A T the court of Worms high festival was held to do honour to Siegfried and his eleven brave warriors. It is true that his boldness when he entered the city had made the Kings and their liegemen wish to serve the dauntless hero, yet now it was not of his boldness that they thought, but of his happy, winsome ways. Indeed it was but a short time until he was the most favoured Prince in all the gallant throng of courtiers that gathered round King Gunther in his royal city.
Only one in all the country hated the gallant Prince of the Netherlands, and that one was the stern and fierce-eyed Hagen; but of the counsellor's ill-will the light-hearted hero knew nought.
Merry were the frolics, gay the pastimes at the court of Worms, and in every game and sport Siegfried was the most skilful.
Did the warriors hurl the stone? None could hurl it as far as could Siegfried. Did they leap? No one ever leaped as far as did the Prince. Did they go a-hunting? No one brought down the prey as often as did the hero. Did they tilt in the tournament? Siegfried it was who ever gained the prize. Yet none was envious of the Prince, so glad he was, so light of heart.
When games were held in the great castle hall, ladies clad in garments of richest hue, and sparkling with gems of ruddy gold, would come into the galleries. And ever as they watched the gallant knights their eyes would follow the most gallant of them all, the hero Siegfried. But among these fair counts and ladies the Princess Kriemhild was never to be seen, and Siegfried had no thought to spare for any other damsel. In his heart was ever the image of the maiden whom he had come hither to win.
The Princess might not go down to the great hall to see the tournament, yet as she sat in her tower she would ofttimes think of the mighty strength of this hero, of his heart of gold. And almost before she was aware Kriemhild had found the Prince whom she would gladly call her lord.
When she heard the knights running and leaping in the courtyard, Kriemhild would lay her seam aside, and Princess though she was, she would run to her lattice window, and peeping through, she would watch her hero with glad eyes, victor in every pastime. Nor would she turn away until the sports were ended and the courtyard once again grew silent and deserted.
Siegfried did not know that Kriemhild's glad eyes were peeping through her lattice window, and had he known he would scarce have dared to dream that her glance was fixed on no other save on him alone.
Indeed sometimes the hero's heart misgave him. When would he see the maiden whom he loved? Had she no pleasure in his knightly games, no smile to give him for his skill? Nay, she was as great a stranger to him now as when he had ridden into the royal city of Worms in hope to gain her favour.
Thus for one whole year Siegfried dwelt with the three Kings of Burgundy, and during all that time he never once saw the wonder-lady of his dreams, the Princess Kriemhild.
At the end of the year King Gunther's fair realm of Burgundy was threatened with invasion and with mighty wars. No longer did the castle hall at Worms ring with the merry pastimes of the courtiers. All was grave, silent, for King Gunther and his brothers and his counsellors were in sore distress.
That day heralds had ridden into the land and demanded audience of King Gunther.
"Now who hath sent you hither?" said the King in angry mood.
"Our masters," cried the heralds. "King Ludegast and King Ludeger have sent us to warn thee that they hate thee and will invade thy land. With great armies will they come to thy realm of Burgundy. Within twelve weeks will they be here, unless thou dost offer a ransom for thy kingdom."
"Tarry a little," said Gunther, "until I have spoken with my counsellors, then shall ye carry my answer back to thy masters."
King Gernot had heard the challenge of the heralds, and dauntless he cried, "Our good swords shall defend us. What fear we from the foreign host!"
But Hagen cried, "Ludegast and Ludeger are fierce, and evil will overtake us, for scarce have we time in which to gather our liegemen together ere the foe will be in our land. Speak thou, O King, unto the hero Siegfried. It may be that his powers can help us now."
Meanwhile King Gunther commanded that the heralds should be lodged with all due courtesy, and this he did for the sake of his fair fame.
Now as Gunther sat brooding over the evil which seemed as though it would overtake his land, Siegfried came to his side. He knew no reason for the King's distress.
"What hath come to pass," said the hero, "that all our merry pastimes are ended? For since ever I came into the fair land of Burgundy hath the castle hall of thy royal city echoed with the ring of knightly deeds, and tilts and jousts have long held sway. Why, therefore, are the merry pastimes ended, and wherefore dost thou sit here thus sad and downcast?"
"Not to every one," said King Gunther, "would I tell my sorrow, nay, to none save a steadfast friend dare I declare it."
When Siegfried heard the King's words, his fair face flushed, then paled again.
"Already," cried the hero, "have I followed thee in time of need." For indeed during the year which he had spent at Worms, Siegfried had gone with Gunther on more than one foray into the neighbouring kingdoms.
