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The Sleeping King
It is deep down in Wolfsberg near Siegburg, that a sleeping king, Barbarossa of the Sieg country, is said to be still sitting on a huge stone. His mighty head is leaning against a stone table, and his right hand is clasping the hilt of his sword.
Beautiful horses are standing before full mangers, and on the ground near them yeomen and knights lie sleeping.
It sometimes happened that blacksmiths were lured by mysterious guides into the deep caverns of the mountain. Once there, they were ordered to look to the horses' shoes which had become quite worn by the continual shuffling of the animals. They were then sent back richly rewarded.
A young smith journeying from Frankfurt to Deutz and stopping for a short time at Siegburg, had a similar experience.
When he was passing Wolfsberg at daybreak, an elderly man in old-fashioned clothes approached him and asked in a kindly tone if the youth was willing to undertake a job at once for which he would earn a handsome reward. The smith consented joyfully. Thereupon the old man led him into the mountain, opened three doors, and passed through a vaulted corridor, the ceiling of which was glittering with precious stones.
This passage ended in another gate. Two giants clad in steel from head to foot were standing at either side of it. They held enormous halberds in their hands, and seemed ready to repel any intruder. The smith perceived however that their heads were sunk on their breasts as if in deep sleep.
When the two men approached, the tall warriors lifted their heads, but on a sign from the mysterious guide they resumed their sleeping posture.
The hall into which they now entered was as large and as high as a great cathedral.
In the middle of it on an elevated stone sat the sleeping king, surrounded by his knights and yeomen who were stretched out on the ground, all fast asleep.
Some magnificent horses were standing in a passage close by.
A small heap of new horseshoes with nails to match, as well as two heaps of iron used out by the perpetual shuffling of the fiery steeds, were lying next to them.
The guide then ordered the smith to shoe all the horses, and he immediately set to work with all his skill.
On examining the stately row of animals closer however, he thought the work would require a few days at least.
Nevertheless he worked with a will. The stranger assisted him in lifting and holding up the horses' hoofs, and the sound of the hammer re-echoed through the vast cave.
After two or three hours' hard work the youth felt so exhausted that the hammer dropped from his hand.
When the old man saw this, he allowed him to rest and brought a shield for him to sit on. He then disappeared into a neighbouring room to fetch some refreshments.
He soon came back with a golden goblet. A fair boy with golden locks followed him, carrying a silver mug from which he poured good old Rhenish wine into the goblet.
The smith took a deep draught and emptied it to the last drop.
Thereafter he felt so much refreshed that he resumed his work and went on hammering until the last horse was shod.
The old man with a strange smile and a knowing twinkle in his eye, told the smith to put the old worn horseshoes in his pocket.
Then he led the youth out of the mountain, thanked him politely, and shut the door behind him with a bang.
Once in the open free air it seemed to the blacksmith as if he had awakened from a beautiful dream.
He looked with astonishment at the sun just sinking behind the mountains on the Rhine, for he thought he had only spent a few hours in the interior of the earth.
Looking back once more he perceived that the doors had disappeared.
Then he remembered the old man's promise of giving him a handsome reward. Instead of that he had only, as he thought, the heavy worn horseshoes in his pocket. Intending to throw them away, he took them out.
But behold! he could scarcely believe his eyes. It was not the evening sun that suddenly threw such a reddish glare round about him, it was the metal of the horseshoes.
Oh wonder! They were indeed pure and brilliant gold, as he looked at them by day-light.
A shout of joy sounded through the quiet evening stillness, and another, and another, and our smith went back to his inn with a light and happy heart.
Of course he told the wonderful story to all the guests present, who opened their eyes as wide as any horseshoe.
The lucky blacksmith at once set up a workshop for himself and married the innkeeper's pretty daughter, to whom he had already pledged his word before he met with this unexpected good-fortune.
He and his wife and children lived in wealth and happiness in Siegburg for many years.
Some poor smiths still try to catch a glimpse of the man in the old-fashioned clothes and hope to be led to the sleeping king, but the stranger has never appeared since.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine