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The little party was greatly impressed with the splendor of Brunhild's three turreted palaces, and with the beauty and prodigious strength of the queen. When they saw her huge golden shield, steel-studded, beneath whose weight four chamberlains staggered, and the immense javelin of the war-like maid, the warriors trembled for their lives, all save Siegfried, who, wrapped in his cloud-cloak, invisible to all, stood behind the bewildered Günther.
“Give me thy buckler,” he whispered. “Now make but the motions, and I will hurl both spear and stone. But keep this a secret if thou wouldst save both our lives.”
To the surprise of every one Günther won the games, and Brunhild, surprised and mortified, ordered her followers to bow to her better, and returned to the castle to make ready for the journey to Worms.
Siegfried carried the tidings to Worms, and the bridal party was met and welcomed at the banks of the Rhine by the Queen Uta, Kriemhild, and a large following. During the wedding feast, Siegfried reminded Günther of his promise, and the king, calling Kriemhild to him, affianced the two in the presence of the company.
When the suspicious Brunhild saw Siegfried sitting at the table of the king, she was angered, for she had been told that he was a vassal. Although she could get no satisfaction from Günther, she suspected some secret. When she and Günther retired for the night she conquered him, tied him hand and foot with her magic girdle, and hung him on the wall until morning. Günther, overcome with wrath and vexation, told his humiliation to Siegfried the next morning at the minster. “Be comforted," said Siegfried. “Tonight I will steal into thy chamber wrapped in my mistcloak, and when the lights are extinguished I will wrestle with her until I deprive her of the magic ring and girdle.”
After some hesitation, Günther assented, and Brunbild, supposing she was conquered by Günther, yielded herself willingly to her husband and lost all her former strength. Siegfried carried away her girdle and ring and gave them to his wife, little suspecting what harm they would do him in the years to come.
The wedding festivities over, Siegfried took his bride home to the Netherlands, where their arrival was celebrated with the greatest festivities. Siegmund placed the crown on his son's head, and Siegfried and Kriemhild ruled happily over the kingdom for ten years, during which time a son was born to them, christened Günther for his uncle.
During these years Brunhild had been fretting that the supposed vassal, Siegfried, had never come to pay homage to his king. At last, affecting a great longing to see Kriemhild once more, she induced Günther to invite his sister and her husband to visit them. This he did gladly, and on their arrival many days were spent in feasting, merrymaking, and the tourney.
But one day, when the two queens were watching the tilting in the castle court, Kriemhild, excited by the victories of her husband, declared that Siegfried, because of his might, ought to be ruler of Burgundy. This angered Brunhild, who reproached the wife of a vassal for such presumption.
“My husband a vassal !” exclaimed the indignant Kriembild. He, ruler of the Netherlands, who holds a higher place than my brother Günther! I cannot endure thy insolence longer."
“I will see,” said Brunhild, “this very day whether thou receivest the public respect and honor paid to me.”
“I am ready for the test,” responded Kriemhild," and I will show thee to-day, before our following, that I dare to enter the church before Günther's queen.”
When the two queens met on the minster steps, and Brunhild declared that no vassaless should enter before her, Kriemhild reproached her for being the leman of Siegfried, and displayed in proof the ring and girdle he had taken from Brunhild. Rage and fury rendered Brunhild speechless. The kings were summoned, and both denied the truth of Kriemhild's words. But the two queens were now bitter enemies, and the followers of Brunhild, among them the gloomy Hagan of Trony, were deeply angered at Siegfried and his queen. Hagan laid a plot to destroy Siegfried,
and Günther, though at first unwilling, was at last induced to enter it.
Pretended messengers came to announce to Günther that the Saxons again threatened war against him. Siegfried proposed to take part in the war, and preparations were at once begun. Hagan, with pretended tenderness, told Kriemhild of the coming danger, and asked her if her lord had a weak place, that he might know and guard it for him. Kriemhild confided to him her husband's secret. When Siegfried was bathing in the dragon's blood, a leaf fell between his shoulders, and that spot was vulnerable. There she would embroider a cross on his vesture that Hagan might protect him in the shock of battle.
The war was now abandoned and a great hunt undertaken. Gernot and Giselher, though they did not see fit to warn Siegfried, refused to take part in the plot and go to the hunt. Many a lion, elk, and boar fell by Siegfried's hand that day before the hunters were called together to the royal breakfast; when they at last sat down in the flowery meadow the wine was wanting, and the warriors were compelled to quench their thirst at a brooklet near by.
