Gudrun - George Upton

The Morning

When Ortwin and Herwig returned from their quest, the other heroes hastened joyfully to meet them and asked what news they brought. "Quickly summon all our comrades and then ye shall learn all," replied Ortwin. When the warriors had gathered about him in a circle he began: Fain would I leave unsaid that which I have to tell, good comrades. I have seen my sister Gudrun and her companion Hildburg."

Here one of the knights interrupted him, saying: "Make no mock of us, Sir Prince! How could that have been? Gudrun, if indeed she yet doth live, would surely be kept safe within the castle."

"Ill would it become me to make sport of gallant knights," replied Ortwin. "If you doubt my words, ask Herwig then, for he did also see her; yet, alas! 'twas in such a plight that deeply must we sorrow for her fate. We found her with Hildburg, who doth share her lot, as a washer-maiden on the shore!"

At this the heroes shed tears of grief and rage, but old Wate shouted: "Now, by the mass, this is no time for tears. Rather let us go forthwith and dye those garments crimson that Gudrun hath washed white for Hartmut and his knights!"

A council was now held to determine the best plan for attacking the castle both by land and sea.

Let me but have them once within my reach," said Wate, "and I will thank them well for what they have done to Gudrun! Hearken now to my counsel. One part of our forces must approach the castle walls by land before the dawn; this I myself will lead. The moon shines bright, and ere 'tis day we shall have the castle surrounded on every side, while in the early morning ye shall bring the rest of our warriors with the fleet to aid us from the sea."

This plan was at once agreed upon and all busied themselves with preparations for departure. Long before daybreak Wate with his force had completely surrounded the castle on the landward side. A wood concealed the horsemen, who stretched themselves out with their heads upon their shields to enjoy a brief repose. Wate had enjoined them, however, to be early astir, and linger not after the first sign of dawn. At the first sound of his hunting horn all were to seize their arms, at the second seek their steeds, and at the third they were to swing themselves into their saddles and follow the banner of the Queen, which was to be borne before them.

Herwig, Ortwin, and the other heroes meanwhile had embarked with their followers and were waiting for the dawn. Quickly the night hours passed, and the morning sun rose in splendor from the sea.

From helm and harness, spear and shield

Shot forth in dazzling ray—

A sea of fire which seemed to spring

From wood and plain and bay,

And rolling in swift circling course

About the castle lay.

Gay banners in the morning glow,

Soon waved on every height;

In majesty, like giant swans,

Upon the waters bright,

Glided the ships with sails outspread

In truth a noble sight.

One of the damsels approached Gudrun's bed, and cried, "Awaken, lady, for our knights are near!" Quickly she sprang up and hastened to the window; but when she saw the banners fluttering in the morning breeze and looked down on the thousands who were joyously pressing on to battle, she burst into tears at the thought of how many gallant heroes must fall in death that day.

Suddenly the tower warden raised his mighty voice. "Up—up! bold knights," he shouted, "up and to arms! Already have the Norman heroes slept too long!"

Gerlinda heard his cry and, springing from her bed, mounted to the battlements of the castle and gazed down tremblingly on the host. Then she hurried down to arouse King Ludwig who as yet had heard nothing of the alarm.

"Awake! awake! O King," she cried in shrill tones. "Our castle is surrounded by a mighty army, and dearly shall we have to pay this day for Gudrun's laughter!"

Ludwig bade her be silent, declaring he must see this army with his own eyes. "Yet, come what will," he said, "I am ready to meet it!" Then going to the window and looking down at the advancing host, he added: "Perchance they are but pilgrims coming hither bent on sale and barter. Call our son Hartmut, he will know."

Hartmut was already awake. He allowed his men to sleep on, however, and mounted to the battlements with Ludwig. Meanwhile the sun had lit the depths below, and when Hartmut beheld the serried ranks, he said: "These are no pilgrims, surely; they press upon us far too closely."

"Look at the banners, my son," said Ludwig, "mine eyes cannot distinguish the devices."

After a moment, Hartmut spoke: "I see one yonder that hath the look of an enemy's; aye, 'tis the banner of Karade—on a brown field waves a head of ruddy gold. These are no welcome guests, for ere that standard sinks full many a stalwart hero will have suffered death. Siegfried, who leads them, once did also woo Gudrun. The white one with the golden bars that flies beside it Wate hath unfurled. Queen Hilda gave it to him. The aged hero to the right is Frute, brother-in-arms to Wate. Yonder is Horant, who doth sing such beauteous lays. Now shall he chant for us a slumber song when we have slain the foe and would gain rest from warfare. That one with the red bars and silver sword-points is borne by Ortwin, whose father thou didst slay upon the Wulpensand; and seest thou yon banneret of sky blue silk whereon green seaweeds are emblazoned? That is the device of Herwig, King of Zealand. He thinks to win back his bride, poor fool! 'Tis not his love but death he shall embrace ere-long, forsooth! Many are there yet that I do see, but now they make ready to attack the castle. Let us also arm for the fray."

So saying Hartmut descended to the hall where his knights still slept, and shouted: "Awake, ye heroes! for the foe is at our gates! Up and arm yourselves. We surely would not show them such discourtesy as to make them wait for us before the walls!

Quickly the news spread through the castle, and arms were donned with joyous speed. No sooner did Gerlinda learn that her son was preparing to go out and meet the foe than she hastened to him and cried reprovingly: "Surely thou wilt not open the gates and put thyself in peril without reason? Have we not food for a year within the castle, so that we may endure a siege? Let the enemy dash their heads to pieces against the walls, if they will!

Hartmut was displeased at this, and said: "It is not meet, my mother, for thee to counsel warriors in such matters. Go teach thy women to embroider silk with gold and precious stones, which more befitteth thee. Or send Gudrun to the shore again to wash thy garments. Thou seest now she still hath friends to avenge her wrongs!"

But Gerlinda only redoubled her entreaties. "Nay—if thou wilt but be guided by my words, my son, then shall the foe be brought to naught before the castle and never win back her we hold captive here."

Seeing that Hartmut remained unmoved, she turned to his knights and cried: "Throw not away your lives so foolishly, but stay within and fling down stones and beams upon the enemy, or slay them with bolts from your arblasts."

Hartmut sprang up angrily: "Peace, I say! nor longer seek to counsel those who know better than thou what were best to do. Shame enough was it to me that I once did flee before them on the Wulpensand, and this stain will I to-day wipe out that my honor may once more shine as bright as gold. Aye, on the field of battle will I meet them, come what may, for rather would I there be slain than live pent up within these walls."

Gerlinda dared not gainsay him further, but turned weeping to the knights: "I beseech you, sirs, to guard my gallant son with all your power. If you but equal him in valor then surely will a splendid victory be ours!"

Now thou hast spoken well, my mother," said Hartmut, "and all who loyally stand by me to-day against the foe, shall share, I promise on my honor, in the spoils."