Nibelungs - George Upton

Siegfried's Death

When the morning was come, therefore, Siegfried made him ready for the hunt and went to take leave of Kriemhild. She was full of anxious forebodings. Hagen's grim visage rose before her eyes, and she began to mistrust him and his friendly words. Bitterly now she repented that her love and fear for her husband had led her to reveal his vulnerable spot. Nor did she dare make known to Siegfried what had passed, for he had strictly forbidden her ever to speak thereof. She had spent the night in terror and distress, and evil dreams had haunted her broken slumbers; wherefore she now besought Siegfried with tears to abandon the hunt, clinging to him as if she would never loose her hold.

"I dreamed last night that two wild boars gave thee chase," she cried, "and wounded thee so sorely that the grass was reddened with thy blood. Surely that forebodes two foes that seek thy life. Ah! go not hence, dear lord! I beseech thee, stay!"

Tenderly Siegfried embraced her and sought to calm her fears, and knowing that he had never wrought evil to any man but had ever shown kindness and goodwill to all, he said:

"Dispel these idle fears, sweet wife! All thy kinsmen, methinks, bear me love and favor; nor is there any that hath cause to do me ill."

Yet still did Kriemhild weep, saying: "I dreamed again, and thou didst stand betwixt two lofty mountain peaks that tottered to their fall. And as I gazed they plunged together and thou wast swallowed from my sight. Oh, trust me, lord, some dire evil will surely chance, an thou dost hunt this

Alas! had Kriemhild but confessed to Siegfried all, how different might have been the ending of this tale! But he kissed away her tears with loving words of comfort and she dared not speak. Once again—for the last time upon earth—he clasped her to his heart and thus they parted. Siegfried, mounting his horse, rode swiftly to the appointed place of meeting.

Cheerily the huntsmen took their way to the Vosges forest, and when they were come thither, Hagen proposed that all should separate, whereby at the end it might be seen which was the best sportsman; and this, in the secret hope that Siegfried's boldness and daring might cause him to be slain by some wild beast, for well he knew the plan he had devised was fraught with no small danger to himself.

Siegfried asked only for a single hound to track his game and Gunther bestowed on him a well-trained beagle; whereupon he set spurs to his horse and was soon deep in the heart of the forest. Ere-long a huge wild boar crossed his path, and he slew it with his sword; and thereafter a buffalo bull, an elk, four mighty mountain bulls, and a fierce stag fell before his spear. Retainers followed and dragged the game into one heap, while on every side sounded the notes of the hunting horns and the joyous baying of the four-and-twenty hounds.

At length, King Gunther wound his golden horn to summon the huntsmen to a repast, and soon all were assembled in a green glade of the forest, where a fire burned brightly and the cooks were preparing a goodly meal of beef and venison. But Siegfried had roused a bear, and resolving for sport to capture it alive had pursued it fast and far. At last the brute sought shelter in a thicket, whereupon Siegfried sprang from his saddle and, after a short struggle, had it fast by the skin of its neck. Then he bound up the jaws with their rows of sharp teeth, wound a cord about the paws, and laying it across his horse, set out to join the huntsmen.

Glorious indeed to look upon was the mighty Siegfried as he rode joyously through the green forest! Lightly he poised the stout, keen-edged hunting-spear, and the good sword Balmung hung downward to his spurs. He wore a silken tunic of black, glittering with gold ornaments and bordered with sable, and a cap of the same fur, while the lining of his quiver was of panther's hide, the odor whereof was held to attract the game. He also carried a long bow of rare workmanship.

When he came to the meeting-place he took the bear from his horse and unbound it; whereupon the beast, seeking to escape, bolted in amongst the pots and kettles and sent the terrified cooks flying hither and thither. Thereupon a great shout arose from the amazed huntsmen; the dogs were loosed and away they all went into the forest in pursuit of the fleeing captive. Clear rang the horns of the hunters, loudly bayed the furious pack; yet their quarry was like to escape them, for none dared use bow or spear lest he should wound the hounds. Whereupon Siegfried bounding forward soon out-stripped hounds and huntsmen, and struck the bear dead with his sword. In triumph they bore it back to the fire, and all agreed that to Siegfried should be adjudged the prize. Many indeed who were aware of Hagen's fell design would fain have had him forego the treacherous deed, yet none dared speak of this to him, for well they knew his vengeful fury.

Soon were the huntsmen seated round the board, and ample justice did they to the goodly viands wherewith it was spread; but Siegfried, looking about for wine, found none at hand. Now, this was part of Hagen's plan, yet he excused himself when Gunther questioned him thereon, with the plea that he had erred in naming the place of the hunt and the wine therefore had been sent to the Spessart forest.

