|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 |
FAFNIR, THE DRAGON
 REGIN took up his harp, and his fingers smote the strings;
and the music which came forth sounded like the wail of the
winter's wind through the dead tree-tops of the forest. And
the song which he sang was full of grief and wild hopeless
yearning for the things which were not to be. When he had
ceased, Siegfried said,—
"That was indeed a sorrowful song for one to sing who sees
his hopes so nearly realized. Why are you so sad? Is it
because you fear the curse which you have taken upon
yourself? or is it because you know not what you will do
with so vast a treasure, and its possession begins already
to trouble you?"
"Oh, many are the things I will do with that treasure!"
answered Regin; and his eyes flashed wildly, and his face
grew red and pale. "I will turn winter into summer; I will
make the desert places glad; I will bring back the golden
age; I will make myself a god: for mine shall be the wisdom
and the gathered wealth of the world. And yet I fear"—
 "What do you fear?"
"The ring, the ring—it is accursed! The Norns, too, have
spoken, and my doom is known. I cannot escape it."
"The Norns have woven the woof of every man's life,"
answered Siegfried. "To-morrow we fare to the Glittering
Heath, and the end shall be as the Norns have spoken."
And so, early the next morning, Siegfried mounted Greyfell,
and rode out towards the desert land that lay beyond the
forest and the barren mountain range; and Regin, his eyes
flashing with desire, and his feet never tiring, trudged by
his side. For seven days they wended their way through the
thick greenwood, sleeping at night on the bare ground
beneath the trees, while the wolves and other wild beasts of
the forest filled the air with their hideous howlings. But
no evil creature dared come near them, for fear of the
shining beams of light which fell from Greyfell's gleaming
mane. On the eighth day they came to the open country and to
the hills, where the land was covered with black bowlders
and broken by yawning chasms. And no living thing was seen
there, not even an insect, nor a blade of grass; and the
silence of the grave was over all. And the earth was dry and
parched, and the sun hung above them like a painted shield
in a blue-black sky, and there was neither shade nor water
anywhere. But Siegfried rode onwards in the way which Regin
pointed out, and faltered not, although he grew faint with
 with the overpowering heat. Towards the evening
of the next day they came to a dark mountain wall which
stretched far out on either hand, and rose high above them,
so steep that it seemed to close up the way, and to forbid
them going farther.
"This is the wall!" cried Regin. "Beyond this mountain is
the Glittering Heath, and the goal of all my hopes."
And the little old man ran forwards, and scaled the rough
side of the mountain, and reached its summit, while
Siegfried and Greyfell were yet toiling among the rocks at
its foot. Slowly and painfully they climbed the steep
ascent, sometimes following a narrow path which wound along
the edge of a precipice, sometimes leaping from rock to
rock, or over some deep gorge, and sometimes picking their
way among the crags and cliffs. The sun at last went down,
and one by one the stars came out; and the moon was rising,
round and red, when Siegfried stood by Regin's side, and
gazed from the mountain-top down upon the Glittering Heath
which lay beyond. And a strange, weird scene it was that met
his sight. At the foot of the mountain was a river, white
and cold and still; and beyond it was a smooth and barren
plain, lying silent and lonely in the pale moonlight. But in
the distance was seen a circle of flickering flames, ever
changing,—now growing brighter, now fading away, and now
shining with a dull, cold light, like the glimmer of the
glowworm or the foxfire. And as Siegfried
 gazed upon the
scene, he saw the dim outline of some hideous monster moving
hither and thither, and seeming all the more terrible in the
"It is he!" whispered Regin, and his lips were ashy pale,
and his knees trembled beneath him. "It is Fafnir, and he
wears the Helmet of Terror! Shall we not go back to the
smithy by the great forest, and to the life of ease and
safety that may be ours there? Or will you rather dare to go
forward, and meet the Terror in its abode?"
"None but cowards give up an undertaking once begun,"
answered Siegfried. "Go back to Rhineland yourself, if you
are afraid; but you must go alone. You have brought me thus
far to meet the dragon of the heath, to win the hoard of the
swarthy elves, and to rid the world of a terrible evil.
