as a sigh,
a roar, a howl, and then a whine.
"If you would set Duke Hermann free
then silver you must bring to me!
Bring me silver from your hoard!
Bring me silver, Dwarvish lord!"
By the misty light and grey
Hradlaub saw the Watchtower clear
at the dawning of the day.
Across Duke Hermann's window lay
the shadow of a nameless fear.
A blackness crouched upon the sill,
and in the blackness, glowing red,
were eyes. A cold and ghastly thrill
filled Hradlaub with a trembling dread.
This spawn of Hell was what had tried
the Duke so sore he might have died.
It would return in hope of gain,
perhaps until the Duke was slain.
Glowing red, those eyes were staring
straight at Hradlaub, so it seemed,
through the chainmail he was wearing,
his inmost thoughts and spirit baring,
all he'd feared and all he'd dreamed.
It screeched a great triumphant shout,
then launched itself into the sky.
Spreading wings of darkness out,
the baleful thing began to fly.
Hradlaub crouched before the beast,
but it rose high towards the East.
He knew that he'd not watched in vain:
a Nightmare was Duke Hermann's bane.
--- 10 ---
At sunrise Hradlaub rose and sought
a stream. He ate the bread he'd brought,
scooped water in his hands, drank deep.
He washed himself, then climbed the steep
path towards the Watchtower's gate
with confidence. He held the fate
of good Duke Hermann in his hands,
the ruler of those peaceful lands.
The gate stood open at the top,
and there a soldier called out, "Stop!"
"Who goes there?" the sergeant cried.
"Hradlaub. Let me come inside.
The Duke lies victim to a spell.
I've urgent news that I must tell."
"The Duke sees none, as you well know -
none better, for a Dwarvish blow
confined him helpless on his bed.
Hradlaub was the name you said?
Well, there are those that will see you.
Grab that evil Dwarf, you two!"
Two soldiers seized him in a hustle,
up steps, through doorways, what a bustle,
his feet could scarcely touch the floor.
The sergeant knocked upon a door.
"Lord Hincmar, we have caught a spy,
a Dwarf, Sir. He was going to try
to find out if the Duke was dying.
We caught him, Sir, we caught him spying!"
Hradlaub fell upon his knees,
not to utter piteous pleas
but because they threw him there.
He rose as furious as a bear.
"I wasn't! It's a pack of lies!
I gave my name! Is that what spies
would do? I'll have you whipped, you dog!
Give me a whip and I will flog
you myself, you sly, uncouth ..."
"Enough!" said Hincmar. "What's the truth?
Did this Dwarf here give his name?"
"Well, yes, he did, but all the same
he's spying," said the sergeant. "Look,
we know the Dwarves bewitched the Duke ..."
Hincmar said, "That may be so.
You men can wait outside. Now go!
Leave the Dwarf alone with me,
and I'll find what the truth may be."
--- 11 ---
"Tell me, Dwarf, and tell me quick,
what it is that brings you here,"
said Lord Hincmar, "or a stick
laid across you 'll do the trick -
Just think of me as Hermann's ear."
"Hradlaub is my name. I rule
the Dwarves who dwell beneath the hill,
and I would say the man's a fool
who claims we wish Duke Hermann ill.
Young man, I say the Duke's our friend.
If he dies then our trade would end.
Besides, I think you know full well,
there's not a Dwarf could cast the spell.
But first it's spells and then it's spying
that I'm charged with by these dolts!
Making sure the Duke is dying?
Peeping, poking, meddling, prying?
Had I now but magic bolts
then they'd learn their lesson soon.
But listen now to what I tell.
Last night was cloudy and the Moon
cast shadows over moor and fell.
I lay concealed throughout the night
below the Watchtower, out of sight,
and heard Duke Hermann gasp and groan,
and pitied him at every moan.
Evil things in darkness lurk.
Goblins, filled with hate and spite,
love to plunder those who work
and slit their throats with claw or dirk -
but worse things fly about by night.
All night long I heard a voice
calling Hradlaub, bring to me
silver, there's no other choice
if you would set Duke Hermann free.
