THE HAND OF IRON.
(Man de fjèr.)
From the very, very olden times there runs through the Dolomite valleys a legend concerning an old singer who is to appear when the "promised time" is at hand. This mythical singer is no doubt a figure of the ancient original Ratic poetry, although at one time he is to appear as king of Contrin, and another time (especially in the region of the Alpine pasturage of Siusi) as Oswald von Wolkenstein. German and Ladin mountain inhabitants have built up all kinds of tales and legends around the figure of this far famed minnesinger. One of these is the story of Mandefjèr and Antermòya.
When Oswald von Wolkenstein was still a little boy it was predicted to his mother that he would become a famous singer if he learned to play the harp, but that it would never bring him real happiness and peace; if, on the other hand, he kept far away from music his life would be a happy one. To ensure this future happiness his mother took him up to the Kedùl, a gloomy mountain at the end of the Gardena-valley, where, at that time, "Gannes" (savage women) were still living, and she got them to bewitch his hands, so that on reaching manhood he would be well able to handle a sword or spear, but no finer instrument, without breaking it.
Later on, when he met strolling players and f elt a passionate desire for music, nobody was able to teach him the art, because he immediately broke every harp or lyre, and every fiddle or similar instrument that was given to him. He was therefore called "Man de Fjèr" - hand of iron. He became a rough fellow, and spent most of his time strolling about the forests, understanding nothing but hunting and the profession of arms.
One day he went from the Duròn-valley up to the Molinyòn-mountains, coming at noon, when all was silent, to a beautiful flower-hedge from which song and music resounded. He approached cautiously, and saw a wonderful fairy, in a shining, silvery dress, sitting there and playing. He was charmed by this, and he stood there, scarcely daring to breathe lest he should disturb the singer. But as soon as the sunshine left the valley, everything disappeared: the flowerhedge as well as the singer. On the next day, however, they were there again.
Now Oswald knew no peace; again and again be went up the Molinyòn-mountains and listened to the fairy from afar. She, however, had been aware of his presence for a long time, and she was very pleased that he stood there and did not venture to disturb her. After seven days she spoke to him. Then he told her how sorry he was that he could not learn to play the harp; that his hands were so rough and rigid that he could not hold anything fine with them. The fairy looked carefully at his hands, becoming very thoughtful, and she said: "A heavy spell lies upon your hands, and it can only be broken by means of a great sorrow, but this sorrow would be so terrible that I would rather that you should never learn how to play."
Some months later Oswald came to the Trostburg, to his mother, and told her that he had become engaged to a beautiful girl high up in the mountains. His mother was anxious to know her name, and where she came from, but her son could give her no information about her. So he returned to the mountains and asked the fairy her name, and who she was, but the fairy replied:
"You can never learn my name, otherwise I should be obliged to leave you, but you may know where I come from. I come from the vanised Rosegarden."
Oswald brought this information to his mother, but the chatelaine of the Trostburg was not very pleased by it, and said that there could be no intercourse between mountain-spirits and men.
More months passed, and one evening Oswald was returning, from hunting, through a very wild and dark country. While forcing his way through the undergrowth he saw in the distance a fire around which some people were sitting. These were "Cristánnes" who exist only in the most inaccessible parts of the highest and most desolate mountains. Oswald was anxious to listen to these people, because even as a child he had heard that the Cristánnes know much more than men about the mountains and their mysteries. He approached quietly, and he heard a Cristánna saying:
"The old Wolkenstein lady thought she was doing something very clever when she had her son's hands bewitched. Now, however, he wants to marry the Antermòya, and the whole spell will break."
Antermòya ! Oswald had already heard too much.
When speaking to his fiancee some days later Oswald forgot himself and called her by her name. Then the fairy began to lament and weep, for now, she said, she would have to leave him for ever; and she said good bye to him, giving him her harp. Then she went into the middle of the flower hedge, and sang once more the song that Oswald had first heard from her. While he listened, in great trouble, without being able to understand the words she sang, the ground opened suddenly, and black waves rushed out. A dark lake was soon formed, and it swallowed up the flower hedge and the beautiful fairy.
For three days Oswald wandered around the lake in deep, unutterable grief, but on the third day he took the harp, and began to compose and play a lament. And, behold he succeeded in a masterly fashion. The spell that bound his hands was broken, but, at the same time, his destiny changed. No more could he find real happiness and peace, though he sailed far across the seas and wandered restlessly in distant countries.
Yet no one could equal him on the harp, and a more famous minstrel than he never appeared afterwards.