For fourteen days the wedding festivities never ceased. Then King Gunther and Prince Siegfried scattered costly gifts among their guests, so that they returned to their own lands in great glee.
No sooner were the guests departed than Siegfried also began to make ready to journey to his own country. Fain would he take his beautiful wife to see Siegmund and Sieglinde, and to dwell in the land over which one day he would be king.
Kriemhild, too, was glad to go to her dear lord's country. Taking a loving farewell of her lady mother, Queen Ute, and of her royal brothers, with five hundred knights of Burgundy and thirty-two Burgundian maids, Kriemhild rode away, Sir Siegfried by her side.
SIEGFRIED GOES HOME WITH KRIEMHILD
In the court of the Netherlands there was great gladness, for tidings had come that Prince Siegfried and his beautiful wife were already on their homeward way.
King Siegmund rejoiced, and resolved that now indeed his son should wear the crown.
Sieglinde wept for joy, then dried her tears, and bade her maidens look out their richest robes that they might welcome the young bride as became her rank.
Then the King and Queen rode forth to meet the travellers, and greeted them with kisses and fair words, and with great rejoicings the whole company returned to the castle. Here a great feast was held, and Siegmund, calling together all his liegemen, placed the crown upon his dear son's head, bidding them henceforth swear fealty to him alone.
The Netherlanders were indeed well pleased to have the mighty hero Siegfried for their king, and the castle walls shook with the shouts of strong men crying, 'Hail, King Siegfried, hail!'
For ten years Siegfried ruled and did justice in the land. At the end of ten years a little son came to gladden the hearts of the brave King and his gentle wife, and in memory of her royal brother, Kriemhild named him Gunther.
Now Queen Sieglinde had grown old and feeble, and after her little grandson had been born she grew still more weak until one day she passed away from earth.
Then Kriemhild took charge of the royal household. So kind was she and gentle that she was loved by all her maidens and indeed by all who dwelt in the castle.
Meanwhile Brunhild, the haughty Queen of Burgundy, was not happy, even her little son could not bring joy to her heart. Little had she to vex her, yet day by day her unhappiness grew.
Siegfried was now a mightier King than Gunther, and this displeased her more and more, for certainly he had once been but her lord's vassal. Had she not herself, from her castle window at Isenland, seen him hold King Gunther's charger until he had mounted, and that a Prince would have scorned to do. Yet to-day Siegfried was a King, Brunhild could not understand how this could be, and the more she thought about it, the angrier she grew. Even the gentle Kriemhild seemed to have grown haughty and disdainful, and for her too Brunhild had no love.
At length Brunhild made up her mind to speak to her husband.
'It is many years,' she said to King Gunther, 'since Siegfried has been at Worms. Bid him come hither with his wife.'
Then Gunther frowned, ill-pleased at her words. 'Thou dost not dream that I may command so mighty a King as Siegfried!' he cried.
But these words only made the Queen more angry. 'However great Siegfried may be, he dare not disobey his lord,' she said.
King Gunther smiled to himself at Brunhild's foolish thoughts. Full well he knew that the King of the Netherlands owed no duty to him, the King of Burgundy.
Then Brunhild, seeing that by anger she would not gain her wish, smiled and coming close to Gunther said, 'My lord, fain would I see thy sweet sister once more. If thou mayest not bid, wilt thou not entreat Siegfried to bring Kriemhild to our country that again we may sit together as we were used to do? In truth the gentleness of thy lady sister did ever please me well.'
Now Gunther, hearing his wife's kind words, was wishful to do her will. Therefore he sent for thirty warriors, and bade them ride into King Siegfried's land, and entreat him once again to come with his fair wife to the royal city of Worms. Queen Ute also sent messages to Queen Kriemhild beseeching her to come again to her own country.
Well pleased was Kriemhild when the knights from Burgundy were shown into her presence, and right glad was the welcome given to them by King Siegfried. Then one of the knights hastened to deliver King Gunther's greetings and the greetings of Queen Ute and her ladies.
'The King and Queen bid you also welcome to a high festival which they hold as soon as the winter is ended,' he said.
But King Siegfried, thinking of all the business of the state, answered courteously, 'Nay, I fear that I may scarce leave my land without a king. Yet will I lodge you here while I take counsel with my liegemen.'
For nine days King Gunther's men tarried in the Netherlands, and banquets and tournaments were given in their honour.
Then Siegfried summoned his liegemen together and told them of King Gunther's desire that he and his Queen should go to Rhineland, and bade them give him their counsel.
