The Fall of the Niebelungs

Part 5 out of 5

Helfrich was sore grieved. He had never told so sad a tale, and went
back weeping.

"What news?" cried Dietrich. "Why weepest thou so bitterly, Sir

The knight answered, "I may well mourn. The Burgundians have slain

But the prince of Bern said, "God forbid! That were stark vengeance and
devil's sport. What had Rudeger done to deserve it? Well I know he was
their friend."

Wolfhart answered, "If they have done this, their life shall pay for it.
It were shameful to endure it. For oft hath Rudeger's hand served us."

The prince of Amelung bade them inquire further. He sat down at a window
sore troubled, and bade Hildebrand go to the guests, and ask them what
had happened.

Master Hildebrand, bold in strife, took with him neither shield nor
sword, and would have gone to them on peaceful wise. But his sister's
child chid him. Grim Wolfhart cried, "Why goest thou naked? If they
revile thee, thou wilt have the worst of the quarrel, and return shamed.
If thou goest armed, none will withstand thee."

The old man armed him as the youth had counselled. Or he had ended, all
Dietrich's knights stood in their harness, sword in hand. It irked the
warrior, and he had gladly turned them from their purpose. He asked
their intent.

"We would follow thee," they answered. "What if Hagen of Trony, as his
wont is, mock thee?" Whereupon Hildebrand consented.

When bold Folker saw the knights of Bern, Dietrich's men, girt with
swords, and coming armed, with shields in their hands, he told his
masters of Burgundy. He said, "Dietrich's men draw nigh like foemen,
armed, and in helmets. They come to defy us. I ween it will go hard
with us forlorn ones."

Hildebrand came up while he spake. He laid his shield at his feet, and
said to Gunther's men, "Alack! ye good knights! What have ye done to
Rudeger? Dietrich, my master, sent me hither to ask if any here slew the
good Margrave, as they tell us. We could ill endure such loss."

Hagen of Trony answered, "The news is true. Glad were I had the
messenger lied to thee, for Rudeger's sake, and that he lived still.
Both men and women must evermore bewail him."

When they heard he was dead in sooth, all the warriors wept, as was
meet. Down beard and chin ran the tears of Dietrich's men. Right heavy
were they and doleful.

A duke of Bern that hight Siegstab, cried, "Now is ended all the loving
kindness wherewith Rudeger cheered our sad days. Ye have slain, in
Rudeger, the friend of all homeless knights."

Sir Wolfwine of Amelung said, "I had not grieved more this day to see my
father dead. Woe is me! Who will comfort the good Margravine?"

Sir Wolfhart cried angrily, "Who will lead the warriors forth to battle
now, as Rudeger so oft hath done. Woe is me for brave Rudeger! We have
lost him!"

Wolfbrand and Helfrich and eke Helmnot wept for his death with all their
friends. Hildebrand could ask no more for grief. He said, "Grant now,
ye warriors, that for which my master sent me. Give us dead Rudeger from
out the hall, with whom all our joy hath perished, and let us requite him
for all the kindness he hath shown to us and many another. Like him we
are homeless. Why tarry ye? Let us bear him hence, and serve him dead,
as we had gladly served him living."

Then said King Gunther, "No service is better than that of friends to a
dead friend. I approve the true hearth of him that doeth it. Ye have
cause to praise him. He hath shown you much love."

"How long shall we entreat?" cried Wolfhart. "Sith ye have slain our
joy, and we can have him no more, let us bear him hence to bury him."

But Folker answered, "Ye shall get him from none here. Come and take him
out of the house, where he lieth with his death-wounds in the blood. So
shall ye serve Rudeger truly."

Cried bold Wolfhart, "God knoweth, sir fiddler, thou dost wrong to
provoke us further; thou hast done us hurt enow. If I dared before my
master, it would go hard with thee. We may not fight; he hath forbidden

The fiddler said, "He that avoideth all that is forbidden is over
fearful. He hath not the right hero's heart."

Hagen approved the word of his comrade. But Wolfhart cried, "Give over
mocking, or I will put thy fiddle-strings out of tune, that thou mayest
have somewhat to tell, if ever thou ridest again to Burgundy. I can no
longer, with honour, endure thine insolence."

