MIMER THE BLACKSMITH
Siegfried was born a prince and grew to be a hero, a hero with a heart of gold. Though he could fight, and was as strong as any lion, yet he could love too and be as gentle as a child.
The father and mother of the hero-boy lived in a strong castle near the banks of the great Rhine river. Siegmund, his father, was a rich king, Sieglinde, his mother, a beautiful queen, and dearly did they love their little son Siegfried.
The courtiers and the high-born maidens who dwelt in the castle honored the little Prince, and thought him the fairest child in all the land, as indeed he was.
Sieglinde, his queen-mother, would oftimes dress her little son in costly garments and lead him by the hand before the proud, strong men-at-arms who stood before the castle walls. Naught had they but smiles and gentle words for their little Prince.
When he grew older, Siegfried would ride into the country, yet always would he be attended by King Siegmund's most trusted warriors.
Then one day armed men entered the Netherlands, the country over which the King Siegmund ruled, and the little Prince was sent away from the castle, lest by any evil chance he should fall into the hands of the foe.
Siegfried was hidden away safe in the thickets of a great forest, and dwelt there under the care of a blacksmith, named Mimer.
Mimer was a dwarf, belonging to a strange race of little folk called Nibelungs. The Nibelungs lived for the most part in a dark little town beneath the ground. Nibelheim was the name of this little town and many of the tiny men who dwelt there were smiths. All the livelong day they would hammer on their little anvils, but all through the long night they would dance and play with tiny little Nibelung women.
It was not in the little dark town of Nibelung that Mimer had his forge, but under the trees of the great forest to which Siegfried had been sent.
As Mimer or his pupils wielded their tools the wild beasts would start from their lair, and the swift birds would wing their flight through the mazes of the wood, lest danger lay in those heavy, resounding strokes.
But Siegfried, the hero-boy, would laugh for glee, and seizing the heaviest hammer he could see he would swing it with such force upon the anvil that it would be splintered into a thousand pieces.
Then Mimer the blacksmith would scold the lad, who was now the strongest of all the lads under his care; but little heeding his rebukes, Siegfried would fling himself merrily out of the smithy and hasten with great strides into the gladsome wood. For now the Prince was growing a big lad, and his strength was even as the strength of ten.
To-day Siegfried was in a merry mood. He would repay Mimer's rebukes in right good fashion. He would frighten the little blacksmith dwarf until he was forced to cry for mercy.
Clad in his forest dress of deerskins, with his hair as burnished gold blowing around his shoulders, Siegfried wandered away into the depths of the woodland.
There he seized the silver horn which hung from his girdle and raised it to his lips. A long, clear note he blew, and ere the sound had died away the boy saw a sight which pleased him well. Here was good prey indeed! A bear, a great big shaggy bear was peering at him out of a bush, and as he gazed the beast opened its jaws and growled, a fierce and angry growl. Not a whit afraid was Siegfried. Quick as lightning he had caught the great creature in his arms, and ere it could turn upon him, it was muzzled, and was being led quietly along toward the smithy.
Mimer was busy at his forge sharpening a sword when Siegfried reached the doorway.
At the sound of laughter the little dwarf raised his head. It was the Prince who laughed. Then Mimer saw the bear, and letting the sword he held drop to the ground with a clang, he ran to hide himself in the darkest corner of the smithy.
Then Siegfried laughed again. He was no hero-boy to-day, for next he made the big bear hunt the little Nibelung dwarf from corner to corner, nor could the frightened little man escape or hide himself in darkness. Again and again as he crouched in a shadowed corner, Siegfried would stir up the embers of the forge until all the smithy was lighted with a ruddy glow.
At length the Prince tired of his game, and unmuzzling the bear he chased the bewildered beast back into the shelter of the woodland.
Mimer, poor little dwarf, all a-tremble with his fear, cried angrily, "Thou mayest go shoot if so it please thee, and bring home thy dead prey. Dead bears thou mayest bring hither if thou wilt, but live bears shalt thou leave to crouch in their lair or to roam through the forest." But Siegfried, the naughty Prince, only laughed at the little Nibelung's frightened face and harsh, croaking voice.
Now as the days passed, Mimer the blacksmith began to wish that Siegfried had never come to dwell with him in his smithy. The Prince was growing too strong, too brave to please the little dwarf; moreover, many were the mischievous tricks his pupil played on him.
Prince though he was, Mimer would see if he could not get rid of his tormentor. For indeed though, as I have told you, Siegfried had a heart of gold, at this time the gold seemed to have grown dim and tarnished. Perhaps that was because the Prince had learned to distrust and to dislike, nay, more, to hate the little, cunning dwarf.
However that may be, it is certain that Siegfried played many pranks upon the little Nibelung, and he, Mimer, determined to get rid of the quick-tempered, strong-handed Prince.
One day, therefore, it happened that the little dwarf told Siegfried to go deep into the forest to bring home charcoal for the forge. And this Mimer did, though he knew that in the very part of the forest to which he was sending the lad there dwelt a terrible dragon, named Regin. Indeed Regin was a brother of the little blacksmith, and would be lying in wait for the Prince. It would be but the work of a moment for the monster to seize the lad and greedily to devour him.
