Gudrun - George Upton

The Home Coming

For a whole year Queen Hilda heard no news from the fleet that had sailed away to rescue Gudrun. Each day she ascended the battlements of her castle Matalan to watch for some sign of the returning ships. One bright May morning, when the green meadows were gay with flowers and the sea was as blue as the sky above it, as she stood thus gazing out over the smooth water, suddenly a snow-white sail appeared on the far horizon,—then another, and yet another, till a whole fleet came into view. Hastily descending from the tower, she betook herself with her women to the shore, which was soon thronged with eager men and women and children, and joyous shouts arose as they recognized the devices on the sails. Nearer and nearer came the ships. Brightly shone the sun on helm and armor; banners fluttered in the breeze; drums, trumpets, flutes, and cymbals made exultant music.

Wate's ship was first to reach the land, and the hero sprang ashore, Irolt and Frute following. Reverently they approached and bowed before the Queen, who greeted them and asked for her children.

"God hath aided thee," said Wate. "On yonder ship that now doth approach the shore are Gudrun and Ortwin; also Herwig, thy daughter's brave betrothed!"

Then the Queen raised her hands to Heaven, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks as her dear ones stepped once more upon their native shore, followed by all the knights and maidens. Ortwin and Herwig placed Gudrun in her mother's arms, who clasped her child to her as if she could never let her go. So great was the joy of both at this reunion that even stern warriors were forced to shed tears at the sight thereof. After Hilda had exchanged greetings with her son and Herwig, Gudrun led forth a tall noble damsel from the group of women. "Take her also to thy heart, my mother," she cried, "for a good friend hath she been to me."

"Nay," said the Queen, "I embrace no damsel who is unknown to me."

But Gudrun whispered: "Thou must greet her, mother. 'Tis King Ludwig's orphan child."

"How!" cried Hilda, sharply. "She the daughter of the Norman King? Oh, what evil hath been dealt me by her house!" And turning angrily to Ortrun, who stood silent before her, she pointed to the site of the castle, which still lay in ruins.

"Behold the work of thy kin!" she said. "Yet there are still dungeons beneath yon pile that shall well serve for thee!"

Gudrun burst into tears at this; but Ortwin said reprovingly: "Nay, dear mother, thou shouldst not speak thus to Ortrun. She meriteth not such anger in her grief."

And Gudrun added: "Truly, had it not been for her, I never again should have held thee in my arms!"

Then Hilda's wrath melted, and giving her hand to Ortrun, she kissed her, saying: "If this be true, thy kindness shall meet with rich reward from us."

Then Gudrun led Hildburg to her mother. "Thou must thank this maiden also," she said, "for she hath been a loyal friend to me and shared in all my troubles."

"Truly, my child," replied the Queen, "she shall not lack the reward of the faithful."

After all the other heroes had been welcomed, she led the way back to the castle, where a sumptuous repast was prepared. Hartmut was left to languish in his chains, however, and Gudrun bethought her how she might bring all to a happy issue, for she greatly desired that a lasting peace should be established between the two countries. Accordingly, the next day, after all in the castle had risen from the board, she said to Ortwin:

"Hearken, dear brother, to the counsel I would give thee, for great advantage shalt thou reap thereby. I would have thee take Ludwig's daughter Ortrun as thy wife. Truly never wilt thou find a truer heart on earth!"

"Indeed, most good and noble she doth seem to me," replied Ortwin, "but we have slain her father and her mother; methinks at my side she would know but little joy!"

"Nay, let thy love teach her to forget her sorrows," cried Gudrun.

When Ortwin had agreed to her plan, she sent for Herwig and told him what was purposed; whereat he was greatly pleased, and said: "Aye, let us make it our care that there shall evermore be peace betwixt the Normans and ourselves."

Then Gudrun went to the Queen and besought Hartmut's freedom. Hilda at first refused to grant it, but Gudrun pleaded with her mother, till at last she agreed that he should have his liberty so that he remained unarmed. Soon Hartmut entered the hall, bearing himself with his wonted pride and with undaunted courage, though he knew not whether life or death was to be his portion. But every one who saw him admired the brave hero.

"Let me speak with him apart," said Gudrun; and leading him into the embrasure of a window she began: "If thou wilt follow the counsel I would give thee, noble Hartmut, 'twill make an end of all thy troubles."

"Well do I know thy virtue, fairest princess," replied Hartmut, "and that thou wouldst counsel naught but what is right or in accordance with my honor."

"Then help us to establish peace between our houses for all time," continued Gudrun. "My brother Ortwin will wed Ortrun, and do thou take the Lady Hildburg for thy Queen. No nobler maid is there in all the land; and if thou dost make her thy wife, she will be ever true and loyal to thee, even as she was to me in my hours of sorrow."

"So be it," replied Hartmut; "if thou seest fit that thy brother should take my sister as his wife, then will I wed the noble Lady Hildburg."

Overjoyed, Gudrun hastened to make the good news known to Hildburg and Ortrun, whose hearts she already knew were well disposed to the heroes. In the presence of Queen Hilda and all the court the two happy pairs plighted their troth, and there was great rejoicing among the knights. Even old Wate laid aside his enmity and gave his hand to Hartmut and Ortrun.

Soon thereafter the nuptials were celebrated and peace was sealed between the two countries by solemn oaths. The reconciliation thus brought about by Gudrun proved of lasting benefit to the people. Her name was always spoken by them with reverence. Her courage and constancy and virtues were extolled by them, and in after days her fame was as radiant as the stars in the heavens.