The fiddler answered, "If thou spoilest my strings, my hand will dim thy
helmet afore I ride back to Burgundy."

Wolfhart would have run at him, but his uncle, Hildebrand, held him fast
and would not let him. "Thou art mad in thy foolish wrath. We should
come in disgrace forever with my master."

"Let loose the lion that is so grim, sir knight. But if he fall into my
hand," said Folker, "I will slay him, though he had laid the whole world
dead. There will be an end of his hot answers."

Wolfhart fell in a fury thereat. He lifted his shield and sprang at him
like a wild lion. His friends followed after. But, quick though he was,
old Hildebrand came before any to the stair-way, that he might not be
second in the fight. They found plenty to meet them among the strangers.

Hagen leapt upon Master Hildebrand. The weapons rang loud in their
hands, for it was well seen they were wroth. A fire-red wind blew from
their swords. But they were parted in the fray by the knights of Bern,
that pressed in amain. So Master Hildebrand turned away from Hagen.

Stark Wolfhart ran at Folker. He smote the fiddler on his helmet, that
the sword's edge cut into the beaver. The bold fiddler struck him such a
blow that the sparks flew from his harness. Deadly was their hate. Then
Sir Wolfwine parted them. If he was not a hero, there never was one.
Gunther, the noble king, met the famed Amelung knights with ready hand.
Sir Giselher made many a polished helmet red and wet with blood.
Dankwart, Hagen's brother, was a grim man. All that he ha done afore to
Etzel's warriors was but a wind to what he did now; fell and furious was
Aldrian's child. Ritschart and Gerbart, Helfrich and Wichart, had never
spared themselves in battle, the which they let Gunther's men see.
Wolfbrand was undaunted in the strife. Old Hildebrand fought as he were
mad. Many a good knight fell dead in the blood before the sword of
Wolfhart. Rudeger was well avenged. Sir Siegstab did right valiantly.
Ha! how many hard helmets Dietrich's sister's son brake to his foemen.
Bolder in battle he could not have been.

When stark Folker saw that Siegstab struck blood from the hauberks, he
was wroth, and leapt upon him and slew him. Such proof of his skill gave
the fiddler that Siegstab died.

Hildebrand avenged him as beseemed his might. "Woe is me for my dear
lord, that lieth slain by Folker's hand! Bitterly shall the fiddler pay
for it." Certes, Hildebrand was grim enow. He smote Folker, that the
gleeman's shield and helmet flew in splinters across the hall. That was
an end of stark Folker.

Then Dietrich's men rushed in from all sides. They smote till the links
of their foemen's mail whistled asunder, and their broken sword-points
flew on high. They struck hot-flowing streams from the helmets.

When Hagen of Trony saw Folker dead, he grieved more bitterly than he had
done yet, all the hightide, for kinsman or vassal. Alack! how grimly he
began to avenge him!

"Old Hildebrand shall not go scatheless, for his hand hath slain my
friend, the best comrade I ever had."

He raised his shield, and hewed his way right and left.

Helfrich slew stark Dankwart. Doleful enow were Gunther and Giselher
when they saw him fall in his bitter pains. Yet he had well avenged his
death with his own hand.

Albeit many mighty princes of many lands were gathered there against the
little band, their prowess had brought them forth alive, had not the
Christian folk turned foemen.

Meantime, Wolfhart went to and fro, and hewed down Gunther's men. He cut
his way round the hall thrice. Many a knight fell before him.

Then cried stark Giselher to Wolfhart, "Woe is me, that I have so grim a
foe! Come hither, bold warrior, and I will make an end of this. Longer
it shall not endure."

Wolfhart turned to Giselher in the strife. They gave one another wide
wounds. So fiercely Wolfhart sprang at him that the blood under his feet
spurted over his head.

Fair Uta's child welcomed Wolfhart, the bold knight, with swift blows.
Albeit the warrior was mighty, he perished. Never king so young was so
valiant. He smote Wolfhart through his goodly harness, that blood flowed
down from the gash: he wounded Dietrich's man to the death. None save a
hero had done it.

