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- The Story of Siegfried - 30/48 -
that, even as it was, he split the hero's shield from the centre to the rim. Then Siegfried rushed quickly upon the doughty little fellow, and seized him by his long gray beard, and threw him so roughly upon the ground, that Alberich shrieked with pain.
"Spare me, I pray you," he cried. "I know that you are no mean knight; 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 writhing 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 Hoard. 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 gallant Nibelungen warriors, when they heard that their liege lord had come again, sprang up joyously, 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 joyful 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 dwarfs had hollowed out within the mountain's heart, the table was spread, and on it was placed every delicacy 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 fowl most delicately baked, and, near the head of the board, a huge wild boar roasted whole. And the hall was lighted by a thousand tapers, each held in the hands of a swarthy elf; and the guests were served by the elf-women, who ran hither and thither, 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 niches of the wall, made merry music, and kept time for the busy, clattering little feet. And when the guests had tired of music and laughter, and the dancers had gone away, and the tables no longer groaned under the weight of good cheer Siegfried and his earls still sat at their places, and beguiled 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.
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 foes 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 bruised 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 grassy mountain slopes are hers; and the rustling 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 glossy 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 meddle with business which was not his own, and was always trying to mar 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 wont 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 shears 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 chuckled 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 sobs and shrieks she began to call aloud for Thor. Forthwith there was a terrible uproar. The lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and an earthquake shook the rocks and trees. Loki, looking out from his hiding-place, saw that Thor was coming, and he trembled with fear; for he knew, that, should the Thunderer catch him, he would have to pay dearly for his wicked sport. He ran quickly out of the cavern, and leaped into the river, and changed himself into a salmon, and swam as swiftly as he could away from the shore.
But Thor was not so easily fooled; for he had long known Loki, and was acquainted with all his cunning ways. So when he saw Sif bewailing her stolen hair, and beheld the frightened salmon hurrying alone towards the deep water, he was at no loss to know whose work this mischief was. Straightway he took upon himself the form of a sea-gull, and soared high up over the water. Then, poising a moment in the air, he darted, swift as an arrow, down into the river. When he arose from the water, he held the struggling salmon tightly grasped in his strong talons.
"Vile Mischief-maker!" cried Thor, as he alighted upon the top of a neighboring crag: "I know thee who thou art; and I will make thee bitterly rue the work of this day. Limb from limb will I tear thee, and thy bones will I grind into powder."
Loki, when he saw that he could not by any means get away from the angry Thunderer, changed himself back to his own form, and humbly said to Thor,--
"What if you do your worst with me? Will that give back a single hair to Sif's shorn head? What I did was only a thoughtless joke, and I really meant no harm. Do but spare my life, and I will more than make good the mischief I have done."
"How can that be?" asked Thor.
"I will hie me straight to the secret smithies of dwarfs," answered Loki; "and those cunning little kinsmen of mine shall make golden tresses for fair Sif, which will grow upon her head like other hair, and cause her to be an hundred-fold more beautiful than before."
Thor knew that Loki was a slippery fellow, and that he did not always do what he promised, and hence he would not let him go. He called to Frey, who had just come up, and said,--
"Come, cousin Frey, help me to rid the world of this sly thief. While I hold fast to his raven hair, and his long slim arms, do you seize him by the heels, and we will give his limbs to the fishes, and his body to the birds, for food."
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