Nibelungs - George Upton

King Gunther's Voyage to Iceland

At this time wondrous tales were brought to Worms of a beauteous and warlike princess who dwelt in Iceland and was called Brunhild. Many knights had sought her hand, but she chose to remain unwedded. At last, to rid her of those that grew too bold, she set a task for him who would be her lord. In a trial of skill must he meet her, three knightly feats to perform, and win them all ere she would wed, but should he fail in a single one his head must pay the forfeit.

Now, such was her skill in casting the javelin that no knight in all the land could vie with her, while a ponderous stone she could hurl as it were a ball in her hands, and bound after it so quickly as to overtake it ere it fell. Wherefore there was none but lost in the test and therewith his head. Thus did Brunhild think to free herself from wooers, yet still were many bold knights drawn thither by the fame of her beauty, only to perish thereby.

When King Gunther heard all this, great was his desire to win the beautiful warrior-maiden for his wife, and he determined forthwith to try his fortune. Vainly did Siegfried seek to dissuade him, warning him of Brunhild's marvellous strength, but Gunther was firm. Moreover, by Hagen's counsel he urged Siegfried to go with him, and aid him in his venture; nor was Siegfried averse to sharing the danger; but first he drew a promise from Gunther that should his wooing be successful he would grant him in return the hand of his sister Kriemhild. Thereupon all was made ready for the voyage. Gunther would fain have taken with him thirty thousand of his stoutest warriors, but Siegfried warned him that force would avail him little against the stalwart Icelanders. Only in knightly fashion might Brunhild be won. So none went with them save Hagen and his brother Dankwart.

Then Gunther and Siegfried betook themselves to Kriemhild, and made known their desire for rich court dresses for themselves and their companions. Kriemhild besought them not to undertake so dangerous a venture, for in her heart was a foreboding of evil; but when she saw it was of no avail she promised them the garments. In seven weeks she, with thirty of her women, prepared four splendid suits of silk and other rich stuffs adorned with costly furs and precious stones.

Meanwhile, a ship had been laden with ample store of viands and good Rhenish wine, and in this the four gallant knights now embarked with their steeds and armor. The sail was spread, the oars unlocked, and presently a fresh breeze bore them gayly down the Rhine and out into the open sea. But Kriemhild sat at her window watching, till at last they passed from sight and all the world was blotted out by her tears.

Siegfried was the helmsman. On the twelfth day Iceland loomed before them, its lofty towers rising boldly from the mirror-like surface of the water. Now a sudden fancy seized Siegfried, and he told his comrades that not as a king's son would he appear in Iceland, but as vassal to King Gunther.

As the ship drew near the mighty castle of Isenstein they saw that the windows were filled with fair damsels; whereupon Siegfried asked the King which of them seemed to him the most beautiful. Gunther pointed out the tallest, a stately maiden clad all in purest white, who, Siegfried declared, was no other than Brunhild herself. But anon they all vanished from the windows and hastened to adorn themselves, that they might welcome the knights as was their due. Siegfried, in his part of vassal, led forth from the ship a horse bridled with gold, and held the stirrup for King Gunther to mount, and thereafter fetched his own horse and followed. The King's steed and his rider were magnificently decked with gold and jewels, while behind rode Hagen and his brother Dankwart, clad all in sable and mounted on coal-black horses.

Eighty-six turrets rose above the outer wall of the castle; and within the gates, which stood wide open, could be seen three palaces and a vast hall, built all of green marble. As they rode into the courtyard Brunhild's retainers met them and demanded their weapons; whereat Hagen frowned, nor would he yield up his till Siegfried, who had aforetime been Brunhild's guest, admonished him that such was the custom at her court. Yet was it with bad grace that he obeyed. Meanwhile Brunhild had questioned her followers concerning the strangers; whereupon one said:

"For myself, lady, I know them not. Yet bath yonder stalwart knight a look of Siegfried; the other would seem a King, methinks; the third frowns darkly, as he were of a sullen humor; while the fourth is but a youth, yet frank and courteous withal."

Then Brunhild descended the broad stairs to greet the knights, and following her came a train of a hundred damsels most fair to see, and five hundred knights bearing swords in their hands.