Legends of the Middle Ages
Part 2 out of 8
a king. When the strangers entered her hall she would have greeted
Siegfried first had he not modestly drawn aside, declaring that the honor
was due to his master, Gunther, King of Burgundy, who had come to Issland
to woo her.
Brunhild then haughtily bade her warriors make all the necessary
preparations for the coming contest; and Gunther, Hagen, and Dankwart
apprehensively watched the movements of four warriors staggering beneath
the weight of Brunhild's ponderous shield. Then they saw three others
equally overpowered by her spear; and twelve sturdy servants could scarcely
roll the stone she was wont to cast.
Hagen and Dankwart, fearing for their master,--who was doomed to die in
case of failure,--began to mutter that some treachery was afoot, and openly
regretted that they had consented to lay aside their weapons upon entering
the castle. These remarks, overheard by Brunhild, called forth her scorn,
and she contemptuously bade her servants bring the strangers' arms, since
they were afraid.
"Well heard the noble maiden the warrior's words the while,
And looking o'er her shoulder, said with a scornful smile,
'As he thinks himself so mighty, I'll not deny a guest;
Take they their arms and armor, and do as seems them best.
"'Be they naked and defenseless, or sheath'd in armor sheen,
To me it nothing matters,' said the haughty queen.
'Fear'd yet I never mortal, and, spite of yon stern brow
And all the strength of Gunther, I fear as little now.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: Siegfried and the Tarnkappe.] While these preliminaries were
being settled, Siegfried had gone down to the ship riding at anchor, and
all unseen had donned his magic cloud-cloak and returned to the scene of
the coming contest, where he now bade Gunther rely upon his aid.
"'I am Siegfried, thy trusty friend and true;
Be not in fear a moment for all the queen can do.'
"Said he, 'Off with the buckler, and give it me to bear;
Now what I shall advise thee, mark with thy closest care.
Be it thine to make the gestures, and mine the work to do.'"
In obedience to these directions, Gunther merely made the motions,
depending upon the invisible Siegfried to parry and make all the attacks.
Brunhild first poised and flung her spear with such force that both heroes
staggered and almost fell; but before she could cry out victory, Siegfried
had caught the spear, turned it butt end foremost, and flung it back with
such violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge herself
[Sidenote: Brunhild's defeat.] Nothing daunted, however, by this first
defeat, she caught up the massive stone, flung it far from her, and leaping
after it, alighted beside it. But even while she was inwardly
congratulating herself, and confidently cherishing the belief that the
stranger could not surpass her, Siegfried caught up the stone, flung it
farther still, and grasping Gunther by his broad girdle, bounded through
the air with him and landed far beyond it. Brunhild was outdone in all
three feats, and, according to her own promise, belonged to the victor,
Gunther, to whom she now bade her people show all due respect and homage.
"Then all aloud fair Brunhild bespake her courtier band,
Seeing in the ring at distance unharm'd her wooer stand:
'Hither, my men and kinsmen, low to my better bow.
I am no more your mistress; you're Gunther's liegemen now.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Illustration: GUNTHER WINNING HIS BRIDE.--Keller.]
The warriors all hastened to do her bidding, and escorted their new lord to
the castle, whither, under pretext of fitly celebrating her marriage,
Brunhild summoned all her retainers from far and near. This rally roused
the secret terror of Gunther, Hagen, and Dankwart, for they suspected some
act of treachery on the part of the dark-browed queen. These fears were
also, in a measure, shared by Siegfried; so he stole away, promising to
return before long with a force sufficient to overawe Brunhild and quell
all attempt at foul play.
Siegfried, having hastily embarked upon the little vessel, swiftly sailed
away to the Nibelungen land, where he arrived in an incredibly short space
of time, presented himself at the gates of his castle, and forced an
entrance by conquering the giant porter, and Alberich, the dwarf guardian
of his treasure. Then making himself known to his followers, the Nibelungs,
he chose one thousand of them to accompany him back to Issland to support
the Burgundian king.
[Sidenote: Marriage of Gunther and Brunhild.] The arrival of this
unexpected force greatly surprised Brunhild. She questioned Gunther, and
upon receiving the careless reply that they were only a few of his
followers, who had come to make merry at his wedding, she gave up all hope
of resistance. When the usual festivities had taken place, and the wonted
largesses had been distributed, Gunther bade his bride prepare to follow
him back to the Rhine with her personal female attendants, who numbered no
less than one hundred and sixty-eight.
Brunhild regretfully left her own country, escorted by the thousand
Nibelung warriors; and when they had journeyed nine days, Gunther bade
Siegfried spur ahead and announce his safe return to his family and
subjects. Offended by the tone of command Gunther had assumed, Siegfried at
first proudly refused to obey; but when the king begged it as a favor, and
mentioned Kriemhild's name, he immediately relented and set out.
"Said he, 'Nay, gentle Siegfried, do but this journey take,
Not for my sake only, but for my sister's sake;
You'll oblige fair Kriemhild in this as well as me.'
When so implored was Siegfried, ready at once was he.
"'Whate'er you will, command me; let naught be left unsaid;
I will gladly do it for the lovely maid.
How can I refuse her who my heart has won?
For her, whate'er your pleasure, tell it, and it is done.'"
_Nibelunglied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
Kriemhild received this messenger most graciously, and gave immediate
orders for a magnificent reception of the new queen, going down to the
river to meet and greet her in the most cordial and affectionate manner.
[Sidenote: Marriage of Siegfried and Kriemhild.] A tournament and banquet
ensued; but as they were about to sit down to the latter, the impatient
Siegfried ventured to remind Gunther of his promise, and claim the hand of
Kriemhild. In spite of a low-spoken remonstrance on Brunhild's part, who
said that he would surely never consent to give his only sister in marriage
to a menial, Gunther sent for Kriemhild, who blushingly expressed her
readiness to marry Siegfried if her brother wished. The marriage was
immediately celebrated, and the two bridal couples sat side by side. But
while Kriemhild's fair face was radiant with joy, Brunhild's dark brows
were drawn close together in an unmistakable and ominous frown.
[Sidenote: Gunther's humiliation.] The banquet over, the newly married
couples retired; but when Gunther, for the first time alone with his wife,
would fain have embraced her, she seized him, and, in spite of his vigorous
resistance, bound him fast with her long girdle, suspended him from a nail
in the corner of her apartment, and, notwithstanding his piteous
entreaties, let him remain there all night long, releasing him only a few
moments before the attendants entered the nuptial chamber in the morning.
Of course all seemed greatly surprised to see Gunther's lowering
countenance, which contrasted oddly with Siegfried's radiant mien; for the
latter had won a loving wife, and, to show his appreciation of her, had
given her as wedding gift the great Nibelungen hoard.
In the course of the day Gunther managed to draw Siegfried aside, and
secretly confided to him the shameful treatment he had received at his
wife's hands. When Siegfried heard this he offered to don his cloud-cloak
once more, enter the royal chamber unperceived, and force Brunhild to
recognize her husband as her master, and never again make use of her
strength against him.
[Sidenote: Brunhild subdued by Siegfried.] In pursuance of this promise
Siegfried suddenly left Kriemhild's side at nightfall, stole unseen into
the queen's room, and when she and Gunther had closed the door, he blew out
the lights and wrestled with Brunhild until she begged for mercy, promising
never to bind him again; for as Siegfried had remained invisible throughout
the struggle, she thought it was Gunther who had conquered her.
"Said she, 'Right noble ruler, vouchsafe my life to spare;
Whatever I've offended, my duty shall repair.
I'll meet thy noble passion; my love with thine shall vie.
That thou canst tame a woman, none better knows than I.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
Still unperceived, Siegfried now took her girdle and ring, and stole out of
the apartment, leaving Gunther alone with his wife; but, true to her
promise, Brunhild ever after treated her husband with due respect, and
having once for all been conquered, she entirely lost the fabulous strength
which had been her proudest boast, and was no more powerful than any other
member of her sex.
After fourteen days of rejoicing, Siegfried and Kriemhild (the latter
escorted by her faithful steward Eckewart) journeyed off to Xanten on the
Rhine, where Siegmund and Siegelind received them joyfully, and even
abdicated in their favor.
Ten years passed away very rapidly indeed. Siegfried became the father of a
son, whom he named Gunther, in honor of his brother-in-law, who had called
his heir Siegfried; and when Siegelind had seen her little grandson she
departed from this world. Siegfried, with Kriemhild, his father, and his
son, then went to the Nibelungen land, where they tarried two years.
In the mean while Brunhild, still imagining that Siegfried was only her
husband's vassal, secretly wondered why he never came to court to do homage
for his lands, and finally suggested to Gunther that it would be well to
invite his sister and her husband to visit them at Worms. Gunther seized
this suggestion gladly, and immediately sent one of his followers, Gary, to
deliver the invitation, which Siegfried accepted for himself and his wife,
and also for Siegmund, his father.
As they were bidden for midsummer, and as the journey was very long,
Kriemhild speedily began her preparations; and when she left home she
cheerfully intrusted her little son to the care of the stalwart Nibelung
knights, little suspecting that she would never see him again.
On Kriemhild's arrival at Worms, Brunhild greeted her with as much pomp and
ceremony as had been used for her own reception; but in spite of the amity
which seemed to exist between the two queens, Brunhild was secretly angry
at what she deemed Kriemhild's unwarrantable arrogance.
[Sidenote: Brunhild and Kreimhild.] One day, when the two queens were
sitting together, Brunhild, weary of hearing Kriemhild's constant praise of
her husband, who she declared was without a peer in the world, cuttingly
remarked that since he was Gunther's vassal he must necessarily be his
inferior. This remark called forth a retort from Kriemhild, and a dispute
was soon raging, in the course of which Kriemhild vowed that she would
publicly assert her rank by taking the precedence of Brunhild in entering
the church. The queens parted in hot anger, but both immediately proceeded
to attire themselves with the utmost magnificence, and, escorted by all
their maids, met at the church door. Brunhild there bade Kriemhild stand
aside and make way for her superior; but this order so angered the
Nibelungen queen that the dispute was resumed in public with increased
vehemence and bitterness.
In her indignation Kriemhild finally insulted Brunhild grossly by declaring
that she was not a faithful wife; and in proof of her assertion she
produced the ring and girdle which Siegfried had won in his memorable
encounter with her, and which he had imprudently given to his wife, to whom
he had also confided the secret of Brunhild's wooing.
Brunhild indignantly summoned Gunther to defend her, and he, in anger, sent
for Siegfried, who publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth, and
that Gunther's queen had in no way forfeited her good name. Further to
propitiate his host, Siegfried declared the quarrel to be disgraceful, and
promised to teach his wife better manners for the future, advising Gunther
to do the same with his consort.
"'Women must be instructed,' said Siegfried the good knight,
'To leave off idle talking and rule their tongues aright.
Keep thy fair wife in order. I'll do by mine the same.
Such overweening folly puts me indeed to shame.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
To carry out this good resolution he led Kriemhild home, where, sooth to
say, he beat her black and blue,--an heroic measure which Gunther did not
dare to imitate.
Brunhild, smarting from the public insult received, continued to weep aloud
and complain, until Hagen, inquiring the cause of her extravagant grief,
and receiving a highly colored version of the affair, declared that he
would see that she was duly avenged.
"He ask'd her what had happen'd--wherefore he saw her weep;
She told him all the story; he vow'd to her full deep
That reap should Kriemhild's husband as he had dar'd to sow,
Or that himself thereafter content should never know."
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
To keep this promise, Hagen next tried to stir up the anger of Gunther,
Gernot, and Ortwine, and to prevail upon them to murder Siegfried; but
Giselher reproved him for these base designs, and openly took Siegfried's
"'Sure 'tis but a trifle to stir an angry wife.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
But although he succeeded in quelling the attempt for the time being, he
was no match for the artful Hagen, who continually reminded Gunther of the
insult his wife had received, setting it in the worst possible light, and
finally so worked upon the king's feelings that he consented to a
[Sidenote: Hagen's treachery.] Under pretext that his former enemy,
Ludeger, was about to attack him again, Gunther asked Siegfried's
assistance, and began to prepare as if for war. When Kriemhild heard that
her beloved husband was about to rush into danger she was greatly troubled.
