|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 |
HOW GUNTHER OUTWITTED BRUNHILD
 WHILE still the festivities were at their height, an old man
of noble mien, and with snow-white beard and hair, came into
the great hall, and sang for the gay company. And some
whispered that this must be Bragi, for surely such rare
music could not be made by any other. But he sang not of
spring, as Bragi does, nor yet of youth nor of beauty, nor
like one whose home is with the song birds, and who lives
beside the babbling brooks and the leaping waterfalls. His
song was a sorrowful one,—of dying flowers, and falling
leaves, and the wailing winds of autumn, of forgotten joys,
of blasted hopes, of a crushed ambition, of gray hairs, of
tottering footsteps, of old age, of a lonely grave. And, as
he sang, all were moved to tears by the mournful melody and
the sad, sad words.
"Good friend," said Siegfried, "thy music agrees not well
with this time and place; for, where nothing but mirth and
joy are welcome, thou hast brought sorrowful thoughts and
gloomy forebodings. Come, now, and
 undo the harm thou hast
done, by singing a song which shall tell only of mirth and
The old man shook his head, and answered, "Were I Bragi, as
some think I am, or were I even a strolling harper, I might
do as you ask. But I am neither, and I know no gladsome
songs. Men have called me a messenger of ill omen; and such,
indeed, I have sometimes been, although through no wish of
my own. I come as a herald from a far-off land, and I bear a
message to all the kings and the noblest chiefs of
Rhineland. If King Gunther will allow me, I will now make
that message known."
"Let the herald speak on," said Gunther graciously.
"Far over the sea," said the herald, "there lies a dreamy
land called Isenland; and in that land there is a glorious
castle, with six and eighty towers, built of purest marble,
green as grass. In that castle there lives the fairest of
all Earth's daughters, Brunhild, the maiden of the
springtime. In the early days she was one of Odin's
Valkyrien; and with other heavenly maidens it was her duty
to follow, unseen, in the wake of armies, and when they met
in battle to hover over the field, and with kisses to waken
the dead heroes, and lead their souls away to Odin's glad
banquet-hall. But upon a day she failed to do the
All-Father's bidding, and he, in anger, sent her to live
among men, and like them to be short-lived, and subject to
old age and death. But the childless old king of Isenland
took pity upon the friendless maiden, and called her his
 made her his heir. Then Odin, still more
angered, sent the thorn of sleep to wound the princess. And
sleep seized upon every creature in Isenland, and silence
reigned in the halls of the marble palace. For Odin said,
'Thus shall they all sleep until the hero comes, who will
ride through fire, and awaken Brunhild with a kiss.'
"At last the hero so long waited for came. He passed the
fiery barrier safe, and awoke the slumbering maiden; and all
the castle sprang suddenly into life again. And Brunhild
became known once more as the most glorious princess in this
mid-world. But the sun-bright hero who freed her from her
prison of sleep vanished from Isenland, and no one knew
where he went; but men say that he rides through the noble
world, the fairest and the best of kings. And Brunhild has
sought for him in many lands; and, although all folk have
heard of his deeds, none know where he dwells. And so, as a
last resort, she has sent heralds into every land to
challenge every king to match his skill with hers in three
games of strength,—in casting the spear, in hurling the
heavy stone, and in leaping. The one who can equal her in
these feats shall be king of Isenland, and share with her
the throne of Isenstein. And by this means she hopes to find
the long-absent hero; for she believes that there is no
other prince on earth whose strength and skill are equal to
her own. Many men have already risked their lives in this
adventure, and all have failed.
 "And now, King Gunther," continued the herald, "I have come
by her orders into Rhineland, and I deliver the challenge to
you. If you accept, and are beaten, your life is forfeited.
If you succeed, the fairest kingdom and the most beautiful
queen in the world are yours; for you will have proved that
you are at least the equal of the hero whom she seeks. What
reply shall I carry back to Isenland?"
King Gunther answered hastily, and as one dazed and in a
dream, "Say that I accept the challenge, and that when the
springtime comes again, and the waters in the river are
unlocked, I shall go to Isenland, and match my skill and
strength with that of the fair and mighty Brunhild."
All who stood around were greatly astonished at Gunther's
reply; for, although his mind was somewhat weak, he was not
given to rash and hazardous undertakings. And Siegfried, who
was at his side, whispered, "Think twice, friend Gunther,
ere you decide. You do not know the strength of this mighty
but lovely warrior-maiden. Were your strength four times
what it is, you could not hope to excel her in those feats.
Give up this hasty plan, I pray you, and recall your answer
to the challenge. Think no more of such an undertaking, for
it surely will cost you your life."
