Biblioteca:Waltharius, Part I

<poem> A third part of the Earth is called Europe, brothers, and it divides its races, which differ in customs, languages, and names, by culture and separates them also by religion. Among these races, the Pannonians are known to reside, a race which we generally call the Huns. This nation was once strong and courageous in warfare, not only lording over the surrounding territories but even passing over the lands of the Ocean's shore, granting treaties to suppliant peoples, and subduing all who revolted. It is said that their dominion lasted more than a thousand years. King Attila once ruled that kingdom, a man who was busy to revive their age-old victories in his own time. He roused his forces and commanded that they go against the Franks, whose king, powerful in his high throne, was Gibicho, who had recently rejoiced at the birth of a child, of whom I shall tell later, for he fathered a son whom he called Gunther. Rumor flies and soon whips at the fearful king's ears: a hostile host was crossing the Danube, a force outnumbering the stars and the sands of the riverbank. The king, not trusting in warfare or the strength of his people, gathers a council and asks what they should do. Everyone agreed that they ought to ask for a treaty and to join hand in hand, if the Huns would, and to give hostages and pay the tribute that was ordered. They thought this would be better than to lose both their life and land as well as their sons and wives. Now, noble Hagen at that time was a young man of outstanding bloodline, descending from the race of Troy. Since Gunther had not yet reached the age where he could manage his own tender life without his mother, they decided to send Hagen along with a mass of treasure to the Hunnish king. There was no delay. The ambassadors, taking the tribute and the youth, went and asked for peace and affirmed the treaty. At this time Burgundy was under mighty kingship. Heriric then held its chief office. He had only a single daughter, Hildegund by name, excellent for her nobility as well as for her beautiful figure. She, as heiress, was supposed to reside at her father's court and, if she had been allowed that, to enjoy the wealth collected there. The Avars, however, after settling a firm peace with the Franks, kept away from their territory; but Attila then quickly turned his reins away to Burgundy, nor were the rest of his vassals slow to follow his footsteps. They marched along well-ordered and in a long line. The Earth groaned as she was pounded by their horses racing along. The air above thundered in fright at the clashing of their shields. An iron forest flashed with ruddy light through all the fields not unlike when the beautiful sun strikes the sea, gleaming in the early morn at the edge of the world. And now their host had crossed the deep rivers, the Arar and the Rhone, and the whole army dispersed to ravage the land. Heriric was at Châlons, and suddenly the lookout, lifting his eyes, exclaimed: “What cloud is this that rises up in a dense mass of dust? An enemy force is coming. Close the gates now!” Already then the prince knew what the Franks had done, and he addressed all the elders in this way: If such a strong race has left Pannonia—a race which we cannot match—, then with what courage do you think we will engage this host and defend our sweet country? It is better that we make a pact with them, and they receive a tribute. I have a single daughter whom I do not hesitate to hand over on behalf of our kingdom; only let them be quick to affirm a treaty.” The ambassadors go and, relieved of their weapons, enter the enemy camp. They ask what the king had ordered, that the Huns stop their ravaging. Attila the leader receives them, as usual in a charming manner, and says: “I would rather make treaties than conduct indiscriminate wars. The Huns prefer to rule by peace, but they do, unwillingly, strike their opponents in war, if they see that they are in rebellion. Let your king come to us and give and receive a hand in pledge.” The prince of the Burgundians goes out bringing countless treasure, and he strikes a pact and leaves his daughter with Attila. The most beautiful gem of her parents then went into exile. After completing the pact and establishing tribute, Attila moved his ranks out and into the western regions. Now, the kingship of the Acquitanians was then in the hands of Alphere who they say had offspring of the male sex, named Walter, who shone with the blossom of youth. Furthermore, Heriric and Alphere had sworn an oath between them to bind together their children as soon as they came to a marriageable age. When Alphere had seen that these two races had been conquered, he then began then to quiver with great fear in his heart, nor did he retain any hope of defense from savage arms. “What should we cede,” he said, “if we cannot raise a war? Burgundy and Frankland have provided us with an example. We are not shamed if we should be compared to such as them. I shall send ambassadors, and I shall tell them to establish a treaty and shall offer my beloved son as a hostage and shall promptly pay the Huns the tribute which they assign.” Why should I linger? He fulfilled his words through deeds. Then at last the Avars, burdened with much treasure, took the hostages—Hagen, the girl Hildegund, and lastly Walter—and returned with happy hearts. Attila, after he entered Pannonia and was received in the city, showed fatherly care for the exiled children and bid that they be raised as his own; and he ordered the queen to care for the maiden; but he bid both the youths to be always in his sight. Moreover, he also instructed them in the arts and particularly in making jests in times of war. They, growing both in intelligence and age, surpassed the brave in strength