THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
Written In Verse By
With Portions Condensed Into Prose by Winifred Turner, B.A. Late Assistant Mistress, Ware Grammar School For Girls And Helen Scott, M.A.
By J. W. Mackail
William Morris, one of the most eminent imaginative writers of the Victorian age, differs from most other poets and men of letters in two ways—first, he did great work in many other things as well as in literature; secondly, he had beliefs of his own about the meaning and conduct of life, about all that men think and do and make, very different from those of ordinary people, and he carried out these views in his writings as well as in all the other work he did throughout his life.
He was born in 1834. His father, a member of a business firm in the City of London, was a wealthy man and lived in Essex, in a country house with large gardens and fields belonging to it, on the edge of Epping Forest. Until the age of thirteen Morris was at home among a large family of brothers and sisters. He delighted in the country life and especially in the Forest, which is one of the most romantic parts of England, and which he made the scene of many real and imaginary adventures. From fourteen to eighteen he was at school at Marlborough among the Wiltshire downs, in a country full of beauty and history, and close to another of the ancient forests of England, that of Savernake. He proceeded from school to Exeter College, Oxford, where he soon formed a close friendship with a remarkable set of young men of his own age; chief among these, and Morris's closest friend for the rest of his life, was Edward Burne-Jones, the painter. Study of the works of John Ruskin confirmed them in the admiration which they already felt for the life and art of the Middle Ages. In the summer vacation of 1855 the two friends went to Northern France to see the beautiful towns and splendid churches with which that country had been filled between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries; and there they made up their minds that they cared for art more than for anything else, such as wealth or ease or the opinion of the world, and that as soon as they left Oxford they would become artists. By art they meant the making of beauty for the adornment and enrichment of human life, and as artists they meant to strive against all that was ugly or mean or untruthful in the life of their own time.
Art, as they understood it, is one single thing covering the whole of life but practised in many special forms that differ one from another. Among these many forms of art there are two of principal importance. One of the two is the art which is concerned with the making and adorning of the houses in which men and women live; that is to say, architecture, with all its attendant arts of decoration, including sculpture, painting, the designing and ornamenting of metal, wood and glass, carpets, paper-hangings, woven, dyed and embroidered cloths of all kinds, and all the furniture which a house may have for use or pleasure. The other is the art which is concerned with the making and adorning of stories in prose and verse. Both of these kinds of art were practised by Morris throughout his life. The former was his principal occupation; he made his living by it, and built up in it a business which alone made him famous, and which has had a great influence towards bringing more beauty into daily domestic life in England and in other countries also. His profession was thus that of a manufacturer, designer, and decorator. When he had to describe himself by a single word, he called himself a designer. But it is the latter branch of his art which principally concerns us now, the art of a maker and adorner of stories. He became famous in this kind of art also, both in prose and verse, as a romance-writer and a poet. But he spoke of it as play rather than work, and although he spent much time and great pains on it, he regarded it as relaxation from the harder and more constant work of his life, which was carrying on the business of designing, painting, weaving, dyeing, printing and other occupations of that kind. In later life he also gave much of his time to political and social work, with the object of bringing back mankind into a path from which they had strayed since the end of the Middle Ages, and creating a state of society in which art, by the people and for the people, a joy to the maker and the user, might be naturally, easily, and universally produced.
Even as a boy Morris had been noted for his love of reading and inventing tales; but he did not begin to write any until he had been for a couple of years at Oxford. His earliest poems and his earliest written prose tales belong to the same year, 1855, in which he determined to make art his profession. The first of either that he published appeared in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, which was started and managed by him and his friends in 1856. In 1858, after he had left Oxford, he brought out a volume of poems called, after the title of the first poem in the book, "The Defence of Guenevere." Soon afterwards he founded, with some of his old Oxford friends and others whom he had made in London, among whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the leading spirit, the firm of Morris and Company, manufacturers and decorators. His business, in which he was the principal and finally the sole partner, took up the main part of his time. He had also married, and built himself a beautiful small house in Kent, the decoration of which went busily on for several years. Among all these other occupations he almost gave up writing stories, but never ceased reading and thinking about them. In 1865 he came back to live in London, where, being close to his work, he had more leisure for other things; and between 1865 and 1870 he wrote between thirty and forty tales in verse, containing not less than seventy or eighty thousand lines in all. The longest of these tales, "The Life and Death of Jason," appeared in 1867. It is the old Greek story of the ship Argo and the voyage in quest of the Golden Fleece. Twenty-five other tales are included in "The Earthly Paradise," published in three parts between 1868 and 1870.
During these years Morris learned Icelandic, and his next published works were translations of some of the Icelandic sagas, writings composed from six to nine hundred years ago, and containing a mass of legends, histories and romances finely told in a noble language. These translations were followed in 1876 by his great epic poem, "Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs." In that poem he retold a story of which an Icelandic version, the "Volsunga Saga," written in the twelfth century, is one of the world's masterpieces. It is the great epic of Northern Europe, just as the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of Homer are the chief epics of ancient Greece, and the "AEneid" of Virgil the chief epic of the Roman Empire. Morris's love for these great stories of ancient times led him to rewrite the tale of the Volsungs and Niblungs, which he reckoned the finest of them all, more fully and on a larger scale than it had ever been written before. He had already, in 1875, translated the "AEneid" into verse, and some ten years later, in 1886-87, he also made a verse translation of the "Odyssey." In 1873 he had also written another very beautiful poem, "Love is Enough," containing the story of three pairs of lovers, a countryman and country-woman, an emperor and empress, and a prince and peasant girl. This poem was written in the form of a play, not of a narrative.
To write prose was at first for Morris more difficult than to write poetry. Verse came naturally to him, and he composed in prose only with much effort until after long practice. Except for his early tales in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine and his translations of Icelandic sagas, he wrote little but poetry until the year 1882. About that time he began to give lectures and addresses, and wrote them in great numbers during the latter part of his life. A number of them were collected and published in two volumes called "Hopes and Fears for Art" and "Signs of Change," and many others have been published separately. He thus gradually accustomed himself to prose composition. For several years he was too busy with other things, which he thought more important, to spend time on storytelling; but his instinct forced itself out again, and in 1886 he began the series of romances in prose or in mixed prose and verse which went on during the next ten years. The chief of these are, "A Dream of John Ball," "The House of Wolfings," "The Roots of the Mountains," "News from Nowhere," "The Glittering Plain," "The Wood beyond the World," "The Well at the World's End," "The Water of the Wondrous Isles," and "The Sundering Flood." During the same years he also translated, out of Icelandic and old French books, more of the stories which he had long known and admired. "The Sundering Flood" was written in his last illness, and finished by him within a few days of his death, in the autumn of 1896.
INTRODUCTION TO SIGURD
By The Editors
The story of Sigurd is important to English people not only for its wondrous beauty, but also on account of its great age, and of what it tells us about our own Viking ancestors, who first knew the story.
The tale was known all over the north of Europe, in Denmark, in Germany, in Norway and Sweden, and in Iceland, hundreds of years before it was written down. Sometimes different names were given to the characters, sometimes the events of the story were slightly altered, but in the main points it was one and the same tale.
If we look at a map of Europe showing the nations as they were rather more than a thousand years ago, we see the names of Saxons, Goths, Danes, and Frisians marked on the lands around the Baltic Sea. Those who bore these names were the makers of the tale of Sigurd. The name of the Saxons is, of course, the best known to us, and next in importance come the people we call Danes, or Northmen, or Vikings, who attacked the coasts of the Saxon kingdoms in England. The Saxons came from part of the land that is now known as Germany, and the Vikings from Denmark and from Scandinavia.
A third important tribe was that of the Goths, who dwelt first in South Sweden, and then in Germany.
All these people resembled one another in their way of life, in their religion, and in their ideas of what deeds were good and what were evil. Their lands were barren—too mountainous or too cold to bring forth fruitful crops, and their homes were not such as would tempt men never to leave them. So, though they built their little groups of wooden houses in the valleys of their lands, and made fields and pastures about them, these were often left to the care of the women and the feeble men, while the strong men made raids over the sea to other countries, where they engaged in the fighting which they loved, and whence they brought back plunder to their homes. North, South, East, and West they went, till few parts of Europe had not learnt to know and fear them.
