IV. Atli speaketh with the Niblungs
Three days the Niblung warriors the ways of the mirk-wood ride
Till they come to a land of cities and the peopled country-side,
And the land Vfolk run from their labour, and the merchants throng the street,
And the lords of many a city the stranger kings would meet
But nought will the Niblungs tarry ; swift through Adi's weal they wend.
For their hearts are exceeding eager for their journey's latter end.
Three days they ride that country, and many a city leave,
But the fourth dawn mighty mountains by the inner sea upheave.
Then they ride a little further, and Atli's burg they see
With the feet of the mountains mingled above the flowery lea,
And yet a little further, and lo, its long white wall.
And its high-built guarded gateways, and its towers o'erhung and tall;
And ever all along them the glittering spear-heads run, '
As the sparks of the white wood-ashes when the cooking-fire is done.
Then they look to tlie right and the left hand, and see no folk astir. And no reek from the homestead chimneys; and no toil of men they hear : But the hook hangs lone in the vineyard, and the scythe is lone in the hay, The bucket thirsts by the well-side, the void cart cumbers the way. Then doubt on the war-host falleth, and they think : Well were we then, When once we rode in the Westland and saw the bro^Ti-faced men Peer through the hawthorn hedges as the Niblung host went by. Yet they laugh and make no semblance of any fear drawn nigh.
BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 353
Yea, Knefrud looked upon thein, and with chilly voice he spake :
" Now his guests doth Atli honour, and yet more will he do for your sake, \Vho hath hidden all his people, and holdeth his vassals at home On the day that the mighty Niblungs adown his highway come. Lest men fear as the finders of Gods, and tremble and cumber the ways, And the voice of the singers fail them to sing of the Niblungs' praise.'*
Men laughed as his voice they hearkened, and none bade turn again, But the swords in the scabbards rattled, as they rode with loosened rein.
Now they ride in the Burg-gate's shadow from out the sunlit fields,
Till the spears aloft are hidden and Atli's painted shields ;
And no captain cries from the rampart, nor soundeth any horn,
And the doors of oak and iron are shut this merry mom :
Then the Niblungs leap from the saddle, and the threats of earls arise,
And the wrath of Kings' defenders is waxing in their eyes ;
But Knefrud looketh and laugheth, and he saith :
" So is Atli fain Of the glory of the Niblungs and their honour's utmost gain : By no feet but yours this morning will he have his threshold trod. Nay, not by the world's most glorious, nay not by a wandering God."
Then Hogni looked on Knefrud as the bodily death shall gaze
On the last of the Kings of men-folk in the last of the latter days,
And he caught a staff from his saddle, a mighty axe of war,
And stood most huge of all men in face of Atli's door,
And upreared the axe against it with such wondrous strokes and great,
That the iron-knitted marvel hung shattered in the gate :
354 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.
Through the rent poured the Niblung children, and in Atli's burg they stood, With none to bid them welcome, or ask them what they would.
But Hogni turned upon Knefrud, and spake : '* I said, time was. That we twain should ride out hither to bring a deed to pass : And now one more deed abideth, and then no more for thee, And another and another, and no more deeds for me.'*
'Gainst the liar's eyes one moment flashed out the axe-head's sheen. And then was the face of Knefrud as though it ne'er had been. And his gay-clad corpse lay glittering on the causeway in the sim.
No man cried out on Hogni or asked of the deed so done,
But their shielded ranks they marshalled and through Atli's buig they strode:
There they see the merchant's dwelling, the rich man's fair abode,
The halls of doom, and the market, the loom and the smithying-booth,
The stall for the wares of the outlands, the temples high and smooth :
But all is hushed and empty, and no child of man they meet
As they thread the city's tangle, and enter street on street,
And leave the last forgotten, and of the next know nought
So through the silent city by the Noms their feet are brought.
Till lo, on a hill's uprising a huge house they behold.
And a hall with gates all brazen, and roof of ruddy gold :
Then they know the house of Atli, and they trow that sooth it is
That the Lord of such a dwelling may give his guest-folk bliss :
Then they loosen the swords in their scabbards, and upraise a mighty shouc
And the trumpet of the Niblungs through the lonely street rings out
And stilleth the wind in the wall-nook : but hark, as its echoes die.
BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 355
How forth from that hall of the Eastlands comes the sound of minstrelsy, And the brazen doors swing open : but the Niblungs are at the door, And the bidden guests of Atli o'er the fateful threshold pour ; There the music faileth before them, till its sound is over and done. And fair in the city behind them lies the flood of the morning sun : No man of the Niblungs murmureth, none biddeth turn aback, And still their hands are empty, and sleep the edges of wrack.
Huge, dim is the hall of Atli, and faint and far aloof,
As stars in the misty even, yet hang the lamps in the roof,
And but little daylight toucheth the walls and the hangings of gold :
No King, and no earl-folk*s children do the bidden guests behold,
Till they look aloft to the high-seat, and lo, a woman alone,
A white queen crowned, and silent as the ancient shapen stone
That men find in the dale deserted, as beneath the moon they wend.
When they weary even to slumber, and the journey draws to an end.
Chill then are the hearts of the warriors, for they know how they look on a queen,
That Gudrun well-belovfed of the days that once have been ;
Then were men that murmured on Sigurd, and as in some dream of the night
They looked, but the left hand foiled them, and there came no help from the right.
But forth stood the mighty Gunnar, and men heird his kingly voice As he spake : " O child of my father, I see thee again and rejoice. Though I wot not where I have wended, or where thou dwellest on earth, Or if this be the dead men's dwelling, or the hall of Atli's mirth !"