and the wise in wit, until soon they boldly excelled all the Huns. Then Attila made them first men in his army and not undeservedly, since, whenever he made a campaign, these two sparkled amidst triumphal decorations. Therefore, the prince loved them both very much. The maiden, although captive, by the grace of the highest God, relaxed the queen's doubting face and increased her love, for the girl abundantly displayed her outstanding character and the industry of her works. At last she was made the steward to watch over all the king's treasure, and she was but little short of ruling herself, for, whatever she wanted, she actually did. Meanwhile Gebicho died, and Gunther himself succeeded to the kingship, and immediately he dissolved the treaty with the Huns and refused to endure the tribute. As soon as Hagen had heard this in his exile, at night he undertook flight and hastened to his lord. But Walter went to battle at the head of the Huns, and, wherever he went, prosperous outcomes soon followed. Ospirin the royal wife, noticing Hagen was gone, advised her lord in such words: “Let the king's clever mind be aware and careful lest the pillar of your empire totter and fall—that is, lest Walter your friend leave, for a great force of power resides in him. Take care since I fear that he may flee in imitation of Hagen. Therefore, consider now my plan. When first he comes, say these words to him, ‘As our servant, you were accustomed to endure great toils, and so you should know that Our Grace loved you very much, more than all our friends. This I want to affirm for you by my deeds rather than by my words. Choose yourself a bride from my Hunnish vassals, and do not worry about your poverty. I will enrich you greatly with both land and home. Nor will anyone, who gives you his daughter as bride, be sorry about it afterwards.' If you do as I say, you can keep him faithful.” Her speech pleased the king, and he began preparations. Walter came, and the prince declared these things to him, persuading him to take a wife, but he, even then thinking ahead to what he later did, answered the king, who had urged him with these suggestions: "You show fatherly care since you take note of the situation of a lowly servant. But because you carry my servile acts in your mind's eye, I could never have earned this. Still I beg that you receive the words of a faithful slave: If I receive a wife in accordance with my lord's commands, I shall be bound in utmost care and love to a girl and be generally retarded from my service to the king. I shall be driven to build homes and attend to the cultivation of my fields, and this will delay me from being in my lord's presence and from rendering the usual devotion to the kingship of the Huns. For, whoever has tasted pleasure, straightaway he is accustomed to bear toils with less tolerance. Nothing is so sweet to me as to be faithfully obedient to my lord. Therefore, I beg: Allow me now to conduct my life without the conjugal bond. If in the late or middle part of the night you give me your command, I shall go free of other concerns and prepared for whatever mission you order. In wars no anxieties will persuade me to yield—not sons nor wife will draw me back and urge me to flee. I beg you, best father, by your life and by the yet unconquered race of the Huns that you stop compelling me to take up the marriage torch." Conquered by these entreaties, the king deserted all his persuasion, expecting that Walter would never run away. Meanwhile, a very well-confirmed rumor had come to the ruler that a certain race, which had recently been conquered, was now in revolt, already prepared, and hurrying to bring war against the Huns. Then the leadership of the affair was turned over to Walter, who soon reviewed the whole army in order and encouraged the hearts of his warriors, exhorting them always to remember past triumphs and promising that they would lay these tyrants low and subject the foreign lands to their terror. There was no delay. All the army rose and followed. Look! He has seen the place for battle and has arranged his numbered battleline through the wide meadows and fields. And now each host has come together and stopped within a spear's throw. Then on all sides the clamour rises up to the air; the military trumpets confound their horrific cries, and suddenly the spears fly dense from this side and that. Ash and cornel-wood mix in the game, and the swinging spear flashes like a lightning bolt. And, as a dense cloud of snow at winter-time scatters, not otherwise do they shoot their savage arrows. At last, when all the spears from both sides are spent, every hand turns to the sword. They whip out lightning blades and whirl their shields around; the ranks finally meet and renew battle. Horses fall after ramming each other chest to chest; men fall as they clash shield to shield. Walter raged with war in the middle of his line, reaping with his sword whatever was in his way and continuing along his path. When the enemy saw him wreaking such havoc, they feared his sight like death itself. And wherever Walter headed whether on the right or left, they all then turned tail and tossed their shields and slackened their reins to run. The mighty race of the Huns, imitating their leader, rose up more fiercely, and more boldly they increased the slaughter , chasing those who fled, until they had attained a full triumph in the lot of war. Then they rushed over the slain and despoiled them all. And at last the leader called his ranks with a curved horn and first bound his forehead with a festal frond, girding his temples all around with victorious laurel. After him went the standard bearers, who were followed by the rest of the youth. Now decorated in triumphal garb, they returned and, entering their homeland, each