Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton

The Offering and the Union

There was a sacred grove near the battlefield, where the victory was celebrated three days later. A great host of German heroes assembled on an open spot near the grove, and Herman was in their midst. There was a new spirit among them all. Their eyes shone with a new light, and the joy of victory irradiated their faces. But the gods were not forgotten. The heroes had assembled there to pray and make offering to them. Fires shot up everywhere, for they were also met to pay the last honors to the dead, and all around were groups burning the bodies of relatives who had fallen on the field.

"Igomar," said Herman to the warriors about him, "has gone with a force to the Rhine to destroy the castles and possessions of the Romans which have encircled us like a brazen girdle. But where is the body of my father? Oh, that you could have seen the old hero as he lay under the sacred oaks with his sword in his hand, as we found him on the morning after the victory! The blood-rose of battle glowed on that breast, which was faithful to liberty to the last moment. Gloriously shone his face, pale in death, as he lay among the fresh flowers brought by the forest birds."

"They are bringing the prince," said one.

All eyes turned at these words to a group of youths approaching from the right. They were carrying a bier, made of twisted twigs, upon which reposed the body of Sigmar. Warriors with drawn swords walked behind it. Herman quickly advanced to meet them. The youths bowed their heads in sincere grief, and lowered the bier. Herman knelt by the dead, took the cold hand and kissed it, while tears streamed down his face. "My father, thou hast redeemed thy word. Think of me on the sacred heights of Valhalla. Forgive me that I mourn when I should be joyous of heart. I envy thee, companion of gods and heroes; and yet how hard it is so suddenly to lose thee!"

Rising, Herman said: "Preserved in costliest urn, thy ashes shall rest in the sacred grove. The mound which covers thee shall outlast thy people, and thy name shall shine like a star for all time."

At that instant the Roman prisoners were led by from the left, and following them came a band of priests in gray garments, carrying stone knives. One of them approached Herman. Pale was his countenance, sinister his expression. "We are the priests of Tyr, the bloody god of battle," he said, in a low tone. "Hearken to what he announces through us. Our soil must not cover the bodies of the enemy. Let them lie where they drew the sword. Let them be the food of the wolves and ravens of our forests."

It is the decree of the gods," replied Herman. "Let it show the enemies of the Germans what awaits them, and dissuade them from the folly of undertaking to enslave us."

The priest resumed: "The god of battle also demands his offering. Give us the prisoners! Then shall the smoke of their blood on Tyr's altars rise to his golden throne."

"Believe me," replied Herman, "the gods are appeased. Every hill and valley have drunk sufficiently of the blood of the enemy."

"Alas for thee," exclaimed the priest, raising his hands, "if thou do not give to us the prisoners! Woe to him who lets a serpent live! He is the murderer of those who are stung by it and its brood. Give the god of battle the offering which our ancestors never refused him."

Herman's refusal had already caused alarm, not only among the priests, but among the soldiers also. Realizing that this alarm might become dangerous if he should adhere to his refusal, he said, "Take them."

Herman longed for the high priest of Balder, the gentle god, so that he might make offering upon his altar, and also supplicate him to bring Thusnelda, the beloved of his heart; for a band of youths had attacked her father's castle. He was glad they did not find Segest, but Thusnelda's disappearance greatly troubled him. At this moment a soldier approached, with his naked sword in one hand and the head of Varus in the other.

"Do not expose it," said Herman. "Wrap the head in a cloth to protect it, and send it in the morning to Marbod in care of three of your best warriors, so that at sight of it he may know that we have conquered the enemy who would have enslaved us. It may arouse a feeling of shame in his breast that he, either from cowardice or from dishonorable intention, has not participated in this sacred struggle."

The arrival of the high priest was suddenly announced. Herman approached the edge of the sacred grove. Youths and many warriors followed with the bier. At the high priest's side walked a stately maiden, carrying in her white hand an oak wreath made from branches cut by the high priest with his golden sickle from the consecrated oak.

The warriors looked with sacred awe upon the figure of the maiden. They thought one of the celestial Valkyrs had come from the abode of the gods to crown the brow of their hero with an unfading wreath of victory. But Herman knew her. It was Thusnelda. With beaming eyes and cheeks glowing with joy she approached her beloved Herman and placed the green wreath on his head.

The priest raised his hands and said: "Blessed be the people! So long as they have princes like thee, they will be invincible."

Herman removed his crown, and pointing to the body of his father, said: "Through him I am what I am. To him, not to me, belongs the honor." Saying this, he stepped to the bier and placed the green wreath upon the prince's silver hair.

"Thusnelda," he said, "I implored the gods in the grove to bring you to me, and, lo, my prayer is granted even before the smoke of offering has reached their abodes. Tell me, how comest thou here?"

Thusnelda answered: "As becomes a maiden when men are in strife, I flew to the gods, and my prayers rose to them while the heroes were engaged on the field of death. But tell me, dear one, where is my father?"

"Fear not for him," said Herman; "he has escaped."

Thusnelda covered her face and wept; but Herman took her hand and said: "Thou art mine in life and in death. Our lives are consecrated to the fatherland. Thy name shall be blessed and thou shalt be held in remembrance as is Euria of the brook, whose story thou didst once relate. Even to the latest time shalt thou be the sacred ideal of a German maiden, and thy deeds will bear witness that faithfulness is a beautiful ornament, like gold or a costly jewel. They will also show that women are not surpassed by men in devotion to the fatherland when its welfare is at stake."

"Enter now the sacred grove," said the priest; "that I may invoke the blessing of Balder, the gentle god, upon your union. And you, heroes and champions of the freedom of our people, follow me to make ready the offering."

With joyful hearts the procession entered the sacred grove.