When the King of Rhineland could not stint the strife, he, also, smote many a deep wound through the shining harness of his foemen. Well he showed his hardihood.
Then stark Gernot came into the battle, and slew many Huns with the sharp sword that Rudeger had given him. He brought many of Etzel's knights to their graves therewith.
Uta's youngest son sprang into the fray, and pierced the helmets of Etzel's knights valiantly with his weapon. Bold Giselher's hand did wonderly.
But howso valiant all the others were, the kings and their men, Folker stood up bolder than any against the foes; he was a hero; he wounded many, that they fell down in their blood.
Etzel's liegemen warded them well, but the guests hewed their way with their bright swords up and down the hall. From all sides came the sound of wailing. They that were without would gladly have won in to their friends, but could not; and they that were within would have won out, but Dankwart let none of them up the stair or down. Then a great crowd gathered before the door, and the swords clanged loud upon the helmets, so that Dankwart came in much scathe. Hagen feared for him, as was meet, and he cried aloud to Folker, "Comrade, seest thou my brother beset by the stark blows of the Huns? Save him, friend, or we lose the warrior."
"That will I, without fail," said the minstrel; and he began to fiddle his way through the hall; it was a hard sword that rang in his hand. Great thank he won from the knights of the Rhine.
He said to Dankwart, "Thou hast toiled hard to-day. Thy brother bade me come to thy help. Do thou go without, and I will stand within."
Dankwart went outside the door and guarded the stair. Loud din made the weapons of the heroes. Inside, Folker the Burgundian did the like. The bold fiddler cried above the crowd, "The house is well warded, friend Hagen; Etzel's door is barred by the hands of two knights that have made it fast with a thousand bolts."
When Hagen saw the door secured, the famous knight and good threw back his shield, and began to avenge the death of his friend in earnest. Many a valiant knight suffered for his wrath.
When the Prince of Bern saw the wonders that Hagen wrought, and the helmets that he brake, he sprang on to a bench, and cried, "Hagen poureth out the bitterest wine of all."
The host and his wife fell in great fear. Many a dear friend was slain before their eyes. Etzel himself scarce escaped from his foemen. He sat there affrighted. What did it profit him that he was a king?
Proud Kriemhild cried to Dietrich, "Help me, noble knight, by the princely charity of an Amelung king, to come hence alive. If Hagen reach me, death standeth by my side."
"How can I help thee, noble queen? I cannot help myself. Gunther's men are so grimly wroth that I can win grace for none."
"Nay now, good Sir Dietrich, show thy mercy, and help me hence or I die. Save me and the king from this great peril."
"I will try. Albeit, for long, I have not seen good knights in such a fury. The blood gusheth from the helmets at their sword-strokes."
The chosen knight shouted with a loud voice that rang out like the blast of a buffalo horn, so that all the castle echoed with its strength, for stark and of mickle might was Dietrich.
King Gunther heard his cry above the din of strife, and hearkened. He said, "The voice of Dietrich hath reached me. I ween our knights have slain some of his men. I see him on the table, beckoning with his hand. Friends and kinsmen of Burgundy, hold, that we may learn what we have done to Dietrich's hurt."
When King Gunther had begged and prayed them, they lowered their swords. Thereby Gunther showed his might, that they smote no blow. Then he asked the Prince of Bern what he wanted. He said, "Most noble Dietrich, what hurt have my friends done thee? I will make it good. Sore grieved were I, had any done thee scathe."
But Sir Dietrich answered, "Naught hath been done against me. With thy safe-conduct let me quit this hall, and the bitter strife, with my men. For this I will ever serve thee."
"Why ask this grace?" said Wolfhart. "The fiddler hath not barred the door so fast that we cannot set it wide, and go forth."
"Hold thy peace," cried Dietrich. "Thou hast played the Devil."
Then Gunther answered, "I give thee leave. Lead forth few or many, so they be not my foemen. These shall tarry within, for great wrong have I suffered from the Huns."
When the knight of Bern heard that, he put one arm round the queen, for she was greatly affrighted, and with the other he led out Etzel. Six hundred good knights followed Dietrich.
Then said noble Rudeger, the Margrave, "If any more of them that love and would serve thee may win from this hall, let us hear it; that peace may endure, as is seemly, betwixt faithful friends."
Straightway Giselher answered his father-in-law. "Peace and love be betwixt us. Thou and thy liegemen have been ever true to us, wherefore depart with thy friends, fearing nothing."
When Sir Rudeger left the hall, five hundred or more went out with him. The Burgundian knights did honourably therein, but King Gunther suffered scathe for it after.
One of the Huns would have saved himself when he saw King Etzel go out with Dietrich, but the fiddler smote him such a blow that his head fell down at Etzel's feet.
When the king of the land was gone out from the house, he turned and looked at Folker. "Woe is me for such guests! It is a hard and bitter thing that all my knights fall dead before them! Alack! this hightide!" wailed the great king. "There is one within that hight Folker. He is liker a wild boar than a fiddler. I thank Heaven that I escaped the devil. His tunes are harsh; his bow is red. His notes smite many a hero dead. I know not what this minstrel hath against us. Never was guest so unwelcome."
The knight of Bern, and Sir Rudeger, went each to his lodging. They desired not to meddle with the strife, and they bade their men avoid the fray.
Had the guests known what hurt the twain would do them after, they had not won so lightly from the hall, but had gotten a stroke from the bold ones in passing.
All that they would let go were gone. Then arose a mighty din. The guests avenged them bitterly. Ha! many a helmet did Folker break!
King Gunther turned his ear to the noise. "Dost thou hear the tunes, Hagen, that Folker playeth yonder on the Huns, when any would win through the door? The hue of his bow is red."
"It repenteth me sore," spake Hagen, "to be parted from the knight. I was his comrade, and he mine. If we win home again, we shall ever be true friends. See now, great king, how he serveth thee. He earneth thy silver and thy gold. His fiddle-bow cleaveth the hard steel, and scattereth on the ground the bright jewels on the helmets. Never have I seen a minstrel make such stand. His measures ring through helmet and shield. Good horse shall he ride, and wear costly apparel."
Of the Huns that had been in the hall, not one was left alive. The tumult fell, for there was none to fight, and the bold warriors laid down their swords.
How They Threw Down the Dead
The knights sat down through weariness. Folker and Hagen went out before the hall. There the overweening men leaned on their shields and spake together.
Then said Giselher of Burgundy, "Rest not yet, dear friends. Ye must carry the dead out of the house. We shall be set upon again; trow my word. These cannot lie longer among our feet. Or the Huns overcome us, we will hew many wounds; to the which I am nothing loth."
"Well for me that I have such a lord," answered Hagen. "This counsel suiteth well such a knight as our young master hath approved him this day. Ye Burgundians have cause to rejoice."
They did as he commanded, and bare the seven thousand dead bodies to the door, and threw them out. They fell down at the foot of the stair. Then arose a great wail from their kinsmen. Some of them were so little wounded that, with softer nursing, they had come to. Now, from the fall, these died also. Their friends wept and made bitter dole.
Then said bold Folker the fiddler, "Now I perceive they spake the truth that told me the Huns were cowards. They weep like women, when they might tend these wounded bodies."
A Margrave that was there deemed he meant this truly. He saw one of his kinsmen lying in his blood, and put his arms round him to bear him away. Him the minstrel shot dead.
When the others saw this, they fled, and began to curse Folker. With that, he lifted a sharp spear and hard from the ground, that a Hun had shot at him, and hurled it strongly across the courtyard, over the heads of the folk. Etzel's men took their stand further off, for they all feared his might.
