Nibelungs - George Upton

The Betrayal

Hagen now bethought him of a plan whereby he might learn from Kriemhild the secret of Siegfried's vulnerable spot. Some of his men donned the garb of foreign messengers and appeared at the court, with a false challenge from Lendeger and Lendegast, the two Kings Siegfried had formerly vanquished. Again Gunther wavered in his purpose, at the thought of such treachery toward Siegfried, who had ever been his loyal friend, and of whose innocence moreover he felt sure; but Hagen's evil counsel once more prevailed, and the voice of his conscience was stifled.

Siegfried soon perceived that something was amiss, and questioning Gunther as to the cause of his silence and gloom, drew from him that the Saxon and Danish Kings had sworn vengeance and were coming to lay waste the land. Whereupon he avowed himself ready and eager to meet Gunther's foes again in battle.

"Do thou bide here," he said, "whilst I with my eleven hundred chosen knights go forth and chastise this presumptuous pair."

Joyfully the hero made ready to depart, and Hagen, who had declared he would ride with them, went to take leave of Kriemhild. She besought him to be no longer angry with her for the words she had spoken to Brunhild, adding:

"I have been punished enough for my folly in my lord Siegfried's displeasure!"

"All is forgotten, fair lady," replied Hagen.

Nor is it save for love of King Siegfried that I go with him to this war. Should there be aught wherein it may avail, be sure he shall not lack my aid."

Then was Kriemhild overjoyed and began therewith to sound the praises of her lord, dwelling on the love and loyalty he had ever shown toward Burgundy, and her fear lest through his reckless valor he might perchance hazard his life.

Whereupon the wily Hagen answered: "Me-thinks there can be no danger to thy lord, since he is proof against all harm; yet tell me, I pray thee, if by any chance this be not so, that I may know how best to secure his safety."

At this, Kriemhild opened her heart to Hagen, and having full faith in his honesty and loyalty, confided to him how, when Siegfried had covered himself with the fat of the dragons, a linden leaf had fallen between his shoulders, leaving one spot wherein he might come to harm. Thereupon she charged him anew to guard Siegfried well, lest in the heat of battle some foe should wound him from the rear. Overjoyed with the success of his strategy, Hagen counselled Kriemhild to mark this spot upon Siegfried's garment, that he might be the better able to shield him, and vowing to bide faithfully at his side in battle, took his leave.

That same evening Kriemhild took the outer garment of her beloved spouse and wrought with finest silk upon it a small red cross—his death mark, alas! for Hagen saw and fixed the spot well in his mind. The next morning, as Siegfried and his well-armed followers were about to set forth, Hagen contrived that other messengers should appear with the news that the two Kings had taken counsel and determined to abandon the war with Burgundy.

Then have we armed to no purpose!" said Siegfried to Gunther, who nevertheless gave him thanks with fair but lying words for his willingness to aid them; and therewith, by Hagen's counsel, he urged Siegfried to go with them to a hunt on the following morning in the Vosges forest, for there it was that Hagen had planned to accomplish his evil purpose.