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Origin of Poem Germany’s greatest epic is, without doubt, the ancient poem entitled “Nibelungenlied,” or the “Lay,” “Fall,” or “Calamity of the Nibelungs.” Although nothing certain is known concerning the real authorship of this beautiful work, it is supposed to have been put into its present form either by the Austrian minstrel von Kuerenberg or by the German poet von Ofterdingen, some time previous to the year 1210, the date inscribed on the oldest manuscript of that poem now extant.

According to the best authorities on ancient German literature, the “Nibelungenlied” is compiled from preexisting songs and rhapsodies, forming five distinct cycles of myths, but all referring in some way to the great treasure of the Nibelungs. One of these cycles is the northern Volsunga Saga, where Sigurd, Gudrun, Gunnar, Hoegni, and Atli, the principal characters, correspond to Siegfried, Kriemhild, Gunther, Hagen, and Etzel of the “Nibelungenlied. The story of the German poem, which can be given only in outline.

Dankrat and Ute, King and Queen of Burgundy, were the fortunate parents of four children: three sons, Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher; and one beautiful daughter, Kriemhild. When the king died, his eldest son, Gunther, succeeded him, and reigned wisely and well, residing at Worms on the Rhine, his capital and favorite city.

Kriemhild’s dream As was customary in those days, Kriemhild lived a peaceful and secluded life, rarely leaving her mother’s palace and protection. But one night her slumbers, which were usually very peaceful, were disturbed by a tormenting dream, which, upon awaking, she hastened to confide to her mother, thinking that, as Ute was skilled in magic and dreams, she might give a favorable interpretation and thus rid her of her haunting fears.

“A dream was dreamt by Kriemhild, the virtuous and the gay,
How a wild young falcon she train’d for many a day,
Till two fierce eagles tore it.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Ute declared that the falcon her daughter had seen in her dream must be some noble prince, whom she would love and marry; while the two eagles were base murderers, who would eventually slay her beloved. Instead of reassuring Kriemhild, this interpretation only saddened her the more, and made her loudly protest that she would rather forego all the joys of married estate than have to mourn for a beloved husband.

Siegfried’s home In those days there flourished farther down the Rhine the kingdom of the Netherlands, governed by Siegmund and Siegelind. They were very proud of their only son and heir, young Siegfried, who had already reached man’s estate. To celebrate his knighthood a great tournament was held at Xanten on the Rhine, and in the jousting the young prince won all the laurels, although great and tried warriors matched their skill against his in the lists.

The festivities continued for seven whole days, and when the guests departed they were all heavily laden with the costly gifts which the king and queen had lavished upon them.

“The gorgeous feast it lasted till the seventh day was o’er.
Siegelind, the wealthy, did as they did of yore;
She won for valiant Siegfried the hearts of young and old,
When for his sake among them she shower’d the ruddy gold.

“You scarce could find one needy in all the minstrel band;
Horses and robes were scatter’d with ever-open hand.
They gave as though they had not another day to live;
None were to take so ready as they inclin’d to give.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

After the departure of all these guests, young Siegfried sought his parents’ presence, told them that he had heard rumors of the beauty and attractions of Kriemhild of Burgundy, and declared his wish to journey thither to secure her as his wife.

In vain the fond parents tried to preVail upon him to remain quietly at home; the young hero insisted so strongly that he finally won their consent to his immediate departure. With eleven companions, all decked out in the richest garments that the queen’s chests could furnish, the young prince rode down the Rhine, and reached Worms on the seventh day.

Siegfried’s arrival in Burgundy The arrival of the gallant little troop was soon noted by Gunther’s subjects, who hastened out to meet the strangers and help them dismount. Siegfried immediately requested to be brought into the presence of their king, who, in the mean while, had inquired of his uncle, Hagen, the names and standing of the newcomers. Glancing down from the great hall window, Hagen said that the leader must be Siegfried, the knight who had slain the owners of the Nibelungen hoard and appropriated it for his own use, as well as the magic cloud-cloak, or Tarnkappe, which rendered its wearer invisible to mortal eyes. He added that this same Siegfried was ruler of the Nibelungen land, and the slayer of a terrible dragon, whose blood had made him invulnerable, and he concluded by advising Gunther to receive him most courteously.

“Yet more I know of Siegfried, that well your ear may hold:
A poison-spitting dragon he slew with courage bold,
And in the blood then bath’d him; thus turn’d to horn his skin,
And now no weapons harm him, as often proved has been.

“Receive then this young hero with all becoming state;
’Twere ill advis’d to merit so fierce a champion’s hate.
So lovely is his presence, at once all hearts are won,
And then his strength and courage such wondrous deeds have done.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

In obedience to this advice, Gunther went to meet Siegfried and politely inquired the cause of his visit. Imagine his dismay, therefore, when Siegfried replied that he had come to test the Burgundian’s vaunted strength, and to propose a single combat, in which the victor might claim the lands and allegiance of the vanquished. Gunther recoiled from such a proposal, and as none of his warriors seemed inclined to accept the challenge, he and his brother hastened to disarm Siegfried’s haughty mood by their proffers of unbounded hospitality.

Siegfried sojourned for nearly a year at Gunther’s court, displaying his skill in all martial exercises; and although he never caught a glimpse of the fair maiden Kriemhild, she often admired his strength and manly beauty from behind the palace lattice.

War with the Saxons and Danes One day the games were interrupted by the arrival of a herald announcing that Ludeger, King of the Saxons, and Ludegast, King of Denmark, were about to invade Burgundy. These tidings filled Gunther’s heart with terror, for the enemy were very numerous and their valor was beyond all question. But when Hagen hinted that perhaps Siegfried would lend them a helping hand, the King of Burgundy seized the suggestion with joy.

As soon as Siegfried was made aware of the threatened invasion he declared that if Gunther would only give him one thousand brave men he would repel the foe. This offer was too good to refuse; so Gunther hastily assembled a chosen corps, in which were his brothers Gernot and Giselher, Hagen and his brother Dankwart, Ortwine, Sindolt, and Volker, all men of remarkable valor.

“‘Sir king,’ said noble Siegfried, ’here sit at home and play,
While I and your vassals are fighting far away;
Here frolic with the ladies and many a merry mate,
And trust to me for guarding your honor and estate.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

This little force, only one thousand strong, then marched bravely out of Worms, passed through Hesse, and entered Saxony, where it encountered the enemy numbering no less than twenty thousand valiant fighting men. The battle was immediately begun; and while all fought bravely, none did such wonders as Siegfried, who made both kings prisoners, routed their host, and returned triumphant to Worms, with much spoil and many captives.

A messenger had preceded him thither to announce the success of the expedition, and he was secretly summoned and questioned by Kriemhild, who, in her joy at hearing that Siegfried was unharmed and victorious, gave the messenger a large reward.

