Nibelungs - George Upton

Iring's Fight with Hagen

Presently Giselher spoke: "Not yet, methinks, dear comrades, are our labors ended, and many hours of warfare lie before us ere we shall be overcome. But these dead Huns greatly encumber us, wherefore let us cast them out!" Hagen smiled grimly when he heard the young prince's words, for they pleased him well.

Thereupon they seized the dead warriors and flung them out. Etzel came to gaze upon the dead, and Hagen, seeing him, cried out: "It were well, methinks, O King of Huns, an thou didst wield the sword and cheer thy people on, for they lack somewhat of heart! Behold the work the blade of our ruler hath wrought on helm and shield!

At these words Etzel's brow grew red with wrath and shame, and he called for his arms; but Kriemhild cried: "Nay, venture not thy life, dear lord! Thy single arm were of small avail against yon heroes. Rather heap thy shield with ruddy gold as a prize to those Huns who will maintain the strife." But Etzel was no craven knight, and would have gone to do battle with Hagen had not his lords withheld hire by force.

Then Hagen taunted the Queen with scornful words till her wrath against him rose hotter and fiercer than before, and she cried to the Huns: "On him who slayeth yon knight I will bestow the King's shield piled up with gold, and many a castle and fruitful field besides."

But none stirred; whereupon Volker mocked them, saying 't were shame in them to eat the King's bread, since none had courage to do his will, nor could such dastards hope to gain their lord's esteem, but must hold themselves disgraced as knights forsworn. The bravest of the Huns felt bitter shame within them at the truth of Volker's words, and were roused to fresh fury; yet none dared lead the attack. But there chanced to be a strange knight at the court,—the Margrave Iring of Denmark,—and he now stepped forth, saying: "I ever have been bent on glorious deeds, nor will I fail now to strive for such. Wherefore, Sir Hagen, arm thyself to meet me."

Hagen sought to dissuade him from his purpose, but Iring replied:

"I have encountered great odds heretofore, and will not fail to meet them now"; and therewith he donned his armor. Then Irnfried of Thuringia, a valiant youth, and stout Hawart of Denmark, made ready to aid him with their followers.

When Volker saw the band of armed men advancing with the three knights at their head, he said: "Now, of a truth, friend Hagen, cloth not a falsehood ill become a gallant knight? I thought yon boastful Iring would have dared a single combat with thee, and now behold, how well supported he comes!"

But Iring, hearing this, replied, 't was not his wont to stain his knightly honor thus, and what he vowed he would now fulfil. Whereupon his men stood still and reluctantly allowed him to advance alone to meet his foe.

Raising aloft their well-poised javelins, the two champions hurled them at each other with such mighty force and so true an aim that both shields were pierced and the shafts snapped short, whereupon they rushed together, their great swords clanging sharply on the iron shields. So heavy were Sir Iring's strokes that fire leaped out beneath them, and the clash of arms resounded through the hall, yet of no avail were they against Hagen's strength and skill; whereupon, giving over the attempt, he fell upon Gunther; and then again baffled, upon Gernot. At last, in a fury at finding himself no match for these heroes he sprang at one of the Burgundian knights and slew him and thereafter three others.

Now Giselher, beside himself with rage, longed for vengeance, nor did he long in vain, for therewith Iring rushed upon him, but Giselher smote him so powerfully that he fell senseless to the floor. All thought him dead, yet he was but stunned with the crashing blow upon his helm; and suddenly springing to his feet he rushed from the hall, smiting Hagen as he reached the door, and wounding him. Furious with rage, that hero grasped his sword in both hands and pursued Sir Iring down the stairs, striking sparks from his upraised shield.

Kriemhild, seeing the blood on Hagen's helm, greeted Iring joyfully; but Hagen shouted to her to save her thanks until the knight should have proved himself worthy of them by returning again to the combat, warning her also that his wound was but slight and had done him little harm as she should soon learn. Thereupon Iring caused a new shield to be brought, and hastily donning fresh armor he rushed again to the stairway. Like a raging lion, down sprang Hagen to meet him, striking such fearful blows that naught could long withstand them. Soon they shore through shield and helm and wounded Iring. Higher he raised his shield to guard his head, when Hagen, seizing a spear that lay upon the ground, hurled it through the shield and fatally pierced him. Back fled Iring to his Danes and there sank dying at their feet, while they crowded about him with cries of sorrow. Kriemhild too bent over him weeping. He died like a hero; yet ere his eyes grew dim he spoke once more in warning to his followers:

"Those largesses which Etzel's Queen

Did promise you to-day

Ne'er hope to conquer or to win

While holding mortal breath;

For he who fights with Hagen bold

Is sure to meet with death!"

Maddened with grief and rage by the death of their chief, Irnfried and Hawart rushed headlong on the Burgundians and another fierce fight began. Soon Irnfried fell by Volker's sword, and Hawart by Hagen's. Then Volker ordered that their followers who were storming at the door be admitted to the hall, and again the din of battle rose more frightful than before. The Burgundians fought like lions; nor, fiercely as the Danes and Thuringians strove to avenge their lords, did one escape the swords of Gunther's dauntless heroes.

Volker, the minstrel knight, took his place by the palace door to watch for any new foe, but there were none who dared attack them. The Huns lacked courage, while Dietrich of Bern, and Rudiger, who had bold knights at their command, not only shunned the strife but bitterly lamented that it had ever occurred.