How Siegfried Came to Worms.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #31
It was seldom that sorrow of heart perturbed the prince. He heard tales told of how there lived in Burgundy a comely maid, fashioned wondrous fair, from whom he thereafter gained much of joy, but suffering, too. Her beauty out of measure was known far and wide. So many a here heard of her noble mind, that it alone brought many a guest (1) to Gunther's land. But however many were seen wooing for her love, Kriemhild never confessed within her heart that she listed any for a lover. He was still a stranger to her, whose rule she later owned. Then did the son of Siegelind aspire to lofty love; the wooing of all others was to his but as the wind, for well he wot how to gain a lady fair. In later days the noble Kriemhild became bold Siegfried's bride. Kinsmen and liegemen enow advised him, since he would have hope of constant love, that he woo one who was his peer. At this bold Siegfried spake: "Then will I choose Kriemhild, the fair maid of Burgundy, for her beauty beyond measure. This I know full well, never was emperor so mighty, and he would have a wife, that it would not beseem him to love this noble queen."
Tidings of this reached Siegmund's ear; through the talk of the courtiers he was made ware of the wish of his son. Full loth it was to the king, that his child would woo the glorious maid. Siegelind heard it too, the wife of the noble king. Greatly she feared for her child, for full well she knew Gunther and his men. Therefore they sought to turn the hero from this venture. Up spake then the daring Siegfried: "Dear father mine, I would fain ever be without the love of noble dames, if I may not woo her in whom my heart hath great delight; whatsoever any may aver, it will avail but naught."
"And thou wilt not turn back," spake the king, "then am I in sooth glad of thy will and will help thee bring it to pass, as best I may. Yet hath this King Gunther full many a haughty man. If there were none else but Hagen, the doughty knight, he can use such arrogance that I fear me it will repent us sore, if we woo this high-born maid."
Then Siegfried made reply: "Wherefore need that hinder us? What I may not obtain from them in friendly wise, that my hand and its strength can gain. I trow that 1 can wrest from him both folk and land."
To this Prince Siegmund replied: "Thy speech liketh me not, for if this tale were told upon the Rhine, then durst thou never ride unto that land. Long time have Gunther and Gernot been known to me. By force may none win the maid, of this have I been well assured; but wilt thou ride with warriors unto this land, and we still have aught of friends, they shall be summoned soon."
"It is not to my mind," spake again Siegfried, "that warriors should follow me to the Rhine, as if for battle, that I constrain thereby the noble maid. My single hand can win her well -- with eleven (2) comrades I will fare to Gunther's land; thereto shalt thou help me, Father Siegmund." Then to his knights they gave for garments furs both gray and vair. (3)
Now his mother Siegelind also heard the tale. She began to make dole for her loved child, whom she feared to lose through Gunther's men. Sorely the noble queen gan weep. Lord Siegfried hied him straightway to where he saw her; to his mother he spake in gentle wise: "Lady, ye must not weep for me; naught have I to fear from all his fighting men. I pray you, speed me on my journey to the Burgundian land, that I and my warriors may have array such as proud heroes can wear with honor; for this I will say you gramercy i' faith."
"Since naught will turn thee," spake then the Lady Siegelind, "so will I speed thee on thy journey, mine only child, with the best of weeds that ever knight did wear, thee and thy comrades. Ye shall have enow."
Siegfried, the youth, then made low obeisance to the queen. He spake: "None but twelve warriors will I have upon the way. Let raiment be made ready for them, I pray, for I would fain see how it standeth with Kriemhild."
Then sate fair ladies night and day. Few enow of them, I trow, did ease them, till Siegfried's weeds had all been wrought. Nor would he desist from faring forth. His father bade adorn the knightly garb in which his son should ride forth from Siegmund's land. The shining breastplates, too, were put in trim, also the stanch helmets and their shields both fair and broad. Now their journey to the Burgundian land drew near; man and wife began to fear lest they never should come home again. The heroes bade lade their sumpters with weapons and with harness. Their steeds were fair and their trappings red with gold. No need were there to live more proudly than Siegfried and his men. Then he asked for leave to journey to the land of Burgundy; this the king and queen sorrowfully vouchsafed. Lovingly he comforted them twain. "For my sake," spake he, "must ye not weep, nor have fear for me or for my life."
The warriors, too, were sad and many a maiden wept; I ween, their hearts did tell them rightly that many of their kinsmen would come to death because of this. Just cause had they for wailing; need enow they had in sooth.
