THE STORY OF THE VOLSUNGS
There was a man called Sigi, and men said of him that he was a son of Odin. And Sigi was a mighty man, and of high kin. And it befell on a day that he fared to the hunting of the deer, and a thrall named Bredi fared with him. And at the end of the day, when they gathered their prey together, Bredi had slain more than Sigi. And Sigi was full wroth at this, and slew the thrall in his anger. And when the deed was known, Sigi was driven from his land.
Arid he fared far away, and gat him ships and went a-warring. And ever did he prevail in his battles, and he won him lands and lordship. And he took a noble wife, and became a mighty king of a people called the Huns.
And Sigi had a son called Rerir, and Rerir grew up comely and strong and a brave warrior like his father.
And Sigi grew old, and his enemies, and some whom he deemed to be his friends, even the brothers
of his wife, seeing that his strength had gone, came against him with a great host, and Sigi and all his folk fled.
But Rerir, his son, had fared away at this time, and when he was told the tidings he vowed vengeance against his father’s slayers. And he brought together a mighty army, and won back his father’s lands and kingdom. Then did he wreak his vengeance upon Sigi’s murderers, slaying all those who had betrayed the old King’s trust in his time of weakness.
And Rerir became a wealthy and a mighty King, wealthier and mightier even than Sigi. And he wedded a wife, and they loved each other dearly. But ill-content they were in that they had no children, and with great fervour did they pray the gods that a child might be born to them.
And Odin heard their prayers, and a son was born, but Rerir never saw him for he was a-warring, and he fell sick, and came by his death. And the Queen died as her child was born.
And the boy was called Volsung, and big and strong and daring was he from his earliest days, and the greatest of warriors did he become. And he wedded Ljod, the daughter of the giant Hrimnir, and they abode together in great love. Many children they had, and all were mighty and high-minded, but foremost and fairest beyond all were the two eldest, Sigmund their son, and Signy their daughter, and these two were twins.
And King Volsung had built for him a great hall. Earls and men of high kin wrought it, earls’ wives wove
the bright stuffs of its hangings, and queens’ daughters strewed its floors. Golden was its roof, and silver nails studded its doors. Hung upon its walls were the shields of the greatest warriors, and of these the least renowned was famed throughout the world. And in the middle of the great hall was a marvellous thing to see, for there stood a mighty tree whose branches reached to the roof, and wreathed it with the glorious garland of the year. And there the wild hawks dwelt, and they screamed above the heads of the drinkers of wine at the feast, and laughed when the swords were made ready for battle.
And men called the tree the Branstock, and the throne of King Volsung was set there in the midst of a blossoming bower. And they dwelt together there, merry of heart, meeting good and evil days alike, and never forgetful of their gods. But even in those days of youth and hope, now and again there came a far-off murmur as of a threatening doom to the great Volsung, and here is now set down the beginning of that end foretold by the wise men of old.
It was an even of May, and King Volsung sat in his great hall, and there sat with him his ten sons and Signy, his daughter, and many mighty men and fair women. And the feast was spread, and song and speech and laughter rang out around the board. When lo, there entered into the hall a man seeking King Volsung. And he hailed the King and told him that he was a messenger from Siggeir, the mighty King of the Goths.
And Siggeir had heard of the beauty and wisdom
of Signy, and he craved her for his wife, saying that in return he would give King Volsung his friendship and his aid in battle. And King Volsung and his sons were well pleased at this, for they fain would get to them more lands, and the King of the Goths was an exceeding mighty King. And they dreamed of themselves as kings of all the north, and even of far southern lands.
And the messenger of King Siggeir stood before them bearing precious gifts, and gold and a ring, and other tokens of troth. And the snow-white Signy sat still, with folded hands upon her lap, gazing at him with wide, clear, dauntless eyes, that made the messenger’s heart grow cold.
And King Volsung spoke and said: “Wilt thou be a great king’s wife, daughter, and bear great kings for thy sons, so that our name may never die?”
And a hot flush spread over the whiteness of Signy’s face, and she answered with a voice that was as a cry: “E’en as thou say’st will I do.”
And Volsung saw the fiery light in her face, and heard the cry, but nought did he understand of its meaning. But kindly and tenderly now he spoke, as one that loved her well, and would fain know her grief if grief there were. But Signy stretched forth her hand, and smiled upon him, and the flush faded from her face. “Would God it might otherwise be!” she said, and her voice was lowly and soft so that only he could hear, “Yet do I will to wed him.”
Then in a louder voice she spake again and bade King Volsung be of good cheer, “for,” said she, “all
well-counselled deeds of thine are fair and goodly, and those that are not so, have been willed by the mighty gods, and none may gainsay them. And, methinks, at my wedding there shall come a sign which shall bring joy to thy heart, whatsoever may follow after.”
And she sate again at the board, and King Volsung was fain to be content with her words. And he feasted the Goth-King’s messenger, and song and laughter and merry talk rang out as they passed the brimming wine-cup. And none heeded fair Signy as she sate wan and white, and her words of boding were forgotten in the mirth.
And King Siggeir’s messenger fared back on the morrow, bearing gifts and gold, and a bidding from King Volsung that King Siggeir should come ere the summer passed and bear away his bride.
So it befell on a midsummer eve that King Siggeir wended his way through the thicket in the glimmering twilight to the Volsung hall. Great was the company, and many the mighty earls that followed King Siggeir, and their chain-mail rang as they rode, and their spears and swords clanked in the stillness of the dying day.
And as they drew near to the threshold of King Volsung’s hall, they saw how King Volsung himself stood amid the blossoms of his garden on the grassy sward, with five sons on either hand. And King Siggeir leapt from his horse and the two Kings hastened to meet. As the bramble to the oak was King Siggeir by the side of the glorious Volsung, nor did his helmet reach to the shoulder of even the least of Volsung’s sons.
And they entered the hall, and the board was spread, and far into the night they feasted and drank the bright wine. And Signy was told the tidings, and close she kept in her bower; there she sat and strove within herself, watching wide-eyed the death of the day, and the passing of the moon-bright hours, and the birth of the morn which should make her the wife of the Goth-King.
And when the sun was high they led her forth, a glorious bride to the bridal. And the feast was spread, and she sat beside her lord. No word did she speak, and no smile came to her lips, and cold and hard were
the eyes which now and again she turned side-long on the Goth-King.
And Sigmund, her twin-brother, looked upon her with a great fear in his heart, and he watched her till their eyes met. And at what he saw hatred awoke in him against King Siggeir, and he would have stayed the bridal but for the plighted word of the Volsungs. And Siggeir saw the glances of the brother and sister, and well he understood their meaning yet he made no sign, but bided his time. And King Volsung saw nought but laughed aloud with King Siggeir in the content of his heart dreaming of glories to come when his kindred should rule the world.
So they feasted and sang and told old tales when lo, over the cloudless blue of noon-day, a long deep roll of thunder passed, and to some it seemed that it was a man that laughed out. And they looked around them and turned to the door, and in that moment there strode into the hall a mighty man. One-eyed he was and seeming old, yet was his form erect and his visage bright. Grey as the stormy sky was his kirtle, and cloudy blue was the hood which was drawn over his
head, and both were fashioned as was the raiment of men of old. None gave greeting to him, and no greeting did he give to any, but strode to the Branstock and drew from the grey folds of his garment a great gleaming sword.
And he thrust the sword into the trunk of the huge oak, while the wild hawks screamed and laughed over his head. Then at last he spoke: “Earls of the Goths and Volsungs,” he cried. “Lo, in the Branstock a worthy sword. Whoso draweth the sword from the stock shall e’en take it as a gift from me, and never shall it fail him except his own heart falter. All hail to thee, King Volsung! Farewell for a little while!”
No man moved as he spoke, for his voice was as music in their ears, and they sat as in a happy dream, dreading awakening. And slowly down the hall floor and out at the door did the stranger pass, and none stayed him or cast at him a question, for well they deemed that the sword was Odin’s gift.
And at last King Volsung broke the silence and bade the Volsungs and the Goths set their hands to the hilt, and see who was the warrior fated to take it for his own. And King Siggeir, deeming it an easy task, and that he would have the best chance who should first lay hand to the sword, asked King Volsung that he might be the first of all men in the trial. And King Volsung answered: “Herein, I ween, is the first as the last, for as the gods have willed so shall it be; yet, O guest, begin.”
And King Siggeir went to the tree, and put his hand to the golden hilt, and strained with all his might
to draw the sword forth. Yet was it as firm as ever in the Branstock. And his heart was black with envy and hatred as he wended his way back to his seat, and never a word he spake. And a hot flush burnt on the pale cheek of Signy, as Siggeir sat him down beside her, and her heart was nigh to bursting with shame of the man that was now her lord.
And now did King Volsung bid all the followers of King Siggeir make their trial, and each upstood in his turn, and mighty warriors were they all, who had done many wondrous deeds on the battle-field. Yet did not the sword in the Branstock move for any of them.
And now did the Volsung home-men and shepherds, hunters and sea-farers, gather round the oak to try their strength, and deft though they were in labour, in vain did they pull at the sword.
And next did King Volsung lay his hand to the hilt, and he drew and strained, but in nowise could he move it. Yet did his mirth not forsake him in his failure. Laughing, he wended his way back to the high seat, and called upon his sons to stand forth and try their skill. And the ten uprose and stood about the tree, and from the youngest upwards did they put
their hands to the fateful sword till nine had tried and failed. Then Sigmund drew near, and caught the bright hilt in careless fashion, as though he deemed the trial all for nought. But lo, aloft in his hand shone out the glittering naked blade, drawn from the heart of the oak as easily as if it had lain all loosely there. And in triumph Sigmund shook it over his head while a great shout went up from all the Volsungs and the Goths.
Right glorious was Sigmund then to look upon, a king over kings. And with the sword still in his hand he betook him slowly to his seat. Sober now was his face, for he deemed that there was some great work that Odin would have him do. And he lifted his eyes to Heaven as the solemn thoughts stirred within him, thoughts of dread and of longing both of the hour when the gods would use him for their will.
And as his eyes fell they met King Siggeir’s smiling and blithe. And King Siggeir spake unto him and said: “Seeing that the sword came to my wedding, methinks it is fit that it shall be mine, O best of the sons of the Volsungs.” And he offered Sigmund gold and silver, gems and precious stuffs as much as he would, but Sigmund laughed and answered: “Thou mightest have taken the sword no less than I, if it had been thy lot to bear it, but now since it has fallen to my hand, I will hold it, though thou biddest therefor all the gold thou hast.”
And Siggeir was wroth at the answer of Sigmund, for he deemed that he had scorned him, but he made no sign, and hid his wrath with a smile. But full were his thoughts of hatred and revenge.
And the next day, the weather being fair, King Siggeir made known his will to set out for Gothland, lest, as he said, the wind should rise and the sea become impassable. And King Volsung besought him to stay longer, for this short feasting at a marriage was not according to the wont of men. Yet in nowise would Siggeir consent. But he bade King Volsung and his sons and all the mighty men of the Volsungs journey to Gothland before the summer was over, and abide there through the winter.
And King Volsung thanked him and answered “No king might scorn such a bidding, Siggeir: surely will I come.”
And the matter was settled that on the morrow King Siggeir and Signy should sail for their Gothland home. And that night the feast was braver than before, and song and laughter and speech rang out till, late in the undark night, the feasters went to slumber.
But Sigmund was heavy of heart, and Signy lay on her pillow, full of boding for the days to come. And wise was Signy and many a thing she knew of future hap. And in the silence of the midnight she knew the doom that was coming upon her and her Volsung kin. And she stole from her bed and crept to the chamber of King Volsung. And he sat up and kissed her, and bade her speak what had brought her there. And she said: “Hearken, O my father, and when the morning cometh, think upon my words. Let me go forth with King Siggeir, but do ye abide in this land, nor trust the guileful heart of the Goth-King, lest the kin of the Volsungs shall perish.”
And King Volsung smiled upon her, and held her close as when she was a child. “My word is given,” he said. “To death or to life must I wend when the time shall come, but this will I give to thee, that thy brothers shall not wend with me.”
Then did she cling to him, and swiftly cry: “Nay, but if thou goest, have thy sons with thee, and a host and a mighty company. Meet thou the guile and the death-snare with battle shout, and with blood-drenched sword.”
“Nay,” said he gently, “my troth-word is e’en plighted, and I must go as a guest as my word was.”
And Signy wept upon his bosom, but nought more would she say to turn him from his purpose. And back she wended to her pillow and lay there, wan and open-eyed, till the dawn broke, and the sun shone out on the Volsung hall. And the silence of the darkness ended, and now was heard the stir of the departing folk as they arrayed them for their journey.
And when King Volsung entered the hall, there stood Signy by the Branstock, clad for faring, with the earls of the Goths around her. Queenly and calm she stood, with the flush of youth and loveliness upon her cheek. And King Volsung looked upon her, and deemed that the happenings of the night were but a vision in his slumber. And he was fain to be content, though sad was the parting.
And down they rode to the sea, and there stood the ships ready for sailing. And Signy kissed her brothers, and then she hung awhile about her father’s neck and kissed him many times, and whispered fond
parting words that none other might hear, and none may tell.
And King Siggeir left the Volsungs with fair words and blessings on his lips, while his heart was full bitter towards them. And the horn sounded, and Signy was borne away from her kin and the land she loved. And she bowed her head, not trusting herself again to look upon them. And the Goth lords gazed at her pityingly, and none there was but blessed her from all harm.
Now, when two months were well-nigh past, King Volsung called his sons and his men of counsel to him, and then did he tell them of Signy and her words of warning. “Now, not over much will I hold her word,” said he, “nor will I doubt it, for Signy is wise among women. But this now will I do. In peace will I go to King Siggeir’s bidding, but ye, my sons, shall tarry
in this land and keep the realm for me, lest our race shall come to nought.”
But with one voice they answered that they would go with him, and take honour, or fall beside him as the gods should will. Then said King Volsung: “So be it; we will go together, a band of friends, and if the worst betide, the gods must e’en look to our land and people.”
And they arrayed three ships, and King Volsung went aboard with all his sons and a goodly company. And on a day, at eventide, they drew near to the shore of the Gothland. And a little skiff with a grey sail put out to meet them. And seated in the skiff they saw Signy, the Queen. And she came aboard the King’s vessel, and her pale face lighted up with joy as she looked again upon the well-loved Volsung faces. And she held her father long in her arms, and kissed her brothers with warm, quivering lips. “O strange!” she cried, “O sweet, the well-known ships to see!”
Then did she speak again in hasty words, telling of the purpose of her coming. “Short is the time,” she said, “for telling that which I would tell. But that which I spoke aforetime as a boding of my heart is even now a truth. Siggeir hath prepared to war against you. The death-snare is laid. But fair winds have wafted you to our shores ere the time appointed, and Siggeir looks not to meet you yet. O my father, O my brethren, I pray you to turn back ere it be too late. Take me with you, my father, to my own dear land again.”
Then did King Volsung strain her to his breast
and kiss her pale cheeks and brow again and again, seeking to give her the comfort that his words could not give. “Never yet,” he said, full gently, “have I turned me backward from my word. Wouldst thou have me do it now? And look thou upon thy brethren. Are they not goodly and great? Wouldst thou have them mocked at the feast that they feared the sword of Siggeir?”
