Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

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

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faithful watchers heard the clanking of
armour and caught a faint glimmer of
steel through the darkness. It was a
small body of Huns which approached
the house and halted at some distance
from the gate. Finding it so well guarded,
they whispered among themselves and
walked softly away, thinking themselves
unnoticed. But Folker challenged them,
and, receiving no answer, cried after
them :

" Fie on the dastards, who would have
murdered weary men in their sleep ! '

Nothing more happened that night and
Hagen woke his comrades as the grey
dawn was creeping into the windows of the
hall. Presently the church bells began to
ring and they were called to early mass.
King Etzel attended it with many of his
heathen Huns, to do honour to his guests.
He was astonished to see them in full ar-



On Guard 163

mour, with shield and sword and spear, and
shining breastplate instead of festive silken
robes.

" What is this I see ? " he cried. " My
friends helmeted and belted ? By my
troth, if anybody here has offended you,
ye shall have satisfaction, in any way ye
may yourselves appoint."

To which Hagen replied :

" No one offended us. It is my people's
custom to go armed for three full days
when they are on a visit."

Kriemhilde shot a furious glance at him
from under her lowered lids. If only
somebody had had the courage to tell
King Etzel how things really were, he
would have prevented the disaster. But
all were silent, from fear of being rated as
tale-bearers, and he alone of all present
began the day with a light heart and a
mind free from care.

After church the whole forenoon passed
away in knightly exercises, a-foot, and a-
horseback, in which the Burgundians and
the Huns strove to outdo one another.
There were many single encontuers, and



164 Siegfried

in the general sham battle which ended
the morning's show, the performers, se-
cretly moved as they were by a silent
grudge and mutual ill-feeling, came very
near making earnest of play. King Etzel,
who had been enjoying the exercises from
the window at which he sat with Kriem-
hilde, was astonished and somewhat
alarmed. But she looked on unmoved,
indeed rather pleased, because she saw
that Hagen was fast losing control of
himself, and if he happened to be killed,
her revenge would have been accomplished
without any further action on her part,
and she could then peacefully enjoy her
brothers' visit, for she did not wish harm
to them or any of those who came with
them. But it was not to be. The evil
seed of so many years was to bring forth
its full harvest of evil.

What Etzel feared took place. A Hun
of great size and lordly bearing bore down
on Folker with such violence that Hagen
could not do anything but fight in earnest,
in his friend's defence. Others joined in
and made a quick end of the Hun. The



On Guard 165

tumult that followed was deafening ; help
and arms were called for on all sides,
knights were unsaddled, and it took all the
King's authority, as he appeared among
the rioters, to prevent a general engage-
ment. With his own hand he struck a
heavy weapon from the grasp of a cousin
of the dead Hun and shouted in a voice
of thunder :

" If you had killed that man you should
have paid dearly for the deed. That
your cousin was slain was an accident ; I
saw it all. Let not a hair be touched on
my guests' heads."

This put an end to the morning's pas-
time. But the dark mood it had brought
forth cast its shadow upon the feast which
followed. The King frowned as he saw
all his own men appear at table in full
armour. He guessed that they were
watching their chance to avenge their
comrade, and sternly warned them that
the peace must be kept.

Meanwhile, and before they all sat down
to the feast, Kriemhilde had taken apart
Dietrich, the King of Bern, and his uncle,



1 66 Siegfried

old Hildebrand, and entreated them to
help her in her revenge.

" It is only Hagen," she said, " whose
life I crave ; he who slew my beloved
Siegfried. I would not for the world
that harm should come to any of the
others."

But Dietrich at once and absolutely
refused :

" Spare your words, noble Queen. Your
request does you little honour : your
friends came hither relying on your troth.
Siegfried may be avenged, but not by
me."

Kriemhilde then, in her despair, turned
to King Etzel's younger brother, Bledel,
who had always been devoted to her, and
by dint of coaxing, tears, and promises,
got him to consent to undertake, even
though unwillingly, the most unwelcome
task. He was to prepare for it at once,
and therefore could not be present at the
banquet.

But she went in, satisfied at heart, in
time to enter the hall with Etzel, as was
seemly. For the first time the strain on



On Guard 167

her mind relaxed so far that she felt some
pleasure in entertaining her guests, and
sent for her son Ortlieb, whom his uncles
from Burgundy had not yet seen.

