Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
The boy Arthur was really the son of King Uther Pendragon, but few
persons knew of his birth. Uther had given him into the care of the
enchanter Merlin, who had carried him to the castle of Sir Hector,[A]
an old friend of Uther's. Here the young prince lived as a child of
Now Merlin was a very wise man, and when King Uther died several years
later the noblemen asked his advice in choosing a new king.
"Gather together in St. Stephen's Church in London, on Christmas Day,"
was all the enchanter answered.
So the knights assembled, and when the mass was over and they passed
out into the churchyard, there they beheld a large block of stone,
upon which rested a heavy anvil. The blade of a jeweled sword was sunk
deeply into the anvil.
Wondering, the noblemen drew near. One of them discovered an
inscription upon the hilt which said that none but the man who could
draw out the sword should ever rule in Uther's place. One by one they
tried, but the sword was firmly imbedded. No one could draw it forth.
Arthur was only a baby at this time, but some years later Sir Hector
traveled up to London, bringing with him his own son, Sir Kay, and his
foster son, Arthur. Sir Kay had just reached manhood and was to take
part in his first tournament. Imagine his distress, therefore, when,
on arriving at the tourney ground, he discovered that he had forgotten
to bring his sword.
"I will fetch it for you," cried the young Arthur, anxious to be of
He found the apartment of Sir Kay closed and locked; but he was
determined to get a sword for his brother, and remembering the huge
anvil he had seen in the churchyard, he hurried toward it. Grasping
the hilt of the projecting sword, he drew it out easily.
Happy over his good fortune, Arthur returned to the tourney ground and
gave the new sword to his foster brother. Sir Hector, who stood near,
"Where did you get that sword?" he asked.
"From the great anvil in the churchyard of St. Stephen's I drew it,"
was the answer.
But Sir Hector still doubted, and when the tournament was over, he and
all the principal nobles of the realm rode back to the churchyard.
Arthur replaced the sword in the anvil and stood aside while all
present tried to draw it forth. None succeeded. Then Arthur again
stepped up, grasped the hilt and pulled out the blade.
"The king, the king!" the people cried; for they knew that at last
they had found a worthy successor to the good King Uther.
So Arthur was crowned king and entered upon that wise and kingly rule
of which the praises have so often been sung.
Following are the stories of the coming and passing of Arthur as they
are related by Tennyson:
TTITLE THE COMING OF ARTHUR
Leodogran, the King of Cameliard,
Had one fair daughter, and none other child;
And she was fairest of all flesh on earth,
Guinevere, and in her his one delight.
For many a petty king ere Arthur came
Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war
Each upon other, wasted all the land;
And still from time to time the heathen host
Swarm'd overseas, and harried what was left.
And so there grew great tracts of wilderness,
Wherein the beast was ever more and more,
But man was less and less, till Arthur came.
For first Aurelius lived and fought and died,
And after him King Uther fought and died,
But either fail'd to make the kingdom one.
And after these King Arthur for a space,
And thro' the puissance of his Table Round,
Drew all their petty princedoms under him,
Their king and head, and made a realm, and reign'd.
And thus the land of Cameliard was waste,
Thick with wet woods, and many a beast therein,
And none or few to scare or chase the beast;
So that wild dog and wolf and boar and bear
Came night and day, and rooted in the fields,
And wallow'd in the gardens of the King.
And ever and anon the wolf would steal
The children and devour, but now and then,
Her own brood lost or dead, lent her fierce teat
To human sucklings; and the children housed
In her foul den, there at their meat would growl,
And mock their foster-mother on four feet,
Till, straightened, they grew up to wolf-like men,
Worse than the wolves. And King Leodogran
Groan'd for the Roman legions here again,
And Caesar's eagle: then his brother king,
Urien, assail'd him: last a heathen horde,
Reddening the sun with smoke and earth with blood,
And on the spike that split the mother's heart
Spitting the child, brake on him, till, amazed,
He knew not whither he should turn for aid.
But--for he heard of Arthur newly crown'd,
Tho' not without an uproar made by those
Who cried, "He is not Uther's son"--the King
Sent to him, saying, "Arise, and help us thou!
For here between the man and beast we die."
And Arthur yet had done no deed of arms,
But heard the call, and came: and Guinevere
Stood by the castle walls to watch him pass;
But since he neither wore on helm or shield
The golden symbol of his kinglihood,
But rode a simple knight among his knights,
And many of these in richer arms than he,
She saw him not, or marked not, if she saw,
One among many, tho' his face was bare.
But Arthur, looking downward as he past,
Felt the light of her eyes into his life
Smite on the sudden, yet rode on, and pitch'd
His tents beside the forest. Then he drave
The heathen; after, slew the beast, and fell'd
The forest, letting in the sun, and made
Broad pathways for the hunter and the knight,
And so return'd.
For while he lingered there,
A doubt that ever smoulder'd in the hearts
Of those great Lords and Barons of his realm
Flash'd forth and into war: for most of these,
Colleaguing with a score of petty kings,
Made head against him, crying, "Who is he
That he should rule us? who hath proven him
King Uther's son? for lo! we look at him,
And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice,
Are like to those of Uther whom we knew.
This is the son of Gorlois, not the King;
This is the son of Anton, not the King."
And Arthur, passing thence to battle, felt
Travail, and throes and agonies of the life,
Desiring to be join'd with Guinevere;
And thinking as he rode, "Her father said
That there between the man and beast they die.
