How They Kept The Watch.
The day had now an end, and the night drew nigh. Care beset the wayworn travelers, as to when they should go to bed and rest them. This Hagen bespake with Etzel, and it was told them soon.
Gunther spake to the host: "God be with you, we would fain go to our sleep, pray give us leave. We will come early on the morrow, whensoever ye bid."
Etzel parted then full merrily from his guests. Men pressed the strangers on every side, at which brave Folker spake to the Huns: "How dare ye crowd before the warriors' feet? An' ye will not leave this, ye will fare full ill. I'll smite some man so heavy a fiddle blow, that if he have a faithful friend he may well bewail it. Why give ye not way before us knights? Methinks 'twere well. All pass for knights, but be not of equal mettle."
As the fiddler spake thus in wrath, Hagen, the brave, looked behind him. He spake: "The bold gleeman doth advise you right, ye men of Kriemhild, ye should hie you to your lodgings. I ween none of you will do what ye are minded, but would ye begin aught, come early on the morrow, and let us wanderers have peace to-night. Certes, I ween that it hath never happed with such good will on the part of heroes."
Then the guests were brought into a spacious hall, which they found purveyed on every side with costly beds, long and broad, for the warriors. Lady Kriemhild planned the very greatest wrongs against them. One saw there many a cunningly wrought quilt from Arras (1) of shining silken cloth and many a coverlet of Arabian silk, the best that might be had; upon this ran a border that shone in princely wise. Many bed covers of ermine and of black sable were seen, beneath which they should have their ease at night, until the dawn of day. Never hath king lain so lordly with his meiny.
"Alas for these night quarters," spake Giselher, the youth, "and alas for my friends, who be come with us. However kindly my sister greeted us, yet I do fear me that through her fault we must soon lie dead."
"Now give over your care," quoth Hagen, the knight. "I'll stand watch myself to-night. I trow to guard us well, until the day doth come. Therefore have no fear; after that, let him survive who may."
All bowed low and said him gramercy. Then went they to their beds. A short while after the stately men had laid them down, bold Hagen, the hero, began to arm him. Then the fiddler, Knight Folker, spake: "If it scorn you not, Hagen, I would fain hold the watch with you to-night, until the early morn."
The hero then thanked Folker in loving wise: "Now God of heaven requite you, dear Folker. In all my cares, I would crave none other than you alone, whenever I had need. I shall repay you well, and death hinder me not."
Both then donned their shining armor and either took his shield in hand, walked out of the house and stood before the door. Thus they cared for the guests in faithful wise. The doughty Folker leaned his good shield against the side of the hall, then turned him back and fetched his fiddle and served his friends as well befit the hero. Beneath the door of the house he sate him down upon a stone; bolder fiddler was there never. When the tones of the strings rang forth so sweetly, the proud wanderers gave Folker thanks. At first the strings twanged so that the whole house resounded; his strength and his skill were both passing great. Then sweeter and softer he began to play, and thus many a care-worn man he lulled to sleep. When he marked that all had fallen asleep, the knight took again his shield and left the room and took his stand before the tower, and there he guarded the wanderers against Kriemhild's men.
'Twas about the middle of the night (I know not but what it happed a little earlier), that bold Folker spied the glint of a helmet afar in the darkness. Kriemhild's men would fain have harmed the guests. Then the fiddler spake: "Sir Hagen, my friend, it behooveth us to bear these cares together. Before the house I see armed men stand, and err I not, I ween, they would encounter us!"
"Be silent," quoth Hagen, "let them draw nearer before they be ware of us. Then will helmets be dislodged by the swords in the hands of us twain. They will be sent back to Kriemhild in evil plight."
One of the Hunnish warriors (full soon that happed) marked that the door was guarded. How quickly then he spake: "That which we have in mind may not now come to pass. I see the fiddler stand on guard. On his head he weareth a glittering helmet, shining and hard, strong and whole. His armor rings flash out like fire. By him standeth Hagen; in sooth the guests be guarded well."
Straightway they turned again. When Folker saw this, wrathfully he spake to his comrade-at-arms: "Now let me go from the house to the warriors. I would fain put some questions to Lady Kriemhild's men."
"For my sake, no," quoth Hagen. "If ye leave the house, the doughty knights are like to bring you in such stress with their swords, that I must aid you even should it be the death of all my kin. As soon as we be come into the fray, twain of them, or four, would in a short time run into the house and would bring such scathe upon the sleepers, that we might never cease to mourn."
Then Folker answered: "Let us bring it to pass that they note that I have seen them, so that Kriemhild's men may not deny that they would fain have acted faithlessly."
Straightway Folker then called out to them: "How go ye thus armed, ye doughty knights? Would ye ride to rob, ye men of Kriemhild? Then must ye have the help of me and my comrade-at- arms."
To this none made reply. Angry grew his mood. "Fy! Ye evil cowards," spake the good knight, "would ye have murdered us asleep? That hath been done full seldom to such good heroes."
Then the queen was told that her messengers had compassed naught. Rightly it did vex her, and with wrathful mood she made another plan. Through this brave heroes and good must needs thereafter perish.
(1) "Arras", the capital of Artois in the French Netherlands. In older English "arras" is used also for tapestry.
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