Adventure X: How Brunhild Was Received at Worms
Across the Rhine men saw the king with his guests in many bands pricking to the shore. One saw the horse of many a maiden, too, led by the bridle. All those who should give them welcome were ready now. When those of Isenland and Siegfried's Nibelung men were come across in boats, they hasted to the shore (not idle were their hands), where the kindred of the king were seen upon the other bank. Now hear this tale, too, of the queen, the noble Uta, how she herself rode hither with the maidens from the castle. Then many a knight and maid became acquaint. Duke Gere led Kriemhild's palfroy by the bridle till just outside the castle gate. Siegfried, the valiant knight, must needs attend her further. A fair maid was she! Later the noble dame requited well this deed. Ortwin, the bold, rode by Lady Uta's side, and many knights and maidens rode in pairs. Well may we aver that so many dames were never seen together at such stately greeting. Many a splendid joust was ridden by worshipful knights (not well might it be left undone) afore Kriemhild, the fair, down to the ships. Then the fair-fashioned ladies were lifted from the palfreys. The king was come across and many a worthy guest. Ho, what stout lances brake before the ladies' eyes! One heard the clash of many hurtling shields. Ho, what costly bucklers rang loudly as they closed! The lovely fair stood by the shore as Gunther and his guests alighted from the boats; he himself led Brunhild by the hand. Bright gems and gleaming armor shone forth in rivalry. Lady Kriemhild walked with courtly breeding to meet Dame Brunhild and her train. White hands removed the chaplets, (67) as these twain kissed each other; through deference this was done.
Then in courteous wise the maiden Kriemhild spake: "Be ye welcome in these lands of ours, to me and to my mother and to all the loyal kin we have."
Low bows were made and the ladies now embraced full oft. Such loving greeting hath one never heard, as the two ladies, Dame Uta and her daughter, gave the bride; upon her sweet mouth they kissed her oft. When now Brunhild's ladies all were come to land, stately knights took many a comely woman by the hand in loving wise. The fair-fashioned maids were seen to stand before the lady Brunhild. Long time elasped or ever the greetings all were done; many a rose-red mouth was kissed, in sooth. Still side by side the noble princesses stood, which liked full well the doughty warriors for to see. They who had heard men boast afore that such beauty had ne'er been seen as these two dames possessed, spied now with all their eyes and must confess the truth. Nor did one see upon their persons cheats of any kind. Those who wot how to judge of women and lovely charms, praised Gunther's bride for beauty; but the wise had seen more clear and spake, that one must give Kriemhild the palm before Brunhild.
Maids and ladies now drew near each other. Many a comely dame was seen arrayed full well. Silken tents and many rich pavilions stood hard by, the which quite filled the plain of Worms. The kinsmen of the king came crowding around, when Brunhild and Kriemhild and with them all the dames were bidden go to where shade was found. Thither the knights from the Burgundian land escorted them.
Now were the strangers come to horse, and shields were pierced in many royal jousts. From the plain the dust gan rise, as though the whole land had burst forth into flames. There many a knight became well known as champion. Many a maiden saw what there the warriors plied. Methinks, Sir Siegfried and his knights rode many a turn afore the tents. He led a thousand stately Nibelungs.
Then Hagen of Troneg came, as the king had counseled, and parted in gentle wise the jousting, that the fair maids be not covered with the dust, the which the strangers willingly obeyed. Then spake Sir Gernot: "Let stand the steeds till the air grow cooler, for ye must be full ready when that the king will ride. Meanwhile let us serve the comely dames before the spacious hall."
When now over all the plain the jousts had ceased, the knights, on pastime bent, hied them to the ladies under many a high pavilion in the hope of lofty joys. There they passed the hours until they were minded to ride away.
Just at eventide, when the sun was setting and the air grew chill, no longer they delayed, but man and woman hasted toward the castle. Many a comely maiden was caressed with loving glances. In jousting great store of clothes were torn by good knights, by the high-mettled warriors, after the custom of the land, until the king dismounted by the hall. Valiant heroes helped the ladies, as is their wont. The noble queens then parted; Lady Uta and her daughter went with their train to a spacious hall, where great noise of merriment was heard on every side.
The seats were now made ready, for the king would go to table with his guests. At his side men saw fair Brunhild stand, wearing the crown in the king's domain. Royal enow she was in sooth. Good broad tables, with full many benches for the men, were set with vitaille, as we are told. Little they lacked that they should have! At the king's table many a lordly guest was seen. The chamberlains of the host bare water forth in basins of ruddy gold. It were but in vain, if any told you that men were ever better served at princes' feasts: I would not believe you that.