Then at last before the dawning
light could herald in the morning,
just before the sun did rise,
I saw a shape with glowing eyes.
The thing was black, its eyes were red.
Its screech would almost freeze the blood.
I feared Duke Hermann might be dead,
the creature on his life had fed
and nipped his flowering in the bud.
It flew away towards the East.
I saw it black against the sky,
and then I recognised the beast,
and so, Lord Hincmar, that is why
I come now to the Watchtower's gate,
to bring you news of Hermann's fate
and tell what passed within his room:
a Nightmare is Duke Hermann's doom."
--- 12 ---
"A Nightmare?" said Lord Hincmar. "Well,
I believe that this is true.
I watched outside his door while you
were down below, but some foul spell
held me back, would not allow
me to enter. What was there
bewitched me that I did not dare,
thanks to you I know it now.
You and I shall watch this night
in the bushes down below.
I'll see this Nightmare, eyes aglow,
then I can plan how we shall fight."
Throughout the night they lay concealed.
All was done as Hincmar said.
They heard and saw the Nightmare dread,
and next day early they revealed
to the Councillors of State
all that they had seen and heard.
Many an hour and many a word
were spent discussing Hermann's fate.
It was decided they should seek
a powerful sorcerer to ban
the Nightmare, but where was the man
of magic strong enough to speak
the runic words and cast the spell
to overcome that hidden power
that sent the beast to Hermann's tower,
to ban and banish it to Hell?
In all of Germany was none
so skilled that he could match the force
and turn the Nightmare from its course.
The deed, it seemed, could not be done.
--- 13 ---
Helpless stood the Council
till Wolfram poet spoke
"Far beyond the mountains
beyond the sight of smoke
from German chimneys lies
the land where ends the night,
from where the Sun each day
returns to bring us light.
From the pit he claws
his fiery way to birth
and climbs into the sky
to cast his light on Earth.
He strikes the darkness down
with all his fiery power,
till sinking in the West
he meets his fated hour.
There in the utmost East,
in stories we are told,
dwells many a far worse beast
than our werewolves of old.
There the unquiet dead
arise at night and fly.
They cannot be struck down,
nor can they ever die.
By day they lie as dead,
each night they rise again
to prey upon the living
and drink the blood of men,
and whomsoe'er they bite,
that very night he dies,
but when the sun next sets
in quest of blood he flies.
There once, in that wild land,
the great Attila reigned,
who sheltered our King Dietrich,
as ancient tales explained,
when he, by traitors driven,
had fled his land and crown,
until he could return
to cast the traitors down.
There too, it's told in stories,
Burgundian heroes fell
in dire revenge for murder -
a tale too long to tell -
for they had slain bold Siegfried
most foully from behind,
despite their oaths of friendship,
which ought all men to bind.
Now he had killed a dragon
and also won a hoard
of gold and jewels which made him
by far the richest lord.
In all the world no other
was generous as he.
For fear of him they slew him,
but never were they free.
For thirty years and longer
Kriemhilde planned their doom,
until at last she had them
imprisoned in one room.
Her brother then and Hagen
alone were not yet dead.
Kriemhilde in her fury
struck off her brother's head,
for Hagen, he had spoken,
and sworn upon his sword,
as long as Gunter lived
he'd not reveal the hoard.
Kriemhilde killed her brother,
and he swore by any cost
that never should she have it -
he fell, the hoard was lost.
I see by your demeanour
impatience spurs you on.
You'll hear no tales of heroes
but on your quest be gone.
I know of a magician
who dwells beyond the East,
and he alone has strength enough
to fight and quell the beast.
What may his true name be
there is no-one can tell,
but Buvesz he is called,
and Varaszlo as well,
and many fear his power
lest it may bring disaster,
for darker names he has
--- 14 ---
In a shorter time than the poet had taken
to tell his tale the hall was forsaken,
for Hincmar knew what he had to do,
and he gave his orders to others too.
Hradlaub alone would have leisure to rest,
for he'd stay at the Watchtower as Hincmar's guest,
and food would be taken by Hincmar's men
to feed all the Dwarves for a month again.