Then came Etzel with his men before the hall. Folker and Hagen began to speak out their mind to the King of the Huns. They suffered for it or all was done.
"It is well for a people when its kings fight in the forefront of the strife as doeth each of my masters. They hew the helmets, and the blood spurteth out."
Etzel was brave, and he grasped his shield. "Have a care," cried Kriemhild, "and offer thy knights gold heaped upon the shield. If Hagen reach thee, thou hast death at thy hand."
But the king was so bold he would not stop; the which is rare enow among great princes to-day. They had to pull him back by his shield-thong; whereat grim Hagen began to mock anew. "Siegfried's darling and Etzel's are near of kin. Siegfried had Kriemhild to wife or ever she saw thee. Coward king, thou, of all men, shouldst bear me no grudge."
When Kriemhild heard him, she was bitterly wroth that he durst mock her before Etzel's warriors, and she strove to work them woe. She said, "To him that will slay Hagen of Trony and bring me his head, I will fill Etzel's shield with red gold. Thereto, he shall have, for his meed, goodly castles and land."
"I know not why ye hang back," said the minstrel. "I never yet saw heroes stand dismayed that had the offer of such pay. Etzel hath small cause to love you. I see many cowards standing here that eat the king's bread, and fail him now in his sore need, and yet call themselves bold knights. Shame upon them!"
Great Etzel was grieved enow. He wept sore for his dead men and kinsmen. Valiant warriors of many lands stood round him, and bewailed his great loss with him.
Then bold Folker mocked them again. "I see many high-born knights weeping here, that help their king little in his need. Long have they eaten his bread with shame."
The best among them thought, "He sayeth sooth."
But none mourned so inly as Iring, the hero of Denmark; the which was proven or long by his deeds.
How Iring Was Slain
Then cried Iring, the Margrave of Denmark, "I have long followed honour, and done not amiss in battle. Bring me my harness, and I will go up against Hagen."
"Thou hadst better not," answered Hagen, "or thy kinsmen will have more to weep for. Though ye spring up two or three together, ye would fall down the stair the worse for it."
"I care not," said Iring. "I have oft tried as hard a thing. With my single sword I would defy thee, if thou hadst done twice as much in the strife."
Sir Iring armed him straightway. Irnfried of Thuringia, likewise, a bold youth, and Hawart the stark, with a thousand men that were fain to stand by Iring.
When the fiddler saw so great an armed host with him, wearing bright helmets on their heads, he was wroth. "Behold how Iring cometh hither, that vowed to encounter thee alone. It beseemeth not a knight to lie. I blame him much. A thousand armed knights or more come with him."
"Call me no liar," said Hawart's liegeman. "I will gladly abide by my word, nor fail therein through fear. How grim soever Hagen may be, I will meet him alone."
Iring fell at the feet of his kinsmen and vassals, that they might let him defy the knight in single combat. They were loth, for they knew proud Hagen of Burgundy well. But he prayed them so long that they consented. When his followers saw that he wooed honour, they let him go. Then began a deadly strife betwixt them.
Iring of Denmark, the chosen knight, raised his spear; then he covered his body with his shield, and sprang at Hagen. The heroes made a loud din. They hurled their spears so mightily from their hands, that they pierced through the strong bucklers to the bright harness, and the shafts flew high in the air. Then the grimly bold men grasped their swords.
Hagen was strong beyond measure, yet Iring smote him, that all the house rang. Palace and tower echoed their blows. But neither had the advantage.
Iring left Hagen unwounded, and sprang at the fiddler. He thought to vanquish him by his mighty blows. But the gleeman stood well on his guard, and smote his foeman, that the steel plate of his buckler flew off. He was a terrible man.
Then Iring ran at Gunther, the King of Burgundy.
Fell enow were the twain. But though each smote fiercely at the other, they drew no blood. Their good harness shielded them.
He left Gunther, and ran at Gernot, and began to strike sparks from his mailcoat, but King Gernot of Burgundy well-nigh slew him. Then he sprang from the princes, for he was right nimble, and soon had slain four Burgundians from Worms beyond the Rhine. Giselher was greatly wroth thereat. "Now by God, Sir Iring," he cried, "thou shalt pay for them that lie dead!" and he fell on him. He smote the Dane, that began to stagger, and dropped down among the blood, so that all deemed the doughty warrior would never strike another blow. Yet Iring lay unwounded withal before Giselher. From the noise of his helmet and the clang of the sword his wits left him, and he lay in a swoon. That had Giselher done with his strong arm.
When the noise of the blow had cleared from his brain, he thought, "I live still, and am unwounded. Now I know the strength of Giselher." He heard his foemen on both sides. Had they been ware how it stood with him, worse had befallen him. He heard Giselher also, and he pondered by what device he might escape them. He sprang up furiously from among the blood. Well his swiftness served him. He fled from the house, past Hagen, and gave him a stout stroke as he ran.
"Ha!" thought Hagen, "Thou shalt die for this. The Devil help thee, or thou art a dead man." But Iring wounded Hagen through the helmet. He did it with Vasky, a goodly weapon.
When Hagen felt the wound, he swung his sword fiercely, that Hawart's man must needs fly. Hagen followed him down the stair. But Iring held his shield above his head. Had the stair been thrice as long, Hagen had not left him time for a single thrust. Ha! what red sparks flew from his helmet! Yet, safe withal, Iring reached his friends.
When Kriemhild heard what he had done to Hagen of Trony in the strife, she thanked him. "God quit thee, Iring, thou hero undismayed! thou hast comforted me, heart and soul, for I see Hagen's harness red with blood." The glad queen took the shield from his hand herself.
"Stint thy thanks," said Hagen. "There is scant cause for them. If he tried it again, he were in sooth a bold man. The wound I got from him will serve thee little. The blood thou seest on my harness but urgeth me to slay the more. Only now, for the first time, I am wroth indeed. Sir Iring hath done me little hurt."
Iring of Denmark stood against the wind, and cooled him in his harness, with his helmet unlaced; and all the folk praised his hardihood, that the Margrave's heart was uplifted. He said, "Friends, arm me anew. I will essay it again. Haply I may vanquish this overweening man." His shield was hewn in pieces; they brought him a better straight.
The warrior was soon armed, and stronger than afore. Wrothfully he seized a stark spear, wherewith he defied Hagen yet again. He had won more profit and honour had he let it be.
Hagen waited not for his coming. Hurling darts, and with drawn sword, he sprang down the stairs in a fury. Iring's strength availed him little. They smote at each other's shields, that glowed with a fire-red wind. Through his helmet and his buckler, Hawart's man was wounded to the death by Hagen's sword. He was never whole again.
When Sir Iring felt the wound, he raised his shield higher to guard his head, for he perceived that he was sore hurt. But Gunther's man did worse to him yet. He found a spear lying at his feet, and hurled it at Iring, the knight of Denmark, that it stuck out on the other side of his head. The overweening knight made a grim end of his foeman.
Iring fell back among his friends. Or they did off his helmet, they drew the spear out. Then death stood at hand. Loud mourned his friends; their sorrow was bitter.
The queen came, and began to weep for stark Iring. She wept for his wounds, and was right doleful. But the undismayed hero spake before his kinsmen, "Weep not, noble lady. What avail thy tears? I must die from these wounds that I have gotten. Death will not leave me longer to thee and Etzel."
Then he said to them of Thuringia and Denmark, "See that none of you take the gifts of the queen—her bright gold so red. If ye fight with Hagen ye must die."
His cheek was pale; he bare death's mark. They grieved enow; for Hawart's man would nevermore be whole. Then they of Denmark must needs to the fray.
