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And they stopped not once in their play, but rippled and danced on the
shelving beach, or dashed with force against the shore.

"Where is your mother, Ran, the Queen of the Ocean?" asked Loki.

And they answered:

"In the deep sea-caves
By the sounding shore,
In the dashing waves
When the wild storms roar,
In her cold green bowers
In the northern fiords,
She lurks and she glowers,
She grasps and she hoards,
And she spreads her strong net for her prey."

Loki waited to hear no more; but he sprang into the air, and the magic
shoes carried him onwards over the water In search of the Ocean-queen.
He had not gone far when his sharp eyes espied her, lurking near a
rocky shore against which the breakers dashed with frightful fury.
Half hidden in the deep dark water, she lay waiting and watching; and
she spread her cunning net upon the waves, and reached out with her
long greedy fingers to seize whatever booty might come near her.

When the wary queen saw Loki, she hastily drew in her net, and tried to
hide herself in the shadows of an overhanging rock. But Loki called
her by name, and said:

"Sister Ran, fear not! I am your friend Loki, whom once you served as
a guest in Aegir's gold-lit halls."

Then the Ocean-queen came out into the bright moonlight, and welcomed
Loki to her domain, and asked, "Why does Loki thus wander so far over
the trackless waters?"

And Loki answered, "I have heard of the net which you spread upon the
waves, and from which no creature once caught in its meshes can ever
escape. I have found a salmon where the Rhine spring gushes from
beneath the mountains, and a very cunning salmon he is, for no common
skill can catch him. Come, I pray, with your wondrous net, and cast it
into the stream where he lies. Do but take the wary fish for me, and
you shall have more gold than you have taken in a year from the wrecks
of stranded vessels."

"I dare not go," cried Ran. "A bound is set, beyond which I may not
venture. If all the gold of earth were offered me, I could not go."

"Then lend me your net," entreated Loki. "Lend me your net, and I will
bring it back tomorrow filled with gold."

"Much I would like your gold," answered Ran; "but I cannot lend my net.
Should I do so, I might lose the richest prize that has ever come into
my husband's kingdom. For three days, now, a gold-rigged ship, bearing
a princely crew with rich armor and abundant wealth, has been sailing
carelessly over these seas. Tomorrow I shall send my daughters and the
bewitching mermaids to decoy the vessel among the rocks. And into my
net the ship, and the brave warriors, and all their armor and gold,
shall fall. A rich prize it will be. No: I cannot part with my net,
even for a single hour."

But Loki knew the power of flattering words.

"Beautiful queen," said he, "there is no one on earth, nor even in
Asgard, who can equal you in wisdom and foresight. Yet I promise you
that, if you will but lend me your net until the morning dawns, the
ship and the crew of which you speak shall be yours, and all their
golden treasures shall deck your azure halls in the deep sea."

Then Ran carefully folded the net, and gave it to Loki.

"Remember your promise," was all that she said.

"An Asa never forgets," he answered.

And he turned his face again towards Rhineland; and the magic shoes
bore him aloft and carried him in a moment back to the ice mountain and
the gorge and the infant river, which he had so lately left. The
salmon still rested in his place, and had not moved during Loki's short

Loki unfolded the net, and cast it into the stream. The cunning fish
tried hard to avoid being caught in its meshes; but, dart which way he
would, he met the skilfully woven cords, and these drew themselves
around him, and held him fast. Then Loki pulled the net up out of the
water, and grasped the helpless fish in his right hand. But, lo! as he
held the struggling creature high in the air, it was no longer a fish,
but the cunning dwarf Andvari.

"Thou King of the Elves," cried Loki, "thy cunning has not saved thee.
Tell me, on thy life, where thy hidden treasures lie!"

The wise dwarf knew who it was that thus held him as in a vise; and he
answered frankly, for it was his only hope of escape, "Turn over the
stone upon which you stand. Beneath it you will find the treasure you

Then Loki put his shoulder to the rock, and pushed with all his might.
But it seemed as firm as the mountain, and would not be moved.

"Help us, thou cunning dwarf," he cried - "help us, and thou shalt have
thy life!"

