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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Story Of Siegfried - Chapter I. Mimer, the Master
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The Story Of Siegfried - Chapter I. Mimer, the Master Post by :andyfrain Category :Long Stories Author :James Baldwin Date :February 2011 Read :1124

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The Story Of Siegfried - Chapter I. Mimer, the Master

At Santen, in the Lowlands, there once lived a young prince
named Siegfried. His father, Siegmund, was king of the rich
country through which the lazy Rhine winds its way just
before reaching the great North Sea; and he was known, both
far and near, for his good deeds and his prudent thrift. And
Siegfried's mother, the gentle Sigelind, was loved by all
for her goodness of heart and her kindly charity to the
poor. Neither king nor queen left aught undone that might
make the young prince happy, or fit him for life's
usefulness. Wise men were brought from far-off lands to be
his teachers; and every day something was added to his store
of knowledge or his stock of happiness. And very skilful did
he become in warlike games and in manly feats of strength.
No other youth could throw the spear with so great force, or
shoot the arrow with surer aim. No other youth could run
more swiftly, or ride with more becoming ease. His gentle
mother took delight in adding to the beauty of his matchless
form, by clothing him in costly garments decked with the
rarest jewels. The old, the young, the rich, the poor, the
high, the low, all praised the fearless Siegfried, and all
vied in friendly strife to win his favor. One would have
thought that the life of the young prince could never be
aught but a holiday, and that the birds would sing, and the
flowers would bloom, and the sun would shine forever for his
sake.

But the business of man's life is not mere pastime; and none
knew this truth better than the wise old king, Siegmund.

"All work is noble," said he to Siegfried; "and he who
yearns to win fame must not shun toil. Even princes should
know how to earn a livelihood by the labor of their hands."

And so, 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
Siegmund's fathers. And 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. His feet were incased in awkward wooden
shoes, and his head was covered with a wolf-skin 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. And he was
alike cunning 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, nor gained the master's favor
more.(EN#1)

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, in Burgundy-land--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
Veliant, 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 slender 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
Mimer and the sneering apprentices, he cast a light ball of
fine-spun wool 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 Mimer's hands. And it 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. But 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 gleaming 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."

And Mimer looked long at the ruddy hilts of the weapon, and
at the mystic runes that were scored upon its sides, and at
the keen edge, which gleamed 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 great
block of iron was cleft in two; but the bright blade was no
whit dulled by the stroke, and the line of light which
marked the edge was brighter than before.

Then to the flowing 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."

And he sent word at once to Amilias, in Burgundy-land, 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 towards 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 King Siegmund'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. On the one side were the wise old Siegmund
and his gentle queen, and their train of knights and
courtiers and fair ladies. On the other side were the three
Burgundian kings, Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher, and a
mighty retinue of warriors, led by grim old Hagen, the uncle
of the kings, and the wariest chief in all Rhineland.

When every thing 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 great 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 almost a giant in
size, and his coat of mail, so skilfully wrought, 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, toiled 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 of 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 King Siegmund 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 beaming 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 great 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 upstart.

"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 head and the 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 great 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 moonlit
evenings the luckless armor of Amilias on the high hill-top.
In the dim, uncertain light, one easily fancies it to be the
ivy covered ruins of some old castle of feudal times.

The master, Mimer, sheathed his sword, and walked slowly
down the hillside to the plain, where his friends welcomed
him with glad cheers and shouts of joy. But the Burgundians,
baffled, and feeling vexed, turned silently homeward, nor
cast a single look back to the scene of their disappointment
and their ill-fated champion's defeat.

And Siegfried went again with the master and his fellows to
the smoky smithy, to his roaring bellows and ringing anvil,
and to his coarse fare, and rude, hard bed, and to a life of
labor. And while all men praised Mimer and his knowing
skill, and the fiery edge of the sunbeam blade, no one knew
that it was the boy Siegfried who had wrought that piece of
workmanship.

But after a while it was whispered around that not Mimer,
but one of his pupils, had forged the sword. And, when the
master was asked what truth there was in this story, his
eyes twinkled, and the corners of his mouth twitched
strangely, and he made no answer. But Veliant, the foreman
of the smithy, and the greatest of boasters said, "It was I
who forged the fire-edge of the blade Balmung." And,
although none denied the truth of what he said, but few who
knew what sort of a man he was believed his story. And this
is the reason, my children, that, in the ancient songs and
stories which tell of this wondrous sword, it is said by
most that Mimer, and by a few that Veliant, forged its
blade. But I prefer to believe that it was made by
Siegfried, the hero who afterwards wielded it in so many
adventures. (EN#3) Be this as it may, however, blind hate
and jealousy were from this time uppermost in the coarse and
selfish mind of Veliant; and he sought how he might drive
the lad away from the smithy in disgrace. "This boy has done
what no one else could do," said he. "He may yet do greater
deeds, and set himself up as the master smith of the world,
and then we shall all have to humble ourselves before him as
his underlings and thralls."

