The Nibelungenlied
By George Henry Needler, Translator

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Public Domain Books

Thirty-Seventh Adventure - How the Margrave Ruediger was Slain


At morning light the strangers / had wrought high deed of fame,
When the spouse of Gotelinde / unto the courtyard came.
To behold on both sides / such woe befallen there,
Might not refrain from weeping / sorely the faithful Ruediger.


“O woe is me!” exclaimed he, / “that ever I was born.
Alack that this great sorrow / no hand from us may turn!
Though I be ne’er so willing, / the king no peace will know,
For he beholds his sorrow / ever great and greater grow.”


Then did the kindly Ruediger / unto Dietrich send,
If to the lofty monarchs / they yet might truce extend.
The knight of Bern gave message: / “How might such thing be?
For ne’er the royal Etzel / granteth to end it peacefully.”


When a Hunnish warrior / saw standing Ruediger
As from eyes sore weeping / fell full many a tear,
To his royal mistress spake he: / “Behold how stands he there
With whom here by Etzel / none other may in might compare,


“And who commandeth service / of lands and people all.
How many lordly castles / Ruediger his own doth call,
That unto him hath given / the bounty of the king!
Not yet in valorous conflict / saw’st thou here his sword to swing.


“Methinks, but little recks he, / what may here betide,
Since now in fullest measure / his heart is satisfied.
’Tis told he is, surpassing / all men, forsooth, so keen,
But in this time of trials / his valor ill-displayed hath been.”


Stood there full of sorrow / the brave and faithful man,
Yet whom he thus heard speaking / he cast his eyes upon.
Thought he: “Thou mak’st atonement, / who deem’st my mettle cold.
Thy thought here all too loudly / hast thou unto the people told.”


His fist thereat he doubled / and upon him ran,
And smote with blow so mighty / there King Etzel’s man
That prone before him straightway / fell that mocker dead.
So came but greater sorrow / on the royal Etzel’s head.


“Hence thou basest caitiff," / cried then Ruediger;
“Here of pain and sorrow / enough I have to bear.
Wherefore wilt thou taunt me / that I the combat shun?
In sooth had I the utmost / of harm upon the strangers done,


“For that good reason have I / to bear them hate indeed,
But that myself the warriors / as friends did hither lead.
Yea, was I their safe escort / into my master’s land;
So may I, man most wretched, / ne’er raise against them hostile hand.”


Then spake the lofty Etzel / unto the margrave:
“What aid, O noble Ruediger, / here at thy hands we have!
Our country hath so many / already doomed to die,
We need not any other: / now hast thou wrought full wrongfully.”


Returned the knight so noble: / “My heart he sore hath grieved,
And reproached me for high honors / at thy hand received
And eke for gifts unto me / by thee so freely made;
Dearly for his slander / hath the base traducer paid.”


When had the queen come hither / and had likewise seen
How on the Hunnish warrior / his wrath had vented been,
Incontinent she mourned it, / and tears bedimmed her sight.
Spake she unto Ruediger: / “How dost thou now our love requite,


“That for me and thy master / thou bring’st increase of woe?
Now hast thou, noble Ruediger, / ever told us so,
How that thou life and honor / for our sake wouldst dare.
Eke heard I thanes full many / proclaim thee knight beyond compare.


“Of the oath I now remind thee / that thou to me didst swear,
When counsel first thou gavest / to Etzel’s land to fare,
That thou wouldst truly serve me / till one of us were dead:
Of that I wretched woman / never stood so sore in need.”


“Nor do I, royal mistress, / deny that so I sware
That I for thy well-being / would life and honor dare:
But eke my soul to forfeit, / –that sware I not indeed.
’Tis I thy royal brothers / hither to this land did lead.”


Quoth she: “Bethink thee, Ruediger, / of thy fidelity
And oath once firmly plighted / that aught of harm to me
Should ever be avenged, / and righted every ill."
Replied thereto the margrave: / “Ne’er have I failed to work thy will.”


Etzel the mighty monarch / to implore him then began,
And king and queen together / down knelt before their man,
Whereat the good margrave / was seen in sorest plight,
And gan to mourn his station / in piteous words the faithful knight.


