|The Story of Siegfried|
|by James Baldwin|
|Legends of the Nibelungen hero, Siegfried, full of the mystery, awe, and poetry of the northern lands. They tell of how Siegfried forged the wondrous sword, Balmung, of his riding through flaming fire to awaken the maiden, Brunhild, and of the many other strange and daring deeds which he wrought. Many of the Norse myths are interwoven in the tale. The best rendition for children of the Siegfried legends, based on the Eddas, the Volsung Saga, and the Nibelungen-lied. Ages 11-14 |
THE CURSE OF GOLD
 FORTH then rode Siegfried, upon the beaming Greyfell, out
into the broad mid-world. And the sun shone bright above
him, and the air was soft and pure, and the earth seemed
very lovely, and life a gladsome thing. And his heart was
big within him as he thought of the days to come, of the
deeds of love and daring, of the righting of many wrongs, of
the people's praise, and the glory of a life well lived. And
he wended his way back again toward the south and the fair
lands of the Rhine. He left the barren moorlands behind him,
and the pleasant farms and villages of the fruitful
countryside, and after many days came once more to Regin's
woodland dwelling. For he said to himself, "My old master is
very wise; and he knows of the deeds that were done when yet
the world was young, and my kin were the mightiest of men. I
will go to him, and learn what grievous evil it is that he
has so often vaguely hinted at."
Regin, when he saw the lad and the beaming Greyfell standing
like a vision of light at his door, welcomed
 them most
gladly, and led Siegfried into the inner room, where they
sat down together amid the gold, and the gem stones, and the
fine-wrought treasures there.
"Truly," said the master, "the days of my long waiting are
drawing to a close, and at last the deed shall be done."
And the old look of longing came again into his eyes, and
his pinched face seemed darker and more wrinkled than
before, and his thin lips trembled with emotion as he spoke.
"What is that deed of which you speak?" asked Siegfried.
"It is the righting of a grievous wrong," answered Regin,
"and the winning of treasures untold. Lo, many years have I
waited for the coming of this day; and now my heart tells me
that the hero so long hoped for is here, and the wisdom and
the wealth of the world shall be mine."
"But what is the wrong to be righted?" asked Siegfried. "And
what is this treasure that you speak of as your own?"
"Alas!" answered Regin, "the treasure is indeed mine; and
yet wrongfully has it been withheld from me. But listen a
while to a tale of the early days, and thou shalt know what
the treasure is, and what is the wrong to be righted."
He took his harp and swept the strings, and played a soft,
low melody which told of the dim past, and of blighted
hopes, and of a nameless, never-satisfied
 yearning for that
which might have been. And then he told Siegfried this
When the earth was still very young, and men were feeble and
few, and the Dwarfs were many and strong, the Asa-folk were
wont ofttimes to leave their halls in heaven-towering
Asgard in order to visit the new-formed mid-world, and to
see what the short-lived sons of men were doing. Sometimes
they came in their own god-like splendor and might; sometimes
they came disguised as feeble men folk, with all man's
weaknesses and all his passions. Sometimes Odin, as a
beggar, wandered from one country to another, craving
charity; sometimes, as a warrior clad in coat of mail, he
rode forth to battle for the cause of right; or as a
minstrel he sang from door to door, and played sweet music
in the halls of the great; or as a huntsman he dashed
through brakes and fens, and into dark forests, and climbed
steep mountains in search of game; or as a sailor he
embarked upon the sea, and sought new scenes in unknown
lands. And many times did men folk entertain him unawares.
Once on a time he came to the mid-world in company with
Hoenir and Loki; and the three wandered through many lands
and in many climes, each giving gifts wherever they went.
Odin gave knowledge and strength, and taught men how to read
the mystic runes; Hoenir gave gladness and good cheer, and
lightened many hearts with the glow of his comforting
 but Loki had nought to give but cunning deceit and
base thoughts, and he left behind him bitter strife and many
aching breasts. At last, growing tired of the fellowship of
men, the three Asas sought the solitude of the forest, and
as huntsmen wandered long among the hills and over the
wooded heights of Hunaland. Late one afternoon they came to
a mountain stream at a place where it poured over a ledge of
rocks, and fell in clouds of spray into a rocky gorge below.
