|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 THE MISCHIEF BEGAN TO BREW
 ONE day a party of strangers came to Siegfried's Nibelungen
dwelling, and asked to speak with the king.
"Who are you? and what is your errand?" asked the porter at
"Our errand is to the king, and he will know who we are when
he sees us," was the answer.
When Siegfried was told of the strange men who waited below,
and of the strange way in which they had answered the
porter's question, he asked,—
"From what country seem they to have come? For surely their
dress and manners will betray something of that matter to
you. Are they Southland folk, or Eastland folk? Are they
from the mountains, or from the sea?"
"They belong to none of the neighbor lands," answered the
earl who had brought the word to the king. "No such men live
upon our borders. They seem to have come from a far-off
land; for they are
travel-  worn, and their sea-stained
clothing betokens a people from the south. They are tall and
dark, and their hair is black, and they look much like those
Rhineland warriors who came hither with our lady the queen.
And they carry a blood-red banner with a golden dragon
painted upon it."
"Oh, they must be from Burgundy!" cried the queen, who had
overheard these words. And she went at once to the window to
see the strangers, who were waiting in the courtyard below.
There, indeed, she saw thirty tall Burgundians, clad in the
gay costume of Rhineland, now faded and worn with long
travel. But all save one were young, and strangers to
Kriemhild. That one was their leader,—an old man with a
kind face, and a right noble bearing.
"See!" said the queen to Siegfried: "there is our brave
captain Gere, who, ever since my childhood, has been the
trustiest man in my brother Gunther's household. Those men
are from the fatherland, and they bring tidings from the
dear old Burgundian home."
"Welcome are they to our Nibelungen Land!" cried the
And he ordered that the strangers should be brought into the
castle, and that the most sumptuous rooms should be allotted
to them, and a plenteous meal prepared, and every thing done
to entertain them in a style befitting messengers from
Kriemhild's fatherland. Then Gere, the trusty captain, was
led into the presence of the king and queen. Right gladly
 they welcome him, and many were the questions they asked
about their kin-folk, and the old Rhineland home.
"Tell us, good Gere," said Siegfried, "what is thy message
from our friends; for we are anxious to know whether they
are well and happy, or whether some ill luck has overtaken
them. If any harm threatens them, they have but to speak,
and I, with my sword and my treasures, will hasten to their
"They are all well," answered the captain. "No ill has
befallen them, and no harm threatens them. Peace rules all
the land; and fair weather and sunshine have filled the
people's barns, and made their hearts glad. And thus it has
been ever since Gunther brought to his dwelling the
warrior maiden Brunhild to be his queen. And this is my
errand and the message that I bring: King Gunther, blessed
with happiness, intends to hold a grand high-tide of joy and
thanksgiving at the time of the harvest moon. And nothing is
wanting to complete the gladness of that time, but the sight
of you and the peerless Kriemhild in your old places at the
feast. And it is to invite you to this festival of rejoicing
that I have come, at the king's command, to Nibelungen
Siegfried sat a moment in silence, and then thoughtfully
"It is a long, long journey from this land to Burgundy, and
many dangers beset the road; and my own people would sadly
miss me while away, and I know not what mishaps might
 Then Gere spoke of the queen-mother Ute, now grown old and
feeble, who wished once more, ere death called her hence, to
see her daughter Kriemhild. And he told how all the people,
both high and low, yearned for another sight of the radiant
hero who in former days had blessed their land with his
presence and his noble deeds. And his persuasive words had
much weight with Siegfried, who said at length,—
"Tarry a few days yet for my answer. I will talk with my
friends and the Nibelungen earls; and what they think best,
that will I do."
For nine days, then, waited Gere at Siegfried's hall; but
still the king put off his answer.
"Wait until to-morrow," he said each day, for his heart
whispered dim forebodings.
At length, as midsummer was fast drawing near, the impatient
captain could stay no longer; and he bade his followers make
ready to go back forthwith to Burgundy. When the queen saw
that they were ready to take their leave, and that Gere
could wait no longer upon the king's pleasure, she urged her
husband to say to Gunther that they would come to his
harvest festival. And the lords and noble earl-folk added
their persuasions to hers.