Then did Signy weep, crying: “Let me, then, bide death with thee and them!”
But he bade her return and take her fate from the hands of the gods, remembering ever the love wherewith they loved her. Quietly then she kissed them again, and fared back in the gathering darkness.
And she sat beside King Siggeir at the board, and grim was the side-long gaze that he turned upon her, and well he guessed the deed which she had done.
And on the morrow when the sun shone out over land and sea, King Volsung and his company went ashore, and wended their way towards the dwelling of the Goth-King. And they came to the top of a grassy hill, and lo, they saw below them a great army gathered and their shields and spears glittered in the brilliant sunshine.
And King Volsung bade his people halt and array themselves for battle. And shield to shield they placed, and drew their swords from their sheaths. Glorious was the glint of the gold, and glorious their forms, and the light upon their faces, as they turned them to the approaching foe, but more glorious than all stood Volsung the King in the very front of his people, his
visage calm and lovely as he awaited his doom. And he drew his sword, and cast the sheath from him, and raised the gleaming blade to Heaven.
And up from the valley carne the foe, shaking the earth with their might, but sounding no battle cry. And the Volsungs, too, were silent. Then at last the Goth-folk fell upon them, and many times were they driven back from the Volsung wall of shields. Thereafter, when many a mighty man had dropped to earth, the wall was broken, and fierce then raged the fight within it.
And King Volsung stood still in the place which had been the forefront of the battle, and watched across a line of corpses the long struggle. Then at last did the throng of spears press near and close around him. And he threw his blunted sword among the crowding foemen, and flung his shield far from him, and stood awaiting the onslaught of the weapons. And thrust back by the spears which clashed amid his breast, with body rent and torn, he fell with a ringing thud upon the dead men’s shields. And none of his foes durst look upon him dead for it seemed as if a god had fallen, and they feared the wrath of Heaven.
And they took the sons of Volsung, sore, wounded, and hound them, and carried them before Siggeir. And they told him the tale of the fall of Kin, Volsung, for Siggeir had not come into the battle.
And when Queen Signy heard the tidings she hastened to the hall, and stood before the King as he sat in his high seat, flushed with his triumph. Wan and white, but tearless, Signy stood, and prayed that
her brethren might live, if only for a day or two, before he gave them to death. Then spake Siggeir, commanding that the Volsung men be taken into the forest and there fettered to a mighty beam. “There,” said he, “shall they live till Queen Signy come again and pray me for their death.”
And as Siggeir bade so was it done. And the days and nights passed, and each day was the tale brought how wild beasts had eaten the brothers one by one, till only Sigmund was left. And each day Signy watched and waited, hoping to carry succour to her brethren, but so well guarded she was that she might not stir from her dwelling. And well-nigh mad was she for woe, and her heart was as a flame in her bosom.
And the next day she strove no more to depart from the watching eyes, but sat in the high seat, looking at none and speaking to none. And the darkness came, yet she stirred not, and to Siggeir’s messengers she gave no heed, but still sat on alone, wan and cold and unmoved. And when the morning came, Siggeir entered the hall with his men of counsel, and he sat him down beside her on the high seat. And the woodman came unto Siggeir and told that no man now was left on the oaken beam, but only bones, and the bonds that had once bound the Volsungs. And a sudden wail rang out from Signy, and she stood up, and thrust all people from her, and fled, fleet of foot from the hall to her bower. And her maidens were frightened at her wild glances and the strangeness of her face, and they ran from her.
And there she sat in silence till the night fell; then did she arise and fare forth alone in the darkness, but none hindered her, for they deemed the story of the Volsung race was done. And on she went till she came to the forest, and there she took to a trodden way which she guessed had been made by the messengers of King Siggeir. And she followed it by the light of the moon till she saw before her a wide sward. And lo, in its midst stood a mighty man, who threw up the earth with a great branch which he had torn from a tree.
And she looked but once, and knew that it was her brother, Sigmund the Volsung, and she cried out his name and ran to him. And she saw that his raiment was foul and torn, and his eyes great and hollow and wild as those of a famished man.
And joyfully he hailed her, saying how he had looked for her each day, but that he had guessed her plight when she came not to the aid of her brethren. “This labour of mine,” he said, “is to bury the bones of the Volsungs, and well-nigh is it done. Draw near, thou daughter of Volsung, and pile with me the stones upon these goodly sons.”
And the white-handed Signy toiled with him through the night until the task was done. Then did she seat herself upon a fallen tree, and draw him down beside her. And she said: “Now shalt thou tell me the tale of how our Volsung brethren met their end, and then will I wend my way back to King Siggeir’s dwelling, sick-hearted and sorrowful for them and for thee.”
And Sigmund told her of the coming of the wolves
each night, and of the deaths of his brethren, and of his own escape. “I, Sigmund the Volsung,” he cried, “who have borne the sword among the kings of men, in my fury and flaming wrath, I became wolfish too. And I snarled to the she-wolfs snarling, and snapped with teeth as greedy as hers. I caught her with my teeth, and with her writhing, the bonds that bound my hands burst, and I smote the beast and caught her by the throat, and held her till she fell dead.
And I hid in the thicket till the morning and then came Siggeir’s watchers. And I looked upon them from my hiding-place, and fain I was to slay them, but I deemed it wiser to let them go. But hereafter, because of my childhood’s days, and my father’s precious love, shall there come a time when nought shall hinder or turn back this hand of mine from the slayers of the Volsungs; yea, though a swordless outcast, a hunted beast of the forest I may bide, as well I may, long years of waiting.”
Wild were his eyes, and aflame with ruthless hate was his face, as he foretold the doom of the Goth-King, and Signy listened, white and calm and motionless, as though she were wrought of stone. But when he had finished, she rose and stood before him with kindling eyes that shone like stars in the grey dawn. “My brother,” she said, “strong thou art and wise, and the day shall surely come when the Goth-King shall pay for his treacherous work, and surely shall I live to see it. But the heavy burden of thy wrath shall pass away, and thou shalt live a glorious King, and all men shall tell of thy deeds. Never again, O brother, shalt thou be alone in thy waiting; make thee a dwelling in the wild wood, and ere many days I will come to thee again, and bring thee help and comfort.”
And she kissed him and left him, and returned to the King’s dwelling, as the morning sun shone out.
And quietly now did she bend her to the will of King Siggeir. Nought was there in her pale lovely face to tell of the raging fire within her breast, and nought in the calm gaze of her gentle eyes to tell of her constant watching and patient waiting for the day of vengeance. And never a word she spake when Siggeir took to himself Odin’s sword which Sigmund had wrenched from the Branstock, or when he sent his mightiest men to seize the dear Volsung land.
And when a half month had worn away, again did Signy wend her way to the wild wood. There by the river, in the heart of the thicket, she saw Sigmund again. And her heart leapt as she beheld him, so mighty and fair was he, and she said within herself
that once more had she looked upon a man. And Sigmund greeted her with joy, but his words were few, for none did he see to speak with, and ever did his thoughts dwell on sorrow and vengeance. Yet were the few words he spoke to Signy full of love, and her sad heart was gladdened by the sound of his voice and the sight of his face. And he showed her his dwelling-place, a strong cave well hidden in the thicket, and washed by the river’s wave.
And when it was time to part, Signy held him close and wept, for she deemed that never again might she see this last of her kindred. And she wended her way back to the hall of Siggeir, and men say that never again did she weep or smile. Lovely as ever was her face to all men, but never again did it change for fear, or longing, or pity. It was as though her heart were dead within her living body.
And the years passed by, and Sigmund lived on in the forest, gathering to him the wherewithal for his vengeance in the future. Sometimes he fell upon mighty earls of the Gothland as they journeyed through the forest. Then would he take their war-gear and their gold, and these he would store for the coming day. And he set up a forge, and made himself a master in the smithy’s craft. And hunters saw the light of his fire in the darkness, and the fishers heard the ring of his hammer, and folk said among themselves that a giant had awakened in the forest, and it were well to keep out of his hands. And all memory of the Volsungs and their doom passed from the minds of the people, and Sigmund worked on and waited.
Now, when some ten summers had passed, it befell on a day that Sigmund sat on the green sward outside his dwelling, fashioning a golden sword. And along the banks, on the other side of the river, came a maiden, leading a child, a boy of some ten summers old. And when she saw Sigmund she hastened towards him and cried: “O forest dweller! harm us not, we bear thee a word from Signy, the Queen. And thus does she say to thee: “I send thee a man to foster if he be strong of heart, he may help thee in thy need, but if he be weak of heart, weary not thyself with such as he, but let him wend his ways to his fate.”
And when she had thus spoken, the maiden turned and left him, and the child stood there alone, smiling and fair and well content. And Sigmund saw the meaning of Signy’s words, how that she would send him a helper in his vengeance, but that she doubted the courage of any son of Siggeir’s. He knew, too, that Signy would have him slay the child, if it should prove that he followed after the Goth-King and had not the Volsung heart.
And Sigmund rose and crossed the river and took the boy on his shoulder. And he bade him hold his sword, and then he plunged into the rushing river, and waded across, thinking to try the child’s courage at once.
But the boy heeded not the foaming water as he sat on Sigmund’s shoulder, but prattled of this and that and questioned him of all he saw. And Sigmund deemed that he was bold of heart. And for three months the boy lived the hard, simple life in the woods,
and strong he grew and skilful, and now was Sigmund minded to put his courage again to trial.
So on a morn he called the boy to him and said: “I go to the hunt: bide thou here and bake the bread whiles I bring the venison.” And he returned at noon with the flesh and said: “Is the morn’s work done?” And the boy answered not for a space, and Sigmund looked upon him and his face was white and fearful. Then said the lad: “I went to the meal-sack, and something there was within it that moved, and methought ’twas a serpent, and I feared, and durst not open the bag again.” And Sigmund laughed aloud, and went to the meal-sack and thrust in his hand, and drew out a deadly adder, and he went to the door of the cave and threw it from him into the grass.
And he came hack to the boy and drew his sword and cried: “Dost thou fear this, O Son of the Goth-King, that men call the serpent of death?”
And the boy answered: “I am yet young for the fight, but such a blade shall I carry ere long.”
And Sigmund went out into the night and leaned long upon his sword, and thought of the words of Signy. And many an hour he stood there, but at last he sheathed his sword and went to the door of the cave, and called: “Come forth, King Siggeir’s son.” And the boy came, and he looked into Sigmund’s face and trembled.
And Sigmund bade him follow him, and he led him through the wood till they came to that spot where his brethren lay buried. And there Sigmund lingered awhile, looking upon the fair June blossoms
which clustered about the place. And then they went on again, till they came to the edge of the forest, and there Sigmund stayed him and said: “King Siggeir’s son, no longer will I foster thee. Get thee to the house of the Goth-King and find thou Signy, the Queen, and say unto her the word, “Mother, I come from the forest, and he who hath fostered me saith that the sons of the gods may help him, but never the sons of kings.”
And Sigmund turned and strode back to his dwelling, and the boy went on till he reached the hall of Siggeir, the Goth-King. And he sought Signy, the Queen, and spake unto her the words of Sigmund. And Signy hearkened to him, and long she pondered the words, and sad she was at the failing of her hopes.
And it befell that when some months had passed away that another son was born to Signy. And the child was a Volsung to the heart from his earliest days, and Signy watched him carefully and tended him wisely.
And lo, when ten more years had passed away, Sigmund sat on a day by his stony dwelling and wrought a helmet of gold. And on a sudden a voice called to him from the other side of the river. And the voice said: “Thou surely art the dweller in the wood of whom my mother spake.” And Sigmund looked up and beheld a boy of some ten summers. Fair he was and strong, with eager, fearless eyes that fell not before the stern gaze that Sigmund cast upon him.
And the boy flung himself into the rushing water, and past his chin it rose, but he heeded it not, but struck out with strong stroke till he reached the shore
where Sigmund stood. And he came to him, and looked up at him wonderingly. And the Volsung laughed and said: “Thou runnest to me as fast as others run from me; what wouldst thou, son of a king?”
And the boy answered: “Wondrous it is: here is the cave and the river, and all that my mother spake of. Yet did she say that none might behold thee without fear, but I fear thee not.”
Then said Sigmund: “And by that token only shalt thou live with me. But tell me thy name, and thy years, and the words of Signy, thy mother.”
“Sinfiotli is my name,” said the boy, “and ten summers have I seen, and this is the word which I bear from Signy, the Queen: That once more she sendeth thee a man-child to foster, but whether he be of the kings or the gods time shall show thee.”
And the heart of Sigmund yearned unto the lad, but he thrust the thought of love from him, saying to himself that this, too, was Siggeir’s son, and would doubtless fail him as the first had done. But he took the boy to live with him, and he tried him with weary and dangerous tasks, and Sinfiotli bore all well. Hardy he grew, fierce of heart, and cunning of hand.
And on a day Sigmund said unto him: “I will wend to the hunting of deer; do thou bide here and bake the bread against my coming.”
And he went and returned, and the boy met him as ever, glad of his coming back. “Hast thou kneaded the meal?” asked Sigurd. And Sinfiotli answered “Yea, but hearken to a wonder. When I would handle the meal, something moved in the bag; but since we must needs have bread, I kneaded it all together, and the wonder is baked in the bread.”
And Sigmund laughed aloud at the boy and said “Thou hast kneaded into the bread the deadliest of all adders, so eat not to-night, or thy death will come of it.”
And full glad was Sigmund and no longer did he stifle his love towards Sinfiotli. And he taught him all deeds of the sword and feats of war. And in three
years a mightier warrior was he than any full-grown man. And through good and evil days did they abide together, and ever greater and greater grew the love between them.
And it befell on a day that Sinfiotli said unto Sigmund: “Methinks there was a lesson for me to learn, and a lesson that thou hadst to teach, and therefore was it that I left the dwelling of the Goth-King. Teach me then, O master, what thou wouldst have me to do.”
And Sigmund looked at the lad, and dark and grim was his face, and his eyes blazed with a strange light. And he answered Sinfiotli: “Behold, this is the deed thou must do; we twain shall slay my foe; and what if that foe were thy father?”
And never a word spoke Sinfiotli. But he fixed his eager eyes on Sigmund, and his breath came fast and short, as Sigmund told him the story of the slaying of the Volsungs. And when it was told, Sinfiotli laughed out aloud, and said: “Well wot I that Queen Signy is my mother, and her will I help at her need, but never has King Siggeir been father to me: never gave he me a blessing but many a curse. No father have I but thou, who hast cherished me and taught me and loved me these many years. Lo, here is my hand ready to strike where thou wilt. I am the sword of the gods; do thou, O my father, hold the hilt.”
Joyful was Sigmund at the words of Sinfiotli, and fierce glowed his eyes and hot his cheeks at the thought of his long-waited vengeance so nigh. And the twain talked together of the time which should best serve them and of the manner of their vengeance.
And at last when the winter drew on and the nights were long and dark, they fared unto Siggeir’s dwelling and hid them in a bower beside the great hall where the King’s wine-casks were kept. And so near were they that they saw the light of the torches, and heard the mirth of the feasters. And calm was Sigmund and his eyes clear and bright, but Sinfiotli was haggard and white, and he bit at the rim of his shield and fretted for the fight to begin.