Upon the seventh morning, forth upon the river sand at Worms the brave warriors pricked. Their armor was of ruddy gold and their trappings fashioned fair. Smoothly trotted the steeds of bold Siegfried's men. Their shields were new; gleaming and broad and fair their helmets, as Siegfried, the bold, rode to court in Gunther's land. Never had such princely attire been seen on heroes; their sword-points hung down to their spurs. Sharp javelins were borne by these chosen knights. Siegfried wielded one full two spans broad, which upon its edges cut most dangerously. In their hands they held gold-colored bridles; their martingales were silken: so they came into the land. Everywhere the folk began to gape amazed and many of Gunther's men fared forth to meet them. High-mettled warriors, both knight and squire, betook them to the lords (as was but right), and received into the land of their lords these guests and took from their hands the black sumpters which bore the shields. The steeds, too, they wished to lead away for easement. How boldly then brave Siegfried spake: "Let stand the mounts of me and of my men. We will soon hence again, of this have I great desire. Whosoever knoweth rightly where I can find the king, Gunther, the mighty, of Burgundian land, let him not keep his peace but tell me."
Then up spake one to whom it was rightly known: "Would ye find the king, that can hap full well. In yon broad hall with his heroes did I but see him. Ye must hither hie you; there ye may find with him many a lordly man."
To the king now the word was brought, that full lusty knights were come, who wore white breastplates and princely garb. None knew them in the Burgundian land. Much it wondered the king whence came these lordly warriors in such shining array, with such good shields, both new and broad. Loth was it to Gunther, that none could tell him this. Then Ortwin of Metz (a bold and mighty man was he) made answer to the king: "Since we know them not, ye should send for mine uncle Hagen, and let him see them. To him are known (4) all kingdoms and foreign lands. If so be he knoweth these lords, he will tell us straightway."
Then bade the king that Hagen and his men be brought. One saw him with his warriors striding in lordly wise unto the court.
"What would the king of me?" asked Hagen.
"There be come to my house strange warriors, whelm here none knoweth. If ye have ever seen them, I pray you, Hagen, tell me now the truth."
"That will I," spake then Hagen. He hied him to a window and over the guests he let his glances roam. Well liked him their trappings and their array, but full strange were they to him in the Burgundian land. He spake: "From wheresoever these warriors be come unto the Rhine, they may well be princes or envoys of kings, for their steeds are fair and their garments passing good. Whencesoever they bear these, forsooth high-mettled warriors be they."
"I dare well say," so spake Hagen, "though I never have seen Siegfried, yet can I well believe, however this may be, that he is the warrior that strideth yonder in such lordly wise. He bringeth new tidings hither to this land. By this here's hand were slain the bold Nibelungs, Schilbung and Nibelung, (5) sons of a mighty king. Since then he hath wrought great marvels with his huge strength. Once as the hero rode alone without all aid, he found before a mountain, as I have in sooth been told, by Nibelung's hoard full many a daring man. Strangers they were to him, till he gained knowledge of them there.
"The hoard of Nibelung was borne entire from out a hollow hill. Now hear a wondrous tale, of how the liegemen of Nibelung wished to divide it there. This the hero Siegfried saw and much it gan wonder him. So near was he now come to them, that he beheld the heroes, and the knights espied him, too. One among them spake: `Here cometh the mighty Siegfried, the hero of Netherland.' Passing strange were the tidings that, he found among the Nibelungs. Schilbung and Nibelung greeted well the knight; with one accord these young and noble lordings bade the stately man divide the hoard. Eagerly they asked it, and the lord in turn gan vow it to them.
"He beheld such store of gems, as we have heard said, that a hundred wains might not bear the lead; still more was there of ruddy gold from the Nibelung land. All this the hand of the daring Siegfried should divide. As a guerdon they gave him the sword of Nibelung, but they were served full ill by the service which the good knight Siegfried should render them. Nor could he end it for them; angry of mood (6) they grew. Twelve bold men of their kith were there, mighty giants these. What might that avail them! Siegfried's hand slew them soon in wrath, and seven hundred warriors from the Nibelung land he vanquished with the good sword Balmung. (7) Because of the great fear that, many a young warrior had of the sword and of the valiant man, they made the land and its castles subject to his hand. Likewise both the mighty kings he slew, but soon he himself was sorely pressed by Alberich. (8) The latter weened to venge straightway his masters, till he then discovered Siegfried's mighty strength; for no match for him was the sturdy dwarf. Like wild lions they ran to the hill, where from Alberich he won the Cloak of Darkness. (9) Thus did Siegfried, the terrible, become master of the hoard; those who had dared the combat, all lay there slain. Soon bade he cart and bear the treasure to the place from whence the men of Nibelung had borne it forth. He made Alberich, the strong, warden of the hoard and bade him swear an oath to serve him as his knave; and fit he was for work of every sort."