Before the setting of another sun, the deed which you have
urged me to do will be done."
Then he dashed down the eastern slope of the mountain,
leaving Greyfell and the trembling Regin behind him. Soon he
stood on the banks of the white river, which lay between the
mountain and the heath; but the stream was deep and
sluggish, and the channel was very wide. He paused a moment,
wondering how he should cross; and the air seemed heavy with
deadly vapors, and the water was thick and cold. While he
thus stood in thought, a boat came silently out of the
mists, and drew near; and the boatman stood up and called to
him, and said,—
 "What man are you who dares come into this land of
loneliness and fear?"
"I am Siegfried," answered the lad; "and I have come to slay
Fafnir, the Terror."
"Sit in my boat," said the boatman, "and I will carry you
across the river."
And Siegfried sat by the boatman's side; and without the use
of an oar, and without a breath of air to drive it forward,
the little vessel turned, and moved silently towards the
"In what way will you fight the dragon?" asked the boatman.
"With my trusty sword Balmung I shall slay him," answered
"But he wears the Helmet of Terror, and he breathes deathly
poisons, and his eyes dart forth lightning, and no man can
withstand his strength," said the boatman.
"I will find some way by which to overcome him."
"Then be wise, and listen to me," said the boatman. "As you
go up from the river you will find a road, worn deep and
smooth, starting from the water's edge, and winding over the
moor. It is the trail of Fafnir, adown which he comes at
dawn of every day to slake his thirst at the river. Do you
dig a pit in this roadway,—a pit narrow and deep,—and hide
yourself within it. In the morning, when Fafnir passes over
it, let him feel the edge of Balmung."
As the man ceased speaking, the boat touched the shore, and
Siegfried leaped out. He looked back to
 thank his unknown
friend, but neither boat nor boatman was to be seen. Only a
thin white mist rose slowly from the cold surface of the
stream, and floated upwards and away towards the
mountain-tops. Then the lad remembered that the strange
boatman had worn a blue hood bespangled with golden stars,
and that a gray kirtle was thrown over his shoulders, and
that his one eye glistened and sparkled with a light that
was more than human. And he knew that he had again talked
with Odin. Then, with a braver heart than before, he went
forward, along the river bank, until he came to Fafnir's
trail,—a deep, wide furrow in the earth, beginning at the
river's bank, and winding far away over the heath, until it
was lost to sight in the darkness. The bottom of the trail
was soft and slimy, and its sides had been worn smooth by
Fafnir's frequent travel through it.
In this road, at a point not far from the river, Siegfried,
with his trusty sword Balmung, scooped out a deep and narrow
pit, as Odin had directed. And when the gray dawn began to
appear in the east he hid himself within this trench, and
waited for the coming of the monster. He had not long to
wait; for no sooner had the sky begun to redden in the light
of the coming sun than the dragon was heard bestirring
himself. Siegfried peeped warily from his hiding place, and
saw him coming far down the road, hurrying with all speed,
that he might quench his thirst at the sluggish river, and
hasten back to his gold; and the sound
 which he made was
like the trampling of many feet and the jingling of many
chains. With bloodshot eyes, and gaping mouth, and flaming
nostrils, the hideous creature came rushing onwards. His
sharp, curved claws dug deep into the soft earth; and his
bat-like wings, half trailing on the ground, half flapping
in the air, made a sound like that which is heard when Thor
rides in his goat-drawn chariot over the dark
thunder-clouds. It was a terrible moment for Siegfried, but
still he was not afraid. He crouched low down in his
hiding place, and the bare blade of the trusty Balmung
glittered in the morning light. On came the hastening feet
and the flapping wings: the red gleam from the monster's
flaming nostrils lighted up the trench where Siegfried lay.
