The tale how Witig Wieland’s son came to Bern to duel Dietrich is the first, and strongest, of three longer stories about Dietrich acquiring heroes. It is to the point, with good characterisation, unity of purpose, an interesting development, and a strong support role for Hildebrand.
In fact this is the second-best single story in the entire saga, and I am going to give it in full with little commentary.
Witig wants to set out to Bern to fight Dietrich. His father Wieland tries to dissuade him, but fails. Then he gives his son armour and weapons, among which the sword Mimung and the horse Schimming. He explains the road to Bern, and Witig sets out.
Now Witig rode a long way through forests and lands inhabited and uninhabited. He came to a large river called Eiðisá
Meanwhile three knights rode by, and these were Hildebrand, Dietrich's foster, and the other Heime, and the third was jarl Hornboge. Dietrich had sent the first two to jarl Hornboge to invite him to come to Bern, since he had heard the jarl was a great hero, and he wanted to make Hornboge his companion.
Now Hildebrand said to his companions: In this river I see a dwarf, which might well be the dwarf Alberich that Dietrich once defeated and won his sword Nagelring from, and his helmet Hildegrim, and I was there as well
They dismounted and walked to the river. But Witig had heard them quite clearly and called: Allowe me to come to land unharmed and I'll show you I'm not a dwarf. And they allowed him, and Witig jumped from the river, and he covered nine feet in one jump. Then Hildebrand asked who he was, and Witig said: If you're a good hero, do you ask such questions of a naked man? Let me first find my clothes and weapons, and then you can ask.
Witig clothed and armed himself, mounted his horse, and rode to the three. Good sirs knight, he said, God help me, I'd name all of you by name if I but knew them. But ask me anything you like. Hildebrand asked for his name and what he was doing here traveling alone. And Witig said he was a Dane named Witig, and his father was Wieland the Smith, and his mother was daughter to king Nidung of Jutland, and he was traveling to Dietrich Dietmar's son to challenge him to a duel.
When Hildebrand saw how strong this man was, and how well-made his weapons and armour were, he understood his lord Dietrich would come to great danger if he fought against this man, and he wasn't sure who would win. Therefore he joyously replied: Thank God I finally found a man courageous enough to swing his sword against Dietrich, and I hope you will win, because Dietrich thinks no one is braver and stronger than he. Come, now let's swear brotherhood, that we will help one another when we need it most.
Witig said he felt Hildebrand was a noble man, and he would love to swear brotherhood, but he'd first liked to know their names. And Hildebrand said he was Voltram son of Reginbald, jarl of Wenden, and here is Sintram Herbrand's son, and the third is jarl Hornboge of Vindland. Now Witig and Hildebrand held hands and swore brotherhood. And Hildebrand knew where the ford was, and they rode over it and continued.
This sets the tone for the story. Hildebrand is the wise man who makes sure everything turn out fine in the end. His decision to swear brotherhood there and then is an excellent one, as we will see below.
Now they came to a place where the road split, and Hildebrand said: Both these roads lead to Bern, the one is long and hard
Witig said: We will surely take the short road, for a foreigner may ride in peace wherever he wants. And they took the road Witig wanted, and came to a forest named Lurwald
Witig rode to the fort and the stone bridge. Those that were in the fort looked down from the battlements and saw him coming.
Then Gramaleif said: That man has a good shield, and I want it. But take from him whatever you like.
Studfus said: No doubt this man has a good sword, I want it.
And Thräla said: I want his armour.
And Sigstab said: I wat his helmet.
And the fifth said: He has a good horse, I want it.
The sixth said: I want his clothes.
The seventh: Well, then nothing is left for me but his leg protectors.
The eighth said: I want his belt with the sack on it.
THe ninth said: I want his right hand.
The tenth: Then I want his right foot.
And the eleventh said: And I want his head.
Then Studfus said: No one should kill this man, since he'll have so little left. Then Gramaleif, their leader, said: So ride to him and take everything, but leave him his left hand, left foot, and his life.
When the three came to the one
And Gramaleif rose, armed himself and all his twelve companions and rode across the stone bridge. Witig again welcomed him, and Gramaleif said: You're not welcome, because we have already divided your belongings among ourselves, and you'll keep one hand and one foot. Now give me your shield.
Witig said he wouldn't give his shield, since if he returned to Denmark his father would say Dietrich had taken it from him. Then Studfus told Witig: Then give me your sword, because that's my share. And Witig said: If you take my sword, how would I defend myself if I come to Dietrich? One after the other demanded his share, and Witig asked again for free passage, but he would not give them even a penny.
Then Studfus said: Look, we're with twelve standing before a single man who replies haughtily, so draw your swords and he'll leave his belongings here and his life as well. Studfus drew his sword and hit Witig on his helmet, but the helmet was so hard that it withstood the blow like a stone would do. Then Witig drew his sword Mimung and hit Studfus in the shoulder so that he was hacked in two through breast and armour and both pieces fell to the ground.
The other robbers took fright from this blow, and many would have preferred to be at home, but all of them drew their swords and attacked Witig, and they spurred on one another. Gramaleif hit Witig on the helmet, but it was so hard that nothing happened. On the other hand, when Witig hit Gramaleif on the helmet he cleaved his head and torso to the belt, and he fell dead.
