Page images
PDF
EPUB

So ended the life of Sigurd. Brynhild grieved a season, then dealt herself a mortal wound, and was burned on the funeral pyre beside Sigurd the Volsung.

In time Gudrun became the queen of Atli, the Budlung. He, in order to obtain the hoard of Sigurd, which had passed into the hands of the Niblungs, — Gudrun's brothers, — bade them visit him in Hunland. Fully warned by Gudrun, they still accepted the invitation, and arriving at the hall of Atli, were after a fearful conflict slain. But they did not surrender the hoard — that lay concealed at the bottom of the Rhine. Gudrun with the aid of Niblung, her brother Hogni's son, in the end slew Atli, set fire to his hall and brought ruin on the Budlung folk. Then leaping into the sea she was borne with Swanhild, her daughter by Sigurd, to the realm of King Jonakr, who became her third husband. Swanhild, " fairest of all women, eager-eyed as her father, so that few durst look under the brows of her," — met, by stress of love and treachery, a foul end in a foreign land, trampled under foot of horses.

Finally Gudrun sent her sons by Jonakr to avenge their half-sister's death; and so bereft of all her kin, and consumed with sorrow, she called upon her ancient lover, Sigurd, to come and look upon her, as he had promised, from his abiding-place among the dead. And thus had the words of her sorrow an end.

Her sons slew King Jormunrek, the murderer of Swanhild, but were themselves done to death, by the counsel and aid of a certain man, seeming ancient and one-eyed, — Odin the forefather of the Volsungs, — the same that had borne Sigi fellowship, and that struck the sword into Branstock of Volsung's hall, and that faced Sigmund and shattered Gram in the hour of Sigmund's need, and that brought Sigurd the matchless horse Greyfell, and oft again had appeared to the kin of the Volsungs ; — the same god now wrought the end of the Niblungs. The hoard and the ring of Andvari had brought confusion on all into whose hands they fell. ::

§ 186. The Lay of the Nibelungs.1 — In the German version of this story — called the Nibelungenlied — certain variations of name, incident, and character appear. Sigurd is Siegfried, dwelling in Xanten near the Rhine, the son of Siegmund and Siegelind, king and queen of the Netherlands. Gudrun is Kriemhild, sister of Gunther (Gunnar), king of the Burgundians, and niece of Hagen (Hogni), a warrior of dark and sullen mien, cunning, but withal loyal and brave, the foe of the glorious Siegfried. Siegfried weds Kriemhild, takes her to the Netherlands and lives happily with her, enjoying the moneys of the Nibelungen hoard, which he had taken not from a dwarf, as in the Norse version, but from two princes, the sons of King Nibelung. Meanwhile Gunther dwells in peace in the Burgundian land, husband of the proud Brunhild, whom Siegfried had won for him by stratagem not altogether unlike that of the Norse story. For the Brunhild of the Yssel-land had declared that she would marry no man save him who should surpass her in athletic contest. This condition Siegfried, wearing the Tarnkappe, a cloak that rendered him invisible, had fulfilled for Gunther. He had also succored poor Gunther after his marriage with Brunhild. For that heroine, in contempt of Gunther's strength, had bound him hand and foot and suspended him from a nail on their bed-room wall. By agreement Siegfried had again assumed Gunther's form, and after a fearful tussle with the queen had reduced her to submission, taking from her the ring and girdle which were the secret sources of her strength, and leaving her to imagine that she had been conquered by her bridegroom, Gunther. The ring and girdle Siegfried had bestowed upon Kriemhild, unwisely telling her at the same time the story of Brunhild's defeat. Although the Nibelungenlied offers no explanation, it is evident that the injured queen of Yssel-land had recognized Siegfried during this ungallant intrigue; and we are led to infer that there had been some previous acquaintance and passage of love between them.

At any rate, Siegfried and Kriemhild, retiring to the Nether

1 See Commentary, § 186.

lands, were ruling happily at Xanten by the Rhine; and all might have continued in peace had not Brunhild resented the lack of homage paid by Siegfried, whom she had been led to regard as a vassal, to Gunther, his reputed overlord.

In her heart this thought she fostered, deep in its inmost core;1
That still they kept such distance, a secret grudge she bore.
How came it that their vassal to court declined to go,
Nor for his land did homage, she inly yearned to know.

She made request of Gunther, and begged it so might be,
That she the absent Kriemhild yet once again might see,
And told him, too, in secret, whereon her thoughts were bent,—
Then with the words she uttered her lord was scarce content.

