|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 THEY HUNTED IN THE ODENWALD
 NEXT morning, at earliest daybreak, while yet the stars were
bright, and the trees hung heavy with dew-drops, and the
clouds were light and high, King Siegfried stood with his
warriors before the castle gate. They waited but for the
sunrise, and a word from Gunther the king, to ride forth
over dale and woodland, and through forest and brake and
field, to meet, as they believed, the hosts of the
Northland kings. And Siegfried moved among them, calm-faced
and bright as a war god, upon the radiant Greyfell. And men
said, long years afterward, that never had the shining hero
seemed so glorious to their sight. Within the spacious
courtyard a thousand Burgundian braves stood waiting, too,
for the signal, and the king's word of command. And at their
head stood Hagen, dark as a cloud in summer, guilefully
hiding his vile plots, and giving out orders for the
marching. There, too, were honest Gernot, fearless and
upright, and Giselher, true as gold; and neither of them
dreamed of evil, or of the
 dark deed that day was doomed to
see. Close by the gate was Ortwin, bearing aloft the
blood-red dragon banner, which the Burgundians were wont to
carry in honor of Siegfried's famous fight with Fafnir. And
there was Dankwart, also, ever ready to boast when no danger
threatened, and ever willing to do chief Hagen's bidding.
And next came Volker the Fiddler good, with the famed sword
Fiddle-bow by him, on which, it is said, he could make the
sweetest music while fighting his foes in battle.
At length the sun began to peep over the eastern hills, and
his beams fell upon the castle walls, and shot away through
the trees, and over the meadows, and made the dewdrops
glisten like myriads of diamonds among the dripping leaves
and blossoms. And a glad shout went up from the throats of
the waiting heroes; for they thought that the looked-for
moment had come, and the march would soon begin. And the
shout was echoed from walls to turrets, and from turrets to
trees, and from trees to hills, and from the hills to the
vaulted sky above. And nothing was wanting now but King
Gunther's word of command.
Suddenly, far down the street, the sound of a bugle was
heard, and then of the swift clattering of horses' hoofs
coming up the hill towards the castle.
"Who are they who come thus to join us at the last moment?"
asked Hagen of the watchman above the gate.
"They are strangers," answered the watchman; "and they carry
a peace flag."
 In a few moments the strange horsemen dashed up, and halted
some distance from the castle gate, where Siegfried and his
"Who are you? and what is your errand?" cried Hagen, in the
They answered that they were heralds from the Northland
kings, sent quickly to correct the message of the day
before; for their liege lords, Leudiger and Leudigast, they
said, had given up warring against Burgundy, and had gone
back to their homes. And they had sent humbly to ask the
Rhineland kings to forget the rash threats which they had
made, and to allow them to swear fealty to Gunther, and
henceforth to be his humble vassals, if only they might be
"Right cheerfully do we forgive them!" cried Gunther, not
waiting to consult with his wise men. "And our forgiveness
shall be so full, that we shall ask neither fealty nor
tribute from them."
Then he turned to Siegfried, and said, "You hear, friend
Siegfried, how this troublesome matter has been happily
ended. Accept our thanks, we pray you, for your proffered
help; for, without it, it might have gone but roughly with
us in a second war with the Northland kings. But now you are
free to do what pleases you. If, as you said yesterday, you
would fain return to Nibelungen Land, you may send your
warriors on the way to-day, for they are already equipped
for the journey. But abide you with us another day, and
to-morrow we will bid you God-speed, and you may
overtake your Nibelungen friends ere they have reached our
Siegfried was not well pleased to give up an undertaking
scarce begun, and still less could he understand why the
king should be so ready to forgive the affront which the
Northland kings had offered him. And he was not slow in
reading the look of shame and guilt that lurked in Gunther's
face, or the smile of jealous hate that Hagen could no
longer hide. Yet no word of displeasure spoke he, nor seemed
he to understand that any mischief was brewing; for he
feared neither force nor guile. So he bade his Nibelungens
to begin their homeward march, saying that he and Kriemhild,
and the ladies of her train, would follow swiftly on the
"Since it is your last day with us," said Gunther, grown
cunning through Hagen's teaching, "what say you, dear
Siegfried, to a hunt in Odin's Wood?"
"Right glad will I be to join you in such sport," answered
Siegfried. "I will change my war coat for a hunting suit,
and be ready within an hour."
