Queen Uote and Kriemhild are escorted to the shores of the Rhine by Siegfried to greet Gunther and Brunhild. Kriemhild welcomes Brunhild with courtesy and affection. Then the ladies are conducted to tents so they can watch the knights compete in ceremonial sports.
The two ladies of the court meet each other for the first time. For now, Brunhild still represents the “deviant” woman, while Kriemhild represents the idealized one.
During the subsequent feast, Siegfried reminds Gunther of his oath, that he should have Kriemhild as his wife in exchange for Siegfried’s help in gaining Brunhild. Kriemhild is duly summoned to the King’s hall and asked to accept Siegfried as her husband. She quickly agrees. The two stand in the midst of a ring of knights and make their vows to one another. They are then seated in the high seat of honor opposite Gunther and Brunhild.
Siegfried is quick to collect on the promise Gunther has made to him—the lovely Kriemhild in “exchange” for the aggressive Brunhild. Fortunately, she is agreeable—she is the idealized woman, after all—and the festivity duly becomes their marriage feast in addition to Gunther’s.
When Brunhild sees Kriemhild seated at Siegfried’s side, she begins to weep. When Gunther asks her what is the matter, she replies, “It wounds me to the heart to see your sister sitting beside a liegeman, and if she is to be degraded in this fashion, I shall never cease to lament it!”
In Iceland, Brunhild had been persuaded of Siegfried’s inferiority to Gunther. Perhaps because of her ambivalence about her own marriage, she takes the apparent “degradation” of Kriemhild to heart. Siegfried’s plotting is beginning to bear fruit.
Gunther hushes Brunhild, promising to explain the circumstances of the marriage to her later. Brunhild says that she won’t share Gunther’s bed unless he tells her now. Gunther promises her that Siegfried’s lands are quite as good as his own and that he’s a mighty king; he’s a worthy husband for Kriemhild. Brunhild still feels troubled, however.
When Gunther brushes off Brunhild’s angst, Brunhild deploys the primary weapon at her disposal by withholding their marital consummation yet longer.
Gunther and Brunhild soon retire from the festivities, followed by Siegfried and Kriemhild. The latter enjoy a tender and contented night together. Gunther’s night is much different, however. As he gathers Brunhild into his arms and caresses her, she flies into a rage and tells him that she intends to remain a maiden until she has learned the truth about Siegfried.
The contrast between the two couples couldn’t be starker: Siegfried and Kriemhild are the ideal, conventional couple, while Gunther’s and Brunhild’s marriage begins in a much less promising manner.
Gunther grows angry and tries to take Brunhild by force. In response, she binds him with her girdle and hangs him from a nail on the wall. No matter how he begs, she refuses to loosen his bonds, since she is lying too comfortably in bed. When dawn comes, Brunhild taunts him with the possibility of being discovered by his chamberlains in such a shameful state, but she finally releases him. He rejoins her in bed, staying as far away from her as possible, until their attendants enter to prepare them for the festival mass.
To a medieval audience, this scene would have been quite comical indeed—everything from Brunhild’s refusal, to Gunther becoming a pathetic laughingstock, to cringing away from his wife after he rejoins her in bed. It’s perhaps the ultimate expression of Brunhild as “deviant” woman.
During the subsequent festivities, Siegfried notices that Gunther is in low spirits, and he asks him how his night went. Gunther confides his humiliation to Siegfried. Siegfried promises that he will use the invisibility cloak that night to “tame” Brunhild for Gunther, or die in the attempt. Gunther agrees and makes Siegfried promise not to be sexually intimate with Brunhild in any way. Siegfried promises.
Once again, Gunther finds himself appealing to Siegfried for help with his unruly wife, and Siegfried turns to his magical powers to save the day.
That night, Siegfried affectionately lies in bed with Kriemhild—and abruptly disappears. He has put on the magical cloak and gone to Gunther’s chamber, where he puts out the lights, a prearranged sign with Gunther, who quickly bars the door. Siegfried gets into bed and clasps Brunhild, who flings him out of bed so powerfully that he cracks his head on a stool. When he recovers and starts rumpling Brunhild’s shift, she scolds him for his vulgarity and rams him against the wall. Siegfried thinks that if Brunhild succeeds in killing him, “the whole sex will grow uppish with their husbands forever after.”
Siegfried’s sudden disappearance leaves Kriemhild literally in the dark about what’s about to happen—which will come back to haunt them both. Siegfried fears that if Brunhild can’t be tamed, womankind as a whole will become untamable. While the poet presents even this scene as somewhat comical, the misogynistic undercurrent can’t be missed.
Siegfried and Brunhild are locked in fierce struggle for a while, and, although Brunhild inflicts “agony” on the warrior, he eventually overpowers her strength. She finally begs for her life, and Siegfried quickly takes her ring and girdle before leaving her to Gunther, who “[takes] his pleasure with her as was his due.” After they have slept together, Brunhild’s “vast strength fled so that now she was no stronger than any other woman.”
The festivity lasts for two more weeks. During this time, both Gunther and Siegfried liberally squander robes, gold, horses, and silver on all in attendance.
As at previous festivities, the two kings demonstrate their worth through an extravagant outpouring.