To seek for the Sorcerer Hincmar would ride
through the plains of Pannonia, far and wide.
Across Scarabantia he'd make his way,
scarcely resting by night and riding all day.
--- 15 ---
Wide are the grey Pannonian plains.
The far away mountains against the sky
rise up from the flatness like sharp, angry pains,
and the wind-driven clouds go lumbering by.
Vast are the great Scarabantian woods
and wild are the rivers that fall from the hills.
There many a traveller is robbed of his goods
and cast in the lakes that the melting snow fills.
Steep are the passes and narrow the ways,
many the villages, countless the fields.
How could a man, though he sought many days,
find him whom he sought? - Surely nought the search yields.
Had Varaszlo heard that a traveller, a knight,
from far-away Germany come on a quest,
was seeking for him both by day and by night?
At length he met Hincmar and bade him as guest
come to his palace and tell him his tale.
The Master of Runes then agreed to give aid,
but Hincmar still sighed as they drank Hunnish ale
lest their help come too late, and he still looked dismayed.
"I've ridden by day and I've ridden by night,
scarce stopping for food, scarce stopping for rest.
Varaszlo surely will not think it right
to travel so hard at a poor knight's request."
"Indeed I will not," the Sorcerer said.
"I find that I have for such hardship no need.
I'll travel as softly as though in my bed
by means of a carpet that flies with great speed.
What magic is in it none knows, even I.
It comes from the Orient, Persian its make.
As soon as we've finished our meal we shall fly,
Duke Hermann to rescue, the evil to break."
--- 16 ---
No-one saw the carpet land
upon the Watchtower's highest peak,
not even Hradlaub, close at hand,
looking east across the land -
but then he heard Lord Hincmar speak.
That night Hradlaub watched again
with Hincmar and Lord Varaszlo.
Safe between those valiant men,
he heard the Nightmare, watched it go,
saw its eyes both glowing red
in the darkness of its head,
watched it fly towards the East,
and cursed whatever sent the beast.
Next day then the Council met
to hear what Buvesz had to say.
"A Necromancer's cast this net
to trap Duke Hermann and to get
all the silver he will pay.
There is no other way to free
the Duke unless we quickly send
silver. That's the ransom fee
that we must pay ere he will mend.
That will free him for a night
or two, that's all. Such deadly spite
will keep its grip and hold on fast
till Hermann's poor and breathes his last.
One other thing the voice has spoken:
it's Dwarvish silver it desires,
by none other to be taken
than Hradlaub, all alone, forsaken
by all who dwell in Hermann's shires."
Hradlaub said, "I am afraid,
but for Hermann's sake I'll go.
Can't I have two Dwarves as aid,
to hide then spring out at the foe?"
"All alone, save for your horse.
No other life must take your course.
Give the silver. Seek no strife.
Relief may save Duke Hermann's life."
--- 17 ---
As soon as the Council had come to an end
Hincmar and Buvesz, and Hradlaub, their friend,
saddled their horses and took to the road
to the hill of the Dwarves, there to ask for a load
of silver and silversmith's work, finely wrought,
wherewith for the Duke a night's rest might be bought.
Early next morning a horse pulled the cart,
though Hradlaub, the driver, was loath to depart.
Hincmar and Varaszlo rode alongside,
but after a while discontinued their ride.
Homeward they turned and rode off to the west.
Hradlaub went eastward and hoped for the best.
Though chilled in his blood and afraid in his bone
Hradlaub the Dwarf went onward alone.
--- 18 ---
Hradlaub's heart was heavy within him.
Wild was the wood.
Threatening thorns grew thick on the trees,
on brambles and briars.
On the slopes of the hills high grew the wood.
Rivers came rushing,
swollen and snarling in spate through the rocks,
filling marshes with mud.
The rotting trees were twisted and gnarled.
Many boles were broken.
No daylight came through down to the floor
of the windless wood.
Boughs and creepers banned the light.
No birds in the bushes,
but hidden snakes were sneaking about.