Irnfried and Hawart sprang forward with a thousand knights. The din was loud over all. Ha! what sharp spears were hurled at the Burgundians! Bold Irnfried ran at the gleeman, and came in scathe by his hand. The fiddler smote the Landgrave through his strong helmet, for he was grim enow. Then Irnfried gave Folker a blow, that the links of his hauberk brake asunder, and his harness grew red like fire. Yet, for all, the Landgrave fell dead before the fiddler.
Hawart and Hagen closed in strife. Had any seen it, they had beheld wonders. They smote mightily with their swords. Hawart died by the knight of Burgundy.
When the Thuringians and Danes saw their masters slain, they rushed yet fiercer against the house, and grisly was the strife or they won to the door. Many a helmet and buckler were hewn in pieces.
"Give way," cried Folker, "and let them in. They shall not have their will, but, in lieu thereof, shall perish. They will earn the queen's gift with their death."
The proud warriors thronged into the hall, but many an one bowed his head, slain by swift blows. Well fought bold Gernot; the like did Giselher.
A thousand and four came in. Keen and bright flashed the swords; but all the knights died. Great wonders might be told of the Burgundians.
When the tumult fell, there was silence. Over all, the blood of the dead men trickled through the crannies into the gutters below. They of the Rhine had done this by their prowess.
Then the Burgundians sat and rested, and laid down their weapons and their shields. The bold gleeman went out before the house, and waited, lest any more should come to fight.
The king and his wife wailed loud. Maids and wives beat their breasts. I ween that Death had sworn an oath against them, for many a knight was yet to die by the hands of the strangers.
How the Queen Bad Them Burn Down the Hall
"Now do off your helmets," said Hagen the knight. "I and my comrade will keep watch. And if Etzel's men try it again, I will warn my masters straightway."
Then many a good warrior unlaced his helmet. They sat down on the bodies that had fallen in the blood by their hands. With bitter hate the guests were spied at by the Huns.
Before nightfall the king and queen had prevailed on the men of Hungary to dare the combat anew. Twenty thousand or more stood before them ready for battle. These hasted to fall on the strangers.
Dankwart, Hagen's brother, sprang from his masters to the foemen at the door. They thought he was slain, but he came forth alive.
The strife endured till the night. The guests, as beseemed good warriors, had defended them against Etzel's men all through the long summer day. Ha! what doughty heroes lay dead before them. It was on a midsummer that the great slaughter fell, when Kriemhild avenged her heart's dole on her nearest kinsmen, and on many another man, and all King Etzel's joy was ended. Yet she purposed not at the first to bring it to such a bloody encounter, but only to kill Hagen; but the Devil contrived it so, that they must all perish.
The day was done; they were in sore straits. They deemed a quick death had been better than long anguish. The proud knights would fain have had a truce. They asked that the king might be brought to them.
The heroes, red with blood, and blackened with the soil of their harness, stepped out of the hall with the three kings. They knew not whom to bewail their bitter woe to.
Both Etzel and Kriemhild came. The land all round was theirs, and many had joined their host. Etzel said to the guests, "What would ye with me? Haply ye seek for peace. That can hardly be, after such wrong as ye have done me and mine. Ye shall pay for it while I have life. Because of my child that ye slew, and my many men, nor peace nor truce shall ye have."
Gunther answered, "A great wrong constrained us thereto. All my followers perished in their lodging by the hands of thy knights. What had I done to deserve that? I came to see thee in good faith, for I deemed thou wert my friend."
Then said Giselher, the youth, of Burgundy, "Ye knights of King Etzel that yet live, what have ye against me? How had I wronged you?—I that rode hither with loving heart?"
They answered, "Thy love hath filled all the castles of this country with mourning. We had gladly been spared thy journey from Worms beyond the Rhine. Thou hast orphaned the land—thou and thy brothers."
Then cried Gunther in wrath, "If ye would lay from you this stark hate against us homeless ones, it were well for both sides, for we are guiltless before Etzel."
But the host answered the guests, "My scathe is greater than thine; because of the mickle toil of the strife, and its shame, not one of you shall come forth alive."
Then said stark Gernot to the king, "Herein, at the least, incline thy heart to do mercifully with us. Stand back from the house, that we win out to you. We know that our life is forfeit; let what must come, come quickly. Thou hast many knights unwounded; let them fall on us, and give us battle-weary ones rest. How long wouldst thou have us strive?"
King Etzel's knights would have let them forth, but when Kriemhild heard it, she was wroth, and even this boon was denied to the strangers.
"Nay now, ye Huns, I entreat you, in good faith, that ye let not these lusters after blood come out from the hall, lest thy kinsmen all perish miserably. If none of them were left alive save Uta's children, my noble brothers, and won they to the air to cool their harness, ye were lost. Bolder knights were never born into the world."
Then said young Giselher, "Fairest sister mine, right evil I deem it that thou badest me across the Rhine to this bitter woe. How have I deserved death from the Huns? I was ever true to thee, nor did thee any hurt. I rode hither, dearest sister, for that I trusted to thy love. Needs must thou show mercy."
"I will show no mercy, for I got none. Bitter wrong did Hagen of Trony to me in my home yonder, and here he hath slain my child. They that came with him must pay for it. Yet, if ye will deliver Hagen captive, I will grant your prayer, and let you live; for ye are my brothers, and the children of one mother. I will prevail upon my knights here to grant a truce."
"God in Heaven forbid!" cried Gernot. "Though we were a thousand, liefer would we all die by thy kinsmen, than give one single man for our ransom. That we will never do."
"We must perish then," said Giselher; "but we will fall as good knights. We are still here; would any fight with us? I will never do falsely by my friend."
Cried bold Dankwart too (he had done ill to hold his peace), "My brother Hagen standeth not alone. They that have denied us quarter may rue it yet. By my troth, ye will find it to your cost."
Then said the queen, "Ye heroes undismayed, go forward to the steps and avenge our wrong. I will thank you forever, and with cause. I will requite Hagen's insolence to the full. Let not one of them forth at any point, and I will let kindle the hall at its four sides. So will my heart's dole be avenged."
Etzel's knights were not loth. With darts and with blows they drave back into the house them that stood without. Loud was the din; but the princes and their men were not parted, nor failed they in faith to one another.
Etzel's wife bade the hall be kindled, and they tormented the bodies of the heroes with fire. The wind blew, and the house was soon all aflame. Folk never suffered worse, I ween. There were many that cried, "Woe is me for this pain! Liefer had we died in battle. God pity us, for we are all lost. The queen taketh bitter vengeance."
One among them wailed, "We perish by the smoke and the fire. Grim is our torment. The stark heat maketh me so athirst, that I die."
Said Hagen of Trony, "Ye noble knights and good, let any that are athirst drink the blood. In this heat it is better than wine, and there is naught sweeter here."
Then went one where he found a dead body. He knelt by the wounds, and did off his helmet, and began to drink the streaming blood. Albeit he was little used thereto, he deemed it right good. "God quit thee, Sir Hagen!" said the weary man, "I have learned a good drink. Never did I taste better wine. If I live, I will thank thee."
When the others heard his praise, many more of them drank the blood, and their bodies were strengthened, for the which many a noble woman paid through her dear ones.
The fire-flakes fell down on them in the hall, but they warded them off with their shields. Both the smoke and the fire tormented them. Never before suffered heroes such sore pain.
Then said Hagen of Trony, "Stand fast by the wall. Let not the brands fall on your helmets. Trample them with your feet deeper in the blood. A woeful hightide is the queen's."
