Brunhilda (German Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, German Folk Tales3271

The fair Brunhilda was the daughter of the old King of Bohemia, and many a handsome prince and gallant knight came from distant lands to try and win the lovely maiden.

One dewy morning a noble youth rode up to the Palace of the white-haired King of Bohemia. He was the only son of the King of the Harz whose strong castle was built on a mighty crag overhanging a deep ravine.

No sooner had the young man beheld the lovely princess than he knew that his heart was no longer his own, and his one desire was to win the love of the royal maiden. When Brunhilda saw the prince, with his bright blue eyes, his flaxen hair, and manly bearing, her heart beat quick and fast, and a blush overspread her face like a sunset glow on the mountains of Bohemia. Then she knew full well that she had seen the one man she loved above all others. Thus these two young hearts were drawn together, they plighted their troth, and vowed that nothing but death should separate them.

With a light heart the young prince rode gaily away to the far away Harz to tell his father the joy that was his and to prepare the old castle for Brunhilda”s home-coming. He promised to return after two moons had come and gone and carry back the princess as his bride and his queen.

Brunhilda could not hide her tears at the parting. A sad foreboding filled her mind with gloomy thoughts, and oppressed her soul with some coming calamity.

In the north of Europe there lived a race of great giants. They were so strong and so powerful that at the very mention of their name men trembled and fear came into all hearts. The fame of Brunhilda”s love liness had spread even into this land of the giants. One of the strongest and most powerful princes among these mighty men was the giant Bodo, and he determined to win the princess and carry her away as his bride. With a gay and handsome retinue he travelled to Bohemia; and he brought with him gold and amber and precious stones in the hope that the sight of these costly gifts would gladden the heart of the princess. Gold, however, is no measure of true love, and amber and precious stones cannot win the heart of one that is plighted to another.

The old King of Bohemia received Bodo with be coming honour for he was a great and mighty monarch. A splendid banquet was prepared for him and when he beheld the grace and beauty of the fair princess he determined to win her at all costs. With strong and powerful words he demanded that the old King should give him his daughter in marriage and with a loud voice he declared that he would not receive “nay” for an answer.

The old King knew well that Bodo would make him a powerful son-in-law, and he was blinded by the great strength of the giant, the splendour of his retinue, and the costly gifts he had brought from distant lands. He thought that the alliance with so great a prince would enhance his daughter”s happiness as well as strengthen the Kingdom of Bohemia. His old withered heart forgot that true love cannot be changed like a garment and nothing can separate hearts that are faithful.

The old King implored Brunhilda to give up all thought of a marriage with the young prince from the Harz and to accept the all-powerful Bodo as her suc cessful wooer. Brunhilda flung herself down at her father”s feet ; but neither her tears, her sighs, nor her prayers could move the obdurate old man. However, he had an interview with the giant and he told him that after the custom of his country he should receive his answer in three days.

The old King knew that if he denied Bodo the wish of his heart his rage and his anger would burst forth like a volcano and the giant would destroy his palace and make his country into a desert land. So he turned a deaf ear to Brunhilda”s weeping and told her to prepare for her wedding.

No sooner had the old King informed Bodo that the wedding-day was fixed than a sudden change came over Brunhilda. She wept no more tears, she sighed no more sighs and she let no one see how deeply she abhored the giant for she met him with a sweet and stately dignity. One thing she determined upon and that was she would sooner die than become Bodo”s bride. She still hoped for deliverance and believed that the young prince from the Harz would claim her before the fatal day, and in knightly combat free her from becoming Bodo”s bride.

In the golden light of each day”s dawning she ascended the watch-tower, but alas ! the young prince came not. Each noon she shaded her eyes from the blazing sun, but she saw no help coming near, and when the shadows lengthened she again climbed the tower and looked away to the blue Harz mountains, but she saw no rider speeding towards her. “Flight” she said to herself “is now my only means of escape, and I must fly to the home of my prince.” As the thought passed through her mind she looked down from the tower and in the meadow below the castle she beheld two of Bodo”s giant horses. One was dark as the night, the other was light as the dawn. One was the war- horse of Bodo and the other he intended should carry his bride to the land of the giants. Flight on such a horse was possible and courage again filled the heart of Brunhilda.

She begged Bodo to teach her to ride the beautiful horse, and each day she mounted her snow white steed, whose eyes shone like stars and whose feet and limbs were full of grace and power. The giant was delighted to show the fair rider how best to curb her fiery steed or to urge it forward to greater exertion. They rode together through forest glades, they crossed the broad plains at a canter, they climbed the steep hills, and now and again they had a friendly race.

At last the eve of the wedding day came. Many guests arrived but the son of the king of the Harz came not. Music and laughter echoed through the halls of the old King”s palace. No wedding guest laughed louder than the bridegroom, and no maiden in that gay throng seemed brighter or more gay than the fair young bride. She smiled on Bodo, she stroked his beard, she jested with her friends. All eyes followed the lovely damsel. Her white robes floated around her, the diamonds which Bodo had given her glittered on her bosom, while her golden crown rested on her flaxen ringlets.

