TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
How Brunhild and Kriemhild were won
Brunhild's Domain--The King and his Vassal--Wooing the Amazon--Her Challenge--Misgivings--Siegfried aids Gunther--Spear and Boulder Contests--Brunhild is won--Fears of Treachery--Siegfried's Secret Mission--Adventure in Nibelung--The Army--Return to Burgundy--Wedding Feast--Brunhild's jealousy--Struggle in Darkness--Invitation to Worms.
FOR the space of twelve days the ship voyaged across the sea, and then drew nigh to a strange shore. Siegfried had beheld it aforetime, and knew that it was Isenland, but Gunther and his knights gazed with wonder on the green lands and the many castles towering upon the headlands.
"He who did cause these strongholds to be built," the king said, "must indeed be a mighty monarch."
"Thou dost now behold the many towers and the fair domain of Queen Brunhild, "said Siegfried. "Yonder is the great castle of Isenland."
The ship was steered into a safe haven, and the prince warned his fellows to have care of their doings in presence of the queen. "Thou shalt say," he counselled them, "that I am but a vassal to King Gunther."
They went ashore and mounted their steeds. Siegfried held the stirrup to the king; the twain were clad in snow-white silken raiment which glittered with bright jewels. Hagen and Dankwart were apparelled in black.
Tidings of their approach were borne unto Queen Brunhild. A courtier spake unto her, saying:
"There cometh hither, O queen, four goodly knights, and one is like unto Siegfried. With him is one of less noble seeming, but he rideth in front, and must therefore be a mighty king indeed. The other two resemble not one another. The first is black-browed and sullen, and fierce are his eyes; his fellow is fair to look upon and is yet of fearless bearing."
A force of knights bade the strangers to deliver up their arms. Unwilling was Hagen to do so, but Siegfried said that such was the custom of the country. Ill at ease were Gunther and Hagen and Dankwart when they beheld the queen and all her maidens coming towards them in midst of five hundred knights with drawn swords.
Brunhild spake to Siegfried only. She bade him welcome to her kingdom.
Then she asked of him: "Why dost thou come hither now with these goodly knights?"
Siegfried made answer: "I thank thee, O Queen, for thy greeting. This noble knight whom I serve is King Gunther. I have followed him because such is his will, else I should not have come hither. He desireth with all his heart to have thee for his bride."
"If such is his desire," Brunhild answered coldly, "the king must needs contend against me in the lists. If he proves to be the stronger, I shall be his bride; but if he fails, then must he and those who are with him be put to death."
Hagen said: "The king shall for certain prevail, because he doth so greatly desire to wed thee."
Brunhild answered him, saying: "Then must he cast the stone and leap to the spot where it falls, as I shall do, and he must also contend with me at spear-throwing. Be not too certain of his success. Consider well my challenge."
Siegfried whispered to Gunther, saying: "Fear not, for I shall give thee mine aid."
Then the king spake boldly unto Brunhild. "For thy dear sake," he said, "I shall risk my life, contending against thee even as thou dost desire."
Brunhild was made angry, and so fierce was she of aspect when her armour was put on, that Hagen and Dankwart feared for the life of the king.
Meanwhile Siegfried had hastened towards the ship. He donned the Cloak of Obscurity, which gave to him the strength of twelve men. Then he returned to the lists unseen by any who were there.
A ring was made, and Brunhild's seven hundred knights stood round it fully armed with naked swords.
Then the great queen came forth. Four men carried her shield, and when Hagen beheld that he cried: "Alas! King Gunther, she is the devil's bride. We shall surely be slain."
Three men carried Brunhild's mighty spear. Gunther began to be afraid, and wished that he were back again in Burgundy.
"Not even the devil could escape her," said he.
Dankwart lamented that their arms were taken from them. "Had Hagen and I but our swords," he said, "Brunhild's war-men would be less arrogant." Hagen spake likewise, and the queen, who heard what was said, bade that their armour and weapons be returned to them.
Then was a boulder carried towards the queen by twelve knights. . . . The men of Burgundy were stricken with fear . . . . . "Would indeed that the devil had her," groaned Hagen.
Brunhild made ready to cast the stone. Gunther watched her with mute amaze. His heart sunk within him. Then it was that Siegfried, wrapped in the Cloak of Obscurity, stole to his side and touched his arm. . . .
The king started. He looked behind him, but saw no man. "Who laid his hand upon my arm?" he asked hoarsely.
"Hush!" whispered Siegfried. "I have come to help thee; so be not afraid."