Now, it befell that two little children, the youngest born of Queen Signy, played about the hall, trundling a golden toy. And a ring fell from the toy and rolled away into the bower and lay at Sigmund’s feet. And the children followed it, and came face to face with the strangers, all glorious in their shining armour. Then they fled before they could hold them, back into the hall.
And they cried out what they had seen, and on a sudden all was din and tumult. And Sigmund and Sinfiotli sprang to their feet and stood ready with their weapons, resolved to strike with all their might ere they should die. And as they thus stood, lo, Signy came to them, and fierce was the light in her eyes at their betrayal by her babes, and she looked into Sigmund’s face and wondered at its calmness. “Thou smilest, and thy eyes are joyful and clear,” she cried, “yet the end is come.”
And now the clash of arms and the hurry of feet came nigh them, and Signy was swept aside in the throng of the Goth folk. And in the midst of the naked blades stood Sigmund as firm and unbending as is the great oak in the forest to the herd-boy’s
assaults. But Sinfiotli rushed hither and thither wherever the spears were thickest, and fiercely he laid about him till at last he slipped and fell.
Then thicker came the throng about Sigmund, and they bore him down unwounded, and cast bonds about him. And Sinfiotli, too, did they bind, and they carried them away.
And when the morning dawned King Siggeir bade his bondsmen make an earthen mound, and divide it by a great stone into two chambers. And when it was done, they brought Sigmund and Sinfiotli to the mound, and put one into each chamber. Then did they begin to roof in the chambers with turfs. And at the eve of the day all was done but the roofing of Sinfiotli’s chamber.
Then came Signy, the Queen, all white, and wan, and great-eyed. And she gave gold to the thralls and bade them hold their peace of the deed she was about to do. And she drew forth from beneath her mantle something wrapped in straw, and swiftly she cast it into Sinfiotli’s chamber. And then she fled away into the King’s dwelling. And the thralls deemed that it was food that she had brought to Sinfiotli, and they laid the roof on his chamber, and left the two men to their doom.
And Sigmund listened, and he heard Sinfiotli speak and say: “Behold, my mother hath sent me meat.” And then there was silence, and Sigmund called to him: “Hath aught happened to thee? Is there an adder in the meat?” And Sinfiotli laughed aloud and answered: “Yea, indeed, an adder; the sword of the Branstock.”
And Sinfiotli smote the stone wall with the point of the sword, and slowly in the darkness he bore through the wall, till Sigmund could set his hand to the blade on the other side. Then they sawed together till the stone was cleft and they looked upon each other again. And full of joy they kissed, and again they sawed at the roof of their prison till the winter stars shone down upon them. Then out they leapt, and straight for the hall they made. And they slew the night-watch one and all. And they took the faggots which were stored for the winter, the cloven oak trees, and the ash and the rowan, and made a mighty pile around the dwelling of Siggeir. And they laid a torch to it, and watched till the flames rose high above them.
Then they drew their swords and stood one at each of the two doors, that none might escape. And Siggeir awoke and saw the great fire all around him, and he cried out that he would give all his heaped-up treasure and half of his kingdom if his life might be spared. And Sigmund answered him and cried in a loud voice: “No treasure do we seek or kingdom, but vengeance for our kin. Nought can buy thy life, O Siggeir! death now shalt thou take from the hands of those whom thou wouldst have done to death.”
And a great fear entered the hearts of all who heard him, and the silence of dread fell upon them. And again the voice cried aloud: “Come forth, ye women of the Goth-folk, and go your ways; and thou, Signy, my sister, come forth, that once more we may dwell in peace together beneath the Branstock.”
And forth came all the women, hurrying in terror,
and Sinfiotli lowered his sword and let them pass, but Signy was not amongst them.
Then the men rushed to the doors and sought to pass, but Sigmund and Sinfiotli drove them back into the flames. And now came Signy to the women’s doorway, clad in queenly raiment, and Sinfiotli lowered his sword point before her. And she folded him in her arms and kissed him, praising him for his mighty deeds. And she bade him farewell and departed and came unto Sigmund. And he looked upon her face, and he deemed. it fair and fresh as in the days of their youth long past, but as he gazed, the tears filled her eyes, and sobs shook her breast. And she said: “I have come but to greet thee, Sigmund, then back again will I wend and meet death with my husband, the Goth-King. Yet fear not that I shall forget thee. A mighty king in the Volsung land shalt thou be, and then shalt thou remember me and my love of the Volsung name. Happy was my youth with my kin, loathed since has been my life, yet now as it endeth, softened seems my heart, and I would not that it had been otherwise; only I long for rest.” And softly and sweetly she clung about him and kissed him, murmuring: “Farewell, my brother.”
Then she turned her back and passed from his sight, and never again did he behold her.
And the walls of the great hall crashed and fell, and when the sun rose high nought but ashes remained of the golden dwelling, and the ashes of Siggeir and Signy and all their mighty men were mingled in its ruin
And Sigmund and Sinfiotli gathered a mighty host
together and sailed from the Gothland to the land of the Volsungs. And there the people met them with joy, and once more did the Volsungs rule beneath the Branstock’s boughs. And oft did Sigmund think of Signy, and oft did he tell of her life and fame, and her love of the Volsung people, and her noble death.
And Sigmund became a mighty king, and he wedded a fair and lovely wife, named Borghild. And it befell that through her Sinfiotli came to his end. And in this wise was it. There was a man named Gudrod, and he was the brother of Borghild.
And he broke troth with Sinfiotli in a certain matter, so that they quarrelled and fought, and Sinfiotli slew Gudrod. And when the deed was known, Borghild bade Sigmund send Sinfiotli from his kingdom, but Sigmund answered her that Gudrod had broken troth with Sinfiotli and therefore was to blame; but for atonement he gave unto Borghild much gold and precious gems. And Borghild made as though she was satisfied, but in her heart was she full of hate to Sinfiotli.
And on a day she made a funeral feast for Gudrod. And mid the feasting she gave to Sinfiotli in seeming good-will a cup of wine. And it was poisoned, and he drank and fell dead without a word or groan. And Sigmund ran to him with a great cry, and he sorrowed over him exceedingly, so that none durst come to him. And he gazed long upon him, and took the body in his arms and ran forth from the hall. And the wind was wild and the night dark with storm-clouds, but on he went till he came to a mighty water. And lo, as the morning dawned there came a white-sailed boat to
the shore, and in it a man, mighty, grey-clad, one-eyed, and seeming old.
And he hailed Sigmund and asked him whither he fared. And Sigmund answered that he would cross the water and seek a new life, for the light of his old life had gone. And the man looked up at Sigmund and said that he had been sent there to fetch a great king, and he bade Sigmund set his burden upon the ship. And lo, when Sigmund had done this, and would have followed into the boat, both man and boat had disappeared.
And long hours did Sigmund stand upon the shore, gazing out on the water. Then he turned and made his way back to the Volsung land. And he sent Borghild the Queen from him, and for long he lived alone.
Now, there was a king of the islands named Eylimi. Small was his kingdom, but wise and valiant was he. And he had one only daughter, named Hiordis, and exceeding wise she was and fair, and her fame reached Sigmund and he was fain to have her for his wife. And he sent one of his earls to King Eylimi with gifts and tokens, asking Hiordis in marriage. And King Eylimi knew not what to say, for that very day had come an earl from King Lyngi, and he, too, would wed Hiordis. And Eylimi thought how Sigmund was growing old and his realm was afar off, while Lyngi was young and eager for fight, and a mighty king, and his realm was nigh; therefore did Eylimi fear to make a foe of him.
So he went to Hiordis where she sat in her bower,
working in silk and gold the stories of the deeds of old, and the stories of the deeds to come. And he told her of the two kings, and of his fears should she deny King Lyngi, but he bade her choose, saying that her will should rule in the matter.
And Hiordis straightway answered him: “Well I wot that strife may come of this, yet can I give but one answer. King Sigmund will I wed, and deem it the crown of my life to live in the Volsung land and share with him strife and peace.”
And fearful was Eylimi as to what might come of it, but in nowise would he gainsay the word of Hiordis. But he sent rich gifts to King Lyngi and a message that Hiordis had plighted her troth to King Sigmund. And to King Sigmund he sent bidding him come with all speed for his bride, and to come with a goodly company, arrayed for war, lest evil should betide.
And right contented was Sigmund at the message, and he made him ready. Yet did he ponder the word of King Eylimi that he should come in war array, and it suited not with his joy. And he remembered his father, and how he scorned to go to the court of King Siggeir with a war-host. So Sigmund gathered to him the best of his mighty men, and splendid was their raiment, and of precious metals were their shields and weapons. And they went aboard ten longships. Nought more would he take with him than he deemed would do honour to the Volsungs and to the fair and wise Hiordis.
And they came to Eylimi’s kingdom, and a goodly
welcome awaited them. And Sigmund looked on Hiordis and loved her exceedingly, and right happy was Hiordis when she looked on the glorious King. And Eylimi made a great feast, and Sigmund and Hiordis were wedded. And day by day did they love each other more, and ever their joy grew. And Eylimi was glad in Sigmund, and he forgot his fear of King Lyngi.
And when more than a month had passed, they arrayed the ships to return to the Volsung land. And lo, tidings came that a great host and many ships lay off the coast waiting for battle. Then was King Eylimi sore afraid, but Sigmund comforted him and bade him go forth with him to the fight, and take whatever the gods should give.
And Sigmund drew the sword of Odin from its sheath, and he and Eylimi led their men down to the sea strand. All golden did Sigmund shine in the noonday sun, and right glorious did all men deem him as they looked upon him. And he called upon them to fight well for the Volsungs, and he raised aloft the mighty sword of the Branstock and blew on his father’s horn the call to battle.
And King Lyngi’s hosts rushed upon them, and surrounded them. But Sigmund slashed right and left with his mighty blade till the dead were piled around him, and none could get at him to smite him. His shield had been torn from his arm, and his helmet from his head. All white his hair streamed on the wind, and blood-stained and dust-covered was his raiment. But in his eyes was the light of victory, and he sang out sweet-voiced and clear the battle song of
his kindred, and ever gleamed the bright sword as it struck its death-dealing blows.
And just as he thought of triumph, lo, through the hedge of weapons came a mighty man. Seeming old he was, and one-eyed, and his face was as a flame. His kirtle was of the grey of the clouds, and his hood of misty blue. And he bore a great two-handed bill, and when he had come to Sigmund, he raised it to strike him. Then once more the gleaming sword of Odin circled around the head of Sigmund, and he shouted again the war cry of the Volsungs. But as his sword met the bill, it shivered to pieces, and fell from his hand. And when Sigmund looked again the grey-clad man had vanished, and in his place thronged his foes.
Weaponless, unshielded, unhelmed, the war-light gone from his eyes, he stood before them. And there they smote him, and he fell upon the heap of the dead, whom he had himself smitten down. And now that their King was fallen his men struggled no longer against the oncoming host, and they fell before them. And right well fought King Eylimi in the forefront of the battle, but he, too, fell.
Now did King Lyngi fare to the dwelling of King Eylimi to seek Hiordis and to take her by force. But she had left her bower when the fight began and hidden in a thicket, whence she could watch the battle. And she saw the triumph of King Lyngi, and beheld him as he rushed from the field towards their dwelling. And she guessed that he would take her.
And heartbroken she made her way to the strand,
and sought for the body of Sigmund. And soon she found him. Many and grievous were his wounds, but he still lived. And glad were his eyes as she bent over him and laid her wan face to his. And he spoke and said: “Sorrowful is thy heart, O Hiordis, and young thou art to bear such grief alone.”
But she stopped him, crying: “Thou livest, thou livest, and thou shalt live: thou shalt be healed.”
But he answered her gently. “Nay: to-day mine eyes have looked upon Odin and my heart bath heard his bidding. I live but to tell thee of the days that are to be, and to comfort thee a little. Lo, yonder where I faced the foemen lies the best of all good swords in pieces. Take them and keep them secure. Odin’s was the gift and to-day bath Odin shattered his gift. Yet do I know full well that a greater than 1 shall bear it. Guard it for thy son and mine. Mine eyes shall not see him, but I joy in his days that shall be. Cherish him, and for him shall this sword be smithied again, and great shall his deeds be on the earth. And sorrow not, O my wife, for sweet and good has been our short life together. And fain am I to rest: full of strife and battle din and longing have been my days, but now is the journey done, and I stand in the lighted doorway, and the king cometh to welcome me; arrayed is the banquet for the feast, and prepared is the bed for rest and quiet dreams.”
And the voice of Sigmund faded away, and no more word did he speak. But yet he lived, and Hiordis sat and sorrowed by him till the darkness of night covered them. And when the day broke and the sun
rose, Sigmund turned his head and the first soft beams of sunlight bathed his eyes. And Hiordis bent over him, and lo, he was dead.
And Hiordis sat on till the sun rose high in the heavens. And on a sudden she heard a noise out at sea, and she looked up and beheld a great war-ship and many men upon her arrayed for war. And they prepared to beach the ship. And Hiordis rose and flew into the thicket.
And the lord of that ship was King Elf, the son of another mighty king who was called the Helper of Men. And King Elf sought water for his shipmen upon the island. And as they drew nigh the shore, they saw that there had been fought a mighty battle. And they beheld the piles of the dead, and among them a living woman, a queen in purple and gold with a crown upon her head. And as they neared the strand she turned and saw them and fled away.
And King Elf and his men came ashore, and they looked upon Sigmund, and his face was as the face of a god. And they deemed that here had fallen a great man. Then said King Elf: “Fare we unto the thicket, and there belike we shall find the woman who fled, and she shall tell us the story of these deeds.”
So they went into the thicket and found Hiordis, and they spake kindly unto her, and bade her tell them who she was and what had befallen. And when King Elf heard that the mighty man who lay upon the battle-field was Sigmund the Volsung he was amazed, and heavy tidings he deemed it.
And Hiordis went with the King and his men
again to the strand. And they set their hands to labour and raised a great mound for Sigmund, and placed him within it. And his right hand was clenched, but it held no sword, and nowhere could they find his helmet or his shield, but they hung the walls of the mound with the cloven shields of the foemen and the banners they had borne.
And Hiordis spake to the shipmen concerning the sword of Sigmund and his commands. And they gathered the pieces, and Hiordis took them, and she went aboard the ship of King Elf, and he carried her to his land. And there she abode in the house of King Elf and his father, the Helper.
And it befell that the heart of King Elf yearned to Hiordis, and he would fain make her his Queen. And he spake unto her and told her of his desire. And Hiordis answered him: “Thankful am I for thy goodness and thy love, and nought will I gainsay thee, when the time shall serve. But I pray thee, wait till the son of King Sigmund shall be born.”
And King Elf rejoiced at her answer, and fain he was to do all as she bade him. And the summer passed, and the winter, and the spring drew on, and Hiordis lived in peace, thinking of the happy past, and dreaming of the happy future. And peace and joy reigned ever in this land of the two kings, and men lived merrily, toiling willingly, and resting quietly when the toil was done. None were over rich, and every hireling had enough, and it was said that a child might go unguarded through the length and breadth of the land, though gold were in his purse and rings of gold
upon his hands. A goodly kingdom it was, well hidden by great mountains, and safe-guarded by a perilous ocean which few men dared to sail.
