Nibelungenlied/Adventure IV

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Nibelungenlied by Unknown, translated by Daniel Bussier Shumway
Adventure IV: How he fought the Saxons[1]

Now there came strange tales to Gunther's land, though messengers sent them from afar -- tales of unknown warriors, who bare them hate. When they heard this word, in sooth it pleased them not. These warriors will I name to you: there was Liudeger of Saxon land, a great and lordly prince, and then from Denmark Lindegast, the king. For their journey they had gathered many a lordly stranger.

To Gunther's land were come the messengers his foes had sent. Men asked the strangers for their tidings and bade them hie them soon to court unto King Gunther. The king gave them greeting fair; he spake: "Be ye welcome . I have not heard who sent you hither, but let that now be told." So spake the right good king. But they feared full sore King Gunther's warlike mood.

"Will ye, O King, permit that we tell the tales we bring, then we shall not hold our tongue, but name to you the lordings who have sent us hither: Liudegast and Liudeger; they would march upon this land. Ye have earned their wrath, indeed we heard that both lords bear you mortal hate. They would harry at Worms upon the Rhine and have the aid of many a knight; that may ye know upon our faith. Within twelve weeks the journey must befall. And ye have aught of good friends, who will help guard your castles and your lands, let this soon be seen. Here shall be carved by them many a helm and shield. Or would ye parley with them, let messengers be sent. Then the numerous bands of your mighty foes will not ride so near you, to give you pain of heart, from which full many a lusty knight and a good must die."

"Now bide a time," spake the good king, "till I bethink me better; then ye shall know my mind. Have I aught of trusty men, I will not withhold from them these startling tales, but will make complaint thereof unto my friends."

To Gunther, the mighty king, it was loth enow, but in his heart he bare the speech in secret wise. He bade Hagen be fetched and others of his men, and sent eftsoon to court for Gernot. Then came the very best of men that could he found. The king spake: "Men would seek us here in this our land with mighty armies, now make ye wail for that."

To this Gernot, a brave and lusty knight, made answer: "That will we fend indeed with swords. Only the fey [2] will fall. So let them die; for their sake I will not forget my honor. Let these foes of ours be welcome to us."

Then spake Hagen of Troneg: "This thinketh me not good. Liudegast and Liudeger bear great arrogance; nor can we summon all our men in such short time. Why tell ye not Siegfried of the thing?" So spake the valiant knight.

To the messengers they bade give lodging in the town. Whatever hate they bore them, yet Gunther, the mighty, bade purvey them well, as was but right, till he discovered of his friends who there was who would lend him aid. Yet in his fears the king was ill at ease. Just then full blithe a knight, who wot not what had happed, saw him thus sad and prayed King Gunther to tell him of the matter. "Much it wondereth me," spake Siegfried, for he it was, "that ye thus have changed your merry wont, which ye have used thus far with us."

To this Gunther, the stately knight, replied: "It liketh me not to tell all folk the grievance which I must bear within my heart in secret wise. Only to trusty friends should one confide his woe of heart."

At this Siegfried's color waxed both pale and red. To the king he spake: "I have denied you naught and will gladly help you turn aside your woes. And ye seek friends, I will be one of them and trow well to deport myself with honor until mine end."

"Now God reward you, Sir Siegfried, your speech thinketh me good, and though your prowess help me not, yet do I rejoice to hear that ye are friend to me, and live I yet a while, I shall repay you well. I will let you hear why I stand thus sad; from the messengers of my foes I have heard that they would visit me with war, a thing which knights have never done to us in all these lands."

"Regard this lightly," spake then Siegfried, "and calm your mood. Do as I pray you. Let me gain for you both worship and advantage and do ye command your knights, that they gather to your aid. Should your mighty foes be helped by thirty thousand [3] men, yet could I withstand them, had I but a thousand; for that rely on me."

Then spake King Gunther: "For this I'll serve you ever."

"So bid me call a thousand of your men, since of mine own I have but twelve, and I will guard your land. Faithfully shall the hand of Siegfried serve you. Hagen shall help us and also Ortwin, Dankwart, and Sindolt, your trusty men. Folker, the valiant man, shall also ride along; he shall bear the banner, for to none would I liefer grant it. Let now the envoys ride home to their masters' lands. Give them to understand they soon shall see us, that our castles may rest in peace."

Then the king bade summon both his kinsmen and his men. The messengers of Liudeger betook them to the court. Fain they were that they should journey home again. Gunther, the good king, made offrance of rich gifts and gave them safe-convoy. At this their spirits mounted high. "Now say unto my foes," spake then Gunther, "that they may well give over their journey and stay at home; but if they will seek me here within my lands, hardships shall they know, and my friends play me not false."

