How Kriemhild Mourned Her
Husband And How He Was Buried.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #31
Then they waited for the night and crossed the Rhine. Never had heroes hunted worse. Noble maids bewept the game they slew. Forsooth many good warriors must needs atone for this in after days. Now ye may hear a tale of great overweening and dire revenge. Hagen bade carry Siegfried of the Nibelung land, thus dead, before the bower where Kriemhild lodged. He bade place him stealthily against the door, that she might find him when she went forth before the break of day to matins, which Lady Kriemhild full seldom missed through sleep.
Men rang the minster bells according to their custom. Lady Kriemhild, the fair, now waked her many maids and bade them bring a light and her vesture, too. Then came a chamberlain and found Siegfried there. He saw him red with blood, his clothes all wet. He wist not it was his lord, but with the light in his hand he hasted to the bower and through this Lady Kriemhild learned the baneful tale. As she would set out with her ladies for the minster, the chamberlain spake: "Pray stay your feet, there doth lie before the chamber a knight, slain unto death."
Kriemhild gan make passing sore wail, or ever she heard aright that it was her husband. She began to think of Hagen's question, of how he might protect him. Then first she suffered dole; she renounced all pleasure at his death. To the earth she sank, not a word she spake, and here they found lying the hapless fair. Passing great grew Kriemhild's woe. After her faint, she shrieked, that all the chamber rang. Then her meiny said: "Perchance it is a stranger knight."
The blood gushed from her mouth, from dole of heart; she spake: "'Tis Siegfried, mine own dear husband. Brunhild hath counseled this and Hagen hath done the deed."
The lady bade them lead her to where the hero lay. With her white hand she raised his head, and though it was red with blood, she knew him soon. There lay the hero of the Nibelung land in piteous guise. The gracious queen cried sadly: "Oh, woe is me of my sorrow! Thy shield is not carved with swords, thou liest murdered here. Wist I who hath done the deed, I'd ever plot his death."
All her maids made mourn and wailed with their dear lady, for they grieved full sore for their noble lord whom they had lost. Hagen had cruelly avenged the wrath of Brunhild.
Then spake the grief-stricken dame: "Go now and wake with haste all Siegfried's men. Tell Siegmund also of my grief, mayhap he'll help me bewail brave Siegfried."
A messenger ran quickly to where lay Siegfried's warriors from the Nibelung land, and with his baleful tidings stole their joy. They could scarce believe it, till they heard the weeping. Right soon the messenger came to where the king did lie. Siegmund, the lord, was not asleep. I trow his heart did tell him what had happed. Never again might he see his dear son alive.
"Awake, Sir Siegmund; Kriemhild, my lady, bade me go to fetch you. A wrong hath been done her that doth cut her to the heart, more than all other ills. Ye must help her mourn, for much it doth concern you."
Siegmund sat up; he spake: "What are fair Kriemhild's ills, of which thou tellest me?"
Weeping the messenger spake: "I cannot hide them from you; alas, bold Siegfried of Netherland is slain."
Quoth Siegmund: "For my sake let be this jesting and such evil tales, that thou shouldst tell any that he be dead, for I might never bewail him fully before my death."
"If ye will believe naught of what ye hear me say, then you may hear yourself Kriemhild and all her maids bewailing Siegfried's death."
Siegmund then was sore affrighted, as indeed he had great need, He and a hundred of his men sprang from their beds and grasped with their hands their long sharp swords. In sorrow they ran toward the sound of wail. Then came a thousand men-at-arms, bold Siegfried's men. When they heard the ladies wail so pitifully, some first grew ware that they should dress them. Forsooth they lost their wits for very sorrow. Great heaviness was buried in their hearts.
Then King Siegmund came to where he found Kriemhild. He spake: "Alas for the journey hither to this land! Who hath so foully bereft me of my child and you of your husband among such good friends?"
"Oh, if I knew him," spake the noble wife, "neither my heart nor soul would ever wish him well. I would plan such ill against him that his kin must ever weep because of me."
