Siegfried the Fearless

SIEGFRIED THE FEARLESS

Several years passed by while Brunhilde lay in her enchanted sleep. Summers and winters came and went, yet still she lay there unharmed in her magic circle of fire, and growing no whit older than when she first sank down in slumber, in all her youth and beauty.

Down in the depths of the forest far below the crag on which she rested, Fafner the dragon still guarded the Rhine-Gold and Ring. He had come to be known only as the dragon, because—giant though he was—he had always been afraid to leave this hideous shape lest someone should overcome him and seize the treasure.

And he had good cause to fear. Although the Gold bore a curse with it, there was more than one who sought to lay hand upon it. Wotan the mighty had even forsaken the beautiful palace of Walhalla which cost him so much, and was now roaming over the earth seeking some hero to slay the dragon. He had indeed come to be known as the "Wanderer" because of his constant search. The dwarfs also had by no means forgotten the glittering hoard which had been taken away from them. Alberich went about in sullen discontent, biding his time; while Mime, his brother who had made the magic helmet, could not forget the Gold night or day. Mime knew where the dragon lay hid, so he set about laying plans to outwit or slay him.

Now the dwarfs had always lived deep down in the caves of the earth. They had seemed actually afraid of the sunlight, and it may be that they were afraid of their own shadows, for no greater cowards ever lived. But with all their cowardice they were sly, and had a wonderful faculty of finding out all sorts of secrets. Mime had discovered the whole story of the Gold, the helmet, the Ring, the curse, the building of Walhalla, and the dread which had fallen upon the gods. He learned of all this and many other things; and he laughed and rubbed his hands craftily.

"Aha!" he said, "I  will find a way to seize the Ring and rule the whole world! I will watch this dragon day and night, and sooner or later I shall surprise him."

So Mime the dwarf summoned up courage enough to appear above ground. He betook himself to Fafner's forest, where he soon found the huge monster crouched before the door of his cave. For many days and nights Mime lay hid, waiting for a chance to slip past the great beast, but no such chance came.

"I shall have to kill him," said Mime to himself. And at the bare thought his teeth chattered with fear. "But even if I had a sword stout enough and long enough to reach his heart, I should never have courage enough to wield it."

This thought was very discouraging to him, yet he was unwilling to give up hope of the Gold. For many more days he pondered and plotted, till at last he thought of a plan.

"I have it!" he exclaimed slapping his thigh. "I shall build a blacksmith's forge hard by here in the wood, where I shall make nothing but swords. At last my skill will bring forth the best blade in the world, and I shall offer it to the mightiest hero who may come riding by. Who knows? Perhaps one will be found brave enough to fight the dragon, when I tell him just how to do it. Then after he kills the dragon—we will see!"

He chuckled at the cunning plan he had made, while the evil light in his eyes boded no good for the after fate of the chosen hero.

This plan seemed wild, yet it was the best that offered, so Mime began at once. He built his smithy, and having been used to this trade all his life in the under-world, he speedily felt quite at home. Soon his forge-fires shone brightly through the forest, and the sound of his hammering disturbed the birds and beasts.

One day during a lull in his work he heard a faint tap at his door. He asked harshly who was there, but receiving no reply he peered cautiously outside. There on the threshold lay a poor woman feebly holding a little child in her arms. Her strength seemed spent, and even the rough Mime felt pity for her distress. He carried her into the smithy and laid her near the forge-fire, then hastened to pour some cordial down her throat. The drink revived her slightly and she sat up and tried to lift the child.

"Take care of him," she gasped. "His name is Siegfried. He comes from a race of heroes."

"How am I to know that he is of hero born?" asked the dwarf bluntly.

"Here, here!" she answered eagerly, drawing some fragments of a sword from the folds of her dress. "It was his father's sword—the wonderful Sword of Need. Keep it safe for him and he shall do—mighty—deeds——"

Her voice trailed into silence, and the dwarf bending down perceived that she was dead.

It was poor Sieglinde who had hid away from the wrath of Wotan, as Brunhilde had bidden her. At last her sad life was ended, and perchance her spirit found peace with that of Siegmund in some happier clime.

