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- The Wagner Story Book - 6/24 -


the hero and hated the robber, and that his command to her was given unwillingly; she hoped to gain for him the wish of his heart, in spite of his words, and she threw her shield over the hero.

"It is useless; he cannot stay her punishment now, but his anger is all gone and he is filled with sorrow like her own. He loves her still, more than any other daughter, and now he will never have her beside him in the halls of the gods again, never again see her ride to the battle, never see her return with brave men to guard his house, never again speak to her as he could to no other, and tell her all that is in his heart, never again see her glad, deep, answering eyes look into his, full of sympathy and help. One thing yet she begs: if all that they have been to each other, the god and his daughter, must be no more, if she must sleep and wait here for an unknown husband to wake her, she prays him to set some guard around her, a wall of fire, that no one but a brave man, the bravest of men, may win her for his bride.

"Yes, he will do this; she shall be shut in by fire and none shall ever come to her but the bravest of heroes, one who knows no fear at all. No one who fears even his own terrible spear, that spear which broke the magic sword that he himself had made, shall ever awake her who was his daughter, and now is to be his daughter no more. He draws her to him for one last time; he kisses her lips and they are silent; he kisses her eyes and they close. He lays her on a bank of soft moss; he closes her helmet and covers her with her shield. Near by her horse lies upon the ground asleep too; the flowers among the grass and in the crevices of the rocks droop their drowsy heads; the winds as they pass make no noise. He touches the point of his spear to the ground. Instantly the fire springs up; it makes a fierce, raging ring around the rock; surely only one who knows no fear can ever pass it. The Father of the Gods is gone. Now we can see nothing but the fire streaming up and exulting in its life and its hot defiance of all but the bravest; but there in the midst of it lies the Daughter of the God, asleep till her lover shall call her with a kiss to come with him and be a woman."

The little girl's mother had come into the room and had heard the last of the story. "Isn't it time," she said, "that the daughter of somebody else was asleep, too, if she wants to grow to be a woman?"

"It is late," I had to admit. "Well, the Daughter of the God is safe for the present. Perhaps some other time, when we have a better-behaved fire, we may see something of the lover."

THE HERO WHO KNEW NO FEAR

"Don't you think the fire is very good to-night?" the little girl asked.

"Yes, it is certainly very good indeed," I admitted.

"I should think," she said, "that anybody that could see things in fires might see very nice things in this one."

When she who might command deigns thus delicately to make a mere suggestion, it is the part both of chivalry and of loyalty to obey. I should feel that having my head chopped off was altogether too good for me if I hesitated at such a time. "Come," I said, "and let us see what the fire really looks like. What does it look like to you?"

"Oh, it doesn't look like anything at all to me, only just the fire. What does it to you?"

"It looks like a fire to me too, but it is the fire of a smith's forge. The place where it is looks half like a room and half like a cavern. It is all of rocks, but there is the forge and there are the chimney and the anvil and the bellows and all sorts of smith's tools."

"You can see things all around the fire, just the same as in it, can't you?" said the child.

"Oh, to be sure; when I want to see these things that make themselves into stories, I can see them almost anywhere, only I think the fire is a particularly good place. And who do you think is working at the forge? It is an ugly little dwarf, the very one whom we saw the other night, who made the magic helmet, the brother of the one who stole the treasure from the river nymphs. You remember he was a clever smith, else he never could have made that wonderful helmet. Now he is at work here trying to make a sword. And he does make a sword too, but he does not seem pleased with it when it is finished, and he leaves off his work and sits down, with a very dissatisfied, sulky, ugly look in his face.

"It would be hard for anybody to look more unlike the dwarf than the person I see now coming into the cave. He is a boy, or perhaps he would rather be called a young man, and I shall be glad to call him whatever he likes. He is dressed in skins and wears a little silver horn at his side. If the dwarf is short and ugly, he is tall and handsome; if the dwarf's face has a scowl of wicked hatred and cunning, his has a smile that beams with kindliness and candor; if the dwarf is old and crooked and rough and hairy, he is young and straight and graceful and fair. In short, you surely never saw a young man who looked more free, happy, generous, noble, strong, and bold than he. It makes one more good- humored to look at him, and the sunlight follows him straight into the cave. Something else follows him too, for he is leading a big brown bear by a cord twisted around its neck. He sends the bear at the dwarf, who screams and runs away in terror. The young man seems to have caught the bear in the woods just to frighten the dwarf, and he lets it go again when the dwarf tells him that the sword is finished and ready for him. He takes the sword and looks at it scornfully. It is good for nothing, he says. He strikes it upon the anvil and breaks it into a dozen pieces. He is a little particular about his swords; he does not like them unless he can chop anvils with them.