The dwarf put his shoulder to the rock, and it turned over as if by
magic, and underneath was disclosed a wondrous chamber, whose walls
shone brighter than the sun, and on whose floor lay treasures of gold
and glittering gem stones such as no man had ever seen. And Loki, in
great haste, seized upon the hoard, and placed it in the magic net
which he had borrowed from the Ocean-queen. Then he came out of the
chamber; and Andvari again put his shoulder to the rock which lay at
the entrance, and it swung back noiselessly to its place.

"What is that upon thy finger?" suddenly cried Loki. "Wouldst keep
back a part of the treasure? Give me the ring thou hast!"

But the dwarf shook his head, and made answer, "I have given thee all
the riches that the elves of the mountain have gathered since the world
began. This ring I cannot give thee, for without its help we shall
never be able to gather more treasures together."

Loki grew very angry at these words of the dwarf; and he seized the
ring, and tore it by force from Andvari's finger. It was a wondrous
little piece of mechanism shaped like a serpent, coiled, with its tail
in its mouth; and its scaly sides glittered with many a tiny diamond,
and its ruby eyes shone with an evil light. When the dwarf knew that
Loki really meant to rob him of the ring, he cursed it and all who
should ever possess it, saying:

"May the ill-gotten treasure that you have seized to-night be your
bane, and the bane of all to whom it may come, whether by fair means or
by foul! And the ring which you have torn from my hand, may it entail
upon the one who wears it sorrow and untold ills, the loss of friends,
and a violent death!"

Loki was pleased with these words, and with the dark curses which the
dwarf pronounced upon the gold; for he loved wrong-doing for
wrong-doing's sake, and he knew that no curses could ever make his own
life more cheerless than it always had been. So he thanked Andvari for
his curses and his treasures; then, throwing the magic net upon his
shoulder, he sprang again into the air, and was carried swiftly back to
Hunaland; and, just before the dawn appeared in the east, he alighted
at the door of the farmhouse where Odin and Hoenir still lay bound with
thongs, and guarded by the watchful Fafnir and Regin.

Then the farmer, Hreidmar, brought the otter's skin, and spread it upon
the ground; and, lo! it grew, and spread out on all sides, until it
covered an acre of ground. And he cried out, "Fulfil now your promise!
Cover every hair of this hide with gold or with precious stones. If
you fail to do this, then your lives, by your own agreement, are
forfeited, and we shall do with you as we list."

Odin took the magic net from Loki's shoulder; and, opening it, he
poured the treasures of the mountain elves upon the otter skin. And
Loki and Hoenir spread the yellow pieces carefully and evenly over
every part of the furry hide. But, after every piece had been laid in
its place, Hreidmar saw near the otter's mouth a single hair uncovered;
and he declared, that unless this hair, too, were covered, the bargain
would be unfulfilled, and the treasures and lives of his prisoners
would be forfeited.

The Asas were filled with dismay; for not another piece of gold, and
not another precious stone, could they find in the net, although they
searched with the greatest care. At last Odin took from his bosom the
ring which Loki had stolen from the dwarf; for he had been so highly
pleased with its form and workmanship, that he had hidden it, hoping
that it would not be needed to complete the payment of the ransom. And
they laid the ring upon the uncovered hair; and now no portion of the
otter's skin could be seen. And Fafnir and Regin, the ransom being
paid, loosed the shackles of Odin and Hoenir, and bade the three
huntsmen go on their way.

Odin and Hoenir at once shook off their human disguises, and, taking
their own forms again, hastened with all speed home to Asgard. But
Loki tarried a little while, and said to Hreidmar and his sons:

"By your greediness and falsehood you have won for yourselves the Curse
of the Earth, which lies before you. It shall be your bane. It shall
be the bane of everyone who holds it. It shall kindle strife between
father and son, between brother and brother. It shall make you mean,
selfish, beastly. It shall transform you into monsters. The noblest
king among men folk shall feel its curse. Such is gold, and such it
shall ever be to its worshippers. And the ring which you have gotten
shall impart to its possessor its own nature. Grasping, snaky, cold,
unfeeling, shall he live; and death through treachery shall be his

Then he turned away, delighted that he had thus left the curse of
Andvari with Hreidmar and his sons, and hastened northward toward the
sea; for he wished to redeem the promise that he had made to the
Ocean-queen, to bring back her magic net, and to decoy the richly laden
ship into her clutches.