Shall I not lift her from this land of beasts
Up to my throne, and side by side with me?
What happiness to reign a lonely king,
Vext--O ye stars that shudder over me,
O earth that soundest hollow under me,
Vext with waste dreams? for saving I be join'd
To her that is the fairest under heaven,
I seem as nothing in the mighty world,
And cannot will my will, nor work my work
Wholly, nor make myself in mine own realm
Victor and lord. But were I join'd with her,
Then might we live together as one life,
And reigning with one will in everything
Have power on this dark land to lighten it,
And power on this dead world to make it live."
Thereafter--as he speaks who tells the tale--
When Arthur reach'd a field-of-battle bright
With pitch'd pavilions of his foe, the world
Was all so clear about him, that he saw
The smallest rock far on the faintest hill,
And even in high day the morning star.
So when the King had set his banner broad,
At once from either side, with trumpet-blast,
And shouts, and clarions shrilling unto blood,
The long-lanced battle let their horses run.
And now the barons and the kings prevail'd,
And now the King, as here and there that war
Went swaying; but the Powers who walk the world
Made lightnings and great thunders over him,
And dazed all eyes, till Arthur by main might
And mightier of his hands with every blow,
And leading all his knighthood threw the kings
Carados, Urien, Cradlemont of Wales,
Claudias, and Clariance of Northumberland,
The King Brandagoras of Latangor,
With Anguisant of Erin, Morganore,
And Lot of Orkney. Then, before a voice
As dreadful as the shout of one who sees
To one who sins, and deems himself alone
And all the world asleep, they swerved and brake
Flying, and Arthur call'd to stay the brands
That hack'd among the flyers, "Ho! they yield!"
So like a painted battle the war stood
Silenced, the living quiet as the dead,
And in the heart of Arthur joy was lord.
He laugh'd upon his warrior whom he loved
And honor'd most. "Thou dost not doubt me King,
So well thine arm hath wrought for me today."
"Sir and my liege," he cried, "the fire of God
Descends upon thee in the battle-field:
I know thee for my King!" Whereat the two,
For each had warded either in the fight,
Sware on the field of death a deathless love.
And Arthur said, "Man's word is God in man:
Let chance what will, I trust thee to the death."
Then quickly from the foughten field he sent
Ulfius, and Brastias, and Bedivere,
His new-made knights, to King Leodogran,
Saying, "If I in aught have served thee well,
Give me thy daughter Guinevere to wife."
Whom when he heard, Leodogran in heart
Debating--"How should I that am a king,
However much he holp me at my need,
Give my one daughter saving to a king,
And a king's son?"--lifted his voice, and call'd
A hoary man, his chamberlain, to whom
He trusted all things, and of him required
His counsel: "Knowest thou aught of Arthur's birth?"
Then spake the hoary chamberlain and said,
"Sir King, there be but two old men that know:
And each is twice as old as I; and one
Is Merlin, the wise man that ever served
King Uther thro' his magic art; and one
Is Merlin's master (so they call him) Bleys,
Who taught him magic; but the scholar ran
Before the master, and so far, that Bleys
Laid magic by, and sat him down, and wrote
All things and whatsoever Merlin did
In one great annal-book, where after-years
Will learn the secret of our Arthur's birth."
To whom the King Leodogran replied,
"O friend, had I been holpen half as well
By this King Arthur as by thee today,
Then beast and man had had their share of me:
But summon here before us yet once more
Ulfius, and Brastias, and Bedivere."
Then, when they came before him, the King said,
"I have seen the cuckoo chased by lesser fowl,
And reason in the chase: but wherefore now
Do these your lords stir up the heat of war,
Some calling Arthur born of Gorlois,
Others of Anton? Tell me, ye yourselves,
Hold ye this Arthur for King Uther's son?"
And Ulfius and Brastias answer'd, "Ay."
Then Bedivere, the first of all his knights,
Knighted by Arthur at his crowning, spake--
For bold in heart and act and word was he,
Whenever slander breathed against the King--
"Sir, there be many rumors on this head:
For there be those who hate him in their hearts,
Call him base-born, and since his ways are sweet,
And theirs are bestial, hold him less than man:
And there be those who deem him more than man,
And dream he dropt from heaven: but my belief
In all this matter--so ye care to learn--
Sir, for ye know that in King Uther's time
The prince and warrior Gorlois, he that held
Tintagil castle by the Cornish sea,
Was wedded with a winsome wife, Ygerne:
And daughters had she borne him--one whereof,
Lot's wife, the Queen of Orkney, Bellicent,
Hath ever like a loyal sister cleaved
To Arthur--but a son she had not borne.
And Uther cast upon her eyes of love:
But she, a stainless wife to Gorlois,
So loathed the bright dishonor of his love,
That Gorlois and King Uther went to war:
And overthrown was Gorlois and slain.
Then Uther in his wrath and heat besieged
Ygerne within Tintagil, where her men,
Seeing the mighty swarm about their walls,
Left her and fled, and Uther enter'd in,
And there was none to call to but himself.
So, compass'd by the power of the King,
Enforced she was to wed him in her tears,
And with a shameful swiftness: afterward,
Not many moons, King Uther died himself,
Moaning and wailing for an heir to rule
After him, lest the realm should go to wrack.
