Nibelungs - George Upton

Siegfried In The Forge

Any tales like these did Siegfried hear, of heroes, both of his own and bygone times, till he could no longer restrain

his longing to go out into the world in quest of adventure. And all the more urgent was this longing, since even now, at the age of eighteen, there was not a champion in all his father's kingdom that could equal him in the use of sword and spear. So at last he took leave of his parents; nor did they, dear as was their only son to them, deem it otherwise than meet that he should go forth to win a hero's renown. Therefore they invoked God's blessing on him and prayed that he might return to them rich in honor and wisdom, so as to govern well the kingdom when it should fall to him, and be a shining example to his warriors, the champion of the oppressed, and the scourge of evil-doers.

So fared the young knight forth;

to him The world seemed bathed in light;

A hero's glory he would win—

Or perish in the fight.

Now Siegfried had heard much of the fame of Mime, the great smith, him who had been for three years the master of Wieland, the slayer of Amilias. Thither accordingly he first betook himself, that he might learn to forge weapons. But Mime had workmen, great brawny fellows, who were evil-disposed toward Siegfried and tried to pick a quarrel with him. Soon they came to blows, but Siegfried felled them all, and the strongest one—called Eckenbrecht—he dragged from the forge by his hair. When Mime saw what he had done he was amazed at the giant strength of this youth. He set him to work forthwith and Siegfried, still furious with rage, dealt such mighty blows on the anvil that it burst asunder and was driven into the ground, while iron bar, hammer, and tongs went flying all about the forge.

Here Siegfried abode for many weeks, roaming far and wide through the depths of the forest to chase the deer or capture wild beasts for pastime, leaving them hanging upon the trees. Now Mime, the smith, had a brother, Regin, who, by some wicked enchantment, had been changed into a dragon, and went about slaying and devouring both man and beast. Him Mime sought one day, and said:

"It is in my mind, brother, to send thee the fairest and mightiest youth in all the land that thou mayst devour him."

Then he went home and bade Siegfried go into the forest to burn some charcoal. This he did, and when he had reached the place whereto Mime had directed him, he felled some trees and built a great fire. Thereupon he slew a boar, ripped off the bristly hide, and was about to roast it before the fire, when of a sudden out from the shadows of the forest sprang a dragon, terrible to behold. Its jaws were so huge that it could have swallowed a horse and rider; fiery sparks shot from its eyes, and steam issued from its nostrils. But Siegfried did not shrink, for he knew not fear. Having no sword, he quickly snatched from the fire a stout sapling and thrust the blazing end between the jaws of the dragon, at the same time smiting its scaly head with such force that the monster's skull was shattered, and blood and bone flew to the tree-tops. The huge reptile rolled upon the ground lashing its tail and striking such terrible blows therewith that the earth trembled and great trees were shaken. Siegfried stood afar till the struggle was over and the monster lay dead; whereupon he struck off the head with his axe and cut out the heart, which he roasted before the fire. Now, it chanced that as the blood dripped therefrom, he dipped his finger in to taste it, but no sooner had he touched his lips with it, than lo! straightway he understood the language of the birds. And this is what they sang:

"Thou wast meant the worm to feed;

Mime is thy foe. Take heed!"

Next, Siegfried sought and found the den of the monster, deep in a cleft of rock; and there lay a she-dragon with her young. He flung a tree across, that they might not escape; then he felled more trees, and casting them into the cleft, set fire to them. When the reptiles were consumed there gushed forth from the rock a clear white stream; it was the fat of the dragons. And Siegfried, taking off his garments, smeared his body therewith, all save one spot between the shoulders whereon a linden leaf had chanced to fall. Wherever the dragon's fat touched it the skin seemed to grow more fair and smooth, whereas in truth it had become as impenetrable as the toughest hide. Thereupon Siegfried clothed himself once more and set out on his homeward way, bearing the head of the dragon upon his shoulders; but when Mime's workmen saw him returning, they fled in terror, for they had believed him dead.

Now it chanced that Mime saw none of this for he was at work in the forge, and when Siegfried of a sudden stood in the doorway and cast the dragon's head at his feet he was alarmed and changed color; yet he feigned to be greatly rejoiced over Siegfried's victory and therewith bestowed on him as reward a costly suit of armor which he had wrought for King Hernit.

Siegfried spoke no word while Mime enveloped him in the armor and girded on the great sword Gram, nor yet when the smith proffered him likewise Grane, the noblest steed in all the world. When Mime had finished, Siegfried upbraided him for his treachery and falseness. Mime denied it fiercely, whereupon the hero drew his sword and struck his head from his shoulders. Then he went to the pasture to seek the horse Grane. No man had ever dared ride this wondrous steed; but when Siegfried approached, it sprang toward him, neighing joyously, as if to greet at last a worthy master. Whereupon Siegfried mounted and rode away.