“Then spake she midst her blushes, ’Well hast thou earn’d thy meed,
Well hast thou told thy story, so take thee costliest weed,
And straight I’ll bid be brought thee ten marks of ruddy gold.’
No wonder, to rich ladies glad news are gladly told.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Celebration of Siegfried’s victory Kriemhild then hastened to her window, from whence she witnessed her hero’s triumphant entrance, and heard the people’s acclamations of joy. The wounded were cared for, the captive kings hospitably entertained and duly released, and great festivities were held to celebrate the glorious victory. Among other entertainments the knights tilted in the tournaments, and, by Gernot’s advice, Ute, Kriemhild, and all the court ladies were invited to view the prowess of the men at arms. It was thus that Siegfried first beheld Kriemhild, and as soon as he saw her he gladly acknowledged that she was fairer than he could ever have supposed.

“As the moon arising outglitters every star
That through the clouds so purely glimmers from afar,
E’en so love-breathing Kriemhild dimm’d every beauty nigh.
Well might at such a vision many a bold heart beat high.”
Nibelungenlied {Lettsom’s tr.}.

Siegfried’s happiness was complete, however, when he was appointed the escort of this peerless maiden; and on the way to and from the tournament and mass he made good use of his opportunity to whisper pretty speeches to Kriemhild, who timidly expressed her gratitude for the service he had rendered her brother, and begged that he would continue to befriend him. These words made Siegfried blush with pride, and then and there he registered a solemn vow to fulfill her request.

“‘Ever,’ said he, ’your brethren I’ll serve as best I may,
Nor once, while I have being, will head on pillow lay
Till I have done to please them whate’er they bid me do;
And this, my Lady Kriemhild, is all for love of you.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

The festivities being ended, Gunther bestowed many gifts on the departing guests; but when Siegfried would also have departed he entreated him to remain at Worms. This the young hero was not at all loath to do, as he had fallen deeply in love with the fair Kriemhild, whom he was now privileged to see every day.

Brunhild The excitement consequent on the festivities had not entirely subsided in Worms when King Gunther declared his desire to win for his wife Brunhild, a princess of Issland, who had vowed to marry none but the man who could surpass her in casting a spear, in throwing a stone, and in jumping.

“Then spake the lord of Rhineland: ’Straight will I hence to sea,
And seek the fiery Brunhild, howe’er it go with me.
For love of the stern maiden I’ll frankly risk my life;
Ready am I to lose it, if I win her not to wife.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

In vain Siegfried, who knew all about Brunhild, tried to dissuade him; Gunther insisted upon departing, but proposed to Siegfried to accompany him, promising him as reward for his assistance Kriemhild’s hand as soon as the princess of Issland was won. Such an offer was not to be refused, and Siegfried immediately accepted it, advising Gunther to take only Hagen and Dankwart as his attendants.

The expedition to Issland After seeking the aid of Kriemhild for a supply of rich clothing suitable for a prince going a-wooing, Gunther and the three knights embarked on a small vessel, whose sails soon filled, and which rapidly bore them flown the Rhine and over the sea to Issland. When within sight of its shores, Siegfried bade his companions all carefully agree in representing him to the strangers as Gunther’s vassal only. Their arrival was seen by some inquisitive damsels peering out of the windows of the castle, and reported to Brunhild, who immediately and joyfully concluded that Siegfried had come to seek her hand in marriage. But when she heard that he held another man’s stirrup to enable him to mount, she angrily frowned, wondering why he came as a menial instead of as a king. When the strangers entered her hall she would have greeted Siegfried first had he not modestly drawn aside, declaring that the honor was due to his master, Gunther, King of Burgundy, who had come to Issland to woo her.

Brunhild then haughtily bade her warriors make all the necessary preparations for the coming contest; and Gunther, Hagen, and Dankwart apprehensively watched the movements of four warriors staggering beneath the weight of Brunhild’s ponderous shield. Then they saw three others equally overpowered by her spear; and twelve sturdy servants could scarcely roll the stone she was wont to cast.

Hagen and Dankwart, fearing for their master, who was doomed to die in case of failure, began to mutter that some treachery was afoot, and openly regretted that they had consented to lay aside their weapons upon entering the castle. These remarks, overheard by Brunhild, called forth her scorn, and she contemptuously bade her servants bring the strangers’ arms, since they were afraid.

“Well heard the noble maiden the warrior’s words the while,
And looking o’er her shoulder, said with a scornful smile,
’As he thinks himself so mighty, I’ll not deny a guest;
Take they their arms and armor, and do as seems them best.

“’Be they naked and defenseless, or sheath’d in armor sheen,
To me it nothing matters,’ said the haughty queen.
’Fear’d yet I never mortal, and, spite of yon stern brow
And all the strength of Gunther, I fear as little now.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Siegfried and the Tarnkappe While these preliminaries were being settled, Siegfried had gone down to the ship riding at anchor, and all unseen had donned his magic cloud-cloak and returned to the scene of the coming contest, where he now bade Gunther rely upon his aid.

“’I am Siegfried, thy trusty friend and true;
Be not in fear a moment for all the queen can do.’

“Said he, ’Off with the buckler, and give it me to bear;
Now what I shall advise thee, mark with thy closest care.
Be it thine to make the gestures, and mine the work to do.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

In obedience to these directions, Gunther merely made the motions, depending upon the invisible Siegfried to parry and make all the attacks. Brunhild first poised and flung her spear with such force that both heroes staggered and almost fell; but before she could cry out victory, Siegfried had caught the spear, turned it butt end foremost, and flung it back with such violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge herself outdone.

Brunhild’s defeat Nothing daunted, however, by this first defeat, she caught up the massive stone, flung it far from her, and leaping after it, alighted beside it. But even while she was inwardly congratulating herself, and confidently cherishing the belief that the stranger could not surpass her, Siegfried caught up the stone, flung it farther still, and grasping Gunther by his broad girdle, bounded through the air with him and landed far beyond it. Brunhild was outdone in all three feats, and, according to her own promise, belonged to the victor, Gunther, to whom she now bade her people show all due respect and homage.

“Then all aloud fair Brunhild bespake her courtier band,
Seeing in the ring at distance unharm’d her wooer stand:
’Hither, my men and kinsmen, low to my better bow.
I am no more your mistress; you’re Gunther’s liegemen now.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

The warriors all hastened to do her bidding, and escorted their new lord to the castle, whither, under pretext of fitly celebrating her marriage, Brunhild summoned all her retainers from far and near. This rally roused the secret terror of Gunther, Hagen, and Dankwart, for they suspected some act of treachery on the part of the dark-browed queen. These fears were also, in a measure, shared by Siegfried; so he stole away, promising to return before long with a force sufficient to overawe Brunhild and quell all attempt at foul play.