As they stood, and with pleased eyes gazed upon the
waterfall, they saw near the bank an otter lazily making
ready to eat a salmon which he had caught. And Loki, ever
bent on doing mischief, hurled a stone at the harmless
beast, and killed it. And he boasted loudly that he had done
a worthy deed. And he took both the otter, and the fish
which it had caught, and carried them with him as trophies
of the day's success.
Just at nightfall the three huntsmen came to a lone
farmhouse in the valley, and asked for food, and for shelter
during the night.
"Shelter you shall have," said the farmer, whose name was
Hreidmar, "for the rising clouds foretell a storm. But food
I have none to give you. Surely huntsmen of skill should not
want for food; since the forest teems with game, and the
streams are full of fish."
Then Loki threw upon the ground the otter and the fish, and
said, "We have sought in both forest and stream, and we have
taken from them at one blow both
 flesh and fish. Give us but
the shelter you promise, and we will not trouble you for
The farmer gazed with horror upon the lifeless body of the
otter, and cried out, "This creature which you mistook for
an otter, and which you have robbed and killed, is my son
Oddar, who for mere pastime had taken the form of the furry
beast. You are but thieves and murderers!"
Then he called loudly for help: and his two sons Fafnir and
Regin, sturdy and valiant kin of the dwarf folk, rushed in,
and seized upon the huntsmen, and bound them hand and foot;
for the three Asas, having taken upon themselves the forms
of men, had no more than human strength, and were unable to
Then Odin and his fellows bemoaned their ill fate. And Loki
said, "Wherefore did we foolishly take upon ourselves the
likenesses of puny men? Had I my own power once more, I
would never part with it in exchange for man's weaknesses."
And Hoenir sighed, and said, "Now, indeed, will darkness
win: and the frosty breath of the Reimthursen giants will
blast the fair handiwork of the sunlight and the heat; for
the givers of life and light and warmth are helpless
prisoners in the hands of these cunning and unforgiving
"Surely," said Odin, "not even the highest are free from
obedience to heaven's behests and the laws of right. I, whom
men call the Preserver of Life, have
 demeaned myself by
being found in evil company; and, although I have done no
other wrong, I suffer rightly for the doings of this
mischief-maker with whom I have stooped to have fellowship.
For all are known, not so much by what they are as by what
they seem to be, and they bear the bad name which their
comrades bear. Now I am fallen from my high estate. Eternal
right is higher than I. And in the last Twilight of the gods
I must needs meet the dread Fenris wolf, and in the end the
world will be made new again, and the shining Balder will
rule in sunlight majesty forever."
Then the Asas asked Hreidmar, their jailer, what ransom they
should pay for their freedom; and he, not knowing who they
were, said, "I must first know what ransom you are able to
"We will give any thing you may ask," hastily answered Loki.
Hreidmar then called his sons, and bade them strip the skin
from the otter's body. When this was done, they brought the
furry hide and spread it upon the ground; and Hreidmar said,
"Bring shining gold and precious stones enough to cover
every part of this otter skin. When you have paid so much
ransom, you shall have your freedom."
"That we will do," answered Odin. "But one of us must have
leave to go and fetch it: the other two will stay fast bound
until the morning dawns. If, by that time, the gold is not
here, you may do with us as you please."
 Hreidmar and the two young men agreed to Odin's offer; and,
lots being cast, it fell to Loki to go and fetch the
treasure. When he had been loosed from the cords which bound
him, Loki donned his magic shoes, which had carried him over
land and sea from the farthest bounds of the mid-world, and
hastened away upon his errand. And he sped with the
swiftness of light, over the hills and the wooded slopes,
and the deep dark valleys, and the fields and forests and
sleeping hamlets, until he came to the place where dwelt the
swarthy elves and the cunning dwarf Andvari. There the River
Rhine, no larger than a meadow brook, breaks forth from
beneath a mountain of ice, which the Frost giants and blind
old Hoder, the Winter-king, had built long years before; for
they had vainly hoped that they might imprison the river at
its fountain head. But the baby brook had eaten its way
beneath the frozen mass, and had sprung out from its prison,
and gone on, leaping and smiling, and kissing the sunlight,
in its ever-widening course towards Burgundy and the sea.
