Gunther asked, "Can ye tell us when the hightide falleth, or when we must set forth?"
And Schwemmel answered, "Next midsummer, without fail."
The king gave them leave, for the first time, to visit Brunhild, but Folker, to please her, said them nay.
"Queen Brunhild is not well enow for you to see her," said the good knight. "Wait till morning, and ye shall win audience of her." They had fain beheld her, but could not.
Then the rich prince, that he might show favour to the envoys, bade bring thither of his own bounty gold upon broad shields. He had plenty thereof. His friends also gave them rich gifts. Giselher and Gernot, Gary and Ortwin, let it be seen that they could give freely. They offered such costly things to the envoys that these durst not take them, for fear of their master.
Then said Werbel to the king, "Keep your gifts, O king, in your own land. We may not carry them with us. My lord forbade us to take aught. Thereto, we have small need." But the prince of the Rhine was angry because they refused so great a king's gift. So, at the last, they were constrained to take his gold and vesture, and carry them home into Etzel's land.
They desired to see Uta or they departed. Giselher, the youth, brought the minstrels before his mother, and the lady bade them say that she rejoiced to hear how that Kriemhild was had in worship. For the sake of Kriemhild, that she loved, and of King Etzel, the queen gave the envoys girdles and gold. Well might they receive this, for with true heart it was offered.
The envoys had now taken leave of both men and women, and rode merrily forth to Swabia. Gernot sent his warriors with them thus far, that none might do them a hurt.
When their escorts parted from them, Etzel's might kept them safe by the way, that none robbed them of horses or vesture. Then they spurred swiftly to the land of the Huns. Them that they knew for friends, they told that the Burgundians from the Rhine would pass there shortly. They brought the tidings also to Bishop Pilgerin.
When they rode down by Bechlaren, they failed not to send word to Rudeger and Dame Gotelind, the Margrave's wife, that was merry of her cheer because she was to see the guests so soon.
The minstrels were seen spurring through the land. They found Etzel in his town of Gran. They gave the king, that grew red for joy, the greetings that had been sent him.
When the queen heard for certain that her brothers would come, she was well content, and requited the minstrels with goodly gifts, which did her honour. She said, "Now tell me, both of you, Werbel and Schwemmel, which of my friends, of the best that we have bidden, come to the hightide. What said Hagen when he heard the news?"
"He came to the council one morning early. He had little good to say of the hightide. It was named by grim Hagen the death-ride. Thy brothers, the three kings, come in merry mood. Who further are with them I cannot say. Folker, the bold minstrel, is one."
"I had made shift to do without Folker," said the king's wife. "Hagen I esteem; he is a good knight. I am right glad that wee shall see him here."
Then Kriemhild went to the king, and spake to him right sweetly, "How doth the news please thee, dearest lord? All my heart's desire shall now be satisfied."
"Thy will is my pleasure," answered the king. "I were less glad had it been mine own kinsmen. Through love of thy dear brethren all my cares have vanished."
Etzel's officers bade fit up the palace and hall everywhere with seats for the welcome guests. They took much joy from the king.
How the Kings Journeyed to the Huns
But of their doings there we shall tell no further. High-hearted heroes never rode so proudly into any king's land. All that they wanted they had, both of weapons and apparel. They say that the Prince of the Rhine equipped a thousand and three score of knights, and nine thousand squires for the hightide. They that tarried at home were soon to weep for them.
Whilst they carried their harness across the court at Worms, an old bishop from Spires said to fair Uta, "Our friends will ride to the hightide. God help them there."
Then noble Uta said to her children, "Stay here, good heroes. Last night I dreamed an evil dream, that all the birds in this land were dead."
"He that goeth by dreams," said Hagen, "careth little for his honour. I would have my noble master take leave without delay, and ride forward merrily into Etzel's land. There kings need heroes' hands to serve them, and we must see Kriemhild's hightide."
Hagen counselled them now to the journey, but he rued it later. He had withstood them, but that Gernot had mocked him. He minded him on Siegfried, Kriemhild's husband, and said, "It is for that, that Hagen durst not go."
But Hagen said, "I hold not back from fear. If ye will have it so, heroes, go forward. I am ready to ride with you to Etzel's land." Soon many a helmet and shield were pierced by him.
The ships lay waiting for the kings and their men. They carried their vesture down to them, and were busy till eventide. Merry of cheer they quitted their homes. On the camping ground across the Rhine they pitched tents and put up booths. The king's fair wife entreated him to stay, for much she loved him. Flutes and trumpets rang out early in the morning, and gave the signal to be gone. Many a true lover was torn from his loved one's arms by King Etzel's wife.
King Uta's sons had a liegeman bold and true. When he saw they would forth, he spake to the king secretly, "Much I grieve that thou goest to this hightide." Rumolt was his name, a chosen knight. He said, "To whom wilt thou leave thy folk and thy land? Alack! that none can turn you knights from your purpose! Kriemhild's message never pleased me."
"I leave my land and child in thy charge. I will have it so. Comfort them that thou seest weeping. Etzel's wife will do us no hurt!"
The king held a council with his chief men or he started. He left not land and castles defenceless. Many a chosen knight stayed behind to guard them.
The horses stood ready for the kings and their followers. With sweet kisses parted many whose hearts still beat high. Noble women soon wept for them. Wailing was there, with tears enow. The queen bare her child in her arms to the king. "How canst thou leave us both desolate? Stay for our sake," said the sorrowful woman.
"Weep not for me, but be of good cheer here at home. We shall return shortly, safe and sound."
So they waited no longer, but lovingly took leave of their friends. When the bold knights were gotten to horse, many women stood sorrowing. Their hearts told them it was a long parting. None is merry of his cheer when bitter woe is at hand.
The swift Burgundians rode off, and there was hurrying in the land. On either side the mountains both men and women wept. But, for all the folk could do, they pressed forward merrily. A thousand of the Nibelung knights in habergeons went with them, that had left fair women at home, the which they never saw more. The wounds of Siegfried gaped in Kriemhild's heart.
The Christian faith was still weak in those days. Nevertheless they had a chaplain with them to say mass. He returned alive, escaped from much peril. The rest tarried dead among the Huns. Gunther's men shaped their course toward the Main, up through East Frankland. Hagen led them, that knew the way well. Their Marshal was Dankwart, the knight of Burgundy. As they rode from East Frankland to Schwanfeld, the princes and their kinsmen, knights of worship, were known by their stately mien.
On the twelfth morning the king reached the Danube. Hagen of Trony rode in front of the rest. He was the helper and comforter of the Nibelungs. The bold knight alighted there on the bank, and tied his horse to a tree. The river was swoln, there was no boat, and the knights were troubled how to win across. The water was too wide. Many a bold knight sprang to the ground.
"Mischief might easily befall thee here, King of Rhineland," said Hagen; "thou canst see for thyself that the river is swoln, and the current very strong. I fear me we shall lose here to-day not a few good knights."
"Wherefore daunt me, Hagen?" said the proud king. "Of thy charity fright us no more. Look out a ford for us, that we bring both horses and baggage safe across."
"I am no so weary of life," said Hagen, "that I desire to drown in these broad waves. Many a man in Etzel's land shall first fall by my hand. That is more to my mind. Stay by the water side, ye proud knights and good, and I will seek the ferrymen by the river, that will bring us safe into Gelfrat's land."
Thereupon stark Hagen took his good shield. He was well armed. He bare his buckler. He laced on his shining helmet. He wore a broad weapon above his harness, that cut grimly with both its edges.
Then he sought the ferrymen up and down. He heard the splash of water and began to listen. It came from mermaidens that bathed their bodies in a clear brook to cool them.
Hagen spied them, and stole up secretly. When they were ware of him, they fled. Well pleased were they to escape him. The hero took their garments, but did them no further annoy.
Then one of the mermaids (she hight Hadburg) said, "We will tell thee, noble Hagen, if thou give us our clothes again, how ye shall all fare on this journey among the Huns."
They swayed like birds in the water before him. He deemed them wise and worthy of belief, so that he trusted the more what they told him. They informed him concerning all that he asked them. Hadburg said, "Ye may ride safely into Etzel's land; I pledge my faith thereon, that never yet heroes journeyed to any court to win more worship. I say sooth."
Hagen's heart was uplifted at her word; he gave them back their clothes and stayed no longer. When they had put on their wonderful raiment, they told him the truth about the journey.
The other mermaid, that hight Sieglind, said, "Be warned, Hagen, son of Aldrian. My aunt hath lied to thee because of her clothes. If ye go to the Huns, ye are ill-advised. Turn while there is time, for ye bold knights have been bidden that ye may die in Etzel's land. Who rideth thither hath death at his hand."
But Hagen said, "Your deceit is vain. How should we all tarry there, dead, through the hate of one woman?"
Then they began to foretell it plainer, and Hadburg said also, "Ye are doomed. Not one of you shall escape, save the king's chaplain: this we know for a truth. He, only, shall return alive into Gunther's land."
Grimly wroth spake bold Hagen then. "It were a pleasant thing to tell my masters that we must all perish among the Huns! Show us a way across the water, thou wisest of womankind."
She answered, "Since thou wilt not be turned from the journey, up yonder by the river standeth an inn. Within it is a boatman; there is none beside."
