Nibelungs - George Upton

Kriemhild's Revenge And Death

When Dietrich of Bern had regained his wonted composure he asked how many of the Burgundians yet were left alive, and Hildebrand told him none save Gunther and Hagen,—all the rest were slain. Whereupon, filled with grief and wrath, he seized his arms and went forth with Hildebrand to seek them.

Leaning against the arched doorway stood the two Burgundian heroes, their shields before them on the ground; and when they saw the knights approaching, Hagen, still undaunted, declared himself ready to do battle with Sir Dietrich; nor did he fear to meet him, mighty as he deemed himself, for then would it be proved who was the better knight.

Dietrich heard this bold speech, but vouchsafed no reply. Laying down his shield and looking sorrowfully at them, he asked: "Wherein, O knights of Burgundy, have I injured you, that you should slay the noble Rudiger, and with him all my friends and warriors?

"Not all the blame lies with us, Sir Knight," said Hagen, "for to this hall thy men came in arms. Thou hast been misinformed."

"Alas!" replied Dietrich, "I know only too well what passed; for Hildebrand but now brought me word that he desired of you the corpse of Rudiger, and you treated his suit with scorn."

"Now, by my faith," cried Gunther, "'t was in despite of Etzel that we refused; but forthwith Wolfhart grew insolent, and thus it came to strife."

Then said Dietrich: "Gunther of Burgundy, for the evil thou hast wrought, methinks thou owest me some amends, and thou likewise, Sir Hagen. If you will yield yourselves captives to my sword, then I will guard you from the wrathful Huns,—at peril of my life, if need be."

"God in heaven forbid," cried Hagen, "that two such knights should give up their trusty swords while alive and well armed withal!"

But again Dietrich urged them to accept his terms, and Hildebrand added: "God knows, Sir Hagen, there is little need for shame in such atonement. And soon, it may be, the hour will come when you would gladly obtain such peace."

"In faith," replied Hagen, scornfully, "I would indeed accept such terms ere I, like thee, would fly full-armed, from a single knight." Hildebrand would have returned this taunt, but Dietrich forbade them thus to bandy words like two old market-wives, and turning to Hagen he said, sternly: "Tell me, valiant hero, did I hear aright that you wished to measure swords with me?"

Well as he knew Sir Dietrich's giant strength, he could not gainsay this; wherefore he replied that he would willingly abide the issue of a combat with him, so his good Nibelung sword did not fail him.

Thereupon Dietrich raised his shield as signal for attack, and Hagen sprang fiercely down to meet him, the sword of the Nibelungs ringing loudly on the stout shield of his foe. Sir Dietrich, too, was well aware of Hagen's might, and sought at first with caution merely to ward his powerful blows, yet did he lose no chance for skilful sword-strokes here and there. At last he dealt stout Hagen such a deadly wound that powerless he sank upon the ground. Then casting his sword and shield aside, Dietrich quickly bound him fast and led him thus unto the Queen.

Now, indeed, did Kriemhild's joy and triumph know no bounds. Vowing her lasting gratitude to Dietrich, she promised to reward him well that he had thus delivered up her deadly foe into her hands. But Dietrich urged her to spare Sir Hagen, saying:

Be merciful, O Queen! and it may chance that one day he shall make amends to thee for all thy wrongs."

To this Kriemhild made no reply, but ordered Hagen to be put in chains and cast into a dungeon where none might see him.

Meanwhile Gunther loudly called for Dietrich, that he might avenge Hagen's downfall. Soon he returned and then followed another fierce encounter; but though Gunther fought with the courage of despair, he was overpowered at last, as Hagen had been, and taken before the Queen.

Kriemhild bade him welcome; but Gunther replied: "Small thanks will I bestow on thee for thy greetings, for well I know they bode us little good."

Then said the gallant prince of Bern:

"Most high and potent Queen!

There ne'er appeared as captive bound

So brave a knight, I ween,

As he whom unto thee I gave

With loyal courtesy,

At thy fair hands let him partake

Of favor due to me!"

Kriemhild declared she would perform his wish; whereupon Dietrich departed, his eyes wet with tears. But no thought had she for aught save vengeance. Causing Gunther to be also chained and cast into a separate dungeon, she betook herself to Hagen. Again she demanded of him her treasure, promising him his life if he would confess where he had hidden it.

Hagen, although a captive, wounded and in chains, was still undaunted. With a scornful glance at Kriemhild he replied: "I gave a solemn oath to my lord Gunther, that never while he drew breath would I divulge the spot where it lies."

Now will I quickly make an end of that, forsooth!" cried Kriemhild; and thereupon she ordered Gunther's head to be struck off. Then she took it to Hagen, saying: "Now doth thy lord no longer live and thereby art thou freed from thy sworn oath!"

But Hagen cried:

"Thou hast indeed thy will fulfilled,

As I did fear thou wouldst!

Now where the hoard lies hid is known

To none but God and me,

And shall from thee, accursed Queen!

Forever hidden be!"

She said: "Thou 'st foul atonement made

In purpose, deed, and word;

Therefore will I possess myself

Of virtuous Siegfried's sword,

Which he did bear upon his thigh

When last I saw that chief,

Whose death has ever been to me

A keen heart-rending grief."

She drew it from the well-known sheath

Nor could he this prevent;

To take the warrior's life forthwith

Was her unmasked intent.

She swung it with both hands, and smote

His head from off its trunk.

King Etzel saw the vengeful deed,

And from its horror shrunk.

Just at this moment the King had appeared in the dungeon with Hildebrand.

"Alas!" the King of Huns did cry,

"How doth the matter stand—

That he, the boldest of all knights,

Should fall by woman's hand?

He who in onslaught was the first,

The bravest that bore shield!

Although he was mine enemy,

I fain to sorrow yield."

But Hildebrand shouted in wrath: "She shall rue this shameful deed! Though he hath wellnigh slain me, yet will I forthwith take vengeance for valiant Hagen's death!"

And drawing his sword he rushed on Kriemhild, and despite her shrieks he smote the terrified Queen so that she fell dead upon the ground.

Thus were the mighty of the earth

By hand of death laid low.

The people all lamented loud

And bitter grief did show.

In suffering did the King's feast end—

That joyous time was past,

For love to sorrow aye must turn,

So long as life shall last.