No sooner were the strange huntsmen well out of sight than Fafnir and
Regin began to ask their father to divide the glittering hoard with

"By our strength and through our advice," said they, "this great store
has come into your hands. Let us place it in three equal heaps, and
then let each take his share and go his way."

At this the farmer waxed very angry; and he loudly declared that he
would keep all the treasure for himself, and that his sons should not
have any portion of it whatever. So Fafnir and Regin, nursing their
disappointment, went to the fields to watch their sheep; but their
father sat down to guard his new-gotten treasure. He took in his hand
the glittering serpent ring, and gazed into its cold ruby eyes; and, as
he gazed, all his thoughts were fixed upon his gold; and there was no
room in his heart for love toward his fellows, nor for deeds of
kindness, nor for the worship of the All-Father. And behold, as he
continued to look at the snaky ring, a dreadful change came over him.
The warm red blood, which until that time had leaped through his veins,
and given him life and strength and human feelings, became purple and
cold and sluggish; and selfishness, like serpent's poison, took hold of
his heart. Then, as he kept on gazing at the hoard which lay before
him, he began to lose his human shape; his body lengthened into many
scaly folds, and he coiled himself around his loved treasures, - the
very likeness of the ring upon which he had looked so long.

When the day drew near its close, Fafnir came back from the fields with
his herd of sheep, and thought to find his father guarding the
treasure, as he had left him in the morning; but instead he saw a
glittering snake, fast asleep, encircling the hoard like a huge scaly
ring of gold. His first thought was that the monster had devoured his
father; and, hastily drawing his sword, with one blow he severed the
serpent's head from its body. And, while yet the creature writhed in
the death agony, he gathered up the hoard, and fled with it beyond the
hills of Hunaland, until on the seventh day he came to a barren heath
far from the homes or men. There he placed the treasures in one
glittering heap; and he clothed himself in a wondrous mail-coat of gold
that was found among them, and he put on the Helmet of Dread, which had
once been the terror of the mid-world, and the like of which no man had
ever seen; and then he gazed with greedy eyes upon the fateful ring,
until he, too, was changed into a cold and slimy reptile, - a monster
dragon. He coiled himself about the hoard; and, with his restless eyes
forever open, he gloated day after day upon his loved gold, and watched
with ceaseless care that no one should come near to despoil him of it.
This was ages and ages ago; and still he wallows among his treasures on
the Glittering Heath, and guards as of yore the garnered wealth of

[1]Regin, one of the last of the race of Dwarfs, was a master smith and
by some said to be the teacher of Siegfried. The story is supposed to
have been related to Siegfried in the dusky smithy of the dwarf.


While Siegfried was still a young lad, his father sent him to live with
a smith called Mimer, whose smithy was among the hills not far from the
great forest. For in those early times the work of the smith was
looked upon as the most worthy of all trades, - a trade which the gods
themselves were not ashamed to follow. And this smith Mimer was a
wonderful master, - the wisest and most cunning that the world had ever
seen. Men said that he was akin to the dwarf-folk who had ruled the
earth in the early days, and who were learned in every lore, and
skilled in every craft; and they said that he was so exceeding old that
no one could remember the day when he came to dwell in the land of
Siegfried's people. Some said, too, that he was the keeper of a
wonderful well, or flowing spring, the waters of which imparted wisdom
and far-seeing knowledge to all who drank of them.

To Mimer's school, then, where he would be taught to work skilfully and
to think wisely, Siegfried was sent, to be in all respects like the
other pupils there. A coarse blue blouse and heavy leggings and a
leathern apron took the place of the costly clothing which he had worn
in his father's dwelling. On his feet were awkward wooden sandals, and
his head was covered with a wolfskin cap. The dainty bed, with its
downy pillows, wherein every night his mother had been wont, with
gentle care, to see him safely covered, was given up for a rude heap of
straw in a corner of the smithy. And the rich food to which he had
been used gave place to the coarsest and humblest fare. But the lad
did not complain. The days which he passed in the smithy were mirthful
and happy; and the sound of his hammer rang cheerfully, and the sparks
from his forge flew briskly, from morning till night.