Then Hildebrand said to his companions: Let's move closer and see what happens. When Witig defeats these men alone and we don't come to his aid, they'd say we abandonded him, and the oath of brotherhood I swore requires me to help him.
Heime said: I think we should ride there and help him once we see he has the upper hand, but if he falls we ride away as quickly as we can, so that we don't go into danger for the sake of an unknown man. Hildebrand said that would be ignominious. And Hornboge said that since we have sworn brotherhood we must help him.
Then they rode forward to the stone bridge, where Witig had meanwhile killed seven of the twelve. Sigstab and five others fled.
Heime doesn’t like Witig, and that will not change throughout the saga. His remarks foreshadow his behaviour later.
Also, the saga miscounts the number of robbers. I think it should be 'five others among which Sigstab'. This is not super-important, but still.
Next, Hildebrand takes a wise precaution.
Then Witig and his companions greeted one another cheerfully. They rode into the fort, where they found wine and food, and they took all the treasure and went to sleep there.
Hildebrand thought carefully about Witig and how strong he was, and doubted that Dietrich would be able to defeat him. He also considered how good Witig's weapon was. And when midnight had come, Hildebrand stood up and drew his sword, and then took Witig's sword Mimung, drew it from the sheath, and put his own sword in there after he had swapped their hilts. Then he sheathed Mimung himself and went to sleep.
They rose and prepared to travel on. Witig asked Hildebrand what they would do with the fort. Hildebrand said they'd do what the two of them would consider best. But, he added, I no longer wish to be silent but tell you the truth. I am Hildebrand, and I am Dietrich's follower, and all of us are his companions. And although I didn't tell you our true names before, we still want to retain the brotherhood that we swore. But it is my counsel that we leave the fort as it is, and leave our two companions here to guard it. I will follow you to Bern, and once you become good friends and brothers the two of you will own this fort jointly, and he will certainly reward you. But if you separate without friendship the fort will belong to you alone.
Witig said: A heavy toll rested on this bridge, for locals and foreigners alike, but this is an important road for many people, and they don't dare to pass by this place because of this fort and the robbers who lived here. As far as I'm concerned all, locals and foreigners, young and old, rich and poor will henceforth travel this road in peace.
Hornboge said: He who won this fort by his sword has the right to decide on its fate. Then Witig set one of the buildings on fire, after they had taken all goods, and they did not travel on until the fort was burned down completely.
Witig’s ideas about freedom of travel are surprisingly modern. It would be interesting to know how these remarks would go over with a 13th-century audience — or a 5th-century one.
Then they continued their journey happily, and rode on until they came to the river called Wisar
When Witig saw all this he spurred on his horse Schimming, rode to the stone banks where the bridge had been, and then Schimming jumped from the one bank to the other as if an arrow sped there, and until this day
Hildebrand, Heime and jarl Hornboge rode after him. Hildebrand's horse also jumped, but didn't make it to the other bank and fell in the rivier, and swam to land. The same happened to Hornboge, but he reached the bank before Hildebrand. But Heime, who rode Rispa, Schimming's brother, jumped to the other bank.
As soon as Witig came down he rode at Sigstab and his five companions and they fought, and Witig gave many men heavy blows. But Heime sat on his horse and refused to help him
Now they rode on and in the evening they came to a fort called Her which belonged to king Dietmar
Now Dietrich was told while he was eating that Hildebrand, jarl Hornboge and Heime had come, and he rose and went out to greet them and asked for news. He didn't say a word to Witig, because he didn't know what kind of man he was. Then Witig took a silver-plated glove and gave it to Dietrich, who asked what that meant. Witig replied: Hereby I challenge you to a duel. We are the same age, but I have heard much about you, and I have gone through a great deal to see if you are as great a hero as is said. Now I have reached you, and since the day I left home I have waited for the moment the two of us will fight.
Dietrich said: I will keep the peace in the lands of my father and myself, so that not every tramp or scoundrel will challenge me to a duel. Hildebrand said: My lord, you don't know whom you're talking to. I'm not sure who would win a duel between the two of you; it is even likely that you would lose, when no one helps you.
Reinald, a follower of Dietrich's, said: It's a great shame, my lord, that any country bumpkin can challenge you in your own lands. But when Hildebrand heard this he told him not to insult his companions with such words, and he hit Reinald on the ear with his fist so that he fell unconscious.
Then Dietrich said to Hildebrand: I see you're taking the trouble to help this man, but you'll see how he will enjoy it: today he will hang outside Bern. Hildebrand said: If he comes into your power by bravery and strength
Then Dietrich called for his weapons. He donned his armour, put his helmet Hildegrim on his head, girded himself with his sword Nagelring, and took his shield with the golden lion on a red field, and took his lance. His horse Falke was brought to him and he mounted, and Falke was a brother of Schimming, Witig's horse, and Rispa, Heime's horse. Then Dietrich rode forth out of Bern with a large retinue of knights and chiefs. When he exited Bern he found Hildebrand and Witig with a few men. Witig sat fully armed on his horse, and was ready.
