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Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons online

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" Dear lady, it shall be as you will."

All that day noble knights and ladies,
and citizens of note, came pouring to the
palace, to view the hero on his bier. All
mourned with the widow, and were sin-
cere in their words of sorrow, for no one
had ever seen Siegfried but did love him,
and no one could think what the city's
favourite had done, to forfeit his life at the
hands of his nearest and dearest. And
many a plain burgher's good wife wept
with the Queen and her ladies.

The next morning, at daybreak, Kriem-
hilde had her dead love borne to the min-
ster, there to lie in state, in his coffin
of gold and silver, bound with strong



no Siegfried

steel, to the knell of all the bells in the
city, and the funeral chanting of countless
priests and monks ; when, lo ! King Gun-
ther joined her with his following. Grim
Hagen too was with him, who should, for
very shame, have stayed away.

" Dear sister," began the King, " I am
sorely grieved at thy great sorrow. I
would give much could this be undone.
We all must ever mourn Siegfried's
death."

" You have no cause," she replied,
coldly, " or this would not have befallen.
You never thought of me when you took
my husband from me. Would you had
taken me instead ! '

Gunther persisted in denying that he
had any share in Siegfried's death. But
Kriemhilde spoke aloud so as to be heard
by all :

" Those who protest their innocence
may prove it very easily : only let them
approach the bier, here before the people.
The truth will be manifest at once."

It is a wonder often beheld that when
the slayer approaches him whom he has



Siegfried's Funeral in

slain, the wounds will bleed afresh. And
this was seen by all, that time Hagen
stood by the bier : the ruddy blood began
to flow as freely as when the wound was
made. A shout of horror went up to the
minster's roof. But Gunther still denied.

" Hear me," he cried ; - " hear the truth.
He was killed by outlaws. Hagen never
did it."

" I know these outlaws well," she re-
plied ; " Gunther and Hagen, you it was
who did it and may God requite you as
you deserve ! '

At the word, Siegfried's men would
have rushed on the Burgoindians ; but

o

Kriemhilde once more restrained them.
And just then her two other brothers
came, Gernot and young Giselher ; they
grieved from their hearts for the dead and
for their sister, and she received their
kindness willingly, for she did not suspect
that they had known of the plot, and now,
in sooth, they were sorrowful enough ; the
blinding tears stood in their eyes. They
spoke to her words of brotherly comfort
and cheer.



ii2 Siegfried

But comfort nor cheer could reach the
aching heart. Only, when the funeral
mass was sung, and the lid was fastened
on the coffin, she ordered her chamber-
lains to give from Siegfried's store, with
full hands, to all that came. For three
days they gave and gave ; and many that
came poor beggars, widows, orphans
went home rich for many a day to come.
Monasteries, too, and churches were lav-
ishly remembered, and more than a hun-
dred masses were read in those days for
the departed hero's soul.

On the third morning, not only the
cathedral but the vast churchyard around
it was crowded to overflowing with sor-
rowing men and weeping women. As
men lifted the coffin to carry it to the
grave, the loving, faithful wife was so
overcome that she fell to the ground as
one stricken unto death. They poured
water on her from the well, but so long
without effect that many wondered that
she came back to life at all ; and when she
did at last, and found the coffin gone, she
rushed to the grave into which they were



Siegfried's Funeral 113

about to lower it, and clung to it and
cried :

" Oh ye, my Siegfried's liegemen, one
boon I crave of your merciful hearts, one
little boon in all my endless misery ; let
me look but once again, for one brief mo-
ment, on his beautiful face ! '

She begged so long and movingly that
not the hardest heart could have with-
stood her. So the strongly welded coffin
was broken open, and the Queen was led
to it. As she raised the comely head and
kissed the brow and lips, a great wonder
was seen : her eyes shed tears of blood.
A miserable parting ! She was borne
thence, a fair, unconscious burden. All
that day and night she passed from one
fainting fit into another, and nothing that
anybody spoke reached her dull and dead-
ened senses, nor did any food or drink so
much as touch her lips.



XV

KRIEMHILDE'S WIDOWHOOD

OLD King Siegmund was very ill ; al-
most as broken by his great sorrow
as was Kriemhilde herself. His first words,
when he could rouse himself to think and
act, were, " We will ride home. This is
no place for us." He never doubted but
that Kriemhilde would go with him, and
such was at first her intention. But her
mother, Queen Ute, and her favourite
brother, young Giselher, besought her not
to return to a country where, Siegfried
being dead, she would be among strangers.
Gernot came and also begged her to stay.
They promised her that she should never
be forced to meet Hagen or anyone whom
she held to be her foe, that they would
care for her and make good her loss as
far as they could by their loving kindness.