“ A race ! ” cried the hero ; and he, Hagan, and Günther ran for the brook, Siegfried gaining it first. After the king had quenched his thirst, Siegfried threw down his arms and stooped to drink. Then Hagan, picking up his ashen spear, threw it at the embroidered cross, and Siegfried fell in the agonies of death, reproaching his traitorous friends whom he had served so faithfully.
To add cruelty to cruelty, the vindictive Hagan placed the body of Siegfried outside Kriemhild's chamber door, where she would stumble over it as she went out to early mass next morning. Down she fell fainting when she recognized her husband, and reviving, shrieked in her anguish, “ Brunhild planned it; Hagan struck the blow!"
Her grief was terrible to see. One moment the unhappy queen was accusing herself for revealing her husband's secret; again she was vowing revenge against Hagan, and at another time she reviled the traitorous Günther.
When her father-in-law Siegmund returned home, she would not go with him, but remained near the body of her husband, under the protection of her brothers Gernot and Giselher and in the company of her mother.
Kriemhild, living in joyless state in her lonely palace, was at last induced to speak to Günther and pardon him. The pardon granted, Günther and Hagan at once plotted to have the Nibelungen hoard, Siegfried's morning-gift to Kriemhild, brought to Worms. Never before was such a treasure
Twelve huge wagons, journeying thrice a day, required four nights and days to carry it from the mountain to the bay. It consisted of nothing but precious stones and gold, and with it was the magic wishing-rod. It filled Kriemhild's towers and chambers to overflowing, and won many friends for the queen, who distributed it liberally.
When the envious Hagan could not induce Günther to take the treasure from Kriemhild, he selected a time when the king and his brothers were away from home, and seizing the treasure, cast it into the Rhine, hoping to get it again. In this he failed, so the great treasure was forever lost.
Thus ends the first part of the Lay of the Nibelungen. The second part is sometimes called the Need or Fall of the Nibelungen.
While Kriemhild was bewailing her loss and revolving plans for revenge, Etzel, King of the Huns, who had heard of the charms of Siegfried's widow, sent the noble Margrave Rüdeger into Burgundy with proposals for her hand.
Gunther and his brothers begged Kriemhild to accept the offer ; their counsellors advised it; only the sage Hagan protested. He knew too well how Kriemhild longed for revenge. “When once she gets among the Huns, she will make us rue the day,” said he.
But the others laughed at Hagan's scruples. The land of the Huns was far away, and they need never set foot in it. Moreover, it was their duty to make Kriemhild happy.
Moved by the eloquence of Rüdeger, Kriemhild consented to wed Etzel, and set out in great state to meet the king.
She was splendidly entertained along the way, tarried a
short time at the home of the Margrave Rüdeger, and at Tulna met the great monarch Etzel, riding to meet her, among his hosts of Russians, Polacks, Greeks, and Wallachians.
The splendid wedding-feast was held at Vienna. Kriemhild was received with the greatest honor, and so lavish was she of the gold and jewels she had brought with her, and so gracious to the attendant Huns, that every one loved her, and willingly worked her will.
For seven long years she and Attila lived happy together, and to them was given a son whom they christened Ortlieb. Then Kriemhild, still remembering her loss and the cruelties of her Burgundian relatives and friends, bethought herself of
Feigning a great desire to see her brothers, she entreated Etzel to invite them to visit her; and the king, not suspecting her fell purpose, and glad of an opportunity to welcome her friends, at once despatched messengers with the invitation.
This time other counsellors besides Hagan mistrusted the queen, and advised King Günther and his brothers to decline the invitation. But the princes grew angry at their advice ; and Hagan, who could not endure to be laughed at, set forth with them, accompanied with a great train of warriors.
The Rhine was too swollen to ford, and Hagan was sent up the stream to find a ferryman. As he looked for the boatman, he spied some mermaids bathing, and seizing their garments, would not restore them until they told him what would befall the Burgundians in Hungary.
“ Safe will you ride to Etzel's court, and safe return,” said one, as he returned the garments. But as he turned to go, another called: “ My aunt has lied to thee that she might get back her raiment. Turn now, or you will never live to see Burgundy. None save the chaplain will return in safety.”
Hagan went on gloomily and found the ferryman, who, proud and sullen, refused to take the party across. Hagan slew him, and, returning with the boat, threw the unfortunate chaplain into the river, thinking by drowning him to prove