Nibelungenlied/Adventure VI

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Nibelungenlied by Unknown, translated by Daniel Bussier Shumway
Adventure VI: How Gunther Fared To Isenland[1] for Brunhild.

New tidings came across the Rhine. 'Twas said that yonder many a fair maid dwelt. The good king Gunther thought to win him one of these; high therefore rose the warrior's spirits. There lived a queen beyond the sea, whose like men knew not anywhere. Peerless was her beauty and great her strength. With doughty knights she shot the shaft for love. The stone she hurled afar and sprang far after it. He who craved her love must win without fail three games from this high-born dame. When the noble maid had done this passing oft, a stately knight did hear it by the Rhine. He turned his thoughts upon this comely dame, and so heroes must needs later lose their lives.

One day when the king and his vassals sate and pondered to and fro in many a wise, whom their lord might take to wife, who would be fit to be their lady and beseem the land, up spake the lord of the Rhinelands: "I will go down to the sea and hence to Brunhlld, however it may go with me. For her love I'll risk my life. I will gladly lose it and she become not my wife."

"Against that do I counsel you," spake then Siegfried, "if, as ye say, the queen doth have so fierce a wont, he who wooeth for her love will pay full dear. Therefore should ye give over the journey."

Then spake King Gunther: "Never was woman born so strong and bold that I might not vanquish her with mine own hand."

"Be still," spake Siegfried, "ye little know her strength."

"So will I advise you," spake Hagen then, "that ye beg Siegfried to share with you this heavy task. This is my rede, sith he doth know so well how matters stand with Brunhild."

The king spake: "Wilt thou help me, noble Siegfried, to woo this lovely maid? And thou doest what I pray thee and this comely dame become my love, for thy sake will I risk both life and honor."

To this Siegfried, the son of Siegmund, answered: "I will do it, and thou give me thy sister Kriemhild, the noble queen. For my pains I ask no other meed."

"I'll pledge that, Siegfried, in thy hand," spake then Gunther, "and if fair Brunhild come hither to this land, I'll give thee my sister unto wife. Then canst thou live ever merrily with the fair."

This the noble warriors swore oaths to do, and so the greater grew their hardships, till they brought the lady to the Rhine. On this account these brave men must later be in passing danger. Siegfried had to take with him hence the cloak which he, the bold hero, had won 'mid dangers from a dwarf, Alberich he hight. These bold and mighty knights now made them ready for the journey. When Siegfried wore the Cloak of Darkness he had strength enow: the force of full twelve men beside his own. With cunning arts he won the royal maid. This cloak was fashioned so, that whatsoever any wrought within it, none saw him. Thus he won Brunhild, which brought him dole.

"Now tell me, good Knight Siegfried, before our trip begin, shall we not take warriors with us into Brunhild's land, that we may come with passing honors to the sea? Thirty thousand men-at-arms can soon be called."

"However many men we take," quoth Siegfried, "the queen doth use so fierce a wont that they must perish through her haughty pride. I'll give thee better counsel, O brave and worthy king. Let us fare as wandering knights adown the Rhine, and I will tell thee those that shall be of the band. In all four knights, we'll journey to the sea and thus we'll woo the lady, whatever be our fate thereafter. I shall be one of the four comrades, the second thou shalt be. Let Hagen be the third (then have we hope of life), Dankwart then the fourth, the valiant man. A thousand others durst not match us in the fight."

"Gladly would I know," spake then the king, "ere we go hence ('t would please me much), what garments we should wear before Brunhild, which would beseem us there. Pray tell this now to Gunther."

"Weeds of the very best which can be found are worn all times in Brunhild's land. We must wear rich clothes before the lady, that we feel no shame when men shall hear the tidings told."

The good knight spake: "Then will I go myself to my dear mother, if perchance I can bring it to pass that her fair maids purvey us garments which we may wear with honor before the high-born maid."

Hagen of Troneg spake then in lordly wise: "Wherefore will ye pray your mother of such service? Let your sister hear what ye have in mind, and she'll purvey you well for your journey to Brunhild's court."

