A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter VII: In the Dwarf's Palace." by Lilian Gask (1865-).
Publication: Gask, Lilian (1865-) The Fairies and the Christmas Child. Illustrated by Willy Pogány (1882-1955). London: Harrap & Co., n.d. [First published 1912] pp. 133-156.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Chapter VII
In the Dwarf's Palace.

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Now I knew that Germany was the very country for Dwarfs and Fairies, and when I heard that this was where we were going next I determined to be on the look out. I did not see them, though, for a long time after we arrived, for I was so tremendously interested in everything else. Even in the big cities where Father spent hours and hours in the hospitals, watching the wonderful things that the German doctors did, most of the children looked plump and rosy, and I didn't see any so thin and pale as those we had left at home. One of the Herr Professors, with whom we stayed, said that this was because the State made so kind a Grandmother, but when I asked him what he meant, he only laughed.

I liked this professor best of all–he had such a nice way of talking, and he loved Fairies as much as I do. He said "Ach! So!" when I told him I was a Christmas Child, and smiled all over his kind old face. Then he put his hand on my shoulder, and told me that I must remember to do my part to make my birthday the gladdest day in the year for everyone around me.

"It is different in your country," he went on, "but here, in the Fatherland, there is scarcely a cottage home which has not its Christmas tree, even if this is only a branch of fir stuck in a broken pot, and hung with oranges and golden balls. No child is so poor but has his Christmas presents of cakes and toys, for if his mother cannot provide them, she tells his teacher in good time, and the teacher sees that he is not forgotten."

I thought this was a ripping plan, for it is horrid when Santa Claus forgets you, and your stockings hang all limp and flat, like mine did last year. And I made up my mind, then and there, that next Christmas there should be a tree for all the littlest and grubbiest children in my old home.

While Father was at the hospitals with the Herr Professor, I stayed with Rudolf and Gretchen, two of his grandchildren–fat little things with big blue eyes, who stared at me as if I had seven heads when I told them about the Korrigans. Gretchen believed in Fairies of all kinds, but Rudolf only in Dwarfs and Giants. He even said that Santa Claus was just his own father dressed up, and declared he had seen his old brown pipe peeping out of Santa Claus' pocket the last time he paid them a visit. Gretchen said that if so, Santa Claus had taken away the old brown pipe to bring a lovely new one in its place, and Rudolf told her girls knew too much. They were both angry by this time, and their faces looked very red. So I thought we had better talk about Dwarfs and Giants.

"Grandfather says there are no Giants now" Rudolph said seriously, "but there are plenty of Dwarfs in the hill which looks down on the forest. I saw one there myself last summer; he ran away and wouldn't speak to me, as if he were afraid."

Without saying anything to Rudolf, who might have wanted to come too, I started for the hill directly after dinner, while he and Gretchen were arguing again over the pipe and Santa Claus. The Professor's house was just at the end of the town, so I didn't have far to go; but the hill took much longer to climb than I thought it would, and I was quite out of breath when I reached the top and sat down on a flat white stone. As I looked about me, I swung my foot, and it tapped against a biggish rock that was just in front. The third time that I did this, a little brown man hopped briskly out of a crevice and stood before me. He wore a bright red coat trimmed with green buttons, and carried in his hand a close-fitting cap of grey.

"Gently, gently, good child!" he cried. "One knock is enough, if we want to hear it, for our ears are as keen as we could wish. Why did you call me, and what would you have?"

"I would hear of you, and of your kinsmen, Master Dwarf!" I said. "I am a Christmas Child, and the Fairies are all my friends."

At this he bowed, and said he was glad to meet me, nodding his head with a sort of grunt as I told him where I had met Titania.

"If it be your pleasure," he said, looking round to see that no one was near but me, "I will take you within the hill, and introduce you to my wife. The ground whereon you stand is hollow, as you will soon perceive, and we are less than a stone's throw from my palace."

I told him that nothing would please me more than to pay him a visit, and muttering a word in some strange language, he rapped his knuckles on a cleft in the rock. It widened sufficiently to let us both through, and closed again with a thud.

The winding passage in which I found myself was lit by a soft red glow, coming from hundreds of rubies set deep in the walls, which seemed to be of oxidised silver. After several twists and turns, it ended in a wide hall, where I could just stand upright under the jewelled dome! As soon as my eyes grew accustomed to the blaze of light which came from the diamond stars set round it, I saw a sweet little creature in a frock of pale purple silk, cut short in the sleeves to show her pretty white arms, on which she wore many bracelets.

"My wife!" said the Dwarf proudly, and he explained to her who I was and what I wanted, and a great deal more about me that I was astonished he should know. My surprise amused him a good deal, and as his wife led the way to her boudoir he chuckled merrily.

