|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 |
IN NIBELUNGEN LAND
 EVERY one in the castle of Isenstein, from the princess to
the kitchen maid, felt grateful to the young hero for what
he had done. The best rooms were fitted up for his use, and
a score of serving men and maidens were set apart to do his
bidding, and ordered to be mindful of his slightest wish.
And all the earl-folk and brave men, and all the fair
ladies, and Brunhild, fairest of them all, besought him to
make his home there, nor ever think of going back to
Rhineland. Siegfried yielded to their persuasions, and for
six months he tarried in the enchanted land in one long
round of merry-making and gay enjoyment. But his thoughts
were ever turned toward his father's home in the Lowlands
across the sea, and he longed to behold again his gentle
mother Sigelind. Then he grew tired of his life of idleness
and ease, and he wished that he might go out again into the
busy world of manly action and worthy deeds. And day by day
this feeling grew stronger, and filled him with unrest.
One morning, as he sat alone by the seashore, and
the lazy tide come creeping up the sands, two ravens lighted
near him. Glad was he to see them, for he knew them to be
Hugin and Munin, the sacred birds of Odin, and he felt sure
that they brought him words of cheer from the All-Father.
Then Hugin flapped his wings, and said, "In idleness the
stings of death lie hidden, but in busy action are the
springs of life. For a hundred years fair Brunhild slept,
but why should Siegfried sleep? The world awaits him, but it
waits too long."
Then Munin flapped his wings also, but he said nothing. And
busy memory carried Siegfried back to his boyhood days; and
he called to mind the wise words of his father Siegmund, and
the fond hopes of his gentle mother, and he thought, too, of
the noble deeds of his kinsfolk of the earlier days. And he
rose in haste, and cried, "Life of ease, farewell! I go
where duty leads. To him who wills to do, the great
All-Father will send strength and help."
While he spoke, his eyes were dazzled with a flash of light.
He looked; and the beaming Greyfell, his long mane sparkling
like a thousand sunbeams, dashed up the beach, and stood
beside him. As the noble steed in all his strength and
beauty stood before him, the youth felt fresh courage; for,
in the presence of the shining hope which the All-Father had
given him, all hinderances seemed to vanish, and all
difficulties to be already overcome. He looked toward the
sea again, and saw in the blue distance a white-sailed ship
 near, its golden dragon-stem ploughing
through the waves like some great bird of the deep. And as
with straining, eager eyes, he watched its coming, he felt
that Odin had sent it, and that the time had come wherein he
must be up and doing. The hour for thriving action comes to
us once: if not seized upon and used, it may never come
The ship drew near the shore. The sailors rested on their
oars. Siegfried and the steed Greyfell sprang upon the deck;
then the sailors silently bent again to their rowing. The
flapping sails were filled and tightened by the strong west
wind; and the light vessel leaped from wave to wave like a
thing of life, until Isenstein, with its tall towers and its
green marble halls, sank from sight in the distance and the
mist. And Siegfried and his noble steed seemed to be the
only living beings on board; for the sailors who plied the
oars were so silent and phantom-like, that they appeared to
be nought but the ghosts of the summer sea breezes. As the
ship sped swiftly on its way, all the creatures in the sea
paused to behold the sight. The mermen rested from their
weary search for hidden treasures, and the mermaids forgot
to comb their long tresses, as the radiant vessel and its
hero-freight glided past. And even old King Ægir left his
brewing kettle in his great hall, and bade his daughters,
the white-veiled Waves, cease playing until the vessel
should safely reach its haven.
When, at length, the day had passed, and the evening
 twilight had come, Siegfried saw that the ship was nearing
land; but it was a strange land. Like a fleecy cloud
it appeared to rest above the waves, midway between the
earth and the sky; a dark mist hung upon it, and it seemed a
land of dreams and shadows. The ship drew nearer and nearer
to the mysterious shore, and as it touched the beach the
sailors rested from their rowing. Then Siegfried and the
horse Greyfell leaped ashore; but, when they looked back,
the fair vessel that had carried them was nowhere to be
seen. Whether it had suddenly been clutched by the greedy
fingers of the Sea-queen Ran, and dragged down into her deep
sea caverns, or whether, like the wondrous ship Skidbladner,
it had been folded up, and made invisible to the eyes of
men, Siegfried never knew. The thick mists and the darkness
of night closed over and around both hero and horse; and
they dared not stir, but stood long hours in the silent
gloom, waiting for the coming of the dawn.
