OW THERE DWELT in a castle in the Netherland a certain King, Siegmund by name, who had to wife a fair lady Sieglind. These two had a son whom they called Siegfried, a very gallant prince. Very carefully did they train and teach him, but the root of the matter was in the lad himself, for he had an honest and good heart, and was in all things a very perfect knight. This Siegfried being come to man's estate, and being well practised in arms, and having also as much of wealth as he needed, turned his thoughts to marriage, desiring to win a fair bride for himself.
It came to Prince Siegfried's ears that there was a very fair maiden in the Rhineland, and that many noble knights had come from far and wide to make their suits to her, but that she would have none of them. Never yet had she seen the man whom she would take for her husband. All this the Prince heard, and he said, "This Kriemhild will I have for my wife." But King Siegmund, when he heard of his son's purpose, was not a little troubled thereat; and Queen Sieglind wept, for she knew the brother of Kriemhild, and she was aware of the strength and valour of his warriors. So they said to the Prince, "Son, this is not a wise wooing." But Siegfried made answer, "My father, I will have none of wedlock, if I may not marry where I love." Thereupon the King said. "If thou canst not forego this maiden, then thou shalt have all the help that I can give."
Queen Sieglind said: "If you are still minded to go, then I will prepare for you and your companions the best raiment that ever warrior wore."
Siegfried bowed low to his mother, saying: "So be it; only remember that twelve comrades only will I take with me."
So the Queen and her ladies sat stitching night and day, taking no rest till the raiment was ready. King Siegmund the while commanded that the men should polish their war-gear, coats of mail, and helmets, and shields.
The thirteen comrades departed and, on the seventh day, they rode into the town of Worms in Rhineland, a gallant company, bravely arrayed, for their garments flashed with gold, and their war-gear, over their coats of mail and their helmets, were newly polished. Their long swords hung down by their sides, even to their spurs, and sharp were the javelins which they held in their hands. The javelin of Siegfried was two spans broad in the blade, and had a double edge. Terrible were the wounds that it made. Their bridles were gilded, and their horse-girths of silk. A comely sight they were to see, and the people came from all round to gaze upon them.
Tidings had been brought to King Gunther that certain warriors were come, very gallant to look upon and richly clad, but that no one knew who they were, and whence they came. "Now," said the King, "this troubles me much that no one can tell whence these warriors come." To him Ortwein, the High Server, made answer, "Seeing, sire, that no man knows aught about these strangers, let some one fetch Hagen, my uncle; he knows all the kingdoms of the world, and the dwellers therein."
So Hagen went to the window and looked at the men. Well pleased was he with their clothing and their gear of war; but he had never seen their like in the Rhineland. So he said: "Whencesoever these men have come, my lord, that they are princes or of a prince's company is clear. But stay; Siegfried, the famous hero, I have never seen with my eyes, but I verily believe that is he. If it indeed be, there is no warrior in this land, that is his match for strength and valour.
"Once upon a time riding alone, with none to help him, he came upon the treasure of the Nibelungs. It had been newly taken out of the hollow of a mountain, and the Nibelungs were making ready to share it. And when they saw him, one cried aloud, 'Here comes Siegfried, the great champion from the Motherland!' So the two princes of the Nibelungs bade him welcome, and would have him divide the treasure among them. A mighty store it was, of jewels such plenty that scarce five-score wagons could carry them away, and of red gold yet more. All this they would have Siegfried divide among them. And for his wages they gave him the Nibelungs' sword. But little did they know what should befall at his hand. For lo! ere he had ended his dividing, they stirred up strife against him. Twelve stout comrades had the princes, and with these the princes thought to have slain Siegfried. But they availed nought; with the very sword which they had given him for his reward--Balmung was its name--he slew them all. The giants he slew, and the Kings also, and when Albrich the dwarf would have avenged his lords--for he was the keeper of the treasure--Siegfried overcame him also, and wrested from him the Hood of Darkness, which whoso dons, straightway he vanishes from the sight of all men.
"But the treasure he would not take for himself. 'Carry it back,' said he to Albrich the dwarf, 'to the hole whence it was taken, and keep if for me. And you shall swear a great oath to do me any service that I shall ask of you, whensoever and wheresoever may seem good to me.'
"Another story have I heard tell of Siegfried, how he slew a dragon with his own hand and sword, and how he bathed him in the dragon's blood, and made his skin so hard and horny that no sword may pierce it. Let us. therefore receive him with all courtesy; for verily he is a right strong and valiant knight, and 'tis better, I ween, to be his friend than his enemy."
"Methinks thou art right," said King Gunther. "Let us go down and greet him courteously."
Never were guests more honoured as, of a surety, never guests had bolder mien. And as the days went by the Kings and their guests gave themselves to sport and pastime; but whatever they did, Siegfried was ever the first; none could put the stone so far, or cast the spear with so sure an aim. Sometimes the fair ladies of the court looked on, and not a few looked on the young Prince from the Netherland with favour. But he had ever one only in his heart, ever the fair Kriemhild.
King Gunther purposed in his heart to marry a wife. No daughter of his own land would he woo, though there were many fair maidens in the Rhineland. But there came to him tidings of a Queen that dwelt beyond the sea; not to be matched was she for beauty, nor had she any peer for strength. Her love she proffered to any warrior who could vanquish her at three games, hurling of the spear, and putting the stone, and leaping. But if the suitor himself should be vanquished, then must he lose his head. Such were the conditions of her wooing, and many brave warriors had died for her.
On a certain day King Gunther and his chiefs sat in council, and the matter was this--where shall the King seek a wife who shall both be for a comfort to him and for a glory to the land? Then spake the King, "I will seek Queen Brunhild and no other. For her will I hazard my life; nor do I care to live if I may not win her for my wife." To him spake Siegfried, "I would have you give up this purpose. He who woos Brunhild plays for too high a stake. Take my counsel, sire, and go not on such a journey." "I should think it scorn," said he, "to fear a woman, were she ever so bold and strong." "Ah, sire," Siegfried made answer, "you know not how strong she is. Were you four men and not one only, you could not prevail over her."
But King Gunther would not yield. "How strong soever she be, and whatever the chances that befall me, I will woo this fair Brunhild," he said. Then said Hagen, the King's uncle, "Since you are resolved to take in hand this enterprise, ask Prince Siegfried to help you." Then said King Gunther to Siegfried, "Will you help me to win this Brunhild for my wife? Do this, and ask of me what you will." Siegfried made answer, "Give me your sister: I ask no other reward but that I may have the fair Kriemhild to wife." "That I promise," said the King. "Of a surety, so soon as I shall have brought the fair Brunhild to this realm, then will I give you my sister to wife; and I pray from my heart that you may live long and happily together." Then the two sware to each other.
"Tell me now," said Gunther, "how shall we travel to this land where Brunhild dwells? Shall we go in such state as befits a King? If you think fit, I could well bring together thirty thousand warriors." "Thirty thousand would avail nothing." answered Siegfried, "so strong she is and savage. We will take no army, but go as simple knights, taking two companions with us, and the two shall be Sir Hagen and Sir Dankwart." "And wherewithal shall we be clothed?" said King Gunther. "As richly as maybe," answered Siegfried. "My mother has a great store of goodly raiment," said the King. Then spake Hagen, "Nay, sire, go not to the Queen, but rather to your sister. She will provide all things that you need."