Hagen artfully pretended to share her alarm, and so won her confidence that
she revealed to him that Siegfried was invulnerable except in one spot,
between his shoulders, where a lime leaf had rested and the dragon's blood
had not touched him.
"'So now I'll tell the secret, dear friend, alone to thee
(For thou, I doubt not, cousin, wilt keep thy faith with me),
Where sword may pierce my darling, and death sit on the thrust.
See, in thy truth and honor how full, how firm, my trust!
"'As from the dragon's death-wounds gush'd out the crimson gore,
With the smoking torrent the warrior wash'd him o'er,
A leaf then 'twixt his shoulders fell from the linden bough.
There only steel can harm him; for that I tremble now.'"
Pretending a sympathy he was far from feeling, and disguising his unholy
joy, Hagen bade Kriemhild sew a tiny cross on Siegfried's doublet over the
vulnerable spot, that he might the better protect him in case of danger,
and, after receiving her profuse thanks, returned to report the success of
his ruse to the king. When Siegfried joined them on the morrow, wearing the
fatal marked doublet, he was surprised to hear that the rebellion had been
quelled without a blow; and when invited to join in a hunt in the Odenwald
instead of the fray, he gladly signified his consent. After bidding
farewell to Kriemhild, whose heart was sorely oppressed by dark
forebodings, he joined the hunting party. He scoured the forest, slew
several boars, caught a bear alive, and playfully let him loose in camp to
furnish sport for the guests while the noonday meal was being prepared.
Then he gaily sat down, clamoring for a drink. His exertions had made him
very thirsty indeed, and he was sorely disappointed when told that, owing
to a mistake, the wine had been carried to another part of the forest. But
when Hagen pointed out a fresh spring at a short distance, all his wonted
good humor returned, and he merrily proposed a race thither, offering to
run in full armor, while the others might lay aside their cumbersome
weapons. This challenge was accepted by Hagen and Gunther. Although heavily
handicapped, Siegfried reached the spring first; but, wishing to show
courtesy to his host, he bade him drink while he disarmed. When Gunther's
thirst was quenched, Siegfried took his turn, and while he bent over the
water Hagen treacherously removed all his weapons except his shield, and
gliding behind him, drove his spear through his body in the exact spot
where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.
[Sidenote: Death of Siegfried.] Mortally wounded, Siegfried made a
desperate effort to avenge himself; but finding nothing but his shield
within reach, he flung it with such force at his murderer that it knocked
him down. This last effort exhausted the remainder of his strength, and the
hero fell back upon the grass, cursing the treachery of those whom he had
trusted as friends.
"Thus spake the deadly wounded: 'Ay, cowards false as hell!
To you I still was faithful; I serv'd you long and well;--
But what boots all?--for guerdon treason and death I've won.
By your friends, vile traitors! foully have you done.
"'Whoever shall hereafter from your loins be born,
Shall take from such vile fathers a heritage of scorn.
On me you have wreak'd malice where gratitude was due;
With shame shall you be banish'd by all good knights and true.'"
But even in death Siegfried could not forget his beloved wife; and laying
aside all his anger, he pathetically recommended her to Gunther's care,
bidding him guard her well. Siegfried expired as soon as these words were
uttered; and the hunters silently gathered around his corpse, regretfully
contemplating the fallen hero, while they took counsel together how they
might keep the secret of Hagen's treachery. They finally agreed to carry
the body back to Worms and to say that they had found Siegfried dead in the
forest, where he had presumably been slain by highwaymen.
"Then many said, repenting, 'This deed will prove our bale;
Still let us shroud the secret, and all keep in one tale,--
That the good lord of Kriemhild to hunt alone preferr'd,
And so was slain by robbers as through the wood he spurr'd.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
But although his companions were anxious to shield him, Hagen gloried in
his dastardly deed, and secretly bade the bearers deposit Siegfried's
corpse at Kriemhild's door after nightfall, so that she should be the first
to see it there when on her way to early mass. As he fully expected,
Kriemhild immediately recognized her husband, and fell senseless upon him;
but when she had recovered consciousness she declared, while loudly
bewailing her loss, that Siegfried was the victim of an assassination.
"'Woe's me, woe's me forever! sure no fair foeman's sword
Shiver'd thy failing buckler; 'twas murder stopp'd thy breath.
Oh that I knew who did it! death I'd requite with death!'"
By her orders a messenger was sent to break the mournful tidings to the
still sleeping Siegmund and the Nibelungs. They hastily armed and rallied
about her, and would have fallen upon the Burgundians, to avenge their
master's death, had she not restrained them, bidding them await a suitable
occasion, and promising them her support when the right time came.
[Sidenote: Detection of Siegfried's murderer.] The preparations for a
sumptuous funeral were immediately begun, and all lent a willing hand, for
Siegfried was greatly beloved at Worms. His body was therefore laid in
state in the cathedral, where all came to view it and condole with
Kriemhild; but when Gunther drew near to express his sorrow, she refused to
listen to him until he promised that all those present at the hunt should
touch the body, which at the murderer's contact would bleed afresh. All
stood the test and were honorably acquitted save Hagen, at whose touch
Siegfried's blood began to flow.
"It is a mighty marvel, which oft e'en now we spy,
That when the blood-stain'd murderer comes to the murder'd nigh,
The wounds break out a-bleeding; then too the same befell,
And thus could each beholder the guilt of Hagen tell."
Once more Kriemhild restrained the angry Nibelung warriors from taking
immediate revenge, and, upheld by Gernot and Giselher, who really
sympathized with her grief, she went through the remainder of the funeral
ceremonies and saw her hero duly laid at rest.
Kriemhild's mourning had only begun. All her days and nights were now spent
in bitter weeping. This sorrow was fully shared by Siegmund, who, however,
finally roused himself and proposed a return home. Kriemhild was about to
accompany him, when her relatives persuaded her to remain in Burgundy. Then
the little band which had come in festal array rode silently away in
mourning robes, the grim Nibelung knights muttering dark threats against
those who had dealt so basely with their beloved master.
"'Into this same country we well may come again
To seek and find the traitor who laid our master low.
Among the kin of Siegfried they have many a mortal foe.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: The Nibelungen hoard.] Eckewart the steward alone remained with
Kriemhild, with a faithfulness which has become proverbial in the German
language, and prepared for his mistress a dwelling close by the cathedral,
so that she might constantly visit her husband's tomb. Here Kriemhild spent
three years in complete seclusion, refusing to see Gunther, or the detested
Hagen; but they, remembering that the immense Nibelungen hoard was hers by
right, continually wondered how she could be induced to send for it. Owing
to Hagen's advice, Gunther, helped by his brothers, finally obtained an
interview with, and was reconciled to, his mourning sister, and shortly
after persuaded her to send twelve men to claim from Alberich, the dwarf,
the fabulous wealth her husband had bestowed upon her as a wedding gift.
"It was made up of nothing but precious stones and gold;
Were all the world bought from it, and down the value told,
Not a mark the less thereafter were left than erst was scor'd.
Good reason sure had Hagen to covet such a hoard.
"And thereamong was lying the wishing rod of gold,
Which whoso could discover, might in subjection hold
All this wide world as master, with all that dwelt therein.
There came to Worms with Gernot full many of Albric's kin."
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
But although this wealth is said to have filled nearly one hundred and
fifty wagons, Kriemhild would gladly have given it all away could she but
have seen her husband by her side once more. Not knowing what else to do
with it, she gave away her gold right and left, bidding all the recipients
of her bounty pray for Siegfried's soul. Her largesses were so extensive
that Hagen, who alone did not profit by her generosity, and who feared the
treasure might be exhausted before he could obtain a share, sought out
Gunther and told him that Kriemhild was secretly winning to her side many
adherents, whom she would some day urge to avenge her husband's murder by
slaying her kindred.
[Illustration: SIEGFRIED'S BODY BORNE HOME BY THE HUNTSMEN.--Pixis.]
While Gunther was trying to devise some plan to obtain possession of the
hoard, Hagen boldly seized the keys of the tower where it was kept,
secretly removed all the gold, and, to prevent its falling into any hands
but his own, sank it in the Rhine near Lochheim.
"Ere back the king came thither, impatient of delay,
Hagen seized the treasure, and bore it thence away.
Into the Rhine at Lochheim the whole at once threw he!
Henceforth he thought t'enjoy it, but that was ne'er to be.
"He nevermore could get it for all his vain desire;
So fortune oft the traitor cheats of his treason's hire.
Alone he hop'd to use it as long as he should live,
But neither himself could profit, nor to another give."
When Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher heard what Hagen had done, they were so
angry that he deemed it advisable to withdraw from court for a while.
Kriemhild would fain have left Burgundy forever at this fresh wrong, but
with much difficulty was prevailed upon to remain and take up her abode at
Lorch, whither Siegfried's remains were removed by her order.
[Sidenote: King of Hungary a suitor for Kriemhild.] Thirteen years had
passed by since Siegfried's death in the Odenwald when Etzel, King of
Hungary, who had lost his beautiful and beloved wife, Helche, bade one of
his knights, Ruediger of Bechlaren, ride to Worms and sue for the hand of
Kriemhild in his master's name.
Ruediger immediately gathered together a suitable train and departed,
stopping on the way to visit his wife and daughter at Bechlaren. Passing
all through Bavaria, he arrived at last at Worms, where he was warmly
welcomed, by Hagen especially, who had formerly known him well.
In reply to Gunther's courteous inquiry concerning the welfare of the King
and Queen of the Huns, Ruediger announced the death of the latter, and
declared that he had come to sue for Kriemhild's hand.
"Thereon the highborn envoy his message freely told:
'King, since you have permitted, I'll to your ears unfold
Wherefore my royal master me to your court has sent,
Plung'd as he is in sorrow and doleful dreariment.
"'It has been told my master, Sir Siegfried now is dead,
And Kriemhild left a widow. If thus they both have sped,
Would you but permit her, she the crown shall wear
Before the knights of Etzel; this bids me my good lord declare.'"
Gunther gladly received this message, promised to do all in his power to
win Kriemhild's consent, and said that he would give the envoy a definite
answer in three days' time. He then consulted his brothers and nobles as to
the advisability of the proposed alliance, and found that all were greatly
in favor of it save Hagen, who warned them that if Kriemhild were ever
Queen of the Huns she would use her power to avenge her wrongs.
[Sidenote: Ruediger's promise.] This warning was, however, not heeded by the
royal brothers, who, seeking Kriemhild's presence, vainly tried to make her
accept the Hun's proposal. All she would grant was an audience to Ruediger,
who laid before her his master's proposal, described the power of the Huns,
and swore to obey her in all things would she but consent to become his
"In vain they her entreated, in vain to her they pray'd,
Till to the queen the margrave this secret promise made,--
He'd 'full amends procure her for past or future ill.'
Those words her storm-tost bosom had power in part to still."
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: The journey to Hungary.] After receiving this promise, Kriemhild
signified her consent, and immediately prepared to accompany Ruediger to
King Etzel's court. Eckewart and all her maidens accompanied her, with five
hundred men as a bodyguard; and Gernot and Giselher, with many Burgundian
nobles, escorted her to Vergen on the Danube, where they took an
affectionate leave of her, and went back to their home in Burgundy.
From Vergen, Kriemhild and her escort journeyed on to Passau, where they
were warmly welcomed and hospitably entertained by good Bishop Pilgrim,
brother of Queen Ute. He would gladly have detained them, had not Ruediger
declared that his master impatiently awaited the coming of his bride, which
had duly been announced to him.
A second pause was made at Bechlaren, Ruediger's castle, where Kriemhild was
entertained by his wife and daughter, Gotelinde and Dietelinde, and where
the usual lavish distribution of gifts took place. Then the procession
swept on again across the country and down the Danube, until they met King
Etzel, whom Kriemhild graciously kissed, and who obtained a similar favor
for his brother and a few of his principal nobles.