Siegfried, having hastily embarked upon the little vessel, swiftly sailed away to the Nibelungen land, where he arrived in an incredibly short space of time, presented himself at the gates of his castle, and forced an entrance by conquering the giant porter, and Alberich, the dwarf guardian of his treasure. Then making himself known to his followers, the Nibelungs, he chose one thousand of them to accompany him back to Issland to support the Burgundian king.

Marriage of Gunther and Brunhild The arrival of this unexpected force greatly surprised Brunhild. She questioned Gunther, and upon receiving the careless reply that they were only a few of his followers, who had come to make merry at his wedding, she gave up all hope of resistance. When the usual festivities had taken place, and the wonted largesses had been distributed, Gunther bade his bride prepare to follow him back to the Rhine with her personal female attendants, who numbered no less than one hundred and sixty-eight.

Brunhild regretfully left her own country, escorted by the thousand Nibelung warriors; and when they had journeyed nine days, Gunther bade Siegfried spur ahead and announce his safe return to his family and subjects. Offended by the tone of command Gunther had assumed, Siegfried at first proudly refused to obey; but when the king begged it as a favor, and mentioned Kriemhild’s name, he immediately relented and set out.

“Said he, ’Nay, gentle Siegfried, do but this journey take,
Not for my sake only, but for my sister’s sake;
You’ll oblige fair Kriemhild in this as well as me.’
When so implored was Siegfried, ready at once was he.

“’Whate’er you will, command me; let naught be left unsaid;
I will gladly do it for the lovely maid.
How can I refuse her who my heart has won?
For her, whate’er your pleasure, tell it, and it is done.’”
Nibelunglied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Kriemhild received this messenger most graciously, and gave immediate orders for a magnificent reception of the new queen, going down to the river to meet and greet her in the most cordial and affectionate manner.

Marriage of Siegfried and Kriemhild A tournament and banquet ensued; but as they were about to sit down to the latter, the impatient Siegfried ventured to remind Gunther of his promise, and claim the hand of Kriemhild. In spite of a low-spoken remonstrance on Brunhild’s part, who said that he would surely never consent to give his only sister in marriage to a menial, Gunther sent for Kriemhild, who blushingly expressed her readiness to marry Siegfried if her brother wished. The marriage was immediately celebrated, and the two bridal couples sat side by side. But while Kriemhild’s fair face was radiant with joy, Brunhild’s dark brows were drawn close together in an unmistakable and ominous frown.

Gunther’s humiliation The banquet over, the newly married couples retired; but when Gunther, for the first time alone with his wife, would fain have embraced her, she seized him, and, in spite of his vigorous resistance, bound him fast with her long girdle, suspended him from a nail in the corner of her apartment, and, notwithstanding his piteous entreaties, let him remain there all night long, releasing him only a few moments before the attendants entered the nuptial chamber in the morning. Of course all seemed greatly surprised to see Gunther’s lowering countenance, which contrasted oddly with Siegfried’s radiant mien; for the latter had won a loving wife, and, to show his appreciation of her, had given her as wedding gift the great Nibelungen hoard.

In the course of the day Gunther managed to draw Siegfried aside, and secretly confided to him the shameful treatment he had received at his wife’s hands. When Siegfried heard this he offered to don his cloud-cloak once more, enter the royal chamber unperceived, and force Brunhild to recognize her husband as her master, and never again make use of her strength against him.

Brunhild subdued by Siegfried In pursuance of this promise Siegfried suddenly left Kriemhild’s side at nightfall, stole unseen into the queen’s room, and when she and Gunther had closed the door, he blew out the lights and wrestled with Brunhild until she begged for mercy, promising never to bind him again; for as Siegfried had remained invisible throughout the struggle, she thought it was Gunther who had conquered her.

“Said she, ’Right noble ruler, vouchsafe my life to spare;
Whatever I’ve offended, my duty shall repair.
I’ll meet thy noble passion; my love with thine shall vie.
That thou canst tame a woman, none better knows than I.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Still unperceived, Siegfried now took her girdle and ring, and stole out of the apartment, leaving Gunther alone with his wife; but, true to her promise, Brunhild ever after treated her husband with due respect, and having once for all been conquered, she entirely lost the fabulous strength which had been her proudest boast, and was no more powerful than any other member of her sex.

After fourteen days of rejoicing, Siegfried and Kriemhild (the latter escorted by her faithful steward Eckewart) journeyed off to Xanten on the Rhine, where Siegmund and Siegelind received them joyfully, and even abdicated in their favor.

Ten years passed away very rapidly indeed. Siegfried became the father of a son, whom he named Gunther, in honor of his brother-in-law, who had called his heir Siegfried; and when Siegelind had seen her little grandson she departed from this world. Siegfried, with Kriemhild, his father, and his son, then went to the Nibelungen land, where they tarried two years.

In the mean while Brunhild, still imagining that Siegfried was only her husband’s vassal, secretly wondered why he never came to court to do homage for his lands, and finally suggested to Gunther that it would be well to invite his sister and her husband to visit them at Worms. Gunther seized this suggestion gladly, and immediately sent one of his followers, Gary, to deliver the invitation, which Siegfried accepted for himself and his wife, and also for Siegmund, his father.

As they were bidden for midsummer, and as the journey was very long, Kriemhild speedily began her preparations; and when she left home she cheerfully intrusted her little son to the care of the stalwart Nibelung knights, little suspecting that she would never see him again.

On Kriemhild’s arrival at Worms, Brunhild greeted her with as much pomp and ceremony as had been used for her own reception; but in spite of the amity which seemed to exist between the two queens, Brunhild was secretly angry at what she deemed Kriemhild’s unwarrantable arrogance.

Brunhild and Kreimhild One day, when the two queens were sitting together, Brunhild, weary of hearing Kriemhild’s constant praise of her husband, who she declared was without a peer in the world, cuttingly remarked that since he was Gunther’s vassal he must necessarily be his inferior. This remark called forth a retort from Kriemhild, and a dispute was soon raging, in the course of which Kriemhild vowed that she would publicly assert her rank by taking the precedence of Brunhild in entering the church. The queens parted in hot anger, but both immediately proceeded to attire themselves with the utmost magnificence, and, escorted by all their maids, met at the church door. Brunhild there bade Kriemhild stand aside and make way for her superior; but this order so angered the Nibelungen queen that the dispute was resumed in public with increased vehemence and bitterness.

In her indignation Kriemhild finally insulted Brunhild grossly by declaring that she was not a faithful wife; and in proof of her assertion she produced the ring and girdle which Siegfried had won in his memorable encounter with her, and which he had imprudently given to his wife, to whom he had also confided the secret of Brunhild’s wooing.

