Nibelungs - George Upton

The Strife in the Hall

Loud Rang bold Dankwart's lusty tones

Throughout the lofty hall:

"My brother Hagen sits too long

In peace and ease withal!

To thee and to our God above,

I tell my tale of pain:

My knights and al our followers

Have been at quarters slain!"

With one accord the knights sprang to their feet, their swords flashing aloft, and Hagen cried fiercely: "By Heaven! Who hath done this slaughter?"

"Sir Blodelin and his men," answered Dankwart; "yet dearly hath he paid therefor; with mine own hand I slew him."

"It was more honor than he merited, thus to meet his death by a hero's hand."

Now was Hagen's resolution taken, and he shouted: "Do thou, Dankwart, guard the door, nor suffer any Hun to leave the hall, while I hold a reckoning with these."

Then springing to Kriemhild's side, he cried: "Now let us drink to Siegfried's repose! For that, we need the King's own wine!" Therewith he struck off the head of the little prince. Then lifting Balmung with both hands, he slew the attendant of the prince, and a third stroke severed the right hand of the minstrel Werbel, who had borne King Etzel's message to the Burgundians. Volker sprang to his side, and there began among the Hunnish knights "a slaughter grim and great."

King Gunther and his brothers sought at first to check the strife, but all in vain. Then they too were seized with the fury of battle, and soon all the Burgundians had joined the fray.

Meanwhile the Huns had drawn their swords and were bravely striving to defend themselves. Everywhere through the hall rose the clash of arms, and hoarse battle-cries reechoed from the roof. From without more Huns hurled themselves against the door, eager to aid their comrades within; and Dankwart, hard pressed, was fain to cry to Hagen for aid. Whereupon that hero shouted in a voice of thunder: "Friend Volker, haste thee to my brother's side, or we surely must lose a mighty champion!"

Gladly sprang Volker to the door; and now so fiercely did they ply their blades that no man lived to pass within or out.

Joyous above the battle din

The minstrel's shout rang clear

"The hall is now well closed, forsooth,

Good comrades, be of cheer!

King Etzel's door is faster made

By Burgund heroes twain

Than if a thousand bolts were shot

To make all entry vain!"

Whereat Hagen flung his shield upon his back, and again grasping Balmung with both hands, laid about him more furiously than before. Fear came upon Kriemhild, for she saw that the Burgundians were stronger than the Huns; and turning in terror to Dietrich of Bern, who stood near, she besought him to aid her to escape.

"But how may that be done, O Queen," replied he. "So mad with fury are these heroes that even I must fight for my life."

But Kriemhild pressed him so sorely in her fear that at length Dietrich promised he would seek to save her; and leaping upon a table, he gave a mighty shout. Clearly above the clash of arms it sounded like the blast of a battle horn. It caught King Gunther's ear, and knowing it for Dietrich's voice, he commanded the strife to cease till he should learn the will of the hero, who made signal with his hand that he would speak. For a space there was silence while Gunther asked whether Dietrich or any of his knights had suffered ill.

"Loath were I, noble knight, that such should chance," said he, "for surely no cause for strife lies 'twixt us two."

Dietrich replied that no evil had befallen them; he did but seek permission to withdraw with all his men. This Gunther gladly granted, whereupon Dietrich, taking the Queen on one arm and King Etzel on the other, retired from the hall, followed by his knights; but no Huns were permitted to depart with them. Then Rudiger, who had welcomed the Burgundians so hospitably on their way thither, also sprang upon the table and asked if no others might pass out. And Giselher, who was betrothed to Rudiger's daughter, cried:

"Naught is there but peace between us, gallant Rudiger, for thou hast ever kept true faith with us and never sought to do us harm."

So Rudiger with his followers also departed from the hall in peace. A Hunnish knight had sought to slip out unseen behind the King, but Volker swiftly smote him dead upon the spot. When King Etzel was once more without he stood and cried aloud in grief:

"Now woe unto this peaceful feast!

And woe unto this day!

For there within is one doth rage

Like wild boar brought to bay.

This devil fierce is Volker hight

A minstrel knight is he.

Thanks be to God that by his grace

I now in safety be!

His fearful melodies ring out

O'er all the din and strife;

His viol bow is crimson red;

Full many a hero's life

Doth answer to its mighty tones.

Howe'er his wrath began,

Sure ne'er had I so dread a guest

As this same minstrelman."

And now fiercer and fiercer raged the strife. The Burgundians showed no mercy. When the last Hun was dead, the victors laid down their arms and sat them down to draw breath, while Hagen and Volker with drawn swords kept guard before the door.