Then Siegfried went to his apartments, and doffed his
steel-clad armor, and searched in vain through his wardrobe
for his favorite hunting suit. But it was nowhere to be
found; and he was fain to put on the rich embroidered coat
which he sometimes wore in battle, instead of a
coat-of-mail. And he did not see the white lime leaf that
Kriemhild with anxious care had worked in silk upon it. Then
he sought the queen,
 and told her of the unlooked-for change
of plans, and how, on the morrow, they would ride towards
Nibelungen Land; but to-day he said he had promised Gunther
to hunt with him in the Odenwald.
But Kriemhild, to his great surprise, begged him not to
leave her, even to hunt in the Odenwald. For she had begun
to fear that she had made a great mistake in telling Hagen
the story of the lime leaf; and yet she could not explain to
Siegfried the true cause of her uneasiness.
"Oh, do not join in the hunt!" she cried. "Something tells
me that danger lurks hidden in the wood. Stay in the castle
with me, and help me put things in readiness for our journey
homewards to-morrow. Last night I had another dream. I
thought that Odin's birds, Hugin and Munin, sat on a tree
before me. And Hugin flapped his wings, and said, 'What more
vile than a false friend? What more to be feared than a
secret foe? Harder than stone is his unfeeling heart;
sharper than the adder's poison-fangs are his words; a snake
in the grass is he!' Then Munin flapped his wings too, but
said nothing. And I awoke, and thought at once of the
sunbright Balder, slain through Loki's vile deceit. And, as
I thought upon his sad death, a withered leaf came
fluttering through the casement, and fell upon my couch. Sad
signs and tokens are these, my husband; and much grief, I
fear, they foretell."
But Siegfried was deaf to her words of warning, and
 he laughed at the foolish dream. Then he bade her farewell till
even-tide, and hastened to join the party of huntsmen who
waited for him impatiently at the gate.
When the party reached the Odenwald, they separated; each
man taking his own course, and following his own game.
Siegfried, with but one trusty huntsman and his own
fleet-footed hound, sought at once the wildest and thickest
part of the wood. And great was the slaughter he made among
the fierce beasts of the forest; for nothing that was worthy
of notice could hide from his sight, or escape him. From his
lair in a thorny thicket, a huge wild boar sprang up; and
with glaring red eyes, and mouth foaming, and tusks gnashing
with rage, he charged fiercely upon the hero. But, with one
skilful stroke from his great spear, Siegfried laid the
beast dead on the heather. Next he met a tawny lion, couched
ready to spring upon him; but, drawing quickly his heavy
bow, he sent a quivering arrow through the animal's heart.
Then, one after another, he slew a buffalo, four bisons, a
mighty elk with branching horns, and many deers and stags
and savage beasts.
At one time the hound drove from its hiding place another
wild boar, much greater than the first, and far more fierce.
Quickly Siegfried dismounted from his horse, and met the
grizzly creature as it rushed with raving fury towards him.
The sword of the hero cleft the beast in twain, and its
bloody parts lay lifeless on
 the ground. Then Siegfried's
huntsman, in gay mood, said, "My lord, would it not be
better to rest a while! If you keep on slaughtering at this
rate, there will soon be no game left in Odenwald."
Siegfried laughed heartily at the merry words, and at once
called in his hound, saying, "You are right! We will hunt no
more until our good friends have joined us."
Soon afterward the call of a bugle was heard; and Gunther
and Hagen and Dankwart and Ortwin, with their huntsmen and
hounds, came riding up.
"What luck have you had, my friends?" asked Siegfried.
Then Hagen told what game they had taken,—a deer, a young
bear, and two small wild boars. But, when they learned what
Siegfried had done, the old chief's face grew dark, and he
knit his eyebrows, and bit his lips in jealous hate: for
four knights, ten huntsmen, and four and twenty hounds, had
beaten every bush, and followed every trail; and yet the
Nibelungen king, with but one follower and one hound, had
slain ten times as much game as they.
While they stood talking over the successes of the day, the
sound of a horn was heard, calling the sportsmen together
for the mid-day meal; and knights and huntsmen turned their
steeds, and rode slowly towards the trysting place. Suddenly
a huge bear, roused by the noise of baying hounds and
tramping feet, crossed their pathway.
 "Ah!" cried Siegfried, "there goes our friend Bruin, just in
time to give us a bit of fun, and some needed sport at
dinner. He shall go with us, and be our guest!"
