Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1798
Chapter 1 The Nibelungenlied opens with an exhortation to the reader to expect a tale of brave knights and furious battles. The main site of the action is the land of the Burgundians, which is ruled by the three brothers Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher. They have a beautiful sister, Kriemhild,...
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The Nibelungenlied opens with an exhortation to the reader to expect a tale of brave knights and furious battles. The main site of the action is the land of the Burgundians, which is ruled by the three brothers Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher. They have a beautiful sister, Kriemhild, and live in the city of Worms (pronounced "Voorms'') on the Rhine River. Their mother is called Uote, and their deceased father was named Dancrat.
We also learn in this chapter that Kriemhild dreamed that a falcon she had raised was attacked and torn to pieces by two eagles. Her mother Uote suggests that the falcon in the dream is a noble man that Kriemhild loves who will be torn away from her. Kriemhild says that rather than risk such a loss, she will never marry. The narrator ends the chapter by warning that the dream foretells a great tragedy which will befall the Burgundians.
We are introduced to another city, Xanten in the Netherlands, where the royal family of King Siegmund, his wife Sieglind, and their son Siegfried live and rule. Siegfried is described as handsome, brave, honorable, and an expert knight. Siegmund holds a lavish feast and festival honoring the knighting of his son and a host of other young warriors. The description of the festival, and of Siegmund's generous gifts of money, jewels, and clothing, is elaborate and detailed.
Siegfried hears of the beauty of the Burgundian princess Kriemhild, and decides to win her hand in marriage. His father and mother are not happy to hear this at first, for Kriemhild's brothers are reputed to be fearsome warriors. Siegmund himself does not relish the possibility of war with the Burgundians if they oppose the Xanten prince's suit, but he will not be deterred.
Siegfried and his knights travel to Worms. The Burgundian knight Hagen recognizes Siegfried, and shares what he knows about the Xanten prince's reputation: Siegfried is known to have slain the two Nibelung princes ("Nibelung" here is the name of a dynasty or powerful, long-established family) and to have won their great treasure, including a magic cloak which makes the wearer invisible. Siegfried also once killed a dragon and bathed in its blood. As a result, he cannot be harmed by weapons. Therefore, says Hagen, Siegfried must be welcomed as a special guest.
Siegfried is greeted hospitably, and offers words of great flattery to Gunther and his men. However, his words contain a veiled threat: he indicates that he wishes to possess all that the Burgundians now have! Siegfried challenges Gunther to a battle, proposing that the loser give up his kingdom to the winner. Gernot and Hagen object that Siegfried has challenged Gunther without provocation. Gernot intervenes and convinces the two that little honor is to be gained from such an endeavor. A war is barely averted.
Gernot now officially welcomes Siegfried with true courtesy and offers him the full hospitality of Worms, provided he behave honorably. Siegfried does not reveal his true reason for visiting Worms until much later. Siegfried and his men are given the best accommodations, and proceed to take part in many social events, including sporting contests, war games, and hunting. Siegfried outshines all the participants in each and every endeavor.
Siegfried does not see Kriemhild, who is kept in seclusion, but he cherishes his thoughts of her. He does not know that she is watching from her window as he competes against the knights of her own kingdom, and is falling in love with him. Siegfried lives with the Burgundians for a year without ever seeing her.
Gunther and the Burgundians receive more surprise visitors—envoys from King Liudegast of Denmark and his brother King Liudeger of Saxony. The Burgundians are informed that the kings intended to invade Burgundy in twelve weeks. When told of the impending invasion, Siegfried pledges his aid, and Gunther accepts the offer. The envoys are informed that forces have been gathered and that the Burgundians are ready to receive the invaders.
When the envoys arrive home and tell King Liudegast that Siegfried of the Netherlands has allied with the Burgundians, he and King Liudeger summon over 40,000 troops. Meanwhile, Gunther gathers his own forces. Siegfried asks Gunther to remain behind at Worms so that he might fight the battle. The Burgundians, led by Siegfried, ride through Hesse toward Saxony, destroying enemy towns and villages along the way.