He heard them hissing.
Then his heart sank as he saw the Nightmare.
Darker than darkness
it sat on a stone staring at Hradlaub
with evil eyes.
"Hradlaub," it croaked, crouching above him,
"Are you alone?"
"But for my horse to help with the cart
alone I am."
"Follow!" it cried and flew swiftly
"Stop!" shouted Hradlaub. "Stay till I come.
You fly too fast."
The cart was caught in creepers that trailed.
The horse hauled,
but the wheels stuck on stones and roots
and sank into swamps.
"Wait for me!" wailed the Dwarf.
The beast came back.
"Come!" it croaked, "You crawling midget!
--- 19 ---
Where the wood grew thickest thorns and spines,
briars and brambles
hedged a house.
A narrow way wound through the bushes,
too cramped for the cart,
into deadly darkness.
The Dwarf shuddered, dread came on him
at the Nightmare's nest
in the thorny thicket.
The Nightmare screeched, it screamed in greeting.
Out shambled a shape,
square and squat.
Black as the night was the Nightmare's mistress,
evil the eye
of the wicked Witch.
"Hradlaub," she howled hobbling towards him,
"are you alone?
Do friends follow?"
"Lady, I come lonely and helpless.
Friendless I face
the dark danger.
As you have bidden I bring you silver
from the Dwarves dwellings
under the earth."
"Then you shall carry it into my cottage,
sackful by sackful
borne on your back."
He hefted and heaved and hauled in the sacks,
and piled them in place
as the Witch wanted.
Hard was the work, heavy the silver.
He sweated and strained,
dreading his doom,
fearful the Witch might want him to stay
to serve her as slave
in her thorn-hedged thicket.
At long last the load was ended,
the sacks of silver
housed in the hovel.
The wicked Witch waved him away,
and homeward he hurried
on fearful feet,
helping his horse and heaving the cart
over stump and stone,
through thorn and thicket.
Lighter the waggon unloaded of silver,
swiftly they sped
through the windless wood.
--- 20 ---
Unknown things in darkness lurk.
As Hradlaub left upon his way
when he'd completed all his work,
fleeing through the gloom and murk,
he passed by where two shadows lay.
After he had passed they rose,
slipping softly through the gloom,
walking quietly, on their toes,
to the windows of the room
where the Witch and Nightmare gloated
on their treasures, spiteful, bloated
with their hatred for all life,
intent on sowing grief and strife.
Hincmar and Lord Varaszlo
were the shadows who thus hid.
They'd followed Hradlaub, lying low,
never meaning him to go
alone and unaccompanied.
But they knew he could not lie
straight-faced enough to fool whoever
had sent the Nightmare. He might try,
it was beyond his best endeavour.
And so they'd followed him to find
the lair where lurked the evil mind
that gave Duke Hermann such great pain,
the sender of Duke Hermann's bane.
--- 21 ---
Hincmar and Varaszlo heard the Witch:
"These fools may think they can free the Duke
by sending me silver. They'd stop his pain
with one waggonload. Wait and see.
No sleep shall he have, nor slumber nor dream,
Not a night
till the Dwarves wealth dwells with me,
hidden in my house.
They cannot break the binding chains!
The might is mine!
They can send silver.
Clippings from his hair keep him spellbound,
are the hidden hold.
While I have those what can stop me?
Dusk is dimming:
time for terror.
The Duke is doomed.
fly to my foe!
Rob him of rest!"
--- 22 ---
Then the Nightmare with a cry
left the Witch's filthy hovel,
heaved itself into the sky
and sped to settle and to lie
on Hermann's chest to make him grovel,
to bind him fast with bonds of pain,
to rob him of his very breath.
The Nightmare was Duke Hermann's bane,
its pleasure was his lingering death.
"The creature's gone. We must act fast.
This chance is both our first and last,"
said Varaszlo. "I'll search her lair,
but you must get her out of there.
Beware, with magic she will fight,
and you must face her undefended.
No matter what your desperate plight
don't count on me to put it right.
To me my search is all till ended."
So, without another word,
from the hovel Hincmar stole.
