The War with the North-Kings
SO swiftly and so pleasantly the days went by, that weeks
lengthened into months, and the springtime passed, and the
summer came, and still Siegfried lingered in Burgundy with
his kind friends. The time was spent in all manner of
joyance,—in hunting the deer in the deep oak-woods, in
riding over the daisied meadows or among the fields of corn,
in manly games and sports, in music and dancing, in feasting
and in pleasant talk. And of all the noble folk who had ever
sat at Gunther's table, or hunted in the Burgundian woods,
none were so worthy or so fair as the proud young lord of
One day in early autumn a party of strange knights rode up
to the castle, and asked to speak with the Burgundian kings.
They were led straightway into the great hall; and Gunther
and his brothers welcomed them, as was their wont, right
heartily, and asked them from what country they had come,
and what was their errand.
"We come," they answered, "from the North
country; and we
bring word from our lords and kings, Leudiger and
"And what would our kingly neighbors say to us?" asked
Then the strangers said that their lords had become very
angry with the Burgundian kings, and that they meant, within
twelve weeks from that day, to come with a great army, and
lay the country waste, and besiege their city and castle.
All this they had sworn to do unless the Burgundians would
make peace with them upon such terms as Leudiger and
Leudigast should please to grant.
When Gunther and his brothers heard this, they were struck
with dismay. But they ordered the messengers to be well
cared for and handsomely entertained within the palace until
the morrow, at which time they should have the Burgundians'
answer. All the noblest knights and earl-folk were called
together, and the matter was laid before them.
"What answer shall we send to our rude neighbors of the
North?" asked Gunther.
Gernot and the young Giselher declared at once for war. Old
Hagen and other knights, whose prudence was at least equal
to their bravery, said but little. It was known, that, in
the armies of the North-kings, there were at least forty
thousand soldiers; but in Burgundy there were not more than
thirty thousand fighting men, all told. The North-kings'
forces were already equipped, and ready to march; but the
Burgundians could by no
means raise and arm any considerable
body of men in the short space of twelve weeks. It would be
the part of wisdom to delay, and to see what terms could
best be made with their enemies. Such were the prudent
counsels of the older knights, but Gernot and the young
chief Volker would not listen to such words.
"The Burgundians are not cowards," said they. "We have never
been foiled in battle; never have we been the vassals of a
stranger. Why, then, shall we cringe and cower before such
men as Leudiger and Leudigast?"
Then Hagen answered, "Let us ask our friend and guest
Siegfried. Let us learn what he thinks about this business.
Everybody knows that he is as wise in council as he is brave
in the field. We will abide by what he says."
But Gunther and Gernot and the young Giselher were unwilling
to do this; for it was not their custom to annoy their
guests with questions which should be allowed to trouble
themselves alone. And the kings and their counsellors went
out of the council chamber, each to ponder in silence upon
the troublesome question.
As Gunther, with downcast head and troubled brow, walked
thoughtfully through the great hall, he unexpectedly met
"What evil tidings have you heard?" asked the prince,
surprised at the strange mien of the king. "What has gone
amiss, that should cause such looks of dark perplexity?"
"That is a matter which I can tell only to friends long
tried and true," answered Gunther.
Siegfried was surprised and hurt by these words; and he
"What more would Gunther ask of me that I might prove my
friendship? Surely I have tried to merit his esteem and
trust. Tell me what troubles you, and I will further show
myself to be your friend both tried and true."
Then Gunther was ashamed of the words he had spoken to his
guest; and he took Siegfried into his own chamber, and told
him all; and he asked him what answer they should send on
the morrow to the overbearing North-kings.
"Tell them we will fight," answered Siegfried. "I myself
will lead your warriors to the fray. Never shall it be said
that my friends have suffered wrong, and I not tried to help
Then he and Gunther talked over the plans which they would
follow. And the clouds fled at once from the brow of the
king, and he was no longer troubled or doubtful; for he
believed in Siegfried.
The next morning the heralds of the North-kings were brought
again before Gunther and his brothers; and they were told to
carry this word to their masters,—
"The Burgundians will fight. They will make no terms with
their enemies, save such as they make of their own
Then the heralds were loaded with costly presents, and a
company of knights and warriors went with them
border-line of Burgundy; and, filled with wonder at what
they had seen, they hastened back to their liege lords, and
told all that had happened to them. And Leudiger and
Leudigast were very wroth when they heard the answer which
the Burgundians had sent to them; but, when they learned
that the noble Siegfried was at Gunther's castle, they shook
their heads, and seemed to feel more doubtful of success.
