Biblioteca:Waltharius, Part III

The unlucky king, seeing this, drew in his breath and, trying to escape in all eagerness, mounted the back of his finely adorned horse to fly quickly to gloomy Hagen and tried with all kinds of pleas to make him go with him and renew the battle. But Hagen spoke: "The unspeakable race of my parents prevents me from fighting, and cold blood has stolen my wits away in the midst of battle. So I say, for my father melted down, whenever he set eyes upon weapons, and fearfully renounced combat with many a word. When you made those taunts, king, among your comrades, our aid to you was shameful indeed."
The other, nonetheless, entreating him yet more as he refused, strove to change him with such words as these: "I beseech you by the gods. Drop this wrath that you have conceived within! Shake off this anger you have for me! If we live and return home together, I shall requite my debt to you with many generous rewards. Do you not feel ashamed to disown your manhood, when so many of your companions and relatives have died? Words, I think, can move your mind more than awful deeds. You would more justly have grown angry at a cruel tyrant, who alone today had dared to defame the Head of the world. We suffer no little loss from the slaughter of men. Yet never will Frankland overcome so great a dishonor. Those who used to fear us will whisper and say: 'All the army of the Franks at the hands of one man—for shame we know not even whom—is slain with no retribution.'"
Still Hagen kept delaying and tossing about in his heart his pledge to Walter and recalling the event in sequence just as it happened, but the unlucky king pressed upon him, imploring even more, until moved by the vigor of his insistent pleas he blushed at the face of his lord and thought again of the honor that he had on account of his courage, and how it would perhaps henceforth become vile, if he were to spare himself in this situation. At last he burst out and answered thus in a clear voice: "Whither do you call me, lord? Whither shall I follow, famous prince? Confidence promises the heart what cannot happen. Who has ever proved to be so foolish that he has tried to jump into the gaping pit of his own accord? So I say, for I know Walter is so bitter on the field of battle that, situated in such a stronghold and residence, he will despise a huge company as if it were one little man. Even if Frankland had sent all her cavalry and infantry here, still he would have done just the same; but, since I see that you are more grieved by shame than by destructive slaughter, and that you do not want thus to leave, I feel sympathy, and my own grief gives way to my king's honor. And look! I shall try to find the path of salvation, which shows itself either nowhere or else only under compulsion. So I say, for on my dear nephew's account—I confess, my lord—I would not spoil the oath I pledged. Look! For you, my king, I shall go into certain danger. But know now that I will go far from the conflict. Let us depart and give him space to come out, and then place ourselves in a lookout and pasture our horses in the meadow, until, secure at last, he leaves his close-set stronghold, thinking that we have gone. When he steps into the open field, let us rise and attack him from behind while he is surprised. Thus can we try some work of courage. But this very sure hope I have amongst doubtful things: then, my king, you will be able to fight—if you have a mind for war—for he will never put the two of us to flight, but we must either flee or wage fierce war."
His lord praises the advice, embraces him, and comforts him with a kiss. And look! They leave and search for a place suitable for ambush, and relaxing they tie up their horses on the lush grass.
Meanwhile, Phoebus tilts toward the western shores, marks his farthest tracks over famous Thule, and leaves the Spaniards along with the Iridehmen behind him. After the Sun has gradually warmed the ocean waves, Hesperus turns his horns to the Ausonid lands, and then wisely the warrior begins to think to himself whether to stay in his safe stronghold while all was deeply silent or to entrust himself to the vast fields of wilderness. He storms within amidst great waves of worry and searches his wits in a swift hunt. So he did, for he feared Hagen alone, and that kiss and embrace of the king. He was totally unsure about the mind of his enemy—would they want to return to the city that they had left to gather more comrades over night and come back at first light to renew awful war, or would they set an ambush by themselves and lie in wait nearby? In addition to these worries the forest with its unfamiliar, crossing trails made him fear that he might chance upon places rough with thorn-bushes, or even wild beasts, and somehow lose his betrothed. After considering all of this, he spoke: "Well, however the affair turns out, I shall rest here until the sphere runs its course and returns its beloved light so that that haughty king may not say that I fled the bounds of his country like a thief through the shadows."
He spoke and look! He fortified the tight path with a barricade, placing freshly cut thorns and Christ's Thorn together all around. When he had finished, he turned to the maimed corpses with a bitter groan and put the heads beside each of them; and, lying face down toward the East with his bare sword in his hand, he prayed thus: "To the maker of the world who also governs all creation, without whose permission or even command nothing stands, I give thanks that he has defended me from the unjust blows of the hostile band and also from their abusive taunts. But I beseech my kind Lord with a repentant mind that he, who wants to destroy not sinners but their faults, may allow me to see these men in the heavenly home."