'Take with thee a thousand warriors, sire, and if it be thy will ride thus into Burgundy,' said the King's chief adviser.
'I also will go with thee,' said Siegmund, for well did he love his son. 'I also will go with thee and take a hundred swordsmen along with me.'
Right glad was Siegfried when he heard his father's words. 'My own good father dear,' he cried, and seizing his hand he kissed it. 'In twelve days will I leave my realm and journey toward Burgundy, and thou shalt ride with me and Queen Kriemhild.'
Then the heralds of King Gunther, laden with rich gifts, were bidden to hasten back to their own land with tidings that Siegfried and his Queen would ere long follow them to the royal city.
When the heralds stood again before King Gunther, they delivered their tidings, and then spread out before him and his courtiers the raiment and the gold which Siegfried had bestowed upon them.
Hagen looked upon the gifts, his keen eyes full of greed. 'Well may the mighty King Siegfried give such gifts,' he said. 'If he were to live for ever, yet could he not spend the great treasure which he possesses in the land of the Nibelungs.'
SIEGFRIED AND KRIEMHILD GO TO WORMS
One fine morning Siegfried and all his fair company set out on their journey to Rhineland. Their little son they left at the palace in the Netherlands.
As they drew near to Burgundy, a band of Gunther's most gallant warriors rode forth to meet their guests. Brunhild also went to greet the royal company, yet in her heart the hatred she felt for Siegfried and his wife grew ever more fierce, more cruel.
Gunther rejoiced when he saw the brave light-hearted hero once again, and he welcomed him right royally. As for Brunhild, she kissed the Queen of the Netherlands, and smiled upon her, so that the lovely lady was well pleased with her greeting.
Twelve hundred gallant warriors sat round the banqueting table in the good city of Worms that day. Then the feast ended, and the travellers sought their couches, weary with their long journey. The next morning the great chests which they had brought with them were opened, and many precious stones, and many beautiful garments were bestowed by King Siegfried and Queen Kriemhild on the ladies and the knights of the royal city.
Queen Ute, too, was happy, for now again she might look upon the face of her dear daughter.
Then a tournament was held, and the knights tilted, while beautiful damsels looked down upon them from the galleries of the great hall. And at evensong the happy court would wend its way to the Minster, and there, the Queens, wearing their crowns of state, would enter side by side. Thus for eleven days all went merry as a marriage ball.
One evening, ere the Minster bell pealed for vespers, the two Queens sat side by side under a silken tent. They were talking of Siegfried and Gunther, their lords.
'There is no braver warrior in the wide world than my lord Siegfried,' said Kriemhild.
'Nay,' cried Brunhild angrily, 'nay, thou dost forget thy brother, King Gunther. None, I trow, is mightier than he.'
Then the gentle Kriemhild forgot her gentle ways, and bitter to Queen Brunhild's ears were the words she spoke.
'My royal brother is neither strong nor brave as is my lord,' she cried. 'Dost thou not know that Siegfried it was, not Gunther, who vanquished thee in the contests held at thy castle in Isenland? Dost thou not know that it was Siegfried, clad in his Coat of Darkness, who wrested from thee both thy girdle and thy ring?' And Kriemhild pointed to the girdle which she was wearing round her waist, to the ring which she was wearing on her finger.
Brunhild, when she saw her girdle and her ring, wept, and her tears were tears of anger. Never would she forgive Siegfried for treating her thus; never would she forgive Kriemhild for telling her the truth.
'Alas! alas!' cried the angry Queen, 'no hero have I wed, but a feeble-hearted knave.'
Meanwhile, Kriemhild, already grieved that she had spoken thus foolishly, had left the angry Queen and gone down to the Minster to vespers.
That evening Brunhild had no smiles, no gentle words, for her lord.
'It was Siegfried, not thou, my lord, who vanquished me in the contests at Isenland,' she said in a cold voice to the startled King.
Had Siegfried then dared to boast to the Queen of the wonderful feats he had done in the land across the sea? Nay, King Gunther could not quite believe that the hero would thus boast of his great strength.
But the Queen was still scolding him, so Gunther, in his dismay, stammered, 'We will summon the King to our presence, and he shall tell us why he has dared to boast of his might as though he were stronger than I.'
When Siegfried stood before the angry Brunhild, the crestfallen King said as sternly as he dared, 'Hast thou boasted that it was thou who conquered the maiden Brunhild?'