When Wolfhart felt the sword-cut, he threw away his shield, and lifted a
mighty and sharp weapon, wherewith, through helmet and harness, he slew
Giselher. They gave each other a grim death, for Dietrich's man fell

Old Hildebrand grieved sore when he saw Wolfhart fall. All Gunther's men
and Dietrich's were dead, and he went where Wolfhart lay in the blood,
and put his arm round him to bear him away out of the house. But he was
too heavy, so he must needs let him lie. Then the deadly wounded man
looked up from among the blood, and saw that his uncle would have helped
him, and he said, "Dearest uncle, no help availeth me. Thou didest
better to beware of Hagen, for grim and fell is his heart. And if my
kinsmen, my nearest and my best, mourn for me hereafter, say that they
weep without cause, for that I died gloriously by the hand of a king. In
the fight I have so well avenged me that many a warrior's wife shall
wail. If any question thee, tell him straight that, with my single hand,
I slew an hundred."

Then Hagen thought on the fiddler that old Hildebrand had slain, and he
said to the knight, "Thou shalt pay for my teen. Thou hast robbed us of
many a good warrior." He smote Hildebrand, that Balmung, the sword he
had taken from Siegfried when he slew him, rang loud. But the old man
stood boldly on his defence. He brought his sharp-edged sword down on
Hagen, but could not wound him. Then Hagen pierced him through his good

When Master Hildebrand felt the wound, he feared more scathe from Hagen,
so he threw his shield over his back and fled.

Now, of all the knights, none were left alive save two, Gunther and Hagen.

Old Hildebrand, covered with blood, ran with the news to Dietrich, that
he saw sitting sadly where he had left him. Soon the prince had more
cause for woe. When he saw Hildebrand in his bloody harness, he asked
fearfully for his tale. "Now tell me, Master Hildebrand, why thou art so
wet with thy life's blood? Who did it? I ween thou hast fought with the
guests in the hall, albeit I so sternly forbade it. Thou hadst better
have forborne."

Hildebrand answered his master, "Hagen did it. He gave me this wound in
the hall when I turned to flee from him. I scarce escaped the devil with
my life."

Said the prince of Bern, "Thou art rightly served. Thou heardest me vow
friendship to the knights, and thou hast broken the peace I gave them.
Were it not that I shame me to slay thee, thy life were forfeit."

"Be not so wroth, my lord Dietrich. Enough woe hath befallen me and
mine. We would have borne away Rudeger's body, but Gunther's men denied

"Woe is me for this wrong! Is Rudeger then dead? That is the bitterest
of my dole. Noble Gotelind is my cousin's child. Alack! The poor
orphans of Bechlaren!" With ruth and sorrow he wept for Rudeger. "Woe
is me for the true comrade I have lost. I must mourn Etzel's liegeman
forever. Canst thou tell me, Master Hildebrand, who slew him?"

Hildebrand answered, "It was stark Gernot, but the hero fell by Rudeger's

Said Dietrich, "Bid my men arm them, for I will thither straightway.
Send me my shining harness. I, myself, will question the knights of

But Master Hildebrand answered, "Who is there to call? Thy sole living
liegeman standeth here. I am the only one. The rest are dead."

Dietrich trembled at the news, and was passing doleful, for never in this
world had he known such woe. He cried, "Are all my men slain? then God
hath forgotten poor Dietrich! I was a great king, rich and proud. Yet
how could they all die, these valiant heroes, by foemen so battle-weary
and sore beset? Death had spared them, but that I am doomed to sorrow.
Since this hard fate is needs mine, tell me if any of the guests be left

Hildebrand answered, "None save Hagen, and Gunther, the king. God
knoweth I say sooth."

"Woe is me, dear Wolfhart, if I have lost thee! It were better I had
never been born. Siegstab and Wolfwine and Wolfbrand: who is there then
left to help me in the land of the Amelungs? Is bold Gelfrich slain
also? And Gerbart and Wichart? When shall I have done weeping? This
day hath ended all my joy. Alack! that none may die of grief!"

Thirty-Ninth Adventure
How Gunther, Hagen, and Kriemhild Were Slain

Thereupon Sir Dietrich went and got his harness himself. Old Hildebrand
helped to arm him. The strong man wept so loud that the house rang with
his voice. But soon he was of stout heart again, as beseemed a hero. He
did on his armour in wrath. He took a fine-tempered shield in his hand,
and they hasted to the place - he and Master Hildebrand.