Brunhild indignantly summoned Gunther to defend her, and he, in anger, sent for Siegfried, who publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth, and that Gunther’s queen had in no way forfeited her good name. Further to propitiate his host, Siegfried declared the quarrel to be disgraceful, and promised to teach his wife better manners for the future, advising Gunther to do the same with his consort.

“‘Women must be instructed,’ said Siegfried the good knight,
’To leave off idle talking and rule their tongues aright.
Keep thy fair wife in order. I’ll do by mine the same.
Such overweening folly puts me indeed to shame.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

To carry out this good resolution he led Kriemhild home, where, sooth to say, he beat her black and blue, an heroic measure which Gunther did not dare to imitate.

Brunhild, smarting from the public insult received, continued to weep aloud and complain, until Hagen, inquiring the cause of her extravagant grief, and receiving a highly colored version of the affair, declared that he would see that she was duly avenged.

“He ask’d her what had happen’d wherefore he saw her weep;
She told him all the story; he vow’d to her full deep
That reap should Kriemhild’s husband as he had dar’d to sow,
Or that himself thereafter content should never know.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

To keep this promise, Hagen next tried to stir up the anger of Gunther, Gernot, and Ortwine, and to preVail upon them to murder Siegfried; but Giselher reproved him for these base designs, and openly took Siegfried’s part, declaring:

“’Sure ‘tis but a trifle to stir an angry wife.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But although he succeeded in quelling the attempt for the time being, he was no match for the artful Hagen, who continually reminded Gunther of the insult his wife had received, setting it in the worst possible light, and finally so worked upon the king’s feelings that he consented to a treacherous assault.

Hagen’s treachery Under pretext that his former enemy, Ludeger, was about to attack him again, Gunther asked Siegfried’s assistance, and began to prepare as if for war. When Kriemhild heard that her beloved husband was about to rush into danger she was greatly troubled. Hagen artfully pretended to share her alarm, and so won her confidence that she revealed to him that Siegfried was invulnerable except in one spot, between his shoulders, where a lime leaf had rested and the dragon’s blood had not touched him.

“’So now I’ll tell the secret, dear friend, alone to thee
(For thou, I doubt not, cousin, wilt keep thy faith with me),
Where sword may pierce my darling, and death sit on the thrust.
See, in thy truth and honor how full, how firm, my trust!

“’As from the dragon’s death-wounds gush’d out the crimson gore,
With the smoking torrent the warrior wash’d him o’er,
A leaf then ’twixt his shoulders fell from the linden bough.
There only steel can harm him; for that I tremble now.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Pretending a sympathy he was far from feeling, and disguising his unholy joy, Hagen bade Kriemhild sew a tiny cross on Siegfried’s doublet over the vulnerable spot, that he might the better protect him in case of danger, and, after receiving her profuse thanks, returned to report the success of his ruse to the king. When Siegfried joined them on the morrow, wearing the fatal marked doublet, he was surprised to hear that the rebellion had been quelled without a blow; and when invited to join in a hunt in the Odenwald instead of the fray, he gladly signified his consent. After bidding farewell to Kriemhild, whose heart was sorely oppressed by dark forebodings, he joined the hunting party. He scoured the forest, slew several boars, caught a bear alive, and playfully let him loose in camp to furnish sport for the guests while the noonday meal was being prepared. Then he gaily sat down, clamoring for a drink. His exertions had made him very thirsty indeed, and he was sorely disappointed when told that, owing to a mistake, the wine had been carried to another part of the forest. But when Hagen pointed out a fresh spring at a short distance, all his wonted good humor returned, and he merrily proposed a race thither, offering to run in full armor, while the others might lay aside their cumbersome weapons. This challenge was accepted by Hagen and Gunther. Although heavily handicapped, Siegfried reached the spring first; but, wishing to show courtesy to his host, he bade him drink while he disarmed. When Gunther’s thirst was quenched, Siegfried took his turn, and while he bent over the water Hagen treacherously removed all his weapons except his shield, and gliding behind him, drove his spear through his body in the exact spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.

Death of Siegfried Mortally wounded, Siegfried made a desperate effort to avenge himself; but finding nothing but his shield within reach, he flung it with such force at his murderer that it knocked him down. This last effort exhausted the remainder of his strength, and the hero fell back upon the grass, cursing the treachery of those whom he had trusted as friends.

“Thus spake the deadly wounded: ’Ay, cowards false as hell!
To you I still was faithful; I serv’d you long and well;
But what boots all? for guerdon treason and death I’ve won.
By your friends, vile traitors! foully have you done.

“’Whoever shall hereafter from your loins be born,
Shall take from such vile fathers a heritage of scorn.
On me you have wreak’d malice where gratitude was due;
With shame shall you be banish’d by all good knights and true.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But even in death Siegfried could not forget his beloved wife; and laying aside all his anger, he pathetically recommended her to Gunther’s care, bidding him guard her well. Siegfried expired as soon as these words were uttered; and the hunters silently gathered around his corpse, regretfully contemplating the fallen hero, while they took counsel together how they might keep the secret of Hagen’s treachery. They finally agreed to carry the body back to Worms and to say that they had found Siegfried dead in the forest, where he had presumably been slain by highwaymen.

“Then many said, repenting, ’This deed will prove our bale;
Still let us shroud the secret, and all keep in one tale,
That the good lord of Kriemhild to hunt alone preferr’d,
And so was slain by robbers as through the wood he spurr’d.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But although his companions were anxious to shield him, Hagen gloried in his dastardly deed, and secretly bade the bearers deposit Siegfried’s corpse at Kriemhild’s door after nightfall, so that she should be the first to see it there when on her way to early mass. As he fully expected, Kriemhild immediately recognized her husband, and fell senseless upon him; but when she had recovered consciousness she declared, while loudly bewailing her loss, that Siegfried was the victim of an assassination.

“’Woe’s me, woe’s me forever! sure no fair foeman’s sword
Shiver’d thy failing buckler; ’twas murder stopp’d thy breath.
Oh that I knew who did it! death I’d requite with death!’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

By her orders a messenger was sent to break the mournful tidings to the still sleeping Siegmund and the Nibelungs. They hastily armed and rallied about her, and would have fallen upon the Burgundians, to avenge their master’s death, had she not restrained them, bidding them await a suitable occasion, and promising them her support when the right time came.

Detection of Siegfried’s murderer The preparations for a sumptuous funeral were immediately begun, and all lent a willing hand, for Siegfried was greatly beloved at Worms. His body was therefore laid in state in the cathedral, where all came to view it and condole with Kriemhild; but when Gunther drew near to express his sorrow, she refused to listen to him until he promised that all those present at the hunt should touch the body, which at the murderer’s contact would bleed afresh. All stood the test and were honorably acquitted save Hagen, at whose touch Siegfried’s blood began to flow.

