The Burgundians rest, but they are forced to squat on the bodies of the fallen, “for the comfort of the noble guests had been shockingly neglected.” By evening, another 20,000 Hunnish warriors have been assembled, but they, too, are vanquished. The Burgundians request a truce, thinking that death must be better than this drawn-out agony.
The comment about the guests’ comfort is both sardonic and pointed; Kriemhild is the worst imaginable hostess for allowing such circumstances to come about. It’s hard to believe that such a large number of warriors could have been present at Etzel’s court in the first place, but the point is that the Burgundian contingent is fierce, and successfully holding its own.
Etzel comes at their request, but he refuses the idea of a truce, since his losses have been too great; the guests’ violence has made Hungary “a land of orphans.” Gernot argues that because they are so battle-weary, another round of fighting could finish them off. Etzel is on the point of agreeing and dispatching more warriors to do the job, but Kriemhild angrily intervenes, believing her brothers and vassals would successfully avenge themselves in this scenario.
In the wake of his son’s death, the amiable Etzel finally shows some mettle. He’s willing to see the Burgundians finished off, but Kriemhild knows them better and suspects they’re still capable of fighting their way out of whatever the Huns throw at them.
When Giselher protests that he has done Kriemhild no wrong and that she should show mercy, Kriemhild retorts that her heart has no mercy to show. As long as Hagen is alive, reconciliation is not possible, and they must all pay for it together. The only alternative would be for her brothers to give up Hagen to her as a prisoner.
Because Kriemhild has shown Giselher special affection in the past, it’s shocking to see her zero-sum response to his plea. She seems bent on the men’s total destruction, especially since she must suspect that her brothers wouldn’t go against honor to betray their lifelong vassal, Hagen.
Gernot, Giselher, and Dancwart immediately speak up in Hagen’s defense, protesting that they cannot break faith with a friend in this way. Kriemhild then orders her men to drive all the Burgundians back inside the hall while she has the building set on fire. Soon the hall is completely aflame, and the men are tormented, bewailing the Queen’s “monstrous” vengeance.
As expected, Kriemhild’s brothers refuse to give up Hagen. This is the last straw for Kriemhild. Since the festival began, she has increasingly morphed from a conventional queen into a deviant figure, and now she descends into “monstrous,” savage behavior toward her own family and guests.
Hagen tells the suffering men to drink the blood from corpses’ wounds in order to assuage their thirst, and many of them do. Giselher calls their predicament “a vile banquet my sister Kriemhild has been giving us.”
Hagen’s disturbing suggestion shows just what dire straits Kriemhild has driven them to, as indeed Giselher reproaches her for her repugnant failure of hospitality.
As dawn breaks, Kriemhild is shocked by the report that 600 men have survived the perilous night in the burning hall. That morning, 1,200 more Huns eagerly hurl their spears at the survivors, since Kriemhild offers piles of gold to anyone who will fight—“never was there such a hiring of men against one’s enemies.” The conflict has become a stalemate.
The situation continues to deteriorate. Kriemhild is clearly desperate, throwing money at anyone who might succeed in finally dispatching her stubbornly resilient guests.