To Siegfried it was always joy to wander afar through the woodland. Ofttimes had he thrown himself down on the soft, moss-covered ground and lain there hour after hour, listening to the wood-bird's song. Sometimes he would even find a reed and try to pipe a tune as sweet as did the birds, but that was all in vain, as the lad soon found. No tiny songster would linger to hearken to the shrill piping of his grassy reed, and the Prince himself was soon ready to fling it far away.
It was no hardship then to Siegfried to leave the forge and the hated little Nibelung, therefore it was that with right good will he set out in search of charcoal for Mimer the blacksmith.
As he loitered there where the trees grew thickest, Siegfried took his horn and blew it lustily. If he could not pipe on a grassy reed, at least he could blow a rousing note on his silver horn.
Suddenly, as Siegfried blew, the trees seemed to sway, the earth to give out fire. Regin, the dragon, had roused himself at the blast, and was even now drawing near to the Prince.
It was at the mighty strides of the monster that the trees had seemed to tremble, it was as he opened his terrible jaws that the earth had seemed to belch out fire.
For a little while Siegfried watched the dragon in silence. Then he laughed aloud, and a brave, gay laugh it was. Alone in the forest, with a sword, buckled to his side, the hero was afraid of naught, not even of Regin. The ugly monster was sitting now on a little hillock, looking down upon the lad, his victim as he thought.
Then Siegfried called boldly to the dragon, "I will kill thee, for in truth thou art an ugly monster."
At those words Regin opened his great jaws, and showed his terrible fangs. Yet still the boy Prince mocked at the hideous dragon.
And now Regin in his fury crept closer and closer to the lad, swinging his great tail, until he well-nigh swept Siegfried from his feet.
Swiftly then the Prince drew his sword, well tempered as he knew, for had not he himself wrought it in the forge of Mimer the blacksmith? Swiftly he drew his sword, and with one bound he sprang upon the dragon's back, and as he reared himself, down came the hero's shining sword and pierced into the very heart of the monster. Thus as Siegfried leaped nimbly to the ground, the dragon fell back dead. Regin was no longer to be feared.
Then Siegfried did a curious thing. He had heard the little Nibelung men who came to the smithy to talk with Mimer, he had heard them say that whoever should bathe in the blood of Regin the dragon would henceforth be safe from every foe. For his skin would grow so tough and horny that it would be to him as an armor through which no sword could ever pierce.
Thinking of the little Nibelungs' harsh voices and wrinkled little faces as they had sat talking thus around Mimer's glowing forge, Siegfried now flung aside his deerskin dress and bathed himself from top to toe in the dragon's blood.
But as he bathed, a leaf from off a linden tree was blown upon his shoulders, and on the spot where it rested Siegfried's skin was still soft and tender as when he was a little child. It was only a tiny spot which was covered by the linden leaf, but should a spear thrust, or an arrow pierce that tiny spot, Siegfried would be wounded as easily as any other man.
The dragon was dead, the bath was over, and clad once more in his deerskin, Siegfried set out for the smithy. He brought no charcoal for the forge; all that he carried with him was a heart afire with anger, a sword quivering to take the life of the Nibelung, Mimer.
For now Siegfried knew that the dwarf had wished to send him forth to death, when he bade him go seek charcoal in the depths of the forest.
Into the dusky glow of the smithy plunged the hero, and swiftly he slew the traitor Mimer. Then gaily, for he had but slain evil ones of whom the world was well rid, then gaily Siegfried fared through the forest in quest of adventure.
SIEGFRIED WINS THE TREASURE
Now this is what befell the Prince.
In his wanderings he reached the country called Isenland, where the warlike but beautiful Queen Brunhild reigned. He gazed with wonder at her castle, so strong it stood on the edge of the sea, guarded by seven great gates. Her marble palaces also made him marvel, so white they glittered in the sun.
But most of all he marveled at this haughty Queen, who refused to marry any knight unless he could vanquish her in every contest to which she summoned him.
Brunhild from the castle window saw the fair face and the strong limbs of the hero, and demanded that he should be brought into her presence, and as a sign of her favor she showed the young Prince her magic horse Gana.
Yet Siegfried had no wish to conquer the warrior-queen and gain her hand and her broad dominions for his own. Siegfried thought only of a wonder-maiden, unknown, unseen as yet, though in his heart he hid an image of her as he dreamed that she would be.
It is true that Siegfried had no love for the haughty Brunhild. It is also true that he wished to prove to her that he alone was a match for all her boldest warriors, and had even power to bewitch her magic steed, Gana, if so he willed, and steal it from her side.
And so one day a spirit of mischief urged the Prince on to a gay prank, as also a wayward spirit urged him no longer to brook Queen Brunhild's mien.
Before he left Isenland, therefore, Siegfried in a merry mood threw to the ground the seven great gates that guarded the Queen's strong castle. Then he called to Gana, the magic steed, to follow him into the world, and this the charger did with a right good will.
Whether Siegfried sent Gana back to Isenland or not I do not know, but I know that in the days to come Queen Brunhild never forgave the hero for his daring feat.