Their ships were long and narrow, driven often by oars as well as sails, and outside them, along the bulwarks, the crew hung their round shields made of yellow wood from the lime-tree. The men wore byrnies or breast-plates, and helmets, and they were armed with swords, long spears, or heavy battle-axes. They were enemies none could afford to despise, for they had great stature and strength of body, joined to such fierceness and delight in war that they held a man disgraced if he died peacefully at home. Moreover, they knew nothing of mercy to the conquered.
Courage, not only to fight, but also to bear suffering without impatience or complaint, and the virtue of faithfulness were the qualities they most honoured. To be wanting in courage was disgraceful in their eyes, but it was equally disgraceful to refuse to help kinsfolk, to lie, to deceive, or to desert a chief.
If they put their enemies to death with fearful tortures, they did not treat them more severely than the traitors they discovered among themselves, and if they had no pity for those they conquered, yet they knew well how to admire great leaders, and how to serve them faithfully. But we can best realise their ideas on these matters by considering their religion and their stories.
They worshipped one chief god, Odin, and other gods and goddesses who were his children. Odin was often called All-father because he was the helper and friend of human beings, and appeared on earth in the form of an old man, "one-eyed and seeming ancient," with cloud-blue hood and grey cloak. He had courage, strength, and wondrous wisdom, for he knew all events that happened in the world, and he understood the speech of birds, and all kinds of charms and magic arts. Men served him by brave fighting in a good cause, and when they perished in battle he received their souls in his dwelling of Valhalla in the city of Asgard, where they spent each day in warfare, and where at evening the dead were revived, the wounded healed, and all feasted together in Odin's palace. There they fed upon the flesh of the boar Saehrimner, which was renewed as fast as it was eaten. Certain maidens called Valkyrie, or Choosers of the Slain, were Odin's messengers whom he sent forth into the battles of the world to find the warriors whom he had appointed to die, and to bring them to Valhalla.
In the story of Sigurd Odin has a very important part to play, but for the understanding of the tale it is necessary to know something about another of the gods. This is Loki, who, though sprung from the race of the giants, yet lived with the sons of Odin in Asgard, behaving sometimes as their trusty helper, but more often as their cunning enemy. He caused much wretchedness, not only among the gods, but on earth also, for he delighted in the sight of misery. His vices were all those most hateful to the Norse people, for he was before all things a liar, a deceiver, a faith-breaker, a skilful worker of mischief by guile instead of by fair fight. There are many stories of his cunning thefts, of the miseries he wrought among his companions, and of his envy of the beloved god Balder, whom he slew by a trick. His children were terrible monsters, as hated as himself. Yet, strange to say, Loki was Odin's companion in many of his adventures.
The gods inhabited Asgard, a city standing on a high mountain in the middle of the world. Odin's palace of Valhalla was there, and other palaces for his sons and daughters. All round Asgard lay Midgard, or the ordinary world of men and women. Its caves and waste places were inhabited by dwarfs, whom Odin had banished from the light of day for various ill deeds. They were a spiteful and cunning race, jealous of mankind, and eager to recover their lost power. Their strength lay in their wondrous skill in handicraft, for they could forge more deadly weapons, and fashion more lovely jewels than any made by the hands of men. But, though possessed of wisdom, they had no spirit of kindness, no respect for right, and no dislike of wrong.
Around Midgard lay the sea, and beyond that Utgard, a hideous frozen country inhabited by giants, enemies of the gods.
But this arrangement of the world was only for a season. The gods themselves looked forward to a time of defeat and death, when Asgard should perish in flames and the world with it, and the sun and moon should be darkened, and they themselves should be slain. This great day was called Ragnarok, or sometimes the Twilight of the Gods. Then Loki would gather giants and monsters to a great battle against the gods, who would slay their enemies, but who would themselves fall in the struggle. The sea would drown the earth, the stars would fall, and all things would pass away.
This terrible fate the gods awaited with calm and cheerfulness, showing even greater courage than in their many deeds of war. They had to submit to this fate, for there were three beings even greater than they. These were the Norns, deciders of the fate of gods and men alike. They were three giant maidens who dwelt by a sacred, wisdom-giving fountain, and who controlled the lives of men, giving to each sickness and health, success and failure and death when they would. No man or god might escape what the Norns decreed for him.
Many stories of these gods, together with tales of famous men, were told among the northern peoples. These stories were passed on from one to another by word of mouth, till they grew much longer and fuller, and the happening of certain historical events helped to take them from country to country.
As we have seen, all the races of the North were warlike and eager for adventure, and so when trouble came upon them in their own homes, they readily took to the sea to plunder the coasts or to conquer other lands. Between 800 and 900 A.D., when the Danes were invading England, many were driven from Norway because they refused to submit to a king called Harold Fairhair, and when he pursued them to the Orkney and Faroe Islands they took refuge on the coasts of Iceland. There they settled, built themselves wooden houses, planted such crops as would grow in that bleak land, and founded a commonwealth. Little by little they left the old Viking life, and it lived only in their songs and stories.
They had come to Iceland with a vast stock of tales in poetry, which were related or sung by professional poets, called skalds, at all kinds of feasts and gatherings. The skalds arranged and improved the old stories, but they were not written down until about the time of our King Stephen, when some unknown writer collected them into one book called the Elder Edda. Very soon after this another book was written containing the same stories in prose and called the Younger or Prose Edda. In this way many of the old poems, and a great many stories containing much information about the religion which the people took with them to Iceland, have been preserved.
But it was from neither of the Eddas that William Morris took his story of Sigurd.
All through the period from 800 A.D. till about the time of Henry III. of England, the skalds had been re-telling many of the poetic stories in prose, and as the people grew more civilised, one tale after another was written down in its new form.
These prose tales were called Sagas, and among the very greatest is the Volsunga Saga, or Story of Sigurd. It is a tale which has been told in other lands besides Iceland. We read part of the same story in the Old English poem of Beowulf, and in Germany it was made into a great poem called the Nibelungenlied. The German musician, Richard Wagner, set it to music in a famous series of operas called the Nibelungen Ring. But his tale differs in many points from that contained in Morris's poem, for Morris chose the old saga as it was written in Iceland, not the German story. On this he founded his poem, adding much beautiful description, and greatly lengthening the whole.
The story deals first with a certain King Volsung, to whose son, Sigmund, Odin presented a magic sword.
But Siggeir, the jealous king of the Goths, slew Volsung, and took Sigmund prisoner that he might have the sword for himself. Only after many toils and perils did Sigmund win it back and reign in his father's kingdom. At last in his old age he fell in battle and the sword of Odin was shattered. But his wife, Queen Hiordis, kept the fragments for the son who was born to her soon after in Denmark, whither she fled for safety. This son of Sigmund and Hiordis was Sigurd the Volsung. He was brought up in Denmark and grew strong and beautiful, brave, kind of heart, and utterly truthful in word and deed.
When he became a man he longed to win fame and kingship by mighty deeds, and when his tutor told him of a great dragon that guarded a hoard of ill-gotten gold in the mountains, he resolved to kill it. So the fragments of Odin's sword were forged into a new blade, and Sigurd slew the dragon and took the gold, but with it he brought on himself a curse which had been put upon the treasure by the dwarf from whom it had been stolen.
Sigurd then found and wakened Brynhild, a maiden who lay in an enchanted sleep upon a high mountain. They loved one another, and Sigurd gave her a ring from the dragon's treasure, promising to return and marry her.
Then the curse led him to join with the fierce and treacherous Niblungs or Cloudy People. Their king and his mother grew jealous when they saw Sigurd more mighty and more beloved than themselves, and by enchantments they caused him to forget Brynhild, to wed the princess Gudrun, and at last to aid the Niblung king, Gunnar, to win Brynhild for his own wife.
Then the curse of the gold brought death to many, for Sigurd and Brynhild discovered all the treachery of the Niblungs, who, in their anger, slew Sigurd, and Brynhild killed herself that she might not live and sorrow for him.