114



Kriemhilde's Widowhood 115

So when King Siegmund came to her
again and begged her to make haste, as
all was ready and he was loath to tarry an-
other hour among the Burgundians, she
said, sadly but firmly :

" My lord King, I cannot go with you.
I have no kindred of my blood in your
country, while here, whatever betide, there
are at least a few who will help me



mourn.'



King Siegmund was sorely grieved and
tried to move her from her resolve.

" Not so," he said ; " you shall wear
the crown and our friends will hold you
in as high honour as when Siegfried lived.
And, daughter, think of your son : would
you have him grow up an orphan with a
living mother ? Return to him ; he will
comfort you, and all our liegemen shall
serve you with their swords."

But she was not to be moved.

" Go," she said, " in the Lord's good
keeping. You shall be well escorted. As
to my boy, I commend him to your care
and to the love of all your noble friends."

When Siegfried's Nibelungs were told



n6 Siegfried

that they would have to return without
their Queen, they raised a wail as for an-
other dead. Both they and Siegmund
knew it was a parting for all time, and as
he kissed her cheek, the tears ran down
his own. But she w r as stern and cold,
and seemed glad when they left her to
herself and to her grief. She even sent
all her women home. But among Sieg-
fried's friends there was one who refused
to leave her : it was Margrave Eckewart.
He stayed, with his own men, and swore
to serve her unto death.

Young Giselher escorted the King and
his men all the way to the Netherlands,
then returned to Worms and Kriemhilde
always said that no one ever gave her any
comfort in her grief save only her boy
brother, he was so good and true. As
to Brunhilde, what did she care whether
Kriemhilde wept or not ? She lived on in
her arrogance, never thinking that her day
for grieving was coming on too, slowly
but surely.

And now began the dreary round of
Kriemhilde's widowhood. She spent a



Kriemhilde's Widowhood 117

portion of each day alone at her Sieg-
fried's grave. The rest of the time she
stayed with her mother, Queen Ute, and
her women, but scarcely seemed to heed
the anxious kindness with which they
waited on her, or to hear the wise and lov-
ing words with which they strove to com-
fort her. No one could win from her a
smile, hardly a word, save only her brother
Giselher. Four years went by, and she
had not spoken once to Gunther ; nor had
she once met Hagen, her bitterest foe.

Then one day Hagen spoke to the
King:

" If you could make friends again with
your sister, we might bring over here the
treasure of the Nibelungs. It would pay
you to do a little coaxing."

" We might try," Gunther agreed ;
" Gernot and Giselher shall speak for me."

Gernot was the first to try.

" Sister," he said to Kriemhilde the next
time he visited her, " you mourn too long
for Siegfried's death. The King would
show you that he did not kill him if you
would but grant him a hearing."



ii8 Siegfried

" Nobody ever said he did," she replied.
" It was Hagen. For did I not myself make
known to him in what spot Siegfried could
be wounded ? Therefore I can never cease
to mourn, nor will I ever meet in kindness
those who did or knew of so foul a thing."

Then Giselher began to plead, and him
she had not the heart to refuse.

" Very well," she said ; " I will speak
to the King, since you insist. But you do
me a cruel wrong. Gunther has undone
me, his own sister, who never did him any
harm. My lips may speak forgiveness,
but my heart knows nothing of it."

" That will come in time," all her friends
encouraged her.

The moment Gunther heard Giselher's
report, he went to her with his best friends.
Hagen did not dare to present himself.

They met. They spoke. Kriemhilde
even was persuaded to suffer the King to
kiss her, and many tears were shed. She
forgave all, except only the one man.

Not long afterwards they got her con-
sent to bring over the great treasure from
the land of the Nibelungs. It was Sieg-



Kriemhilde's Widowhood 119

fried's wedding gift to her, and so her own
dower now, to do with as she would.

Giselher and Gernot went for the hoard,
with eight thousand men and many ships.
They took Kriemhilde's order to the
keeper, Alberich the Dwarf, to deliver it
up, and he dared not refuse, for it was
her right.