He betook him thither to ask further. But the mermaidens cried after the wrothful knight, "Stay, Sir Hagen. Thou art too hasty. Hearken first concerning the way. The lord of this march hight Elsy. The name of his brother is Gelfrat, a prince in Bavaria. It might go hard with thee if thou wentest through his march. Look well to thyself, and proceed warily with the boatman. He is so grim of his mod that he will kill thee, if thou speak him not fair. If thou wouldst have him ferry thee across, give him hire. He guardeth this land, and is Gelfrat's friend. If he come not straightway, cry across the river to him that thou art Amelrich; he was a good knight, that a feud drove from this land. The boatman will come when he heareth that name."
Proud Hagen thanked the women for their warning and their counsel, and said no more. He went up the river's bank, till he came to an inn that stood on the far side. He began to shout across the water, "Boatman, row me over, and I will give thee, for thy meed, an armlet of red gold. I must across."
The boatman was so rich that he needed not to serve for hire, and seldom took reward from any. His men also were overweening, and Hagen was left standing on the bank of the river.
Thereupon he shouted so loud that all the shore rang with it. He was a stark man. "Row across for Amelrich. I am Elsy's liegeman, that, for a feud, fled the country." He swung the armlet aloft on his sword—it was of red gold, bright and shining—that they might ferry him over to Gelfrat's march. At this the haughty boatman himself took the oar, for he was greedy and covetous of gain, the which bringeth oft to a bad end. He thought to win Hagen's red gold, but won, in lieu thereof, a grim death by his sword.
He rowed over to the shore with mighty strokes. When he found not him that had been named, he fell into a fury; he saw Hagen, and spake wrothfully to the hero, "Thy name may be Amelrich, but, or I err greatly, thy face is none of his. By one father and one mother he was my brother. Since thou hast deceived me, thou canst stay where thou art."
"Nay, for the love of God," said Hagen. "I am a stranger knight that have the charge of other warriors. Take thy fee and row me over, for I am a friend."
But the boatman answered, "I will not. My dear masters have foemen, wherefore I must bring no stranger across. If thou lovest thy life, step out on to the shore again."
"Nay now," said Hagen, "I am sore bested. Take, as a keepsake, this goodly gold, and ferry us over with our thousand horses and our many men."
But the grim boatman answered, "Never!" He seized an oar, mickle and broad, and smote Hagen (soon he rued it), that he staggered and fell on his knees. Seldom had he of Trony encountered so grim a ferryman. Further, to anger the bold stranger, he brake a boat-pole over his head, for he was a strong man. But he did it to his own hurt.
Grimly wroth, Hagen drew a weapon from the sheath, and cut off his head, and threw it on the ground. The Burgundians were soon ware of the tidings.
In the same moment that he slew the ferryman, the boat was caught by the current, which irked him no little, for he was weary or he could bring her head round, albeit Gunther's man rowed stoutly. With swift strokes he sought to turn it, till the oar brake in his hand. He strove to reach the knights on the strand, but had no other oar. Ha! how nimbly he bound it together with the thong of his shield, a narrow broidered band, and rowed to a wood down the river.
There he found his masters waiting on the beach. Many a valiant knight ran to meet him, and greeted him joyfully. But when they saw the boat full of blood from the grim wound he had given the ferryman, they began to question him.
When Gunther saw the hot blood heaving in the boat, he said quickly, "Tell me what thou hast done with the ferryman. I ween he hath fallen by thy strength."
But he answered with a lie, "I found the boat by a waste meadow, and loosed it. I have seen no ferryman this day, nor hath any suffered hurt at my hand."
Then said Sir Gernot of Burgundy, "I am heavy of my cheer because of the dear friends that must die or night, for boatmen we have none. Sorrowfully I stand, nor know how we shall win over."
But Hagen cried, "Lay down your burdens on the grass, ye squires. I was the best boatman by the Rhine, and safe, I trow, I shall bring you into Gelfrat's land."
That they might cross the quicker, they drave in the horses. These swam so well that none were drowned, albeit a few, grown weary, were borne down some length by the tide. Then they carried their gold and harness on board, since they must needs make the passage. Hagen was the helmsman, and steered many a gallant knight to the unknown land. First he took over a thousand, and thereto his own band of warriors. Then followed more: nine thousand squires. The knight of Trony was not idle that day. The ship was huge, strongly built and wide enow. Five hundred of their folk and more, with their meats and weapons, it carried easily at a time. Many a good warrior that day pulled sturdily at the oar.
When he had brought them safe across the water, the bold knight and good thought on the strange prophecy of the wild mermaids. Through this the king's chaplain came nigh to lose his life. He found the priest beside the sacred vessels, leaning with his hand upon the holy relics. This helped him not. When Hagen saw him, it went hard with the poor servant of God. He threw him out of the ship on the instant. Many cried, "Stop, Hagen, stop!" Giselher, the youth, was very wroth, but Hagen ceased not, till he had done him a hurt.
Then stark Gernot of Burgundy said, "What profiteth thee the chaplain's death, Hagen? Had another done this, he had paid dear for it. What hast thou against the priest?"
The chaplain swam with all his might. He had gotten on board again had any helped him. But none could do it, for stark Hagen pushed him fiercely under. None approved his deed.
When the poor man saw that they would not aid him, he turned and made for the shore. He was in sore peril. But, albeit he could not swim, the hand of God upbore him, that he won safe to the dry land again. There he stood, and shook his clothes.
By this sign Hagen knew there was no escape from what the wild women of the sea had foretold. He thought, "These knights be all dead men."
When they had unloaded the ship, and brought all across that belonged to the three kings, Hagen brake it in pieces and threw these on the water. Much the bold knights marvelled thereat.
"Wherefore dost thou so, brother?" said Dankwart. "How shall we get over when we ride home from the Huns to the Rhine?"
Hagen told him, after, that that would never be, but for the meantime he said, "I did it a-purpose. If we have any coward with us on this journey, that would forsake us in our need, he shall die a shameful death in these waves."
They had with them one from Burgundy, a hero of great prowess, that hight Folker, and that spake with mocking words all his mind. And whatso Hagen did, this fiddler approved.
When the king's chaplain saw the ship hewn up, he cried across the water to Hagen, "What had I done to thee, false murderer, that, without cause, thou wouldst have drowned me?"
Hagen answered, "Hold thy peace. By my troth, and in sober earnest, it irketh me that thou hast escaped."
Said the poor priest, "I will praise God evermore. Little I fear thee now, rest assured. Fare forward to the Huns, and I will to the Rhine. God grant thou comest never back again. That is my prayer, for well-nigh hadst thou killed me."
But King Gunther said to his chaplain, "I will more than make good to thee what Hagen hath done in his anger, if I win back alive. Have no fear. Go home, for so it needs must be now. Bear a greeting to my dear wife, and my other kinsfolk. Tell them the good tidings: that, so far, all is well."
The horses stood ready, the sumpters were laden. As yet they had suffered no scathe by the way, save the king's chaplain, that had to return to the Rhine afoot.
How Dankwart Slew Gelfrat
When they were all on the shore, the king asked, "Who will show us the right way through the country, that we go not astray?"
Whereto bold Folker answered, "I will do it."
"Stop!" said Hagen, "both knights and squires. One must follow one's friends—that is plain to me, and right. But I have heavy news to tell you. Never again shall we see Burgundy. Two mermaids told me this morning early that we should win back to our home nevermore. Now follow my counsel. Arm ye, ye heroes, and guard your lives well. Stark foemen are at hand, wherefore ride as to battle. I hoped to prove the words of the wise mermaids false. They said that none save the chaplain would return. It was for that I had so gladly drowned him."
The news flew from rank to rank. Many a bold knight grew pale, and fell in fear of bitter death, whereto he journeyed. Doleful were they and dreary.
They crossed the river at Moering, where Elsy's ferryman was killed, and Hagen said further, "I have made enemies by the way, that will shortly set on us. I slew the boatman this morning; wherefore, if Gelfrat and Elsy attack us, welcome them on such wise that it shall go hard with them. They will do it without fail, for I know them for bold men. Ride softly, that none may say we fly."
"So be it," said young Giselher. "Who will lead us through the land?"
And they answered, "Folker, the bold minstrel; he knoweth all the hills and the paths."
Or they had time to ask him, the brave fiddler stood before them, armed, with his helmet on. His harness was bright coloured, and he had bound a red pennon on his spear. Soon he came, with the kings, in great peril.
The news of his boatman's death had reached Gelfrat. Stark Elsy had heard it likewise. Wroth were they both. They summoned their knights, that were soon ready. Straightway, as I will tell you, a mighty host, strongly armed, rode to them that had suffered scathe. To Gelfrat come more than seven hundred. When these set out to pursue their grim foemen, the leaders spurred hotly after the strangers, to be revenged. By the which they lost many friends.
Hagen of Trony had so ordered it (how could a hero guard his kinsmen better) that he brought up the rear with his vassals, and with Dankwart, his brother. It was wisely done.
The day was far spent; the light failed. He feared greatly for his comrades. They rode through Bavaria behind shields, and shortly after were set upon.