And a wonderful smith he became. No one could do more work than he,
and none wrought with greater skill. The heaviest chains and the
strongest bolts, for prison or for treasure house, were but as toys in
his stout hands, so easily and quickly did he beat them into shape.
Cunning also was he in work of the most delicate and brittle kind.
Ornaments of gold and silver studded with the rarest jewels, were
fashioned into beautiful forms by his deft fingers. And among all of
Mimer's apprentices none learned the master's lore so readily, or
gained the master's favor more.

One morning the master, Mimer, came to the smithy with a troubled look
upon his face. It was clear that something had gone amiss; and what it
was the apprentices soon learned from the smith himself. Never, until
lately, had any one questioned Mimer's right to be called the foremost
smith in all the world; but now a rival had come forward. An unknown
upstart - -one Amilias, a giant of Burgundy - had made a suit of armor,
which, he boasted, no stroke of sword could dint, and no blow of spear
could scratch; and he had sent a challenge to all other smiths, both in
the Rhine country and elsewhere, to equal that piece of workmanship, or
else acknowledge themselves his underlings and vassals. For many days
had Mimer himself toiled, alone and vainly, trying to forge a sword
whose edge the boasted armor of Amilias could not foil; and now, in
despair, he came to ask the help of his pupils and apprentices.

"Who among you is skilful enough to forge such a sword?" he asked,

One after another, the pupils shook their heads. And the foreman of
the apprentices said, "I have heard much about that wonderful armor,
and its extreme hardness, and I doubt if any skill can make a sword
with edge so sharp and true as to cut into it. The best that can be
done is to try to make another war coat whose temper shall equal that
of Amilias's armor."

Then the lad Siegfried quickly said, "I will make such a sword as you
want, - a blade that no war coat can foil. Give me but leave to try!"

The other pupils laughed in scorn, but Mimer checked them. "You hear
how this boy can talk: we will see what he can do. He is the king's
son, and we know that he has uncommon talent. He shall make the sword;
but if, upon trial, it fail, I will make him rue the day."

Then Siegfried went to his task. And for seven days and seven nights
the sparks never stopped flying from his forge; and the ringing of his
anvil, and the hissing of the hot metal as he tempered it, were heard
continuously. On the eighth day the sword was fashioned, and Siegfried
brought it to Mimer.

The smith felt the razor edge of the bright weapon, and said, "This
seems, indeed, a fair fire edge. Let us make a trial of its keenness."

Then a thread of wool as light as thistle-down was thrown upon water,
and, as it floated there, Mimer struck it with the sword. The
glittering blade cleft the thread in twain, and the pieces floated
undisturbed upon the surface of the liquid.

"Well done!" cried the delighted smith. "Never have I seen a keener
edge. If its temper is as true as its sharpness would lead us to
believe, it will indeed serve me well."

But Siegfried took the sword again, and broke it into many pieces; and
for three days he welded it in a white-hot fire, and tempered it with
milk and oatmeal. Then, in sight of the sneering apprentices, a light
ball of fine-spun wool was cast upon the flowing water of the brook;
and it was caught in the swift eddies of the stream, and whirled about
until it met the bared blade of the sword, which was held in
Siegfried's hands. And the ball was parted as easily and clean as the
rippling water, and not the smallest thread was moved out of its place.

Then back to the smithy Siegfried went again; and his forge glowed with
a brighter fire, and his hammer rang upon the anvil with a cheerier
sound, than ever before. He suffered none to come near, and no one
ever knew what witchery he used. But some of his fellow pupils
afterwards told how, in the dusky twilight, they had seen a one-eyed
man, long-bearded, and clad in a cloud-gray kirtle, and wearing a
sky-blue hood, talking with Siegfried at the smithy door. And they
said that the stranger's face was at once pleasant and fearful to look
upon, and that his one eye shone in the gloaming like the evening star,
and that, when he had placed in Siegfried's hands bright shards, like
pieces of a broken sword, he faded suddenly from their sight, and was
seen no more.

For seven weeks the lad wrought day and night at his forge; and then,
pale and haggard, but with a pleased smile upon his face, he stood
before Mimer, with the sword in his hands. "It is finished," he said.
"Behold the glittering terror! - the blade Balmung. Let us try its edge
and prove its temper once again, that so we may know whether you can
place your trust in it."

Mimer looked long at the ruddy hilt of the weapon, and at the mystic
runes that were scored upon its sides, and at the keen edge, which
looked like a ray of sunlight in the gathering gloom of the evening.
But no word came from his lips, and his eyes were dim and dazed; and he
seemed as one lost in thoughts of days long past and gone.