Rich gifts men bare then for the envoys; enow of these had Gunther to bestow, nor durst the men of Liudeger refuse them. When at last they took their leave, they parted hence in merry mood.

Now when the messengers were come to Denmark and King Liudegast had heard how they parted from the Rhine, as was told him, much he rued, in sooth, their [4] proud defiance. The envoys said that Gunther had full many a valiant man-at-arms and among them they saw a warrior stand, whose name was Siegfried, a hero from Netherland. Little liked it Liudegast when he heard aright this tale. When the men of Denmark had heard these tidings told, they hasted all the more to call their friends; till Sir Liudegast had gathered for his journey full twenty thousand knights from among his valiant men. Then King Liudeger, also, of Saxon land, sent forth his summons, till they had forty thousand men and more, with whom they thought to ride to the Burgundian land.

Likewise at home King Gunther got him men-at-arms among his kin and the liegemen of his brothers, and among Hagen's men whom they wished to lead thence for battle. Much need of this the heroes had, but warriors soon must suffer death from this. Thus they made them ready for the journey. When they would hence, Folker, the daring, must bear the flag. In such wise they thought to ride from Worms across the Rhine. Hagen of Troneg was master of the troop; with them rode Sindolt and Hunolt, too, who wist well how to merit Gunther's gold. Dankwart, Hagen's brother, and Ortwin, too, well could they serve with honor in this war.

"Sir King," spake then Siegfried, "stay ye at home; since that your warriors are willed to follow me, remain ye with the ladies and keep your spirits high. I trow well to guard for you both honor and estate. Well will I bring it to pass that those who thought to seek you out at Worms upon the Rhine, had better far have stayed at home. We shall ride so nigh unto their land that their proud defiance shall be turned to fear."

From the Rhine they rode through Hesse with their warriors towards Saxon land, where they later fought. With fire and pillage, too, they harried all the countryside, so that the two kings did learn of it in dire distress. Then came they to the border; the warriors marched along. Siegfried, the strong, gan ask: "Who shall now guard here the troop?" Forsooth never did men ride more scathfully to the Saxons. They spake: "Let the valiant Dankwart guard the young upon the way, he is a doughty knight. Thus shall we lose the less through Liudeger's men. Let him and Ortwin guard the rear."

"Then I myself will ride," spake Siegfried, the knight, "and play the outlook toward the foe, until I discover aright where these warriors be." Quickly the son of fair Siegelind donned his harness. The troop he gave in charge to Hagen, when he would depart, and to Gernot, the valiant man. Thus he rode hence into the Saxon land alone and many a helmet band he cut to pieces on that day. Soon he spied the mighty host that lay encamped upon the plain and far outweighed the forces of his men. Forty thousand or better still there were. Full blithely Siegfried saw this in lofty mood. Meantime a warrior full well arrayed had mounted to the outlook 'gainst the foe. Him Sir Siegfried spied, and the bold man saw him, too. Each began to watch the other in hostile wise. Who it was, who stood on guard, I'll tell you now; a gleaming shield of gold lay by his hand. It was the good King Liudegast, who was guarding here his band. The noble stranger pricked along in lordly wise.

Now had Sir Liudegast espied him with hostile eye. Into the flanks of their horses they plunged the spurs; with all their might they couched the spears against the shields. At this great fear befell the mighty king. After the thrust the horses carried past each other the royal knights, as though borne upon the wind. With the bridles they wheeled in knightly wise and the two fierce champions encountered with their swords. Then smote Sir Siegfried, so that the whole field did ring. Through the hero's hand from out the helmets, as from firebrands, flew the bright red sparks. Each in the other found his match. Sir Liudegast, too, struck many a savage blow; the might of each broke full upon the shields. Thirty of Liudegast's men stood there on guard, but ere they could come to his aid, Siegfried had won the fight, with three groat wounds which he dealt the king through his gleaming breastplate, the which was passing good. The blood from the wounds gushed forth along the edges of the sword, whereat King Liudegast stood in sorry mood. He begged for life and made offrance of his lands and said that his name was Liudegast. Then came his warrior's, who had witnessed what there had happed upon the lookout. As Siegfried would lead his captive thence, he was set upon by thirty of these men. With mighty blows the hero's hand guarded his noble prize. The stately knight then wrought worse scathe. In self-defense he did thirty unto death; only one he left alive, who rode full fast to tell the tale of what here had chanced. By his reddened helmet one might see the truth. It sorely grieved the men of Denmark, when the tale was told them that their king was taken captive. Men told it to his brother, who at the news began to rage with monstrous wrath, for great woe it brought him.