"Now," he continued, "now if trouble hath come to thee my arm is strong to bring thee aid. I will be thy friend if thou art willing while life is mine."
"God reward thee, Sir Siegfried!" cried King Gunther, and right glad of heart was he. "It may be I shall not need thy strength to aid me in my battles, yet do I rejoice that thou art my friend. Never while my life lasts shalt thou be sorry for thy words."
Then King Gunther told to the brave knight the insolent message which the heralds had brought from their masters, Ludegast and Ludeger.
"Thou needst not be troubled at these tidings," said the young knight. "If thy foes were as many as thirty thousand, yet with one thousand warriors would I destroy them. Therefore leave the battle in my hands."
King Gunther, for he was not very brave, rejoiced at Siegfried's words, and scattered his fears to the four winds.
Then he sent for the heralds, and bade them return to their masters to say that King Gunther defied their threats, and in proof thereof would ere long send an army to punish them for their insolence.
Now when the heralds reached their own country with these tidings, King Ludegast of Denmark, and King Ludeger the Saxon, who was his brother, were filled with dread. Moreover the heralds told them that the famous hero Siegfried would fight for Burgundy, and when they heard that the hearts of the rude kings failed for fear.
In great haste they gathered together their warriors, and soon Ludegast had twenty thousand men ready to defend his land. Ludeger the Saxon, too, had called together even more than forty thousand men, and the two armies formed a mighty host.
King Gunther meanwhile had assembled his men, and the chief command was given to Hagen with the grim face and the piercing eyes.
When Siegfried saw that Gunther was buckling on his armour he drew near to him, and said, "Sir King, stay thou at home in the royal city and guard the women. Neither dost thou have any fear, for in good sooth, I can protect both thine honour and thy men."
And King Gunther stayed in the royal city while his warriors went forth to battle.
From the Rhine river Gunther's vast army marched toward the Saxon country, and all along the borders they smote those who were in favour of their foes, until fear fell upon those lands.
Then leaving Hagen with the main army, Siegfried rode forward alone to seek the foe. Nor was it long ere on a plain before him he saw a great host encamped.
In advance of the great army of more than forty thousand men stood a single warrior, as though he were a sentinel guarding the plain. A shining shield of gold was in his hand, and when Siegfried saw that, he knew that the sentinel was none other than Ludegast himself.
Even as Siegfried knew his enemy and spurred forward his steed, Ludegast saw the hero. Digging his spurs into the sides of his horse he also sprang forward, and, with lances poised, the two mighty men met and charged with all their strength.
On dashed the noble steeds as though driven by a tempest, until the King and the Prince drew rein, and turning faced each other once again, their swords now in their hands.
With such great strokes did Siegfried ply his foe, that fiery sparks flamed all around the helmet of the King, while the noise of his mighty blows filled the space around as with peals of thunder.
King Ludegast was a worthy foe and many an ugly thrust did Siegfried parry with his shield. But at length with his good sword Balmung, the hero pierced through the steel harness of Ludegast the King. Three times he struck, until his enemy lay helpless at his feet.
With piteous moan then did Ludegast beg the Prince to spare his life, and this Siegfried did.
Then, as the hero was going to sheathe his sword, up rode thirty of the King's warriors, who had watched the fray from afar. Fiercely they beset the hero who had vanquished their King and stealthily did they seek to rescue his prisoner. But Siegfried brandished his good sword Balmung, and with his own strong right hand slaughtered the thirty warriors, all save one. Him the Prince spared that he might carry the dire tidings of the capture of King Ludegast to the army on the plain.
Then Siegfried, left alone with his royal prisoner, lifted him on to his own charger, and brought him to Hagen.
But the Prince did not linger with the army. Without delay he set out for the forefront of the fray, and close behind him rode his own eleven knights, while Gernot followed with a thousand men. And soon the great plain was a grim battlefield.
Loud and fierce was the conflict. Many a clanging blow fell upon uplifted shields, many an eager sword-thrust struck through helmet and through mail, and ever in the thickest of the fight rode Siegfried, the valiant Prince of the Netherlands.
The hero was seeking for King Ludeger, the leader of the Saxon host. Three times did he cleave his way through the mighty host until at length he stood before the King.
Now Ludeger had seen how Siegfried swung his good sword Balmung, and how he cleft in twain the helmet of many of the toughest warriors in the Saxon army, and his heart was filled with rage. He knew also that his brother Ludegast had been taken captive by this same bold Prince.