When the Prince had left Isenland he rode on and on until he came to a great mountain. Here near a cave he found two little dwarfish Nibelungs, surrounded by twelve foolish giants. The two little Nibelungs were princes, the giants were their counselors.
Now the King of the Nibelungs had but just died in the dark little underground town of Nibelheim, and the two tiny princes were the sons of the dead King.
But they had not come to the mountain-side to mourn for their royal father. Not so indeed had they come, but to divide the great hoard of treasure which the King had bequeathed to them at his death.
Already they had begun to quarrel over the treasure, and the twelve foolish giants looked on, but did not know what to say or do, so they did nothing, and never spoke at all.
The dwarfs had themselves carried the hoard out of the cave where usually it was hidden, and they had spread it on the mountain-side.
There it lay, gold as far as the eye could see, and farther. Jewels, too, were there, more than twelve wagons could carry away in four days and nights, each going three journeys.
Indeed, however much you took from this marvelous treasure, never did it seem to grow less.
But more precious even than the gold or the jewels of the hoard was a wonderful sword which it possessed. It was named Balmung, and had been tempered by the Nibelungs in their glowing forges underneath the glad green earth.
Before the magic strength of Balmung's stroke, the strongest warrior must fall, nor could his armor save him, however close its links had been welded by some doughty smith.
As Siegfried rode towards the two little dwarfs, they turned and saw him, with his bright, fair face, and flowing locks.
Nimble as little hares they darted to his side, and begged that he would come and divide their treasure. He should have the good sword Balmung as reward, they cried.
Siegfried dismounted, well pleased to do these ugly little men a kindness.
But alas! ere long the dwarfs began to mock at the hero with their harsh voices, and to wag their horrid little heads at him, while they screamed in a fury that he was not dividing the treasure as they wished.
Then Siegfried grew angry with the tiny princes, and seizing the magic sword, he cut off their heads. The twelve foolish giants also he slew, and thus became himself master of the marvelous hoard as well as of the good sword Balmung.
Seven hundred valiant champions, hearing the blast of the hero's horn, now gather together to defend the country from this strange young warrior. But he vanquished them all, and forced them to promise that they would henceforth serve no other lord save him alone. And this they did, being proud of his great might.
Now tidings of the slaughter of the two tiny princes had reached Nibelheim, and great was the wrath of the little men and little women who dwelt in the dark town beneath the earth.
Alberich, the mightiest of all the dwarfs, gathered together his army of little gnomes to avenge the death of the two dwarf princes and also, for Alberich was a greedy man, to gain for himself the great hoard.
When Siegfried saw Alberich at the head of his army of little men he laughed aloud, and with a light heart he chased them all into the great cave on the mountain-side.
From off the mighty dwarf, Alberich, he stripped his famous Cloak of Darkness, which made him who wore it not only invisible, but strong as twelve strong men. He snatched also from the dwarf's fingers his wishing-rod, which was a Magic Wand. And last of all he made Alberich and his thousands of tiny warriors take an oath, binding them evermore to serve him alone. Then hiding the treasure in the cave with the seven hundred champions whom he had conquered, he left Alberich and his army of little men to guard it, until he came again. And Alberich and his dwarfs were faithful to the hero who had shorn them of their treasure, and served him for evermore.
Siegfried, the magic sword Balmung by his side, the Cloak of Darkness thrown over his arm, the Magic Wand in his strong right hand, went over the mountain, across the plains, nor did he tarry until he came again to the castle built on the banks of the river Rhine in his own low-lying country of the Netherlands.
SIEGFRIED COMES HOME
The walls of the old castle rang. King Siegmund, his knights and liegemen, all were welcoming Prince Siegfried home. They had not seen their hero-prince since he had been sent long years before to be under the charge of Mimer the blacksmith.
He had grown but more fair, more noble, they thought, as they gazed upon his stalwart limbs, his fearless eyes.
And what tales of prowess clustered around his name! Already their Prince had done great deeds as he had ridden from land to land.
The King and his liegemen had heard of the slaughter of the terrible dragon, of the capture of the great treasure, of the defiance of the warlike and beautiful Brunhild. They could wish for no more renowned prince than their own Prince Siegfried.
Thus Siegmund and his subjects rejoiced that the heir to the throne was once again in his own country.
In the Queen's bower, too, there was great joy. Sieglinde wept, but her tears were not those of sadness. Sieglinde wept for very gladness that her son had come home safe from his wonderful adventures.
Now Siegmund wished to give a great feast in honor of his son. It should be on his birthday which was very near, the birthday on which the young Prince would be twenty-one years of age.
Far and wide throughout the Netherlands and into distant realms tidings of the feast were borne. Kinsmen and strangers, lords and ladies, all were asked to the banquet in the great castle hall where Siegmund reigned supreme.
It was the merry month of June when the feast was held, and the sun shone bright on maidens in fair raiment, on knights in burnished armor.
Siegfried was to be knighted on this June day along with four hundred young squires of his father's realm. The Prince was clad in gorgeous armor, and on the cloak flung around his shoulders jewels were seen to sparkle in the sunlight, jewels made fast with gold embroidery worked by the white hands of the Queen and her fair damsels.