“It is a mighty marvel, which oft e’en now we spy,
That when the blood-stain’d murderer comes to the murder’d nigh,
The wounds break out a-bleeding; then too the same befell,
And thus could each beholder the guilt of Hagen tell.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Once more Kriemhild restrained the angry Nibelung warriors from taking immediate revenge, and, upheld by Gernot and Giselher, who really sympathized with her grief, she went through the remainder of the funeral ceremonies and saw her hero duly laid at rest.

Kriemhild’s mourning had only begun. All her days and nights were now spent in bitter weeping. This sorrow was fully shared by Siegmund, who, however, finally roused himself and proposed a return home. Kriemhild was about to accompany him, when her relatives persuaded her to remain in Burgundy. Then the little band which had come in festal array rode silently away in mourning robes, the grim Nibelung knights muttering dark threats against those who had dealt so basely with their beloved master.

“’Into this same country we well may come again
To seek and find the traitor who laid our master low.
Among the kin of Siegfried they have many a mortal foe.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

The Nibelungen hoard Eckewart the steward alone remained with Kriemhild, with a faithfulness which has become proverbial in the German language, and prepared for his mistress a dwelling close by the cathedral, so that she might constantly visit her husband’s tomb. Here Kriemhild spent three years in complete seclusion, refusing to see Gunther, or the detested Hagen; but they, remembering that the immense Nibelungen hoard was hers by right, continually wondered how she could be induced to send for it. Owing to Hagen’s advice, Gunther, helped by his brothers, finally obtained an interview with, and was reconciled to, his mourning sister, and shortly after persuaded her to send twelve men to claim from Alberich, the dwarf, the fabulous wealth her husband had bestowed upon her as a wedding gift.

“It was made up of nothing but precious stones and gold;
Were all the world bought from it, and down the value told,
Not a mark the less thereafter were left than erst was scor’d.
Good reason sure had Hagen to covet such a hoard.

“And thereamong was lying the wishing rod of gold,
Which whoso could discover, might in subjection hold
All this wide world as master, with all that dwelt therein.
There came to Worms with Gernot full many of Albric’s kin.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But although this wealth is said to have filled nearly one hundred and fifty wagons, Kriemhild would gladly have given it all away could she but have seen her husband by her side once more. Not knowing what else to do with it, she gave away her gold right and left, bidding all the recipients of her bounty pray for Siegfried’s soul. Her largesses were so extensive that Hagen, who alone did not profit by her generosity, and who feared the treasure might be exhausted before he could obtain a share, sought out Gunther and told him that Kriemhild was secretly winning to her side many adherents, whom she would some day urge to avenge her husband’s murder by slaying her kindred.

While Gunther was trying to devise some plan to obtain possession of the hoard, Hagen boldly seized the keys of the tower where it was kept, secretly removed all the gold, and, to prevent its falling into any hands but his own, sank it in the Rhine near Lochheim.

“Ere back the king came thither, impatient of delay,
Hagen seized the treasure, and bore it thence away.
Into the Rhine at Lochheim the whole at once threw he!
Henceforth he thought t’enjoy it, but that was ne’er to be.

“He nevermore could get it for all his vain desire;
So fortune oft the traitor cheats of his treason’s hire.
Alone he hop’d to use it as long as he should live,
But neither himself could profit, nor to another give.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

When Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher heard what Hagen had done, they were so angry that he deemed it advisable to withdraw from court for a while. Kriemhild would fain have left Burgundy forever at this fresh wrong, but with much difficulty was preVailed upon to remain and take up her abode at Lorch, whither Siegfried’s remains were removed by her order.

King of Hungary a suitor for Kriemhild Thirteen years had passed by since Siegfried’s death in the Odenwald when Etzel, King of Hungary, who had lost his beautiful and beloved wife, Helche, bade one of his knights, Ruediger of Bechlaren, ride to Worms and sue for the hand of Kriemhild in his master’s name.

Ruediger immediately gathered together a suitable train and departed, stopping on the way to visit his wife and daughter at Bechlaren. Passing all through Bavaria, he arrived at last at Worms, where he was warmly welcomed, by Hagen especially, who had formerly known him well.

In reply to Gunther’s courteous inquiry concerning the welfare of the King and Queen of the Huns, Ruediger announced the death of the latter, and declared that he had come to sue for Kriemhild’s hand.

“Thereon the highborn envoy his message freely told:
’King, since you have permitted, I’ll to your ears unfold
Wherefore my royal master me to your court has sent,
Plung’d as he is in sorrow and doleful dreariment.

“’It has been told my master, Sir Siegfried now is dead,
And Kriemhild left a widow. If thus they both have sped,
Would you but permit her, she the crown shall wear
Before the knights of Etzel; this bids me my good lord declare.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Gunther gladly received this message, promised to do all in his power to win Kriemhild’s consent, and said that he would give the envoy a definite answer in three days’ time. He then consulted his brothers and nobles as to the advisability of the proposed alliance, and found that all were greatly in favor of it save Hagen, who warned them that if Kriemhild were ever Queen of the Huns she would use her power to avenge her wrongs.

Ruediger’s promise This warning was, however, not heeded by the royal brothers, who, seeking Kriemhild’s presence, vainly tried to make her accept the Hun’s proposal. All she would grant was an audience to Ruediger, who laid before her his master’s proposal, described the power of the Huns, and swore to obey her in all things would she but consent to become his queen.

“In vain they her entreated, in vain to her they pray’d,
Till to the queen the margrave this secret promise made,
He’d ‘full amends procure her for past or future ill.’
Those words her storm-tost bosom had power in part to still.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

The journey to Hungary After receiving this promise, Kriemhild signified her consent, and immediately prepared to accompany Ruediger to King Etzel’s court. Eckewart and all her maidens accompanied her, with five hundred men as a bodyguard; and Gernot and Giselher, with many Burgundian nobles, escorted her to Vergen on the Danube, where they took an affectionate leave of her, and went back to their home in Burgundy.

From Vergen, Kriemhild and her escort journeyed on to Passau, where they were warmly welcomed and hospitably entertained by good Bishop Pilgrim, brother of Queen Ute. He would gladly have detained them, had not Ruediger declared that his master impatiently awaited the coming of his bride, which had duly been announced to him.

A second pause was made at Bechlaren, Ruediger’s castle, where Kriemhild was entertained by his wife and daughter, Gotelinde and Dietelinde, and where the usual lavish distribution of gifts took place. Then the procession swept on again across the country and down the Danube, until they met King Etzel, whom Kriemhild graciously kissed, and who obtained a similar favor for his brother and a few of his principal nobles.