With these words he loosed his hound, and dashed swiftly
forwards after the beast. Through thick underbrush and
tangled briers, and over fallen trees, the frightened
creature ran, until at last it reached a steep hillside.
There, in a rocky cleft, it stood at bay, and fought
fiercely for its life. When Siegfried came up, and saw that
his hound dared not take hold of the furious beast, he
sprang from his horse, and seized the bear in his own strong
arms, and bound him safely with a stout cord. Then he
fastened an end of the cord to his saddle-bows, and
remounted his steed. And thus he rode through the forest to
the place where the dinner waited, dragging the unwilling
bear behind him, while the dog bounded gayly along by his
No nobler sight had ever been seen in that forest than that
which Gunther's people saw that day. The Nibelungen king was
dressed as well became so great a hero. His suit was of the
speckled lynx's hide and rich black silk, upon which were
embroidered many strange devices, with threads of gold.
(But, alas! between the shoulders was the silken lime-leaf
that Queen Kriemhild's busy fingers had wrought.) His cap
was of the blackest fur, brought from the frozen Siberian
land. Over his shoulder was thrown his well-filled quiver,
 made of lion's skin; and in his hands he carried his bow of
mulberry,—a very beam in size, and so strong that no man
save himself could bend it. A golden hunting-horn was at his
side, and his sunbright shield lay on his saddle-bow; while
his mighty sword, the fire-edged Balmung, in its sheath
glittering with gem stones, hung from his jewelled belt.
The men who stood around chief Hagen, and who saw the hero
coming thus god-like through the greenwood, admired and
trembled; and Dankwart whispered a word of caution to his
dark-browed brother. But the old chief's face grew gloomier
than before; and he scowled fiercely upon the faint-hearted
Dankwart, as he hoarsely whispered in return,—
"What though he be Odin himself, still will I dare! It is
not I: it is the Norns, who shape every man's fate."
When Siegfried reached the camp with his prize, the huntsmen
shouted with delight; and the hounds howled loudly, and
shook their chains, and tried hard to get at the shaggy
beast. The king leaped to the ground, and unloosed the cords
which bound him; and at the same time the hounds were
unleashed, and set upon the angry, frightened creature.
Hemmed in on every side, the bear rushed blindly forward,
and leaped over the fires, where the cooks were busy with
the dinner. Pots and kettles were knocked about in great
confusion, and the scared cooks thrown sprawling upon the
ground; and many a dainty dish and
 savory mess was spoiled.
The bear fled fast down the forest road, followed by the
baying hounds and the fleet-footed warriors. But none dared
shoot an arrow at him for fear of killing the dogs; and it
seemed as if he would surely escape, so fast he ran away.
Then Siegfried bounded forward, swifter than a deer,
overtook the bear, and with one stroke of the sword gave him
his death-blow. And all who saw this feat of strength and
quickness wondered greatly, and felt that such a hero must
indeed be without a peer.
When Gunther's cooks had made the dinner ready, the company
sat down on the grass, and all partook of a merry meal; for
the bracing air and the morning's sport had made sharp
appetites. But, when they had eaten, they were surprised to
find that there was nothing to drink. Indeed, there was
neither wine nor water in the camp.
"How glad I am," said Siegfried gayly, "that I am not a
huntsman by trade, if it is a huntsman's way to go thus dry!
Oh for a glass of wine, or even a cup of cold spring-water,
to quench my thirst!"
"We will make up for this oversight when we go back home,"
said Gunther; and his heart was black with falsehood. "The
blame in this matter should rest on Hagen, for it was he who
was to look after the drinkables."
"My lord," said Hagen, "I fell into a mistake by thinking
that we would dine, not here, but at the Spessart Springs;
and thither I sent the wine."
 "And is there no water near?" asked Siegfried.
"Yes," answered Hagen. "There is a cool, shady spring not
far from here, where the water gushes in a clear, cold
stream from beneath a linden tree. Do but forgive me for the
lack of wine, and I will lead you to it. It is a rare
spring, and the water is almost as good as wine."
"Better than wine for me!" cried Siegfried. And he asked to
be shown to the spring at once.
Hagen arose, and pointed to a tree not far away, beneath
whose spreading branches Siegfried could see the water
sparkling in the sunlight.
"Men have told me," said the chief, "that the Nibelungen
king is very fleet of foot, and that no one has ever
outstripped him in the race. Time was, when King Gunther and
myself were spoken of as very swift runners; and, though we
are now growing old, I fancy that many young men would, even
now, fail to keep pace with us. Suppose we try a race to the
spring, and see which of the three can win."
