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Helgi's Youth--Hunding slain in Battle--Wooing of the Valkyrie Maid--Hodbrod, the Rival--How Sigrun was won--Dag's Vengeance--Helgi is slain--Sigrun's Curse--She sorrows for her Husband--Helgi's Ghost--Meeting with Sigrun--The Love Song at the Grave--Lovers born again.
SIGMUND became a mighty ruler, and he made Borghild his queen. In happiness they dwelt together, and they had two sons who were named Helgi and Hamund. At Helgi's birth norns came and foretold that he would achieve great renown, as indeed he did, for while, he was yet a youth he became a far-famed warrior, strong-armed and fierce, in battle prowness surpassing even his sire.
In time, Helgi was chosen to be chief leader of the army, and so fiercely did he fight against King Hunding that he was surnamed Hundingsbane.
Now Helgi in his boyhood had gone in disguise to Hunding's hall, where he was reared and trained in feats of strength. The day came when he was ready to wield arms against his country's foe, so he took his departure. As he left the Hall, he sent a message to King Hunding, making known whom he had fostered. The king was wroth, and he sent out warriors to slay the lad. But Helgi disguised himself as a bondmaid, and when his pursuers entered the house in which he had taken refuge they saw a woman grinding corn.
"The bondmaid hath fierce eyes," they said. "She is not the daughter of a peasant. Her hands are more fitted for the sword."
So strong was Helgi, and so swiftly did he work, that the millstones were broken. It is not a warrior's task to grind corn.
In the war that followed a great battle was fought, and Helgi slew Hunding. Several of the king's sons fell by his sword in another battle, and those who survived vowed blood vengeance against him.
As Helgi left the battlefield he clad himself in a wolfskin, and in a forest he met a fair princess who was named Sigrun. She rode on a white horse and her maidens rode behind her. King Hogni, against whom Helgi had fought, was her sire, and she was a valkyrie and a swan maid.
The young warrior was heart-stricken with love for the fair princess, and he besought her to be his bride. But she told him that her sire had already promised her to Hodbrod, son of King Granmar; whereat Helgi vowed that he would go against his rival in battle. Then did Sigrun promise to be his bride when he had slain the hated Hodbrod.
So it fell that Helgi Hundingsbane warred against Hodbrod and his allies, the kinsfolk of Sigrun. He crossed the seas with Sinfjotle and a strong army; but a great tempest broke forth, and the ships would have been foundered had not the valkyrie maid come to protect them. After enduring great tribulation Helgi reached the kingdom of Granmar, where he fought a great battle. Sigrun hovered in mid-air, and gave her lover sure protection, and he prevailed over Hodbrod and slew him. Then was Hogni slain also, and all his sons fell with him save Dag.
Sigrun hailed her lover and gave him praise because
that he had slain the mighty Hodbrod, yet did she mourn for her sire and her brothers.
Helgi comforted her, saying: "The norns have not given thee good fortune in all things. I have slain thy kindred. Thou couldst not choose otherwise, because it was thy doom from birth to be the cause of great bloodshed. For thy sake have warriors striven. Weep not, Sigrun; heroes must die at their appointed time."
Sigrun embraced her lover and said: "Although those who have fallen were still alive, I would love but Helgi."
Then Helgi reigned over the land which he had conquered, and Sigrun was his queen. With Dag he took vows of fellowship and spared his life; but Hogni's son deemed that the call of blood vengeance was stronger than the oaths he had taken, even although he had sworn by Hela's holy river, and he resolved in his heart to take Helgi's life.
Now it fell that Odin intervened. He gave to Dag his great spear Gungner, and as the youth went with the king through a forest grove, he drave the spear through Helgi's back, so that he fell dying upon the green sward. Thus was Hogni avenged.
But great was Sigrun's grief when Dag came to her with tidings that he had slain the world's best king. On his head she heaped curses, nor could she be consoled.