Then rising, sudden as a bird,
from a deeply shadowed hole,
"Foul Witch," he cried, "come forth and fight!
You filthy spawn of evil night!
Come forth and meet me if you dare
instead of skulking in your lair."
--- 23 ---
Lord Hincmar stood in crepuscular gloom,
saw the Witch come out and before him loom.
"You miserable midget! You horrible hog!
I'll whip you till you howl like a dog!"
cried the wicked Witch, and she ground her teeth.
Her weight was shaking the ground underneath.
"Your tale you'll never live to tell.
I'll obliterate you with my very first spell!"
Then she hurled at Hincmar a curse like a flame
that blistered the branches as it came.
He dived for shelter. It struck a tree
which burst into flames. She cackled with glee
and hurled her spells with both her hands.
"You're dead, you snake, if a single one lands.
This one will turn you into an ant,
and this a toad," he heard her rant
as she went on hurling spell and curse,
"and this, you serpent will disperse
your body to the empty air!
Never again will anyone dare
to enter my forest without my leave.
Just see what terrors I can weave!"
Then all about him there crackled and hissed
the Witch's spells, but all of them missed,
for he dodged and danced and ducked and rolled,
and not a single one took hold.
But the air was purple and blue and red
as she hurled her spells around his head,
and the trees were burnt and broken and felled
as she swung her staff and howled and yelled
curses and spells, and she trampled the briars,
while all around explosions and fires
had torn up the bushes and blackened the ground.
Hincmar escaped with a leap and a bound,
and the Witch came lumbering after him
with spells to rend him limb from limb.
"You sneaking snake!" she spat her spite,
hurling her spells to the left and the right.
Hincmar fled and she rushed in pursuit,
forgetting her lair and forgetting her loot,
hurling her spells as she crashed through the trees,
wading in brambles right up to her knees,
spitting and cursing and gasping for breath.
Each one of the spells that she hurled would mean death,
and she hurled them by dozens and hurled them by scores,
paying no heed to the cracks and the roars
as the undergrowth blazed and the trees caught alight
and the snakes and the spiders all fled in their fright.
--- 24 ---
Varaszlo heard the crack and the roar
of flames in the forest. The flicker of fire
sent shadows scurrying over the floor.
As soon as the Witch had gone from the door
by the window he'd entered that hovel or byre.
He swiftly looked round the Witch's foul den,
seeing boxes and barrels and bottles and bags
all piled up so high that hundreds of men
could have searched all the day, if that vilest of hags
had been out of the way, yet still not have found
the thing that they sought. Then with scarcely a sound,
with a flick of his hand and a glint of his eye,
a spell he sent out that swiftly did fly
around and around in the flickering gloom,
moving through cupboards and drawers and shelves.
Hovering, searching, it sped round the room,
seeking the vessel that held Hermann's doom.
Then barrels and caskets opened themselves,
spilling rubies and diamonds, silver and gold,
emeralds, sapphires and opals, (such treasures
as rarely are seen), and jewels untold -
for stealing and hoarding, those were her pleasures.
Evil things too fell out of the bags:
bats' wings and beetles and filth and old rags,
and poisonous herbs and things with vile smells
that she boiled in a cauldron to make magic spells.
The searching-out charm very swiftly did fly
round the dirty old hovel, amid the high heaps
of treasures and vileness, until, by and by,
it came to the place where a casket did lie.
Varaszlo muttered, "So that's where she keeps
the chains that bind Hermann, his nails and his hair."
Then he bent to examine the carved wooden chest,
and sighed when he saw the runes written there,
for the power that they held at the Witch's behest
if the casket were opened would cause it to howl.
Then the Witch would come back with murder most foul
in her mind and her heart, and exude such a breath
of pestilent ill that he'd not escape death.
Varaszlo's magic could not move the chest
without making it scream and recalling the hag.
"I'd have taken more exercise if I had guessed
how my strength would be needed," he said, quite depressed,
as he picked up the chest and started to sag.
Then he heaved and he got it up into his arms.