Thus it was that when Siegfried stood before his royal foe, the onslaught of the King was more violent than the hero had expected. So violent was it that the Prince's war-horse staggered and well-nigh fell. With a mighty effort, the steed recovered from the shock, but the rage of the hero was terrible. In his eagerness to reach the fierce King Ludeger he dismounted, as also did his foe, and thus they fought, while all around them flew the splinters of broken swords and spears.
At length with a great blow Siegfried struck the shield from Ludeger's hold; a moment more and he had him at his mercy. For the second time that day the Prince was victor over a King.
As Siegfried stooped to bind his prisoner, Ludeger's eyes fell upon the crown which was emblazoned on his victor's shield. Then he knew that the rumour which had reached him was true. This mighty hero was none other than Siegfried, the son of Siegmund, King of the Netherlands.
Vain was it to fight longer with such a hero among their foes, and Ludeger raised his voice loud above the tumult, and cried to his brave Saxon warriors, "My warriors, my lieges, cease to give battle. Lay down your arms, lower your standards, for none may conquer where Prince Siegfried wars."
At Ludeger's words all that was left of the great armies of Danes and Saxons laid down their arms, lowered their standards, while their King humbly sued for peace.
By Hagen's command peace was granted, but Ludeger, along with Ludegast and five hundred warriors who had been taken prisoner, were forced to go with the Burgundians to the royal city of Worms.
The victorious army was soon upon its homeward way, the wounded being carried in litters by the command of King Gernot.
Tidings were sent to King Gunther, telling him to rejoice, for his warriors had won the day. Yet to all it was well known that the victory was due to the prowess of the mighty Prince Siegfried.
Nor did the heralds who were sent to the city with the glad news of victory forget to tell of the marvellous deeds of the hero.
In Worms there had been grief lest their warriors should be vanquished, but now the city was full of triumph, and noble dames and happy maidens gathered round the squires who had brought the good news.
Then Kriemhild sent secretly for one of the squires, for she wished to hear without delay all that had befallen her gallant knight. Had she not mourned his absence and scarce slept the long nights through lest danger should come nigh so fearless a warrior? Had she not vowed to herself that she would own no other knight as lord, save only this great hero? For unawares love had stolen into the tender heart of the Lady Kriemhild.
When the squire was led to the bower of the Princess, he stood quiet, modest before the beauteous lady.
"Tell me the dear tidings," she said, "stint not thy words, and gold will I give to thee in plenty."
Yet at first the Princess had no courage to ask of Siegfried's prowess.
"How fared my brother Gernot, and how have my other kinsmen fought? Are many wounded left upon the field?"
Then to her lips sprang the words she would fain have the squire answer before all others.
"And who did best of any?" said the Princess, and her voice broke, and her tears fell as she spoke.
But the young squire knew what the maiden wished to hear, and he told her of the mighty deeds done on the battlefield, and how ever in the forefront, where the danger was the greatest, was to be seen the gallant Prince of the Netherlands, his good sword Balmung in his hand. Of his two royal captives, too, the young squire told, and as Kriemhild listened to the exploits of her knight, her lovely face became rosy red with delight.
Well rewarded indeed was the squire for his joyous tidings, for the Princess gave him costly raiment and ten gold coins as well.
Ere many more days had passed away there came the tramp of armed men along the banks of the great Rhine river. The troops were coming home.
Then to the windows of the castle rushed the maidens, and among them was the beautiful Princess, and together they watched as the warriors rode through the streets of the royal city.
King Gunther himself went forth to welcome his troops, and to thank the young hero who had so gallantly saved the realm of Burgundy from invasion.
Of all those who had gone forth to battle but sixty men were left behind, stricken by the foe.
The royal prisoners Ludegast and Ludeger the King treated with honour. He indeed promised to set them free if their liegemen, who had been taken prisoners, would stay as hostages in his land. And this the prisoners were well pleased to do, that their Kings might return without ransom to their own lands.
Siegfried the hero now began to think that it was fitting that he should go back to his old father Siegmund, and his dear mother Sieglinde.
But King Gunther, to whom he told his wish, entreated him to stay yet a little longer in the royal city.
"For now," said the King, "will we hold a merry festival and kings and princes will we summon to our court. Stay, then, Sir Siegfried, that thou mayest show thy skill in the great tournament."
Yet it was neither the wishes of the King nor the thought of the tournament which made Siegfried willing to linger on still in the fair Burgundian town. It was the image of a gentle maiden, whom yet he had never seen, which kept him from speeding home to his own country.
Perchance if he waited he would see her soon, the wonder-maiden, whose image even on the battlefield was safe hidden in his heart.