" See here, my friends," the King joy-
fully cried, turning to his wife's brothers
as the boy approached the table : ''this is
my child, and your sister's, who will grow
up, I trust, to show you his duty and
service. If the fruit is like the tree, he
will be a man of some worth. The lands
of twelve kings will I bestow on him.
Though young, his friendship will be worth
having. Therefore I would request of
your brotherly love, that when you return
to your home by the Rhine, you take him
with you as your own. Bring him up as
beseems a royal youth, after the fashion
of your country ; and should anybody in
any way wrong you, he will be your
ready helper and avenger when he reaches
man's estate."

Kriemhilde heard, but said not a word.
But Hagen spoke, churlishly and roughly,
after his wont.

" Surely," he said, " his noble kinsmen



1 68 Siegfried

could wish for no better friend, if he grows
up to manhood. Only, as I look at him,
the young princeling seems to me but
poorly in health. I for one do not expect
to be his courtier long."

The King glanced at Hagen : the words
cut him to the heart. But he controlled
himself and kept his peace. All the
King's friends were pained at Hagen's
insulting words and it tried them sorely
to have to pass them by unchallenged.
There was not one in that hall who would
not gladly have called him out to mortal
combat ; the King would have been the
first, had his honour allowed. But a
guest is sacred, and he remembered the
unwritten law even in this moment of
bitterest anger.




XXI

KRIEMHILDE'S REVENGE

THINGS were now balanced so danger-
ously that the first move on either
side must bring them toppling down to a
general catastrophe. The move came
from the Huns.

While King Etzel and his principal
guests were feasting in the great hall,
sullen and expecting they knew not what,
Gunther's retainers sat around plentifully
laden boards in another hall at some dis-
tance from the royal banqueting-hall, and
Dankwart, the marshal, attended to their
needs and kept order among them, as was
his office.

Suddenly before them appeared Bledel,
King Etzel's brother, with a strong fol-

169



i 7 Siegfried

lowing, all armed to the teeth. Dankwart
received him with smiling welcome, and

o

at first would not believe him when he
said that he and his men had come to
fight the Burgundians to the death, all on
account of Siegfried's murder long ago.

" Why, my lord Bledel," said Dankwart,
u in what does that concern me and my
friends ? I was but a boy at the time,
and had nothing to do with it."

" I know, I know it all," sorrowfully re-
plied the Prince ; " it was your brother
Hagen and Gunther the King, Still, you
must all pay for it : such is Kriemhilde's
will. So defend yourselves ! '

" Is that how the wind blows ?' Dank-
wart cried angrily ; " then I am sorry I
wasted kind words on you ! '

And, springing up, he snatched out his
long sharp sword and with one stroke of
it severed Bledel's head from his body.

The hall at once became the scene of a
raging battle. Those who were not quick
enough to get all their arms, picked up
the heavy wooden stools and chairs and
hurled them at the assaulters' heads. At



Kriemhilde's Revenge 171

the uproar which arose, bodies of Huns
came trooping in from all quarters and in
an hour or so all the Burgundians lay
dead or dying on the bloody floor. It
seemed a miracle that Dankwart escaped
unhurt, and the Huns themselves were so
astonished at it that they did not oppose
him when he rushed out to carry the
dreadful news to the royal banqueting-
hall, where he appeared, haggard, pant-
ing, blood-besmeared, like a spectre of
horror and slaughter.

He stood in the door, sword in hand,
unable at first to utter a word, but his
looks told his story all too plainly.
Hagen knew at once what had happened,
as he showed by his questions, and when
he heard his brother's brief and breathless
answers, he was up in a moment.

" I always knew," he cried, " that Kriem-
hilde would have her revenge sometime.
But this is too much for one life. She
shall have some more to pay for to
begin with, the boy ! '

Saying which he suddenly drew his
sword and with one quick flash cut off



172 Siegfried

young Ortlieb's head, which rolled into
Kriemhilde's lap.

This was the signal for a general on-
slaught, and in a very short time there
were quite as many Huns lying killed
here in the royal hall as Burgundians in
the other one. For the guests were des-
perate and the door was strongly guarded,
so no help could come in from without.

King Etzel and Kriemhilde were
stunned and powerless. At last there
was a pause, from sheer exhaustion. Then
she spoke to Dietrich, and entreated him
to help them, to save at least their lives.
He had not much hope, still he decided
to try, knowing that there was no feud
between him and the strangers, and that,
indeed, they had been mutually friendly
from the moment they had met.

