X. Of the Contention betwixt the Queens
So there are all these abiding in the Burg of the ancient folk
And never a whit abateth the sound of the people's praise ;
They drink in the hall together, they doom in the people's strife,
And do every deed of the King-folk, that the world may rejoice in their life.
There now is Brynhild abiding as a Queen in the house of the Kings,
And no man knoweth her sorrow ; though whiles is the Niblung bed
Too hot and weary a dwelling for the temples of her head.
And she wends, as her wont was aforetime, when the moon is riding high,
And the night on the earfh is deepest ; and she deemeth it good to lie
While soft in the arms of Sigurd Queen Gudrun lieth asleep :
There she cries on the lovely Sigurd, and she cries on the love and the oath,
And she cries on the change and the vengeance, and the death to deliver them both.
But her crying none shall hearken, and her sorrow nought shall know,
So she wendeth her back in the dawning toward the deeds and the dwellings of men.
And she sits in the Niblung high-seat, and is fair and queenly again,
Close now is her converse with Gudrun, and sore therein she strives
The mistress, the overcomer, the winner of all that is worth :
And Gudrun beareth it all, and deemeth it little enow
Though the wife of Sigurd be worshipped: and the scorn in her heart doth grow,
Of every soul save Sigurd : for that tale of the night she bears
Songs sung of the deeds of Gunnar, and the rider of the fire.
Who mocked at the bane of King-folk to win his heart's desire :
But Sigurd's will constraineth, and with seeming words of peace
She deals with the converse of Brynhild, and the days her load increase.
Men tell how the heart-wise Hogni grew wiser day by day ;
And that he will be wiser than this, nor thrust his desire aside,
Nor smother the flame of his hatred; but the steed of the Norns will he ride,
Till he see great marvels and wonders, and leave great tales to be told :
And measureless pride is in him, a stern heart, stubborn and cold.
But of Gunnar the Niblung they say it, that the bloom of his youth is o'er.
And the wonder riseth within him, what deed did Sigurd there.
What gift to the King hath he given : and he looks on Brynhild the fair,
The fair face never smiling, and the eyes that know no change,
And he deems in the bed of the Niblungs she is but cold and strange ;
He hearkens to Grimhild moreover, and he deems she is driving him on,
He knoweth not whither nor wherefore : but she tells of the measureless Gold,
And the Flame of the uttermost Waters, and the Hoard of the kings of old :
And she tells of kings' supplanters, and the leaders of the war.
She tells of kings' supplanters, and saith : Perchance 'twere well.
Might some tongue of the wise of the earth of those deeds of the night-tide tell :
She tells of kings' supplanters : I am wise, and the wise I know,
And for nought is the sword-edge whetted, save the smiting of the blow:
When one the King's shame knoweth, and the other knoweth his need.
So Gunnar hearkens and hearkens, and he saith. It is idle and worse :
Must my stroke be a stroke of the guilty, though on sackless folk it fall ?
Shall a king sit joy-forsaken mid the riches of his hall ?
And measureless pride is in Gunnar, and it blends with doubt and shame,
And the unseen blossom is envy and desire without a name.
But fair-faced, calm as a God who hath none to call his foes,
But he seeth the heart of Brynhild, and knoweth her lonely cry
When the waste is all about her, and none but the Gods are anigh:
And he knoweth her tale of the night-tide, when desire, that day doth dull,
Of the sighs she may not utter, and the prayers that none may heed ;
Though the Gods were once so mighty the smiling world to speed.
And he knows of the day of her burden, and the measure of her toil.
And the peerless pride of her heart, and her scorn of the fall and the foil.
And the shadowy wings of the Lie, that with hand unwitting he led
And the hand of the hero faileth, and seared is the sight of the wise,
And good is at one with evil till the new-bom death shall arise,
In the hall sitteth Sigurd by Brynhild, in the council of the Kings,
And scarce may he tell if the meeting be worse than the coward's death,
Or better than life of the righteous : but his love is a flaming fire,
That hath burnt up all before it of the things that feed desire.
The heart of Gudrun he seeth, her heart of burning love,
Save the foes that encompass his life, and the woman that wasteth away
'Neath the toil of a love like her love, and the unrewarded day :
For hate her eyes hath quickened, and no more is Gudrun blind
And sure, though dim it may be, she seeth the days behind :
To the love and the heart of Gudrun, brood over board and bed ;
And for all the hand of the hero and the foresight of the wise,
From the heart of a loving woman shall the death of men arise.
It was most in these latter days that his fame went far abroad.