On both sides, and close behind, they heard the trample of hoofs, and spurred on. Then said bold Dankwart, "They will fall on us here. Ye did well to bind on your helmets."
So they stopped, as needs was. Then they saw the glitter of shields in the dark. Hagen held his peace longer, "Who follow us by the way?"
Gelfrat had to answer. Said the Margrave of Bavaria, "We seek our foemen and follow on their track. I know not who slew my boatman to-day. He was a valiant knight, and I grieve for his loss."
Then said Hagen of Trony, "Was the boatman thine? He would not ferry me over. The blame is mine. I slew him. Certes, I had need. I had nigh met my death at his hand. I offered him gold and raiment, Sir Knight, as his meed for rowing us into thy land. So angry was he that he struck me with his great oar, whereat I was grim enow. Then I seized my sword, and defended me from his wrath with a grisly wound, whereby the hero perished. I will answer for it as seemeth good to thee."
So they fell to fighting, for they were wroth. "I knew well," said Gelfrat, "when Gunther crossed with his followers, that Hagen's insolence would do us some hurt. Now he shall not escape us. His death shall pay for the boatman's." Gelfrat and Hagen couched their lances to thrust above their shields. Deadly was their hate. Elsy and Dankwart met gallantly, and proven on each other was their might. They strove grimly. How could heroes have fought better? Bold Hagen was knocked back from off his horse by a strong blow from Gelfrat's hand. The poitral brake asunder and he fell.
From the followers also rang the clash of spears. Hagen sprang up again where he had fallen on the grass from the blow; not little was his wrath against Gelfrat. I know not who held their horses. Hagen and Gelfrat were both on the ground. They ran at each other, and their attendants helped them and fought by them. For all Hagen's fierce onset, the noble Margrave hewed an ell's length from his shield, that the sparks flew bright. Gunther's man was well-nigh slain. Then he cried aloud to Dankwart, "Help! dear brother. I perish by the hand of a hero."
Bold Dankwart answered, "I will decide between you." The knight spurred toward them, and smote Gelfrat such a blow that he fell dead.
Elsy would have avenged him, but he and his followers were overcome. His brother was slain, and he himself wounded. Full eighty of his warriors he left there with grim death; the prince had to flee before Gunther's men.
When the Bavarians gave way, there was heard the echo of grisly strokes. The men of Trony chased their foes, and they that stayed not to answer for it had little ease by the way.
But while they pursued them, Dankwart said, "Now turn we, and let them ride. They are wet with blood. Let us join our friends. Truly it were best."
When they came again where the fight had been, Hagen of Trony said, "Let us see now, ye heroes, who are amissing, and whom we have lost through Gelfrat's anger."
They had four to mourn for, that they had lost. Well they were avenged. Against these, more than an hundred of them of Bavaria lay slain. The shields of the men of Trony were dim and wet with blood.
The bright moon shone faintly through the clouds, and Hagen said, "Let none tell my dear masters what hath befallen us. Let them be free of trouble till the morrow."
When they that had fought came up with the rest, they found them overcome with weariness. "How long shall we ride?" asked many among them. Bold Dankwart answered, "Here is no hostel. Ye must ride till it is day." Folker, that had the charge, bade ask the marshal, "Where shall we halt for the night, that the horses and my dear masters may rest?" But Dankwart said, "I know not. We cannot rest till the dawn. Then we shall lie down on the grass wherever we find a place." When they heard this news they were sorry enow!
Of the red blood that reeked on them nothing was said till the sun greeted the morning on the mountains with his bright beams, and the king saw that they had fought.
The knight cried angrily, "How now, friend Hagen? Wherefore didst thou scorn my help when they were wetting thy harness with blood? Who hath done it?"
Hagen answered, "It was Elsy. He fell on us by night. Because of his ferryman, he attacked us. My brother's hand slew Gelfrat. Elsy was forced to flee. An hundred of his men, and four of ours, lie dead, slain in battle."
I cannot tell you where they rested. Soon all the country folk heard that noble Uta's sons were on their way to the hightide. They were well received at Passau. Bishop Pilgerin, the king's uncle, was well pleased that his nephews drew night with so many knights. He was not slow to give them welcome. Friends rode out to meet them on the way. When there was not room enough for all in Passau, they crossed the river to a field, and there the squires put up tents and rich pavilions.
They had to tarry there a whole day and a night. Well they were entreated! Then they rode into Rudeger's country. When Rudeger heard the news, he was glad.
When the way-weary ones had rested, and drew nigher to Rudeger's country, they found a man asleep on the marches, from whom Hagen of Trony took a stark weapon. This same good knight hight Eckewart. Right heavy was he of his cheer that he had lost his sword through the passing of the heroes. They found Rudeger's marches ill guarded.
"Woe is me for this shame!" cried Eckewart. "Sore I rue the Burgundians' journey. The day I lost Siegfried my joy was ended. Alack! Sir Rudeger, an ill turn I have done thee."
Hagen overheard all the warrior's grief, and gave him his sword again, with six red armlets. "Take them, Sir Knight, for love of me, and be my friend. Thou art a brave man to lie here all alone."
"God quit thee for thine armlets," answered Eckewart. "Yet still I must rue thy journey to the Huns. Thou slewest Siegfried, and art hated here. Look well to thyself; from true heart I warn thee."
"God must guard us," said Hagen. "No other care have these knights, the princes and their liegemen, than to find quarters, where they may tarry the night. Our horses are weary from the long way, and our provender is done. We can find none to buy. We have need of a host that, of his charity, would give us bread."
Eckewart answered, "I will show you such an host. Better welcome to his house will none give you in any land than Rudeger, if ye will go to see him. He dwelleth fast by the road, and is the best host that ever had a house. His heart blossometh with virtues, as smiling May decketh the grass with flowers. He is ever glad to serve knights."
Then said King Gunther, "Wilt thou be my envoy, and ask my dear friend Rudeger if he will keep us—me with my kinsmen and our men—till the day? I will require him as best I can."
"I will gladly be thy envoy," answered Eckewart.
He set out with good will, and told Rudeger what he had heard. Such good news had not reached him for long. A knight was seen hasting to Bechlaren. Rudeger knew him, and said, "Here cometh Eckewart, Kriemhild's man, down the way." He deemed that foemen had done him a hurt. He went to the door and met the envoy, that ungirded his sword and laid it down.
Rudeger said to the knight, "What hast thou heard, that thou ridest in such hot haste? Hath any done us a mischief?"
"None hath harmed us," said Eckewart straightway. "Three kings have sent me: Gunther of Burgundy, Giselher, and Gernot. Each of them commended his service to thee. The same doth Hagen from true heart, and also Folker. Further, I have to tell thee that Dankwart, the king's marshal, bade me say that the good knights have need of thy roof."
Rudeger answered with smiling face, "This is glad news, that the high kings need my service. It shall not be denied them. Right glad am I that they come to my house."
"Dankwart, the marshal, bade me tell thee who there be of them: sixty bold warriors and a thousand good knights, with nine thousand squires."
Rudeger rejoiced to hear it, and said, "Welcome are these guests—the high warriors that come to my castle, and that I so seldom have served heretofore. Ride out to meet them, my kinsmen and my vassals."
Whereat knights and squires hasted to horse. All that their lord commanded they deemed right; so they served him the better.
Gotelind, that sat in her chamber, had not heard the news.
How They Came to Bechlaren
The Margrave went to find his wife and daughter, and told them the good news that he had heard, how that their queen's brethren were coming to the house.
"Dear love," said Rudeger, "receive the high and noble kings well when they come here with their followers. Hagen, Gunther's man, thou shalt also greet fair. There is one with them that hight Dankwart; another hight Folker, a man of much worship. These six thou shalt kiss—thou and my daughter. Entreat the warriors courteously."
The women promised it, nothing loth. They took goodly apparel from their chests, wherein to meet the knights. The fair women made haste enow. Their cheeks needed little false colour. They wore fillets of bright gold on their heads, fashioned like rich wreaths, that the wind might not ruffle their beautiful hair. They were dainty and fresh.
Now leave we the women busied on this wise. There was mickle spurring across the plain among Rudeger's friends till they found the princes. These were well received in the Margrave's land. Rudeger cried joyfully as he went toward them, "Ye be welcome, ye knights, and all your men. Right glad am I to see you in my home."
The warriors thanked him with true heart void of hate. He showed them plainly they were welcome. To Hagen he gave special greeting, for he knew him from aforetime. He did the same to Folker of Burgundy. He welcomed Dankwart also. Then said that knight, "If thou take us in, who will see to our followers from Worms beyond the Rhine?"
The Margrave answered, "Have no fear on that head. All that ye have with you, horses, silver and apparel, shall be so well guarded that ye shall not lose a single spur thereof. Pitch your tents in the fields, ye squires. Whatso ye lose here I will make good to you. Off with the bridles, and let the horses go loose." Never before had host done this for them. Glad enow were the guests. When they had obeyed him, and the knights had ridden away, the squires laid them down on the grass over all, and took their ease. It was their softest rest on the whole journey.
The noble Margravine came out before the castle with her beautiful daughter. Lovely women and fair maids not a few stood beside her, adorned with bracelets and fine apparel. Precious stones sparked bright on their rich vesture. Goodly was their raiment.
