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- Journeys Through Bookland V3 - 60/69 -
I am your friend and for your sake will teach these upstarts to rue the day when they foolishly defied the King of Burgundy." Well pleased with this show of sincere friendship, Gunther entrusted his army to Siegfried, and the young prince of Netherland set forth to meet his foes.
As the Burgundians approached the camp of the enemy, Siegfried rode far in advance to learn what were the numbers of their foes. Thus it was that just without the camp he was challenged by a knight whom he at once recognized as King Ludegast. Leveling their lances, the two warriors rushed together, and each struck full against the other's shield. Then drawing their swords they fought fiercely until Ludegast, severely wounded, fell from his horse. Immediately, thirty of the followers of the Danish king hurled themselves upon Siegfried, and all but one, who begged for life, were slain by the mighty sword Balmung.
After leading the Burgundians into battle, Siegfried fought in the thickest of the fray until almost unhorsed by the Saxon king, Ludger. Stirred to keenest anger by this incident, the prince of Netherland began to rain blows upon his opponent and doubtless would have overcome him had not Ludger suddenly discovered with whom he was fighting, and cried: "Hold! Stay your hand! Let the battle cease. I will not fight against the terrible might of Siegfried, the Netherlander. Let my men surrender, as I submit."
Thus was the day won for the Burgundians; and with mingled sorrow for their fallen warriors and joy for the good tidings that they were bearing King Gunther, they traveled back to the Rhine, accompanied by the captive Danes and Saxons and the prisoner kings. Never was a conquering army more gladly and fittingly received with merry-making and pageants, kind gifts and unstinted praise than was the great host that returned to Gunther's capital.
And, as he deserved, Siegfried was most honored of all. As if the brothers knew what could reward the hero better than anything else in the world, they arranged that Siegfried should at length be presented to their lovely sister, Kriemhild. The plan was indeed no less pleasing to the maiden than to the young prince, for although she lived in seclusion, she had secretly observed him and had come to feel deep admiration and affection for him.
On the day set for the meeting, Kriemhild and her mother, with many attendants, advanced in state to the great room where Gunther held his court. As the princess passed through the crowds that thronged the way, her eyes were often downcast, and a vivid pink overspread the pure whiteness of her cheeks as hundreds of eyes bent upon her their admiring glances. For of all the fair ladies of that court, she was indeed the fairest.
Noting her rare beauty and the modesty, gentleness and grace of her bearing, Siegfried could only exclaim to himself, "She is too good and beautiful for me to win; yet I must always be wretched if I go from this land and never see her again."
Shortly afterward, with formal ceremony, he was presented to the princess, and as he knelt and kissed her hand she murmured: "Welcome again to Burgundy, Sir Siegfried, for surely you have been a brave defender of the honor of our land."
As the last words fell from her lips she looked at Siegfried with such kind interest and he returned her glance with so much ardor that words were not needed to declare their love. For several days thereafter great festivities were held by the King and his court, and whether at tournament or feast Siegfried always held the envied place by Kriemhild's side.
Meanwhile a great project had been forming in Gunther's mind, and one day as he sat among his nobles he declared: "It is my purpose to set forth soon to win a bride who lives in a far distant land. Though the terms by which she is to be won are hard, I cannot be content until I have tried my fate and have either made the fair Brunhilde my wife, or have died in the effort."
At the mention of the name Brunhilde, Gunther's companions cried out in dismay, and one of the lords exclaimed:
"Oh, give up, I pray you, this wild enterprise. A great and good king should not be sacrificed to the strange caprice of the Queen of Issland. You know that like all others who have contested against the unmatched strength of Brunhild, you will die without honor."
Gunther, however, was unmoved by the warning, and turning to Siegfried, he asked, "Will you not help me to carry out my plan? Queen Brunhild, you know, is mightier in combat than any man that lives, yet he who wins her must prove himself superior to her in strength and skill. If he fail, he must die. My friends here think me rash and would induce me to stay at home. In most things I would not oppose them, but in this case I must do as my own heart bids me."
After some thought Siegfried replied, slowly and impressively: "There is one condition on which I will aid you. I will win Brunhild for you if in return you will give me the hand of your sister, Kriemhild."
"There is no other to whom I would more gladly trust her than to you," replied Gunther; and then with clasped hands the two friends sealed their compact.
After busy days of preparation, during which the most splendid raiment that ever clad brave knights was made by Kriemhild and her maidens, Gunther and Siegfried, with several companions, set sail upon the river Rhine, thence to cross the sea to Issland, in the far north. Slowly passed the days of the voyage, for it was a time of keen suspense. "Will good King Gunther ever sail back again into the Rhine country?" was the question that haunted his loyal friends. All but Siegfried were doubtful.