So spake Hagen of Troneg: "This he hath done. Nevermore did warrior win such mighty strength. I wot yet more of him: it is known to me that the hero slew a dragon and bathed him in the blood, so that his skin became like horn. Therefore no weapons will cut him, as hath full oft been seen. All the better must we greet this lord, that we may not earn the youthful warrior's hate. So bold is he that we should hold him as a friend, for he hath wrought full many a wonder by his strength."
Then spake the mighty king: "Thou mayst well have right. Behold how valiantly he with his knights doth stand in lust of battle, the daring man! Let us go down to meet the warrior."
"That ye may do with honor," spake then Hagen; "he is of noble race, son of a mighty king. God wot, methinks, he beareth him in such wise, that it can be no little matter for which he hath ridden hither."
"Now be he welcome to us," spake then the king of the land. "He is both noble and brave, as I have heard full well. This shall stand him in good stead in the Burgundian land." Then went Lord Gunther to where Siegfried stood.
The host and his warriors received the guest in such wise that full little was there lack of worship. Low bowed the stately man, that they had greeted him so fair. "It wondereth me," spake the king straightway, "whence ye, noble Siegfried, be come unto this land, or what ye seek at Worms upon the Rhine."
Then the stranger made answer to the king: "This will I not conceal from you. Tales were told me in my father's land, that here with you were the boldest warriors that ever king did gain. This I have often heard, and that I might know it of a truth, therefore am I come. Likewise do I hear boasting of your valor, that no bolder king hath ever been seen. This the folk relate much through all these lands. Therefore will I not turn back, till it be known to me. I also am a warrior and was to wear a crown. Fain would I bring it to pass that it may be said of me: Rightly doth he rule both folk and land. Of this shall my head and honor be a pledge. Now be ye so bold, as hath been told me, I reck not be it lief or loth to any man, I will gain from you whatso ye have -- land and castles shall be subject to my hand."
The king had likewise his men had marvel at the tidings they here heard, that he was willed to take from them their land. The knights waxed wroth, as they heard this word. "How have I earned this," spake Gunther, the knight, "that we should lose by the force of any man that which my father hath rules so long with honor? We should let it ill appear that we, too, are used in knightly ways."
"In no wise will I desist," spake again the valiant man. "Unless it be that through thy strength thy land have peace, I will rule it all. And shouldst thou gain, by thy strength, my ancestral lands, they shall be subject to thy sway. Thy lands, and mine as well, shall lie alike; whether of us twain can triumph over the other, him shall both land and people serve."
Hagen and Gernot, too, straightway gainsaid this. "We have no wish," spake Gernot, "that we should conquer aught of lands, or that any man lie dead at hero's hands. We have rich lands, which serve us, as is meet, nor hath any a better claim to them than we."
There stood his kinsmen, grim of mood; among them, too, Ortwin of Metz. "It doth irk me much to hear these words of peace," spake he; "the mighty Siegfried hath defied you for no just cause. Had ye and your brothers no meet defense, and even if he led a kingly troop, I trow well so to fight that the daring man have good cause to leave this haughty mien."
At this the hero of Netherland grew wonderly wroth. He spake: "Thy hand shall not presume against me. I am a mighty king, a king's vassal thou. Twelve of thy ilk durst not match me in strife."
Then Ortwin of Metz called loudly for swords. Well was he fit to be Hagen of Troneg's sister's son. It rued the king that he had held his peace so long. Then Gernot, the bold and lusty knight, came in between. He spake to Ortwin: "Now give over thy anger. Lord Siegfried hath done us no such wrong, but that we may still part the strife in courteous wise. Be advised of me and hold him still as friend; far better will this beseem us."
Then spake the doughty Hagen: "It may well grieve us and all thy knights that he ever rode for battle to the Rhine. He should have given it over; my lordings never would have done such ill to him."
To this Siegfried, the mighty man, made answer: "Doth this irk you, Sir Hagen, which I spake, then will I let you see that my hands shall have dominion here in the Burgundian land."
"I alone will hinder this," answered Gernot, and he forbade his knights speak aught with haughtiness that might cause rue. Siegfried, too, then bethought him of the noble maid.
