Nibelungs - George Upton

Siegfried And The Nibelungs

Forth into the great world the young hero fared at last; and one day he chanced to meet with Dietrich of Bern, the same who

had vanquished the mighty Ecke, and many valiant deeds thereafter wrought. Against him Siegfried had long yearned to try his strength, wherefore he hailed the champion joyfully and offered him combat; nor was Dietrich averse to this. Long they strove, but no advantage could either gain; whereupon they agreed to a truce, and Dietrich took Siegfried with him to the court of King Etzel. There he abode three years, fighting in many battles for the King and performing such heroic feats that his fame soon spread throughout the land. Then came peace, and his sword being no longer of use, he once more rode upon his way. Through many lands he had wandered, when he came one day to a hill whereon stood a great castle, and near by on the plain was a city.

Now at this time there was great strife within the castle, for the King was dead, and his two sons, Nibelung and Schilbung, were left to share their father's treasure, and each believed the other was seeking to overreach him.

When they learned that Siegfried the famous hero was come, they were overjoyed, and resolved forthwith that he should divide the treasure for them. This Siegfried agreed to, if they would swear to abide by his judgment, and they took an oath so to do, bestowing on him besides the sword Balmung, which was even greater and sharper than his own Gram. Then he set to work and divided the treasure as was just and lawful. But still the King's sons were not content, and notwithstanding their oath the quarrel broke out afresh. Siegfried would have made peace between them once again, but mad with rage and hatred they turned upon him, and at once a terrible fight began. Siegfried had but a handful of followers, while opposed to them were many hundreds, with twelve gigantic warriors at the head; yet soon the ground was strewn with heaps of their slain. So swift and true fell the lightning strokes of Balmung that men were mowed down like grass beneath the sickle. At last the King's two sons were slain; whereupon those who were left alive yielded themselves and hailed Siegfried as their lord.

Thus did Siegfried become King of the land of the Nibelungs (Norway) but another hard struggle must he undergo, for anon came Alberich, the powerful dwarf who guarded the King's treasure, to avenge the death of Nibelung and Schilbung. This Alberich was but of the stature of a child, yet was he finely formed and magnificently arrayed. For a weapon he carried a whip of seven thongs, each tipped with a golden knob, with which he dealt such fearful blows that no shield or helm, however strong, might withstand them. Well might Siegfried dread to meet so formidable a foe; yet he knew no fear, and no sooner did the dwarf draw nigh than they sprang at each other like two eagles. But lo! of a sudden Alberich vanished before Siegfried's eyes and his spear smote the rocky wall with such force that it broke, sending a great stone crashing to the ground, while at the same instant he received a blow that burst three of the steel rings of his armor. The dwarf had drawn from his pocket and donned the Tarnkappe, or magic cap, that made its wearer invisible.

Siegfried laid about him furiously with Balmung, but Alberich only laughed mockingly; for not once did the great sword touch him, while Siegfried received many a blow that might well have slain a giant. Seeing that if he did not prevent this he must in the end be overcome, he thrust Balmung into the sheath, turned quick as thought and, seizing the dwarf with his hands, succeeded at last, in spite of his struggles, in snatching the magic cap from him. This cap had likewise the power of lending its wearer the strength of twelve men. Moreover, Alberich was now once more visible, wherefore Siegfried again drew his sword and rushed upon his foe. A mighty blow from the whip dashed his shield to pieces, but he soon overpowered the dwarf, who now begged for mercy, and swore allegiance to his conqueror. Thereupon Siegfried granted him his life and bade him continue as guardian of the treasure.

Now, this treasure was a hoard of gold and jewels so vast that a hundred wagons could not have borne it away, nor did it ever grow less, however much might be taken therefrom. With it, moreover, was a magic wand of gold that gave its owner power over all men.

Siegfried did not tarry in his new-found kingdom. When Alberich and all the chief Nibelungs had sworn fealty to him as their liege lord, he bade them farewell and rode homeward to Santen.

There reigned in Burgundy at this time a mighty prince named Gunther, who had two brothers, Gernot and Giselher, no less wise in council and brave in battle than himself. Now, these three princes had a sister, a noble damsel as beautiful as the day, and her name was Kriemhild.

One night it chanced that Kriemhild had a strange dream. Her favorite falcon rose from her hand and soared aloft, whereupon two gray eagles swooped down from the mountain top and struck their sharp talons into its breast, so that it fell dead at her feet. Full of trouble, she awoke and related the dream to her mother, who said: "May God have thee in His care! The falcon, meseemeth, is the gallant knight whom one day thou shalt wed."

But shamed, the maiden answered: "Never shall I be wife to any man!"

Thereupon her mother reproved her, saying: "Make no rash vows, my daughter! No greater honor can fall to the lot of any maiden than to be true wife to a noble lord."