[Sidenote: The marriage at Vienna.] After witnessing some tilting and other
martial games, the king and queen proceeded to Vienna, where a triumphal
reception awaited them, and where their marriage was celebrated with all
becoming solemnity and great pomp. The wedding festivities lasted seventeen
days; but although all vied in their attempts to please Kriemhild, she
remained sad and pensive, for she could not forget her beloved Siegfried
and the happy years she had spent with him.
The royal couple next journeyed on to Gran, Etzel's capital, where
Kriemhild found innumerable handmaidens ready to do her will, and where
Etzel was very happy with his new consort. His joy was complete, however,
only when she bore him a son, who was baptized in the Christian faith, and
Although thirteen years had now elapsed since Kriemhild had left her native
land, the recollection of her wrongs was as vivid as ever, her melancholy
just as profound, and her thoughts were ever busy planning how best to lure
Hagen into her kingdom so as to work her revenge.
"One long and dreary yearning she foster'd hour by hour;
She thought, 'I am so wealthy and hold such boundless power,
That I with ease a mischief can bring on all my foes,
But most on him of Trony, the deadliest far of those.
"'Full oft for its beloved my heart is mourning still;
Them could I but meet with, who wrought me so much ill,
Revenge should strike at murder, and life atone for life;
Wait can I no longer.' So murmur'd Etzel's wife."
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: Kriemhild's plot.] Kriemhild finally decided to persuade Etzel
to invite all her kinsmen for a midsummer visit, which the king, not
dreaming of her evil purpose, immediately hastened to do. Two minstrels,
Werbel and Swemmel, were sent with the most cordial invitation. Before they
departed Kriemhild instructed them to be sure and tell all her kinsmen that
she was blithe and happy, and not melancholy as of yore, and to use every
effort to bring not only the kings, but also Hagen, who, having been at
Etzel's court as hostage in his youth, could best act as their guide.
The minstrels were warmly received at Worms, where their invitation created
great excitement. All were in favor of accepting it except Hagen, who
objected that Kriemhild had cause for anger and would surely seek revenge
when they were entirely in her power.
"'Trust not, Sir King,' said Hagen, 'how smooth soe'er they be,
These messengers from Hungary; if Kriemhild you will see,
You put upon the venture your honor and your life.
A nurse of ling'ring vengeance is Etzel's moody wife.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
But all his objections were set aside with the remark that he alone had a
guilty conscience; and the kings bade the minstrels return to announce
their coming, although Ute also tried to keep them at home. Hagen, who was
no coward, seeing them determined to go, grimly prepared to accompany them,
and prevailed upon them to don their strongest armor for the journey.
Gunther was accompanied by both his brothers, by Hagen, Dankwart, Volker
(his minstrel), Gary, and Ortwine, and by one thousand picked men as
escort. Before leaving he intrusted his wife, Brunhild, and his son to the
care of Rumolt, his squire, and bidding farewell to his people, set out for
Hungary, whence he was never to return.
In the mean while the Hungarian minstrels had hastened back to Gran to
announce the guests' coming, and, upon being closely questioned by
Kriemhild, described Hagen's grim behavior, and repeated his half-muttered
prophecy: "This jaunt's a jaunt to death."
The Burgundians, who in this part of the poem are frequently called
Nibelungs (because they now held the great hoard), reached the Danube on
the twelfth day. As they found neither ford nor ferry, Hagen, after again
prophesying all manner of evil, volunteered to go in search of a boat or
raft to cross the rapid stream.
[Sidenote: Prophecy of the swan maidens.] He had not gone very far before
he heard the sound of voices, and, peeping through the bushes, saw some
swan maidens, or "wise women," bathing in a neighboring fountain. Stealing
up unperceived, he secured their plumage, which he consented to restore
only after they had predicted the result of his journey. To obtain her
garments, one of the women, Hadburg, prophesied great good fortune; but
when the pilfered robes were restored, another, called Siegelind, foretold
"'I will warn thee, Hagen, thou son of Aldrian;
My aunt has lied unto thee her raiment back to get;
If once thou com'st to Hungary, thou'rt taken in the net.
"'Turn while there's time for safety, turn, warriors most and least;
For this, and for this only, you're bidden to the feast,
That you perforce may perish in Etzel's bloody land.
Whoever rideth thither, Death has he close at hand.'"
After adding that the chaplain alone would return alive to Worms, she told
Hagen that he would find a ferryman on the opposite side of the river,
farther down, but that he would not obey his call unless he declared his
name to be Amelrich.
Hagen, after leaving the wise women, soon saw the ferryman's boat anchored
to the opposite shore, and failing to make him come over for a promised
reward, he cried out that his name was Amelrich. The ferryman immediately
crossed, but when Hagen sprang into his boat he detected the fraud and
began to fight. Although gigantic in size, this ferryman was no match for
Hagen, who, after slaying him, took possession of the boat and skillfully
ferried his masters and companions across the river.
In hope of giving the lie to the swan maidens, Hagen paused once in the
middle of the stream to fling the chaplain overboard, thinking he would
surely drown; but to his surprise and dismay the man struggled back to the
shore, where he stood alone and unharmed, and whence he slowly wended his
way back to Burgundy. Hagen now knew that the swan maidens' prophecy was
destined to be fulfilled. Nevertheless he landed on the opposite shore,
where he bade the main part of the troop ride on ahead, leaving him and
Dankwart to bring up the rear, for he fully expected that Gelfrat, master
of the murdered ferryman, would pursue them to avenge the latter's death.
These previsions were soon verified, and in the bloody encounter which
ensued, Hagen came off victor, with the loss of but four men, while the
enemy left more than one hundred dead upon the field.
[Sidenote: The first warning.] Hagen joined the main body of the army once
more, passed on with it to Passau, where Bishop Pilgrim was as glad to see
his nephews as he had been to welcome his niece, and from thence went on to
the frontiers of Bechlaren. There they found Eckewart, who had been sent by
Ruediger to warn them not to advance any farther, as he suspected that some
treachery was afoot.
"Sir Eckewart replied:
'Yet much, I own, it grieves me that to the Huns you ride.
You took the life of Siegfried; all hate you deadly here;
As your true friend I warn you; watch well, and wisely fear.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
As the Burgundians would have deemed themselves forever disgraced were they
to withdraw from their purpose, they refused to listen to this warning,
and, entering Ruediger's castle, were warmly received by him and his family.
Giselher, seeing the beauty of the maiden Dietelinde, fell deeply in love
with her, and prevailed upon the margrave to consent to their immediate
marriage, promising, however, to claim and bear away his bride only upon
his homeward journey. Once more gifts were lavished with mediaeval
profusion, Gunther receiving a coat of mail, Gernot a sword, Hagen a
shield, and the minstrel Volker many rings of red gold.
[Sidenote: The second warning.] Ruediger then escorted the Burgundians until
they met the brave Dietrich von Bern (Verona), who also warned them that
their visit was fraught with danger, for Kriemhild had by no means
forgotten the murder of the husband of her youth.
His evil prognostications were also of no avail, and he sadly accompanied
them until they met Kriemhild, who embraced Giselher only. Then, turning
suddenly upon Hagen, she inquired aloud, in the presence of all the people,
whether he had brought her back her own, the Nibelung hoard. Nothing
daunted by this sudden query, Hagen haughtily answered that the treasure
still lay deep in the Rhine, where he fancied it would rest until the
"'I' faith, my Lady Kriemhild, 'tis now full many a day
Since in my power the treasure of the Nibelungers lay.
In the Rhine my lords bade sink it; I did their bidding fain,
And in the Rhine, I warrant, till doomsday 'twill remain.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
The queen turned her back contemptuously upon him, and invited her other
guests to lay aside their weapons, for none might enter the great hall
armed. This Hagen refused to allow them to do, saying that he feared
treachery; and the queen, pretending great grief, inquired who could have
filled her kinsmen's hearts with such unjust suspicions. Sir Dietrich then
boldly stepped forward, defied Kriemhild, and declared that it was he who
had bidden the Burgundians be thus on their guard.
"''Twas I that the warning to the noble princes gave,
And to their liegeman Hagen, to whom such hate thou bear'st.
Now up, she-fiend! be doing, and harm me if thou dar'st!'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: Alliance between Hagen and Volker.] Although the thirst for
revenge now made her a "she-fiend," as he termed her, Kriemhild did not
dare openly to attack Dietrich, whom all men justly feared; and she quickly
concealed her anger, while Etzel advanced in his turn to welcome his
guests; and especially singled out Hagen, his friend's son. While many of
the Burgundians accompanied the king into the hall, Hagen drew Volker
aside, and, sitting down on a stone seat near Kriemhild's door, entered
into a life-and-death alliance with him. Kriemhild, looking out of her
window, saw him there and bade her followers go out and slay him; but
although they numbered four hundred, they hung back, until the queen,
thinking that they doubted her assertions, volunteered to descend alone and
wring from Hagen a confession of his crimes, while they lingered within
earshot inside the building. Volker, seeing the queen approach, proposed to
Hagen to rise and show her the customary respect; but the latter, declaring
that she would ascribe this token of decorum to fear alone, grimly bade him
remain seated, and, when she addressed him, boldly acknowledged that he
alone had slain Siegfried.
"Said he, 'Why question further? that were a waste of breath.
In a word, I am e'en Hagen, who Siegfried did to death.
* * * * *
"'What I have done, proud princess, I never will deny.
The cause of all the mischief, the wrong, the loss, am I.
So now, or man or woman, revenge it whoso will;
I scorn to speak a falsehood,--I've done you grievous ill.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
But although the warriors had heard every word he said, and the queen again
urged them on to attack her foe, they one and all withdrew after meeting
one of Hagen's threatening glances. This episode, however, was enough to
show the Burgundians very plainly what they could expect, and Hagen and
Volker soon joined their companions, keeping ever side by side, according
to their agreement.
"Howe'er the rest were coupled, as mov'd to court the train,
Folker and Hagen parted ne'er again,
Save in one mortal struggle, e'en to their dying hour."
After banqueting with Etzel the guests were led to their appointed
quarters, far remote from those of their squires; and when the Huns began
to crowd them, Hagen again frightened them off with one of his black looks.
When the hall where they were to sleep was finally reached, the knights all
lay down to rest except Hagen and Volker, who mounted guard, the latter
beguiling the hours by playing on his fiddle.
Once, in the middle of the night, these self-appointed sentinels saw an
armed troop draw near; but when they loudly challenged the foremost men,
they beat a hasty retreat. At dawn of day the knights arose to go to mass,
wearing their arms by Hagen's advice, keeping well together, and presenting
such a threatening aspect that Kriemhild's men dared not attack them.
In spite of all these signs, Etzel remained entirely ignorant of his wife's
evil designs, and continued to treat the Burgundians like friends and
"How deep soe'er and deadly the hate she bore her kin,
Still, had the truth by any disclos'd to Etzel been,
He had at once prevented what afterwards befell.
Through proud contemptuous courage they scorn'd their wrongs
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: Beginning of hostilities.] After mass a tournament was held,
Dietrich and Ruediger virtuously abstaining from taking part in it, lest
some mishap should occur through their bravery, and fan into flames the
smoldering fire of discord. In spite of all these precautions, however, the
threatened disruption nearly occurred when Volker accidentally slew a Hun;
and it was avoided only by King Etzel's prompt interference.
Kriemhild, hearing of this accident, vainly tried to use it as an excuse to
bribe Dietrich, or his man Hildebrand, to slay her foe. She finally won
over Bloedelin, the king's brother, by promising him a fair bride. To earn
this reward the prince went with an armed host to the hall where all the
Burgundian squires were feasting under Dankwart's care, and there
treacherously slew them all, Dankwart alone escaping to the king's hall to
join his brother Hagen.
