« The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún » (cont'd)
There he declared to them the vast array of gifts, of treasure and weapons and armour, that they would receive. Gunnar was filled with resentment at Atli's pride; and Högni said that his sister had sent him a ring, but it was wound about with a wolf's hair, to be read as a warning. Gunnar received from Gudrún a message carved in runes which carried no suggestion of danger; but Grímhild looked closely at the runes, and saw that there were runes of quite other meaning beneath, which had been overlaid. Then Vingi brought out his last seduction, saying that Atli, now old, desired their help as regents of his kingdom, since his sons were so young. Högni was not fooled by this, but Gunnar, who had drunk very deep, cried out that they would go. And they departed, a small company, and they rode thrugh fen and forest, hill and valley, until they looked down upon the great fortress of Atli, full of armed men.
When Högni smote the barred doors Vingi came out, exulting that they had ridden to their deaths, for gallows, wolf, and raven were waiting for them; and they hanged him from a tree in the faces of the Huns. Straightway fierce battle began. The Huns were driven in from the doors, and Atli came out, demanding the gold 'that is Gudrún's right'. This the Niflungs refused with scorn, and they fought their way up the stairs. But Gudrún hearing the cries as they were beaten back, called out to the many Goths at Atli's court to rise up against their Hunnish masters.
With new strength of men Gunnar and Högni fought their way into Atli's hall, and there they had him at their mercy, which they would not have shown him, had not Gudrún pleaded for him: whereupon they scornfully let him go. Atli released sent out for more men, and the Niflungs were shut in the hall of which they became now the defenders. For five days the siege lasted; but a counsellor of the king persuaded him to set fire to the hall. Then the Niflungs were brought at last to bay, taken, and bound. Högni was thrown into a dark dungeon, but Gunnar was taken to Gudrún's bower and thrown at the feet of Atli, who trampled on him. Gudrún saw this, and his own fate drew near. She besought him to forego their deaths, but Atli replied that that could only be if the Niflung hoard were delivered to him.
Gunnar said that he would give up his half portion of the treasure, but that Högni 'my haughty brother' would never do so. Let them bring him Högni's heart, he said, and he would yield all to Atli. The king's counsellors were wary of what the queen might do, and they seized a slave, a herdsman named Hjalli, and cutting out his heart took it to Gunnar. But Gunnar knew that it was not Högni's heart, because it quivered; and so they cut out Högni's heart. Then Gunnar knew that it was true, and he cried: 'I alone, Lord of Niflungs, now hold and guard the gold for ever! In the waters of the Rhine we cast it; and there it shall lie. (cont'd)