Siegfried Is Slain
Hagen did not delay to carry out his wicked plot. Four days later, thirty-two strangers rode into Rhineland, and demanded to see King Gunther. These were the men who had been hired by the counsellor to bring false tidings of battle.
When the heralds stood before the King their spokesman said, "We come from King Ludegast and King Ludeger, who have gathered together new armies with which to invade thy land, and forthwith they challenge thee to combat."
Then the King pretended that he did not know that these were false heralds with false tidings. He frowned, and his eyes flashed anger at the strangers as he listened to their words.
Siegfried, who had heard the strangers' words, cried eagerly, "Fear not, O King, I and my warriors will fight for thee, even as aforetime we have done."
Well pleased then seemed Gunther at the hero's words. As though he really feared the armies of the foreign kings, he graciously thanked Siegfried for his offered aid.
Gaily then did Siegfried summon his thousand warriors and bade them polish their armour and make their shields shine, for they must go forth to fight for the realm of Burgundy.
"Now," thought Hagen, "is the moment to win from Kriemhild the secret of her lord's strength," so he hastened to her apartments to bid her farewell. For he, too, was going forth to battle.
When Kriemhild saw the grim warrior she cried, "If thou art near to my lord in the battlefield, guard him for my sake, and ever shalt thou have Queen Kriemhild's thanks."
"Right gladly will I serve Siegfried for thy sake," said the false knight. "Tell me how best I may guard thy lord."
"Thou art my kinsman, Hagen," said the noble lady, "therefore will I trust thee with the secret of his strength."
Then the Queen told the warrior of the tiny spot between her husband's shoulders on which the linden leaf had fallen while he bathed in the dragon's blood, and how, while all the rest of his body was too tough to be pierced by spear or arrow, on that spot, he might be wounded as easily as any other man.
Hagen's eyes glittered. The life of the King was well-nigh in his hands.
"If this be so, noble lady, I beg of thee sew a token upon his garment, that I may know the spot which I must guard with my shield, and if need be with my life," said the counsellor.
Then Kriemhild promised to sew a tiny cross upon Siegfried's tunic, that so Hagen might the better be able to shield her lord.
Bowing low, Hagen said farewell, then hastened from the presence of the gentle lady whose trust he meant to betray and that right cruelly.
The next morning Siegfried set out, merrily as was his wont, at the head of his warriors, and close behind him rode Hagen, his keen eyes searching for the little cross.
It was there, the token which the lady Kriemhild had sewn with eager hands on her lord's tunic, thinking thus to guard him from all harm.
There was no need now for the pretence of war, for Hagen himself held Siegfried's life in his hands. The wicked counsellor, therefore, ordered two of his own followers to ride away in secret, bidding them return in a day or two, travel-stained, as though they had come from afar. With them they were to bring tidings of submission and peace from Ludegast and Ludeger.
Thus, before Siegfried and his great host had marched into the enemy's land they were stayed by heralds who brought messages of peace and good-will to Gunther, and much against his wish the gallant hero had to return to Worms, no battle fought, no enemy conquered.
But if Siegfried grieved, Kriemhild rejoiced at his return. Already she had begun to be sorry that she had trusted her kinsman, Hagen.
Gunther, too, seemed happy to welcome Siegfried. "Now that there is peace we will go a-hunting," he said to the hero. Now this hunt had been planned by Hagen.
Then Siegfried went to say farewell to his beautiful wife ere he rode away to the hunt.
But Kriemhild clung to him, begging her dear lord not to leave her. She longed to warn him, too, against Hagen, yet this she did not dare to do.
"Ah, my lord," she cried, "last night I dreamed that two wild boars chased thee, and again I dreamed that as thou didst ride into the valley two mountains fell upon thee and hid thee for ever from my sight. Go not to the hunt, my dear lord Siegfried."
Yet the hero would not heed the dreams of his lady. Gently he loosened her hands, and saying farewell, he left her weeping.
Out in the glad sunshine Siegfried smiled. He would be back so soon to comfort his dear wife, and then she, too, would laugh at her fears, and thinking thus he joined Gunther and his merry huntsmen, and together they rode toward the forest.
Never had there been such a hunt or such merry huntsmen, and no prey seemed to escape the hero Siegfried.
A strong and savage ox he felled to the ground with his own hand. A lion sprang toward him, but swiftly the hero drew his bow, and it lay harmless at his feet. An elk, a buffalo, four strong bisons, a fierce stag, and many a hart and hind were slain by his prowess. But when, with his sword, he slew a wild boar that had attacked him, his comrades slipped the leash round the hounds and cried, "Lord Siegfried, nought is there left alive in the forest. Let us return to the camp with our spoils."
At that moment, clear and loud rang out the hunting horn. It was the King who bade it sound that his merry huntsmen might come to feast with him in the green meadow on the outskirts of the forest.
Now the horn had roused a grisly bear, and Siegfried, seeing it, jumped from his charger, chased it, and having at length caught it with his strong right hand, bound it without receiving even a scratch from its claws or a bite from its jaws.
Then the hero dragged the bear back to his charger, tied it to his saddle, and mounting rode quickly forward to the camp.
King Gunther watched him as he drew near, and so gallant and brave he looked, that his heart grew heavy because he had listened to the cruel counsels of his uncle Hagen.
The hero wore a tunic of black velvet, a riding cap of sable. By his side hung his good sword Balmung, a quiver thrust through his girdle was filled with arrows, the shafts of which were golden.