When the main forces meet in battle, Siegfried captures both King Liudegast and King Liudeger. The Burgundians also take many other Saxon prisoners, and bring the wounded back to Worms to be cared for. Most of the Danes return to Denmark, defeated. Gunther rides out to meet the returning army, and learns of the Burgundian victory. Everyone is welcomed; even the prisoners are received like honored guests. King Liudeger promises to remain with his captured troops until they are given leave to return home. Gunther dismisses the troops of warrior-vassals who had gathered to fight for Burgundy along with Siegfried, asking them to return in six weeks for a great feast. Gunther asks Siegfried to remain in Worms, and Siegfried agrees because of his secret love for Kriemhild.
The promised festivities are underway. The narrator tells us that Gunther has noticed Siegfried's secret devotion to Kriemhild, and arranged for Kriemhild and their mother Uote to join the celebration. Gunther introduces Kriemhild and Siegfried, and the narrator dwells at length on their immediate attraction to one another.
The Danes return home after asking for a pledge of peace between themselves and the Burgundians. Gunther agrees. Siegfried again plans to leave, but young Giselher asks him to remain at Worms. Again, Siegfried does so in hopes of winning Kriemhild's hand.
Gunther, having heard of many beautiful maidens in other lands, decides to win one for his wife. One particular queen, Brunhild of Iceland, is very famous for her great physical strength and beauty. Her suitors are expected to engage in three tests of strength against her in order to win her hand. Those who do not outmatch her lose their heads. Gunther is determined to win Brunhild, and Siegfried agrees to help him in his quest if in exchange he is permitted to marry Kriemhild. Gunther agrees.
The Burgundians arrive at Brunhild's kingdom. Siegfried pretends to be Gunther's vassal, or liegeman (a servant or subordinant to a noble person) and speaks on his behalf, praising his lord and explaining that they have come so that Gunther might win Brunhild as his wife. Brunhild explains the tests which he must undergo to win her: Gunther must "cast the weight" (a heavy boulder which twelve men can barely lift); perform a leap (a type of long-jump); and throw a javelin (a long spear). Gunther accepts the challenge.
As Gunther takes part in each event, Siegfried secretly helps him while wearing his magic cloak of invisibility. Together they defeat Brunhild, who grudgingly accepts Gunther as her husband and king, and joins her kingdom to his. A feast and games follow, and Siegfried leaves to visit the land of the Nibelungs, which he earlier conquered.
When Siegfried arrives at the land of the Nibelungs, of whose great treasure and lands he is lord, he is challenged by the gatekeeper and a fight ensues. Siegfried wins and binds his attacker; news of the event spreads quickly. Alberich, the dwarf from whom Siegfried had taken the magic cloak, arrives and attacks Siegfried, whom he has not recognized. Siegfried wins again, and ties up Alberich. Realizing who his captor is, Alberich is relieved, and welcomes him.
When the Nibelungs arrive at Iceland, Brunhild is surprised, but welcomes them. The Burgundians prepare to return to Worms with Brunhild as queen.
On their journey home, Siegfried is asked to travel ahead to tell of the good news so that all might be ready to welcome Gunther's new bride. Gifts are prepared for Brunhild, and when Gunther and his company arrive a ceremonious entourage is ready to welcome them.
Kriemhild, Uote and all the king's vassals are standing by to greet those arriving. Brunhild is welcomed by Kriemhild with special attention, and the two queens at first seem destined to be friends. A wedding party is held, with games and a wonderful feast. Siegfried reminds Gunther of his oath to allow him to marry Kriemhild, and Gunther happily complies. Gunther tells Kriemhild of his wish, she gladly accepts, and the two are married at once. Brunhild is surprised that Gunther intends to let his sister marry Siegfried, since she believes what he told her in her own country: that Siegfried is only a vassal of the prince, and therefore not really an appropriate husband for a princess.
When Gunther and Brunhild retire for their wedding night, Gunther learns that Brunhild intends to remain a virgin. When he attempts to embrace her, she becomes enraged. She uses her great physical strength to tie him up and hang him from a hook on the wall, where she leaves him until morning, taking him down just before attendants enter the room the next morning, in order to spare him the embarrassment of the whole court finding out that he was overpowered by his new wife.