Loki came to this place, because he knew that here was the
home of the elves who had laid up the greatest hoard of
treasures ever known in the mid-world. He scanned with
careful eyes the mountain side, and the deep, rocky caverns,
and the dark gorge through which the little river rushed;
but in the dim moonlight not a living being could he see,
save a lazy salmon swimming in the quieter eddies of the
stream. Any one but Loki would have lost all hope of finding
treasure there, at
 least before the dawn of day; but his
wits were quick, and his eyes were very sharp.
"One salmon has brought us into this trouble, and another
shall help us out of it!" he cried.
Then, swift as thought, he sprang again into the air; and
the magic shoes carried him with greater speed than before
down the Rhine valley, and through Burgundyland, and the
low meadows, until he came to the shores of the great North
Sea. He sought the halls of old Ægir, the Ocean-king; but
he wist not which way to go,—whether across the North Sea
towards Isenland, or whether along the narrow channel
between Britain land and the main. While he paused,
uncertain where to turn, he saw the pale-haired daughters of
old Ægir, the white-veiled Waves, playing in the moonlight
near the shore. Of them he asked the way to Ægir's hall.
"Seven days' journey westward," said they, "beyond the green
Isle of Erin, is our father's hall. Seven days' journey
northward, on the bleak Norwegian shore, is our father's
And they stopped not once in their play, but rippled and
danced on the shelving beach, or dashed with force against
"Where is your mother Ran, the Queen of the Ocean?" asked
And they answered,—
"In the deep sea-caves
By the sounding shore,
In the dashing waves
When the wild storms roar,
In her cold green bowers
In the northern fiords,
She lurks and she glowers,
She grasps and she hoards,
And she spreads her strong net for her prey."
Loki waited to hear no more; but he sprang into the air, and
the magic shoes carried him onwards over the water in search
of the Ocean-queen. He had not gone far when his sharp eyes
espied her, lurking near a rocky shore against which the
breakers dashed with frightful fury. Half hidden in the deep
dark water, she lay waiting and watching; and she spread her
cunning net upon the waves, and reached out with her long
greedy fingers to seize whatever booty might come near her.
When the wary queen saw Loki, she hastily drew in her net,
and tried to hide herself in the shadows of an overhanging
rock. But Loki called her by name, and said,—
"Sister Ran, fear not! I am your friend Loki, whom once you
served as a guest in Ægir's gold-lit halls."
Then the Ocean-queen came out into the bright moonlight, and
welcomed Loki to her domain, and asked, "Why does Loki thus
wander so far from Asgard, and over the trackless waters?"
 And Loki answered, "I have heard of the net which you spread
upon the waves, and from which no creature once caught in
its meshes can ever escape. I have found a salmon where the
Rhine spring gushes from beneath the mountains, and a very
cunning salmon he is, for no common skill can catch him.
Come, I pray, with your wondrous net, and cast it into the
stream where he lies. Do but take the wary fish for me, and
you shall have more gold than you have taken in a year from
the wrecks of stranded vessels."
"I dare not go," cried Ran. "A bound is set, beyond which I
may not venture. If all the gold of earth were offered me, I
could not go."
"Then lend me your net," entreated Loki. "Lend me your net,
and I will bring it back to-morrow filled with gold."
"Much I would like your gold," answered Ran; "but I cannot
lend my net. Should I do so, I might lose the richest prize
that has ever come into my husband's kingdom. For three
days, now, a gold-rigged ship, bearing a princely crew with
rich armor and abundant wealth, has been sailing carelessly
over these seas. To-morrow I shall send my daughters and the
bewitching mermaids to decoy the vessel among the rocks. And
into my net the ship, and the brave warriors, and all their
armor and gold, shall fall. A rich prize it will be. No: I
cannot part with my net, even for a single hour."
But Loki knew the power of flattering words.
 "Beautiful queen," said he, "there is no one on earth, nor
even in Asgard, who can equal you in wisdom and foresight.