Now Heime came to Dietrich with a bowl full of wine, and said: Drink, mylord, and God grant you victory today and forever. Dietrich took the bowl, drank, and returned it. Then Hildebrand brought Witig the bowl, but Witig said he should bring the bowl to Dietrich first and ask him to drink to his
Then Hildebrand said: You still don't know who you're angry at, but you'll quickly find he is a hero, and not a scoundrel. Then he walked back to Witig and offered him the bowl again, and said: Now drink, and defend yourself with bravery, and may God help you. Then Witig took the bowl and drank, and with the bowl he also gave Hildebrand a golden armring and thanked him for his help.
Then Dietrich called to Witig if he was ready, and Witig said he was.
Then they spurred their stallions and rode at one another like a hungry hawk at its prey. Dietrich's spear glanced off Witig's shield, but Witig's hit Dietrich's shield squarely, and the shaft broke into three pieces.
Then Witig called: Turn your horse and ride at me again! You still have your spear, so I'll keep still, but you'll break your spear just like I did mine. And he drew his sword.
Then Dietrich rode at him with all his might and hit Witig's breast with his spear, and he expected to kill him with that blow, but Witig hacked his spear in two with his sword, and with the same blow he hacked off a bit of his own shield. He was not wounded, since his hard armour protected him.
Again the heroes go at one another with horse and lance but nothing much happens. The spears breaking seems almost like a stock phrase. The decisive fight takes place on foot, with the sword.
Then both dismounted and attacked one another, and they hit each other mightily with their swords. Dietrich gave Witig many heavy blows with Nagelring, and Witig wanted to give Dietrich a blow that would wound him, and he swung his sword with all his might against Dietrich's helmet Hildegrim, but the helmet was so hard that this marvelous blow did break something, but it was the sword that sprang in two pieces.
Then Witig called: Ha, Wieland, my father, have God's wrath for forging this sword so badly. I would have fought like a hero had I but had a good sword, but this brings shame and injury to me, and also to the one who made it.
Now Dietrich swung Nagelring with both hands and wanted to behead Witig. But Hildebrand jumped between them and said to Dietrich: Give this man peace and take him as your companion. You will never get a better hero than him: he defeated twelve men at fort Brictan all by himself, and you couldn't conquer the fort with all your men. It would honour you if such a man would serve you.
But Dietrich said he would stick with what he said before: Witig would hang before Bern today. Hildebrand praised Witig's descent of royal houses on his father's and mother's side, and again asked him to make Witig his follower.
But Dietrich said: I'd like to make it a law in my father's lands that not every slave's son
Hildebrand reaches peak wisdom.
When Hildebrand saw that Dietrich did not want to listen, he said: Now I see that my good counsel will not be heeded, and therefore the child shall have what it cries for.
Then Hildebrand drew his sword from the sheath and said to Witig: See now, good sir knight, how I keep my vow of brotherhood. Here, take the sword Mimung and defend yourself.
Then Witig became as happy as a bird at the crack of dawn. He kissed the sword and said: God forgive the words I said about my father Wieland. See, Dietrich, my good hero, this is Mimung. Now I am as eager to fight you as a thirsty man to drink, or a hungry dog to eat
Now he hit Dietrich blow after blow, and each time he took away a piece of his armour or shield or helmet, and Dietrich didn't manage to strike one blow, and could do nothing but defend himself, and he had five wounds already. Then he saw he would lose this fight, and called to Hildebrand his teacher: Come here and separate us! Because I do not see how to separate us by myself!
Then Hildebrand said: When I tried to separate you you didn't want to take good advice, but now I think you'll agree that Witig is a good hero. And it seems to me that with your armour is pierced, your helmet is broken, your shield split, and you yourself wounded, and you'll finish this fight with shame and dishonour, and that's what your pride bought you. So separate yourself if you can. And he will have the power to do to you what you sentenced him to
When king Dietmar saw that his son would be defeated he took a red shield
Then the king said: Good sir knight, I merely want to ask you to spare my son, because I see that when you fight on his end is near. And if you do I'll give you a castle
Then Witig said: I won't spare him; he will receive the same sentence he wanted to give me, unless you prevent me with your multitude of men.
Then the king stepped back and the fight recommenced, and Dietrich defended himself bravely, but in the end Witig hit the helmet Hildegrim so hard that it was cut from left to right, and the upper part flew off Dietrich's head and some of his hair with it.
When Hildebrand saw that Hildegrim had been broken he sprang between the two and said: My dear friend Witig, please give Dietrich peace for the sake of our brotherhood, and take him as your companion, because when the two of you fight together, no one in the entire world will be your peer.
Then Witig said: Although he doesn't deserve it I will do as you ask for the sake of our brotherhood. Then they put down their weapons, shook hands, and became good friends and companions. They rode back to Bern and were all happy.
Despite bringing his number of heroes to four, Dietrich is rather put off by his defeat and looks for other ways to gather fame.
Also, the tension between Witig and Heime, so far Dietrich's best friend and hero, remains. We’ll get back to it.
The next chapter is Journey to Osning. How Dietrich fights a hero and a few animals, and finds two new heroes.