"There are Kobolds, or House-Spirits in most old houses," he remarked, "and it is more than two hundred years since the first stone was laid of the Herr Professor's. I knew this noon that you were coming, and the Kobold spoke well of you, and said that you were not above taking advice from others wiser than yourself. Now, sir! What do you think of this?" And he opened a door with a great flourish, holding it back for me to enter.

"It's grand!" I said, for so it was. The silver floor was inlaid with a gold scroll; the walls, of tinted mother-o'-pearl, were adorned with wreaths of forget-me-nots, each tiny turquoise flower having an amber centre. The furniture was of filigree silver, so fragile to look at that I was afraid to touch it, much less to sit down on one of the tiny chairs, even if I could have fitted myself in. The Dwarf invited me to be seated, and his small wife gave me a roguish smile as she brought a velvet cushion from an inner room, and placed this on the ground. I found afterwards that it was the Dwarf's own bed, and that his pillow was made of spun spider silk, filled with scented roseleaves and wild thyme.

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"When you are rested and refreshed," said the Dwarf kindly, as his little spouse offered me a sip of nectar from a crystal goblet, "I will show you my palace. There is not much to see, for we are humble folk, and this hill comparatively a small one. The estates of some of our nobles extend for miles, and that of our Emperor runs through a range of mountains. In times gone by we welcomed mortals as our guests, for we were anxious to be their friends. But they grudged us even a handful of peas in return, and met our advances with jeers. Now we keep to our hills as far as possible, and when we desire to walk abroad, we are careful to wear our mist caps, which render us quite invisible."

He sighed so deeply that the dainty lace cap poised on his wee wife's hair was almost blown away, and then, straightening his bent shoulders, he took me to see his Banquet Hall. The curtains were all of filigree silver, fine as lace, and on the walls of the kitchen, where silent little men in big white aprons kneaded cakes on crystal slabs, shone ruby and sapphire butterflies.

But this was nothing to what I saw in the long low vault where the Dwarf kept his treasures. At one end was a shimmering heap of pearls, some larger than pigeons' eggs; at another, a conical mound of diamonds, which threw out marvellous lights as the Dwarf stirred them gently with one small hand.

"We know the properties of each stone," he said; "how some give strength, and some wisdom and power to rule, while others still stir up strife and envy, and make men merciless as beasts of prey. That ruby you see has an evil history; a woman gave her soul for it, and thousands were slain in her cause."

I picked up the beautiful, glowing gem, and fancied I saw the face of an evil demon grinning at me from its depths. Dropping it quickly, I looked instead at a pile of rings at the other side of the vault. One in particular drew my attention; it was of beaten gold, with a curious stone set deep in its centre. As I held it aloof and stared at it, I caught a glimpse of a waving meadow, with a tiny path leading past a brook.

"That is the ring which the Queen of Lombardy gave to her son, Otnit," said the Dwarf. "Come with me to the Court of Rest, and you shall hear the story."

This was the loveliest place which I had yet seen in the palace. A circle of orange trees in full bloom enclosed a space round a rippling fountain, where from the gleaming beak of an opal bird a stream of water splashed into an emerald basin. The invisible wind that stirred the petals of the orange blossom brought with it the swish of the sea, and somewhere, far off, a nightingale was singing.

The Dwarf seated himself on one of the velvet cushions strewn on the ground, and motioning me to take another, began his tale.

Dwarf Elberich and the Emperor.

"Otnit, Emperor of Lombardy, was one of the greatest kings that ever lived. By force of wisdom more than by might, he subdued the surrounding nations, and his people looked up to him as to a god. When the time came for him to wed, no maid in his wide dominions pleased his fancy, for the wife he pictured in his dreams was sweet and simple, though of royal birth, and quite unspoiled by praise and flattery. He told his ministers this, and they shrugged their shoulders.

'His Majesty desires the impossible!' they whispered amongst themselves, and so it seemed until the Emperor's Uncle Elias, the wild-bearded King of the Russians, told him of a highborn maid who was as good as she was beautiful, and had never yet been wooed by man.

'She shines o'er other women as bright roses do!' he cried, and Otnit vowed to win her.

On the eve of his departure for Syria, where she dwelt with her father the Soldan, Otnit's mother gave him the ring you held, bidding him take his horse and ride toward Rome while gazing at the gem in the ring, that what he saw there might direct his path. The Emperor smiled, but wishing to humour her, did as she requested, and rode through the silver starlight thinking of his fair maid. At early dawn, when the welkin rang with the song of birds, he saw mirrored in the ring a narrow pathway trodden in the green grass. Making his way by this fragrant road, he reached a linden tree by a lake. Here he stayed his courser, and sprang to the ground, peering beneath its boughs.

'Never yet from tree came so sweet-breathing a wind,' he laughed; for lo! an infant lay on the grass, his fair white frock fringed with many gems. Otnit found it all he could do to lift him, in spite of his strength, but placing the little creature on the saddle, declared his intention of taking him to the palace, and putting him in his mother's care.