placed himself in his own seat, but Walter hurried then to the throne. Look! The palace ministers run down from the citadel; rejoicing at his sight, they take hold of his horse so that the famous man might dismount from his high seat. They ask then if things are well. He, giving them some brief response—for he was tired—enters the court and seeks the king's chamber. Here he met Hildegund sitting there alone, whom he embraced and with whom he exchanged sweet kisses, before saying: “Quick bring me drink here! I am worn out and out of breath.” She then filled a precious goblet with unmixed wine and offered it to the man who received it, while making the sign of the cross, and gripped the maiden's hand in his own. But she stood by and quietly but intently watched his lordly expression, and Walter, drinking the cup dry, held it out to her—and they both knew that they had enacted the rites of their betrothal. Then with this speech he challenged the dear girl: “We have both endured exile so long, not unaware of what our parents arranged concerning our future estate between us. How long will it be that we suppress these same things in a quiet mouth?” The maiden thinking that her bride-groom had not spoken his mind, was silent a while but then said these words: “Why do you pretend with your tongue what you condemn from the depths of your soul and persuade with your mouth what you reject with all your heart, as if it would be a great shame to marry such a bride?" The wise man answered in reply and spoke these words: “Away with these words you say! Set straight your sentiment! You know I spoke nothing from a dissembling mind, and don't think there was anything nebulous or false in what I said, for no one is here but the two of us. If I knew you would lend me a ready mind and keep your pledge through everything with careful vows, I would be willing to show you all the secrets of my heart.” Then the maiden, bowing at the man's knees, said: “My lord, I will eagerly follow wherever you call me, nor would I prefer to place anything above your pleasing commands.” He then replied: “In short, I am ashamed of our exile, and I often recall the territory of our homeland that I left behind, and so I desire a swift and secret flight. This I could already have done, many days earlier if I were not grieved that Hildegund would remain alone." The small maiden added these words from the depths of her heart: "Your will is mine; I toss amidst the waves of concern for this thing alone. Let my lord order, whether prosperous or ill-omened, I am ready with all my heart to suffer. Walter at last spoke thus in the maiden's ear: “Truly public authority has made you guardian over the treasury; therefore, carefully note these words of mine. First, the king's helmet and shirt, the triple-ply hauberk bearing the mark of its maker , steal these; then take two medium sized coffers. Fill these with so many Hunnish bracelets that you can scarcely lift it to the bottom of your chest. Then make me eight boots according to custom; and, getting the same number for you, put them in the containers. Thus the coffers will be filled to the top. Also secretly request some bent hooks from the smiths. Let our traveling fare be fish as well as birds. I must be a fisherman as well as a birdhunter. Do all these things cautiously and gradually within the week. You have heard what a traveler must have. “Now I shall disclose how we can make our flight. After Phoebus has completed seven circuits, I shall prepare a merry party for the king and queen, their vassals, dukes, and attendants. And I shall be quick with all my wit to bury them in drink until no one is left to realize what I shall do. But you, meanwhile, drink your wine moderately and take care scarcely to slake your thirst at the table. When the rest get up, return to your well-known task. But when the violence of drink has overcome everyone, then together let us hasten to seek the western lands.” The maiden mindfully completed the man's commands. Look! The appointed day for the feast arrives, and Walter himself has arranged the food at great expense. At last there is luxury in the midst of the table, and the king enters the hall closed off by curtains on every side. The great-spirited hero, greeting him in the accustomed way, leads him to a throne, which is covered in fine purple cloth. He bids two dukes to sit on either side; acting like a servant, he seats the rest. The king's companions took one hundred seats at once. The guests each taste a different dish and begin to sweat. When these dishes are taken away, others are brought in to eat. Exquisite mixed wine steams in gold—only gold goblets stand on the fine tablecloth. And painted Bacchus adorns the mixing bowls. The sight and sweetness of the drink entices them to drink. Walter exhorts them all to wine and food. After hunger was driven away by feasting, and the table was removed, the aforementioned hero addressed his lord and said: “I beg that Your Grace be conspicuous in this, namely that you first make yourself and then the others merry." And as he spoke he gave him a bowl crafted with skill and displaying in ordered relief the deeds of earlier men. This the king took and drained in one draught, and immediately ordered the rest to do likewise. Swiftly the servers run back and forth; they give full cups and take back empty. At the exhortations of their host and king they all compete in drinking. Hot drunkenness is lord throughout the hall. Their eloquence, spilt out of their sopping mouths, scarcely stutters. You would have seen, were you there, strong heroes totter about on their feet. In such a way Walter kept serving the gifts of Bacchus late into the night, and he detained those who wanted to go home, until, suppressed by the force of the drink