But even as he spoke all Gunther's suspicions fled away. Siegfried with the steadfast eyes and the happy laugh had never betrayed him. Of that he felt quite sure. It was true that he might have told his wife Kriemhild——
Ah, now King Gunther knew what had happened! Not Siegfried, but his lady sister had told Brunhild the secret. Truly it was no fault of the gallant hero that Queen Brunhild had that day learned the secret which he would fain have kept from her for ever.
So King Gunther stretched out his hand to Siegfried, who had stood in silence before him, and said, 'Not thou, but my sister Kriemhild hath boasted of thy prowess in Isenland,' and the two Kings walked away together leaving Brunhild in her anger.
But not long was she left to weep alone, for Hagen, the keen-eyed, coming into the hall, saw her tears.
'Gracious lady, wherefore dost thou weep?' he asked.
'I weep for anger,' said Brunhild, and she told Hagen the foolish words which Siegfried's wife had spoken.
When Hagen had heard them he smiled grimly to himself. Siegfried, the hero, nor his beautiful wife, should escape his vengeance now. And he began at once to plan with the Queen how he might punish them. Well did he know that Brunhild would do all in her power to aid him in his plots.
Slowly but very surely Hagen drew Gernot and one or two warriors into his schemes against the King of the Netherlands. But when Giselher heard that the cruel counsellors even wished to slay Siegfried, he was angry, and said bravely, 'Never has Siegfried deserved such hate from any knight of Burgundy.'
But Hagen did not cease his evil whispers against the hero. He would even steal upon King Gunther as he sat at his council-table, and he would whisper in his ear that if Siegfried were not so strong, his Burgundian heroes would win more glory for their arms, that if Siegfried were not living, all his broad lands would belong, through Kriemhild, to Burgundy.
At first, Gunther would bid Hagen be silent, and lay aside his hate of the mighty hero. But afterward he would listen and only murmur, 'If Siegfried heard thy words, none of us would be safe from his wrath.' For King Gunther was weak and easily made to fear.
'Fear not,' said Hagen grimly, 'Siegfried shall never hear of our plots. Leave the matter to me. I will send for two strange heralds to come to our land. They shall pretend that they have come from our old enemies, Ludegast and Ludeger, and they shall challenge us to battle once again.'
'When Siegfried hears that thou must go forth to fight, he will even as afore-time offer to go for thee against the foe. Then, methinks, shall I learn the secret of the great warrior's strength from Kriemhild, ere he set out, as she will believe he must do, for the battlefield.'
And Gunther listened and feared to gainsay the words of his wicked counsellor, also he thought of the great treasure, and longed that he might possess it.
SIEGFRIED IS SLAIN
Hagen did not delay to carry out his wicked plot. Four days later, thirty-two strangers rode into Rhineland, and demanded to see King Gunther. These were the men who had been hired by the counsellor to bring false tidings of battle.
When the heralds stood before the King their spokesman said, 'We come from King Ludegast and King Ludeger, who have gathered together new armies with which to invade thy land, and forthwith they challenge thee to combat.'
Then the King pretended that he did not know that these were false heralds with false tidings. He frowned, and his eyes flashed anger at the strangers as he listened to their words.
Siegfried, who had heard the strangers' words, cried eagerly, 'Fear not, O King, I and my warriors will fight for thee, even as afore-time we have done.'
Well pleased then seemed Gunther at the hero's words. As though he really feared the armies of the foreign kings, he graciously thanked Siegfried for his offered aid.
Gaily then did Siegfried summon his thousand warriors and bade them polish their armour and make their shields shine, for they must go forth to fight for the realm of Burgundy.
'Now,' thought Hagen, 'is the moment to win from Kriemhild the secret of her lord's strength,' so he hastened to her apartments to bid her farewell. For he, too, was going forth to battle.
When Kriemhild saw the grim warrior she cried, 'If thou art near to my lord in the battlefield, guard him for my sake, and ever shalt thou have Queen Kriemhild's thanks.'
'Right gladly will I serve Siegfried for thy sake,' said the false knight. 'Tell me how best I may guard thy lord.'
'Thou art my kinsman, Hagen,' said the noble lady, 'therefore will I trust thee with the secret of his strength.'
Then the Queen told the warrior of the tiny spot between her husband's shoulders on which the linden leaf had fallen while he bathed in the dragon's blood, and how, while all the rest of his body was too tough to be pierced by spear or arrow, on that spot, he might be wounded as easily as any other man.
Hagen's eyes glittered. The life of the King was well-nigh in his hands.
'If this be so, noble lady, I beg of thee sew a token upon his garment, that I may know the spot which I must guard with my shield, and if need be with my life,' said the counsellor.