Liudegast, the warrior, then was led away by Siegfried's might to Gunther's men and given to Hagen in charge. When that they heard it was the king, full moderate was their dole. The Burgundians now were bidden raise their banner. "Up, men," cried Siegfried, "here shall more be done, ere the day end, and I lose not my life. Full many a stately dame in Saxon land shall rue this fight. Ye heroes from the Rhine, give heed to me, for I can guide you well to Liudeger's band. So shall ye see helmets carved by the hands of goodly knights; ere we turn again, they shall become acquaint with fear."

To their horses Gernot and all his men now hasted, and soon the stalwart minstrel, Sir Folker, grasped the battle-flag and rode before the band. Then were all the comrades arrayed in lordly wise for strife; nor had they more than a thousand men, and thereto Siegfried's twelve men-at-arms. Now from the road gan rise the dust, as across the land they rode; many a lordly shield was seen to gleam from out their midst. There, too, were come the Saxons with their troops and well-sharpened swords, as I since have heard. Sore cut these weapons in the heroes' hands, for they would fain guard both their castles and their land against the strangers. The lordings' marshals led on the troop. Siegfried, too, was come with his men-at-arms, whom he had brought from Netherland. In the storm of battle many a hand this day grew red with blood. Sindolt and Hunolt and Gernot, too, slew many a knight in the strife, ere these rightly knew the boldness of their foes. This many a stately dame must needs bewail. Folker and Hagen and Ortwin, too, dimmed in the battle the gleam of many a helm with flowing blood, these storm-bold men. By Dankwart, too, great deeds were done.

The men of Denmark proved well their hands; one heard many a shield resounding from the hurtling and from the sharp swords as well, many of which were wielded there. The battle-bold Saxons did scathe enow, but when the men of Burgundy pressed to the fight, by them was really a wide wound carved. Then down across the saddles the blood was seen to flow. Thus they fought for honors, these knights both bold and good. Loud rang the sharp weapons in the heroes' hands, as those of Netherland followed their lording through the sturdy host. Valiantly they forced their way in Siegfried's wake, but not a knight from the Rhine was seen to follow. Through the shining helmets one could see flow the bloody stream, drawn forth by Siegfried's hand, till at last he found Liudeger before his men-at-arms. Thrice had he pierced the host from end to end. Now was Hagen come, who helped him achieve in the battle all his mind. Before them many a good knight must needs die this day.

When the mighty Liudeger espied Siegfried and saw that he bore high in hand the good sword Balmung and did slay so many a man, then waxed the lording wroth and fierce enow. A mighty surging and a mighty clang of swords arose, as their comrades pressed against each other. The two champions tried their prowess all the more. The troops began to yield; fierce grew the hate. To the ruler of the Saxons the tale was told that his brother had been captured; great dole this gave him. Well he knew it was the son of Siegelind who had done the deed. Men blamed Sir Gernot, but later he learned the truth.

So mighty were the blows of Liudeger that Siegfried's charger reeled beneath the saddle. When the steed recovered, bold Siegfried took on a frightful usance in the fray. In this Hagen helped him well, likewise Gernot, Dankwart, and Folker, too. Through them lay many dead. Likewise Sindolt and Hunolt and Ortwin, the knight, laid many low in strife; side by side in the fray the noble princes stood. One saw above the helmets many a spear, thrown by here's hand, hurtling through the gleaming shields. Blood-red was colored many a lordly buckler; many a man in the fierce conflict was unhorsed. At each other ran Siegfried, the brave, and Liudeger; shafts were seen to fly and many a keen-edged spear. Then off flew the shield-plates, struck by Siegfried's hand; the hero of Netherland thought to win the battle from the valiant Saxons, wondrous many of whom one saw. Ho! How many shining armor-rings the daring Dankwart broke!