And that same night, the night of the new year,
By reason of the bitterness and grief
That vext his mother, all before his time
Was Arthur born, and all as soon as born
Deliver'd at a secret postern-gate
To Merlin, to be holden far apart
Until his hour should come; because the lords
Of that fierce day were as the lords of this,
Wild beasts, and surely would have torn the child
Piecemeal among them, had they known; for each
But sought to rule for his own self and hand,
And many hated Uther for the sake
Of Gorlois. Wherefore Merlin took the child,
And gave him to Sir Anton, an old knight
And ancient friend of Uther; and his wife
Nursed the young prince, and rear'd him with her own;
And no man knew. And ever since the lords
Have foughten like wild beasts among themselves,
So that the realm has gone to wrack: but now,
This year, when Merlin (for his hour had come)
Brought Arthur forth, and set him in the hall,
Proclaiming, 'Here is Uther's heir, your king,'
A hundred voices cried, 'Away with him!
No king of ours! A son of Gorlois he,
Or else the child of Anton and no king,
Or else base-born.' Yet Merlin thro' his craft,
And while the people clamor'd for a king,
Had Arthur crown'd; but after, the great lords
Banded, and so brake out in open war."
Then while the King debated with himself
If Arthur were the child of shamefulness,
Or born the son of Gorlois, after death,
Or Uther's son, and born before his time,
Or whether there were truth in anything
Said by these three, there came to Cameliard,
With Gawain and young Modred, her two sons,
Lot's wife, the Queen of Orkney, Bellicent;
Whom as he could, not as he would, the King
Made feast for, saying, as they sat at meat:
"A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas.
Ye come from Arthur's court. Victor his men
Report him! Yea, but ye--think ye this king--
So many those that hate him, and so strong,
So few his knights, however brave they be--
Hath body enow to hold his foemen down?"
"O King," she cried, "and I will tell thee: few,
Few, but all brave, all of one mind with him;
For I was near him when the savage yells
Of Uther's peerage died and Arthur sat
Crown'd on the dais, and his warriors cried,
'Be thou the king, and we will work thy will,
Who love thee.' Then the King in low deep tones,
And simple words of great authority,
Bound them by so strait vows to his own self,
That when they rose, knighted from kneeling, some
Were pale as at the passing of a ghost.
Some flush'd, and others dazed, as one who wakes
Half-blinded at the coming of a light.
"But when he spake and cheer'd his Table Round
With large, divine and comfortable words,
Beyond my tongue to tell thee--I beheld
From eye to eye thro' all their Order flash
A momentary likeness of the King:
And ere it left their faces, thro' the cross
And those around it and the Crucified,
Down from the casement over Arthur, smote
Flame-color, vert, and azure, in three rays,
One falling upon each of three fair queens,
Who stood in silence near his throne, the friends
Of Arthur, gazing on him, tall, with bright
Sweet faces, who will help him at his need.
"And there I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit
And hundred winters are but as the hands
Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege.
"And near him stood the Lady of the Lake,
Who knows a subtler magic than his own--
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful.
She gave the King his huge cross-hilted sword,
Whereby to drive the heathen out: a mist
Of incense curl'd about her, and her face
Well-nigh was hidden in the minster gloom;
But there was heard among the holy hymns
A voice as of the waters, for she dwells
Down in a deep, calm, whatsoever storms
May shake the world, and when the surface rolls,
Hath power to walk the waters like our Lord.
"There likewise I beheld Excalibur
Before him at his crowning borne, the sword
That rose from out the bosom of the lake,
And Arthur row'd across and took it--rich
With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt,
Bewildering heart and eye--the blade so bright
That men are blinded by it--on one side,
Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world,
'Take me,' but turn the blade and ye shall see,
And written in the speech ye speak yourself,
'Cast me away!' And sad was Arthur's face
Taking it, but old Merlin counsel'd him,
'Take thou and strike! the time to cast away
Is yet far-off.' So this great brand the king
Took, and by this will beat his foemen down."
Thereat Leodogran rejoiced, but thought
To sift his doubtings to the last, and ask'd,
Fixing full eyes of question on her face,
"The swallow and the swift are near akin,
But thou art closer to this noble prince,
Being his own dear sister"; and she said,
"Daughter of Gorlois and Ygerne am I";
"And therefore Arthur's sister?" asked the King.
She answer'd, "These be secret things," and sign'd
To those two sons to pass and let them be.
And Gawain went, and breaking into song
Sprang out, and follow'd by his flying hair
Ran like a colt, and leapt at all he saw:
But Modred laid his ear beside the doors,
And there half heard; the same that afterward
Struck for the throne, and striking found his doom.
And then the Queen made answer, "What know I?
For dark my mother was in eyes and hair,
And dark in hair and eyes am I; and dark
Was Gorlois, yea and dark was Uther too,
Well-nigh to blackness; but this King is fair
Beyond the race of Britons and of men.
Moreover, always in my mind I hear
A cry from out the dawning of my life,
A mother weeping, and I hear her say,
'O that ye had some brother, pretty one,
To guard thee on the rough ways of the world.'"
"Ay," said the King, "and hear ye such a cry?
But when did Arthur chance upon thee first?"
