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Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 10

The Awakening of Brunhild

Following the little bird’s advice, Siegfried entered Fafner’s cave to seize the helmet and the Nibelung’s magic ring.

Meanwhile, Mime cautiously approached the den.

At the same instant, from a cleft in the rock, Alberich emerged. He glared at Mime with hatred and ran to stand in front of him to prevent him from entering the cavern.

“Where do you intend to go?” he asked sarcastically.

“And you? What are you doing in these parts?”

“Don’t think you can fool me,” replied Alberich. You have come to steal my treasure.

“The treasure belongs to me,” said Mime, “and to me alone.”

“Do you mind if I stand here watching you steal it?”

At Alberich’s ironic exit, Mime burst out:

“You can’t take from me the treasure that cost me untold labour!”

And Alberich replied, unperturbed:

“Did you steal the gold from the Rhine? Did you forge the ring?”

“No,” answered Mime, “but I built the magic helmet that moults and disguises the wearer. I raised Siegfried. Now, at last, he will repay me for all my care. You, on the other hand, can claim no right to the ring, for the giants took it from you.”“Ah,” interrupted Alberich, “you want to exploit and enjoy Siegfried’s glorious enterprise to take over the world, but you can’t even touch the ring!”

Mime remained thoughtful for a moment; then he proposed in a conciliatory tone:

“Well, you take the ring. It is enough for me if you remember that I am your brother. I’ll take the helmet. We will divide the spoils like good friends.”

Alberich burst out laughing.

“Who would rid me of your trickery? Do you think you can fool me like a child?”

At these words, Mime had a fit of rage.

“Do you want to leave me empty-handed, then? Will you grant me nothing?”

“Nothing,” replied Alberich dryly.

Then Mime, beside himself, shouted:

“Well, you shall have neither ring nor helmet. I will rely on Siegfried’s strength. Ah, there he is; he is coming out of the den.”

Alberich looked at the hero and said in a low voice:

“He is indeed taking the helmet and the ring.”

“Try to snatch them from him,” Mime suggested with an evil smile, as he hid in the woods so that Siegfried would not see him.

Alberich crawled back into the cleft of the rock and grumbled, “The ring must come back to me, though!”

Once out of the den, Siegfried gazed long and hard at the ring and helmet, saying, “I will keep them as a memento of this adventure.”

He had not finished saying this when he heard the voice of the little bird:

“Beware of Mime, Siegfried! He has decided to do away with you, and to do so he has prepared a brew to put you to sleep. Then he will try to kill you with your sword. But the dragon’s blood that you have brought to your lips gives you the power to read his thoughts directly, which he will try to mask with mellifluous and lying words.”

Indeed, at that moment Mime was approaching, saying to himself, “With my insidiousness and my flattery I will make him fall into the trap.” And turning to Siegfried, he asked him:

“Have you known fear?”

“No,” answered Siegfried, “I have not yet known fear.”

“Evil for evil’s sake, if I think that the world abounds with worse thieves than he, I am about to say that his death grieves me. More than the dragon I loathe him that made me kill him.”

Mime took the thing in jest, and, as if to continue the ironic game, went on:

“Patience! Anyway, you won’t have to put up with me for long, since I’ve decided to kill you to take away the treasure you have obtained.”

“Are you plotting against me,” Siegfried asked him in a low tone.

Mime, pretending to jest, answered in the tenderest of accents:

“Did I say that? Well, it is true. I have always hated you. My only aim was to get hold of Fafner’s treasure. If you don’t give it to me in kind… I shall be forced to kill you.”

“Will you attempt on my life?” Siegfried asked.

“I have prepared a brew for you: a filter that I have distilled drop by drop while you tempered your sword.”

“How, how?” insisted Siegfried, who was already at the end of Mime’s perfidy.

And the dwarf, with the gentlest smile, and the most benevolent tone, said despite himself:

“I have said that the brew will close your eyes and you will fall into eternal sleep. Then I can get the ring and the helmet.”

“So you want to kill me with that drink?”

“You have misunderstood. With my drink, you will fall into a restful sleep. A deep darkness will envelop your mind. During your unconsciousness, your body will remain inert, and rigid… Then I will collect the spoils and hide them. It will be for me, for me alone.”

As he said this, he poured the drink into a horn and offered it to the young man with an inciting gesture:

“Drink, drink, my son!”

Siegfried raised his sword and with one blow the perfidious dwarf lay lifeless. Through the cleft was heard the laughter of Alberich, hidden in the rock.

Siegfried threw Mime’s corpse into the cavern and dragged the dragon’s huge body to the entrance.