Mime now turned his attention to the little child for the first time. He saw that its limbs were sturdily knit, and that already it held its head erect and looked one squarely in the eye—which was more than the dwarf had ever done in his whole life.

"Who knows?" muttered Mime. "This may be the hero for whom I have been waiting. I will bring him up as my son, and train him to my set purpose. At any-rate he could soon be useful blowing the fire."

So he adopted the little Siegfried and cared for him, during his helpless days, in a dwarf's rude way. He hollowed out a log for the baby's cradle, and spread a bearskin over it. He gave him goat's milk to drink, and let him play with the broken handles of swords. Every fair morning he carried him out into the bright sunshine and left him to kick his heels and shout back answers to the singing birds. But the dwarf himself rarely ventured outdoors. He seemed to prefer the soot and smoke of his forge-fire. He hammered away, and hummed a moody tune, and took comfort in thinking of the day when this foster-child should be sent to slay the dragon.

But if Mime had expected the lad to mend the fires and work in the shop, he soon found himself mistaken. The little fellow thrived wonderfully and took to the life of the forest naturally. On the other hand, he had no use for the forge or, it must be confessed, for his foster-father. He soon came to despise the dwarf as a coward, for he himself showed no fear of anything. So he roamed every day in the forest returning only at nightfall with some animal he had slain. Once he harnessed a wild bear with ropes and drove it into the blacksmith's shop, nearly causing Mime to fly out of his wits from terror.

When Siegfried arrived at young manhood he was a goodly sight to look upon. His limbs were strong and powerful, yet rounded and graceful. His skin was tinged with the ruddy hue of outdoor life. His fair hair fell in soft curls to his shoulders, as the manner then was; and his blue eyes met one's look frankly and fearlessly.

Though he had been taught to look upon Mime as his father, Siegfried soon rejected this belief with scorn. He felt no love for the dwarf, such as a son would feel; and he could not help contrasting his own powerful frame and courage with the smith's weak, cringing way. The only tie which now bound them together was a promise made by the dwarf that he would forge a sword with which Siegfried could win every battle. The young man waited impatiently for this sword to be made; and Mime actually worked early and late to finish it. But alas! no sooner would he temper a blade so that it seemed perfect, when Siegfried would return from the chase and say,

"Ho! this  is the sword you have made for me to-day!"

And he would shiver it to bits upon the anvil.

This went on day after day, until Siegfried lost all patience and began to threaten the dwarf.

"Hark you, Mime!" he cried. "Give me the stout blade you promised, or it will not go well with you to-morrow night."

"You would not harm your father!" whined the dwarf. "Remember how I have cared for you and sheltered you."

"I have long since paid that score in meat and skins," answered Siegfried. "And as for you being my father, you know that is false. Answer me directly! I would know who my father was!"

His manner was so threatening that the dwarf was thoroughly frightened.

"I—I—do not know who your father was," he stammered; "your mother was Sieglinde, a poor woman whom I sheltered here when you were a baby. She gave me an old broken sword. See, here it is!"

And he rummaged beneath a pile of skins and brought to light the pieces of the magic Sword of Need.

"Ha! that is good metal!" cried Siegfried, as he examined it. "I will have no sword but this. See to it that 'tis mended for me 'gainst another night."

The smith promised, though in a quaking voice, for he was by no means certain that he could mend the weapon. His fears were well founded. When he tried to do so, the next day, the pieces refused to unite in his hands. After making repeated attempts he sank down behind the anvil in despair.

At this moment a strange-looking man entered the doorway. He was tall and powerful. He wore a long dark cloak, and carried a spear instead of a staff. On his head was a large hat whose broad brim shaded one eye that was evidently injured or missing.

"The Wanderer!" muttered the dwarf in abject fear.

It was indeed Wotan the Wanderer.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded in a voice of thunder, pointing to the broken blade.

"I—I am trying to mend the—the Sword of Need," said the dwarf. He knew there was no use in telling an untruth, as Wotan had already recognised the weapon.

"Where did you get it?" Wotan asked.

"'Twas given me by Sieglinde the mother of Siegfried. Mercy, mercy! I cannot mend it!"

"Peace, fool! You speak truth. No one but the hero who knows no fear can weld those pieces together!"