"How might it beseem us to fight with you?" spake Gernot anew. "However really heroes should lie dead because of this, we should have scant honor therefrom and ye but little gain."
To this Siegfried, the son of Siegmund, made reply: "Why waiteth Hagen, and Ortwin, too, that he hasteth not to fight with his kin, of whom he hath so many here in Burgundy?"
At this all held their peace; such was Gernot's counsel. Then spake Queen Uta's son: "Ye shall be welcome to us with all your war-mates, who are come with you. We shall gladly serve you, I and all my kin."
Then for the guests they bade pour out King Gunther's wine. The master of the land then spake: "All that we have, if ye desire it in honorable wise, shall owe fealty to you; with you shall both life and goods be shared."
At this Lord Siegfried grew of somewhat gentler mood. Then they bade that care be taken of the armor of the guests. The best of hostels that men might find were sought for Siegfried's squires; great easement they gave them. Thereafter they gladly saw the guest in Burgundy. Many a day they offered him great worship, a thousand fold more than I can tell you. This his prowess wrought; ye may well believe, full scant a one he saw who was his foe.
Whenever the lordings and their liegemen did play at knightly games, Siegfried was aye the best, whatever they began. Herein could no one match him, so mighty was his strength, whether they threw the stone or hurled the shaft. When through courtesie the full lusty knights made merry with the ladies, there were they glad to see the hero of Netherland, for upon high love his heart was bent. He was aye ready for whatso they undertook, but in his heart he bare a lovely maid, whom he had never seen. She too, who in secret spake full well of him, cherished him alone. Whenever the pages, squires, and knights would play their games within the court, Kriemhild, the noble queen, watched them from the windows, for no other pastime she needed on such days. Had he known that she gazed on him thus, whom he bare within his heart, then had he had pastime enough, I trow, for well I wot that no greater joy in all this world could chance to him.
Whenever he stood by the heroes in the court, as men still are wont to do, for pastime's sake, so winsome was the posture of Siegelind's son, that many a lady loved him for very joy of heart. But he bethought him many a day: "How shall that hap, that I with mine own eyes may see the noble maid, whom I do love with all my heart and so have done long time. Sadly must I stand, sith she be still a stranger to me."
Whenever the mighty kings fared forth into their land, the warriors all must needs accompany them at hand, and Siegfried, too. This the lady rued, and he, too, suffered many pangs for love of her. Thus he dwelt with the lordings, of a truth, full a year in Gunther's land, and in all this time he saw not once the lovely maid, from whom in later days there happed to him much joy and eke much woe.
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(1) "Guest" translates here the M.H.G. "gest", a word which may mean either 'guest' or 'stranger,' and it is often difficult, as here, to tell to which meaning the preference should be given. (2) "Eleven" translates the M.H.G. "selbe zwelfte", which means one of twelve. The accounts are, however, contradictory, as a few lines below mention is made of twelve companions of Siegfried. (3) "Vair" (O.F. "vair", Lat. "varius"), 'variegated', like the fur of the squirrel. (4) "Known". It was a mark of the experienced warrior, that he was acquainted with the customs and dress of various countries and with the names and lineage of all important personages. Thus in the "Hildebrandslied" Hildebrand asks Hadubrand to tell him his father's name, and adds: "If thou tellest me the one, I shall know the other." (5) "Schilbung" and "Nibelung", here spoken of as the sons of a mighty king, were originally dwarfs, and, according to some authorities, the original owners of the treasure. Boer, ix, 199, thinks, however, that the name Nibelungs was transferred from Hagen to these dwarfs at a late stage in the formation of the saga. (6) "Angry of mood". The reason of this anger is apparent from the more detailed account in "Biterolf", 7801. The quarrel arose from the fact that, according to ancient law, Siegfried acquired with the sword the rights of the first born, which the brothers, however, refused to accord to him. (7) "Balmung". In the older Norse version and in the "Thidreksaga" Siegfried's sword bore the name of Gram. (8) "Alberich" is a dwarf king who appears in a number of legends, e.g., in the "Ortnit saga" and in "Biterolf". Under the Romance form of his name, "Oberon", he plays an important role in modern literature. (9) "Cloak of Darkness". This translates the M.H.G. "tarnkappe", a word often retained by translators. It is formed from O.H.G. tarni, 'secret' (cf. O.E. "dyrne"), and "kappe" from late Latin "cappa", 'cloak'. It rendered the wearer invisible and gave him the strength of twelve men.