And he nursed this thought, and brooded over the hatred
which he felt towards the blameless boy; but he did not dare
to harm him, for fear of their master, Mimer. And Siegfried
busied himself at his forge, where the sparks flew as
briskly and as merrily as ever before, and his bellows
roared from early morning till late at evening. Nor did the
foreman's unkindness trouble him for a moment, for he knew
that the master's heart was warm towards him.

Oftentimes, when the day's work was done, Siegfried sat with
Mimer by the glowing light of the furnace-fire, and listened
to the sweet tales which the master told of the deeds of the
early days, when the world was young, and the dwarf-folk and
the giants had a name and a place upon earth. And one night,
as they thus sat, the master talked of Odin the All-Father,
and of the gods who dwell with him in Asgard, and of the
puny men-folk whom they protect and befriend, until his
words grew full of bitterness, and his soul of a fierce
longing for something he dared not name. And the lad's heart
was stirred with a strange uneasiness, and he said,--

"Tell me, I pray, dear master, something about my own kin,
my father's fathers,--those mighty kings, who, I have heard
said, were the bravest and best of men."

Then the smith seemed pleased again. And his eyes grew
brighter, and lost their far-away look; and a smile played
among the wrinkles of his swarthy face, as he told a tale of
old King Volsung and of the deeds of the Volsung kings:--

"Long years ago, before the evil days had dawned, King
Volsung ruled over all the land which lies between the sea
and the country of the Goths. The days were golden; and the
good Frey dropped peace and plenty everywhere, and men went
in and out and feared no wrong. King Volsung had a dwelling
in the midst of fertile fields and fruitful gardens. Fairer
than any dream was that dwelling. The roof was thatched with
gold, and red turrets and towers rose above. The great
feast-hall was long and high, and its walls were hung with
sun-bright shields; and the door-nails were of silver. In
the middle of the hall stood the pride of the Volsungs,--a
tree whose blossoms filled the air with fragrance, and whose
green branches, thrusting themselves through the ceiling,
covered the roof with fair foliage. It was Odin's tree, and
King Volsung had planted it there with his own hands.

"On a day in winter King Volsung held a great feast in his
hall in honor of Siggeir, the King of the Goths, who was his
guest. And the fires blazed bright in the broad chimneys,
and music and mirth went round. But in the midst of the
merry-making the guests were startled by a sudden peal of
thunder, which seemed to come from the cloudless sky, and
which made the shields upon the walls rattle and ring. In
wonder they looked around. A strange man stood in the
doorway, and laughed, but said not a word. And they noticed
that he wore no shoes upon his feet, but that a cloud-gray
cloak was thrown over his shoulders, and a blue hood was
drawn down over his head. His face was half-hidden by a
heavy beard; and he had but one eye, which twinkled and
glowed like a burning coal. And all the guests sat moveless
in their seats, so awed were they in the presence of him who
stood at the door; for they knew that he was none other than
Odin the All-Father, the king of gods and men. He spoke not
a word, but straight into the hall he strode, and he paused
not until he stood beneath the blossoming branches of the
tree. Then, forth from beneath his cloud-gray cloak, he drew
a gleaming sword, and struck the blade deep into the
wood,--so deep that nothing but the hilt was left in sight.
And, turning to the awe-struck guests, he said, 'A blade of
mighty worth have I hidden in this tree. Never have the
earth-folk wrought better steel, nor has any man ever
wielded a more trusty sword. Whoever there is among you
brave enough and strong enough to draw it forth from the
wood, he shall have it as a gift from Odin.' Then slowly to
the door he strode again, and no one saw him any more.