So he sent forth a mighty call, loud and
shrill as the blast of a horn, and, standing
on a table, began to wave his arms, until
Gunther and his friends understood that
he would speak to them. They at once
commanded silence and attention, and
Gunther spoke first ;



Kriemhilde's Revenge 173

" Most noble Dietrich, have you re-
ceived any harm at the hand of any of
my friends ? I were loth indeed it should
be so and am ready to give you any satis-
faction."

" No harm have I taken," Dietrich re-
plied, " not so far. Therefore I pray you
of your courtesy to let me and my partic-
ular friends leave this building under your
royal safeguard. If you do, my hand and
sword shall ever be as your own."

" Go in peace," said Gunther at once,
" and take with you as many as you wish,
so they be not of those who are killing my
friends, for these must take their chance
we have suffered too much at the hand
of the Huns."

Then the King of Bern laid one arm
around the trembling Queen and made
Etzel take his other arm, and thus led
them out of the building, many warriors
following them.

The three brothers granted the same
privilege to their kind friend and host,
Margrave Rudiger ; so he also led many
warriors from the hall. A piece of chival-



174 Siegfried

rous generosity which was to cost them
dear.

After this clearing of the hall not many
Huns were left alive in it, and, after an-
other brief fight, their bodies soon lay on
the hard floor beside their dead comrades.
Then the Burgundians sat down to rest
and get their breath, but were up again in
a few moments, for they had still a grim
piece of work before them ; to carry out
the dead, their own and the Huns'. The
latter were very many and were laid
in high heaps in the street before the
palace.

And now the terrible day was done
a long midsummer day. Darkness de-
scended, and with it fear of what the
night might bring. Kriemhilde sat gloomy
and silent, despair in her heart. It had
all come so suddenly and so differently
from what she had planned. Hagen alone
was to have suffered. He alone was her
Siegfried's foe and slayer, and she had
never intended that punishment should
fall on any other head. But young Bledel
had misunderstood her, and thousands had



Kriemhilde's Revenge 175

perished ; and thousands more must per-
ish there was no stopping it. And she,
after giving up one child to what she held
a sacred duty, now had lost the other by
the same murderer's hand and brought all
this horrible disaster on the man who had
been so kind a lord and husband to her,
and who, after this day's work, would never
smile again.

Meantime, the Burgundian heroes held
sorrowful counsel together. They decided
that a quick death would be better than
this long uncertainty. They sent a mes-
senger to King Etzel, asking him to come
to them and hear something they had to
propose, and the three brothers, as they
were, in their armour, black and grimy
with dust and blood, stepped out before
the palace, to await his coming.

Etzel came. Not alone- -Kriemhilde
came with him.

" What would ye with me ? ' the King
spoke sadly and sternly. " Would ye have
peace ? That can hardly be now, after ye
have done me and mine such bloody harm.
Not so long as I have breath. My child



1 76 Siegfried

and all my friends whom ye slew must
stand forever betwixt you and me."

To which Gunther gave answer :

" We were forced to it. We did not
begin. My people were slaughtered at
their meal by your warriors. Is that your
troth ? I came trusting to your pledged
word, and holding you my friend."

Then young Giselher addressed those
that had come with the King :

" Of you I ask, ye warriors of King
Etzel, what do ye charge me with ? What
had I done to you, coming to your coun-
try so joyful and confiding ? '

They answered him :

" The city here and the palace are full
of thy goodness, and the land. Much
would we give, for thy sake, that thou
hadst never come among us. Many tears
had been spared the women of Worms on
the Rhine."

" If you would even now put a stop to
the slaughter," Gunther once more spoke
to the King, " by my troth, it were well
done for all. 'T is most undeserved, God
wot ! this that is done to us."







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Kriemhilde's Revenge 177

But the host spoke angrily to his former
guests :

" Our grievances are most unlike. For
the great disaster, the disgrace, and the
heartache that ye have brought upon me,
not one of you shall escape alive."

Then strong Gernot spoke, with gloomy
brow :

" Do us the one favour still : let what
must be, be done quickly. Let us out
of this hall, to an open place, for our
last battle. We are weary unto death,
many of us are grievously wounded ; your
men are fresh and will finish us promptly.
'Tis better than this long agony."

King Etzel and his men were stirred
with pity and about to yield to this request
of dying men ; when Kriemhilde, who had
hitherto held her peace, cried out, with
furious mien :

" Nay, nay, ye warriors ; that were
sheer folly, believe me ; I know my moth-
er's noble sons : were they to come alone
among you, desperate as they are, ye
were lost the earth never bore braver
heroes.'



