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THE OLD stories tell us of great heroes, ioy and misery, feast and lament, and the clash of brave warriors. All this you may hear now, if you will.
There lived in Burgundy a young girl of great nobility, and beauty unparalleled in any country, and her name was Kriemhilde. Later she grew into a beautiful woman, and caused the death of many a knight. She seemed made for loving; many a brave knight would have had her if he could, and no one was her enemy. She was unbelievably beautiful, and her qualities were such as any woman could desire. She grew up in the care of three noble, mighty kings; Gunther and Gernot, renowned in arms, and young Giselher, a rare warrior. The lady was their sister, and the princes were entrusted with her upbringing.
These lords were of ancient and noble birth, endowed with incredible strength and bravery, open-handed, peerless knights. Burgundy was their country, and terrible were the deeds they later performed in Attila's lands. They lived in might and glory at Worms by the Rhine. Many proud knights owed them service, and followed them loyally to the end, only to die miserably through the hatred of two noble ladies.
Their mother was Lady Uote, a mighty queen; their father's name was Dankrât, a man of great courage, who heaped honour on himself as a young man, and left them his inheritance when he died.
As I have said, the three kings were of outstanding bravery, and under them served the best knights that were ever known; strong and valiant they were, and always eager for a fight. There was Hagen of Tronege, and his brother Dankwart the Bold, Ortwin of Metz, the two Margraves Gere and Eckewart, and Volker of Alzei, whose courage never failed. Rumold the cook, a rare warrior; Sindold and Hunold, who maintained the honour* of the court. All these lords were vassals of the three Kings; and there were many more besides, but I cannot give you their names. Dankwart was marshal, * while his nephew Ortwin of Metz was steward; * Sindold, a rare warrior, was cup-bearer; * Hunold was treasurer. * The honour of the court was safe in their hands.
Indeed, no one could tell you the whole story of this court: of its power and wide dominion, its lofty eminence and the chivalrous ideals which the lords there cheerfully followed throughout their lives.
It was against this lofty background that Kriemhilde had a dream. She thought she trained * a falcon, strong, beautiful and wild, only to see it torn to pieces before her eyes by two eagles, and this, she felt, was the most terrible thing in the world that could have happened to her. She told the dream to her mother Uote, but the best interpretation she could give of it was this: 'The falcon you train is a noble man, and unless God protects him you will soon lose him.'
'What is this about a man, dear mother? I want nothing to do with knights and their love. I want to stay beautiful as I am until I die, and never experience the love of men or the misery it brings.'
'Be careful what you say,' replied her mother. 'If you are ever to know true happiness, it will have to be through a man's love, and if God gives you a good knight for a husband one day, you'll make a beautiful woman yet.'
'No, my lady,' she answered. 'It's no use saying that to me. You can see often enough, with woman after woman, how the happiness of love turns to pain in the end. If I avoid both, I can't go wrong.'
Kriemhilde had decided to deny herself the experience of loving altogether. And indeed the good girl lived through many happy days without ever meeting anyone who aroused her desire. But the day came, nevertheless, when she was gloriously married to a very brave knight. This was the same falcon of her dream, that her mother had prophesied she would find. And what a revenge she took on her nearest relatives, who killed him afterwards! Many mothers lost their sons for the death of this one man.CHAPTER 2
At about the same time a young and noble prince was growing up in the Netherlands. His father's name was Sigemund, his mother's Sigelinde, and they lived in a mighty city on the lower Rhine called Santen.
Sifrid was the name of this brave, good warrior. He proved his strength and courage in many different lands, and a bold company of warriors it was that he eventually discovered in Burgundy. At his best and in his youth, many wonders were told of Sifrid; how he showed promise of great honour to come, and how beautiful he was to look at. Later in life he was loved * by the finest ladies in the land. Much care was spent in his upbringing, as was only right; and from his own resources he added virtue after virtue to himself. He showed himself lordly and commanding in all he undertook: a fitting heir to his father's kingdom.
