Gudrun - George Upton




The Contest

Zealand, the neighboring country to Denmark, was ruled by a young prince named Herwig, who also came to woo the fair Gudrun, but Hetel rejected him as haughtily as he had rejected all the rest. Nevertheless Herwig tarried for some months at the court, where, from time to time he might behold the maiden; but although he often renewed his suit, the King's answer was ever the same.

One day a prince arrived at the royal castle followed by a glittering train. He would not give his name, and as he advanced no suit, Hetel received him kindly and prepared a feast in his honor. So it came to pass that he soon found an opportunity of seeing Gudrun, and contrived to make known to her that he was Hartmut, and had come to Denmark for her sake alone. The maiden pitied the gallant young hero, whose appearance pleased her well, though she had no wish to wed him, and she besought him to depart at once, for, should Hetel discover who he was, he would surely slay him. Sorrowfully Hartmut left the court. Yet he did not abandon his purpose, but bent all his energies toward raising an army to revenge himself upon King Hetel.

Gudrun

HOW HARTMUT SUED FOR GUDRUN.


Herwig was rejoiced when the splendid stranger went upon his way, for he had feared in him a successful rival. Again he would have renewed his own suit; but the King sternly forbade him ever again to speak of it, whereupon he resolved to invade the land with an armed force to, prove to the haughty monarch that he too was a mighty prince. Accordingly, on a dark night not long thereafter when all within the castle of Hegelingen lay wrapped in deepest slumber, Herwig landed with a band of stout warriors, and at daybreak, the warder on the tower discovered the enemy close beneath the walls.

"'To arms' he thundered from the tower;

The trump the silence broke,

And strident blast of larum horns

The startled sleepers woke.

With flying hair the women all

To one another clung;

Or flocking to the windows, there

Their hands in terror wrung;

While calm in danger, knight and man

To steed and armor sprung."

When Hetel saw by the device on the banners that it was Herwig who led the foe, he was secretly pleased that the hero should thus seek to win the maid by force of arms. This was after his own heart, and Herwig could not have hit upon a better plan to obtain his favor. With his wife and Gudrun he stood at a window and watched the gallant struggle that was in progress before the castle, expecting to see his knights soon scatter the followers of this fiery wooer; but great was his consternation when he beheld Herwig gaining step by step. Wherever the rejected suitor's plume waved, wherever his flashing sword circled, there was the fray hottest, and many of Hetel's stoutest warriors fell before him. Splendid was Herwig to look upon in battle: the helms of all who approached him were lit with fiery sparks, while their armor was speedily adorned with crimson bands. Even Gudrun gazed on him with admiring eyes, terrible as the sight of the battle was to her.

"Now," thought Hetel, is Herwig worthy of my sword"; and donning his armor, down he strode, only to find his men being irresistibly forced back within the castle. Already the clash of arms re-echoed from the vaulted ceiling, armor crashed against armor in the onset. Valiantly King Hetel dashed among his knights, but all his efforts were powerless to check their retreat. At last the two princes came face to face, the gray-haired hero of a hundred battles and the young warrior bent on winning equal fame. Blows that would have slain many a stout champion fell thick and fast on helm and shield, yet undismayed and unconquered fast they stood, while sparks shot forth in fiery showers, and links of mail fell tinkling to the stone floor. At last Hetel stepped back a pace and said breathlessly: "He who does not wish me for a friend surely is no good friend," and therewith rushed once more upon the young hero; and fiercer than ever raged the combat.

Terror-stricken, Gudrun watched them until at last she could bear it no longer. Seizing a shield she hastened down and threw herself between the two knights, whereat Herwig lowered his sword and gazed joyously at the stately maiden.

"Peace, peace! my father, in God's name!" she implored. "Let the struggle wait until I have asked Herwig where his dearest friend may be."

"Oh, thou knowest well," cried Herwig. "But I will give no peace till thou dost grant me leave to speak with thee within the castle. No evil have I in my heart, for unarmed will I enter."

Accordingly at Gudrun's desire, the heroes laid aside their arms and entered the castle together in peace. Then Herwig approached Gudrun once more to plead his suit, and Gudrun answered: "What maid could scorn so valiant a hero? Truly, most noble Herwig, there is no damsel living who could hold thee more dear than I, and if my parents do consent, then will I gladly evermore with thee abide."

Then Herwig besought the King and Queen for the hand of Gudrun and they, turning to their daughter, asked whether this betrothal would be pleasing to her. She replied that she would choose Herwig for her husband before all other men. So Hetel, whose heart had been quite won by the valor of the noble young hero, led Gudrun to him and joined their hands together. Then all the great lords and vassals were summoned to the hall, and in their presence the King once more asked Gudrun if she would have Herwig for her husband.

"Never could I wish for nobler lord," she answered. So they were betrothed, and a great feast was held to celebrate the joyful event.

When the festivities were over, Herwig wished to take Gudrun home with him as his bride; but Queen Hilda besought him to wait till the following springtime, since her daughter was still so young. In the meantime she would teach her much that it befitted a future queen to know and she would also have time to prepare a rich store of marriage gifts. Herwig agreed to this though with great reluctance; soon thereafter, bidding a sorrowful farewell to his betrothed, he returned to his own land, little suspecting what dire results were to follow the postponement of the nuptials.