Adventure XXV - How The Lords All Journeyed To The Huns.
Now let us leave the tale of how they lived at Etzel's court. More high-mettled warriors never rode in such lordly wise to the land of any king; they had whatever they listed, both of weapons and of weeds. The ruler of the Rhineland clad his men, a thousand and sixty knights, (129) as I have heard, and nine thousand footmen, for the courtly feast. Those they left at home bewailed it in after time. The trappings were now borne across the court at Worms; then spake an aged bishop from Speyer to fair Uta: "Our friends would journey to the feasting. May God preserve their honor there."
The noble Lady Uta then spake to her sons: "Pray tarry here, good knights. Me-dreamed last night of direst woe, how all the fowls in this land lay dead."
"Who recketh aught of dreams," quoth Hagen, "he wotteth not how to say the proper words, when 'twould bring him great store of honors. I wish that my lord go to court to take his leave. We must gladly ride to Etzel's land. The arms of doughty heroes may serve kings there full well, where we shall behold Kriemhild's feast."
Hagen counseled the journey, but later it rued him sore. He would have advised against it, but that Gernot encountered him with such rude words. Of Siegfried, Lady Kriemhild's husband, he minded him; he spake: "Because of him Hagen will not make the journey to the court."
At this Hagen of Troneg spake: "I do it not from fear. Heroes, when it please you, begin the work. Certes I will gladly ride with you to Etzel's land." Later he carved to pieces many a helm and shield.
The skiffs were now made ready; many a knight stood there. Thither men bare whatever clothes they had. Busy they were until the even tide, then full merrily they set forth from home. Tents and pavilions were raised upon the green beyond the Rhine. When this had happed, the king bade his fair wife tarry with him. That night she still embraced her stately knight. Trumpeting and fluting rose early on the morn, as sign that they should ride. Then to the work they went. Whoso held in his arms his love caressed the fair. Later King Etzel's wife parted them with woe.
Fair Uta's sons, they had a liegeman, brave and true. When they would hence, he spake to the king in secret wise his mind. Quoth he: "I must bewail that ye make this journey to the court." He was hight Rumolt and was a hero of his hands. He spake: "To whom will ye leave your folk and lands? O that none can turn you warriors from your mind! These tidings from Kriemhild have never thought me good."
"Be the land and my little child, too, commended to thy care; serve well the ladies, that is my wish. Comfort any thou dost see in tears. Certes King Etzel's bride will never do us harm."
The steeds were now ready for the kings and their men. Many a one who lived there high of spirit, parted thence with loving kisses. This many a stately dame must later needs bewail. When the doughty knights were seen go toward the steeds, men spied full many ladies standing sadly there. Their hearts did tell them that this long parting boded them great harm. This doth never ease the heart.
The doughty Burgundians started on their way. Then in the land a mighty turmoil rose; on either side of the mountains there wept both men and wives. But however the folk might bear them, the knights jogged merrily along. With them rode the men of Nibelung, a thousand hauberks strong, who had left many comely dames at home whom they never saw again. Siegfried's wounds gave Kriemhild pain.
Gunther's liegemen now wended their way towards the river Main, up through Eastern Frankland. (130) Thither Hagen led them, for well he wot the way. Dankwart was their marshal, the hero from Burgundian land. As they rode away from the Eastern Frankland towards Swanfield, (131) men could tell the princes and their kin, the worshipful knights, by their lordly bearing. On the twelfth morning the king came to the Danube. Hagen of Troneg rode foremost of them all, giving to the Nibelungs helpful cheer. On the sandy shore the bold knight dismounted and bound his steed full soon to a tree. The river was swollen, the skiffs hidden away. Great fear the Nibelungs had, as to how they might come across, for the stream was much too broad. Full many a lusty knight alighted on the ground.
"Ill may it lightly hap with thee here," quoth Hagen, "O ruler of the Rhine. Now mayst thou thyself see the river is swollen, its flood is mighty. Certes, I ween, we shall lose here many a worthy knight to-day."
"Why dost thou rebuke me, Hagen?" spake the lordly king. "For thine own prowess' sake discomfit me no more, but seek us the ford across to the other bank, that we may take hence both steeds and trappings."
"Forsooth," quoth Hagen, "I be not so weary of life, that I would drown me in these broad waves. Sooner shall men die by my hands in Etzel's lands. That will I well. Stay by the water's side, ye proud knights and good, and I will seek the ferryman myself along the stream, who shall ferry us across to Gelfrat's (132) land."