Before the lord of the Rhineland took the water to wash his hands, Siegfried did as was but meet, he minded him by his troth of what he had promised, or ever he had seen Brunhild at home in Isenland. He spake: "Ye must remember how ye swore me by your hand, that when Lady Brunhild came to this land, ye would give me your sister to wife. Where be now these oaths? I have suffered mickle hardship on our trip."
Then spake the king to his guest: "Rightly have ye minded me. Certes my hand shall not be perjured. I'll bring it to pass as best I can."
Then they bade Kriemhild go to court before the king. She came with her fair maidens to the entrance of the hall. At this Sir Giselher sprang down the
steps. "Now bid these maidens turn again. None save my sister alone shall be here by the king."
Then they brought Kriemhild to where the king was found. There stood noble knights from many princes' lands; throughout the broad hall one bade them stand quite still. By this time Lady Brunhild had stepped to the table, too. Then spake King Gunther: "Sweet sister mine, by thy courtesie redeem my oath. I swore to give thee to a knight, and if he become thy husband, then hast thou done my will most loyally."
Quoth the noble maid: "Dear brother mine, ye must not thus entreat me. Certes I'll be ever so, that whatever ye command, that shall be done. I'll gladly pledge my troth to him whom ye, my lord, do give me to husband."
Siegfried here grew red at the glance of friendly eyes. The knight then proffered his service to Lady Kriemhild. Men bade them take their stand at each other's side within the ring and asked if she would take the stately man. In maidenly modesty she was a deal abashed, yet such was Siegfried's luck and fortune, that she would not refuse him out of hand. The noble king of Netherland vowed to take her, too, to wife. When he and the maid had pledged their troths, Siegfried's arm embraced eftsoon the winsome maid. Then the fair queen was kissed before the knights. The courtiers parted, when that had happed; on the bench over against the king Siegfried was seen to take his scat with Kriemhild. Thither many a man accompanied him as servitor; men saw the Nibelungs walk at Siegfried's side.
The king had seated him with Brunhild, the maid, when she espied Kriemhild (naught had ever irked her so) sitting at Siegfried's side. She began to weep and hot tears coursed down fair cheeks. Quoth the lord of the land: "What aileth you, my lady, that ye let bright eyes grow dim? Ye may well rejoice; my castles and my land and many a stately vassal own your sway."
"I have good cause to weep," spake the comely maid; "my heart is sore because of thy sister, whom I see sitting so near thy vassal's side. I must ever weep that she be so demeaned."
Then spake the King Gunther: "Ye would do well to hold your peace. At another time I will tell you the tale of why I gave Siegfried my sister unto wife. Certes she may well live ever happily with the knight."
She spake: "I sorrow ever for her beauty and her courtesie. I fain would flee, and I wist whither I might; go, for never will I lie close by your side, unless ye tell me through what cause Kriemhild be Siegfried's bride."
Then spake the noble king: "I'll do it you to wit; he hath castles and broad domains, as well as I. Know of a truth, he is a mighty king, therefore did I give him the peerless maid to love."
But whatsoever the king might say, she remained full sad of mood.
Now many a good knight hastened from the board. Their hurtling waxed so passing hard, that the whole castle rang. But the host was weary of his guests. Him-thought that he might lie more soft at his fair lady's side. As yet he had not lost at all the hope that much of joy might hap to him through her. Lovingly he began to gaze on Lady Brunhild. Men bade the guests leave off their knightly games, for the king and his wife would go to bed. Brunhild and Kriemhild then met before the stairway of the hall, as yet without the hate of either. Then came their retinue. Noble chamberlains delayed not, but brought them lights. The warriors, the liegemen of the two kings, then parted on either side and many of the knights were seen to walk with Siegfried.
The lords were now come to the rooms where they should lie. Each of the twain thought to conquer by love his winsome dame. This made them blithe of mood. Siegfried's pleasure on that night was passing great. When Lord Siegfried lay at Kriemhild's side and with his noble love caressed the high-born maid so tenderly, she grew as dear to him as life, so that not for a thousand other women would he have given her alone. No more I'll tell how Siegfried wooed his wife; hear now the tale of how King Gunther lay by Lady Brunhild's side. The stately knight had often lain more soft by other dames. The courtiers now had left, both maid and man. The chamber soon was locked; he thought to caress the lovely maid. Forsooth the time was still far off, ere she became his wife. In a smock of snowy linen she went to bed. Then thought the noble knight: "Now have I here all that I have ever craved in all my days." By rights she must needs please him through her comeliness. The noble king gan shroud the lights and then the bold knight hied him to where the lady lay. He laid him at her side, and great was his joy when in his arms he clasped the lovely fair. Many loving caresses he might have given, had but the noble dame allowed it. She waxed so wroth that he was sore a-troubled; he weened that they were lovers, but he found here hostile hate. She spake: "Sir Knight, pray give this over, which now ye hope. Forsooth this may not hap, for I will still remain a maid, until I hear the tale; now mark ye that."