"Agreed!" cried Siegfried. "We will run; and, if I am
beaten, I will kneel down in the grass to him who wins. I
will give the odds in your favor too; for I will carry with
me my spear, and my shield, and my helmet and sword, and all
the trappings of the chase, while you may doff from your
shoulders whatever might hinder your speed."
So Gunther and Hagen laid aside all their arms, and put off
their heavy clothing; but Siegfried took up his
 bow and
quiver, and his heavy shield, and his beam-like spear. Then
the word was given, and all three ran with wondrous speed.
Gunther and his chief flew over the grass as light-footed as
two wild panthers: but Siegfried sped swift as an arrow shot
from the hand of a skilful bowman. He reached the spring
when yet the others were not half way to it. He laid his
spear and sword, and bow and quiver of arrows, upon the
ground, and leaned his heavy shield against the linden tree;
and then he waited courteously for King Gunther to come up,
for his knightly honor would not allow him to drink until
his host had quenched his thirst.
Gunther, when he reached the spring, stooped over, and drank
heartily of the cool, refreshing water; and, after he had
risen, Siegfried knelt upon the grass at the edge of the
pool to quaff from the same gushing fountain. Stealthily
then, and with quickness, did chief Hagen hide his huge bow
and his quiver, and his good sword Balmung, and, seizing the
hero's spear, he lifted it in air, and with too steady aim
struck the silken lime leaf that the loving Kriemhild had
embroidered. Never in all the wide mid-world was known a
deed more cowardly, never a baser act. The hero was pierced
with his own weapon by one he had deemed his friend. His
blood gushed forth in torrents, and dyed the green grass
red, and discolored the sparkling water, and even filled the
face and eyes of vile Hagen.
Yet, in the hour of death, King Siegfried showed
 how noble
was his soul, how great his strength of will. Up he rose
from his bended knees, and fiercely glanced around. Then,
had not the evil-eyed chief, who never before had shunned a
foe, fled with fleet-footed fear, quick vengeance would have
overtaken him. In vain did the dying king look for his bow
and his trusty sword: too safely had they been hidden. Then,
though death was fast dimming his eyes, he seized his heavy
shield, and sprang after the flying Hagen. Swift as the wind
he followed him, quickly he overtook him. With his last
strength he felled the vile wretch to the ground, and beat
him with the shield, until the heavy plates of brass and
steel were broken, and the jewels which adorned it were
scattered among the grass. The sound of the heavy blows was
heard far through the forest; and, had the hero's strength
held out, Hagen would have had his reward. But
Siegfried, weak and pale from the loss of blood, now
staggered, and fell among the trampled flowers of the wood.
Then with his last breath he thus upbraided his false
"Cowards and traitors, ye! A curse shall fall upon you. My
every care has been to serve and please you, and thus I am
requited. Bitterly shall you rue this deed. The brand of
traitor is set upon your foreheads, and it shall be a mark
of loathing and shame to you forever."
Then the weak old Gunther began to wring his hands, and to
bewail the death of Siegfried. But the hero bade him hush,
and asked him of what use it was
 to regret an act which
could have been done only by his leave and sanction.
"Better to have thought of tears and groans before," said
he. "I have always known that you were a man of weak mind,
but never did I dream that you could lend yourself to so
base a deed. And now, if there is left aught of manliness in
your bosom, I charge you to have a care for Kriemhild your
sister. Long shall my loved Nibelungen folk await my coming
The glorious hero struggled in the last agony. The grass and
flowers were covered with his blood; the trees shivered, as
if in sympathy with him, and dropped their leaves upon the
ground; the birds stopped singing, and sorrowfully flew
away; and a solemn silence fell upon the earth, as if the
very heart of Nature had been crushed.
THE DEATH OF SIEGFRIED
And the men who stood around—all save the four guilty
ones—bowed their heads upon their hands, and gave way to
one wild burst of grief. Then tenderly they took up
Siegfried, and laid him upon a shield, with his mighty
weapons by him. And, when the sorrowing Night had spread her
black mantle over the mid-world, they carried him silently
out of the forest, and across the river, and brought him, by
Gunther's orders, to the old castle, which now nevermore
would resound with mirth and gladness. And they laid him at
Kriemhild's door, and stole sadly away to their own places,
and each one thought bitterly of the morrow.
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