Such is the story of Sigurd as it was told a thousand years ago in distant Iceland, and as it is retold in this poem by William Morris.
THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.
Of the dwelling of King Volsung, and the wedding of Signy his daughter.
There was a dwelling of Kings ere the world was waxen old; Dukes were the door-wards there, and the roofs were thatched with gold: Earls were the wrights that wrought it, and silver nailed its doors; Earls' wives were the weaving-women, queens' daughters strewed its floors, And the masters of its song-craft were the mightiest men that cast The sails of the storm of battle adown the bickering blast. There dwelt men merry-hearted, and in hope exceeding great Met the good days and the evil as they went the way of fate: There the Gods were unforgotten, yea whiles they walked with men, Though e'en in that world's beginning rose a murmur now and again Of the midward time and the fading and the last of the latter days, And the entering in of the terror, and the death of the People's Praise.
Thus was the dwelling of Volsung, the King of the Midworld's Mark, As a rose in the winter season, a candle in the dark; And as in all other matters 'twas all earthly houses' crown, And the least of its wall-hung shields was a battle-world's renown, So therein withal was a marvel and a glorious thing to see, For amidst of its midmost hall-floor sprang up a mighty tree, That reared its blessings roofward, and wreathed the roof-tree dear With the glory of the summer and the garland of the year. I know not how they called it ere Volsung changed his life, But his dawning of fair promise, and his noontide of the strife, His eve of the battle-reaping and the garnering of his fame, Have bred us many a story and named us many a name; And when men tell of Volsung, they call that war-duke's tree, That crowned stem, the Branstock; and so was it told unto me.
So there was the throne of Volsung beneath its blossoming bower, But high o'er the roof-crest red it rose 'twixt tower and tower, And therein were the wild hawks dwelling, abiding the dole of their lord; And they wailed high over the wine, and laughed to the waking sword.
Still were its boughs but for them, when lo, on an even of May Comes a man from Siggeir the King with a word for his mouth to say: "All hail to thee King Volsung, from the King of the Goths I come: He hath heard of thy sword victorious and thine abundant home; He hath heard of thy sons in the battle, the fillers of Odin's Hall; And a word hath the west-wind blown him, (full fruitful be its fall!) A word of thy daughter Signy the crown of womanhood: Now he deems thy friendship goodly, and thine help in the battle good, And for these will he give his friendship and his battle-aid again: But if thou wouldst grant his asking, and make his heart full fain, Then shalt thou give him a matter, saith he, without a price, —Signy the fairer than fair, Signy the wiser than wise."
Now the message gladdened Volsung and his sons, but no word spake Signy, till the king asked her what her mind might be. Then said Signy, "I will wed the Goth king, and yet shall I rue my lot in his hall." And Volsung urged her with kind words to do nought against her will, but her mind was fixed, and she said she wrought but what the gods had fore-ordained. So the earl of Siggeir went his way with gifts and fair words, bidding the Goth king come ere a month was over to wed the white-handed Signy and bear her home.
So on Mid-Summer Even ere the undark night began Siggeir the King of the Goth-folk went up from the bath of the swan Unto the Volsung dwelling with many an Earl about; There through the glimmering thicket the linked mail rang out, And sang as mid the woodways sings the summer-hidden ford: There were gold-rings God-fashioned, and many a Dwarf-wrought sword, And many a Queen-wrought kirtle and many a written spear; So came they to the acres, and drew the threshold near, And amidst of the garden blossoms, on the grassy, fruit-grown land, Was Volsung the King of the Wood-world with his sons on either hand; Therewith down lighted Siggeir the lord of a mighty folk, Yet showed he by King Volsung as the bramble by the oak, Nor reached his helm to the shoulder of the least of Volsung's sons. And so into the hall they wended, the Kings and their mighty ones; And they dight the feast full glorious, and drank through the death of the day, Till the shadowless moon rose upward, till it wended white away; Then they went to the gold-hung beds, and at last for an hour or twain Were all things still and silent, save a flaw of the summer rain.
But on the morrow noontide when the sun was high and bare, More glorious was the banquet, and now was Signy there, And she sat beside King Siggeir, a glorious bride forsooth; Ruddy and white was she wrought as the fair-stained sea-beast's tooth, But she neither laughed nor spake, and her eyes were hard and cold, And with wandering side-long looks her lord would she behold. That saw Sigmund her brother, the eldest Volsung son, And oft he looked upon her, and their eyes met now and anon, And ruth arose in his heart, and hate of Siggeir the Goth, And there had he broken the wedding, but for plighted promise and troth. But those twain were beheld of Siggeir, and he deemed of the Volsung kin, That amid their might and their malice small honour should he win; Yet thereof made he no semblance, but abided times to be, And laughed out with the loudest, amid the hope and the glee. And nought of all saw Volsung, as he dreamed of the coming glory, And how the Kings of his kindred should fashion the round world's story.
So round about the Branstock they feast in the gleam of the gold; And though the deeds of man-folk were not yet waxen old, Yet had they tales for songcraft, and the blossomed garth of rhyme; Tales of the framing of all things and the entering in of time From the halls of the outer heaven; so near they knew the door. Wherefore uprose a sea-king, and his hands that loved the oar Now dealt with the rippling harp-gold, and he sang of the shaping of earth, And how the stars were lighted, and where the winds had birth, And the gleam of the first of summers on the yet untrodden grass. But e'en as men's hearts were hearkening some heard the thunder pass O'er the cloudless noontide heaven; and some men turned about And deemed that in the doorway they heard a man laugh out. Then into the Volsung dwelling a mighty man there strode, One-eyed and seeming ancient, yet bright his visage glowed: Cloud-blue was the hood upon him, and his kirtle gleaming-grey As the latter morning sundog when the storm is on the way: A bill he bore on his shoulder, whose mighty ashen beam Burnt bright with the flame of the sea and the blended silver's gleam. And such was the guise of his raiment as the Volsung elders had told Was borne by their fathers' fathers, and the first that warred in the wold.
So strode he to the Branstock nor greeted any lord, But forth from his cloudy raiment he drew a gleaming sword, And smote it deep in the tree-hole, and the wild hawks overhead Laughed 'neath the naked heaven as at last he spake and said:
"Earls of the Goths, and Volsungs, abiders on the earth, Lo there amid the Branstock a blade of plenteous worth! The folk of the war-wand's forgers wrought never better steel Since first the burg of heaven uprose for man-folk's weal. Now let the man among you whose heart and hand may shift To pluck it from the oakwood e'en take it for my gift. Then ne'er, but his own heart falter, its point and edge shall fail Until the night's beginning and the ending of the tale. Be merry Earls of the Goth-folk, O Volsung Sons be wise And reap the battle-acre that ripening for you lies: For they told me in the wild wood, I heard on the mountain side, That the shining house of heaven is wrought exceeding wide, And that there the Early-comers shall have abundant rest While Earth grows scant of great ones, and fadeth from its best, And fadeth from its midward and groweth poor and vile:— All hail to thee King Volsung! farewell for a little while!"
So sweet his speaking sounded, so wise his words did seem, That moveless all men sat there, as in a happy dream We stir not lest we waken; but there his speech had end, And slowly down the hall-floor, and outward did he wend; And none would cast him a question or follow on his ways, For they knew that the gift was Odin's, a sword for the world to praise.
But now spake Volsung the King: "Why sit ye silent and still? Is the Battle-Father's visage a token of terror and ill? Arise O Volsung Children, Earls of the Goths arise, And set your hands to the hilts as mighty men and wise! Yet deem it not too easy; for belike a fateful blade Lies there in the heart of the Branstock for a fated warrior made."
Now therewith spake King Siggeir: "King Volsung give me a grace To try it the first of all men, lest another win my place And mere chance-hap steal my glory and the gain that I might win."
Then somewhat laughed King Volsung, and he said: "O Guest, begin; Though herein is the first as the last, for the Gods have long to live, Nor hath Odin yet forgotten unto whom the gift he would give."
