Nibelungs - George Upton

The Night of Terror

Not long were the Burgundians to enjoy repose, however, for fresh bodies of Huns came pouring in from all sides, and soon Etzel and Kriemhild had mustered another force; nor was it easy to repel them, by reason of their great numbers.

The onslaught and defence did last

Till hindered by the night.

Those dauntless guests beyond all praise

With Etzel's men did fight

The whole of one long Summer's day—

So do the legends tell—

Hella! what thousands of brave men

By Burgund weapons fell.

Thus night came on, and gladly would the war-worn heroes have sought a speedy death. Their thoughts also turned toward peace, and they made known to the Huns that they would have speech with the King. Word was sent to Etzel, and he forthwith appeared, with Kriemhild, before the palace, upon the stairway of which stood the three princes in their blood-stained armor, and behind them Hagen and Volker and Dankwart.

Then Etzel spoke: "What would ye have with me? 'T were vain to sue for peace, for never so long as I have breath shall it be granted to those who so cruelly have slain my only child and many of my kin!"

Gunther answered that it had been forced upon them, while Giselher, turning to the Huns, cried out:

"What charge against me do ye bring? Did I not come hither in all peace and friendship to your land?"

The knights replied: "Already bath such friendship cost us dear! Full many a widowed wife and orphaned child have bitter cause to wish thou ne'er hadst left the Rhine!"

Again Gunther sought to make peace; but Etzel would hear naught thereof. "Your griefs are not as mine," he said, "for to my loss is added shame; nor may it be effaced save with your blood. Wherefore, I say, not one of you shall depart hence with his life!

Then said the youthful Giselher:

"O beauteous sister mine,

I little treachery feared when thou

Didst bid me cross the Rhine.

"To thee I've ever faithful been,

Nor grief nor sorrow wrought,

Believing that thou heldst me dear,

To bring thee joy I sought.

Nor can I think thou'lt wish me ill;

Be still my sister true!

With kindly judgment look on us,

Sure less thou canst not do."

Once more a ray of love warmed Kriemhild's sorely wounded heart, and she replied:

"Now if Sir Hagen you'll agree

Into my hands to give,

Then will I not refuse to grant

That ye three all shall live;

Since ye in truth my brethren are

And from one mother spring,

Of further mercy I'll consult

With those about the King"

"Now, Heaven forbid!" cried Gernot. "Far rather death than such disloyalty!"

And Giselher said: "Never yet did I break faith with comrade, nor will I fail to-day in knightly duty."

Thus was the last spark of affection extinguished in Kriemhild's bosom. She no longer felt pity even for her own kin, since they had refused to deliver over to her the slayer of her Siegfried and her child. Summoning the Huns, she bade them fire the palace on all sides.

Now was it in truth a night of terror for the Burgundians. Blazing shafts flew on to the roof, and soon it was wrapped in flame. Thick smoke and fiery vapors filled the hall, and the heroes suffered tortures. Gladly would they have welcomed a swift death in battle. Many called on God to pity their distress, and one knight cried out woefully for a drop of water. Hagen shouted: "Keep to the walls, my comrades, and raise your shields aloft!"

And still that dauntless hero, with the brave Volker, kept unceasing watch before the door. At daybreak Volker said to Hagen: "Let us within, and then perchance the watchful Huns will think we have perished."

And so in truth did Etzel and Queen Kriemhild now believe. Yet still six hundred of them were alive. When this news was brought to Kriemhild she caused a great store of gold to be brought and divided among the Huns, with which to spur their valor. Thereupon a thousand of the boldest rushed to the assault; but though many of the Burgundians too were slain, not one of Kriemhild's warriors came forth from that dread hall of death to claim his gold.