But this did not please Dwarf Elberich, who for his own purpose had taken the form of an innocent babe. He offered Otnit such splendid ransom of sword and shield to set him free, that the Emperor laid him down again, and even allowed him to hold the magic ring, by the wearing of which it had been possible for him to see what is usually hidden from mortal sight.

Now it was Elberich's turn, and being once more invisible, he teased the Emperor to his heart's content, dwelling on the anger of the Queen-Mother should she find that her gift was lost. Not until the Emperor was out of patience, and on the point of riding away did Elberich restore the ring to him.

'And now, O Otnit,' he said, 'since I see you love well your mother, whom I loved long ere you saw the light, I will help you to gain your bride.'

And Otnit was glad, for he knew that the word of a Dwarf is ever as good as his bond.

In the spring of the year, 'when all the birds were singing,' the Emperor called his friends together and bade them embark their troops with his in the ships at anchor in the harbour. The waters of the bay gleamed as a field of gold as the stately vessels glided over them, and for long the carols of the birds on shore went with them on the breeze. Otnit's hopes were high as he paced the deck, though he grieved that the Dwarf had not come to join him.

At length the fleet reached the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and there King Otnit beheld a haven full of ships, far more in number than his own. 'I would that Elberich were here, for he is skilled in warfare,' he murmured uneasily, for his men looked askance at the fleet before them. The words had barely left his lips when the sound of a laugh came from aloft, and straightway the Dwarf displayed himself. He had been in hiding amongst the rigging, and was now at hand to use his Fairy powers in Otnit's service.

Elberich's gift of a small round stone, which he bade him thrust into his cheek, conferred upon Otnit the gift of language, and enabled him to impersonate a rich merchant with so much success that his ship was allowed to drop anchor in the harbour. When dusk had fallen, and all was quiet, the Emperor disembarked, encamping with his troops among the rock-hewn burial places of the ancient Phœnicians, which abounded on that coast. Here he abode for three whole days, while Elberich sought the King of Syria, demanding his daughter's hand in marriage for his royal master. It was refused point blank, and, more than this, the Soldan ordered his unwelcome visitor to be put to death. But the flashing blades of the guards cut the empty air, and Elberich jeered at them finely.

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'Your daughter shall go to my lord of her own free will,' he cried to the Soldan, 'and only so shall your skull be saved!' He then returned to the Emperor, who bade his troops attack the city of Sidon.

A desperate battle with the heathen followed; for awhile the enemy's numbers triumphed, but not for long. The Emperor's charge swept all before him, and the Soldan's soldiers fell like corn before the scythe. Then the Dwarf led the army to the Syrian capital; and red as had been the field of Sidon, it was as nothing to that of Muntabur, where men's blood flowed as a crimson river.

While yet the battle was at its height, Elberich made his way, unseen, to an inner chamber of the Royal Palace, and though he had come to rate the Princess for her father's obstinacy, words forsook him in her presence. So fair a maid he had never seen; her mouth 'flamed like the rose,' her flowing hair was the colour of rich red gold, and her lovely eyes had the radiance of the moon. Elberich drew her to the window, and by the aid of his power over space, showed her King Otnit in the thick of the fight. The sun fell full on his upturned face, as, seated on his white charger, he rallied his men for the final onslaught; he looked as brave a knight as the Princess had ever seen, and she lowered her glance as Elberich told her how she could save her father.

'Death alone can wean King Otnit's desire to wed you,' he said. 'His love for you passes the love of man, and is withal as tender as that of a woman for her child.'

Much more Elberich spake to her to the same purpose, and at close of day she allowed him to lead her where he would. Together they passed through a secret passage beneath the Palace, and so through the royal gardens, to a path which wound down to the field of battle.

Fighting had ceased for awhile, for the heathen had been sore smitten; and since his men had neither eaten nor slept for many long hours, the Emperor must needs let them rest until dawn. Full of impatience at the delay which kept him from storming the walls that held the lady of his love, he paced his tent, and turned to find her standing before him. Her mouth flamed red as the reddest rose; her eyes had the lustre of the harvest moon, and her red-gold hair framed a snowy brow that was white as the breast of a swan. Bending his knee, he touched with his lips the hem of her gown, and when the Princess gave him her exquisite hand, he could scarce breathe for rapture.

"'She is yours, O Otnit!' cried the Dwarf"
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'She is yours, O Otnit!' cried the Dwarf; and the Emperor lifted her on to his charger, speaking to her with such tender and kindly words that her fears were stilled. With Elberich perched on the horse's mane, they straightway rode to the coast, where the sails of the Emperor's vessel swelled roundly in the wind. On the summer seas of the blue Mediterranean, they two were wed; and never had mortal man a sweeter wife, or maid a more gallant husband."

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom