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Adventure XV. In Nibelungen Land Again.
 When the folk of Isenland learned that their queen had been outwitted and won by a strange chief from a far-off and unknown land, great was their sorrow and dismay; for they loved the fair maiden-queen, and they feared to exchange her mild for that of an untried foreigner. Nor was the queen herself at all pleased with the issue of the late contest. She felt no wish to leave her loved people, and her pleasant home, and the fair island which was her kingdom, to take up her in a strange land, as the queen of one for whom she could feel no respect. And every one wondered how it was that a man like Gunther, so commonplace, and so feeble in his every look and act, could have done such deeds, and won the warrior-maiden.  
“If it had only been Siegfried!” whispered the among themselves.
“If it had only been Siegfried!” murmured the and the fighting-men.
“If it had only been Siegfried!” thought the queen, away down in the most secret corner of her heart. And she shut herself up in her room, and gave wild to her feelings of grief and disappointment.
Then mounted the swiftest horses, and hurried to every village and farm, and to every high-towered castle, in the land. And they carried word to all of Brunhild’s and liegemen, bidding them to come without delay to Isenstein. And every man arose as with one accord, and hastened to obey the call of their queen. And the whole land was filled with the notes of busy preparation for war. And day by day to the castle the came and went, and the sound of echoing horse-hoofs, and the of ready swords, and the ringing of the war-shields, were heard on every hand.
“What means this treason?” cried Gunther in dismay. “The coy warrior-maiden would fain break her word; and we, here in our weakness, shall perish from her .”
And even old Hagen, who had never felt a fear when meeting a host in open battle, was troubled at the thought of the which was .
“‘Tis true, too true,” he said, and the dark frown deepened on his face, “that we have done a foolish thing. For we four men have come to this cheerless land upon a hopeless errand; and, if we await the of the storm, our ruin will be .” And he grasped his sword-hilt with such force, that his grew white as he paced fiercely up and down the hall.
Dankwart, too, bewailed the fate that had driven them into this net, from which he saw no way of escape. And both the warriors King Gunther to take ship at once, and to sail for Rhineland before it was too late. But Siegfried said,—
“What account will you give to the folk at home, if you thus go back beaten, outwitted, and ashamed? Brave warriors, indeed! we should be called. Wait a few days, and trust all to me. When Brunhild’s warriors shall be outnumbered by our own, she will no longer hesitate, and our return to Rhineland shall be a one; for we shall carry the glorious warrior-queen home with us.”
“Yes,” answered Hagen, mocking, “we will wait until her warriors are outnumbered by our own. But how long shall that be? Will the lightning carry the word to Burgundy? and will the storm-clouds bring our brave men from across the sea? Had you allowed King Gunther’s plans to be followed, they would have been here with us now, and we might have this treason at the first.”
And Dankwart said, “By this time the fields of the South-land are green with young corn, and the meadows are full of sweet-smelling flowers, and the summer comes on apace. Why should we stay longer in this and fog-ridden land, waiting upon the of a maiden,—as fickle as the winds themselves? Better face the smiles and the of the folk at home than suffer in this cold Isenland.”
But Siegfried would not be moved by the weak and wavering words of his once comrades.
“Trust me,” he said, “and all will yet be well. Wait here but a few days longer in quietness, while I go aboard ship, and fare away. Within three days I will bring to Isenstein a host of warriors such as you have never seen. And then the fickle fancies of Brunhild will flee, and she will no longer refuse to sail with us to the now sunny South-land.”
Hagen frowned still more deeply; and as he strode away he muttered, “He only wants to betray us, and leave us to die in this trap which he himself has doubtless set for us.”
But Gunther anxiously grasped the hand of Siegfried, and said, “Go! I trust you, and believe in you. But be sure not to linger, for no one knows what a day may bring in this uncertain and variable clime.”
