One fine morning Siegfried and all his fair company set out on their journey to Rhineland. Their little son they left at the palace in the Netherlands.
As they drew near to Burgundy, a band of Gunther's most gallant warriors rode forth to meet their guests. Brunhild also went to greet the royal company, yet in her heart the hatred she felt for Siegfried and his wife grew ever more fierce, more cruel.
Gunther rejoiced when he saw the brave light-hearted hero once again, and he welcomed him right royally. As for Brunhild, she kissed the Queen of the Netherlands, and smiled upon her, so that the lovely lady was well pleased with her greeting.
Twelve hundred gallant warriors sat round the banqueting table in the good city of Worms that day. Then the feast ended, and the travellers sought their couches, weary with their long journey. The next morning the great chests which they had brought with them were opened, and many precious stones, and many beautiful garments were bestowed by King Siegfried and Queen Kriemhild on the ladies and the knights of the royal city.
Queen Uté, too, was happy, for now again she might look upon the face of her dear daughter.
Then a tournament was held, and the knights tilted, while beautiful damsels looked down upon them from the galleries of the great hall. And at evensong the happy court would wend its way to the Minster, and there, the Queens, wearing their crowns of state, would enter side by side. Thus for eleven days all went merry as a marriage ball.
One evening, ere the Minster bell pealed for vespers, the two Queens sat side by side under a silken tent. They were talking of Siegfried and Gunther, their lords.
"There is no braver warrior in the wide world than my lord Siegfried," said Kriemhild.
"Nay," cried Brunhild angrily, "nay, thou dost forget thy brother, King Gunther. None, I trow, is mightier than he."
Then the gentle Kriemhild forgot her gentle ways, and bitter to Queen Brunhild's ears were the words she spoke.
"My royal brother is neither strong nor brave as is my lord," she cried. "Dost thou not know that Siegfried it was, not Gunther, who vanquished thee in the contests held at thy castle in Isenland? Dost thou not know that it was Siegfried, clad in his Coat of Darkness, who wrested from thee both thy girdle and thy ring?" And Kriemhild pointed to the girdle which she was wearing round her waist, to the ring which she was wearing on her finger.
Brunhild, when she saw her girdle and her ring, wept, and her tears were tears of anger. Never would she forgive Siegfried for treating her thus; never would she forgive Kriemhild for telling her the truth.
"Alas! alas!" cried the angry Queen, "no hero have I wed, but a feeble-hearted knave."
Meanwhile, Kriemhild, already grieved that she had spoken thus foolishly, had left the angry Queen and gone down to the Minster to vespers.
That evening Brunhild had no smiles, no gentle words, for her lord.
"It was Siegfried, not thou, my lord, who vanquished me in the contests at Isenland," she said in a cold voice to the startled King.
Had Siegfried then dared to boast to the Queen of the wonderful feats he had done in the land across the sea? Nay, King Gunther could not quite believe that the hero would thus boast of his great strength.
But the Queen was still scolding him, so Gunther, in his dismay, stammered, "We will summon the King to our presence, and he shall tell us why he has dared to boast of his might as though he were stronger than I."
When Siegfried stood before the angry Brunhild, the crestfallen King said as sternly as he dared, "Hast thou boasted that it was thou who conquered the maiden Brunhild?"
But even as he spoke all Gunther's suspicions fled away. Siegfried with the steadfast eyes and the happy laugh had never betrayed him. Of that he felt quite sure. It was true that he might have told his wife Kriemhild—
Ah, now King Gunther knew what had happened! Not Siegfried, but his lady sister had told Brunhild the secret. Truly it was no fault of the gallant hero that Queen Brunhild had that day learned the secret which he would fain have kept from her for ever.
So King Gunther stretched out his hand to Siegfried, who had stood in silence before him, and said, "Not thou, but my sister Kriemhild hath boasted of thy prowess in Isenland," and the two Kings walked away together leaving Brunhild in her anger.
But not long was she left to weep alone, for Hagen, the keen-eyed, coming into the hall, saw her tears.
"Gracious lady, wherefore dost thou weep?" he asked.
"I weep for anger," said Brunhild, and she told Hagen the foolish words which Siegfried's wife had spoken.
When Hagen had heard them he smiled grimly to himself. Siegfried, the hero, nor his beautiful wife, should escape his vengeance now. And he began at once to plan with the Queen how he might punish them. Well did he know that Brunhild would do all in her power to aid him in his plots.
Slowly but very surely Hagen drew Gernot and one or two warriors into his schemes against the King of the Netherlands. But when Giselher heard that the cruel counsellors even wished to slay Siegfried, he was angry, and said bravely, "Never has Siegfried deserved such hate from any knight of Burgundy."
But Hagen did not cease his evil whispers against the hero. He would even steal upon King Gunther as he sat at his council-table, and he would whisper in his ear that if Siegfried were not so strong, his Burgundian heroes would win more glory for their arms, that if Siegfried were not living, all his broad lands would belong, through Kriemhild, to Burgundy.
At first, Gunther would bid Hagen be silent, and lay aside his hate of the mighty hero. But afterward he would listen and only murmur, "If Siegfried heard thy words, none of us would be safe from his wrath." For King Gunther was weak and easily made to fear.
"Fear not," said Hagen grimly, "Siegfried shall never hear of our plots. Leave the matter to me. I will send for two strange heralds to come to our land. They shall pretend that they have come from our old enemies, Ludegast and Ludeger, and they shall challenge us to battle once again."
"When Siegfried hears that thou must go forth to fight, he will even as aforetime offer to go for thee against the foe. Then, methinks, shall I learn the secret of the great warrior's strength from Kriemhild, ere he set out, as she will believe he must do, for the battlefield."
And Gunther listened and feared to gainsay the words of his wicked counsellor, also he thought of the great treasure, and longed that he might possess it.