Teutonic Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
Ermenrich and Sibeche--Fate of the King's Sons--The Harlungs--Quarrel with Dietrich--Battle between Kinsmen--Convoy captured--Knights ransomed--Dietrich surrenders his Kingdom--At the Court of Etzel--Campaign against Ermenrich--Boy Warriors slain--Witege and the Mermaid--Sorrow in Hunaland--The Nibelung Tragedy--Vengeance of Hagen's Son--End of Exile.
KING ERMENRICH was a mighty monarch, and all the rulers of the Southland owned him as overlord, and paid yearly tribute. His nephew, Dietrich, helped in his wars, and gave to him at length his fierce knights Witege and Heime.
Now it chanced that Ermenrich had an evil counsellor. His name was Sibeche, 1 and his wife had been wronged by the king. Sibeche first thought to slay Ermenrich, but chose rather to cause the great monarch to murder his own children and wage war against his own kin. Terrible was the vengeance of Sibeche; by reason of it many brave knights went to their death, and for long years bitter warfare was waged.
Ermenrich had three sons. Sibeche bore false witness against one and the king's second bride, Svanhild. The prince was hanged and Gudrun's daughter was trodden to death by many steeds. Another was sent to Britain as an envoy in a leaky ship and was drowned. The third,
by Sibeche's advice, journeyed to Norway to demand tribute, and there was he slain. Evil charges were then made, reviling the king's nephews, the Harlungs; war was waged against them, and they were overcome and slaughtered in their Rhine-land stronghold.
Nor was Dietrich spared. Sibeche poisoned the mind of Ermenrich against the valiant King of the Amelungs.
"Thy nephew's kingdom grows greater year by year," said Sibeche to the jealous king; "ere long he shall wrest thine own from thee. Thou shouldst demand of him payment of yearly tribute."
Then was the knight Randolt sent unto Bern to demand tribute, but Dietrich gave scornful refusal, whereat Ermenrich was made wroth, so that he vowed he would have his nephew hanged as a traitor.
In vain did Witege and Heime plead with the king. He gave ear to Sibeche, and marched against Bern with a great army. Dietrich went forth and met his sire's brother in battle array, and in a fierce night attack achieved an overwhelming victory, so that Ermenrich was beaten back.
It chanced, however, that Dietrich lacked sufficient treasure to continue the war, and old Hildebrand made offer of all the gold he possessed, as did also Bertram of Pola. So the knights set forth with Wolfhart, Dietleib the Dane, and other heroes to guard a convoy of five hundred horses bearing treasure unto Bern. Ermenrich came to know of their mission, so he had the convoy taken in ambush. Thus were the bravest knights of Dietrich made prisoners and his war treasure captured. Dietleib alone escaped. He carried the mournful tidings of disaster unto his king.
Dietrich sent envoys unto Ermenrich and offered exchange of prisoners, so that his knights might be set
free; but the fierce monarch made answer that he would have them all hanged unless Dietrich ransomed them with his kingdom.
Noble-hearted was Dietmar's great son. He could suffer not to reign as king if his faithful followers were put to death. His soul was sad, because that Queen Virginal had sickened and died, and he sent a message to Ermenrich saying that he would depart from the kingdom if the lives of Hildebrand and Wolfhart and his other knights were spared.
Then Ermenrich came unto Bern with his army, and Dietrich bade farewell to his own land amidst the lamentation of the people, who loved him well. His brother, Diether, who was but a child, went with him. Old Hildebrand left behind his wife Ute and his babe Hadubrand, and followed his king, as did also the other knights for whose sake he had given up his kingdom.
Dietrich took refuge in the Court of Etzel 1, King of the Huns. He was made welcome there and greatly honoured. He fought with Etzel against the King of Wilkina-land 2, and against the King of Russia and Poland, and achieved great conquests. Grateful was Etzel for the help which Dietrich and his knights gave him.
But ever did Dietrich mourn for his lost kingdom. Queen Helche pitied him, because that he was sorrowing continually, and gave him for wife her niece, the gentle Princess Herrad. Soon afterwards King Etzel made promise that he would raise for Dietrich in early spring a great army, so that he might wage war against Ermenrich, and win back the kingdom of the Amelungs.
