Heroes of the Olden Times: The Story of Siegfried
Then Siegfried and his twelve comrades, and Hagen and the thousand Burgundian knights, dashed upon them with the fury of the whirlwind. The lances flew so thick in the air, that they hid the sun from sight; swords flashed on every side; the sound of clashing steel, and horses' hoofs, and soldiers' shouts, filled earth and sky with a horrid din. And soon the boastful foes of the Burgundians were everywhere worsted and thrown into disorder. Siegfried dashed hither and thither, from one part of the field to another, in search of King Leudiger. Thrice he cut his way through the ranks, and at last he met face to face the one for whom he sought.
King Leudiger saw the flashing sunbeams that glanced from Greyfell's mane, he saw the painted crown upon the hero's broad shield, and then he felt the fearful stroke of the sword Balmung, as it clashed against his own, and cut it clean in halves. He dropped his weapons, raised his visor, and gave himself up as a prisoner.
"Give up the fight, my brave fellows," he cried. "This is Siegfried the brave, the Prince of the Lowlands, and the Lord of Nibelungen Land. It were foolishness to fight against him. Save yourselves as best you can."
This was the signal for a frightful panic. All turned and fled. Each thought of nothing but his own safety; and knights and warriors, horsemen and foot soldiers, in one confused mass, throwing shields and weapons here and there, rushed wildly down the hill, and through the valley and ravines, and sought, as best they could, their way homeward. The Burgundian heroes were the masters of the field, and on the morrow they turned their faces joyfully towards Rhineland. And all joined in saying that to Siegfried was due the praise for this wonderful victory which they had gained.
Heralds had been sent on the fleetest horses to carry the glad news to Burgundy; and when, one morning, they dashed into the courtyard of the castle, great was the anxiety to know what tidings they had brought. And King Gunther, and the young Giselher, and the peerless Kriemhild, came out to welcome them, and eagerly to inquire what had befallen the heroes. With breathless haste the heralds told the story of all that had happened.
"And how fares our brother Gernot?" asked Kriemhild.
"There is no happier man on earth," answered the herald. "In truth, there was not a coward among them all; but the bravest of the brave was Siegfried. He it was who took the two kings prisoners; and everywhere in the thickest of the fight there was Siegfried. And now our little army is on its homeward march, with a thousand prisoners and large numbers of the enemy's wounded. Had it not been for the brave Siegfried, no such victory could have been won."
In a few days the Rhine champions reached their home. And gayly were the castle and all the houses in the city decked in honor of them. And all those who had been left being went out to meet them as they came down from the forest road, and drew near to the castle. And the young girls strewed flowers in their path, and hung garlands upon their horses; and music and song followed the heroes into the city, and through the castle gate.
When they reached the palace, the two prisoner kings, Leudiger and Leudigast, were loosed from their bonds, and handsomely entertained at Gunther's table. And the Burgundian kings assured them that they should be treated as honored guests, and have the freedom of the court and castle, if they would pledge themselves not to try to escape from Burgundy until terms of peace should be agreed upon. This pledge they gladly gave, and rich apartments in the palace were assigned for their use. Like favors were shown to all the prisoners, according to their rank; and the wounded were kindly cared for. And the Burgundians made ready for a gay high-tide - a glad festival of rejoicing, to be held at the next full moon.
When the day drew near which had been set for this high-tide, the folk from all parts of Rhineland began to flock towards the city. They came in companies with music and laughter, and the glad songs of the springtime. And all the knights were mounted on gallant horses caparisoned with gold-red saddles, from which hung numbers of tinkling silver bells. As they rode up the sands towards the castle gate, with their dazzling shields upon their saddlebows, and their gay and many-colored banners floating in the air, King Gernot and the young Giselher, with the noblest knights of the fortress, went courteously out to meet them; and the friendly greeting which were offered by the two young kings won the hearts of all. Thirty and two princes and more than five thousand warriors came as bidden guests. The city and castle were decked in holiday attire, and all the people in the land gave themselves up to enjoyment. The sick and the wounded, who until now had thought themselves at death's door, forgot their ailments and their pains as they heard the shouts of joy and the peals of music in the streets.