After completing his prayer, straightaway he rises, turns the six horses around, and ties them up with thin twigs twisted in the customary way—only these remained; for two were killed in battle, and king Gunther had driven off three. Finishing all of this, he loosens his belt, removes the massive weight, and lightens his steaming body.
Then with happy words he consoles his gloomy bride and soon took food and refreshed his weary limbs, for he was quite exhausted. Then, lying back against his shield, he ordered the girl to keep watch so that he might sleep first. He decided to take the morning watch which was more suspect, and at last he rested.
At his head she sat and kept her usual watch and kept her sleepy eyes awake by singing. But when the man first broke his sleep and awoke, he rose without delay, ordered the girl to sleep, and quickly snatched up a spear and propped himself against it. So he continued the rest of the night, for sometimes he would go among the horses, and sometimes he would approach the barricade and listen, wishing that the appearance of the world and light would return. Meanwhile, Lucifer scaled Olympus as herald, saying: "The isle of Taprobane sees the bright sun." It was the hour when the chilly Eous bedews the land. The youth approached to despoil the slain of their arms and armor. Leaving the shirts and other things, he only stripped the armbands, belts and belt buckles, swords, hauberks, and the helmets too.
He loaded four horses, placed the one he called his bride on the fifth, and mounted the sixth himself. Then he went out first, after pulling aside the barricade. Yet, while the path of the confined trail pierced onward, checking everything around him with clear eyes, he caught the airy wind in his ears, pricked to see if he could hear any whispers, footsteps, jangling bridles of haughty men, or even, perhaps, the clatter of an iron-clad horse's hoof.
After he saw that all was quiet, he moved the burdened horses in front of him and bid the girl too to go ahead. He himself, keeping hold of the horse carrying the coffers, dared to follow the path girt in his usual apparel. He crossed nearly a mile, and look! The girl—for her fragile sex drove her to fear in her heart—looked back and saw the two men coming down from a hill, going at a fast and unusual pace. Going white, she addressed the man behind her with a cry: "Our delayed end has now come. Flee, lord! They are closing in!"
He turned, recognized them at first sight, and said: "In vain, did my right hand lay low my enemies, if glory shall abandon me at the last, and dishonor stand at my side. It is better to seek a handsome death in battle than to lose our possessions and escape alone as a wanderers. But the rewards of salvation are not so hopeless for one who has seen greater perils. Take the reins of Lion, who carries the gold, go quickly, and hurry into that nearby wood! But I choose rather to stand by on the mountain's slope, waiting for what shall come and greeting them as they arrive."
The famous young maiden obeys his words as he commands. He quickly grabs his shield and shakes his spear to test the temper of the unfamiliar horse in battle. The king races madly at him, with his retainer at his side, and from afar he addresses him in the haughtiest manner: "Savage enemy, you will now be cheated of all your hard work! Look! Your hidden den is far away, the place from which, like a wolfhound bitch you used rabidly to gnash your teeth and bark. Behold! Fight, if you will, in an open field and find out if luck can get you an end equal to your beginning. I know—you have invited Fortune with a reward, and so you disdain flight or surrender."
Alpharides gave no reply to the king but, as if deaf, turned from him to the other, saying: "I have words for you, Hagen. Stay a bit! What, I ask, has suddenly changed so faithful a friend such that he, who in his recent departure seemed hardly able to be pried away from my embrace, will, though in no way wronged, voluntarily seek to attack me? I admit I had hoped, though wrongly, that, if you were able to discover that I was returning from my exile, you would come then personally to greet me, and would entertain me in restful hospitality, though against my will, and would wish peacefully to take me back to the kingdom of my father. And, thinking this, I was concerned as to where to bring your gifts. Yes, though I went through unfamiliar lands, I said to myself: 'I fear none of the Franks so long as Hagen lives.'
"I beg you now by our childhood games. Recover your senses. Remember those games, which we with one heart were accustomed to play and share our experience, games in which we spent those earliest years of our lives. Where did that famous harmony we had go? It used always to remain in both war and peace, never knowing the traps of temptation. Indeed, it made you forget your father's face, and my great fatherland grew vile as I lived with you. Can it really be true that you have wiped from your mind the oath that we so often affirmed? I beseech you. End this wickedness, do not provoke battle! Let us keep our pact untroubled through the ages. If you agree to this, this very moment you will leave enriched with praise; I shall fill your shield with ruddy gold."
