Nibelungs - George Upton

The Minstrel Knight

Low burned the tapers in the royal hall, and as the midnight hour drew nigh, anxious thoughts arose in the minds of the Burgundians. They longed for morning light to dawn. At last Gunther prayed the King that they might be permitted to seek their rest; whereupon Etzel gave orders that they should be shown to their lodgings, and with hearty goodwill wished them sound slumbers. As they followed the torch-bearers, the Huns came crowding about them so closely that their way was stopped, but Volker drew his sword and sprang forward, shouting: Give place! or, by the mass, I'll strike!" and Hagen added: "Be warned in time, ye knights of Kriemhild! If you would have aught with us, come with morning's light and you shall find us ready!"

Thereupon the Huns fell back, and the Burgundians were shown into a wide vaulted hall where ample provisions for their comfort had been made. The beds were decked with gorgeous hangings of Arabian silk, tapestries from Arras, and coverlets of ermine and rich sable. Yet all this splendor could not avail to banish the dark forebodings that black as night had settled upon the hearts of the Burgundians. To the youthful imagination of Giselher indeed, the sumptuously decked hall seemed to bear the semblance of a tomb, and he cried aloud: "Oh, woe to this hostelry, and woe to the Burgundians, that ever they came to Kriemhild's court!"

Whereupon a deep voice answered: "Dismiss thy fears, Lord Giselher, for I will answer for thy safe repose until the morn."

It was Hagen who spoke, and such cheer did his words bring that all laid them down in peace forthwith to seek their much needed repose. But Volker strode to Hagen's side, saying: "An thou so wilt, I'll keep the watch with thee!"

"God will reward thy loyalty, my gallant friend!" replied Hagen. "I need no help forsooth, yet with thee by my side I could ask naught further. Nor shalt thou fail of thanks one day, if my life be spared."

Siegfried's killer


Then donning their heaviest armor they took their place on the stone stairway without, to guard the door. Now, Volker the bold was well skilled in the minstrel art; not only was he master of sword-play, but also of the sweet-toned viol, from which he was never parted. Fetching it now, he seated himself in the arched doorway and began to play. As the wondrous melodies floated on the air, all the joys and sorrows of their past lives seemed to fill once more the hearts of the sleeping heroes. Soft and low, like the rustling of leaves in the evening breeze, the last notes died away, and all was still.

Then Volker exchanged the viol for the shield, and the bow for the sword of battle. Motionless the two knights stood on either side of the high arched doorway, like giant figures cast in bronze. Full dark was it, for few stars crept through the cloudy veil which night had cast like a pall about the weary strangers. Not long after midnight Volker spied the gleam of armor in the distance, and looking more closely, his sharp eyes soon discovered some of Kriemhild's knights lurking in the darkness. Kriemhild had sent them thither with orders to slay Hagen, but spare the other.

Volker pointed them out to his comrade, who whispered: "Be silent now and let them approach. Perchance they will not mark our presence here in the dark shadow. When once they are within our reach, we will smite their helms as they come up the stair, and send them back to Kriemhild in sorry plight."

But when the Hunnish knights had advanced a few steps they perceived the two watchers in the doorway, whereupon one said: "Now must we forego our purpose. Look, yonder stands the minstrel! His burnished helm gleams with vivid light, and sparks of living flame shoot from his mail. Hagen stands beside him to guard the door. Now of a truth those knights may safely rest for aught of me!" Therewith they stole softly away. Then Volker said: "What thinkest thou, Hagen? Shall I not after them? Gladly would I play a brief tune upon them with my sword-bow!"

An thou lov'st me, do not so!" rejoined Hagen quickly. "Wert thou sore pressed, then must I hasten to thy aid and leave the door unguarded."

But Volker persisted: "They shall know that we have marked their base intent, and so perchance be brought to shame." Therewith he shouted scornfully: "Wherefore so fully armed at dead of night, O Kriemhild's knights? Is it on highway robbery you are bent?"

But the Huns made no answer; whereupon he cried again in wrath: "Fie upon you, dastard, craven crew, who sought to murder sleeping men! Lay down those swords from hands no longer fit to bear them!"

Thus once again was Kriemhild's purpose brought to naught, and she was forced to devise other measures to gain her ends.