“Stay in the treasure cavern, evil one! I leave you a good guard to guard the entrance.”

After this ironic farewell, the young man sat down at the foot of a lime tree. As he gazed at the foliage, the memory of the little bird came to his mind.

“How gladly would I now hear your melodious song,” he muttered; “I see you flying from branch to branch; next to you sit your brothers and sisters, all chirping and twittering merrily. I am strong, mighty, and invincible, but I am alone, without brothers or family. My mother died when I was born, my father perished in a duel. In all the years I have lived in the middle of the forest I have found no one to talk to, no one to go hunting or fishing with me. Only a perfidious dwarf took care of me, not because he loved me but because he intended to use my strong arm for his petty purposes. I had to kill him to prevent him from attempting my life.”

After a pause, Siegfried continued in his mind: “My little bird friend, show me a faithful companion. How often have I sought him, and always in vain! What can I do? What advice do you give me?”

As he got no answer, the young man continued: “Do not leave me in uncertainty, little bird. Don’t leave me alone. I need company.” Suddenly the bird’s voice filled the air:

“You will not be alone, Siegfried. On a high rock, protected by a wall of fire, sleeps a maiden. Only a man who ignores fear can get there. Only you can pass through the zone of fire that surrounds her. She is destined to be the wife of an invincible hero like you.”

The bird flew away and the hero followed after it with great strides.

At a turn in the path, he met a passerby wrapped in a shabby cloak. He wore a rough hat pulled down over his eyes.

“What are you looking for on the side of this hill?” asked the old man.

“Why do you ask so many questions? If you know anything about the place where the sleeping maiden is, tell me; otherwise, let me pass, for I am in a hurry.”

“Be patient, young man,” replied the passer-by calmly, “and, above all, respect the elders.”

“Who are you? Why do you wear that big hat? Why don’t you show your face? Stand aside at once, if you don’t want to meet the fate of the Nibelung dwarf!”

In a calm tone, the passer-by replied:

“If you knew who I am, you would not utter impolite words and threats. It is I who have lulled the maiden to sleep and surrounded her with a wall of fire on the hilltop. I am here as the guardian of the high rock. I have always been the protector of your line, my son, though at times my blind rage overcame my love for you. I advise you to stay away from the fire that burns high above, around the sleeper. It is an all-destroying forge.”

Siegfried understood nothing of the speech of this mysterious personage. The words of the wayfarer came to him without meaning, like a strange jargon. He brandished his sword and shouted again:

For the last time: get out of the way!

“Since you insist, I shall be forced to stop you with my spear,” cried the old man, who was none other than Wotan, disguised as a poor wayfarer.

“You ignore the strength of my arm, stubborn old man, and do not know the power of this sword.”

“Oh! I know it very well. I broke it in two pieces once.”

“Ah, it was you! It was you, then, who murdered my father!”

And rushing at Wotan, he swung his sword hard at him. The god parried the blow with the spear, but it broke with a clang.

Siegfried stood for a moment perplexed as he saw Wotan, not caring for him, pick up the fragments of the spear. Before disappearing, the god turned to the hero and said in a soft, solemn tone:

“Pass on. I can no longer stop you. May your destiny be fulfilled.”

Then from the high rock came the gleams of the fiery barrier, and it swept down the slope like an army of fiery serpents. Like vivid red roses, the flames came dangerously close to Siegfried. But the young man pressed on, undaunted, smiling at the prospect of reaching the sleeper through the vast hedge of fire. Unaware of fear, he climbed through the flames, which pressed in his wake. At dawn, he reached the top of the hill and saw a clump of fir trees, at the foot of one of which shone a crystalline light. Amid this gleam was Brunhild’s lying body. When Siegfried reached it, he stopped in admiration and gazed at her for a long time. The Valkyrie slept on a bed of moss. She was dressed in splendid armour. Her beautiful face stood out against the burnished steel of the breastplate.

The hero bent down and with great delicacy untied the helmet’s brim. The maiden’s hair spilled like a golden waterfall.

A deep silence reigned. Siegfried felt his heart pounding from inside his chest. He began to breathe deeply. A certain anguish was coming over him and he thought it was fear. Then the feeling became pleasurable. The agitation in his chest disappeared. He approached the sleeper. He gently touched her hair and kissed her.The Valkyrie woke up, opened her eyes and looked at the hero in astonishment.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Siegfried. I came through the hedge of fire that surrounded you, to wake you up. A little bird showed me the way, and said to me: ‘On the top of a high mountain sleeps the maiden who is to be your wife; run and wake her’.”