At length the morning came, but the light was not strong
enough to scatter the fogs and thick vapors that rested upon
the land. Then Siegfried mounted Greyfell; and the sunbeams
began to flash from the horse's mane and from the hero's
glittering mail-coat; and the hazy clouds fled upward and
away, until they were caught and held fast by great
mist giants, who stood like sentinels on the mountain tops.
As the shining pair came up from the sea, and passed through
 woods and valleys of the Nibelungen Land, there streamed
over all that region such a flood of sunlight as had never
before been seen.
In every leafy tree, and behind every blade of grass, elves
and fairies were hidden; and under every rock and in every
crevice lurked cunning dwarfs. But Siegfried rode straight
forward until he came to the steep side of a shadowy
mountain. There, at the mouth of a cavern, a strange sight
met his eyes. Two young men, dressed in princes' clothing,
sat upon the ground: their features were all haggard and
gaunt, and pinched with hunger, and their eyes wild with
wakefulness and fear; and all around them were heaps of gold
and precious stones,—more than a hundred wagons could carry
away. And neither of the two princes would leave the shining
hoard for food, nor close his eyes in sleep, lest the other
might seize and hide some part of the treasure. And thus
they had watched and hungered through many long days and
sleepless nights, each hoping that the other would die, and
that the whole inheritance might be his own.
When they saw Siegfried riding near, they called out to him,
and said, "Noble stranger, stop a moment! Come and help us
divide this treasure."
"Who are you?" asked Siegfried; "and what treasure is it
that lies there?"
"We are the sons of Niblung, who until lately was king of
this Mist Land. Our names are Schilbung and the young
Niblung," faintly answered the princes.
 "And what are you doing here with this gold and these
"This is the great Nibelungen Hoard, which our father not
long ago brought from the Southland. It is not clear just
how he obtained it. Some say that he got it unjustly
from his brother, whose vassals had digged it from the
earth. Others say that he found it lying on the Glittering
Heath, where Fafnir the Dragon had guarded it zealously for
ages past, until he was slain by a hero who cared nought for
his gold. But, be this as it may, our father is now dead,
and we have brought the hoard out of the cavern where he had
hidden it, in order that we may share it between us equally.
But we cannot agree, and we pray you to help us divide it."
Then Siegfried dismounted from the horse Greyfell, and came
near the two princes.
"I will gladly do as you ask," said he; "but first I must
know more about your father,—who he was, and whether this
is really the Hoard of the Glittering Heath."
Then Niblung answered, as well as his feeble voice would
allow, "Our father was, from the earliest times, the ruler
of this land, and the lord of the fog and the mist. Many
strongholds, and many noble halls, had he in this land; and
ten thousand brave warriors were ever ready to do his
bidding. The trolls, and the swarthy elves of the mountains,
and the giants of the cloudy peaks, were his vassals. But he
did more than
 rule over the Nibelungen Land. Twice every
year he crossed the sea and rambled through the Rhine
valleys, or loitered in the moist Lowlands; and now and then
he brought rich trophies back to his island home. The last
time, he brought this treasure with him; but, as we have
said, it is not clear how he obtained it. We have heard men
say that it was the Hoard of Andvari, and that when Fafnir,
the dragon who watched it, was slain, the hero who slew him
left it to be taken again by the swarthy elves who had
gathered it; but because of a curse which Andvari had placed
upon it, no one would touch it, until some man would assume
its ownership, and take upon himself the risk of incurring
the curse. This thing, it is said, our father did. And the
dwarf Alberich undertook to keep it for him; and he, with
the help of the ten thousand elves who live in these
caverns, and the twelve giants whom you see standing on the
mountain peaks around, guarded it faithfully so long as our
father lived. But, when he died, we and our thralls fetched
it forth from the cavern, and spread it here on the ground.