First Brunhild flung her great spear against Gunther. He would have perished then, but Siegfried warded off the blow, yet not without hurt to himself.
Without delay the prince hurled back the spear, so that the haft struck the queen, for he desired not to slay her. She was felled to the ground. . . . Angrily she arose, but she praised the king for this prowess.
Thereafter Brunhild seized the mighty boulder with both hands, and, having flung it a great distance, she leapt beyond the place where it fell.
Gunther then went towards the boulder with the invisible prince. By the king did it seem to be lifted and thrown, but the mighty deed was accomplished by Siegfried, who cast the stone farther than Brunhild, and leapt farther with Gunther in his arms. 1
Wroth was the queen because that her feats were surpassed, but she spake to her knights, saying:
"Now is Gunther made king over ye all."
Her, face was flushed; her heart thirsted for vengeance.
The warriors of Isenland came towards the King of Burgundy and laid their weapons at his feet. They deemed not that it was Siegfried who had accomplished the mighty deeds and saved Gunther's life.
Meanwhile the prince hastened from the field and returned to the ship, in which he concealed the Cloak of Obscurity. Thereafter he came towards the castle and spake to Gunther, asking him when the trial of feats would begin. So did he deceive Brunhild and her people.
The queen delayed her departure from Isenland, and began to assemble a mighty army. Fearing that she meant ill towards them, Siegfried spake to Gunther and said that he must needs hasten to the kingdom of the Nibelungs and bring back with him a thousand knights, who would be their sure defence. The king was made glad thereat.
Once again did Siegfried assume the Cloak of Obscurity. Then he entered a boat and made it sail swiftly over the waves. Many gazed seaward with wonder, thinking that the boat was driven by wind and tide, for they saw not the prince.
Night had fallen black when Siegfried reached the Nibelung kingdom. He went towards the door of the great mountain in which the treasure hoard was concealed. He knocked loudly, demanding admittance as a weary traveller. In a strange voice he spoke, and the giant porter, who was moved to anger, seizing his shield, opened the door.
"Darest thou with thine evil clamour to awake our people?" the porter growled, and then struck a savage blow. Siegfried parried, but the giant smote again. He came nigh to overcoming the prince, who was greatly alarmed, and yet at heart proud of his strong servant.
For a time they fought hard together, but at length Siegfried threw down the giant and bound him.
Then came against him Alberich, the dwarf, clad in full armour; he fought with a mace which had seven balls on chains. The prince was for a time in great peril, but he overcame the dwarf also, and bound him.
Alberich then cried: "Had I not already vowed to serve another knight, thy slave would I be. Who art thou?"
Said the prince: "My name is Siegfried. Knowest thou me not?"
"Glad am I it is thee and no other," the dwarf said. "Worthy indeed art thou to be King of the Nibelungs."
Then Siegfried unbound the dwarf and the giant, and gave order that a thousand knights be brought forth to do him service. Alberich awakened the heroes who were within, and thirty thousand hastened to obey the ruler. He chose from among them a thousand, and they all sailed forth together in many fair ships towards Isenland, where Brunhild reigned as queen, and Gunther and Hagen and Dankwart awaited their coming.
When three days had passed, Brunhild and her maidens saw, looking from the castle windows, the white sails of many fair ships coming over the sea towards Isenland. The queen was stricken with alarm, fearing a sudden invasion, but Gunther told her that the vessels bore his vassal Siegfried and certain of his own warriors whom he had left behind.
Brunhild went to the beach, and the first she greeted as aforetime was Siegfried. He was clad in gorgeous raiment, and noble was his bearing. . . . Thus was Gunther rescued from peril once again by the Prince of the Netherlands.
The queen then realized she must needs depart from Isenland, and, having chosen her mother's brother to be chief ruler, she sailed towards Burgundy with Gunther and his knights. But she refused to be wed until she had reached the palace at Worms.
A swift and easy voyage was made, and when they were nigh to home Siegfried was sent ahead as envoy to Worms, so that Queen Ute and the Princess Kriemhild might know how the king had prospered.
Giselher beheld first the prince's approach, and he told his mother and fair sister that Siegfried was nigh. . . . Their hearts were filled with dark forebodings, but soon did the prince make them to rejoice with his glad tidings.
Siegfried sat by Kriemhild's side. Her face was rose-red with love, and it was her heart's desire to kiss him. . . .
"Gunther entreats thee to come to the shore, the prince said, "so that thou mayest welcome Brunhild hither."
