As the heroes entered the streets of Worms the people came out of their houses all agape with wonder. Who could the bold strangers be? See how their horses' trappings shone as burnished gold and how their white armour glittered in the sunlight.
The heroes entered the streets of Worms
Then down from the castle rode Gunther's warriors to welcome the strangers. Right courteously did they greet Siegfried and his eleven brave knights. As the custom was, they sent their minions to lead away the strangers' chargers to the stalls, and to bear their shields to a place of safety.
But Siegfried cried gaily, "Nay, from our steeds and our armour will we not part, for ere long I and my gallant warriors will ride away again to our own country. I pray thee now tell me where I shall find thy King, for to speak with him came I thither."
"King Gunther," cried his warriors, "is even now seated in yonder hall, and around him are gathered many gallant heroes, many brave knights."
Now in the hall tidings had reached King Gunther of the band of strangers who had so boldly entered into the royal city.
When he heard of their gorgeous raiment and their shining armour, much did he desire to know from whence they came.
Then one of his lords said to the King, "We know not who these strangers be, yet if thou wilt send for Hagen, it may be he can tell thee. For to Hagen strange lands are well known, as also the kings and princes who dwell therein."
Therefore Hagen was summoned in all haste to the presence of King Gunther.
"Tell me now," said the King, as his counsellor bowed low before him, "tell me, if in truth thou knowest, who be these strangers that ride so boldly towards the castle?"
Strong and stern Hagen stood up before the King. No winsome hero was this man, but a warrior fierce and grim, with eyes to pierce all on whom he gazed, so keen, so quick they were.
"The truth, sire, will I tell to thee," answered Hagen, and he walked over to the castle window, flung it wide and cast his searching glance on Siegfried and his noble knights, who were now drawing near to the castle.
Well was the grim counsellor pleased with the splendour of these strangers with their shining helmets, their dazzling white armour, their noble chargers, yet from whence they came he could not tell.
Hagen turned from the window to where the King stood awaiting his answer.
"Whence come these knights I know not," he said. "Yet so noble is their bearing that they must needs be princes or ambassadors from some great monarch. One knight, the fairest and the boldest, is, methinks, the wondrous hero Siegfried, though never have I seen that mighty Prince."
Then, his fierce eyes gleaming, Hagen told the King of the great treasure Siegfried had won from the Nibelungs. His eyes gleamed with a greed he could not hide as he told King Gunther of the gold that had been strewed upon the mountain-side, of the jewels that had sparkled there, for Hagen was envious of the riches of the great hero.
He told the King, too, how Siegfried had seized the good sword Balmung, and with it had killed the two little princely dwarfs, their twelve giants and seven hundred great champions of the neighbouring country. Of Alberich, too, Hagen told his master, of Alberich from whom Siegfried had taken the Cloak of Darkness and the Magic Wand, and who now guarded the hoard for the mighty hero alone.
Never was such a warrior as Siegfried, thought King Gunther, who was himself neither strong nor brave.
But yet more had Hagen to tell, even how Siegfried had slain a great dragon and bathed in its blood until his skin grew tough and horny, so that no sword-thrust could do him any hurt.
But of the linden leaf and of the tiny spot between the hero's shoulders where he could be smitten as easily as any other knight, of these things Hagen, knowing nothing, did not speak.
"Let us hasten to receive this young Prince," said the counsellor, "as befits his fame. Let us hasten to gain his good-will lest our country suffer from his prowess."
The King was well pleased with the counsel of his uncle Hagen, for as he gazed at the young hero from the castle window King Gunther loved him for his strength of limb, for his fair young face, and would fain welcome him to the land of Burgundy.
"If in truth the knight be Siegfried," said the King, "right glad am I. More bold and peerless a prince have I never seen."
"Siegfried, if so he be, is the son of a wealthy king," said Hagen. "Well pleased would I be to know for what purpose he and his knights have journeyed to our land."
"Let us go down and welcome the strangers," said Gunther. "If their errand be peaceful they shall tarry at our court and see how merry the knights of Burgundy can be."
With Hagen by his side and followed by his courtiers, Gunther then walked toward the gates of the castle, which he reached as Siegfried and his knights rode through them.