When he was of an age to appear at court, he was such a success that many a lady and maiden hoped he would never want to leave, and the young lord was well aware of the good impression he made. He was seldom allowed to ride out unattended; Sigemund and Sigelinde saw to it that he was beautifully dressed; and wise men, who knew what honour was, also had a hand in his upbringing. In this way he learnt how to win peoples and lands to himself.
When he was of a strength to bear arms, he showed that he had all the necessary qualities. He courted beautiful women with skill and discrimination, and they considered themselves honoured to make love to the brave Sifrid. His father Sigemund accordingly announced to his people that he intended to stage a celebration, together with his close friends. The news was then carried into other kingdoms, and to all, stranger and friend alike, he gave a horse and fine clothes. Wherever they found any noble youths who were suited by birth to become knights, they invited them home to join in the celebration, and later to take the sword with the young king.
The feast itself was fabulous. Sigemund and Sigelinde knew what honour was to be won with gifts, and great were the riches dispensed by their hand—so that strangers came flocking into their land in consequence. There were four hundred candidates due to assume knightly dress together with Sifrid, and many beautiful maidens were busy sewing—willingly enough, as you can imagine. The gold braid on the proud young knights' clothes was richly inlaid with precious stones. All these details had to be attended to by the ladies, and in addition the host had seats made for the many brave men who would be there on a certain midsummer day to see his son knighted.
They went first to the cathedral, many rich youths and noble knights. The old and wise were obliged by tradition to wait on the young and foolish, just as they had been waited on in their time. They anticipated much happiness to come, and they enjoyed doing it. After a Mass had been sung to the glory of God, there was much crowding and jostling among the people, as they were made knights according to established custom, and with such honour as is not likely to be seen again.
Then they ran off to where they found a crowd of horses ready saddled, and the tournament in Sigemund's court was so violent that the palace and the great hall resounded with the din. These irrepressible warriors certainly knew how to make a noise. Young and old, you could hear their thrusts, as the air was filled with the crack of their lances; you could see the splinters flying from many a knight's hand in front of the palace. There was nothing half-hearted about this tournament. And when the host asked them to break off, and the horses were led away, you could see many a stout shield-boss smashed and many a precious stone flung from its setting on to the grass. It was the shock of the charges that did this.
Now the guests were shown to their seats, and forgot their weariness in the great variety of choice foods and liberal helpings of the best wine imaginable. Stranger and friend alike, they were honourably served at that table. And the travelling entertainers, who had been hard at it all day, many of them still had no thought of resting. They offered their service in proportion to the rich gifts they received there, and the whole of Sigemund's land was praised in song as a result.
Lord Sigemund then allowed young Sifrid to bestow fiefs, lands and castles, just as he himself had done on previous occasions; and Sifrid's hand was so liberal to those who had taken the sword with him that they blessed the journey they had made into his lands.
The celebrations lasted seven days, and Sigelinde the mighty queen took care, in the traditional way, to dispense her red gold for her son's sake. In this way she made sure that the people loved him, and afterwards you could not have found a single poor man among the travelling entertainers. Horses and clothes were handed out as if they all expected to die the next day. I doubt if any house ever showed greater generosity.
The celebrations broke up with praise and honour all round, and it was not long before the mighty lords were heard saying how much they would have liked the young king as their ruler. But Sifrid, this splendid man, was not interested. As long as Sigemund and Sigelinde were still alive, their dear child had no desire to wear the crown. What he wanted, the brave and bold warrior, was to make himself master of all the power which he saw and feared in the lands about him.* XXX CHAPTER 3
SIFRID COMES TO WORMS
Lord Sifrid was not generally troubled by emotions. But he heard tell of a beautiful maiden who lived in Burgundy, fashioned after any man's heart's desire; and this maiden was to give him much happiness and strife before long. Her outstanding beauty was known far and wide, and, as many a hero had discovered, the maiden had a regal disposition to match. The challenge attracted many guests into Gunther's land. But whoever the suitor, Kriemhilde never consciously admitted that she could want anyone at all as a lover. The man she eventually submitted to was still a stranger in a distant land.