Years had passed since Dietmar's son rode forth from Bern. His brother Diether had grown into early
manhood; a brave and bold young knight he was. Well loved was he by Etzel's sons, Erp and Ortwin, and when the great army assembled, the three young friends must needs go forth to battle together, for they desired greatly to win renown as valiant war-men.
Etzel's queen would fain have held them back. She had dreamed in an evil dream that a dragon had entered the castle, carried away the lads, and devoured them while she looked on. But they pleaded with the king, and he gave them their desire. Dietrich vowed that they would have sure protection from danger, and Etzel sent forth with them the Margrave Rudiger and his fearless knights. With Dietrich went Diether, and old Hildebrand, Wolfhart, and Dietleib the Dane, and the other heroes who shared with their king exile in the land of Huns.
Sibeche commanded the army of Ermenrich, who was stricken with sickness, and he waited for the invading army on the southern bank of the river, at Ravenna, nigh to the frontier of the kingdom of the Amelungs.
Dietrich pushed towards Bern, but when he reached the city of Istria he left his brother Diether and Etzel's sons, Erp and Ortwin, in the care of old Elsan, so that they might suffer no harm. He deemed them too young to risk the perils of war against battle-hardened heroes.
Ill-pleased were the lads with their lot. They made resolve to follow the army, and having deceived old Elsan they stole forth from the city and rode swiftly to the front. They rode to their doom.
On the night before the battle Dietrich's forces were drawn up on the north bank of the river, and old Hildebrand went out to scout. A knight came from the foemen's camp with similar intent. They met but fought
not, for the knight was Reinald. They sorrowed together that friends were divided by war, and ere they parted they embraced and kissed one another.
In the morning Dietrich led his knights across the river at a ford which Hildebrand had found. They fell upon Sibeche's division of the army and put it to flight.
Witege was with Sibeche, but he fled not. He rode on; he slew Dietrich's standard-bearer, but the tide of battle went past him, and soon he found himself alone.
'Twas then that Diether and Etzel's two sons reached the front. They saw Witege and called him a traitor. Ortwin went against him, but ere long he was cut down. Then did Erp seek vengeance; he rushed against the ferocious knight. In vain did Witege warn him to hold back lest he would share his brother's fate; but Erp, was without fear-a great warrior would he have been had he lived. Brief was the conflict, for Witege drew his sword Mimung and smote the prince so that his head was taken off.
Diether sorrowed and was made wroth. He drew his sword and rode against Witege.
Wieland's son watched him drawing nigh, and he spake to the lad, saying:
"Say if thou art Diether, brother of Dietrich; if thou art, I desire pot to combat with thee."
Diether said: "The brother of Dietrich I am indeed, as thou shalt know to thy loss ere long."
"Then combat against another," Witege said; "seek battle glory elsewhere. I desire not to be thy slayer."
"Thou hast slain both Erp and Ortwin," cried Diether, "but me thou shalt not escape. Thou dog and traitor, I would die rather than not slay thee."
Bold attack made he forthwith, but Witege feared him not. He but parried his blows. But at length
[paragraph continues] Diether smote off his horse's head, and he had perforce to leap to the ground.
"I call to witness the god Irmin," Witege cried, "that I fight now but to defend myself."
When he said that he smote at Diether with his sword Mimung and cut the young hero in twain.
Witege wept. Sad at heart was he because that he had slain the lad, and greatly, too, did he fear the wrath of Dietrich.
Elsan, who had followed the lads from Istria, had meanwhile found Dietrich, and he gave him tidings of their fate. Dietrich smote off his head, and hastened towards the place of sorrow. He found the dead bodies of the young heroes; he wept over them.
"Alas," he cried, "what grief is mine! What sin have I committed that I should be punished thus? My body bears not a battle scar. I have triumphed in the field, and yet is my brother taken from me, and the sons of Etzel laid n death. Never again can I return unto the land of the Huns."
He looked around him. He beheld Witege taking flight on Diether's horse across the heath, and his heart burned to be avenged. Oil his steed Falke he leapt at a bound and rode after the traitor knight. Flames issued from his mouth, so great was his fury.
As he drew nigh to Witege, he called: "Flee not before me, thou hell-hound! If thou art not as great a coward as thou art a traitor, stand now that I may avenge my brother's death."
Witege paused not. He cried in answer: "I had to fight for my life against Diether. 'Twas not my desire to combat against him."
