|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 |
 MANY were the pleasant days that Siegfried spent in Mimer's
smoky smithy; and if he ever thought of his father's stately
dwelling, or of the life of ease which he might have enjoyed
within its halls, he never by word or deed showed signs of
discontent. For Mimer taught him all the secrets of his
craft and all the lore of the wise men. To beat hot iron, to
shape the fire-edged sword, to smithy war coats, to fashion
the slender bracelet of gold and jewels,—all this he had
already learned. But there were many other things to know,
and these the wise master showed him. He told him how to
carve the mystic runes which speak to the knowing ones with
silent, unseen tongues; he told him of the men of other
lands, and taught him their strange speech; he showed him
how to touch the harp strings, and bring forth bewitching
music: and the heart of Siegfried waxed very wise, while his
body grew wondrous strong. And the master loved his pupil
But the twelve apprentices grew more jealous day by day, and
when Mimer was away they taunted Siegfried
 with cruel jests,
and sought by harsh threats to drive him from the smithy;
but the lad only smiled, and made the old shop ring again
with the music from his anvil. On a day when Mimer had gone
on a journey, Veliant, the foreman, so far forgot himself as
to strike the boy. For a moment Siegfried gazed at him with
withering scorn; then he swung his hammer high in air, and
brought it swiftly down, not upon the head of Veliant, who
was trembling with expectant fear, but upon the foreman's
anvil. The great block of iron was shivered by the blow, and
flew into a thousand pieces. Then, turning again towards the
thoroughly frightened foreman, Siegfried said, while angry
lightning flashes darted from his eyes,—
"What if I were to strike you thus?"
Veliant sank upon the ground, and begged for mercy.
"You are safe," said Siegfried, walking away. "I would scorn
to harm a being like you!"
The apprentices were struck dumb with amazement and fear;
and when Siegfried had returned to his anvil they one by one
dropped their hammers, and stole away from the smithy. In a
secret place not far from the shop, they met together, to
plot some means by which they might rid themselves of him
whom they both hated and feared.
The next morning Veliant came to Siegfried's forge, with a
sham smile upon his face. The boy knew that cowardice and
base deceit lurked, ill concealed, beneath that smile; yet,
as he was wont to do, he welcomed the foreman kindly.
 "Siegfried," said Veliant, "let us be friends again. I am
sorry that I was so foolish and so rash yesterday, and I
promise that I will never again be so rude and unmanly as to
become angry at you. Let us be friends, good Siegfried! Give
me your hand, I pray you, and with it your forgiveness."
Siegfried grasped the rough palm of the young smith with
such a gripe, that the smile vanished from Veliant's face,
and his muscles writhed with pain.
"I give you my hand, certainly," said the boy, "and I will
give you my forgiveness when I know that you are worthy of
As soon as Veliant's aching hand allowed him speech, he
"Siegfried, you know that we have but little charcoal left
for our forges, and our master will soon return from his
journey. It will never do for him to find us idle, and the
fires cold. Some one must go to-day to the forest pits, and
bring home a fresh supply of charcoal. How would you like
the errand? It is but a pleasant day's journey to the pits;
and a ride into the greenwood this fine summer day would
certainly be more agreeable than staying in the smoky shop."
"I should like the drive very much," answered Siegfried;
"but I have never been to the coal pits, and I might lose my
way in the forest."
"No danger of that," said Veliant. "Follow the road that
goes straight into the heart of the forest, and you cannot
miss your way. It will lead you to the
 house of Regin, the
master, the greatest charcoal man in all Rhineland. He will
be right glad to see you for Mimer's sake, and you may lodge
with him for the night. In the morning he will fill your
cart with the choicest charcoal, and you can drive home at
your leisure; and, when our master comes again, he will find
our forges flaming, and our bellows roaring, and our anvils
ringing, as of yore."
Siegfried, after some further parley, agreed to undertake
the errand, although he felt that Veliant, in urging him to
do so, wished to work him some harm. He harnessed the donkey
to the smith's best cart, and drove merrily away along the
road which led towards the forest. The day was bright
and clear; and as Siegfried rode through the flowery
meadows, or betwixt the fields of corn, a thousand sights
and sounds met him, and made him glad. Now and then he would
stop to watch the reapers in the fields, or to listen to the
song of some heaven-soaring lark lost to sight in the blue
sea overhead. Once he met a company of gayly dressed youths
and maidens, carrying sheaves of golden grain,—for it was
now the harvest time,—and singing in praise of Frey, the
giver of peace and plenty.
"Whither away, young prince?" they merrily asked.
"To Regin, the coal burner, in the deep greenwood," he
"Then may the good Frey have thee in keeping!" they cried.
"It is a long and lonesome journey." And each one blessed
him as they passed.