To this Hagen produced these words with his face set grim and so expressed his open anger: "You practice force first, Walter, and only later do you play the wise man. You ended our pact, when you saw that I was there and yet killed so many of my comrades, and even my kinsmen. You can not deny that you knew then that I was there. Since even if my face was hidden, yet you saw my arms which you know well, and you could recognize the man by his gear. Perhaps, I might bear the rest, if this one grief were not with me—uniquely dear, ruddy, charming, and precious was the tender little blossom whom you reaped with your sickle's blade. This is the deed by which you first made void that pact of our youth, and so I want no treasure in return for that pledge. I want to learn in battle whether you have courage by yourself, and from your hands I seek vengeance for my nephew. Behold! Either I approach my death, or I shall do something memorable."
He spoke and, jumping, threw himself from the back of his horse; Gunther too, and the hero Walter did the same no more slowly—all of them ready to make war on foot. Each stood and guarded himself, looking out for the blow to come; their martial limbs shook in anticipation beneath their shields.
It was the second hour of the day when these three joined. The arms of two conspire against one. First of all, Hagen collects his strength and aims his apple wood spear, breaking the peace. But as it flies, terrible with a great whirlwind and shreaking sound, Alpharides, seeing he can not receive it, cleverly deflects the blow by tilting his shield. As it meets the shield, the spear bounces off as if it were polished marble, and it violently stabs the hill, sinking into the ground up to the nails. Then with great heart but little strength haughty Gunther throws his ash shaft, which flies and sticks in the bottom of Walter's shield. But, as soon as he shakes it, the weakling iron falls out of the scratched wood. At this sign, the Franks, though gloomy and confused in their hearts, soon strip war from its sheath; their grief turns to anger; and, covering themselves with their shields, they try to attack the Aquitanian.
But he vigorously knocked them away with a sweep of his spear and frightened them with both his countenance and his weapons as they rushed at him. Now King Gunther considered a foolish undertaking, thinking how he might quietly and secretly approach to recover his spear, thrown in vain and fallen to the ground—lying, in fact, by the hero's feet where he dislodged it. So he thought, since, armed with only their short swords, they could not close hand-to-hand with him, for he kept whirling his outstretched spear around. Therefore, he gave a sign to his vassal with his eyes, encouraging him to edge forward so that with his defense he might complete his plan.
There was no delay. Hagen went forth and challenged their enemy, and the king, hiding his bejeweled sword in its scabbard, unencumbered his hand for a quick act of theft. But need I say more? He leaned forward, put his hand on the spear, gripped it, and gradually drew it away from Walter—asking too much from fortune. But the mighty hero, in as much as he was always quite alert in war and very observant of all but the briefest moment, saw him leaning down, sensed what he was doing, and did not allow it, but pushed aside Hagen—who stood in the way to deflect his upraised blow—, jumped on the spear shaft being snatched away, held it with his foot, and yelled at the king caught in his thievery so that now his knees gave way under the stricken spear. And he would have sent him straight to hungry Orcus, if Hagen, the mighty warrior, had not quickly run to his aid, defended his lord with opposing shield, and brought the bare blade of his cruel sword against the face of his foe.
So, while Walter avoided Hagen's blow, Gunther got back up, trembling, and stood there in a stupor, scarcely returned from death. There was no delay, no rest. They renewed bitter war.
Now the two rush at the man together, now they take turns. And, while he rains fiercer blows on the one who advances, from the other side the second immediately approaches and hinders his swings, not unlike when a Numidian bear is hunted, stands surrounded by dogs, bristles on his limbs, and, covering his head, growls and squeezes the Umbrian hounds that come too close, making them whine miserably; then the rabid Molossians bark from this side and that, and the dread beasts fear to come closer. In such a way the conflict flowed on till the ninth hour. And threefold trouble wore on them all—fear of death, the very toil of battle, and the burning heat of the sun. Meanwhile, a certain thing began to creep upon the hero's mind, and he suppressed these words within his heart: "If fortune does not change her path, they will tire me out and deceive me with their vain sport."
Right then he raised his voice and called to Hagen: "O Christ's thorn, you sprout such foliage that you can prick. You jest and dance and try to trick me with your wit. But now I will make room so that you may not be slow to come closer. Look! Show me your strength—I know it's very great! I am sick of suffering such great toil in vain. He spoke and, leaping up, whirled his spear at him, and it drove through his shield, weighing it down, and tore through a bit of his hauberk, slicing a tiny piece off his great body. Indeed, he had stood gleaming, girt in marvelous arms.
