TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Promise of Kriemhild
The Fair Princess--Her Dream and her Desire--Arrival of her Lover--Hagen's Warning--The Year of Waiting--War declared--Siegfried's Great Deeds--Two Kings taken captive--Lovers meet--A Vision of Beauty--The Worthy Knight--The Kiss and the Vow--Gunther desires Brunhild--Siegfried's Reward.
THE Princess Kriemhild was of great beauty, nor could her equal be found in any land. Many a gallant knight came to death seeking to win her. When her sire, the King of Burgundy died, she was guarded by her three brothers, Gunther and Gernot and Giselher. The queen mother, who was named Ute, had much wealth, and dwelt with her three brave sons and fair daughter in a splendid and stately palace at Worms.
Now it chanced that, ere Siegfried came, Kriemhild dreamt a strange dream, and in the morning she spake regarding it to her mother, saying:
"Methought that I did possess a falcon which was strong and of noble seeming. It was faithful to my will, but there came two fierce eagles and slew it before my eyes. I wept; never did I endure greater sorrow."
The wise old queen said: "I can read thy dream, my child. Thou shalt have a strong and noble husband, but early shall he be taken from thee."
"Dear mother mine," pleaded the princess, "speak not to me of a husband. I desire not the love of any man. My heart's wish is to be ever fair, and to live with thee as I live now until death comes. I seek not the sorrow that love doth surely bring."
"If ever thou shalt have surpassing joy in this life," Ute said, "it shall be given thee by a husband's love. Ah, Kriemhild, thou wouldst indeed be a comely bride! May God send hither a knight who is worthy thee."
Kriemhild blushed. "Speak not again in such wise, mother mine," she said softly. "Full oft is it found by women that their bliss but leads to great sorrow. Neither shall I seek, so that I may avoid all misfortune."
But although the fair princess was long thus minded, the time came when she knew the love of a noble knight, to whom in the end she was wedded. But even as the falcon of her dream was slain, so was her husband. He fell by the hands of her own kinsmen, and so great was her desire for vengeance that many found death ere it was fulfilled.
Siegfried and his knights came riding towards the palace at Worms. Many marvelled greatly to behold them, so noble were they and so richly apparelled. Their raiment flashed with gold, and gold-decked were their bridles. In shining armour they came; high were their helms, and their shields were new and bright. On proudly stepping steeds they rode their stately way, with clink of sword and spear and clang of armour. Siegfried led them on. Nor ever was beheld a fairer knight; on his shield a crown was painted, and he wore the great and matchless blade Balmung, which men gazed upon with wonder.
Tidings were borne to the palace of the prince's approach. King Gunther wondered who he might be, so he bade Hagen to survey him from a window.
Hagen did so and said: "Never have I gazed upon Siegfried, but methinks this noble knight is him and no other. Surely he cometh hither to seek some new enterprise. . . It was this same prince who overcame the Nibelungs and possessed himself of their treasure. For he fought against giants and slew them, and wrested from the dwarf Alberich the Cloak of Obscurity. Never was there a greater hero. He killed the dragon of the forest and bathed himself in its blood, so that no weapon can wound him. Let Siegfried be given welcome, O king. Worthy is he indeed of the friendship of brave men."
The king went forth from the palace. He welcomed the prince. Then he spoke to him saying:
"Why hast thou come hither unto Worms?"
Siegfried made bold answer. "The fame of thy brave knights," he said, "hath gone abroad. I would fain combat with them and with thee for all thy lands and thy strongholds."
But the king spoke words of peace, and sought to have the prince for his ally. In the end his will prevailed, and Siegfried and the knights drank wine together with Gunther.
Thereafter they held games, and Siegfried outshone all others by reason of his strength and skill, for there were none who could throw boulders or shoot arrows like to him. When the knights tilted in the courtyard the eyes of many fair maidens were turned upon the stranger knight.
Fair Kriemhild peered forth from a palace window. She was well content to watch the noble prince. Siegfried beheld her not, but he knew that his loved one was gazing upon him. Yet at heart was he sad, and he wondered how he could win her.
Click to enlarge
KING GUNTHER WELCOMES SIEGFRIED
From the painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Next day the king and all his men went forth to hunt. Siegfried went with them, and Kriemhild fretted alone. Heavy, too, was the heart of the prince.
The weeks went past and the months; the knights hunted oft and vied one with another at sports, but the lovers met not. Nor did Siegfried ever once behold the fair lady he sought for his bride. So was a long year of waiting endured by the twain.