Then the stalwart Hagen seized his good shield. Well was he armed. The shield he bare along, his helmet bound upon his head, bright enow it was. Above his breastplate he bare a sword so broad that most fiercely it cut on either edge. To and fro he sought the ferryman. He heard the splash of water and began to listen. In a fair spring wise women (133) were bathing for to cool them off. Now Hagen spied them and crept toward them stealthily. When they grew ware of this, they hurried fast to escape him; glad enow they were of this. The hero took their clothes, but did them naught else of harm.
Then spake one of the mermaids (Hadburg she was called): "Sir Knight Hagen, we'll do you here to wit, an' ye give us our weeds again, bold knight, how ye will fare upon this journey to the Hunnish court."
Like birds they floated before him on the flood. Therefore him- thought their senses strong and good; he believed the more what they would tell him. Well they answered what he craved of them. Hadburg spake again: "Ye may safely ride to Etzel's land. I'll stake my troth at once as pledge, that heroes never rode better to any realm for such great honors. Now believe that in truth."
In his heart Hagen was joyous at this rede. He gave them back their clothes and no longer tarried. As they donned their strange attire, they told him rightly of the journey to Etzel's land. The other mermaid spake (Siegelind she hight): "I will warn thee, Hagen, son of Aldrian. (134) For the sake of her weeds mine aunt hath lied to thee. An' thou comest to the Huns, thou wilt be sore deceived. Time is, that thou shouldst turn again, for ye heroes be bidden, that ye may die in Etzel's land. Whose rideth hither, hath taken death by the hand."
Answered Hagen: "Ye deceive us needlessly. how might it come to pass that we should all die there, through anybody's hate?"
Then gan they tell him the tale still more knowingly. The same one spake again: "It must needs be that none of you shall live, save the king's chaplain; this we know full well. He will come again safe and sound to Gunther's land."
Then spake bold Hagen, fierce of mood: "It were not well to tell my lords that we should all lose our lives among the Huns. Now show us over the stream, thou wisest of all wives."
She answered: "Sith ye will not turn you from the journey, up yonder where an inn doth stand, by the waterside, there is a ferryman and elsewhere none."
At once he ceased to ask for further tidings. After the angry warrior she called: "Pray bide a time, Sir Hagen! Forsooth ye are too much in haste. List further to the tale of how ye may cross to the other bank. The lord of these marches beareth the name of Else. (135) His brother is hight Knight Gelfrat, a lord in the Bavarian land. 'Twill go hard with you, an' ye will cross his land. Ye must guard you well and deal full wisely with the ferryman. So grim of mood is he that he'll not let you live, unless be that ye have your wits about you with the knight. An' ye will that he guide you, then give him his meed. He guardeth this land and is liegeman unto Gelfrat. And cometh he not betimes, so call across the flood and say, ye hight Amelrich. (136) He was a doughty here that; because of a feud did void this land. The ferryman will come when he heareth this name."
Haughty Hagen bowed then to the dames; he spake no more, but held his peace. Then by the river he hied him higher up upon the sandy shore, to where he found an inn upon the other bank. Loudly he began to call across the flood: "Now come and fetch me, ferryman," quoth the good knight, "and I will give thee as meed an arm ring of ruddy gold. Know, that of this passage I have great need in truth."
So noble was the ferryman that it behooved him not to serve, therefore he full seldom took wage of any wight. His squires, too, were full lofty of mood. All this time Hagen still stood alone, this side of the flood. He called with might and main, that all the water rang, for mickle and great was the hero's strength. "Now fetch me. I am Amelrich, Else's liegeman, that because of a great feud did void these lands."
High upon his spear (137) he offered him an arm band, bright and fair it was, of ruddy gold, that one should ferry him over to Gelfrat's land. The haughty ferryman, the which was newly wed himself, did take the oar in hand. As he would earn Hagen's gold so red, therefore he died the sword-grim death at the hands of the knight. The greed for great goods (138) doth give an evil end. Speedily the boatman rowed across to the sandy bank. When he found no trace of him whose name he heard, wroth he grew in earnest. When he spied Hagen, with fierce rage he spake to the hero: "Ye may perchance hight Amelrich, but ye are not like him whom I weened here. By father and by mother he was my brother. Sith ye have bewrayed me, ye may stay on this hither shore."
"No, by the mighty God," spake then Hagen, "I am a stranger knight and have warriors in my care. Now take ye kindly my meed to-day and ferry me over. I am in truth your friend."
The ferryman replied: "This may not be. My dear lords have foes, wherefore I never ferry strangers to this land. If ye love your life, step out quickly on the sand."
