Nibelungs - George Upton

Kriemhild's Welcome

After Gunther and his knights had ridden on again for a space, Hagen made known to them the dark prophecy of the Swan maidens. Quickly the news spread throughout the host, and many a heart sank, and many a cheek grew pale thereat; yet retreat was no longer possible, for the boat was gone.

Soon they came to the lands of Rudiger, the margrave, who in former days had wooed Kriemhild for King Etzel. Right gladly were they welcomed by that brave and hospitable knight, and they spent three days at his castle in feasting and good cheer. At that time Rudiger's fair daughter won the heart of Giselher, and her parents willingly gave their consent to the betrothal, promising that the marriage should be celebrated on the return of the Burgundians. Alas! that never was to be.

But now no longer might they tarry, for already messengers had been sent to Etzel to warn him of their approach, and on the fourth morning they took their leave. Rudiger bestowed rich gifts upon the princes and their kinsmen, and himself rode with them to the royal castle, Etzelburg, the shining towers whereof soon rose before them. It chanced that Dietrich, the Prince of Bern, who aforetime had slain the mighty Ecke, was then at Etzel's court with the ancient Hildebrand; and fearing some evil to the Burgundians, they rode forth to meet them on their way. Hagen knew the two knights from afar and said to Gunther:

"Yonder come Sir Dietrich and Hildebrand; let us dismount and go on foot to meet them!" Whereupon all the knights also dismounted. Dietrich and Hildebrand did the same, and the heroes exchanged friendly greetings. Then Dietrich told them of his fears, warning them that Kriemhild's grief for Siegfried had known no change.

"'T is of small avail to weep for Siegfried," said Hagen, insolently, "since dead he is and dead will he remain, for all her tears."

"Ay, that indeed!" replied Dietrich, with a stern glance at Hagen, "and pity is it, God wot, that King Siegfried lives no more. But Kriemhild's vengeance still doth live; and thereby, much I fear me, evil is in store for you."

Gunther started; yet, seeking to allay his fears, he asked: "Are we not here by Etzel's own request? Surely your King would not deal falsely by his guests; and Kriemhild long since made peace with us."

But Hagen, wishing to know all the truth, urged Dietrich to speak freely. Whereupon he, taking Gunther apart, told him how Kriemhild each morning bewailed the untimely death of Siegfried, with tears and prayers to God for vengeance.

Then out spoke the bold and jovial Volker: "Now, in good sooth, my lords, we must endure those evils that we cannot cure with what grace we can. Let us not dampen our courage with fears for what the future may bring forth!" And therewith they resumed their journey.

When they came to the castle, the gates were flung open and the Huns poured forth in crowds to gaze at the Burgundian heroes with all their glittering train. Many eyes sought Hagen, for well was he known in the land of the Huns as the slayer of Siegfried the mighty; and all were struck with wonder at his massive frame no less than his haughty bearing and fierce aspect. Broad were his chest and shoulders, his black hair slightly tinged with gray, while his bold gaze roved restlessly about from beneath his shaggy eyebrows.

King Etzel, with Kriemhild, stood at the window as the Burgundians on their gayly decked steeds rode into the spacious courtyard. When his eye fell upon Hagen he turned to his courtiers, demanding: "Who may yon haughty chieftain be?"

"'T is Hagen, son to old Sir Adrian, a bold and wrathful knight, my lord," said one.

"Ha!" cried the King, "'t is little strange I did not know him; for though he once was here at court, yet then forsooth, was he but a careless stripling."

The stranger knights were housed within the castle as became their rank, but for the retainers lodging was prepared in other quarters far removed therefrom. This Kriemhild had planned for her own purposes. Now she went forth to welcome her kinsmen. Giselher, who was guiltless of Siegfried's death, she kissed and embraced fondly, but none other did she greet in this fashion. When Hagen marked this, he tightened the band of his helm and cast a meaning glance at Gunther. After she had greeted all, she turned to Hagen, saying:

"Welcome art thou to one who gladly sees thee here. Yet tell me, I pray thee, what hast thou brought me from the Rhine?"

"Now, by my faith," quoth Hagen, "thou art rich in gold and power, and yet dost ask what largess I bring!"

"I desire no gifts of thee," said Kriemhild, coldly. "I want that which is my own. Where is the treasure that thou didst withhold from me?"

"In sooth, most potent Queen," cried Hagen, "'t is many a day since I have seen the hoard. Wouldst thou know the spot where it is hidden? Full deep beneath the broad Rhine was it sunk, and there shall it abide until the Judgment Day!

"I knew full well thou wouldst not bring it hither," continued Kriemhild; "and for it I will hold thee to account; as also for the murder of my noble lord i

With a scornful look, Hagen replied: "Now by my faith, this buckler broad, and my coat of mail and two-edged sword beside, are weight enough to carry. In sooth, I nothing else have brought."

Thereupon Kriemhild declared that no weapons might be worn within the royal hall; but if he would entrust his arms to the care of her retainers, she would see to it that they were well guarded.

"Gramercy!" cried Hagen, "it were an honor far too great—for a Queen to serve as armorer. It must not be. Thou hast my thanks, fair dame; but for my arms, methinks they best were guarded by myself."

"Ah! now I see," said Kriemhild, angrily, "it must be thou hast had warning to doubt my faith. Would I but knew who spake such words to thee!"

Whereupon Dietrich of Bern stepped proudly forth and said, "'T was I, O Queen, who warned thy kin, and I do not shame to own it."

At this Kriemhild grew red with shame and anger, and turned away without a word, but cast upon her enemy, as she went, a swift glance of deadly hatred.