Gudrun - George Upton




The Tale of Hagen and the Griffin

The way was far to Normandy, and time often hung heavily on the hands of the heroes, who were longing for action.

Sometimes, when the wind failed, a number of them would assemble on the deck, while gray-bearded warriors related many an adventure of their own or their forefathers'. Thus it chanced one day that several of the younger knights gathered about Frute and besought him to tell them the tale of Hagen and the Griffin. Frute agreed, and, seating himself upon a pile of armor, leaned back against the mast while his hearers formed a circle about him on the deck. The sun was setting and its ruddy gleams were reflected from the mirror-like surface of the water upon the face of the aged hero, as he began:

"Once upon a time there ruled in Ireland a King called Sigeband, whose wife bore him a son. He was named Hagen, and while yet a child all who saw him marvelled at his strength. By the time he had reached his seventh year he refused to remain any longer in the women's care, but desired only to he with men and learn to wield arms. Sigeband encouraged his son's wishes, and the boy soon became so skilled in the use of spear and sword that even the oldest warriors were amazed and declared that never before had such a child been seen. Now it chanced that the Queen one day was sitting upon the battlements of the castle gazing sorrowfully out before her, when the King appeared and asked the cause of her sadness.

"'Dear lord!' she replied, 'rich indeed are we in lands and subjects, as also in fame and honor, yet one thing do we lack that oft cloth grieve me much. At my dear father's court many knights of great renown came and went, and there were daily feastings and tourneys, the fame of which spread throughout all lands. But here, alas! we heap up vast stores of gold and jewels in our treasure chests, and forswear those pleasures which might well serve in time of need to provide us with blood and treasure.'

"'Thou speakest truth, my wife,' said the King, 'and henceforth I will do even as other princes. To-morrow messengers shall summon hither all our friends from far and near, and we will prepare a great feast for them.'

"At this Queen Ute was rejoiced and cried joyfully: 'Then I will search my chests and bring forth rich garments with gold and jewels also, that we may fittingly reward the victors in the games.'

"Spring came and with it the time fixed for the festivities. The fields were gay with blossoms, and wood and grove were filled with the songs of birds. On every road were seen fluttering pennons as bands of knights in shining armor approached from all directions. The huge castle with its sixty towers was soon filled to overflowing, and sumptuous tents were erected without the walls, while the King and Queen took good care that their guests were well provided for in every way. Sounds of mirth and rejoicing filled the air, and many a lance was splintered in the lists. Thus nine days went joyously by, but on the tenth a terrible calamity befell the royal host.

"In the hall a wandering minstrel had just struck his harp and begun his heroic lay. King Sigeband and his Queen were seated on the throne, with knights and ladies grouped about them in a circle. The little prince was in the garden with his attendants who, attracted by the minstrel's song, had gathered about the door, forgetting the child; and he ran gayly hither and thither, rejoicing in his freedom. Suddenly there was a great crashing among the branches of the trees, and a griffin swooped down, seized the boy in its claws and bore him off with mighty strokes of its huge wings. His screams penetrated to the hall, and all rushed forth in alarm; but rescue was then impossible, for already the griffin had mounted to the clouds and soon vanished in the distance with its prey. There was an end of all the festivities, and naught but lamentations and cries of woe were heard throughout the castle, where but now had echoed the sound of joyous laughter. The royal parents were wellnigh broken-hearted.

"The boy still lived, however, and gazed, terror-stricken, into the depths beneath him. Faster than the storm-wind flew the griffin and soon the sea was beneath them. Full a hundred miles from home had he been borne, when looking down Hagen perceived a dark chain of rugged mountains rising from an island. Here the griffin alighted on a rocky peak, flung the boy into its nest and flew away again. The young griffins stretched their necks eagerly for the prey, the flapping of their wings sounding like the breakers on the shore, but each tried to seize the prize for himself and began to fight, clawing fiercely at one another with harsh cries. One of the monsters, profiting by this opportunity, seized the boy and flew with him to the top of a tree, but as it alighted the branch broke beneath the creature's weight, and Hagen, slipping from its clutches, dropped safe to the ground and hastily concealed himself in a cleft of rock thickly overgrown with bushes.

"When the young hero had recovered somewhat from his fright he looked about him and, seeing no sign of the griffin, was creeping cautiously along through the bushes, when suddenly there stood before him three beautiful damsels. They too had been stolen in their childhood by the griffin; but how they had contrived to escape the monster is no part of my tale. When they saw the noble boy in his rich garments coming toward them they were terrified, and quickly disappeared in a rocky cave near by, thinking that a dwarf who dwelt in the heart of the mountains had come forth into the light of day. But no sooner did Hagen spy the maidens than he sprang eagerly after them.

"'Whence comest thou?' they cried. 'Get thee hence and do us no evil, for enough have we to bear already! '

"'Nay, dear maidens, send me not away, I pray,' replied Hagen, 'but give me something to eat, for I am wellnigh famished. A fierce griffin brought me hither. Only help me and I will tell you whence l came.'

