Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reading the Nibelunglied, Part 2 - Muderhobo Edition (because it's been that way since 500 AD)

On we go with our reading of this classic tale of heroic envy, hate and betrayal and epic revenge. I'll quote from a verse translation (this one) and tell it from a gamer's perspective. If that's your cup of tea and you haven't seen Part 1 yet, feel free to use this link and start there. Part 3 can be found here. Although the verse translation has it's own charm, I highly recommend reading a prose translation of this epic. We've learned to read things for their story nowadays, not so much for the art of the verse and The Song of the Nibelungs is a story very well worth reading. A free online prose version of the text can be found here. Have fun!
First page of an old manuscript
telling the tale (ca. 1230 AD) [source]
Where were we? Ah, Siegfried had been introduced as high-level adventurer, a dragon slayer and conqueror of the Land of the Nibelungs. He is invulnerable, has a magic sword that cuts through anything (I'm actually not sure if he could cut himself with it ...) and a Cape of Invisibility that also gives him the strength of 10 giants. Not a guy you'd want to mess with, but right now he's out for the booty: the fair princess Kriemhild of Worms has vowed to never fall in love and that's the kind of invitation that makes our hero fall in love with her without even seeing what he's gambling for.

Anyway, he takes 12 of his cronies and off he goes to Worms. There it's all partying and brawling. End of chapter 3 it's been a year of mindless fun already and they have to see each other yet face to face (she's already sighing for him behind windows, we know that much). But now the Saxons are risking a big lip, so it's time for Siegfried to stop playing and kick some serious ass ...

Fourth Adventure: How Siegfried fought with the Saxons

Now come wondrous tidings / to King Gunther's land,
By messengers brought hither / from far upon command
Of knights unknown who harbored / against him secret hate.
When there was heard the story, / at heart in sooth the grief was great.

So the kings of Saxon and Denmark, Luedeger and Luedegast, decide to have some beef with the Burgunds residing in Worms. We don't know why exactly, but who needs reasons anyway, right? They will march towards the Rhine in no less than 12 weeks. So king Gunther calls his buddies for counsel and they are all like:

"Our swords ward such things from us," / Gernot then said;
"Since but the fated dieth, / so let all such lie dead.
Wherefore I'll e'er remember / what honor asks of me:
Whoe'er hath hate against us / shall ever here right welcome be."

Beautiful, isn't it? "Since but the fated dieth, / so let all such lie dead." Very death defying, very much what you'd want a knight to be like. And yet they know it's very short notice to muster an army and march against the Saxons before they arrive at their doorstep. All agree to ask Siegfried for help.

Being knights and all that, the king takes his time moping around until Siegfried notices something is up and asks "Why the long face?". Siegfried reacts all hero and offers to go over there and kick them where it hurts most:

"Back to their native country / the messengers may go;

They'll see us there right quickly, / let them full surely know,

So that all our castles / peace undisturbed shall have."
Then bade the king to summon / his friends with all their warriors brave.

No more than 1000 warriors needs Siegfried to make this happen and it's given easily enough. As we learn soon after, they'll face an army of 40.000 warriors. Just to keep it interesting, I guess. It's quite fascinating, too, that the core assumptions of D&D are well illustrated here: high level adventurers vs. hordes of level zero commoners = like mowing grass, so high numbers might sound impressive, but we (the initiated) all know very well how this is going to end ...

Anyway, off they go:

Then from the Rhine through Hesse / the hosts of knights rode on
Toward the land of Saxons, / where battle was anon.
With fire and sword they harried / and laid the country waste,
So that both the monarchs / full well the woes of war did taste.

Yes! Murderhobo-action! As soon as they are in the enemies land, they start to loot what they could carry and burn the rest. They even send back the baggage train as an incentive for the army to take what they want from the land. The ice cold logic behind this is to make those kings feel the pain of kicking this particular hornet's nest.

Siegfried rides ahead, scouting the area. He soon enough discovers the enemy's army:

He found a mighty army / that lay athwart the plain,
Small part of which outnumbered / all those in his own train:
Full forty thousand were they / or more good men of might.
The hero high in spirit / saw right joyfully the sight.

They are outgunned 40 to 1 and it makes our hero happy. So much butt to kick! But as fate would have it (or the author, as it is) he first encounters one of the kings, Ludegast, also scouting the area. It's a fight, of course:

When Siegfried struck in anger / far off was heard the blow,
And flew from off the helmet, / as if 'twere all aglow,
The fiery sparks all crackling / beneath his hand around.
Each warrior in the other / a foeman worth his mettle found.

They are not really equal, but the king is at least able to defend himself and ends up being a hostage. As a direct comparison thirty warriors see their king in trouble and charge to his side. While that first fight goes over 6 paragraphs, the fight against the thirty is more like a wuss slapping in two paragraphs. The gist of it:

Beneath his arm of valor / the thirty soon lay dead.
But one the knight left living, / who thence full quickly sped

To tell abroad the story / how he the others slew;

In sooth the blood-red helmet / spake all the hapless tidings true.

