Adventure XXXVII - How Margrave Rudeger Was Slain.

The strangers had done full well at dawn. Meanwhile Gotelind's husband came to court. Bitterly faithful Rudeger wept when he saw the grievous wounds on either side. "Woe is me," quoth the champion, "that I was ever born, sith none may stay this mickle grief! However fain I would make for peace, the king will not consent, for he seeth ever more and more the sufferings of his men."

Then the good Knight Rudeger sent to Dietrich, if perchance they might turn the fate of the high-born kings. The king of Berne sent answer: "Who might now forfend? King Etzel will let none part the strife."

Then a Hunnish warrior, that saw Rudeger stand with weeping eyes, and many tears had he shed, spake to the queen: "Now behold how he doth stand, that hath the greatest power at Etzel's court and whom both lands and people serve. Why have so many castles been given to Rudeger, of which he doth hold such store from the king in fief? Not one sturdy stroke hath he dealt in all this strife. Methinks, he recketh not how it fare here at court, sith he hath his will in full. Men say of him, he be bolder than any other wight. Little hath that been seen in these parlous (178) days."

Sad in heart the faithful vassal gazed at him whom he heard thus speak. Him-thought: "Thou shalt pay for this. Thou sayest, I be a craven, and hast told thy tale too loud at court."

His fist he clenched, then ran he at him and smote the Hunnish man so mightily that he lay dead at his feet full soon. Through this King Etzel's woe grew greater.

"Away, thou arrant coward," cried Rudeger, "forsooth I have enow of grief and pain, How dost thou taunt me, that I fight not here? Certes, I have good cause to hate the strangers, and would have done all in my power against them, had I not led the warriors hither. Of a truth I was their safeguard to my master's land. Therefore the hand of me, wretched man, may not strive against them."

Then spake Etzel, the noble king, to the margrave: "How have ye helped us, most noble Rudeger! We have so many fey (179) in the land, that we have no need of more. Full evil have ye done."

At this the noble knight made answer: "Forsooth he grieved my mood and twitted me with the honors and the goods, such store of which I have received from thy hand. This hath cost the liar dear."

The queen, too, was come and had seen what fortuned to the Huns through the hero's wrath. Passing sore she bewailed it; her eyes grew moist as she spake to Rudeger: "How have we deserved that ye should increase the sorrows of the king and me? Hitherto ye have told us, that for our sake ye would risk both life and honor. I heard full many warriors accord to you the palm. Let me mind you of your fealty and that ye swore, when that ye counseled me to Etzel, good knight and true, that ye would serve me till one of us should die. Never have I, poor woman, had such great need of this."

"There's no denying that I swore to you, my lady, for your sake I'd risk both life and honor, but I did not swear that I would lose my soul. 'Twas I that bade the high-born lordings to this feast."

Quoth she: "Bethink thee, Rudeger, of thy great fealty, of thy constancy, and of thine oaths, that thou wouldst ever avenge mine injuries and all my woes."

Said the margrave: "Seldom have I denied you aught."

Mighty Etzel, too, began implore; upon their knees they sank before the knight. Men saw the noble margrave stand full sad. Pitifully the faithful warrior spake: "Woe is me, most wretched man, that I have lived to see this day. I must give over all my honors, my fealty, and my courtesie, that God did bid me use. Alas, great God of heaven, that death will not turn this from me! I shall act basely and full evil, whatever I do or leave undone. But if I give over both, then will all people blame me. Now may he advise me, who hath given me life."

Still the king and the queen, too, begged unceasingly. Through this warriors must needs thereafter lose their lives at Rudeger's hands, when the hero also died. Ye may well hear it now, that he deported him full pitifully. He wist that it would bring him scathe and monstrous woe. Gladly would he have refused the king and queen. He feared full sore that if he slew but one of the strangers, the world would bear him hate.

Then the brave man addressed him to the king: "Sir King, take back again all that I have from you, my land with its castles, let not a whit remain to me. On foot will I wander into other lands."

At this King Etzel spake: "Who else should help me then? I'll give thee the land and all its castles, as thine own, that thou mayst avenge me on my foes. Thou shalt be a mighty king at Etzel's side."