The next morning Gunther tells Siegfried of the humiliation he suffered. Siegfried, whose own wedding night had been quite enjoyable, offers to use his magic cloak again to help Gunther consummate his marriage, promising that he will not take advantage of the situation for his own sexual pleasure. That night, when Brunhild again resists Gunther's advances, the invisible Siegfried intervenes. He violently fights with and subdues Brunhild, holding her helpless on the bed for Gunther. Siegfried takes a girdle (a belt or any garment that encircles the waist) of silk and a golden ring from Brunhild before he returns to his own chamber, where Kriemhild waits. She is suspicious about where he has been, but he avoids her questions. He gives her the silken belt and the ring, but does not tell her where he got them. Meanwhile, Brunhild realized that with her virginity she has lost her physical strength as well, and is now no more powerful that any other woman.
This episode can be offensive to a late twentieth-century reader. However, according to the traditions of the era in which the Nibelungenlied was written, it was considered seriously wrong—perverse and unwomanly—of Brunhild to refuse to consummate her marriage with Gunther. As disturbing as it is to a modern sensibility, Gunther's virtual rape of his new bride was viewed as his right and as the logical next step after she refused to submit to him. As later events show, however, the involvement of his friend Siegfried is questionable, even within the context of the times.
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Siegfried and Kriemhild prepare to return to the Netherlands, but not before Gunther, Giselher, and Gernot arrange to grant them the lands that are part of Kriemhild's inheritance. (Brunhild is not present at this exchange, and scholars have suggested that is perhaps because she would then have realized that Siegfried is certainly not Gunther's vassal.) They are welcomed at Siegfried's home with open arms, and King Siegmund crowns Siegfried as king on the spot. The narrator skims quickly over the next several months, telling the reader only that Siegfried and Kriemhild have a son whom they name Gunther after his uncle. In the meantime, Brunhild gives birth to a son as well, whom she and Gunther name Siegfried.
Brunhild has been wondering why so much time has passed since Siegfried rendered his "lord'' Gunther any tribute (money paid regularly by a vassal to a lord, usually in exchange for the use of land and military protection). She keeps her thoughts to herself, however, and asks Gunther to invite Siegfried and Kriemhild for a visit. Gunther initially objects, claiming it is too far for them to travel. Brunhild reminds Gunther of Siegfried's obligations as a royal vassal (Gunther does not contradict her) and says that she wishes to see Kriemhild again. When the invitation reaches them, Kriemhild is anxious to visit her homeland. Siegfried accepts the invitation, but brings along his father and many warriors.
Chapters 13 and 14
Siegfried and Kriemhild arrive in Burgundy. A great feast is held and war games are played. Tension develops between Brunhild and Kriemhild. Each boasts of the bravery and honor of her respective husband. Brunhild objects to Kriemhild's boast. Kriemhild does not at first understand Brunhild's objection, because she does not realize that Brunhild still believes that Siegfried is Gunther's vassal. When Brunhild explains herself, Kriemhild denies it, and states that the true nature of Siegfried and Gunther's relationship is one of equals. The argument becomes quite heated as both claim higher status than the other. When Brunhild tries to prevent Kriemhild from entering a cathedral ahead of her, saying that her own higher status means that she should enter first, Brunhild angrily tells her that she is no better than a paramour, or mistress, and that Siegfried and not her own husband was the first to be intimate with her. The narrative never indicates either that Siegfried had sexual contact with Brunhild or that either Siegfried or Gunther ever told Kriemhild how Siegfried used his magic cloak to help Gunther subdue Brunhild. However she came by the knowledge, Kriemhild does produce, as proof, the golden ring that Siegfried took from Brunhild.
Brunhild demands to know the truth from Gunther. Siegfried denies having compromised Brunhild's honor and even publicly criticizes his own wife Kriemhild for saying such things. Gunther accepts Siegfried's word and is prepared to forget the matter. Hagen, however, promises Brunhild that he will punish Siegfried for her public humiliation (although nothing has been proven), and he and his knights plot Siegfried's death. Gunther tries to prevent the plot, but finally agrees to take part in Hagen's plan. The narrator concludes Chapter 14 by deploring the fact that events have started that will end in the deaths of many men because of "the wrangling of two women."