When the child of Sigelinde turned his thoughts to serious courtship no other suitor had a chance. Beautiful women were his by right, and in due course the noble Kriemhilde was married to Sifrid the brave.
When they knew that he was set on true and constant love his relatives and many of his men advised him to pay court to some suitable lady of his choice. The bold Sifrid answered: 'In that case I will take Kriemhilde, the fair maiden of Burgundy, because of her outstanding beauty. I know well enough that the mightiest emperor alive, if he wanted a wife, would find it fitting to love this great queen.'
The news came to Sigemund's ears as he heard his people talking amongst themselves, and he was not at all pleased with his son's idea of courting the proud maid. Sigelinde too, the noble King's wife, heard of it, and was greatly concerned for her son's safety; she knew Gunther and his men too well. And so they tried to turn him away from his project.
But the brave Sifrid said: 'My dear father, I'd rather never enjoy the love of a noble lady if I cannot woo where my heart directs and happiness calls. And so far as that's concerned, nothing anyone says can make any difference.'
'Well,' said the King, 'since you're not to be dissuaded, I shall welcome your decision in all sincerity, and help you, as well as I can, to achieve your desire. But you know King Gunther has a great number of proud men at his command. And Hagen the warrior is enough by himself—his pride and arrogance know no bounds; I'm very much afraid we may live to be sorry if we court this proud maid.'
'Why should that hold us back?' said Sifrid. 'I'll ask him nicely first, and if he refuses me anything, I'm brave enough to win it for myself. I could take his people and his country from him by force if necessary.'
But Sigemund answered: 'I don't like to hear you say that. If they knew on the Rhine that you had said it, you would never even dare to ride into the land. Gunther and Gernot—I know them of old. No one can win the maid by force.' Such was King Sigemund's verdict: 'So I have heard, and so I believe. All the same, if you need knights to go with you into the country, they shall be summoned immediately. Our friends won't fail us.'
'No,' said Sifrid however. 'It wasn't my idea that knights should have to follow me to the Rhine, or that we should raise an army of any sort to help me capture the magnificent maid. I can win her easily enough with my own hand. But I should like to take twelve * companions into Gunther's land, and that's one way* you can help me, my father Sigemund.' And at this the knights were given grey and striped furs for their clothes.
When his mother Sigelinde heard the news, she began to grieve for her dear son. She was afraid to lose him at the hand of Gunther's men, and the noble Queen wept bitterly.
But the Lord Sifrid went over to her, and spoke kindly to his mother: 'Lady, don't weep for my sake. You know I'm not afraid of any fighting man. Help me instead on this journey to Burgundy, so that my knights and I have clothes fit for proud heroes to wear with honour. If you do, I shall be deeply grateful.'
'Since you're so determined,' said Lady Sigelinde, 'then I'll help you on your journey, my only child. You and your companions shall have the best clothes that any knight ever wore, and as many as you need.'
Young Sifrid bowed to the Queen and said: 'I'm only taking twelve men with me on the journey. Fit them out with clothes, if you would. I'm eager to find out more about Kriemhilde.'
And so, night and day, fair ladies sat with never a moment's rest, until Sifrid's clothes were finished. Nothing could put him off his journey now. His father had Sifrid's knightly dress specially decorated for the departure from Sifrid's lands, and gleaming breast-plates were got ready for the twelve, together with their stout helmets and their shields broad and fair. As the time for their journey to Burgundy drew nearer, men and women began to wonder anxiously whether they would ever come home again. But the heroes ordered their weapons and clothes to be loaded on to mules. Their horses were beautiful, their harness red with gold. You could not wish for more confident assurance than Sifrid and his men displayed. And then Sifrid asked formally for leave to ride to Burgundy.
Excerpted from The Nibelungenlied by D. G. Mowatt. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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