Graciously then did the King welcome the noble knight, and Siegfried, bowing low, thanked him for his kindly greeting.
"I beseech thee, noble knight," said the King, "tell me why thou hast journeyed to this our royal city, for thy purpose is yet unknown."
Now Siegfried was not ready to speak of the fair Princess of whom he had heard in his own country, so he answered the King thus:
"Tidings reached me in my fatherland of the splendour of thy court, O King. Never monarch was more bold, more brave than thou, never ruler had more valiant warriors. Such tales were told to me by the people of my land and I have come to see if they be true. I also, King Gunther, am a warrior, and I, too, shall one day wear a crown, for I am Siegfried, Prince of the Netherlands. Nor shall I be content until I have done great deeds to make the whole world marvel. For then in truth will people cry aloud that I am worthy to reign."
At that moment Siegfried caught sight of Hagen's grim, stern face, and something he saw in it provoked the gay prince to say right hardily, "Therefore to do great deeds have I come to Worms, even to wrest from thee, King Gunther, thy broad realm of Burgundy and likewise all thy castles. They shall be mine ere many suns have set."
Then indeed did the King and all his warriors marvel at the bold young knight. "Was ever heard so monstrous a plan?" murmured the warriors each to the other. "The stripling from a foreign land, with but eleven bold knights to aid him, would seize Burgundy and banish the King from his realm. It is a monstrous plan."
"Thou dost repay my welcome but coldly," said Gunther to the valorous knight. "My fathers ruled over these lands; with honour did they rule. Wherefore then shall they be taken from their son?"
But Siegfried cried, "Thyself must fight and win peace for thy fatherland. For unless thou dost conquer me I shall rule in my great might in this realm, and when I die it shall be my heir who shall become king."
Then Gunther's brother, King Gernot, spoke, and peaceful were his words.
"We rule over a fair country, bold knight, and our liegemen serve us in all good faith. No need have we to fight for this our fatherland. Therefore do thou go and leave us in peace."
But King Gunther's warriors listened sullenly to the words of Gernot, and they muttered, "Such words shall scarce save the braggart stranger, for hath he not challenged our King to fight," and the hands of the stout warriors crept to their sword-hilts. "We will master his haughty Prince," they cried aloud then in their anger.
Hot was Siegfried's temper as he heard their words, and proudly did he answer, "Ye are all but vassals and would ye measure swords with me, a king's son? Nor, should ye fall on me altogether, could ye hope to overcome me," and Siegfried swung aloft his good sword Balmung. Then one of the stout warriors whom Siegfried thus defied called lustily for his armour and his shield.
But again King Gernot spoke. "Not yet hath Siegfried done us any hurt, let us not provoke him to fierce deeds, rather let us seek to gain his good-will."
King Gunther looked at Hagen. He was not content that his chief counsellor should keep silence. And indeed at that very moment Hagen's stern voice was heard.
"We do well to be wrathful at the words of this bold stripling," he said, his keen eyes glancing fiercely meanwhile at Gernot. "We do well to be wrathful, for why should Siegfried thus mock at us who have never done him aught of ill?"
"Dost think I but mock thee with my words," cried the rash knight. "Ere long thou shalt see the deeds which my strong right hand shall do in this fair land of Burgundy."
Again amid the angry tumult Gernot's voice was raised, forbidding his warriors to answer the stranger with harsh words.
As Gernot's peaceful voice fell upon Siegfried's ear for the third time, he began to think of Kriemhild, the wonder-lady of his dreams. He grew ashamed of his anger. He would curb it lest he should never win the Princess for his bride.
Then Gernot, seeing the fierceness die out of the stranger's face, spoke yet again. "Thou shalt be welcome, thou and thy comrades, to Worms, and right glad will we be to serve thee," and Gernot ordered goblets of the King's wine to be brought to the strange guests.
Siegfried and his knights took the goblets, and having drained them they were ready to forget their warlike words.
King Gunther, seeing that his guests were no longer angry, led them to the banqueting hall, and Siegfried was soon laughing his own glad, gay laugh. When at length the feast was ended the stranger knights were lodged each as befitted his rank.
Then throughout the fair land of Burgundy there stole the story of the King's bold hero guest, Sir Siegfried.