"O King!" she cried, "and I will tell thee true:
He found me first when yet a little maid:
Beaten I had been for a little fault
Whereof I was not guilty; and out I ran
And flung myself down on a bank of heath,
And hated this fair world and all therein,
And wept and wish'd that I were dead; and he--
I know not whether of himself he came,
Or brought by Merlin, who, they say, can walk
Unseen at pleasure--he was at my side,
And spake sweet words, and comforted my heart,
And dried my tears, being a child with me.
And many a time he came, and evermore
As I grew greater grew with me; and sad
At times he seem'd, and sad with him was I,
Stern too at times, and then I loved him not,
But sweet again, and then I loved him well.
And now of late I see him less and less,
But those first days had golden hours for me,
For then I surely thought he would be king.
"But let me tell thee now another tale:
For Bleys, our Merlin's master, as they say,
Died but of late, and sent his cry to me,
To hear him speak before he left his life.
Shrunk like a fairy changeling lay the mage;
And when I enter'd told me that himself
And Merlin ever served about the King,
Uther, before he died; and on the night
When Uther in Tintagil past away
Moaning and wailing for an heir, the two
Left the still King, and passing forth to breathe,
Then from the castle gateway by the chasm
Descending thro' the dismal night--a night
In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost--
Beheld, so high upon the dreary deeps
It seem'd in heaven, a ship, the shape thereof
A dragon wing'd, and all from stem to stern
Bright with a shining people on the decks,
And gone as soon as seen. And then the two
Dropt to the cove, and watch'd the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried 'The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!' And the fringe
Of that great breaker, sweeping up the strand,
Lash'd at the wizard as he spake the word,
And all at once all round him rose in fire,
So that the child and he were clothed in fire.
And presently thereafter followed calm,
Free sky and stars: 'And this same child,' he said,
'Is he who reigns: nor could I part in peace
Till this were told.' And saying this the seer
Went thro' the strait and dreadful pass of death,
Not ever to be questioned any more
Save on the further side; but when I met
Merlin, and ask'd him if these things were truth--
The shining dragon and the naked child
Descending in the glory of the seas--
He laugh'd as is his wont, and answer'd me
In riddling triplets of old time, and said:
"'Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow in the sky!
A young man will be wiser by and by;
An old man's wit may wander ere he die.
"'Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow on the lea!
And truth is this to me, and that to thee;
And truth or clothed or naked let it be.
"'Rain, sun, and rain! and the free blossom blows:
Sun, rain, and sun! and where is he who knows?
From the great deep to the great deep he goes.'
"So Merlin riddling anger'd me; but thou
Fear not to give this King thine only child,
Guinevere: so great bards of him will sing
Hereafter; and dark sayings from of old
Ranging and ringing thro' the minds of men,
And echo'd by old folk beside their fires
For comfort after their wage-work is done,
Speak of the King; and Merlin in our time
Hath spoken also, not in jest, and sworn
Tho' men may wound him that he will not die,
But pass, again to come; and then or now
Utterly smite the heathen under foot,
Till these and all men hail him for their king."
She spake and King Leodogran rejoiced,
But musing "Shall I answer yea or nay?"
Doubted and drowsed, nodded and slept, and saw,
Dreaming, a slope of land that ever grew,
Field after field, up to a height, the peak
Haze-hidden, and thereon a phantom king,
Now looming, and now lost: and on the slope
The sword rose, the hind fell, the herd was driven,
Fire glimpsed; and all the land from roof and rick,
In drifts of smoke before a rolling wind,
Stream'd to the peak, and mingled with the haze
And made it thicker; while the phantom king
Sent out at times a voice; and here or there
Stood one who pointed toward the voice, the rest
Slew on and burnt, crying, "No king of ours,
No son of Uther, and no king of ours";
Till with a wink his dream was changed, the haze
Descended, and the solid earth became
As nothing, but the king stood out in heaven
Crown'd. And Leodogran awoke, and sent
Ulfius, and Brastias, and Bedivere,
Back to the court of Arthur answering yea.
Then Arthur charged his warrior whom he loved
And honored most, Sir Lancelot, to ride forth
And bring the Queen;--and watch'd him from the gates;
And Lancelot past away among the flowers,
(For then was latter April) and return'd
Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere.
To whom arrived, by Dubric the high saint,
Chief of the church in Britain, and before
The stateliest of her altar-shrines, the King
That morn was married, while in stainless white,
The fair beginners of a nobler time,
And glorying in their vows and him, his knights
Stood round him, and rejoicing in his joy.
Far shone the fields of May thro' open door,
The sacred altar blossom'd white with May,
The Sun of May descended on their King,
They gazed on all earth's beauty in their Queen,
Roll'd incense, and there past along the hymns
A voice as of the waters, while the two
Sware at the shrine of Christ a deathless love:
And Arthur said, "Behold, thy doom is mine.
Let chance what will, I love thee to the death!"
To whom the Queen replied with drooping eyes,
"King and my lord, I love thee to the death!"
And holy Dubric spread his hands and spake,
"Reign ye, and live and love, and make the world
Other, and may thy Queen be one with thee,
And all this Order of thy Table Round
Fulfil the boundless purpose of their King!"
So Dubric said; but when they left the shrine
Great Lords from Rome before the portal stood,
In scornful stillness gazing as they past;
Then while they paced a city all on fire
With sun and cloth of gold, the trumpets blew,
And Arthur's knighthood sang before the King:--
"Blow trumpet, for the world is white with May;
Blow trumpet, the long night hath roll'd away!