Before he reached the camp, Siegfried again alighted and loosed the great bear, and bewildered, the brute sprang forward into the camp kitchen.
Up sprang the scullions from the fire, kettles were toppled over, the fire was put out, fish, fowl, meat, all lay in the black and smoking ashes.
Then Gunther and his merry huntsmen chased the huge bear into the wood, and while all were swift, none was so swift as Siegfried. His good sword Balmung flashed in the air, and the bear was slain and carried back to the camp.
Now Hagen had arranged the feast for the huntsmen, and for his own purpose he had ordered no wine.
"Where are the cupbearers?" cried Siegfried, who was thirsty after the day's sport.
"They have gone across the Rhine whither they thought we hunted," said Hagen, the false knight. "But there is a spring of cold water a little way off, thither may we go to quench our thirst."
Siegfried soon rose to go to the fountain. Then Hagen drew near and said, "Ofttimes I have heard that thou art sure and swift of foot. Wilt thou race with me to the spring?"
"If thou art at the fountain before me," said the mighty hero, "I will even lay myself at thy feet."
Gunther heard Siegfried's words and shuddered. Yet now he dared not save the hero from his foe.
"I will bear my spear, my sword, my quiver, and my shield as I race," said Siegfried. But Hagen and King Gunther, who also wished to run, stripped off their upper garments, that they might run more lightly.
Fleet of foot were Hagen and the King, yet fleeter still was Siegfried. He reached the well, loosened his sword, and laid it with his bow and arrows on the ground, and leant his spear against a linden tree that grew close to the fountain.
He looked down into the spring, yet though his thirst was great, so courteous was he that he would not drink before King Gunther.
When Gunther reached the well, he knelt at once to drink, then having quenched his thirst he turned and wandered back along the hillside toward his merry huntsmen.
As Siegfried now bent over the spring, Hagen with stealthy steps crept near and drew the hero's sword and quiver out of his reach. Stealthy still, he seized the spear which rested against the linden tree. Then while Siegfried drank of the cool, clear water, Hagen stabbed him, straight through the little cross of silk which Kriemhild's gentle hand had sewed, he stabbed.
The cruel deed was done, and Hagen turned to flee, leaving the spear there where he had thrust it, between the hero's shoulders, where once, alas! had lain a linden leaf.
Siegfried sprang to his feet as he felt the cruel blow, and reached for his quiver that he might speed the traitor to his death, but neither quiver nor sword could he find.
Then unarmed save for his shield the wounded hero ran, nor could Hagen escape him. With his shield Siegfried struck the false knight such heavy blows that the precious stones dropped out of the shield and were scattered, and Hagen lay helpless at King Siegfried's feet.
But Siegfried had no sword with which to slay his enemy, moreover his wound began to smart until he writhed with pain. Then, his strength failing him, he fell upon the green grass, while around him gathered Gunther and his huntsmen.
Sore wounded was King Siegfried, even unto death, and Gunther, sorry now the cruel deed was done, wept as he looked down upon the stricken King.
"Never would I have been slain, save by treachery," murmured Siegfried. "Yet how can I think of aught but my beautiful wife Kriemhild. Unto thee, O King Gunther, do I entrust her. If there be any faith in thee, defend her from all her foes."
No more could he say, for he was faint from his wound, and ere long the hero lay still on the grass, dead.
Then the knights, when they saw that the mighty King no longer breathed, laid him on a shield of gold, and when night fell they carried him thus, back to the royal city.
When Kriemhild knew that her lord, King Siegfried, was dead, bitter were her tears. Full well did she know that it was Hagen who had slain him, and greatly did she bemoan her foolishness in telling the grim counsellor the secret known to her alone.
The body of the great hero was laid in a coffin of gold and silver and carried to the Minster. Then when the days of mourning were over, the old King Siegmund and his warriors went sadly back to the Netherlands.
But Kriemhild stayed at Worms, and for thirteen years she mourned the loss of her dear lord.
Her sufferings, during these years, were made the greater through the greed of Hagen. For at the cruel warrior's bidding, Gunther went to the Queen and urged her to send for the treasure of the Nibelungs.
"It shall be guarded for thy use in the royal city," said the King.
In her grief Kriemhild cared little where the treasure was kept; and seeing this, her brother sent in her name to command that it should be brought to Worms.
No sooner, however, did it reach the city than it was seized upon by Hagen the traitor, and Kriemhild's wealth was no longer her own.
That henceforth it might be secure from every one save himself and King Gunther, Hagen buried the great treasure beneath the fast-flowing river Rhine.
When thirteen years had passed away, Kriemhild married Etzel, the powerful King of the Huns, and then at last Hagen began to fear. Would the lady to whom he had been so false punish him now that she was again a mighty Queen?
The years passed by, and Hagen was beginning to forget his fears when heralds came from Etzel, the King of the Huns, bidding King Gunther and his knights come visit Queen Kriemhild in her distant home. The command of Etzel was obeyed.
But no sooner did Hagen stand before her throne than Kriemhild commanded him to give her back the hidden treasure. This the grim counsellor refused to do.
"Then shalt not thou nor any of thy company return to Burgundy," cried Kriemhild.
And as the Queen said, so it was, for the warriors of King Etzel fought with the warriors of King Gunther, until after a grievous slaughter not one Burgundian was left alive. Thus after many years was King Siegfried's death avenged by Queen Kriemhild.