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The Great Knight Siegfried






Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.

Once upon a time there lived in the Netherlands, in Xante, a wonderful
castle on the river Rhine, a mighty king and queen. Siegmund and
Sieglinde were their names, and far and wide were they known. Yet
their son, the glorious hero Siegfried, was still more widely
celebrated. Even as a boy he performed so many daring feats that his
bravery was talked of in all German lands.

The two most remarkable of these feats were the slaying of a frightful
monster known as the "Dragon of the Linden-tree" and the capture of
the rich treasure of the Nibelungs. The hoard was an ancient one and
had this wonderful property--that no matter how much was taken from it
the quantity was never less.

All this happened before Siegfried reached the age of manhood. When it
was time for the youth to be knighted, King Siegmund sent invitations
far and wide throughout the country, and a great celebration took
place. Siegfried was solemnly girded with a sword and permitted to
take his place among the warriors of the kingdom. Then there was a
great tournament, a wonderful occasion for Siegfried, who came off
victor in every encounter, although many tried warriors matched their
skill against his. Altogether the festivities lasted seven whole days.

After the guests had departed, Siegfried asked permission of his
parents to travel into Burgundy to seek as bride for himself
Kriemhild, the maiden of whose great beauty and loveliness he had
heard.

Gunther, the king of Burgundy, recognizing the young hero, went out
to meet him and politely inquired the cause of his visit. Imagine his
dismay when Siegfried proposed a single combat, in which the victor
might claim the land and allegiance of the vanquished. Neither Gunther
nor any of his knights would accept the challenge; but Gunther and his
brother hastened forward with proffers of unbounded hospitality.

Siegfried lingered a year in Gunther's palace, and though he never
caught a glimpse of the fair maid Kriemhild, she often admired his
strength and manly beauty from behind the palace windows.

One day a herald arrived from King Ludeger of Saxony and King Ludegast
of Denmark, announcing an invasion. Gunther was dismayed; but the
brave Siegfried came to the rescue, saying that if Gunther would give
him only one thousand brave men he would repel the enemy. This was
done and the little army marched into Saxony and routed the twenty
thousand valiant soldiers of the enemy's force. All the men did brave
work, but Siegfried was the bravest of them all.

When the hero returned, a great celebration was held in his honor, and
Kriemhild, Ute and all the ladies of the court were invited to be
present at the tournament. It was there that Siegfried first saw the
fair maiden. Her beauty was more wonderful than he had ever been able
to imagine. What was his delight, then, to learn that he had been
appointed her escort.

On the way to the tournament Kriemhild murmured her thanks for the
good work Siegfried had done for her, and Siegfried vowed that he
would always serve her brothers because of his great love for her.

Soon after the tournament Gunther announced his intention of winning
for his wife, Brunhild, the princess of Issland, who had vowed to
marry no man but the one who could surpass her in jumping, throwing a
stone and casting a spear. Gunther proposed that Siegfried go with
him, promising him, in return for his services, the hand of Kriemhild.
Such an offer was not to be despised, and Siegfried immediately
consented, advising Gunther to take only Hagen and Dankwart with him.

Gunther and the three knights set out in a small vessel. Siegfried
bade his companions represent him as Gunther's vassal only; but
Brunhild, seeing his giant figure and guessing its strength, imagined
that he had come to woo her. She was dismayed, therefore, when she
heard that he had held the stirrup for Gunther to dismount. When he
entered her hall, she advanced to meet him; but he drew aside, saying
that honor was due to his master Gunther.

Brunhild ordered preparations for the evening contest, and Gunther,
Hagen and Dankwart trembled when they saw four men staggering under
the weight of Brunhild's shield and three more staggering under the
weight of her spear. Siegfried, meantime, had donned his magic cloud
cloak and bade Gunther rely upon his aid.

The combat opened. Brunhild poised her spear and flung it with such
force that both heroes staggered; but before she could cry out her
victory Siegfried had caught the spear and flung it back with such
violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge defeat.

Undaunted, she caught up a huge stone, flung it far into the distance,
and then leaping, alighted beside it. No sooner had she done this than
Siegfried seized the stone, flung it still farther, and lifting
Gunther by his broad girdle bounded through the air with him and
alighted beyond the stone. Then Brunhild knew that she had found her
master.

"Come hither all my kinsmen and followers," she said, "and acknowledge
my superior. I am no longer your mistress. Gunther is your lord."

The wedding was fitly celebrated and then Gunther and his bride were
escorted back to Issland by a thousand Nibelung warriors whom
Siegfried had gathered for the purpose. A great banquet was given upon
their return, at which the impatient Siegfried ventured to remind
Gunther of his promise. Brunhild protested that Gunther should not
give his only sister to a menial, but Gunther gave his consent and the
marriage took place immediately. The two bridal couples then sat side
by side. Kriemhild's face was very happy; Brunhild's was dark and
frowning.

You see, Brunhild was not pleased with the husband she had gained and
preferred Siegfried. Alone with her husband the first night she bound
him with her girdle and suspended him from a corner of her apartment.
There she let him hang till morning. Released, Gunther sought out
Siegfried and told him of the disgraceful affair.

The following evening Siegfried again donned his cloud cloak and
entered the apartments of Gunther and Brunhild. As he entered he blew
out the lights, caught Brunhild's hands and wrestled with her until
she pleaded for mercy.