1 78 Siegfried

Then sadly spoke young Giselher :

" Fair sister, never would I have believed
such treachery of thee, that thou shouldst
lure me hither to my death. What have
I done to deserve such a fate ? Have I
not always been a true and loving brother
to thee ? I came at a word from thee,
never doubting thy love. And now I
have fallen low indeed, since, sister, I must
sue for our lives to thy mercy ! '

" I give no mercy where I received
none," the Queen pitilessly replied. " Ha-
gen broke my heart at home, and now
here he slays my child : for that all must
pay who came with him. Still, if ye will
deliver him, Hagen, up to me, ye shall
live and go hence safe. For ye are my
brothers, my mother's children - ! mind
me of that. Say 'yes, 'and I will entreat
these warriors to let you go against
ransom."

"God in Heaven forbid such felony!'
cried Gernot. " Were there a thousand
left of us, we should lie down dead at thy
friends' feet before we would give up one
man to thee."



Kriemhilde's Revenge 179

" We must all die," Giselher joined in ;
" then let none say of us hereafter that
we could be bribed from usage and law
of chivalry. If any would fight us, weak-
ened as we are, they will find us willing ;
but I never yet betrayed a friend, and
it is too late to begin now."

Then Kriemhilde, blinded by wrath,
maddened by her long-deferred revenge,
did a monstrous thino- : she ordered the

o

building set on fire at the four corners.
King Etzel did not gainsay, and many
willing hands obeyed the cruel command.
As the flames leaped up, all walked away
into the night, leaving the wretched vic-
tims to their doom.

But the end was not yet. The build-
ing was strong, with vaulted roof, the
night was still : so the blaze played idly
around roof and gable and, though it kept
the men within busy all night watching
and putting out the firebrands which kept
dropping down into the hall and on their
helmeted heads, no serious damage was
done, and when, soon after daybreak, a
body of warriors sent by Kriemhilde ap-



i8o Siegfried

proached what they expected to find a
smoking heap of ruins, they were amazed
to see the walls still standing and hardly
injured, and to be met by several hun-
dreds of desperate men. The Huns
hastily sent back for more men of the
best, even while they began the last fierce
battle. It was like fighting men already
dead ; yet many a Hun had to lose his
life at the hand of the Burgundians at
bay, whose only wish was now to send as
many as possible to the other world before
them.

Rudiger and Dietrich had kept out of
the fray until this last hour, for there were
strong bonds of friendship and hospitality
between them and the guests from the
Rhine. While the three royal brothers
had been entertained at the Margrave's cas-
tle, a marriage had even been arranged be-
tween the general favourite, Giselher, and
the host's only daughter. Rudiger was
to return with them to Worms, where the
wedding was to have taken place. And
now, in this last hour of extremest peril, he
sent a messenger to Dietrich, asking



Kriemhilde's Revenge i8r

whether he could think of anything to
save the lives of the kings even yet.
Brief and stern came the reply : " King
Etzel will not hear of mercy. And who
can gainsay him ? '

Then Rudiger wept where he stood.

A gigantic Hun drew the Queen's at-
tention to him.

" See him stand there," he cried, in
loud, jeering tone : " he whom you and
King Etzel have raised above all other
men. Of his many castles, how many
were given him by the King ? Yet I do
not see that he has struck a blow to help
us in our sore plight. What cares he, so
his house and barns are full ! Men say
he is the bravest of the brave. We have
not seen much of it so far."

The Margrave heard, and regarded the
Hun with ominous calmness. Then,
stepping up to him and lifting his power-
ful arm, " Caitiff ! take that ! " he said,
and struck him one blow on the head with
his fist. The man fell prone at his feet
dead.

" That was not well done, noble Rudi-



1 82 Siegfried

ger," King Etzel spoke, gloomily ; " me-
thinks we had enough dead here as it was.
That is a poor kind of help."

" The time was ill chosen to cast in my
teeth the benefits I have received from
you, and throw a doubt on my honour,"
retorted the Christian. " He will lie no



more.'



The Queen looked at Rudiger sadly.
Her eyes filled with tears. At last she
spoke :

" Have we deserved this of you, the
King and I, that you should add to our
sorrow ? Have you not sworn over and
over again to venture for us your honour
and your life ? And I- -I now demand of
you the faith which you swore to me with
lip and hand when you pressed me to
accept King Etzel's wooing, and pledged
yourself in my bitter need to serve me
until death, to further my vengeance and
take all my woe from me."