Here abode Hiordis till on a morn of spring the son of Sigmund was born to her. And a great dread fell on all around in that hour, as though some fateful thing had come upon the world. And the serving women looked upon the child and shrank back from the glance of his eyes, so bright and dreadful were they.
And Hiordis took him in her arms, and held him to her heart, and spake to him as to one that had understanding. And she told him of the mighty King Volsung, and of Sigmund, his father, and of his last battle and of his death on the island shore. Then she gave him into the hands of the women, and bade them bear him to the Kings, the Helper of Men, and Elf, his son, that they, too, might rejoice with her.
And the Helper of Men sat with King Elf and his earls in the great hall, and on a sudden it seemed that they heard sweet voices and the sound of harps, and a great joy came upon them, though they knew not why. Then there entered to them the serving women of Hiordis, and one, who held to her breast a precious burden, stepped to the high seat and unfolded the purple wrappings and gave the babe into the hands of King Elf. And the woman spake and said: “Queen Hiordis sends thee this gift, and she saith the world shall call her son and Sigmund’s by the name that thou shalt give it.”
And a great shout of joy from the earls shook the ancient hall, whiles King Elf looked long into the
face of the child. And he deemed that he looked upon a god, so gleaming were his eyes and so bright his face. And at last Elf raised his head and cried: “O Sigmund, King of Battle, the darkness has passed, and lo, here is the dawn: tell us, O mighty Sigmund, how shall we name thy son?”
And then uprose an ancient man and he cried “Hail, Dawn of the Day!” and he sang of the mighty deeds which should be wrought by this son of Sigmund. “O, thy deeds that all men shall wonder at, and all gods shall rejoice in! O Sigurd, son of the Volsung!” he cried.
And men caught the name and echoed it, and it was heard without the hall, and cried again and again at feast and fair, in street and market, through meadow and forest, over mountain and sea. And Hiordis heard it as she lay in her golden chamber, and her heart rejoiced. And her women came back to her, and gave her the babe, and she cherished him at her breast.
And all the glorious Volsung past blossomed again in the minds of men, and they told and sang of the marvellous deeds of old as they sat at the feast, and ever they looked to the coming years for still mightier deeds and still greater wonders.
And when the summer came Queen Hiordis was wedded to King Elf, and fair were their days together. Peace and plenty was ever in the land, and the child Sigurd grew up amidst it, waxing in beauty and in strength, and all men blessed him. And as the years sped on, keen and eager of wit and full of understanding did he grow, and oft he sat among the wise
men and listened to their talk of weighty matters. Yet joyous was he withal, and kindly unto every man.
Now, there was a man named Regin who dwelt in the house of the Helper. Exceeding old he was, so that none could remember when he came there to dwell. King Elf he had fostered and his father, the Helper, and the Helper’s father before him. Learned in all wisdom was he, and deft in all cunning save the deeds of the sword. Sweet of speech was he, too, so that every word he spake took its right meaning, and skilled he was with the harp strings, and drew from them delight and sorrow; and a great teller of tales was he, and the Master of Masters in the smithying craft, and well he knew the lore of the wind and the weather, and the sea.
And on a day Regin came before the Kings, and he said: “O helper of men, I fostered thy youth, and thine, King Elf. Now would I foster Sigurd, for my heart tells me that he shall be a mighty man in the days to come, and no greater master is there than I.” And the Helper answered: “Do thy will herein, O Regin, for thou art the Master of Masters.”
So Sigurd abode with Regin, and Regin taught him all things save the craft of battle: the smithying of the sword, and the war coat, the carving of runes, the tongues of many countries, soft speech and song and the music of the harp. And wondrous strong grew Sigurd in body, and he chased the deer of the forest, and the wolf of the wood, and the sea had no terror for him.
And on a day he sat with Regin in the smithy, and Regin worked at the gold and told tales of the
Volsungs and the days gone by. And the boy’s heart swelled, and his eyes brightened as he listened. Then said Regin: “Thou, too, must ride through the world as the kin of early days. Ask now a battle steed of the Helper of Men and King Elf; crave of them that thou mayst choose from among the horses of Gripir.”
Now, Gripir was the son of the Helper’s father, but his mother was of giant kin. Far from the seastrand, among the great mountains, he dwelt. A man of few words he was, but all the deeds that had been did he know, and times there were when he saw the deeds that were to come. No sword had he borne since his father fell, and no vengeance had he sought on the slayers. Yet fearless he was, but he desired nought but to learn of the past and to watch the coming days.
And Sigurd did as Regin bade him, and he left the smithy and ran to the Kings and said: “Will ye do so much for my asking as to give me a token for Gripir and bid him let me choose a horse from those that run in his meadow?”
And King Elf smiled upon him, and told him he should have his will in the matter, and he gave him a token to carry to Gripir. And well pleased was Sigurd. And in the morning, as soon as the dawn broke, he wended his way unto Gripir.
On a crag of a mountain was his dwelling built, and the wild birds flew around it, and the mountain winds swept through every chamber. And Sigurd entered the hall, and there in the midst sat Gripir upon a great chair of ivory. His white beard fell over his golden gown almost to the floor, that was green as the ocean: in his hand he held a kingly staff knobbed with white crystal.
And Gripir cried: “Hail, King with the bright eyes! Nought needest thou to show thy token nor to tell thy message. Go choose a horse in my meadow, and he shall bear thee to mighty deeds.”
And Sigurd went to the meadow, and lo, by the way he met a grey-clad man, one-eyed and old, and the man said: “Tarry, Sigurd; wilt thou follow my counsel, and get thee the best of all steeds?” And Sigurd answered: “I am ready, what is the deed to be done?” And the man said: “We shall drive the horses to the water and then do thou note what shall happen next?”
And they drave all the horses till they came to a great rushing river, and the horses plunged in, but the flood was too strong for them. And some were swept downward and some struggled back to the bank, and some sank: only one of them all swam over to the other side. And he scrambled up the bank, and
they saw his mane of grey as he galloped in the meadow. Then he wheeled and took to the water again.
And the man said: “Once, O Sigurd, did I give thy father, Sigmund, a precious gift, which thou shalt hold dear when the time shall serve. But now do I give thee this horse.”
And Sigurd would fain ask him many questions, but the man turned and strode away to the mountains and soon was he lost to sight. And Sigurd hastened to the river bank, and took the grey horse as he came to the shore. And Sigurd thought him the best of all horses, and he leapt upon his back, and named him Greyfell; and the horse seemed to know him, and went gladly beneath him. And men said that this horse was of the blood of Sleipnir, the tireless horse of Odin.
And a joyous song poured from Sigurd as he wended his way to the Helper and King Elf borne on the back of Greyfell.
And the days passed, and Sigurd waxed ever fairer and stronger, and well-loved was he by all, and happy were his days. Yet oftentimes, he looked towards the
mighty mountains with a great wonder in his heart as to what lay beyond them, and a great longing sprang up in him for the wide world and its knowledge and its deeds. And he said to himself: “This land is not the land of my blood, and my mother bath other sons, and they shall be kings, and I must needs serve them. Fain would I go forth and do great deeds, yet must I wait till Odin calleth me.”
And it befell on a day that he sat in Regin’s hall, and Regin told him many stories of old kings who had fared forth and sought their kingdoms. And Sigurd’s heart was heavy as he listened. And at last when he had made an end of his story Regin cried: “Thou art the son of King Sigmund! Why dolt thou waste thy years in this little land, where others will be kings and thou must serve them.”
And Sigurd answered him: “Well do I love this sweet and peaceful land, yet full fain is my heart for the land of my fathers. But, meseemeth, when the deed is ready, Odin shall call me to it, and in nowise shall I lack.”
Then said Regin: “The deed is ready even now, yet to hold my peace is best, for thou lovest this land and thy life of quiet days too well to fare forth into strife and danger. Yet do they say that Sigmund was thy father: but fear nought from him; he lieth quiet in his mound by the sea.”
Then shone the eyes of Sigurd like a flame at Regin’s words of scorn, and his voice rang out like the thunderpeal.
“Tell me,” he cried, “thou Master of Masters.
what is the deed that is ready? Mock me no longer or the day of my birth thou shalt rue.”
Then answered Regin: “The deed is the righting of wrong, and the winning of untold treasure that should make thee more than a king. Long is it since I first came here to seek a man for my need, for the treasure is mine, but nought can I do to end the days of my waiting and my woe, for my hand is frail, and my heart herein avails not. Yet have I long known that in this land should I find the man for the deed, and I knew that my waiting was done when I looked on thine eyes in the cradle.”
Then said Sigurd: “I will do the deed, and thou shalt have the treasure, but on thy head he the curse, if curse there be with the gold. But full strong in my heart to-day are the dreams of my youth, and I long to look on the world and meet with mighty men, and try my skill at their feats. So tell me, O Master of Masters, the tale of this treasure of thine, and the deed to be done.”
And the look of scorn went from the face of Regin, and now was he full content. “Sit,” he said, “thou son of Sigmund, for hereof must a tale be told: sit, and hearken of wondrous matters, of things unheard, and deeds of my beholding.”
And Sigurd sat him down upon the heaped-up unwrought gold, and Regin began his story.
“Know first,” he said, “that I was born of the race of the dwarfs. Mighty we were in the days that I speak of, but now our days are done. Before the gods came upon the earth, and before the days of
men, did we live, and fair was the earth, and exceeding glad was our life. Bear with me, O Sigurd, for while I speak of the days that are past, I scarcely can think they are wholly o’er. Then came the gods to earth, and hopes and fears arose within us, and unrest, and toil. We fell to the working of metals, and we fashioned spear and bow, and sought out the secrets of the deeps of the earth, and dealt in venom and leechcraft.
“Reidmar the Ancient was my father, a king he was, old and covetous. His youngest born was I, and to me and my brothers’ twain did he give such gifts as would work his will. To Fafnir, the eldest born, he gave the fearless soul, the pitiless heart, and the greedy hand. To Otter, his second son, he gave the cunning for the snare and the net, and restless longing and mighty strength; and to me, grief and fear, the skill of the smithying craft, toil, and the longing unsatisfied heart.
“Worse were we now than the gods, for of all our ancient might but one thing had we left: the power to change our bodies into bodies of the beasts, or the fishes, or the fowls.
“So did we live together. I toiled and toiled, building my father a hall. And fair it was, but my toil had made me grim and cold-hearted, and my hands were twisted and foul, and nought did I know of the glorious world, of the sun, and the wind and the flowers, nor had I the skill of the sword and the shield. “But Fafnir, my brother, fared forth, leaving no wrong undone, and Otter would change his shape with the beasts and the fowls and the fish, and he knew
their joy and their grief, and all knowledge of them he had, that he seemed the king of the creatures.
“Now, it befell on a day that three gods came to the earth in the shape of men: Odin the All-Father, and Loki the Evil-hearted, and Hœnir the Blameless. And they came to a mighty water, and upon the shore lay my brother Otter, his body changed to an otter indeed. And Odin and Hœnir passed on, but Loki saw through the shape of the otter and beheld the mighty dwarf. And, ever evil of heart, he tore a piece from the rock and hurled it, and smote my brother, Otter, that his man’s life passed away. And wroth was Odin at this deed of Loki, but he said nought, and the three fared on again together till they came to a grassy plain. And there they saw a noble house and a hall full glorious and fashioned with great craft. And night was falling, so they sought shelter there. And they went up to the porch, all smooth wrought with gold, and into the hall, so wondrous fair with its windows and pillars and golden hangings that even the gods marvelled at its beauty.
“And in the hall sat a king upon a throne, clad in purple robes, with a crown upon his head. And seeming kindly were his words as he bade them rest and join the feast and be merry. And they sat at the board and joined in the laughter, yet did they feel themselves caught as in a net, and no escape could they think of from their man-like bodies.
“And anon the old king’s laughter lost its mirth and seemed full of mockery. And at last he spake and said: ‘Well I know ye to be gods, but guilty are
ye of a great wrong, and to no feeble folk shall ye make answer. Time was when we knew you not, and needed you not, and fair were our days, but now do we toil and strive and suffer, and our might is gone from us. Well do ye wot that I am Reidmar, and that ye have slaughtered my offspring, and to-day will I undo the work of your hands, and run the web of the world backward unless ye give one my heart’s desire!’
“And Odin answered him: ‘Wrong indeed have we done thee, and if thou wilt amend it with wrong, nought can we gainsay thee. For thine heart’s desire is gold, and gold thou shalt have, yet best it were that thou lackest it.’
“Then cried Reidmar, and Fafnir, his eldest son, and I, Regin the Smith: ‘Pay us the ransom of blood or ye shall die and we will be gods!’
“Then said Odin, and his voice was awful: ‘Give doom, O Reidmar! What is the gold thou wilt have?’
“And Reidmar answered: ‘Give me the gold that Andvari hideth at the bottom of the sea.’
“And Odin bade that Loki should be loosed, and I loosed him, and he went at Odin’s word to seek the golden hoard. And over the mountains he went to a mighty water, and there dwelt Andvari, and an Elf of the Dark is he. Once was he wise and great, but now did he heed nought but the gathering of gold. And the all-guileful Loki set his snare and entrapped the Elf, and forced him to give up the treasure. There was the Helmet of Dread, and the Hauberk of Gold, and great heaps of precious things. And Loki commanded Andvari to bring them all up to the earth, and this the
Elf did, while Loki laughed aloud at his groans and grief and weariness.
“And when all was done, and Andvari hurriedly turned to go back, Loki saw upon his hand the gleam of gold in the sun. And he cried: ‘Come hither again and deliver the ring from thy finger.’ And the Elf gave up the ring, and his anguish was great as he parted from it. And he cried in his wrath: ‘Could I give thee worse than what thou bearest, right fain am I to give it, but a curse thou bearest, and the woe that is now mine shall come to many another with my gold. Brethren and fathers and kings shall it slay, and the hearts of fair queens shall it break, and the light of day shall be as darkness!’
“But Loki laughed at his woe, and gathered up the treasure, and carried it with all haste to the hall of Reidmar. And when we saw it gleaming there, we stood before it panting, so great and rich and glorious was the sight.
“And Odin spake, and his voice was cold and dread: ‘O Kings, behold the ransom, duly paid,’ he said.
“And for a space Reidmar answered nought, but ever his eyes peered up and down and athwart the pile as though he searched for something more. Then he caught the flash of the golden ring on Loki’s hand, and wroth, he cried: ‘O Loki, master of guile, cast down Andvari’s ring.’ And Loki drew off the Elf-ring and cast it upon the pile, saying: ‘Right joyful am I that all of the gold thou shouldst take, that none of the curse thou mayst lack.’
“And I loosed the gods, and mighty they stood for a moment, then turned and went out into the night.
“And there the treasure lay, and its golden gleam fell upon Reidmar and Fafnir and me. And my heart was full of greed and longing to hold it as my own. Yet did I smile, and bid my father keep the more part for himself, but give unto Fafnir and me a little as recompense for such deeds of help as we had wrought.
“But Reidmar answered me nothing, but sat on his ivory throne, gazing with glistening eyes upon the flaming pile. And Fafnir spake never a word, but glared upon our father with fiery, wrathful eyes.