The night ended at last. The bold gleeman, and Hagen, his comrade, stood before the house and leaned upon their shields. They waited for further hurt from Etzel's knights. It advantaged the strangers much that the roof was vaulted. By reason thereof more were left alive. Albeit they at the windows suffered scathe, they bared them valiantly, as their bold hearts bade them.
Then said the fiddler, "Go we now into the hall, that the Huns deem we be all dead from this torment, albeit some among them shall yet feel our might."
Giselher, the youth, of Burgundy, said, "It is daybreak, I ween. A cool wind bloweth. God grant we may see happier days. My sister Kriemhild hath bidden us to a doleful hightide."
One of them spake, "I see the dawn. Since we can do no better, arm you, ye knights, for battle, that, come we never hence, we may die with honour."
Etzel deemed the guests were all dead of their travail and the stress of the fire. But six hundred bold men yet lived. Never king had better knights. They that kept ward over the strangers had seen that some were left, albeit the princes and their men had suffered loss and dole. They saw many that walked up and down in the house.
They told Kriemhild that many were left alive, but the queen answered, "It cannot be. None could live in that fire. I trow they all lie dead."
The kings and their men had still gladly asked for mercy, had there been any to show it. But there was none in the whole country of the Huns. Wherefore they avenged their death with willing hand.
They were greeted early in the morning with a fierce onslaught, and came in great scathe. Stark spears were hurled at them. Well the knights within stood on their defence.
Etzel's men were the bolder, that they might win Kriemhild's fee. Thereto, they obeyed the king gladly; but soon they looked on death.
One might tell marvels of her gifts and promises. She bade them bear forth red gold upon shields, and gave thereof to all that desired it, or would take it. So great treasure was never given against foemen.
The host of warriors came armed to the hall. The fiddler said, "We are here. I never was gladder to see any knights than those that have taken the king's gold to our hurt."
Not a few of them cried out, "Come nigher, ye heroes! Do your worst, and make an end quickly, for here are none but must die."
Soon their bucklers were filled full of darts. What shall I say more? Twelve hundred warriors strove once and again to win entrance. The guests cooled their hardihood with wounds. None could part the strife. The blood flowed from death-deep wounds. Many were slain. Each bewailed some friend. All Etzel's worthy knights perished. Their kinsmen sorrowed bitterly.
How Rudeger Was Slain
The strangers did valiantly that morning. Gotelind's husband came into the courtyard and saw the heavy loss on both sides, whereat the true man wept inly.
"Woe is me," said the knight, "that ever I was born, since none can stop this strife! Fain would I have them at one again, but the king holdeth back, for he seeth always more done to his hurt."
Good Rudeger sent to Dietrich, that they might seek to move the great king. But the knight of Bern sent back answer, "Who can hinder it? King Etzel letteth none intercede."
A knight of the Huns, that had oft seen Rudeger standing with wet eyes, said to the queen, "Look how he standeth yonder, that Etzel hath raised above all others, and that hath land and folk at his service. Why hath Rudeger so many castles from the king? He hath struck no blow in this battle. I ween he careth little for our scathe, so long as he has enow for himself. They say he is bolder than any other. Ill hath he shown it in our need."
The faithful man, when he heard that word, looked angrily at the knight. He thought, "Thou shalt pay for this. Thou callest me a coward. Thou hast told thy tale too loud at court."
He clenched his fist, and ran at him, and smote the Hun so fiercely that he fell down at his feet, dead. Whereat Etzel's grief waxed anew.
"Away with thee, false babbler!" cried Rudeger. "I had trouble and sorrow enow. What was it to thee that I fought not? Good cause have I also to hate the strangers, and had done what I could against them, but that I brought them hither. I was their escort into my master's land, and may not lift my wretched hand against them."
Then said Etzel, the great king, to the Margrave, "How hast thou helped us, most noble Rudeger? We had dead men enow in the land, and needed no more. Evilly hast thou done."
But the knight answered, "He angered me, and twitted me with the honour and the wealth thou hast bestowed on me so plenteously. It hath cost the liar dear."
Then came the queen, that had seen the Hun perish by Rudeger's wrath. She mourned for him with wet eyes, and said to Rudeger, "What have we ever done to thee that thou shouldst add to our sorrow? Thou hast oft times promised, noble Rudeger, that thou wouldst risk, for our sake, both honour and life, and I have heard many warriors praise thee for thy valour. Hast thou forgotten the oath thou swearest to me with thy hand, good knight, when thou didst woo me for King Etzel—how that thou wouldst serve me till my life's end, or till thine? Never was my need greater than now."
"It is true, noble lady. I promised to risk for thee honour and life, but I sware not to lose my soul. I brought the princes to this hightide."
She said, "Remember, Rudeger, thy faith, and thine oath to avenge all my hurt and my woe."
The Margrave answered, "I have never said thee nay."
Etzel began to entreat likewise. They fell at his feet. Sore troubled was the good Margrave. Full of grief, he cried, "Woe is me that ever I saw this hour, for God hath forsaken me. All my duty to Heaven, mine honour, my good faith, my knightliness, I must forego. God above have pity, and let me die! Whether I do this thing, or do it not, I sin. And if I take the part of neither, all the world will blame me. Let Him that made me guide me."
Still the king and his wife implored him. Whence it fell that many valiant warriors lost their lives at his hand, and the hero himself was slain. Hear ye now the tale of his sorrow. Well he knew he could win naught but teen and scathe. Fain had he denied the prayer of the king and queen. He feared, if he slew but one man, that the world would loathe him evermore.
Then the bold man said to the king, "Take back what thou hast given me—castles and land. Leave me nothing at all. I will go forth afoot into exile. I will take my wife and my daughter by the hand, and I will quit thy country empty, rather than I will die dishonoured. I took thy red gold to my hurt."
King Etzel answered, "Who will help me then? Land and folk I gave to thee, Rudeger, that thou mightest avenge me on my foes. Thou shalt rule with Etzel as a great king."
But Rudeger said, "How can I do it? I bade them to my house and home; I set meat and drink before them, and gave them my gifts. Shall I also smite them dead? The folk may deem me a coward. But I have always served them well. Should I fight with them now, it were ill done. Deep must I rue past friendship. I gave my daughter to Giselher. None better in this world had she found, of so great lineage and honour, and faith, and wealth. Never saw I young king so virtuous."
But Kriemhild answered, "Most noble Rudeger, take pity on us both. Bethink thee that never host had guests like these."
Then said the Margrave, "What thou and my master have given me I must pay for, this day, with my life. I shall die, and that quickly. Well I know that, or nightfall, my lands and castles will return to your keeping. To your grave I commend my wife and my child, and the homeless ones that are at Bechlaren."
"God reward thee, Rudeger," cried the king. He and the queen were both glad. "Thy folk shall be well seen to; but thou thyself, I trow, will come off scatheless."
So he put his soul and body on the hazard. Etzel's wife began to weep. He said, "I must keep my vow to thee. Woe is me for my friends, that I must fall upon in mine own despite!"
They saw him turn heavily from the king. To his knights that stood close by, he said, "Arm ye, my men all. For I must fight the Burgundians, to my sorrow."
The heroes called for their harness, and the attendants brought helm and buckler. Soon the proud strangers heard the sad news.
Rudeger stood armed with five hundred men, and twelve knights that went with him, to win worship in the fray. They knew not that death was so near.
Rudeger went forth with his helmet on; his men carried sharp swords, and, thereto, broad shields and bright. The fiddler saw this, and was dismayed. But when Giselher beheld his father-in-law with his helmet on, he weened that he meant them well. The noble king was right glad. "Well for me that I have such friends," cried Giselher, "as these we won by the way! For my wife's sake he will save us. By my faith, I am glad to be wed."