So saying he struck his spear upon the floor with a noise like thunder and turning strode away into the forest.

Mime dared not look after him or ask any questions. Indeed, he was in such utter terror that he did not venture from behind the anvil, where he lay hid all day. And here it was that Siegfried found him when he returned home.

"Mime, have you got my sword done yet?" he called.

"Pardon! pardon!" whined the dwarf. "Oh, I have had such an awful scare!"

"A scare? What is that?" asked Siegfried.

"I mean, I have been in dreadful fear," answered Mime.

"Fear? What is that?" asked Siegfried.

"Know you not what fear is?" said Mime, starting up and remembering Wotan's words that only the hero who knew no fear could mend the sword.

The young man shook his head.

Mime pressed the subject further. "Suppose you should meet a great monster in the forest," he said; "a huge dragon whose eyes and mouth shot fire, whose tail lashed this way and that, tearing down the trees, whose tongue was sharp as a sword, and whose terrible fangs could crush you like an insect. Suppose this terrible dragon should come rushing down to devour you. How would you feel?"

"There is no such beast as that," replied Siegfried smiling.

"Oh, but there is!" urged the dwarf, his own eyes growing big with alarm as he thought of Fafner. "There is! Down in the depths of this very forest lurks a dragon ten times more dreadful than I have said. He lies crouched in a thicket before a cave, and even the gods are afraid to come near him."

"Then he would be worth fighting!" exclaimed Siegfried with flashing eyes. "Forge me this sword as you promised, and then show me the way to his lair!"

"I cannot mend the blade," confessed Mime sullenly. "Only he who has no fear in his heart can mend it or wield it."

Siegfried glanced at him a moment in anger; then as if despairing of getting the dwarf to do the work, he seized the fragments with one hand and the bellows with the other.

"Stand aside!" he commanded. "I will mend the blade."

And he set to work while the dwarf looked on in wonder.

First Siegfried took a file and began rubbing the steel into fine powder.

"Stop!" screamed the dwarf. "You are ruining it."

"Oh, no, I am not," laughed Siegfried, filing the faster.

Soon the sword, all but the handle, was changed into powder. Then Siegfried placed the powder over the fire and blew a bright blaze underneath it. And as he worked the bellows he sang from pure joy in his work,

"Hoho! hoho!
Hahei! hahei!
Bellows blow
The blaze on high!
Deep in the wood
There lived a tree:
Its ashes here
In the flames I see,
Hoho! hoho!
Hahei! hahei!
Bellows blow:
The tree must die!
But the flashing fire
Hath won its way;
It sputters and flares
In the metal's spray.
Hoho! hoho!
Hahei! hahei!
Bellows blow
The flame on high!
The Sword of Need
Will soon be made
And then aloft
I shall flash my blade!"
 

When he finished the song the powder had become a molten mass. He ran this into a mould and plunged it into the water. The loud hiss of cooling metal was heard. Presently he seized the new blade with a pair of pincers and heated it red hot. Allowing it to remain but a moment in the coals, he placed it upon the anvil and beat it mighty blows till the blade was sharp and thin. Then heating it once again he fastened it to the handle.

He swung the weapon critically and tested its temper. Again he heated it, and beat it till the shop was filled with flying sparks. But now it emerged bright and keen—the most perfect blade in all the world. Triumphantly he sang,

"Ah, Sword of Need!
Anew thou art wrought;
Back unto life and strength
Thou art brought!"
 

"See, Mime! This  is the sword I wished you to forge!"

And making the sword whistle about his head he brought it down squarely upon the anvil. From top to bottom the heavy anvil was cleaved, falling into two pieces with a thunderous noise.

"Farewell!" cried Siegfried; "the smithy sees me no more from this day. I go to seek the dragon!" And he hurried forth with his wonderful new sword into the forest.

"Wait a moment!" called Mime, running after him; "you cannot find the cave unless I show you the way."

"I thought you were too great a coward for that," laughed Siegfried.

"Who's afraid?" panted the dwarf as he caught up with him. "Besides I am only going to point out the place. You are the one that's going to be eaten!"