In the mean while Etzel was entertaining his mailed guests, and had sent
for his little son, whom he placed in Gunther's lap, telling him that he
would soon send the boy to Burgundy to be educated among his mother's kin.
All admired the graceful child except Hagen, who gruffly remarked that the
child appeared more likely to die early than to live to grow up. He had
just finished this rude speech, which filled Etzel's heart with dismay,
when Dankwart burst into the room, exclaiming that all his companions had
been slain, and calling to Hagen for aid.
"'Be stirring, brother Hagen; you're sitting all too long.
To you and God in heaven our deadly strait I plain:
Yeomen and knights together lie in their quarters slain.'"
_Nibelungenlied_ (Lettsom's tr.).
[Sidenote: Ortlieb slain.] The moment Hagen heard these tidings he sprang
to his feet, drew his sword, and bade Dankwart guard the door and prevent
the ingress or egress of a single Hungarian. Then he struck off the head of
the child Ortlieb, which bounded into Kriemhild's lap, cut off the minstrel
Werbel's hand, and began hewing right and left among the Hungarians, aided
by all his companions, who manfully followed his example.
Dismayed at this sudden turn of affairs, the aged King Etzel "sat in mortal
anguish," helplessly watching the massacre, while Kriemhild shrieked aloud
to Dietrich to protect her from her foes. Moved to pity by her evident
terror, Dietrich blew a resounding blast on his horn, and Gunther paused in
his work of destruction to inquire how he might serve the man who had ever
shown himself a friend. Dietrich answered by asking for a safe-conduct out
of the hall for himself and his followers, which was immediately granted.
"'Let me with your safe-conduct this hall of Etzel's leave,
And quit this bloody banquet with those who follow me;
And for this grace forever I'll at your service be.'"
[Sidenote: The massacre.] Dietrich von Bern then passed out of the hall
unmolested, leading the king by one hand and the queen by the other, and
closely followed by all his retainers. This same privilege was granted to
Ruediger and his five hundred men; but when these had all passed out, the
Burgundians renewed the bloody fight, nor paused until all the Huns in the
hall were slain, and everything was reeking with blood.
Then the Burgundians gathered up the corpses, which they flung down the
staircase, at the foot of which Etzel stood, helplessly wringing his hands,
and vainly trying to discover some means of stopping the fight.
Kriemhild, in the mean while, was actively employed in gathering men,
promising large rewards to any one who would attack and slay Hagen. Urged
on by her, Iring attempted to force an entrance, but was soon driven back;
and when he would have made a second assault, Hagen ruthlessly slew him.
Irnfried the Thuringian, and Hawart the Dane, seeing him fall, rushed
impetuously upon the Burgundians to avenge him; but both fell under Hagen's
and Volker's mighty blows, while their numerous followers were all slain by
the other Burgundians.
"A thousand and four together had come into the hall;
You might see the broadswords flashing rise and fall;
Soon the bold intruders all dead together lay;
Of those renown'd Burgundians strange marvels one might say."
Etzel and the Huns were mourning over their dead; so the weary Burgundians
removed their helmets and rested, while Kriemhild continued to muster new
troops to attack her kinsmen, who were still strongly intrenched in the
"'Twas e'en on a midsummer befell that murderous fight,
When on her nearest kinsmen and many a noble knight
Dame Kriemhild wreak'd the anguish that long in heart she bore,
Whence inly griev'd King Etzel, nor joy knew evermore.
"Yet on such sweeping slaughter at first she had not thought;
She only had for vengeance on one transgressor sought.
She wish'd that but on Hagen the stroke of death might fall;
'Twas the foul fiend's contriving that they should perish all."
An attempt was now made by the Burgundians to treat with Etzel for a
safe-conduct. Obdurate at first, he would have yielded had not Kriemhild
advised him to pursue the feud to the bitter end, unless her brothers
consented to surrender Hagen to her tender mercies. This, of course,
Gunther absolutely refused to do; so Kriemhild gave secret orders that the
hall in which the Burgundians were intrenched should be set on fire.
Surrounded by bitter foes, blinded by smoke, and overcome by the heat, the
Burgundians still held their own, slaking their burning thirst by drinking
the blood of the slain, and taking refuge from the flames under the stone
arches which supported the ceiling of the hall.
[Sidenote: Ruediger's oath.] Thus they managed to survive that terrible
night; but when morning dawned and the queen heard that they were still
alive, she bade Ruediger go forth and fight them. He refused until she
reminded him or the solemn oath he had sworn to her in Worms before she
would consent to accompany him to Hungary.
"'Now think upon the homage that once to me you swore,
When to the Rhine, good warrior, King Etzel's suit you bore,
That you would serve me ever to either's dying day.
Ne'er can I need so deeply that you that vow should pay.'"
Torn by conflicting feelings and urged by opposite oaths,--for he had also
sworn to befriend the Burgundians,--Ruediger now vainly tried to purchase
his release by the sacrifice of all his possessions. At last, goaded to
madness, he yielded to the king's and queen's entreaties, armed his
warriors, and drew near the hall where his former guests were intrenched.
At first they could not believe that Ruediger had any hostile intentions;
but when he pathetically informed them that he must fight, and recommended
his wife and daughter to their care in case he fell, they silently allowed
him and his followers to enter the hall, and grimly renewed the bloody
[Sidenote: Death of Ruediger.] Ruediger, after slaying many foes, encountered
Gernot wielding the sword he had given him; and these two doughty champions
finally slew each other. All the followers of Ruediger also fell; and when
Kriemhild, who was anxiously awaiting the result of this new attack in the
court below, saw his corpse among the slain, she began to weep and bemoan
her loss. The mournful tidings of Ruediger's death soon spread all over the
town, and came finally to the ears of Dietrich von Bern, who bade his man
Hildebrand go and claim the corpse from his Burgundian friends.
Hildebrand went thither with an armed force, but some of his men
unfortunately began to bandy words with the Burgundians, and this soon
brought about an impetuous fight. In the ensuing battle all the Burgundians
fell except Gunther and Hagen, while Hildebrand escaped sore wounded to his
master, Dietrich von Bern. When this hero heard that his nephew and vassals
were all slain, he quickly armed himself, and, after vainly imploring
Gunther and Hagen to surrender, fell upon them with an armed force. The two
sole remaining Burgundians were now so exhausted that Dietrich soon managed
to take them captive. He led them bound to Kriemhild, and implored her to
have pity upon them and spare their lives.
"'Fair and noble Kriemhild,' thus Sir Dietrich spake,
Spare this captive warrior, who full amends will make
For all his past transgressions; him here in bonds you see;
Revenge not on the fetter'd th' offenses of the free.'"
[Sidenote: Kriemhild's cruelty.] By the queen's orders, Gunther and Hagen
were confined in separate cells. There she soon sought the latter,
promising him his liberty if he would but reveal the place where her
treasure was concealed. But Hagen, mistrusting her, declared that he had
solemnly sworn never to reveal the secret as long as one of his masters
breathed. Kriemhild, whose cruelty had long passed all bounds, left him
only to have her brother Gunther beheaded, and soon returned carrying his
head, which she showed to Hagen, commanding him to speak. But he still
refused to gratify her, and replied that since he was now the sole
depositary of the secret, it would perish with him.
"'So now, where lies the treasure none knows save God and me,
And told it shall be never, be sure, she-fiend, to thee!'"
[Sidenote: Kriemhild slain.] This defiant answer so exasperated Kriemhild
that she seized the sword hanging by his side,--which she recognized as
Siegfried's favorite weapon,--and with her own hands cut off his head
before Etzel or any of his courtiers could interfere. Hildebrand, seeing
this act of treachery, sprang impetuously forward, and, drawing his sword,
slew her who had brought untold misery into the land of the Huns.
"The mighty and the noble there lay together dead;
For this had all the people dole and drearihead.
The feast of royal Etzel was thus shut up in woe,
Pain in the steps of Pleasure treads ever here below.
"'Tis more than I can tell you what afterwards befell,
Save that there was weeping for friends belov'd so well;
Knights and squires, dames and damsels, were seen lamenting all.
So end I here my story. This is the Nibelungers' Fall."
Although the "Nibelungenlied" proper ends here, an appendix, probably by
another hand, called the "Lament," continues the story, and relates how
Etzel, Dietrich, and Hildebrand, in turn, extolled the high deeds and
bewailed the untimely end of each hero. Then this poem, which is as
mournful as monotonous throughout, describes the departure of the
messengers sent to bear the evil tidings and the weapons of the slain to
Worms, and their arrival at Passau, where more tears were shed and where
Bishop Pilgrim celebrated a solemn mass for the rest of the heroes' souls.
From thence the funeral procession slowly traveled on to Worms, where the
sad news was imparted to the remaining Burgundians, who named the son of
Gunther and Brunhild as their king, and who never forgot the fatal ride to
LANGOBARDIAN CYCLE OF MYTHS.
Although the following tales of mythical heroes have some slight historical
basis, they have been so adorned by the fancy of mediaeval bards, and so
frequently remodeled with utter disregard of all chronological sequence,
that the kernel of truth is very hard to find, and the stories must rather
be considered as depicting customs and times than as describing actual
events. They are recorded in the "Heldenbuch," or "Book of Heroes," edited
in the fifteenth century by Kaspar von der Rhoen from materials which had
been touched up by Wolfram von Eschenbach and Heinrich von Ofterdingen in
the twelfth century. The poem of "Ortnit," for instance, is known to have
existed as early as the ninth century.
[Sidenote: The Langobards and Gepidae.] According to the poets of the
middle ages, the Gepidae and the Langobards settled in Pannonia (Hungary
and the neighboring provinces), where they were respectively governed by
Thurisind and Audoin. The sons of these two kings, having quarreled for a
trifle, met in duel soon after, and the Langobardian prince, having slain
his companion, took possession of his arms, with which he proudly returned
But when, flushed with victory, he would fain have taken his seat at his
father's board with the men at arms, Audoin gravely informed him that it
was not customary for a youth to claim a place beside tried warriors until
some foreign king had distinguished him by the present of a complete suit
of armor. Angry at being thus publicly repulsed, Alboin, the prince, strode
out of his father's hall, resolved to march into Thurisind's palace and
demand of him the required weapons.
When the King of the Gepidae saw his son's murderer boldly enter his
palace, his first impulse was to put him to death; but, respecting the
rights of hospitality, he forbore to take immediate vengeance, and even
bestowed upon him the customary gift of arms as he departed on the morrow,
but warned him never to return, lest he should lose his life at the
warriors' hands. On leaving the palace, however, Alboin bore away the image
of little Rosamund, Thurisind's fair granddaughter, whom he solemnly swore
he would claim as wife as soon as she was of marriageable age.
Alboin having thus received his arms from a stranger, the Langobards no
longer refused to recognize him as a full-fledged warrior, and gladly
hailed him as king when his father died.
[Sidenote: Alboin's cruelty.] Shortly after Alboin's accession to the
throne, a quarrel arose between the Gepidae and the Langobards, or
Lombards, as they were eventually called; and war having been declared, a
decisive battle was fought, in which Thurisind and his son perished, and
all their lands fell into the conqueror's hands. With true heathen cruelty,
the Lombard king had the skulls of the Gepidae mounted as drinking vessels,
which he delighted in using on all state and festive occasions. Then,
pushing onwards, Alboin took forcible possession of his new realm and of
the tearful young Rosamund, whom he forced to become his wife, although she
shrank in horror from the murderer of all her kin and the oppressor of her
She followed him home, concealing her fears, and although she never seemed
blithe and happy, she obeyed her husband so implicitly that he fancied her
a devoted wife. He was so accustomed to Rosamund's ready compliance with
his every wish that one day, after winning a great victory over the
Ostrogoths, and conquering a province in northern Italy (where he took up
his abode, and which bears the name of his race), he bade her fill her
father's skull with wine and pledge him by drinking first out of this
[Sidenote: Rosamund's revolt.] The queen hesitated, but, impelled by
Alboin's threatening glances and his mailed hand raised to strike her, she
tremblingly filled the cup and raised it to her lips. But then, instead of
humbly presenting it to her lord, she haughtily dashed it at his feet, and
left the hall, saying that though she had obeyed him, she would never again
live with him as his wife,--a declaration which the warriors present
secretly applauded, for they all thought that their king had been wantonly
cruel toward his beautiful wife.
