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HOME > Children's Novel > The Story of Siegfried > Adventure XVIII. How the Mischief Began to Brew.
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Adventure XVIII. How the Mischief Began to Brew.
 One day a party of strangers came to Siegfried’s Nibelungen , and asked to speak with the king.  
“Who are you? and what is your errand?” asked the porter at the gate.
“Our errand is to the king, and he will know who we are when he sees us,” was the answer.
When Siegfried was told of the strange men who waited below, and of the strange way in which they had answered the porter’s question, he asked,—
“From what country seem they to have come? For surely their dress and manners will betray something of that matter to you. Are they South-land folk, or East-land folk? Are they from the mountains, or from the sea?”
“They belong to none of the neighbor-lands,” answered the earl who had brought the word to the king. “No such men live upon our borders. They seem to have come from a far-off land; for they are travel-worn, and their sea-stained clothing a people from the south. They are tall and dark, and their hair is black, and they look much like those Rhineland who came hither with our lady the queen. And they carry a blood-red banner with a golden dragon painted upon it.”
“Oh, they must be from Burgundy!” cried the queen, who had overheard these words. And she went at once to the window to see the strangers, who were waiting in the courtyard below.
There, indeed, she saw thirty tall Burgundians, clad in the gay costume of Rhineland, now faded and worn with long travel. But all save one were young, and strangers to Kriemhild. That one was their leader,—an old man with a kind face, and a right noble bearing.
“See!” said the queen to Siegfried: “there is our brave captain Gere, who, ever since my childhood, has been the trustiest man in my brother Gunther’s household. Those men are from the fatherland, and they bring tidings from the dear old Burgundian home.”
“Welcome are they to our Nibelungen Land!” cried the delighted king.
And he ordered that the strangers should be brought into the castle, and that the most rooms should be to them, and a plenteous meal prepared, and every thing done to entertain them in a style befitting messengers from Kriemhild’s fatherland. Then Gere, the trusty captain, was led into the presence of the king and queen. Right gladly did they welcome him, and many were the questions they asked about their kin-folk, and the old Rhineland home.
“Tell us, good Gere,” said Siegfried, “what is thy message from our friends; for we are anxious to know whether they are well and happy, or whether some ill luck has overtaken them. If any harm threatens them, they have but to speak, and I, with my sword and my treasures, will hasten to their help.”
“They are all well,” answered the captain. “No ill has befallen them, and no harm threatens them. Peace rules all the land; and fair weather and sunshine have filled the people’s barns, and made their hearts glad. And thus it has been ever since Gunther brought to his dwelling the warrior-maiden Brunhild to be his queen. And this is my errand and the message that I bring: King Gunther, blessed with happiness, intends to hold a grand high-tide of joy and thanksgiving at the time of the harvest-moon. And nothing is wanting to complete the gladness of that time, but the sight of you and the peerless Kriemhild in your old places at the feast. And it is to invite you to this festival of rejoicing that I have come, at the king’s command, to Nibelungen Land.”
Siegfried sat a moment in silence, and then thoughtfully answered,—
“It is a long, long journey from this land to Burgundy, and many dangers the road; and my own people would sadly miss me while away, and I know not what might befall.”
Then Gere of the queen-mother Ute, now grown old and feeble, who wished once more, ere death called her hence, to see her daughter Kriemhild. And he told how all the people, both high and low, for another sight of the radiant hero who in former days had blessed their land with his presence and his noble deeds. And his words had much weight with Siegfried, who said at length,—
“Tarry a few days yet for my answer. I will talk with my friends and the Nibelungen earls; and what they think best, that will I do.”
For nine days, then, waited Gere at Siegfried’s hall; but still the king put off his answer.
“Wait until to-morrow,” he said each day, for his heart whispered dim forebodings.
At length, as midsummer was fast drawing near, the impatient captain could stay no longer; and he bade his make ready to go back forthwith to Burgundy. When the queen saw that they were ready to take their leave, and that Gere could wait no longer upon the king’s pleasure, she urged her husband to say to Gunther that they would come to his harvest festival. And the lords and noble earl-folk added their to hers.