He heard a roaring and a rushing like the sound of a
whirlwind in the forest; then a black, inky mass rolled
above him, and all was dark. Now was Siegfried's
opportunity. The bright edge of Balmung gleamed in the
darkness one moment, and then it smote the heart of Fafnir
as he passed. Some men say that Odin sat in the pit with
Siegfried, and strengthened his arm and directed his sword,
or else he could not thus have slain the Terror. But, be
this as it may, the victory was soon won. The monster
stopped short, while but half of his long body had glided
over the pit; for sudden death had overtaken him. His horrid
head fell lifeless upon the ground; his cold wings flapped
once, and then lay, quivering and helpless, spread out on
either side; and streams
 of thick black blood flowed from
his heart, through the wound beneath, and filled the trench
in which Siegfried was hidden, and ran like a
mountain torrent down the road towards the river. Siegfried
was covered from head to foot with the slimy liquid, and,
had he not quickly leaped from his hiding place, he would
have been drowned in the swift-rushing stream.
THE DEATH OF FAFNIR
The bright sun rose in the east, and gilded the
mountain tops, and fell upon the still waters of the river,
and lighted up the treeless plains around. The south wind
played gently against Siegfried's cheeks and in his long
hair, as he stood gazing on his fallen foe. And the sound of
singing birds, and rippling waters, and gay insects,—such
as had not broken the silence of the Glittering Heath for
ages,—came to his ears. The Terror was dead, and Nature had
awakened from her sleep of dread. And as the lad leaned upon
his sword, and thought of the deed he had done, behold! the
shining Greyfell, with the beaming, hopeful mane, having
crossed the now bright river, stood by his side. And Regin,
his face grown wondrous cold, came trudging over the
meadows; and his heart was full of guile. Then the mountain
vultures came wheeling downward to look upon the dead
dragon; and with them were two ravens, black as midnight.
And when Siegfried saw these ravens he knew them to be
Odin's birds,—Hugin, thought, and Munin, memory. And they
alighted on the ground near by; and the lad
 listened to hear
what they would say. Then Hugin flapped his wings, and
"The deed is done. Why tarries the hero?"
And Munin said,—
"The world is wide. Fame waits for the hero."
And Hugin answered,—
"What if he win the Hoard of the Elves? That is not honor.
Let him seek fame by nobler deeds."
Then Munin flew past his ear, and whispered,—
"Beware of Regin, the master! His heart is poisoned. He
would be thy bane."
And the two birds flew away to carry the news to Odin in the
happy halls of Gladsheim.
When Regin drew near to look upon the dragon, Siegfried
kindly accosted him: but he seemed not to hear; and a snaky
glitter lurked in his eyes, and his mouth was set and dry,
and he seemed as one walking in a dream.
"It is mine now," he murmured: "it is all mine, now,—the
Hoard of the swarthy elf-folk, the garnered wisdom of ages.
The strength of the world is mine. I will keep, I will save,
I will heap up; and none shall have part or parcel of the
treasure which is mine alone."
Then his eyes fell upon Siegfried; and his cheeks grew dark
with wrath, and he cried out,—
"Why are you here in my way? I am the lord of the Glittering
Heath: I am the master of the Hoard. I am the master, and
you are my thrall."
 Siegfried wondered at the change which had taken place in
his old master; but he only smiled at his strange words, and
made no answer.
"You have slain my brother!" Regin cried; and his face grew
fearfully black, and his mouth foamed with rage.
"It was my deed and yours," calmly answered Siegfried. "I
have rid the world of a Terror: I have righted a grievous
"You have slain my brother," said Regin; "and a murderer's
ransom you shall pay!"
"Take the Hoard for your ransom, and let us each wend his
way," said the lad.
"The Hoard is mine by rights," answered Regin still more
wrathfully. "I am the master, and you are my thrall. Why
stand you in my way?"
Then, blinded with madness, he rushed at Siegfried as if to
strike him down; but his foot slipped in a puddle of gore,
and he pitched headlong against the sharp edge of Balmung.
So sudden was this movement, and so unlooked for, that the
sword was twitched out of Siegfried's hand, and fell with a
dull splash into the blood-filled pit before him; while
Regin, slain by his own rashness, sank dead upon the ground.
