Gudrun - George Upton




Hartmut Fights with Ortwin and Horant

Soon the gates of the huge castle were thrown open, and Hartmut rode forth followed by three thousand of his knights, leaving the rest to guard the gates and walls of the castle. Proudly waved their banners, and helm and armor glittered in the morning sun. Wate's hunting-horn sounded for the third time, so mighty a blast that it almost seemed to shake the walls and cause great forest trees to tremble. The old hero bade Horant lead the van and bear Queen Hilda's banner, while he rode hither and thither disposing his men in battle array. At a turret window Gudrun stood, waving a white kerchief.

As the Norman knights appeared, Ortwin asked: "Who may yon hero be who leads the band? His armor gleams like lightning in the sun, and nobly doth he bear him. Methinks an emperor would scarcely ride more proudly."

"That, my lord, is Hartmut," replied one of the knights; "he who did steal away thy sister."

"Ha! is it so?" cried Ortwin; "now had the wicked Gerlinda best aid him to find his way back in safety to the castle!" And he lowered his spear and plunged the spurs into the flanks of his snow-white charger so that it bounded high in the air.

But Hartmut had now discovered Ortwin also, and made ready to attack him. On they rushed, and came together with such force that both horses were overthrown. Out flashed the long swords from their golden sheaths and played like lightning about the helms of the two heroes. It was indeed a mighty combat. But ere-long they were forced apart by the rush of warriors eager for the fray, and the conflict became general. On all sides arose the din of battle. Siegfried was attacked by a band of Hartmut's knights, but he laid about him so stoutly that his assailants soon succumbed to the fury of his blows.

Herwig, who was fighting for his bride, dashed joyously into the battle with colors flying, and Gudrun soon recognized him by his noble form and shining armor. Ludwig led his followers against the Danes who fought under Hilda's banner. Notwithstanding his years, the old King still had the strength of a bear, and many a stout helm was shattered by his sword-strokes as he cut his way deep into the ranks of the enemy. But Frute with his Holsteins and Frisians rode against him and slew many of his followers, while Morung and Irolt strewed the earth with dead. Once more the tide of battle brought Ortwin and Hartmut face to face, and again shield and helm reechoed with their sounding blows. Each was determined his foe should not this time escape him, and at last, though Ortwin fought bravely, Hartmut succeeded in piercing his helm with a sword-stroke. When the Danes saw their young chief's armor streaked with blood they pressed on furiously, but many a good knight was slain ere they reached the princes and snatched Ortwin from death.

Horant dashed up to learn who had smitten his dear lord so sorely. Ortwin told him, and Hartmut, who was not far distant, laughed scornfully; whereat Horant, giving Hilda's banner into the hands of a knight, rushed fiercely upon the Norman King. But many men stood between, and Horant's sword dealt such slaughter among them that Hartmut cried: "Yon knight hath wrought enough of evil to us; soon shall he strike his last blow!" and forcing his way to Horant, he attacked him so fiercely that he was borne to the ground and would surely have been slain had not his comrades hastened to his rescue and carried him from out the press. Such was Hartmut's strength and valor that many began to doubt whether they should succeed in taking the castle.

But as soon as the wounds of Ortwin and Horant had been bound up, those heroes returned to the battle with unabated courage, while Wate, meanwhile, had wrought terrible havoc among the Normans. Yet fast as they fell, others pressed on to avenge the death of their brethren, and ever hotter and fiercer waged the conflict.