“O woe is me most wretched," / he sorrow-stricken cried,
“That forced I am my honor / thus to set aside,
And bonds of faith and friendship / God hath imposed on me.
O Thou that rul’st in heaven! / come death, I cannot yet be free.


“Whate’er it be my effort / to do or leave undone,
I break both faith and honor / in doing either one;
But leave I both, all people / will cry me worthy scorn.
May He look down in mercy / who bade me wretched man be born!”


With many a prayer besought him / the king and eke his spouse,
Wherefore was many a warrior / soon doomed his life to lose
At hand of noble Ruediger, / when eke did die the thane.
Now hear ye how he bore him, / though filled his heart with sorest pain.


He knew how scathe did wait him / and boundless sorrowing,
And gladly had refused / to obey the king
And eke his royal mistress. / Full sorely did he fear,
That if one stranger slew he, / the scorn of all the world he’d bear.


Then spake unto the monarch / the full gallant thane:
“O royal sire, whatever / thou gavest, take again,
The land and every castle, / that naught remain to me.
On foot a lonely pilgrim / I’ll wander to a far country.”


Thereto replied King Etzel: / “Who then gave help to me?
My land and lordly castles / give I all to thee,
If on my foes, O Ruediger, / revenge thou wilt provide.
A mighty monarch seated, / shalt thou be by Etzel’s side.”


Again gave answer Ruediger: / “How may that ever be?
At my own home shared they / my hospitality.
Meat and drink I offered / to them in friendly way,
And gave them of my bounty: / how shall I seek them here to slay ?


“The folk belike will fancy / that I a coward be.
Ne’er hath faithful service / been refused by me
Unto the noble princes / and their warriors too;
That e’er I gained their friendship, / now ’tis cause for me to rue.


“For spouse unto Sir Giselher / gave I a daughter mine,
Nor into fairer keeping / might I her resign,
Where truth were sought and honor / and gentle courtesy:
Ne’er saw I thane so youthful / virtuous in mind as he.”


Again gave answer Kriemhild: / “O noble Ruediger,
To me and royal Etzel / in mercy now give ear
For sorrows that o’erwhelm us. / Bethink thee, I implore,
That monarch never any / harbored so evil guests before.”


Spake in turn the margrave / unto the monarch’s wife:
“Ruediger requital / must make to-day with life
For that thou and my master / did me so true befriend.
Therefore must I perish; / now must my service find an end.


“E’en this day, well know I, / my castles and my land
Must surely lose their master / beneath a stranger’s hand.
To thee my wife and children / commend I for thy care,
And with all the lorn ones / that wait by Bechelaren’s towers fair.”


“Now God reward thee, Ruediger," / thereat King Etzel quoth.
He and the queen together, / right joyful were they both.
“To us shall all thy people / full commended be;
Eke trow I by my fortune / no harm shall here befall to thee.”


For their sake he ventured / soul and life to lose.
Thereat fell sore to weeping / the royal Etzel’s spouse.
He spake: “I must unto you / my plighted word fulfil.
Alack! beloved strangers, / whom to assail forbids my will.”


From the king there parting / ye saw him, sad of mood,
And passed unto his warriors / who at small distance stood.
“Don straightway now your armor, / my warriors all,” quoth he.
“Alas! must I to battle / with the valiant knights of Burgundy.”


Then straightway for their armor / did the warriors call.
A shining helm for this one, / for that a shield full tall
Soon did the nimble squires / before them ready hold.
Anon came saddest tidings / unto the stranger warriors bold.


With Ruediger there saw ye / five hundred men arrayed,
And noble thanes a dozen / that came unto his aid,
Thinking in storm of battle / to win them honor high.
In sooth but little knew they / how death awaited them so nigh.


With helm on head advancing / saw ye Sir Ruediger.
Swords that cut full keenly / the margrave’s men did bear,
And eke in hand each carried / a broad shield shining bright.
Boundless was the Fiddler’s / sorrow to behold the sight.


When saw the youthful Giselher / his bride’s sire go
Thus with fastened helmet, / how might he ever know
What he therewith did purpose / if ’twere not only good?
Thereat the noble monarchs / right joyous might ye see of mood.