Then answered Rudeger: "How shall I do this deed? I bade them to my house and home; in friendly wise I offered them both food and drink and gave them gifts. How may I counsel their death? People will lightly ween, that I be craven. No service of mine have I refused these noble lordings and their men. Now I rue the kinship I have gained with them. I gave my daughter to Giselher, the knight; to none in all the world could she have been better given, for courtesie and honor, for fealty and wealth. Never have I seen so young a prince of such right courteous mind."

Then Kriemhild spake again: "Most noble Rudeger, take pity on our griefs, on mine and on the king's. Bethink thee well, that king did never gain such baneful guests."

To the noble dame the margrave spake: "Rudeger's life must pay to-day for whatsoever favors ye and my lord have shown me. Therefore must I die; no longer may it be deferred. I know full well, that my castles and my lands will be voided for you to-day through the hand of one of these men. To your mercy I commend my wife and children and the strangers (180) who be at Bechelaren."

"Now God requite thee, Rudeger," spake the king, and both he and the queen grew glad. "Thy people shall be well commended to our care. For mine own weal I trust thou too shalt go unscathed."

Etzel's bride began to weep. Then body and soul he staked upon the venture. He spake: "I must perform what I have vowed. Alas for my friends, whom I am loth to fight."

Men saw him go sadly from the presence of the king. Close at hand he found his warriors standing. He spake: "Ye must arm you all, my men, for, alas, I must needs encounter the bold Burgundians."

They bade the squires run nimbly to where lay their arms. Whether it were helm or buckler, 'twas all brought forth to them by their meiny. Later the proud strangers heard told baleful tales. Rudeger was now armed, and with him five hundred men; thereto he gained twelve champions, who would fain win renown in the stress of battle. They wist not that death drew nigh them. Then Rudeger was seen to march with helmet donned. The margrave's men bare keen-edged swords, and their bright shields and broad upon their arms. This the fiddler saw; greatly he rued the sight. When young Giselher beheld his lady's father walk with his helm upon his head, how might he know what he meant thereby, save that it portended good? Therefore the noble prince waxed passing merry of mood.

"Now well is me of such kinsmen," spake Knight Giselher, "whom we have won upon this journey; from my wife we shall reap much profit here. Lief it is to me, that this betrothal hath taken place."

"I know not whence ye take your comfort," spake then the minstrel; "when have ye seen so many heroes walk with helmets donned and swords in hand, for the sake of peace? Rudeger doth think to win his castles and his lands in fight with us."

Or ever the fiddler had ended his speech, men saw the noble Rudeger before the house. At his feet he placed his trusty shield, and now both service and greeting he must needs refuse his friends. Into the hall the noble margrave called: "Ye doughty Nibelungs, now guard you well on every side. Ye were to profit by me, now I shall bring you scathe. Aforetime we were friends, but of this troth I now would fain be rid."

The hard-pressed men were startled at this tale, for none gained aught of joy, that he whom they did love would now fain fight them. From their foes they had already suffered mickle stress of war. "Now God of heaven forbid," spake Gunther, the knight, "that ye should give over your love of us and your great fealty, on which we counted of a truth. Better things I trow of you, than that ye should ever do this deed."

"Alas, I cannot give it over, but must fight you, for I have vowed it. Now ward you, brave heroes, and ye love your life. King Etzel's wife would not release me from mine oath."

"Ye declare this feud too late," spake the highborn king. "Now may God requite you, most noble Rudeger, for all the love and fealty that ye have shown us, if ye would only act more kindly at the end. I and my kinsmen, we ought ever to serve you for the noble gifts ye gave us, when ye brought us hither faithfully to Etzel's land. Now, noble Rudeger, think on this."

"How gladly would I grant you," spake Knight Rudeger, "that I might weigh out my gifts for you with full measure, as willingly as I had hoped, if I never should be blamed on that account."

"Turn back, noble Rudeger," spake then Gernot, "for host did never give his guests such loving cheer as ye did us. This shall profit you well, and we remain alive."

"Would to God," spake Rudeger, "most noble Gernot, that ye were on the Rhine and I were dead with passing honor, sith I must now encounter you! Never did friends act worse to heroes."

