Nibelungs - George Upton

Hildebrand and Dietrich

One of Dietrich's knights heard the doleful sound and hastened to his master, crying: "I pray thee, lord, give ear! Etzelburg gives forth such cries of woe and lamentation as never yet have I heard. I fear the Burgundians have slain the King or Kriemhild!"

The knights all sprang to their feet, with swords aloft, but Dietrich said: "Draw not your swords, my faithful liegemen, nor judge too rashly those of Burgundy, for I have peace with them. Stern necessity has compelled them to do much that they have done."

Then stepped forth Wolfhart, the boldest and fiercest of the knights. In former days he had met Hagen in battle and sorely wounded him, and now he sought leave to go and learn what had befallen. This would not Dietrich grant, however, for he feared lest the fiery Wolfhart should affront the Burgundians with too hasty words. He despatched Helferich instead, who soon returned with the grievous news of Rudiger's death. Horror-stricken, Dietrich cried: "God forbid that such report should be true! Sir Rudiger always held yon heroes dear in his regard, as well I know. How then could he have earned such reward of them?"

Wolfhart shouted furiously: "Now, by my faith, an they have slain that chief who hath done us many a service, they shall die,—aye, every man!"

Thereupon Dietrich bade the ancient Hildebrand go to the Burgundians and learn more nearly of the matter, while overcome with grief he sat by the window to wait his return. As Hildebrand was about to depart, Wolfhart cried: "Nay; go not thus unarmed, good master, or perchance yon haughty chiefs will send thee back with insult. But an they see thou canst defend thyself, then they will spare thee such attack."

So the old hero donned mail and helm, and taking his sword and shield, rode forth. But the\ knights all followed, likewise fully armed; and when he asked the cause thereof, they said they would not that he came to harm. Meanwhile the Burgundians had borne the body of Rudiger back within the hall; and as Volker spied Hildebrand and the knights, he warned his comrades of their approach. Whereupon Gunther and Giselher strode to the window, Hagen following.

The warriors drew rein in the courtyard, while Hildebrand lowered his shield and asked in Dietrich's name if it was indeed true that they had slain Sir Rudiger. For such foul wrong, he added, might not go unavenged.

Hagen replied: "Heartily do I wish, Sir Hildebrand, that thou hadst been deceived. Yet it is true, alas! Noble Rudiger lies dead in this hall, nor can his loss be bewailed too deeply!"

Then arose a great cry of woe from Dietrich's band, and many a bearded warrior's cheeks were wet with tears.

For sobbing, noble Hildebrand

No question more could ask:

Said he: "Now, knights, perform the will

Of him who set the task!

Give us, from out the hall forthwith

Sir Rudiger again,

Whose death is cause of so much grief

To all these warlike men.

That we repay by obsequies

His martial feats of yore

And noble friendship shown to us,

Now lost forevermore."

And Gunther consented to this; but Wolfhart, who could no longer contain his wrath, demanded with threatening gestures how long they were to beg and wait for what they sought. Volker replied that none should bring it to them now; if they would have Rudiger's body they must come with their swords and fetch it themselves from out the hall. He added: "Such service, methinks, were but Sir Rudiger's due."

Furious at this, Wolfhart would have rushed at Volker, but Hildebrand withheld him by force. "Nay—curb thy headlong wrath! or thou wilt surely bring disgrace upon us all!"

"Let loose, good master Hildebrand,

That lion of rash mood,

That he may come within my reach!"

So said the minstrel good,

And though he may have slain a host

Of valiant knights before,

I'll smite him such a stinging blow

That he'll reply no more."

These words filled Dietrich's men with rage, while Wolfhart with a fierce shout tore himself free and like a raging lion leapt upon his foe, followed by all the knights. But old Hildebrand was there before him, "for since to fighting it must come—himself would be the first." Straight on Hagen he rushed, and therewith arose a mighty clashing of sword on shield, while the sparks flew in showers. Yet soon were they parted by the tide of battle that surged about them. So terrible was the din, it was as that of a thousand forges. Bravely did they fight on either side, but Gunther and Giselher, Hagen and his brother Dankwart, and Volker, out did all the rest. Now Hildebrand saw Volker slay Sir Dietrich's kinsman Siegestab, and thirsting for vengeance, the old warrior sprang upon him. Not long could he withstand such furious onslaught, and soon thereby did the brave minstrel meet his end. At the same moment also was Dankwart slain by Helferich. When Hagen saw both Volker and his brother dead, he swore most fearfully to avenge their fall, and therewith he rushed into the thickest of the fray, slaying right and left, and smiting so fiercely that all his former efforts seemed but as play.

But stout heroes were not lacking among Dietrich's warriors, and surely was there never seen so mighty and so dire a combat. Thrice had the fiery Wolfhart encircled the hall, hewing down all before him, when he encountered Giselher. Fiercely the young prince sprang at him, and so truly and so mightily he smote that his sword clove Wolfhart's shield and hauberk. Yet summoning all his strength, the dying hero dealt Giselher too his death stroke so that he fell lifeless at his feet. When Hildebrand saw his nephew Wolfhart fatally smitten he sprang quickly to his side and sought to bear him from the hall.

Then said the wounded-unto-death:

"Kind uncle, all is o'er!

No help canst thou or any one

Render to Wolfhart more.

One parting word I leave with thee—

Beware of Hagen's brand;

He has in heart and arm a power

That nothing may withstand.

"If that my friends, when I am dead,

Do weep and mourn for me,

Then to my best and nearest kin

Say, with much clemency,

That they desist from heart-lament,

Nor of my fall complain,

For that I found a glorious death

And was by king's hand slain."

And therewith he died.

At last, in all the great hall there were but three heroes left alive,—Gunther, Hagen, and Hildebrand.

Then Hagen smote Sir Hildebrand,

For that he Volker slew;

The ancient chief did ward his blows

With skill and courage too.

Yet could he not prevail against the might of the Burgundian hero, but soon received a grievous wound from Balmung's flashing blade; whereupon, using his shield for cover, he turned and fled to the courtyard without.

Now lived of all those stalwart knights

No more than these bold two:

Gunther, the King of Burgundy,

And Hagen keen and true.

Sorrowfully sat Dietrich in his chamber meanwhile, hoping for better news from Hildebrand. Little was he aware that his knights had followed the old warrior, and still less that all by the Burgundians' swords were slain. Wherefore, when Hildebrand appeared before him, his armor stained with blood, the hero shrank aghast and sternly asked if he had been at strife with the Burgundians against his strict commands. Hildebrand replied that Hagen had wounded him, and barely had he escaped with his life from that archfiend.

Then said Sir Dietrich, haughtily:

"Thou hast been rightly served;

For thou didst know that from these guests

My friendship never swerved;

Also thou hast infringed the peace

I proffered with my breath:

Were 't not that 't would be lasting shame,

Thou shouldst atone by death."

Then Hildebrand sought to excuse himself, saying they had but asked for the body of Rudiger, and this the Burgundians had refused them. When Dietrich thus learned that Rudiger indeed was dead he abandoned himself to grief, but after a space asked by whose hand he fell. Hildebrand replied that Gernot had slain him, and by his hand, in turn, had been slain. Thereupon Dietrich resolved to go himself and have speech with the Burgundians; and calling for his armor, he bade Hildebrand summon his knights forthwith.

Alas! my lord," cried Hildebrand, "thou seest before thee all thy warriors!" And while Dietrich gazed at him horror-stricken, he told him all that had passed.

Now was Dietrich indeed plunged in sorrow. Loudly did he lament the loss of Wolfhart and all his brave knights, and cried: "This is the last day of my joy on earth!