Around the prince Lord Siegmund threw his arms. So great grew the sorrow of his kin, that the palace, the hall, and the town of Worms resounded from the mighty wail and weeping. None might now comfort Siegfried's wife. They stripped off the clothes from his fair body; they washed his wounds and laid him on the bier. Woe were his people from their mighty grief. Then spake his warriors from the Nibelung land: "Our hands be ever ready to avenge him; he liveth in this castle who hath done the deed."
All of Siegfried's men hasted then to arms. These chosen knights came with their shields, eleven hundred men-at-arms, whom Lord Siegmund had in his troop. He would fain avenge the death of his son, as indeed he had great need. They wist not to whom they should address their strife, unless it be to Gunther and his men, with whom Lord Siegfried had ridden to the hunt.
Kriemhild saw them armed, which rued her sore. However great her grief and how dire her need, yet she did so mightily fear the death of the Nibelungs at the hands of her brothers' liegemen, that she tried to hinder it. In kindly wise she warned them, as kinsmen do to loving kin. The grief-stricken woman spake: "My Lord Siegmund, what will ye do? Ye wot naught aright; forsooth King Gunther hath so many valiant men, ye will all be lost, and ye would encounter these knights."
With their shields uncovered, the men stood eager for the fight. The noble queen both begged and bade that the lusty knights avoid it. When they would not give it over, sorely it grieved her. She spake: "Lord Siegmund, ye must let it be until more fitting time, then I'll avenge my husband with you. An' I receive proof who hath bereft me of him, I'll do him scathe. There be too many haughty warriors by the Rhine, wherefore I will not counsel you to fight. They have full well thirty men to each of ours. Now God speed them, as they deserve of us. Stay ye here and bear with me my dole. When it beginneth to dawn, help me, ye lusty knights, to coffin the dear husband of mine."
Quoth the knights: "That shall be done."
None might tell you all the marvel of knights and ladies, how they were heard to wail, so that even in the town men marked the sound of weeping. The noble burghers hasted hither. With the guests they wept, for they, too, were sore aggrieved. None had told them of any guilt of Siegfried, or for what cause the noble warrior lost his life. The wives of the worthy burghers wept with the ladies of the court. Men bade smiths haste to work a coffin of silver and of gold, mickle and strong, and make it firm with strips of good hard steel. Sad of heart were all the folk.
The night was gone, men said the day was dawning. Then the noble lady bade them bear Lord Siegfried, her loved husband, to the minster. Whatever friends he had there were seen weeping as they went. Many bells were ringing as they brought him to the church. On every side one heard the chant of many priests. Then came King Gunther with his men and grim Hagen also toward the sound of wail. He spake: "Alas for thy wrongs, clear sister, that we may not be free from this great scathe. We must ever lament for Siegfried's death."
"That ye do without cause," spake the sorrow-laden wife. "Were this loth to you, it never would have happed. I may well aver, ye thought not on me, when I thus was parted from my dear husband. Would to God," quoth Kriemhild, "that it had happed to me."
Firmly they made denial. Kriemhild gan speak: "Whoso declareth him guiltless, let him show that now. He must walk to the bier before all the folk; thereby one may know the truth eftsoon."
This is a great marvel, which oft doth hap; whenever the blood- stained murderer is seen to stand by the dead, the latter's wounds do bleed, (1) as indeed happed here, whereby one saw the guilt was Hagen's. The wounds bled sore, as they had done at first. Much greater grew the weeping of those who wailed afore.
Then spake King Gunther: "I'd have you know that robbers slew him; Hagen did not do the deed."
"I know these robbers well," quoth she. "Now may God yet let his friends avenge it. Certes, Gunther and Hagen, 'twas done by you."
Siegfried's knights were now bent on strife. Then Kriemhild spake again: "Now share with me this grief."
Gernot, her brother, and young Giselher, these twain now came to where they found him dead. They mourned him truly with the others; Kriemhild's men wept inly. Now should mass be sung, so on every side, men, wives, and children did hie them to the minster. Even those who might lightly bear his loss, wept then for Siegfried. Gernot and Giselher spake: "Sister mine, now comfort thee after this death, as needs must be. We'll try to make it up to thee, the while we live."