"When they saw that it was really a human child before them, they were overjoyed and caressed the boy fondly, after which they brought him food and drink and made him welcome to their cave. There he abode with them many days and years, and grew strong and brave under their loving care.

"One day a band of pilgrims chanced to approach the island in their ships, and Hagen and the maidens gazed joyfully at them, for they thought the hour of their deliverance had come. But suddenly a great storm arose; lightning flashed from the inky clouds, and loud rolled the thunder. The ships were tossed hither and thither among the raging billows. One after another was dashed to pieces on the rocks in spite of all the efforts of the unfortunate pilgrims; and when the storm subsided, no soul was left alive of all the band. The next morning the shore was strewn with corpses, and the griffin bore many of them to its nest to feed its young.

"Hagen spied the body of a knight among them who had been dashed against a rock by the force of the waves. Watching his chance, the youth hurriedly seized the knight's mail and helm and sword and bow and quiver. Scarcely had he completed his task when he heard a whiffling among the rocks and saw the griffin approaching; but now he was well armed and had no thought of fear. With steady hand he launched an arrow at the creature, but it rebounded from the thick hide and fell harmless to the ground. Therewith the furious monster rushed upon him; but already the sword flashed above Hagen's head, and springing aside he shore off one of the huge wings. Then it, struck fiercely at him with its claw, but this too he severed at a blow, and soon his foe lay dead before him. A cry of joy issued from the cave; but scarcely was it uttered when a fresh terror seized the maidens, for now a whole swarm of griffins came swooping down from the rocks. But Hagen's courage had grown with victory, and the sword gleamed like lightning in his hands. Fierce indeed was the struggle and many a hero would have succumbed, but the youth held his ground bravely and succeeded at last in slaying all the monsters.

"Then he cried: 'Come forth, dear maidens! Now for the first time you may enjoy the sun and air in freedom, without fear!'

"Joyously they ran to greet the gallant youth—nor could they sufficiently thank him for slaying the terrible griffins.

"A new life began for Hagen. From that hour he had no thought save for the use of his new-found weapons; nor was it long till he could bring down birds upon the wing with his arrows. Even fishes in the water could not escape his skill. He would spend whole days roaming about through the forest; learned to run swiftly as the flying stag, and, to the amazement and terror of the maidens, would leap streams and chasms with the strength and agility of the panther.

"Once a fierce dragon sprang at him from a dark cleft of rock; but Hagen clove its skull with his sharp sword, and it fell, writhing horribly in the death agony. When it was dead he tasted the blood of the creature, and immediately felt new strength come to him; whereupon he drank of it till he had gained the strength of twelve men. The skin he bore with him to the cave as a trophy of his victory.

"Not long after this he met a lion in the forest, but at the sound of his mighty hunting call the beast turned and fled. Hagen pursued and captured it alive and, after binding up its jaws and claws with ropes of fibre, bore his prize to the maidens on his shoulders. Before this they had been unable to make fires and were forced to eat raw meat, but now Hagen could strike sparks from the rocks, and this proved of great help to the maidens. The food they were now able to prepare was more wholesome and palatable, and day by day their beauty grew to greater fulness.

"One day Hagen said: 'Let us follow the shore of the island; perchance elsewhere we may discover a ship that will take us to our homes.'

"They set out upon their quest without delay, the maidens clad in garments they had skilfully wrought from fibre, and after twenty-five days of wandering they descried a vessel. Hagen's voice was louder than the roaring of the waves, and his shouts were soon heard by those on the ship; but when they beheld the strangely clad damsels, they took them for water-nixies and dared not row a boat to land. Then Hagen called on them for help in God's name; whereupon the count who commanded the vessel entered a boat with twelve knights and came ashore. He was struck with the wondrous beauty of the maidens, but they were ashamed of their rude attire and hastily concealed themselves. Some of the knights rowed back to the ship and fetched some women's apparel, which the girls hastily donned in the shelter of a thicket, after which the count took them with Hagen on his vessel. The ship's folk greeted the maidens kindly when they found they were not tricksy sprites but fair mortals; and after they had refreshed themselves with food and drink, the count asked what evil fate had brought them to the island.

"They were loath to make their misfortunes known to a stranger, yet could not well refuse the request. Accordingly, the eldest replied: 'My father wore the crown of farthest India, when the griffin snatched me from him. Alas! I shall nevermore behold my home!'

"'I too am from a distant land,' said the second maiden. 'My noble father—plunged in deepest sorrow by my loss, I fear—was King of Portugal, and many princes did homage to him.'

"Lastly, the youngest spoke: 'My home is in Iceland, whence the griffin bore me hither. So dear am I unto my father that well I know he gladly would bestow his crown on him who may restore me to him.'

"''Twas by God's will that ye were carried to the island,' said the count, 'and surely He hath wrought your deliverance. Trust yourselves therefore to His care!'

"Then he turned to Hagen, saying: 'Thy companions have made known to me their rank and history; now would I gladly learn thine own, bold youth, and how thou camest to the island.'