But these warnings, and the words of others who tried to
dissuade him, only made Gunther the more determined; and he
vowed that nothing should hinder
 him from undertaking the
adventure. Then the dark-browed Hagen said,—
"Our friend Siegfried seems to know much about Isenland and
its maiden queen. And indeed, if there is any truth in
hearsay, he has had the best of means for learning. Now, if
our good King Gunther has set his mind on going upon this
dangerous enterprise, mayhap Siegfried would be willing to
bear him company."
Gunther was pleased with Hagen's words; and he said to
Siegfried, "My best of friends, go with me to Isenland, and
help me. If we do well in our undertaking, ask of me any
reward you wish, and I will give it you, so far as in my
"You know, kind Gunther," answered Siegfried, "that for
myself I have no fear; and yet again I would warn you to
shun the unknown dangers with which this enterprise is
fraught. But if, after all, your heart is set upon it, make
ready to start as soon as the warm winds shall have melted
the ice from the river. I will go with you."
The king grasped Siegfried's hand, and thanked him heartily.
"We must build a fleet," said he. "A thousand fighting men
shall go with us, and we will land in Isenland with a
retinue such as no other prince has had. A number of stanch
vessels shall be built at once, and in the early spring they
shall be launched upon the Rhine."
 Siegfried was amused at Gunther's earnestness, and he
answered, "Do not think of taking such a following. You
would waste twelve months in building and victualling such a
fleet. You would take from Burgundy its only safeguard
against foes from without; and, after you should reach
Isenland, you would find such a large force to be altogether
useless. Take my advice: have one small vessel built and
rigged and victualled for the long and dangerous voyage;
and, when the time shall come, you and I, and your kinsmen
Hagen and Dankwart,—we four only,—will undertake the
voyage and the emprise you have decided upon."
Gunther knew that his friend's judgment in this matter was
better than his own, and he agreed readily to all of
When, at length, the winter months began to wane, many hands
were busy making ready for the voyage. The peerless
Kriemhild called together thirty of her maidens, the most
skilful seamstresses in Burgundyland, and began the making
of rich clothing for her brother and his friends. With her own fair hands she cut out garments from the rarest
stuffs,—from the silky skins brought from the sunny lands
of Lybia; from the rich cloth of Zazemang, green as clover;
from the silk that traders bring from Araby, white as the
drifted snow. For seven weeks the clever maidens
 and their
gentle mistress plied their busy needles, and twelve suits
of wondrous beauty they made for each of the four heroes.
And the princely garments were covered with fine
needlework, and with curious devices all studded with rare
and costly jewels; and all were wrought with threads of
Many carpenters and shipbuilders were busy with axes and
hammers, and flaming forges, working day and night to make
ready a vessel new and stanch, to carry the adventurers over
the sea. And great stores of food, and of all things needful
to their safety or comfort, were brought together and put on
Neither were the heroes themselves idle; for when not busy
in giving directions to the workmen, or in overseeing the
preparations that were elsewhere going on, they spent the
time in polishing their armor (now long unused), in looking
after their weapons, or in providing for the management of
their business while away. And Siegfried forgot not his
trusty sword Balmung, nor his cloak of darkness the
priceless Tarnkappe, which he had captured from the dwarf
Alberich in the Nibelungen Land.
Then the twelve suits of garments which fair fingers had
wrought were brought. And when the men tried them on, so
faultless was the fit, so rare and perfect was every piece
in richness and beauty, that even the wearers were amazed,
and all declared that such dazzling and kingly raiment had
never before been seen.
At last the spring months had fairly vanquished all
forces of the cold Northland. The warm breezes had melted
the snow and ice, and unlocked the river; and the time had
come for Gunther and his comrades to embark. The little
ship, well victualled, and made stanch and stout in every
part, had been launched upon the Rhine; and she waited with
flying streamers and impatient sails the coming of her crew.
Down the sands at length they came, riding upon their
steeds; and behind them followed a train of vassals bearing
their kingly garments and their gold-red shields. And on the
banks stood many of the noblest folk of Burgundy,—Gernot
and the young Giselher, and Ute the queen-mother, and
Kriemhild the peerless, and a number of earl-folk, and
warriors, and fair dames, and blushing damsels. And the
heroes bade farewell to their weeping friends, and went upon
the waiting vessel, taking their steeds with them. And
Siegfried seized an oar, and pushed the bark off from the
"I myself will be the steersman, for I know the way," he
And the sails were unfurled to the brisk south wind, and the
vessel sped swiftly toward the sea; and many fair eyes were
filled tears as they watched it until it could be seen no
more. And with sighs and gloomy forebodings the good people
went back to their homes, and but few hoped ever again to
see their king and his brave comrades.