Then Kriemhild promised to sew a tiny cross upon Siegfried's tunic, that so Hagen might the better be able to shield her lord.
Bowing low, Hagen said farewell, then hastened from the presence of the gentle lady whose trust he meant to betray and that right cruelly.
The next morning Siegfried set out, merrily as was his wont, at the head of his warriors, and close behind him rode Hagen, his keen eyes searching for the little cross.
It was there, the token which the lady Kriemhild had sewn with eager hands on her lord's tunic, thinking thus to guard him from all harm.
There was no need now for the pretence of war, for Hagen himself held Siegfried's life in his hands. The wicked counsellor, therefore, ordered two of his own followers to ride away in secret, bidding them return in a day or two, travel-stained, as though they had come from afar. With them they were to bring tidings of submission and peace from Ludegast and Ludeger.
Thus, before Siegfried and his great host had marched into the enemy's land they were stayed by heralds who brought messages of peace and good-will to Gunther, and much against his wish the gallant hero had to return to Worms, no battle fought, no enemy conquered.
But if Siegfried grieved, Kriemhild rejoiced at his return. Already she had begun to be sorry that she had trusted her kinsman, Hagen.
Gunther, too, seemed happy to welcome Siegfried. 'Now that there is peace we will go a-hunting,' he said to the hero. Now this hunt had been planned by Hagen.
Then Siegfried went to say farewell to his beautiful wife ere he rode away to the hunt.
But Kriemhild clung to him, begging her dear lord not to leave her. She longed to warn him, too, against Hagen, yet this she did not dare to do.
'Ah, my lord,' she cried, 'last night I dreamed that two wild boars chased thee, and again I dreamed that as thou didst ride into the valley two mountains fell upon thee and hid thee for ever from my sight. Go not to the hunt, my dear lord Siegfried.'
Yet the hero would not heed the dreams of his lady. Gently he loosened her hands, and saying farewell, he left her weeping.
Out in the glad sunshine Siegfried smiled. He would be back so soon to comfort his dear wife, and then she, too, would laugh at her fears, and thinking thus he joined Gunther and his merry huntsmen, and together they rode toward the forest.
Never had there been such a hunt or such merry huntsmen, and no prey seemed to escape the hero Siegfried.
A strong and savage ox he felled to the ground with his own hand. A lion sprang toward him, but swiftly the hero drew his bow, and it lay harmless at his feet. An elk, a buffalo, four strong bisons, a fierce stag, and many a hart and hind were slain by his prowess. But when, with his sword, he slew a wild boar that had attacked him, his comrades slipped the leash round the hounds and cried, 'Lord Siegfried, nought is there left alive in the forest. Let us return to the camp with our spoils.'
At that moment, clear and loud rang out the hunting horn. It was the King who bade it sound that his merry huntsmen might come to feast with him in the green meadow on the outskirts of the forest.
Now the horn had roused a grisly bear, and Siegfried, seeing it, jumped from his charger, chased it, and having at length caught it with his strong right hand, bound it without receiving even a scratch from its claws or a bite from its jaws.
Then the hero dragged the bear back to his charger, tied it to his saddle, and mounting rode quickly forward to the camp.
King Gunther watched him as he drew near, and so gallant and brave he looked, that his heart grew heavy because he had listened to the cruel counsels of his uncle Hagen.
The hero wore a tunic of black velvet, a riding cap of sable. By his side hung his good sword Balmung, a quiver thrust through his girdle was filled with arrows, the shafts of which were golden.
Before he reached the camp, Siegfried again alighted and loosed the great bear, and bewildered, the brute sprang forward into the camp kitchen.
Up sprang the scullions from the fire, kettles were toppled over, the fire was put out, fish, fowl, meat, all lay in the black and smoking ashes.
Then Gunther and his merry huntsmen chased the huge bear into the wood, and while all were swift, none was so swift as Siegfried. His good sword Balmung flashed in the air, and the bear was slain and carried back to the camp.
Now Hagen had arranged the feast for the huntsmen, and for his own purpose he had ordered no wine.
'Where are the cupbearers?' cried Siegfried, who was thirsty after the day's sport.
'They have gone across the Rhine whither they thought we hunted,' said Hagen, the false knight. 'But there is a spring of cold water a little way off, thither may we go to quench our thirst.'
Siegfried soon rose to go to the fountain. Then Hagen drew near and said, 'Ofttimes I have heard that thou art sure and swift of foot. Wilt thou race with me to the spring?'