At last Brunhilda begged permission to retire to her chamber to prepare for the festivity of the morrow. Instead of entering her bower Brunhilda descended the stairs, crossed the courtyard, and went direct to the stable. Here she found her snow-white steed. She at once mounted the noble creature, ordered the draw bridge to be lowered and galloped forth towards the southern mountains – the home of her true love.

Neither song, nor music, nor laughter prevented Bodo from hearing the neighing of the white horse and the lowering of the drawbridge. He fled from the revelers and his hurried steps echoed through the silent corridors. When he reached the courtyard he saw the white horse cross the drawbridge, Brunhilda”s flaxen locks waving in the night breeze and her golden crown glittering in the moonlight.

Bodo uttered one wild furious cry of uncontrollable passion, and the very walls of the castle trembled at the terrible rage of the infuriated giant. In haste he harnassed his black charger, vaulted into the saddle, and like the wild wind from the north he galloped over the drawbridge, away, after the flying princess.

The snow white steed and the fair princess flew on through valley and dale, over crag and fell, through darksome forest and through many a roaring torrent. The great black charger and his furious rider quickly followed. He seemed like the shadow of night speed ing after the brightness of day. The earth trembled beneath the heavy hoofs of the mighty horse. The birds of the forest hid beneath the leaves of the trees, and even the wild animals fled away terrified as Bodo rode past in the darkness.

Forwards, ever forwards, fled Brunhilda like a hunted deer, while Bodo followed with wild cries of rage like a storm from the desert. All night long Brunhilda was chased by Bodo. When morning broke and bathed the mountain and forest in a flood of golden light the princess was still pursued by the savage giant. Her golden crown shone in the sun light, her white veil waved behind her, and her flaxen ringlets danced in the breeze, Bodo was bareheaded, his fist was clenched in anger, and his wild shouts caused the birds to fly back in terror to their nests in the forest.

As the morning mists rolled away Brunhilda beheld the Harz Mountains. At first they looked like some cloud in the distance, but soon they became clear and distinct. ” Yonder is the home of my true love,” cried the princess joyously, “yonder is safety for me,” and she urged her horse forward.

It was a fair fresh morning and dew and gossamer lay heavy on the bushes. She passed through forests of beech and pine, where the trees shut out the light and few birds sang. Bodo came nearer, and each time she looked behind she saw the dreaded pursuer. Anxiously she urged her steed onwards, and soon the shouts of the wild bridegroom became less distinct as the distance widened between them. She passed through many a sunny dale and winding valley. Still the giant pursued her. She climbed the outlying spurs of the great Harz Mountains.

Upwards ever upwards sped the white horse with the fair princess. Ever higher to where the dark pines waved in solemn pomp, and the sound of the waves seemed to echo in their branches. Suddenly the noble horse stopped, it refused to go on, it trembled in every limb and seemed as if it were bewitched. Brunhilda looked and she also trembled at the terrible sight she beheld. Horse and rider stood on the extreme edge of a yawning precipice. Deep, deep down she could hear the roaring voice of the mountain torrent, while a thousand feet away were the jagged cliffs of the opposite side of this awful chasm Well might horse and rider tremble on the brink of this terrible gorge. Brunhilda shuddered. For a moment her heart stood still, her courage failed her, and an anxious look passed over her beautiful features. Before her lay death and destruction, behind her the voice of the hateful giant each moment growing louder while on the opposite cliff was safety, and the home of her true-love.

The choice was not hard. Brunhilda will venture the mighty leap over the deep abyss. Perchance she may gain the other side. If not, then death awaits her. “That is better, she cries “than to fall into the hands of Bodo and break my troth with my true-love.”

She drew her horse back from the edge of the precipice. Then she turned him again towards the fearful gorge, and pressing her heel into his flank she urged the noble animal forwards. With one mighty bound the horse and rider left the rock. Like the flight of an eagle they sped through the air.

A joyous cry burst from the lips of the princess when her horse”s hoof struck the rock on the opposite side of the great ravine. Then her horse fell exhausted, but the heroic deed was accomplished and Brunhilda was saved. Only her golden crown was lost. It slipped from her head as she crossed the ravine, and fell into a deep pool at the foot of the chasm.

As Bodo saw the princess pass like a floating cloud over the gorge, he uttered a wild cry of anger and rage which echoed like thunder from cliff to cliff. Then he spurred his charger to the edge of the chasm, and he, too, ventured the terrible leap ; but the weight of the giant was great, and horse and rider fell with a mighty splash into the torrent below. Here beneath the deep green water lay Brunhilda”s crown, and Bodo was transformed into a hound whose duty was ever to guard and protect it. Now and again some covetous man would plunge into the pool in the hope of gaining the crown for himself. But such a one was ever caught by the watchful hound and his lifeless body would be flung upon the bank of the stream.

Brunhilda, with a thankful cry and tears in her eyes, flung herself into the arms of the prince, and with a joyful heart he received her as his queen although she brought him no crown and no kingdom.

Above the deep gorge still stands the overhanging rock now known as the “Horsehoof” (Rosztrappe). Here countless wanderers yearly come, and they think of Brunhilda”s wonderful leap for they can still see the mark of her horse”s hoof deeply impressed in the rock. The river has been called the Bodo, since the fateful day that it received the body of the pursuing Giant.

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