O THEY WENT to the Lady Kriemhild and told her all their purpose, and how they should need goodly raiment, three changes for the day, and that for four days. With good will did the fair Kriemhild receive them, and promised that she would give them what they needed. As she promised, so she did; for she and her ladies, thirty maids skilful in the work of the needle, laboured night and day to furnish a rich store of apparel. The fair Kriemhild planned them and cut them to just measure with her own hand and her ladies sewed them. Silks there were, some from Arabia, white as snow, and from the Lesser Asia others, green as grass, and strange skins of fishes from distant seas, and fur of the ermine, with black spots on snowy white, and precious stones and gold of Arabia. In seven weeks all was prepared, both apparel and also arms and armour; and there was nothing that was either over-long or over-short, or that could be surpassed for comeliness. Great thanks did the warriors give to each fair seamstress, and to Kriemhild the beautiful the greatest thanks of all.
So the four companions embarked on their ship, with Siegfried for their helmsman, for he knew all the tides and currents of Rhine. Well furnished were they with food and wine and all things that they needed; and prosperous was their voyage, both while they sailed down the river and while they crossed the sea.
On the twelfth morning they came to the land of Queen Brunhild. And when King Gunther saw how the coast stretched far away, and how on every height there stood a fair castle, he said to Siegfried, "Tell me, Siegfried, if you can, whose are those castles, and this fair land. Never in all my life, I assure you, have I seen castles so fairly planned and built so well." Siegfried made answer, "These castles and this fair land are Queen Brunhild's and this strong fortress that you see is Isenstein. And now, my comrades, I have a counsel for your ears. To-day we shall stand in Queen Brunhild's court, and we must be wise and wary when we stand before her. Let therefore one and the same story be found in the mouth of all--that Gunther is my master, and that I am Gunther's man. If we would win our purpose there is no surer plan than this." So spake Siegfried to his comrades. And to the King he said, "Mark, I pray you, what I do for the love of your fair sister."
While they talked one to the other the bark drifted so near to the shore that they could see the maidens standing at the castle windows. "Who are these?" said King Gunther to Siegfried. Said Siegfried, "Look with all your eyes at these fair ladies, and tell me which of them pleases you best, and which, could you win her, you would choose for your wife." Gunther made answer, "One that I see at yonder window in a snow-white vest is surely the loveliest of all. She, if I can win her, shall surely be my wife." "You have chosen well," said Siegfried; "that maiden in the snow-white vest is Brunhild, the fairest and fiercest of women."
Meanwhile the Queen had bidden her maidens depart from the windows. "'Tis a shame," said she, "that you should make yourselves a sight for strangers."
And now came the four comrades from their bark to the castle. Siegfried led a noble charger by the bridle, and stood by the stirrup till King Gunther had mounted, serving him as a vassal serves his lord. This Brunhild marked from where she stood. "A noble lord," thought she in her heart, "whom such a vassal serves." Then Siegfried mounted his own steed, and Hagen and Dankwart did the like. A fairer company never was seen. The King and Siegfried were clothed in white, and white were their horses, and their shields flashed far as they moved. So, in lordly fashion, they rode to the hall of Queen Brunhild, and the bells of gold that hung from their saddles tinkled as they went. Hagen and Dankwart, on the other hand, wore black apparel, and their chargers were black.
Meanwhile the fair Brunhild inquired of her nobles who these strangers might be that had come across the sea, and on what errand they had come. One of them answered, "Fair lady, I have never seen these stout warriors, save one only, who is greatly like to the noble Siegfried. If this be he, I would have you give him a hearty welcome. Next to him is a man of right royal mien, a King, I trow, who rules with his sceptre mighty lands and herd. The third has a lowering brow, but is a stout warrior withal; the fourth is young and modest of look, but for all his gentle bearing, we should all rue it, I trow, if wrong were done to him."
