Nibelungs - George Upton

The Contest

As Brunhild drew nigh, she greeted Siegfried, saying: "If it is to woo me that thou comest hither, take heed, for peradventure it may cost thee thy life!"

But Siegfried pointed to Gunther and replied: "Yonder stands the King of Burgundy, fair Queen, who comes to seek thy hand: as for me, I am but his vassal."

Then Gunther stepped forward to urge his suit before the Queen, but no reply would she vouch-safe, save to warn him that he must submit to the trial. Then Siegfried whispered to the King to be of good heart and rely on his aid; but Hagen became furious and defiantly offered to do battle with the Queen on behalf of his lord. Thereupon Brunhild threatened them all with death should the King not prevail; but finding that even this failed to shake their purpose, she commanded that the trial take place without delay. When they had come to the spot she donned a golden coat of mail and over this a silken tabard, edged with costly lace. Seven hundred knights then stepped forth and formed a circle about them: these were to be the judges of the contest.

Brunhild called for her weapons, whereupon there came four men bearing a golden shield, studded with steel and thickly set with gems even to the strap thereof. This they held while Brunhild, pushing up her sleeve, placed it on her arm, swinging it aloft as though it were but a shadow. Next came the javelin borne by three men. It was huge and heavy and tipped with a keen blade of steel. When Hagen saw the ease with which Brunhild wielded these mighty weapons, he was awed by her wellnigh superhuman strength, and for the first time in his life, fear crept into his heart.

"Would we had never left the Rhine," he thought, "for here shall we surely meet our death!"

And to Dankwart he said: "Were it the devil himself, methinks he must succumb to this woman "

Even Gunther felt his courage sink, while Dankwart, overcome with grief for his lord, whose life he held for lost, exclaimed: "Now, had we but our arms, brother Hagen, with my own hand would I strike down that beauteous she-devil, ere I would see my dear lord slain!"

But Brunhild overheard these words; whereat she looked around with a scornful smile upon her lips, and gave orders that the arms of the two knights should be restored to them. And when Dankwart felt his sword within his grasp once more his face flushed with joy. Now the contest was about to begin, and Gunther, wellnigh despairing, stood over against his beauteous adversary when of a sudden he heard a voice in his ear. He could see no one, but the voice said:

"It is I, Siegfried. Have no fear!"

Unobserved, the hero had hastened to the ship and put on the magic cap, which not only made him invisible but gave him the strength of twelve men.

"Do thou make a show of performing the feats," he whispered to the King, "while I will bear the shield and cast the javelin."

At these words Gunther's spirits rose. Now the signal was given and Brunhild hurled her spear. Fire flew from the King's shield as the spear drove clean through it, striking sparks from the mail beneath, and bearing both heroes to the earth. Blood poured from Siegfried's mouth but they quickly sprang to their feet again, and now was it Siegfried's turn to cast the javelin, albeit Gunther seemed to make the throw. Siegfried had turned the spear about lest the sharp point should wound the Queen. Away it sped, whizzing through the air, and struck her shield with such force that it rang again. Down fell Brunhild, but she rose undaunted and smilingly praised Gunther for his throw, for still was she confident the victory would be hers. Then she called for the stone, whereupon was brought a round stone so huge and massive that twelve men could scarce raise it from the ground. This she lifted, poised a moment, and then flung from her with so powerful an arm that it flew twelve fathoms length; nor was this amazing feat all, for with a mighty bound she sprang after the stone, overleaping it ere it touched the ground. Again Gunther lost heart, but when it came to his turn, Siegfried not only cast the stone far beyond Brunhild's mark, but, taking Gunther with him, he bounded so quickly after it that he caught it again before it fell.

Brunhild grew red with wrath, but was forced to own herself vanquished; wherefore turning to her courtiers, and with a gesture of the hand toward Gunther, she said:

"Now are ye henceforth true lieges to King Gunther, one and all!"

Then came all the chiefs to lay their arms at the feet of the King; and after he had saluted Brunhild with courtly words, she bade him repair with her to the marble palace, while Hagen and Dankwart followed to share in the honors of their lord.

But Siegfried had made all speed to the ship to lay aside the cap and now returning, sought the Queen and asked her if the contest would not soon begin. Brunhild confessed that she had lost the wager; whereupon Siegfried said:

"Right joyful news is this, fair Queen! Now of a truth must thou fare with us to the Rhine!"

To this Brunhild made no reply, but she forthwith summoned all her kinsmen and followers to the castle. Then from all quarters there began to assemble so vast a number of knights and warriors that Hagen grew uneasy, and said:

"Methinks this bodeth us no good. Albeit Brunhild's court bath sworn fealty to our King, yet may her people look upon him as a foe and evil befall us thereby."

"Thy words are wise," replied Siegfried. "Now will I go hence and summon to our aid such warriors as never yet hast thou beholden. A thousand mighty champions will I fetch hither; but should any mark my absence, do thou, King Gunther, say that thou hast despatched me hence."

And thereto the King gladly agreed, but bade him return as speedily as might be.