Then Sir Liudegor espied a crown painted on the shield in Siegfried's hand. Well he knew that it was Siegfried, the mighty man. To his friends the hero loudly called: "Desist ye from the strife, my men, here I have seen the son of Siegmund, Siegfried, the strong, and recognized him well. The foul fiend himself hath sent him hither to the Saxon land." The banners bade he lower in the fight. Peace he craved, and this was later granted him, but he must needs go as hostage to Gunther's land. This was wrung from him by valiant Siegfried's hand. With one accord they then gave over the strife and laid aside the many riddled helmets and the broad, battered bucklers. Whatever of these was found, bore the hue of blood from the Burgundians' hand. They captured whom they would, for this lay in their power. Gernot and Hagen, the full bold warriors, bade bear away the wounded; five hundred stately men they led forth captive to the Rhine. The worsted knights rode back to Denmark, nor had the Saxons fought so well that one could give them aught of praise, and this the heroes rued full sore. The fallen, too, were greatly mourned by friends.

Then they bade place the weapons on sumpters for the Rhine. Siegfried, the warrior, and his heroes had wrought full well, as Gunther's men must needs confess. Sir Gernot now sent messengers homeward to Worms in his native land, and bade tell his kin what great success had happed to him and to his men, and how these daring knights had striven well for honor. The squirelings ran and told the tale. Then those who afore had sorrowed, were blithe for joy at the pleasing tidings that were come. Much questioning was heard from noble dames, how it had fared with the liegemen of the mighty king. One of the messengers they bade go to Kriemhild; this happed full secretly (openly she durst not), for she, too, had amongst them her own true love. When she saw the messenger coming to her bower, fair Kriemhild spake in kindly wise: "Now tell me glad news, I pray. And thou dost so without deceit, I will give thee of my gold and will ever be thy friend. How fared forth from the battle my brother Gernot and others of my kin? Are many of them dead perchance? Or who wrought there the best? This thou must tell me."

Quickly then the envoy spake: "Ne'er a coward did we have, but, to tell the truth, O noble queen, none rode so well to the strife and fray, as did the noble stranger from Netherland. Mickle wonders the hand of valiant Siegfried wrought. Whate'er the knights have done in strife, Dankwart and Hagen and other men of the king, however much they strove for honor, 'tis but as the wind compared with Siegfried, the son of Siegmund, the king. They slew full many a hero in the fray, but none might tell you of the wonders which Siegfried wrought, whenever he rode into the fight. Great woe he did the ladies through their kin; upon the field the love of many a dame lay dead. His blows were heard to ring so loud upon the helmets, that from the wounds they drew forth the blood in streams. In every knightly art he is a worthy knight and a brave. Whatever Ortwin of Metz achieved (and he whom he could reach with his good sword, fell sorely wounded, but mostly dead), yet your brother wrought the direst woe that could ever chance in battle. One must say of the chosen knights in truth, that these proud Burgundians acquitted them so well that they can well preserve their honor from every taint of shame. Through their hands we saw many a saddle bare, while the field resounded with the flashing swords. So well rode the warriors from the Rhine, that it were better for their foes had it been avoided. The valiant men of Troneg, also, wrought dire woe, when in great numbers the armies met. Bold Hagen's hand did many a one to death; of this full many stories might be told here in the Burgundian land. Sindolt and Hunolt, Gernot's men, Rumolt the brave, have done such deeds that it may well ever rue Liudeger that he made war upon thy kinsmen by the Rhine. The very best fight that happed from first to last, that one has ever seen, was made full lustily by Siegfried's hand. Rich hostages he bringeth to Gunther's land. He won them by his prowess, this stately man. Of this King Liudegast must bear the loss and eke his brother Liudeger of Saxon land. Now listen to my tale, most noble queen: by the hand of Siegfried the twain were caught. Never have men brought so many hostages to this land, as now are coming to the Rhine through him. Men are bringing to our land five hundred or more unharmed captives; and of the deadly wounded, my lady, know, not less than eighty blood-red biers. These men were mostly wounded by bold Siegfried's hand. Those who in haughty pride sent a challenge to the Rhine, must now needs be the captives of Gunther, the king, and men are bringing them with joy unto this land."

Still higher rose Kriemhild's color when she heard this tale. Her fair face blushed a rosy red, that Siegfried, the youth, the stately knight, had fared forth so joyfully from the dangerous strife. These tidings could not have pleased her better. For her kinsmen, too, she rejoiced in duty bound. Then spake the lovely maid: "A fair tale thou hast told me; therefore shalt thou have as guerdon rich attire. Likewise I'll have thee brought ten marks of gold." [5] Small wonder that such tales are gladly told to noble dames.