Kriemhild asks Hagen to protect her husband, not knowing that it is he who has sworn to avenge his liege lady's honor by causing Siegfried's death. She also calmly admits that Siegfried beat her for publicly humiliating Brunhild. Hagen asks Kriemhild how he should protect him, that is, where Siegfried's weak spot is. She tells him that Siegfried has one tender part on his body, between his shoulder blades. As the narrator tells us, she thinks she is saving her husband's life, but in fact she is inadvertently giving Hagen the means to kills him.
The knights prepare to go hunting. Kriemhild is deeply troubled, apparently because of her indiscretion to Hagen. She describes to Siegfried a dream she had the night before, in which two boars chase her husband through a field of blood-colored flowers. Siegfried promises he will return from the day's hunt. Kriemhild describes a second dream, in which two mountains fall upon and kill Siegfried. He does not take her concerns seriously.
The narrator describes the hunt in great detail (hunting is an important and noble sport in the Middle Ages). Siegfried kills many beasts in a great show of bravery and skill. Then Siegfried and a few of the company, including Hagen and Gunther, stop to rest. As Siegfried drinks from a stream, Hagen throws Siegfried's own spear at him, aiming for the cross that Kriemhild stitched onto his tunic in hopes that it would impart holy protection. The weapon passes through Siegfried's body. Still alive and maddened with rage and pain, Siegfried reaches for his weapons, but Hagen has removed them from where they lay. Able to lay hands only on his shield, he uses the last of his strength to stake one mighty blow against Hagen that shatters the shield. Siegfried collapses in a bed of flowers (reminiscent of Kriemhild's dream) and speaks, deriding Hagen and his company for their dishonor. At his words, Gunther regrets his action. The chapter closes on the image of blood-drenched flowers.
The hunting party returns and, in a deed of "pride and grisly vengeance," Hagen has Siegfried's corpse placed outside Kriemhild's door so that she will find him on her way to matins (morning church services). A servant finds the body the next morning, but cannot recognize it. Only Kriemhild sees who it is, and collapses with grief. Her grief is compounded by her guilt for having told Hagen how to "protect" Siegfried. Suspecting that Brunhild and Hagen are responsible, she swears vengeance. Word spreads of Siegfried's death, and Siegmund is especially grief-stricken. He goes immediately to Kriemhild and they both mourn. The Nibelung warriors arm themselves, and, now with Siegmund, are determined to seek out Siegfried's killer. Kriemhild convinces them all to wait until there is proof.
At the funeral, Gunther and Hagen join the mourners. Kriemhild challenges them both to approach Siegfried's body. There is a belief at this time that the wounds on the corpse of a murder victim would bleed in the presence of the killer, and this happens when Hagen approaches Siegfried's body. Gunther and Hagen both protest Hagen's innocence, but Kriemhild does not believe them.
Kriemhild decides to remain at Worms with her brothers as Siegmund returns to the Netherlands. Kriemhild confers the raising of her son to his grandparents at Xanten. Kriemhild, although she will remain with her own people, will not retain her position as a queen. She and Brunhild remain unreconciled.
Kriemhild remains at Worms for three and a half years without ever speaking to Gunther or Hagen. She is still convinced of Hagen's guilt, primarily because she told him of Siegfried's weak spot. Hagen, meanwhile, plots to bring the treasure of the Nibelungs, now Kriemhild's, to Worms. Gunther sends his brothers to speak to her and beg her to see Gunther. She finally agrees, and once they are reconciled, she agrees to send for the treasure. Eight thousand men are sent to fetch it. Against the wishes of the kings, however, Hagen has the treasure secretly sunk in the Rhine river so that few know its whereabouts.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, Helche, the wife of King Etzel of the Huns, has died, and he wishes to take another bride. He has heard of Kriemhild's beauty and sends his trusted vassal, Rudiger of Pochlarn, to win her hand on his behalf. Rudiger arrives at Worms with five hundred warriors and secures an audience with the kings. Rudiger tells Gunther the purpose of his visit and is promised an answer within three days. Gunther is willing to let Kriemhild decide whether to marry Etzel, but Hagen discourages him, fearing that Kriemhild will use Etzel's forces to exact vengeance on the Burgundians for Siegfried's death.