"May thine oaths smite thee," she cried: "all the oaths thou didst swear with Helgi by Hela's shining stream. May thy ship sink with thee, although fair winds prevail. May thy horse stumble when thou art pursued by thy foes. May thy sword in battle wound none but thyself. The death of Helgi must be avenged against thee, and thou shalt be a wolf in the forest. . . .
[paragraph continues] Be thy life empty of all thou dost desire. May thy food be the flesh of dead men."
"Wouldst thou call down such ill upon thy brother?" Dag pleaded with her. "The hand of Odin hath been laid heavily on Helgi. I shall give to thee golden rings, and half of the kingdom for thyself and thy sons."
But Sigrun wailed in her grief: "Oh! never again can I be glad, neither by day nor by night. I love not life any more, for I shall ne'er behold my shining hero who was blithe in the hall and valorous in battle. High was Helgi above all other men as the ash tree is high above shrubs. . . . Never again can I see him alive."
A grave mound was raised over Helgi's body, and his spirit went to Valhal. Odin made him chief ruler, and he gave Hunding a bondsman's tasks, for he set him to hew wood, to leash the hounds, and groom the horses, and ere he went to sleep to give mash to the swine.
But Helgi could not be happy even in Valhal, because that Sigrun cried ever for him; as bitterly and oft as her tears fell his wounds bled afresh. By nighttime he rode to the grave mound with many followers. There was no rest for Helgi among the dead.
Sigrun's bondmaid beheld the ghastly warriors riding round the mound, and she cried to them: "Why ride ye forth, ye dead men? Can slain warriors return home again? Or hath the world's end come at length?"
"The world's end hath come not yet," the slain warmen made answer, "but dead heroes would fain return home. . . . The wounds of Helgi bleed afresh because of Sigrun's sorrow. Bid her come hither to stay the unceasing flow of anguish."
Then did the bondmaid go unto Sigrun. "Hasten thee to the grave mound," she cried. "Dead men are
abroad, and thou mayest behold the king once more. Helgi is there; his wounds bleed ever because of thy tears, and he would fain that thou wouldst give him healing."
Sigrun's tears ceased falling awhile. "Glad am I to go forth even in darkness unto Helgi," she cried, "and may the dews never shine to the dawn. His cold lips shall I kiss; I shall embrace my dead hero."
So she hastened unto the grave mound, and there she beheld her lord. Wan and pale was he indeed, and sorrow-stricken and cold. Sigrun kissed him and embraced him, and cried:
"O Helgi, thy hair is white with rime; thou art drenched with the dews of death. Cold, cold are thy hands; they are dripping blood. How shall I heal thee, O my hero?
Helgi made answer: "Bright flower of the south, thy tears have made me wet; thy sorrow hath drenched me with the dews of death. Ere thou dost sleep, O gold-decked maid. thou dost ever weep most bitter tears, and they fall upon my breast; as drops of blood they fall: they are cold and they pierce me: heavy are they and sharp as is thine anguish. . . . Grieve not although life and kingdom be lost; sing not the dirge of mourning although my wounds are deep, for know that dead men have brides and kings' dead daughters are with them."
Sigrun spread out a smooth grave bed for Helgi, and said to him, speaking low:
"A bed without pain I have made for thee, Helgi in comfort thou shalt rest upon it, O son of the Volsungs. O my king, O my love, I shall lie in thy bosom. I shall take thee in mine arms as if thou wert still alive."
"White maid whom I loved," spake Helgi, "strange would it indeed be if the high-born daughter of King
[paragraph continues] Hogni were laid while yet alive in a dead man's arms. . . . Now forth must I ride on the dawn-red road. I must climb, on my steed, the bridge of the gods, ere the shining cock of Asgard awakens the heroes in Valhal."
So they parted there at the grave mound, and Helgi, mounting on his steed, vanished in mid-air.
But when the day passed, and the night fell, Sigrun again returned to the grave mound of Helgi. She wept no tears and waited, but her hero came not nigh. All through the hours of darkness she waited, until the dawn broke faintly through the trees. Sitting there by her husband's grave mound, the love-lorn lady sang:
Ah! would that he came
For fain would I greet him;
He would come if he knew
That I wait here to meet him;
He'd come were he hearing--
Heart-hearing my call,
The son of great Sigmund,
From Odin's high hall.