In a green field outside of the city walls, arrangements had been made for the games, and galleries and high stages had been built for the lookers-on. Here jousts and tournaments were held, and the knights and King Gunther saw with what keen enjoyment both his own people and his guests looked upon these games, and took part in the gay festivities, he asked of those around him, -
"What more can we do to heighten the pleasures of the day?"
And one of his counselors answered, -
"My lord, the ladies of the court, and the little children, pine in silence in the sunless rooms of the palace, while we enjoy the free air and light of heaven, the music, and the gay scenes before us. There is nothing wanting to make this day's joy complete, save the presence of our dear ones to share these pleasures with us."
Gunther was delighted to hear these words; and he sent a herald to the palace, and invited all the ladies of the court and all the children to come out and view the games, and join in the general gladness.
When Dame Ute heard the message which the herald brought from her kingly son, she hastened to make ready rich dresses and costly jewels wherewith to adorn the dames and damsels of the court. And, when all were in readiness, the peerless Kriemhild, with her mother at her side, went forth from the castle; and a hundred knights, all sword in hand, went with her as a bodyguard, and a great number of noble ladies dressed in rich attire followed her. As the red dawn peers forth from behind gray clouds, and drives the mists and shadows away from earth, so came the lovely one. As the bright full moon in radiant splendor moves in beauty before his train of attendant stars, and outshines them all, so was Kriemhild the most glorious of all the noble ladies there. And the thousand knights and warriors paused in their games, and greeted the peerless princess as was due to one so noble and fair. Upon the highest platform, under a rich canopy of cloth-of-gold, seats were made ready for the maiden and her mother and the fair ladies in their train; and all the most worthy princes in Rhineland sat around, and the games were begun again.
For twelve days the gay high-tide lasted, and nought was left undone whereby the joy might be increased. And of all the heroes and princes who jousted in the tournament, or took part in the games, none could equal the unassuming Siegfried; and his praises were heard on every hand, and all agreed that he was the most worthy prince that they had ever seen.
When at last the festal days came to an end, Gunther and his brothers called their guests and vassals around them, and loaded them with costly gifts, and bade them god-speed. And tears stood in the eyes of all at parting.
The captive kings, Leudiger and Leudigast, were not forgotten.
"What will ye give me for your freedom?" asked King Gunther, half in jest.
They answered, -
"If you will allow us without further hindrance to go back to our people, we pledge our lives and our honor that we will straightway send you gold, as much as half a thousand horses can carry."
Then Gunther turned to Siegfried, and said, -
"What think you, friend Siegfried, of such princely ransom?"
"Noble lord," said Siegfried, "I think you are in need of no such ransom. Friendship is worth much more than gold. If your kingly captives will promise, on their honor, never more to come towards Burgundy as enemies, let them go. We have no need of gold."
"'Tis well said," cried Gunther highly pleased.
And Leudiger and Leudigast, with tears of thankfulness, gladly made the asked-for promise, and on the morrow, with light hearts and costly gifts, they set out on their journey homewards.
When all the guests had gone, and the daily routine of idle palace life set in again, Siegfried began to talk of going back to Nibelungen Land. But young Giselher, and the peerless Kriemhild, and King Gunther, besought him to stay yet a little longer. And he yielded to their kind wishes. And autumn passed away with its fruits and its vintage, and grim old winter came howling down from the north, and Siegfried was still in Burgundy. And then old Hoder, the king of the winter months, came blustering through the Rhine valley; and with him were the Reifriesen, - the thieves that steal the daylight from the earth and the warmth from the sun. And they nipped the flowers, and withered the grass, and stripped the trees, and sealed up the rivers, and covered the earth with a white mantle of sorrow.
But within King Gunther's wide halls there was joy and good cheer. And the season of Yule-feast came, and still Siegfried tarried in Burgundyland.