"'My fate was even as theirs, Sir Knight,' replied Hagen; 'like them I was borne hither by the griffin. As for my father, he is King of Ireland, Sigeband by name.'

"Then the count asked whether the monster yet lived. Hagen's eyes flashed and he grasped his sword firmly as he answered: 'Nay, I slew the creature and therewith all its young.'

"All eyes were fixed in amazement upon the young hero as he spoke these words, and some of the knights praised him, saying: 'Truly, thy deed is worthy all men's praise; indeed 'twere doubtful whether any of us would have succeeded in slaying the griffin.'

"But Hagen observed how they talked with one another apart and endeavored secretly to remove his weapons. This roused his anger, and he warned them against any misdeed; whereupon the count whispered to his followers: 'We must accomplish our ends by force!' Then approaching Hagen, he said harshly: 'Of a truth, thou hast fallen into my hands in good time. Much injury have I suffered from thy father's warriors—wherefore I will hold thee captive till such time as he shall have made me full amends.'

"'Whatsoever evil may have befallen thee at the hands of Ireland's heroes, that surely is no fault of mine,' replied Hagen. 'Yet do thou but fetch me to my home and all shall be well, I promise thee.'

"'Better security is it for me to hold thee prisoner,' said the count. 'As for the maidens, I will bestow them upon my courtiers.'

"At these words Hagen flew into a passion. 'Now, by my faith,' he shouted, 'I will not be thy captive, nor shalt thou touch one hair upon the maidens' heads!' Then turning to the ship's people, he cried—'Richly will I reward you, good mariners, if ye will hearken to my bidding and bear me to my home. Heed well my words, for if ye do fail me, good cause shall ye have to rue it.'

"But the count sternly ordered them to seize Hagen, whereupon the youth snatched his sword from its sheath, and a furious fight began upon the ship. Heads rolled from the deck into the sea, and Hagen thrust the bodies after them with his foot. None could stand against him, and at last all those who were not slain fled to the farthest corner of the ship's hold. Then he rushed upon the count, who would surely have been slain had not the maidens besought Hagen to have mercy. At their prayers, the hero sheathed his sword and ordered the ship to be steered according to his will. None dared now to oppose him, and thus the homeward voyage to Ireland was begun. Nor did the ship's folk need word or deed from this time forth to urge them to industry, for they already feared his very glance.

"On the seventeenth day they came in sight of the castle where Hagen's parents dwelt; and the mariners were in great fear lest Sigeband should slay them; but when Hagen saw this he reassured them, saying: 'Fear not! My father will forgive all when he learns 'twas ye that did save me from the island. Some of you shall, bear a message to my parents to tell them I still do live, and surely no evil will befall those who bring such tidings.'

"Choosing twelve men, therefore, he said to them: 'Go ye to the court and ask the King if he would behold his son. He will not credit your words, perchance. Seek then my mother and ask her if she cloth bear in mind the golden cross her son was used to wear upon his breast. She will surely follow you to the ship.'

"The men did as they were bidden; but when they entered the royal hall, the King at once recognized them by their garments as his foes and angrily demanded how they had dared come thither. Whereupon one of them replied: 'My Lord, thy son Hagen hath sent us. Soon shalt thou behold him, for he is close at hand.'

"'Thy words are false!' cried Sigeband, 'for who that knoweth how my dear son was torn from me may believe he still doth live? 'Tis many years now I have mourned his death.'

"Then turning to the Queen, the messengers asked her whether she would still know the cross she had given to her son; whereat a great flood of joy swept over her, and she cried eagerly, 'Let us hasten to the shore that I may see the cross!'

"The King ordered horses to be brought at once, and rode forth with the Queen from the gates of the castle, followed by a stately train. Hagen meanwhile had come on shore with the knights and the maidens, and when he beheld his beloved parents once again his heart swelled with joy, while tears overflowed his eyes. Crowds of people had gathered to gaze upon him, for he had grown to be a mighty hero. The King made him welcome, saying: 'If thou art he whom thou declarest thyself to be, then shall my declining years be made glad indeed!'

"As his mother approached, the youth drew the golden cross from his breast and held it out to her, whereupon with a cry of joy she clasped him to her heart and wept aloud for happiness, while his father, too, embraced him, with streaming eyes.

"Hagen now interceded for the count, and Sigeband, who could refuse nothing to his new-found son, clasped hands with his enemy in token of peace, and promised to make amends for any wrongs the count might have received at his hands.

"Joyously they all took their way back to the castle. The Queen welcomed the maidens as if they had been her own daughters, and clothed them in the costliest apparel. Hagen soon after chose the maiden from India, Hilda by name, as his wife. On the death of his parents he mounted the throne and became one of the mightiest princes that ever reigned. His wife presented him with a daughter, also called Hilda, who afterwards became Queen of our land and whose wrongs we are now going forth to avenge. God grant her child Gudrun be yet alive!"

Night had fallen as the old knight closed his tale. The full moon rode high in the heavens and the pale stars looked down kindly upon the band of warriors.