“I joy for friends so faithful," / spake Giselher the thane,
“As on our journey hither / we for ourselves did gain.
Full great shall be our vantage / that I found spouse so dear,
And high my heart rejoiceth / that plighted thus to wed we were.”


“Small cause I see for comfort," / thereto the minstrel spake.
“When saw ye thanes so many / come a truce to make
With helmet firmly fastened / and bearing sword in hand?
By scathe to us will Ruediger / service do for tower and land.”


The while that thus the Fiddler / had spoken to the end,
His way the noble Ruediger / unto the hall did wend.
His trusty shield he rested / on the ground before his feet,
Yet might he never offer / his friends in kindly way to greet.


Loudly the noble margrave / cried into the hall:
“Now guard you well, ye valiant / Nibelungen all.
From me ye should have profit: / now have ye harm from me.
But late we plighted friendship: / broken now these vows must be.”


Then quailed to hear such tidings / those knights in sore distress,
For none there was among them / but did joy the less
That he would battle with them / for whom great love they bore.
At hand of foes already / had they suffered travail sore.


“Now God in heaven forfend it," / there King Gunther cried,
“That from mercy to us / thou so wilt turn aside,
And the faithful friendship / whereof hope had we.
I trow in sooth that never / may such thing be done by thee.”


“Desist therefrom I may not," / the keen knight made reply,
“But now must battle with you, / for vow thereto gave I.
“Now guard you, gallant warriors, / as fear ye life to lose:
From plighted vow release me / will nevermore King Etzel’s spouse.”


“Too late thou turnst against us," / spake King Gunther there.
“Now might God requite thee, / O noble Ruediger,
For the faith and friendship / thou didst on us bestow,
If thou a heart more kindly / even to the end wouldst show.


“We’d ever make requital / for all that thou didst give,–
I and all my kinsmen, / wouldst thou but let us live,–
For thy gifts full stately, / as faithfully thou here
To Etzel’s land didst lead us: / know that, O noble Ruediger.”


“To me what pleasure were it," / Ruediger did say,
“With full hand of my treasure / unto you to weigh
And with a mind right willing / as was my hope to do!
Thus might no man reproach me / with lack of courtesy to you.”


“Turn yet, O noble Ruediger." / Gernot spake again,
“For in so gracious manner / did never entertain
Any host the stranger, / as we were served by thee;
And live we yet a little, / shall thou well requited be.”


“O would to God, full noble / Gernot,” spake Ruediger,
“That ye were at Rhine river / and that dead I were
With somewhat saved of honor, / since I must be your foe!
Upon good knights was never / wrought by friends more bitter woe.”


“Now God requite thee, Ruediger," / Gernot gave reply,
“For gifts so fair bestowed. / I rue to see thee die,
For that in thee shall perish / knight of so gentle mind.
Here thy sword I carry, / that gav’st thou me in friendship kind.


“It never yet hath failed me / in this our sorest need,
And ’neath its cutting edges / many a knight lies dead.
’Tis strong and bright of lustre, / cunning wrought and well.
I ween, whate’er was given / by knight it doth in worth excel.


“An wilt thou not give over / upon us here to fall,
And if one friend thou slayest / here yet within this hall,
With this same sword thou gavest, / I’ll take from thee thy life.
I sorrow for thee Ruediger, / and eke thy fair and stately wife.”


“Would God but give, Sir Gernot, / that such thing might be,
That thou thy will completely / here fulfilled mightst see,
And of thy friends not any / here his life should lose!
Yea, shalt thou live to comfort / both my daughter and my spouse.”


Then out spake of Burgundy / the son of Ute fair:
“How dost thou so, Sir Ruediger? / All that with me are
To thee are well disposed. / Thou dost an evil thing,
And wilt thine own fair daughter / to widowhood too early bring.


“If thou with armed warriors / wilt thus assail me here,
In what unfriendly manner / thou makest to appear
How that in thee I trusted / beyond all men beside,
When thy fairest daughter / erstwhile I won to be my bride.”


“Thy good faith remember, / O Prince of virtue rare,
If God from hence do bring thee," / –so spake Ruediger:
“Forsake thou not the maiden / when bereft of me,
But rather grant thy goodness / be dealt to her more graciously.”