To the door Buvesz staggered and out of the room,
to the wood, where the Witch with her spells and her charms
had called thunder and lightning to seal Hincmar's doom.
The lightning came crashing and brought down the trees
where Hincmar was hiding, but swift as a breeze
he tumbled away. Then she did it again,
but he was concealed by a downpour of rain.
How she cursed and she screeched as she flung out her power,
while Varaszlo staggered away with the chest,
and Hincmar was forced to tumble and cower,
roll over and flee, till he thought his last hour
had come and that that was the end of their quest.
But Varaszlo, straining his muscles, had hauled
the chest to a thicket of briar and thorn.
He opened its lid and straightway it called
and screeched with a voice like a rusty old horn.
Varaszlo took out the hair and the nails,
but as soon as the Witch hear the screams and the wails
she rushed from the battle to get the box back,
so Hincmar at last was safe from attack.
--- 25 ---
Wearily the two men met
beside the riven rock where waited
their horses. Now the sun had set,
but that which they'd set out to get
they had. Though tired they were elated.
Far behind they heard a screech,
a wail of pain, a howl of rage.
"I think the wicked Witch can't reach
her box, nor yet with spells beseech
it to come out," observed the Mage.
"Her magic there she cannot use.
My third spell bars it, keeps it out.
To get the casket she must choose
to brave those vicious thorns and lose
some blood. That's why we hear her shout."
"Serves her right," said Hincmar then,
"but if you say this spell's your third,
I'd like to know just how and when
you used the others in her den.
Pray do not think I'll be deterred."
"The third spell causes her to howl.
She cannot use her magic charms.
The thorns rip at her carcase foul,
and make her curse and spit and yowl
by scratching at her legs and arms.
But she must quickly find her chest
or she won't know if she has lost
the treasure that she values best,
that kept Duke Hermann sore oppressed,
so in she crawls, whate'er the cost.
My second was a searching spell
to seek Duke Hermann's nails and hair,
for heaped up in the Witch's cell
were filth and treasures, piled pell-mell,
the strangest hoard, beyond compare.
My first - now don't be angry, friend -
was merely a protection charm.
I didn't want to have your end
upon my conscience - Heav'n forfend -
a spell to keep you safe from harm.
It's no reflection on your daring.
You didn't know, and if you had -
this paradox is past all bearing -
it wouldn't work, so stop your glaring ..."
Just then they heard a pad ... pad ... pad.
--- 26 ---
Evil things in darkness lurk
with claws that tear and jaws that bite,
armed with knife or sword or dirk,
seeking prey in mist and murk -
Goblins prowl about by night.
Now the Witch had changed her screaming
from curses to a caterwaul.
At that from every side came streaming
Goblins, summoned by her call,
mountain Orcs with shields of leather,
helmets topped with vulture's feather,
armed with axes, swords and maces,
wicked grins upon their faces.
Evil things in darkness lurk,
Goblins, eager for a fight.
Though avoiding honest work,
murder's what they never shirk.
To kill and rob is their delight.
The Wizard said, "We are too late.
The Witch has got us neatly caught.
We'll have to fight and meet our fate,
for magic will avail us naught.
I see these Goblins are protected
by a magic spell projected
by the Witch who owns this wood.
It seems that bad has beaten good."
Evil things in darkness lurk,
Goblins filled with hate and spite.
On they come to start their work,
armed with axe and mace and dirk.
Bloodlust makes their eyes shine bright.
On they come in screaming hordes,
made fiercer by the Witch's call,
unafraid are they of swords,
with only two against them all.
Now the Witch herself appears.
"Take them both alive," she sneers.
Though the time for magic's done,
the final battle has begun."
The Goblins charge. The horses fall.
The men are standing back to back,
swords in hand, to meet the brawl,
cutting at the surging wall,
the spitting, howling, surging pack.
Goblins fall, but others come.
Hincmar's sword is red with blood.
The Wizard's arm is growing numb
and still they cannot stem the flood.
The Witch still caterwauls her dirge.
The Goblins start another surge,
and many fall like ripened corn,
when suddenly there blares a horn.