While Alboin was pondering how he might conciliate her without owning
himself in the wrong, Rosamund summoned Helmigis, the king's shield-bearer,
and finding that he would not execute her orders and murder his master in
his sleep, she secured the services of the giant Perideus. Before the
murder of the king became generally known, Rosamund and her adherents--for
she had many--secured and concealed the treasures of the Crown; and when
the nobles bade her marry a man to succeed their king, who had left no
heirs, she declared that she preferred Helmigis.
[Sidenote: Death of Rosamund.] The Langobardian nobles indignantly refused
to recognize an armor-bearer as their king, and Rosamund, fearing their
resentment, fled by night with her treasures, and took refuge with
Longinus, viceroy of the Eastern emperor, who was intrenched in Ravenna.
Captivated by the fugitive queen's exquisite beauty, no less than by her
numerous treasures, Longinus proposed that she should poison Helmigis, and
marry him. Rosamund obediently handed the deadly cup to her faithful
adorer; but he drank only half its contents, and then, perceiving that he
was poisoned, forced her, at the point of his sword, to drink the
remainder, thus making sure that she would not long survive him.
Longinus, thus deprived of a beautiful bride, managed to console himself
for her loss by appropriating her treasures, while the Langobardian
scepter, after having been wielded by different kings, fell at last into
the hands of Rother, the last influential monarch of a kingdom which
Charlemagne conquered in 774.
[Sidenote: Rother.] Rother established his capital at Bari, a great seaport
in Apulia; but although his wealth was unbounded and his kingdom extensive,
he was far from happy, for he had neither wife nor child to share his home.
Seeing his loneliness, one of his courtiers, Duke Berchther (Berchtung) of
Meran, the father of twelve stalwart sons, advised him to seek a wife; and
when Rother declared that he knew of no princess pretty enough to please
his fastidious taste, the courtier produced the portrait of Oda, daughter
of Constantine, Emperor of the East. Rother fell desperately in love with
this princess at first sight. In vain Berchther warned him that the emperor
had the unpleasant habit of beheading all his daughter's would-be suitors;
Rother declared that he must make an attempt to secure this peerless bride,
and was only with great difficulty persuaded to resign the idea of wooing
When Berchther had prevailed upon him to send an imposing embassy of twelve
noblemen, richly appareled, and attended by a large suite, Rother asked who
would undertake the mission. All the warriors maintained a neutral silence,
until seven of Berchther's sons volunteered their services, and then five
other noblemen signified their readiness to accompany them.
To speed them on their way, Rother escorted them to the port, and, standing
on the pier, composed and sang a marvelous song. He bade them remember the
tune, and promised them that whenever they heard it they might be sure
their king was very near.
[Sidenote: Embassy to Constantinople.] Arrived at Constantinople, the
ambassadors made known their errand, but were immediately cast into prison,
in spite of the empress's intercession in their behalf. Here the noblemen
languished month after month, in a foul dungeon, while Rother impatiently
watched for their return. When a whole year had elapsed without his having
heard any tidings, he finally resolved to go in disguise to Constantinople,
to ascertain the fate of his men and win the lovely princess Oda for his
Berchther, hearing this decision, vowed that he would accompany him; but
although all the noblemen were anxious to escort their beloved king, he
took only a few of them with him, among whom was Asprian (Osborn), king of
the northern giants, with eleven of his tallest men.
[Sidenote: Rother and Constantine.] Rother embarked with this little train,
and sailed for Constantinople over the summer seas; and as he sat on deck,
playing on his harp, the mermaids rose from the deep to sport around his
ship. According to a prearranged plan, Rother presented himself before
Constantine as a fugitive and outlaw, complaining bitterly of the King of
the Lombards, who, he declared, had banished him and his companions.
Pleased with the appearance of the strangers, Constantine gladly accepted
their proffered services, and invited them to a banquet, in the course of
which he facetiously described how he had received Rother's ambassadors,
who were still languishing in his dampest dungeons. This boastful talk
gradually roused the anger of the giant Asprian, who was but little
accustomed to hide his feelings; and when the emperor's pet lioness came
into the hall and playfully snatched a choice morsel out of his hand, he
impetuously sprang to his feet, caught her in his powerful grasp, and
hurled her against the wall, thus slaying her with a single blow.
[Illustration: ASPRIAN SLAYING THE LION.--Keller.]
Constantine was somewhat dismayed when he saw the strength, and especially
the violence, of the new servants he had secured; but he wisely took no
notice of the affair, and, when the banquet was ended, dismissed Rother and
his followers to the apartments assigned them. The Lombard king now freely
distributed the immense treasures he had brought with him, and thus secured
many adherents at court. They sang his praises so loudly that at last the
princess Oda became very anxious to see this noted outlaw.
[Sidenote: Rother and Oda.] Bribing Herlind, one of her handmaidens, to
serve her secretly, Oda sent her to Rother to invite him to visit her. The
maiden acquitted herself adroitly of this commission; but the Langobardian
monarch, pretending exaggerated respect, declared that he would never dare
present himself before her beautiful mistress, to whom, however, he sent
many rich gifts, among which were a gold and a silver shoe. Herlind
returned to her mistress with the gifts; but when Oda would fain have put
on the shoes, she discovered that they were both for the same foot. She
then feigned a resentment she was far from feeling, and bade the handmaiden
order her father's new servant to appear before her without delay, bringing
a shoe for her other foot, unless he wished to incur her lasting
displeasure. Overjoyed at this result of his ruse, which he had foreseen,
Rother entered the princess's apartments unnoticed, proffered his most
humble apologies, fitted a pair of golden shoes on her tiny feet, and,
taking advantage of his position as he bent on one knee before her,
declared his love and rank, and won from Oda a solemn promise that she
would be his wife.
The lovers spent some very happy hours together in intimate conversation,
and ere Rother left the apartment he prevailed upon the princess to use her
influence in behalf of his imprisoned subjects. She therefore told her
father that her peaceful rest had been disturbed by dreams, in which
heavenly voices announced that she should suffer all manner of evil unless
Rother's ambassadors were taken from prison and hospitably entertained. Oda
then wrung from Constantine a promise that the men should be temporarily
released, and feasted at his own board that selfsame evening. This promise
was duly redeemed, and the twelve ambassadors, freed from their chains, and
refreshed by warm baths and clean garments, were sumptuously entertained at
the emperor's table. While they sat there feasting, Rother entered the
hall, and, hiding behind the tapestry hangings near the door, played the
tune they had heard on the day of their departure. The hearts of the
captives bounded for joy when they heard these strains, for they knew that
their king was near and would soon effect their release.
[Sidenote: War with Imelot.] A few days later, when the young ambassadors
had fully recovered their health and strength, Constantine was dismayed to
learn that Imelot, King of Desert Babylonia, was about to make war against
him, and wondered how he could successfully encounter such a universally
dreaded opponent. Rother, seeing his perplexity, immediately volunteered
his services, adding that if Constantine liberated the ambassadors, who
were mighty men of valor, and allowed them to fight, there would be no
doubt of his coming off conqueror in the war. The Eastern emperor gladly
followed this advice, and soon set out with Rother and all his companions.
The two armies met one evening and encamped opposite each other, intending
to begin the fight at sunrise on the morrow. During the night, however,
Rother and his companions stole into the enemy's camp, slew Imelot's
guards, and having bound and gagged him, Asprian carried him bodily out of
his tent and camp, while his companions routed all the mighty Babylonian
A few hours later they returned to the camp of Constantine, where they lay
down to rest. The emperor, entering their tent on the morrow to chide them
for their laziness, saw the captive Imelot, and heard the story of the
night's work. He was so delighted with the prowess of his allies that he
gladly consented to their return to Constantinople to announce the victory,
while he and his army remained to take possession of Desert Babylonia and
of all of Imelot's vast treasures.
Rother and his companions returned in haste to Constantinople and rushed
into the palace; but instead of announcing a victory they told the empress
and Oda that Constantine had been defeated, that Imelot was on the way to
seize the city, and that the emperor had sent them on ahead to convey his
wife and daughter to a place of safety, with their most valuable treasures.
[Sidenote: Kidnaping of Oda.] The empress and Oda, crediting every word of
this tale, made immediate preparations for departure, and soon joined
Rother on the pier, where his fast sailing vessel was ready to start. All
the Langobardians had already embarked, and Rother escorted the princess on
board, bidding the empress wait on the quay until he returned for her. But
as soon as he and his fair charge set foot upon deck, the vessel was pushed
off, and Rother called out to the distressed empress that he had deceived
her in order to carry away her daughter, who was now to become the
Constantine, on his return, was of course very angry at having been so
cleverly duped, and vainly tried to devise some plan for recovering the
daughter whom he loved so well. When a magician came, therefore, and
promised to execute his wishes, he gladly provided him with vessel and crew
to sail to Bari. The magician, disguised as a peaceful merchant, spread out
his wares as soon as he was anchored in port, and by a series of artful
questions soon ascertained that Rother was absent, and that Oda was at
home, carefully guarded by the principal nobles of the realm. When he also
learned that one of these noblemen had a crippled child, the magician
informed the people who visited his vessel to inspect his wares, that the
most precious treasure in his possession was a magic stone, which, in a
queen's hands, had the power of restoring cripples.
The rumor of this miraculous stone reached the court, and the nobleman
persuaded the kind-hearted queen to go down to the vessel to try the
efficacy of the stone. As soon as Oda was on board, the vessel set sail,
bearing her away from her husband and back to her father's home, where she
was welcomed with great demonstrations of joy.
Rother, coming back from the war shortly after her disappearance,
immediately prepared a vessel to go in pursuit of her, selecting his giants
and bravest noblemen to accompany him. Once more they landed at a short
distance from Constantinople, and Rother bade his men hide in a thicket,
while he went into the city, disguised as a pilgrim, and carrying under his
robe a hunting horn, which he promised to sound should he at any time find
himself in danger.
He no sooner entered the city than he noticed with surprise that all the
inhabitants seemed greatly depressed. He questioned them concerning their
evident sadness, and learned that Imelot, having effected his escape from
captivity, had invaded the kingdom, and vowed that he would not retreat
unless Oda married his ugly and hunchbacked son that very day.
[Sidenote: Imelot again defeated.] These tidings made Rother press on to
the palace, where, thanks to his disguise, he effected an easy entrance.
Slipping unnoticed to his wife's side, he dropped into the cup beside her a
ring upon which his name was engraved. Quick as a flash Oda recognized and
tried to hide it; but her hunchbacked suitor, sitting beside her, also
caught sight of it. He pointed out the intruder, cried that he was Rother
in disguise, and bade his guards seize him and hang him. Rother, seeing
that he was discovered, boldly stepped forward, declared that he had come
to claim his wife, and challenged the cowardly hunchback, who, however,
merely repeated his orders, and accompanied his guards to a grove outside
the city to see his captive executed. Just as they were about to fasten the
fatal noose around his neck, Rother blew a resounding blast upon his horn,
in answer to which call his followers sprang out of their ambush, slew
guards, Imelot, and hunchback, routed the imperial forces, recovered
possession of Oda, and sailed home in triumph to Lombardy. Here Oda bore
her husband a lovely little daughter called Helche (Herka), who eventually
married Etzel (Attila), King of the Huns.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Ortnit.] Another renowned Lombardian king is Ortnit (Otnit),
whose realm included not only all Italy, from the Alps to the sea, but also
the island of Sicily. He had won this province by his fabulous strength,
which, we are told, was equivalent to that of twelve vigorous men.