 It was nearly noon when he drove into the forest, and left
the blooming meadows and the warm sunshine behind him. And
now he urged the donkey forwards with speed; for he knew
that he had lost much precious time, and that many miles
still lay between him and Regin's charcoal pits. And there
was nothing here amid the thick shadows of the wood to make
him wish to linger; for the ground was damp, and the air was
chilly, and every thing was silent as the grave. And not a
living creature did Siegfried see, save now and then a gray
wolf slinking across the road, or a doleful owl sitting low
down in some treetop, and blinking at him in the dull but
garish light. Evening at last drew on, and the shadows in
the wood grew deeper; and still no sign of charcoal burner,
nor of other human being, was seen. Night came, and thick
darkness settled around; and all the demons of the forest
came forth, and clamored and chattered, and shrieked and
howled. But Siegfried was not afraid. The bats and vampires
came out of their hiding places, and flapped their clammy
wings in his face; and he thought that he saw ogres and many
fearful creatures peeping out from behind every tree and
shrub. But, when he looked upwards through the overhanging
treetops, he saw the star-decked roof of heaven, the blue
mantle which the All-Father has hung as a shelter over the
world; and he went bravely onward, never doubting but that
Odin has many good things in store for those who are willing
to trust him.
And by and by the great round moon arose in the
 east, and
the fearful sounds that had made the forest hideous began to
die away; and Siegfried saw, far down the path, a red light
feebly gleaming. And he was glad, for he knew that it must
come from the charcoal burners' pits. Soon he came out upon
a broad, cleared space; and the charcoal burners' fires
blazed bright before him; and some workmen, swarthy and
soot-begrimed, came forwards to meet him.
"Who are you?" they asked; "and why do you come through the
forest at this late hour?"
"I am Siegfried," answered the boy; "and I come from Mimer's
smithy. I seek Regin, the king of charcoal burners; for I
must have coal for my master's smithy."
"Come with me," said one of the men: "I will lead you to
Siegfried alighted from his cart, and followed the man to a
low-roofed hut not far from the burning pits. As they drew
near, they heard the sound of a harp, and strange, wild
music within; and Siegfried's heart was stirred with wonder
as he listened. The man knocked softly at the door, and the
"Who comes to break into Regin's rest at such a time as
this?" said a rough voice within.
"A youth who calls himself Siegfried," answered the man. "He
says that he comes from Mimer's smithy, and he would see
you, my master."
"Let him come in," said the voice.
Siegfried passed through the low door, and into the
beyond; and so strange was the sight that met him that he
stood for a while in awe, for never in so lowly a dwelling
had treasures so rich been seen. Jewels sparkled from the
ceiling; rare tapestry covered the walls; and on the floor
were heaps of ruddy gold and silver, still unfashioned. And
in the midst of all this wealth stood Regin, the king of the
forest, the greatest of charcoal men. And a strange old man
he was, wrinkled and gray and beardless; but out of his eyes
sharp glances gleamed of a light that was not human, and his
heavy brow and broad forehead betokened wisdom and shrewd
cunning. And he welcomed Siegfried kindly for Mimer's sake,
and set before him a rich repast of venison, and wild honey,
and fresh white bread, and luscious grapes. And, when the
meal was finished, the boy would have told his errand, but
Regin stopped him.
"Say nothing of your business to-night," said he; "for the
hour is already late, and you are weary. Better lie down,
and rest until the morrow; and then we will talk of the
matter which has brought you hither."
And Siegfried was shown to a couch of the fragrant leaves of
the myrtle and hemlock, overspread with soft white linen,
such as is made in the far-off Emerald Isle; and he was
lulled to sleep by sweet strains of music from Regin's
harp,—music which told of the days when the gods were young
on the earth. And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that he
stood upon the crag of a high mountain, and that the eagles
flew screaming around him, and the everlasting snows lay at
 and the world in all its beauty was stretched out
like a map below him; and he longed to go forth to partake
of its abundance, and to make for himself a name among men.
Then came the Norns, who spin the thread, and weave the
woof, of every man's life; and they held in their hands the
web of his own destiny. And Urd, the Past, sat on the tops
of the eastern mountains, where the sun begins to rise at
dawn; while Verdanda, the Present, stood in the western sea,
where sky and water meet. And they stretched the web between
them, and its ends were hidden in the far-away mists. Then
with all their might the two Norns span the purple and
golden threads, and wove the fatal woof. But as it began to
grow in beauty and in strength, and to shadow the earth with
its gladness and its glory, Skuld, the pitiless Norn of the
Future, seized it with rude fingers, and tore it into
shreds, and cast it down at the feet of Hela, the white
queen of the dead. And the eagles shrieked, and the
mountain shook, and the crag toppled, and Siegfried awoke.
The next morning, at earliest break of day, the youth sought
Regin, and made known his errand.