The guests rode up and sprang to the ground. Ha! courteous men all were they of Burgundy! Six and thirty maidens and many women beside, fair to heart's desire, came forth to meet them, with bold men in plenty. The noble women welcomed them sweetly. The Margravine kissed the kings all three. Her daughter did the like. Hagen stood by. Him also her father bade her kiss. She looked up at him, and he was so grim that she had gladly let it be. Yet must she do as the host bade her. Her colour came and went, white and red. She kissed Dankwart, too, and, after him, the fiddler. By reason of his body's strength he won this greeting. Then the young Margravine took Giselher, the youth, of Burgundy by the hand. Her mother did the same to Gunther, and they went in merrily with the heroes.
The host led Gernot into a wide hall. There knights and ladies sat down, and good wine was poured out for the guests. Never were warriors better entreated.
Rudeger's daughter was looked at with loving eyes, she was so fair; and many a good knight loved her in his heart. And well they might, for she was an high-hearted maiden. But their thoughts were vain: it could not be.
They kept spying at the women, whereof many sat round. Now the fiddler was well-minded to Rudeger.
Women and knights were parted then, as was the custom, and went into separate rooms. The table was made ready in the great hall, and willing service was done to the strangers.
To show love to the guests, the Margravine went to table with them. She left her daughter with the damsels, as was seemly, albeit it irked the guests to see her no longer.
When they had all drunk and eaten, they brought the fair ones into the hall again, and there was no lack of sweet words. Folker, a knight bold and good, spake plenty of them. This same fiddler said openly, "Great Margrave, God hath done well by thee, for He hath given thee a right beautiful wife, and happy days. Were I a king," said the minstrel, "and wore a crown, I would choose thy sweet daughter for my queen. She would be the choice of my heart, for she is fair to look upon, and, thereto, noble and good."
The Margrave answered, "How should a king covet my dear daughter? My wife and I are both strangers here, and have naught to give. What availeth then her beauty?"
But said Gernot, the courteous man, "Might I choose where I would, such a wife were my heart's desire."
Then said Hagen graciously, "It is time Giselher wedded. Of such high lineage is the noble Margravine, that we would gladly serve her, I and his men, if she wore the crown in Burgundy."
The word pleased both Rudeger and Gotelind greatly. Their hearts were uplifted. So it was agreed among the heroes that noble Giselher should take her to wife; the which a king might well do without shame.
If a thing be right, who can withstand it? They bade the maiden before them, and they swore to give her to him, whereupon he vowed to cherish her. They gave her castles and lands for her share. The king and Gernot sware with the hand that it should be even as they had promised.
Then said the Margrave, "Since I have no castles, I can only prove me your true friend evermore. I will give my daughter as much silver and gold as an hundred sumpters may carry, that ye warriors may, with honour, be content."
Then the twain were put in a circle, as the custom was. Many a young knight stood opposite in merry mood, and thought in his heart as young folk will. They asked the lovely maiden if she would have the hero. She was half sorry, yet her heart inclined to the goodly man. She was shamefast at the question, as many a maid hath been.
Rudeger her father counselled her to say "yes," and to take him gladly. Giselher, the youth, was not slow to clasp her to him with his white hands. Yet how little while she had him!
Then said the Margrave, "Great and noble kings, I will give you my child to take with you, for this were fittest, when ye ride home again into your land." And it was so agreed.
The din of tourney was bidden cease. The damsels were sent to their chambers, and the guests to sleep and to take their rest till the day. Then meats were made ready, for their host saw well to their comfort.
When they had eaten, they would have set out again for the country of the Huns, but Rudeger said, "Go not, I pray you. Tarry here yet a while, for I had never dearer guests."
Dankwart answered, "It may not be. Where couldst thou find the meat, the bread and the wine, for so many knights?"
But when the host heard him, he said, "Speak not of that. Deny me not, my dear lords. I can give you, and all them that are with you, meat for fourteen days. Little hath King Etzel ever taken of my substance."
Albeit they made excuse, they had to tarry till the fourth morning. He gave both horses and apparel so freely, that the fame of it spread abroad.
But longer than this it could not last, for they must needs forth. Rudeger was not sparing of his goods. If any craved for aught, none denied him. Each got his desire.
The attendants brought the saddled horses to the door. There many stranger knights joined them, shield in hand, to ride with them to Etzel's court. To each of the noble guests Rudeger offered a gift, or he left the hall. He had wherewithal to live in honour and give freely. Upon Giselher he had bestowed his fair daughter. He gave to Gernot a goodly weapon enow, that he wielded well afterward in strife. The Margrave's wife grudged him not the gift, yet Rudeger, or long, was slain thereby.
To Gunther, the valiant knight, he gave a coat of mail, that did the rich king honour, albeit he seldom took gifts. He bowed before Rudeger and thanked him.
Gotelind offered Hagen a fair gift, as was fitting, since the king had taken one, that he might not fare to the hightide without a keepsake from her, but he refused.
"Naught that I ever saw would I so fain bear away with me as yonder shield on the wall. I would gladly carry it into Etzel's land."
When the Margravine heard Hagen's word, it minded her on her sorrow, and she fell to weeping. She thought sadly on the death of Nudung, that Wittich had slain; and her heart was heavy.
She said to the knight, "I will give thee the shield. Would to God he yet lived that once bore it! He died in battle. I must ever weep when I think on him, for my woman's heart is sore."
The noble Margravine rose from her seat, and took down the shield with her white hands and carried it to Hagen, that used it as a hero should. A covering of bright stuff lay over its device. The light never shone on better shield. It was so rich with precious stones, that had any wanted to buy it, it had cost him at the least a thousand marks.
The knight bade his attendants bear it away. Then came his brother Dankwart, to whom the Margrave's daughter gave richly broidered apparel, that afterward he wore merrily among the Huns.
None had touched any of these things but for love of the host that offered them so kindly. Yet, or long, they bare him such hate that they slew him.
Bold Folker then stepped forth with knightly bearing and stood before Gotelind with his viol. He played a sweet tune and sang her his song. Then he took his leave and left Bechlaren. But first the Margravine bade them bring a drawer near. Of loving gifts now hear the tale. She took therefrom twelve armlets, and drew them over his hand, saying, "These shalt thou take with thee and wear for my sake at Etzel's court. When thou comest again, I will hear how thou hast served me at the hightide." Well he did her behest.
The host said to the guests, "That ye may journey the safer, I will myself escort you, and see that none fall on you by the way." And forthwith they loaded his sumpters. He stood ready for the road with five hundred men, mounted and equipped. These he led merrily to the hightide. Not one of them came back alive to Bechlaren.
He took leave with sweet kisses. The same did Giselher, as love bade him. They took the fair women in their arms. Or long, many a damsel wept for them.
The windows were flung wide over all, for the host and his men were gotten to horse. Their hearts, I ween, foreboded their bitter woe, and many a wife and many a maiden wept sore. They sorrowed for many a dear friend that was never seen more at Bechlaren. Yet merrily they rode down the valley by the Danube into the land of the Huns.
Then said noble Rudeger to the Burgundians, "We must delay no longer to send news of our advance. Nothing could rejoice King Etzel more."
The swift envoys pressed down through Austria, and soon the folk knew, far and near, that the heroes were on their way from Worms beyond the Rhine. It was welcome news to the king's vassals. The envoys spurred forward with the tidings that the Nibelungs were come to the Huns.
"Receive them well, Kriemhild, my wife. Thy brethren are come to show thee great honour."
Kriemhild stood at a window and looked out as a friend might for friends. Many drew thither from her father's land. The king was joyful when he heard the news.
"Glad am I," said Kriemhild, "my kinsmen come with many new shields and shining bucklers. I will ever be his friend that taketh my gold and remembereth my wrong."
She thought in her heart, "Now for the reckoning! If I can contrive it, it will go hard at this hightide with him that killed all my happiness. Fain would I work his doom. I care not what may come of it: my vengeance shall fall on the hateful body of him that stole my joy from me. He shall pay dear for my sorrow."
How Kriemhild Received Hagen
When the Burgundians came into the land, old Hildebrand of Bern heard thereof, and told his master, that was grieved at the news. He bade him give hearty welcome to the valiant knights.
Bold Wolfhart called for the horses, and many stark warriors rode with Dietrich to greet them on the plain, where they had pitched their goodly tents.
When Hagen of Trony saw them from afar, he spake courteously to his masters, "Arise, ye doughty heroes, and go to meet them that come to welcome you. A company of warriors that I know well draw hither—the heroes of the Amelung land. They are men of high courage. Scorn not their service."
Then, as was seemly, Dietrich, with many knights and squires, sprang to the ground. They hasted to the guests, and welcomed the heroes of Burgundy lovingly.
When Dietrich saw them, he was both glad and sorry; he knew what was toward, and grieved that they were come. He deemed that Rudeger was privy to it, and had told them. "Ye be welcome, Gunther and Giselher, Gernot and Hagen; Folker, likewise, and Dankwart the swift. Know ye not that Kriemhild still mourneth bitterly for the hero of the Nibelungs?"
"She will weep awhile," answered Hagen. "This many a year he lieth slain. She did well to comfort her with the king of the Huns. Siegfried will not come again. He is long buried."