Blow thro' the living world--'Let the King reign.'
"Shall Rome or heathen rule in Arthur's realm?
Flash brand and lance, fall battle-axe upon helm,
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.
"Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard
That God hath told the King a secret word.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.
"Blow trumpet! he will lift us from the dust.
Blow trumpet! live the strength and die the lust!
Clang battle-axe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.
"Strike for the King and die! and if thou diest,
The King is King, and ever wills the highest.
Clang battle-axe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.
"Blow, for our Sun is mighty in his May!
Blow, for our Sun is mightier day by day!
Clang battle-axe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.
"The King will follow Christ, and we the King,
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.
Fall battle-axe, and clash brand! Let the King reign."
So sang the knighthood, moving to their hall.
There at the banquet those great Lords from Rome,
The slowly-fading mistress of the world,
Strode in, and claim'd their tribute as of yore.
But Arthur spake, "Behold, for these have sworn
To wage my wars, and worship me their King;
The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
And we that fight for our fair father Christ,
Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old
To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
No tribute will we pay": so those great lords
Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome.
And Arthur and his knighthood for a space
Were all one will, and thro' that strength the King
Drew in the petty princedoms under him,
Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame
The heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign'd.
TTITLE THE PASSING OF ARTHUR
That story which the bold Sir Bedivere,
First made and latest left of all the knights,
Told, when the man was no more than a voice
In the white winter of his age, to those
With whom he dwelt, new faces, other minds.
For on their march to westward, Bedivere,
Who slowly paced among the slumbering host,
Heard in his tent the moanings of the King:
"I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I mark'd Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;--
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I lean'd in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death:
Nay--God my Christ--I pass but shall not die."
Then, ere that last weird battle in the west,
There came on Arthur sleeping, Gawain kill'd
In Lancelot's war, the ghost of Gawain blown
Along a wandering wind, and past his ear
Went shrilling, "Hollow, hollow all delight!
Hail King! tomorrow thou shalt pass away.
Farewell! there is an isle of rest for thee.
And I am blown along a wandering wind,
And hollow, hollow, hollow all delight."
And fainter onward, like wild birds that change
Their season in the night and wail their way
From cloud to cloud, down the long wind the dream
Shrill'd; but in going mingled with dim cries
Far in the moonlit haze among the hills,
As of some lonely city sack'd by night,
When all is lost, and wife and child with wail
Pass to new lords! and Arthur woke and call'd,
"Who spake? A dream. O light upon the wind,
Thine, Gawain, was the voice--are these dim cries
Thine? or doth all that haunts the waste and wild
Mourn, knowing it will go along with me?"
This heard the bold Sir Bedivere and spake:
"O me, my King, let pass whatever will,
Elves, and the harmless glamour of the field;
But in their stead thy name and glory cling
To all high places like a golden cloud
For ever: but as yet thou shalt not pass.
Light was Gawain in life, and light in death
Is Gawain, for the ghost is as the man;
And care not thou for dreams from him, but rise--
I hear the steps of Modred in the west,
And with him many of thy people, and knights
Once thine, whom thou hast loved, but grosser grown
Than heathen, spitting at their vows and thee.
Right well in heart they know thee for the King.
Arise, go forth and conquer as of old."
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
"Far other is this battle in the west
Whereto we move, than when we strove in youth,
And brake the petty kings, and fought with Rome,
Or thrust the heathen from the Roman wall,
And shook him thro' the north. Ill doom is mine
To war against my people and my knights.
The king who fights his people fights himself.
And they my knights, who loved me once, the stroke
That strikes them dead is as my death to me.
Yet let us hence, and find or feel a way
Thro' this blind haze, which ever since I saw
One lying in the dust at Almesbury,
Hath folded in the passes of the world."
Then rose the King and moved his host by night,
And ever push'd Sir Modred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonnesse--
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.
There the pursuer could pursue no more,
And he that fled no further fly the King;
And there, that day when the great light of heaven
Burn'd at his lowest in the rolling year,
On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.
Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight
Like this last dim, weird battle of the west.
A death-white mist slept over sand and sea:
Whereof the chill, to him who breathed it, drew
Down with his blood, till all his heart was cold
With formless fear; and ev'n on Arthur fell
Confusion, since he saw not whom he fought,
For friend and foe were shadows in the mist,
And friend slew friend not knowing whom he slew;
And some had visions out of golden youth,
And some beheld the faces of old ghosts
Look in upon the battle; and in the mist
Was many a noble deed, many a base,
And chance and craft and strength in single fights,
And ever and anon with host to host
Shocks, and the splintering spear, the hard mail hewn,
Shield-breakings, and the clash of brands, the crash
Of battle-axes on shatter'd helms, and shrieks
After the Christ, of those who falling down
Look'd up for heaven, and only saw the mist:
And shouts of heathen and the traitor knights,
Oaths, insult, filth, and monstrous blasphemies,
Sweat, writhing, anguish, laboring of the lungs
In that close mist, and cryings for the light,
Moans of the dying, and voices of the dead.