Then forth to the tree went Siggeir, the Goth-folk's mighty lord, And laid his hand on the gemstones, and strained at the glorious sword Till his heart grew black with anger; and never a word he said As he wended back to the high-seat: but Signy waxed blood-red When he sat him adown beside her; and her heart was nigh to break For the shame and the fateful boding: and therewith King Volsung spake:
"Thus comes back empty-handed the mightiest King of Earth, And how shall the feeble venture? yet each man knows his worth; And today may a great beginning from a little seed upspring To o'erpass many a great one that hath the name of King: So stand forth free and unfree; stand forth both most and least: But first ye Earls of the Goth-folk, ye lovely lords we feast."
Upstood the Earls of Siggeir, and each man drew anigh And deemed his time was coming for a glorious gain and high; But for all their mighty shaping and their deeds in the battle-wood, No looser in the Branstock that gift of Odin stood. Then uprose Volsung's homemen, and the fell-abiding folk; And the yellow-headed shepherds came gathering round the Oak, And the searchers of the thicket and the dealers with the oar: And the least and the worst of them all was a mighty man of war. But for all their mighty shaping, and the struggle and the strain Of their hands, the deft in labour, they tugged thereat in vain; And still as the shouting and jeers, and the names of men and the laughter Beat backward from gable to gable, and rattled o'er roof-tree and rafter, Moody and still sat Siggeir; for he said: "They have trained me here As a mock for their woodland bondsmen; and yet shall they buy it dear."
Now the tumult sank a little, and men cried on Volsung the King And his sons, the hedge of battle, to try the fateful thing. So Volsung laughed, and answered: "I will set me to the toil, Lest these my guests of the Goth-folk should deem I fear the foil. Yet nought am I ill-sworded, and the oldest friend is best; And this, my hand's first fellow, will I bear to the grave-mound's rest, Nor wield meanwhile another: Yea, this shall I have in hand When mid the host of Odin in the Day of Doom I stand."
Therewith from his belt of battle he raised the golden sheath, And showed the peace-strings glittering about the hidden death: Then he laid his hand on the Branstock, and cried: "O tree beloved, I thank thee of thy good-heart that so little thou art moved: Abide thou thus, green bower, when I am dead and gone And the best of all my kindred a better day hath won!"
Then as a young man laughed he, and on the hilts of gold His hand, the battle-breaker, took fast and certain hold, And long he drew and strained him, but mended not the tale, Yet none the more thereover his mirth of heart did fail; But he wended to the high-seat and thence began to cry:
"Sons I have gotten and cherished, now stand ye forth to try; Lest Odin tell in God-home how from the way he strayed, And how to the man he would not he gave away his blade." So therewithal rose Rerir, and wasted might and main; Then Gunthiof, and then Hunthiof, they wearied them in vain; Nought was the might of Agnar; nought Helgi could avail; Sigi the tall and Solar no further brought the tale, Nor Geirmund the priest of the temple, nor Gylfi of the wood.
At last by the side of the Branstock Sigmund the Volsung stood, And with right hand wise in battle the precious sword-hilt caught, Yet in a careless fashion, as he deemed it all for nought: When lo, from floor to rafter went up a shattering shout, For aloft in the hand of Sigmund the naked blade shone out As high o'er his head he shook it: for the sword had come away From the grip of the heart of the Branstock, as though all loose it lay. A little while he stood there mid the glory of the hall, Like the best of the trees of the garden, when the April sunbeams fall On its blossomed boughs in the morning, and tell of the days to be; Then back unto the high-seat he wended soberly; For this was the thought within him; Belike the day shall come When I shall bide here lonely amid the Volsung home, Its glory and sole avenger, its after-summer seed. Yea, I am the hired of Odin, his workday will to speed, And the harvest-tide shall be heavy.—What then, were it come and past And I laid by the last of the sheaves with my wages earned at the last?
He lifted his eyes as he thought it, for now was he come to his place, And there he stood by his father and met Siggeir face to face, And he saw him blithe and smiling, and heard him how he spake: "O best of the sons of Volsung, I am merry for thy sake And the glory that thou hast gained us; but whereas thine hand and heart Are e'en now the lords of the battle, how lack'st thou for thy part A matter to better the best? Wilt thou overgild fine gold Or dye the red rose redder? So I prithee let me hold This sword that comes to thine hand on the day I wed thy kin. For at home have I a store-house; there is mountain-gold therein The weight of a war-king's harness; there is silver plenteous store; There is iron, and huge-wrought amber, that the southern men love sore, When they sell me the woven wonder, the purple born of the sea; And it hangeth up in that bower, and all this is a gift for thee: But the sword that came to my wedding, methinketh it meet and right, That it lie on my knees in the council and stead me in the fight."
But Sigmund laughed and answered, and he spake a scornful word: "And if I take twice that treasure, will it buy me Odin's sword, And the gift that the Gods have given? will it buy me again to stand Betwixt two mightiest world-kings with a longed-for thing in mine hand That all their might hath missed of? when the purple-selling men Come buying thine iron and amber, dost thou sell thine honour then? Do they wrap it in bast of the linden, or run it in moulds of earth? And shalt thou account mine honour as a matter of lesser worth? Came the sword to thy wedding, Goth-king, to thine hand it never came, And thence is thine envy whetted to deal me this word of shame."
Black then was the heart of Siggeir, but his face grew pale and red, Till he drew a smile thereover, and spake the word and said: "Nay, pardon me, Signy's kinsman! when the heart desires o'ermuch It teacheth the tongue ill speaking, and my word belike was such. But the honour of thee and thy kindred, I hold it even as mine, And I love you as my heart-blood, and take ye this for a sign. I bid thee now King Volsung, and these thy glorious sons, And thine earls and thy dukes of battle and all thy mighty ones, To come to the house of the Goth-kings as honoured guests and dear And abide the winter over; that the dusky days and drear May be glorious with thy presence, that all folk may praise my life, And the friends that my fame hath gotten; and that this my new-wed wife Thine eyes may make the merrier till she bear my eldest born."
Then speedily answered Volsung: "No king of the earth might scorn Such noble bidding, Siggeir; and surely will I come To look upon thy glory and the Goths' abundant home. But let two months wear over, for I have many a thing To shape and shear in the Woodland, as befits a people's king: And thou meanwhile here abiding of all my goods shalt be free, And then shall we twain together roof over the glass-green sea With the sides of our golden dragons; and our war-hosts' blended shields Shall fright the sea-abiders and the folk of the fishy fields."
Answered the smooth-speeched Siggeir: "I thank thee well for this, And thy bidding is most kingly; yet take it not amiss That I wend my ways in the morning; for we Goth-folk know indeed That the sea is a foe full deadly, and a friend that fails at need."
* * * * *
And for all the words of Volsung e'en so must the matter be, And Siggeir the Goth and Signy on the morn shall sail the sea.
Then the feast sped on the fairer, far into the night, but amidst the mirth Sigmund and Signy were sad at heart. And before the sun was risen next day Signy came to her father in secret and begged him to stay in his own country rather than trust the guileful heart and murder-loving hand of Siggeir. But Volsung answered that he must go to be Siggeir's guest, for he could not break his pledged word through fear of peril. So on the morrow the smooth-speeched Siggeir departed with Signy, and when two months were passed Volsung made ready to visit them.
How the Volsungs fared to the Land of the Goths, and of the fall of King Volsung.
* * * * *
So now, when all things were ready, in the first of the autumn tide Adown unto the swan-bath the Volsung Children ride; And lightly go a shipboard, a goodly company, Though the tale thereof be scanty and their ships no more than three: But kings' sons dealt with the sail-sheets and earls and dukes of war Were the halers of the hawsers and the tuggers at the oar.
