We have been told in ancient tales many marvels of famous heroes, of mighty toil, joys, and high festivities, of weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors - of such things you can now hear wonders unending!
Kriemhild dreamt she reared a falcon, strong, handsome and wild, but that two eagles rent it while she perforce looked on, the most grievous thing that could ever befall her. She told her dream to her mother Uote, who could give the good maiden no better reading than this: “The falcon you are rearing is a noble man who, unless God preserve him, will soon be taken from you.”
“Why do you talk to me of a man, dear Mother? I intend to stay free of a warrior’s love all my life. I mean to keep my beauty till I die, and never be made wretched by the love of any man. […] There are many examples of women who have paid for happiness with sorrow in the end. I shall avoid both, and so I shall come to no harm.”
In the days that followed, Siegfried was a most welcome guest among the Burgundians, and, believe me, he was honoured by them for his manly courage a thousand times more than I can tell you, so that none could see him and harbour any grudge against him. […] And whenever gay knights were passing the time with the ladies and displaying their good breeding, people were glad to see him, for he aspired to a noble love. Whatever the company undertook, Siegfried was ready to join in. Meanwhile he cherished a lovely girl in his heart and was cherished in return by this same young lady whom he had never seen but who in her own intimate circle nevertheless often spoke kindly of him.
And now Brunhild had arrived, armed as though about to contend for all the kingdoms in the world and wearing many tiny bars of gold over her silk, against which her lovely face shone radiantly. […] The man whom she would favour would have to be a very brave one: for this shield which the girl was to carry was (so we are told) a good three spans thick beneath the boss; it was resplendent with steel and with gold, and even with the help of three others her chamberlain could scarce raise it. “What now, King Gunther?” stalwart Hagen of Troneck asked fiercely, on seeing the shield brought out. “We are done for - the woman whose love you desire is a rib of the Devil himself!”
Siegfried left the maiden lying there and stepped aside as through to remove his clothes and, without the noble Queen’s noticing it, he drew a golden ring from her finger and then took her girdle, a splendid orphrey. I do not know whether it was his pride which made him do it. Later he gave them to his wife, and well did he rue it!
And now Gunther and the lovely girl lay together, and he took his pleasure with her as was his due, so that she had to resign her maiden shame and anger. But from his intimacy she grew somewhat pale, for at love’s coming her vast
strength fled so that now she was no stronger than anyother woman. Gunther had his delight of her lovely body, and had she renewed her resistance what good could it have done her? His loving had reduced her to this.
And now how very tenderly and amorously Brunhild lay beside him till the bright dawn!
“Whom are you calling a paramour?” asked the Queen.
“I call you one,” answered Kriemhild. “My dear husband Siegfried was the first to enjoy your lovely body, since it was not my brother who took your maidenhead. Where were your poor wits? - It was a vile trick. - Seeing that he is your vassal, why did you let him love you? Your complaints have no foundation.”
“I swear I shall tell Gunther of this,” replied Brunhild.
“What is that to me? Your arrogance has got the better of you. You used words that made me your servant, and, believe me, in all sincerity I shall always be sorry you did so.”
“How could the thing be done?” asked King Gunther. “I will tell you,” replied Hagen. “We shall send envoys to ourselves here in Burgundy to declare war on us publicly, men whom no one knows. Then you will announce in the hearing of your guests that you and your men plan to go campaigning, whereupon Siegfried will promise you his aid, and so he will lose his life. For in this way I shall learn the brave man’s secret from his wife.”
The King followed his vassal Hagen’s advice, to evil effect, and those rare knights began to set afoot the great betrayal before any might discover it, so that, thanks to the wrangling of two women, countless warriors met their doom.
After Hagen learns of Kriemhild’s charge that Brunhild slept with Siegfried, he wastes no time beginning to plot Siegfried’s death. After winning over the other Burgundians and even the weak Gunther to his view, he explains his plan to discover Siegfried’s vulnerability. It’s striking that he uses the device of a military engagement to bring about the betrayal. Siegfried initially won the Burgundians’ trust by offering to fight off invaders for them; now, Hagen and the others betray that loyalty by laying a trap for Siegfried, knowing he will leap to defend them in battle. Of course, Siegfried isn’t faultless; much as Siegfried defeated Brunhild by secretly using the magical cloak, now the others defend Brunhild’s honor by means of an even more convoluted deception. And while it’s true that the crisis was touched off by the queens’ quarreling, it’s Hagen’s choice to capitalize on the situation, ostensibly in Brunhild’s defense, that triggers actual violence. In addition, Gunther shows himself to be incredibly weak-willed and unwilling to oppose Hagen, despite Siegfried’s faithful friendship in the past. There is much more guilt to go around than the poet’s terse summary suggests.
“You and I are of one blood, dear Hagen, and I earnestly commend my beloved spouse to you to guard him.” Then she divulged some matters that had better been left alone. […] “Now I shall reveal this to you in confidence, dearest kinsman, so that you may keep faith with me, and I shall tell you, trusting utterly in you, where my dear husband can be harmed. When the hot blood flowed from the dragon’s wound and the good knight was bathing in it, a broad leaf fell from the linden between his shoulder-blades. It is there that he can be wounded, and this is why I am so anxious.”