“Send word back to the Burgundian king,” said they, “that you will go, as he desires. We will see to it that no harm comes to your kingdom while you are away.”
So Siegfried called Gere and his comrades into the ball, and loaded them with gifts such as they had never before seen, and bade them say to their master that he gladly accepted the kind invitation he had sent, and that, ere the harvest high-tide began, he and Kriemhild would be with him in Burgundy.
And the messengers went back with all speed, and told what things they had seen in Nibelungen Land, and in what great Siegfried lived. And, when they showed the rare presents which had been given them, all joined in praising the goodness and greatness of the hero-king. But old chief Hagen frowned darkly as he said,—
“It is little wonder that he can do such things, for the Shining of Andvari is his. If we had such a treasure, we, too, might live in more than kingly .”
Early in the month of roses, Siegfried and his peerless queen, with a of more than a thousand warriors and many fair ladies, started on their long and toilsome journey to the South-land. And the folk who went with them to the city gates bade them mane tearful farewells, and returned to their homes, feeling that the sunshine had gone forever from the Nibelungen Land. But the sky was blue and cloudless, and the breezes warm and mild, and glad was the song of the as adown the seaward highway the kingly company rode. Two days they rode through Mist Land, to the shore of the peaceful sea. Ten days they sailed on the waters. And the winds were soft and gentle; and the waves slept in the sunlight, or merrily danced in their wake. But each day, far behind them, there followed a storm-cloud, dark as night, and the pleasant shores of Mist Land were hidden forever behind it. Five days they rode through the Lowlands, and glad were the Lowland folk with sight of their hero-king. Two days through the silent greenwood, and one o’er the barren , and three amid vineyards and fields, and between fruitful and fair, they rode. And on the four and twentieth day they came in sight of the quiet town, and the tall gray towers, where dwelt the Burgundian kings. And a great company on horseback, with flashing shields and fine-wrought garments and nodding , came out to meet them. It was King Gernot and a thousand of the best men and fairest women in Burgundy; and they welcomed Siegfried and Kriemhild and their Nibelungen-folk to the fair land of the Rhine. And then they turned, and rode back with them to the castle. And, as the company passed through the pleasant streets of the town, the people stood by the wayside, anxious to catch sight of the radiant Siegfried on his sunbright steed, and of the peerless Kriemhild, riding on a palfrey by his side. And young girls roses in their pathway, and hung garlands upon their horses; and every one shouted, “Hail to the conquering hero! Hail to the matchless queen!”
When they reached the castle, King Gunther and Giselher met them, and them into the old familiar halls, where a right welcome greeted them from all the kingly household. And none seemed more glad in this happy hour than Brunhild the warrior-queen, now more gloriously beautiful than even in the days of yore.
When the harvest-moon began to shine full and bright, up the whole world from evening till morn with its soft radiance, the gay festival so long looked forward to began. And care and anxiety, and the of the long journey, were forgotten amid the endless round of pleasure which for twelve days enlivened the whole of Burgundy. And the chiefest honors were everywhere paid to Siegfried the hero-king, and to Kriemhild the peerless queen of beauty.
Then Queen Brunhild called to mind, how, on a time, it had been told her in Isenland that Siegfried was but the liegeman and of King Gunther; and she wondered why such honor should be paid to an underling, and why the king himself should treat him with so much respect. And as she thought of this, and of the high praises with which every one spoke of Kriemhild, her mind became filled with jealous broodings. And soon her bitter was turned to deadly hate; for she remembered then, how, in the days long past, a noble youth, more beautiful and more glorious than the world would ever see again, had her from the deep sleep that Odin’s thorn had given; and she remembered how Gunther had won her by deeds of strength and skill which he never afterwards could even imitate; and she thought how grand indeed was Kriemhild’s husband compared with her own weak and wavering and commonplace lord. And her soul was filled with sorrow and bitterness and deepest , when, putting these thoughts together, she believed that she had in some way been duped and cheated into becoming Gunther’s wife.