* * * * *
But when the sun on the morrow shone over earth and sea Ashore went the Volsung Children a goodly company, And toward King Siggeir's dwelling o'er heath and holt they went. But when they came to the topmost of a certain grassy bent, Lo there lay the land before them as thick with shield and spear As the rich man's wealthiest acre with the harvest of the year. There bade King Volsung tarry and dight the wedge-array; "For duly," he said, "doeth Siggeir to meet his guests by the way." So shield by shield they serried, nor ever hath been told Of any host of battle more glorious with the gold; And there stood the high King Volsung in the very front of war; And lovelier was his visage than ever heretofore, As he rent apart the peace-strings that his brand of battle bound And the bright blade gleamed to the heavens, and he cast the sheath to the ground. Then up the steep came the Goth-folk, and the spear-wood drew anigh, And earth's face shook beneath them, yet cried they never a cry; And the Volsungs stood all silent, although forsooth at whiles O'er the faces grown earth-weary would play the flickering smiles, And swords would clink and rattle: not long had they to bide, For soon that flood of murder flowed round the hillock-side; Then at last the edges mingled, and if men forbore the shout, Yet the din of steel and iron in the grey clouds rang about; But how to tell of King Volsung, and the valour of his folk! Three times the wood of battle before their edges broke; And the shield-wall, sorely dwindled and reft of the ruddy gold, Against the drift of the war-blast for the fourth time yet did hold. But men's shields were waxen heavy with the weight of shafts they bore, And the fifth time many a champion cast earthward Odin's door And gripped the sword two-handed; and in sheaves the spears came on. And at last the host of the Goth-folk within the shield-wall won, And wild was the work within it, and oft and o'er again Forth brake the sons of Volsung, and drave the foe in vain; For the driven throng still thickened, till it might not give aback. But fast abode King Volsung amid the shifting wrack In the place where once was the forefront: for he said: "My feet are old, And if I wend on further there is nought more to behold Than this that I see about me."—Whiles drew his foes away And stared across the corpses that before his sword-edge lay. But nought he followed after: then needs must they in front Thrust on by the thickening spear-throng come up to bear the brunt, Till all his limbs were weary and his body rent and torn: Then he cried: "Lo now, Allfather, is not the swathe well shorn? Wouldst thou have me toil for ever, nor win the wages due?"
And mid the hedge of foemen his blunted sword he threw, And, laid like the oars of a longship the level war-shafts pressed On 'gainst the unshielded elder, and clashed amidst his breast; And dead he fell, thrust backward, and rang on the dead men's gear: But still for a certain season durst no man draw anear, For 'twas e'en as a great God's slaying, and they feared the wrath of the sky; And they deemed their hearts might harden if awhile they should let him lie.
Of the ending of all Volsung's Sons save Sigmund only, and of how he abideth in the wild wood.
They joined battle again, but the fight grew feeble after Volsung fell, and his earls were struck down one by one. Last of all, his sons were borne to earth and carried captive to the hall, where Siggeir awaited them, for he himself had feared to face the Volsung swords.
Then he would have slain them at once without torture, but Signy besought him that they might breathe the earthly air a day or two before their death, and he listened to her, for he saw how he might thus give them greater pain. He bade his men lead them to a glade in the forest and fetter them to the mightiest tree that grew there. So the ten Volsungs were fettered with iron to a great oak, and on the morrow Siggeir's woodmen told him sweet tidings, for beasts of the wood had devoured two and left their bones in the fetters. So it befell every night till the woodmen brought word that nothing remained of the king's foemen save their bones in the fetters that had bound them.
Now a watch had been set on Signy lest she should send help to her brethren, but henceforth no man hindered her from going out to the wood. So that night she came to the glade in the forest, and saw in the midst of it a mighty man who was toiling to dig a grave in the greensward.
And behold, it was Sigmund the Volsung: but she cried and had no fear:
"If thou art living, Sigmund, what day's work dost thou here In the midnight and the forest? but if thou art nought but a ghost Then where are those Volsung brethren, of whom thou wert best and most?"
Then he turned about unto her, and his raiment was fouled and torn, And his eyen were great and hollow, as a famished man forlorn;
But he cried: "Hail, Sister Signy! I looked for thee before, Though what should a woman compass, she one alone and no more, When all we shielded Volsungs did nought in Siggeir's land? O yea, I am living indeed, and this labour of mine hand Is to bury the bones of the Volsungs; and lo, it is well-nigh done. So draw near, Volsung's daughter, and pile we many a stone Where lie the grey wolf's gleanings of what was once so good."
So she set her hand to the labour, and they toiled, they twain in the wood, And when the work was over, dead night was beginning to fall: Then spake the white-hand Signy: "Now shall thou tell the tale Of the death of the Volsung brethren ere the wood thy wrath shall hide, Ere I wend me back sick-hearted in the dwelling of kings to abide."
Then said Sigmund:
"We lay fettered to the tree and at midnight there came from the thicket two mighty wood-wolves, and falling on my brethren Gylfi and Geirmund, they devoured them in their bonds, and turned again to the forest. Night after night, my sister, this befell, till I was left alone with our brother Sigi to await the wood-beasts. Then came midnight, and one of the wolves fell upon Sigi and the other turned on me. But I met it with snarling like its own, and my teeth gripped its throat, and my hands strove with the fetters till they burst. So I slew the beast with my irons, but when I looked, Sigi lay dead, and the other wolf had fled again to the thicket. Then I lay hid till Siggeir's woodmen had looked on the place and departed with their tidings, and as I beheld them I knew that pity was killed in my heart, and that henceforward I should live but to avenge me on him who hath so set the gods at nought." Then Signy spake noble words of comfort, saying: "I wot well that Siggeir shall pay the due price of his deeds, though the vengeance may tarry long, and I wot also that thy life shall yet know gladness. Bear a stout heart, therefore, to meet the waiting time, and make thee a lair in the woods whence thou mayest fall on men of the Goth-folk, and win what thy life needeth. As for me, I will see thy face once again ere many days are past to wot where thou dwellest and then must we meet no more."
And so saying, she kissed him and departed, but Sigmund turned in the dawn-light, and sought a wood-lair as she had bidden him.
Of the fostering of Sinfiotli, Signy's son, and of the slaying of Siggeir the Goth-king.
So wrought is the will of King Siggeir, and he weareth Odin's sword And it lies on his knees in the council and hath no other lord: And he sendeth earls o'er the sea-flood to take King Volsung's land, And those scattered and shepherdless sheep must come beneath his hand. And he holdeth the milk-white Signy as his handmaid and his wife, And nought but his will she doeth, nor raiseth a word of strife; So his heart is praising his wisdom, and he deems him of most avail Of all the lords of the cunning that teacheth how to prevail.
Now Sigmund dwelt long in the wild-wood, abiding in a strong cave deep hidden in a thicket by the river-side.
And now and again he fell upon the folk of Siggeir as they journeyed, and slew them, and thus he had war-gear and gold as much as he would. Also he became a master of masters in the smithying craft, and the folk who beheld the gleam of his forge by night, deemed that a king of the Giants was awakened from death to dwell there, and they durst not wander near the cavern.
So passed the years till on a springtide morning Signy sent forth to Sigmund a damsel leading her eldest son, a child of ten summers, and bearing a word of her mouth to bid him foster the child for his helper, if he should prove worthy and bold-hearted. And Sigmund heeded her words and fostered the child for the space of three months even though he could give no love to a son of Siggeir.
At last he was minded to try the boy's courage, to which end he set a deadly ash-grey adder in the meal-sack, and bade the child bake bread. But he feared when he found something that moved in the meal and had not courage to do the task. Then would Sigmund foster him no longer, but thrust him out from the woods to return to his father's hall.
So ten years won over again, and Signy sent another son to the wild-wood, and the lad was called Sinfiotli. Sigmund thrust him into many dangers, and burdened him with heavy loads, and he bore all passing well.
Now after a year Sigmund deemed that the time for his testing was come, and once again he set an adder in the meal-sack and bade the lad bake bread. And the boy feared not the worm, but kneaded it with the dough and baked all together. So Sigmund cherished him as his own son, and he grew strong and valiant and loved Sigmund as his father.
Now Sigmund began to ponder how he might at last take vengeance on Siggeir, and gladly did Sinfiotli hear him, for all his love was given to Sigmund, so that he no longer deemed himself the Goth-king's son.