"And after he had gone, the Volsungs and their guests sat a
long time silent, fearing to stir, lest the vision should
prove a dream. But at last the old king arose, and cried,
'Come, guests and kinsmen, and set your hands to the ruddy
hilt! Odin's gift stays, waiting for its fated owner. Let us
see which one of you is the favored of the All-Father.'
First Siggeir, the King of the Goths, and his earls, the
Volsungs' guests, tried their hands. But the blade stuck
fast; and the stoutest man among them failed to move it.
Then King Volsung, laughing, seized the hilt, and drew with
all his strength; but the sword held still in the wood of
Odin's tree. And one by one the nine sons of Volsung tugged
and strained in vain; and each was greeted with shouts and
laughter, as, ashamed and beaten, he wended to his seat
again. Then, at last, Sigmund, the youngest son, stood up,
and laid his hand upon the ruddy hilt, scarce thinking to
try what all had failed to do. When, lo! the blade came out
of the tree as if therein it had all along lain loose. And
Sigmund raised it high over his head, and shook it, and the
bright flame that leaped from its edge lit up the hall like
the lightning's gleaming; and the Volsungs and their guests
rent the air with cheers and shouts of gladness. For no one
among all the men of the mid-world was more worthy of Odin's
gift than young Sigmund the brave."

But the rest of Mimer's story would be too long to tell you
now; for he and his young apprentice sat for hours by the
dying coals, and talked of Siegfried's kinfolk, --the
Volsung kings of old. And he told how Siggeir, the Goth
king, was wedded to Signy the fair, the only daughter of
Volsung, and the pride of the old king's heart; and how he
carried her with him to his home in the land of the Goths;
and how he coveted Sigmund's sword, and plotted to gain it
by guile; and how, through presence of friendship, he
invited the Volsung kings to visit him in Gothland, as the
guests of himself and Signy; and how he betrayed and slew
them, save Sigmund alone, who escaped, and for long years
lived an outlaw in the land of his treacherous foe. And then
he told how Sigmund afterwards came back to his own country
of the Volsungs; and how his people welcomed him, and he
became a mighty king, such as the world had never known
before; and how, when he had grown old, and full of years
and honors, he went out with his earls and fighting-men to
battle against the hosts of King Lyngi the Mighty; and how,
in the midst of the fight, when his sword had hewn down
numbers of the foe, and the end of the strife and victory
seemed near, an old man, one eyed and bearded, and wearing a
cloud-gray cloak, stood up before him in the din, and his
sword was broken in pieces, and he fell dead on the heap of
the slain.(EN#4) And, when Mimer had finished his tale, his
dark face seemed to grow darker, and his twinkling eyes grew
brighter, as he cried out in a tone of despair and hopeless
yearning,--

"Oh, past are those days of old and the worthy deeds of the
brave! And these are the days of the home-stayers, --of the
wise, but feeble-hearted. Yet the Norns have spoken; and it
must be that another hero shall arise of the Volsung blood,
and he shall restore the name and the fame of his kin of the
early days. And he shall be my bane; and in him shall the
race of heroes have an end."(EN#7)

Siegfried's heart was strangely stirred within him as he
hearkened to this story of ancient times and to the fateful
words of the master, and for a long time he sat in silent
thought; and neither he nor Mimer moved, or spoke again,
until the darkness of the night had begun to fade, and the
gray light of morning to steal into the smithy. Then, as if
moved by a sudden impulse, he turned to the master, and
said,--

"You speak of the Norns, dear master, and of their
foretelling; but your words are vague, and their meaning
very broad. When shall that hero come? and who shall he be?
and what deeds shall be his doing?"

"Alas!" answered Mimer, "I know not, save that he shall be
of the Volsung race, and that my fate is linked with his."

"And why do you not know?" returned Siegfried. "Are you not
that old Mimer, in whom it is said the garnered wisdom of
the world is stored? Is there not truth in the old story
that even Odin pawned one of his eyes for a single draught
from your fountain of knowledge? And is the possessor of so
much wisdom unable to look into the future with clearness
and certainty?"

"Alas!" answered Mimer again, and his words came hard and
slow, "I am not that Mimer, of whom old stories tell, who
gave wisdom to the All-Father in exchange for an eye. He is
one of the giants, and he still watches his fountain in
far-off Jotunheim.(EN#2) I claim kinship with the dwarfs,
and am sometimes known as an elf, sometimes as a
wood-sprite. Men have called me Mimer because of my wisdom
and skill, and the learning which I impart to my pupils.
Could I but drink from the fountain of the real Mimer, then
the wisdom of the world would in truth be mine, and the
secrets of the future would be no longer hidden. But I must
wait, as I have long waited, for the day and the deed and
the doom that the Norns have foretold."

And the old strange look of longing came again into his
eyes, and the wrinkles on his swarthy face seemed to deepen
with agony, as he arose, and left the smithy. And Siegfried
sat alone before the smouldering fire, and pondered upon
what he had heard.

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