Siegfried raised the blade high over his head; and the gleaming edge
flashed hither and thither, like the lightning's play when Thor rides
over the storm clouds. Then suddenly it fell upon the master's anvil,
and the solid block of iron was cleft in two; but the blade was no whit
dulled by the stroke, and the line of light which marked the edge was
brighter than before.

Then to the brook they went; and a great pack of wool, the fleeces of
ten sheep, was brought, and thrown upon the swirling water. As the
stream bore the bundle downwards, Mimer held the sword in its way. And
the whole was divided as easily and as clean as the woollen ball or the
slender woollen thread had been cleft before.

"Now, indeed," cried Mimer, "I no longer fear to meet that upstart,
Amilias. If his war coat can withstand the stroke of such a sword as
Balmung, then I shall not be ashamed to be his underling. But, if this
good blade is what it seems to be, it will not fail me; and I, Mimer
the Old, shall still be called the wisest and greatest of smiths."

He sent word at once to Amilias, in Burgundyland, to meet him on a day,
and settle forever the question as to which of the two should be the
master, and which the underling. And heralds proclaimed it in every
town and dwelling. When the time which had been set drew near, Mimer,
bearing the sword Balmung, and followed by all his pupils and
apprentices, wended his way toward the place of meeting. Through the
forest they went, and then along the banks of the sluggish river, for
many a league, to the height of land which marked the line between
Siegfried's country and the country of the Burgundians. It was in this
place, midway between the shops of Mimer and Amilias, that the great
trial of metal and of skill was to be made. And here were already
gathered great numbers of people from the Lowlands and from Burgundy,
anxiously waiting for the coming of the champions.

When everything was in readiness for the contest, Amilias, clad in his
boasted war coat, went up to the top of the hill, and sat upon a rock,
and waited for Mimer's coming. As he sat there, he looked, to the
people below, like some great castle tower; for he was a giant in size,
and his coat of mail was so huge that twenty men of common mould might
have found shelter, or hidden themselves, within it. As the smith
Mimer, so dwarfish in stature, tolled up the steep hillside, Amilias
smiled to see him; for he felt no fear of the slender, gleaming blade
that was to try the metal of his war coat. And already a shout or
expectant triumph went up from the throats of the Burgundian hosts, so
sure were they of their champion's success.

But Mimer's friends waited in breathless silence, hoping, and yet
fearing. Only Siegfried's father, the king, whispered to his queen,
and said, "Knowledge is stronger than brute force. The smallest dwarf
who has drunk from the well of the Knowing One may safely meet the
stoutest giant in battle."

When Mimer reached the top of the hill, Amilias folded his huge arms,
and smiled again; for he felt that this contest was mere play for him,
and that Mimer was already as good as beaten, and his thrall. The
smith paused a moment to take breath, and as he stood by the side of
his foe he looked to those below like a mere black speck close beside a
steel-gray castle tower.

"Are you ready?" asked the smith.

"Ready," answered Amilias. "Strike!"

Mimer raised the blade in the air, and for a moment the lightning
seemed to play around his head. The muscles on his short, brawny arms,
stood out like ropes; and then Balmung, descending, cleft the air from
right to left. The waiting lookers-on in the plain below thought to
hear the noise of clashing steel; but they listened in vain, for no
sound came to their ears, save a sharp hiss like that which red hot
iron gives when plunged into a tank of cold water. The huge Amilias
sat unmoved, with his arms still folded upon his breast; but the smile
had faded from his face.

"How do you feel now?" asked Mimer in a half-mocking tone.

"Rather strangely, as if cold iron had touched me," faintly answered
the giant.

"Shake thyself!" cried Mimer.

Amilias did so, and, lo! he fell in two halves; for the sword had cut
sheer through the vaunted war coat, and cleft in twain the great body
incased within. Down tumbled the giant's head and his still folded
arms; and they rolled with thundering noise to the foot of the hill,
and fell with a fearful splash into the deep waters of the river; and
there, fathoms down, they may even now be seen, when the water is
clear, lying like gray rocks among the sand and gravel below. The rest
of the body, with the armor which incased it, still sat upright in its
place; and to this day travellers sailing down the river are shown on

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Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 5 of 9)