At last when the long mirk nights of winter were come, Sigmund and his foster-son went their way to the home of Siggeir and sought to lurk therein. Then Sinfiotli led the way to a storehouse where lay great wine-casks, and whence they could see the lighted feast-hall, and hear the clamour of Siggeir's folk. There they had to abide the time when the feasters should be hushed in sleep. Long seemed the hours to Sinfiotli, but Sigmund was calm and clear-eyed.
Then it befell that two of Queen Signy's youngest-born children threw a golden toy hither and thither in the feast-hall, and at last it rolled away among the wine-casks till it lay at Sigmund's feet. So the children followed it, and coming face to face with those lurkers, they fled back to the feast-hall. And Sigmund and his foster-son saw all hope was ended, for they heard the rising tumult as men ran to their weapons; so they made ready to go forth and die in the hall. Then on came the battle around the twain, and but short is the tale to tell, for Sinfiotli slipped on the blood-stained floor and the shield wall encompassed Sigmund, and so they were both hoppled strait and fast.
The Goth-folk washed their hall of blood and got them to slumber, but Siggeir lay long pondering what dire death he might bring on his foes.
Now at the first grey dawning Siggeir's folk dight a pit and it had two chambers with a sundering stone in the midst. Then they brought the Volsung kindred and set them therein, one in each chamber, that they might abide death alone, and yet in hearing of one another's woe. And over the top the thralls laid roofing turfs, but so lingering were their hands that eve drew on ere the task was finished. Then stole Signy forth in the dusk, and spake the thralls fair, and gave them gold that they might hold their peace of what she did. And when they gainsaid her nought she drew out something wrapped in wheat straw, and cast it down swiftly into the pit where Sinfiotli lay, and departed.
Sinfiotli at first deemed it food, but after a space Sigmund heard him laugh aloud for joy, for within the wrappings lay the sword of the Branstock. And Sinfiotli cried out the joyous tidings to his foster-father, and tarried not to set the point to the stone that sundered them, and lo, the blade pierced through, and Sigmund grasped the point. Then sawed Sigmund and Sinfiotli together till they cleft the stone, and they hewed full hard at the roofing, till they cast the turfs aside, and their hearts were gladdened with the sight of the starry heaven.
Forth they leapt, and no words were needed of whither they should wend, but they fell on King Siggeir's night-watch and slew them sleeping, and made haste to find the store of winter faggots, wherewith they built a mighty bale about the hall of Siggeir. They set a torch to the bale, and Sigmund gat him to one hall door and Sinfiotli to the other, and now the Goth-folk awoke to their last of days.
Then cried Siggeir to his thralls and offered them joyous life-days and plenteous wealth if they would give him life, deeming that they had fired the hall in hatred. But there came a great voice crying from the door, "Nay, no toilers are we; wealth is ours when we list, but now our hearts are set to avenge our kin; now hath the murder seed sprung and borne its fruit; now the death-doomed and buried work this deed; now doom draweth nigh thee at the hand of Sigmund the Volsung, and Sinfiotli, Signy's son."
Then the voice cried again, "Come ye forth, women of the Goths, and thou, O Signy, my sister, come forth to seek the boughs of the Branstock." So fled the white-faced women from the fire, and passed scatheless by Sinfiotli's blade, but Signy came not at all. Then the earls of Siggeir strove to burst from the hall, but ever the two glaives at the doorways drove them back to the fire.
And, lo, now came Signy in queenly raiment, and stood before Sinfiotli and said, "O mightiest son, this is the hour of our parting, and fain am I of slumber and the end of my toil now I have seen this day. And the blither do I leave thee because thy days on earth shall be but few; I charge thee make thy life glorious, and leave a goodly tale."
She kissed him and turned to Sigmund, and her face in the dawn-light seemed to him fair and ruddy as in the days when they twain dwelt by the Branstock. And she said, "My youth was happy, yet this hour is the crown of my life-days which draw nigh their ending. And now I charge thee, Sigmund, when thou sittest once more a mighty king beneath the boughs of the Branstock, that thou remember how I loved the Volsung name, and spared not to spend all that was mine for its blossoming." Then she kissed him and turned again, and the dawn brightened at her back, and the fire shone red before her, and so for the last time was Signy beheld by the eyes of men. Thereafter King Siggeir's roof-tree bowed earthward, and the mighty walls crashed down, and so that dark murder-hall lay wasted, and its glory was swept away.
How Sigmund cometh to the Land of the Volsungs again, and of the death of Sinfiotli his Son.
Now Sigmund the king bestirs him, and Sinfiotli, Sigmund's son, And they gather a host together, and many a mighty one; Then they set the ships in the sea-flood and sail from the stranger's shore, And the beaks of the golden dragons see the Volsungs' land once more; And men's hearts are fulfilled of joyance; and they cry, The sun shines now With never a curse to hide it, and they shall reap that sow! Then for many a day sits Sigmund 'neath the boughs of the Branstock green, With his earls and lords about him as the Volsung wont hath been. And oft he thinketh on Signy and oft he nameth her name, And tells how she spent her joyance and her life-days and her fame That the Volsung kin might blossom and bear the fruit of worth For the hope of unborn people and the harvest of the earth. And again he thinks of the word that he spake that other day, How he should abide there lonely when his kin was passed away, Their glory and sole avenger, their after-summer seed.
But far and wide went Sinfiotli through the earth, mowing the war swathe and wasting the land, and passing but little time in song and laughter in his father's hall. So went his days in warfare and valour, and yet his end was not glorious, for he drank of the poisoned cup given him by the sister of a warrior he had rightly slain.
None might come nigh Sigmund in his anguish as he lifted the head of his fallen foster-child, and then swiftly bare him from the hall. On he went through dark thicket and over wind-swept heath, past the foot-hills and the homes of the deer, till he came to a great rushing water, whereon was a white-sailed boat, manned by a mighty man, "one-eyed and seeming ancient." This mighty one told Sigmund he had been bidden to waft a great king over the water, and bade him lay his burden on board, but when Sigmund would have followed he could see neither ship nor man.
But Sigmund went back to his throne, and behaved himself as a king, listening to his people's plaints, and dealing out justice.
Of the last battle of King Sigmund, and the death of him.
Now there was a king of the Islands, whom the tale doth Eylimi call, And saith he was wise and valiant, though his kingdom were but small: He had one only daughter that Hiordis had to name, A woman wise and shapely beyond the praise of fame. And now saith the son of King Volsung that his time is short enow To labour the Volsung garden, and the hand must be set to the plough: So he sendeth an earl of the people to King Eylimi's high-built hall, Bearing the gifts and the tokens, and this word in his mouth withal:
"King Sigmund the son of Volsung hath sent me here with a word That plenteous good of thy daughter among all folk he hath heard, And he wooeth that wisest of women that she may sit on his throne.
* * * * *
"Now hereof would he have an answer within a half-month's space, And these gifts meanwhile he giveth for the increase of thy grace."
So King Eylimi hearkened the message, and hath no word to say, For an earl of King Lyngi the mighty is come that very day, He too for the wooing of Hiordis: and Lyngi's realm is at hand, But afar King Sigmund abideth o'er many a sea and land: And the man is young and eager, and grim and guileful of mood.
At last he sayeth: "Abide here such space as thou deemest good, But tomorn shalt thou have thine answer that thine heart may the lighter be, For the hearkening of harp and songcraft, and the dealing with game and glee." Then he went to Queen Hiordis' bower, where she worked in the silk and the gold The deeds of the world that should be, and the deeds that were of old. And he stood before her and said:
"Often have I told thee that thou shouldst wed only the man thou wouldst. Now it hath come to pass that two kings desire thee."
And she swiftly rose to her feet as she said, "And which be they?"
He spake: "The first is Lyngi, a valiant man and a fair, A neighbour ill for thy father, if a foe's name he must bear: And the next is King Sigmund the Volsung of a land far over sea, And well thou knowest his kindred, and his might and his valiancy, And the tales of his heart of a God; and though old he be waxen now, Yet men deem that the wide world's blossom from Sigmund's loins shall grow."