"Send word back to the Burgundian king," said they, "that
you will go, as he desires. We will see to it that no harm
comes to your kingdom while you are away."
So Siegfried called Gere and his comrades into the
 hall, and
loaded them with costly gifts such as they had never before
seen, and bade them say to their master that he gladly
accepted the kind invitation he had sent, and that, ere the
harvest high-tide began, he and Kriemhild would be with him
And the messengers went back with all speed, and told what
wondrous things they had seen in Nibelungen Land, and in
what great splendor Siegfried lived. And, when they showed
the rare presents which had been given them, all joined in
praising the goodness and greatness of the hero king. But
old chief Hagen frowned darkly as he said,—
"It is little wonder that he can do such things, for the
Shining Hoard of Andvari is his. If we had such a treasure,
we, too, might live in more than kingly grandeur."
Early in the month of roses, Siegfried and his peerless
queen, with a retinue of more than a thousand warriors and
many fair ladies, started on their long and toilsome journey
to the Southland. And the folk who went with them to the
city gates bade them many tearful farewells, and returned to
their homes, feeling that the sunshine had gone forever from
the Nibelungen Land. But the sky was blue and cloudless, and
the breezes warm and mild, and glad was the song of the
reapers as adown the seaward highway the kingly company
rode. Two days they rode through Mist Land, to the shore of
the peaceful sea. Ten days they sailed on the waters. And
the winds were soft and
 gentle; and the waves slept in the
sunlight, or merrily danced in their wake. But each day, far
behind them, there followed a storm cloud, dark as night,
and the pleasant shores of Mist Land were hidden forever
behind it. Five days they rode through the Lowlands, and
glad were the Lowland folk with sight of their hero king.
Two days through the silent greenwood, and one o'er the
barren moor, and three amid vineyards and fields, and
between orchards fruitful and fair, they rode. And on the
four and twentieth day they came in sight of the quiet town,
and the tall gray towers, where dwelt the Burgundian kings.
And a great company on horseback, with flashing shields and
fine-wrought garments and nodding plumes, came out to meet
them. It was King Gernot and a thousand of the best men and
fairest women in Burgundy; and they welcomed Siegfried and
Kriemhild and their Nibelungen folk to the fair land of the
Rhine. And then they turned, and rode back with them to the
castle. And, as the company passed through the pleasant
streets of the town, the people stood by the wayside,
anxious to catch sight of the radiant Siegfried on his
sunbright steed, and of the peerless Kriemhild, riding on a
palfrey by his side. And young girls strewed roses in their
pathway, and hung garlands upon their horses; and every one
shouted, "Hail to the conquering hero! Hail to the matchless
When they reached the castle, King Gunther and Giselher met
them, and ushered them into the old
 familiar halls, where a
right hearty welcome greeted them from all the kingly
household. And none seemed more glad in this happy hour than
Brunhild the warrior queen, now more gloriously beautiful
than even in the days of yore.
When the harvest moon began to shine full and bright,
lighting up the whole world from evening till morn with its
soft radiance, the gay festival so long looked forward to
began. And care and anxiety, and the fatigues of the long
journey, were forgotten amid the endless round of pleasure
which for twelve days enlivened the whole of Burgundy. And
the chiefest honors were everywhere paid to Siegfried the
hero king, and to Kriemhild the peerless queen of beauty.
Then Queen Brunhild called to mind, how, on a time, it had
been told her in Isenland that Siegfried was but the
liegeman and vassal of King Gunther; and she wondered why
such honor should be paid to an underling, and why the king
himself should treat him with so much respect. And as she
thought of this, and of the high praises with which every
one spoke of Kriemhild, her mind became filled with jealous
broodings. And soon her bitter jealousy was turned to deadly
hate; for she remembered then, how, in the days long past, a
noble youth, more beautiful and more glorious than the world
would ever see again, had awakened her from the deep sleep
that Odin's thorn had given; and she remembered how Gunther
had won her by deeds of strength and skill which he never
 afterwards could even imitate; and she thought how grand
indeed was Kriemhild's husband compared with her own weak
and wavering and commonplace lord. And her soul was filled
with sorrow and bitterness and deepest misery, when, putting
these thoughts together, she believed that she had in some
way been duped and cheated into becoming Gunther's wife.