Many and busy were the preparations for war, and in a very
few days all things were in readiness for the march
northwards. It was settled that Siegfried with his twelve
Nibelungen chiefs, and a thousand picked men, should go
forth to battle against their boastful enemies. The
dark-browed Hagen, as he had always done, rode at the head
of the company, and by his side was Siegfried on the noble
horse Greyfell. Next came Gernot and the bold chief Volker,
bearing the standard, upon which a golden dragon was
engraved; then followed Dankwart and Ortwin, and the twelve
worthy comrades of Siegfried; and then the thousand
warriors, the bravest in all Rhineland, mounted on impatient
steeds, and clad in bright steel armor, with broad shields,
and plumed helmets, and burnished swords, and sharp-pointed
spears. And all rode proudly out through the great
castle gate. And Gunther and the young Giselher and all the
fair ladies of the court bade them God-speed.
The little army passed through the forest, and went
northwards, until, on the fifth day, they reached the
boundaries of Saxon Land. And Siegfried gave spur to his
horse Greyfell, and, leaving the little army behind him,
hastened forward to see where the enemy was encamped. As he
reached the top of a high hill, he saw the armies of the
North-kings resting carelessly in the valley beyond.
Knights, mounted on their horses, rode hither and thither:
the soldiers sauntered lazily among the trees, or slept upon
the grass; arms were thrown about in great disorder, or
stacked in piles near the smoking camp fires. No one dreamed
of danger; but all supposed that the Burgundians were still
at home, and would never dare to attack a foe so numerous
and so strong.
For it was, indeed, a mighty army which Siegfried saw before
him. Full forty thousand men were there; and they not only
filled the valley, but spread over the hills beyond, and far
to the right and left.
While he stood at the top of the hill, and gazed upon this
sight, a warrior, who had spied him from below, rode up, and
paused before him. Like two black thunder clouds, with
lightning flashing between, the two knights stood facing
each other, and casting wrathful glances from beneath their
visors. Then each spurred his horse, and charged with fury
upon the other; and the heavy lances of both were broken in
shivers upon the opposing shields. Then, quick as thought,
they turned and drew their swords, and hand to hand they
fought. But soon Siegfried, by an unlooked-for stroke, sent
his enemy's sword flying from him, broken in a
and by a sudden movement he threw him from his horse. The
heavy shield of the fallen knight was no hinderance to the
quick strokes of Siegfried's sword; and his glittering
armor, soiled by the mud into which he had been thrown, held
him down. He threw up his hands, and begged for mercy.
"I am Leudigast the king!" he cried. "Spare my life. I am
Siegfried heard the prayer of the discomfited king; and,
lifting him from the ground, he helped him to remount his
charger. But, while he was doing this, thirty warriors, who
had seen the combat from below, came dashing up the hill to
the rescue of their liege-lord. Siegfried faced about with
his horse Greyfell, and quietly waited for their onset. But,
as they drew near, they were so awed by the noble bearing
and grand proportions of the hero, and so astonished at
sight of the sunbeam mane of Greyfell, and the cold glitter
of the blade Balmung, that in sudden fright they stopped,
then turned, and fled in dismay down the sloping hillside,
nor paused until they were safe among their friends.
In the mean while Leudiger, the other king, seeing what was
going on at the top of the hill, had caused an alarm to be
sounded; and all his hosts had hastily arranged themselves
in battle array. At the same time Hagen and Gernot, and
their little army of heroes, hove in sight, and came quickly
to Siegfried's help, and the dragon-banner was planted upon
the crest of
the hill. The captive king, Leudigast, was
taken to the rear, and a guard was placed over him. The
champions of the Rhine formed in line, and faced their foes.
The great army of the North-kings moved boldly up the hill:
and, when they saw how few were the Burgundians, they
laughed and cheered most lustily; for they felt that the
odds was in their favor—and forty to one is no small odds.
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.
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
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 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 behind
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 greetings 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 warriors engaged in trials of
strength and skill. When King Gunther saw with what keen
enjoyment both his own people and his guests looked upon
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 counsellors 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 queen-like
beauty before her train of attendant stars,
them all, so was Kriemhild the most glorious among 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
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
"What will ye give me for your freedom?" asked King Gunther,
half in jest.
"If you will allow us without further hinderance 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
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 the Yule-feast came, and still
Siegfried tarried in Burgundyland.