Last, as by some one death-bed after wail
Of suffering, silence follows, or thro' death
Or deathlike swoon, thus over all that shore,
Save for some whisper of the seething seas,
A dead hush fell; but when the dolorous day
Grew drearier toward twilight falling, came
A bitter wind, clear from the North, and blew
The mist aside, and with that wind the tide
Rose, and the pale King glanced across the field
Of battle: but no man was moving there;
Nor any cry of Christian heard thereon,
Nor yet of heathen; only the wan wave
Brake in among dead faces, to and fro
Swaying the helpless hands, and up and down
Tumbling the hollow helmets of the fallen,
And shiver'd brands that once had fought with Rome,
And rolling far along the gloomy shores
The voice of days of old and days to be.
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere,
And whiter than the mist that all day long
Had held the field of battle was the King:
"Hearest thou this great voice that shakes the world
And wastes the narrow realm whereon we move,
And beats upon the faces of the dead,
My dead, as tho' they had not died for me?--
O Bedivere, for on my heart hath fall'n
Confusion, till I know not what I am,
Nor whence I am, nor whether I be King.
Behold, I seem but King among the dead."
Then spake the bold Sir Bedivere: "My King,
King everywhere! and so the dead have kings,
There also will I worship thee as King.
Yet still thy life is whole, and still I live
Who love thee; but who hates thee, he that brought
The heathen back among us, yonder stands,
Modred, unharm'd, the traitor of thine house."
Then spake the King: "My house had been my doom,
But call not thou this traitor of my house
Who hath but dwelt beneath one roof with me.
My house are rather they who sware my vows,
Yea, even while they brake them, own'd me King.
And well for thee, saying in my dark hour,
When all the purport of my throne hath fail'd,
That quick or dead thou holdest me for King.
King am I, whatsoever be their cry;
And one last act of kinghood shalt thou see
Yet, ere I pass." And uttering this the King
Made at the man: then Modred smote his liege
Hard on that helm which many a heathen sword
Had beaten thin; while Arthur at one blow,
Striking the last stroke with Excalibur,
Slew him, and but slain himself, he fell.
So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur's Table, man by man,
Had fall'n in Lyonnesse about their lord,
King Arthur. Then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land:
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
"The sequel of today unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep--the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,--
Tho' Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more; but, let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten thro' the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword--and how I row'd across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king;
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In after-time, this also shall be known:
But now delay not: take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle mere:
Watch what thou seest, and lightly bring me word."
To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere:
"It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten thro' the helm--
A little thing may harm a wounded man:
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word."
So saying, from the ruin'd shrine he stept,
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.
There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw: but at the last it seem'd
Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd
There in the many-knotted water-flags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
"Hast thou perform'd my mission which I gave?"
What is it thou hast seen? or what hast heard?
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag."
To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
"Thou hast betray'd thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem'd
Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had follow'd, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again,
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word."
Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fix'd in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud:
"And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost for ever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone? Deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord
Should be to after-time, but empty breath
And rumors of a doubt? But were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, 'King Arthur's sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake.
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.'
So might some old man speak in the after-time
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honor and much fame were lost."
So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And hid Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.
Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
"What is it thou hast seen? or what hast heard?"
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"I heard the water lapping on the crag,
And the long ripple washing in the reeds."
To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
"Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow'd of the power in his eye
That bow'd the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands."
Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush beds, and clutch'd the sword,
And strongly wheel'd and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendor of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shook
By night, with noises of the Northern Sea.
So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
And lightly went the other to the King.
Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath:
"Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?"
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not tho' I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I look'd again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere."
And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard:
"My end draws nigh; 't is time that I were gone.
Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight,
And bear me to the margin; yet I fear
My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die."
So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm,
And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes
As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
Remorsefully regarded thro' his tears,
And would have spoken, but he found not words;
Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee,
O'er both his shoulders drew the languid hands,
And rising bore him thro' the place of tombs.
But, as he walk'd, King Arthur panted hard,
Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
When all the house is mute. So sigh'd the King,
Muttering and murmuring at his ear, "Quick, quick!
I fear it is too late, and I shall die."
But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk'd,
Larger than human on the frozen hills.
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
Dry clash'd his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clang'd round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.
Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge,
Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,
Beneath them; and descending they were ware
That all the decks were dense with stately forms,
Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream--by these
Three Queens with crowns of gold: and from them rose
A cry that shiver'd to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.
Then murmur'd Arthur, "Place me in the barge."
So to the barge they came. There those three Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
But she, that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
And loosed the shatter'd casque, and chafed his hands,
And call'd him by his name, complaining loud,
And dropping bitter tears against a brow
Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
And colorless, and like the wither'd moon
Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
And all his greaves and cuisses dash'd with drops
Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls--
That made his forehead like a rising sun
High from the dais-throne--were parch'd with dust;
Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
Mix'd with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
So like a shatter'd column lay the King;
Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
From spur to plume a star of tournament,
Shot thro' the lists at Camelot, and charged
Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.
Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."
And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seest--if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)--
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."
So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.
But when that moan had past for evermore,
The stillness of the dead world's winter dawn
Amazed him, and he groan'd, "The King is gone."
And therewithal came on him the weird rhyme,
"From the great deep to the great deep he goes."
Whereat he slowly turn'd and slowly clomb
The last hard footstep of that iron crag;
Thence mark'd the black hull moving yet, and cried,
"He passes to be King among the dead,
And after healing of his grievous wound
He comes again; but--if he come no more--
O me, be yon dark Queens in yon black boat,
Who shriek'd and wail'd, the three whereat we gazed
On that high day, when, clothed with living light,
They stood before his throne in silence, friends
Of Arthur, who should help him at his need?"
