Gudrun - George Upton




The Evil Tidings

King Hetel, who had been joined by Herwig and his warriors, still besieged the castle within whose walls Siegfried defied all their assaults. One day messengers from home arrived, and when Hetel saw them coming he hastened joyfully to meet them crying, "'Fell me quickly, good sirs, how fares it with my wife and my dear daughter Gudrun?

The messengers' glances fell as one of them said sorrowfully: "Great is the evil that hath befallen my lord! Burned are thy cities, and thy castles ruined. Full a thousand brave knights have fallen fighting for thy house. Thy treasures hath the enemy despoiled, and thy daughter Gudrun is taken captive!"

At these words the King laid hold of him fiercely, saying: "Thou speakest in frenzy, man! Who could have done this? Speak, speak, I say!

"'Twas Ludwig of Normandy and his son Hartmut, my lord," replied the messenger, who suddenly appeared before Matalan with a mighty army.

Then the King cried aloud and tore his long gray beard in anguish. Quickly the news spread through the camp, and the heroes Herwig and Wate, Irolt, Frute, and Horand, hastened to his side. In bitter grief he cried:

"To you, faithful comrades, I pour out my woe!

On my house bath dire evil been wrought by the foe:

Alas! but ill-guarded we left our own shore,

Its gallant defenders shall guard it no more.

My castles are ruined, my country laid waste,

My liegemen lie slaughtered, my daughter disgraced;

In bondage, alas! must that noble maid sigh

Whom I to the Norman as bride did deny!"

Tears streamed down Herwig's cheeks when he heard these dreadful tidings, and all were moved by the grief of the father and lover of Gudrun. Count Wate alone remained calm.

"Take heart, my lords," he said, "for the day shall yet come when our sorrow will he turned to joy again. Cease these laments, I pray, lest Siegfried hear the sound thereof and take delight in your affliction."

Hetel strove to regain his composure and asked mournfully what was to be done. Wate replied: "Now must we press Siegfried so closely on all sides that he will gladly seize an offer of alliance with us. This done, we shall have his aid and be free to pursue the base marauders!

This counsel cheered all the knights, and the next morning they began such a furious assault on the castle as Siegfried never yet had been forced to endure. After many knights on both sides had fallen, Irolt shouted up to the walls: "If thou wouldst have peace with us then ask it of King Hetel, else shall no man of you go back alive to his own land!"

Siegfried answered: "I may not in honor sue for peace to any man. And thinkest thou to conquer us? T' is but more heroes sent to death on either side."

Then Frute raised his voice and said: "Swear thou wilt ever abide by us with loyal service, and thou mayst go hence in peace." And Siegfried, together with all his knights, raised their hands and swore it.

Then the gates of the castle were thrown open, Siegfried and Hetel clasped hands, and the rest of the heroes did the same; so all were friends who but a short time before had been fighting to the death. Hetel now opened his heart to Siegfried and told him of the calamity that had befallen them.

And Siegfried said to Herwig:

"Even as I have hated thee, that thou didst win the love of Gudrun, whom I too would fain have wed, so now will I loyally aid thee to win her back from Hartmut. Had ye not burned my ships, then might we have pursued the Norman thieves without delay."

"There is a band of pilgrims near the shore," said Wate, "with ten large ships and many smaller vessels. These they must lend us, whether they will or no!"

This plan was hailed with joy. Taking with him an hundred knights, Wate forthwith brought the ships to land, while the pilgrims, whose treasures were safely stored on shore, were pacified with promises of a speedy return. The next morning Hetel, with all his companions and followers, embarked, and a favoring wind soon bore them out to sea.