Slesvigske Folkesagn

Hans Schlaikier and the Flaming Lances

This is an English translation of a German translation of the Danish original in "Slesvigske Folkesagn" by Fr. Filcher, printed in Copenhagen in 1861. (Hans-Lorenz says 1890 below, but the book I own says 1861.)

Hans-Lorenz Schlaikier wrote:

The endless human misery engendered by the wars of that time is scarcely conceivable today. The armies were like huge band of robbers. The lived off the goods of those whose land they were traversing. A human life had no value. Honour, virtue, deference and sympathy had long since died out. Such times of suffering and fear inevitable gave rise to myths and heroic sagas about people who fought back and were successful in their resistance. Among those who arose as such a “hero” was a Hans Schlaikier — his identity contingent on which war prevailed at the time. If it was the part of the Thirty Years’ War from 1625 to 1629, then it was the farmer from Süder-Hostrup born around 1600. If it was the war between Denmark and Sweden from 1657 to 1659, then it was Hans Schlaikier IV, born around 1635. The following text describes his “heroic deeds.” These sagas come from Slesvigske Folkesagn, by Fr. Fischer, published in 1890 in Danish. The German text given here [i.e. the source text of this English translation], is a private, unauthorized translation.

At the same time, there lived an audacious peasant by the name of Hans Slaikjær, a name which, like so many others, evolved into Schlaikier over time. He was as audacious as he was clever. Even though, like the other peasants, he had fled his farm to save his hide, he never stayed hidden long at the places of refuge but rather moved around outside them more than most other peasants, ploughed his fields and went about his business every time an opportunity arose. In so doing, he was always well armed, and whenever he encountered individual foes, which was not an unusual occurrence, it was a chance for the latter to experience his audacity and cleverness first hand. If they were not too numerous, he repeatedly managed to punish them for their rampages.

For instance it happened one day, during one of the brief periods when the enemy had left the area and he and others had dared to go home, that a band of plunderers came to Stubbeck and stopped at a farm that had belonged to the Thaysen family until just a few years earlier. There they moved in and acted abominably. The frightened occupants of the farm knew of no better solution than to ask Slaikjær for help, who was also at once ready willing to do his best. He took his gun and hurried to Stubbeck. When he arrived at the entrance of the Hohlweg, which led up to the farm and was lined on both sides with densely planted ash trees, he fired off a shot, high into the trees, causing a large shower of leaves and branches to fall. When the plunderers saw this and learned who it was that wanted to challenge them, they fled from the house in great haste to the opposite side and then went away without offering the least resistance.

Another time, when the enemy soldiers had moved on after a lengthy stay, he left his forest hideout and went home to his farm in Hostrup by a circuitous route, and on the way, he was given a jar of cream. No sooner was he in his house than he spotted two riders approaching his farm, whereupon he went into his yard and hid behind a kneading trough that was leaning against the wall. One of the riders sprang from his horse and entered the house. After looking around there, he came back out with the jar of cream in his hand, which he tried to hand to his companion, who was still on his horse. At that moment, Slaikjær sprang from his hiding place and shot a bullet through his head, so that he dropped dead and the cream spilled over him. The other rider, startled, sprang onto his horse and rode off at a full gallop, leaving the dead man’s horse behind with everything it was carrying. Slaikjær took this horse with him into the woods as good booty and, for the pleasure of all who listened, told them how he had punished his brazen foe.

The following is another story about this Slaikjær that testifies to his audacity and ingenuity. Through his many valiant deeds during the war, he had made a name for himself among the upper classes as well as among the common people. That happened at gatherings and feasts after peace had settled in again. One day the Count of Seegaard, Slaikjær’s overlord, heard the manor lord of Ladegaard boasting about all that his horsemen could do. The Count of Seegaard, who, just like the other guests, had partaken copiously of the wine, felt rather insulted by the many grand words of his host. He declared that he had a vassal on his estate that would have no difficulty running 12 of the Ladegaard horsemen off his farm. This irritated the other so much that he shouted that his horsemen were just as good as those of the count and that a single Hostrup peasant could by no means contend with them that easily. The count stood by his assertion and even added that the lord of Ladegaard should thank God after an engagement such as had just been mentioned, if even half of his men were to come back. The incensed manor lord replied that he had men he knew he could trust, and that he would very pleased to have a chance to put a boastful count and an arrogant peasant in their place at the same time. These insulting words caused quite a stir among those gathered. People began to take sides, and because neither party was willing to back off from his opinion, the matter was laid down as a bet, with very high stakes for the winner.