Then Siegfried declared he could have wished they were nearer to the Rhine, for the hunt had given him a mighty thirst. Whereupon Hagen, assuming an air of indifference, replied:

"Most noble knight, hard by I know a cool and limpid spring, whose waters may quench thy thirst. Let us go thither."

Those who knew Hagen's meaning shuddered at these words, but Siegfried joyfully agreed. Whereat Hagen said: "Oft have I heard it said, my lord Siegfried, that none can outstrip thee in running. Here is good ground for proof, and I myself will race thee to yon brooklet for a wager!"

"That gladly will I do," replied Siegfried, "and with all my armor on."

Hagen now pointed out the spring and forth they bounded like two panthers over the grassy plain, all the huntsmen following. Siegfried was the swifter; coming first to the spring he laid aside his sword, bow, and shield, and leaned his spear against a linden tree. Had he but drunk his fill now and taken up his arms once more, all Hagen's base scheming would have been undone, for none had dared to assail the hero armed and on his guard. But restraining his thirst, he waited till Gunther as sovereign prince should first have tasted of the spring. The King was third to reach the spot, the others lagging far behind, for upon them had come a sudden fear and trembling. Kneeling by the spring, he drank and thereafter stooped Siegfried also to dip up the clear cold water in his hand. Now was Hagen's time. Swiftly and noiselessly he bore away the hero's sword and bow. Ill indeed had it fared with the false knight had Siegfried marked his act; but little thought had he of such foul plot to reward his loyalty. Seizing the spear, Hagen hurled it with all his force at Siegfried's back, and so well had he marked the spot shown him by the cross Kriemhild had wrought that the weapon pierced deep into the breast of the hero and there remained. The shameful deed was done, and truly never was there crime on all the earth more foul than this.

The red blood spouted from the wound upon the bow of the assassin, and he fled; for, though wounded to the death, yet was Siegfried terrible in his wrath. Springing to his feet, the hero sought his weapons, but they were gone; whereupon with shield aloft he rushed after Hagen and smote him therewith so powerfully that it burst asunder, scattering a shower of jewels all about. Hagen was stretched upon. the ground, and it seemed his end had come. But now the strength fled from Siegfried, a deadly pallor over-spread his countenance, and he sank upon the ground, his life blood staining the grass and flowers crimson. Then Hagen arose and drew nigh, his dark features lit with savage joy at the success of his evil work.

Gunther, too, approached, and after him came the rest of the huntsmen, and a deathly stillness reigned as all gazed upon the dying hero. At last Siegfried broke the silence. In noble wrath he spoke:

"Ye dastards! to slay me from behind, and this as meed for all the service I have rendered you!"

The glance of the hero, wounded unto death, appalled the stoutest hearts; rough cheeks were wet with tears; and even from Gunther's breast was forced a cry of anguish. But Siegfried was not deceived thereby. Clearly now he saw the whole treacherous plot.

"Too late is it now, King Gunther of Burgundy, to bewail the evil thou thyself hast wrought; better for thee had it been left undone."



And Hagen with a scornful glance at his comrades cried fiercely: "Fools! Wherefore, then, do ye lament? Is not this an end to all our discontent? Well was it that I had the will to do the deed against your craven counsel!"

Again the hero spoke, although his voice grew faint: Vaunt not thyself too much my lord, Hagen! Had I but known thee for the base assassin that thou art, thy schemes had been of small avail against me. For naught I grieve save Kriemhild, my true and loving wife, and that my son must one day learn how his sire was foully slain by his nearest kin."

All grew dark before his eyes, yet still his thoughts were with his wife; her name the last upon his lips. "If aught there yet be within thy breast of faith or loyalty," he said to Gunther, "then be thou true unto thy sister Kriemhild! My father and my brave knights now, alas, will wait for me in vain. Oh, never yet hath man so basely dealt by his true friend as thou by me!"

Thereupon the death struggle seized him, but it was soon over; his eyes grew dim, and the soul of the mighty Siegfried took its flight.

When they saw that he was dead, they laid his body on a golden shield upon which to bear it away, and thereafter they took counsel as to what should be done. Some thought it well to say that thieves had slain King Siegfried, but Hagen spoke out boldly, saying:

"I myself will take him back to Worms. It is naught to me if Kriemhild learns 't was by my hand he died. He defamed our Queen, and for that wrong his life has paid the price, forsooth. Little care I for Kriemhild's tears or moans."

So they waited till the pale moon stood high in the heavens, and then, bearing the corpse of Siegfried, King Gunther and his companions once more crossed the Rhine.