"Now God requite you, Sir Rudeger," answered Gernot, "for your passing rich gifts. Your death doth rue me, if such knightly virtues shall be lost with you. Here I bear your sword that ye gave me, good knight and true. It hath never failed me in all this need. Many a knight fell dead beneath its edges. It is bright and steady, glorious and good; nevermore, I ween, will warrior give so rich a gift. And will ye not turn back, but come to meet us, and slay aught of the friends I still have here, with your own sword will I take your life. Then will ye rue me, Rudeger, ye and your high-born wife."

"Would to God, Sir Gernot, that this might come to pass, that all your will might here be done, and that your kinsmen escaped unscathed! Then both my daughter and my wife may trust you well, forsooth."

Then of the Burgundians there spake fair Uta's son: "Why do ye so, Sir Rudeger? Those that be come with us, do all like you well. Ye encounter us in evil wise; ye wish to make your fair daughter a widow far too soon. If ye and your warriors match me now with strife, how right unkindly do ye let it appear, that I trust you well above all other men and therefore won me your daughter to wife."

"Think on your fealty, most noble and high-born king. And God let you escape," so spake Rudeger, "let the maiden suffer not for me. For your own virtue's sake, vouchsafe her mercy."

"That I should do by right," spake the youthful Giselher, "but if my noble kinsmen here within must die through you, then my steadfast friendship for you and for your daughter must be parted."

"Now may God have mercy on us," answered the valiant man. Then they raised their shields, as though they would hence to fight the guests in Kriemhild's hall, but Hagen cried full loud adown the steps. "Pray tarry awhile, most noble Rudeger," so spake Hagen; "I and my lords would fain have further parley, as doth befit our need. What can the death of us wanderers avail King Etzel? I stand here in a fearful plight; the shield that Lady Gotelind gave me to bear hath been cut to pieces by the Huns. I brought it with friendly purpose into Etzel's land. O that God in heaven would grant, that I might bear so good a shield as that thou hast in thy hand, most noble Rudeger! Then I should no longer need a hauberk in the fray."

"Gladly would I serve thee with my shield, durst I offer it before Kriemhild. Yet take it, Hagen, and bear it on thine arm. Ho, if thou couldst only wield it in the Burgundian land!"

When he so willingly offered to give the shield, enow of eyes grew red with scalding tears. 'T was the last gift that ever Rudeger of Bechelaren gave to any knight. However fierce Hagen, and however stern of mood, the gift did touch him, which the good hero, so near to death, had given. Many a noble knight gan mourn with him.

"Now God in heaven requite you, most noble Rudeger. Your like will nevermore be found, who giveth homeless warriors such lordly gifts. God grant that your courtesie may ever live." Again Hagen spake: "Woe is me of these tales, we had so many other griefs to bear. Let complaint be made to heaven, if we must fight with friends."

Quoth the margrave: "Inly doth this grieve me."

"Now God requite you, for the gift, most noble Rudeger. Howso these high-born warriors deport them toward you, my hand shall never touch you in the fight, and ye slew them all from the Burgundian land."

Courteously the good Sir Rudeger bowed him low. On every side they wept, that none might soothe this pain of heart. That was a mighty grief. In Rudeger would die the father of all knightly virtues.

Then Folker, the minstrel, spake from out the hall: "Sith my comrade Hagen hath made his peace with you, ye shall have it just as steadfastly from my hand, for well ye earned it, when we came into this land. Most noble margrave, ye shall be mine envoy, too. The margravine gave me these ruddy arm rings, that I should wear them here at the feasting. These ye may yourself behold, that ye may later be my witness."

"Now God of heaven grant," spake Rudeger, "that the margravine may give you more! I'll gladly tell these tales to my dear love, if I see her in health again. Of this ye shall not doubt."

When he had vowed him this, Rudeger raised high his shield. No longer he bided, but with raging mood, like a berserker, he rushed upon the guests. Many a furious blow the noble margrave struck. The twain, Folker and Hagen, stepped further back, as they had vowed to him afore. Still he found standing by the tower such valiant men, that Rudeger began the fight with anxious doubts. With murderous intent Gunther and Gernot let him in, good heroes they! Giselher stood further back, which irked him sore, in truth. He voided Rudeger, for still he had hope of life. Then the margrave's men rushed at their foes; in knightly wise one saw them follow their lord. In their hands they bare their keen-edged swords, the which cleft there many a helm and lordly shield. The tired warriors dealt the men of Bechelaren many a mighty blow, that cut smooth and deep through the shining mail, down to the very quick.