In spite of all outward prosperity, Ortnit was lonely and unhappy. One day,
while he was strolling along the seashore at sunset, he saw a misty castle
rise slowly out of the waves. On its topmost tower he beheld a fair maiden,
with whom he fell deeply in love at first sight. As he was gazing
spellbound at the lady's beauty, castle and maiden suddenly vanished; and
when Ortnit asked his uncle, Ylyas (Elias), Prince of the Reussen, what
this fantastic vision might mean, he learned that the castle was the exact
reproduction of the stronghold of Muntabure, and the maiden a phantom of
Princess Sidrat, daughter of the ruler of Syria, which the Fata Morgana, or
Morgana the fay, had permitted him to behold.
"As the weary traveler sees,
In desert or prairie vast,
Blue lakes, overhung with trees,
That a pleasant shadow cast;
"Fair towns with turrets high,
And shining roofs of gold,
That vanish as he draws nigh,
Like mists together rolled."
LONGFELLOW, _Fata Morgana_.
Of course Ortnit vowed that he would go and ask the maiden's hand in
marriage; and although his uncle warned him that Machorell, the girl's
father, beheaded all his daughter's suitors, to use their heads as
decorations for his fortifications, the young king persisted in this
[Sidenote: Ortnit and the magic ring.] Forced to go by sea in order to
reach Syria, Ortnit had to delay his departure until suitable preparations
had been made. During that time his mother vainly tried to dissuade him
from the undertaking. Finally, seeing that nothing could deter him from
going in search of the lovely maiden he had seen, she slipped a ring on his
hand, and bade him ride out of town in a certain direction, and dismount
under a lime tree, where he would see something marvelous.
"'If thou wilt seek the adventure, don thy armor strong;
Far to the left thou ride the towering rocks along.
But bide thee, champion, and await, where grows a linden tree;
There, flowing from the rock, a well thine eyes will see.
"'Far around the meadow spread the branches green;
Five hundred armed knights may stand beneath the shade, I ween.
Below the linden tree await, and thou wilt meet full soon
The marvelous adventure; there must the deed be done.'"
Ortnit obeyed these instructions, dismounted in a spot which seemed
strangely familiar, and, gazing inquisitively around him, became aware of
the presence of a lovely sleeping infant. But when he attempted to take it
in his arms he found himself sprawling on the ground, knocked over by a
single blow from the child's tiny fist. Furious at his overthrow, Ortnit
began wrestling with his small assailant; but in spite of his vaunted
strength he succeeded in pinioning him only after a long struggle.
[Sidenote: Alberich.] Unable to free himself from Ortnit's powerful grasp,
the child now confessed that he was Alberich, king of the dwarfs, and
promised Ortnit a marvelous suit of armor and the sword Rosen--which had
been tempered in dragons' blood, and was therefore considered
invulnerable--if he would only let him go.
"'Save me, noble Otnit, for thy chivalry!
A hauberk will I give thee, strong, and of wondrous might;
Better armor never bore champion in the fight.
"'Not eighty thousand marks would buy the hauberk bright.
A sword of mound I'll give thee, Otnit, thou royal knight;
Through armor, both of gold and steel, cuts the weapon keen;
The helmet could its edge withstand ne'er in this world was seen.'"
The king consented, but the moment he set the dwarf free he felt him snatch
the ring his mother had given him off his hand, and saw him mysteriously
and suddenly disappear, his voice sounding tauntingly now on one side, now
on the other. Some parley ensued before the dwarf would restore the ring,
which was no sooner replaced on the hero's hand than he once more found
himself able to see his antagonist.
Alberich now gravely informed Ortnit that in spite of his infantile stature
he was very old indeed, having lived more than five hundred years. He then
went on to tell him that the king, whom Ortnit had until then considered
his father, had no claim to the title of parent, for he had secretly
divorced his wife, and given her in marriage to Alberich. Thus the dwarf
was Ortnit's true father, and declared himself ready now to acknowledge
their relationship and to protect his son.
[Sidenote: Ortnit in Tyre.] After giving Ortnit the promised armor and
sword, and directing him to turn the magic ring if ever he needed a
father's aid, Alberich vanished. Ortnit, returning to town, informed his
mother that he had seen his father; and as soon as the weather permitted he
set sail for Suders (Tyre). Ortnit entered the harbor as a merchant, and
exhibited his wares to the curious people, while Alberich, at his request,
bore a challenge to Machorell, threatening to take Tyre and the castle of
Muntabure unless he were willing to accept Ortnit as son-in-law.
The dwarf acquitted himself nobly of his task, and when Machorell
scornfully dismissed him, he hastened back to Tyre, bidding Ortnit lose no
time in surprising and taking possession of the city. This advice was so
well carried out that Ortnit soon found himself master of the city, and
marching on to Muntabure, he laid siege to the castle, restoring all his
men as soon as they were wounded by a mere touch of his magic ring.
Alberich, whom none but he could see, was allowed to lead the van and bear
the banner, which seemed to flutter aloft in a fantastic way. The dwarf
took advantage of this invisibility to scale the walls of the fortress
unseen, and hurled down the ponderous machines used to throw stones,
arrows, boiling pitch, and oil. Thus he greatly helped Ortnit, who, in the
mean while, was performing unheard-of deeds of valor, which excited the
admiration of Princess Sidrat, watching him from her tower.
[Sidenote: Ortnit and Liebgart.] Alberich next glided to this maiden's
side, and bade her hasten to the postern gate early on the morrow, if she
would see the king. As Ortnit had been told that he would find her there,
he went thither in the early dawn, and pleaded his cause so eloquently that
Sidrat eloped with him to Lombardy. There she became his beloved queen, was
baptized in the Christian faith, and received the name of Liebgart, by
which she was ever afterward known.
[Sidenote: The magic eggs.] The happiness of Ortnit and Liebgart was very
great, but the young queen did not feel that it was quite complete until a
giant and his wife came from her father's court bringing conciliatory
messages, and a promise that Machorell would visit his daughter in the
early spring. They also brought countless valuable presents, among which
were two huge eggs, which the giants said were priceless, as from them
could be hatched magic toads with lodestones in their foreheads. Of course
Liebgart's curiosity was greatly excited by this gift, and learning that
the giant couple would see to the hatching of the eggs and the bringing up
of the toads if a suitable place were only provided for them, she sent them
into a mountain gorge near Trient, where the climate was hot and damp
enough for the proper hatching of the toads.
Time passed by, and the giantess Ruotze hatched dragons or lind-worms from
the huge eggs. These animals grew with alarming rapidity, and soon the
governor of the province sent word to the king that he could no longer
provide food enough for the monsters, which had become the terror of the
whole countryside. They finally proved too much even for the giants, who
were obliged to flee. When Ortnit learned that ordinary weapons had no
effect upon these dragons, he donned his magic armor and seized his sword
Rosen. He then bade Liebgart a tender farewell, telling her that if he did
not return she must marry none but the man who wore his ring, and sallied
forth to deliver his people from the ravenous monsters whom he had
thoughtlessly allowed to be bred in their midst.
Ortnit soon dispatched the giant and giantess, who would fain have hindered
his entrance into the fatal gorge. Then he encountered the dwarf Alberich,
and was warned that he would fall victim to the pestilent dragons, which
had bred a number of young ones, destined, in time, to infest all Europe.
In spite of these warnings, Ortnit declared that he must do his best for
the sake of his people; and having given the magic ring back to Alberich,
he continued on his way. All day long he vainly sought the monsters in the
trackless forest, until, sinking down exhausted at the foot of a tree, he
soon fell asleep.
[Sidenote: Death of Ortnit.] This slumber was so profound that it was like
a lethargy, and the wild barking of his dog failed to waken him so that he
could prepare for the stealthy approach of the great dragon. The monster
caught the sleeping knight in his powerful claws, and dashed him against
the rocks until every bone in his body was broken into bits, although the
magic armor remained quite whole.
Then the dragon conveyed the corpse to his den, where the little dragons
vainly tried to get at the knight to eat his flesh, being daunted by the
impenetrable armor, which would not give way.
In the mean while Liebgart was anxiously awaiting the return of her beloved
husband; but when she saw his dog steal into the palace in evident grief,
she knew that Ortnit was dead, and mourned for him with many a tear. As he
had left no heir to succeed him, the nobles soon crowded around Liebgart,
imploring her to marry one of them and make him king of Lombardy; but she
constantly refused to listen to their wooing.
[Sidenote: Liebgart dethroned.] Angry at her resistance, the noblemen then
took possession of treasure, palace, and kingdom, and left poor Liebgart so
utterly destitute that she was forced to support herself by spinning and
weaving. She carried on these occupations for a long time, while patiently
waiting for the coming of a knight who would avenge Ortnit's death, wear
his ring, claim her hand in marriage, and restore her to her former exalted
position as queen of Lombardy.
[Sidenote: Hugdietrich.] While Ortnit's ancestors were ruling over
Lombardy, Anzius was Emperor of Constantinople. When about to die, this
monarch confided his infant son, Hugdietrich, to the care of Berchther of
Meran, the same who had accompanied Rother on his journey to
When Hugdietrich attained marriageable age, his tutor felt it incumbent
upon him to select a suitable wife for him. One princess only, Hildburg,
daughter of Walgund of Thessalonica, seemed to unite all the required
advantages of birth, beauty, and wealth; but unfortunately this princess's
father was averse to her marrying, and, to prevent her from having any
lovers, had locked her up in an isolated tower, where none but women were
Berchther having informed his ward of his plan, and of the difficulties
concerning its fulfillment, Hugdietrich immediately made up his mind to
bring it about, even if he had to resort to stratagem in order to win his
bride. After much cogitation he let his hair grow, learned all about
woman's work and ways, donned female garments, and journeyed off to
Thessalonica, where he presented himself before the king as a princess in
distress, and claimed his chivalrous protection. Walgund welcomed the
pretended princess warmly, and accepted her gifts of gold and embroidery.
As soon as he had shown the latter to his wife and daughter, they expressed
a lively desire to see the stranger and have her teach them to embroider
[Sidenote: Marriage of Hugdietrich and Hildburg.] Hugdietrich, having thus
effected an entrance into the princess's tower as embroidery teacher, soon
managed to quiet Hildburg's alarm when she discovered that the pretended
princess was a suitor in disguise, and wooed her so successfully that she
not only allowed him to take up his abode in the tower, but also consented
to a secret union. All went on very well for some time, but finally
Hugdietrich felt it his duty to return to his kingdom; and parting from his
young wife, he solemnly promised to return ere long to claim her openly.
[Sidenote: Birth of Wolfdietrich.] On reaching home, however, he found
himself unexpectedly detained by a war which had just broken out; and while
he was fighting, Hildburg anxiously watched for his return. Month after
month passed by without any news of him, till Hildburg, in her lonely
tower, gave birth to a little son, whose advent was kept secret by the
ingenuity and devotion of the princess's nurse.
When the queen presented herself at the door unexpectedly one day, this
servant hastily carried the child out of the building, and set him down on
the grass in the moat, intending to come and get him in a few moments. She
could not do so, however, as the queen kept her constantly beside her, and
prolonged her visit to the next day.
"In the moat the new-born babe meanwhile in silence lay,
Sleeping on the verdant grass, gently, all the day.
From the swathing and the bath the child had stinted weeping;
No one saw, or heard its voice, in the meadow sleeping."
_Heldenbuch_ (Weber's tr.).
When the faithful nurse, released at last, rushed out to find her charge,
who could creep about, she could discover no trace of him; and not daring
to confide the truth to Hildburg, she informed her that she had sent the
child out to nurse.