And, lo! for many days we have watched and tried to divide
it equally. But we cannot agree."
"What hire will you give me if I divide it for you?" asked
"Name what you will have," answered the princes.
"Give me the sword which lies before you on the glittering
Then Niblung handed him the sword, and said,
 "Right gladly
will we give it. It is a worthless blade that our father
brought from the Southland. They say that he found it also
on the Glittering Heath, in the trench where Fafnir was
slain. And some will have it that it was forged by Regin,
Fafnir's own brother. But how that is, I do not know. At any
rate, it is of no use to us; for it turns against us
whenever we try to use it."
Siegfried took the sword. It was his own Balmung, that had
been lost so long.
Forthwith he began the task of dividing the treasure; and
the two brothers, so faint from hunger and want of sleep
that they could scarcely lift their heads, watched him with
anxious, greedy eyes. First he placed a piece of gold by
Niblung's side, and then a piece of like value he gave to
Schilbung. And this he did again and again, until no more
gold was left. Then, in the same manner, he divided the
precious gem stones until none remained. And the brothers
were much pleased; and they hugged their glittering
treasures, and thanked Siegfried for his kindness, and for
the fairness with which he had given to each his own. But
one thing was left which had not fallen to the lot of either
brother. It was a ring of curious workmanship,—a serpent
coiled, with its tail in its mouth, and with ruby eyes
glistening and cold.
"What shall I do with this ring?" asked Siegfried.
"Give it to me!" cried Niblung.
"Give it to me!" cried Schilbung.
And both tried to snatch it from Siegfried's hand.
 But the effort was too great for them. Their arms fell
helpless at their sides, their feet slipped beneath them,
their limbs failed: they sank fainting, each upon his pile
"O my dear, dear gold!" murmured Niblung, trying to clasp it
all in his arms,—"my dear, dear gold! Thou art mine, mine
only. No one shall take thee from me. Here thou art, here
thou shalt rest. O my dear, dear gold!" And then, calling up
the last spark of life left in his famished body, he cried
out to Siegfried, "Give me the ring!—the ring, I say!"
He hugged his cherished gold nearer to his bosom; he ran his
thin fingers deep down into the shining yellow heap; he
pressed his pale lips to the cold and senseless metal; he
whispered faintly, "My dear, dear gold!" and then he died.
"O precious, precious gem stones," faltered Schilbung, "how
beautiful you are! And you are mine, all mine. I will keep
you safe. Come, come, my bright-eyed beauties! No one but me
shall touch you. You are mine, mine, mine!" And he chattered
and laughed as only madmen laugh. And he kissed the hard
stones, and sought to hide them in his bosom. But his hands
trembled and failed, dark mists swam before his eyes; he
fancied that he heard the black dwarfs clamoring for his
treasure; he sprang up quickly, he shrieked—and then fell
lifeless upon his hoard of sparkling gems.
A strange, sad sight it was,—boundless wealth, and
miserable death; two piles of yellow gold and
sun-  bright diamonds, and two thin, starved corpses stretched upon them.
Some stories relate that the brothers were slain by
Siegfried, because their foolish strife and greediness had
angered him. But I like not to think so. It was the
gold, and not Siegfried, that slew them.
"O gold, gold!" cried the hero sorrowfully, "truly thou art
the mid-world's curse; thou art man's bane. But when the
bright springtime of the new world shall come, and Balder
shall reign in his glory, then will the curse be taken from
thee, and thy yellow brightness will be the sign of purity
and enduring worth; and then thou wilt be a blessing to
mankind, and the precious plaything of the gods."