At length, one day, they came into view of a great green castle towering above cliffs. "Behold the home of Brunhild!" cried Siegfried; and then as the eager watchers continued to gaze they could see people hurrying about the castle, evidently excited by the approach of a foreign vessel.
After anchoring the boat the company were taken at once into the presence of Queen Brunhild, who, recognizing the young Netherlander, exclaimed: "Welcome, Prince Siegfried. What brings you to our court?"
Then Siegfried, bowing low, made known their mission:
"Gracious queen, in the name of my lord, the King of Burgundy, I ask for a favorable hearing for his suit. None knows better of his noble qualities than do I, his subject; and none can say with more assurance than I that a nobler husband for Queen Brunhild is nowhere to be found."
"Ah, if that be his quest," cried Brunhild, "he can win his bride, not by gentle speeches and looks of love, but by a sterner test than any mortal suitor has ever yet endured."
Notwithstanding the harsh warning, Gunther, assured by Siegfried, declared: "In the presence of your great beauty, Queen Brunhild, even the strange terms that you propose seem reasonable, and I must accept them, though they bring me and my followers death."
[Illustration: A GREAT CASTLE TOWERED ABOVE THE CLIFFS]
Thereupon Brunhild began to make ready for the contest, and Siegfried, unobserved, slipped down to the boat in the harbor. Soon three of the Queen's attendants came staggering under the weight of an immense javelin, and a little later twelve other men slowly and with great difficulty pushed an enormous stone into the field. Then the Queen herself appeared clad in massive armor. The King and his attendants looked on, and when it seemed that surely all must die, they would gladly have withdrawn; but from shame they strove to hide their fears as best they could.
Meanwhile Siegfried had arrayed himself in his magic cloak, the tarnkappe, and thus made invisible to all he returned to the company and hastened to King Gunther's side.
"Never fear," whispered Siegfried; "if only you let me do the fighting, while you pretend, by look and movement, to be the doer, Brunhild can never withstand us."
No sooner had the words been spoken and Siegfried had taken Gunther's shield in his hand, than the Queen hurled her mighty javelin straight against the two knights. All the earth seemed to resound with the death-dealing blow, and surely had it not been for the tarnkappe both Siegfried and Gunther would have been killed as the great spear pierced the King's massive shield. But Siegfried, alert for action, seized the weapon and, with the point turned toward himself, returned it with such terrific force that Brunhild was struck to the ground. Hastily arising in confusion and anger, she seized the huge stone, and twirling it about her head sent it flying through the air to a spot more than seventy feet distant. Hardly had it alighted when the Queen, springing up lightly, leapt to a mark beyond. Not at all daunted by this awful show of strength, the invisible Siegfried, with Gunther following, hastened to where the stone lay, and picking it up easily, threw it a much greater distance than had the Queen. Then, carrying Gunther with him, he jumped even farther than the stone had been hurled.
With unconcealed chagrin and disappointment, Brunhild advanced to where Gunther stood and pointing to the King declared: "Behold your lord and master, my subjects. Hereafter give to him your loyal service. Brunhild is no longer your queen." Then in stately manner the King with his fair companion returned to the castle.
Great indeed was the joy in Gunther's capital when Siegfried and his attendants, riding in advance of the bridal party, made known the news of the King's victory. Queen Uta, the mother of Gunther and Kriemhild, gave orders that the most splendid preparation be made for receiving Brunhild, and busily did her maidens ply their needles in making garments more beautiful and costly than ever before had adorned fair ladies. And no less industriously did the squires polish the armor of the knights, while their masters tested their trusty blades, that they might fittingly bear themselves in the jousts and tournaments with which Gunther's triumph and home-coming would be celebrated.
Long and loud was the shout of welcome that arose from the crowds gathered along the river bank as the ship bearing Gunther and his bride came into view. Then Queen Uta, followed by a long line of maidens, arrayed in many-colored garments that glittered with the most precious of gems, slowly moved down to the strand, while Kriemhild followed, attended by Siegfried.
As Gunther and his bride stepped from the boat, Kriemhild was first to greet the Queen. "Welcome to Burgundy, sweet Brunhild. May you dwell among us so content that regret for Issland will never trouble you," she cried. Then taking Brunhild's hand she kissed her with gracious good will. Queen Uta likewise made known her gladness in receiving the
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