"I have come for charcoal for my master Mimer's forges. My
cart stands ready outside; and I pray you to have it filled
at once, for the way is long, and I must be back betimes."
Then a strange smile stole over Regin's wrinkled face, and
 "Does Siegfried the prince come on such a lowly errand? Does
he come to me through the forest, driving a donkey, and
riding in a sooty coal cart? I have known the day when his
kin were the mightiest kings of earth, and they fared
through every land the noblest men of men-folk."
The taunting word, the jeering tones, made Siegfried's anger
rise. The blood boiled in his veins; but he checked his
tongue, and mildly answered,—
"It is true that I am a prince, and my father is the wisest
of kings; and it is for this reason that I come thus to you.
Mimer is my master, and my father early taught me that even
princes must obey their masters' behests."
Then Regin laughed, and asked, "How long art thou to be
Mimer's thrall? Does no work wait for thee but at his smoky
"When Mimer gives me leave, and Odin calls me," answered the
lad, "then I, too, will go faring over the world, like my
kin of the earlier days, to carve me a name and great glory,
and a place with the noble of earth."
Regin said not a word; but he took his harp, and smote the
strings, and a sad, wild music filled the room. And he sang
of the gods and the dwarf folk, and of the deeds that had
been in the time long past and gone. And a strange mist swam
before Siegfried's eyes; and so bewitching were the strains
that fell upon his ears, and filled his soul, that he forgot
about his errand, and
 his master Mimer, and his father
Siegmund, and his lowland home, and thought only of the
heart-gladdening sounds. By and by the music ended, the
spell was lifted, and Siegfried turned his eyes towards the
musician. A wonderful change had taken place. The little old
man still stood before him with the harp in his hand; but
his wrinkled face was hidden by a heavy beard, and his thin
gray locks were covered with a long black wig, and he seemed
taller and stouter than before. As Siegfried started with
surprise, his host held out his hand, and said,—
"You need not be alarmed, my boy. It is time for you to know
that Regin and Mimer are the same person, or rather that
Mimer is Regin disguised. The day has come for you to
go your way into the world, and Mimer gives you leave."
Siegfried was so amazed he could not say a word. He took the
master's hand, and gazed long into his deep, bright eyes.
Then the two sat down together, and Mimer, or Regin as we
shall now call him, told the prince many tales of the days
that had been, and of his bold, wise forefathers. And the
lad's heart swelled within him; and he longed to be like
them,—to dare and do and suffer, and gloriously win at
last. And he turned to Regin and said,—
"Tell me, wisest of masters, what I shall do to win fame,
and to make myself worthy to rule the fair land which my
 "Go forth in your own strength, and with Odin's help,"
answered Regin,—"go forth to right the wrong, to help the
weak, to punish evil, and come not back to your father's
kingdom until the world shall know your noble deeds."
"But whither shall I go?" asked Siegfried.
"I will tell you," answered Regin. "Put on these garments,
which better befit a prince than those soot-begrimed clothes
you have worn so long. Gird about you this sword, the good
Balmung, and go northward. When you come to the waste lands
which border upon the sea, you will find the ancient Gripir,
the last of the kin of the giants. Ask of him a war-steed,
and Odin will tell you the rest."
So, when the sun had risen high above the trees, Siegfried
bade Regin good-by, and went forth like a man, to take
whatsoever fortune should betide. He went through the great
forest, and across the bleak moorland beyond, and over the
huge black mountains that stretched themselves across his
way, and came to a pleasant country all dotted with white
farmhouses, and yellow with waving corn. But he tarried not
here, though many kind words were spoken to him, and all
besought him to stay. Right onwards he went, until he
reached the waste land which borders the sounding sea. And
there high mountains stood, with snow-crowned crags beetling
over the waves; and a great river, all foaming with the
summer floods, went rolling through the valley. And in the
deep dales between
 the mountains were rich meadows, green
with grass, and speckled with thousands of flowers of every
hue, where herds of cattle and deer, and noble elks, and
untamed horses, fed in undisturbed peace. And Siegfried,
when he saw, knew that these were the pastures of Gripir the
High up among the gray mountain peaks stood Gripir's
dwelling,—a mighty house, made of huge bowlders brought by
giant hands from the far northland. And the wild eagles
built their nests around it, and the mountain vultures
screamed about its doors. But Siegfried was not afraid. He
climbed the steep pathway which the feet of men had never
touched before, and, without pausing, walked straightway
into the high-built hall. The room was so dark that at first
he could see nothing save the white walls, and the
glass-green pillars which upheld the roof. But the light
grew stronger soon; and Siegfried saw, beneath a heavy
canopy of stone, the ancient Gripir, seated in a chair made
from the sea-horse's teeth. And the son of the giants
held in his hand an ivory staff; and a purple mantle was
thrown over his shoulders, and his white beard fell in
sweeping waves almost to the sea-green floor. Very wise he
seemed, and he gazed at Siegfried with a kindly smile.