But Gunther yielded, and Siegfried and Kriemhild are invited to Worms, nominally to attend a high festival.

. . . With what joy and gladness welcomed were they there!
It seemed when came dame Brunhild to Burgundy whilere.
Her welcome by dame Kriemhild less tender was and true;
The heart of each beholder beat higher at the view. . . .

Received was bold Sir Siegfried, as fitted well his state,
With the highest honors; no man bore him hate.
Young Giselher and Gemot proffered all courtly care;
Never met friend or kinsman reception half so fair.

One day at the hour of vespers certain knights proved themselves at tilting in the regal court-yard. Conspicuous among them was Siegfried. Kriemhild, looking from her window, said, "He surely should rule these realms ;" Brunhild answered, "So long as Gunther lives that sure can never be."

•• ... Thereto rejoined fair Kriemhild, "See'st thou how proud he stands,
How proud he stalks, conspicuous among those warrior bands,
As doth the moon far-beaming the glimmering stars outshine?
Sure have I cause to pride me when such a knight is mine."

1 The extracts in verse are, unless otherwise stated, from the translation by W. N. Lettsom, London, 1890. Werner Harm's Uebersetzung has also been used.

Thereto replied queen Brunhild, " How brave soe'er he be,
How stout soe'er or stately, one greater is than he.
Gunther, thy noble brother, a higher place may claim,
Of knights and kings the foremost in merit and in fame."

So began the altercation. It attained its climax the Fame day, when each queen attempted to take precedence of the other in entering the cathedral for the celebration of the mass.

Both met before the minster in all the people's sight;
There at once the hostess let out her deadly spite.
Bitterly and proud she bade fair Kriemhild stand;
"No vassaless precedeth the lady of the land."

Then, full of wrath, Kriemhild, in terms anything but delicate, acquainted her haughty sister-in-law with the deception that had twice been practised upon her by Siegfried and Gunther; nay, worse, corroborated her statement by displaying both ring and girdle that Brunhild had lost. The altercation came to the ears of the kings. Gunther made complaint to Siegfried. Then,

..." Women must be instructed," said Siegfried, the good knight,
"To leave off idle talking and rule their tongues aright.
Keep thy fair wife in order, I'll do by mine the same.
Such overweening folly puts me indeed to shame."

But it was too late to mend the matter. With devilish intent Brunhild plotted vengeance. Siegfried, the author of her mortification, must die the death. The foes of Siegfried persuaded his wife, unaware of their design, to embroider in his vesture a silken cross over the one spot where the hero was vulnerable. Then the crafty Hagen, who had been suborned by Brunhild to the baleful deed, bided his time. One day, when heated by running, Gunther, Hagen, and Siegfried stayed by a brook to drink. Hagen saw his chance.

. . . Then, as to drink, Sir Siegfried down kneeling there he found,
He pierced him through the croslet, that sudden from the wound
Forth the life-blood spurted, e'en o'er his murderer's weed.
Nevermore will warrior dare so foul a deed. . . .

. With blood were all bedabbled the flowerets of the field.
Some time with death he struggled as though he scorned to yield
E'en to the foe whose weapon strikes down the loftiest head.
At last prone in the meadow lay mighty Siegfried dead.

Brunhild glories in the fall of Siegfried and exults over the mourning widow. Kriemhild, sitting apart, nurses schemes of vengeance. Her brothers affect to patch up the breach in order that they may obtain the hoard of the Nibelungs. But this treasure, after it has been brought to Worms, is sunk, for precaution's sake, by Hagen, in the Rhine. Although in time Kriemhild becomes the wife of King Etzel (Atli, Attila) of Hunland, still she does not forget the injury done her by her kin. After thirteen years she inveigles her brothers and their retainers, called now Nibelungs because of their possession of the hoard, to Etzel's Court, where, after a desperate and dastardly encounter, in which their hall is reduced to ashes, they are all destroyed save Gunther and Hagen. Gunther's head is cut off at her orders; and she herself, with Siegfried's sword Balmung, severs the head of the hated Hagen from his body. With these warriors the secret of the hidden hoard passes. Kriemhild, having wreaked her vengeance, falls by the hand of one of her husband's knights, Hildebrand, who, with Dietrich of Berne, had played a prominent part among the associates of King Etzel.

"I cannot say you now what hath befallen since;
The women all were weeping, and the Ritters and the prince,
Also the noble squires, their dear friends lying dead:
Here hath the story ending; this is the Nibelungen's Need."1

1 From Carlyle's translation of fragments of the poem.

« PreviousContinue »