"Enough of Siegfried's wounds. While Kriemhild, my mistress, liveth, mischief may well betide. Wherefore, hope of the Nibelungs, beware!" So spake Dietrich of Bern.
"Wherefore should I beware?" said the king. "Etzel sent us envoys (what more could I ask?) bidding us hither to this land. My sister Kriemhild, also, sent us many greetings."
But Hagen said, "Bid Sir Dietrich and his good knights tell us further of this matter, that they may show us the mind of Kriemhild."
Then the three kings went apart: Gunther and Gernot and Dietrich.
"Now tell us, noble knight of Bern, what thou knowest of the queen's mind."
The prince of Bern answered, "What can I tell you, save that every morning I have heard Etzel's wife weeping and wailing in bitter woe to the great God of Heaven, because of stark Siegfried's death?"
Said bold Folker, the fiddler, "There is no help for it. Let us ride to the court and see what befalleth us among the Huns."
The bold Burgundians rode to the court right proudly, after the custom of their land. Many bold Huns marvelled much what manner of man Hagen of Trony might be. The folk knew well, from hearsay, that he had slain Siegfried of the Netherland, the starkest of all knights, Kriemhild's husband. Wherefore many questions were asked concerning him. The hero was of great stature; that is certain. His shoulders were broad, his hair was grisled; his legs were long, and terrible was his face. He walked with a proud gait.
Then lodging was made ready for the Burgundians. Gunther's attendants lay separate from the others. The queen, that greatly hated Gunther, had so ordered it. By this device his yeomen were slain soon after.
Dankwart, Hagen's brother, was marshal. The king commended his men earnestly to his care, that he might give them meat and drink enow, the which the bold knight did faithfully and with good will.
Kriemhild went forth with her attendants and welcomed the Nibelungs with false heart. She kissed Giselher and took him by the hand. When Hagen of Trony saw that, he bound his helmet on tighter.
"After such greeting," he said, "good knights may well take thought. The kings and their men are not all alike welcome. No good cometh of our journey to this hightide."
She answered, "Let him that is glad to see thee welcome thee. I will not greet thee as a friend. What bringest thou for me from Worms, beyond the Rhine, that thou shouldst be so greatly welcome?"
"This is news," said Hagen, "that knights should bring thee gifts. Had I thought of it, I had easily brought thee something. I am rich enow."
"Tell me what thou hast done with the Nibelung hoard. That, at the least, was mine own. Ye should have brought it with you into Etzel's land."
"By my troth, lady, I have not touched the Nibelung hoard this many a year. My masters bade me sink it in the Rhine. There it must bide till the day of doom."
Then said the queen, "I thought so. Little hast thou brought thereof, albeit it was mine own, and held by me aforetime. Many a sad day I have lived for lack of it and its lord."
"I bring thee the Devil!" cried Hagen. "My shield and my harness were enow to carry, and my bright helmet, and the sword in my hand. I have brought thee naught further."
"I speak not of my treasure, because I desire the gold. I have so much to give that I need not thy offerings. A murder and a double theft—it is these that I, unhappiest of women, would have thee make good to me."
Then said the queen to all the knights, "None shall bear weapons in this hall. Deliver them to me, ye knights, that they be taken in charge."
"Not so, by my troth," said Hagen; "I crave not the honour, great daughter of kings, to have thee bear my shield and other weapons to safe keeping. Thou art a queen here. My father taught me to guard them myself."
"Woe is me!" cried Kriemhild. "Why will not Hagen and my brother give up their shields? They are warned. If I knew him that did it, he should die."
Sir Dietrich answered wrathfully then, "I am he that warned the noble kings, and bold Hagen, the man of Burgundy. Do thy worst, thou devil's wife, I care not!"
Kriemhild was greatly ashamed, for she stood in bitter fear of Dietrich. She went from him without a word, but with swift and wrathful glances at her foes.
Then two knights clasped hands—the one was Dietrich, the other Hagen. Dietrich, the valiant warrior, said courteously, "I grieve to see thee here, since the queen hath spoken thus."
Hagen of Trony answered, "It will all come right."
So the bold men spake together, and King Etzel saw them, and asked, "I would know who yonder knight is that Dietrich welcometh so lovingly. He beareth him proudly. Howso is his father hight, he is, certes, a goodly warrior."
One of Kriemhild's men answered the king, "He was born at Trony. The name of his father was Aldrian. Albeit now he goeth gently, he is a grim man. I will prove to thee yet that I lie not."
"How shall I find him so grim?" He knew nothing, as yet, of all that the queen contrived against her kinsmen: by reason whereof not one of them escaped alive from the Huns.
"I know Hagen well. He was my vassal. Praise and mickle honour he won here by me. I made him a knight, and gave him my gold. For that he proved him faithful, I was ever kind to him. Wherefore I may well know all about him. I brought two noble children captive to this land—him and Walter of Spain. Here they grew to manhood. Hagen I sent home again. Walter fled with Hildegund."
So he mused on the good old days, and what had happed long ago, for he had seen Hagen, that did him stark service in his youth. Yet now that he was old, he lost by him many a dear friend.
How Hagen and Folker Sat Before Kriemhild's Hall
The two valiant knights, Hagen of Trony and Sir Dietrich, parted, and Gunther's man looked back for a comrade that he soon espied. He saw Folker, the cunning fiddler, by Giselher, and bade him come with him, for well he knew his grim mood. He was in all things a warrior bold and good.
The knights still stood in the court. These two alone were seen crossing the yard to a large hall at a distance. They feared no man. They sat down before the house, on a bench opposite Kriemhild's chamber. Their goodly apparel shone bright on their bodies. Not a few of them that looked were fain to know them. The Huns gaped at the proud heroes as they had been wild beasts, and Etzel's wife saw them through a window, and was troubled anew. She thought on her old wrong, and began to weep. Etzel's men marvelled much what had grieved her so sore. She said, "Good knights, it is Hagen that hath done it."
Then said they to the queen, "How came it to pass? A moment ago we saw thee of good cheer. There is no man so bold, had he done thee a hurt, and thou badest us avenge thee, but he should answer for it with his life."
"Him that avenged my wrong I would thank evermore. All that he asked I would give him. I fall at your feet; only avenge me on Hagen, that he lose his life."
Thereupon sixty bold men armed them swiftly, and would have gone out with one accord to slay Hagen, the bold knight, and the fiddler, for Kriemhild's sake.
But when the queen saw so small a number, she spake wrothfully to the heroes, "Think not to withstand Hagen with so few. Stark and bold as is Hagen of Trony, much starker is he that sitteth by him, Folker the fiddler by name, a wicked man. Ye shall not so lightly overcome them."
When they heard her word, four hundred knights more did on their armour, for the queen was eager to do her enemies a hurt. Soon they came in sore straits. When she saw them well armed, she said to them, "Stand still a while and wait. I will go out to my foes with my crown on. Hearken while I upbraid Hagen of Trony, Gunther's man, with what he hath done to me. I know him for too proud a knight to deny it. After that, I care not what befalleth him."
Then the fiddler, a bold minstrel, saw the queen coming down the stair from the house, and said to his comrade, "Now see, friend Hagen, how she that hath falsely bidden us to this land, cometh toward us. Never have I beheld, with a king's wife, so many men, sword in hand, as for strife. Knowest thou, friend Hagen, that they hate thee? I counsel thee to look to thy life and thine honour. Certes, it were well. Methinketh they be wrothful of their mood. Many among them have shoulders broad enow. Who would save his life had best do it betimes. I ween they wear harness below their silk, whereof I hear none declare the meaning."
But Hagen, the bold man, answered angrily, "Well, I know that it is against me they carry their bright weapons in their hands. But, for all that, I will yet ride back to Burgundy. Now say, friend Folker, wilt thou stand by me, if Kriemhild's men fall on me? Tell me, as thou lovest me. To thy service thou wouldst bind me evermore."
"I will help thee truly," answered the minstrel; "if I saw the king coming with all his warriors, I would not, while I lived, stir a foot from thy side through fear."
"God in Heaven quit thee, noble Folker! If they fight with me, what need I more. Since thou wilt help me, as I have heard thee promise, these knights had best walk warily."
"Now rise we from our seat, and let her pass," said the minstrel. "She is a queen. Do her this honour; she is a high-born lady. Therein we honour ourselves."
"Nay, as thou lovest me!" Hagen said. "These knights might deem I did it through fear, and thought to fly. I will not rise from my seat for any of them. It beseemeth us better to sit still. Shall I show honour to her that hateth me? That I will never do, so long as I be a living man. Certes, I care little if King Etzel's wife misliketh me."
Hagen, the overweening man, laid a bright weapon across his knee, from the hilt whereof shone a flaming jasper, greener than grass. Well Kriemhild knew that it was Siegfried's.
When she saw the sword, her heart was heavy. The hilt was of gold, the scabbard of red broidered silk. It minded her on her woe, and she began to weep. Bold Hagen, I ween, had done it apurpose.
Brave Folker drew closer to him on the bench a stark fiddle-bow, mickle and long, made like a sword, sharp and broad. There sat the good knights unafraid. They deemed them too high to rise from their seat through fear of any.
