TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Betrayal of Siegfried
The Rival Queens--Their Quarrel--Brunhild plots against Siegfried--Hagen's Vow--The Tragic Hunt--How Siegfried was deceived--The Death Wound--Last Words--A Sad Homecoming--Kriemhild's Sorrow--Scene in Church--Blood Testimony--Gunther pleads for Forgiveness--Treasure taken to Worms--Where Hagen concealed it.
SIEGFRIED and Kriemhild went riding with a gay company towards Worms. There was joy in every heart, but it was fated to end in heavy grief. Prince Gunther journeyed not with them; never again did he behold his sire or his mother.
The aged King Siegmund rode forth with his son; he had desire to meet with Gunther and his knights, but had he known what sorrow was in store for him he would have fared not from the Netherlands.
Gunther gave to all of them right hearty welcome. The queens greeted one another with affection, but from that hour Brunhild could forbear not watching Kriemhild with jealous eyes. . . . When she beheld the twelve hundred knights of Siegfried, she said: "Never was there a subject king who had greater wealth." . . . The queen, however, gave meet entertainment to her guests; but ere long jealousy overcame love; the heart of Brunhild grieved because that Siegfried and his queen were so rich and powerful.
It fell that on a day when the knights tilted in the courtyard Kriemhild lauded her husband's prowess.
"Siegfried," she said, "excelleth every other knight as the moon doth the diminishing stars. For good reason take I pride in him."
"Valiant he may be," answered Brunhild, "yet thy brother Gunther surpasseth him, for he is the greatest of all kings."
"My brother is indeed a noble knight," Kriemhild said, "yet is my husband his equal."
Said Brunhild: "Did not the king surpass me in feats of strength in Isenland, what time Siegfried remained in the ship? He is but my husband's vassal. From his own lips I heard him confess it."
"Were Siegfried but a vassal," Kriemhild retorted, "thinkest thou that my brother would have given me unto him for wife? I pray thee to repeat not what thou hast said."
"That indeed I shall, said Brunhild. "Siegfried is our subject, and his knights await to do us service when called upon."
Angry was Kriemhild. "No service canst thou claim," she said. "My husband is greater than thine. If he were not he would have to pay tribute, and never hath he done so. I pray thee to cease thine annoyance.
"Boast not with empty pride," Brunhild cried angrily; "I am honoured far above thee."
"Know now," retorted Siegfried's queen, "that my husband is no vassal to thine, and is indeed a greater monarch. The kingdom of the Nibelungs he won by his strong right arm, and he hath inherited the Netherlands from his sire. To no man doth he owe allegiance. I am indeed a free and a mighty queen. Dare not to chide me. Thou shalt see when I enter church in thy company that I shall not walk behind."
"If thou art not my subject, then shalt thou go by thyself, nor walk in my train," Brunhild said.
In anger did Kriemhild leave the Queen of Burgundy, and she bade her maidens to put on their richest attire.
Many wondered to behold the queens walking apart. . . . It was doomed that many should sorrow because of that in aftertime.
When they met before the church Kriemhild went forward to enter first, and Brunhild forbade her. "Thou art my vassal," she said; "walk not before me."
"'Twere better that thou shouldst hold thy peace," retorted Kriemhild; "how can a vassal's paramour walk before a queen?"
"What dost thou mean?" Brunhild asked angrily. "Whom dost thou call a paramour?"
"None other than thee," answered Kriemhild. "Did not my husband win thee for thine? Thou didst prefer him thou now callest a vassal, forsooth. . . . Speak not to me any longer. Thou knowest the truth now."
Then Kriemhild entered the church, and Brunhild followed her, weeping sore. There was deadly hate betwixt them, and for that reason many a goodly knight went to his grave.
When the service was over, Brunhild confronted Kriemhild, saying: "Thou didst call me a paramour. I demand thee now to prove thy words."
"'Twere easy to prove them," retorted Kriemhild proudly, showing her rival the ring and the girdle which Siegfried had taken from her.
"A paramour to Siegfried thou wert indeed," she said.
Brunhild bowed her head with shame, weeping bitterly; and when Gunther asked her why she sorrowed she told him what Kriemhild had said.
