Nibelungs - George Upton

The Comrades

Hagen, seeing Volker not far away, called to him, and together they crossed the courtyard and seated themselves upon a stone bench which faced the Queen's palace hall. Many wondering glances followed the two mighty Burgundian heroes, and soon Kriemhild from her window beheld her foe. Whereupon a passion of grief and rage seized her, and she broke into such bitter weeping that one of her knights drew near and said:

"Most gracious Queen, make known to us what wrong cloth grieve thee so, for fain would we avenge it."

"Now, on my faith, thou speakest in good time, Sir Knight; for whoso cloth avenge this wrong of mine shall thereby earn my lifelong thanks, and well will I reward him." Then pointing to Hagen, she cried: "'T is vengeance on yon chief I seek. Most basely did he slay my lord, and for that would I have his life!"

Quickly arming themselves, sixty stout warriors declared that Hagen and Volker should die forthwith; but Kriemhild restrained them, saying: "Too few are ye to cope with yonder pair. Little ye reck of Hagen's mighty strength, though somewhat thereof doth his look bespeak. And Volker is yet mightier."

When the Huns heard this they hastened to summon more heroes to their aid, and Kriemhild said to them: "Bide ye here a space, my gallant friends, whilst I place the crown upon my head. I will confront my, foe as Queen of Huns and tax him with his crime, that you may hear from his own lips 't was he that did the deed."

When Volker saw the Queen descending the broad stairs followed by a band of heavily armed knights, he said to Hagen: "Why doth the Queen approach with such a train? Methinks they come with no good intent."

"Truly 't is with some purpose," replied Hagen. "Yet were there none save these in the land of the Huns to bar my way, then should I well, in truth, ride safely home again! But tell me, Volker, since we may come to blows, wilt thou faithfully abide by me, as I will pledge my loyal service unto thee?"

"By the mass, I will!" cried Volker, and therewith gave his strong right hand to Hagen. "Aye, though the King and all his host should come against us, yet would I stand beside thee, nor budge an inch as long as breath remained."

"God prosper thee for such knightly words!" said Hagen. "Now let them come! With Volker fighting by my side, why should I fear?"

As the long train moved slowly across the court-yard, Volker said: "Were it not well to rise and greet the Queen? 'T is but the custom of the court."

But Hagen answered wrathfully: "Wouldst thou then that I show courtesy to one I hate? Nay, as for that, forsooth, the Huns would think 't was fear that urged me to it. Keep thy seat, an thou dost love me, Volker."

Hereupon Hagen, with intent to wound the Queen in cruel fashion, lifted the great sword, Balmung, which he had borne since Siegfried's death, and laid it across his knees, where Kriemhild's gaze must straightway fall upon it. Upon the hilt there blazed a jewel, green as grass, the sheath was crimson, and the handle all of ruddy gold.

Kriemhild stood before him; and when she saw the sword that her beloved. spouse so long had borne, hot tears of anguish overflowed her eyes. Whereat a gleam of savage joy passed over Hagen's face; but Volker drew his sword nearer to him on the bench, and both heroes sat undaunted before the Queen and all her men. Then Kriemhild demanded haughtily of Hagen how he had dared come thither, knowing what he had done, and furthermore, who had sought his presence.

Whereto Hagen replied: "None, O Queen, did summon me; yet since my master was bidden by thy lord, I also am come as a true liegeman."

Hereupon Kriemhild taxed him openly with the foul deed he had done upon her lord; and Hagen turned upon her fiercely, crying: "What need have we to speak of that? Truly 't was I that slew your Siegfried, nor do I fear to own it. I am here, and any one who pleaseth may seek vengeance on me!"

"Now you have heard!" cried Kriemhild to her Hunnish knights. "He hath confessed the deed that wrought me such deep woe. Deal with him as doth best befit; nor will I question aught thereof."

But as the Huns gazed upon the two mighty champions and listened to Hagen's fierce words, they lost heart, and none would venture to attack them. They looked at one another, and one said: "' T were but certain death to assault these two!"

"Thou speakest truly," added a second, "not for whole castles of ruddy gold would I encounter Hagen! As for the other—his fiery glances bent upon us are enough. I would not care to meet the greetings of his sword."

A third said: "I know Sir Hagen of old; in two and twenty battles I have seen him fight, and many a mother's son in warfare he hath slain. Then he was but a youth, while now he is to stalwart manhood grown, and his frame cloth appear as if wrought of iron."

"Naught for his valor would I care," cried yet another; "did he not bear Siegfried's sword, and where keen Balmung once loth strike, a life is ended."

Thus argued the Huns amongst themselves, none daring to provoke the conflict; whereupon Kriemhild in bitter anger and chagrin departed, to devise some other plan, while her warriors slowly dispersed.

"Truly "said Volker, "it is even as thou sayest, friend Hagen: the Queen thirsts for vengeance. Let us to our King, lest he should need us by his side."

Therewith they arose and strode fearlessly through the midst of their foes to the outer court-yard, where they found the Burgundian princes with their knights about to proceed in stately procession to the palace hall to greet the King. Dietrich of Bern walked with Gunther, Rudiger with Giselher, while Hagen and Volker followed on behind; nor from this time were these two comrades ever seen apart. As they entered the hall, King Etzel rose from his golden throne and advanced to meet them with gracious words of welcome. Nor was there aught of guile or falsehood in his soul. With no thought of what was in the heart of his wife or wherefore her kinsmen had been summoned, he rejoiced to see so many noble guests and heroes of renown assembled at his court. Leading them to the festal board, he caused wine and mead to be poured for them in golden cups and right joyously they passed the hours till evening came.