Then sent he word to his sister, that he would fain see her, and Knight Siegfried, too, sent word. Ere this happed the fair had clad her passing well. That these brave men were coming, gave her little grief. Now were her attendants, too, arrayed in seemly wise. The lordings came, and when she heard the tale, from her seat she rose and walked in courtly wise to greet the noble stranger and her brother, too.

"Welcome be my brother and his comrade. I'd gladly know," so spake the maid, "what ye lords desire, sith ye be thus come to court. Pray let me hear how it standeth with you noble knights."

Then spake king Gunther: "My lady, I'll tell you now. Maugre our lofty mood, yet have we mickle care. We would ride a-wooing far into foreign lands, and for this journey we have need of costly robes."

"Now sit you down, dear brother," spake the royal maid, "and let me hear aright who these ladies be whom ye fain would woo in the lands of other kings."

By the hand the lady took the chosen knights and with the twain she walked to where she sate afore upon a couch, worked, as well I wot, with dainty figures embossed in gold. There might they have fair pastime with the ladies. Friendly glances and kindly looks passed now full oft between the twain. In his heart he bare her, she was dear to him as life. In after days fair Kriemhild became strong Siegfried's wife.

Then spake the mighty king: "Dear sister mine, without thy help it may not be. We would go for knightly pastime to Brunhild's land, and have need of princely garb to wear before the dames."

Then the noble maiden answered: "Dear brother mine, I do you now to wit, that whatever need ye have of help of mine, that stand I ready to give. Should any deny you aught, 't would please Kriemhild but ill. Most noble knights, beseech me not with such concern, but order me with lordly air to do whatso ye list. I stand at your bidding and will do it with a will." So spake the winsome maid.

"We would fain, dear sister, wear good attire, and this your noble hand shall help to choose . Your maidens then must make it fit us, for there be no help against this journey." Then spake the princess: "Now mark ye what I say. Silks I have myself; see ye that men do bring us jewels upon the shields and thus we'll work the clothes. Gunther and Siegfried, too, gave glad assent.

"Who are the comrades," spake the queen, "who shall fare with you thus clad to court?"

He spake: "I shall be one of four. My liegemen twain, Dankwart and Hagen, shall go with me to court. Now mark ye well, my lady, what I say. Each of us four must have to wear for four whole days three changes of apparel and such goodly trappings that without shame we may quit Brunhild's land."

In fitting wise the lords took leave and parted hence. Kriemhild, the queen, bade thirty of her maidens who were skillful in such work, come forth from out their bowers. Silks of Araby, white as snow, and the fair silk of Zazamanc, [2] green as is the clover, they overlaid with precious stones; that gave garments passing fair. Kriemhild herself, the high-born maiden, cut them out. Whatso they had at hand of well-wrought linings from the skin of foreign fish, but rarely seen of folk, they covered now with silk, as was the wont to wear. [3] Now hear great marvels of these shining weeds. From the kingdom of Morocco and from Libya, too, they had great store of the fairest silks which the kith of any king did ever win. Kriemhild made it well appear what love she bore the twain. Sith upon the proud journey they had set their minds, they deemed ermine to be well fit. [4] Upon this lay fine silk as black as coal. This would still beseem all doughty knights at high festal tides. From out a setting of Arabian gold there shone forth many a stone. The ladies' zeal, it was not small, forsooth; in seven weeks they wrought the robes. Ready, too, were the weapons for the right good knights.

When now they all stood dight, [5] there was built for them in haste upon the Rhine a sturdy little skiff, that should bear them downward to the sea. Weary were the noble maids from all their cares. Then the warriors were told that the brave vestures they should wear were now prepared; as they had craved it, so it now was done. Then no longer would they tarry on the Rhine; they sent a message to their war-companions, if perchance they should care to view their new attire, to see if it be too long or short. All was found in fitting measure, and for this they gave the ladies thanks. All who saw them could not but aver that never in the world had they seen attire more fair. Therefore they wore it gladly at the court. None wist how to tell of better knightly weeds. Nor did they fail to give great thanks. Then the lusty knights craved leave to go, and this the lordings did in courtly wise. Bright eyes grew dim and moist thereat from weeping.

Kriemhild spake: "Dear brother, ye might better tarry here a while and pay court to other dames, where ye would not so risk your life; then would I say well done. Ye might find nearer home a wife of as high a birth."