Then Gunther grew wroth; he struggled for her love and rumpled all her clothes. The high-born maid then seized her girdle, the which was a stout band she wore around her waist, and with it she wrought the king great wrong enow. She bound him hand and foot and bare him to a nail and hung him on the wall. She forbade him love, sith he disturbed her sleep. Of a truth he came full nigh to death through her great strength.
Then he who had weened to be the master, began to plead. "Now loose my bands, most noble queen. I no longer trow to conquer you, fair lady, and full seldom will I lie so near your side."
She reeked not how he felt, for she lay full soft. There he had to hang all night till break of day, until the bright morn shone through the casements. Had he ever had great strength, it was little seen upon him now.
"Now tell me, Sir Gunther, would that irk you aught," the fair maid spake, "and your servants found you bound by a woman's hand?"
Then spake the noble knight: "That would serve you ill; nor would it gain me honor," spake the doughty man. "By your courtesie, pray let me lie now by your side. Sith that my love mislike you so, I will not touch your garment with my hands."
Then she loosed him soon and let him rise. To the bed again, to the lady he went and laid him down so far away, that thereafter he full seldom touched her comely weeds. Nor would she have allowed it.
Then their servants came and brought them new attire, of which great store was ready for them against the morn. However merry men made, the lord of the land was sad enow, albeit he wore a crown that day. As was the usage which they had and which they kept by right, Gunther and Brunhild no longer tarried, but hied them to the minster, where mass was sung. Thither, too, Sir Siegfried came and a great press arose among the crowd. In keeping with their royal rank, there was ready for them all that they did need, their crowns and robes as well. Then they were consecrated. When this was done, all four were seen to stand joyful 'neath their crowns. Many young squires, six hundred or better, were now girt with sword in honor of the kings, as ye must know. Great joy rose then in the Burgundian land; one heard spear-shafts clashing in the hands of the sworded knights. There at the windows the fair maids sat; they saw shining afore them the gleam of many a shield. But the king had sundered him from his liegemen; whatso others plied, men saw him stand full sad. Unlike stood his and Siegfried's mood. The noble knight and good would fain have known what ailed the king. He hasted to him and gan ask: "Pray let me know how ye have fared this night, Sir King."
Then spake the king to his guest: "Shame and disgrace have I won; I have brought a fell devil to my house and home. When I weened to love her, she bound me sore; she bare me to a nail and hung me high upon a wall. There I hung affrighted all night until the day, or ever she unbound me. How softly she lay bedded there! In hope of thy pity do I make plaint to thee as friend to friend."
Then spake stout Siegfried: "That rueth me in truth. I'll do you this to wit; and ye allow me without distrust, I'll contrive that she lie by you so near this night, that she'll nevermore withhold from you her love."
After all his hardships Gunther liked well this speech. Sir Siegfried spake again: "Thou mayst well be of good cheer. I ween we fared unlike last night. Thy sister Kriemhild is dearer to me than life; the Lady Brunhild must become thy wife to-night. I'll come to thy chamber this night, so secretly in my Cloud Cloak, that none may note at all my arts. Then let the chamberlains betake them to their lodgings and I'll put out the lights in the pages' hands, whereby thou mayst know that I be within and that I'll gladly serve thee. I'll tame for time thy wife, that thou mayst have her love to-night, or else I'll lose my life."
"Unless be thou embrace my dear lady," spake then the king, "I shall be glad, if thou do to her as thou dost list. I could endure it well, an' thou didst take her life. In sooth she is a fearful wife."
"I pledge upon my troth," quoth Siegfried, "that I will not embrace her. The fair sister of thine, she is to me above all maids that I have ever seen."
Gunther believed full well what Siegfried spake.
From the knightly sports there came both joy and woe; but men forbade the hurtling and the shouting, since now the ladies were to hie them to the hall. The grooms-in-waiting bade the people stand aside; the court was cleared of steeds and folk. A bishop led each of the ladies, as they should go to table in the presence of the kings. Many a stately warrior followed to the seats. In fair hope the king sate now full merrily; well he thought on that which Siegfried had vowed to do. This one day thought him as long as thirty days, for all his thoughts were bent upon his lady's love. He could scarce abide the time to leave the board. Now men let fair Brunhild and Kriemhild, too, both go to their rest. Ho, what doughty knights were seen to walk before the queens!