Kriemhild is determined not to accept Etzel's offer until Rudiger swears an oath promising to avenge any wrongs she suffers. She decides to accept Etzel's offer.
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Kriemhild and her company travel through Bavaria to Passau, where she encounters Bishop Pilgrim, her uncle. They pass on to Rudiger's lands where they remain for a short time. There Kriemhild meets Rudiger's wife Gotelind and her daughter. Thence they travel through Austria, and the narrator comments that in this land Christians and pagans live side by side (Etzel is a pagan). The company stays at the fortress of Traisenmauer for four days and then journeys to Etzel's court.
On their way through Austria, Kriemhild sees many strange customs being followed and meets many knights and Kings of the various principalities of the land. They all owe loyalty to King Etzel and are eager to meet their new queen. When she meets Etzel she is greeted courteously. Jousts and festivities follow. Etzel and Kriemhild, along with a great company, then ride on to Vienna where more festivities occur in honor of Kriemhild's arrival. They are married in Vienna and the festivities continue for seventeen days. Kriemhild, however, continues to grieve for Siegfried. Then they leave Vienna for Hungary, where Kriemhild is welcomed at the court by royal princesses, especially Herrat, the former Queen Helche's niece, who is betrothed to a lord named Dietrich.
In her seventh year of marriage to Etzel, Kriemhild has a son whom she names Ortlieb. She is by now loved, respected and even feared by the Hungarian people. She still plots revenge against Hagen. One night she has a dream of walking with her brother Giselher, and the narrator implies that everyone at Giselher's court would soon know much suffering.
Kriemhild asks Etzel to invite her countrymen to visit them. He dispatches two minstrels, Swemmel and Werbel, to invite them to the summer festival. Kriemhild speaks to the envoys separately and asks them to pretend that she sorrows no longer for Siegfried, and bears no ill feeling for his loss. Thus, she wishes to see all of her brothers, and Hagen as well. The messengers do not know of Hagen's role in Siegfried's death, and so are oblivious to her alternate motives for luring Hagen to Hungary.
Werbel and Swemmel stop in Pochlarn on their way to Worms and visit Rudiger and Gotelind, who send their own greetings to the court in Worms. They are welcomed with open arms after Hagen recognizes them. They deliver the invitation and are promised an answer within the week. Meanwhile, Gunther deliberates whether to visit Hungary. Hagen is vehemently opposed to the journey, and openly cites his own murder of Kriemhild's husband as the reason that all of their lives will be in danger if they visit her. Gunther, however, assumes that Kriemhild's anger has passed. Gunther suggests to Hagen that, since he is conscious of his guilt, he should remain behind—implying that Hagen is not brave enough to face Kriemhild and her new vassals (Gunther says nothing about his own passive role in Siegfried's death). Hagen accepts the challenge and decides to go along, but insists that they go armed.
As the Burgundians prepare to travel to Hungary, Uote has a dream that all the birds in Burgundy had died. She takes this to be a prophecy of doom and warns her sons not to go, but they disregard her. The Burgundians travel toward Hungary, and on the twelfth day reach the Danube River. Hagen encounters water sprites or faeries bathing in the river, and steals their clothes, returning them in exchange for their word that the trip will be undertaken in safety. However, after Hagen returns their clothes, they tell him that, in fact, great danger awaits them in Hungary, and that they are all doomed to die.
Then, Hagen fights and kills a boatman who refuses to ferry the men across the river. Once everyone has safely crossed the Danube, Hagen destroys the ferry, claiming that it is to prevent any cowards in the group from returning home.
When they arrive on the other side of the river, Hagen tells the others of the prophecy he received from the faeries. He also admits to having killed the ferryman, warning that the ferryman's lord, Gelphrat will probably have heard of the death of the ferryman and seek revenge. Shortly, the Burgundians are approached by Gelphrat and his brother Else and their men. Gelphrat is slain by Dancwart and the rest of his men flee. The Burgundians continue on. They reach Rudiger's residence where they can rest.
Rudiger welcomes his guests with great honor, especially Hagen, whom he had met before. His wife, Lady Gotelind, and their daughter also offer welcome. The (unnamed) daughter becomes the object of much admiration, and before the Burgundians leave, she is betrothed to Giselher. Several days later the Burgundians set out for Etzel's court, laden with gifts from Rudiger, who accompanies them on the last leg of their journey.