In fact Mime was quite anxious to have the young man meet the dragon. No matter how the fight turned out, he reasoned that he himself would be the gainer. In the event of Siegfried killing the beast and escaping unharmed, Mime intended to give him a poisonous draught which he had prepared. Then with both these foes out of the way, the dwarf believed that the wonderful Gold of the curse would be his without any further struggle.

But in this Mime was wrong, for his brother Alberich, who had first stolen the Gold from the Rhine-maidens, was even then watching the dragon's cave and had been on guard there night and day. Wotan the Wanderer found him there upon this day of fate, and unheeding the dwarf's taunts and reproaches told him of Siegfried's and Mime's approach. Alberich now hid behind some rocks to watch what should happen.

"See, that is the cave," said Mime, pointing it out to Siegfried when they were still some distance away. "I can go no farther, as I am very tired from running to catch up with you. But go straight ahead, and I wish you success—and the dragon an equal amount!" The last words he muttered to himself, then scurried for a safe place where he could watch the fight.

It was a beautiful morning, and the birds were carolling sweetly in the tree-tops. Siegfried cast himself down upon the sward to rest himself and enjoy the quiet sylvan scene a little while. The birds seemed to be talking to him. He could not understand their sweet language, but he tried to imitate it upon a reed whistle. Failing in his attempt he seized the horn which was slung around his shoulders and blew a loud clear note as a challenge to the dragon. At once a tremendous crashing sound was heard in a near-by thicket.

"Ah! that must be the dragon!" said Siegfried craning his neck without getting up.

Again he heard the roar, followed by a terrible snorting and hissing and yawning, and out came a huge lizard-like serpent plunging through the underbrush toward him.

"Who are you?" it growled.

"Oh, you can talk, can you?" said Siegfried. "I am a man who has been sent to you to learn what fear is."

"You will find out if you live long enough!" roared the dragon showing its fangs and licking out a long forked tongue. "I will devour you in two mouthfuls."

"Oh no!" laughed Siegfried. "I object. But if you do not teach me what fear is, it will be the worse for you!"

This taunt angered the dragon, as Siegfried intended. It sprang forward, lashed about with its tail and poured forth flame and smoke from its nostrils. Siegfried leaped easily to one side and evaded both dangers. The dragon turned upon him at close range and struck again with its tail. Siegfried vaulted high in the air, so that the tail swept the ground smoothly under him without touching. Quick as a flash he smote the scaly back with his keen sword, so that the black blood poured forth in torrents. The dragon uttered loud bellows of rage and pain, and reared upon Siegfried with the forepart of its body in order to crush him; but as it reared, its breast was exposed, and Siegfried was swift to seize his advantage. With a powerful blow he drove the Sword of Need up to the hilt in the monster's heart.

"Woe is me!" gasped the dragon rolling upon the earth in a dying condition. "Reckless youth, do you know what you have done?"

"I know I have slain a foul beast because he would not teach me fear."

"Ah, I perceive you are the tool of others," said the dragon in a weak voice. "Know then that I am Fafner, the last of the giants' race. I guarded the Rhine-Gold; but beware of it! a curse follows all who possess it! Beware!"

Then with a dreadful groan the dragon expired.

Siegfried drew his sword from its breast, and as he did so a drop of blood fell upon his hand. It burned like a coal of fire, and instinctively he licked it with his tongue to stop the pain. Suddenly a strange new power came upon him. He knew not what it was, but stood silent and amazed waiting to discover what it could be. Then in the silence a bird sang to him from a linden-tree—the same song he had heard before; but this time he could understand it! It was as though the bird were speaking his own tongue!

"The Rhine-Gold is now yours," it sang. "There in the cave you will find it. Be careful to take also the helmet of darkness and the Ring of Power."

Siegfried thanked the friendly bird, and hastened into the cave. While he was gone, Mime and Alberich crept up and for the first time became aware of each other's presence. A violent quarrel at once began as to which should claim the treasure, but it was speedily silenced by the return of Siegfried clad in shining armour and bearing the helmet and Ring. The two dwarfs slunk away again unperceived by the young man, who walked thoughtfully along listening to the wood-bird, which had recommenced its song. And these were the words of the song:

"Ha! Siegfried now holds
Both the helmet and the Ring;
Beware of sly Mime—
Trust him not in anything!"
 