The loveliest King of the King-folk, the man of sweetest speech,
Whose ear is dull to no man that his helping shall beseech;
The eye-bright seer of all things, that wasteth every wrong.
The straightener of the crooked, the hammer of the strong :
The dread of the doom and the battle; and all children loved him well.
Now it happed on a summer season mid the blossom of the year.
So she set her face to the river, where the hawthorn and the rose
Hide the face of the sunlit water from the yellow-blossomed close
And the house-built Buig of the Niblungs ; for there by a grassy strand
The shallow water floweth o'er white and stoneless sand
Goes high and shear and rocky the water's face to hide
From the plain and the horse-fed meadow : there the wives of the Niblungs oft
Would play in the wide-spread water when the summer days were soft ;
And thither now goes Brynhild, and the flowery screen doth pass.
And she looks, and there is Gudrun, the white-armed Niblung child.
All bare for the sunny river and the water undefiled.
Round she turned with her face yet dreamy with the love of yesternight,
Till the flush of anger changed it : but Brynhild's face grew white
Though soft she spake and queenly :
Thou art fair in the summer morning 'twixt the river and the sward !"
Then she disarrayed her shoulders and cast her golden girth,
Then, smiling nowise kindly, doth Gudrun her behold,
And the love of the night and the morning is heavy at my heart ;
For the best of the world was beside me, while thou layest with Gunnar the King."
She laughs and leaps, and about her the glittering waters spring :
Wreathes long folds round about her as she wadeth straight and swift
Where the white-scaled slender fishes make head against the drift :
Then she turned to the white-armed Gudrun, who stood far down the stream
In the lapping of the west-wind and the rippling shallows' gleam,
When the kings of war are seeking, and their foes are fain to find.
But Gudrun cried upon her, and said : "Why wadest thou so
Then e'en as one transfigured loud Brynhild cried, and said :
E'en so in Freyia's garden shall the lilies cover me,
While thou on the barren footways, thy gown-hem folk shall see :
E'en so shall the gold cloths lap me, when we sit in Odin's hall,
While thou shiverest, little hidden, by thy lord, the Helper's thrall,
And waits by the door of the bower, while his master plighteth the troth :
But my mate is the King of the King-folk who rode the Wavering Fire,
And mocked at the ruddy death to win his heart's desire.
Lo now, it is meet and righteous that ye of the happy days
O, is it not goodly and sweet with the best of the earth to dwell,
And the man that all shall worship when the tale grows old to tell !
For the woe and the anguish endure not, but the tale and the fame endure,
And as wavering wind is the joyance, but the Gods' renown shall be sure :
Through the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild's side."
Then no word answered Gudrun till she waded up the stream
White waxed the face of Brynhild as she looked on the glittering thing :
Then Gudrun laughed in her glory the face of the Queen to see :
Nought spake the glorious woman, but as one who clutcheth a knife
"I had the ring, O Brynhild, on the night that followed the morn.
And he rode with the heart-wise Regin, and rode the Glittering Heath,
And gathered the Golden Harvest and smote the Worm to the death :
And he rode with the sons of the Niblungs till the words' of men must fail
To tell of the deeds of Sigurd and the glory of his tale :
For he cloaked him in Gunnar's semblance and his shape in Gunnar's hid : —
Thou all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this so hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent's heart ?
— Thus he wooed the bride for Gunnar, and for Gunnar rode the fire ;
We have known thee for long, O Brynhild, and great is thy renown ;
In this shalt thou joy henceforward and nought in thy wedding crown."
Now is Brynhild wan as the dead, and she openeth her mouth to speak,
As though flames were burning beneath it, and red gleeds the daisies were :
But fair with face triumphant from the water Gudrun goes.
And with many a thought of Sigurd the heart within her glows.
And yet as she walked the meadow a fear upon her came,
And many a heavy warning and many a word of fate
By the lips of Sigurd spoken she remembereth overlate ;
Yet e'en to the heart within her she dissembleth all her dread.
Daylong she sat in her bower in glee and goodlihead,
She went alone in the garden by the nook of the Niblung wall ;
There she thought of that word in the river, and of how it were better unsaid,
And she looked with kind words to hide it, as men bury their battle-dead
With the spice and the sweet-smelling raiment : in the cool of the eve she went
While her heart was happy with love : then she lifted up her face.
And lo, there was Brynhild the Queen hard by in the leafy place ;
Then the smile from her bright eyes faded and a flush came over her cheek
And she said : "What dost thou Brynhild? what matter dost thou seek ?"
But the word of Sigurd smote her, and she spake ere the answer came :
But no word answered Brynhild, and the wife of Sigurd spake :
And yet is thine anger heavy — well then, tell all thy tale,
And the grief that sickens thine heart, that a kindly word may avail."