When at last the gay feast was ended, and most of the guests had gone to their homes, she sought her husband, and thus the matter to him.
“Often have I asked you,” said she, “why your sister Kriemhild was given in marriage to a vassal, and as often have you put me off with vague excuses. Often, too, have I wondered why your vassal, Siegfried, has never paid you tribute for the lands which he holds from you, and why he has never come to render you . Now he is here in your castle; but he sets himself up, not as your vassal, but as your peer. I pray you, tell me what such strange things mean. Was an underling and a vassal ever known before to put himself upon a level with his liege lord?”
Gunther was greatly troubled, and he knew not what to say; for he feared to tell the queen how they had deceived her when he had won the games at Isenstein, and how the truth had ever since been kept hidden from her.
“Ask me not to explain this matter further than I have already done,” he answered. “It is enough that Siegfried is the greatest of all my , and that his lands are broader even than my own. He has helped me out of many straits, and has added much to the greatness and strength of my kingdom: for this reason he has never been asked to pay us tribute, and for this reason we grant him highest honors.”
But this answer failed to satisfy the queen.
“Is it not the first duty of a vassal,” she asked, “to help his liege lord in every ? If so, Siegfried has but done his duty, and you owe him nothing. But you have not told me all. You have deceived me, and you would fain deceive me again. You have a secret, and I will find it out.”
The king made no answer, but walked silently and thoughtfully away.
It happened one evening, not long thereafter, that the two queens sat together at an upper window, and looked down upon a company of men in the courtyard below. Among them were the noblest earl-folk of Burgundy, and Gunther the king, and Siegfried. But Siegfried towered above all the rest; and he moved like a god among men.
“See my noble Siegfried!” cried Kriemhild in her pride. “How grandly he stands there! What a type of beauty and strength! No one cares to look at other men when he is near.”
“He maybe handsome,” answered Brunhild sadly; “and, for aught I know, he may be noble. But what is all that by the side of kingly power? Were he but the peer of your brother Gunther, then you might well boast.”
“He is the peer of Gunther,” returned Kriemhild. “And not only his peer, but more; for he stands as high above him in kingly power and worth as in bodily .”
“How can that be?” asked Brunhild, growing angry. “For, when Gunther so won me at Isenstein, he told me that Siegfried was his vassal; and often since that time I have heard the same. And even your husband told me that Gunther was his liege lord.”
Queen Kriemhild laughed at these words, and answered, “I tell you again that Siegfried is a king far nobler and richer and higher than any other king on earth. Think you that my brothers would have given me to a vassal to be his wife?”
Then Brunhild, full of , replied, “Your husband is Gunther’s vassal and my own, and he shall do homage to us as the humblest and meanest of our underlings. He shall not go from this place until he has paid all the tribute that has so long been due from him. Then we shall see who is the vassal, and who is the lord.”
“Nay,” answered Kriemhild. “It shall not be. No tribute was ever due; and, if homage is to be paid, it is rather Gunther who must pay it.”
“It shall be settled once for all!” cried Brunhild, now boiling over with rage. “I will know the truth. If Siegfried is not our vassal, then I have been duped; and I will have revenge.”
“It is well,” was the mild answer. “Let it be settled, once for all; and then, mayhap, we shall know who it was who really won the games at Isenstein, and you for Gunther’s wife.”
And the two queens parted in wrath.[EN#31]
Kriemhild’s anger was as as an April cloud, which does but threaten, and then passes away in tears and sunshine. But Brunhild’s was like the winter storm that sweeps down from Niflheim, and brings ruin and death in its wake. She felt that she had been cruelly wronged in some way, and that her life had been , and she rested not until she had learned the truth.
It was Hagen who at last told her the story of the cruel deceit that had made her Gunther’s wife; and then her wrath and her shame knew no bounds.
“Woe betide the day!” she cried,—“woe betide the day that brought me to Rhineland, and made me the wife of a weakling and coward, and the jest of him who might have done nobler things!”
Hagen smiled. He had long waited for this day.
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