“That would I do full fairly," / spake Giselher again.
“But if my lofty kinsmen, / who yet do here remain,
Beneath thy hand shall perish, / severed then must be
The friendship true I cherish / eke for thy daughter and for thee.”


“Then God to us give mercy," / the knight full valiant spake.
Their shields in hand then took they, / as who perforce would make
Their passage to the strangers / into Kriemhild’s hall.
Adown the stair full loudly / did Hagen, knight of Tronje, call:


“Tarry yet a little, / O noble Ruediger,
For further would we parley," / –thus might ye Hagen hear–
“I and my royal masters, / as presseth sorest need.
What might it boot to Etzel / that we strangers all lay dead.


“Great is here my trouble," / Hagen did declare:
“The shield that Lady Gotelinde / gave to me to bear
Hath now been hewn asunder / by Hun-men in my hand.
With friendly thought I bore it / hither into Etzel’s land.


“Would that God in heaven / might grant in kindliness,
That I a shield so trusty / did for my own possess
As in thy hand thou bearest, / O noble Ruediger!
In battle-storm then need I / never hauberk more to wear.”


“Full glad I’d prove my friendship / to thee with mine own shield,
Dared I the same to offer / before Lady Kriemhild.
But take it, natheless, Hagen, / and bear it in thy hand.
Would that thou mightst take it / again unto Burgundian land!”


When with mind so willing / he offered him his shield,
Saw ye how eyes full many / with scalding tears were filled;
For the last gift was it / that was offered e’er
Unto any warrior / by Bechelaren’s margrave, Ruediger.


How grim soe’er was Hagen / and stern soe’er of mind,
That gift to pity moved him / that there the chieftain kind,
So near his latest moment, / did on him bestow.
From eyes of many another / began likewise the tears to flow.


“Now God in heaven requite thee, / O noble Ruediger!
Like unto thee none other / warrior was there e’er,
Unto knights all friendless / so bounteously to give.
God grant in his mercy / thy virtue evermore to live.


“Woe’s me to hear such tiding," / Hagen did declare.
“Such load of grief abiding / already do we bear,
If we with friends must struggle, / to God our plaint must be."
Thereto replied the margrave: / “’Tis cause of sorrow sore to me.”


“To pay thee for thy favor, / O noble Ruediger,
Howe’er these lofty warriors / themselves against thee bear,
Yet never thee in combat / here shall touch my hand,
E’en though complete thou slayest / them from out Burgundian land.”


Thereat the lofty Ruediger / ’fore him did courteous bend.
On all sides was lamenting / that no man might end
These so great heart-sorrows / that sorely they must bear.
The father of all virtue / fell with noble Ruediger.


Then eke the minstrel Volker / from hall down glancing said:
“Since Hagen thus, my comrade, / peace with thee hath made,
Lasting truce thou likewise / receivest from my hand.
Well hast thou deserved it / as fared we hither to this land.


“Thou, O noble margrave, / my messenger shalt be.
These arm-bands ruddy golden / thy lady gave to me,
That here at this high festival / I the same should wear.
Now mayst thyself behold them / and of my faith a witness bear.”


“Would God but grant," / spake Ruediger, “who ruleth high in heaven,
That to thee by my lady / might further gift be given!
I’ll gladly tell thy tidings / to spouse full dear to me,
An I but live to see her: / from doubt thereof thou mayst be free.”


When thus his word was given, / his shield raised Ruediger.
Nigh to madness driven / bode he no longer there,
But ran upon the strangers / like to a valiant knight.
Many a blow full rapid / smote the margrave in his might.


Volker and Hagen / made way before the thane,
As before had promised / to him the warriors twain.
Yet found he by the portal / so many a valiant man
That Ruediger the combat / with mickle boding sore began.


Gunther and Gernot / with murderous intent
Let him pass the portal, / as knights on victory bent.
Backward yielded Giselher, / with sorrow all undone;
He hoped to live yet longer, / and therefore Ruediger would shun.