Said Hiordis: "I wot, my father, that hereof may strife arise; Yet soon spoken is mine answer; for I, who am called the wise, Shall I thrust by the praise of the people, and the tale that no ending hath, And the love and the heart of the godlike, and the heavenward-leading path, For the rose and the stem of the lily, and the smooth-lipped youngling's kiss, And the eyes' desire that passeth, and the frail unstable bliss? Now shalt thou tell King Sigmund, that I deem it the crown of my life To dwell in the house of his fathers amidst all peace and strife."
* * * * *
Now the king's heart sore misgave him, but herewith must he be content, And great gifts to the earl of Lyngi and a word withal he sent, That the woman's troth was plighted to another people's king. But King Sigmund's earl on the morrow hath joyful yea-saying, And ere two moons be perished he shall fetch his bride away. "And bid him," King Eylimi sayeth, "to come with no small array, But with sword and shield and war-shaft, lest aught of ill betide."
So forth goes the earl of Sigmund across the sea-flood wide, And comes to the land of the Volsungs, and meeteth Sigmund the king, And tells how he sped on his errand, and the joyful yea-saying. So King Sigmund maketh him ready, and they ride adown to the sea All glorious of gear and raiment, and a goodly company. Yet hath Sigmund thought of his father, and the deed he wrought before, And hath scorn to gather his people and all his hosts of war To wend to the feast and the wedding: yet are their long-ships ten, And the shielded folk aboard them are the mightiest men of men. So Sigmund goeth a shipboard, and they hoist their sails to the wind, And the beaks of the golden dragons leave the Volsungs' land behind. Then come they to Eylimi's kingdom, and good welcome have they there, And when Sigmund looked on Hiordis, he deemed her wise and fair. But her heart was exceeding fain when she saw the glorious king, And it told her of times that should be full many a noble thing.
So there is Sigmund wedded at a great and goodly feast, And day by day on Hiordis the joy of her heart increased; And her father joyed in Sigmund and his might and majesty, And dead in the heart of the Isle-king his ancient fear did lie.
Yet, forsooth, had men looked seaward, they had seen the gathering cloud, And the little wind arising, that should one day pipe so loud. For well may ye wot indeed that King Lyngi the Mighty is wroth, When he getteth the gifts and the answer, and that tale of the woman's troth: And he saith he will have the gifts and the woman herself withal, Either for loving or hating, and that both those heads shall fall. So now when Sigmund and Hiordis are wedded a month or more, And the Volsung bids men dight them to cross the sea-flood o'er, Lo, how there cometh the tidings of measureless mighty hosts Who are gotten ashore from their long-ships on the skirts of King Eylimi's coasts.
Sore boded the heart of the Isle-king of what the end should be. But Sigmund long beheld him, and he said: "Thou deem'st of me That my coming hath brought thee evil; but put aside such things; For long have I lived, and I know it, that the lives of mighty kings Are not cast away, nor drifted like the down before the wind; And surely I know, who say it, that never would Hiordis' mind Have been turned to wed King Lyngi or aught but the Volsung seed. Come, go we forth to the battle, that shall be the latest deed Of thee and me meseemeth: yea, whether thou live or die, No more shall the brand of Odin at peace in his scabbard lie."
And therewith he brake the peace-strings and drew the blade of bale, And Death on the point abided, Fear sat on the edges pale.
So men ride adown to the sea-strand, and the kings their hosts array When the high noon flooded heaven; and the men of the Volsungs lay, With King Eylimi's shielded champions mid Lyngi's hosts of war, As the brown pips lie in the apple when ye cut it through the core.
But now when the kings were departed, from the King's house Hiordis went, And before men joined the battle she came to a woody bent, Where she lay with one of her maidens the death and the deeds to behold.
In the noon sun shone King Sigmund as an image all of gold, And he stood before the foremost and the banner of his fame, And many a thing he remembered, and he called on each earl by his name To do well for the house of the Volsungs, and the ages yet unborn. Then he tossed up the sword of the Branstock, and blew on his father's horn, Dread of so many a battle, doom-song of so many a man. Then all the earth seemed moving as the hosts of Lyngi ran On the Volsung men and the Isle-folk like wolves upon the prey; But sore was their labour and toil ere the end of their harvesting day.
On went the Volsung banners, and on went Sigmund before, And his sword was the flail of the tiller on the wheat of the wheat-thrashing floor, And his shield was rent from his arm, and his helm was sheared from his head: But who may draw nigh him to smite for the heap and the rampart of dead? White went his hair on the wind like the ragged drift of the cloud, And his dust-driven, blood-beaten harness was the death-storm's angry shroud, When the summer sun is departing in the first of the night of wrack; And his sword was the cleaving lightning, that smites and is hurried aback Ere the hand may rise against it; and his voice was the following thunder.
Then cold grew the battle before him, dead-chilled with the fear and the wonder: For again in his ancient eyes the light of victory gleamed; From his mouth grown tuneful and sweet the song of his kindred streamed; And no more was he worn and weary, and no more his life seemed spent: And with all the hope of his childhood was his wrath of battle blent; And he thought: A little further, and the river of strife is passed, And I shall sit triumphant the king of the world at last.
But lo, through the hedge of the war-shafts a mighty man there came, One-eyed and seeming ancient, but his visage shone like flame: Gleaming-grey was his kirtle, and his hood was cloudy blue; And he bore a mighty twi-bill, as he waded the fight-sheaves through, And stood face to face with Sigmund, and upheaved the bill to smite. Once more round the head of the Volsung fierce glittered the Branstock's light, The sword that came from Odin; and Sigmund's cry once more Rang out to the very heavens above the din of war. Then clashed the meeting edges with Sigmund's latest stroke, And in shivering shards fell earthward that fear of worldly folk. But changed were the eyes of Sigmund, and the war-wrath left his face; For that grey-clad mighty helper was gone, and in his place Drave on the unbroken spear-wood 'gainst the Volsung's empty hands: And there they smote down Sigmund, the wonder of all lands, On the foemen, on the death-heap his deeds had piled that day.
Ill hour for Sigmund's fellows! they fall like the seeded hay Before the brown scythes' sweeping, and there the Isle-king fell In the fore-front of his battle, wherein he wrought right well, And soon they were nought but foemen who stand upon their feet On the isle-strand by the ocean where the grass and the sea-sand meet.
And now hath the conquering War-king another deed to do, And he saith: "Who now gainsayeth King Lyngi come to woo, The lord and the overcomer and the bane of the Volsung kin?" So he fares to the Isle-king's dwelling a wife of the kings to win; And the host is gathered together, and they leave the field of the dead; And round as a targe of the Goth-folk the moon ariseth red.
And so when the last is departed, and she deems they will come not aback, Fares Hiordis forth from the thicket to the field of the fateful wrack, And half-dead was her heart for sorrow as she waded the swathes of the sword. Not far did she search the death-field ere she found her king and lord On the heap that his glaive had fashioned: not yet was his spirit past, Though his hurts were many and grievous, and his life-blood ebbing fast; And glad were his eyes and open as her wan face over him hung, And he spake: "Thou art sick with sorrow, and I would thou wert not so young; Yet as my days passed shall thine pass; and a short while now it seems Since my hand first gripped the sword-hilt, and my glory was but in dreams."
She said: "Thou livest, thou livest! the leeches shall heal thee still."
"Nay," said he, "my heart hath hearkened to Odin's bidding and will; For today have mine eyes beheld him: nay, he needed not to speak: Forsooth I knew of his message and the thing he came to seek. And now do I live but to tell thee of the days that are yet to come: And perchance to solace thy sorrow; and then will I get me home To my kin that are gone before me. Lo, yonder where I stood The shards of a glaive of battle that was once the best of the good: Take them and keep them surely. I have lived no empty days; The Norns were my nursing mothers; I have won the people's praise. When the Gods for one deed asked me I ever gave them twain; Spendthrift of glory I was, and great was my life-days' gain; Now these shards have been my fellow in the work the Gods would have, But today hath Odin taken the gift that once he gave. I have wrought for the Volsungs truly, and yet have I known full well That a better one than I am shall bear the tale to tell: And for him shall these shards be smithied; and he shall be my son To remember what I have forgotten and to do what I left undone."