" And have I not been ever ready to
serve you in all things?' Rudiger mur-
mured, sore stung by this reminder. " I
will not deny, O Queen," he went on,



Kriemhilde's Revenge 183

more firmly, " all that I swore to you.
Honour and life I am willing to give for
you. But I did not swear away my soul.
'Twas I who brought the princes to this
court! 'Twas me they trusted- -my
pledged faith ! '

Then Etzel also began to entreat,
and at last both threw themselves at his
feet.

" Oh, woe is me ! ' cried the tortured
man, "that I should live to see this miser-
able day ! Honour, truth, God's own
law am I to cast them all from me ? O
Lord of Heaven, let me die first! Or
send me Thy light, that I may see where
duty lies ! "

Then suddenly turning to the King

" Lord Etzel ! ' he exclaimed, " take
back all that thou gavest me : castles, and
lands, and gold. I want nothing. I will
go forth on foot, a beggar, taking only
my wife and daughter by the hand, be-
fore I end my life by a deed of eternal
shame."

But the King would not listen.

" What are lands, and castles, and gold ! "



1 84 Siegfried

he cried ; " it is thy valour, thy manhood,

I want, for who else is there to help me in
my need ? A king will I make thee, a king
second only to myself but help me, now,
Rudiger avenge me ! '

" How can I hurt them ? " the Margrave
went on, unheeding the King's words.

II They have been my guests, have eaten
and drunk at my board, and borne away
my gifts. Nay, my daughter I gave to
young Giselher more nobly and virtu-
ously she could never have mated and
shall mine be the hand to slay them ? '

But when the Queen once more in-
sisted, entreating his service, not as a due,
but as a boon, he could not allow personal
affection to stand any longer in the way of
his oath and of his duty as vassal to the
King of the Huns. He threw both life
and soul into the balance.

" I must even keep my oath," he sighed.
" Alas, my friends ! . . . But one thing
is sure : I may not survive this day. Be-
fore night my lands and castles shall be
yours once more, Lord Etzel, to bestow
on whom you will. Therefore, to you I



Kriemhilde's Revenge 185

commend my wife and child, and all the
homeless ones at Bechlaren."

With heavy step and drooping head he
left the King, and went where his five
hundred men stood awaiting his orders.

" Arm yourselves," he commanded
briefly ; " we must fight the brave Bur-
gundians, more 's the pity."

When the three brothers saw Rudiger
enter the hall with his following, they
greeted him with a shout of joy, for they
thought he came as a friend and brought
them relief. But the Margrave stood
stern and sad for one moment, then cried
out to them :

" Brave Nibelungs, defend yourselves !
We have been friends we are so no
more ! '

An awed silence fell on the Burgun-
dians. They did not believe him.

" Heaven forbid," spoke Gunther at
length, " that you should be thus false to
friendship and hospitality ! You cannot
mean it."

" It cannot be helped," replied Rudi-
ger, sorrowfully. " I once swore an oath,



1 86 Siegfried

and now I am held to it. The Queen
leaves me no choice."

" You cannot take our lives, you who
have been our kind host and loving friend,"
said Gunther, still incredulous. " Re-
member, noble Rudiger, it was you who
brought us to Etzel's kingdom."

" And see," said Gernot, " I wear the
sword you gave me. It has done me good
service this day. And shall I now turn it
against the giver ? '

" Your wife, the Lady Gotelinde," fell in
Hagen, "gave me the shield I brought to
Etzel's Court ; the Huns have hacked it
to pieces, and now I am defenceless.
Would that I had one like that one of
yours, noble Rudiger ! '

" Take it, Hagen," the Margrave said,
and held it out to him ; " and would to
God you might carry it home to Bur-
gundy ! '

There was not a dry eye among the
doomed warriors ; many wept outright.
Even Hagen, grim as he was, and hard
of heart, was touched at so much gentle-
ness.



Kriemhilde's Revenge 187

" God requite you, noble Margrave,"
he cried ; " there is no other man like
you. We had enough heartache to bear
without having to fight our friend ! '

It was Rudiger's last gift; the hand
whose delight it had been to give was never

o o

to give any more.

The grief, the suspense, were growing
unbearable an end must be made. Ru-
diger, who had meanwhile been handed
another shield, raised it as a signal to his
men, and, loth as they all were, they
rushed forward, and the deadly fighting


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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 8 of 14)