Then the noble queen advanced to them and gave them angry greeting. She said, "Now tell me, Sir Hagen, who sent for thee, that thou hast dared to ride into this land? Wert thou in thy senses, thou hadst not done it."
"None sent for me," answered Hagen. "Three knights that I call master, were bidden hither. I am their liegeman, and never yet tarried behind when they rode to a hightide."
She said, "Now tell me further. Wherefore didst thou that which hath earned thee my hate? Thou slewest Siegfried, my dear husband, that I cannot mourn enow to my life's end."
He answered, "Enough! What thou hast said sufficeth. It was I, Hagen, that slew Siegfried, the hero. He paid dear for the evil words that Kriemhild spake to fair Brunhild. I deny not, mighty queen, that I am guilty, and the cause of all the mischief. Avenge it who will, man or woman. I will not lie; I have wrought thee much woe."
She said, "Ye hear him, knights! He denieth not the wrong he hath done me. I care not how he suffer for it, ye men of Etzel."
The proud warriors glanced at each other. Had there been fighting, the two comrades had come off with honour, as oft aforetime in strife. What the Huns had undertaken they durst not perform, through fear. Then said one among them, "Why look ye at me? My word was vain; I will not lose my life for the gifts of no woman. King Etzel's wife, methinketh, would undo us."
Another said, "I am of thy mind. I would not challenge this fiddler for towers full of red gold, for much I mislike his fierce glances. This Hagen, too, I knew in his youth, and need not to be told concerning him. In two-and-twenty battles I have seen him. He hath given many a woman heart's dole. He and the knight of Spain rode on many a foray, and here, by Etzel, won many victories to the honour of the king. Wherefore none may deny him praise. In those days the knight was a child, and they that now are grey were youths. Now he is grown to a grim man. Thereto, he weareth Balmung, which he won evilly."
So they agreed that none should fight, whereat the queen grieved bitterly. The knights turned away, for the feared death from the fiddler, and were dismayed. How oft will cowards fall back when friend standeth true by friend! And he that bethinketh him betimes is delivered from many a snare.
Then said bold Folker, "Now have we seen and heard that foemen are around us. Haste we to the court, to the kings, that none dare fall upon them."
"I will follow," said Hagen.
They went where they found the knights still waiting in the courtyard; and bold Folker began to say to his masters with a loud voice, "How long will ye stand here to be jostled? Go in and hear from the king how he is minded toward you."
The knights bold and good went in pairs. The prince of Bern took great Gunther of Burgundy by the hand. Irnfried took brave Gernot, and Giselher went in with his father-in-law. Howso the others walked, Folker and Hagen parted nevermore, save once in battle, till their death; the which gave many a noble woman cause to weep. With the kings came their followers, a thousand bold men, and, thereto, sixty warriors, brought by Hagen from his land. Hawart and Iring, two chosen knights, went after the kings, hand in hand. Dankwart and Wolfhart, a true-hearted man, bare them courteously toward them that were present.
When the prince of Rhineland came into the palace, Etzel waited no longer, but sprang up from his seat when he saw them. Never was fairer greeting between kings. "Ye be welcome, Sir Gunther and Sir Gernot, and Giselher your brother. With true heart I sent my service to you at Worms. Your knights, too, are welcome, each one. Glad are my wife and I to greet bold Folker, and also Hagen, in this land. Many a message she sent you to the Rhine."
Then said Hagen of Trony, "I heard them all. Had I not ridden hither for my masters' sake, I had come to do thee honour." Thereupon the host took his dear guests by the hand, and led them to the high seat where he himself sat. And they hasted and poured out mead, morat, and wine, for the guests, in great golden goblets, and bade the strangers heartily welcome.
Then said King Etzel, "I tell you truly that nothing in this world had pleased me better than to see you knights here. It will ease the queen of mickle heart's dole. I marvelled oft what I had done, that, among the many guests I won to my court, ye never came to my land. Glad am I to see you now."
Whereto Rudeger, the high-hearted knight, answered, "Thou rejoicest with cause, for my mistress's kinsmen are men of proven worth, and they bring many valiant knights with them."
It was on a midsummer eve that they came to Etzel's court, and seldom hath been heard such high greeting as he gave to the heroes. Then he went merrily to table with them, and no host ever entreated guests better. Meat and drink they had in plenty. All that they desired stood ready for them, for many marvels had been told of them.
The rich king had built a great castle at much cost and trouble—palaces, and towers, and chambers without number, in a big fortress, and thereto a goodly hall. He had ordered it to be built long and high and wide, by reason of the many knights that flocked to his court without cease. Twelve great kings were his liegemen, and many warriors of much worship he had always by him, more than any king I ever heard of. He lived merrily with kinsmen and vassals round him, with the joyful tumult of good knights on every side. By reason whereof his heart was uplifted.
How Hagen and Folker Kept Watch
The day was now ended and the night drew nigh. The way-weary warriors were fain to rest, and lie down on their beds, but knew not how to compass it. Hagen asked, and brought them word.
Gunther said to the host, "God have thee in His keeping. Give us leave to go and sleep. If thou desire it, we will come again early in the morning." Then Etzel parted merrily from his guests.
From all sides the folk pressed in on the strangers. Bold Folker said to the Huns, "How dare ye get before our feet? If ye void not the way, it will be the worse for you. I will give some of you a blow with this fiddle that may cause your friends to weep. Fall back from us warriors. Certes, ye had better. Ye be knights in name and naught else."
While the fiddler spake thus wrothfully, bold Hagen looked over his shoulder and said, "The minstrel giveth you good counsel. Get to your lodging, ye men of Kriemhild. This is no time for your malice. If ye would start a quarrel, come to us to-morrow early, and let us way-weary warriors lie this night in peace. I ween ye will find none readier than we are."
They led the guests to a spacious hall, where they found beds, big and costly, standing ready. Gladly had the queen worked their doom. Coverlets of bright stuffs from Arras were there, and testers of silk of Araby, the goodliest that could be, broidered and shining with gold. The bed-clothes were of ermine and black sable, for them to rest under, the night through, till the day. In such state never king lay before with his men.
"Woe is me for our lodging!" said Giselher the youth, "and for my friends that came hither with us. My sister sent us fair words, but I fear we must all soon lie dead through her."
"Grieve not," said Hagen the knight. "I will myself keep watch, and will guard thee well, I trow, till the day. Fear naught till then. After that, each shall look to himself."
They bowed to him and thanked him. They went to their beds, and, or long, the valiant men were lying soft. Then bold Hagen began to arm him.
Folker the fiddler said, "If thou scorn not my help, Hagen, I would keep watch with thee till the morning."
The hero thanked Folker, "God in Heaven quit you, dear Folker. In all my troubles and my straits I desire thee only and no other. I will do as much for thee, if death hinder it not."
They both did on their shining harness. Each took his shield in his hand, and went out before the door to keep watch over the strangers. They did it faithfully.
Brave Folker leaned his good shield against the wall, and went back and took his fiddle, and did fair and seemly service to his friends. He sat down under the lintel upon the stone. There never was a bolder minstrel. When the sweet tones sounded from his strings, the proud homeless ones all thanked him. He struck so loud that the house echoed. Great were his skill and strength both. Then he played sweeter and softer, till he had lulled many a careworn man to sleep. When Folker found they were all asleep, he took his shield in his hand again, and went out and stood before the door, to guard his friends from Kriemhild's men.
About the middle of the night, or sooner, bold Folker saw a helmet in the distance, shining in the dark. Kriemhild's vassals were fain to do them a hurt. Or she sent them forth, she said, "For God's sake, if ye win at them, slay none save the one man, false Hagen; let the others live."
Then spake the fiddler, "Friend Hagen, we must bear this matter through together. I see armed folk before the house. I ween they come against us."
"Hold thy peace," answered Hagen. "Let them come nigher. Or they are ware of us, there will be helmets cloven by the swords in our two hands. They shall be sent back to Kriemhild in sorry plight."
One of the Hunnish knights saw that the door was guarded, and said hastily, "We cannot carry this thing through. I see the fiddler standing guard. He hath on his head a shining helmet, bright and goodly, with no dint therein, and stark thereto. The rings of his harness glow like fire. Hagen standeth by him. The strangers are well watched."
They turned without more ado. When Folker saw this, he spake angrily to his comrade, "Let me go out to these knights. I would ask Kriemhild's men a question."
"Nay, as thou lovest me," said Hagen. "If thou wentest to them, thou wouldst fall in such strait by their swords that I must help thee, though all my kinsmen perished thereby. If both the twain of us fell to fighting, two or three of them might easily spring into the house, and do such hurt to the sleepers as we could never mourn enow."
But Folker said, "Let us tell them that we have seen them, that they deny not their treachery." Then Folker called out to them, "Why go ye there armed, valiant knights? Is it murder ye are after, ye men of Kriemhild? Take me and my comrade to help you."
None answered him. Right wroth was he.
"Shame on you, cowards! Would ye have slain us sleeping? Seldom afore hath so foul a deed been done on good knights."
The queen was heavy of her cheer when they told her that her messengers had failed. She began to contrive it otherwise, for grim was her mood, and by reason thereof many a good knight and bold soon perished.