"Great king, forbear," she said. "I will henceforth be thy dutiful
wife. I will do nothing to anger thee. Thou art my lord and master."

Having accomplished his purpose, Siegfried left the room, but first he
took Brunhild's girdle and her ring. These he carried with him when
after the festivities he and Kriemhild returned to Xante on the Rhine.

Siegmund and Sieglinde abdicated in favor of their son, and for ten
years Siegfried and Kriemhild reigned happily. Then they were invited
to pay a visit to Gunther and Brunhild. They accepted, leaving their
little son Gunther in the care of the Nibelungs.

Brunhild received Kriemhild graciously, but at heart she was jealous
and wanted Kriemhild to acknowledge her as superior. One day they had
a hot dispute, Kriemhild declaring that her husband was without peer
in the world, and Brunhild retorting that since he was Gunther's
vassal he must be his inferior. Kriemhild made an angry avowal that
she would publicly assert her rank.

Both queens parted in a rage and proceeded to attire themselves in the
most gorgeous costumes they possessed. Accompanied by their
ladies-in-waiting they met at the church door. Brunhild bade Kriemhild
stand aside while she entered, and Kriemhild would not. A storm of
words followed. Finally Kriemhild insulted the other queen by
declaring that Brunhild was not a faithful wife.

"You loved Siegfried better than Gunther," she declared. "Here are
your girdle and ring which my husband gave to me." So saying, she
displayed the girdle and ring which Siegfried had unwisely given her
when he confided to her the story of Gunther's wooing.

Brunhild summoned Gunther to defend her, and he sent for Siegfried.
The latter publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth and
that Brunhild had never loved him or he her.

"This quarrel is disgraceful," he said. "I will teach my wife better
manners for the future." Gunther promised to do likewise.

The guests departed, but Brunhild still smarted from the insult and
longed for revenge. Hagen, finding her in tears, undertook to avenge
her. He continually reminded Gunther of the insult his wife had
received. The king at first paid no attention to the insinuations, but
at last he consented to an assault on Siegfried.

He asked the great hero to help him in a war which he pretended his
old enemy Ludeger was about to bring upon him. Siegfried consented,
and Kriemhild, because she loved her husband very deeply, was much
troubled. In her distress she confided to Hagen that Siegfried was
invulnerable except in one spot, between the shoulder blades, where a
lime leaf had rested and the dragon's blood had not touched him.

"Never fear," said Hagen, "I myself will help to protect him. You sew
a tiny cross on Siegfried's doublet, just over the vulnerable spot,
that I may be the better able to shield him."

Kriemhild promised to obey his instructions, and Hagen departed, well
pleased, to carry the news to Gunther.

At last the day came for Siegfried to leave his queen. He talked to
her and comforted her and kissed her rosy lips.

"Dear heart," he said, "why all these tears? I shall not be gone
long."

But she was thinking of what she had told Hagen, and wept and wept and
would not be comforted.

When Siegfried joined Gunther's party he was surprised to learn that
the rebellion had been quelled and that he was invited to join in a
hunt instead of a fray.

So he joined the hunting party. Now Siegfried was as great a hunter as
he was a warrior, and while the noonday meal was being prepared he
scoured the forest, slew several wild boars, caught a bear alive and
in a spirit of mischief turned him loose among the guests. Then, tired
and thirsty, he sat down, calling for a drink.

Not a bit of wine was at hand; it had all been carried to another part
of the forest. Hagen pointed out a spring near by and Siegfried
proposed a race, offering to run in full armor while the others ran
without armor or weapons. In spite of the handicap, Siegfried reached
the spring first.

Always polite, Siegfried bade his host, Gunther, drink first, while he
himself disarmed. Siegfried then stooped over the spring to drink, and
as he stooped, Hagen, gliding behind him, drove his spear into his
body at the exact spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.

Siegfried struggled to avenge himself, but found nothing but his
shield within reach. This he flung with such force at his murderer
that it knocked him down. Exhausted by the effort, the hero fell back
upon the grass, cursing the treachery of Gunther and Hagen.

Curses soon gave way to thoughts of Kriemhild, however, and overcoming
his anger he recommended her to the care of her brother Gunther. Then
the great hero died.

The hunting party agreed to carry the body back to Worms and say that
they had found it in the forest. But Hagen, bolder than the rest,
ordered the bearers to deposit the corpse at Kriemhild's door, where
she would see it when she went out for early mass the next morning. As
he expected, Kriemhild discovered her dead lord and fell senseless
upon him. Recovering, she cried out that he had been murdered: no
foeman in a fair fight could have killed the glorious knight.

A great funeral took place and Siegfried's body was laid in state in
the cathedral at Worms. Thither many came to view it and to express
their sympathy for the widow Kriemhild. The latter, suspecting
treachery, refused to listen to Gunther until he promised that all of
those present at the hunt should touch the body.

"Blood will flow afresh at the murderer's touch," he said.

One by one the hunters advanced, and when Hagen touched the great
warrior's form, lo, the blood flowed again from his wounds. At this
the Nibelung warriors wanted to avenge the dead, but Kriemhild would
not permit them to interrupt the funeral. So the ceremonies were
concluded and Siegfried's body was laid to rest.





Next: Lohengrin And Elsa The Beautiful

Previous: The Passing Of Arthur



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