Then spake Brynhild and said : "Thou art great and livest in bliss.
Thou, the child of the mighty Niblungs, thou, Sigurd's wedded queen.
It is good to be kindly and soft while the heart hath all its will."
Said the Queen : "There is that in thy word that the joy of my heart would kill.
Then spake Brynhild the Queen : "I spake heavy words today ;
And not the glorious Sigurd, the peerless lovely King;
E'en so will I serve thee for ever, and peace on this house shall be,
And rest ere my departing, and a joyous life for thee ;
And long life for the lovely Sigurd, and a glorious tale to tell.
But hard grew the heart of Gudrun, and she said : "Hast thou heard the tale
And the shame of my brother Gunnar, how his glory was turned to a scoff;
And he set the ring on my finger with sweet words of the sweetest of men,
And no more from me shall it sunder — lo, wilt thou behold it again ?"
And her hand gleamed white in the even with the ring of Andvari thereon,
Then uprose the voice of Biynhild, and she cried to the towers aloft :
"O house of the ancient people, I blessed thee sweet and soft ;
To remember the woe of Brynhild, and the joy from her life-days reft ;
Lest the grey wolf howl in the hall, and the wood-king roll in the porch.
And the moon through thy broken rafters be the Niblungs' feastful torch."
"O God-folk hearken," cried Gudrun, "what a tale there is to tell !
"O Niblung child," said Brynhild, "what bitterer curse may be
"Ah fool !" said the wife of Sigurd, "wilt thou curse thy very friend ?
"Do I curse the accursed?" said Brynhild, "but yet the day shall come.
Out-brake the child of the Niblungs : "A witless lie is this ;
A ruthless liar thou art : thou wouldst cut off my glory and gain,
Though it further thine own hope nothing, and thy longing be empty and vain.
Ah, thou hungerest after mine husband ! — yet greatly art thou wed,
And high o'er the kings of the Goth-folk doth Gunnar rear the head."
"Which one of the sons of Giuki," said Brynhild, "durst to ride
"Yea, hearken," said she of the Niblungs, "what words the stranger saith !
Said Brynhild : "Long were the days ere the Son of Sigmund came ;
Then coldly laughed Queen Gudrun, and she said: "Wilt thou lay all things
O all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this change too hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent's heart ?"
Then was Brynhild silent a little, and forth from the Niblung hall
Of kine in the dew-fall wandering, and of oxen loosed from the wain,
And the songs of folk free-hearted, and the river rushing by ;
And the heart of Brynhild hearkened and she cried with a grievous cry :
" O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, we twain were one, time was.
And now I am nought for helping, and no helping mayst thou give ;
And all is marred and evil, and why hast thou heart to live ?"
She held her peace for anguish, and forth from the hall there came
"O evil house of the Niblungs, may the day of your woe and your dread
Be meted with the measure of the guile ye dealt to me,
When ye sealed your hearts from pity and forgat my misery !"
And she turned to flee from the garden; but her gown-lap Gudrun caught,
And their day of the fame past telling, that they should heed thy life ?
Dear house of the Niblung glory, fair bloom of the warriors' strife.
How well shalt thou stand triumphant, when all we lie in the earth
For a little while remembered in the story of thy worth !"
But the lap of her linen raiment did Brynhild tear from her hold
"Such pride and comfort in Sigurd henceforward mayst thou find,
But turmoil of wrath wrapt Gudrun, that she knew not the day from the night.
And she cried: "Thou filled with murder, my love shall blossom and bloom
When thou liest in the hell forgotten ! smite thence from the deedless gloom,
Smite thence at the lovely Sigurd, from the dark without a day !
Let the hand that death hath loosened the King of Glory slay !"
So died her words of anger, and her latter speech none heard.
"O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, what now shall give me back
O Norns, fast bound from helping, O Gods that never weep,
Ye have left stark death to help us, and the semblance of our sleep !
Yet I sleep and remember Sigurd ; and I wake and nought is there,
Save the golden bed of the Niblungs, and the hangings fashioned fair :
How then shall I come on Sigurd, when again my sorrow lives
In the dreams of the slumber of death ? O nameless measureless woe,
To abide on the earth without him, and alone from earth to go !"
So wailed the wife of Gunnar, as she fled through the summer night,
She stood by the Burg of the Niblungs, and the dwelling of her lord.
Awhile bode the white-armed Gudrun on the edge of the daisied sward,
While yet the winds of night-tide round the wandering Brynhild sweep.