The next day, when the haze from the wine had cleared from his head, the count was no longer so pleased with what he had agreed to the preceding evening and what he had gotten himself into. He realized that he had gotten mixed up in something that could easily cause him loss and ridicule. But he could no longer back out. In order to do whatever was within his power in the meantime to bring the matter to a good outcome, he decided to ride over to Slaikjær’s farm and let him know what he was facing and to beg him to apply all his cunning to save the money and honour of his master. Slaikjær had already been informed of what he was in for and had decided to make use of the situation to his own advantage. Soon the count appeared at his house. After an extremely gracious salutation in which he praised the peasant for his many clever deeds, he brought up his actual concern and hinted at his expectation that Slaikjær would show, in the case of the bet he had made, that the count had not been exaggerating. The peasant listened respectfully to the words of his master, but then replied that he could not do what was demanded of him. Then the count pointed out to him that it would not only cost him the large sum of money he had bet as a reward but also expose him to the ridicule of everyone who knew him, if Slaikjær didn’t do what he was requesting. He also added that if he didn’t comply, he would make him feel the full brunt of his anger. But Slaikjær still maintained that he could not do it. When the count realized that he was not going achieve his goal through harshness, he struck a different tone and asked Slaikjær for the reason why he, who was otherwise never at a loss or faint-hearted, declined in this case to exhibit his cleverness and audacity. After some hesitation, Slaikjær responded that the reason lay in the fact that he did not dare to clear cut wood for himself from the forest. When the count heard this, he felt much relieved and granted him permission to cut as much wood as he wanted, if he would just redeem his master’s pledge. Slaikjær accept the offer at once with profuse expressions of thanks and assured the count that the horsemen of Ladegaard would get such a rebuff from his farm that they would feel no desire to come back a second time. Thereupon he and his master parted as best of friends.

That same evening, he headed into the woods with his farmhands, where he had previously dared cut only individual trees that the count’s forester allotted him. Then sang and made their presence felt, so that the woods resonated with their joking and talking, for it had been years since a peasant had had free authorization to fell trees in what he had designated as “his woods.” In the evening several cartloads of wood had been transported to Slaikjær’s barnyard, which the other farmers in Hostrup viewed with pleasure as well as envy.

The next day Slaikjær sent his farmhands into the woods again to continue cutting wood. He stayed home himself and hacked some of the branches into lance shafts. He continued this work the following day, while his people cut the rest of the wood into firewood and, at his instructions, stacked it into a large pile in the middle of the barnyard. When these preparations were complete, he calmly waited for the day on which he was to put 12 horsemen to flight single-handedly.

The lord of Ladegaard had, among his men fit to bear arms, a man who was justifiably called “Strong Peer” and in whom he placed special trust. He ordered this man to select 11 of his best horsemen and go with them to besiege a peasant farmer in Hostrup, promising him a good reward if the result turned out as he desired. Strong Peer laughed scornfully and said that he could easily carry out the job single-handedly. But his master demanded that everything proceed according to the terms of the bet. Thereupon the other 11 men were selected and told of the task they were to fulfil. Each of them was of the same opinion as Strong Peer, and they regarded the fight with Slaikjær as something they would undertake only at the express command of their overlord and only because of the bet.

When the appointed day for the uneven contest arrived, the Count of Seegaard and his opponent appeared, together with other aristocratic gentlemen who were curious to see how this matter would play out. A cloud of smoke rising from Slaikjær’s barnyard, which they had already spotted from a distance, commanded their attention and aroused their curiosity. They wanted to know how the clever peasant had planned to receive his foes and then drive them off. So they spurred their horses and rode close to the barnyard, where they saw the large pile of firewood blazing. Slaikjær was walking around the fire alone and lining up the lances that he had made. Now and then he looked out onto the road in the direction of Ladegaard, and when the troop of horsemen came into view, he stuck one end of all the shafts into the fire. When the horsemen arrived outside the gate and saw the preparations, they laughed a bit and scoffed that he wouldn’t have needed to light such a fire for their reception, since they would soon be feeling the heat from their sabre blades in any case. They drew into formation and waited for the signal to attack. When this came with a trumpet blast, they dashed into the barnyard at full gallop. But they had not all arrived yet when Slaikjær raised his powerful arm and began to hurl burning lances, one after another, onto and between their horses. The latter, not used to this type of weapon, shied before the open fire and sizzling flames and went totally out of control. They responded to neither rein nor spur but rather fought and kicked, so that several of the riders were injured. Although the riders continued to spur them on, after only a short time in the barnyard they galloped out as fast as they had come in, pursued by Slaikjær’s burning lances and the derisive laughter of everyone present. Not until they were far beyond the village limits did the embittered riders regain control of their horses. Strong Peer uttered ungodly curses, but what was done could not be undone. Defeated and humiliated, the troop of horsemen rode back to Ladegaard in shame.

All spectators at this brief and extraordinary episode were surprised at Slaikjær’s acumen and agility, and they struck up a hearty hurrah for the clever peasant. The manor lord of Ladegaard rode away with an angry mien, while the Count of Seegaard, all smiles, turned to Slaikjær, praised him for his clever action and thanked him for doing his master’s bidding so valiantly, saying that he would remember the occasion as long as he lived.

These words from the mouth of the powerful count were probably nothing more than an empty pleasantry, with which he thought he had adequately paid his subject. But clever Slaikjær took it as a declaration that the permission he’d been granted to cut unlimited wood in his forest was good for the rest of his life. And he also made extensive use of this right, so that his woods became considerably smaller than that of his neighbours.

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