Rudeger's noble fellowship was now come quite within. Into the fight Folker and Hagen sprang anon. They gave no quarter, save to one man alone. Through the hands of the twain the blood streamed down from the helmets. How grimly rang the many swords within! The shield plates sprang from their fastenings, and the precious stones, cut from the shields, fell down into the gore. So grimly they fought, that men will never do the like again. The lord of Bechelaren raged to and fro, as one who wotteth how to use great prowess in the fray. Passing like to a worshipful champion and a bold did Rudeger bear him on that day. Here stood the warriors, Gunther and Gernot, and smote many a hero dead in the fray. Giselher and Dankwart, the twain, recked so little, that they brought full many a knight to his last day of life. Full well did Rudeger make appear that he was strong enow, brave and well-armed. Ho, what knights he slew! This a Burgundian espied; perforce it angered him, and thus Sir Rudeger's death drew near.

The stalwart Gernot accosted the hero; to the margrave he spake: "It appeareth, ye will not leave my men alive, most noble Rudeger. That irketh me beyond all measure, no longer can I bear the sight. So may your present work you harm, sith ye have taken from me such store of friends. Pray address you unto me, most noble man and brave, your gift shall be paid for as best I can."

Or ever the margrave could reach his foe, bright armor rings must needs grow dull with blood. Then at each other sprang these honor-seeking men. Either gan guard him against mighty wounds. So sharp were their swords, that naught might avail against them. Then Rudeger, the knight, smote Gernot a buffet through his helmet, the which was as hard as flint, so that the blood gushed forth. But this the bold knight and good repaid eftsoon. High in his hand he now poised Rudeger's gift, and though wounded unto death, he smote him a stroke through his good and trusty shield down to his helmet band. And so fair Gotelind's husband was done to death. Certes, so rich a gift was never worse repaid. So fell alike both Gernot and Rudeger, slain in the fray, through each other's hand.

Then first waxed Hagen wroth, when he saw the monstrous scathe. Quoth the hero of Troneg: "Evil hath it fared with us. In these two men we have taken a loss so great that neither their land nor people will e'er recover from the blow. Rudeger's champions must answer to us homeless men."

"Alas for my brother, who hath here been done to death. What evil tales I hear all time! Noble Rudeger, too, must ever rue me. The loss and the grievous wounds are felt on either side."

When Lord Giselher saw his betrothed's father dead, those within the hall were forced to suffer need. Fiercely death sought his fellowship; not one of those of Bechelaren escaped with life. Gunther and Giselher and Hagen, too, Dankwart and Folker, the right good knights, went to where they found the two men lying. Then by these heroes tears of grief were shed.

"Death doth sorely rob us," spake Giselher, the youth. "Now give over your weeping and go we bite the breeze, that the mailed armor of us storm-weary men may cool. Certes, I ween, that God in heaven vouchsafeth us no more to live."

This champion was seen to sit and that to lean against the wall, but all again were idle. Rudeger's heroes lay still in death. The din had died away; the hush endured so long, it vexed King Etzel.

"Alack for such services," spake the queen. "They be not so true, that our foes must pay with their life at Rudeger's hands. I trow, he doth wish to lead them back to the Burgundian land. What booteth it, King Etzel, that we have given him whatso he would? The knight hath done amiss, he who should avenge us, doth make his peace."

To this Folker, the full dapper knight, made answer: "This is not true, alas, most noble queen. Durst I give the lie to such a high-born dame, then had ye most foully lied against Rudeger. He and his champions be cozened in this peace. So eagerly he did what the king commanded, that he and all his fellowship lie here in death. Now look around you, Kriemhild, to see whom ye may now command. The good Knight Rudeger hath served you to his end. And ye will not believe the tale, we'll let you see."

To their great grief 'twas done; they bare the slain hero to where the king might see him. Never had there happed to Etzel's men a grief so great. When they saw the margrave borne forth dead, no scribe might write or tell the frantic grief of men and women, which there gan show itself from dole of heart. King Etzel's sorrow waxed so great that the mighty king did voice his woe of heart, as with a lion's roar. Likewise did his queen. Beyond all measure they bewailed the good Knight Rudeger's death.