O Helgi, mine own,
My fair one, my rare one--
Helgi, mine own.
Now waneth my hope
Of Helgi's returning,
For the eagles awake
And the dawn fires are burning;
My love hath not heard me,
He comes not to-night. . . .
All the elf folk and death folk
To Dreamland take flight.
O Helgi, mine own,
My white one, my bright one--
Helgi, mine own.
The bondswoman soothed Sigrun, and 'twas thus she sang to her:--
Oh! hush thee. Oh! hush . . . who maketh thy moan,
White Queen of the Southland,
Fair Sigrun who waiteth in darkness alone,
O loved one of Helgi;
Thy heart should be filled, not with hope, but with dread--
'T is well that dawn cometh and black night hath fled--
More fearsome and fierce are the warriors dead
In darkness than day-shine.
But Sigrun would not be comforted, and she died of sorrow, Sad minstrels, singing to harp music in the feasting hall, have told that Helgi and Sigrun were born to life again.
Clerk Saunders and May Margaret
Walked ower yon garden green;
And sad and heavy was the love
That fell thir twa between.
. . . . . .
It was about the midnight hour,
When they asleep were laid,
When in came her seven brothers
Wi' torches burning red.
. . . . . .
Then up and gat the seventh o' them,
And never a word spake he;
But he has striped his bright brown brand
Out through Clerk Saunders' fair bodye.
. . . . . .
The clinking bell gaed through the town,
To carry the dead corpse to the clay;
And Clerk Saunders stood at May Margaret's window
I wot, an hour before the day.
"Are ye sleeping, Margaret?" he says,
"Or are ye waking presentlie?
Give me my faith and troth again,
I wot, true love, I gied to thee."
"Your faith and troth ye sall never get,
Nor our true love sall never twin,
Until ye come within my bower
And kiss me cheek and chin."
"My mouth it is full cold, Margaret,
It smells now o' the ground;
And if I kiss thy comely mouth
Thy days o' life will no' be lang.
"O, cocks are crowing a merry midnight,
I wot the wild fowls are boding day;
Give me my faith and troth again,
And let me fare me on my way."--
"Thy faith and troth thou sall na get,
And our true love shall never twin,
Until ye tell what comes o' women,
I wot, who die in strong traivelling?"
"Their beds are made in heaven high,
Down at the foot of our good Lord's knee,
Weel set about wi' gilly flowers;
I wot sweet company for to see.
"O, cocks are crowing at merry midnight,
I wot the wild fowl are boding day;
The psalms of heaven will soon be sung,
And I, ere now, will be miss'd away.
Then she has ta'en a crystal wand,
And she has stroken her troth thereon;
She has given it him out at the shot-window,
Wi' mony a sad sigh, and heavy groan.
"I thank ye, Marg'ret; I thank ye, Margaret;
And aye I thank ye heartilie;
Gin ever the dead come for the quick,
Be sure, Marg'ret, I'll come for thee."--
It 's hosen and shoon, and gown alone,
She climb'd the wall, and followed him,
Until she came to the green forest,
And there she lost the sight o' him.
"Is there ony room at your head, Saunders?
Is there ony room at your feet ,
Or ony room at your side, Saunders,
Where fain, fain I would sleep?"--
"There's nae room at my bead, Marg'ret,
There's nae room at my feet;
My bed it is full lowly now:
Amang the hungry worms I sleep.
"Cauld mould is my covering now,
But and my winding-sheet;
The dew it falls nae sooner down
Than my resting-place is weet.
"But plait a wand o' bonny birk,
And lay it on my breast;
And shed a tear upon my grave,
And wish my soul gude rest.
"And fair Marg'ret and rare Marg'ret,
And Marg'ret o' veritie,
Gin e'er ye love another man,
Ne'er love him as ye did me."--
Then up and crew the milk-white cock,
And up and crew the grey;
Her lover vanish'd in the air,
And she gaed weeping away,
--Scottish Border Ballad