In Hungary, King Etzel, a widower, desires to take another wife. His friends encourage him to consider Kriemhild. He replies that this would be a miracle, since Kriemhild is a Christian, and he is an unbaptized heathen. They respond that it’s worth a try, since she might be swayed by his vast possessions.
The poem shifts its focus abroad. Etzel is the poet’s adaptation of the historical figure of Attila the Hun (c. 406–453)—a portrayal rather far from the fearsome warrior of legend. The poet also shows a strikingly pragmatic view of royal marriage—that wealth could perhaps override religious difference in such a case.
Rüdiger of Pöchlarn, who has known the Queen and her brothers since childhood, offers to go to the Rhineland as Etzel’s envoy. Etzel promises to reward him with treasure, clothes, and horses, though Rüdiger says it isn’t necessary. A week later, he rides out from Hungary.
In his intermediate position between foreign and familiar, Rüdiger enters the story as a literal go-between. He will serve as a bridge for Kriemhild between the world she’s known and the one she will soon enter.
Rüdiger and his entourage stop in Pöchlarn on the way, staying with Rüdiger’s wife Gotelind and their young daughter. Rüdiger asks Gotelind to bestow friendly gifts on his accompanying knights, since it will only help them on their mission, and she duly gives them costly fur-lined brocades. After a week, the party leaves for the journey through Bavaria, and within 12 days they arrive at the Rhine.
This is the first example of Rüdiger’s famed open-handedness in giving, and another example of the way that gifts, especially clothing, smoothed the progress of both political and personal endeavors in the medieval world.
The people of Worms are intensely curious about the wealthy newcomers. Gunther asks Hagen if he knows them, and he replies that they would have to come from outlandish parts for him not to recognize them at once. When Rüdiger and his companions ride into court, Hagen quickly identifies him, and they go to meet him and his 500 magnificently clad Hunnish knights.
As at Siegfried’s arrival in Burgundy, Hagen is again summoned for his expertise on foreigners. The Huns who accompany Rüdiger were members of a nomadic people who had made their way from Central Asia into Europe between the fourth and sixth centuries, conquering the Goths and other Germanic peoples.
The envoys are graciously received in the King’s hall. Hagen reminds Gunther that he was once a hostage in Etzel’s court, and that they must always seek to repay Rüdiger for his kindness to Burgundy. When Gunther asks after Etzel’s wellbeing, Rüdiger explains that he and the whole land have been bereaved. They have heard that Kriemhild, too, is a widow, and they seek Gunther’s blessing for her marriage to Etzel.
Though Hagen doesn’t usually stand out for his meticulous attention to matters of courtesy, his youthful experiences in Etzel’s court have evidently made a positive impression on him, which make him positively disposed toward Rüdiger and Hagen’s obligations toward him and the other guests.
Gunther promises an answer in three days’ time. He seeks his men’s opinions about the marriage, and all but Hagen express their approval. Hagen insists that they will have trouble on their hands if Gunther allows the marriage. Giselher appeals to Hagen to make amends for the harm he’s done Kriemhild by letting her enjoy this good fortune. Hagen retorts that he foresees revenge; somehow, Kriemhild will contrive to do them great harm. The others aren’t dissuaded, arguing that they will never set foot in Hungary, so there is no risk to them.
Hagen is the only one who seems to recognize Kriemhild’s mettle—that if she wants to get revenge on those who plotted to bring down Siegfried, she is fully capable of making it happen, even from a great distance. Hagen’s perceptiveness is not surprising, since he and Kriemhild increasingly appear to be cut from similar cloth—single-mindedly obsessed with obtaining their desires.
Lord Gere goes to Kriemhild with the news and to encourage her to assent to the marriage. Kriemhild refuses, though she agrees to see Rüdiger. Still dressed in her widow’s clothes, she receives him the following day in tears. After hearing Etzel’s proposal, Kriemhild explains that she cannot love another man. Rüdiger argues that affection can heal sorrow, and besides, as Etzel’s wife she would rule over 12 kingdoms.
Even if she is already inwardly disposed to assent to the marriage, propriety would force Kriemhild to refuse, at least at first. She continues to act the part of the grieving widow. Rüdiger doesn’t shrink from dangling the material advantages of the match beside the intangible ones.
Giselher and Uote appeal to Kriemhild in private, trying to convince her that marriage to Etzel will make her happy. Kriemhild prays and ponders all night, wishing she had access to the kinds of riches she had enjoyed when Siegfried was alive, yet fearing the disgrace of being married to a heathen.
Kriemhild appears to have genuine reservations about marriage to a non-Christian, but wealth—and the power and relative self-determination it affords her—is an undeniable draw. Perhaps the “disgrace” of marriage to a Hun is an acceptable price to pay to regain some ability to act on her own behalf.
When Rüdiger meets with Kriemhild again the following day, she is persistent in her refusals. However, in private, Rüdiger tells her that he will make amends to her for any harm that should befall her. She makes him and his vassals swear an oath that they will avenge her wrongs if she is ever harmed, and not to deny her anything, provided it is to her honor.
Rüdiger’s oath will have significant ramifications for all involved, especially himself and Kriemhild. At the moment, it seems a reasonable oath to make to a woman about to enter an unfamiliar land, and Rüdiger has no reason to suspect that a conflict of interest might later arise.
Considering her newfound allies, Kriemhild thinks that perhaps Siegfried may yet be avenged. She will have command of many warriors, after all, and the ability to attract more warriors by gifts, despite having been robbed of her fortune by Hagen. Aloud, she voices her concerns about Etzel’s heathenism. Rüdiger assures her that Etzel has many Christian warriors, and besides, perhaps she will influence him to be baptized.
Kriemhild is acutely aware of the possibilities her newfound status may afford her, though she’s careful to emphasize her concerns about the religious difference. Attila became known as the “scourge of God” and the epitome of barbarism because of his conquering of Christian lands, but this portrayal of Etzel is of a religiously indifferent and quite harmless figure.
Finally, Kriemhild consents to marry Etzel. Rüdiger urges her to prepare for the journey to Hungary at once. When Kriemhild plans to dole out gifts to Rüdiger’s men, Hagen hears about it and demands that the money stay with him. The kings do nothing about it, however, and Rüdiger soothes Kriemhild with the promise that Etzel will give her more than she can squander. She is nevertheless angry about Hagen’s despotism.
In a final insult, Hagen refuses to allow Kriemhild to follow the courtly protocol of rewarding the envoys, and, like previous characters, well-meaning Rüdiger misses the point by insisting that her new husband will provide all she could desire.
Kriemhild ruefully asks who will accompany her to a strange land, and Margrave Eckewart agrees to be at her service until death. She gathers her ladies and finally takes leave of Worms accompanied by a guard of honor, messengers rushing ahead to tell Etzel that his new bride is on her way.
Kriemhild departs from her native land and the site of her long mourning and begins the transition to a new setting, where her deportment and character will look radically different from the demure, distant Kriemhild knights had so desired.