The Burgundians arrive in Hungary and are greeted by Hildebrand and Wolfhart, two brave knights of Amelungland and vassals of Dietrich, Lord of Verona. They warn the Burgundians that Kriemhild still mourns the death of Siegfried. Undaunted, the Burgundians ride on to the court.
Kriemhild welcomes the visitors, but does not withhold her anger from Hagen, and immediately asks where he has hidden her treasure, that of the Nibelungs to which she was entitled after Siegfried's death. Hagen claims that her brothers ordered it sunk in the Rhine River.
Kriemhild weeps and is asked by Etzel's warriors why she is upset. She explains that she wants Siegfried's death avenged, and will pay dearly for it. Sixty men swear to kill Hagen, but she insists that they gather more forces and so they do. However, the knights then back away from their promise, afraid of Hagen and Volker.
Gunther and his brothers and men then enter the court of Etzel and are welcomed by the King, who is ignorant of the threat the man poses.
At the end of the evening, Gunther and his men ask leave to retire, but as they leave the hall, they are surrounded by a jostling crowd. This enfuriates Volker, and tensions run high between the two groups of knights. The Burgundians are shown to a large hall where beds are set up. Hagen and Volker stand guard outside the room as the others sleep.
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After morning mass, festivities commence, with games and mock battles. One of these is the "bohort," a pageantry sport played on horseback with shields and lances. Rudiger, noticing the angry mood of many of Gunther's men, recommends that the bohort be canceled, but it continues anyway. Volker enters the game. When he charges, his lance kills one of the Huns (ostensibly by accident). Everyone jumps for their swords, but Etzel arrives to settle the matter. He rules that the death was an accident.
Kriemhild, meanwhile, again asks her vassals for help in avenging Siegfried. Despite being angered by the recent death, they are wary of attacking the Burgundians. So she begs Lord Bloedelin to help her, but he, too, is unwilling until Kriemhild promises him much wealth and land, as well as the young woman Herrat, already promised to Dietrich as bride. Then he agrees.
Bloedelin attacks the Burgundians. Entering the hall where Dancwart and his men are eating, he challenges him. Dancwart immediately cuts off Bloedelin's head and a mighty battle ensues. The Burgundians drive the Huns from the building, but only after many losses on both sides. Dancwart endeavors to fight his way out to tell his brother Hagen of the attempted massacre.
Dancwart enters the hall where Hagen is dining with Etzel and Kriemhild. Dancwart calls on his brother for assistance, saying that Lord Bloedelin and his men have massacred many of the Burgundians. Between them they prevent the pursuing Huns from entering and barricade the room, then stand guard at the stairs. Then Hagen steps forth and decapitates Kriemhild's and Etzel's son, Ortlieb; his head falls into Kriemhild's lap. A battle erupts, Huns against Burgundians. Kriemhild begs Dietrich to help her and Etzel escape, and he does so. Rudiger of Pochlarn is also permitted to leave with his men, for the Burgundians' fight is not with them.
The Burgundians kill or seriously wound all of the Huns in the hall. They clear the hall by throwing the dead and dying alike down a flight of stairs, and many more of the wounded die because of this rough handling. Hagen and Volker address King Etzel, who is standing with a crowd outside. They taunt and insult him and his queen Kriemhild. She is incensed, and calls on her men to kill Hagen, promising great wealth in return.
Iring of Denmark now calls for his weapons, determined to fulfill his queen's wishes. He engages the Burgundians in battle. Giselher strikes him down, but he is only stunned. They think him dead, however, so when he leaps to his feet it surprises them. He runs toward Hagen and manages to wound him and then retreat back to the crowd gathered outside. Kriemhild is delighted when she hears of the events. Iring is now determined to try again, and reenters the hall. Hagen is enraged and wounds Iring on the spot (with a spear shaft through his head).
Kriemhild and Etzel send twenty thousand men into battle, but the Huns are again unsuccessful. Etzel is by now unwilling to let any of the Burgundians live. Things have gone too far.