The marriage at Vienna After witnessing some tilting and other martial games, the king and queen proceeded to Vienna, where a triumphal reception awaited them, and where their marriage was celebrated with all becoming solemnity and great pomp. The wedding festivities lasted seventeen days; but although all vied in their attempts to please Kriemhild, she remained sad and pensive, for she could not forget her beloved Siegfried and the happy years she had spent with him.

The royal couple next journeyed on to Gran, Etzel’s capital, where Kriemhild found innumerable handmaidens ready to do her will, and where Etzel was very happy with his new consort. His joy was complete, however, only when she bore him a son, who was baptized in the Christian faith, and called Ortlieb.

Although thirteen years had now elapsed since Kriemhild had left her native land, the recollection of her wrongs was as vivid as ever, her melancholy just as profound, and her thoughts were ever busy planning how best to lure Hagen into her kingdom so as to work her revenge.

“One long and dreary yearning she foster’d hour by hour;
She thought, ’I am so wealthy and hold such boundless power,
That I with ease a mischief can bring on all my foes,
But most on him of Trony, the deadliest far of those.

“’Full oft for its beloved my heart is mourning still;
Them could I but meet with, who wrought me so much ill,
Revenge should strike at murder, and life atone for life;
Wait can I no longer.’ So murmur’d Etzel’s wife.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Kriemhild’s plot Kriemhild finally decided to persuade Etzel to invite all her kinsmen for a midsummer visit, which the king, not dreaming of her evil purpose, immediately hastened to do. Two minstrels, Werbel and Swemmel, were sent with the most cordial invitation. Before they departed Kriemhild instructed them to be sure and tell all her kinsmen that she was blithe and happy, and not melancholy as of yore, and to use every effort to bring not only the kings, but also Hagen, who, having been at Etzel’s court as hostage in his youth, could best act as their guide.

The minstrels were warmly received at Worms, where their invitation created great excitement. All were in favor of accepting it except Hagen, who objected that Kriemhild had cause for anger and would surely seek revenge when they were entirely in her power.

“‘Trust not, Sir King,’ said Hagen, ’how smooth soe’er they be,
These messengers from Hungary; if Kriemhild you will see,
You put upon the venture your honor and your life.
A nurse of ling’ring vengeance is Etzel’s moody wife.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But all his objections were set aside with the remark that he alone had a guilty conscience; and the kings bade the minstrels return to announce their coming, although Ute also tried to keep them at home. Hagen, who was no coward, seeing them determined to go, grimly prepared to accompany them, and preVailed upon them to don their strongest armor for the journey.

Gunther was accompanied by both his brothers, by Hagen, Dankwart, Volker (his minstrel), Gary, and Ortwine, and by one thousand picked men as escort. Before leaving he intrusted his wife, Brunhild, and his son to the care of Rumolt, his squire, and bidding farewell to his people, set out for Hungary, whence he was never to return.

In the mean while the Hungarian minstrels had hastened back to Gran to announce the guests’ coming, and, upon being closely questioned by Kriemhild, described Hagen’s grim behavior, and repeated his half-muttered prophecy: “This jaunt’s a jaunt to death.”

The Burgundians, who in this part of the poem are frequently called Nibelungs (because they now held the great hoard), reached the Danube on the twelfth day. As they found neither ford nor ferry, Hagen, after again prophesying all manner of evil, volunteered to go in search of a boat or raft to cross the rapid stream.

Prophecy of the swan maidens He had not gone very far before he heard the sound of voices, and, peeping through the bushes, saw some swan maidens, or “wise women,” bathing in a neighboring fountain. Stealing up unperceived, he secured their plumage, which he consented to restore only after they had predicted the result of his journey. To obtain her garments, one of the women, Hadburg, prophesied great good fortune; but when the pilfered robes were restored, another, called Siegelind, foretold much woe.

“’I will warn thee, Hagen, thou son of Aldrian;
My aunt has lied unto thee her raiment back to get;
If once thou com’st to Hungary, thou’rt taken in the net.

“’Turn while there’s time for safety, turn, warriors most and least;
For this, and for this only, you’re bidden to the feast,
That you perforce may perish in Etzel’s bloody land.
Whoever rideth thither, Death has he close at hand.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

After adding that the chaplain alone would return alive to Worms, she told Hagen that he would find a ferryman on the opposite side of the river, farther down, but that he would not obey his call unless he declared his name to be Amelrich.

Hagen, after leaving the wise women, soon saw the ferryman’s boat anchored to the opposite shore, and failing to make him come over for a promised reward, he cried out that his name was Amelrich. The ferryman immediately crossed, but when Hagen sprang into his boat he detected the fraud and began to fight. Although gigantic in size, this ferryman was no match for Hagen, who, after slaying him, took possession of the boat and skillfully ferried his masters and companions across the river.

In hope of giving the lie to the swan maidens, Hagen paused once in the middle of the stream to fling the chaplain overboard, thinking he would surely drown; but to his surprise and dismay the man struggled back to the shore, where he stood alone and unharmed, and whence he slowly wended his way back to Burgundy. Hagen now knew that the swan maidens’ prophecy was destined to be fulfilled. Nevertheless he landed on the opposite shore, where he bade the main part of the troop ride on ahead, leaving him and Dankwart to bring up the rear, for he fully expected that Gelfrat, master of the murdered ferryman, would pursue them to avenge the latter’s death. These previsions were soon verified, and in the bloody encounter which ensued, Hagen came off victor, with the loss of but four men, while the enemy left more than one hundred dead upon the field.

The first warning Hagen joined the main body of the army once more, passed on with it to Passau, where Bishop Pilgrim was as glad to see his nephews as he had been to welcome his niece, and from thence went on to the frontiers of Bechlaren. There they found Eckewart, who had been sent by Ruediger to warn them not to advance any farther, as he suspected that some treachery was afoot.

“Sir Eckewart replied:
’Yet much, I own, it grieves me that to the Huns you ride.
You took the life of Siegfried; all hate you deadly here;
As your true friend I warn you; watch well, and wisely fear.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

As the Burgundians would have deemed themselves forever disgraced were they to withdraw from their purpose, they refused to listen to this warning, and, entering Ruediger’s castle, were warmly received by him and his family. Giselher, seeing the beauty of the maiden Dietelinde, fell deeply in love with her, and preVailed upon the margrave to consent to their immediate marriage, promising, however, to claim and bear away his bride only upon his homeward journey. Once more gifts were lavished with mediaeval profusion, Gunther receiving a coat of mail, Gernot a sword, Hagen a shield, and the minstrel Volker many rings of red gold.

The second warning Ruediger then escorted the Burgundians until they met the brave Dietrich von Bern (Verona), who also warned them that their visit was fraught with danger, for Kriemhild had by no means forgotten the murder of the husband of her youth.