Without saying a word in reply, Siegfried turned, and hastened down to the shore. Without any loss of time he unmoored the little ship, and stepped aboard. Then he donned his Tarnkappe, spread the sails, and seized the helm; and the , like a bird with woven wings, sped swiftly out of the bay, and Isenstein, with its wide halls and glass-green towers, was soon lost to the sight of the invisible helmsman. For four and twenty hours did Siegfried guide the flying vessel as it leaped from wave to wave, and sent the white dashing to left and right like of snow. And late on the morrow he came to a rock-bound coast, where steep cliffs and white mountain-peaks rose up, as it were, straight out of the blue sea. Having found a safe and narrow inlet, he his little bark; and, keeping the Tarnkappe well wrapped around him, he stepped . Briskly he walked along the rough shore, and through a dark mountain-pass, until he came to a place well known to him,—a place where, years before, he had seen a ’s yawning mouth, and a great heap of shining treasures, and two princes dying of hunger. But now, upon the selfsame spot there stood a frowning , dark and gloomy and strong, which Siegfried himself had built in after-years; and the iron gates were barred and bolted fast, and no living being was anywhere to be seen.
Loud and long did Siegfried, wrapped in his cloak of darkness, knock and call outside. At last a grim old giant, who sat within, and kept watch and of the gate, cried out,—
“Who knocks there?”
Siegfried, angrily and in threatening tones, answered,—
“Open the gate at once, lazy , and ask no questions. A stranger, who has lost his way among the mountains, seeks shelter from the storm which is coming. Open the gate without delay, or I will break it down upon your dull head.”
Then the giant in hot anger seized a heavy iron beam, and flung the gate wide open, and leaped quickly out to the stranger. he glanced around on every side; but Siegfried was clad in the magic Tarnkappe, and the giant could see no one. Amazed and ashamed, he turned to shut the gate, and to go again to his place; for he began to believe that a foolish dream had and deceived him. Then the unseen Siegfried seized him from behind; and though he struggled hard, and fought with furious strength, our hero threw him upon the ground, and bound him with cords of sevenfold strength.
The unwonted noise at the gate rang through the castle, and awakened the sleeping . The Alberich, who kept the fortress against Siegfried’s return, and who watched the Nibelungen treasure, which was stored in the hollow hill, arose, and donned his armor, and hurried to the giant’s help. A right dwarf was Alberich; and, as we have seen in a former adventure, he was as bold as stout. Armed in a war-coat of steel, he ran out to the gate, flourishing a seven-thonged whip, on each of which a heavy golden ball was hung. Great was his and his wrath when he saw the giant lying bound and helpless upon the ground; and with sharp, eager eyes he peered warily around to see if, perchance, he might his hidden . But, when he could find no one, his anger grew hotter than before, and he swung his golden fiercely about his head. Well was it for Siegfried then, that the Tarnkappe hid him from sight; for the dwarf kept pounding about in air so sturdily and strong, that, even as it was, he split the hero’s shield from the centre to the . Then Siegfried rushed quickly upon the little fellow, and seized him by his long gray beard, and threw him so roughly upon the ground, that Alberich with pain.
“Spare me, I pray you,” he cried. “I know that you are no mean ; and, if I had not promised to serve my master Siegfried until death, I fain would acknowledge you as my lord.”
But Siegfried bound the dwarf, and placed him, struggling and helpless, by the side of the giant.
“Tell me, now, your name, I pray,” said the dwarf; “for I must give an account of this adventure to my master when he comes.”
“Who is your master?”
“His name is Siegfried; and he is king of the Nibelungens, and lord, by right, of the great Nibelungen . To me and to my fellows he long ago intrusted the keeping of this castle and of the Hoard that lies deep hidden in the hollow hill; and I have sworn to keep it safe until his return.”
Then Siegfried threw off his Tarnkappe, and stood in his own proper person before the wonder-stricken dwarf.
“Noble Siegfried,” cried the delighted Alberich, “right glad I am that you have come again to claim your own. Spare my life, and pardon me, I pray, and let me know what is your will. Your bidding shall be done at once.”
“Hasten, then,” said Siegfried, loosing him from his bonds,—“hasten, and arouse my Nibelungen hosts. Tell them that their chief has come again to Mist Land, and that he has work for them to do.”
Then Alberich, when he had set the giant gatekeeper free, sent heralds to every town and castle in the land to make known the words and wishes of Siegfried. And the Nibelungen warriors, when they heard that their liege lord had come again, sprang up , and girded on their armor, and hastened to obey his summons. And soon the strong-built castle was full of noble men,—of earls, and the faithful liegemen who had known Siegfried of old. And and happy were the words of greeting.