In games and merry pastimes the hours of the day sped fast away, until the great bell of the Minster pealed, calling the gay company to the house of God for evensong. Siegfried and the four hundred squires knelt before the altar, ere they were knighted by the royal hand of Siegmund the King.
The solemn service ended, the new-made knights hastened back to the castle, and there in the great hall a mighty tournament was held. Knights who had grown gray in service tilted with those who but that day had been given the grace of knighthood. Lances splintered, shields fell before the mighty onslaughts of the gallant warriors, until King Siegmund bade the tilting cease.
Then in the great hall feasting and song held sway until daylight faded and the stars shone bright.
Yet no weariness knew the merrymakers. The next morning, and for six long summer days, they tilted, they sang, they feasted.
When at length the great festival drew to a close, Siegmund in the presence of his guests gave to his dear son Siegfried many lands and strong castles over which he might be lord.
To all his son's comrades, too, the King gave steeds and costly raiment, while Queen Sieglinde bestowed upon them freely coins of gold. Such abundant gifts had never before been dreamed of as were thus lavished by Siegmund and Sieglinde on their guests.
As the rich nobles looked upon the brave young Prince Siegfried, there were some who whispered among themselves that they would fain have him to rule in the land.
Siegfried heard their whispers, but in no wise did he give heed to the wish of the nobles.
Never, he thought while his beautiful mother and his bounteous father lived, would he wear the crown.
Indeed Siegfried had no wish to sit upon a throne, he wished but to subdue the evil-doers in the land. Or better still, he wished to go forth in search of new adventure. And this right soon he did.
SIEGFRIED AT THE COURT OF WORMS
At the Court of Worms in Burgundy dwelt the Princess Kriemhild, whose fame for beauty and kindness had spread to many a far-off land. She lived with her mother Queen Uté and her three brothers King Gunther, King Gernot, and King Giselher. Her father had long been dead. Gunther sat upon the throne and had for chief counselor his cruel uncle Hagen.
One night Kriemhild dreamed that a beautiful wild hawk with feathers of gold came and perched upon her wrist. It grew so tame that she took it with her to the hunt. Upward it soared when loosed toward the bright blue sky. Then the dream-maiden saw two mighty eagles swoop down upon her petted hawk and tear it to pieces.
The Princess told her dream to her mother, who said, "The hawk, my daughter, is a noble knight who shall be thy husband, but, alas, unless God defend him from his foes, thou shalt lose him ere he has long been thine." Kriemhild replied, "O lady mother, I wish no knight to woo me from thy side." "Nay," said the Queen, "Speak not thus, for God will send to thee a noble knight and strong."
Hearing of the Princess, Siegfried, who lived in the Netherlands, began to think that she was strangely like the unknown maiden whose image he carried in his heart. So he set out to go into Burgundy to see the beautiful Kriemhild who had sent many knights away.
Siegfried's father wished to send an army with him but Siegfried said, "Nay, give me only, I pray thee, eleven stalwart warriors."
Tidings had reached King Gunther of the band of strangers who had so boldly entered the royal city. He sent for Hagen, chief counselor, who said they must needs be princes or ambassadors. "One knight, the fairest and the boldest, is, methinks, the wondrous hero Siegfried, who has won great treasure from the Nibelungs, and has killed two little princely dwarfs, their twelve giants, and seven hundred great champions of the neighboring country with his good sword Balmung." Graciously then did the King welcome Siegfried.
"I beseech thee, noble knight," said the King, "tell me why thou hast journeyed to this our royal city?"
Now Siegfried was not ready to speak of the fair Princess, so he told the King that he had come to see the splendor of the court and to do great deeds, even to wrest from him the broad realm of Burgundy and likewise all his castles. "Unless thou dost conquer me I shall rule in my great might in this realm."
"We do well to be angry at the words of this bold stripling," said Hagen. A quarrel arose, but King Gernot, Gunther's brother, made peace and Siegfried began to think of the wonderlady of his dreams and grew ashamed of his boasting.
Then all Burgundy began to hear of Siegfried. At the end of the year Burgundy was threatened with invasion. King Ludegast and King Ludeger threatened mighty wars.
When Siegfried heard of this he said, "If trouble hath come to thee, my arm is strong to bring thee aid. If thy foes were as many as thirty thousand, yet with one thousand warriors would I destroy them. Therefore, leave the battle in my hands."
When the rude kings heard that Siegfried would fight for Burgundy their hearts failed for fear and in great haste they gathered their armies. King Gunther meanwhile had assembled his men and the chief command was given to Hagen, but Siegfried rode forward to seek the foe.
In advance of their warriors stood Ludegast and Ludeger ready for the fray. Grasping his good sword Balmung, Siegfried first met Ludegast piercing him through his steel harness with an ugly thrust till he lay helpless at his feet. Thirty of the King's warriors rode up and beset the hero, but Siegfried slaughtered all save one. He was spared to carry the dire tidings of the capture of Ludegast to his army.
Ludeger had seen the capture of his brother and met the onslaught that Siegfried soon made upon him. But with a great blow Siegfried struck the shield from Ludeger's hold, and in a moment more he had him at his mercy. For the second time that day the Prince was victor over a king.