It took twelve large hay-waggons four
days and nights to cart the treasure from
the mountain cave to the ships, mak-
ing three trips a day. There was nothing
but gold and precious stones, and in the
middle of the heap was hidden the golden
wishing-rod, which would have made any-
one who knew the use of it master over
the whole wide earth and all that it holds,
and every man on it. Many Nibelungs
went as escort to the treasure, for land
and castles and men are all subject to
whoever owns it.

When the hoard was brought to Bur-

o

gundy and unshipped, it was delivered
over to Kriemhilde, who had it carted to
the palace, where it filled many chambers
and turrets, of which she took the keys.



120 Siegfried

And yet, had the great treasure been
greater a thousandfold, and Siegfried
could have been called back to life, and
the choice given her, she would never so
much as have looked at it, and would
have gone to him in her smock. Never
hero, of a truth, had so faithful wife.

As it was, she did not herself greatly care
for the gold, but she had good use for
it. She began to give. She gave to rich
and poor, to strangers too : to the poor
from kindness, and for the good of her
Siegfried's soul ; to the rich because she
wanted friends devoted to herself, and
ready to work her will in due time ; that
was why brave but needy knights from
foreign lands, whom her bounty drew to
Worms, and kept there, w r ere especially
favoured. She was quietly making a fol-
lowing for herself.

No one interfered with her or seemed
to notice her actions. Hagen alone was
ever watching her suspiciously. He un-
derstood her better than any of the others.
He knew that only one thing could have
kept her in Burgundy, alone, almost a



Kriemhilde's Widowhood 121

prisoner, among kinsmen the very sight
of whom must be hateful to her, away
from her own child and the land where
she would have reigned, a queen, among
her husband's friends,- -and that thing
was the hope and purpose of revenge.
Therefore, he distrusted everything she
did or said, no matter how quiet she kept.
And now he tried to arouse Gunther's
suspicions also.

" If you let her go on like this a while
longer," he said to the King, " she will
have so many men in her pay that we
shall be in her power."

" Let her alone," Gunther replied, wea-
rily ; " the treasure is her own. What
right have I to meddle with it or what
she does with it ? I had enough to do to
get her to make friends with me ; now I
am not going to pry and spy on her and
what she does with her own."

" No prudent man will leave such wealth
in a woman's hands," Hagen insisted. " If
you do not check her lavishness, we Bur-
gundians will yet suffer from it."

" I have sworn an oath," Gunther de-



122



Siegfried



clared, " never again to do her any harm,
or grieve her in any way, and I will keep
it. After all, she is my sister."

" You need do nothing," said Hagen ;
" leave it all to me."

He knew Gunther's moral cowardice,
and was not afraid of displeasing him
by anything he did by himself. So he
watched his chance and stole the keys ;
then, once when all the three brothers were
absent on an expedition, he had the whole
treasure carried away and sunk into a deep
hole at the bottom of the Rhine. Giselher
had once said in a moment of vexation :
" I wish the hoard were at the bottom
of the Rhine. Then it would belong
to nobody and work no more mischief in
the world." And now it was done ; and
Hagen bound those who helped him in
the work by a strong oath, so long as
any of them lived never to tell of the
place.

The brothers were very angry when
they came back ; Gernot and Giselher
really and truly, and Gunther had to pre-
tend he was. Everybody at the court



Kriemhilde's Widowhood 123

declared it was an outrage, and Hagen
thought it best to keep away for a while,
the feeling was so strong against him.

Kriemhilde bore the wrong and the loss
in silence. She knew complaints would
be but a waste of breath. She lived with
her mother, even more quietly than before ;
and when thirteen years had gone by after
Siegfried's death, Queen Ute persuaded
her to retire with her to a rich abbey which
she had founded and endowed, and where
both now thought to end their days in
peace and godliness. Only Kriemhilde
refused to be separated from him who was
her beloved husband dead as he had
been alive. So she had his remains re-
moved, with great honour and solemn cere-
monies, to Queen Ute's abbey, whither
she would have followed immediately her-
self, but that strange tidings came from
far Eastern lands.



XVI

KING ETZEL'S WOOING

IT was about that time that Etzel, the
powerful King of the Huns, lost Queen
Helke, his well-beloved wife. He mourned
her as was seemly ; then his friends en-
treated him to wed again, and advised
him to woo the proud widow, Kriemhilde
of Burgundy.

" How could that be ? objected the
King ; " I am a heathen, and she is a
Christian ! She will never hear of it.
Only a miracle can bring her here."