I ween their hearts did tell them what would hap. All wept alike, no matter what men said. The gold upon their breasts was tarnished by their tears, which thick and fast coursed downward from their eyes.

She spake: "Sir Siegfried, let this dear brother of mine be commended to your fealty and troth, that naught may harm him in Brunhild's land." This the full brave knight vowed in Lady Kriemhild's hand.

The mighty warrior spake: "If I lose not my life, ye may be free from every care, my lady. I'll bring him to you sound again hither to the Rhine; that know of a surety." The fair maid bowed her thanks.

Men bare their gold-hued shields out to them upon the sands and brought them all their harness. One bade lead up the steeds, for they would ride away. Much weeping then was done by comely dames. The winsome maids stood at the easements. A high wind stirred the ship and sails; the proud war fellowship embarked upon the Rhine.

Then spake King Gunther: "Who shall be the captain of the ship?"

"That will I," quoth Siegfried, "I wot well how to steer you on the flood. That know, good knights, the right water ways be well known to me."

So they parted merrily from out the Burgundian land. Siegfried quickly grasped an oar and from the shore the stalwart man gan push. Bold Gunther took the helm himself, and thus the worshipful and speedy knights set forth from land. With them they took rich food and eke good wine, the best that could be found along the Rhine. Their steeds stood fair; they had good easement. Their ship rode well; scant harm did hap them. Their stout sheet-rope was tightened by the breeze. Twenty leagues they sailed, or ever came the night, with a good wind, downward toward the sea. These hard toils later brought the high-mettled warriors pain.

Upon the twelfth-day morning, as we hear say, the winds had borne them far away to Isenstein in Brunhild's land. To none save Siegfried was this known; but when King Gunther spied so many castles and broad marches, too, how soon he spake: "Pray tell me, friend Siegfried, is it known to you whose are these castles and this lordly land?"

Siegfried answered: "I know it well. It is the land and folk of Brunhild and the fortress Isenstein, as ye heard me say. Fair ladies ye may still see there to-day. Methinketh good to advise you heroes that ye be of one single mind, and that ye tell the selfsame tale. For if we go to-day before Brunhild, in much jeopardy must we stand before the queen. When we behold the lovely maiden with her train, then, ye far-famed heroes, must ye tell but this single tale: that Gunther be my master and I his man; then what he craveth will come to pass." Full ready they were for whatever he bade them vow, nor because of pride did any one abstain. They promised what he would; wherefrom they all fared well, when King Gunther saw fair Brunhild. [6]

"Forsooth I vow it less for thy sake than for thy sister's, the comely maid, who is to me as mine own soul and body. Gladly will I bring it to pass, that she become my wife."

Endnotes[edit]

  1. "Isenland" translates here M.H.G. "Islant", which has, however, no connection with Iceland in spite of the agreement of the names in German. "Isen lant", the reading of the MSS. BJh, has been chosen, partly to avoid confusion, and partly to indicate its probable derivation from "Isenstein", the name of Brunhild's castle. Boer's interpretation of "Isen" as 'ice' finds corroboration in Otfrid's form "isine steina" ('ice stones', i.e. crystals) I, 1. 70. Isenstein would then mean Ice Castle. In the "Thidreksaga" Brunhild's castle is called "Saegarthr" ('Sea Garden'), and in a fairy tale (No. 93 of Grimm) "Stromberg", referring to the fact that it was surrounded by the sea. Here, too, in our poem it stands directly on the shore.
  2. "Zazamanc", a fictitious kingdom mentioned only here and a few times in Parzival, Wolfram probably having obtained the name from this passage. (See Bartsch, "Germanistische Studien", ii, 129.)
  3. "Wont to wear". In the Middle Ages costly furs and fish-skins were used as linings and covered, as here described, with silk or cloth. By fish such amphibious animals as otter and beaver were often meant.
  4. "Well fit". In this passage "wert", the reading of A and D, has been followed, instead of unwert of B and C, as it seems more appropriate to the sense.
  5. "Dight", 'arrayed'; used by Milton.
  6. "Brunhild". The following words are evidently a late interpolation, and weaken the ending, but have been translated for the sake of completeness. They are spoken by Siegfried.