Yet I promise you, that, if you will but lend me your net
until the morning dawns, the ship and the crew of which you
speak shall be yours, and all their golden treasures shall
deck your azure halls in the deep sea."
Then Ran carefully folded the net, and gave it to Loki.
"Remember your promise," was all that she said.
"An Asa never forgets," he answered.
And he turned his face again towards Rhineland; and the
magic shoes bore him aloft, and carried him in a moment back
to the ice mountain and the gorge and the infant river,
which he had so lately left. The salmon still rested in his
place, and had not moved during Loki's short absence.
Loki unfolded the net, and cast it into the stream. The
cunning fish tried hard to avoid being caught in its meshes;
but, dart which way he would, he met the skilfully woven
cords, and these drew themselves around him, and held him
fast. Then Loki pulled the net up out of the water, and
grasped the helpless fish in his right hand. But, lo! as he
held the struggling creature high in the air, it was no
longer a fish, but the cunning dwarf Andvari.
"Thou King of the Elves," cried Loki, "thy cunning has not
saved thee. Tell me, on thy life, where thy hidden treasures
 The wise dwarf knew who it was that thus held him as in a
vise; and he answered frankly, for it was his only hope of
escape, "Turn over the stone upon which you stand. Beneath
it you will find the treasure you seek."
Then Loki put his shoulder to the rock, and pushed with all
his might. But it seemed as firm as the mountain, and would
not be moved.
"Help us, thou cunning dwarf," he cried,—"help us, and thou
shalt have thy life!"
The dwarf put his shoulder to the rock, and it turned over
as if by magic, and underneath was disclosed a wondrous
chamber, whose walls shone brighter than the sun, and on
whose floor lay treasures of gold and glittering gem stones
such as no man had ever seen. And Loki, in great haste,
seized upon the hoard, and placed it in the magic net which
he had borrowed from the Ocean-queen. Then he came out of
the chamber; and Andvari again put his shoulder to the rock
which lay at the entrance, and it swung back noiselessly to
"What is that upon thy finger?" suddenly cried Loki.
"Wouldst keep back a part of the treasure? Give me the ring
But the dwarf shook his head, and made answer, "I have given
thee all the riches that the elves of the mountain have
gathered since the world began. This ring I cannot give
thee, for without its help we shall never be able to gather
more treasures together."
And Loki grew angry at these words of the dwarf; and he
seized the ring, and tore it by force from
And-  vari's fingers. It was a wondrous little piece of mechanism shaped
like a serpent, coiled, with its tail in its mouth; and its
scaly sides glittered with many a tiny diamond, and its ruby
eyes shone with an evil light. When the dwarf knew that Loki
really meant to rob him of the ring, he cursed it and all
who should ever possess it, saying,—
"May the ill-gotten treasure that you have seized to-night be
your bane, and the bane of all to whom it may come, whether
by fair means or by foul! And the ring which you have torn
from my hand, may it entail upon the one who wears it sorrow
and untold ills, the loss of friends, and a violent death!
The Norns have spoken, and thus it must be."
Loki was pleased with these words, and with the dark curses
which the dwarf pronounced upon the gold; for he loved
wrong-doing, for wrong-doing's sake, and he knew that no
curses could ever make his own life more cheerless than it
always had been. So he thanked Andvari for his curses and
his treasures; and, throwing the magic net upon his
shoulder, he sprang again into the air, and was carried
swiftly back to Hunaland; and, just before the dawn appeared
in the east, he alighted at the door of the farmhouse where
Odin and Hoenir still lay bound with thongs, and guarded by
Fafnir and Regin.
Then the farmer, Hreidmar, brought the otter's skin, and
spread it upon the ground; and, lo! it grew, and spread out
on all sides, until it covered an acre of
 ground. And he
cried out, "Fulfil now your promise! Cover every hair of
this hide with gold or with precious stones. If you fail to
do this, then your lives, by your own agreement, are
forfeited, and we shall do with you as we list."