“And the night fell and the morning dawned, and still sat Reidmar there in his purple robes gazing upon the gold. And Fafnir took his sword, and I took my smithying hammer, and we went our ways in the world. And when the evening was come, I went back to the hall. But weary and spent was my heart, and so great was still my longing for the gold, that I durst not look upon it again. So I lay in the smithy and slept, and methought now and then that 1 heard the tinkling of metal, and that I saw a light in the hall. But I held all as dreams, till a dreadful cry rang out in the darkness, and there was a sudden clashing of swords.
“And I leapt from my bed and ran to the hall, and there by the pile of the gold stood Fafnir, my brother, and there at his feet lay Reidmar, and his blood flowed amid the glittering hoard. And I rushed to my father’s side, but even as I bent and looked into his eyes they darkened in death. Then I turned me and looked upon Fafnir, and I trembled as I saw
upon his head the Helmet of Dread, and on his body the golden Hauberk, and in his hand was his sword, and both hand and sword were red with our father’s blood. Nought could I speak, but at last he cried with a dreadful voice: ‘Dead is Reidmar at my hand, that alone I may hold the treasure. Alone will I dwell henceforth and be a mighty king, and the gold shall grow in my keeping. Be thou gone, or thy blood will I add to my guilt.’
“And cold and terror-stricken I fled from the hall which my hands had fashioned so gloriously, with nought in the world of my own but my longing heart and my craft-skilled hands.
“And I came unto this land, and I taught its people many things. And for many generations have I wrought among them. And once I journeyed back to the land of my birth, and I found the golden house which my hands had builded, ruined and open to the sky, and I looked within the great hall, and piles upon piles of gold I saw, and lo, a mighty serpent crawled to and fro amongst it. And I remembered our ancient power of changing our bodies at will, and I knew that the serpent was Fafnir.
“And again I fled and returned to this land, and greater and greater grew my longing for the gold, and lesser and lesser my hope. But then, O Sigurd, was thy father’s father born, the mighty Volsung, and I began to dream dreams. And the years passed on and thy mother came to this land, and thou wert born. And I looked upon thy eyes, and my heart told me that thou wert he who should bring me rest. And
the gold shall he mine, and the craft, and the gathered wisdom of Fafnir, and great deeds will I do, that shall win the love of all people, and my name that once was as naught shall be remembered and sang, and death shall be no more, and the world shall be ever fair!”
And Regin’s words faded away, and his eyes closed, and seemed to fall into slumber. And the flames leapt up in the smithy and shone upon the Master, and Sigurd sprang to his feet and drew his sword, and cried: “Awake, O Regin, for the days go by Awake, for the deed is yet to do.”
And Regin wakened with a groan, and sad and worn and old was his visage. And he seemed as a man bowed down by a burden. And he looked upon Sigurd and spake, and his words came thick and fast “Hast thou hearkened, Sigurd?” he said. “And wilt thou help a man that is old and weak to avenge his father? Wilt thou win back the Treasure of Gold? Wilt thou rid the earth of a wrong, and my heart of its sorrow and woe?”
And he drooped and trembled before Sigurd, fearful for his answer. And Sigurd said: “Thou shalt have thy desire and the treasure, O Regin, but take thou also the curse on thy head.”
And they parted.
And on a day Sigurd came again to Regin in the smithy, and said: “A gift at thy hands I ask: Forge me a sword for the deed.”
And the Master answered: “Lo, here is a sword wrought for thee with many a spell and charm and all the craft of the Dwarf-kind. Be glad and sure in
it and well shall it stead thee in the task.” And Sigurd said never a word, but he looked on the sword, and saw its gemmed and golden hilt, and its blue, bleak blade. And with flaming eyes he sprang to the anvil, and smote it with the sword. And lo, the sword fell shivering in pieces to the earth.
And wroth was Sigurd, and he cast the jewelled hilt amongst the ashes, and strode from the smithy, and for many a day he came not back. And Regin toiled, night and day fashioning another sword, and at last when two moons had come and gone, Sigurd stood before him once more. And he said to Regin “What hast thou done, O Master, in the forging of the sword?”
And Regin answered: “Lo, a blade have I forged which shall surely please thee. Night and day have I toiled at it, and the cunning has left my hand, if this be not to thy mind.”
And Sigurd took the sword, and Regin shrank from the flaming brightness of his eyes. And again Sigurd stood before the anvil, and he smote it, and again the sword lay broken upon the floor of the smithy. And no word did he say, but he cast the hilt from him, and strode off to the hall of the kings, and merry he was that night at the feast.
And when the morn was come, he went to his mother and said: “Give me the sword, my mother, that Sigmund gave thee for me, and let me fare forth in the world.”
And Hiordis looked into his face and saw the fire in his eyes, and she said: “Gladly will I give it thee.”
And she took his hand and led him to her treasure-chamber. And she unlocked a golden chest, and opened it, and lifted the purple coverings that lay within. And there were the pieces of the sword of Sigmund. No spot of rust stained them, and the gems in the hilt were as bright and glorious as when they had first flashed in the Volsung hall.
And Sigurd rejoiced, and he bent and kissed Hiordis as he took the pieces from her hands. But never a word she spake, but stood and gazed upon him. So glorious and fair was his face, and young as are the immortal gods. And long she stood there after he had left her, like one awakening from sad dreams to glorious life.
And Sigurd went swiftly to the house of Regin. And there in the doorway of the smithy stood the Master. And Sigurd put the pieces of the sword into his hands, and Regin looked upon them long. And his face was dark and grim as he spake. “Will nought serve thee but this blade of thy father’s?” he asked.
And Sigurd answered: “Get thee to thy craft. Nought will I have but this sword, and if thine hand fail me in this, then will mine own hand fashion it, for here is the slayer of the serpent.”
And Regin said: “Thou speakest truth. This sword shall slay the serpent, and do many another deed. But now get thee gone, and come to me again when the May month is upon us, and thy sword shall be ready for thee.”
And Sigurd went his way to the dwelling of the kings, and quiet and joyous passed his days till the
May month dawned. Then on a night he betook him again to the house of Regin. And Regin stood in the smithy, faint and weary, and his eyes were dim as they met the brightness of Sigurd’s. And he cried: “Hail, son of the Volsungs, behold, thy sword is ready!”
And Sigurd saw the sword where it lay on the ashes. And without a word stooped and took it. Eager was his face and his lips moved as with strong desire. Then he raised the sword and stood before the anvil. White it leapt above his head, and it seemed as if red flames darted from it and played around him. And he smote the anvil, and a wild cry of triumph rang out from him, for the sword was whole, and its edges undulled, and the anvil was cleft to the floor and he held it out at arm’s length, as though he would show it to all the world, and his face shone glorious as a god’s.
Then said Regin: “Thou hast cleft the anvil which is hard and heavy, but canst thou shear the fine and the soft? Come forth and try again thy skill with the sword.”
And they wended their ways to the river, and there Regin cast against the stream a lock of fine-spun wool. And Sigurd smote it as it whirled about on the eddy, and when the wool met the edge of the sword it was straightway sheared. Then said Regin: “It is well; and now surely shall the deed be done.”
And Sigurd sheathed the sword in its golden sheath, and they returned to their dwellings. And on the morrow Sigurd arose as soon as it was dawn, and gat him upon Greyfell. The sword was girded to his
side, and happy he was, and softly and sweetly he sang as he rode.
And over the mountains he fared till he came to the dwelling of Gripir, and he entered the hall, and there sat the old King, clad in his golden raiment upon his ivory throne. And Sigurd stood before him, leaning upon his sheathed sword, and their eyes met, and joyful was the welcome as each looked upon the other.
And Gripir cried: “Hail, Sigurd!” And Sigurd answered: “Hail, father! Behold the fateful sword! Forth in the world do I wend, and I would know many things of thee before I go.”
Then Gripir bent his head over the crystal ball that topped his kingly wand and gazed long into its cold and shining depths. Round was it as the world of men, and wrought in it, clear to the eyes that had wisdom to read, was the fate of men. And Sigurd waited, still standing before him gleaming with glorious light, which shone upon the floor green as the ocean flood and brightened the walls as they cast back to each other his golden rays.
And at length the voice of Gripir rang out, foretelling all the great deeds of Sigurd, all the joy and all the sorrow of his life, the shortness of his days but their long remembrance.
And the voice of Gripir died away, and Sigurd still stood before him pondering the words he had heard, and there was silence for a little.
Then Sigurd looked up at Gripir with bright, clear, smiling eyes, and Gripir said: “Come, thou kin
of the gods, sit by my side, and be glad for a while with me.”
And Sigurd came unto Gripir, and he kissed him, and they sat together on the ivory throne, and Gripir told him of many wonders that are hidden from the children of men. And long Sigurd sat and marvelled, but at last he rose. And he said unto Gripir: “Lovely are thy days of peace, and glorious is thy wisdom which thou hast garnered, and great thy guileless heart which knows not anger or pain. But for me the gods have willed the days of strife, the war-horse and the keen blade, and forth must I ride whatsoever may befall.”
And again they kissed each other and they parted. And Sigurd turned and left the hall of Gripir, and he leapt upon Greyfell and rode back to the dwelling of Regin.
And on the morrow Sigurd and Regin rode forth together, and all day and all night they fared till the little land of the Helper lay below them far away, and before them rose the great mountains. And on and on they rode over and between mighty mountains, through desert places, and into a narrow pass, high-walled on either side, windless and silent and black. On and on and ever upward they wended, and when the dawn came Sigurd saw a great deserted land, and he knew they had reached the Glittering Heath. And the sword sang in its sheath, for here was the home of the dread serpent, and his doom was nigh.
And Sigurd leapt from Greyfell and made his way in the twilight. Nought could he see of Regin, but he heeded not that, but pressed on, hungering to meet his foe, and Greyfell paced behind him.
And presently in the wan light it seemed to Sigurd that a grey cloud glimmered before him, changing and growing till it took the form of a mighty man. One-eyed he was and seeming old. Cloud-grey was his raiment, and his visage was glorious to behold. And he spake, and his voice was as the wind when it blows over the winter sea. And he cried: “Hail, Sigurd Give me greeting ere thou wend on thy way.”
And Sigurd cried: “Hail, my friend and my father’s friend!”
And the wise one said: “Hearken, O Sigurd, and learn of me in what wise thou shalt smite the serpent Fafnir. There is a hollow path by which he wends to the water in the dawn. Dig thou there a pit and lie therein and bare thy sword and await his coming. Then shall thy blade of the Branstock serve thee, and thou shalt slay him.”
And Sigurd answered: “Thy bidding I will do,” and lo, he was alone again upon the Glittering Heath.
And on he went again till he came to the path worn by the serpent as he wended his way to the water. Then leapt the heart of Sigurd, and he drew his sword, and began to dig a pit as the grey-clad man had bidden. And dark was the night all round him, but he toiled on till the work was done. Then he lay there like one dead with his sword ready to his hand, and he waited. And the dawn broke and there came a far-off sound, and a twinkle as of gold dragged over the earth.
And the sound became a rattle, and nearer and nearer till the mighty serpent passing above him hid
the light of the day and the heavens from him. And he saw the face of the monster man-like but hideous, with lips that writhed in horrible laughter and eyes that were bleared and blinded.
And Sigurd shook off the dread that held him and laughed aloud, and as he laughed he thrust at the heart of the serpent. Then he leapt from the pit, where now the red blood rushed like a river, and he stood with his sword uplifted, glorious with the joy of a god in his work fulfilled.
And the serpent lay there huddled and grey, and he looked upon Sigurd and cried in a terrible voice: “Fierce child, thou hast cleft my heart, and I die far off from the gold, but thee, thee also, shall it bring to doom.”
And dreadful was the voice, and long was it ere its groans and lamentations ceased. And Sigurd stood leaning upon his sword till all sank into silence and he knew that the serpent was dead.
And the sun rose, and the wind blew, fresh and sweet, over the heath, and a new day dawned upon the world.
And Sigurd wiped the blood of Fafnir from his blade, and Greyfell, beside him, neighed with joy. And Sigurd looked up, and lo, Regin stood before him staring at him, marvelling at his surpassing beauty. And Regin turned from him and saw the serpent where he lay dead in the pool of his own blood. And he grovelled on the ground and lapped at the blood like a dog. Then dark and wrathful he came to Sigurd and cried: “Thou hast slain my brother: wherewith wilt thou atone for thy murderous deed?”
“’Tis thy deed as well as mine,” answered Sigurd.
“Thou hast slain my brother,” cried Regin again.
“Take thou the gold, then, as ransom,” said Sigurd.
“Thou hast slain my brother,” cried Regin, “and now shalt thou be my servant, though thou art a King.” And he drew his sword and crept to the serpent, and cut the heart from him. And he said: “If thou wilt be free of this deed, gather fire together, and roast this heart for me. For herein is might and wisdom and the hoarded lore of the past, and I would eat it and live.”
And Regin fell back and seemed to slumber, with his unsheathed sword still in his hand. And Sigurd took the heart of Fafnir, and gathered wood and kindled a fire, and put the heart to roast. And the eagles came and pitched about the fire and sang their song. And Sigurd put his hand to the roast to see if it were well cooked, and the blood and the fat burst from it and scalded his fingers. And he put them in his mouth to soothe the burning, and lo, there came a change upon him, and the speech of the birds he knew, and the ways of the beasts, even as the dwarfs of old.
And he heard the birds tell of Regin’s evil will, and of his intent to kill him when he should awake and eat of the serpent’s heart. And the birds cried “Arise, O Sigurd, ere it be too late!”
And wroth was Sigurd, and he arose and took again his sword and bared it. And he went unto Regin where he slept, and he smote his head from his body.
Then did Sigurd eat of the heart of Fafnir, and
wise did he grow with the wisdom of old. And he leapt upon Greyfell and turned him along the hollow path along which the serpent had wended, and far over the heath it led him, till when the night was come, he saw before him the great dwelling builded by Regin in the days when the world was young. High it reared itself to the heavens, and deep below the earth it went, and within it was the gold of Andvari.
And Sigurd strode through the door, and saw the great heaps of the golden hoard, and the golden war-gear, and piles of ruddy rings, and huge blocks of the precious metal that only the dwarfs could mine from the middle of the earth. And amidst all the gleaming spoil was the Helmet of Dread, and the Hauberk all of gold, whose like is not in heaven or in earth, and the great ring of Andvari. And Sigurd stooped and put the ring upon his finger, and then he put upon him the Helmet of Dread and the Hauberk of Gold,
And glorious as a god he stood. And he loaded Greyfell with the glittering spoil till the war-steed shone in the moonlight. And he dragged the rest of the gold out from the hall on to the heath, giving it back again to the earth.
Then did Sigurd take Greyfell’s rein and turn him the way he deemed must be his way, but in nowise would Greyfell move. And Sigurd pondered awhile, and then he leapt to the saddle and let the rein fall loosely from his hand. And Greyfell neighed and tossed his head, and lightly and swiftly sprang forward over the broken rampart and out to the wide desert land.