'If thou art at the fountain before me,' said the mighty hero, 'I will even lay myself at thy feet.'
Gunther heard Siegfried's words and shuddered. Yet now he dared not save the hero from his foe.
'I will bear my spear, my sword, my quiver, and my shield as I race,' said Siegfried. But Hagen and King Gunther, who also wished to run, stripped off their upper garments, that they might run more lightly.
Fleet of foot were Hagen and the King, yet fleeter still was Siegfried. He reached the well, loosened his sword, and laid it with his bow and arrows on the ground, and leant his spear against a linden tree that grew close to the fountain.
He looked down into the spring, yet though his thirst was great, so courteous was he that he would not drink before King Gunther.
When Gunther reached the well, he knelt at once to drink, then having quenched his thirst he turned and wandered back along the hillside toward his merry huntsmen.
As Siegfried now bent over the spring, Hagen with stealthy steps crept near and drew the hero's sword and quiver out of his reach. Stealthy still, he seized the spear which rested against the linden tree. Then while Siegfried drank of the cool, clear water, Hagen stabbed him, straight through the little cross of silk which Kriemhild's gentle hand had sewed, he stabbed.
The cruel deed was done, and Hagen turned to flee, leaving the spear there where he had thrust it, between the hero's shoulders, where once, alas! had lain a linden leaf.
Siegfried sprang to his feet as he felt the cruel blow, and reached for his quiver that he might speed the traitor to his death, but neither quiver nor sword could he find.
Then unarmed save for his shield the wounded hero ran, nor could Hagen escape him. With his shield Siegfried struck the false knight such heavy blows that the precious stones dropped out of the shield and were scattered, and Hagen lay helpless at King Siegfried's feet.
But Siegfried had no sword with which to slay his enemy, moreover his wound began to smart until he writhed with pain. Then, his strength failing him, he fell upon the green grass, while around him gathered Gunther and his huntsmen.
Sore wounded was King Siegfried, even unto death, and Gunther, sorry now the cruel deed was done, wept as he looked down upon the stricken King.
'Never would I have been slain, save by treachery,' murmured Siegfried. 'Yet how can I think of aught but my beautiful wife Kriemhild. Unto thee, O King Gunther, do I entrust her. If there be any faith in thee, defend her from all her foes.'
No more could he say, for he was faint from his wound, and ere long the hero lay still on the grass, dead.
Then the knights, when they saw that the mighty King no longer breathed, laid him on a shield of gold, and when night fell they carried him thus, back to the royal city.
When Kriemhild knew that her lord, King Siegfried, was dead, bitter were her tears. Full well did she know that it was Hagen who had slain him, and greatly did she bemoan her foolishness in telling the grim counsellor the secret known to her alone.
The body of the great hero was laid in a coffin of gold and silver and carried to the Minster. Then when the days of mourning were over, the old King Siegmund and his warriors went sadly back to the Netherlands.
But Kriemhild stayed at Worms, and for thirteen years she mourned the loss of her dear lord.
Her sufferings, during these years, were made the greater through the greed of Hagen. For at the cruel warrior's bidding, Gunther went to the Queen and urged her to send for the treasure of the Nibelungs.
'It shall be guarded for thy use in the royal city,' said the King.
In her grief Kriemhild cared little where the treasure was kept; and seeing this, her brother sent in her name to command that it should be brought to Worms.
No sooner, however, did it reach the city than it was seized upon by Hagen the traitor, and Kriemhild's wealth was no longer her own.
That henceforth it might be secure from every one save himself and King Gunther, Hagen buried the great treasure beneath the fast-flowing river Rhine.
When thirteen years had passed away, Kriemhild married Etzel, the powerful King of the Huns, and then at last Hagen began to fear. Would the lady to whom he had been so false punish him now that she was again a mighty Queen?
The years passed by, and Hagen was beginning to forget his fears when heralds came from Etzel, the King of the Huns, bidding King Gunther and his knights come visit Queen Kriemhild in her distant home. The command of Etzel was obeyed.
But no sooner did Hagen stand before her throne than Kriemhild commanded him to give her back the hidden treasure. This the grim counsellor refused to do.
'Then shalt not thou nor any of thy company return to Burgundy,' cried Kriemhild.
And as the Queen said, so it was, for the warriors of King Etzel fought with the warriors of King Gunther, until after a grievous slaughter not one Burgundian was left alive. Thus after many years was King Siegfried's death avenged by Queen Kriemhild.
* * * * *