Odin took the magic net from Loki's shoulder; and opening
it, he poured the treasures of the mountain-elves upon the
otter skin. And Loki and Hoenir spread the yellow pieces
carefully and evenly over every part of the furry hide. But,
after every piece had been laid in its place; Hreidmar saw
near the otter's mouth a single hair uncovered; and he
declared, that unless this hair, too, were covered, the
bargain would be unfulfilled, and the treasures and lives of
his prisoners would be forfeited. And the Asas looked at
each other in dismay; for not another piece of gold, and not
another precious stone, could they find in the net, although
they searched with the greatest care. At last Odin took from
his bosom the ring which Loki had stolen from the dwarf; for
he had been so highly pleased with its form and workmanship,
that he had hidden it, hoping that it would not be needed to
complete the payment of the ransom. And they laid the ring
upon the uncovered hair. And now no portion of the otter's
skin could be seen. And Fafnir and Regin, the ransom being
paid, loosed the shackles of Odin and Hoenir, and bade the
three huntsmen go on their way.
Odin and Hoenir at once shook off their human disguises,
and, taking their own forms again, hastened
 with all speed
back to Asgard. But Loki tarried a little while, and said to
Hreidmar and his sons,—
"By your greediness and falsehood you have won for
yourselves the Curse of the Earth, which lies before you. It
shall be your bane. It shall be the bane of every one who
holds it. It shall kindle strife between father and son,
between brother and brother. It shall make you mean,
selfish, beastly. It shall transform you into monsters. The
noblest king among men folk shall feel its curse. Such is
gold, and such it shall ever be to its worshippers. And the
ring which you have gotten shall impart to its possessor its
own nature. Grasping, snaky, cold, unfeeling, shall he live;
and death through treachery shall be his doom."
Then he turned away, delighted that he had thus left the
curse of Andvari with Hreidmar and his sons, and hastened
northward toward the sea; for he wished to redeem the
promise that he had made to the Ocean-queen, to bring back
her magic net, and to decoy the richly laden ship into her
No sooner were the strange huntsmen well out of sight than
Fafnir and Regin began to ask their father to divide the
glittering hoard with them.
"By our strength and through our advice," said they, "this
great store has come into your hands. Let us place it in
three equal heaps, and then let each take his share and go
At this the farmer waxed very angry; and he loudly declared
that he would keep all the treasure for himself,
 and that
his sons should not have any portion of it whatever. So
Fafnir and Regin, nursing their disappointment, went to the
fields to watch their sheep; but their father sat down to
guard his new-gotten treasure. And he took in his hand the
glittering serpent-ring, and gazed into its cold ruby eyes:
and, as he gazed, all his thoughts were fixed upon his gold;
and there was no room in his heart for love toward his
fellows, nor for deeds of kindness, nor for the worship of
the All-Father. And behold, as he continued to look at the
snaky ring, a dreadful change came over him. The warm red
blood, which until that time had leaped through his veins,
and given him life and strength and human feelings, became
purple and cold and sluggish; and selfishness, like
serpent's poison, took hold of his heart. Then, as he kept on
gazing at the hoard which lay before him, he began to lose
his human shape; his body lengthened into many scaly folds,
and he coiled himself around his loved treasures,—the very
likeness of the ring upon which he had looked so long.
When the day drew near its close, Fafnir came back from the
fields with his herd of sheep, and thought to find his
father guarding the treasure, as he had left him in the
morning; but instead he saw a glittering snake, fast asleep,
encircling the hoard like a huge scaly ring of gold. His
first thought was that the monster had devoured his father;
and, hastily drawing his sword, with one blow he severed the
serpent's head from its body. And, while yet the creature
 the death-agony, he gathered up the hoard, and
fled with it beyond the hills of Hunaland, until on the
seventh day he came to a barren heath far from the homes of
men. There he placed the treasures in one glittering heap;
and he clothed himself in a wondrous mail-coat of gold that
was found among them, and he put on the Helmet of Dread,
which had once been the terror of the mid-world, and the
like of which no man had ever seen; and then he gazed with
greedy eyes upon the fateful ring, until he, too, was
changed into a cold and slimy reptile,—a monster dragon.