And on and on they sped till on a morning Sigurd saw before him a mighty mountain. And it seemed as though a torch burned at its topmost amid its wreath of clouds. And Sigurd urged Greyfell towards the height, for he would fain see the earth from that mountain’s peak. And Greyfell neighed with delight, and the heart of Sigurd bounded with joy.
And as higher and higher he rode, he saw the fiery torch grow great and strange, and long tongues of flame leap out from the misty clouds. Then the clouds settled thick upon the mountain and the strange fire was hidden. And on and upward he rode, and the wind rose and lifted the mass of clouds from the mountain’s head. And the light that had seemed a torch was now a river of fire that enwrapped the topmost peak. And night fell, but on and upward rode Sigurd, without a thought of rest, till he reached a wall of rock. And round it he rode till he found
a breach in the wall. Long he sat upon Greyfell and gazed on the marvellous sight that was now before him, for nought could he see within the wall but a world of flames betwixt the earth and the heavens.
And great grew the heart of Sigurd with desire, and he cried to Greyfell with kindly words of encouragement, and Greyfell stretched his neck and snuffed at the leaping flames. Then Sigurd turned in his saddle and drew the girths tighter, and he lifted the reins and cried aloud to Greyfell. And Greyfell leapt towards the flames and into them, and through the wild roaring Sigurd rode. And the white tongues of fire licked his raiment, and swept through Greyfell’s mane, and played about their golden war-gear. But, unharmed, rider and horse passed on, nor was their raiment scorched or
their shining armour dulled. And on they went till suddenly all grew calm around them, and Sigurd looked and now the flames were left behind them.
And Sigurd saw before him a high wall, and on its topmost rim instead of a banner there hung from a staff a glorious golden buckler. And Sigurd leapt to his feet, and around the wall he wended till he came to a gate. And none guarded its entrance, and no sound of life was there within it. And awhile he stood and pondered, for he feared some guile of the dwarfs, or of giants.
But at last he drew his sword and entered the gate, and within he saw another wall, and within that the highest head of the mountain rose. And there, at the base of the peak, he saw a great mound raised, and on the mound lay a figure. Pale and grey and wan and strange it gleamed in the misty dawn: well-shapen, and clad from head to feet in silvery war-gear. The glittering hauberk seemed to have grown to the flesh, so shapely it was; a great shining helmet covered the head.
And Sigurd knelt beside the figure and deemed it to be some king of days forgotten. And he would fain see if the man were dead, and he bent over the face and felt soft breath upon his cheek. And he said to himself that whatever befell he must look upon the face. And he drew the helmet from the head, and In, he saw a snow-white brow and smooth unfurrowed cheeks and fair lips: the face of the fairest woman his eyes had ever seen.
And long he looked upon her beauty, till his
heart was sorely moved with love, and he longed to awaken her, to hear her voice, to see her eyes unveiled. And tenderly he touched her hands and breast, and cried “Awake, I am Sigurd!” but motionless still she lay.
And Sigurd took his sword and cut through the hammered rings of her armour from neck to feet, and either sleeve. And now she lay wrapped about in gleaming linen with fair bare arms, and sun-bright hair that flowed free on her breast and shoulders.
And her breath came quicker, and a flush rose upon her cheeks, and she sighed. Then her eyelids quivered and opened, and she gazed wide-eyed on the light of day around her, and on Sigurd, who knelt at her side. And long their eyes were fixed upon each other, and he saw the love dawn in her heart, and he listened, motionless, for her voice. And her wise lips moved and she said: “What mighty thing hath awakened me from my long sleep and torn me from my woe?”
And he answered her: “The hand of Sigurd, and the sword of Sigmund’s son, and the heart of the Volsung.”
And together they rose, and the sun bathed them in its golden light. And she cried aloud, outstretching both her palms to the heavens: “All hail, O Day! Hail thou dear earth!”
And they turned together and saw the love in each other’s eyes, and, folded in each other’s arms, they kissed and rejoiced together. And Sigurd held her from him and looked upon her and said: “O, thou art the fairest on the earth, and the wisest of the wise! Who art thou that lovest me? Behold, as I have told thee
aforetime, I am Sigurd; the serpent have I slain and Andvari’s gold is mine. But greatest of all gifts were the gain of thy love, and that we twain should never sunder. O, who art thou that lovest? And what means thy sleep in this wilderness forlorn?”
And she answered: “I was born of earthly folk, but Odin took me and called me his Victory Wafter, and I chose the slain for his war-host. But pride camˆ upon my heart, and I wrought against the will of Odin. To the death-doomed I gave life, and to him fated to live I brought death. And I came to the head of this mountain called Hindfell, and there the vengeance of the All-Father followed me. The Sleep-thorn pierced me, and I fell into a deep sleep, and Odin raised around me the wall of fire, so that none might waken me or aid me, till one, all fearless, the mightiest among men, should come and find me and set me free.”
And Sigurd cried: “Fairest and wisest, teach me thy wisdom, for long hast thou lived, and great is the lore thou hast gathered, and I would shape my soul to thine.”
And they sat together on the side of Hindfell, and she told him of things hidden from men; of the framing of the world, and the courses of the stars, and the birth of the winds; of vengeance, and wrong, and hate, and grief, and bliss. And Sigurd listened to her words and stored them in his heart.
And they rose, and hand in hand they climbed the peak of Hindfell. And there they stood with arms entwined, looking down upon the kingdoms of the earth. And she bade him look upon a spot between
a wood and the silver sea, and she said: “There in that land, the little land of Lymdale, is the house that cherished me. There dwelleth my earthly sister and the King she hath wedded: there was I once called Brynhild in the days when my father lived. And there must I return, and there thine eyes shall meet mine again.”
And Sigurd cried: “O, Brynhild, hearken! The sun shall die in the heavens if I seek thee not in Lymdale!”
And she answered: “The day shall die for ever if I forget thee, Sigurd, in that little land of Lymdale!”
And he took from his hand the golden ring of Andvari, and set it on her finger, and once again they kissed each other. And thus did they plight their troth.
And they parted. And Brynhild sought her kindred, and abode with them. And Sigurd fared forth to look upon the kingdom of the world.
And it befell that after some days had passed the heart of Sigurd yearned to behold Brynhild again and he sought the little land of Lymdale. And he came unto Heimir, the King, whose wife was the sister of Brynhild. And Heimir and his sons and his warriors looked upon Sigurd clad in his golden war-gear, and they marvelled at his glorious beauty, and the treasure of gold and gems which Greyfell bore. And Sigurd told them his name, and of his kin and of his deeds.
And Heimir was a mighty King and he rejoiced in Sigurd and bade him welcome to his hall. And Sigurd abode there and was held in honour and love of all men.
And it befell on a summer morning that Sigurd
rode forth alone with his hound and his falcon. And Greyfell bore him joyously, and Sigurd’s heart was full of the thought of Brynhild and their love. And on he fared through the flowery meadows until he saw before him a white-walled house with a golden roof whereon doves clustered in the glancing sun. And Sigurd drew rein and stayed him there, looking upon the dwelling with delight.
And as he looked, lo, the falcon flew from his hand and up above the tree-boughs. And Sigurd feared that he would fall upon the doves. And he called the backward cry again and again, but the falcon heeded not his master’s voice, nor did he seek to harm the doves, but flew straight up to a high-built tower and perched upon the sill of a window for a space, then passed within the open casement.
And Sigurd rode through the gate and up to the open door of the great pillared hall. And he leapt from Greyfell and entered the fair abode. And lovely was it fashioned within, and rich were its hangings inwoven with the deeds of kings and heroes. But neither man nor maiden nor any life was there.
And Sigurd looked about him and saw a door all wrought with gold. And he lifted the golden latch and opened the door and came upon a marble stair. And he mounted the stair and at the top another door he saw. And he opened it, and within was a kingly chamber all wrought and adorned with gold. And there by the window perched his falcon in the sunshine. And Sigurd looked again, and lo, upon the high seat sat a woman, glorious to behold. A crown of gold shone
upon her head, and golden rings upon her arms, and a golden girdle held the rippling folds of her snowy linen raiment. And a web of gold was before her and her quick white fingers plied the shuttle.
And Sigurd looked again and saw that she wrought the deeds of the Volsungs. And marvelling, he turned his eyes from the golden web to the face of the woman. And lo, he looked into the eyes of Brynhild. So glad and joyful was
his heart that he could not move or speak, and Brynhild sat and gazed upon him, motionless as he, drinking in his beauty, and glorying in the wonder of their love.
Then, at last, above the sweet summer sounds, rang Sigurd’s voice, clear as a silver trumpet, “Hail!” he cried, “Hail! my lady and my queen! Hail, thou fairest of all the earth! I have sought thee, O Brynhild, and I have found thee!”
And she answered: “O welcome, welcome hither!” and she rose from the high seat and stood there trembling for a space. Then Sigurd sprang towards her and clasped her in his arms. And the soft summer breeze blew in and stirred the folds of her garments, and the birds sang out clear in the heavens, and the sun bathed them in its golden beams. It was as though the gods themselves rejoiced in their wondrous joy.
Then did Brynhild lead him to the high seat, and he sat him down beside her, and long they talked. And the morning gave place to noon, and the noon to even. And they swore again the vows they had sworn on Hindfell and again they kissed, and long they gazed in each other’s eyes.
Then said Brynhild: “Thy heart is mine, O Sigurd, and ever as thou wendest through the world helping the people of earth shalt thou bear my love in thy bosom. Every morn shalt thou wake anew to it; every night shalt thou sleep in the knowledge of it. It shall be as a banner in thy hand as long as thou livest, and in death it shall rest in the arms of thy glory and thy fame. O thou glorious Sigurd! O thrice-happy Brynhild to love thee, and be so loved!”
Then she stooped and laid her lips to the hilt of the sword. And her tears fell sweet and soft as she wound her arms around him and kissed him a long farewell. And she sent him forth to accomplish the deeds foretold by the Fates.
And Sigurd rode out into the night, strong with enduring love and endless hope, ready to face whatever the gods should send.
And he returned to the house of Heimir. And on the morrow he arrayed himself in the Hauberk of Gold, with the Helmet of Dread upon his head and the Sword of Wrath at his side. And he kissed the good King Heimir, and bade farewell to him and the people of his land. And he leapt upon Greyfell and fared forth into the world. And the glad shouts of the people rang in his ears as he wended along, for well they loved him.
And on went Sigurd, while Greyfell neighed with joy beneath him. And over a desert heath they passed, and on and on until in the distance rose huge mountains. And when Sigurd had come to the top of a hill, he saw below him a wide plain with orchards and fair meadows, and a river that wound about them and sparkled in the bright sunshine. And at the foot of the great mountains there rose a mighty many-towered dwelling, with great walls, red and worn and ancient, to guard it. And Sigurd hastened forward, eager. to learn the name of the land and its people and the lord of that noble house.
And as he drew nearer, ever greater grew the dwelling, and higher the many towers. And anon he saw that the mighty wall enclosed many other dwellings of men, and he heard their voices and the noise of their labour, and saw the smoke as it arose from their fires. And Sigurd’s heart burned within him, and he rode on till he came to a great gateway.
And he heard the call of the warders from tower to tower, and they blew on their horns, and gave token to all that a stranger entered their city.
And Sigurd cried aloud: “Ho, men of this mighty city, what is the name of your King, and what the name of this land?”
Then he heard a noise as of the stirring of a great host, and a voice answered him, crying aloud “Giuki is the name of our King, and this land is the land of the Niblung people.”
And he rode under the gateway, and into a great fore-court, and many men came about him, and their spears and swords glittered in the pale evening light. And the Niblung men looked upon the face of Sigurd, and hushed their voices, so wonderful was the glory of his face.
And a messenger came unto King Giuki as he sat at the feast with his wife and his sons, and told him of the coming of the god-like stranger, And Giuki uprose and came unto Sigurd, and said: “Tell me thy name, O stranger, for I bid thee abide with us here and take all good from our hands.”
And Sigurd sprang from Greyfell and took the hand of Giuki and kissed him. And he answered Giuki and said: “Sigurd is my name, and my father was Sigmund the Volsung. Peace do I bring to thee, and to all kings who bear the sword aright, but to evil kings I bring battle and death. And thankfully will I bide with thee, O King, and learn of thy wisdom, and fare forth with thee to the field when deeds are to be wrought.”
And Giuki led him into the hall while the Niblung people shouted for joy. And there on the high seat sat Grimhild, the Queen, and the three sons of Grimhild and
Giuki, Gunnar, and Hogni, and Guttorm, and their daughter Gudrun, sweet as the morning dew, and white as the winter snow. And they all welcomed Sigurd and smiled upon him. And they sat at the feast together.
And the summer waned and winter fell upon the land, and lo, Giuki arrayed his war-host, and forth they fared to fight the men of the Southlands. And Sigurd rode in the front with Gunnar on his right hand and Hogni on his left, and fair and bright he shone in his golden war-gear amid the dark-haired Niblung folk clad in their mail-coats of dusky blue. And the Kings of the Southlands went down before them.
And the Niblung host returned to the Niblung land, and the people welcomed them back right joyously. And fair songs did they sing as they sat at the feast, of Sigurd and his wondrous deeds, of the oppressor brought to nought, and of the meek brought to honour, of a once desert land laughing with fields of plenty, of peace and contentment where once was strife and hatred.
And the spring came and again the war-host was gathered together, and Sigurd led forth the Niblung men to the fight, and again was he victorious over the kings of greed and. hate, and again did he leave joy and freedom in the land. And great was the spoil of gems and gold and silken raiment that he brought back to King Giuki. And the old King and Grimhild, the Queen, kissed him, and their hearts yearned to him as though he were their son.
And the dark-haired Gudrun welcomed him back, but sad were her eyes and grave as she brought him
the wine-cup. And long she gazed upon him, and as she gazed her sadness grew. And Sigurd saw that she grieved, though he knew not wherefore, and he spoke kindly to her, and bade her be merry. And she smiled upon him and went her way. But ever the Niblung maid grew quieter, and drooped as a flower that is blighted. But Sigurd cherished in his heart the thought of Brynhild, and he looked ever to the day when his deeds should be accomplished and he should seek Brynhild again in the little land of Lymdale.
And when the summer returned, once more did Sigurd fare forth with the Niblung host to fight the Vikings that plundered on their seas. And again was he victorious and the land was freed from the ocean spoilers. And he returned to the Niblung hall, and men deemed him more glorious than ever before. And he sat beside Giuki and his sons on the high seat, and all did him honour, and the minstrels sang of his mighty deeds. And silent was Sigurd, but withal joyful, as he sat at the feast, for he said in his heart that his deeds were but the blossoming of his love, and the fruit was yet to come. And strong as a god did he grow with the thought, and he longed to bring love and peace and rest to all the world.
And Giuki looked upon him and wondered at his silence, and he bade him sing to them of the deeds of old. And Sigurd took the harp and sang of Odin, of Regin, of Volsung, of Signy, and of Sigmund. And then he would fain sing of Brynhild and their deathless love, but his heart was filled with sore longing, and his fingers fell from the harp strings and he sang no more.