Then spake Queen Brunhild, "Bring me now my royal vesture; if Siegfried seeks to woo me for his wife, he must risk his life on the cast; I fear him not so much as to yield to him without a struggle." So the Queen arrayed her in her royal robes, and went to the hall of audience, and a hundred maidens and more followed her, fair of face and in fair array. And after the maidens came five hundred warriors and more, each bearing his sword in his hand, the very flower of Isenland.
Said Queen Brunhild to Siegfried, "You are welcome, good Sir Siegfried. Show me, if you will, for what cause you have come hither." "I thank you a thousand times," answered Siegfried, "that you have greeted me so courteously, but know that I must give place to this noble hero. He is my lord and master; I am his vassal. Let your favour be for him. His kingdom is by the Rhine side, and we have sailed all this way from thence that he may woo you for his bride. That is his fixed intent, nor will he yield whatever may befall. Gunther is his name; a great King is he, and nothing will content him but to carry you back with him to the Rhine."
Queen Brunhild answered, "If he is the master and you the man, then let him know that he must match me in my games and conquer me. If he prevail, then will I be his wedded wife; but if I prevail, then must he die, he and you and all his comrades." Then spake Sir Hagen, "Lady, tell us now the games at which my master must contend; and know that you must strive full hard, if you would conquer him, for he has a full trust that he will win you for his bride." The Queen answered, "He must cast the stone further than I, and also leap behind it further than I leap; and also he must cast the spear with me. It seems to me that you are over-hasty; let him count the cost, ere he lose both fame and life." Then Siegfried whispered to the King, "Have no fear for what shall be, and cast away all your care. Let the fair Brunhild do what she will, I will bear you harmless." So the King spake aloud, "Fairest of the fair, tell me your pleasure; were it a greater task willingly would I undertake it, for if I win you not for my bride, willingly will I lose my head."
Then the fair Brunhild called for her battle gear, her arms, and her breastplate of gold and her mighty shield; and over all she drew a surcoat of silk, marvellously made. Fierce and angry was her countenance as she looked at the strangers, and Hagen and Dankwart were troubled to see her, for they doubted how it might go with their master. "'Tis a fatal journey," said they, "and will bring us to trouble."
Meanwhile Siegfried hied him with nimble foot to the bark, and there he took, from the secret corner where he kept it, the Hood of Darkness, by which, at his will, he could make himself invisible. Quickly did he go, and quickly returned, and now no one could see him, for he wore the hood. Through the crowd he went at his pleasure, seeing all but seen of none.
Meanwhile men had marked out the ring for the fray, and chiefs had been chosen as umpires, seven hundred men in armour who should judge betwixt the combatants. First of the two came the fair Brunhild. So mighty was her presence, a man had thought her ready to match herself in battle with all the Kings in the world. And there was carried before her a mighty shield of ruddy gold, very thick and broad and heavy, overlaid with studs of steel. Four chamberlains could scarce bear the weight. Sir Hagen, when he saw it, said, "How now, my lord King? this fair one whom you would woo must surely be the devil's wife. "Next came three men who scarce could carry the Queen's javelin, with its mighty spear-head, heavy and great as though three had been melted into one. And when King Gunther saw it, he said to himself, "This is a danger from which the devil himself can scarce escape. I would that I were once more by the banks of Rhine; he that would might woo and win this fair maiden for me." After this there was brought the mighty stone which Brunhild was to hurl. Twelve knights could scarce support it, so big it was.
And now the Queen addressed her to the contest, rolling her sleeves about her arms, and fitting her buckler, and poising her mighty spear in her hand. And the strangers, when they saw it, were sore afraid for all their courage.
But now came Siegfried to King Gunther's side and touched his hand. Greatly amazed was the King for he did not understand his champion's device. "Who was it that touched me?" he said, and looked round, but saw no one. "'Tis I," answered the Prince, "your trusty friend, Siegfried. Have no fear of the maiden. Let me carry the buckler; you shall seem to do each deed, but I will do it in truth. But be careful to hide the device. Should the maiden discover it, she will not spare to bring it to nought." Right glad was Gunther to know that his strong ally was at hand.