Driven by favorable winds, the trusty little vessel
gayly down the Rhine, and, ere many days had passed, was out
in the boundless sea. For a long time the heroes sailed and
rowed through Old Ægir's watery kingdom. But they kept good
cheer, and their hearts rose higher and higher; for each day
they drew nearer the end of their voyage and the goal of
their hopes. At length they came in sight of a far-reaching
coast and a lovely land; and not far from the shore they saw
a noble fortress, with a number of tall towers pointing
toward the sky.
"What land is that?" asked the king.
And Siegfried answered that it was Isenland, and that the
fortress which they saw was the Castle of Isenstein and the
green marble hall of the Princess Brunhild. But he warned
his friends to be very wary when they should arrive at the
"Let all tell this story," said he: "say that Gunther is the
king, and that I am his faithful vassal. The success of our
undertaking depends on this." And his three comrades
promised to do as he advised.
As the vessel neared the shore, the whole castle seemed to
be alive. From every tower and turret-window, from every
door and balcony, lords and ladies, fighting men and
serving men, looked out to see what strangers these were who
came thus unheralded to Isenland. The heroes went on shore
with their steeds, leaving the vessel moored to the bank;
and then they rode slowly up the beach, and across the
 plain, and came to the drawbridge and the great
gateway, where they paused.
The matchless Brunhild in her chamber had been told of the
coming of the strangers; and she asked the maidens who stood
"Who, think you, are the unknown warriors who thus come
boldly to Isenstein without asking leave? What is their
bearing? Do they seem to be worthy of our notice? or are
they some straggling beggars who have lost their way?"
And one of the maidens, looking through the casement,
answered, "The first is a king, I know, from his noble mien
and the respect which his fellows pay to him. But the second
bears himself with a prouder grace, and seems the noblest of
them all. He reminds me much of the brave young Siegfried of
former days. Indeed, it must be Siegfried; for he rides a
steed with sunbeam mane, which can be none other than
Greyfell. The third is a dark and gloomy man: he wears a
sullen frown upon his brow, and his eyes seem to shoot quick
glances around. How nervously he grasps his sword-hilt, as
if ever guarding against surprise! I think his temper must
be grim and fiery, and his heart a heart of flint. The
fourth and last of the company is young and fair, and of
gentle port. Little business has he with rude warriors; and
many tears, methinks, would be shed for him at home should
harm overtake him. Never before have I seen so noble a
company of strangers in Isenland. Their garments are of
 lustre; their saddles are covered with gem stones;
their weapons are of unequalled brightness. Surely they are
worthy of your notice."
When Brunhild heard that Siegfried was one of the company,
she was highly pleased, and she hastened to make ready to
meet them in the great hall. And she sent ten worthy lords
to open the gate, and to welcome the heroes to Isenland.
When Siegfried and his comrades passed through the great
gateway, and came into the castle yard, their horses were
led away to the stables, and the clanging armor and the
broad shields and swords which they carried were taken from
them, and placed in the castle armory. Little heed was paid
to Hagen's surly complaint at thus having every means of
defence taken away. He was told that such had always been
the rule at Isenstein, and that he, like others, must
After a short delay the heroes were shown into the great
hall, where the matchless Brunhild already was awaiting
them. Clad in richest raiment, from every fold of which rare
jewels gleamed, and wearing a coronet of pearls and gold,
the warrior maiden sat on a throne of snow-white ivory. Five
hundred earl-folk and warriors, the bravest in Isenland,
stood around her with drawn swords, and fierce, determined
looks. Surely men of mettle less heroic than that of the
four knights from Rhineland would have quaked with fear in
such a presence.
King Gunther and his comrades went forward to
 salute the
queen. With a winning smile she kindly greeted them, and
then said to Siegfried, "Gladly do we welcome you back to
our land, friend Siegfried, We have ever remembered you as
our best friend. May we ask what is your will, and who are
these warriors whom you have with you?"
"Most noble queen," answered he, "right thankful am I that
you have not forgotten me, and that you should deign to
notice me while in the presence of this my liege lord," and
he pointed towards King Gunther. "The king of all
Burgundyland, whose humble vassal I am, has heard the
challenge you have sent into different lands, and he has
come to match his strength with yours."
"Does he know the conditions?" asked Brunhild.
"He does," was the answer. "In case of success, the fairest
of women for his queen: in case of failure, death."
"Yet scores of worthy men have made trial, and all have
failed," said she. "I warn your liege lord to pause, and
weigh well the chances ere he runs so great a risk."
Then Gunther stepped forward and spoke:—
"The chances, fairest queen, have all been weighed, and
nothing can change our mind. Make your own terms, arrange
every thing as pleases you best. We accept your challenge,
and ask to make a trial of our strength."
The warrior maiden, without more words, bade her
help her to make ready at once for the contest. She donned a
rich war-coat, brought long ago from the far-off Lybian
shores,—an armor which, it was said, no sword could dint,
and upon which the heaviest stroke of spear fell harmless.