They gave him then his guerdon, the garments and the gold. Then many a fair maid hied her to the casement and gazed upon the street, where many high-mettled warriors were seen riding into the Burgundian land. There came the champions, the wounded and the sound. Without shame they heard the greetings of their friends. Merrily the host rode forth to meet his guests, for his great sorrow had been turned to joy. Well greeted he his vassals and the strangers, too; for it was only meet that the mighty king in courtly wise should thank those who were come back to him, because in the storm of battle they had won the fight with honor. Gunther bade his kinsmen tell who had been slain upon the march; but sixty had been lost, whom one must mourn, as is the wont with heroes. Many a riven shield and battered helm the unharmed warriors brought to Gunther's land. The men alighted from their steeds before the palace of the king. Loud was heard the joyous sound of the merry welcome; then order was given to lodge the warriors in the town. The king bade minister well unto his guests, attend the wounded and give them good easement. His courtesie was cleverly seen upon his foes. He spake to Liudegast: "Now be ye welcome. Much damage have I ta'en because of you; for this I shall now be repaid, if fortune favor. God reward my kinsmen, for they have given me joy."

"Well may ye thank them," answered Liudeger; "such noble hostages hath king never gained afore. For fair treatment we offer great store of wealth, that ye may act with mercy towards your foes."

"I will let you both go free," spake Gunther, "but I must have surety that my foes remain here with me, that they do not leave the land against my will." To that Liudeger pledged his hand.

Men brought them to their lodgings and gave them easement. The wounded were bedded well, and for the sound were poured out good mead and wine. Never could the comrades have been more merry. Their battered shields were borne away for keeping, and enow there was of bloody saddles which one bade hide away, that the ladies might not weep. Many a good knight returned aweary from the fray. The king did make his guests great cheer. His lands were full of strangers and of home-folk. He bade ease the sorely wounded in kindly wise; their haughty pride was now laid low. Men offered to the leeches rich rewards, silver without weight and thereto shining gold, if they would heal the heroes from the stress of war. To his guests the king likewise gave great gifts. Those that were minded to set out for home, were asked to stay, as one doth to friends. The king bethought him how he might requite his men, for they had brought to pass his wish for fame and honor.

Then spake Lord Gernot: "Let them ride away, but be it made known to them that in six weeks they must come again for a mighty feast. By then will many a one be healed who now lieth sorely wounded."

Then Siegfried of Netherland also asked for leave, but when King Gunther learned his wish, lovingly he bade him stay erstwhile. Were it not for the king's sister, this were never done. He was too rich to take reward, though he well deserved it and the king liked him well, as also did the kinsmen, who had seen what happed in battle through his strength. For the sake of one fair lady he thought to stay, if perchance he might espy her. Later it was done, and according to his wish he met the maid. He rode thereafter joyfully to Siegmund's land.

At all times the host bade practice knighthood, and many a youthful knight did this right gladly. Meanwhile he ordered seats prepared upon the sand before the town of Worms for those who were to visit him in the Burgundian land. At the time when they should come, fair Kriemhild heard it said that the king would hold a feasting for the sake of his dear friends. Then comely women hasted apace with robes and headgear which they were to don. The noble Uta heard tales told of the proud warriors who were to come. Then many rich dresses were taken from the press. To please her children she bade make garments ready, that many ladies and many maids might therewith be decked and many youthful knights of the Burgundian land. Also for many of the strangers she bade fashion lordly robes.

Endnotes[edit]

  1. "Saxons". This war with the Saxons does not appear in the poetic "Edda", but was probably introduced into the story later to provide the heroes with a suitable activity in the period elapsing between Siegfried's marriage and the journey to Brunhild's land. (In our poem it is placed before th marriage.) It reflects the ancient feuds between the Franks on the one hand and the Saxons and Danes on the other. Originally Siegfried probably did not take part in it, but was later introduced and made the leader of the expedition in place of the king, in accordance with the tendency to idealize him and to give him everywhere the most important role. The two opposing leaders are "Liudeger", lord of the Saxons, and "Liudegast", king of Denmark. In "Biterolf" Liudeger rules over both Saxons and Danes, and Liudegast is his brother.
  2. "Fey". This Scotch and older English word has been chosen to translate the M.H.G. "veige", 'fated', 'doomed', as it is etymologically the same word. The ancient Germans were fatalists and believed only those would die in battle whom fate had so predestined.
  3. "Thirty thousand". The M.H.G. epics are fond of round numbers and especially of thirty and its multiples. They will he found to occur very frequently in our poem. See Lachmann, "Anmerkungen zu den Nibelungen", 474 1.
  4. "Their". The original is obscure here; the meaning is, 'when he heard with what message they were come, he rued the haughtiness of the Burgundians'
  5. "Marks of gold". A mark (Lat. "mares") was half a pound of gold or silver.