But Siegfried had little time for thought and speech. A
strange sound was heard upon the mountain side. The twelve
great giants who had stood as watchmen upon the peaks above
were rushing down to avenge their masters, and to drive the
intruder out of Nibelungen Land. Siegfried waited not for
their onset; but he mounted the noble horse Greyfell, and,
with the sword Balmung in his hand, he rode forth to meet
his foes, who, with fearful threats and hideous roars, came
striding toward him. The sunbeams flashed from Greyfell's
mane, and dazzled the dull eyes of the giants, unused as
they were to the full light of day. Doubtful, they paused,
and then again came forward. But they mistook every tree in
their way for an enemy, and every rock they thought a foe;
and in their fear they
 fancied a great host to be before
them. Did you ever see the dark and threatening storm clouds
on a summer's day scattered and put to flight by the bright
beams of the sun? It was thus that Siegfried's giant foes
were routed. One and all, they dropped their heavy clubs,
and stood ashamed and trembling, not knowing what to do. And
Siegfried made each one swear to serve him faithfully; and
then he sent them back to the snow-covered mountain peaks to
stand again as watchmen at their posts.
And now another danger appeared. Alberich the dwarf, the
master of the swarthy elves who guarded the Nibelungen
Hoard, had come out from his cavern, and seen the two
princes lying dead beside their treasures, and he thought
that they had been murdered by Siegfried; and, when he
beheld the giants driven back to the mountain-tops, he
lifted a little silver horn to his lips, and blew a shrill
bugle call. And the little brown elves came trooping forth
by thousands: from under every rock, from the nooks and
crannies and crevices in the mountain side, from the deep
cavern and the narrow gorge, they came at the call of their
chief. Then, at Alberich's word, they formed in line of
battle, and stood in order around the hoard and the bodies
of their late masters. Their little golden shields and their
sharp-pointed spears were thick as the blades of grass in a
Rhine meadow. And Siegfried, when he saw them, was pleased
and surprised; for never before had such a host of pygmy
warriors stood before him.
 While he paused and looked, the elves became suddenly
silent, and Siegfried noticed that Alberich stood no longer
at their head, but had strangely vanished from sight.
"Ah, Alberich!" cried the hero. "Thou art indeed cunning. I
have heard of thy tricks. Thou hast donned the Tarnkappe,
the cloak of darkness, which hides thee from sight, and
makes thee as strong as twelve common men. But come on, thou
Scarcely had he spoken, when he felt a shock which almost
sent him reeling from his saddle, and made Greyfell plunge
about with fright. Quickly, then, did Siegfried dismount,
and, with every sense alert, he waited for the second onset
of the unseen dwarf. It was plain that Alberich wished to
strike him unawares, for many minutes passed in utter
silence. Then a brisk breath of wind passed by Siegfried's
face, and he felt another blow; but, by a quick downward
movement of his hand, he caught the plucky elf-king, and
tore off the magic Tarnkappe, and then, with firm grasp, he
held him, struggling in vain to get free.
"Ah, Alberich!" he cried, "now I know thou art cunning. But
the Tarnkappe I must have for my own. What wilt thou give
for thy freedom?"
"Worthy prince," answered Alberich humbly, "you have fairly
overcome me in fight, and made me your prisoner. I and all
mine, as well as this treasure, rightfully belong to you. We
are yours, and you we shall obey."
 "Swear it!" said Siegfried. "Swear it, and thou shalt live,
and be the keeper of my treasures."
And Alberich made a sign to his elfin host, and every spear
was turned point downwards, and every tiny shield was thrown
to the ground, and the ten thousand little warriors kneeled,
as did also their chief, and acknowledged Siegfried to be
their rightful master, and the lord of the Nibelungen Land,
and the owner of the Hoard of Andvari.
Then, by Alberich's orders, the elves carried the Hoard back
into the cavern, and there kept faithful watch and ward over
it. And they buried the starved bodies of the two princes on
the top of the mist-veiled mountain; and heralds were sent
to all the strongholds in Nibelungen Land, proclaiming that
Siegfried, through his wisdom and might, had become the true
lord and king of the land. Afterwards the prince, riding on
the beaming Greyfell, went from place to place, scattering
sunshine and smiles where shadows and frowns had been
before. And the Nibelungen folk welcomed him everywhere with
glad shouts and music and dancing; and ten thousand
warriors, and many noble earl-folk, came to meet him, and
plighted their faith to him. And the pure brightness of his
hero-soul, and the gleaming sunbeams from Greyfell's
mane,—the light of hope and faith,—lifted the curtain of
mists and fogs that had so long darkened the land, and let
in the glorious glad light of day and the genial warmth of
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