Her hemlet was edged with golden lace, and sparkled all over
with rich gem stones. Her lance, of wondrous length, a heavy
weight for three stout men, was brought. Her shield was as
broad and as bright as the sun, and three spans thick with
steel and gold.
While the princess was thus arming herself, the heroes
looked on with amazement and fear. But Siegfried, unnoticed,
hastened quietly out of the hall, and through the open
castle gate, and sped like the wind to the seashore and to
their little ship. There he arrayed himself in the
Tarnkappe, and then, silent and unseen, he ran back to his
friends in the great hall.
"Be of good cheer," he whispered in the ears of the
But the king could not see who it was that spoke to him, so
well was the hero hidden in the cloak of darkness. Yet he
knew that it must be Siegfried and he felt greatly
Hagen's frowning face grew darker, and the uneasy glances
which shot from beneath his shaggy eyebrows were not those
of fear, but of anger and deep anxiety. Dankwart gave up all
as lost, and loudly bewailed their folly.
"Must we, unarmed, stand still and see our liege lord
for a woman's whim?" he cried. "Had we only our good swords,
we might defy this maiden queen and all her Isenland."
Brunhild overheard his words. Scornfully she called to her
servants, "Bring to these boasters their armor, and let them
have their keen-edged swords. Brunhild has no fear of such
men, whether they be armed or unarmed."
When Hagen and Dankwart felt their limbs again enclosed in
steel, and when they held their trusty swords in hand, their
uneasiness vanished, and hope returned.
In the castle yard a space was cleared, and Brunhild's five
hundred warriors stood around as umpires. The unseen
Siegfried kept close by Gunther's side.
"Fear not," he said. "Do my bidding, and you are safe. Let
me take your shield. When the time comes, make you the
movements, and trust me to do the work."
THE TRIAL OF STRENGTH
Then Brunhild threw her spear at Gunther's shield. The
mighty weapon sped through the air with the swiftness of
lightning; and, when it struck the shield, both Gunther and
the unseen Siegfried fell to the ground, borne down by its
weight and the force with which it was thrown. Blood gushed
from the nostrils of both; and sad would have been their
fate if the friendly Tarnkappe had not hidden Siegfried from
sight, and given him the strength of twelve giants. Quickly
they rose. And Gunther seemed to pick up the heavy
but it was really Siegfried who raised it from the ground.
For one moment he poised the great beam in the air, and
then, turning the blunt end foremost, he sent it flying back
more swiftly than it had come. It struck the huge shield
which Brunhild held before her, with a sound that echoed to
the farthest cliffs of Isenland. The warrior maiden was
dashed to the earth; but, rising at once, she cried,—
"That was a noble blow, Sir Gunther. I confess myself fairly
outdone. But there are two chances yet, and you will do well
if you equal me in those. We will now try hurling the stone,
Twelve men came forward, carrying a huge rough stone in
weight a ton or more. And Brunhild raised this mass of rock
in her white arms, and held it high above her head; then she
swung it backwards once, and threw it a dozen fathoms across
the castle yard. Scarcely had it reached the ground when the
mighty maiden leaped after, and landed just beside it. And
the thousand lookers-on shouted in admiration. But old Hagen
bit his unshorn lip, and cursed the day that had brought
them to Isenland.
Gunther and the unseen Siegfried, not at all disheartened,
picked up the heavy stone, which was half buried in the
ground, and, lifting it with seeming ease, threw it swiftly
forward. Not twelve, but twenty, fathoms it flew; and
Siegfried, snatching up Gunther in his arms, leaped after,
and landed close to the castle-wall. And Brunhild believed
that Gunther alone had
 done these great feats through his
own strength and skill; and she at once acknowledged herself
beaten in the games, and bade her vassals do homage to
Gunther as their rightful liege lord.
Alas that the noblest of men-folk should gave stooped to
such deed of base deception! The punishment, although long
delayed, came surely at last; for not even the highest are
exempt from obedience to Heaven's behests and the laws of
When the contest was ended, the unseen Siegfried ran quickly
back to the little ship, and hastily doffed the magic
Tarnkappe. Then, in his own form, he returned to the castle,
and leisurely entered the castle yard. When he met his
pleased comrades and the vanquished maiden queen, he asked
in careless tones when the games would begin. All who heard
his question laughed; and Brunhild said,—
"Surely, Sir Siegfried, the old sleep-thorn of Isenstein
must have caught you, and held you in your ship. The games
are over, and Gunther, your liege lord, is the winner."
At this news Siegfried seemed much delighted, as indeed he
was. And all went together to the great banquet hall, where
a rich feast was served to our heroes and to the worthy
earl-folk and warriors of Isenland.
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