Click to enlarge
KING GUNTHER AND BRUNHILD
From the painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Then was Siegfried brought before Gunther, and in Brunhild's presence he swore that he had never uttered what Kriemhild had boasted of.
"I grieve that my wife hath made Brunhild to sorrow," he said.
The knights who were there spake one to another. "Would that women might cease their gossip," said one. "Forbid your wives to boast about ye, else there will be strife and shame among us all."
But Brunhild was not comforted. It chanced that Hagen came nigh to her and found her weeping. He asked her why she did grieve so, and when she told him what Kriemhild had said, he waxed wroth because he had sworn allegiance unto Brunhild and served her faithfully, guarding her honour and her life.
"For this insult," he said fiercely, "Siegfried shall pay with his heart's blood. I shall avenge thee, O queen, or die."
Hagen spake to Gunther and the other knights in like manner, and he roused them all to enmity against Siegfried, who reeked not of their secret plotting.
Hagen first contrived that certain knights should visit Worms, making pretence that they came as envoys from King Ludgast declaring war against King Gunther. Siegfried made offer of his service, and Kriemhild was proud thereat, yet did she fear that ill would befall him because that he was reckless and overdaring in battle.
Hagen spake with her treacherously, and she told him that when her husband bathed his body in the dragon's blood a leaf covered, a spot betwixt his shoulders, and that if he were wounded there he would surely die. Brunhild's knight rejoiced in secret, but he promised to defend Siegfried, and counselled Kriemhild, that she should mark the spot by sewing a small red cross upon his clothing, so that he might know where to defend her loved one.
Then Hagen spake to the king, and Gunther arranged that they should go through the forest on a great hunt which would last many days.
Go not forth, Kriemhild pleaded with her husband. "I dreamt that thou wert given chase by two wild boars, and I saw the forest flowers made red with blood."
"Fear not for me, my heart's love," Siegfried said; "I go not a-hunting with foemen, but with thine own kin."
Kriemhild wept bitterly. "Alas! I fear for thy life," she cried. "But yesternight I did dream that thou wert caught betwixt two hills, which fell upon thee, and thou wert lost to my sight. . . . Stay with me here, Siegfried, else I shall sorrow without end."
Siegfried kissed and embraced her with tenderness, and then hastened to join the hunt.
She watched him through her tears as he went from her. Never again did she behold her dear one in life.
There was none like to Siegfried at the hunt. Many wild animals he slew, and he caught a bear alive and bound it, and when he set it free they all gave chase, but it would have escaped but for his valour.
They afterwards sat down to feast together. Food there was in plenty but no wine. Siegfried made complaint thereat, for he was grievously athirst, and he vowed he would never again hunt with them. Little did he dream that a plot was laid to accomplish his death.
Hagen said that there was a clear spring near by, from which they could take refreshment, and he challenged Siegfried to race with him thither for a wager.
Hagen stripped off his clothing, but Siegfried ran in full armour, carrying his shield and spear and his bow and quiver, and yet he reached the spring first. But the hero drank not. He cast off his armour, and laid his weapons on the grass to await the coming of Gunther, the king, so that he might have refreshment before any other.
Dearly did he pay for his courtesy. When the king had taken his fill, and Siegfried stooped down to drink, Hagen drew away stealthily the sword and the bow, and then plunged the spear through the hero's back at the spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the cross. He drew not forth the weapon, but made hurried escape. Never before did he run so swiftly from any man. Siegfried sprang up in anger, the spear sticking fast in his back, and sought for bow or sword to take vengeance on Hagen. But he found his shield only, and flung it after the traitor. It smote him to the ground, and the forest echoed the blow. Had Siegfried but his sword, in that hour Hagen would have been slain.
Snow-white grew the cheeks of that sore-wounded man, the lordly guest of Gunther: he sank to the ground; his strength went from him; death was in his face. Alas! many a fair woman wept tears for him in aftertime.
Among the flowers lay Kriemhild's noble husband, and they were made red with his life blood.
He spake faintly, bitterly reproaching those who had plotted treacherously against him. He called them cowards all. "I have served ye well," he said, "and thus am I repaid. The children yet unborn shall suffer for this foul deed."
Gunther wept. "Weep not for treachery, thou from whom treachery hast come," Siegfried said.