"Now do it not," spake Hagen; "sad is my mind. Take this good gold from me as a token of my love and ferry us across: a thousand horse and just as many men."
The grim boatman answered: "'Twill ne'er be done." He raised a mighty rudder oar, mickle and broad, and struck at Hagen (full wroth he grew at this), so that he fell upon his knees in the boat. The lord of Troneg had never met so fierce a ferryman. Still more the boatman would vex the haughty stranger. He smote with an oar, so that it quite to-broke (139) over Hagen's head (a man of might was he); from this the ferryman of Else took great harm. Hagen, fierce of mood, seized straightway his sheath, wherein he found his sword. His head he struck off and cast it on the ground. Eftsoon these tidings were made known to the proud Burgundians. At the very moment that he slew the boatman, the skiff gan drifting down the stream. Enow that irked him. Weary he grew before he brought it back. King Gunther's liegeman pulled with might and main. With passing swift strokes the stranger turned it, until the sturdy oar snapped in his hand. He would hence to the knights out upon the shore. None other oar he had. Ho, how quickly he bound it with a shield strap, a narrow band! Towards a wood he floated down the stream, where he found his sovran standing by the shore.
Many a stately man went down to meet him. The doughty knights and good received him with a kindly greeting. When they beheld in the skiff the blood reeking from a gaping wound which he had dealt the ferryman, Hagen was plied enow with questions by the knights. When that King Gunther spied the hot blood swirling in the skiff, how quickly he spake: "Wherefore tell ye me not, Hagen, whither the ferryman be come? I ween your prowess hath bereft him of his life."
At this he answered craftily: "When I found the skiff hard by a willow tree, I loosed it with my hand. I have seen no ferryman here to-day, nor hath harm happed to any one through fault of mine."
Then spake Sir Gernot of Burgundy: "I must needs fear the death of dear friends to-day. Sith we have no boatmen here at hand, how shall we come over? Therefore I must perforce stand sad."
Loudly then called Hagen: "Ye footmen, lay the trappings down upon the grass. I bethink me that once I was the very best of boatmen that one might find along the Rhine. I trow to bring you all safe across to Gelfrat's land."
They struck the horses, that these might the sooner come across the flood; passing well they swam, for the mighty waves bereft them of not a one. Some few drifted far adown the stream, as did befit their weariness. Then the knights bare to the skiff their gold and weeds, sith there was no help for the crossing. Hagen played the steersman, and so he ferried full many mighty warriors over to the sandy shore, into the unknown land. First he took across a thousand noble knights, then his own men-at-arms. Still there were more to come. Nine thousand footmen he ferried over to the land. Aught but idle was Hagen's hand that day. When he had carried them all safe across the flood, the doughty knight and good bethought him of the strange tales which the wild mermaids had told him afore. For this cause the king's chaplain near lost his life. He found the priest close by the chapel luggage, leaning with his hand upon the relics. Little might that boot him. When Hagen spied him, ill fared it with the hapless priest; he threw him from the skiff in haste. Enow of them called out: "Hold on, Sir Hagen, hold!"
Giselher, the youth, gan rage, but Hagen let none come between. Then spake Sir Gernot of Burgundy: "What availeth you now, Hagen, the chaplain's death? Had another done the deed, 'twould have irked you sore. For what cause have ye sworn enmity to the priest?"
The clerk (140) now tried to swim with might and main, for he would fain save his life, if perchance any there would help him. That might not be, for the stalwart Hagen was wroth of mood. He thrust him to the bottom, the which thought no one good. When the poor priest saw naught of help, he turned him back again. Sore was he discomfited, but though he could not swim, yet did God's hand help him, so that he came safe and sound to the: land again. There the poor clerk stood and shook his robe. Hagen marked thereby that naught might avail against the tidings which the wild mermaids told him. Him-thought: "These knights must lose their lives."
When the liegemen of the three kings unloaded the skiff and had borne all away which they had upon it, Hagen brake it to pieces and threw it in the flood, at which the bold knights and good did marvel much.
"Wherefore do ye that, brother," quoth Dankwart, "how shall we come over, when we ride homeward from the Huns, back to the Rhine?"
Later Hagen told him that might not be. The hero of Troneg spake: "I do it in the hope that if we have a coward on this journey, who through faint-heartedness would run away, that in this stream he may die a shameful death."
They had with them from Burgundy land a hero of his hands, the which was named Folker. Wisely he spake all his mind. Whatever Hagen did, it thought the fiddler good. Their steeds were now ready, the sumpters laden well. On the journey they had taken no harm that irked them, save the king's chaplain alone. He must needs wander back on foot to the Rhine again.