"Before we try to see any more, perhaps I ought to tell you something about this wonderful youth and why he lives here in the cave with the dwarf. He was born here. This is the forest where the treasure is hidden that was paid to the giants for building the castle of the gods. It is guarded, as you know, by the giant who killed his brother so that he might have the whole of it, and he has changed himself into a horrible dragon, by the magic helmet, so that he may guard it better. The young man's mother was the woman whom the Daughter of the God sent away into this forest to save her from the anger of the Father of the Gods, as you remember. She took refuge here in the dwarf's cave and she died soon after her son was born, and then the dwarf kept the boy and brought him up. But it was not because he cared for him at all or had the least kindly feeling for anybody. It was just because he wanted, as so many others wanted, that rich treasure and the magic helmet and the magic ring with the curse upon it.

"Now, you see, the boy's mother gave him the pieces of the broken magic sword and told him to keep them for the boy. He knew something about the sword and so he got it into his head that this was the very sword that would sometime kill that dragon. And since this boy was to have the sword, he thought, too, that he might very likely grow up to be the man who would kill the dragon. Do you see, then, why he has kept him and fed him and brought him up so carefully? It was just because he was so cunning and cruel and selfish that he took good care of the boy. He knew very well that he himself would never dare to go near enough to that dragon for it to breathe on him, but he thought: 'Some day I will give this boy the magic sword and make him go and kill the monster with it, and then I will kill him and get all the treasure, with the helmet and the ring, and then I shall be the ruler of all the dwarfs, of men, of the gods themselves, and of the whole world.'

[Illustration: "THE SUNLIGHT FOLLOWS HIM STRAIGHT INTO THE CAVE."]

"So the baby that the dwarf took and tended at first has grown to be this noble, brave, generous young man, and he hates the dwarf as anyone as good and strong as he must hate anything so cowardly and mean and wicked. All these years the dwarf has never told him anything about his mother or how he came to be living with him here in the cave. But now of a sudden the young man asks the dwarf some questions and shows that he means to treat him very roughly if he does not answer them. So the dwarf tells him a little of what I have told you, and to prove that what he says about his mother is true he shows him the pieces of the broken sword.

"The young man gets interested in these at once, you may be sure. 'That was a good sword,' he cries; 'that is the sword I must have; mend it for me, dwarf, and mend it quickly. I will go into the forest, and, if it is not done when I come back, you shall be sorry that you worked so badly.'

"Then away he goes to play with the bears, perhaps, in the forest. Now you can be quite sure that the dwarf has not kept that broken sword all these years without ever trying to mend it. He has tried many times, and he can no more put the pieces together than he can look as handsome as the fiery youth who has just left him here frightened half to death. So he simply sits down and lets himself get more frightened till he looks up and finds that he has a visitor.

"The visitor is a tall old man whom he does not know, but I know him; he is the Father of the Gods. He asks the dwarf to let him sit down and rest, but the dwarf is even more ill-natured than usual and bids him go away and not trouble him. The Father of the Gods replies that he might perhaps tell the dwarf something that would be of use to him if he would let him stay. Now you see what a good chance this would be for the dwarf to ask how to mend the broken sword, but he is so cross and surly that he thinks of nothing but how to be as disagreeable as possible, so he says that he knows all that he needs to know and does not care to learn from anybody. But the Father of the Gods persists; he will give the dwarf his head, he says, if he cannot answer any three questions that he may ask him. This pleases the dwarf, for he thinks it would be a pleasure to him to cut off somebody's head. 'What people, then,' he asks for his first question, 'live under the ground?'

"'The dwarfs,' says the stranger; 'one of them had a ring once, by which he ruled all the others.'

"'And what people,' asks the dwarf, 'live upon the mountains?'

"'The giants; one of them, in the form of a dragon, has the ring now.'

"'And who live up among the clouds?'

"'The gods,' says the stranger, 'and the Father of the Gods has a spear with which he rules the world.'

"As he says that, he lets the end of the spear which he carries drop upon the ground and instantly there is a peal of thunder.

"'Now,' says the stranger, 'as I have saved my head, you must pledge me yours to answer the three questions which I shall ask. Who is the strongest of heroes whom the Father of the Gods loves?'

"The dwarf answers that he thinks it must be the son of the woman who


The Wagner Story Book - 6/24

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