A few days later, Berchther of Meran arrived at Thessalonica, saying that
Hugdietrich had fallen in love with Hildburg on hearing a description of
her charms from the exiled princess, his sister, and openly suing in his
name for her hand. Instead of giving an immediate answer to this proposal,
Walgund invited the ambassador to hunt with him in a neighboring forest on
[Sidenote: Rescue of Wolfdietrich.] Accidentally separated from their
respective suites, Walgund and Berchther came to a thicket near the
princess's tower, and peering through the underbrush to discover the
meaning of some strange sounds, they saw a beautiful little boy sitting on
the grass, playfully handling some young wolf cubs, whose struggles he
seemed not to mind in the least. While the two men were gazing spellbound
at this strange sight, they saw the mother wolf draw near, ready to spring
upon the innocent child and tear him limb from limb. As Berchther
skillfully flung his spear past the child and slew the wolf, Walgund sprang
forward and caught the babe in his arms, exclaiming that if he were only
sure his grandchildren would be as handsome and fearless as this little
boy, he would soon consent to his daughter's marriage.
As the child was so small that it still required a woman's tender care,
Walgund next proposed to carry it to the tower, where his daughter and her
attendants could watch over it until it was claimed; and as Berchther
indorsed this proposal, it was immediately carried out. Hildburg received
the charge with joy, revealed by her emotion that the child was her very
own, and told her father all about her secret marriage with Hugdietrich,
whom Walgund now graciously accepted as son-in-law.
In memory of this adventure the baby rescued from the beast of prey was
called Wolfdietrich, and he and his mother, accompanied by a nobleman named
Sabene, were escorted in state to Constantinople, where Hugdietrich
welcomed them with joy. Here they dwelt in peace for several years, at the
end of which, a war having again broken out, Hugdietrich departed,
confiding his wife and son to the care of Sabene, who now cast aside all
his pretended virtue. After insulting the queen most grossly, he began to
spread lying reports about the birth of the young heir, until the people,
doubting whether he might not be considered a mere foundling, showed some
unwillingness to recognize him as their future prince.
[Sidenote: Wolfdietrich in Meran.] Hugdietrich, returning home and hearing
these remarks, also began to cherish some suspicions, and, instead of
keeping Wolfdietrich at court, sent him to Meran, where Berchther brought
him up with his twelve stalwart sons, every one of whom the young prince
outshone in beauty, courage, and skill in all manly exercises.
In the mean while Hildburg had borne two other sons, Bogen and Waxmuth, to
Hugdietrich; but seeing that Sabene was still trying to poison people's
minds against the absent Wolfdietrich, and deprive him of his rights, she
finally sought her husband, revealed the baseness of Sabene's conduct, and
had him exiled. Hugdietrich's life was unfortunately cut short a few months
after this, and when he felt that he was about to die, he disposed of all
his property, leaving the sovereignty of Constantinople to Wolfdietrich,
and making his younger sons kings of lands which he had conquered in the
[Sidenote: Hildburg banished by Sabene.] As soon as he had breathed his
last, however, the nobles of the land, who had all been won over by
Sabene's artful insinuations, declared that they would never recognize
Wolfdietrich as their ruler, but would recall Sabene watch over the two
younger kings, and exercise the royal power in their name. These measures
having been carried out, Sabene avenged himself by banishing Hildburg, who,
turned out of the imperial palace at night, was forced to make her way
alone and on foot to Meran, where her son Wolfdietrich received her gladly
and promised to protect her with his strong right arm.
At the head of a small troop composed of Berchther and his sons,
Wolfdietrich marched to Constantinople to oust Sabene; but, in spite of all
his valor, he soon found himself defeated, and forced to retreat to the
castle of Lilienporte. Here he intrenched himself, rejoicing at the sight
of the strong battlements, and especially at the provisions stored within
its inclosure, which would suffice for all the wants of the garrison for
more than seven years.
[Sidenote: Siege of Lilienporte.] In vain Sabene besieged this castle; in
vain he constructed huge engines of war; the fortress held out month after
month. At the end of the third year, Wolfdietrich, seeing that their
provisions would not hold out forever, resolved to make his escape alone,
and go in search of allies to save his trusty friends. He soon obtained the
consent of Berchther and of his mother for the execution of this scheme.
While a skirmish was going on one day, Wolfdietrich escaped through the
postern gate, and, riding into the forest, rapidly disappeared in the
direction of Lombardy, where he intended to ask the aid of Ortnit. Riding
through the deserts of Roumelia, where his guardian had bidden him beware
of the enchantments of the witch Rauch-Else, he shared his last piece of
bread with his faithful steed, and, faint with hunger and almost perishing
with thirst, plodded painfully on.
[Sidenote: Rauch-Else.] Finally horse and rider could go no farther, and as
the latter lay in a half swoon upon the barren soil, he was suddenly roused
by the appearance of a hideous, bearlike female, who gruffly inquired how
he dared venture upon her territory. The unhappy Wolfdietrich recognized
Rauch-Else by the description his guardian, Berchther, had given of her,
and would have fled, had strength remained him to do so; but, fainting with
hunger, he could only implore her to give him something to eat.
At this appeal Rauch-Else immediately produced a peculiar-looking root, of
which he had no sooner tasted than he felt as strong and rested as ever
before. By the witch's advice he gave the remainder of the root to his
horse, upon whom it produced the same magic effect; but when he would fain
have expressed his gratitude and ridden away, Rauch-Else told him that he
belonged to her by decree of fate, and asked him to marry her.
Not daring to refuse this proposal, which, however, was very distasteful
indeed, Wolfdietrich reluctantly assented, expressing a wish that she were
not quite so repulsive. No sooner were the words fairly out of his mouth
than he saw her suddenly transformed into a beautiful woman, and heard her
declare that his "yes" had released her from an evil spell, and allowed her
to resume her wonted form and name, which was Sigeminne, Queen of Old Troy.
[Sidenote: Wolfdietrich and Sigeminne.] Slowly proceeding to the seashore,
the young couple embarked in a waiting galley and sailed directly to
Sigeminne's kingdom, where they lived happily together, Wolfdietrich having
entirely forgotten his mother, tutor, and companions, who were vainly
awaiting his return with an army to deliver them.
"By the hand she led Wolfdietrich unto the forest's end;
To the sea she guided him; a ship lay on the strand.
To a spacious realm she brought him, hight the land of Troy."
_Heldenbuch_ (Weber's tr.).
Wolfdietrich's happiness, however, was not to endure long; for while he was
pursuing a stag which his wife bade him secure for her, a magician named
Drusian suddenly presented himself before Sigeminne and spirited her away.
Wolfdietrich, finding his wife gone, resolved to go in search of her, and
not to rest until he had found her. Then, knowing that nothing but cunning
could prevail against the magician's art, he donned a magic silken vest
which his wife had woven for him, which could not be penetrated by weapon
or dragon, and covering it with a pilgrim's garb, he traveled on until he
came within sight of the castle of Drusian.
Worn out by his long journey, he sat down for a moment to rest ere he began
the ascent of the steep mountain upon which the castle stood; and having
fallen asleep, he was roughly awakened by a giant, who bore him off
prisoner to the fortress, where he saw Sigeminne.
"He led the weary pilgrim into the castle hall,
Where brightly burned the fire, and many a taper tall.
On a seat he sat him down, and made him right good cheer.
His eyes around the hall cast the hero without fear."
_Heldenbuch_ (Weber's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of Sigeminne.] Wolfdietrich concealed his face in the
depths of his cowl, and remained quietly seated by the fire until evening
came. Then the giant turned to the mourning queen, declaring that he had
been patient long enough, and that she must now consent to marry him and
forget her husband. Hardly had these words been spoken when Wolfdietrich,
the pretended pilgrim, fell upon him, and refused to let him go until he
had accepted his challenge for a fair fight and had produced suitable arms.
The young hero selected an iron armor, in preference to the gold and silver
mail offered him, and boldly attacked the giant, who finally succumbed
beneath his mighty blows. Sigeminne, thus restored to her husband's arms,
then returned with him to Old Troy, where they ruled happily together until
she died of a mortal illness.
When she breathed her last, Wolfdietrich, delivered from the spell she had
cast upon him by making him partake of the magic root, suddenly remembered
his mother, Berchther, and his faithful companions, and, filled with
compunction, hastened off to help them. On his way he passed through many
lands, and finally came to a fortified town, whose walls were adorned with
human heads set up on spikes. He asked a passer-by what this singular
decoration might mean, and learned that the city belonged to a heathen
king, Belligan, who made it a practice to slay every Christian who entered
[Sidenote: Belligan slain by Wolfdietrich.] Wolfdietrich immediately
resolved to rid the earth of this monster, and riding boldly into the city,
he cried that he was ready to meet the king in his favorite game of dagger
throwing. This challenge was promptly accepted, the preparations all made,
and although the heathen king was protected by his daughter's magic spells,
he could not withstand the Christian knight, who pierced him through and
through, and left him dead.
"Speedily Wolfdietrich the third knife heaved on high.
Trembling stood Sir Belligan, for he felt his death was nigh.
The pagan's heart asunder with cunning skill he cleft;
Down upon the grass he fell, of life bereft."
_Heldenbuch_ (Weber's tr.).
But as Wolfdietrich attempted to leave the castle, waves suddenly
surrounded him on all sides, threatening to drown him, until, suspecting
that this phenomenon was produced by the princess's magic arts, he seized
her and held her head under water until she died. Then the waves
immediately subsided and permitted him to escape unharmed.
Wolfdietrich next came to some mountains, where he encountered a giantess,
who told him the story of Ortnit's death, and so roused his compassion for
the unfortunate Liebgart that he vowed to slay the dragon and avenge all
her wrongs. To enable him to reach his destination sooner the giantess bore
him and his horse over the mountains, fifty miles in one day, and set him
down near Garden (Guarda), where he saw Liebgart and her sole remaining
attendant sadly walking up and down.
Struck by Liebgart's resemblance to the dead Sigeminne, Wolfdietrich stood
quietly in the shade long enough to overhear her sigh and say that she
wished the brave Wolfdietrich would come along that way and avenge her
[Sidenote: Wolfdietrich and Liebgart.] In answer to these words the hero
presented himself impetuously before her, swore he would do all in his
power to fulfill her wishes, and having received from her fair hand a ring,
which she declared would bring the wearer good luck, he hastened off to the
mountain gorge to encounter the dragons. On the way thither, Wolfdietrich
met Alberich, who cautioned him not to yield to the desire for slumber if
he would overcome the foe; so pressing on in spite of almost overpowering
lassitude, he met the dragon.
Notwithstanding all his efforts Wolfdietrich soon found himself carried off
to the monster's cave, where he was flung down to serve as pasture for the
young lind-worms. They would surely have devoured him had he not been
protected by Sigeminne's magic shirt, which they could not pierce.
[Sidenote: Ortnit's sword and ring.] Looking about him for some weapon to
defend himself with, Wolfdietrich suddenly saw Ortnit's ring and his sword
Rosen, which he seized, and wielded the latter to such good purpose that he
soon slew all the dragons. He then cut out their tongues, which he packed
in a bag the dwarfs brought him, and triumphantly rode off to find Liebgart
and tell her of his success. But, as he lost his way in the forest, it was
several days before he reached the town where she dwelt, and as he rode
through the gates he was indignant to hear that Liebgart was about to marry
a knight by the name of Gerhart, who had slain the dragon, brought home its
head, and claimed the fulfillment of an old promise she had made to marry
her husband's avenger. Wolfdietrich spurred onward, entered the castle,
denounced the impostor Gerhart, and proved the truth of his assertions by
producing the dragons' tongues. Then, turning to the queen, Wolfdietrich
stretched out his hand to her, humbly asking whether she would marry him.
At that moment Liebgart saw Ortnit's ring glittering on his finger, and,
remembering her husband's last words, immediately signified her consent.
The happy couple spent a whole year together in restoring order, peace, and
prosperity to the Lombards, before Wolfdietrich left his wife to go and
succor the companions whom he had neglected so long. Landing with his army
near Constantinople, Wolfdietrich, disguised as a peasant, made his way
into the city, and learned that Berchther and his sons had been put in
prison. There the former had died, but the latter were still languishing in
captivity. Wolfdietrich bribed the jailer to bear them a cheering message
and strengthening food, and led his army against Sabene, whom he utterly
After recovering possession of Constantinople, granting full forgiveness to
his erring brothers, executing Sabene, and liberating his companions, to
whom he intrusted the sovereignty of the empire, Wolfdietrich returned to
Lombardy, and from thence proceeded with Liebgart to Romaburg (Rome), where
he was duly crowned emperor.