" Who knows ? ' they replied. " Your
fame is very great ; she may be tempted
by that, and by the wealth which is known
to be yours. You should try your luck
with her, for in sooth she is a noble lady,

124



King Etzel's Wooing 125

and should wed with the noblest of all
kings."

" Is there anyone among you all," asked
Etzel, " who knows the Rhine, the country
and the people ? '

Then Rudiger, the brave Margrave of
Bechlaren, stepped forward and stood be-
fore the King :

" I have known from boyhood the three
noble kings, Gunther and Gernot, and
Giselher, the youngest. Their name is
held in high honour and so was that of
their father and all their ancestors.

" Friend," King Etzel asked again,
" now tell me truly, is she worthy of wear-
ing my crown ? Is her beauty really as
great as it is said to be ? '

" In beauty," Rudiger replied, "she is
fully the equal of my late lady, Queen
Helke. In the whole wide world no queen
can call herself fairer. The man who wins
her may well be accounted fortunate."

" Then, Rudiger," cried the King, "woo
and win her for me if thou lovest me !
Bring her here, and I will reward you
richly from my own treasure. And now



Siegfried

you shall take of horses, and splendid gar-
ments, and coined gold as much as will
keep you and your comrades in plenty
and merry living on the long journey to
the Rhine."

" Not so," Rudiger replied ; " it would
ill befit me to take aught from your royal
store. I shall gladly go as your messenger,
but at my own cost. I am well able to
bear it, and all I own I have from you."

"And when do you think to start?'
asked the King.

Rudiger reflected :

" We must provide ourselves with arms
and clothing ; and I intend to take with
me five hundred knights. The Burgun-
dians shall confess that no king ever yet
sent so well equipped an embassy so far
from his own land. And I must see my
dear wife, Gotelinde, and order my house-
hold. In twenty-four days we shall be
ready to start."

And so it came to pass that just as
Kriemhilde was making ready to join her
mother in the abbey, Rudiger stood before
her brother Gunther and asked for her



King Etzel's Wooing 127

hand in the name of his famous master,
Etzel, King of the Huns.

He had been well pleased with his re-
ception so far, had met several old friends,
of the times when they were all young
together, and found right willing ears when
he delivered his message. Gunther at
once replied :

" If my word has any weight with her,
she shall not say your master nay. I will
let you know in three days from now."

When Rudiger and his companions had
been taken to comfortable quarters and
provided for with hospitable care, the
princes held a secret council with their
most trusted friends. All, to a man,
thought it would be a good thing that
Kriemhilde should wed King Etzel. Ha-

o

gen alone thought differently.

"If you are wise," he said to Gunther,
"you will take care what you do, and even
if she should want to go, you will not let
her."

" Why should I not ? " the King asked
wonderingly. " Whatever may betide the
Queen that is for her good, I shall be only



128 Siegfried

too glad : she is my own sister, and it is
for us to look after and care for her."

"You speak but foolishly," Hagen still
persisted ; " if you knew Etzel and his
power as I do, you would not let her
make a friend of him, lest you be the first
to rue it."

" I cannot see that," replied the King ;
" it lies with me never to go near him,
and then he cannot injure me, were he
ten times her husband."

But Hagen still repeated, " It is un-
wise." Gernot and Giselher were very
wroth with him for his ill-natured stub-
bornness, and rebuked him with bitter
words.

" Truly," they said to him, " you have
done her such grievous wrong, it is but
what you deserve, if she hates you. And
if you had a spark of conscience, you
would not grudge her a little late happi-



ness.'



Hagen saw that he was entirely alone
of his opinion. But he had the last word :

" I do not deny it. But I will say to
the last that if the noble Kriemhilde



King Etzel's Wooing 129

wears Helke's crown, she will do us hurt
and harm wherever she can. And it be-
hoves you, her brothers, to have a care."

After this, he spoke no more, but sat
by, sullen and gloomy ; and it was re-
solved that Kriemhilde should be told of
King Etzel's offer and advised to accept it.

Yet, and though all were against Ha-
gen, things very nearly shaped themselves
to please him. For Kriemhilde would
not hear of wooing or wedding, and
at first was inclined to look on her broth-
ers' urging as a mockery. At last she
consented to receive Rudiger and not to
insult so great a king as Etzel by sending
back his messenger unheard.

" Send him to me to-morrow morning,"
she said, " and I will give him my answer
myself. I think highly of Margrave
Rudiger. Had it been any other mes-
senger, he should never have had speech
of me."