And Grimhild the Queen was wise in hidden things, and she saw the love and longing of Sigurd for Brynhild. And wroth she was, for she would have him love Gudrun. And she brought wine, and came and stood before him, and bade him drink. And Sigurd took the cup and thanked her and drank. And the drink had been mingled in such wise by Grimhild that the heart of Sigurd was changed within him, and his love of Brynhild was as if it had never been. And a strange sorrow came upon the face of Sigurd so that men looked and wondered what had befallen. And Grimhild looked, and she laughed, for she saw that her will was accomplished.
And men said that after that night Brynhild abode no more in Lymdale, but hard by, in the desert, there rose a glorious dwelling and around it flamed a great fire. And they said that within it sat Brynhild, thinking ever upon that mighty one who rode through the flames and awakened her from her long sleep.
And in Giuki’s hall there was silence for a space, till Grimhild cried for the harp to sound and the minstrels to sing. But no joy was there now in the song, and Sigurd sat there silent, without wrath, or hope, or wonder, or fear, like a god that is smitten. And at last without a word he rose and strode from the hall, and none durst speak to him.
And he went to the stables of King Giuki, and therefrom he took one of the king’s horses, for no memory had he now of Greyfell. And forth he rode into the night, and came to the dwelling of Brynhild in Lymdale. And round about it he rode, and he
gazed and wondered, for nought could he remember of what it had once been to him. And long hours he stayed there, striving to pierce through the darkness that had fallen upon his mind, and to understand the meaning of that lone white house with the golden roof. But at last in despair he rode away, and the horse carried him wherever it would. And they came to a many-towered city with a river winding about it, and the horse neighed for joy as they came to the gates. And the warders cried to each other, and the cry was as the greeting of a friend. And Sigurd looked about him, and remembered the Niblung hall, though he knew not what his life had been there, or why he had left it.
And suddenly men ran out shouting, “Hail, Sigurd! welcome art thou home again.” And he went into the hall, and there sat Giuki the King, and Grimhild the Queen, and their three sons, and Gudrun their daughter, and right well they greeted him. And Grimhild came to him and took him by the hand, and led him to the high seat. And the Niblung men shouted in salutation, and the harps rang out, and the minstrels sang the praises of Sigurd.
And Sigurd looked about him as though he sought for something, and he strove to remember what had passed. But nought did he know but that a great flood of sorrow had drowned all the loveliness of his life. And he saw the anxious looks of the people, and in kindness he shook off his own grief of heart. “I must wait,” he said within himself, “the darkness shall pass, and the morning shall return, and I shall do again the deeds that I did erstwhile.”
And he raised his head, and forced the trouble from his brow, till the people deemed him like a god, and they cast away their fears. But ever and anon, as the brethren spake to him, his thoughts were tangled and strange, and he knew not what he should speak. Still he thrust the strangeness by, caring only that the people should be glad in him. But no smile or laughter came to his lips; he sat as an all-wise and mighty king, who had finished his deeds and asked no more of the world.
And Grimhild bade Gudrun bring the wine-cup to Sigurd, and comfort his weariness with words of welcome. And Gudrun rose and took the cup. Deathly pale was her face amid the dark tresses of her hair, and trembling were her limbs as she stood before Sigurd. And she held out the golden cup, but no word came to her lips, though she strove to speak. And Sigurd looked upon her, and in that instant he knew the truth. And a great pity swelled in his heart, for he knew that the gods themselves could not help her, or any other man but himself.
And she saw the pity in his face, and shame at her weakness made her strive again to speak. But swift was he to say the words which should put her trouble to rest for ever. “O maid of the Niblungs,” he said, — and his voice was gentle and kind, — “all men are joyous around us, but we twain are sad as folk that dwell apart. Fain would I gladden thy soul Fain would I take peace from thy lips! Thou bearest before me a cup of good-will, and thy greeting is yet to be said. O let thy words speak of love, for I love thee more than all these that are around us, and let
thy cup be the sweet cup of our love, that never shall die!”
And he took the cup and her hands, and she bowed herself before him, trembling and silent and fearful. Then Sigurd’s arms upraised her, and he drew her to his heart, and close she clung to him, as one who had found rest after long strife and joy after long anguish. And words of peace and comfort he whispered, and her love seemed wondrous sweet to his troubled mind.
And they came unto Giuki, and Grimhild, and the three brethren. And right glad were they all at the love of Sigurd and Gudrun. And they blessed them. And on the morrow was a great feast spread, and Sigurd and Gudrun were wedded. And well they loved each other, and lovelier and lovelier did Gudrun grow in the joy of her love’s fulfilment.
And Sigurd abode with the Niblungs, and it befell on a day that he and Gunnar and Hogni fared to the meadows. And Guttorm was from home, sailing afar in* the Eastern seas. And Sigurd and the brothers opened a vein in each of their arms and let the mingling blood fall to the earth. Then they knelt and placed their hands upon the blood-soaked earth, and they swore eternal brotherhood. And the three fared ever together, and loved each other well.
And the life of Sigurd was fair and happy with Gudrun, his wife, and nought he remembered of the past. And noble above all others was he, and gracious; to all men he listened, and awarded justly, and to the poor his heart was ever turned. Yet never was he
seen to smile, and the joyous laugh of the young Sigurd was gone for ever. Few of words had he grown, and seldom was his voice heard in song.
And it befell that King Giuki died, and they buried him with all honour in a great mound. And Gunnar became King in his stead.
And on a day Grimhild came to Gunnar as he sat on the high seat, and spake unto him, bidding him take a wife. And Gunnar asked her: “Who is the maid that thou wouldst I should wed?”
And Grimhild answered: “Brynhild is she called; wise is she, the daughter of kings of the world, and the sister of queens. In a ring of flame doth she dwell, for no man will she wed but he that knows not fear. Speak, O Gunnar, who but thou shouldst wed with Brynhild? “
And Sigurd heard her words, and a strange longing and wonder came upon him, and he knew not why.
And Gunnar laughed and said: “Thou shalt have thy will, O mother.” And he bade Sigurd and Hogni ride with him on the morrow. But Grimhild would not have it so, and she bade them wait till she should send them forth. And Grimhild dwelt apart for many days, and she mingled the might of the earth, and the sea, and the air, guile, and blindness, and strong compelling force, and wild desire, and made it into a drink, and gave it to her sons.
And on a day she sent them forth with Sigurd. And they rode unto Lymdale, and afar in the desert place they saw the fire roaring up to heaven. And Gunnar spurred his horse forward, but when they.
reached the flames, the horse shrank away and shrieked in terror, and bore him back to his brethren.
And Sigurd stood silent by the side of Greyfell, staring at the red flames as they shot upwards to the heavens.
And Hogni said unto Gunnar: “Thy steed bath failed, O Gunnar, but let Sigurd lend thee his horse that bath borne him through many deeds.”
And Sigurd looked upon the brethren as though he would speak, but no answer came to his lips. Then at last he said, and the words seemed not his own “O brother, take my steed, and don my helm and hauberk, and take my sword in thy hand, for thus should kings ride through the flickering fire.”
But Hogni said: “Nay; take the steed, O Gunnar, but wear thine own war-gear, the coal-blue gear of the Niblungs.” And Gunnar took Greyfell and sprang to the saddle, and spurred him forward to the flames, but in nowise would Greyfell stir.
And Sigurd stood motionless, staring into the very heart of the fire, as one in a dream.
Then a sharp cry came from Gunnar, and he leapt from Greyfell, his dark face full of fierce anger. “Dost thou mock me, O Sigurd?” he cried.
But Hogni spake and said: “Forbear thy anger, O Gunnar, and stand thou face to face with Sigurd, and take his hand in thine, and make thy will one with his will. Then shall the might of our mother prevail, and thou shalt gain thy desire.”
And Gunnar did as Hogni bade him, and he gazed into Sigurd’s eyes, and Sigurd gazed into Gunnar’s.
And long they stood thus, when lo, Sigurd saw before him, in place of Gunnar, a man in golden war-gear, and the face was his own. And he looked down at his arm and his hand clasping Gunnar’s, and behold there was the coal-blue war-gear of the Niblungs, and the hand of Gunnar. And he looked on his sword, and lo, it was the sword of Gunnar, and he turned his head over his shoulder, and there was the long black hair of the Niblung. And by the power of Grimhild had they changed semblances.
And Sigurd cried to Gunnar, and his voice was Gunnar’s, and he said: “Well do I know thy bidding, O brother, and never will I draw back from my oath of brotherhood. This night shall I do a deed for thee that, none else may do, and never may I repent of it, and never mayst thou grieve over it.”
And he leapt on Greyfell, and the steed bounded forward with joy, and on he went through the fire as though it were a meadow in summer. And he came to a fair dwelling, and into the hall he strode. And golden were its hangings, and of gleaming marble were its pillars. And at one end was a golden throne, and on it sat a woman fair and glorious. A golden crown shone upon her sun-bright hair, which rippled over her snow-white raiment. No word did she speak, but her eyes were fixed upon the dark face of the stranger.
And the man in the semblance of Gunnar looked upon her and could not speak, for the eyes that met his were dreadful. And he trembled and shrank from her. Then she spake, and there was anguish in the weary tones of her voice.
“Who art thou, O King? And what deed canst thou do for the stricken of heart?” And the words were like a sword in the heart of Sigurd, and he longed for death. But the voice of Gunnar answered her and said: “I am Gunnar the King, and this eve have I passed through the fire. Therefore remember thy oath, and plight me thy troth.”
And long was she silent, but at last she cried out as one that is stricken: “I know no answer to give thee!”
Then the voice of Gunnar asked again: “Wilt thou forget thine oath that thou wouldst wed him who should pass through the fire? Wilt thou forswear thyself, O Brynhild?”
And for long again was there silence, but at last she spoke and said: “Hail! Gunnar, come sit in my father’s seat. To-night will I plight my troth with thee!”
And she took the hand of the wooer, and set him beside her on the high seat, and they plighted their troth. And when this was done they sat awhile together, but looked not on each other, and their hands fell apart; and no word did they speak. And at length he rose, and took a ring from his finger and set it upon her hand, and she took a ring from her finger and gave it to him, saying: “I thank thee, King. Take now this gift from me, once the dearest treasure that I held, but now thou art its master, and the lord of my life.”
And lo, on Sigurd’s hand shone the Ring of Andvari, and long he looked upon it, and sore troubled was he, but no memories came to him of the bygone days.
And in most exceeding sorrow, Sigurd returned unto the brothers. And Hogni hailed him as their helper and brother. And never a word spoke Sigurd, but he leapt from Greyfell and stood before Gunnar, and took his hand, as one that claimed his own. And the power of Grimhild prevailed, and they returned to their own semblances.
Then said Sigurd: “Thou art troth-plight, O Gunnar, to Brynhild, and ere ten days are past will she come to thine hall.”
And the brothers rejoiced and rode home with Sigurd. And they came unto Grimhild and told her of the deed of Sigurd, and happy was Grimhild that her will had come to pass.
And when the feast was over, Sigurd came unto Gudrun, and she saw the ring upon his hand, and she asked him how he had come by it. And he told her all the story, kindly, and with words of love. And joyful was the heart of Gudrun as he kissed her, and drew the ring from his finger and put it upon her hand, and bade her wear it when he should have passed from the world.
And when ten days were over Brynhild came to the land of the Niblungs. Glad was Gunnar as he met her, and held her in his arms, and listened to her praise of his great deed. And he took her to Hogni, his brother, and to Grimhild, his mother, and they greeted Brynhild well. And Gunnar said: “A third there is of us brethren who waits thee in the hall beside my sister.”
And Brynhild said: “I thought ye were but three: who is this fourth?”
And he answered her: “He is not akin to us, but our brother sworn, and Sigurd the Volsung is he called.”
And her face changed not at the name, and she suffered him to lead her to the hall, and there before her on the high seat sat Sigurd. And Brynhild stood with her hand in Gunnar’s, looking up at Sigurd. And she saw no more the great hall of the Niblungs, and the host of the Niblung folk, but once more she deemed she stood on Hindfell, and her lips were speaking the words that plighted her troth to Sigurd.
And in that moment the power of Grimhild passed away, and Sigurd remembered all the past. And he saw Brynhild his beloved, and he knew that she was the bride of Gunnar, and that his was the deed that had brought her there. And his thoughts flew back to Hindfell, and all the time between was as a dream.
But Brynhild’s eyes looked into his, cold and strange, and her lovely face was stern and hard. And he bowed his head before her, to hide his agony. And she cried “Hail, Sigurd the Volsung! Mayst thou win all thy desires, and forget not their worth!” And her voice was full of grief and scorn and longing.
And Sigurd stirred himself and answered her quietly, with greeting gracious and noble. And they sat at the board together and the song rang out, and joy was over the feast. And Sigurd’s eyes often wandered to Brynhild and rested upon her, and he rejoiced in his heart that she should live among them in the Niblung hall. And he said to himself that together they should fashion great deeds to be done, and win enduring fame, and the love of dear friends should be over them all.
And the days passed, and often Brynhild and Sigurd sat together in the council of the Kings, and he listened to her words of wisdom. And often they met in the wild wood and the meadows and on the heath, and their words were few but kind, and none might guess the furious fire that flamed and burnt within the heart of each.
And Sigurd strove for peace, and kinder than ever was he to Gudrun, his wife. But she knew now the truth of the past, and fear and envy were upon her.
And Brynhild hid her sorrow with her queenly air, but when the night came, forth would she wend to the windy mountains, and cry out her love and sorrow and her hunger for vengeance. Yet, often as she talked to Gudrun, she humbled herself before her, fearful of contention which might lead them to speak of dearer things.
And Gudrun bore herself proudly, and thought with scorn upon all but Sigurd. And when the minstrels praised the deeds of Gunnar, and told of his ride through the fire, her eyes shone with an evil light, and only the will of Sigurd kept her from speaking out the truth.
And in Gunnar’s heart the truth rankled, and he thought now with shame of that night, and full of fear he was as he looked upon Brynhild’s lovely face, so changeless, and never smiling. And often Grimhild spoke to Gunnar of Sigurd and his wondrous deeds, and Gunnar deemed that she would drive him on, though whither, and wherefore, he knew not. But his heart changed towards Sigurd, and envy of Sigurd
and shame of himself brought a burden upon his life, and his face grew gloomy and careworn, and no joy did he find in Brynhild.
But calm as a god went Sigurd in the Niblung house of doubt and unrest. And the wisdom that he gained from the heart of the serpent sprang up afresh in his soul. And he saw the heart of his brother Gunnar, and the heart of Brynhild, and he knew their lonely cry. And sore he grieved over them. Yet in those days of sorrow it was that his fame grew greatest. For ever was he to be found helping the helpless, fighting the oppressor, overcoming the wronger. His name was on every lip; mothers lifted their babes that his eye might fall on them as he passed; the dread of the cruel was he, and the hope of the weary.
Now, it befell on a morning in summer that Queen Brynhild rose and wended her way to the river, to bathe in the cool waters. And Gudrun was there before her, and when she saw Brynhild, a flush of anger rose upon her cheek. And Brynhild saw it, and cried unto her with kindliness: “Hail, sister of my lord!”
And they loosed their fair white raiment, and Brynhild spake again and said: “Thou art sister of my lord of Gunnar, the best of the earth, therefore I bid thee go before me into the water.”
And Gudrun tossed her head and answered: “Since thou biddest I will go before thee, but not that I am sister of Gunnar, but that I am wife of a greater than Gunnar, of Sigurd the Volsung.”