When at last the gay feast was ended, and most of the guests
had gone to their homes, she sought her husband, and thus
broached the matter to him.
"Often have I asked you," said she, "why your sister
Kriemhild was given in marriage to a vassal, and as often
have you put me off with vague excuses. Often, too, have I
wondered why your vassal, Siegfried, has never paid you
tribute for the lands which he holds from you, and why he
has never come to render you homage. Now he is here in your
castle; but he sets himself up, not as your vassal, but as
your peer. I pray you, tell me what such strange things
mean. Was an underling and a vassal ever known before to put
himself upon a level with his liege lord?"
Gunther was greatly troubled, and he knew not what to say;
for he feared to tell the queen how they had deceived her
when he had won the games at Isenstein, and how the truth
had ever since been kept hidden from her.
"Ask me not to explain this matter further than I have
already done," he answered. "It is enough that Siegfried is
the greatest of all my vassals, and that his
 lands are
broader even than my own. He has helped me out of many
straits, and has added much to the greatness and strength of
my kingdom: for this reason he has never been asked to pay
us tribute, and for this reason we grant him highest
But this answer failed to satisfy the queen.
"Is it not the first duty of a vassal," she asked, "to help
his liege lord in every undertaking? If so, Siegfried has
but done his duty, and you owe him nothing. But you have not
told me all. You have deceived me, and you would fain
deceive me again. You have a secret, and I will find it
The king made no answer, but walked silently and
It happened one evening, not long thereafter, that the two
queens sat together at an upper window, and looked down upon
a company of men in the courtyard below. Among them were the
noblest earl-folk of Burgundy, and Gunther the king, and
Siegfried. But Siegfried towered above all the rest; and he
moved like a god among men.
"See my noble Siegfried!" cried Kriemhild in her pride. "How
grandly he stands there! What a type of manly beauty and
strength! No one cares to look at other men when he is
"He may be handsome," answered Brunhild sadly; "and, for
aught I know, he may be noble. But what is all that by the
side of kingly power? Were he but the peer of your brother
Gunther, then you might well boast."
 "He is the peer of Gunther," returned Kriemhild. "And not
only his peer, but more; for he stands as high above him in
kingly power and worth as in bodily stature."
"How can that be?" asked Brunhild, growing angry. "For, when
Gunther so gallantly won me at Isenstein, he told me that
Siegfried was his vassal; and often since that time I have
heard the same. And even your husband told me that Gunther
was his liege lord."
Queen Kriemhild laughed at these words, and answered, "I
tell you again that Siegfried is a king far nobler and
richer and higher than any other king on earth. Think you
that my brothers would have given me to a mere vassal to be
Then Brunhild, full of wrath, replied, "Your husband is
Gunther's vassal and my own, and he shall do homage to us as
the humblest and meanest of our underlings. He shall not go
from this place until he has paid all the tribute that has
so long been due from him. Then we shall see who is the
vassal, and who is the lord."
"Nay," answered Kriemhild. "It shall not be. No tribute was
ever due; and, if homage is to be paid, it is rather Gunther
who must pay it."
THE QUARREL OF THE QUEENS
"It shall be settled once for all!" cried Brunhild, now
boiling over with rage. "I will know the truth. If Siegfried
is not our vassal, then I have been duped; and I will have
"It is well," was the mild answer. "Let it be settled,
for all; and then, mayhap, we shall know who it was who
really won the games at Isenstein, and you for Gunther's
And the two queens parted in wrath.
Kriemhild's anger was as fleeting as an April cloud, which
does but threaten, and then passes away in tears and
sunshine. But Brunhild's was like the dread winter storm
that sweeps down from Niflheim, and brings ruin and death in
its wake. She felt that she had been cruelly wronged in some
way, and that her life had been wrecked, and she rested not
until she had learned the truth.
It was Hagen who at last told her the story of the cruel
deceit that had made her Gunther's wife; and then her wrath
and her shame knew no bounds.
"Woe betide the day!" she cried,—"woe betide the day that
brought me to Rhineland, and made me the wife of a weakling
and coward, and the jest of him who might have done nobler
Hagen smiled. He had long waited for this day.
