Adventure XXXIX - How Gunther And Hagen And Kriemhild Were Slain.

Then Sir Dietrich fetched himself his coat of mail, and Master Hildebrand helped him arm. The mighty man made wail so sore, that the whole house resounded with his voice. But then he gained again a real hero's mood. The good knight was now armed and grim of mind; a stout shield he hung upon his arm. Thus he and Master Hildebrand went boldly hence.

Then spake Hagen of Troneg: "Yonder I see Sir Dietrich coming hither; he would fain encounter us, after the great sorrow, that hath here befallen him. To-day we shall see, to whom one must give the palm. however strong of body and grim of mood the lord of Berne thinketh him to be, right well dare I match him," so spake Hagen, "an' he will avenge on us that which hath been done him."

Dietrich and Hildebrand heard this speech, for Hagen came to where he found the champion stand before the house, leaning against the wall. Dietrich set his good shield upon the ground, and spake in grievous dole: "Gunther, mighty king, why have ye so acted against me, banished man? What have I done to you? I stand alone, bereft of all my comfort. Ye thought it not enow of bitter need, when ye did kill Knight Rudeger, our friend. Now ye have robbed me of all my men. Forsooth I never had wrought you heroes sorrow such as this. Think on yourselves and on your wrongs. Doth not the death of your kinsmen and all the hardship grieve the minds of you good knights? Alas, what great dole Rudeger's death doth give me! Never in all the world hath more of sorrow happed to any man. Ye thought but little on me and on your pain. Whatsoever joy I had, that lieth slain by you. Certes, I never can bewail my kin enow."

"Forsooth we be not so guilty," answered Hagen. "Your warriors came to this hall in a large band, armed with care. Methinks the tale hath not been told you rightly."

"What else should I believe? Hildebrand told me, that when my knights from the Amelung land asked that ye should give up Rudeger's corse from out the hall, ye did naught but mock the valiant heroes from above the steps."

Then spake the king from the Rhine: "They said, that they would fain bear Rudeger hence, and I bade this be denied them to vex King Etzel, and not thy men, until then Wolfhart began to rail about it."

Then the hero of Berne made answer: "Fate would have it so. Gunther, most noble king, now through thy courtesie requite me of the wrongs, that have happed to me from thee, and make such amends, brave knight, that I may give thee credit for the deed. Give thyself and thy men to me as hostages, and I will guard you, as best I may, that none here do thee aught among the Huns. Thou shalt find me naught but good and true."

"Now God forbid," quoth Hagen, "that two knights give themselves up to thee, that still do stand opposed to thee so doughtily and walk so unfettered before their foes."

"Gunther and Hagen, ye should not deny me this," spake Dietrich. "Ye have grieved my heart and mind so sore, that it were but right, and ye would requite me. I give you my hand and troth as pledge, that I will ride with you, home to your land. I'll lead you in all honor, or else lie dead, and for your sakes I will forget my grievous wrongs."

"Crave this no longer," answered Hagen. "'Twere fitting, that the tale be told of us, that two men so brave had given themselves up to you. We see none standing by you, save Hildebrand alone."

Then up spake Master Hildebrand: "God wot, Sir Hagen, the hour will come, when ye will gladly take the peace, if so be any offer to keep it with you. Ye might well content you with the truce my lord doth offer."

"Forsooth I'd take the truce," quoth Hagen, "or ever I'd flee from out a hall so shamefully as ye did, Master Hildebrand. I weened, ye could stand better against a foe."

To this Hildebrand made answer: "Why twit ye me with that? Who was it sate upon a shield hard by the Waskstone, (187) when Walter of Spain slew so many of his kin? Ye, too, have faults enow of your own to show."

Then spake Sir Dietrich: "Ill doth it beseem heroes, that they should scold like aged beldams. I forbid you, Hildebrand, to speak aught more. Grievous wrongs constrain me, homeless warrior. Let's hear, Knight Hagen, what ye twain did speak, ye doughty men, when ye saw me coming toward you armed? Ye said, that ye alone would fain encounter me in strife."

"Certes, none doth deny," Knight Hagen spake, "that I will essay it here with mighty blows, unless be, that the sword of Nibelung break in my hand. Wroth am I, that we twain have here been craved as hostages."

When Dietrich noted Hagen's raging mood, quickly the doughty knight and good snatched up his shield. How swiftly Hagen sprang toward him from the steps! Loudly the good sword of Nibelung rang on Dietrich's head. Then wist Dietrich well, that the bold knight was grim of mood. The lord of Berne gan guard him against the fearful blows, for well he knew Hagen, the stately knight. Balmung he also feared, a weapon stout enow. Dietrich returned the blows at times in cunning wise, until at last he conquered Hagen in the strife. A wound he dealt him, the which was deep and long. Then Lord Dietrich thought him: "Thou art worn out with strife; little honor shall I have, and thou liest dead before me. I will try, if perchance I can force thee to be my hostage."