But like a man, Walter, threw his spear, unsheathed his sword, and ran threateningly to attack the king; he pried his shield away on the right, made a mighty and amazing blow, and cut off the king's leg, knee and all, just below his thigh. Gunther fell then on top of his shield at Walter's feet. His retainer grew bloodlessly pale, at the fall of his lord. Alpharides lifted the bloody blade again, burning to inflict the final wound on the fallen man. But it chanced that, heedless of his own pain, Hagen, like a man, bending his helmeted head, opposed it to the blow. The hero could not check his hand at the end of its swing, but the helm made long ago and finely forged received the attack and sent sparks into the air. Stunned at the hard helm, the sword burst asunder. Oh pain! With a clang it flew apart sparkling in the air and the grass all around. The warrior, as he saw the fragments of the broken brand, grew indignant and raged wildly with exceeding anger; and, unable to stand his hilt without the burden of its iron, though outstanding for its skillful metal work, he tossed it aside and spurned the sad memorial.
While he extended his hand in mighty effort, Hagen quite happily removed it with a prompt swipe. The hand was falling as the mighty swing continued its arc...the hand once feared by many races, nations, and tyrants, the hand which once gleamed before innumerable trophies. But the exceptional man, not knowing how to yield to misfortune, capable in his sound mind of overcoming the pains of the flesh, did not despair, nor did he cast down his face, but stuck the bloody stump in his shield and then snatched up in his unharmed hand the half-sword, with which we have said that he girded his right side, taking severe vengeance from his foe on the spot. He struck Hagen and cut out his right eye, severing his temple, slicing off his lips, and knocking six teeth from his mouth. The battle was over when this business was done.
Each man's wound and harsh panting convinced him to put down his weapons. Who could leave here unharmed, where two great-spirited heroes equal both in strength and in fervor of mind stood in the thunderstorm of war? After it was finished, each of them was marked. There lay king Gunther's foot, there Walter's hand, and here the still quivering eye of Hagen. In just such a way they divided the Avarish bracelets!
The two of them sat together—the third was still lying down—and they wiped the torrential river of blood off the flowers. In the mean time, Alpharides called back the fearful girl with a shout, and she came and bandaged each wound. When this was done, her bridegroom ordered her: "Now mix wine and offer it first to Hagen. He is a good athlete, provided that he keeps his pledge. Then hand it to me, since I endured more than the others. Finally, I want Gunther to drink, in as much as he appeared sluggish among the arms of great-spirited men, and he did the work of Mars in a lukewarm and weakly manner." The daughter of Heriric obeyed his every word, but the Frank, when the wine was offered, though parched within, said: "Give it first to Alpharides your bridegroom and lord, maiden, since, I confess, he is braver than I, and not I alone, but he excels all in warfare."
Then at last thorny Hagen and the Aquitanian himself, unconquered in mind, though exhausted throughout their bodies, after the various clamours and fearful blows of the fight, playfully jest with each other while drinking.
The Frank says: "Henceforth you will chase the stags, my friend, so that you may enjoy endless gloves made from their hide! But I advise you to stuff your right glove with tender wool so that you can deceive those who do not know with the appearance of a hand. Wah! Well, what will you say since you seem to break the custom of your race by fixing a sword by your right thigh? And, if ever you feel the desire, will you really put your left arm about your wife in a perverse embrace? Now why do I go on? Behold! From now on you must do everything with your left hand!" Walter answered him thus: "Why are you so boastful, I wonder, my one-eyed Sicambrian. If I shall hunt stags, you will avoid boar meat. Henceforth in fear you will order your servants—greeting the crowds of heroes with a sideways glance. But, mindful of our old pledge, I will give you counsel: Now, when you come home and near your household, make a larded poultice of barley and milk. This will give you both sustenance and healing."
This said, they renew their pact with repeated pledge; and, together lifting the king, who was in great pain, they put him on his horse; and separated thus the Franks returned to Wörms, and the Aquitanian came to his homeland. There, received gratefully with much honor, he made the customary public vows of betrothal to Hildegund; and, dear to all after the death of his father, he ruled the people happily for thrice ten years. What kind of battles and what great triumphs he often received hereafter... Well, my blunted pen refuses to write any more.
Whoever reads this poem, forgive the strident cicada. And consider not its shrill little voice but its age, for it has not yet left its nest to seek the sky. This is the poem of Walter. May Jesus save you!