And he coiled himself about the hoard; and, with his
restless eyes forever open, he gloated day after day upon
his loved gold, and watched with ceaseless care that no one
should come near to despoil him of it. This was ages and
ages ago; and still he wallows among his treasures on the
Glittering Heath, and guards as of yore the garnered wealth
When I, Regin, the younger brother, came back in the late
evening to my father's dwelling, I saw that the treasure had
been carried away; and, when I beheld the dead serpent lying
in its place, I knew that a part of Andvari's curse had been
fulfilled. And a strange fear came over me; and I left every
thing behind me, and fled from that dwelling, never more to
return. Then I came to the land of the Volsungs, where your
father's fathers dwelt, the noblest king-folk that the world
has ever seen. But a longing for the gold and the
a hungry yearning, that would never be satisfied, filled my
soul. Then for a time I sought to forget this craving. I
spent my days in the getting of knowledge and in teaching
men folk the ancient lore of my kin, the Dwarfs. I taught
them how to plant and to sow, and to reap the yellow grain.
I showed them where the precious metals of the earth lie
hidden, and how to smelt iron from its ores,—how to shape
the ploughshare and the spade, the spear and the battle-axe.
I taught them how to tame the wild horses of the meadows,
and how to train the yoke beasts to the plough; how to build
lordly dwellings and mighty strongholds, and how to sail in
ships across old Ægir's watery kingdom. But they gave me no
thanks for what I had done; and as the years went by they
forgot who had been their teacher, and they said that it was
Frey who had given them this knowledge and skill. And I
taught the young maidens how to spin and weave, and to
handle the needle deftly,—to make rich garments, and to
work in tapestry and embroidery. But they, too, forgot me,
and said that it was Freyja who had taught them. Then I
showed men how to read the mystic runes aright, and how to
make the sweet beverage of poetry, that charms all hearts,
and enlightens the world. But they say now that they had
these gifts from Odin. I taught them how to fashion the
tales of old into rich melodious songs, and with music and
sweet-mouthed eloquence to move the minds of their
fellow men. But they say that Bragi taught
 them this; and
they remember me only as Regin, the elfin schoolmaster, or
at best as Mimer, the master of smiths. At length my heart
grew bitter because of the neglect and ingratitude of men;
and the old longing for Andvari's hoard came back to me, and
I forgot much of my cunning and lore. But I lived on and on,
and generations of short-lived men arose and passed, and
still the hoard was not mine; for I was weak, and no man was
strong enough to help me.
Then I sought wisdom of the Norns, the weird women who weave
the woof of every creature's fate.
"How long," asked I, "must I hope and wait in weary
expectation of that day when the wealth of the world and the
garnered wisdom of the ages shall be mine?"
And the witches answered, "When a prince of the Volsung race
shall come who shall excel thee in the smithying craft, and
to whom the All-Father shall give the Shining Hope as a
helper, then the days of thy weary watching, shall cease."
"How long," asked I, "shall I live to enjoy this wealth and
this wisdom, and to walk as a god among men? Shall I be
long-lived as the Asa-folk, and dwell on the earth until the
last Twilight comes?"
"It is written," answered Skuld, "that a beardless youth
shall see thy death. But go thou now, and bide thy time."
 Here Regin ended his story, and both he and Siegfried sat
for a long time silent and thoughtful.
"I know what you wish," said Siegfried at last. "You think
that I am the prince of whom the weird sisters spoke; and
you would have me slay the dragon Fafnir, and win for you
the hoard of Andvari."
"It is even so," answered Regin.
"But the hoard is accursed," said the lad.
"Let the curse be upon me," was the answer. "Is not the
wisdom of the ages mine? And think you that I cannot escape
the curse? Is there aught that can prevail against him who
has all knowledge and the wealth of the world at his call?"
"Nothing but the word of the Norns and the will of the
All-Father," answered Siegfried.
"But will you help me?" asked Regin, almost wild with
earnestness. "Will you help me to win that which is
rightfully mine, and to rid the world of a horrible evil?"
"Why is the hoard of Andvari more thine than Fafnir's?"
"He is a monster, and he keeps the treasure but to gloat
upon its glittering richness. I will use it to make myself a
name upon the earth. I will not hoard it away. But I am
weak, and he is strong and terrible. Will you help me?"
"To-morrow," said Siegfried, "be ready to go with me to the
Glittering Heath. The treasure shall be thine, and also the
"And also the curse," echoed Regin.
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