When Uté, the mother of Kriemhild, heard that a grand festival celebrating the prowess of Prince Siegfried was to be held at court, she made up her mind that she and her daughter would lend their gracious presence. Many noble guests were there gathered and when the knights entered the lists the King sent a hundred of his liegemen to bring the Queen and the Princess to the great hall. When Siegfried saw the Princess he knew that she was indeed more beautiful than he had ever dreamed. A messenger was sent by the King bidding him greet the Princess. "Be welcome here, Sir Siegfried, for thou art a good and noble knight," said the maiden softly, "for right well hast thou served my royal brother."
"Thee will I serve for ever," cried the happy hero, "thee will I serve for ever, and thy wishes shall ever be my will!"
Then for twelve glad days were Siegfried and Kriemhild ofttimes side by side.
SIEGFRIED GOES TO ISENLAND
Whitsuntide had come and gone when tidings from beyond the Rhine reached the court at Worms.
No dread tidings were these, but glad and good to hear, of a matchless Queen named Brunhild who dwelt in Isenland. King Gunther listened with right good will to the tales of this warlike maiden, for if she were beautiful she was also strong as any warrior. Wayward, too, she was, yet Gunther would fain have her as his queen to sit beside him on his throne.
One day the King sent for Siegfried to tell him that he would fain journey to Isenland to wed Queen Brunhild.
Now Siegfried, as you know, had been in Isenland and knew some of the customs of this wayward Queen. So he answered the King right gravely that it would be a dangerous journey across the sea to Isenland, nor would he win the Queen unless he were able to vanquish her great strength.
He told the King how Brunhild would challenge him to three contests, or games, as she would call them. And if she were the victor, as indeed she had been over many a royal suitor, then his life would be forfeited.
At her own desire kings and princes had hurled the spear at the stalwart Queen, and it had but glanced harmless off her shield, while she would pierce the armor of these valiant knights with her first thrust. This was one of the Queen's games.
Then the knights would hasten to the ring and throw the stone from them as far as might be, yet ever Queen Brunhild threw it farther. For this was another game of the warrior-queen.
The third game was to leap beyond the stone which they had thrown, but ever to their dismay the knights saw this marvelous maiden far outleap them all.
These valorous knights, thus beaten in the three contests, had been beheaded, and therefore it was that Siegfried spoke so gravely to King Gunther.
But Gunther, so he said, was willing to risk his life to win so brave a bride.
Now Hagen had drawn near to the King, and as he listened to Siegfried's words, the grim warrior said, "Sire, since the Prince knows the customs of Isenland, let him go with thee on thy journey, to share thy dangers, and to aid thee in the presence of this warlike Queen."
And Hagen, for he hated the hero, hoped that he might never return alive from Isenland.
But the King was pleased with his counselor's words. "Sir Siegfried," he said, "wilt thou help me to win the matchless maiden Brunhild for my queen?"
"That right gladly will I do," answered the Prince, "if thou wilt promise to give me thy sister Kriemhild as my bride, should I bring thee back safe from Isenland, the bold Queen at thy side."
Then the King promised that on the same day that he wedded Brunhild, his sister should wed Prince Siegfried, and with this promise the hero was well content.
"Thirty thousand warriors will I summon to go with us to Isenland," cried King Gunther gaily.
"Nay," said the Prince, "thy warriors would but be the victims of this haughty Queen. As plain knight-errants will we go, taking with us none, save Hagen the keen-eyed and his brother Dankwart."
Then King Gunther, his face aglow with pleasure, went with Sir Siegfried to his sister's bower, and begged her to provide rich garments in which he and his knights might appear before the beauteous Queen Brunhild.
"Thou shalt not beg this service from me," cried the gentle Princess, "rather shalt thou command that which thou dost wish. See, here have I silk in plenty. Send thou the gems from off thy bucklers, and I and my maidens will work them with gold embroideries into the silk."
Thus the sweet maiden dismissed her brother, and sending for her thirty maidens who were skilled in needlework she bade them sew their daintiest stitches, for here were robes to be made for the King and Sir Siegfried ere they went to bring Queen Brunhild into Rhineland.
For seven weeks Kriemhild and her maidens were busy in their bower. Silk white as new-fallen snow, silk green as the leaves in spring did they shape into garments worthy to be worn by the King and Sir Siegfried, and amid the gold embroideries glittered many a radiant gem.
Meanwhile down by the banks of the Rhine a vessel was being built to carry the King across the sea to Isenland.
When all was ready the King and Sir Siegfried went to the bower of the Princess. They would put on the silken robes and the beautiful cloaks Kriemhild and her maidens had sewed to see that they were neither too long nor too short. But indeed the skilful hands of the Princess had not erred. No more graceful or more beautiful garments had ever before been seen by the King or the Prince.
"Sir Siegfried," said the gentle Kriemhild, "care for my royal brother lest danger befall him in the bold Queen's country. Bring him home both safe and sound I beseech thee."
The hero bowed his head and promised to shield the King from danger, then they said farewell to the maiden, and embarked in the little ship that awaited them on the banks of the Rhine. Nor did Siegfried forget to take with him his Cloak of Darkness and his good sword Balmung.