Siegfried again thanked the bird for its warning, which was indeed timely; for Mime now approached him with great pretended delight in his safety.

"Have you learned what fear is?" he asked with a grin.

"No, I have not," answered Siegfried.

"Then sit you down and rest, bravest of men!" said the dwarf. "And see, here is a cooling cup of mead I have brought for you. It will quiet you and cause you to forget your weariness."

"It is poison," retorted the young man. "Thanks to the dragon's blood, I can read all your wicked heart! Wretch, take your just deserts!"

With that he dashed the poison cup to the ground, and stretched the dwarf, with one blow, dead at his feet.

"It was his life or mine at the last," he said, as he wended his way thoughtfully into the forest. In spite of his victory over the dragon, he was not elated. Instead, he was thinking how barren his life had been without friends or kindred, and how aimless it seemed even now, despite the Gold. Sighing heavily he sat down upon a log and buried his face in his hands.

"Lonely, lonely! Of all men I am most lonely!" he cried.

"Would you find a love to comfort you?" sang the clear voice of the bird over his head. "I know where you might find the fairest lady in all the world.

"On a lofty crag she sleeps,
Her guard is a flaming fire;
And he must bravely pierce the blaze
Who would win his heart's desire."
 

Siegfried sprang to his feet. "This quest is to my liking! Tell me more about it!" he exclaimed.

"The bride to win,
Brunhilde to wake,
Is no coward's task,
Or whom fear doth shake."

Thus sang the wood-bird again, and Siegfried listened to him joyfully.

"Show me the way to the lofty crag, I pray you, good bird!" he exclaimed. "Show me the way, that I may greet the lady or look into the face of fear!"

By way of answer the little bird fluttered away toward the heights leading up the mountain-side. Siegfried eagerly followed, over stones, through thickets, beneath huge trees, across dangerous chasms, but always being careful not to lose sight of the bird.

At last they came to a wild rocky gorge, extending to the last line of cliffs, and there the bird suddenly disappeared. But Siegfried saw a narrow chasm like a giant's pathway leading upward to the crest, and this, he decided, was the route he must follow. After a last look to see where the bird had gone, he prepared to ascend the path, when he came face to face with Wotan.

Siegfried had never seen the god before, and now was in nowise dismayed, although the strange-looking figure in long cloak and broad hat was larger and more commanding than any he had ever met before this day. In Wotan's hand was the Spear of Authority, with which he ruled the world.

"Where are you going?" asked the god.

"I know not," replied Siegfried. "A little bird told me of a rock surrounded by fire, and of a lovely maiden who sleeps there. But now the bird is gone, and I must find my way alone."

"Do you not fear the fire?"

"Fear? That also have I come to seek. Know you the way?"

"It lies up through yonder rift," replied Wotan, wishing to test the young man's bravery yet further; "but the journey is one of terror. Upon the mountain-top the flames leap fiercely. Sheets of fire driven before the wind rage on every side."

"The fiery foe I challenge!" answered Siegfried. "I must rescue Brunhilde at any cost." And he strode toward the rocky chasm.

"Back, rash youth!" commanded Wotan, stretching out his Spear. "You shall not pass while this all-powerful weapon prevents!"

"It shall not avail against this magic blade!" replied Siegfried, drawing the Sword of Need.

Wotan started at sight of the fateful blade.

"Where got you the weapon?" he asked.

"At Mime's forge I made it—the best metal in the world!"

"But it shall not avail against the Spear, for by it was the Sword first broken," answered Wotan.

"Ah!" cried Siegfried, rushing forward. "Then you were my father's foe! On guard, before my Sword brings vengeance upon you!"

He swung the Sword with terrific force through the air. It met the Spear with a crash like thunder, and the once powerful Spear was broken. The owner of the Ring was indeed master of the world!

"Go forward!" said Wotan sadly. "No longer can I hold you. The doom of the gods was foretold before you came into the world. You are but the instrument of fate."

And he disappeared.

Siegfried glanced at the spot where he had stood, in astonishment. Then seeing no further bar to his progress, he ran lightly up the rough pathway. Presently he heard a dull roaring sound and saw, on the mountain height, a huge mass of flames which leaped in every direction and seemed to touch the very sky. Red and wrathful they shone, shutting off the pathway by what appeared to be a solid body of fire, while clouds of smoke hid the view on every side.