Giselher addresses his sister, asking for mercy, but she refuses. Her heart is devoid of mercy. She says, however, that if they will hand over Hagen as prisoner, she will consider letting her brothers live; but Gernot and the others refuse to break faith with their friend. Kriemhild then orders the Huns to set fire to the hall. As the heat rises, those trapped inside even drink the blood of the slain to quench their thirst. They decide to enter the gathering hall of the palace and remain silent so that the Huns will think they have perished. But the Huns attack at daybreak, spurred on by loyalty for their king, and Kriemhild's promise of wealth. The narrator tells us that twelve hundred men attacked, but all were killed.
Rudiger is now called upon to lend a hand to the Huns, but is reluctant since he has pledged friendship (and betrothed his daughter) to the Burgundians. He struggles with the decision to engage his new friends in battle, but is chastised by Etzel for his disloyalty on the other side. Etzel and Kriemhild are both upset by his decision not to fight. Kriemhild reminds him of his oath of allegiance to her. But he is tormented by his role in bringing the Burgundians to Etzel's court, only to see them attacked, and cannot decide what to put first—feudal obligation or a vow of friendship and kinship.
Both Kriemhild and Etzel kneel before Rudiger, who is tormented by the decision he must make. There is essentially no right choice for him. Whatever his decision, he will be betraying one of his oaths. He even offers to exile himself to avoid making the decision. But Etzel's entreaties convince him, unwillingly, to engage the Burgundians in battle.
When Giselher and the others see Rudiger and his men approach, they think help is on the way, but soon realize that their friend is here to fight them. The Burgundian kings try to dissuade him from his intention. Rudiger even gives Hagen his shield, as Hagen's was destroyed. Emotions run high, and the knights weep at the evil turn of events that pits friends against friends. They engage in battle, and Rugider and Gernot kill each other. All of Rudiger's men are slain.
An emissary is sent by Dietrich of Verona to the Huns to inquire as to the state of affairs. Dietrich next sends Hildebrand, his Master-at-Arms, to the Burgundians for more information. When Volker sees Hildebrand and his knights approaching he assumes they will attack, but they are addressed by Hildebrand instead. Hildebrand asks whether it is true that they have slain Rudiger, in which case Dietrich will never be able to forgive them. Hagen confirms the report.
Hildebrand asks for Rudiger's body, but is told that they must fight for it. Hildebrand and his men engage them (contrary to Dietrich's orders). Wolfhart goads the Burgundians into battle and many of Hildebrand's men lose their lives. Hildebrand kills Volker after the latter kills Dietrich's nephew Sigestap. Hagen is devastated by Volker's death. Dancwart is also killed by Helpfrich, a vassal of Dietrich. Wolfhart (nephew of Hildebrand) and Giselher slay each other. Finally, all of Dietrich's men are killed except Hildebrand. He and Hagen fight and Hildebrand flees from the hall, wounded. Only Hagen and Gunther are left alive.
Dietrich is angry with Hildebrand for engaging in battle with the Burgundians, since he had only been sent to talk to them. Dietrich, saddened by the confirmation of Rudiger's death, is determined to fight the Burgundians himself, but is shocked to hear that he has no warriors left. Without his men, he has no way to serve Etzel as vassal, or to protect himself.
Dietrich and Hildebrand return to the hall where Hagen and Gunther wait. Dietrich offers to protect the Burgundians if they surrender themselves to him, but his offer is refused. Hagen claims that to surrender themselves would mean disgrace. Hagen insults Hildebrand for having fled the battle earlier, which provokes Dietrich. Dietrich and Hagen fight and Dietrich captures and binds Hagen, bringing him to Queen Kriemhild. Kriemhild has Hagen locked in the dungeon.
Dietrich returns to fight Gunther, whom he defeats and brings, bound, to Kriemhild. Kriemhild imprisons her brother as well, and keeps the two prisoners separate. She has Gunther killed and brings his head to Hagen. She then kills Hagen with her first husband Siegfried's sword in the presence of Etzel, Dietrich and Hildebrand. Hildebrand, however, will not allow her to go unpunished for killing such a great warrior. Despite the harm that Hagen has inflicted, Hildebrand swears to avenge his death, and kills Kriemhild. Even Etzel mourns the death of Hagen. "The King's high festival had ended in sorrow, as joy must ever turn to sorrow in the end."