He went shithouse on those guys and left one alive to tell the tale. Then he takes his prisoner back to his guys, who are of course happy to see the king of Denmark as their captive. And yet, Siegfried ain't satisfied. He wants to take the enemies army head on, producing widows like others produce bad grammar:

"Ye warriors from Rhineland, / to follow me take heed,
And I unto the army / of Luedeger will lead.
Ere we again turn backward / to the land of Burgundy
Helms many hewn asunder / by hand of good knights there shall be."

And how eager they all are to charge an army 40 times stronger than theirs even though their hostage would most likely guaranty the end of all hostilities. No Sir, they're in for the carnage - and that's what they get.

You'll read in those verses about heroes getting cut down by even mightier heroes, rivers of blood and shattered shields. Siegfried and his buddies are always where the battle is thickest, even the Burgundians can't keep up with him. This is one happy slaughterfest and Siegfried is an artist among dilettantes.

So he mows his way towards Ludegar, the king of the Saxons and they start trading blows. This fight is evenly matched and goes on for a while. Ludegar even manages to shatter Siegfried's shield, no less. What followed made me laugh hard. Ludegar, you see, didn't know who he'd been fighting with the whole time, but with the shield gone he got a good look at Siegfried's crest and those guys knew their heraldry back then. Well, he recognizes the narrative power behind Siegfried and knows he's out of a fair fight:

"Give o'er from fighting further, / good warriors every one!

Amongst our foes now see I / Siegmund's noble son,
Of netherland the doughty / knight on victory bent.
Him has the evil Devil / to scourge the Saxons hither sent."

I imagine him saying it with as much gusto as could be expected from a guy in dire need of a new pair of underwear. So they make peace and the Burgundians take 500 hostages and two kings back to Worms. It must have been a very impressive battle. Worms, on the one side, lost merely 60 men (no knights among them, btw), but the losses of that other army went into the thousands. Most of it because of Siegfried, but there's a lot of name dropping in those paragraphs. Good show by all.

So the army is going home and messengers are sent to tell of the victory. One is ordered to Kriemhild who is very eager to hear if her sweetheart is alright. As it was the custom back then, she throws some gold at the messenger, promising him even more and then some favors:

When to her own apartments / was come the messenger

Joyfully addressed him / Kriemhild the maiden fair:
"But tell me now glad tidings, / and gold I'll give to thee,
And if thou tell'st not falsely, / good friend thou'lt ever find in me.

What can I say, he tells it all. More name dropping and Siegfried in every second sentence:

"Beneath their hands in battle / full many a hero fell,

Yet all the deeds of wonder / no man could ever tell,
Wrought by the hand of Siegfried, / when rode he 'gainst the foe:
And weep aloud must women / for friends by his strong arm laid low.

That's some early Conan right there. You know the scene I'm talking about:

Conan, what's best in life?

A striking similarity, don't you think? Siegfried really isn't that different from Conan, just more successful. Anyway, all this makes the princess very happy, of course. Hears it, rejoices, throws more gold:

Then spake the beauteous maiden: / "Glad news thou hast told me,

Wherefor now rich apparel / thy goodly meed shall be,
And to thee shall be given / ten marks of gold as well."
'Tis thus a thing right pleasant / to ladies high such news to tell.

Next the army arrives and is welcomed by the king of Burgund:

Shields full many brought they / all hewn by valiant hand,

And many a shattered helmet / into King Gunther's hand.
The riders then dismounted / from their steeds before the hall,
And a right hearty welcome / from friends rejoicing had they all.

Nice touch there, showing off the shattered helmets and shields to the king. Then the prisoners are brought before him. All are quite polite about the whole affair and make their peace right quick. The kings of Denmark and Saxon will have to pay a hefty ransom to get out of there again. And of course they have to vow that they won't do it again.

But the part with politics is short and the next thing we read about is our heroes chilling out and getting drunk, all displayed in beautiful verses:

Sweet rest then found the weary / their tired limbs to aid,

And gently soon on couches / the wounded knights were laid;
Mead and wine right ruddy / they poured out plenteously:
Than they and all their followers / merrier men there none might be.

They're all tended to (even the enemy) and those healers went home rich afterwards. This really is a strong theme in the whole story. There is no price to things, but even the lowest maid is made rich when helping the affairs of kings and heroes. Behold:

Who there had skill in healing / received reward untold,

Silver all unweighéd / and thereto ruddy gold
For making whole the heroes / after the battle sore.
To all his friends the monarch / gave presents rich in goodly store.

They just don't stop spending and the next thing you know is that the king seeks council how to reward his knights. A f*cking huge party, that's how. He takes 60 days (!) to prepare for the feast and all the knights get some time off to go home to their families. The ladies, of course, get wind of the party and start producing fancy skirts immediately.

And thus ends the fourth adventure.

Siegfried and Kriemhild have yet to meet each other and the party is where it will happen. But that will be part of another post.


  1. These are fantastic to read, looking forward to the next post!

    1. Thanks, man! This won't stop anytime soon. The best adventures are yet to come. It's a crazy dense text :)


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