Full of horror, Siegfried turned away, and mounted
"This is a place of blood," said he, "and the way to glory
leads not through it. Let the Hoard still lie on the
Glittering Heath: I will go my way from hence; and the world
shall know me for better deeds than this."
 And he turned his back on the fearful scene, and rode away;
and so swiftly did Greyfell carry him over the desert land
and the mountain waste, that, when night came, they stood on
the shore of the great North Sea, and the white waves broke
at their feet. And the lad sat for a long time silent upon
the warm white sand of the beach, and Greyfell waited at his
side. And he watched the stars as they came out one by one,
and the moon, as it rose round and pale, and moved like a
queen across the sky. And the night wore away, and the stars
grew pale, and the moon sank to rest in the wilderness of
waters. And at day-dawn Siegfried looked towards the west,
and midway between sky and sea he thought he saw dark
mountain-tops hanging above a land of mists that seemed to
float upon the edge of the sea.
While he looked, a white ship, with sails all set, came
speeding over the waters towards him. It came nearer and
nearer, and the sailors rested upon their oars as it glided
into the quiet harbor. A minstrel, with long white beard
floating in the wind, sat at the prow; and the sweet music
from his harp was wafted like incense to the shore. The
vessel touched the sands: its white sails were reefed as if
by magic, and the crew leaped out upon the beach.
"Hail, Siegfried the Golden!" cried the harper. "Whither do
you fare this summer day?"
"I have come from a land of horror and dread," answered the
lad; "and I would fain fare to a brighter."
 "Then go with me to awaken the earth from its slumber, and
to robe the fields in their garbs of beauty," said the
harper. And he touched the strings of his harp, and strains
of the softest music arose in the still morning air. And
Siegfried stood entranced, for never before had he heard
"Tell me who you are!" he cried, when the sounds died away.
"Tell me who you are, and I will go to the ends of the earth
"I am Bragi," answered the harper, smiling. And Siegfried
noticed then that the ship was laden with flowers of every
hue, and that thousands of singing birds circled around and
above it, filling the air with the sound of their glad
Now, Bragi was the sweetest musician in all the world. It
was said by some that his home was with the song birds, and
that he had learned his skill from them. But this was only
part of the truth: for wherever there was loveliness or
beauty, or things noble and pure, there was Bragi; and his
wondrous power in music and song was but the outward sign of
a blameless soul. When he touched the strings of his golden
harp, all Nature was charmed with the sweet harmony: the
savage beasts of the wood crept near to listen; the birds
paused in their flight; the waves of the sea were becalmed,
and the winds were hushed; the leaping waterfall was still,
and the rushing torrent tarried in its bed; the elves forgot
their hidden treasures, and joined in silent dance around
him; and the ström-karls
 and the musicians of the wood
vainly tried to imitate him. And he was as fair of speech as
he was skilful in song. His words were so persuasive that he
had been known to call the fishes from the sea, to move
great lifeless rocks, and, what is harder, the hearts of
kings. He understood the voice of the birds, and the
whispering of the breeze, the murmur of the waves, and the
roar of the waterfalls. He knew the length and breadth of
the earth, and the secrets of the sea, and the language of
the stars. And every day he talked with Odin the All-Father,
and with the wise and good in the sunlit halls of Gladsheim.
And once every year he went to the North-lands, and woke the
earth from its long winter's sleep, and scattered music and
smiles and beauty everywhere.
Right gladly did Siegfried agree to sail with Bragi over the
sea; for he wot that the bright Asa-god would be a very
different guide from the cunning, evil-eyed Regin. So he
went on board with Bragi, and the gleaming Greyfell followed
them, and the sailors sat at their oars. And Bragi stood in
the prow, and touched the strings of his harp. And, as the
music arose, the white sails leaped up the masts, and a warm
south breeze began to blow; and the little vessel, wafted by
sweet sounds and the incense of spring, sped gladly away
over the sea.
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