To reward Herbrand, Berchther's eldest son, for his faithfulness,
Wolfdietrich gave him the city of Garden and all its territories, a realm
which subsequently was inherited by his son Hildebrand, a hero whom we
shall have further occasion to describe.
Hache, another of Berchther's sons, received as his share all the Rhine
land, which he left to his son, the trusty Eckhardt (Eckewart) who ever and
anon appears in northern literature to win mortals back to virtue and point
out the road to honor. Wolfdietrich and Liebgart were the happy parents of
a son called Hugdietrich, like his grandfather; and this king's second son,
Dietmar, was the father of the famous Dietrich von Bern, the hero of the
next chapter of this volume.
DIETRICH VON BERN.
DIETRICH VON BERN, whose name is spelled in eighty-five different ways in
the various ballads and chronicles written about him, has been identified
with the historical Theodoric of Verona, whose "name was chosen by the
poets of the early middle ages as the string upon which the pearls of their
fantastic imagination were to be strung."
This hero is one of the principal characters in the ancient German "Book of
Heroes," and his adventures, which are recorded in many ancient
manuscripts, and more especially in the Wilkina saga, are about as follows:
[Sidenote: Parentage of Deitrich.] Dietmar, the second son of Hugdietrich,
or of Samson according to other authorities, became the independent ruler
of Bern (Verona), and refused to recognize his elder brother, Ermenrich,
Emperor of the West, as his liege lord. The young prince had married
Odilia, the heiress of the conquered Duke of Verona, who bore him a son
called Dietrich. Gentle and generous when all went according to his wishes,
this child was uncontrollable when his anger was roused, and his breath
then came from his lips in a fiery torrent, scorching his opponent, and
consuming all inflammable articles.
When Dietrich was but five years of age his training was intrusted to
Hildebrand, son of Herbrand, one of the Volsung race; and so well did the
tutor acquit himself of this task that he soon made his pupil as
accomplished a warrior as himself. Their tastes were, moreover, so similar
that they soon became inseparable friends, and their attachment has become
as proverbial among northern nations as that of David and Jonathan, Damon
and Pythias, or Orestes and Pylades.
Hearing that a giant, Grim, and a giantess, Hilde, were committing great
depredations in a remote part of his father's territories, and that no one
had been able to rout or slay them, young Dietrich set out with Master
Hildebrand to attack them. They had not ridden long in the forest before
they became aware of the presence of a tiny dwarf, Alberich (Alferich,
Alpris, or Elbegast), and pouncing upon him, they held him fast, vowing
that he should recover his liberty only upon condition of pointing out the
giants' lurking place.
[Sidenote: The sword Nagelring.] The dwarf not only promised the desired
information, but gave Dietrich the magic sword Nagelring, which alone could
pierce the giants' skin. Then he led both heroes to the cave, where Grim
and Hilde were gloating over a magic helmet they had made and called
Hildegrim. Peering through a fissure of the rock, Hildebrand was the first
to gaze upon them, and in his eagerness to get at them he braced his
shoulder against the huge mass of stone, forced it apart, and thus made a
passage for himself and for his impetuous young pupil.
As Nagelring, the magic sword, had been stolen from him, Grim attacked
Dietrich with a blazing brand snatched from the fire, while Hildebrand and
Hilde wrestled together. The encounter was short and fierce between the
young hero and his gigantic opponent, who soon succumbed beneath
Nagelring's sharp blows. Then Dietrich, turning, came just in time to save
his master from Hilde's treacherous blade. But, although one stroke of
Nagelring cut her in two, the heroes were dismayed to see the severed parts
of her body knit together in a trice, and permit Hilde, whole once more, to
renew the attack.
To prevent a repetition of this magical performance, Dietrich, after again
cutting her in two, placed his sword between the severed parts, and,
knowing that steel annuls magic, left it there until all power to unite was
gone and Hilde was really dead. The two heroes then returned home in
triumph with Nagelring and Hildegrim, the two famous trophies, which
Dietrich took as his share of the spoil, leaving to Hildebrand an immense
treasure of gold which made him the richest man of his day. This wealth
enabled Hildebrand to marry the noble Ute (Uote or Uta), who helped him to
bring up Dietrich's young brother, then but a babe.
Although the young prince of Bern imagined that he had exterminated all the
giants in his land, he was soon undeceived; for Sigenot, Grim's brother,
coming down from the Alps to visit him, and finding him slain, vowed to
avenge his death. The brave young prince, hearing that Sigenot was
terrorizing all the neighborhood, immediately set out to attack him,
followed at a distance by Hildebrand and the latter's nephew, Wolfhart, who
was always ready to undertake any journey, provided there was some prospect
of a fight at the end.
Dietrich soon came to a forest, where, feeling hungry, he slew an elk and
proceeded to roast some of its flesh upon a spit. While he was thus engaged
he heard shrill cries, and looking up, he saw a giant holding a dwarf and
about to devour him. Ever ready to succor the feeble and oppressed,
Dietrich caught up his sword and attacked the giant, who made a brave but
fruitless defense. The dwarf, seeing his tormentor dead, then advised
Dietrich to fly in haste, lest Sigenot, the most terrible of all the
mountain giants, should come to avenge his companion's murder. But, instead
of following this advice, Dietrich persuaded the dwarf to show him the way
to the giant's retreat.
[Sidenote: Capture of Dietrich by giant Sigenot.] Following his tiny guide,
Dietrich climbed up the snow-clad mountains, where, in the midst of the
icebergs, the ice queen, Virginal, suddenly appeared to him, advising him
to retreat, as his venture was perilous in the extreme. Equally undeterred
by this second warning, Dietrich pressed on; but when he came at last to
the giant's abode he was so exhausted by the ascent that, in spite of all
his courage, he was defeated, put in chains, and dragged into the giant's
[Illustration: FALKE KILLS THE GIANT.--Keller.]
Hildebrand, in the mean while, following his pupil, awaited his return at
the foot of the mountains for eight days, and then, seeing that he did not
appear, he strode up the mountain side. The giant encountered him, stunned
him with a great blow, and dragged him into the den, where, thinking him
senseless, he leisurely began to select chains with which to bind him fast.
Hildebrand, however, sprang noiselessly to his feet, seized a weapon lying
near, and stealing behind a pillar, which served him as a shield, he
attacked Sigenot, and stretched him lifeless at his feet.
[Sidenote: Dietrich rescued by Hildebrand.] A moment later he heard
Dietrich calling him from the depths of the cave. To spring forward and
free his pupil from his chains was the work of a moment, and then,
following the dwarf, who openly rejoiced at the death of his foe, the two
heroes visited the underground kingdom. There they were hospitably
entertained, their wounds were healed, and the king of the dwarfs gave them
the finest weapons that they had ever seen.
While hunting in the Tyrolean mountains shortly after this encounter,
Dietrich confided to Hildebrand that he had fallen in love with the ice
fairy, Virginal, and longed to see her again. This confidence was suddenly
interrupted by the appearance of a dwarf, who presented himself as Bibung,
the unconquerable protector of Queen Virginal, but who in the same breath
confessed that she had fallen into the hands of the magician Ortgis. The
latter kept her imprisoned in one of her own castles, and at every new moon
he forced her to surrender one of the snow maidens, her lovely attendants,
whom he intended, to devour as soon as they were properly fattened.
Dietrich's eyes flashed with anger when he heard of his lady-love's
distress, and bidding the dwarf show him the way, he forthwith set out to
rescue her. They had not gone very far before they beheld the ice queen's
palace glittering far above their heads; and as they eagerly climbed upward
to reach it, they heard cries of terror, and saw a beautiful girl rush down
the pathway, closely pursued by the magician and his mounted train.
[Sidenote: Magician Ortgis slain.] Dietrich allowed the maiden to pass
him, and then stepped boldly into the middle of the path, where he and
Hildebrand soon succeeded in slaying the magician and all his men. Jambas,
the son of Ortgis, alone effected his escape; but Dietrich and his master
closely pursued him, took forcible possession of his castle, set the
captive snow maidens free, and fearlessly slew all the monsters which
Jambas conjured up to destroy them. Then, resuming their interrupted
journey, Dietrich and Hildebrand soon came face to face with the
self-styled unconquerable guardian of the ice queen. He had been hiding
during the fray, and now implored them to hasten forward, as his mistress
was besieged by Jambas. The magician's son was anxious to secure Virginal
and all her maidens, but his principal aim was to appropriate the great
carbuncle shining in the queen's crown, as it gave the possessor full power
over the elements, the mountains, and all who ventured within reach of
Thus urged to greater speed, the heroes toiled upward faster and faster,
and soon came near the glittering castle of Jeraspunt, and the besiegers.
The latter were on the point of overpowering the garrison and gaining
possession of the queen. When Dietrich saw her on the battlement, wringing
her hands in despair, he rushed impetuously forward, crying that he had
come to save her. He struck right and left, and did such good execution
with his sword that the mountains shook, the icebergs cracked, and great
avalanches, rolling down into the abysses, carried with them the bodies of
the slain which he hurled down from the drawbridge.
[Sidenote: Rescue of the ice queen.] In a very short time the enemy was
completely routed, and Dietrich was joyfully welcomed by Virginal, who,
touched by his devotion, consented to forsake her glittering castle,
relinquish her sway over the mountains, and to follow him down into the
green valley. Their wedding was celebrated in Jeraspunt, which was all hung
in bridal white; and the ice queen and her maidens wore misty veils and
crowns of glittering diamonds, which sparkled and flashed and lit up the
whole scene with fairylike splendor. Some versions of the story tell,
however, that the queen soon grew homesick down in the green valley, and,
deserting her hero husband, returned to her palace on the mountain top,
where she still rules supreme.
Dietrich's numerous adventures soon became the theme of the wandering bards
and minstrels, and thus the rumor of his courage came to the ears of Heime,
the son of the northern stud keeper Studas. After distinguishing himself at
home by slaying a dragon, this youth obtained from his father the steed
Rispa and the sword Blutgang, with which he set out to test Dietrich's
courage, vowing that he would serve him forever if conquered by him.
"King Tidrick sits intill Bern;
He rooses [boasts] him of his might;
Sae mony has he in battle cow'd,
Baith kemp [rough] and doughty knight."
_The Ettin Langshanks_ (Jamieson's tr.).
Heime soon reached Bern, boldly challenged Dietrich, and when defeated
entered his service, after procuring for his master's exclusive use the
matchless steed Falke, which could carry even such a gigantic man as
Dietrich without showing any signs of fatigue, and which served him
faithfully for many a year.
[Sidenote: Wittich.] The rumor of Dietrich's courage also came to
Heligoland, where Wieland (Wayland, or Voelund), the smith, dwelt with his
son Wittich (Witig). The latter, determined to cross swords with the hero
of Bern, persuaded his father to give him the celebrated sword Mimung, by
the help of which he hoped to overcome every foe. Wieland also fashioned a
complete suit of armor for his son, gave him much good advice, and parted
from him, bidding him to prove himself worthy of his ancestors, and to call
upon his grandmother, the mermaid Wachilde, if he were ever in great
Thus instructed Wittich departed, and on the way to Bern fell in with
Hildebrand, Heime, and Hornbogi, another of Dietrich's noted warriors. They
concealed their names, encouraged the stranger to talk, and soon learned
where he was going and on what errand. Master Hildebrand, hearing of the
magic sword, and anxious to preserve his pupil from its blows, allowed
Wittich to fight single-handed against twelve robbers in a mountain pass.
As the youth disposed of them all without receiving a scratch, Hildebrand
substituted his own sword blade for that which Wittich bore, one night
while the latter was peacefully sleeping at an inn. This exchange remained
unnoticed until Wittich arrived in Bern. There, while fighting with
Dietrich, the blade suddenly snapped in two.
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