Then said Hagen of Trony, "I see Sir Dietrich yonder. He cometh to
avenge his great loss. This day will show which of us twain is the
better man. Howso stark of body and grim Sir Dietrich may deem him, I
doubt not but I shall stand against him, if he seek vengeance." So spake

Dietrich, that was with Hildebrand, heard him. He came where both the
knights stood outside the house, leaning against the wall. Good Dietrich
laid down his shield, and, moved with deep woe, he said, "Why hast thou
so entreated a homeless knight? What had I done to thee? Thou hast
ended all my joy. Thou deemedst it too little to have slain Rudeger to
our scathe; now thou hast robbed me of all my men. I had never done the
like to you, O knights. Think on yourselves and your loss - the death of
your friends, and your travail. By reason thereof are ye not heavy of
your cheer? Alack! how bitter to me is Rudeger's death! There was never
such woe in this world. Ye have done evilly by me and by yourselves.
All the joy I had ye have slain. How shall I ever mourn enough for all
my kinsmen?"

"We are not alone to blame," answered Hagen. "Your knights came hither
armed and ready, with a great host. Methinketh the tale hath not been
told thee aright."

"What shall I believe then? Hildebrand said that when my knights of
Amelung begged you to give them Rudeger's body, ye answered mockingly, as
they stood below."

Then said the prince of the Rhineland. "They told me they were come to
bear Rudeger hence. I denied them, not to anger thy men, but to grieve
Etzel withal. Whereat Wolfhart flew in a passion."

Said the prince of Bern, "There is nothing for it. Of thy knightliness,
atone to me for the wrong thou hast done me, and I will avenge it no
further. Yield thee captive, thee and thy man, and I will defend thee
to the uttermost against the wrath of the Huns. Thou wilt find me
faithful and true."

"God in Heaven forbid," cried Hagen, "that two knights, armed as we are
for battle, should yield them to thee! I would hold it a great shame,
and ill done."

"Deny me not," said Dietrich. "Ye have made me heavy-hearted enow, O
Gunther and Hagen; and it is no more than just, that ye make it good. I
swear to you, and give you my hand thereon, that I will ride back with
you to your own country. I will bring you safely thither, or die with
you, and forget my great wrong for your sakes."

"Ask us no more," said Hagen. "It were a shameful tale to tell of us,
that two such bold men yielded them captive. I see none save Hildebrand
by thy side."

Hildebrand answered, "Ye would do well to take my master's terms; the
hour will come, or long, when ye would gladly take them, but may not have

"Certes, I had liefer do it," said Hagen, "than flee mine adversary like
a coward, as thou didst, Master Hildebrand. By my troth, I deemed thou
hadst withstood a foeman better."

Cried Hildebrand, "Thou needest not to twit me. Who was it that, by the
wask-stone, sat upon his shield when Walter of Spain slew so many of his
kinsmen? Thou, thyself, art not void of blame."

Said Sir Dietrich then, "It beseemeth not warriors to fight with words
like old women. I forbid thee, Master Hildebrand, to say more. Homeless
knight that I am, I have grief enow. Tell me now, Sir Hagen, what ye
good knights said when ye saw me coming around. Was it not that thou
alone wouldst defy me?"

"Thou hast guessed rightly," answered Hagen. "I am ready to prove it
with swift blows, if my Nibelung sword break not. I am wroth that ye
would have had us yield us captive."

When Dietrich heard grim Hagen's mind, he caught up his shield, and
sprang up the steps. The Nibelung sword rang loud on his mail. Sir
Dietrich knew well that the bold man was fierce. The prince of Bern
warded off the strokes. He needed not to learn that Hagen was a valiant
knight. Thereto, he feared stark Balmung. But ever and anon he struck
out warily, till he had overcome Hagen in the strife. He gave him a
wound that was deep and wide. Then thought Sir Dietrich, "Thy long
travail hath made thee weak. I had little honour in thy death. Liefer
will I take thee captive." Not lightly did he prevail. He threw down
his shield. He was stark and bold, and he caught Hagen of Trony in his
arms. So the valiant many was vanquished. King Gunther grieved sore.