This he wrought with danger. His shield he let fall, great was his strength, and clasped Hagen of Troneg in his arms. Thus the brave knight was overcome by Dietrich. Noble Gunther gan wail thereat. Dietrich now bound Hagen and led him to where he found the highborn queen; into her hand he gave the bravest warrior that ever bare a sword. Then merry enow she grew after her great dole. For very joy King Etzel's wife bowed low before the knight. "May thy heart and body be ever blest. Thou hast well requited me of all my woes. For this will I ever serve thee, unless be, that death doth hinder me therefrom."

Then spake Lord Dietrich: "Pray let him live, most noble queen. And if this still may be, how well will I requite you of that which he hath done you! Let him not suffer, because ye see him stand here bound."

She bade Hagen then be led away to duress, where he lay locked in and where none did see him. Gunther, the high-born king, began to call: "Whither went the knight of Berne? He hath done me wrong."

At this Lord Dietrich went to meet him. Gunther's might was worthy of praise; no more he bided, but ran outside the hall, and from the clashing of the swords of the twain a mighty din arose. However much and long Lord Dietrich's prowess had been praised, yet Gunther was so sorely angered and enraged, for because of the grievous dole, he was his deadly foe, that men still tell it as a wonder, that Sir Dietrich did not fall. Great were both their prowess and their strength. The palace and the towers resounded with the blows, when with the swords they hewed at the sturdy helmets. King Gunther was of lordly mood, but the knight of Berne overcame him, as happed to Hagen afore. The hero's blood was seen to ooze through the armor rings, drawn forth by a keen-edged sword, the which Sir Dietrich bare. Though weary, Sir Gunther had guarded him most valiantly. The lord was now bound by Dietrich's hands. Though kings should not endure such bonds, yet Dietrich thought, if he set free the king and his liegeman, that all they met must needs fall dead at their hands.

Dietrich of Berne now took him by the hand and led him bound to where he found Kriemhild. At sight of his sorrow much of her fear took flight. She spake: "Welcome, Gunther, from the Burgundian land."

Quoth he: "I would bow before you, dear sister mine, if your greetings were but kinder. I know you, queen, to be so wroth of mood that ye do give me and Hagen meagre greetings."

Up spake the knight of Berne: "Most noble queen, never were such good knights made hostages, as I have given you in them, exalted lady. For my sake, I pray you, spare these homeless men."

She vowed she'd do it gladly. Then Sir Dietrich left the worshipful knights with weeping eyes. Later Etzel's wife avenged her grimly; she took the life of both the chosen heroes. To make their duress worse she let them lie apart, so that neither saw the other, till she bare her brother's head to Hagen. Kriemhild's vengeance on both was great enow.

Then the queen went to Hagen. In what right hostile wise she spake to the knight: "If ye will give me back what ye have taken from me, then ye may still go home alive to Burgundy."

Grim Hagen answered: "Thou dost waste thy words, most noble queen. Forsooth I have sworn an oath, that I would not show the hoard, the while and any of my lords still live; so I shall give it to none."

"I'll make an end of this," quoth the high-born wife. Then she bade her brother's life be taken. His head they struck off, and by the hair she bare it to the knight of Troneg. Loth enow it was to him. When sad of mind the warrior gazed upon his master's head, he spake to Kriemhild: "Thou hast brought it to an end after thy will, and it hath happed, as I had thought me. The noble king of Burgundy now lieth dead, and Giselher, the youth, and Sir Gernot, too. None knoweth of the treasure now save God and me, and it shall ever be hid from thee, thou fiend."

Quoth she: "Ye have requited me full ill, so I will keep the sword of Siegfried, the which my sweetheart bare, when last I saw him, in whom dole of heart hath happed to me through you."

From the sheath she drew it, nor could he hinder her a whit. She planned to rob the knight of life. With her hands she raised it and struck off his head. This King Etzel saw, and sore enow it rued him. "Alack!" cried the lording, "how lieth now dead at a woman's hands the very best of knights, that ever came to battle or bare a shield! However much I was his foe, yet it doth grieve me sorely."

Then spake old Hildebrand: "Forsooth it shall not boot her aught, that she durst slay him. Whatso hap to me, and however much it may bring me to a dangerous pass, yet will I avenge bold Troneg's death."

Hildebrand sprang in wrath towards Kriemhild. For fear of him she suffered pain; but what might it avail her, that she shrieked so frightfully? He dealt the queen a grievous sword-blow, the which did cut the high-born dame in twain. Now all lay low in death whom fate had doomed. Dietrich and Etzel then began to weep; sorely they mourned both kin and liegemen. Their mickle honors lay there low in death; the courtiers all had grief and drearihead. The king's high feast had ended now in woe, as joy doth ever end in sorrow at the last. I cannot tell you, that which happed thereafter, save that knights and ladies and noble squires were seen to weep for the death of loving kinsmen. The tale hath here an end. This is the Nibelungs' fall. (188) (189)