The Lord Siegfried sate in loving wise by his fair wife, in bliss without alloy. With her snow-white hands she fondled his, till that he vanished from before her eyes, she wist not when. When now she no longer spied him, as she toyed, the queen spake to his followers: "Much this wondereth me, whither the king be gone. Who hath taken his hands from mine?"
She spake no other word, but he was gone to where he found many grooms of the chamber stand with lights. These he gan snuff out in the pages' hands. Thus Gunther knew that it was Siegfried. Well wist he what he would; he bade the maids and ladies now withdraw. When that was done, the mighty king himself made fast the door and nimbly shoved in place two sturdy bolts. Quickly then he hid the lights behind the hangings of the bed. Stout Siegfried and the maiden now began a play (for this there was no help) which was both lief and loth to Gunther. Siegfried laid him close by the high-born maid. She spake: "Now, Gunther, let that be, and it be lief to you, that ye suffer not hardship as afore."
Then the lady hurt bold Siegfried sore. He held his peace and answered not a whit. Gunther heard well, though he could not see his friend a bit, that they plied not secret things, for little ease they had upon the bed. Siegfried bare him as though he were Gunther, the mighty king. In his arms he clasped the lovely maid. She cast him from the bed upon a bench near by, so that his head struck loudly against the stool. Up sprang the valiant man with all his might; fain would he try again. When he thought now to subdue her, she hurt him sore. Such defense, I ween, might nevermore be made by any wife.
When he would not desist, up sprang the maid. "Ye shall not rumple thus my shift so white. Ye are a clumsy churl and it shall rue you sore, I'll have you to know fall well," spake the comely maid. In her arms she grasped the peerless knight; she weened to bind him, as she had done the king, that she might have her case upon the bed. The lady avenged full sore, that he had rumpled thus her clothes. What availed his mickle force and his giant strength? She showed the knight her masterly strength of limb; she carried him by force (and that must needs be) and pressed him rudely 'twixt a clothes-press and the wall.
"Alas," so thought the knight, "if now I lose my life at a maiden's hands, then may all wives hereafter bear towards their husbands haughty mien, who would never do it else."
The king heard it well and feared him for his liegeman's life. Siegfried was sore ashamed; wrathful he waxed and with surpassing strength he set himself against her and tried it again with Lady Brunhild in fearful wise. It thought the king full long, before he conquered her. She pressed his hands, till from her strength the blood gushed forth from out the nails: this irked the hero. Therefore he brought the highborn maiden to the pass that she gave over her unruly will, which she asserted there afore. The king heard all, albeit not a word he spake. Siegfried pressed her against the bed, so that she shrieked aloud. Passing sore his strength did hurt her. She grasped the girdle around her waist and would fain have bound him, but his hand prevented it in such a wise that her limbs and all her body cracked. Thus the strife was parted and she became King Gunther's wife.
She spake: "Most noble king, pray spare my life. I'll do thee remedy for whatso I have done thee. I'll no longer struggle against thy noble love, for I have learned full well that thou canst make thee master over women."
Siegfried let the maiden be and stepped away, as though he would do off his clothes. From her hand he drew a golden finger ring, without that she wist it, the noble queen. Thereto he took her girdle, a good stout band. I know not if he did that for very haughtiness. He gave it to his wife and rued it sore in after time.
Then lay Gunther and the fair maid side by side. He played the lover, as beseemed him, and thus she must needs give over wrath and shame. From his embrace a little pale she grew. Ho, how her great strength failed through love! Now was she no stronger than any other wife. He caressed her lovely form in lover's wise. Had she tried her strength again, what had that availed? All this had Gunther wrought in her by his love. How right lovingly she lay beside him in bridal joy until the dawn of day!
Now was Sir Siegfried gone again to where he was given fair greetings by a woman fashioned fair. He turned aside the question she had thought to put and hid long time from her what he had brought, until she ruled as queen within his land. How little he refused to give her what he should!
On the morn the host was far cheerier of mood than he had been afore. Through this the joy of many a noble man was great in all his lands, whom he had bidden to his court, and to whom he proffered much of service. The wedding feast now lasted till the fourteenth day, so that in all this while the sound never died away of the many joys which there they plied. The cost to the king was rated high. The kinsmen of the noble host gave gifts in his honor to the strolling folk, as the king commanded: vesture and ruddy gold, steeds and silver, too. Those who there craved gifts departed hence full merrily. Siegfried, the lord from Netherland, with a thousand of his men, gave quite away the garments they had brought with them to the Rhine and steeds and saddles, too. Full well they wot how to live in lordly wise. Those who would home again thought the time too long till the rich gifts had all been made. Nevermore have guests been better eased. Thus ended the wedding feast; Gunther, the knight, would have it so.