How the Burgundians Went to Church
"My harness is grown so cold," said Folker, "that I ween the night is far spent. I feel, by the air, that it will soon be day."
Then they walked the knights that still slept.
The bright morning shone in on the warriors in the hall, and Hagen began to ask them if they would go to the minster to hear mass. The bells were ringing according to Christian custom.
The folk sang out of tune: it was not mickle wonder, when Christian and heathen sang together. Gunther's men were minded to go to church, and rose from their beds. They did on their fine apparel—never knights brought goodlier weed into any king's land. But Hagen was wroth, and said, "Ye did better to wear other raiment. Ye know how it standeth with us here. Instead of roses, bear weapons in your hands, and instead of jewelled caps, bright helmets. Of wicked Kriemhild's mood we are well aware. I tell you there will be fighting this day. For your silken tunics wear your hauberks, and good broad shields for rich mantels, that, if any fall on you, ye may be ready. My masters dear, my kinsmen, and my men, go to the church and bewail your sorrow and your need before great God, for know, of a surety, that death draweth nigh. Forget not wherein ye have sinned, and stand humbly before your Maker. Be warned, most noble knights. If God in Heaven help you not, ye will hear mass no more."
So the kings and their men went to the minster. Hagen bade them pause in the churchyard, that they might not be parted. He said, "None knoweth yet what the Huns may attempt on us. Lay your shields at your feet, my friends, and if any give you hostile greeting, answer him with deep wounds and deadly. That is Hagen's counsel, that ye may be found ready, as beseemeth you."
Folker and Hagen went and stood before the great minster. They did this, that the queen might be forced to push past them. Right grim was their mood.
Then came the king and his beautiful wife. Her body was adorned with rich apparel, and the knights in her train were featly clad. The dust rose high before the queen's attendants.
When the rich king saw the princes and their followers armed, he said hastily, "Why go my friends armed? By my troth it would grieve me if any had done aught to them. I will make it good to them on any wise they ask it. Hath any troubled their hearts, he shall feel my displeasure. Whatso they demand of me I will do."
Hagen answered, "None hath wrought us annoy. It is the custom of my masters to go armed at all hightides for full three days. If any did us a mischief, Etzel should hear thereof."
Right well Kriemhild heard Hagen's words. She looked at him from under her eyelids with bitter hate. Yet she told not the custom of her land, albeit she knew it well from aforetime. Howso grim and deadly the queen's anger was, none had told Etzel how it stood, else he had hindered what afterward befell. They scorned, through pride, to tell their wrong.
The queen advanced with a great crowd of folk, but the twain moved not two hands' breadth, whereat the Huns were wroth, for they had to press past the heroes. This pleased not Etzel's chamberlains, and they had gladly quarrelled with them, had they dared before the king. There was much jostling, and nothing more.
When the mass was over, many a Hun sprang to horse. With Kriemhild were also many beautiful maidens. Kriemhild sat by Etzel at a window with her women, to see the bold warriors ride, the which the king loved to do. Ha! many a stranger knight spurred below in the court!
The marshal brought out the horses. Bold Dankwart had gathered together his master's followers from Burgundy. Well-saddled horses were led up for the Nibelungs. When the kings and their men were mounted, Folker counselled them to joust after the fashion of their country. Full knightly they rode in the tourney. The counsel was welcome to all, and a mighty din and clang of arms soon arose in the great tilt-yard, while Etzel and Kriemhild looked on.
Sixty of Dietrich's knights spurred forward to meet the strangers. They were eager for the onset, had Dietrich allowed it, for goodly men were his. But it irked him when he heard thereof, and forbade them to cross lances with Gunther's warriors. He feared it might go hard with his knights.
When the knights of Bern were gone out of the yard, five hundred of Rudeger's men of Bechlaren rode up before the castle, with their shields. The Margrave had been better pleased if they had stayed away. He pressed through the crowd, and said to them that they themselves knew how that Gunther's men were wroth, and that he would have them quit the tourney.
When these also had gone back, they say that the knights of Thueringen and a thousand bold Danes rode in. Then the splinters flew from the lances. Irnfried and Hawart rode into the tourney. The Rhinelanders met them proudly. They encountered the men of Thueringen in many a joust; pierced was many a shield.
Sir Bloedel came on with three thousand. Etzel and Kriemhild saw plainly all that passed below. The queen rejoiced, by reason of the hate she bare the Burgundians. She thought in her heart,—what happed or long—"If they wounded any, the sport might turn to a battle. I would fain be revenged on my foes; certes, it would not grieve me."
Schrutan and Gibek came next, and Ramung and Hornbog, after the manner of the Huns. They all bare them boldly before the Burgundians. High over the king's palace flew the splinters. Yet all they did was but empty sound. Gunther's men made the house and the castle ring with the clash of shields. They won great honour. So keen was their pastime that the foot-cloths ran with the sweat of the horses, as they rode proudly against the Huns.
Then said stout Folker the fiddler, "These knights dare not confront us, I ween. I have heard that they hate us. They could not have a fitter time to prove it."
"Lead the horses to their stalls," said the king. "Toward evening ye may ride again, if there be time for it. Haply the queen may then give the prize to the Burgundians."
At that moment a knight rode into the lists, prouder than any other Hun. Belike he had a dear one at the window. He was rich apparelled like a bride.
Folker said, "I cannot help it. Yonder woman's darling must have a stroke. None shall hinder me. Let him look to his life. I care not how wroth Etzel's wife may be."
"Nay now, for my sake," said the king. "The folk will blame us if we begin the fray. Let the Huns be the first. It were better so."
Still Etzel sat by the queen.
"I will join thee in the tourney," cried Hagen. "It were well that these women and these knights saw how we can ride. They give Gunther's men scant praise."
Bold Folker spurred back into the lists. Thereby many a woman won heart's dole. He stabbed the proud Hun through the body with his spear. Many a maid and many a wife was yet to weep for it. Hagen and his sixty knights followed hard on the fiddler. Etzel and Kriemhild saw it all plain.
The three kings left not the doughty minstrel alone among his foemen. A thousand knights rode to the rescue. They were haughty and overweening, and did as they would.
When the proud Hun was slain, the sound of weeping and wailing rose from his kinsmen. All asked, "Who hath done it?" and got answer, "It was Folker, the bold fiddler."
The friends of the Hunnish Margrave called straightway for their swords and their shields, that they might kill Folker. The host hasted from the window. There was a mighty uproar among the Huns. The kings and their followers alighted before the all, and beat back their horses.
Then came Etzel and began to part the fray. He seized a sharp sword out of the hand of one of the Hun's kinsmen that stood nigh, and thrust them all back. He was greatly wroth, "Ye would have me fail in honour toward these knights! If ye had slain this minstrel, I tell you I would have hanged you all. I marked him well when he slew the Hun, and saw that it was not with intent, but that his horse stumbled. Let my guests leave the tilt-yard in peace."
He gave them escort, himself, and their horses were led to the stalls, for many varlets stood ready to serve them.
The host went with his guests into the palace, and bade the anger cease. They set the table, and brought water. The knights of the Rhine had stark foemen enow. Though it irked Etzel, many armed knights pressed in after the kings, when they went to table, by reason of their hate. They waited a chance to avenge their kinsman.
"Ye be too unmannerly," said the host, "to sit down armed to eat. Whoso among you toucheth my guests shall pay for it with his head. I have spoken, O Huns."
It was long or the knights were all seated. Bitter was Kriemhild's wrath. She said, "Prince of Bern, I seek thy counsel and thy kind help in my sore need."
But Hildebrand, the good knight, answered, "Who slayeth the Nibelungs shall do it without me; I care not what price thou offerest. None shall essay it but he shall rue it, for never yet have these doughty knights been vanquished."
"I ask the death of none save Hagen, that hath wronged me. He slew Siegfried, my dear husband. He that chose him from among the others for vengeance should have my gold without stint. I were inly grieved did any suffer save Hagen."
But Hildebrand answered, "How could one slay him alone? Thou canst see for thyself, that, if he be set upon, they will all to battle, and poor and rich alike must perish."
Said Dietrich also, courteously, "Great queen, say no more. Thy kinsmen have done naught to me that I should defy them to the death. It is little to thine honour that thou wouldst compass the doom of thy kinsmen. They came hither under safe conduct, and not by the hand of Dietrich shall Siegfried be avenged."
When she found no treachery in the knight of Bern, she tempted Bloedel with the promise of a goodly estate that had been Nudung's. Dankwart slew him after, that he clean forgot the gift.
Bloedel, that sat by her, answered, "I dare not show thy kinsmen such hate, so long as my brother showeth them favour. The king would not forgive me if I defied them."
"Nay now, Sir Bloedel, I will stand by thee, and give thee silver and gold for meed, and, thereto, a beautiful woman, the widow of Nudung, that thou mayest have her to thy dear one. I will give the all, land and castles, and thou shalt live joyfully with her on the march that was Nudung's. In good sooth I will do what I promise."
When Bloedel heard the fee, and because the woman pleased him for her fairness, he resolved to win her by battle. So came he to lose his life.
He said to the queen, "Go back into the hall. Or any is ware thereof, I will raise a great tumult. Hagen shall pay for what he hath done. I will bring thee King Gunther's man bound."