And so next morning she received him
and the eleven knights who came with
him with great friendliness and courtesy.
But she wore her everyday dress, without



130 Siegfried

an ornament, although her women were
arrayed in their best, to do the envoy
honour. She heard him out patiently,
but her answer was ready :

" Margrave Rudiger, if any man living
could measure the sorrow which I bear
ever within my heart, he would not ad-
vise me to wed another man. I lost the
best husband woman ever had."

" And what greater comforter can we
have in sorrow," the wily envoy retorted,
" than friendship and sweet love ? And if
you deign to accept my noble master's
love, know that twelve wealthy crowns
will be yours, and for your dower he will
give you the lands of thirty princes whom
his mighty hand has conquered. And you
shall rule over many a worthy knight and
many a fair maiden of princely race, who
were Queen Helke's own attendants, and
all King Etzel's subjects shall be yours,
and power imperial, unlimited, this he
bade me tell you."

Kriemhilde grew thoughtful as she list-
ened, then spoke with noble dignity :

" Enough. Press me no more to-day.



King Etzel's Wooing 131

Return to-morrow morning, and I will
give you my final answer."

She sent for her mother and for her
favourite brother, Giselher. She listened
to their reasons, then dismissed them
without a decisive word, and spent the
night alone, in doubt and tearful prayer.
Early in the morning, before mass, her
brothers visited her, all three, and took
her by the hand and lovingly entreated her.
Then the Huns were once more intro-
duced. They entered, grave and some-
what stern, for they had come to take
their leave unless she changed her mind.

Rudiger, with courtly words, besought
the Queen to declare what answer he
should take to King Etzel and his people.
The answer came, low but clear :

" I never again can love or wed."

From this no words or entreaties could
move her. Then Rudiger craved a secret
audience of the Queen. They stood apart
where none could hear the low-breathed
words :

" Cease from weeping. Had you no one
in the land of the Huns but myself alone,



132 Siegfried

my vassals and my friends, we should make
anyone pay dear who ever had offended
you."

She looked up at that, and there was
life in her eye.

" Will you swear to me, Rudiger," she
said, "that whoever may do me a wrong
you will be the first to avenge me ? '

" That will I," he answered readily, and
swore the oath and gave his hand on it.
She, meanwhile, was thinking in her heart.
" If I can win so many devoted friends, I
do not care what people may think of my
wedding again, for then I can hope at last
to avenge my Siegfried's death. If Etzel
has so many liegemen, and I am given
power over them, then I can do anything
I please. And he has treasure enough.
I can give without stint." She made a
last objection :

" Had I not been informed that he is a
heathen, I might possibly think of accept-
ing King Etzel's offer."

" He is not quite a heathen," Rudiger
quickly replied ; " he has been baptised
you may believe my word but he relapsed



King Etzel's Wooing 133

into paganism. He has as many Christian
as heathen subjects, and if he had a Christ-
ian wife, who knows but she might incline
his heart again to God."

They returned to where her brothers
stood and all three urged her again and
again, till she sorrowfully gave her consent
and held out her hand to Rudiger.

The Margrave was so delighted, he
would have liked to carry her away that
very day, and would scarcely allow her
time for her preparations and farewells.
As she was herself anxious to go, now she
had made up her mind, it took her less than
a week to get herself and her attendants
ready. The faithful Margrave Eckewart
declared that he would follow her with
his five hundred men, so she should not
come to the land of the Huns without
a royal retinue. He had sworn to her
allegiance until death, he said, and only
death should part them. A hundred fair
maidens of noble birth were chosen to
attend her, and the loading of the pack-
horses had already begun, when Hagen,
with unmannerly insolence, forbade Kriem*



134 Siegfried

hilde's people to take away her treasure.
It was a portion of the Nibelung hoard
which she had kept in her own apartments,
and therefore he had been unable to lay
his hands on it. Though but a small
remnant of the whole, there was still
enough to load sixty mules.

" Kriemhilde," he said, "will never for-
give me, and I were a fool to leave such
wealth in my mortal foe's hands. I know
well enough what she would do with it ;
she would use it all to hire men against
me. I will take care of it you may tell
her so from me."

The Queen was angered beyond words,
and her brothers were indignant. They
would have interfered, but Rudiger would
not let them.

"Most royal lady," he said to Kriemhilde,


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Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinSiegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons → online text (page 6 of 14)