Then from the dawn it seem'd there came, but faint,
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.
Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Ev'n to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year.
TTITLE THE GREAT KNIGHT SIEGFRIED
Once upon a time there lived in the Netherlands, in Xante, a wonderful
castle on the river Rhine, a mighty king and queen. Siegmund and
Sieglinde were their names, and far and wide were they known. Yet
their son, the glorious hero Siegfried, was still more widely
celebrated. Even as a boy he performed so many daring feats that his
bravery was talked of in all German lands.
The two most remarkable of these feats were the slaying of a frightful
monster known as the "Dragon of the Linden-tree" and the capture of
the rich treasure of the Nibelungs. The hoard was an ancient one and
had this wonderful property--that no matter how much was taken from it
the quantity was never less.
All this happened before Siegfried reached the age of manhood. When it
was time for the youth to be knighted, King Siegmund sent invitations
far and wide throughout the country, and a great celebration took
place. Siegfried was solemnly girded with a sword and permitted to
take his place among the warriors of the kingdom. Then there was a
great tournament, a wonderful occasion for Siegfried, who came off
victor in every encounter, although many tried warriors matched their
skill against his. Altogether the festivities lasted seven whole days.
After the guests had departed, Siegfried asked permission of his
parents to travel into Burgundy to seek as bride for himself
Kriemhild, the maiden of whose great beauty and loveliness he had
Gunther, the king of Burgundy, recognizing the young hero, went out
to meet him and politely inquired the cause of his visit. Imagine his
dismay when Siegfried proposed a single combat, in which the victor
might claim the land and allegiance of the vanquished. Neither Gunther
nor any of his knights would accept the challenge; but Gunther and his
brother hastened forward with proffers of unbounded hospitality.
Siegfried lingered a year in Gunther's palace, and though he never
caught a glimpse of the fair maid Kriemhild, she often admired his
strength and manly beauty from behind the palace windows.
One day a herald arrived from King Ludeger of Saxony and King Ludegast
of Denmark, announcing an invasion. Gunther was dismayed; but the
brave Siegfried came to the rescue, saying that if Gunther would give
him only one thousand brave men he would repel the enemy. This was
done and the little army marched into Saxony and routed the twenty
thousand valiant soldiers of the enemy's force. All the men did brave
work, but Siegfried was the bravest of them all.
When the hero returned, a great celebration was held in his honor, and
Kriemhild, Ute and all the ladies of the court were invited to be
present at the tournament. It was there that Siegfried first saw the
fair maiden. Her beauty was more wonderful than he had ever been able
to imagine. What was his delight, then, to learn that he had been
appointed her escort.
On the way to the tournament Kriemhild murmured her thanks for the
good work Siegfried had done for her, and Siegfried vowed that he
would always serve her brothers because of his great love for her.
Soon after the tournament Gunther announced his intention of winning
for his wife, Brunhild, the princess of Issland, who had vowed to
marry no man but the one who could surpass her in jumping, throwing a
stone and casting a spear. Gunther proposed that Siegfried go with
him, promising him, in return for his services, the hand of Kriemhild.
Such an offer was not to be despised, and Siegfried immediately
consented, advising Gunther to take only Hagen and Dankwart with him.
Gunther and the three knights set out in a small vessel. Siegfried
bade his companions represent him as Gunther's vassal only; but
Brunhild, seeing his giant figure and guessing its strength, imagined
that he had come to woo her. She was dismayed, therefore, when she
heard that he had held the stirrup for Gunther to dismount. When he
entered her hall, she advanced to meet him; but he drew aside, saying
that honor was due to his master Gunther.
Brunhild ordered preparations for the evening contest, and Gunther,
Hagen and Dankwart trembled when they saw four men staggering under
the weight of Brunhild's shield and three more staggering under the
weight of her spear. Siegfried, meantime, had donned his magic cloud
cloak and bade Gunther rely upon his aid.
The combat opened. Brunhild poised her spear and flung it with such
force that both heroes staggered; but before she could cry out her
victory Siegfried had caught the spear and flung it back with such
violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge defeat.
Undaunted, she caught up a huge stone, flung it far into the distance,
and then leaping, alighted beside it. No sooner had she done this than
Siegfried seized the stone, flung it still farther, and lifting
Gunther by his broad girdle bounded through the air with him and
alighted beyond the stone. Then Brunhild knew that she had found her
"Come hither all my kinsmen and followers," she said, "and acknowledge
my superior. I am no longer your mistress. Gunther is your lord."
The wedding was fitly celebrated and then Gunther and his bride were
escorted back to Issland by a thousand Nibelung warriors whom
Siegfried had gathered for the purpose. A great banquet was given upon
their return, at which the impatient Siegfried ventured to remind
Gunther of his promise. Brunhild protested that Gunther should not
give his only sister to a menial, but Gunther gave his consent and the
marriage took place immediately. The two bridal couples then sat side
by side. Kriemhild's face was very happy; Brunhild's was dark and
You see, Brunhild was not pleased with the husband she had gained and
preferred Siegfried. Alone with her husband the first night she bound
him with her girdle and suspended him from a corner of her apartment.
There she let him hang till morning. Released, Gunther sought out
Siegfried and told him of the disgraceful affair.
The following evening Siegfried again donned his cloud cloak and
entered the apartments of Gunther and Brunhild. As he entered he blew
out the lights, caught Brunhild's hands and wrestled with her until
she pleaded for mercy.