"Now arm ye, my men," cried Bloedel, "and let us fall on the foemen in their lodging. King Etzel's wife giveth me no peace, and at her bidding we must risk our lives."
When the queen had left Bloedel to begin the strife, she went in to table with King Etzel and his men. She had woven an evil snare against the guests.
I will tell you how they went into the hall. Crowned kings went before her; many high princes and knights of worship attended the queen. Etzel assigned to all the guests their places, the highest and the best in the hall. Christians and heathens had their different meats, whereof they ate to the full; for so the wise king ordered it. The yeomen feasted in their own quarters, where sewers served them, that had been charged with the care of their food. But revel and merriment were soon turned to weeping.
Kriemhild's old wrong lay buried in her heart, and when the strife could not be kindled otherwise, she bade them bring Etzel's son to table. Did ever any woman so fearful a thing for vengeance?
Four of Etzel's men went straightway and brought in Ortlieb, the young king, to the princes' table, where Hagen also sat. Through his murderous hate the child perished.
When Etzel saw his son, he spake kindly to his wife's brethren, "See now, my friends, that is my only son, and your sister's child. Some day he will serve you well. If he take after his kin, he will be a valiant man, rich and right noble, stark and comely. If I live, I will give him the lordship of twelve countries. Fair service ye may yet have from young Ortlieb's hand. Wherefore I pray ye, my dear friends, that, when ye ride back to the Rhine, ye take with you your sister's son, and do well by the child. Rear him in honour till he be a man, and when he is full grown, if any harry your land, he will help you to avenge it." Kriemhild, the wife of Etzel, heard all that the king said.
Hagen answered, "If he grow to be a man, he may well help these knights. But he hath a weakly look. Methinketh I shall seldom go to Ortlieb's court."
The king eyed Hagen sternly, for his word irked him. Albeit he answered not again, he was troubled, and heavy of his cheer. Hagen was no friend to merriment.
The king and his liegemen misliked sore what Hagen had said of the child, and were wroth that they must bear it. They knew not yet what the warrior was to do after. Not a few that heard it, and that bare him hate, had gladly fallen upon him: the king also, had not honour forbidden him. Ill had Hagen sped. Yet soon he did worse: he slew his child before his eyes.
How Bloedel Fought With Dankwart in the Hall
Bloedel's knights all stood ready. With a thousand hauberks they went where Dankwart sat at table with the yeomen. Grim was soon the hate between the heroes.
When Sir Bloedel strode up to the table, Dankwart the marshal greeted him fair. "Welcome to this house, Sir Bloedel. What news dost thou bring?"
"Greet me not," said Bloedel. "My coming meaneth thy death, because of Hagen, thy brother, that slew Siegfried. Thou and many another knight shall pay for it."
"Nay now, Sir Bloedel," said Dankwart. "So might we well rue this hightide. I was a little child when Siegfried lost his life. I know not what King Etzel's wife hath against me."
"I can tell thee nothing, save that thy kinsmen, Gunther and Hagen, did it. Now stand on your defence, ye homeless ones. Ye must die, for your lives are forfeit to Kriemhild."
"Dost thou persist?" said Dankwart. "Then it irketh me that I asked it. I had better have spared my words."
The good knight and bold sprang up from the table, and drew a sharp weapon that was mickle and long, and smote Bloedel a swift blow therewith, that his head, in its helmet, fell at their feet.
"That be thy wedding-gift to Nudung's bride, that thou thoughtest to win!" he cried. "Let them mate her to-morrow with another man; if he ask the dowry, he can have the like." A faithful Hun had told him that morning, secretly, that the queen plotted their doom.
When Bloedel's men saw their master lying slain, they endured it no longer, but fell with drawn swords in grim wrath on the youths. Many rued it later.
Loud cried Dankwart to the squires and the yeomen, "Ye see that we are undone. Fight for your lives, ye homeless ones, that ye may lie dead without shame."
They that had not swords seized the benches, and caught up the stools from the floor. The squires of Burgundy were not slow to answer them. With these they dinted many a helmet.
The homeless youths made grim defence. They drave the armed me from the house. Yet five hundred and more lay therein dead. They were red and wet with blood.
This heave news reached Etzel's knights. Grim was their grief that Bloedel and his men were slain by the brother of Hagen, and the squires. Or Etzel knew anything of the matter, two thousand Huns or more did on their armour and hasted thither, for so it must needs be, and left not one alive. These false knights brought a mighty host before the house. The strangers defended them well; but what availed their prowess? They had all to die. Or long the fray waxed grimmer yet.
Now shall ye list to marvels and wondrous deeds. Nine thousand squires lay dead, and twelve of Dankwart's men. He stood alone among his foes. The noise was hushed, the din had ceased. Dankwart looked over his shoulder and cried, "Woe is me for the friends I have lost! Among my foemen I stand alone."
Swords enow fell upon his body. Many a hero's wife was yet to weep for it. He raised his buckler, and lowered the thong, and wetted many a hauberk with blood.
"Woe is me for this wrong!" cried Aldrian's child. "Stand back, ye knights of Hungary, and let me to the air, that it cool a battle-weary man." Then he began, in their despite, to hew his way to the door.
When he sprang from the house, how many a sword rang on his helmet! They that had not seen the wonders of his hand fell upon him there.
"Would to God," said Dankwart, "I had a messenger to tell my brother Hagen in what peril I stand! He would help me hence, or die by me."
But the Hunnish knights answered, "Thou, thyself, shalt be the messenger, when we carry thee in dead to thy brother. So shall Gunther's man have first hear of his loss. To Etzel thou hast done grievous hurt."
He said, "Keep your threats, and stand back, or I will wet the harness of some of you. I will bear the news myself to the court, and bewail my great wrong to my masters."
He did Etzel's men such scathe, that they durst not draw against him. Then they shot so many darts into his shield that he must drop it for heaviness.
They thought to vanquish him without his shield. Ha! what deep wounds he made in their helmets! Many a bold man staggered before him. Great honour and praise were Dankwart's. From both sides they sprang at him. I ween they were too hasty. He fought his way through his foemen like a wild boar in the forest through the hounds—bolder he could not have been. His path was ever wet anew with hot blood. When did single knight withstand foemen better? Proudly Hagen's brother went to court.
The sewers and the cup-bearers heard the clash of swords. Many dropped the drink and the meats they carried. On the stairs he found stark enemies enow.
"How now, ye sewers?" cried the weary knight; "see to the guests, and bear in the good meats to your lords, and let me take my message to my masters."
They that had the hardihood, and sprang down on him from the stairs, he smote so fiercely with his sword that they fell back for fear. With his strength he had done right wonderly.
How Dankwart Brought the News to His Masters
Then bold Dankwart strode in through the door, and bade Etzel's followers void the way; all his harness was covered with blood. It was a the time they were carrying Ortlieb to and fro from table to table among the princes, and through the terrible news the child perished.
Dankwart cried aloud to one of the knights, "Thou sittest here too long, brother Hagen. To thee, and God in Heaven, I bewail our wrong. Knights and squires lie dead in our hall."
Hagen called back to him, "Who hath done it?"
"Sir Bloedel and his men. He paid for it bitterly, I can tell thee. I smote off his head with my hands."
"He hath paid too little," said Hagen, "since it can be said of him that he hath died by the hand of a hero. His womenfolk have the less cause to weep. Now tell me, dear brother; wherefore art thou so red? I ween thy wounds are deep. If he be anywhere near that hath done it, and the Devil help him not, he is a dead man."
"Unwounded I stand. My harness is wet with the blood of other men, whereof I have to-day slain so many, that I cannot swear to the number."
Hagen said, "Brother Dankwart, keep the door, and let not a single Hun out; I will speak with the knights as our wrong constraineth me. Guiltless, our followers lie dead."
"To such great kings will I gladly be chamberlain," said the bold man; "I will guard the stairs faithfully."
Kriemhild's men were sore dismayed.
"I marvel much," said Hagen, "what the Hunnish knights whisper in each other's ears. I ween they could well spare him that standeth at the door, and hath brought this court news to the Burgundians. I have long heard Kriemhild say that she could not bear her heart's dole. Now drink we to Love, and taste the king's wine. The young prince of the Huns shall be the first."
With that, Hagen slew the child Ortlieb, that the blood gushed down on his hand from his sword, and the head flew up into the queen's lap. Then a slaughter grim and great arose among the knights. He slew the child's guardian with a sword stroke from both his hands, that the head fell down before the table. It was sorry pay he gave the tutor. He saw a minstrel sitting at Etzel's table, and sprang at him in wrath, and lopped off his right hand on his viol: "Take that for the message thou broughtest to the Burgundians."
"Woe is me for my hand!" cried Werbel. "Sir Hagen of Trony, what have I done to thee? I rode with true heart to thy master's land. How shall I make my music now?"
Little recked Hagen if he never fiddled more. He quenched on Etzel's knights, in the house there, his grim lust for blood, and smote to death not a few.
Swift Folker sprang from the table; his fiddle-bow rang loud. Harsh were the tunes of Gunther's minstrel. Ha! many a foe he made among the Huns!
The three kings, too, rose hastily. They would have parted them or more harm was done. But they could not, for Folker and Hagen were beside themselves with rage.