Gudrun - George Upton




The Two Knights

Beyond the royal castle the coast was thickly wooded for a long distance, and there the fleet from Hegelingen had lain concealed for two days, having reached Normandy at last after their long and tedious voyage. The horses were led ashore to stretch their stiffened limbs, and all was made ready for the approaching struggle. Wate charged his men to see that the fastenings of helm and hauberk were well secured, adding: "If there be any whose shirt of mail too loosely sits upon him, he may choose another, for Queen Hilda has provided five hundred fresh suits of armor and each good knight may claim one as his due."

The heroes then held a council and Ortwin said: "Frute hath seen seven castles from the tree on yonder hill; but which of them is Ludwig's and Hartmut's stronghold? We first assail that, and before the battle we must also learn where Gudrun and the other maidens abide."

"Spies must be sent out," declared Frute. Whereupon Ortwin announced that he would be a spy and go in quest of what they wished to learn. All protested against this plan, but the young hero said firmly, "Mine is the task of right, since Gudrun is my sister."

"'Tis true she is thy sister, brother Ortwin," said Herwig, but also is she my betrothed. Therefore I will go with thee."

This did not please Wate, and finding they were not to be moved from their purpose, he grew very wroth. "This is but childish folly!" he cried, "and never will I agree to it. 'Twould be bad enough were one of our knights to be seized by Hartmut's people, but how would it fare with you, did such befall?"

"We must shrink from no danger when Gudrun's rescue is at stake," replied Herwig; "nor would any in all the army be so zealous in her cause as we ourselves. Wherefore gainsay us not, good Wate, for thou canst not alter our determination."

Then, summoning the foremost of their comrades, they charged them to fulfil faithfully the oaths they had sworn. Mark well my words, bold warriors!" said Ortwin; "should we be captured and held for ransom, sell all your lands and goods, if need be, to secure our freedom. But if they slay us, then avenge our death as befitteth true comrades; and above all, I charge you, spare no effort to deliver Gudrun and those other unhappy maidens."

To this they all pledged themselves and gave the princes their hands upon the promise, vowing never to rest till Gudrun was restored to her home. Then Ortwin and Herwig took leave of their comrades, stepped into a boat and pushed off, followed by many an anxious glance. Keeping close to the shore, they had rowed almost to the nearest castle when, rounding a wooded point, they beheld two maidens on the strand. At the sight of the approaching knights Gudrun was seized with mingled joy and fear.

"These must be the warriors of whom we were told!" she said. "Yet how can I endure the shame of it, should any messenger from my friends find me in this wretched plight? Tell me, I pray thee, dear Hildburg, what I shall do,—remain here at my shameful task, or seek refuge in flight?"

"Surely thou knowest best what is befitting," replied Hildburg. "Choose therefore quickly, and "I will do as thou sayst." And with that, Gudrun turned and fled.

When the heroes saw the maidens disappearing they hastily leaped ashore, for they had hoped to gain some information from them. "Why do ye flee from us, fair maids?" they cried; "surely we mean you no harm. Come back! or ye shall lose all the costly garments that lie here upon the shore!"

But the maidens paid no heed. Then Herwig shouted: "I charge you in the name of woman's honor to reply to us!"

At this the tears started to Gudrun's eyes. "Alas!" she cried, "have we ever forgotten aught that is due to woman's honor? No longer will I seek to flee!" and therewith she returned to the shore followed by Hildburg. The knights gazed at them in astonishment; for in spite of their long and arduous labors they still retained their proud and lofty bearing, though so scantily clad that they shivered in the chill March snow falling about them.

"Fear not," said Ortwin. "May God chastise any that would deal evilly by you! But methinks ye are more fit to wear crowns than thus to toil beside the shore. Hath your master other washer-maidens so fair as ye?"

"In yonder castle are many maidens more beautiful than we, "replied Gudrun. "Yet, I pray thee, sir, permit us to return to our task, for should our mistress see us idle it would fare ill with us."

Then Ortwin offered them four golden rings, saying: "Nay, be not angry at our words, but take these rings. They shall be yours if ye will but answer truthfully the questions we would ask."

Gudrun shook her head. "We may take no gifts from ye, fair sirs," she answered, "yet put your questions quickly, for we must not stay. If it were known at the castle that we had talked with you, we should pay dearly for it."

"First tell us, then," said Herwig, "to whom may all these rich lands and castles belong?"

"King Ludwig is lord of this land, and in yonder castle holds his court," replied Gudrun.

Herwig asked if Hartmut was then at home, and Gudrun answered: "He is even now within the castle, and with him full four thousand of his knights."