Again the horn sounds on the breeze.
Then mail-clad warriors bearing light,
clustered like a swarm of bees,
come fiercely charging through the trees,
and in their hands their swords are bright.
The warriors charge.The Goblins turn.
Some try to fight, but most turn tail.
The flashing swords now seem to burn
about their heads. The Goblins wail.
The wicked Witch now casts a spell.
The Sorcerer's voice, like sounding bell,
forestalls her, and a shining dart
pierces the evil to its heart.
It writhes, and falls about her head,
and now at last the wicked Witch,
with all her Goblins fled or dead,
is shaken by a sudden dread.
She stumbles over root and ditch
in anxious haste to get away
from all those fearsome Dwarvish swords -
for Dwarves it is who've won the day
and rescued the embattled lords,
Dwarves who've never used their arms
in battle's dins or war's alarms.
On Goblins' blood their swords have fed -
victorious Hradlaub at their head.
--- 27 ---
As Hradlaub with his trembling horse
had taken from the wood his course
and come into the open land
his eye had fallen on a band
of Dwarves, all clad in coats of mail,
who hurried up to hear his tale.
For when he'd left the mine at dawn
they had resolved that not forlorn
and friendless would he face his foe,
but all the fiercest Dwarves would go
to be on hand lest he should need
from some foul prison to be freed,
or, at the last, if all else failed,
the colours of the Dwarves be nailed
fast to the staff of vengeance grim
to slaughter what had slaughtered him.
Now, being prudent, they'd sent out
a party on ahead to scout,
and these had not gone far when they
saw two armed horsemen on the way.
Then, creeping up where Dwarves might go
unseen, observed Lord Varaszlo
and Hincmar too, and so they guessed
some plan was made, and thought it best
to follow quietly in the rear
and wait their chance to interfere.
Scarce had they reached the final word
of this bold tale when noise was heard
from the forest: fire and storm,
lightning bolt and every form
of magic spell that brings destruction,
and evil winds that by their suction
uproot the trees and overturn them,
and crackling flames that fiercely burn them.
No place for Dwarves where spells are cast.
They cannot fight the fearful blast
of war that's fought with evil charms,
but still they waited with their arms
at the ready, shields and swords,
to bring their aid to Hermann's lords.
Then suddenly the battle ceased.
Their ears and senses were released.
They waited in the eerie calm,
and hoped their friends were safe from harm,
until, at length, a ghastly wailing
told them that the Witch was ailing.
But then her howling changed again,
full of menace to the men.
Dwarvish spies upon their knees
had crept up quietly through the trees
and seen the milling Goblin hordes
swarming to attack the lords.
Hradlaub, clad in mail, had led
the Dwarvish charge - the Goblins fled.
--- 28 ---
They left the forest and the gloom,
returning to Duke Hermann's lands,
and far away in Hermann's room
the Nightmare felt a sense of doom
that seized its heart like two strong hands.
It hurled itself from Hermann's tower.
It hauled itself across the sky.
It knew the Witch had lost her power.
In panic it could scarcely fly.
They saw it passing overhead,
flapping feebly, nearly dead.
It disappeared into the wood -
and Hermann's bane was gone for good.
At the Watchtower Varaszlo
kindled fire and blew on flame,
made the embers brightly glow
while the flames were licking low
as he spoke their secret name.
Then, with careful incantation,
he burned Duke Hermann's hair and nails,
and, with a chant of celebration,
cast a spell, that never fails,
to give protection to the Duke,
still sleeping, but with healthier look.
He woke, he ate, he drank his wine.
When evening came he rose to dine.
Duke Hermann now resumed his life
and once a month rode to the hill
to purchase sword and jewel and knife.
His sister was Lord Hincmar's wife,
and neither man was ever ill.
The Dwarf-Lord too lived long and well,
and honoured was his worthy name.
Throughout his days sound as a bell,
he left behind him lasting fame.
Lord Varaszlo, the Sorcerer,
still lives, at least so men aver,
and rides the broad Pannonian plain,
till need may call him west again.
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