Adventure XXXVI - How The Queen Gave Orders To Burn the Hall.
"Now unbind your helmets," spake the good Knight Hagen. "I and my comrade will guard you well, and should Etzel's men be minded to try again, I'll warn my lords as soon as I ever can."
Then many a good knight bared his head. They sate them down upon the wounded, who had fallen in the blood, done to death at their hands. Evil looks were cast upon the noble strangers. Before the eventide the king and the queen brought it to pass that the Hunnish champions tried again. Men saw full twenty thousand warriors stand before them, who must perforce march to the fray. Straightway there rose a mighty storming towards the strangers. Dankwart, Hagen's brother, the doughty knight, sprang from his lordings' side to meet the foes without the door. All weened that he were dead, yet forth he stood again unscathed. The furious strife did last till nightfall brought it to a close. As befitted good knights, the strangers warded off King Etzel's liegemen the livelong summer day. Ho, how many a bold knight fell doomed before them! This great slaughter happed upon midsummer's day, when Lady Kriemhild avenged her sorrow of heart upon her nearest kin and upon many another man, so that King Etzel never again gained joy.
The day had passed away, but still they had good cause for fear. They thought, a short and speedy death were better for them, than to be longer racked with monstrous pain. A truce these proud and lusty knights now craved; they begged that men would bring the king to see them. Forth from the hall stepped the heroes, bloody of hue, and the three noble kings, stained from their armor. They wist not to whom they should make plaint of their mighty wounds. Thither both Etzel and Kriemhild went; the land was theirs and so their band waxed large. He spake to the strangers: "Pray tell me, what ye will of me? Ye ween to gain here peace, but that may hardly be. For damage as great as ye have done me, in my son and in my many kinsmen, whom ye have slain, peace and pardon shall be denied you quite; it shall not boot you aught, an' I remain alive."
To this King Gunther answered: "Dire need constrained us; all my men-at-arms lay dead before thy heroes in the hostel. How did I deserve such pay? I came to thee in trust, I weened thou wast my friend."
Young Giselher of Burgundy likewise spake: "Ye men of Etzel, who still do live, what do ye blame me with? What have I done to you, for I rode in friendly wise into this land of yours."
Quoth they: "From thy friendliness this castle is filled with grief and the land as well. We should not have taken it ill, in sooth, if thou hadst never come from Worms beyond the Rhine. Thou and thy brothers have filled this land with orphans."
Then spake Knight Giselher in angry mood: "And ye will lay aside this bitter hate and make your peace with us stranger knights, 'twere best for either side. We have not merited at all what Etzel here doth do us."
Then spake the host to his guests: "Unlike are my wrongs and yours. The mickle grievance from the loss and then the shame, which I have taken here, are such that none of you shall e'er go hence alive."
At this mighty Gernot spake to the king: "May God then bid you act in merciful wise. Slay, if ye will, us homeless knights, but let us first descend to you into the open court. That will make to you for honor. Let be done quickly whatever shall hap to us. Ye have still many men unscathed, who dare well encounter us and bereave us storm-weary men of life. How long must we warriors undergo these toils?"
King Etzel's champions had nigh granted this boon and let them leave the hall, but Kriemhild heard it and sorely it misliked her. Therefore the wanderers were speedily denied the truce. "Not so, ye Hunnish men. I counsel you in true fealty, that ye do not what ye have in mind, and let these murderers leave the hall, else must your kinsmen suffer a deadly fall. Did none of them still live, save Uta's sons, my noble brothers, and they came forth into the breeze and cooled their armor rings, ye would all be lost. Bolder heroes were never born into the world."
Then spake young Giselher: "Fair sister mine, full evil was my trust, when thou didst invite me from across the Rhine hither to this land, to this dire need. How have I merited death here from the Huns? I was aye true to thee; never did I do thee wrong, and in the hope that thou wast still my friend, dear sister mine, rode I hither to thy court. It cannot be but that thou grant us mercy."
"I will not grant you mercy, merciless is my mood. Hagen of Troneg hath done me such great wrongs that it may never be amended, the while I live. Ye must all suffer for this deed," so spake King Etzel's wife. "And ye will give me Hagen alone as hostage, I will not deny that I will let you live, for ye be my brothers and children of one mother, and will counsel peace with these heroes that be here."
"Now God in heaven forbid," spake Gernot; "were there here a thousand of us, the clansmen of thy kin, we'd rather all lie dead, than give thee a single man as hostage. Never shall this be done."
"We all must die," spake then Giselher, "but none shall hinder that we guard us in knightly wise. We be still here, if any list to fight us; for never have I failed a friend in fealty."
Then spake bold Dankwart (it had not beseemed him to have held his peace): "Forsooth my brother Hagen standeth not alone. It may yet rue those who here refuse the truce. I'll tell you of a truth, we'll make you ware of this."
