Gudrun - George Upton




On the Wulpensand

All this time Gudrun's mother, Queen Hilda, as well as her lover, brother, and all her friends, supposed that Hartmut had forced her to become his wife; but none the less were they firmly resolved to avenge the outrage and bring her home again. With this in view the Queen had seven large strong vessels built, and two and twenty smaller ships; a vast store of armor and weapons was also made ready, and at last one day she summoned old Irolt to the castle and told him it was her wish to erect a cloister on the Wulpensand in honor of her dead husband, and after this was done, her loyal subjects should undertake the voyage to Normandy.

"The day of retribution is in truth at hand, O Queen!" replied Irolt, "for a brave and stalwart generation hath grown to manhood; methinks 'twere well to summon forthwith thy friends from far and near."

The Queen was rejoiced and hastened to send messengers first of all to Herwig of Zealand, who welcomed them gladly, for he surmised their errand.

"Most noble Herwig," said they, "the time has come to avenge Queen Hilda's wrong, and in this she counts upon thy aid."

"Nor have I forgotten Gudrun, who was pledged to me in solemn troth and whom Hartmut, in defiance of all right and custom hath held captive all these years. Say to thy Queen I will join her speedily with my knights, and that never yet was war so welcome to my heart."

Then the messengers bore the news to the Queen's other friends and allies, to Horant, Morung, Frute, and Wate, and all promised to be ready. When Hilda heard this she sent for her son Ortwin, who long had yearned for this day to come. He was in the forest hawking when the messengers arrived, and rode eagerly to meet them. They soon made known to him what had passed, whereupon he snatched the hood from the falcon's head and let it go free, for now, thought he, "'tis a question of that higher game, for which I have longed so often." Joyfully he hurried to his mother and sent out word to his followers to assemble with all haste.

Swift messengers the tidings bore

With speed throughout the land;

Ended were now the sounds of woe,

Each warrior grasped his brand.

The battle steeds were panoplied,

The flags their folds outflung,

While all along the western shore,

Forests of masts upsprung.

At last all the preparations were complete, and the heroes sought Queen Hilda and prayed her for leave to depart on their journey. Invoking God's blessing upon them she bade them farewell, and, after a last tearful embrace of her son, turned to them, saying: "Watch over him faithfully, my loyal friends! Brave and valiant I well know him to be; yet he is but young and inexperienced in warfare. Keep ever at his side, therefore, should he press forward too boldly in the tumult of battle."

The heroes boarded the ships, already laden with their arms and stores, while a great throng of people gathered on the shore to watch their departure. The anchors were weighed, the white sails shaken out, and, aided by a favoring gale, the fleet put out to sea. Women waved farewells to their departing husbands; from the ships arose the sound of trumpet and drum, while the heroes lustily chanted a war song as out they sailed farther and farther into the shining sea. Wate took the lead and steered the fleet for the Wulpensand. After a voyage of several days the green island appeared before them; but before they could reach it a great storm arose. Mountainous waves came rushing down upon them, the ribs of the ships creaked and groaned, and the tall masts bent under the fury of the gale. Dark as night it grew, while red lightning flashes darted from the inky clouds and seemed to strike the water.

"Hark!" cried Horant. "Dost hear that sound of wailing? Methinks King Hetel finds no rest in his unconsecrated grave."

These words fired Ortwin with desire to carry peace to his father's soul, and tearing a cross from the mast he leaped with it into the boiling flood which closed angrily over him. His comrades gave him up for lost, but soon, by the glare of the lightning, they saw him rise to the surface, and parting the waves with strong arms, he succeeded, by God's mercy, in gaining the shore of the Wulpensand. There he planted the cross upon the mound that marked the warrior's place of burial, and knelt in prayer beside it. As the vivid flashes revealed the noble form of the beautiful youth to those upon the ship, he seemed like a heavenly vision, bathed in the fiery glow. The sight restored the sinking courage of many a knight, and with new strength they bent to the work of battling with the waves. Soon the thunder lessened, the wind died away, and, as the golden sunlight broke again from out the clouds, their vessels reached the shore in safety.

For many days the heroes remained on the island praying for the souls of the departed, for few were t here in all the host who had not some kin or friend to mourn among the slain. The thought of these served to steel their courage, and as Siegfried, who had been reminded of his oath, had by this time joined them with a large number of ships and men, the whole fleet put out again to sea.