And she laughed and leapt into the water. And
Brynhild strove to laugh with her, but her face grew pale and wan. And she, too, leapt into the sunny stream and waded swiftly out into the deeps. And Gudrun cried to her: “Why dost thou wade in the deeps and leave me here below?”
And Brynhild forgot all patience and pity, and laughed aloud and cried: “So shall it ever, be with us both now and when we sit in Odin’s hall. For I am the wife of the greatest, of Gunnar the King, who rode through the fire, and mocked at death that he might win my love. Best of the kings of the earth, and master of masters is my lord.”
And Gudrun answered not, but waded up the stream till she came close to Brynhild. And she stretched forth her hand, and Brynhild saw upon it the ring of Andvari. And while she stared upon it, wondering, Gudrun cried: “By this ring thou mayst know if thy lord is best of the kings of the earth, and master of masters!”
And Brynhild’s face grew white and still, and she cried: “Tell me the truth, who hast given thee the ring?”
And Gudrun laughed in triumph, and answered “Sigurd gave me the ring, O Brynhild, on the night that followed the morn when in Gunnar’s shape he rode through the fire, and wooed thee a bride for the Niblung. Henceforward, rejoice in that, O Brynhild!”
And Brynhild’s face was as the dead, and she opened her lips to speak, but no word came. Then she swam to the shore, and cast her raiment upon her, and fled over the green sward.
And Gudrun came from the water flushed with triumph; yet as she wended her way to the Niblung dwelling, fear came upon her and she remembered many a word of warning that Sigurd had spoken. And all day long she strove against her fears, and said in her heart that she would amend all wrong by humble speech and kindly deed to Brynhild. And in the even as she wandered in a leafy place, lo, there sat Brynhild alone. And Gudrun went to her and said: “I repent me, O Brynhild, of the words which I spake this morning. Give me thy pardon, and let us twain be friends.”
And long was Brynhild silent, and she sat, still and cold and white, as one who fought within herself. But at last she spake and said: “I, too, spake words of evil and do repent me. But one thing I do beseech of thee: tell me that it was Gunnar, thy brother, that gave thee Andvari’s ring, and not Sigurd thy lord. Then will I serve thee for ever, and thou shalt save my life and soul. Speak, O Gudrun, I beseech thee!”
But Gudrun hardened her heart and cried exultingly: “Dost thou think that Gudrun, the wife of Sigurd, will lie? Nay, look again on the ring, and hear again that it was Sigurd who wooed thee for Gunnar, and set the ring on my hand, with words of sweetest love!”
Then for a space did Brynhild cry out her woe; but presently came the sound of men’s voices from the hall, and they shouted the name of Sigurd. And at that name was Brynhild silent for very anguish, and she turned from Gudrun and fled through the summer
night, unwitting where she went. And not till the light of morning gleamed upon the world did she return to the house of Gunnar.
And in the morning Gudrun spake unto Sigurd and said: “What aileth Brynhild, and why should the queen of the mighty Gunnar grieve?”
And Sigurd said: “Is it so?” And he was silent for a while, and a great fear came upon Gudrun as she watched him. And at length he spake again and said “Hearken, O my wife, the day is nigh when thou must harden thy heart to bear great sorrows: for thou hast told the tale of the wooing to Brynhild, and shown her the ring upon thine hand. And from this deed shall come the slaying of many, and the end of my life. For know, O Gudrun, that Brynhild was my beloved in days long gone, but by guile was our love driven from my heart and my thought, and by guile was I made to woo her for Gunnar, all unwitting the deed I did.”
And he left her, and went forth to the Council of Kings, and calm and lovely was his face, and his eyes as bright as in the days of joy.
But Brynhild lay on her bed as one dead, and no word would she speak to any. And her women called Gunnar the King, and he went unto Brynhild and prayed her to rise and strengthen him with her wisdom. And for long she lay silent, while slow tears forced themselves from her closed eyelids. And Gunnar spake again and still was she silent, and wrath arose in him, and he cried aloud and bade her tell him what was the wrong under which she sickened,
And Brynhild raised herself and said: “O Gunnar, tell me that thou gayest Andvari’s ring to thy sister, Gudrun! O tell me this that I may live!”
And Gunnar stood staring upon her, and found no word to say, for he knew now that the tale of Sigurd’s wooing had been told, and he turned and left the chamber.
And Gudrun sat in her bower among her maidens, and hushed were they as they sat at their looms. And Gudrun asked them wherefore their joy had fled, and they told her of Brynhild and her strange sickness. And Gudrun rose and went to Gunnar, where he sat alone and gloomy, arrayed in his war-gear. And she besought him to go to Brynhild and to bring her forth.
But Gunnar answered heavily that he had no help to give.
Then Gudrun sought out Hogni. And he too sat in his war array. And she bade him go in and comfort Brynhild. But Hogni answered her even as Gunnar had answered. And a great trembling came upon Gudrun, and she hastened from Hogni and sought out Sigurd.
But her words died on her lips when she beheld him clad in the Helmet of Dread and the Hauberk of Gold, with the Sword of Wrath in his hand. But he spoke gently unto her, and said: “Fear not, O Gudrun, but speak what thy heart would say.”
And she cried: “O Sigurd, my lord, go thou to Brynhild, and tell her my heart is full of ruth and woe!”
And Sigurd spoke words of comfort to her, and
bade her leave him. And she rose and went forth. And Sigurd sat on alone, and the light of day faded, and the night came and the dawn of another day. Then Sigurd arose and went unto the chamber of Brynhild. And the door was open, and he stood upon the threshold and cried: “Awake, O Brynhild, and greet the sunshine of another day!”
And she raised herself and looked at him with burning eyes. And she cried: “Dost thou come here, thou pitiless betrayer, to look upon my woe?”
And he answered: “I bring thee life, O Brynhild, if thou wilt but take it.”
But she cried again: “O, what hast thou done, O Sigurd? And why didst thou cast me aside? No life, but death in life hast thou brought me! “
“O Brynhild, live!” cried Sigurd, “and bless the world as thou Overt wont to do! Hearken to the truth that my love was for thee alone till a snare was laid for me, and a sleep came over my senses, and I knew no more till I waked and found thee the bride of Gunnar. How may I tell thee of my woe? But I thrust it aside, and laboured and toiled for men, daring not to remember the past, yet rejoicing that thou and I should dwell in one house together!”
And she answered: “Too late! too late! Thou hast made my life forlorn, and nought is there now but death!”
And Sigurd came nearer and stood all golden in the sunlighted chamber. And glorious did she behold him as he spoke again for the last time.
“Hearken, O Brynhild,” he said. “I am Sigurd
the Volsung, and I bid thee live if thy love be as great as mine. O live, beloved! and thee will I wed, and all others shall be as a dream that is past!”
And Brynhild looked upon him and answered: “I will not wed thee, O Sigurd, or any man!”
And he left her, and came unto Gudrun, where she sat alone and wan. But for fear she could not speak, and she asked him nought of Brynhild, and silent was he too.
And lo, in the noontide, Brynhild arose, and called to her women and bade them tell King Gunnar that she would speak with him. And Gunnar came and stood before her in his war-gear. And he said: “Speak
the desire of thy heart, and make known the deed to be done, thou mightiest of women!”
And she said: “The desire of my heart, and the deed to be done, is the slaying of Sigurd the Volsung!”
And she left him. And Gunnar went into his mother’s chamber, and there sat Grimhild with Hogni. And they saw the deed in his face, before they saw the sword ready in his hand. And Grimhild asked “For whom is thy sword made ready, O son?”
And he answered: “For Sigurd the Volsung.”
Then said Hogni: “Is not Sigurd our foster-brother? Have not our bloods mingled? All the world shall wonder if such a deed he done by thee!”
But Grimhild, the wise in witchcraft, said: “Where is Guttorm? He mingled not his blood with Sigurd’s and swore not the oath of foster-brothers.”
And Hogni laughed and cried: “Behold, he stands on the threshold!” And they looked, and lo, Guttorm stood before them, returned from his long warfaring. And Grimhild took a cup filled with wine which she had brewed, and gave Guttorm to drink. And she said: “A great deed waits to be done, and thy hand shall do it, and thou shalt crown thy life with glory.”
And he drank of the cup, and his eyes flamed, and he craved for battle, and his hand sought for a sword, but only his hunter’s knife was in his belt. And they spoke the name of Sigurd, and again Grimhild gave him to drink, and as he drank he forgot all kindred and friendship, and his heart was fain for murder.
And Grimhild brought him his war-gear and arrayed him, and put a sword in his hand, and gave
him again of the drink. And all night Gunnar and Hogni sat upon the high seat in the Niblung hall, and Guttorm stood before them, leaning upon his unsheathed sword, and no word did they speak.
And as the dawn broke, Guttorm went forth from the hall, and made his way to the chamber of Sigurd. And the door was open before him, and he stood on the threshold, and saw how Sigurd lay on his bed, calm and still, with wide-open eyes. And their glory chilled the hate in Guttorm’s heart, and he shrank back, and hastened from the chamber. And he stood again before his brothers, and they saw his unstained sword, but no word did they speak.
And the murderous hate awoke again in Guttorm, and again he strode to the chamber of Sigurd. But once more he shrank from those gleaming eyes, and once more he returned to the Niblung hall.
And as he stood again before the brothers, the sound of steps drew near, and a white thing entered the hall and sat by the side of Gunnar, and behold, it was Brynhild! And without a word, Guttorm strode a third time from the hall, and came to Sigurd’s chamber. And now he tarried not on the threshold, but hastened towards the bed where Sigurd lay with Gudrun on his breast. And Guttorm saw that his eyes were closed. And he laughed aloud and cried a wild cry of triumph as he raised his sword and thrust it with all his might through the body of Sigurd. And he turned to flee from the chamber, but Sigurd seized the sword of wrath that lay above his head, and hurled it at him, and Guttorm fell dead upon the threshold.
Then rang out the cry of Gudrun, and Sigurd raised himself and strove for life and breath, that he might speak to her his last words of comfort and courage and farewell. Then there was silence, and Gudrun bent to his lips, waiting and longing to hear him speak again. And at last she touched him, and the morning sun fell upon his face, and she knew that she was alone.
And Brynhild heard her cry of anguish as she sat on the high seat, and she laughed aloud. And soon the cry echoed through all the house, “Sigurd the Volsung is dead!” And a, sudden confusion came upon men, and cries and shrieks were mingled with the clashing of swords.
And Gunnar spake unto the people and bade them mourn two days for Sigurd the Volsung and Guttorm the Niblung. And then arose the sound of the weeping of men and the wailing of women. And they took the body of Sigurd and bore it to the hall and covered it with fair linen and purple cloths. And Gudrun sate her down beside the body, and no cry came forth from her. And her women came about her and sorrowed over her, and they besought her to live and rest in the love that was still around her. And still was Gudrun silent. And one of the women came and uncovered the face of Sigurd and turned it towards Gudrun. And Gudrun’s eyes fell upon the dead face, and she gazed and gazed till the depth of her woe and all her loneliness came upon her anew. And she fell upon the body of Sigurd with a great cry, and long she lay there moaning out her anguish,
And lo, as she wailed, a laugh rang out, and there by a pillar stood Brynhild. And Gudrun rose and came towards her, and the twain stood face to face.
And Gudrun cried aloud for vengeance on her and on the slayers of Sigurd, and she cursed her Niblung kindred and the Niblung land. Then forth from the hall she fled, and on and on till the Niblung land was left far behind, and she came to a lonely waste, where none
might find her. And for long thereafter none knew of her biding place.
And all day long in the Niblung hall stood Brynhild by the careen pillar, and when the night fell still she stood there, gazing on the wound in Sigurd’s breast, moving nor hand nor foot, nor speaking a word to any.
And on the morrow morn the Niblung folk gathered together in the meadow, and there they laboured in the fair sunshine, raising a mighty pile for the burning of the body of Sigurd. Oak and ash they piled, and gold and steel, and precious stuffs, and sweet savoured spices. And while they toiled the mighty horn from the topmost tower wailed out its blasts of woe.
And Brynhild lay on her bed, and her women went in and out but none durst speak to her, and to none did she speak. But at length she bade them call Gunnar, the King, to her, and they sought him and he came and stood beside her.
And Brynhild turned to him and said: “O King, what is the noise without that I hear? Why do the hammers ring, and shield and sword clash upon the pavement? What hurrying feet are these that throng? Why calleth the horn so long and loud? Tell me, Gunnar, do the Niblung folk pile up the bale for Guttorm the slayer?”
And Gunnar turned his face from her longing, burning eyes, and answered her: “Not so, O Brynhild; last night did we give to the bale-fire the body of Guttorm.”
And silence fell between them, and neither spake
again. And Gunnar bent his eyes to Brynhild’s, then with a low cry of despair he strode from the chamber.
And now Brynhild called to her women, and bade them bring her queenly raiment and gems, and array her as a bride for the mighty. And they wept as they did her bidding, but soft she laughed as their fingers moved about the fair linen and rich cloths and fastened the red-gold rings. No longer wan was her face, but radiant with joy and youth.
And she cried: “Bring me the sword that I bore long since when I chose the slain for Odin.”
And trembling they brought her the sword, and she drew forth the naked blue shining blade, and laid it upon her knees. And the women wept before her, and cast their arms about her. But gently she put them from her, and said, softly: “Peace, if ye love me!”
And she bade them seek Gunnar again and bring him to her, and they went to do her bidding. Then she raised herself and stood upright and thrust the sword into her breast. Deep was the thrust, and Brynhild would have fallen, but her women, returning, caught her in their arms and bore her to her bed. And following close came Gunnar, and his feet were wet with Brynhild’s blood as he crossed the chamber.
And Gunnar bent low over the bed, hearkening for the words that Brynhild strove to speak. And at last she said: “Give ear, O Gunnar, to my prayer, the last that ever I shall speak! Bear me, I beseech thee, to the bale that is raised for Sigurd, and lay my head beside his head, and my hand in his hand. Then when the flames flare upward shall Sigurd remember,
and lead me on the road he wendeth, and together shall we enter Odin’s hall.”
And she raised herself a little, and cried: “O my beloved! now at last thou art mine; together, through all the ages, shall we dwell, never again to be sundered, O my King!”
Faint as a sigh were her words, and she fell back on the bed, and they saw that she was dead.
And the wailing of the women burst forth, and sounded through the Niblung hall, and men gazed upon each other in awe.
And Gunnar cried: “Wail on, O women, but set your hands to the glorious dead, and bear her forth and lay her beside Sigurd, on the pile. Haste ye, for we do wrong to hold them back from the All-Father!”
And they bore the body of Brynhild to the pile, and placed her beside Sigurd, where he lay with eyelids peacefully closed, clad in the Hauberk of Gold, with the Helmet of Dread upon his head, and his shield and sword beside him.
And a great silence fell. And the earls of the Niblung folk took the torches and bore fire to the pile. And the flames leapt up. Gone now are the mighty, and as with one voice a great shout went up from the people. And they stretched forth their hands to the heavens in prayer to the gods, sorrowing yet glorying in the remembrance of the god-like Sigurd and the splendour of his deeds, which should never fade while men lived upon the earth.