Whitsuntide had come and gone when tidings from beyond the Rhine reached the court at Worms.
No dread tidings were these, but glad and good to hear, of a matchless Queen named Brunhild who dwelt in Isenland. King Gunther listened with right good-will to the tales of this warlike maiden, for if she were beautiful she was also strong as any warrior. Wayward, too, she was, yet Gunther would fain have her as his queen to sit beside him on his throne.
One day the King sent for Siegfried to tell him that he would fain journey to Isenland to wed Queen Brunhild.
Now Siegfried, as you know, had been in Isenland and knew some of the customs of this wayward Queen. So he answered the King right gravely that it would be a dangerous journey across the sea to Isenland, nor would he win the Queen unless he were able to vanquish her great strength.
He told the King how Brunhild would challenge him to three contests or games, as she would call them. And if she were the victor, as indeed she had been over many a royal suitor, then his life would be forfeited.
At her own desire kings and princes had hurled the spear at the stalwart Queen, and it had but glanced harmless off her shield, while she would pierce the armour of these valiant knights with her first thrust. This was one of the Queen's games.
Then the knights would hasten to the ring and throw the stone from them as far as might be, yet ever Queen Brunhild threw it farther. For this was another game of the warrior Queen.
The third game was to leap beyond the stone which they had thrown, but ever to their dismay the knights saw this marvellous maiden far outleap them all.
These valorous knights, thus beaten in the three contests, had been beheaded, and therefore it was that Siegfried spoke so gravely to King Gunther.
But Gunther, so he said, was willing to risk his life to win so brave a bride.
Now Hagen had drawn near to the King, and as he listened to Siegfried's words, the grim warrior said, "Sire, since the Prince knows the customs of Isenland, let him go with thee on thy journey, to share thy dangers, and to aid thee in the presence of this warlike Queen."
And Hagen, for he hated the hero, hoped that he might never return alive from Isenland.
But the King was pleased with his counsellor's words. "Sir Siegfried," he said, "wilt thou help me to win the matchless maiden Brunhild for my queen?"
"That right gladly will I do," answered the Prince, "if thou wilt promise to give to me thy sister Kriemhild as my bride, should I bring thee back safe from Isenland, the bold Queen at thy side."
Then the King promised that on the same day that he wedded Brunhild, his sister should wed Prince Siegfried, and with this promise the hero was well content.
"Thirty thousand warriors will I summon to go with us to Isenland," cried King Gunther gaily.
"Nay," said the Prince, "thy warriors would but be the victims of this haughty Queen. As plain knight-errants will we go, taking with us none, save Hagen the keen-eyed and his brother Dankwart."
Then King Gunther, his face aglow with pleasure, went with Sir Siegfried to his sister's bower, and begged her to provide rich garments in which he and his knights might appear before the beauteous Queen Brunhild.
"Thou shalt not beg this service from me," cried the gentle Princess, "rather shalt thou command that which thou dost wish. See, here have I silk in plenty. Send thou the gems from off thy bucklers, and I and my maidens will work them with gold embroideries into the silk."
Thus the sweet maiden dismissed her brother, and sending for her thirty maidens who were skilled in needlework she bade them sew their daintiest stitches, for here were robes to be made for the King and Sir Siegfried ere they went to bring Queen Brunhild into Rhineland.
For seven weeks Kriemhild and her maidens were busy in their bower. Silk white as new-fallen snow, silk green as the leaves in spring did they shape into garments worthy to be worn by the King and Sir Siegfried, and amid the gold embroideries glittered many a radiant gem.
Meanwhile down by the banks of the Rhine a vessel was being built to carry the King across the sea to Isenland.
When all was ready the King and Sir Siegfried went to the bower of the Princess. They would put on the silken robes and the beautiful cloaks Kriemhild and her maidens had sewed to see that they were neither too long nor too short. But indeed the skilful hands of the Princess had not erred. No more graceful or more beautiful garments had ever before been seen by the King or the Prince.
"Sir Siegfried," said the gentle Kriemhild, "care for my royal brother lest danger befall him in the bold Queen's country. Bring him home both safe and sound I beseech thee."
The hero bowed his head and promised to shield the King from danger, then they said farewell to the maiden, and embarked in the little ship that awaited them on the banks of the Rhine. Nor did Siegfried forget to take with him his Cloak of Darkness and his good sword Balmung.
Now none was there on the ship save King Gunther, Siegfried, Hagen, and Dankwart, but Siegfried with his Cloak of Darkness had the strength of twelve men as well as his own strong right hand.
Merrily sailed the little ship, steered by Sir Siegfried himself. Soon the Rhine river was left behind and they were out on the sea, a strong wind filling their sails. Ere evening, full twenty miles had the good ship made.
For twelve days they sailed onward, until before them rose the grim fortress that guarded Isenland.
"What towers are these?" cried King Gunther, as he gazed upon the turreted castle which looked as a grim sentinel guarding the land.
"These," answered the hero, "are Queen Brunhild's towers and this is the country over which she rules."
Then turning to Hagen and Dankwart Siegfried begged them to let him be spokesman to the Queen, for he knew her wayward moods. "And King Gunther shall be my King," said the Prince, "and I but his vassal until we leave Isenland."
And Hagen and Dankwart, proud men though they were, obeyed in all things the words of the young Prince of the Netherlands.