"Thy trust is vain," said the fiddler. "When ever did ye see so many knights come in peace, with helmets laced on, and with swords? Rudeger cometh to serve for his castles and his lands."
Or the fiddler had made an end of speaking, Rudeger, the noble man, stood before the house. He laid his good shield before his feet. He must needs deny greeting to his friends.
Then the Margrave shouted into the hall, "Stand on your defence, ye bold Nibelungs. I would have helped you, but must slay you. Once we were friends, but I cannot keep my faith."
The sore-tired men were dismayed at this word. Their comfort was gone, for he that they loved was come against them. From their foemen they had suffered enow.
"God in Heaven forbid," said Gunther the knight, "that thou shouldst be false to the friendship and the faith wherein we trusted. It cannot be."
"I cannot help it," said Rudeger. "I must fight with you, for I have vowed it. As ye love your lives, bold warriors, ward you well. King Etzel's wife will have it so."
"Thou turnest too late," said the king. "God reward thee, noble Rudeger, for the truth and the love thou hast shown us, if it endure but to the end. We shall ever thank and serve thee for the rich gifts thou gavest to me and my kinsmen, when thou broughtest us with true heart into Etzel's land: so thou let us live. Think well thereon, noble Rudeger."
"Gladly would I grant it," said the knight. "Might I but give thee freely, as I would, with none to chide me!"
"Give that no thought," said Gernot. "Never host entreated guests so kindly as thou us; the which will advantage thee if we live."
"Would to God, noble Gernot," cried Rudeger, "that ye were at the Rhine, and I dead with honour, since I must fight with you! Never strangers were worse entreated by friends."
"God reward thee, Sir Rudeger," answered Gernot, "for thy rich gifts. I should rue thy death, for in thee a virtuous man would fall. Behold, good knight, the sword thou gavest, in my hand. It hath never failed me in my need. Its edge hath killed many a warrior. It is finely tempered and stark, and thereto bright and good. So goodly a gift, I ween, never knight will give more. If thou forbear not, but fall upon us, and slay any of my kinsmen here, thou shalt perish by thine own sword! Much I pity thee and thy wife."
"Would to God, Sir Gernot, thou hadst thy will, and thy friends were out of peril! To thee I would entrust wife and daughter."
Then said the youngest of fair Uta's sons, "How canst thou do this thing, Sir Rudeger? All that came hither with me are thy friends. A vile deed is this. Thou makest thy daughter too soon a widow. If thou and thy knights defy us, ill am I apayed, that I trusted thee before all other men, when I won thy daughter for my wife."
"Forget not thy troth, noble king, if God send thee hence," answered Rudeger. "Let not the maiden suffer for my sin. By thine own princely virtue, withdraw not thy favour from her."
"Fain would I promise it," said Giselher the youth. "Yet if my high-born kinsmen perish here by thy hand, my love for thee and thy daughter must perish also."
"Then God have mercy!" cried the brave man; whereat he lifted his shield, and would have fallen upon the guests in Kriemhild's hall.
But Hagen called out to him from the stairhead, "Tarry awhile, noble Rudeger. Let me and my masters speak with thee yet awhile in our need. What shall it profit Etzel if we knights die in a strange land? I am in evil case," said Hagen. "The shield that Gotelind gave me to carry, the Huns have hewn from my hand. In good faith I bore it hither. Would to God I had such a shield as thou hast, noble Rudeger! A better I would not ask for in the battle."
"I would gladly give thee my shield, durst I offer it before Kriemhild. Yet take it, Hagen, and wear it. Ha! mightest thou but win with it to Burgundy!"
When they saw him give the shield so readily, there were eyes enow red with hot tears. It was the last gift that Rudeger of Bechlaren ever gave.
Albeit Hagen was grim and stern, he was melted by the gift that the good knight, so night to his end, had given him. And many a warrior mourned with him.
"Now God reward thee, noble Rudeger; there will never be thy like again for giving freely to homeless knights. May the fame of thy charity live for ever. Sad news hast thou brought me. We had trouble enow. God pity us if we must fight with friends."
The Margrave answered, "Thou grievest not more than I."
"I will requite thee for thy gift, brave Rudeger. Whatever betide thee from these knights, my hand will not touch thee—not if thou slewest every man of Burgundy."
Rudeger bowed, and thanked him. All the folk wept. Sore pity it was that none could stay the strife. The father of all virtue lay dead in Rudeger.
Then Folker the fiddler went to the door and said, "Since my comrade Hagen hath sworn peace, thou shalt have it also from my hand. Well didst thou earn it when we came first into this country. Noble Margrave, be my envoy. The Margravine gave me these red bracelets to war at the hightide. See them now, and bear witness that I did it."
"Would to God that the Margravine might give thee more! Doubt not but I shall tell my dear one, if I ever see her alive."
When he had promised that, Rudeger lifted up his shield; he waxed fierce, and tarried no longer. Like a knight he fell upon the guests. Many a swift blow he smote. Folker and Hagen stood back, for they had vowed it. But so many bold men stood by the door that Rudeger came in great scathe.
Athirst for blood, Gunther and Gernot let him pass in. Certes, they were heroes. Giselher drew back sorrowing. He hoped to live yet awhile; wherefore he avoided Rudeger in the strife.
Then the Margrave's men ran at their foemen, and followed their master like good knights. They carried sharp weapons, wherewith they clove many a helmet and buckler. The weary ones answered the men of Bechlaren with swift blows that pierced deep and straight through their harness to their life's blood. They did wonderly in the battle.
All the warriors were now in the hall. Folker and Hagen fell on them, for they had sworn to spare none save the one man. Their hands struck blood from the helmets. Right grim was the clash of swords! Many a shield-plate sprang in sunder, and the precious stones were scattered among the blood. So fiercely none will fight again. The prince of Bechlaren hewed a path right and left, as one acquainted with battle. Well did Rudeger approve him that day a bold and blameless knight. Gunther and Gernot smote many heroes dead. Giselher and Dankwart laid about them, fearing naught, and sent many a man to his doom.
Rudeger approved him stark enow, bold and well armed. Ha! many a knight he slew! One of the Burgundians saw this, and was wroth; whereat Rudeger's death drew nigh.
Gernot cried out to the Margrave, "Noble Rudeger; thou leavest none of my men alive. It irketh me sore; I will bear it no longer. I will turn thy gift against thee, for thou hast taken many friends from me. Come hither, thou bold man. What thou gavest me I will earn to the uttermost."
Or the Margrave had fought his way to him, bright bucklers grew dim with blood. Then, greedy of fame, the men ran at each other, and began to ward off the deadly wounds. But their swords were so sharp that nothing could withstand them. Rudeger the knight smote Gernot through his flint-hard helmet, that the blood brake out. Soon the good warrior was avenged. He swung Rudeger's gift on high, and, albeit he was wounded to the death, he smote him through his good shield and his helmet, that Gotelind's husband died. So rich a gift was never worse requited. So they fell in the strife—Gernot and Rudeger—slain by each other's hand.
Thereat Hagen waxed grimmer than afore. The hero of Trony said, "Great woe is ours. None can ever make good to their folk and their land the loss of these two knights. Rudeger's men shall pay for it." They gave no quarter. Many were struck down unwounded that had come to, but that they were drowned in the blood.
"Woe is me for my brother, fallen dead! Each hour bringeth fresh dole. For my father-in-law, Rudeger, I grieve also. Twofold is my loss and my sorrow."
When Giselher saw his brother slain, they that were in the hall suffered for it. Death lagged not behind. Of the men of Bechlaren there was left not a living soul.
Gunther and Giselher, and eke Hagen, Dankwart and Folker, the good knights, went where the two warriors lay, and there the heroes wept piteously.