She stirred not, nothing she answered: but forth stood Hogni the King, Clear, sharp, in the house of the stranger did the voice of the fearless ring : " O sister, O daughter of Giuki, O child of my mother's womb,
3S6 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.
By what death shall the Niblungs perish, what day is the day of their doom ? "
Forth then from the lips of Gudrun a dreadful voice was bome : " Ye shall die to-day, O brethren, at the hands of a King forsworn."
As she spake the outer door-leaves clashed to with a mighty sound. And the outer air was troubled with a new noise gathering around : As of leaves in the midmost summer ere the dusk of the even warm, When the winds in the hillsides gathered go forth before the storm ; Men abode, and a wicket opened on the feast-hall's inner side And the Niblungs looked for the coming of King Atli in his pride : But one man entered only, and he thin and old and spare, A swordless man and a little — yet was King Atli there. He looked not once on the Niblungs, but forth to the high-seat went, And stood aloof from Gudrun with his eyes to the hall-floor bent : Thence came a voice from his lips, and men heard, for the hush was great. And the hearts of the bold were astonished 'neath the overhanging fete.
** Ye are come, O Kings of the Niblungs, ye are come, O slayers of men ! But how great, and where is the ransom that shall buy your departure again? ''
Then spake the wise-heart Hogni : " Do the bidden guests so long To depart to the night and the silence from the fire and the wine and the song? Fear not ! the feast shall be merry, and here we abide in thine hall. Till thou and the great feast-master shall bid the best befall."
There were cries of men in the city, there was clang and clatter of steel.
And high cried the thin-voiced Atli, the lord of the Eastland weal :
" Ye are come in your pride, O Niblungs ; but this day of days is mine :
BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 357
Will ye die ? will ye live and be little ? Hear now the token and sign ! "
Great then grew the voices without, with one name was the city filled, Yea, all the world it might be, and all sounds of the earth were stilled With that cry of the name of Atli : but Gunnar stood for a space Till the cry was something sunken, then he put back the helm from his face And spread out his hands before him, and his hands were empty and bare As he stood in the front of the Niblungs like a great God smiling and fair :
" We shall live and never be little, we shall die and be masters of fame : I know not thy will, O Atli, nor what thou wouldst with thy name."
" Ye shall know my will," said Atli, " ye shall do it, or do no more The deeds of the days of the living : ye shall render the garnered store. Ye shall give forth the Gold of Sigurd, the wealth of the uttermost strand."
" To give a gift," cried Hogni, ** we came to King Atli's land :
Tomom for a little season thou shalt be the richest fool
Of all kings ever told of; and the rest let the high Gods rule."
" O King of the East," said Gunnar, " great gifts for thee draw nigh, But the treasure of the Niblungs in their guarded house shall lie."
** What then will ye do ?" quoth Atli; " have ye seen the fish in the net ?"
" Eve telleth of deeds," said Gunnar, "and it is but the morning as yet."
Said Atli : " Yea, will ye die ? are there no deeds left you to do ?"
3S8 THE STORY OP SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.
"We shall smite with the sword,** said the Niblung, " and tomom will we
[journey anew." "Craftsmaster Hogni," said Atli, "where then are the shifts of the wise ?"
Said Hogni : "To smite with the sword, and go glad from the country of lies."
" So died the fool," said Atli, " as Hogni dieth today."
"Smote the blind and the aimless," said Hogni, "and Baldur passed awa)'.'*
Said Atli : " Yet may ye live in the wholesome light of the sun,
And your latter days be as plenteous as the deeds your hands have done."
" Dost thou hearken, O sword,*' said Gunnar, "and yet thou liest in peace? When then wilt thou look on the daylight, that the words of the mocker may
[cease?" "Thou Hogni the wise," said Atli, "art thou weary of wisdom and lore, Wilt thou die with these fools of the sword, and be mocked mid the blind of
[the war?" " Many things have I learned,'* said Hogni, " but toda/s task, easy it is ; For men die every hour and they wage no master for this. — Get hence thou evil King, thou liar and traitor of kings, Lest the edge of my sword be thy portion and not the ruddy rings !"
Then Atli shrank from before him, and the eyes of his intent, And no more words he cast them, but forth from the hall he went, And again were the Niblung children alone in the hall of their foes With the wan and silent woman : but without great clamour arose, ' And the clashing of steel against steel, and the crying of man unto man,
BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 359
And the wind of that summer morning through the Eastland banners ran :
Then so loud o'er all was winded a mighty horn of fight^
That unheard were the shouts of the Niblungs as Gunnar's sword leapt white.
But Hogni turned to the great-one who the Niblung trumpet bore,
And he took the mighty metal, and kissed the brass of war,
And its shattering blast went forward, and beat back from the gable-wall
And shook the ancient timbers, and the carven work of the hall :
Then it was to the Niblung warriors as their very hearts they heard
Cry 6ut, not glad nor sorry, nor hoping, nor afeard,
But touched by the hand of Odin, smit with foretaste of the day,
When the fire shall bum up fooling, and the veil shall fall away ;
When bare-faced, all unmingled, shall the evil stand in the light,
And men's deeds shall be nothing doubtful, nor the foe that they shall smite.
In the hall was the voice of the trumpet, but therein might it nowise abide.
But over burg and lealand it spread full far and wide.
And strong men quaked as they heard it in the guarded chamber of stone,
And the lord of weaponed kinsfolk was as one that sitteth alone
In a land by the foeman wasted, and no man to his neighbour spoke
But they thought on the death of Atli and the slaughter of the folk.