and burdened by sleep, here and there about the colonnades they all lay strewn on the ground. Even if he had wanted to commit the walls to burning flame, no one would have remained to know what he had done. At length, he called his beloved woman to his side and ordered her quickly to bring out the things she had prepared. And he himself led the champion of the horses from the stable, whom he had named Lion on account of his courage. The steed stood and wildly chomped on its foaming bit. After he had covered the horse with its accustomed gear, he promptly hung the coffers full of treasure from each side, packed modest provisions for a long journey, and entrusted the flowing reins to the maiden's hand. Then he himself, clothed in a hauberk like a giant, places a red-crested helm on his head, surrounds his calves in golden greaves, and girds his left thigh with a double-edged sword and his right with another in the manner of the Huns—but he dealt blows only from one side. Then, taking his spear in his right hand and his shield in his left, he anxiously starts to leave the hated land. The woman led the horse bearing several talents of treasure, and in her hands she held a hazel-wood rod of the sort with which a fisherman put a hook in the water so that the waiting fish might swallow the hook. For the mighty man was burdened all over with armor and weapons, and he feared he might need to fight at any time. Through all the night they hurried to run, but, when Phoebus reddened showing the first light to the Earth, they were quick to hide in the forest and seek the shadowed places. Dread, wearing them down, troubled them even in the safe places. Fear struck the woman's heart so much that she shuddered at every whisper of the windy breeze, scared by the birds or branches as they dashed against each other. On this side hatred of exile and on that love of their homelands urged them on. They flee the towns and leave behind the beautiful fields, following their winding, curved path through uncut mountains, they turn their nervous steps this way and that through the pathless wild. But the people of the city, loosed by sleep and wine, lie quiet in slumber until the middle of the following day. But, after they rise, they all seek out the duke to thank him and greet him in festive praise. King Attila holding his head in his hands, leaves the chamber and calls Walter in pain to complain about his headache. His attendants answer that they cannot find the man, but the prince hopes he is still quietly held in sleep and that he has chosen a hidden place for his slumber. Ospirin, after noticing that Hildegund was not there to bring out the queen's clothes as she used to, sadly cried out to the ruler and said: "O you detestable food which we ate yesterday! O wine which has destroyed all the Huns! That day, of which I, in my foreknowledge, warned my lord the king some time ago, has come, and we can do nothing about it. Behold! Today the pillar of your empire has clearly fallen. Behold! Your strength and famous courage has gone far from here. Walter, light of Pannonia, has departed hence, and my dear child Hildegund too—he took her with him." Now the prince is fired up, wild with anger; a grieving heart takes the place of his former happiness. From his shoulders he tears off his cloak, rending it down to the hem. And now he shifts his sad mind this way, now that. As the sand is stirred by Aeolian gales, so the king's mind whirls within, his internal concerns all about him; and, imitating his changing heart with changing face, he showed outside whatever he endured within. Anger permitted him no words. In fact, on this day, he disdained food and drink, nor could his worry give calm rest to his limbs, for, when dark night had stolen color from the world, he fell into bed but did not close his eyes. Now propped up on his right side, now on his left, and like one pierced in the heart by a sharp javelin, he feels about and tosses his head this way and that, and then in madness he sits bolt upright on his mattress. Nor does this please him—at last, he leaps up and runs about the city; and, whenever he returns to his bed, he leaves it as soon as he touches it. In such a way, Attila spent a restless night. But the fugitive companions, going through the friendly silence hurried to leave the feared land behind their backs. Scarcely now had the next day broken, when the king called his elders together and said: "O, if only someone would bring me this fugitive Walter, bound like a worthless hound! Then I would clothe him in oft-smelted gold and would wall him up on this side and that right where he stood—I would shut him up alive with treasure." But there was not a single vassal in so large a country—whether duke, count, soldier, or attendant—who, though eager both to show his strength and to win unending praise through his courage, and also ambitious to stuff his purse with treasure, nevertheless, undertook to pursue Walter, since he was angry and armed. They did not wish to see the man with sword drawn—for his courage was known, and they had even personally experienced what great slaughter he had worked scathelessly and victoriously, without receiving a single wound, and so the king could not persuade any of his men, though they wanted the treasure he promised in exchange. Walter, as I said, went fleeing by night; and by day, seeking out wooded valleys and dense stands of trees, he skillfully lured and caught birds, now tricking them with bird-lime, now with split wood. But, when he came to where the curved rivers flowed, he would throw in a hook and catch his prey from beneath the swirling waters. Enduring this hard task, he staved off destructive hunger. For always Walter the praiseworthy hero applied himself to the needs of the fugitive maiden.