Gudrun - George Upton

The Maiden and the Princely Suitor

There once lived in Denmark a mighty King named Hetel, whose fame spread far and wide. His wife Hilda bore him two children, a son and a daughter called Ortwin and Gudrun, who were endowed with such surpassing strength and beauty that as they grew to manhood and womanhood the whole country rang with their praises. Ortwin's master-in-arms was Count Wate, a hero who loved the strife and tumult of battle better than making merry with fair dames, and from him the young prince acquired skill in all knightly exercises. Gudrun grew up so tall and strong that she too could have wielded a sword with credit had such feats been seemly for a maiden, and when the brother and sister stood side by side, all who beheld them declared no sculptor could have wrought anything half so beautiful.

Princes came from far and near to seek Gudrun in marriage, but her haughty father, King Hetel, sent them all away, some departing in sorrow, others with bitterness and anger in their hearts. Among those attracted by the fame of Gudrun's beauty was Siegfried, King of Moreland, to whom seven princes did homage as their lord. With a splendid retinue he appeared at Hetel's court to sue for the hand of the maiden, only to share the fate of all her other suitors. Filled with rage and chagrin he took his departure, vowing never to rest till he had wrought vengeance on the proud monarch.

In Normandy at this time there lived a prince named Hartmut who no sooner heard of Gudrun than he too was seized with the desire to make her his wife. His mother, Queen Gerlinda, gladly assented to his wishes, for she was an overbearing and ambitious woman and longed to see her son distinguished above all the other princely wooers. But his father, King Ludwig, said to him:

"How do we know if this Gudrun be as fair as report paints her? Yet were she the very flower of maidenhood, it would profit thee little, for bethink thee how far our realm doth lie from Denmark! Never would her parents permit their only daughter to go so far from them."

Hartmut was not to be moved from his purpose by these remonstrances, however, and Gerlinda said: "Let messengers be despatched thither, and I will bestow gold upon them, besides costly apparel."

But Ludwig, foreboding evil, continued; "King Hetel and his wife Hilda are well known to me. Haughty and overbearing are they both and it is like their daughter will prove the same."

"Be that as it may," replied Hartmut, "I cannot live if Gudrun be not mine. In truth if I may not win her in peaceful fashion then will I go with an army and wrest her from them by force of arms!

Gerlinda too urged and entreated the King, till at last he yielded and consented to Hartmut's making the attempt. "As to an army," he said, "there is yet time enough for that: let us first see what may be peacefully accomplished."

Accordingly Hartmut chose sixty knights from the noblest houses in the land, to lay his suit before King Hetel; they set out forthwith, attired in rich garments, their spotless armor shining in the sun, while twelve superb sumpter horses followed, led by retainers and laden with gold and silver. Full a hundred days passed before they reached the borders of Hetel's kingdom, where they found a warlike people, most of them going about in helm and mail. They asked where the King was to be found and were shown the way to the royal castle, Hegelingen. As they rode up to it the people came flocking about them full of eager curiosity to gaze at the splendid strangers, while the King ordered sumptuous lodgings to be prepared for them.

On the twelfth day they were summoned before Hetel who, seated on a shining throne and surrounded by his vassals, received them graciously and asked their errand. One of the knights stepped forward and delivered to him the letter containing King Ludwig's suit for his son Hartmut; but scarcely had he learned its contents when his brow darkened and he cried angrily:

"Now, by my faith! doth Ludwig dare to dishonor my crown with such proposals? Let him seek a Queen for his son where'er it pleaseth him, but approach not my throne with his presumptuous desires!"

At these words there was a stir among the Norman knights, and their swords seemed to rattle in their sheaths; but they restrained themselves, and one ventured to reply: "Hartmut is well worthy to be thy son-in-law, O King! for truly there is no braver knight alive!"

Thereupon Queen Hilda, who sat beside the King, lifted her head haughtily and said: "Knowst thou not that thy prince was liegeman to my father, King Hagen, whose fame hath surely reached thine ears? And shall the son of my father's vassal lead our child homeward as his bride?"

Therewith the knights were dismissed, and the next morning they left the court. Full of hope and impatience, Hartmut looked forward to their return, but their appearance, when at last they rode into the courtyard, boded him little good. Reluctantly they made known the answer of Hetel and Hilda to his suit; whereat Ludwig foamed with rage, and Gerlinda burst into a storm of angry tears, but Hartmut asked one of the knights whether the maiden was really so beautiful as it was said.

"In truth, my lord," he replied, "so fair is she that he who once beholds her must ever bear her image in his heart."

"Now may God chastise King Hetel for the affront he hath dealt to me and to my house! But for the maiden, she shall yet be mine, I swear!"

These words gladdened Gerlinda's heart. "Ha!" she cried, trembling with passion, "may I but live to behold her here!"