Swiftly rode Witege until he came to the shore of the lake at the river mouth. Dietrich pressed on close
behind him; his spear was in his hand; he hurled it against the traitor. . . .
But Witege paused not; he rode into the water, and his wrathful pursuer was but a horse-length behind him. . . .
Then suddenly there rose out of the lake the mermaid Waghild, his grandsire's mother. She seized Witege and his steed and drew them beneath the waves. . . . Dietrich rode out until his horse had to swim, but he sought in vain for his brother's slayer. . . . Never again was Witege beheld by human eyes, for the mermaid bore him unto her cave under the waters and guarded him there.
Dietrich returned to the battlefield, and the remnants of Sibeche's army were put to flight. But Dietmar's great son had no joy in the victory, nor could he press on farther with the army of Huns, because that Etzel's two sons were slain. He could hope not for aught save the vengeance of him who had given him help to win back his kingdom.
He mourned for Diether and for Erp and Ortwin, and when they were given burial he bade Rudiger to lead back the army unto the land of the Huns. So did the margrave do: he returned unto Etzel with his heroes; he stood before the king; he gave unto him the mournful tidings of the loss of the two princes.
The queen lamented aloud, but the king, whose heart was sorrow-stricken also, spake saying:
"So hath it happened as it ever doth in the fortunes of war. Each man must die at his appointed time."
Then asked he of Rudiger: "Where is Dietrich and Hildebrand? Why come they not into my presence?'
"They mourn apart," answered the Margrave; "loath
are they to approach thee because that Erp and Ortwin have been cut off."
Then sent Etzel two knights unto Dietrich, but he refused to go with them before the king; whereat the queen, who at first was wroth against him, rose up and did herself go unto the hero.
She spake to him, saying: "How fought my sons Erp and Ortwin? Were they fearless and bold in battle and worthy their kin?"
"Because they feared not," Dietrich answered, "they fought and fell one after another; nor would they be parted, so great was their love."
The queen kissed him while she wept, and then led him before King Etzel.
Then did Dietrich cast himself at the feet of his great ally, and made offer of his life because that the princes were slain. But Etzel raised him up; Dietrich he kissed, and they sat down together. So was their friendship made more enduring.
When two summers went past the queen died. But ere life was taken from her she warned the king to wed not a wife from the land of the Nibelungs. "Else," she said, "thou and the children she may have shall suffer evil beyond concept."
But the good queen's words were forgotten when Etzel sent envoys unto King Gunther, so that he might have Kriemhild for his bride.
Now Dietrich and old Hildebrand had aforetime been friends of King Gunther and Hagen, and when the conflict was waged at Etzel's Court, by reason of Kriemhild's evil doings, they did hold aloof, until impetuous Wolfhart was drawn into the fray. Then was old Hildebrand wounded, and all the knights of Dietrich were slain.
'Twas then, as hath been told, that Dietmar's great
son took arms against Hagen and Gunther and overcame them. But when they were put to death, Hildebrand slew Kriemhild, whom he called "a devil".
Etzel said: "A devil she hath been indeed. But for her many a noble knight would still be alive."
Now be it told of how King Etzel passed from before men. Aldrian, Hagen's son, vowed to avenge his sire's death. So he paid visit unto Etzel and spake to him regarding the Nibelung treasure.
"If thou wilt accompany me," he said, "I shall reveal to thee alone where the gold lies hidden."
Etzel went forth. Hagen's son led him to a secret cave which is below the Rhine water. There he beheld vast treasure and his eyes were gladdened. But Aldrian stepped back suddenly and said:
"Now mayest thou have full enjoyment of the gold which thou didst desire, and I shall have vengeance for my sire's death."
When he spake thus, Aldrian shut the door of the cave, and Etzel perished of hunger in that concealed and secure prison n the midst of all the treasure which he desired to obtain.
So time went past, and then tidings came to Dietrich that Ermenrich had been slain by two princes, who avenged the death of Svanhild, and that Sibeche desired to sit upon the throne. He raised an army to march into his own kingdom, and old Hildebrand went with him.
"Rather would I die in Bern," Dietrich said, "than remain any longer in exile even among the Huns."
439:1 Bikki of the Volsung tale. Ermenrich is Jormunrek.
441:2 Norway and Sweden.