UT BRUNHILD HELD her peace, for the ring was a proof which she could not gainsay. She held her peace, but she cherished her rage, keeping it in the depths of her heart, and sware that she would be avenged on the man that had so deceived her.
When Hagen saw that Queen Brunhild was in continual trouble and sadness he would fain know the cause. "'Tis of Siegfried's doing," she answered. "He has wronged me beyond pardon." And she besought him that he would avenge her and King Gunther upon him.
So Hagan plotted evil, saying enemies were coming against Gunther, and Siegfried and his knights made them ready to go forth to the King's defence. And of the chiefs of Rhineland not a few offered themselves as comrades, knowing nothing of the treachery that Hagen and his fellows were preparing against him.
But before they departed Hagen went to bid farewell to Queen Kriemhild. Said she, "I have good comfort in my heart to think how valiant a husband I have, and how zealous he is to help his friends, for I have loved my kinsmen always, nor ever wished them ill." "Tell me, dear lady," said Hagen, "what service I can do to your husband, for there is no one whom I love better than him." The Queen made answer, "I have no fear that my lord will fall in battle by any man's sword, save only that he is too ready to follow even to rashness his own warlike spirit." "Dear lady," said Hagen, "if there is any danger which you hold in special fear, tell me that I may defend him against it." Then Kriemhild, in the simpleness of her heart, told him the secret. "In years gone by," said she, "my husband slew a dragon among the mountains, and when he had slain the monster, he bathed himself in its blood. So mighty was the charm, that thenceforth no steel had power to wound him. And yet, for all this, I am ever in fear lest by some mischance a weapon should pierce him. Hearken now, my cousin, for you are of my kindred, hearken, and see how I put my trust in your honour. While Siegfried washed his limbs in the blood of the dragon, there fell a leaf from a linden tree between his shoulders. There and there only can steel harm him." "'Tis easy," said the false Hagen, "for me to defend so small a spot. Only do you sew a little token on his cloak, that I may the better know the spot that most needs protection when we stand together in the fight." "I will do so," said the Queen; "I will sew a little cross with threads of silk on his cloak, and you will guard him when he fights in the throng of his foes." "That will I do, dear lady," said the traitor.
Hagen went straightway to King Gunther and said, "I have learnt that which I needed to know; put off this march; let us go on a hunt. So that which we would do will be easier done." "I will order that," answered the King.
Siegfried, before he set out for the hunting, bade farewell to his wife: "God grant," said he, "that we may soon meet happily again; meanwhile be merry among your kinsfolk here." But Kriemhild thought of how she had discovered the secret to Hagen, and was sore afraid, yet dared not tell the truth. Only she said to her husband, "I pray you to leave this hunting. Only this night past I had an evil dream. I saw two wild boars pursuing you over the heath, and the flowers were red as with blood. Greatly I fear some treason, my Siegfried." "Nay," said he, "there is not one in Rhineland here that bears me ill-will. Whom have I wronged?" "I know not," answered the Queen, "but yet my heart bodes evil. For I had yet another dream. I seemed to see two mountains fall with a terrible noise on your head. If you go, you will break my heart." But he laughed at her fears, and kissed her, and so departed.
Then Siegfried went on the hunting, and Gunther and Hagen went with him, and a company of hunters and hounds. When they came to the forest Siegfried said, "Now who shall begin the hunting?" Hagen made answer, "Let us divide into two companies ere we begin, and each shall beat the coverts as he will; so shall we see who is the more skilful in the chase." "I need no pack," said Siegfried; "give me one well-trained hound that can track the game through the coverts. That will suffice for me." So a lime-hound was given to him. All that the good hound started did Siegfried slay; no beast could outrun him or escape him. A wild boar first he slew, and next to the boar a lion; he shot an arrow through the beast from side to side. After the lion he slew a buffalo and four elks, and a great store of game besides, so that the huntsmen said, "Leave us something in our woods, Sir Siegfried."
King Gunther bade blow the horn for breakfast. When Siegfried's huntsman heard the blast he said: "Our hunting-time is over; we must back to our comrades." So they went with all speed to the trysting- place.
The whole company sat down to their meal. There was plenty of every kind, but wine was wanting. "How is this?" said Siegfried: "the kitchen is plentiful; but where is the wine?" Said Gunther the King, "'Tis Hagen's fault, who makes us all go dry." "True, Sir King," said Hagen, "my fault it is. But I know of a runnel, cold and clear, that is hard by. Let us go thither and quench our thirst." Then Siegfried rose from his place, for his thirst was sore, and would have sought the place. Said Hagen, when he saw him rise, "I have heard say that there is no man in all the land so fleet of foot as Siegfried. Will he deign to let us see his speed?" "With all my heart," cried the hero. "Let us race from hence to the runnel." "'Tis agreed," said Hagen the traitor. "Furthermore," said Siegfried, "I will carry all the equipment that I bare in the chase." So Gunther and Hagen stripped them to their shirts, but Siegfried carried sword and spear, all his hunting-gear, and yet was far before the two at the runnel.
Yet, such was his courtesy, that he would not drink before the King had quenched his thirst. He was ill repaid, I trow, for his grace. For when the King had drunk, as Siegfried knelt plunging his head into the stream, Sir Hagen took his spear and smote him on the little crosslet mark that was worked on his cloak between his shoulders. And when he had struck the blow he fled in mortal fear. When Siegfried felt that he was wounded, he rose with a great bound from his knees and sought for his weapons. But these the false Hagen had taken and laid far away. Only the shield was left. This he took in his hand and hurled at Hagen with such might that it felled the traitor to the ground, and was itself broken to pieces. If the hero had but had his good sword Balmung in his hand, the murderer had not escaped with his life that day.
Then all the Rhineland warriors gathered about him. Among them was King Gunther, making pretence to lament. To him said Siegfried, "Little it profits to bewail the man whose murder you have plotted. Did I not save you from shame and defeat? Is this the recompense that you pay? And yet even of you I would ask one favour. Have some kindness for my wife. She is your sister; if you have any knightly faith and honour remaining, guard her well." Then there came upon him the anguish of death. Yet one more word he spake, "Be sure that in slaying me you have slain yourselves." And when he had so spoken he died.
Then they laid his body on a shield and carried it back, having agreed among themselves to tell this tale, that Sir Siegfried having chosen to hunt by himself was slain by robbers in the wood.
(Adapted from "Heroes of Chivalry and Romance," by A. J. Church)