Straight upon their enemies / the margrave’s warriors sprung,
And following their master / was seen a valiant throng.
Swords with cutting edges / did they in strong arm wield,
’Neath which full many a helmet / was cleft, and many a fair wrought


The weary strangers likewise / smote many a whirring slash,
Wherefrom the men of Bechelaren / felt deep and long the gash
Through the shining ring-mail / e’en to their life’s core.
In storm of battle wrought they / glorious deeds a many more.


All his trusty followers / now eke had gained the hall,
On whom Volker and Hagen / did soon in fury fall,
And mercy unto no man / save Ruediger they showed.
The blood adown through helmets, / where smote their swords, full
      plenteous flowed.


How right furiously / were swords ’gainst armor driven!
On shields the well-wrought mountings / from their wards were riven,
And fell their jewelled facings / all scattered in the blood.
Ne’er again might warriors / show in fight so grim a mood.


The lord of Bechelaren / through foemen cut his way,
As doth each doughty warrior / in fight his might display.
On that day did Ruediger / show full plain that he
A hero was undaunted, / full bold and eke full praiseworthy.


Stood there two knights right gallant, / Gunther and Gernot,
And in the storm of battle / to death full many smote.
Eke Giselher and Dankwart, / never aught recked they
How many a lusty fighter / saw ’neath their hand his latest day.


Full well did show him Ruediger / a knight of mettle true,
Doughty in goodly armor. / What warriors there he slew!
Beheld it a Burgundian, / and cause for wrath was there.
Not longer now was distant / the death of noble Ruediger.


Gernot, knight full doughty, / addressed the margrave then,
Thus speaking to the hero: / “Wilt thou of all my men
Living leave not any, / O noble Ruediger?
That gives me grief unmeasured; / the sight I may not longer bear.


“Now must thy gift unto me / prove thy sorest bane,
Since of my friends so many / thou from me hast ta’en.
Now hither turn to front me, / thou bold and noble knight:
As far as might may bear me / I trust to pay thy gift aright.”


Ere that full the margrave / might make his way to him,
Must rings of glancing mail-coats / with flowing blood grow dim.
Then sprang upon each other / those knights on honor bent,
And each from wounds deep cutting / sought to keep him all unshent.


Their swords cut so keenly / that might withstand them naught.
With mighty arm Sir Ruediger / Gernot then smote
Through the flint-hard helmet, / that downward flowed the blood.
Therefor repaid him quickly / the knight of keen and valiant mood.


The gift he had of Ruediger / high in hand he swung,
And though to death was wounded / he smote with blow so strong
That the good shield was cloven / and welded helmet through.
The spouse of fair Gotelinde, / then his latest breath he drew.


In sooth so sad requital / found rich bounty ne’er.
Slain fell they both together, / Gernot and Ruediger,
Alike in storm of battle, / each by the other’s hand.
Sore was the wrath of Hagen / when he the harm did understand.


Cried there the lord of Tronje: / “Great is here our loss.
In death of these two heroes / such scathe befalleth us,
Wherefor land and people / shall repine for aye.
The warriors of Ruediger / must now to us the forfeit pay.”


“Alack for this my brother, / snatched by death this day!
What host of woes unbidden / encompass me alway!
Eke must I moan it ever / that noble Ruediger fell.
Great is the scathe to both sides / and great the sorrowing as well.”


When then beheld Sir Giselher / his lover’s sire dead,
Must all that with him followed / suffer direst need.
There Death was busy seeking / to gather in his train,
And of the men of Bechelaren / came forth not one alive again.


Gunther and Giselher / and with them Hagen too,
Dankwart and Volker, / doughty thanes and true,
Went where found they lying / the two warriors slain,
Nor at the sight the heroes / might their grief and tears restrain.


“Death robbeth us right sorely," / spake young Sir Giselher:
“Yet now give o’er your weeping / and let us seek the air,
That the ringed mail grow cooler / on us storm-weary men.
God in sooth will grant us / not longer here to live, I ween.”


Here sitting, and there leaning / was seen full many a thane,
Resting once more from combat, / the while that all lay slain
The followers of Ruediger. / Hushed was the battle’s din.
At length grew angry Etzel, / that stillness was so long within.


“Alack for such a service!" / spake the monarch’s wife;
“For never ’tis so faithful / that our foes with life
Must to us make payment / at Ruediger’s hand.
He thinks in sooth to lead them / again unto Burgundian land.