His evil prognostications were also of no aVail, and he sadly accompanied them until they met Kriemhild, who embraced Giselher only. Then, turning suddenly upon Hagen, she inquired aloud, in the presence of all the people, whether he had brought her back her own, the Nibelung hoard. Nothing daunted by this sudden query, Hagen haughtily answered that the treasure still lay deep in the Rhine, where he fancied it would rest until the judgment day.

“‘I’ faith, my Lady Kriemhild, ’tis now full many a day
Since in my power the treasure of the Nibelungers lay.
In the Rhine my lords bade sink it; I did their bidding fain,
And in the Rhine, I warrant, till doomsday ‘twill remain.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

The queen turned her back contemptuously upon him, and invited her other guests to lay aside their weapons, for none might enter the great hall armed. This Hagen refused to allow them to do, saying that he feared treachery; and the queen, pretending great grief, inquired who could have filled her kinsmen’s hearts with such unjust suspicions. Sir Dietrich then boldly stepped forward, defied Kriemhild, and declared that it was he who had bidden the Burgundians be thus on their guard.

“’’Twas I that the warning to the noble princes gave,
And to their liegeman Hagen, to whom such hate thou bear’st.
Now up, she-fiend! be doing, and harm me if thou dar’st!’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Alliance between Hagen and Volker Although the thirst for revenge now made her a “she-fiend,” as he termed her, Kriemhild did not dare openly to attack Dietrich, whom all men justly feared; and she quickly concealed her anger, while Etzel advanced in his turn to welcome his guests; and especially singled out Hagen, his friend’s son. While many of the Burgundians accompanied the king into the hall, Hagen drew Volker aside, and, sitting down on a stone seat near Kriemhild’s door, entered into a life-and-death alliance with him. Kriemhild, looking out of her window, saw him there and bade her followers go out and slay him; but although they numbered four hundred, they hung back, until the queen, thinking that they doubted her assertions, volunteered to descend alone and wring from Hagen a confession of his crimes, while they lingered within earshot inside the building. Volker, seeing the queen approach, proposed to Hagen to rise and show her the customary respect; but the latter, declaring that she would ascribe this token of decorum to fear alone, grimly bade him remain seated, and, when she addressed him, boldly acknowledged that he alone had slain Siegfried.

“Said he, ’Why question further? that were a waste of breath.
In a word, I am e’en Hagen, who Siegfried did to death.

“’What I have done, proud princess, I never will deny.
The cause of all the mischief, the wrong, the loss, am I.
So now, or man or woman, revenge it whoso will;
I scorn to speak a falsehood, I’ve done you grievous ill.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

But although the warriors had heard every word he said, and the queen again urged them on to attack her foe, they one and all withdrew after meeting one of Hagen’s threatening glances. This episode, however, was enough to show the Burgundians very plainly what they could expect, and Hagen and Volker soon joined their companions, keeping ever side by side, according to their agreement.

“Howe’er the rest were coupled, as mov’d to court the train,
Folker and Hagen parted ne’er again,
Save in one mortal struggle, e’en to their dying hour.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

After banqueting with Etzel the guests were led to their appointed quarters, far remote from those of their squires; and when the Huns began to crowd them, Hagen again frightened them off with one of his black looks. When the hall where they were to sleep was finally reached, the knights all lay down to rest except Hagen and Volker, who mounted guard, the latter beguiling the hours by playing on his fiddle.

Once, in the middle of the night, these self-appointed sentinels saw an armed troop draw near; but when they loudly challenged the foremost men, they beat a hasty retreat. At dawn of day the knights arose to go to mass, wearing their arms by Hagen’s advice, keeping well together, and presenting such a threatening aspect that Kriemhild’s men dared not attack them.

In spite of all these signs, Etzel remained entirely ignorant of his wife’s evil designs, and continued to treat the Burgundians like friends and kinsmen.

“How deep soe’er and deadly the hate she bore her kin,
Still, had the truth by any disclos’d to Etzel been,
He had at once prevented what afterwards befell.
Through proud contemptuous courage they scorn’d their wrongs
to tell.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Beginning of hostilities After mass a tournament was held, Dietrich and Ruediger virtuously abstaining from taking part in it, lest some mishap should occur through their bravery, and fan into flames the smoldering fire of discord. In spite of all these precautions, however, the threatened disruption nearly occurred when Volker accidentally slew a Hun; and it was avoided only by King Etzel’s prompt interference.

Kriemhild, hearing of this accident, vainly tried to use it as an excuse to bribe Dietrich, or his man Hildebrand, to slay her foe. She finally won over Bloedelin, the king’s brother, by promising him a fair bride. To earn this reward the prince went with an armed host to the hall where all the Burgundian squires were feasting under Dankwart’s care, and there treacherously slew them all, Dankwart alone escaping to the king’s hall to join his brother Hagen.

In the mean while Etzel was entertaining his mailed guests, and had sent for his little son, whom he placed in Gunther’s lap, telling him that he would soon send the boy to Burgundy to be educated among his mother’s kin.

All admired the graceful child except Hagen, who gruffly remarked that the child appeared more likely to die early than to live to grow up. He had just finished this rude speech, which filled Etzel’s heart with dismay, when Dankwart burst into the room, exclaiming that all his companions had been slain, and calling to Hagen for aid.

“’Be stirring, brother Hagen; you’re sitting all too long.
To you and God in heaven our deadly strait I plain:
Yeomen and knights together lie in their quarters slain.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’s tr.).

Ortlieb slain The moment Hagen heard these tidings he sprang to his feet, drew his sword, and bade Dankwart guard the door and prevent the ingress or egress of a single Hungarian. Then he struck off the head of the child Ortlieb, which bounded into Kriemhild’s lap, cut off the minstrel Werbel’s hand, and began hewing right and left among the Hungarians, aided by all his companions, who manfully followed his example.

Dismayed at this sudden turn of affairs, the aged King Etzel “sat in mortal anguish,” helplessly watching the massacre, while Kriemhild shrieked aloud to Dietrich to protect her from her foes. Moved to pity by her evident terror, Dietrich blew a resounding blast on his horn, and Gunther paused in his work of destruction to inquire how he might serve the man who had ever shown himself a friend. Dietrich answered by asking for a safe-conduct out of the hall for himself and his followers, which was immediately granted.

“’Let me with your safe-conduct this hall of Etzel’s leave,
And quit this bloody banquet with those who follow me;
And for this grace forever I’ll at your service be.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

The massacre Dietrich von Bern then passed out of the hall unmolested, leading the king by one hand and the queen by the other, and closely followed by all his retainers. This same privilege was granted to Ruediger and his five hundred men; but when these had all passed out, the Burgundians renewed the bloody fight, nor paused until all the Huns in the hall were slain, and everything was reeking with blood.