Now it chanced that two kings, who were brothers, desired to war against Gunther and invade his kingdom. Namely were they Ludger of the Saxons, and Ludgast of the Danes. They sent envoys to Worms to make demand of the tribute which was paid aforetime; but Gunther, having taken counsel of Siegfried and his knights, answered them "Nay", and called forth his war-men and made ready for conflict.
Ere long the armies met in battle array. The Danes and Saxons were in number forty thousand, and the strength of the Burgundians was not nigh so great. But great were the deeds of Siegfried, and on the field there was not his equal.
Ere the battle began the prince challenged King Ludgast to single combat, and fiercely did they fight one against the other. Hard were the blows that Siegfried dealt with his sword, Balmung, and in the end the king yielded and was taken prisoner. Ludgast's knights sought to rescue him, but the prince slew thirty, so that but one escaped.
Hagen guarded the royal prisoner, and Gernot rushed into the fray with but a thousand men. Bravely fought the Burgundians. But Siegfried was their strong arm that day. Thrice he drave through the mass of foemen, and the blood of slain men ran behind him like to the Rhine waters. At length he came nigh to Ludger, whom he sought. The Saxon king knew well that his brother of Denmark had been taken captive, and he was wroth thereat. He deemed that Gernot had done the deed. But soon he discovered the truth. Not long did he combat with the heroic prince when he beheld upon his shield a shining crown.
"Cease fighting," the king cried to his men, "for the devil hath sent against me bold Siegfried, the son of Siegmund."
So the Saxon banner was lowered, and King Ludger was Siegfried's prisoner. Five hundred valiant knights were taken captive also, and were led to Worms by Hagen and Gernot.
Now a trusty messenger bore unto Kriemhild secret tidings of the battle, and when she heard of Siegfried's mighty deeds her face reddened like to the rose, and her heart rejoiced not only because he had won great renown, but for reason that he had suffered no hurt in battle.
The two captive kings were brought before Gunther, and they made offer of much gold for life ransom.
Then did Gunther speak nobly. "Thou shalt go free," he said, "but first let there be a peace treaty betwixt us."
Readily did the royal prisoners pledge themselves, and they were honoured as guests. The wounded knights were tended with care, and those who sought not to depart from Worms ere they were healed, remained as friends. The war was ended and there was peace, and Siegfried prepared to return to the Netherlands; but Gunther pleaded with him to tarry yet awhile. That the prince consented to do because of the love he bore for Kriemhild.
A great banquet was held thereafter. From far and near brave knights assembled to rejoice because that victory was given to their arms. All the high-born ladies were bidden as guests, and Queen Ute came with a hundred maidens. Many knights awaited the coming of that fair company, hoping that their eyes would be gladdened by sight of the beauteous princess. Siegfried hoped and waited also.
Then appeared the fairest of the fair. Like to the rose-red dawn beaming amidst murky clouds she came before them all. . . .
Ended was then the trouble of one who had long brooded over her; at last did he behold his heart's desire in all her beauty. Many gems were sparkling on her garments. Her cheeks were rose red and shining with love. . . . None who was there did ever before gaze upon such beauty. As the cloud-girt moon excelleth the stars, so did Kriemhild surpass in splendour all the women who were about her. . . . Gallant knights and gay were stirred with reckless desire to display their prowess before that fair lady.
The chamberlains made clear a path before her, yet did the love-lorn war-men press eagerly to gaze upon Kriemhild.
Siegfried was gladdened and made sorrowful. "How, ah, how can I win thee!" he sighed. "Alas, my hope is vain! I dare not draw nigh to thee. . . . Would I were dead."
His cheeks by turns were red and white. . . . Peerless he stood apart, the great son of Siegmund; noble was his bearing, and as fair was he to look upon as if he were, painted upon parchment by a cunning master. Truly was it said that eye did never behold a lordlier warrior.
The busy chamberlains bade the knights to stand aback, and they gazed with gladness upon the fair ladies, richly robed, who came following Queen Ute.
Then Gernot besought King Gunther that Siegfried be presented unto fair Kriemhild, and the prince was brought before his heart's desire, so that she might greet him. His sadness was swept from him, like dew before sunlight.
Modestly did the maiden greet the brave prince, and her cheeks reddened when he was nigh to her.
"Sir Siegfried, I bid thee welcome," she said; "a valiant and noble knight art thou."
His heart rejoiced thereat; he no longer despaired when he heard her voice, and, bowing low, he kissed her white hand. Then met their eyes, which were filled with secret love. The prince pressed her hand softly, and their hearts did beat together.
