Gudrun - George Upton




The Battle on the Wulpensand

Ludwig and Hartmut meanwhile had reached a green and thickly wooded island called the Wulpensand, where they decided to make a camp and rest them from their labors for a space. Often did Gudrun gaze sadly out across the water, the tears streaming unheeded down her cheeks.

Some days had passed thus when about noon white sails were seen upon the far horizon. Word was brought at once to Ludwig and Hartmut, and they hastened to the shore. Soon they distinguished crosses on the sails and supposed them to be pilgrim ships. But after a time, Ludwig said: "Yon ships do gleam and sparkle as they were filled with shining stars—'tis from helm and shield and spear tip! Up, warriors! Up and arm you to receive them!"

Instantly the camp was in confusion. All flew to arms, and soon the shore was lined with shouting warriors eager for battle. Ludwig's banner floated upon the breeze, and he shouted: "Now, by my faith! Our former work was but child's play to what now lies before us! Stand fast, bold knights, and richly will I reward you!"

Nearer and nearer came the hostile fleet bearing Hetel and Herwig and Siegfried with all their men, till at last the two armies were within reach of each other's spears. Then there arose such a clashing dud splintering of javelins and arrows that the noise of the waves was completely drowned. Hastily Hetel's men clambered into their boats and rowed ashore. Wate sprang into the water up to his breast and made his way to land, Hetel, Herwig, Ortwin, Frute and their brave men following; and soon the sea far out was red with blood from innumerable wounds. Ludwig recognized Wate and hurled his spear at the mighty champion, but he caught it fairly on his shield and it broke, the splinters flying far mild wide. As he gained the shore, he dealt King Ludwig a blow with his sword that sent him reeling backward; and there with King Hetel's people won to land and the fight began in earnest.

Till nightfall the battle raged, when neither side had prevailed. Then the weary heroes sought a few hours' repose, but at dawn the battle trumpets once more sounded and the strife began anew. Backward and forward rolled the tide of battle, pausing now and then, only to burst out more fiercely than before. At last the two Kings, Hetel and Ludwig, met. Hetel fought like a lion robbed of its young, and his sword whistled frightfully through the air as the blows fell fast and furious on his adversary's helm and shield. But Ludwig too was a mighty champion, grown old in battle: at last he smote King Hetel so powerfully that he fell dead before him. At this a wild shout went up from the Normans, and the news soon spread to Gudrun's tent, whereupon the poor maiden with a cry of anguish sank unconscious to the ground.

Wate fought like an infuriated wild beast, and many of the enemy fell before his sword; but in spite of all their efforts they could gain no real advantage, and darkness fell once more without Herwig's having succeeded in rescuing his bride. Watch-fires were lit, and the two armies were so close to each other that the gleam of their armor could be plainly seen.

That evening Ludwig took counsel with Hartmut in his tent. He feared Wate's strength and deemed it best to retire under cover of night, while the drums and war-trumpets should sound loudly as it in joyous anticipation of the morrow's conflict and their confidence of victory, and thereby drown all mound of preparation. This plan was forthwith adopted; the ships were hurriedly laden and made ready to depart, and the fair captives led thither after having been warned as they valued their lives to make no outcry. Ludwig's forces had become so diminished that he was forced to leave many of his ships behind for lack of men to man them. His stratagem was successful, however; the Normans put safely out to sea in the darkness, and a strong breeze bore them swiftly away.

In the morning a dense mist enveloped land and sea, but Wate turned to continue the battle and at the sound of his horn the knights sprang once more to arms. Just then the sun broke through the clouds, and lo! the whole country stretched bare before their bewildered gaze—the enemy had vanished! The ground was strewn with corpses, broken weapons, and torn banners, while near the shore some empty ships lay tossing on the waves. At this, such a fury of rage seized Wate that few dared approach him. Ortwin cried: "Let us pursue them with all speed!"

But Frute, who had been watching the wind replied: "'Twere useless now, my lord. Full thirty miles have they the start of us, nor with our remnant of an army may we venture a pursuit."

"Then will we take vengeance on the living through the dead!" shouted grim Irolt. "Unburied shall they lie to feed the ravens!"

But Herwig reproved him, saying: "Nay, comrade, that must never be! Rather let us dig ample graves and bury friend and foe together."

"Dead foes no longer hatred claim; Grudge not the dead true hero's fame!

This was done, and after all the slain had been consigned to earth, with heavy hearts the heroes once more embarked and set sail for home.

Soon Queen Hilda's castle rose before them from the sea, whereat groans of anguish burst from many a mail-clad breast. Ortwin cried: "Alas! how can I appear before my mother? Not only have we failed to deliver Gudrun, but now my father lies beneath the stones of Wulpensand! Herwig too shrank from breaking the evil tidings to Queen Hilda, nor were any of their comrades willing to undertake the task. But when they had reached the shore Wate gruffly said: "It is useless to attempt to conceal the truth from the Queen," and himself rode to the castle, looking so grim and forbidding that all who beheld him shrank in terror. But Hilda, who had seen him coming and had also marked the sadly diminished fleet upon the strand, hastened anxiously to meet him and asked him in trembling accents for her lord.

"I will not deceive thee, lady," said the hero, his rough features clouded with grief; "the King is slain, and with him the greater part of our comrades"; and therewith he told her of the battle on the island.

Quickly the news spread, and from the castle arose loud wailing and sounds of woe, to which all the heroes added their lamentations. The whole court was plunged into grief, and Wate alone retained his firmness.

"Peace—peace—my friends! No plaints nor sighs will ever open the King's grave or bring back Gudrun to us. With the handful of warriors that are left us, we can do nothing now, 'tis true, but ere-long a younger generation will be of age to bear arms, and then our day of reckoning will come!"