The maidens would fain have departed, yet they were loath to leave the strangers, whose speech reminded them so much of home.

"We would learn further," said Ortwin, "wherefore Hartmut hath so many knights assembled at the castle. Is he perchance at feud with some neighboring country and seeking to guard himself against attack?

"Of that I know naught," replied Gudrun; but after a pause she added: "Yet there is one, a far distant land whose power Hartmut well might fear. It is called Hegelingen." As the name of the fatherland passed her lips tears streamed down the maiden's cheeks and she turned away to hide them.

When the heroes saw how the damsels shook with cold they hastily offered their cloaks, but Gudrun refused them, saying: "May God reward your kindness, gentle sirs, but none shall ever see me in man's attire."

Thereupon Herwig looked more closely at her, and a sigh escaped him as he seemed to see a likeness to the fair betrothed whom he supposed to have been forced to become Hartmut's wife, little thinking that she now stood before him.

Again Ortwin questioned her: "Were not some noble damsels once brought hither from a distant land? One of them was called Gudrun."

"Alas, 'tis true!" she answered. "Well do I know her whom thou namest. She came as Hartmut's captive, and much hath the poor maid been forced to bear."

At this the heroes cried with one voice: "Tell us quickly, damsel, where we may find her!"

"If indeed it be she ye seek, then never shall ye find her more on earth," said Gudrun. "Of grief and suffering is she dead and lieth deep beneath the flowery sod."

Herwig covered his eyes with his hand, while Ortwin turned away and leaned upon his sword, shaking his head sorrowfully.

Then Gudrun cried: "Why are ye so moved by this news, sir knights? Your breasts heave as they would burst your mail asunder! 'Twould almost seem that ye were kin to that poor maid."

Herwig could no longer contain his grief, but wrung his hands and cried aloud: "Alas, noble damsels, she was more than life to me! My bride, betrothed to me by solemn vows when Hartmut treacherously did steal her from her home!"

"Thy words are false!" cried Gudrun. "Thou art not Herwig! He would long since have sought to deliver her; or were she no more, then at the least her unhappy women, one of whom am I!"

"Nay, by my faith, 'tis truth I speak!" said Herwig. "If thou indeed art one of Gudrun's maidens, then wilt thou know this ring upon my finger, for 'twas a gift from her, who once did wear it."

Then Gudrun's eyes shone like stars and her cheeks flushed. "Well do I know both gold and jewel," she said, "for it was I that wore the ring!" And raising her own hand, she added: "Perchance thou knowst this also; 'twas Herwig placed it on my finger!"

Now at last brother and sister, bridegroom and bride, knew one another and wept together in mingled joy and sorrow. Still supposing her to be Hartmut's wife, Ortwin at length asked Gudrun how she, a Queen, chanced to be in such wretched plight and forced to perform such menial tasks.

Weeping she answered: "How couldst thou think, my brother, that I would wed King Hartmut? Ever have I remained true to my plighted troth and therefore am I forced to bear much evil."

"Well indeed have we succeeded in our task!" cried Herwig. "Come let us hasten to the boat and thy maiden with thee. Our fleet is close at hand and we will guide thee thither. Now of a truth are all thy sorrows ended!"

"This may not be," replied Ortwin, "dear as my sister is to me. Aye, had I an hundred sisters like to Gudrun I would lose them every one, rather than steal them thus away like any thief!"

"Yet bethink thee how Gudrun's danger will increase when our presence here is known," remonstrated Herwig. "Perchance we shall never find her then!"

"Have no fear, Herwig!" answered Ortwin. "Though my sister be buried in their deepest dungeon—thou still shalt see her on the morrow. Yet even should it be otherwise, I would be hacked to pieces with her on this spot ere she should with my consent be taken away in secret!"

Gudrun said reproachfully: "What evil have I done to thee, my brother, that thou wouldst leave me longer in servitude? Didst thou know what I am forced to bear, thou wouldst take me hence this very hour!"

"Think not, dear sister," replied Ortwin, "that I fail in love for thee. But to do thus, believe me, were no knightly deed."

Reluctantly Herwig agreed with Ortwin in this and they accordingly took leave of the maidens any returned to their boat. Gudrun wept bitterly crying: "Alas! are my troubles never to cease For years have I waited and longed for this, only to be once more forsaken when I scarce have looked upon your faces?"

"'Tis but for a brief space that we leave the dearest maid," cried Herwig from the boat, "that we may bear thee homeward in all honor. To-morrow morn at sunrise we shall be before the castle with a host. Be of good cheer and let no one know that thou hast seen us. God will be of aid!"

So saying, they seized their oars, and soon the boat was lost to sight behind the bend in the shore.