Now none was there on the ship save King Gunther, Siegfried, Hagen, and Dankwart, but Siegfried with his Cloak of Darkness had the strength of twelve men as well as his own strong right hand.
Merrily sailed the little ship, steered by Sir Siegfried himself. Soon the Rhine river was left behind and they were out on the sea, a strong wind filling their sails. Ere evening, full twenty miles had the good ship made.
For twelve days they sailed onward, until before them rose the grim fortress that guarded Isenland.
"What towers are these?" cried King Gunther, as he gazed upon the turreted castle which looked as a grim sentinel guarding the land.
"These," answered the hero, "are Queen Brunhild's towers and this is the country over which she rules."
Then turning to Hagen and Dankwart Siegfried begged them to let him be spokesman to the Queen, for he knew her wayward moods. "And King Gunther shall be my king," said the Prince, "and I but his vassal until we leave Isenland."
And Hagen and Dankwart, proud men though they were, obeyed in all things the words of the young Prince of the Netherlands.
SIEGFRIED SUBDUES BRUNHILD
The little ship had sailed on now close beneath the castle, so close indeed that as the King looked up to the window he could catch glimpses of beautiful maidens passing to and fro.
Sir Siegfried also looked and laughed aloud for glee. It would be but a little while until Brunhild was won and he was free to return to his winsome lady Kriemhild.
By this time the maidens in the castle had caught sight of the ship, and many bright eyes were peering down upon King Gunther and his three brave comrades.
"Look well at the fair maidens, sire," said Siegfried to the King. "Among them all show me her whom thou wouldst choose most gladly as your bride."
"Seest thou the fairest of the band," cried the King, "she who is clad in a white garment? It is she and no other whom I would wed."
Right merrily then laughed Siegfried. "The maiden," said he gaily, "is in truth none other than Queen Brunhild herself."
The King and his warriors now moored their vessel and leaped ashore, Siegfried leading with him the King's charger. For each knight had brought his steed with him from the fair land of Burgundy.
More bright than ever beamed the bright eyes of the ladies at the castle window. So fair, so gallant a knight never had they seen, thought the damsels as they gazed upon Sir Siegfried. And all the while King Gunther dreamed their glances were bent on no other than himself.
Siegfried held the noble steed until King Gunther had mounted, and this he did that Queen Brunhild might not know that he was the Prince of the Netherlands, owing service to no man. Then going back to the ship the hero brought his own horse to land, mounted, and rode with the King toward the castle gate.
King and Prince were clad alike. Their steeds as well as their garments were white as snow, their saddles were bedecked with jewels, and on the harness hung bells, all of bright red gold. Their shields shone as the sun, their spears they wore before them, their swords hung by their sides.
Behind them followed Hagen and Dankwart, their armor black as the plumage of the wild raven, their shields strong and mighty.
As they approached the castle gates were flung wide open, and the liegemen of the great Queen came out to greet the strangers with words of welcome. They bid their hirelings also take the shields and chargers from their guests.
But when a squire demanded that the strangers should also yield their swords, grim Hagen smiled his grimmest, and cried, "Nay, our swords will we e'en keep lest we have need of them." Nor was he too well pleased when Siegfried told him that the custom in Isenland was that no guest should enter the castle carrying a weapon. It was but sullenly that he let his sword be taken away along with his mighty shield.
After the strangers had been refreshed with wine, her liegemen sent to the Queen to tell her that strange guests had arrived.
"Who are the strangers who come thus unheralded to my land?" haughtily demanded Brunhild.
But no one could tell her who the warriors were, though some murmured that the tallest and fairest might be the great hero Siegfried.
It may be that the Queen thought that if the knight were indeed Siegfried she would revenge herself on him now for the mischievous pranks he had played the last time he was in her kingdom. In any case she said, "If the hero is here he shall enter into contest with me, and he shall pay for his boldness with his life, for I shall be the victor."
Then with five hundred warriors, each with his sword in hand, Brunhild came down to the knights from Burgundy.
"Be welcome, Siegfried," she cried, "yet wherefore hast thou come again to Isenland?"
"I thank thee for thy greeting, lady," said the Prince, "but thou hast welcomed me before my lord. He, King Gunther, ruler over the fair realms of Burgundy, hath come hither to wed with thee."
Brunhild was displeased that the mighty hero should not himself seek to win her as a bride, yet since for all his prowess he seemed but a vassal of the King, she answered, "If thy master can vanquish me in the contests to which I bid him, then I will be his wife, but if I conquer thy master, his life, and the lives of his followers will be forfeited."
"What dost thou demand of my master?" asked Hagen.
"He must hurl the spear with me, throw the stone from the ring, and leap to where it has fallen," said the Queen.
Now while Brunhild was speaking, Siegfried whispered to the King to fear nothing, but to accept the Queen's challenge. "I will be near though no one will see me, to aid thee in the struggle," he whispered.
Gunther had such trust in the Prince that he at once cried boldly, "Queen Brunhild, I do not fear even to risk my life that I may win thee for my bride."
Then the bold maiden called for her armor, but when Gunther saw her shield, "three spans thick with gold and iron, which four chamberlains could hardly bear," his courage began to fail.