"It was Siegfried, and Siegfried alone, who plotted to
deceive you," he said. "Had it not been for him, you might
still have been the happy maiden queen of Isenland. And now
he laughs at you, and urges his queen, Kriemhild, to scorn
you as she would an underling."
"I know it, I know it," returned the queen in distress. "And
yet how grandly noble is the man! How he rushed through the
flames to awaken me, when no
 one else could save! How brave,
how handsome,—and yet he has been my bane. I can have no
peace while he lives."
Hagen smiled again, and a strange light gleamed from his
dark eye. Then he said, "Truly handsome and brave is he, but
a viler traitor was never born. He even now plots to seize
this kingdom, and to add it to his domain. Why else should
he bring so great a retinue of Nibelungen warriors to
Burgundy? I will see King Gunther at once, and we will put
an end to his wicked projects."
"Do even so, good Hagen," said Brunhild. "Take him from my
path, and bring low the haughty pride of his wife, and I
shall be content."
"That I will do!" cried Hagen. "That I will do! Gunther is
and shall be the king without a peer; and no one shall dare
dispute the worth and the queenly beauty of his wife."
Then the wily chief sought Gunther, and with cunning words
poisoned his weak mind. The feeble old king was easily made
to believe that Siegfried was plotting against his life, and
seeking to wrest the kingdom from him. And he forgot the
many kind favors he had received at the hero's hand. He no
longer remembered how Siegfried had slain the terror of the
Glittering Heath, and freed the Burgundians from many a
fear; and how he had routed the warlike hosts of the
Northland, and made prisoners of their kings; and how he
had brought his voyage to Isenland to a happy
 and successful
ending. He forgot, also, that Siegfried was his sister's
husband. He had ears and mind only for Hagen's wily words.
"While this man lives," said the dark-browed chief, "none of
us are safe. See how the people follow him! Hear how they
shout at his coming! They look upon him as a god, and upon
Gunther as a nobody. If we are wise, we shall rid ourselves
of so dangerous a man."
"It is but a week until he takes his leave of us, and goes
back to his own home in Nibelungen Land. Watch him carefully
until that time, but do him no harm. When he is once gone,
he shall never come back again," said the king. But he spoke
thus, not because of any kind feelings towards Siegfried,
but rather because he feared the Nibelungen hero.
"He has no thought of going at that time," answered Hagen.
"He speaks of it, only to hide his wicked and traitorous
plots. Instead of going home, his plans will then be ready
for action, and it will be too late for us to save
ourselves. Still, if you will not believe me, take your own
course. You have been warned."
The cunning chief arose to leave the room; but Gunther, now
thoroughly frightened, stopped him.
"Hagen," he said, "you have always been my friend, and the
words which you say are wise. Save us and our kingdom now,
in whatsoever way you may deem best. I know not what to do."
Then the weak king and the warrior chief talked
together in low, hoarse whispers. And, when they parted,
shame and guilt were stamped in plain lines on Gunther's
face, from which they were nevermore erased; and he dared
not lift his gaze from the floor, fearing that his eyes
would betray him, if seen by any more pure-hearted than he.
But a smile of triumph played under the lurking gleams of
Hagen's eye; and he walked erect and bold, as if he had done
a praiseworthy deed.
That night a storm came sweeping down from the North, and
the cold rain fell in torrents; and great hailstones
pattered on the roofs and towers of the castle, and cruelly
pelted the cattle in the fields, and the birds in the
friendly shelter of the trees. And old Thor fought bravely
with the Storm-giants; and all night long the rattle of his
chariot wheels, and the heavy strokes of his dread hammer,
were heard resounding through the heavens. In his lonely
chamber Hagen sat and rubbed his hands together, and grimly
"The time so long waited for has come at last," he said.
But the guilty king, unable to sleep, walked restlessly to
and fro, and trembled with fear at every sound of the
When day dawned at last, a sad scene met the eyes of all
beholders. The earth was covered with the broken branches of
leafy trees; the flowers and shrubs were beaten pitilessly
to the ground; and here and there lay the dead bodies of
little feathered songsters,
 who, the day before, had made
the woods glad with their music.