"Hail, Siegfried!" he cried. "Hail, prince with the gleaming
eye! I know thee, and I know the woof that the Norns have
woven for thee. Welcome to my lonely mountain home! Come and
sit by my side in the
 high-seat where man has never sat, and
I will tell thee of things that have been, and of things
that are yet to be."
Then Siegfried fearlessly went and sat by the side of the
ancient wise one. And long hours they talked
together,—strong youth and hoariest age; and each was glad
that in the other he had found some source of hope and
comfort. And they talked of the great mid-world, and of the
starry dome above it, and of the seas which gird it, and of
the men who live upon it. All night long they talked, and in
the morning Siegfried arose to go.
"Thou hast not told me of thy errand," said Gripir; "but I
know what it is. Come first with me, and see this great
mid-world for thyself."
Then Gripir, leaning on his staff, led the way out of the
great hall, and up to the top of the highest mountain crag.
And the wild eagles circled in the clear, cold air above
them; and far below them the white waves dashed against the
mountain's feet; and the frosty winds swept around them
unchecked, bringing to their ears the lone lamenting of the
north giants, moaning for the days that had been and for the
glories that were past. Then Siegfried looked to the north,
and he saw the dark mountain-wall of Norway trending away in
solemn grandeur towards the frozen sea, but broken here and
there by sheltering fjords, and pleasant, sunny dales. He
looked to the east, and saw a great forest stretching away
and away until it faded to sight
 in the blue distance. He
looked to the south, and saw a pleasant land, with farms and
vineyards, and towns and strong-built castles; and through
it wound the River Rhine, like a great white serpent,
reaching from the snow-capped Alps to the northern sea. And
he saw his father's little kingdom of the Netherlands lying
like a green speck on the shore of the ocean. Then he looked
to the west, and nothing met his sight but a wilderness of
rolling, restless waters, save, in the far distance, a green
island half hidden by sullen mists and clouds. And Siegfried
sighed, and said,—
"The world is so wide, and the life of man so short!"
"The world is all before thee," answered Gripir. "Take what
the Norns have allotted thee. Choose from my pastures a
battle steed, and ride forth to win for thyself a name and
fame among the sons of men."
Then Siegfried ran down the steep side of the mountain to
the grassy dell where the horses were feeding. But the
beasts were all so fair and strong, that he knew not which
to choose. While he paused, uncertain what to do, a strange
man stood before him. Tall and handsome was the man, with
one bright eye, and a face beaming like the dawn in summer;
and upon his head he wore a sky-blue hood bespangled with
golden stars, and over his shoulder was thrown a cloak of
"Would you choose a horse, Sir Siegfried?" asked the
"Indeed I would," answered he. "But it is hard to make a
choice among so many."
 "There is one in the meadow," said the man, "far better than
all the rest. They say that he came from Odin's pastures on
the green hill-slopes of Asgard, and that none but the
noblest shall ride him."
"Which is he?" asked Siegfried.
"Drive the herd into the river," was the answer, "and then
see if you can pick him out."
And Siegfried and the stranger drove the horses down the
sloping bank, and into the rolling stream; but the flood was
too strong for them. Some soon turned back to the shore;
while others, struggling madly, were swept away, and carried
out to the sea. Only one swam safely over. He shook the
dripping water from his mane, tossed his head in the air,
and then plunged again into the stream. Right bravely he
stemmed the torrent the second time. He clambered up the
shelving bank, and stood by Siegfried's side.
"What need to tell you that this is the horse?" said the
stranger. "Take him: he is yours. He is Greyfell, the
shining hope that Odin sends to his chosen heroes."
And then Siegfried noticed that the horse's mane glimmered
and flashed like a thousand rays from the sun, and that his
coat was as white and clear as the fresh-fallen snow on the
mountains. He turned to speak to the stranger, but he was
nowhere to be seen and Siegfried bethought him how he had
talked with Odin unawares. Then he mounted the noble
Greyfell and rode with a light heart across the flowery
 "Whither ridest thou?" cried Gripir the ancient, from his
doorway among the crags.
"I ride into the wide world," said Siegfried; "but I know
not whither. I would right the wrong, and help the weak, and
make myself a name on the earth, as did my kinsmen of yore.
Tell me, I pray you, where I shall go; for you are wise, and
you know the things which have been, and those which shall
"Ride back to Regin, the master of masters," answered
Gripir. "He will tell thee of a wrong to be righted."
And the ancient son of the giants withdrew into his lonely
abode; and Siegfried, on the shining Greyfell, rode swiftly
away towards the south.
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