Then the Burgundians gathered up the corpses, which they flung down the staircase, at the foot of which Etzel stood, helplessly wringing his hands, and vainly trying to discover some means of stopping the fight.

Kriemhild, in the mean while, was actively employed in gathering men, promising large rewards to any one who would attack and slay Hagen. Urged on by her, Iring attempted to force an entrance, but was soon driven back; and when he would have made a second assault, Hagen ruthlessly slew him.

Irnfried the Thuringian, and Hawart the Dane, seeing him fall, rushed impetuously upon the Burgundians to avenge him; but both fell under Hagen’s and Volker’s mighty blows, while their numerous followers were all slain by the other Burgundians.

“A thousand and four together had come into the hall;
You might see the broadswords flashing rise and fall;
Soon the bold intruders all dead together lay;
Of those renown’d Burgundians strange marvels one might say.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

Etzel and the Huns were mourning over their dead; so the weary Burgundians removed their helmets and rested, while Kriemhild continued to muster new troops to attack her kinsmen, who were still strongly intrenched in the great hall.

“’Twas e’en on a midsummer befell that murderous fight,
When on her nearest kinsmen and many a noble knight
Dame Kriemhild wreak’d the anguish that long in heart she bore,
Whence inly griev’d King Etzel, nor joy knew evermore.

“Yet on such sweeping slaughter at first she had not thought;
She only had for vengeance on one transgressor sought.
She wish’d that but on Hagen the stroke of death might fall;
’Twas the foul fiend’s contriving that they should perish all.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

An attempt was now made by the Burgundians to treat with Etzel for a safe-conduct. Obdurate at first, he would have yielded had not Kriemhild advised him to pursue the feud to the bitter end, unless her brothers consented to surrender Hagen to her tender mercies. This, of course, Gunther absolutely refused to do; so Kriemhild gave secret orders that the hall in which the Burgundians were intrenched should be set on fire. Surrounded by bitter foes, blinded by smoke, and overcome by the heat, the Burgundians still held their own, slaking their burning thirst by drinking the blood of the slain, and taking refuge from the flames under the stone arches which supported the ceiling of the hall.

Ruediger’s oath Thus they managed to survive that terrible night; but when morning dawned and the queen heard that they were still alive, she bade Ruediger go forth and fight them. He refused until she reminded him or the solemn oath he had sworn to her in Worms before she would consent to accompany him to Hungary.

“’Now think upon the homage that once to me you swore,
When to the Rhine, good warrior, King Etzel’s suit you bore,
That you would serve me ever to either’s dying day.
Ne’er can I need so deeply that you that vow should pay.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

Torn by conflicting feelings and urged by opposite oaths, for he had also sworn to befriend the Burgundians, Ruediger now vainly tried to purchase his release by the sacrifice of all his possessions. At last, goaded to madness, he yielded to the king’s and queen’s entreaties, armed his warriors, and drew near the hall where his former guests were intrenched. At first they could not believe that Ruediger had any hostile intentions; but when he pathetically informed them that he must fight, and recommended his wife and daughter to their care in case he fell, they silently allowed him and his followers to enter the hall, and grimly renewed the bloody conflict.

Death of Ruediger Ruediger, after slaying many foes, encountered Gernot wielding the sword he had given him; and these two doughty champions finally slew each other. All the followers of Ruediger also fell; and when Kriemhild, who was anxiously awaiting the result of this new attack in the court below, saw his corpse among the slain, she began to weep and bemoan her loss. The mournful tidings of Ruediger’s death soon spread all over the town, and came finally to the ears of Dietrich von Bern, who bade his man Hildebrand go and claim the corpse from his Burgundian friends.

Hildebrand went thither with an armed force, but some of his men unfortunately began to bandy words with the Burgundians, and this soon brought about an impetuous fight. In the ensuing battle all the Burgundians fell except Gunther and Hagen, while Hildebrand escaped sore wounded to his master, Dietrich von Bern. When this hero heard that his nephew and vassals were all slain, he quickly armed himself, and, after vainly imploring Gunther and Hagen to surrender, fell upon them with an armed force. The two sole remaining Burgundians were now so exhausted that Dietrich soon managed to take them captive. He led them bound to Kriemhild, and implored her to have pity upon them and spare their lives.

“‘Fair and noble Kriemhild,’ thus Sir Dietrich spake,
Spare this captive warrior, who full amends will make
For all his past transgressions; him here in bonds you see;
Revenge not on the fetter’d th’ offenses of the free.’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

Kriemhild’s cruelty By the queen’s orders, Gunther and Hagen were confined in separate cells. There she soon sought the latter, promising him his liberty if he would but reveal the place where her treasure was concealed. But Hagen, mistrusting her, declared that he had solemnly sworn never to reveal the secret as long as one of his masters breathed. Kriemhild, whose cruelty had long passed all bounds, left him only to have her brother Gunther beheaded, and soon returned carrying his head, which she showed to Hagen, commanding him to speak. But he still refused to gratify her, and replied that since he was now the sole depositary of the secret, it would perish with him.

“’So now, where lies the treasure none knows save God and me,
And told it shall be never, be sure, she-fiend, to thee!’”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

Kriemhild slain This defiant answer so exasperated Kriemhild that she seized the sword hanging by his side, which she recognized as Siegfried’s favorite weapon, and with her own hands cut off his head before Etzel or any of his courtiers could interfere. Hildebrand, seeing this act of treachery, sprang impetuously forward, and, drawing his sword, slew her who had brought untold misery into the land of the Huns.

“The mighty and the noble there lay together dead;
For this had all the people dole and drearihead.
The feast of royal Etzel was thus shut up in woe,
Pain in the steps of Pleasure treads ever here below.

“’Tis more than I can tell you what afterwards befell,
Save that there was weeping for friends belov’d so well;
Knights and squires, dames and damsels, were seen lamenting all.
So end I here my story. This is the Nibelungers’ Fall.”
Nibelungenlied (Lettsom’str.).

Although the “Nibelungenlied” proper ends here, an appendix, probably by another hand, called the “Lament,” continues the story, and relates how Etzel, Dietrich, and Hildebrand, in turn, extolled the high deeds and bewailed the untimely end of each hero. Then this poem, which is as mournful as monotonous throughout, describes the departure of the messengers sent to bear the evil tidings and the weapons of the slain to Worms, and their arrival at Passau, where more tears were shed and where Bishop Pilgrim celebrated a solemn mass for the rest of the heroes’ souls.

From thence the funeral procession slowly traveled on to Worms, where the sad news was imparted to the remaining Burgundians, who named the son of Gunther and Brunhild as their king, and who never forgot the fatal ride to Hungary.