Then spake the queen: "Ye full lusty heroes, now go nigher to the stairs and avenge my wrongs. For this I will ever serve you, as I should by right. I'll pay Hagen well for his overweening pride. Let none at all escape from the house, and I will bid the hall be set on fire at all four ends. Thus all my wrongs shall be well avenged."
Soon were King Etzel's champions ready still stood without into the hall with blows and shots. Mickle waxed the din, yet the lordings and their liegemen would not part. For very fealty they could not leave each other. Etzel's queen then bade the hall be set on fire, and thus they racked the bodies of the knights with fire and flame. Fanned by the breeze, the whole house burst into flames full soon. I ween, no folk did ever gain such great distress. Enow within cried out: "Alack this plight! We would much rather die in stress of battle. It might move God to pity, how we all are lost! The queen now wreaketh monstrously on us her wrath."
Quoth one of them within: "We must all lie dead. What avail us now the greetings which the king did send us? Thirst from this great heat giveth me such dole, that soon, I ween, my life must ebb away in anguish."
Then spake Hagen of Troneg: "Ye noble knights and good, let him whom pangs of thirst constrain, drink here this blood. In such great heat, 'tis better still than wine. We can purvey us at this time none better."
One of the warriors hied him then to where he found a corpse, and knelt him down beside the wound; then he unbound his helmet and began to drink the flowing blood. However little wont to such a drink, him thought it passing good: "Sir Hagen, now God requite you," spake the weary man, "that I have drunk so well at your advice; seldom hath better wine been proffered me. And I live yet a while, I shall ever be your friend."
When now the others heard this, it thought them good, and soon there were many more that drank the blood. From this the body of each gained much of strength; but many a stately dame paid dear for this through the loss of loving kin. Into the hall the fire fell thick and fast upon them, but with their shields they turned it from them to the ground. Both the heat and the smoke did hurt them sore; in sooth, I ween, that nevermore will such anguish hap to heroes.
Again Hagen of Troneg spake: "Stand by the sides of the hall. Let not the firebrands fall upon your helmet bands, but stamp them with your feet down deeper in the blood. Forsooth it is an evil feast which the queen doth give us here."
In such dire woes the night did wear away at last, and still the brave minstrel and his comrade Hagen stood before the hall, a-leaning on their shields. More scathe they awaited from those of Etzel's band. Then spake the fiddler: "Now go we into the hall. Then the Huns will ween, that we all be dead from the torture that hath been done us here. They'll yet see us go to meet them in the strife."
Now spake Giselher of Burgundy, the youth: "I trow the day dawneth, a cooling wind doth blow. May God in heaven let us live to see a liefer time, for my sister Kriemhild hath given us here an evil feast."
Again one spake: "I see the day . Sith we cannot hope for better things, so arm you, heroes, think on your life. Certes, King Etzel's wife will come to meet us soon again."
The host weened well, that his guests were dead from their toil and the pangs of fire; but yet within the hall six hundred brave men, as good as any knight that king ever gained, were still alive. Those set to guard the strangers had well seen that the guests still lived, despite the damage and the dole that had been done both to the lordings and their men. In the hall one saw them stand full safe and sound. They then told Kriemhild that many were still alive, but the queen replied: "It could never be, that any should have lived through such stress of fire. Rather will I believe that all lie dead."
The lordings and their men would still fain have lived, had any listed to do them mercy, but they could find none among those of the Hunnish land. So with full willing hand they avenged their dying. On this same day, towards morning, men proffered them a fierce attack as greeting, which brought the champions in stress again. Many a stout spear was hurled upon them, but the bold and lordly warriors warded them in knightly wise. High rose the mood of Etzel's men at the thought that they should earn Queen Kriemhild's gold. Thereto they were minded to perform whatso the King did bid them. Many of them because of this must soon needs gaze on death. Of pledges and of gifts one might tell wonders. She bade the ruddy gold be carried forth on shields and gave it to whomsoever craved it and would take it. Certes, greater wage was nevermore given against foes. To the hall a mickle force of well-armed warriors marched.
Then cried bold Folker: "We're here again, ye see. Never saw I heroes more gladly come to fight than these that have taken the king's gold to do us scathe."
Then enow did call: "Nearer, heroes, nearer, that we may do betimes what we must bring to an end. Here dieth none that is not doomed to die."
Soon their shields were seen sticking full of darts that had been thrown. What more can I say? Full twelve hundred men tried hard to match them, surging back and forth. The strangers cooled well their mood with wounds. None might part the strife, and so blood was seen to flow from mortal wounds, many of which were dealt. Each one was heard to wail for friends. All the great king's doughty warriors died, and loving kinsmen mourned them passing sore.