But Siegfried pressed forward undaunted. Putting his hunting-horn to his lips he sounded a merry note as if in challenge. And as he went on, a wonderful thing happened. The fire parted slightly to right and left, letting him pass by unharmed. On he went until he came to the inner circle which the flame had guarded; and now it vanished utterly, leaving the blue sky and the free air of heaven.

On the moss-covered rock Siegfried saw someone lying asleep, beneath a heavy shield. He lifted this and beheld what appeared to be a youth clad in bright armour. The helmet hid the face, but when he carefully removed the heavy head-dress a mass of beautiful golden hair was loosened. The features were those of the lovely Brunhilde.

"Siegfried saw some one lying Asleep beneath a heavy shield" J. Wagrez
"Siegfried saw some one lying Asleep beneath a heavy shield" 
J. Wagrez

"Ah! it is not a man!" exclaimed Siegfried gazing at the face in rapture. "It is the maid I have come to seek! How still she is! How can I waken her from this slumber?"

He tried gently to rouse her by calling, but there was no response. Only her deep breathing told him that she was alive.

"'Tis the fairest vision I could ever have dreamed of seeing!" he murmured; "the one maid I could worship and serve! Now I cannot waken her, and all my past hardships have been in vain."

He knelt down and gazed long and rapturously into her face. Then unable to restrain his emotions any longer he bent and pressed his lips full and fervently upon hers.

Instantly the maid awoke. While Siegfried started back in rapture she sat up as easily as though yesterday had witnessed the beginning of her long sleep. She gazed about her in delight, and burst forth into a little cry of gladness:

"Hail to thee, Sun,
Hail to thee, Light,
Hail, thou luminous Day!
Deep was my sleep,
Long was the night!"
 

Then looking about she asked, "Who is the hero that has come to waken me?"

"I am Siegfried," he replied modestly.

"Siegfried, son of Sieglinde?" she cried. "Then I knew your mother in those past years before I fell asleep!"

"Oh, tell me of her and of my father!" he exclaimed, his eyes shining. "But, I am not thoughtful," he added in another tone. "You are in need of refreshment after your long slumber."

"I am a daughter of the gods," she answered, "and feel no faintness or weariness as mortals do."

Siegfried, who had come near to her, drew back as though struck by a blow.

"A daughter of the gods!" he exclaimed. "I—I hoped to claim you for my bride!"

In his ingenuous youth, his inner thoughts rose naturally to his lips.

Brunhilde smiled sadly and shook her head.

"See yonder horse, which also has been asleep?" she asked. "It is Grani, my winged steed, upon which I used to ride through the clouds with my sisters. Would you bid me stay upon earth?"

"Ah, Brunhilde, my love is selfish, I know! But if your heart could feel half the fire that burns in mine, you would gladly stay upon earth like other women!"

"Like other women!" the words brought back the decree of Wotan in a flash, and Brunhilde sat as though stunned. Then she looked proudly at the fearless hero with his frank face and deep blue eyes; and as she looked the love-light shining in his face was lit upon her own.

Siegfried knelt and pressed his lips to her hands, with bowed head. He dared not look again for very joy, and afraid lest the light he had seen should be vanished.

"Brunhilde! Brunhilde!" he whispered. "Can it be true?"

For answer Brunhilde clasped her arms around his neck and looked up laughingly into the sky. And again she sang—this time a note of glad renunciation. The proud War Maiden, the daughter of the gods, had found a joy in the mortal life of a loving woman, such as she had never dreamed.

"Away, Walhalla!
Glorious world!
Farewell thou gorgeous
Realm of the gods!
End in delight
O lofty race!
Night of destruction
Thy terrors are gone;
I stand in the glow
Of Siegfried's star!"
 

Then Siegfried in his turn sang of love and Brunhilde. And the two sweet voices blended together at the last in a triumphant strain,

"My own for ever,
And parting never,
For aye and ever.
Shining in Love!
And smiling at Death!"

[For part IV, click: Downfall of the Gods ]