"Now is all danger past," cried Hagen; "I rejoice that he is brought low."
"Boast not, murderous man," Siegfried warned him; "in fair conflict I had naught to fear from thee. . . . Oh, Kriemhild, Kriemhild, my deepest grief is for thee! . . . Would that our son had never been born, because he must bear from his enemies the bitter reproach that his kinsmen are murderers and traitors."
Gunther he reproached for his ingratitude. "I have saved thy life," he said; "I have been the guardian of thine honour. This foul deed is my payment . . . . If thou hast any honour left, protect my wife, thy sister . . . ."
He groaned, for his wound afflicted him sore. Again he spake saying: "In days to come ye shall suffer for this monstrous deed; yourselves have you slain when ye slew me."
He spake no more. Among the blood-steeped flowers he struggled with death. . . .
They laid his corpse upon a golden shield and bore it towards Worms, and in the darkness they left it at the door of Kriemhild's dwelling.
In the morning, when the fair queen was going forth to prayers, she saw the dead body of Siegfried.
"My husband is dead," she cried. "Brunhild hath desired that he should be slain, and by Hagen was he murdered." Heavy was her heart with grief unutterable, nor could she be comforted.
Old King Siegmund embraced his dead son and wept bitterly.
Tenderly was Siegfried's body lifted and borne within; his wounds were washed; in grave robes was he dressed and laid upon a bier.
After three days of mourning the body was borne to the church, and many assembled there to gaze with sorrow upon the dead hero.
Gunther came and said that Siegfried had been slain by robbers. "I sorrow because that he is dead," he told Kriemhild.
"If there was sorrow in thine heart, she answered him, "my husband would not now be laid in death. Would I were dead and he were still alive!"
When Hagen approached the body of Siegfried the spear wound bled afresh. Thus was it proved to all who were there that he was indeed the murderer.
Great was the mourning on the day of Siegfried's funeral. Many wept in the streets. Kriemhild went to the grave, and or ever the coffin was covered over she besought to gaze once again upon the face of her husband. Her desire was granted her, and she lifted up that fair head in her white hands and kissed the death-cold lips of Siegfried. Then fell she in a swoon, nor did she open her eyes again until next morning.
Siegmund departed soon afterwards and journeyed to his own land. But Kriemhild would not return with him, because she desired to be avenged for her husband's death. She was ever mourning, but Brunhild cared not in her pride.
At length Gunther sought her forgiveness, deeming that she had mourned overlong. Kriemhild said: "I shall forgive him with my lips but never with my heart." Yet was she at length constrained to pardon all who had plotted the death of Siegfried, save Hagen, whom she could not suffer to look upon.
Hagen spake to Gunther of the Nibelung treasure, which he could not but think over, and the king contrived that Kriemhild should send for it. So came it to pass that a strong army was sent unto Siegfried's kingdom.
The dwarf Alberich lamented the loss of the Cloak of Obscurity; yet did he deliver up the vast treasure, in the midst of which was a magic rod which would give to the one who possessed it anything that might be wished for. But none knew its virtues.
Thus was all the wealth of the Nibelungs brought unto Kriemhild. She distributed gold to rich and poor, and many adventurous knights paid visit to Worms to share of her bounty. Wages she gave to a great number, so that ere long she had a strong force of war-men at her service.
Hagen was greatly alarmed thereat, and spoke unto the king of Kriemhild's doings. He counselled that the treasure should be taken from her; but Gunther refused to do any harm unto his sister because of the vows he had sworn. Then did Hagen seize the hoard by force, and carried it away. He sank it in the Rhine at Lochheim, with hope to enrich himself in after-time.
So was Kriemhild's immediate hope of vengeance cut off. She took her departure from Worms and went to dwell with her mother at Lorsch. There she embroidered tapestry with pictures of Balder, who had by his brother been slain.
There she tarried for many years, biding the hour of vengeance. Tidings at length came from beyond the Rhine which brought nearer the fulfilment of Siegfried's dying words: "Yourselves have ye slain when ye slew me."
Click to enlarge
THE DEATH OF SIEGFRIED
From the painting by F. Leeke. By Permission of Franz Hanfstaengl