"Death hath despoiled us sore," said Giselher the youth. "Stop your weeping, and go out to the air, that we strife-weary ones may cool our harness. God will not let us live longer, I ween."
They that were without saw them sitting, or leaning and taking their rest. Rudeger's men were all slain; the din was hushed. The silence endured so long that Etzel was angered, and the king's wife cried, "Woe is me for this treason. They speak too long. The bodies of our foemen are left unscathed by Rudeger's hand. He plotteth to guide them back to Burgundy. What doth it profit us, King Etzel, that we have shared all our wealth with him? The knight hath done falsely. He that should have avenged us cometh to terms with them."
But Folker, the valiant warrior, answered her, "Alack! it is not so, noble queen. If I might give the lie to one so high-born as thou art, thou hast foully slandered Rudeger. Sorry terms have he and his knights made with us. With such good will he did the king's bidding, that he and his men all lie dead. Look round thee for another, Kriemhild, to obey thee. Rudeger served thee till his death. If thou doubtest, thou mayest see for thyself."
To her grief they did it. They brought the mangled hero where Etzel saw him. Never were Etzel's knights so doleful. When the dead Margrave was held up before them, none could write or tell all the bitter wailing whereby women and men alike uttered their heart's dole. Etzel's woe was so great that the sound of his lamentation was as a lion's roar. Loud wept his wife. They mourned good Rudeger bitterly.
How Dietrich's Knights Were All Slain
So loud they wept on all sides, that palace and towers echoed with the sound. One of Dietrich's men of Bern heard it, and hasted with the news.
He said to the prince, "Hearken, Sir Dietrich. Never in my life heard I such wail as this. Methinketh the king himself hath joined the hightide. How else should all the folk make such dole. Either the king or Kriemhild—one of them at the least—have the guests killed through hate. The valiant warriors weep bitterly."
The prince of Bern answered, "Judge not so hastily, my good men. What the stranger knights have done, sore peril hath constrained them to. Let it boot them now that I sware peace to them."
But bold Wolfhart said, "I will go and ask what they have done, and will tell thee, dear master, when I know the truth."
Sir Dietrich answered, "When a knight is wroth, if one question him roughly, his anger is soon kindled. I would not have thee meddle therein, Wolfhart."
He bade Helfrich haste thither, and find out from Etzel's men, or from the guests, what had happed, for he had never heard folk wail so loud.
The messenger asked, "What aileth you all?"
One among them answered, "Joy is fled from the land of the Huns. Rudeger lieth slain by the men of Burgundy. Of them that entered in with him, not one is left alive."
Helfrich was sore grieved. He had never told so sad a tale, and went back weeping.
"What news?" cried Dietrich. "Why weepest thou so bitterly, Sir Helfrich?"
The knight answered, "I may well mourn. The Burgundians have slain Rudeger."
But the prince of Bern said, "God forbid! That were stark vengeance and devil's sport. What had Rudeger done to deserve it? Well I know he was their friend."
Wolfhart answered, "If they have done this, their life shall pay for it. It were shameful to endure it. For oft hath Rudeger's hand served us."
The prince of Amelung bade them inquire further. He sat down at a window sore troubled, and bade Hildebrand go to the guests, and ask them what had happened.
Master Hildebrand, bold in strife, took with him neither shield nor sword, and would have gone to them on peaceful wise. But his sister's child chid him. Grim Wolfhart cried, "Why goest thou naked? If they revile thee, thou wilt have the worst of the quarrel, and return shamed. If thou goest armed, none will withstand thee."
The old man armed him as the youth had counselled. Or he had ended, all Dietrich's knights stood in their harness, sword in hand. It irked the warrior, and he had gladly turned them from their purpose. He asked their intent.
"We would follow thee," they answered. "What if Hagen of Trony, as his wont is, mock thee?" Whereupon Hildebrand consented.
When bold Folker saw the knights of Bern, Dietrich's men, girt with swords, and coming armed, with shields in their hands, he told his masters of Burgundy. He said, "Dietrich's men draw nigh like foemen, armed, and in helmets. They come to defy us. I ween it will go hard with us forlorn ones."
Hildebrand came up while he spake. He laid his shield at his feet, and said to Gunther's men, "Alack! ye good knights! What have ye done to Rudeger? Dietrich, my master, sent me hither to ask if any here slew the good Margrave, as they tell us. We could ill endure such loss."
Hagen of Trony answered, "The news is true. Glad were I had the messenger lied to thee, for Rudeger's sake, and that he lived still. Both men and women must evermore bewail him."
When they heard he was dead in sooth, all the warriors wept, as was meet. Down beard and chin ran the tears of Dietrich's men. Right heavy were they and doleful.
A duke of Bern that hight Siegstab, cried, "Now is ended all the loving kindness wherewith Rudeger cheered our sad days. Ye have slain, in Rudeger, the friend of all homeless knights."
Sir Wolfwine of Amelung said, "I had not grieved more this day to see my father dead. Woe is me! Who will comfort the good Margravine?"
Sir Wolfhart cried angrily, "Who will lead the warriors forth to battle now, as Rudeger so oft hath done. Woe is me for brave Rudeger! We have lost him!"
Wolfbrand and Helfrich and eke Helmnot wept for his death with all their friends. Hildebrand could ask no more for grief. He said, "Grant now, ye warriors, that for which my master sent me. Give us dead Rudeger from out the hall, with whom all our joy hath perished, and let us requite him for all the kindness he hath shown to us and many another. Like him we are homeless. Why tarry ye? Let us bear him hence, and serve him dead, as we had gladly served him living."
Then said King Gunther, "No service is better than that of friends to a dead friend. I approve the true hearth of him that doeth it. Ye have cause to praise him. He hath shown you much love."
"How long shall we entreat?" cried Wolfhart. "Sith ye have slain our joy, and we can have him no more, let us bear him hence to bury him."
But Folker answered, "Ye shall get him from none here. Come and take him out of the house, where he lieth with his death-wounds in the blood. So shall ye serve Rudeger truly."
Cried bold Wolfhart, "God knoweth, sir fiddler, thou dost wrong to provoke us further; thou hast done us hurt enow. If I dared before my master, it would go hard with thee. We may not fight; he hath forbidden it."
The fiddler said, "He that avoideth all that is forbidden is over fearful. He hath not the right hero's heart."
Hagen approved the word of his comrade. But Wolfhart cried, "Give over mocking, or I will put thy fiddle-strings out of tune, that thou mayest have somewhat to tell, if ever thou ridest again to Burgundy. I can no longer, with honour, endure thine insolence."
The fiddler answered, "If thou spoilest my strings, my hand will dim thy helmet afore I ride back to Burgundy."
Wolfhart would have run at him, but his uncle, Hildebrand, held him fast and would not let him. "Thou art mad in thy foolish wrath. We should come in disgrace forever with my master."
"Let loose the lion that is so grim, sir knight. But if he fall into my hand," said Folker, "I will slay him, though he had laid the whole world dead. There will be an end of his hot answers."
Wolfhart fell in a fury thereat. He lifted his shield and sprang at him like a wild lion. His friends followed after. But, quick though he was, old Hildebrand came before any to the stair-way, that he might not be second in the fight. They found plenty to meet them among the strangers.
Hagen leapt upon Master Hildebrand. The weapons rang loud in their hands, for it was well seen they were wroth. A fire-red wind blew from their swords. But they were parted in the fray by the knights of Bern, that pressed in amain. So Master Hildebrand turned away from Hagen.
