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Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 7

The fatal duel

At dawn, the voice of Hunding’s horn began to echo across the valley. It was a terrible sound, an inexorable challenge.

Siegmund and Sieglinde were sitting at the foot of a tree in the heart of the forest. She slept, resting her head on her beloved’s shoulder.

Brunhild, perched on a wooded promontory, was mournfully watching the young couple. Before the sun dissolved the mist that hung in the atmosphere of the forest, the Valkyrie descended, leading her steed from the cradle.

“A Valkyrie!”, cried Sigmund, startled at the sight of Wotan’s favourite daughter.

“You know, young man, that only heroes in danger of death can see Valkyries. I have come to warn you…”

“Yes, I know that soon I will have to measure myself against Hunding. I have heard the challenge of the horn.”

“So say goodbye to Sieglinde. Wake her up.”

“If I perish in battle, will you take me to Valhalla?”

“My horse will carry your body to the abode of the gods. There you will be part of the heroic guard.”

“Will you also take Sieglinde?”

“No. She has a mission to accomplish on Earth.”

“Your answer, Brunhild, increases my faith in the courage of my arm. Last night I plucked from the sacred ash tree the sword that Wotan promised me.”

“Your destiny will be fulfilled!” cried the Valkyrie, retreating behind some bushes.

Sigmund left Sieglinde asleep and went to meet his enemy, guided by the sound of the horn.

When the two warriors came face to face they crossed swords. Brunhild approached unseen by the combatants and covered Sigmund with her shield to protect him from his enemy’s blows. Wotan, who had expected her to break the hero’s sword, as he had commanded her, seeing his daughter’s disobedience, descended from Valhalla with lightning speed. He thrust his spear between the two blades, and Sigmund’s was shattered to pieces. With that, the god disappeared.

Hunding seized the advantage. With one blow he knocked down the hero of the Völsung and immediately fled from the scene.

In the meantime, Sieglinde had woken up. She ran towards the scene of the battle, guided by the clashing of swords. When she got there she saw that Brunhild was placing Sigmund’s corpse on her steed. She cried out in pain and collapsed. The Valkyrie carried her onto her horse and, after picking up the pieces of Sigmund’s sword, rode towards Valhalla. When she arrived she was reproached by her eight sisters. A Valkyrie could not disobey Wotan. The punishment that awaited Brunhild would surely be terrible.

When Sieglinde awoke from her faintness, she asked for death.

“I can no longer tolerate life on earth,” she cried in a pained accent.

“You must live, Sieglinde!” said Brunhild; “Sigmund’s son, who will be born of you, will avenge him. You shall call him Siegfried. He will be the bravest hero the ages have ever seen. Take the pieces of his father’s sword. He will unite them and accomplish with it the highest deeds. Let’s go! I will take you away before Wotan comes and punishes me for my disobedience.”

When the Valkyrie returned to Valhalla, Wotan was waiting for her with an angry gesture.

“How do you justify your disobedience, rebellious daughter?”

“Sigmund was my protégé, father. You raised him brave and strong so that one day he would bring glory to the Völsung race and honour the gods of Valhalla. That is why I tried to protect him with my shield.”

“You knew well that when I ordered you to break his sword, my heart bled. But Fricka forced me to obey the law of hospitality, which Sigmund had inflicted.”

“In any case, my father, I could not tolerate that before my eyes a hero of Sigmund’s stature should die in an unequal fight. If you had provided him with a sword, I could not break it, leaving the brave Völsung defenceless.”

“My orders are not disputed, neither in Valhalla nor on earth! No speeches can justify your disobedience. Therefore, the punishment reserved for rebellious gods will befall you. You will lose your immortal status. Valhalla will be closed to you. I will take you to Earth and put you to sleep on a mountaintop. The man who finds you and wakes you up will be your companion in your mortal life.” Hearing this cruel sentence, the eight-sister Valkyries uttered exclamations of horror.

Brunhild knelt before Wotan and begged:

“Father, I accept your condemnation with submission. Make my sleep long, if possible, eternal. But if I am to be the companion of a mortal, make it so that he may not be a common man. Surround my sleeping body with such obstacles and dangers, that only a hero of indomitable courage can overcome them.”

“Granted, daughter. I will surround you with a ring of unquenchable fire. Only a man who is not afraid to break through that ring of flame will be able to make you his wife. Then you will be a hero’s wife.”

Father and daughter descended to earth. On a high mount, by a deep and dark valley, the Valkyrie lay on a bed of moss. When he had put her to sleep, Wotan looked at her for a long time, and it could be seen that his tough sentence broke his heart. Then he struck the hard ground three times, invoking Loge. The god of fire came and drew a ring of fire around Brunhild.

Wotan takes leave of Brunhild
(1892) by Konrad Dielitz

One reply on “The Ring of the Nibelung, 7”

In Apocalypse Now, Hollywood’s Francis Ford Coppola made use of the music Wagner composed for the Valkyrie but in a completely different context and story, which would surely have displeased the composer.

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