While the Queen donned her silken fighting doublet, which could turn aside the sharpest spear, Siegfried slipped away unnoticed to the ship, and swiftly flung around him his Cloak of Darkness. Then unseen by all, he hastened back to King Gunther's side.
A great javelin was then given to the Queen, and she began to fight with her suitor, and so hard were her thrusts that but for Siegfried the King would have lost his life.
"Give me thy shield," whispered the invisible hero in the King's ear, "and tell no one that I am here." Then as the maiden hurled her spear with all her force against the shield which she thought was held by the King, the shock well-nigh drove both Gunther and his unseen friend to their knees.
But in a moment Siegfried's hand had dealt the Queen such a blow with the handle of his spear (he would not use the sharp point against a woman) that the maiden cried aloud, "King Gunther, thou hast won this fray." For as she could not see Siegfried because of his Cloak of Darkness, she could not but believe that it was the King who had vanquished her.
In her wrath the Queen now sped to the ring, where lay a stone so heavy that it could scarce be lifted by twelve strong men.
But Brunhild lifted it with ease, and threw it twelve arms' length beyond the spot on which she stood. Then, leaping after it, she alighted even farther than she had thrown the stone.
Gunther now stood in the ring, and lifted the stone which had again been placed within it. He lifted it with an effort, but at once Siegfried's unseen hand grasped it and threw it with such strength that it dropped even beyond the spot to which it had been flung by the Queen. Lifting King Gunther with him Siegfried next jumped far beyond the spot on which the Queen had alighted. And all the warriors marveled to see their Queen thus vanquished by the strange King. For you must remember that not one of them could see that it was Siegfried who had done these deeds of prowess.
Now in the contest, still unseen, Siegfried had taken from the Queen her ring and her favorite girdle.
With angry gestures Brunhild called to her liegemen to come and lay their weapons down at King Gunther's feet to do him homage. Henceforth they must be his thralls and own him as their lord.
As soon as the contests were over, Siegfried had slipped back to the ship and hidden his Cloak of Darkness. Then boldly he came back to the great hall, and pretending to know nothing of the games begged to be told who had been the victor, if indeed they had already taken place.
When he had heard that Queen Brunhild had been vanquished, the hero laughed, and cried gaily, "Then, noble maiden, thou must go with us to Rhineland to wed King Gunther."
"A strange way for a vassal to speak," thought the angry Queen, and she answered with a proud glance at the knight, "Nay, that will I not do until I have summoned my kinsmen and my good lieges. For I will myself say farewell to them ere ever I will go to Rhineland."
Thus heralds were sent throughout Brunhild's realms, and soon from morn to eve her kinsmen and her liegemen rode into the castle, until it seemed as though a mighty army were assembling.
"Does the maiden mean to wage war against us," said Hagen grimly. "I like not the number of her warriors."
Then said Siegfried, "I will leave thee for a little while and go across the sea, and soon will I return with a thousand brave warriors, so that no evil may befall us."
So the Prince went down alone to the little ship and set sail across the sea.
SIEGFRIED AND THE PRINCESS
The ship in which Siegfried set sail drifted on before the wind, while those in Queen Brunhild's castle marveled, for no one was to be seen on board. This was because the hero had again donned his Cloak of Darkness.
On and on sailed the little ship until at length it drew near to the land of the Nibelungs. Then Siegfried left his vessel and again climbed the mountain-side, where long before he had cut off the heads of the little Nibelung princes.
He reached the cave into which he had thrust the treasure, and knocked loudly at the door. The cave was the entrance to Nibelheim the dark, little town beneath the glad, green grass.
Siegfried might have entered the cave, but he knocked that he might see if the treasure were well guarded.
Then the porter, who was a great giant, when he heard the knock buckled on his armor and opened the door. Seeing, as he thought in his haste, a strange knight standing before him he fell upon him with a bar of iron. So strong was the giant that it was with difficulty that the Prince overcame him and bound him hand and foot.
Alberich meanwhile had heard the mighty blows, which indeed had shaken Nibelheim to its foundations.
Now the dwarf had sworn fealty to Siegfried, and when he, as the giant had done, mistook the Prince for a stranger, he seized a heavy whip with a gold handle and rushed upon him, smiting his shield with the knotted whip until it fell to pieces.
Too pleased that his treasures were so well defended to be angry, Siegfried now seized the little dwarf by his beard, and pulled it so long and so hard that Alberich was forced to cry for mercy. Then Siegfried bound him hand and foot as he had done the giant.
Alberich, poor little dwarf, gnashed his teeth with rage. Who would guard the treasure now, and who would warn his master that a strong man had found his way to Nibelheim?
But in the midst of his fears he heard the stranger's merry laugh. Nay, it was no stranger, none but the hero-prince could laugh thus merrily.
"I am Siegfried your master," then said the Prince. "I did but test thy faithfulness, Alberich," and laughing still, the hero undid the cords with which he had bound the giant and the dwarf.
"Call me here quickly the Nibelung warriors," cried Siegfried, "for I have need of them." And soon thirty thousand warriors stood before him in shining armor.
Choosing one thousand of the strongest and biggest, the Prince marched with them down to the seashore. There they embarked in ships and sailed away to Isenland.