Kriemhild went gladly with all her maidens, and Giselher led forth a great force of war-men. Brunhild was well pleased because that Gunther was a mighty ruler, and Kriemhild and she kissed one another with love. Together then they all made their way towards the stately palace at Worms.
A great banquet was held, and Gunther and Brunhild were wed. Thereafter in secret did Siegfried speak unto the king, saying:
"Hast thou no memory of thy vow? Thou didst swear that when Brunhild came hither I would be given Kriemhild for wife. . . . Well have I served thee."
Gunther said: "I forswear not my oath. What I can do that shall I do now."
So the king called Kriemhild before him and said: "Thee did I promise unto Siegfried, and if thou wilt have him now my heart's desire will be fulfilled."
Click to enlarge
BRUNHILD'S ARRIVAL AT WORMS
From the painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld
The princess answered: "Him I shall wed with great joy."
Then were the oaths sworn betwixt them. Proud and happy was the noble prince; maidenly and demure was the beauteous princess.
They all sat down to feast together. Brunhild was at Gunther's side. Her face was pale and cold, and when she beheld Siegfried and Kriemhild together she began to weep bitterly.
The king spake to her and asked: "Why dost thou sorrow? 'Twere more seemly to make merry, for thou art now Queen of Burgundy."
"I weep," Brunhild said, "because that thy sister hath been wedded to thy vassal. . . . Great is my shame thereat."
Gunther told his queen then that Siegfried had lands and castles that were his own. "Great riches hath he," said Gunther, "and therefore am I glad that Kriemhild hath wedded with him."
But Brunhild still sorrowed, and refused to be comforted.
When the feast was over they all returned to their chambers, but Brunhild said she would not be as a wife to the king until he told her all concerning Siegfried and Kriemhild. Gunther was wroth, and answered not, seeking to appease her with caresses, but she laid hands upon him so that he was overpowered. Then, binding the king with her waist girdle, she hung him on the wall.
Next morning Gunther told Siegfried what had happened, and the prince promised once again to be his aid. So, when night fell, he assumed the Cloak of Obscurity and entered Gunther's bedchamber, where he wrestled with the queen. A fierce conflict it was, and Brunhild deemed that her opponent was none other than her husband. In the end Siegfried prevailed, and he took from her the silken waist girdle which she wore, and drew from her finger unawares a ring of fine gold. 2
Thus was Brunhild subdued; after that hour she had but the strength of other women.
Siegfried gave unto Kriemhild the girdle and the ring which had caused many knights to die in the lists at the castle of Isenland.
When the rejoicings came to an end the guests went their ways. Siegfried returned unto his own land, and Siegmund and Sieglind kissed and embraced him and his beauteous bride.
"Henceforward," Siegmund said, "my son shall reign as king." So spake he unto his people, and they rejoiced because that Siegfried was a mighty warrior.
Ten years went past, and a son was born to Kriemhild. He was named Gunther. At the same time Brunhild had a child, and he was called Siegfried.
All went well until Brunhild, who thought of Kriemhild with jealous heart, prevailed upon Gunther to invite Siegfried and his queen to a feast at Worms.
Gary went forth with the king's message, and was received with gladness by Siegfried and Kriemhild, and they bade him tell unto Gunther that they would both attend the feast.
When Gary returned to Worms, Brunhild asked of him: "Is Kriemhild still as fair as she was aforetime?"
The envoy answered her "Yea," and she brooded over it.
Brunhild still regarded Siegfried as a vassal to King Gunther, and she was angry because that he did not make payment of yearly tribute nor visit Worms to do homage, as befitted a subject ruler.
1 The stone-throwing contest is reminiscent of the duels of Scottish bill giants and giantesses, who contend one against the other from height to height. Sometimes a battleaxe and sometimes a stone hammer, but most often a boulder, is thrown. In Wales a mountain giant flings a quoit. In Ross-shire a giantess contends against a giant and wounds him on the forehead. Giantesses are often island dwellers like Brunhild, whose northern origin is not disputed, even by German folklorists. The Queen of Isenland was evidently a Hag heroine of a people among whom Matriarchy lingered as late as it did in the Pictish areas of Scotland. The wooing of Scathach by Cuchulainn is of similar character to the wooing of Brunhild. In the subsequent duel between Cuchulainn and his son, the latter throws his spear blunt end foremost.
2 Evidently her strength was due to the magic girdle. The dwarf Laurin, in Der Kleine Rosingarten, has a girdle which gives him the strength of twelve men. When Dietrich of Bern, wrestling with him, snatches it off, he has the dwarf in his power.