Dietrich bound Hagen, and led him to the queen, and delivered into her
hand the boldest knight that ever bare a sword. After her bitter dole,
she was glad enow. She bowed before the knight for joy. "Blest be thou
in soul and body. Thou hast made good to me all my woe. I will thank
thee till my dying day."

Then said Dietrich, "Let him live, noble queen. His service may yet
atone to thee for what he hath done to thy hurt. Take not vengeance on
him for that he is bound."

She bade them lead Hagen to a dungeon. There he lay locked up, and none
saw him.

Then King Gunther called aloud, "Where is the hero of Bern? He hath done
me a grievous wrong."

Sir Dietrich went to meet him. Gunther was a man of might. He tarried
not, but ran toward him from the hall. Loud was the din of their swords.

Howso famed Dietrich was from aforetime, Gunther was so wroth and so
fell, and so bitterly his foemen, by reason of the wrong he had endured,
that it was a marvel Sir Dietrich came off alive. They were stark and
mighty men both. Palace and towers echoed with their blows, as their
swift swords hewed their good helmets. A high-hearted king was Gunther.

But the knight of Bern overcame him, as he had done Hagen. His blood
gushed from his harness by reason of the good sword that Dietrich
carried. Yet Gunther had defended him well, for all he was so weary.

The knight was bound by Dietrich's hand, albeit a king should never wear
such bonds. Dietrich deemed, if he left Gunther and his man free, they
would kill all they met.

He took him by the hand, and let him before Kriemhild. Her sorrow was
lighter when she saw him. She said, "Thou art welcome, King Gunther."

He answered, "I would thank thee, dear sister, if thy greeting were in
love. But I know thy fierce mind, and that thou mockest me and Hagen."

Then said the prince of Bern, "Most high queen, there were never nobler
captives than these I have delivered here into thy hands. Let the
homeless knights live for my sake."

She promised him she would do it gladly, and good Dietrich went forth
weeping. Yet soon Etzel's wife took grim vengeance, by reason thereof
both the valiant men perished. She kept them in dungeons, apart, that
neither saw the other again till she bore her brother's head to Hagen.
Certes, Kriemhild's vengeance was bitter.

The queen went to Hagen, and spake angrily to the knight. "Give me back
what thou hast taken from me, and ye may both win back alive to Burgundy."

But grim Hagen answered, "Thy words are wasted, noble queen. I have
sworn to show the hoard to none. While one of my masters liveth, none
other shall have it."

"I will end the matter," said the queen. Then she bade them slay her
brother, and they smote off his head. She carried it by the hair to the
knight of Trony. He was grieved enow.

When the sorrowful man saw his master's head, he cried to Kriemhild,
"Thou hast wrought all thy will. It hath fallen out as I deemed it
must. The noble King of Burgundy is dead, and Giselher the youth, and
eke Gernot. None knoweth of the treasure now save God and me. Thou
shalt never see it, devil that thou art."

She said, "I come off ill in the reckoning. I will keep Siegfried's
sword at the least. My true love wore it when I saw him last. My
bitterest heart's dole was for him."

She drew it from the sheath. He could not hinder it. She purposed to
slay the knight. She lifted it high with both hands, and smote off his

King Etzel saw it, and sorrowed. "Alack!" cried the king, "The best
warrior that ever rode to battle, or bore a shield, hath fallen by the
hand of a woman! Albeit I was his foeman, I must grieve."

Then said Master Hildebrand, "His death shall not profit her. I care not
what come of it. Though I came in scathe by him myself, I will avenge
the death of the bold knight of Trony."

Hildebrand sprang fiercely at Kriemhild, and slew her with his sword.
She suffered sore by his anger. Her loud cry helped her not.

Dead bodies lay stretched all over. The queen was hewn in pieces.
Etzel and Dietrich began to weep. They wailed piteously for kinsmen
and vassals. Mickle valour lay there slain. The folk were doleful
and dreary.

The end of the king's hightide was woe, even as, at the last, all joy
turneth to sorrow.

I know not what fell after. Christian and heathen, wife, man, and maid,
were seen weeping and mourning for their friends.


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