Yet none in the world might give her comfort. His coffin was ready well towards midday. From the bier whereon he lay they raised him. The lady would not have that he be buried, so that all the folk had mickle trouble. In a rich cloth of silk they wound the dead. I ween, men found none there that did not weep. Uta, the noble dame, and all her meiny mourned bitterly the stately man. When it was noised abroad that men sang in the minster and had encoffined him, then rose a great press of folk. What offerings they made for his soul's sake! He had good friends enow among these foes. Poor Kriemhild spake to her chamberlains: "Ye must now be put to trouble for my sake, ye who wished him well and be my friends. For Siegfried's soul shall ye deal out his gold."
No child, however small, that had its wits, but must go to service, or ever he was buried. Better than a hundred masses were sung that day. Great throng was there of Siegfried's friends.
When that mass was sung, the folk went hence. Then Lady Kriemhild spake: "Pray let me not hold vigil over the chosen knight this night alone. With him all my joys have come to fall. I will let him lie in state three days and nights, until I sate me with my dear lord. What if God doth bid that death should take me too. Then had ended well the grief of me, poor Kriemhild."
The people of the town returned now to their lodgeings. She begged the priests and monks and all his retinue, that served the knight, to stay. They spent full evil nights and toilsome days; many a man remained without all food and drink. For those who would partake, it was made known that men would give them to the full. This Sir Siegmund purveyed. Then were the Nibelungs made acquaint with mickle toil. During the three days, as we hear tell, those who knew how to sing, were made to bear a deal of work. What offerings men brought them! Those who were very poor, grew rich enow. Whatever of poor men there were, the which had naught, these were bid go to mass with gold from Siegfried's treasure chamber. Since he might not live, many thousand marks of gold were given for his soul. She dealt out well-tilled lands, wherever cloisters and pious folk were found. Enow of gold and silver was given to the poor. By her deeds she showed that she did love him fondly.
Upon the third morning at time of mass, the broad churchyard by the minster was full of weeping country folk. They served him after death, as one should do to loving kin. In the four days, as hath been told, full thirty thousand marks or better still were given to the poor for his soul's sake. Yet his great beauty and his life lay low. When God had been served and the chants were ended, much people fought 'gainst monstrous grief. Men bade bear him from the minster to the grave. Those were seen to weep and wail who missed him most. With loud laments the people followed hence; none was merry, neither wife nor man. They sang and read a service before they buried him. Ho, what good priests were present at his burial! Ere Siegfried's wife was come to the grave, her faithful heart was rung with grief, so that they must needs oft sprinkle her with water from the spring. Her pain was passing great; a mickle wonder it was that she ever lived. Many a lady helped her in her plaint.
Then spake the queen: "Ye men of Siegfried, by your loyalty must ye prove your love to me. Let me receive this little favor after all my woe, that I may see once more his comely head."
She begged so long, with griefs strong will, that they must needs break open the lordly casket. Then men brought the lady to where he lay. With her white hand she raised his fair head and kissed the noble knight and good, thus dead. Tears of blood her bright eyes wept from grief. Then there happed a piteous parting. Men bare her hence, she could not walk, and soon they found the high- born lady lying senseless. Fain would the lovely fair have died of grief.
When they had now buried the noble lord, those who were come with him from the Nibelung land were seen to suffer from unmeasured grief. Men found Siegmund full seldom merry then. There were those that for three days would neither eat nor drink for passing grief. Yet might they not so waste away their bodies, but that they recovered from their sorrows, as still happeneth oft enow.
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(1) "Bleed". This was not only a popular superstition, but also a legal practice in case of a murder when the criminal had not been discovered, or if any one was suspected. The suspected person was requested to approach the bier and touch the body, in the belief that the blood would flow afresh if the one touching the body were guilty. Our passage is the first instance of its mention in German literature. A similar one occurs in "Iwein", 1355-1364. The usage was also known in France and England. See the instances quoted by Jacob Grimm in his "Rechtsaltertumer", 930.