“Sew a little mark on his clothing so that I shall know where I must shield him in battle.”
She fancied she was saving the hero, yet this was aimed at his death.
The very first kill was when he brought down a strong young tusker, after which he soon chanced on an enormous lion. When his hound had roused it he laid a keen arrow to his bow and shot it so that it dropped in its tracks at the third bound. Siegfried’s fellow-huntsmen acclaimed him for this shot. Next, in swift succession, he killed a wisent, an elk, four mighty aurochs, and a fierce and monstrous buck - so well mounted was he that nothing, be it hart or hind,
could evade him. […]
“If it is not asking too much, lord Siegfried,” said his companions of the chase, “do leave some of the game alive for us. You are emptying the hills and woods for us today.” At this the brave knight had to smile.
The lady Kriemhild’s lord fell among the flowers, where you could see the blood surging from his wound. Then – and he had cause - he rebuked those who had plotted his foul murder. “You vile cowards,” he said as he lay dying. “What good has my service done me now that you have slain me? I was always loyal to you, but now I have paid for it. Alas, you have wronged your kinsmen so that all who are born in days to come will be dishonoured by your deed. You have cooled your anger on me beyond all measure. You will be held in contempt and stand apart from all good warriors.”
Now learn of a deed of overweening pride and grisly vengeance. Hagen ordered the corpse of Siegfried of Nibelungland to be carried in secret to Kriemhild’s apartment and set down on the threshold, so that she should find him there before daybreak when she went out to matins, an office she never overslept.
They pealed the bells as usual at the minster, and lovely Kriemhild waked her many maids and asked for a light and her attire. A chamberlain answered - and came upon Siegfried’s body. […] Before she had ascertained that it was her husband she was already thinking of Hagen’s question how he might shelter Siegfried, and now she rued it with a vengeance! From the moment she
learned of Siegfried’s death she was the sworn enemy of her own happiness.
Now that Kriemhild had possession of the hoard she lured many foreign warriors to Burgundy, and indeed her fair hand lavished gifts with such bounty that the like has never been seen […] Hagen declared that were she to live for any time she would recruit so many men that matters would go ill with the Burgundians. […] “No man who is firm in his purpose should leave the treasure to a woman,” said Hagen. “By means of her gifts she will bring things to the point where the brave sons of Burgundy will bitterly regret it.”
Etzel’s dominion was so widely known that the most fearless warriors that were ever heard of among Christians and heathen alike were always to be found at his court, all having joined him. And always — a thing that will hardly happen again — the Christian life and the heathen existed side by side. But whichever rite a man followed, the King’s magnanimity saw to it that all were amply rewarded.
The priest made great efforts to keep himself afloat, thinking to save his life if only someone would help him. This, however, was ruled out, for mighty Hagen vehemently thrust him to the bottom, to the scandal of everyone there. Seeing no aid forthcoming, the miserable cleric turned back to the shore to his great discomfort, and although he could not swim he was succoured by the hand of the Lord and reached dry land in safety. Standing up, he shook his cassock, and this brought it home to Hagen that there would be no escaping the fate which the wild nixies had foretold. “These knights are doomed to die,” thought he.
“Alas,” cried lady Kriemhild, “why will my brother and Hagen not let their shields be placed in safety? Someone must have warned them! If I knew who it was he would surely die!”
“It was I that warned the illustrious kings of Burgundy and their vassal, fearless Hagen,” replied King Dietrich angrily. “Now come on, you she-devil, you must not let me go unpunished!”
And now indeed the bright morning sent its rays into the hall to light the guests, while Hagen roused the knights everywhere, asking whether they wished to go to mass in the cathedral, for there was a great pealing of bells in keeping with the Christian rite. But Christians and heathen sang mass differently, as was very evident — they were at variance in this. Gunther’s men did wish to go to church and they had immediately risen from their beds and were lacing themselves into clothes of such quality that no knights ever brought better into any realm.
Leaving Bloedelin resolved on battle, the Queen went to table with King Etzel and his men. She had laid a deadly plot against their guests.
Kriemhild’s old grief was embedded deep in her heart. Since there was no beginning the fighting in any other way, she had Etzel’s son carried to the board. (How could a woman ever do a more dreadful thing in pursuance of her
revenge?) Four of Etzel’s followers went immediately and returned bearing the young Prince Ortlieb to the King’s table, where Hagen, too, was seated, owing to whose murderous hate the boy must needs soon die.
The noble Margrave stood there in despair. “Alas,” cried that most faithful knight from the depths of his anguish, “that I have lived to know this, Godforsaken man that I am! I must sacrifice all the esteem, the integrity, and breeding that by the grace of God were mine! Ah, God in Heaven, that death does not avert this from me! Whichever course I leave in order to follow the other, I shall have acted basely and infamously - and if I refrain from both, they will all upbraid me! May He that summoned me to life afford me counsel!”
“You have repaid me in base coin,” she said, “but Siegfried’s sword I shall have and hold! My fair lover was wearing it when last I saw him, through whom I suffered mortal sorrow at your hands.” She drew it from its sheath -he was powerless to prevent it - and bent her thoughts to robbing him of life. She raised it in both hands - and struck off his head! King Etzel saw this, and great was the grief it gave him.