Never again had Siegfried such gladness of soul as at that sweet moment, when he turned to walk by her side. . . . All eyes were upon them, and one to the other said that never was there a knight worthier such a prize.
They went before the king, who bade Kriemhild to kiss the noble prince. . . . Nor did Siegfried conceive ere then that life had such joy in store for him.
King Gunther said: "Thus is Siegfried greeted because that many valiant men have fallen by his sword. . . . God grant that he shall never take leave of us."
So was the ceremony ended ere the banquet began. Kriemhild parted a little while from her lover. She went forth in radiant beauty amidst all her fair maidens; there were none like to her--none.
Ere long the lovers met again. The prince waited not for mass; he sought his heart's desire. So they spoke one to another, and she praised him sweetly, thanking God the while for his valour in battle.
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SIEGFRIED AND KRIEMHILD
From the painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Siegfried bowed low and said: "Thee shall I serve all my days, because that I love thee so."
For twelve days did the rejoicings continue, and each day the prince walked beside Kriemhild. . So was royal honour bestowed upon him. The guests made merry; they tilted in the courtyard, they feasted and drank wine together; but at length the time came for them to depart.
One by one they took leave of Ute and Kriemhild, as did also Siegfried, who was plunged thereat in despair.
"Never can I win her," he sighed. . . .
He went forth and called his men; his steed was quickly saddled, and he turned to ride homeward.
But Gunther, hearing of his sudden purpose, sent Giselher to plead with him to remain, saying: "Here thou canst ever see the fair maidens at will."
"Unsaddle the seeds," the prince commanded. "I thought to go forth but Giselher hath prevailed upon me to tarry yet a time."
Because of his love he remained there; nor could he have been happier elsewhere, for he spake to Kriemhild each day. . . . So time passed, but heavy was his heart with love. For love he tarried but to sorrow, and in the end he died for love.
Now it chanced that King Gunther desired greatly to have Brunhild for his bride. He spake with Siegfried thereanent. It was told that Brunhild had vowed to woo not any man who surpassed her not in feats. Great was her strength. First she flung a spear, and her wooer must needs excel her with his. Then cast she a stone, and leapt as far. The knight who failed in either trial was speedily slain. Many sought to woo her, and many died because of their boldness.
Gunther boasted that never was there a woman born whom he could not vanquish. But Siegfried warned him, saying:
"Thou knowest not Brunhild, who hath the strength of four men. Go not unto her if thou dost prize thy life."
"So great is her beauty," the king said, "that I must needs try to win her."
Hagen counselled that he should take Siegfried with him; whereat the king offered the prince reward of honour and service if he would aid him to win Brunhild.
Siegfried said: "If thou shalt give me Kriemhild for wife, thee shall I serve in this thy enterprise. Nor other reward do I seek."
Gunther said: "Thine shall Kriemhild be when I return unto my kingdom with Brunhild for wife."
So they took vows together, and made plans for their journey. The king desired to have an army with him, but the prince prevailed upon him to go forth with only the brothers Hagen and Dankwart and himself. Then Siegfried said that he would take with him the Cloak of Obscurity, which he had won from the dwarf Alberich.
To Kriemhild went Gunther and the prince, and besought her to have fashioned for the four knights raiment both rich and goodly, and the king said they must needs have three changes for four days.
The fair princess set her maids to work, and she herself did cut out each garment. Snow-white silk from Araby and Zazamanc, and silk, green as clover, did the princess bring forth, and silks also from Libya and Morocco. With rare gems was the rich attire adorned, and wrought also with embroideries of gleaming gold. The black-spotted ermine was spared not, and linings were made of bright fishes' skins.
When the king and his three brave knights were all apparelled, each one vowed that their equals were never before beheld.
Kriemhild pleaded with Gunther to go not forth upon his perilous enterprise, but he would not be changed in his intent. The princess wept when farewells were spoken, and to Siegfried she said:
"To thy care do I commend my brother, King Gunther."
Siegfried answered her: "Sorrow not, nor have any fear. If I die not, I shall bring him back again in safety to the Rhineland."
Kriemhild gave him thanks, and was comforted.
Then were their shields of gold and bright weapons and armour carried to the shore. They went aboard--Gunther, the king; Siegfried, Prince of the Netherlands, and the valiant brothers, Hagen and Dankwart.
The white sail was spread; a fair wind filled it, and the ship went down the Rhine.
Many fair maidens watched from windows. Kriemhild wept as the ship fared on.