“What boots it, royal Etzel, / that we did ever share
With him what he desired? / The knight doth evil there.
He that should avenge us, / the same a truce doth make."
Thereto the stately warrior / Volker in answer spake:


“Alas ’tis no such case here, / O high and royal dame.
Dared I but give the lie to / one of thy lofty name,
Thou hast in fiendish manner / Ruediger belied.
He and all his warriors / have laid all thoughts of truce aside.


“With so good heart obeyed he / his royal master’s will
That he and all his followers / here in death lie still.
Look now about thee, Kriemhild, / who may thy hests attend.
Ruediger the hero / hath served thee faithful to the end.


“Wilt thou my words believe not, / to thee shall clear be shown."
To cause her heart a sorrow, / there the thing was done.
Wound-gashed they bore the hero / where him the king might see.
Unto the thanes of Etzel / ne’er might so great sorrow be.


When did they the margrave / a corse on bier behold,
By chronicler might never / written be nor told
All the wild lamenting / of women and of men,
As with grief all stricken / out-poured they their hearts’ sorrow then.


Royal Etzel’s sorrow / there did know no bound.
Like to the voice of lion / echoing rang the sound
Of the king’s loud weeping, / wherein the queen had share.
Unmeasured they lamented / the death of noble Ruediger.


Preface  •  I. The Nibelungen Saga  •  II. The Nibelungenlied  •  The Nibelungenlied - First Adventure - Kriemhild’s Dream  •  Second Adventure - Siegfried  •  Third Adventure - How Siegfried came to Worms  •  Fourth Adventure - How Siegfried fought with the Saxons  •  Fifth Adventure - How Siegfried first saw Kriemhild  •  Sixth Adventure - How Gunther fared to Isenland to Brunhild  •  Seventh Adventure - How Gunther won Brunhild  •  Eighth Adventure - How Siegfried fared to his Knights, the Nibelungen  •  Ninth Adventure - How Siegfried was sent to Worms  •  Tenth Adventure - How Brunhild was received at Worms  •  Eleventh Adventure - How Siegfried came home with his Wife  •  Twelfth Adventure - How Gunther bade Siegfried to the Feast  •  Thirteenth Adventure - How they fared to the Feast  •  Fourteenth Adventure - How the Queens Berated Each Other  •  Fifteenth Adventure - How Siegfried was Betrayed  •  Sixteenth Adventure - How Siegfried was slain  •  Seventeenth Adventure - How Kriemhild mourned for Siegfried, and How he was Buried  •  Eighteenth Adventure - How Siegmund fared Home Again  •  Nineteenth Adventure - How the Nibelungen Hoard was Brought to Worms  •  Twentieth Adventure - How King Etzel sent to Burgundy for Kriemhild  •  Twenty-First Adventure - How Kriemhild fared to the Huns  •  Twenty-Second Adventure - How Etzel kept the Wedding-feast with Kriemhild  •  Twenty-Third Adventure - How Kriemhild thought to avenge her Wrong  •  Twenty-Fourth Adventure - How Werbel and Schwemmel brought the Message  •  Twenty-Fifth Adventure - How the Knights all fared to the Huns  •  Twenty-Sixth Adventure - How Gelfrat was Slain by Dankwart  •  Twenty-Seventh Adventure - How they came to Bechelaren  •  Twenty-Eighth Adventure - How the Burgundians came to Etzel’s Castle  •  Twenty-Ninth Adventure - How He arose not before Her  •  Thirtieth Adventure - How they kept Guard  •  Thirty-First Adventure - How they went to Mass  •  Thirty-Second Adventure - How Bloedel was Slain  •  Thirty-Third Adventure - How the Burgundians fought with the Huns  •  Thirty-Fourth Adventure - How they cast out the Dead  •  Thirty-Fifth Adventure - How Iring was Slain  •  Thirty-Sixth Adventure - How the Queen bade set fire to the Hall  •  Thirty-Seventh Adventure - How the Margrave Ruediger was Slain  •  Thirty-Eighth Adventure - How all Sir Dietrich’s Knights were Slain  •  Thirty-Ninth Adventure - How Gunther and Hagen and Kriemhild were Slain