"Great king, forbear," she said. "I will henceforth be thy dutiful
wife. I will do nothing to anger thee. Thou art my lord and master."
Having accomplished his purpose, Siegfried left the room, but first he
took Brunhild's girdle and her ring. These he carried with him when
after the festivities he and Kriemhild returned to Xante on the Rhine.
Siegmund and Sieglinde abdicated in favor of their son, and for ten
years Siegfried and Kriemhild reigned happily. Then they were invited
to pay a visit to Gunther and Brunhild. They accepted, leaving their
little son Gunther in the care of the Nibelungs.
Brunhild received Kriemhild graciously, but at heart she was jealous
and wanted Kriemhild to acknowledge her as superior. One day they had
a hot dispute, Kriemhild declaring that her husband was without peer
in the world, and Brunhild retorting that since he was Gunther's
vassal he must be his inferior. Kriemhild made an angry avowal that
she would publicly assert her rank.
Both queens parted in a rage and proceeded to attire themselves in the
most gorgeous costumes they possessed. Accompanied by their
ladies-in-waiting they met at the church door. Brunhild bade Kriemhild
stand aside while she entered, and Kriemhild would not. A storm of
words followed. Finally Kriemhild insulted the other queen by
declaring that Brunhild was not a faithful wife.
"You loved Siegfried better than Gunther," she declared. "Here are
your girdle and ring which my husband gave to me." So saying, she
displayed the girdle and ring which Siegfried had unwisely given her
when he confided to her the story of Gunther's wooing.
Brunhild summoned Gunther to defend her, and he sent for Siegfried.
The latter publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth and
that Brunhild had never loved him or he her.
"This quarrel is disgraceful," he said. "I will teach my wife better
manners for the future." Gunther promised to do likewise.
The guests departed, but Brunhild still smarted from the insult and
longed for revenge. Hagen, finding her in tears, undertook to avenge
her. He continually reminded Gunther of the insult his wife had
received. The king at first paid no attention to the insinuations, but
at last he consented to an assault on Siegfried.
He asked the great hero to help him in a war which he pretended his
old enemy Ludeger was about to bring upon him. Siegfried consented,
and Kriemhild, because she loved her husband very deeply, was much
troubled. In her distress she confided to Hagen that Siegfried was
invulnerable except in one spot, between the shoulder blades, where a
lime leaf had rested and the dragon's blood had not touched him.
"Never fear," said Hagen, "I myself will help to protect him. You sew
a tiny cross on Siegfried's doublet, just over the vulnerable spot,
that I may be the better able to shield him."
Kriemhild promised to obey his instructions, and Hagen departed, well
pleased, to carry the news to Gunther.
At last the day came for Siegfried to leave his queen. He talked to
her and comforted her and kissed her rosy lips.
"Dear heart," he said, "why all these tears? I shall not be gone
But she was thinking of what she had told Hagen, and wept and wept and
would not be comforted.
When Siegfried joined Gunther's party he was surprised to learn that
the rebellion had been quelled and that he was invited to join in a
hunt instead of a fray.
So he joined the hunting party. Now Siegfried was as great a hunter as
he was a warrior, and while the noonday meal was being prepared he
scoured the forest, slew several wild boars, caught a bear alive and
in a spirit of mischief turned him loose among the guests. Then, tired
and thirsty, he sat down, calling for a drink.
Not a bit of wine was at hand; it had all been carried to another part
of the forest. Hagen pointed out a spring near by and Siegfried
proposed a race, offering to run in full armor while the others ran
without armor or weapons. In spite of the handicap, Siegfried reached
the spring first.
Always polite, Siegfried bade his host, Gunther, drink first, while he
himself disarmed. Siegfried then stooped over the spring to drink, and
as he stooped, Hagen, gliding behind him, drove his spear into his
body at the exact spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.
Siegfried struggled to avenge himself, but found nothing but his
shield within reach. This he flung with such force at his murderer
that it knocked him down. Exhausted by the effort, the hero fell back
upon the grass, cursing the treachery of Gunther and Hagen.
Curses soon gave way to thoughts of Kriemhild, however, and overcoming
his anger he recommended her to the care of her brother Gunther. Then
the great hero died.
The hunting party agreed to carry the body back to Worms and say that
they had found it in the forest. But Hagen, bolder than the rest,
ordered the bearers to deposit the corpse at Kriemhild's door, where
she would see it when she went out for early mass the next morning. As
he expected, Kriemhild discovered her dead lord and fell senseless
upon him. Recovering, she cried out that he had been murdered: no
foeman in a fair fight could have killed the glorious knight.
A great funeral took place and Siegfried's body was laid in state in
the cathedral at Worms. Thither many came to view it and to express
their sympathy for the widow Kriemhild. The latter, suspecting
treachery, refused to listen to Gunther until he promised that all of
those present at the hunt should touch the body.
"Blood will flow afresh at the murderer's touch," he said.
One by one the hunters advanced, and when Hagen touched the great
warrior's form, lo, the blood flowed again from his wounds. At this
the Nibelung warriors wanted to avenge the dead, but Kriemhild would
not permit them to interrupt the funeral. So the ceremonies were
concluded and Siegfried's body was laid to rest.
TTITLE LOHENGRIN AND ELSA
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