The sun had scarcely risen above this sorrowful scene,
gilding the gray towers and turrets and the drooping trees
with the promise of better things, than a strange confusion
was noticed outside of the castle-gates. Thirty and two
horsemen wearing the livery of the Northlands stood there,
and asked to be led to the Burgundian kings.
"Who are you? and what is your errand?" asked the
"We come as heralds and messengers from Leudiger and
Leudigast, the mighty kings of the North," they answered.
"But our errand we can tell to no man save to Gunther your
king, or to his brothers Gernot and Giselher."
Then they were led by the king's command into the
council hall, where sat Gunther, Gernot, and the noble
Giselher; and behind them stood their uncle and chief, brave
"What message bring you from our old friends Leudiger and
Leudigast?" asked Gunther of the strangers.
"Call them not your friends," answered the chief of the
company. "We bring you this message from our liege lords,
whom you may well count as enemies. Many years ago they were
sorely beaten in battle, and suffered much hurt at your
hands. And they vowed then to avenge the injury, and to wipe
out the disgrace
 you had caused them, just so soon as they
were strong enough to do so. Now they are ready, with fifty
thousand men, to march into your country. And they swear to
lay waste your lands, and to burn your towns and villages
and all your castles, unless you at once acknowledge
yourselves their vassals, and agree to pay them tribute.
This is the kings' message. And we were further ordered not
to wait for an answer, but to carry back to them without
delay your reply, whether you will agree to their terms or
King Gunther, as was his wont, turned to Hagen for advice.
"Send for Siegfried," whispered the chief.
It was done. And soon the hero came into the hall. His
kingly grace and warlike bearing were such that Gunther
dared not raise his guilty eyes from the ground; and Hagen's
furtive glances were, for the moment, freighted with fear
and shame. The message of the heralds was repeated to
Siegfried; and Gunther said,—
"Most noble friend, you hear what word these traitorous
kings dare send us. Now, we remember, that, long years ago,
you led us against them, and gave us a glorious victory. We
remember, too, how, by your counsel, their lives were
spared, and they were sent home with costly gifts. It is
thus they repay our kindness. What answer shall we send
"Say that we will fight," answered Siegfried at once. "I
will lead my brave Nibelungens against them, and
 they shall
learn how serious a thing it is to break an oath, or to
return treason for kindness."
The news soon spread through all the town and through the
countryside, that Leudiger and Leudigast, with fifty
thousand men, were marching into Burgundy, and destroying
every thing in their way. And great flight and confusion
prevailed. Men and women hurried hither and thither in
dismay. Soldiers busily sharpened their weapons, and
burnished their armor, ready for the fray. Little children
were seen cowering at every sound, and anxious faces were
When Queen Kriemhild saw the busy tumult, and heard the
shouts and cries in the street and the courtyard, and
learned the cause of it all, she was greatly troubled, and
went at once to seek Siegfried. When she found him, she drew
him aside, and besought him not to take part in the war
which threatened, but to hasten with all speed back to their
own loved Nibelungen Land.
"And why would my noble queen wish me thus to play the part
of a coward, and to leave my friends when they most need my
help?" asked Siegfried in surprise.
"I would not have you play the coward," answered Kriemhild,
and hot tears stood in her eyes. "But some unseen danger
overhangs. There are other traitors than Leudiger and
Leudigast, and men to be more feared than they. Last night I
dreamed a fearful
 dream, and it follows me still. I dreamed
that you hunted in the forest, and that two wild boars
attacked you. The grass and the flowers were stained with
your gore, and the cruel tusks of the beasts tore you in
pieces, and no one came to your help. And I cried out in my
distress, and awoke; and the storm clouds roared and
threatened, and the hail pattered on the roof, and the wind
and rain beat against the window panes. Then I slept again,
and another dream, as fearful as the first, came to me. I
dreamed that you rode in the forest, and that music sprang
up in your footsteps, and all things living called you
blessed, but that suddenly two mountains rose up from the
ground, and their high granite crags toppled over, and fell
upon you, and buried you from my sight forever. Then I awoke
again, and my heart has ever since been heavy with fearful
forebodings. I know that some dread evil threatens us; yet,
what it is, I cannot tell. But go not out against the
North-kings. Our Nibelungen-folk wait too long for your
Siegfried gayly laughed at his queen's fears, and said, "The
woof of every man's fate has been woven by the Norns, and
neither he nor his foes can change it. When his hour comes,
then he must go to meet his destiny."