Stark Wolfhart ran at Folker. He smote the fiddler on his helmet, that the sword's edge cut into the beaver. The bold fiddler struck him such a blow that the sparks flew from his harness. Deadly was their hate. Then Sir Wolfwine parted them. If he was not a hero, there never was one. Gunther, the noble king, met the famed Amelung knights with ready hand. Sir Giselher made many a polished helmet red and wet with blood. Dankwart, Hagen's brother, was a grim man. All that he ha done afore to Etzel's warriors was but a wind to what he did now; fell and furious was Aldrian's child. Ritschart and Gerbart, Helfrich and Wichart, had never spared themselves in battle, the which they let Gunther's men see. Wolfbrand was undaunted in the strife. Old Hildebrand fought as he were mad. Many a good knight fell dead in the blood before the sword of Wolfhart. Rudeger was well avenged. Sir Siegstab did right valiantly. Ha! how many hard helmets Dietrich's sister's son brake to his foemen. Bolder in battle he could not have been.
When stark Folker saw that Siegstab struck blood from the hauberks, he was wroth, and leapt upon him and slew him. Such proof of his skill gave the fiddler that Siegstab died.
Hildebrand avenged him as beseemed his might. "Woe is me for my dear lord, that lieth slain by Folker's hand! Bitterly shall the fiddler pay for it." Certes, Hildebrand was grim enow. He smote Folker, that the gleeman's shield and helmet flew in splinters across the hall. That was an end of stark Folker.
Then Dietrich's men rushed in from all sides. They smote till the links of their foemen's mail whistled asunder, and their broken sword-points flew on high. They struck hot-flowing streams from the helmets.
When Hagen of Trony saw Folker dead, he grieved more bitterly than he had done yet, all the hightide, for kinsman or vassal. Alack! how grimly he began to avenge him!
"Old Hildebrand shall not go scatheless, for his hand hath slain my friend, the best comrade I ever had."
He raised his shield, and hewed his way right and left.
Helfrich slew stark Dankwart. Doleful enow were Gunther and Giselher when they saw him fall in his bitter pains. Yet he had well avenged his death with his own hand.
Albeit many mighty princes of many lands were gathered there against the little band, their prowess had brought them forth alive, had not the Christian folk turned foemen.
Meantime, Wolfhart went to and fro, and hewed down Gunther's men. He cut his way round the hall thrice. Many a knight fell before him.
Then cried stark Giselher to Wolfhart, "Woe is me, that I have so grim a foe! Come hither, bold warrior, and I will make an end of this. Longer it shall not endure."
Wolfhart turned to Giselher in the strife. They gave one another wide wounds. So fiercely Wolfhart sprang at him that the blood under his feet spurted over his head.
Fair Uta's child welcomed Wolfhart, the bold knight, with swift blows. Albeit the warrior was mighty, he perished. Never king so young was so valiant. He smote Wolfhart through his goodly harness, that blood flowed down from the gash: he wounded Dietrich's man to the death. None save a hero had done it.
When Wolfhart felt the sword-cut, he threw away his shield, and lifted a mighty and sharp weapon, wherewith, through helmet and harness, he slew Giselher. They gave each other a grim death, for Dietrich's man fell likewise.
Old Hildebrand grieved sore when he saw Wolfhart fall. All Gunther's men and Dietrich's were dead, and he went where Wolfhart lay in the blood, and put his arm round him to bear him away out of the house. But he was too heavy, so he must needs let him lie. Then the deadly wounded man looked up from among the blood, and saw that his uncle would have helped him, and he said, "Dearest uncle, no help availeth me. Thou didest better to beware of Hagen, for grim and fell is his heart. And if my kinsmen, my nearest and my best, mourn for me hereafter, say that they weep without cause, for that I died gloriously by the hand of a king. In the fight I have so well avenged me that many a warrior's wife shall wail. If any question thee, tell him straight that, with my single hand, I slew an hundred."
Then Hagen thought on the fiddler that old Hildebrand had slain, and he said to the knight, "Thou shalt pay for my teen. Thou hast robbed us of many a good warrior." He smote Hildebrand, that Balmung, the sword he had taken from Siegfried when he slew him, rang loud. But the old man stood boldly on his defence. He brought his sharp-edged sword down on Hagen, but could not wound him. Then Hagen pierced him through his good harness.
When Master Hildebrand felt the wound, he feared more scathe from Hagen, so he threw his shield over his back and fled.
Now, of all the knights, none were left alive save two, Gunther and Hagen.
Old Hildebrand, covered with blood, ran with the news to Dietrich, that he saw sitting sadly where he had left him. Soon the prince had more cause for woe. When he saw Hildebrand in his bloody harness, he asked fearfully for his tale. "Now tell me, Master Hildebrand, why thou art so wet with thy life's blood? Who did it? I ween thou hast fought with the guests in the hall, albeit I so sternly forbade it. Thou hadst better have forborne."
Hildebrand answered his master, "Hagen did it. He gave me this wound in the hall when I turned to flee from him. I scarce escaped the devil with my life."
Said the prince of Bern, "Thou art rightly served. Thou heardest me vow friendship to the knights, and thou hast broken the peace I gave them. Were it not that I shame me to slay thee, thy life were forfeit."
"Be not so wroth, my lord Dietrich. Enough woe hath befallen me and mine. We would have borne away Rudeger's body, but Gunther's men denied it."
"Woe is me for this wrong! Is Rudeger then dead? That is the bitterest of my dole. Noble Gotelind is my cousin's child. Alack! The poor orphans of Bechlaren!" With ruth and sorrow he wept for Rudeger. "Woe is me for the true comrade I have lost. I must mourn Etzel's liegeman forever. Canst thou tell me, Master Hildebrand, who slew him?"
Hildebrand answered, "It was stark Gernot, but the hero fell by Rudeger's hand."
Said Dietrich, "Bid my men arm them, for I will thither straightway. Send me my shining harness. I, myself, will question the knights of Burgundy."
But Master Hildebrand answered, "Who is there to call? Thy sole living liegeman standeth here. I am the only one. The rest are dead."
Dietrich trembled at the news, and was passing doleful, for never in this world had he known such woe. He cried, "Are all my men slain? then God hath forgotten poor Dietrich! I was a great king, rich and proud. Yet how could they all die, these valiant heroes, by foemen so battle-weary and sore beset? Death had spared them, but that I am doomed to sorrow. Since this hard fate is needs mine, tell me if any of the guests be left alive."
Hildebrand answered, "None save Hagen, and Gunther, the king. God knoweth I say sooth."
"Woe is me, dear Wolfhart, if I have lost thee! It were better I had never been born. Siegstab and Wolfwine and Wolfbrand: who is there then left to help me in the land of the Amelungs? Is bold Gelfrich slain also? And Gerbart and Wichart? When shall I have done weeping? This day hath ended all my joy. Alack! that none may die of grief!"
How Gunther, Hagen, and Kriemhild Were Slain
Thereupon Sir Dietrich went and got his harness himself. Old Hildebrand helped to arm him. The strong man wept so loud that the house rang with his voice. But soon he was of stout heart again, as beseemed a hero. He did on his armour in wrath. He took a fine-tempered shield in his hand, and they hasted to the place—he and Master Hildebrand.
Then said Hagen of Trony, "I see Sir Dietrich yonder. He cometh to avenge his great loss. This day will show which of us twain is the better man. Howso stark of body and grim Sir Dietrich may deem him, I doubt not but I shall stand against him, if he seek vengeance." So spake Hagen.
Dietrich, that was with Hildebrand, heard him. He came where both the knights stood outside the house, leaning against the wall. Good Dietrich laid down his shield, and, moved with deep woe, he said, "Why hast thou so entreated a homeless knight? What had I done to thee? Thou hast ended all my joy. Thou deemedst it too little to have slain Rudeger to our scathe; now thou hast robbed me of all my men. I had never done the like to you, O knights. Think on yourselves and your loss—the death of your friends, and your travail. By reason thereof are ye not heavy of your cheer? Alack! how bitter to me is Rudeger's death! There was never such woe in this world. Ye have done evilly by me and by yourselves. All the joy I had ye have slain. How shall I ever mourn enough for all my kinsmen?"
"We are not alone to blame," answered Hagen. "Your knights came hither armed and ready, with a great host. Methinketh the tale hath not been told thee aright."
"What shall I believe then? Hildebrand said that when my knights of Amelung begged you to give them Rudeger's body, ye answered mockingly, as they stood below."
Then said the prince of the Rhineland. "They told me they were come to bear Rudeger hence. I denied them, not to anger thy men, but to grieve Etzel withal. Whereat Wolfhart flew in a passion."
Said the prince of Bern, "There is nothing for it. Of thy knightliness, atone to me for the wrong thou hast done me, and I will avenge it no further. Yield thee captive, thee and thy man, and I will defend thee to the uttermost against the wrath of the Huns. Thou wilt find me faithful and true."
"God in Heaven forbid," cried Hagen, "that two knights, armed as we are for battle, should yield them to thee! I would hold it a great shame, and ill done."
"Deny me not," said Dietrich. "Ye have made me heavy-hearted enow, O Gunther and Hagen; and it is no more than just, that ye make it good. I swear to you, and give you my hand thereon, that I will ride back with you to your own country. I will bring you safely thither, or die with you, and forget my great wrong for your sakes."
"Ask us no more," said Hagen. "It were a shameful tale to tell of us, that two such bold men yielded them captive. I see none save Hildebrand by thy side."
Hildebrand answered, "Ye would do well to take my master's terms; the hour will come, or long, when ye would gladly take them, but may not have them."
"Certes, I had liefer do it," said Hagen, "than flee mine adversary like a coward, as thou didst, Master Hildebrand. By my troth, I deemed thou hadst withstood a foeman better."
Cried Hildebrand, "Thou needest not to twit me. Who was it that, by the wask-stone, sat upon his shield when Walter of Spain slew so many of his kinsmen? Thou, thyself, art not void of blame."
Said Sir Dietrich then, "It beseemeth not warriors to fight with words like old women. I forbid thee, Master Hildebrand, to say more. Homeless knight that I am, I have grief enow. Tell me now, Sir Hagen, what ye good knights said when ye saw me coming around. Was it not that thou alone wouldst defy me?"
"Thou hast guessed rightly," answered Hagen. "I am ready to prove it with swift blows, if my Nibelung sword break not. I am wroth that ye would have had us yield us captive."
When Dietrich heard grim Hagen's mind, he caught up his shield, and sprang up the steps. The Nibelung sword rang loud on his mail. Sir Dietrich knew well that the bold man was fierce. The prince of Bern warded off the strokes. He needed not to learn that Hagen was a valiant knight. Thereto, he feared stark Balmung. But ever and anon he struck out warily, till he had overcome Hagen in the strife. He gave him a wound that was deep and wide. Then thought Sir Dietrich, "Thy long travail hath made thee weak. I had little honour in thy death. Liefer will I take thee captive." Not lightly did he prevail. He threw down his shield. He was stark and bold, and he caught Hagen of Trony in his arms. So the valiant many was vanquished. King Gunther grieved sore.
Dietrich bound Hagen, and led him to the queen, and delivered into her hand the boldest knight that ever bare a sword. After her bitter dole, she was glad enow. She bowed before the knight for joy. "Blest be thou in soul and body. Thou hast made good to me all my woe. I will thank thee till my dying day."
Then said Dietrich, "Let him live, noble queen. His service may yet atone to thee for what he hath done to thy hurt. Take not vengeance on him for that he is bound."
She bade them lead Hagen to a dungeon. There he lay locked up, and none saw him.
Then King Gunther called aloud, "Where is the hero of Bern? He hath done me a grievous wrong."
Sir Dietrich went to meet him. Gunther was a man of might. He tarried not, but ran toward him from the hall. Loud was the din of their swords.
Howso famed Dietrich was from aforetime, Gunther was so wroth and so fell, and so bitterly his foemen, by reason of the wrong he had endured, that it was a marvel Sir Dietrich came off alive. They were stark and mighty men both. Palace and towers echoed with their blows, as their swift swords hewed their good helmets. A high-hearted king was Gunther.
But the knight of Bern overcame him, as he had done Hagen. His blood gushed from his harness by reason of the good sword that Dietrich carried. Yet Gunther had defended him well, for all he was so weary.
The knight was bound by Dietrich's hand, albeit a king should never wear such bonds. Dietrich deemed, if he left Gunther and his man free, they would kill all they met.
He took him by the hand, and let him before Kriemhild. Her sorrow was lighter when she saw him. She said, "Thou art welcome, King Gunther."
He answered, "I would thank thee, dear sister, if thy greeting were in love. But I know thy fierce mind, and that thou mockest me and Hagen."
Then said the prince of Bern, "Most high queen, there were never nobler captives than these I have delivered here into thy hands. Let the homeless knights live for my sake."
She promised him she would do it gladly, and good Dietrich went forth weeping. Yet soon Etzel's wife took grim vengeance, by reason thereof both the valiant men perished. She kept them in dungeons, apart, that neither saw the other again till she bore her brother's head to Hagen. Certes, Kriemhild's vengeance was bitter.
The queen went to Hagen, and spake angrily to the knight. "Give me back what thou hast taken from me, and ye may both win back alive to Burgundy."
But grim Hagen answered, "Thy words are wasted, noble queen. I have sworn to show the hoard to none. While one of my masters liveth, none other shall have it."
"I will end the matter," said the queen. Then she bade them slay her brother, and they smote off his head. She carried it by the hair to the knight of Trony. He was grieved enow.
When the sorrowful man saw his master's head, he cried to Kriemhild, "Thou hast wrought all thy will. It hath fallen out as I deemed it must. The noble King of Burgundy is dead, and Giselher the youth, and eke Gernot. None knoweth of the treasure now save God and me. Thou shalt never see it, devil that thou art."
She said, "I come off ill in the reckoning. I will keep Siegfried's sword at the least. My true love wore it when I saw him last. My bitterest heart's dole was for him."
She drew it from the sheath. He could not hinder it. She purposed to slay the knight. She lifted it high with both hands, and smote off his head.
King Etzel saw it, and sorrowed. "Alack!" cried the king, "The best warrior that ever rode to battle, or bore a shield, hath fallen by the hand of a woman! Albeit I was his foeman, I must grieve."
Then said Master Hildebrand, "His death shall not profit her. I care not what come of it. Though I came in scathe by him myself, I will avenge the death of the bold knight of Trony."
Hildebrand sprang fiercely at Kriemhild, and slew her with his sword. She suffered sore by his anger. Her loud cry helped her not.
Dead bodies lay stretched all over. The queen was hewn in pieces. Etzel and Dietrich began to weep. They wailed piteously for kinsmen and vassals. Mickle valour lay there slain. The folk were doleful and dreary.
The end of the king's hightide was woe, even as, at the last, all joy turneth to sorrow.
I know not what fell after. Christian and heathen, wife, man, and maid, were seen weeping and mourning for their friends.
I WILL TELL YOU NO MORE. LET THE DEAD LIE. HOWEVER IT FARED AFTER WITH THE HUNS, MY TALE IS ENDED. THIS IS THE FALL OF THE NIBELUNGS.