In the mean while, Alberich had busied himself in preparing a great feast for his master and his master’s chieftains. In the long low hall that the had hollowed out within the mountain’s heart, the table was spread, and on it was placed every that could be wished. There were fruits and wines from the sunny South-land, and snow-white loaves made from the wheat of Gothland, and fish from Old AEgir’s kingdom, and venison from the king’s wild-wood, and the flesh of many a most delicately baked, and, near the head of the board, a huge wild boar roasted whole. And the hall was lighted by a thousand , each held in the hands of a swarthy elf; and the guests were served by the elf-women, who ran hither and , obedient to every call. But Alberich, at Siegfried’s desire, sat upon the dais at his lord’s right hand. Merriment ruled the hour, and happy greetings were heard on every side. And, when the feast was at its height, a troop of hill-folk came dancing into the hall; and a hundred little fiddlers, perched in the of the wall, made merry music, and kept time for the busy, little feet. And when the guests had tired of music and laughter, and the dancers had gone away, and the tables no longer under the weight of good cheer Siegfried and his earls still sat at their places, and the hours with pleasant talk and with stories of the earlier days. And Alberich, as the master of the feast, told a tale of the dwarf-folk, and how once they were visited in their hill-home by Loki the Mischief-maker.
Alberich’s Story.
My story begins with the Asa-folk, and has as much to do with the gods as with my kinsmen the dwarfs. It happened long ago, when the world was young, and the elf-folk had not yet lost all their ancient glory.
Sif, as you all know, is Thor’s young wife, and she is very fair. It is said, too, that she is as gentle and lovable as her husband is rude and strong; and that while he rides noisily through storm and wind, furiously fighting the of the mid-world, she goes quietly about, lifting up the down-trodden, and healing the broken-hearted. In the summer season, when the Thunderer has driven the Storm-giants back to their mist-hidden mountain homes, and the black clouds have been rolled away, and piled upon each other in the far east, Sif comes gleefully tripping through the meadows, raising up the flowers, and with smiles calling the frightened birds from their hiding-places to frolic and sing in the fresh sunshine again. The growing fields and the mountain slopes are hers; and the green leaves, and the sparkling dewdrops, and the sweet odors of spring blossoms, and the glad songs of the summer-time, follow in her footsteps.
Sif, as I have said, is very fair; and, at the time of my story, there was one thing of which she was a trifle vain. That was her long silken hair, which fell in waves almost to her feet. On calm, warm days, she liked to sit by the side of some still pool, and gaze at her own beauty pictured in the water below, while, like the sea-maidens of old AEgir’s kingdom, she combed and braided her rich, flowing tresses. And in all the mid-world nothing has ever been seen so like the golden sunbeams as was Sif’s silken hair.
At that time the cunning Mischief-maker, Loki, was still living with the Asa-folk. And, as you well know, this evil worker was never pleased save when he was plotting trouble for those who were better than himself. He liked to with business which was not his own, and was always trying to the pleasures of others. His tricks and jokes were seldom of the harmless kind, and yet great good sometimes grew out of them.
When Loki saw how proud Sif was of her long hair, and how much time she spent in combing and arranging it, he planned a very cruel piece of mischief. He hid himself in a little rocky cavern, near the pool where Sif was to sit, and slily watched her all the morning as she braided and unbraided her flowing silken locks. At last, overcome by the heat of the mid-day sun, she fell asleep upon the grassy bank. Then the Mischief-maker quietly crept near, and with his sharp cut off all that wealth of hair, and shaved her head until it was as smooth as her snow-white hand. Then he hid himself again in the little cave, and with great glee at the wicked thing he had done.
By and by Sif awoke, and looked into the stream; but she started quickly back with horror and affright at the image which she saw. She felt of her shorn head; and, when she learned that those rich waving tresses which had been her joy and pride were no longer there, she knew not what to do. Hot, burning tears ran down her cheeks, and with and she began to call aloud for Thor. Forthwith there was a terrible . The lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and an earthquake shook the rocks and trees. Loki, looking out from his hiding-place,............
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