Then he led her gently back to her room in the castle, and
bade her a loving farewell, saying, "When the foes of our
Burgundian hosts are put to flight, and there is no longer
need for us here, then will we hasten
 back to Nibelungen
Land. Have patience and hope for a few days only, and all
will yet be well. Forget your foolish dreams, and think only
of my glad return."
It was arranged, that, in the march against the North-kings,
Siegfried with his Nibelungens should take the lead; while
Hagen, with a picked company of fighting men, should bring
up the rear. Every one was eager to join in the undertaking;
and no one, save King Gunther and his cunning counsellor,
and Ortwin and Dankwart, knew that the pretended heralds
from the North-kings were not heralds at all, but merely the
false tools of wicked Hagen. For the whole was but a
well-planned plot, as we shall see, to entrap unwary,
Soon all things were in readiness for the march; but, as the
day was now well spent, it was agreed, that, at early dawn
of the morrow, the little army should set out. And every one
went home to put his affairs in order, and to rest for the
Late that evening old Hagen went to bid Siegfried's queen
good-by. Kriemhild had tried hard to drown her gloomy fears,
and to forget her sad, foreboding dreams; but it was all in
vain, for deep anxiety still rested heavily upon her mind.
Yet she welcomed her dark-browed uncle with the kindest
"How glad I am," she said, "that my husband is here to help
my kinsfolk in this their time of need! I know right well,
that, with him to lead, you shall win. But, dear uncle,
remember, when you are in the battle,
 that we have always
loved you, and that Siegfried has done many kindnesses to
the Burgundians; and, if any danger threaten him, turn it
aside, I pray you, for Kriemhild's sake. I know that I merit
Queen Brunhild's anger, because of the sharp words I lately
spoke to her; but let not my husband suffer blame for that
which is my fault alone."
"Kriemhild," answered Hagen, "no one shall suffer
blame,—neither Siegfried nor yourself. We are all
forgetful, and sometimes speak hasty words; but that which
we say in angry thoughtlessness should not be cherished up
against us. There is no one who thinks more highly of
Siegfried than I, and there is nothing I would not do to
"I should not fear for him," said she, "if he were not so
bold and reckless. When he is in the battle, he never thinks
of his own safety. And I tremble lest at some time he may
dare too much, and meet his death. If you knew every thing,
as I do, you would fear for him too."
"What is it?" asked Hagen, trying to hide his
eagerness,—"what is it that gives you cause for fear? Tell
me all about it, and then I will know the better how to
shield him from danger. I will lay down my life for his
Then Kriemhild, trusting in her uncle's word, and forgetful
of every caution, told him the secret of the dragon's blood,
and of Siegfried's strange bath, and of the mischief-working
 "And now," she added, "since I know that there is one spot
which a deadly weapon might reach, I am in constant fear
that the spear of an enemy may, perchance, strike him there.
Is there not some way of shielding that spot?"
"There is," answered Hagen. "Make some mark, or put some
sign, upon his coat, that I may know where that spot is.
And, when the battle rages, I will ride close behind him,
and ward off every threatened stroke."
And Kriemhild joyfully promised that she would at once
embroider a silken lime leaf on the hero's coat, just over
the fatal spot. And Hagen, well pleased, bade her farewell,
and went away.
Without delay the chief sought the weak-minded Gunther, and
to him he related all that the trustful Kriemhild had told
him. And, until the midnight hour, the two plotters sat in
the king's bed chamber, and laid their cunning plans. Both
thought it best, now they had learned the fatal secret, to
give up the sham march against the North-kings, and to seek
by other and easier means to lure Siegfried to his death.
"The chiefs will be much displeased," said Gunther. "For all
will come, ready to march at the rising of the sun. What
shall we do to please them, and make them more ready to
change their plans?"
Hagen thought a moment, and then the grim smile that was
wont to break the dark lines of his face when he was pleased
spread over his features.
"We will have a grand hunt in the Odenwald to-morrow," he
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics