How The Queens Reviled Each Other.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #31
On a day before the vesper tide a great turmoil arose, which many knights made in the court, where they plied their knightly sports for pastime's sake, and a great throng of men and women hasted there to gaze. The royal queens had sat them down together and talked of two worshipful knights.
Then spake the fair Kriemhild: "I have a husband who by right should rule over all these kingdoms."
Quoth Lady Brunhild: "How might that be? If none other lived but he and thou, then might these kingdoms own his sway, but the while Gunther liveth, this may never hap."
Kriemhild replied: "Now dost thou see, how he standeth, how right royally he walketh before the knights, as the moon doth before the stars? Therefore must I needs be merry of mood."
Said Lady Brunhild: "However stately be thy husband, howso worthy and fair, yet must thou grant the palm to Knight Gunther, the noble brother of thine. Know of a truth, he must be placed above all kings."
Then Kriemhild spake again: "So doughty is my husband, that I have not lauded him without good cause. His worship is great in many things. Dost thou believe it, Brunhild, he is easily Gunther's peer."
"Forsooth thou must not take it amiss of me, Kriemhild, for I have not spoken thus without good reason. I heard them both aver, when I saw them first of all, and the king was victor against me in the games, and when he won my love in such knightly wise, that he was liegeman to the king, and Siegfried himself declared the same. I hold him therefore as my vassal, sith I heard him speak thus himself."
Then spake fair Kriemhild: "Ill had I then sped. How could my noble brothers have so wrought, that I should be a mere vassal's bride? Therefore I do beseech thee, Brunhild, in friendly wise, that for my sake thou kindly leave off this speech."
"I'll not leave it off," quoth the king's wife. "Why should I give up so many a knight, who with the warrior doth owe us service?"
Kriemhild, the passing fair, waxed wroth out of wit. "Thou must forego that ho ever do you a vassal's service; he is worthier than my brother Gunther, the full noble man. Thou must retract what I have heard thee say. Certes, it wondereth me, sith he be thy vassal and thou hast so much power over us twain, why he hath rendered thee no tribute so long a time. By right I should be spared thy overweening pride."
"Thou bedrest thee too high," spake the king's wife. "I would fain see whether men will hold thee in such high honor as they do me."
The ladies both grew wonderly wroth of mood. Then spake the Lady Kriemhild: "This must now hap. Sith thou hast declared my husband for thy liegeman, now must the men of the two kings perceive to-day whether I durst walk before the queen to church. Thou must see to-day that I am noble and free and that my husband is worthier than thine; nor will I myself be taxed therewith. Thou shalt mark to-day how thy liegewoman goeth to court before the knights of the Burgundian land. I myself shall be more worshipful than any queen was known to be, who ever wore a crown." Great hate enow rose then betwixt the ladies.
Then Brunhild answered: "Wilt thou not be a liegewoman of mine, so must thou sunder thee with thy ladies from my train when that we go to church."
To this Kriemhild replied: "In faith that shall be done."
"Now array you, my maids," spake Siegfried's wife. "I must be here without reproach. Let this be seen to-day, and ye do have rich weeds. Brunhild shall fain deny what she hath here averted."
They needed not much bidding, but sought rich robes and many a dame and maid attired her well. Then the wife of the noble king went forth with her train. Fair Kriemhild, too, was well arrayed and three and forty maidens with her, whom she had brought hither to the Rhine. They wore bright vesture wrought in Araby, and thus the fair-fashioned maids betook them to the minster. All Siegfried's men awaited them before the house. The folk had marvel whence it chanced that the queens were seen thus sundered, so that they did not walk together as afore. From this did many a warrior later suffer dire distress. Here before the minster stood Gunther's wife, while many a good knight had pastime with the comely dames whom they there espied.
Then came the Lady Kriemhild with a large and noble train. Whatever kind of clothes the daughters of noble knights have ever worn, these were but the wind against her retinue. She was so rich in goods, that what the wives of thirty kings could not purvey, that Kriemhild did. An' one would wish to, yet he could not aver that men had ever seen such costly dresses as at this time her fair-fashioned maidens wore. Kriemhild had not done it, save to anger Brunhild. They met before the spacious minster. Through her great hate the mistress of the house in evil wise bade Kriemhild stand: "Forsooth no vassaless should ever walk before the queen."
Then spake fair Kriemhild (angry was her mood): "Couldst thou have held thy peace, 'twere well for thee. Thou hast disgraced thee and the fair body of thine. How might a vassal's leman (1) ever be the wife of any king?"
"Whom callest thou here leman?" spake the queen.
"That call I thee," quoth Kriemhild. "Thy fair person was first caressed by Siegfried, my dear husband. Certes, it was not my brother who won thy maidhood. Whither could thy wits have wandered? It was an evil trick. Wherefore didst thou let him love thee, sith he be thy vassal? I hear thee make plaint without good cause," quoth Kriemhild.
"I' faith," spake then Brunhild, "Gunther shall hear of this."
"What is that to me?" said Kriemhild. "Thy pride hath bewrayed thee. With words thou hast claimed me for thy service. Know, by my troth, it will ever grieve me, for I shall be no more thy faithful friend."
Then Brunhild wept. Kriemhild delayed no longer, but entered the minster with her train before the queen. Thus there rose great hatred, from which bright eyes grew dim and moist.
Whatso men did or sang to God's service there, the time seemed far too long for Brunhild, for she was sad of heart and mood. Many a brave knight and a good must later rue this day. Brunhild with her ladies now went forth and stopped before the minster. Her-thought: "Kriemhild must tell me more of what this word- shrewd woman hath so loudly charged me. Hath Siegfried made boast of this, 'twill cost his life."
Now the noble Kriemhild came with many a valiant liegeman. Lady Brunhild spake: "Stand still a while. Ye have declared me for a leman, that must ye let be seen. Know, that through thy speech, I have fared full ill."
Then spake the Lady Kriemhild: "Ye should have let me pass. I'll prove it by the ring of gold I have upon my hand, and which my lover brought me when he first lay at your side."
Brunhild had never seen so ill a day. She spake: "This costly hoop of gold was stolen from me, and hath been hid full long a time from me in evil wise. I'll find out yet who hath ta'en it from me."
Both ladies now had fallen into grievous wrath.
Kriemhild replied: "I'll not be called a thief. Thou hadst done better to have held thy peace, an' thou hold thine honor dear. I'll prove it by the girdle which I wear about my waist, that I lie not. Certes, my Siegfried became thy lord."
She wore the cord of silk of Nineveh, set with precious stones; in sooth 'twas fair enow. When Brunhild spied it, she began to weep. Gunther and all the Burgundian men must needs now learn of this.
Then spake the queen: "Bid the prince of the Rhineland come hither. I will let him hear how his sister hath mocked me. She saith here openly that I be Siegfried's wife."
The king came with knights, and when he saw his love a-weeping, how gently he spake: "Pray tell me, dear lady, who hath done you aught?"
She answered to the king: "I must stand unhappy; thy sister would fain part me from all mine honors. I make here plaint to thee she doth aver that Siegfried, her husband hath had me as his leman."
Quoth King Gunther: "Then hath she done ill."
"She weareth here my girdle, which I have lost, and my ring of ruddy gold. It doth repent me sore that I was ever born, unless be thou clearest me of this passing great shame, for that I'll serve thee ever."
King Gunther spake: "Have him come hither. He must let us hear if he hath made boast of this, or he must make denial, the hero of Netherland." One bade fetch at once Kriemhild's love.
When Siegfried saw the angry dames (he wist not of the tale), how quickly then he spake: "I fain would know why these ladies weep, or for what cause the king hath had me fetched."
Then King Gunther spake: "It doth rue me sore, forsooth. My Lady Brunhild hath told me here a tale, that thou hast boasted thou wast the first to clasp her lovely body in thine arms; this Lady Kriemhild, thy wife, doth say."
Then spake Lord Siegfried: "And she hath told this tale, she shall rue it sore, or ever I turn back, and I'll clear me with solemn oaths in front of all thy men, that I have not told her this."
Quoth the king of the Rhineland: "Let that be seen. The oath thou dost offer, and let it now be given, shall free thee of all false charges."
They bade the proud Burgundians form a ring. Siegfried, the bold, stretched out his hand for the oath; then spake the mighty king: "Thy great innocence is so well known to me, that I will free thee of that of which my sister doth accuse thee and say, thou hast never done this thing."
Siegfried replied: "If it boot my lady aught to have thus saddened Brunhild, that will surely cause me boundless grief."
Then the lusty knights and good gazed one upon the other. "One should so train women," spake again Siegfried, the knight, "that they leave haughty words unsaid. Forbid it to thy wife, and I'll do the same to mine. In truth, I do shame me of her great discourtesie."
Many fair ladies were parted by the speech. Brunhild mourned so sore, that it moved King Gunther's men to pity. Then came Hagen of Troneg to his sovran lady. He found her weeping, and asked what grief she had. She told him then the tale. On the spot he vowed that Kriemhild's lord should rue it sore, or he would nevermore be glad. Ortwin and Gernot joined their parley and these heroes counseled Siegfried's death. Giselher, the son of the noble Uta, came hither too. When he heard the talk, he spake full true: "Ye trusty knights, wherefore do ye this? Siegfried hath not merited forsooth such hate, that he should therefore lose his life. Certes, women oft grow angry over little things."
"Shall we then raise cuckolds?" answered Hagen; "such good knights would gain from that but little honor. Because he hath boasted of my liege lady, I will rather die, an' it cost him not his life."
Then spake the king himself: "He hath shown us naught but love and honor, so let him live. What booteth it, if I now should hate the knight? He was ever faithful to us and that right willingly."
Knight Ortwin of Metz then spake: "His great prowess shall not in sooth avail him aught. If my lord permit, I'll do him every evil."
So without cause the heroes had declared a feud against him. In this none followed, save that Hagen counselled all time Knight Gunther the that if Siegfried no longer lived, then many kingly lands would own his sway. At this the king grew sad, so they let it rest.
Jousting was seen once more. Ho, what stout shafts they splintered before the minster in the presence of Siegfried's wife, even down to the hall! Enow of Gunther's men were now in wrath. The king spake: "Let be this murderous rage, he is born to our honor and to our joy. Then, too, the wonderly bold man is so fierce of strength, that none durst match him, if he marked it."
"No, not he," spake Hagen then, "Ye may well keep still; I trow to bring it to pass in secret, that he rue Brunhild's tears. Certes, Hagen hath broken with him for all time."
Then spake King Gunther: "How might that chance?"
To this Hagen made answer: "I'll let you hear. We'll bid messengers, that be not known to any here, ride into our land, to declare war upon us openly. Then do ye say before your guests that ye and your men will take the field. When that is done, he will vow to serve you then and from this he shall lose his life, an' I learn the tale from the bold knight's wife."
The king followed his liegeman Hagen in evil wise. These chosen knights gan plan great faithlessness, or ever any one was ware. From two women's quarreling full many a hero lost his life.
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(1) "Leman" (M.E. "lemman", O.E. "leof mann", 'lief man', i.e., 'dear one'), 'mistress' in a bad sense.