Now it chanced that Queen Brunhild was walking on the terrace of her sea-guarded castle with King Gunther when she saw a number of sails approaching.
"Whose can these ships be?" she cried in quick alarm.
"These are my warriors who have followed me from Burgundy," answered the King, for thus had Siegfried bidden him speak.
"We will go to welcome the fleet," said Brunhild, and together they met the brave Nibelung army and lodged them in Isenland.
"Now will I give of my silver and my gold to my liegemen and to Gunther's warriors," said Queen Brunhild, and she held out the keys of her treasury to Dankwart that he might do her will. But so lavishly did the knight bestow her gold and her costly gems and her rich raiment upon the warriors that the Queen grew angry.
"Naught shall I have left to take with me to Rhineland," she cried aloud in her vexation.
"In Burgundy," answered Hagen, "there is gold enough and to spare. Thou wilt not need the treasures of Isenland."
But these words did not content the Queen. She would certainly take at least twenty coffers of gold as well as jewels and silks with her to King Gunther's land.
At length, leaving Isenland to the care of her brother, Queen Brunhild, with twenty hundred of her own warriors as a bodyguard, with eighty-six dames and one hundred maidens, set out for the royal city of Worms.
For nine days the great company journeyed homeward, and then King Gunther entreated Siegfried to be his herald to Worms.
"Beg Queen Uté and the Princess Kriemhild," said the King, "beg them to ride forth to meet my bride and to prepare to hold high festival in honor of the wedding-feast."
Thus Siegfried with four-and-twenty knights sailed on more swiftly than the other ships, and landing at the mouth of the river Rhine, rode hastily toward the royal city.
The Queen and her daughter, clad in their robes of state, received the hero, and his heart was glad, for once again he stood in the presence of his dear lady, Kriemhild.
"Be welcome, my Lord Siegfried," she cried, "thou worthy knight, be welcome. But where is my brother? Has he been vanquished by the warrior-queen? Oh, wo is me if he is lost, wo is me that ever I was born," and the tears rolled down the maiden's cheeks.
"Nay, now," said the Prince, "thy brother is well and of good cheer. I have come, a herald of glad tidings. For even now the King is on his way to Worms, bringing with him his hard-won bride."
Then the Princess dried her tears, and graciously did she bid the hero to sit by her side.
"I would I might give thee a reward for thy services," said the gentle maiden, "but too rich art thou to receive my gold."
"A gift from thy hands would gladden my heart," said the gallant Prince.
Blithely then did Kriemhild send for four-and-twenty buckles, all inlaid with precious stones, and these did she give to Siegfried.
Siegfried bent low before the lady Kriemhild, for well did he love the gracious giver, yet would he not keep for himself her gifts, but gave them, in his courtesy, to her four-and-twenty maidens.
Then the Prince told Queen Uté that the King begged her and the Princess to ride forth from Worms to greet his bride, and to prepare to hold high festival in the royal city.
"It shall be done even as the King desires," said the Queen, while Kriemhild sat silent, smiling with gladness, because her knight Sir Siegfried had come home.
In joy and merriment the days flew by, while the court at Worms prepared to hold high festival in honor of King Gunther's matchless bride.
As the royal ships drew near, Queen Uté and the Princess Kriemhild, accompanied by many a gallant knight, rode along the banks of the Rhine to greet Queen Brunhild.
Already the King had disembarked, and was leading his bride toward his gracious mother. Courteously did Queen Uté welcome the stranger, while Kriemhild kissed her and clasped her in her arms.
Some, as they gazed upon the lovely maidens, said that the warlike Queen Brunhild was more beautiful than the gentle Princess Kriemhild, but others, and these were the wiser, said that none could excel the peerless sister of the King.
In the great plain of Worms silk tents and gay pavilions had been placed. And there the ladies took shelter from the heat, while before them knights and warriors held a gay tournament. Then, in the cool of the evening, a gallant train of lords and ladies, they rode toward the castle at Worms.
Queen Uté and her daughter went to their own apartments, while the King with Brunhild went into the banquet-hall where the wedding-feast was spread.
But ere the feast had begun, Siegfried came and stood before the King.
"Sire," he said, "hast thou forgotten thy promise, that when Brunhild entered the royal city thy lady sister should be my bride?"
"Nay," cried the King, "my royal word do I ever keep," and going out into the hall he sent for the Princess.
"Dear sister," said Gunther, as she bowed before him, "I have pledged my word to a warrior that thou wilt become his bride, wilt thou help me to keep my promise?" Now Siegfried was standing by the King's side as he spoke.
Then the gentle maiden answered meekly, "Thy will, dear brother, is ever mine. I will take as lord him to whom thou hast promised my hand." And she glanced shyly at Siegfried, for surely this was the warrior to whom her royal brother had pledged his word.
Right glad then was the King, and Siegfried grew rosy with delight as he received the lady's troth. Then together they went to the banquet-hall, and on a throne next to King Gunther sat the hero-prince, the lady Kriemhild by his side.
When the banquet was ended, the King was wedded to Queen Brunhild, and Siegfried to the maiden whom he loved so well, and though he had no crown to place upon her brow, the Princess was well content.