* * * * *
Then failed the voice of Sigmund; but so mighty was the man, That a long while yet he lingered till the dusky night grew wan, And she sat and sorrowed o'er him, but no more a word he spake. Then a long way over the sea-flood the day began to break; And when the sun was arisen a little he turned his head Till the low beams bathed his eyen, and there lay Sigmund dead. And the sun rose up on the earth; but where was the Volsung kin And the folk that the Gods had begotten the praise of all people to win?
How King Sigmund the Volsung was laid in mound on the sea-side of the Isle-realm.
Now Hiordis looked from the dead, and her eyes strayed down to the sea, And a shielded ship she saw, and a war-dight company, Who beached the ship for the landing: so swift she fled away, And once more to the depth of the thicket, wherein her handmaid lay: And she said: "I have left my lord, and my lord is dead and gone, And he gave me a charge full heavy, and here are we twain alone, And earls from the sea are landing: give me thy blue attire, And take my purple and gold and my crown of the sea-flood's fire, And be thou the wife of King Volsung when men of our names shall ask, And I will be the handmaid: now I bid thee to this task, And I pray thee not to fail me, because of thy faith and truth, And because I have ever loved thee, and thy mother fostered my youth."
* * * * *
So the other nought gainsaith it and they shift their raiment there: But well-spoken was the maiden, and a woman tall and fair.
Now the lord of those new-coming men was a king and the son of a king, King Elf the son of the Helper, and he sailed from warfaring And drew anigh to the Isle-realm and sailed along the strand; For the shipmen needed water and fain would go a-land; And King Elf stood hard by the tiller while the world was yet a-cold: Then the red sun lit the dawning, and they looked, and lo, behold! The wrack of a mighty battle, and heaps of the shielded dead, And a woman alive amidst them, a queen with crowned head, And her eyes strayed down to the sea-strand, and she saw that weaponed folk, And turned and fled to the thicket: then the lord of the shipmen spoke: "Lo, here shall we lack for water, for the brooks with blood shall run, Yet wend we ashore to behold it and to wot of the deeds late done."
So they turned their faces to Sigmund, and waded the swathes of the sword. "O, look ye long," said the Sea-king, "for here lieth a mighty lord: And all these are the deeds of his war-flame, yet hardy hearts, be sure, That they once durst look in his face or the wrath of his eyen endure; Though his lips be glad and smiling as a God that dreameth of mirth. Would God I were one of his kindred, for none such are left upon earth. Now fare we into the thicket, for thereto is the woman fled, And belike she shall tell us the story of this field of the mighty dead."
So they wend and find the women, and bespeak them kind and fair: Then spake the gold-crowned handmaid: "Of the Isle-king's house we were, And I am the Queen called Hiordis; and the man that lies on the field Was mine own lord Sigmund the Volsung, the mightiest under shield."
Then all amazed were the sea-folk when they hearkened to that word, And great and heavy tidings they deem their ears have heard: But again spake out the Sea-king: "And this blue-clad one beside, So pale, and as tall as a Goddess, and white and lovely eyed?"
"In sooth and in troth," said the woman, "my serving-maid is this; She hath wept long over the battle, and sore afraid she is."
Now the king looks hard upon her, but he saith no word thereto, And down again to the death-field with the women-folk they go. There they set their hands to the labour, and amidst the deadly mead They raise a mound for Sigmund, a mighty house indeed; And therein they set that folk-king, and goodly was his throne, And dight with gold and scarlet: and the walls of the house were done With the cloven shields of the foemen, and banners borne to field; But none might find his war-helm or the splinters of his shield, And clenched and fast was his right hand, but no sword therein he had: For Hiordis spake to the shipmen: "Our lord and master bade That the shards of his glaive of battle should go with our lady the Queen: And by them that lie a-dying a many things are seen."
How Queen Hiordis is known; and how she abideth in the house of Elf the son of the Helper.
Then Elf asked of the two women where they would go, and they prayed that he would take them to his land, where they dwelt for long in all honour.
But the old queen, the mother of Elf, was indeed a woman wise above many, and fain would she know why the less noble of the two was dressed the more richly and why the handmaid gave always wiser counsel than her mistress. So she bade her son to speak suddenly and to take them unawares.
Then he asked the gold-clad one how she knew in the dark winter night that the dawn was near. She answered that ever in her youth she awoke at the dawn to follow her daily work, and always was she wont to drink of whey, and now, though the times were changed, she still woke athirst near the dawning.
To Elf it seemed strange that a fair queen in her youth had need to arise to follow the plough in the dark of the winter morning, and turning to the handmaid he asked of her the same question. She replied that in her youth her father had given her the gold ring she still wore, and which had the magic power of growing cold as the hours neared daybreak, and such was her dawning sign.
Then did Elf know of their exchange, and he told Hiordis that long had he loved her and felt pity for her sorrow, and that he would make her his wife. So that night she sat on the high-seat with the crown on her head, and dreamt of what had been and what was to be.
So passeth the summer season, and the harvest of the year, And the latter days of the winter on toward the springtide wear.
Of the birth of Sigurd the son of Sigmund.
Peace lay on the land of the Helper and the house of Elf his son; There merry men went bedward when their tide of toil was done, And glad was the dawn's awakening, and the noontide fair and glad: There no great store had the franklin, and enough the hireling had; And a child might go unguarded the length and breadth of the land With a purse of gold at his girdle and gold rings on his hand. 'Twas a country of cunning craftsmen, and many a thing they wrought, That the lands of storm desired, and the homes of warfare sought. But men deemed it o'er-well warded by more than its stems of fight, And told how its earth-born watchers yet lived of plenteous might. So hidden was that country, and few men sailed its sea, And none came o'er its mountains of men-folk's company. But fair-fruited, many-peopled, it lies a goodly strip, 'Twixt the mountains cloudy-headed and the sea-flood's surging lip, And a perilous flood is its ocean, and its mountains, who shall tell What things, in their dales deserted and their wind-swept heaths may dwell.
* * * * *
Again, in the house of the Helper there dwelt a certain man Beardless and low of stature, of visage pinched and wan: So exceeding old was Regin, that no son of man could tell In what year of the days passed over he came to that land to dwell: But the youth of King Elf had he fostered, and the Helper's youth thereto, Yea and his father's father's: the lore of all men he knew, And was deft in every cunning, save the dealings of the sword: So sweet was his tongue-speech fashioned, that men trowed his every word; His hand with the harp-strings blended was the mingler of delight With the latter days of sorrow; all tales he told aright; The Master of the Masters in the smithying craft was he; And he dealt with the wind and the weather and the stilling of the sea; Nor might any learn him leech-craft, for before that race was made, And that man-folk's generation, all their life-days had he weighed.
In this land of the Helper and Elf, his son, dwelt Hiordis, and here her son, the last of the Volsungs, was born. The babe had eyes of such wondrous brightness that the folk shrank from him, while they rejoiced over his birth, but his mother spake to the babe as to one who might understand, and she told him of Sigmund and Volsung, of their wars and their troubles and their joys. Then she gave him to her maids to bear him to the kings of the land that they might rejoice with her.
But there sat the Helper of Men with King Elf and his Earls in the hall, And they spake of the deeds that had been, and told of the times to befall, And they hearkened and heard sweet voices and the sound of harps draw nigh, Till their hearts were exceeding merry and they knew not wherefore or why: Then, lo, in the hall white raiment, as thither the damsels came, And amid the hands of the foremost was the woven gold aflame.
"O daughters of earls," said the Helper, "what tidings then do ye bear? Is it grief in the merry morning, or joy or wonder or fear?"
Quoth the first: "It is grief for the foemen that the Masters of God-home would grieve."
Said the next: "'Tis a wonder of wonders, that the hearkening world shall believe."
"A fear of all fears," said the third, "for the sword is uplifted on men."
"A joy of all joys," said the fourth, "once come, and it comes not again!"
* * * * *
"What then hath betid," said King Elf, "do the high Gods stand in our gate?"
"Nay," said they, "else were we silent, and they should be telling of fate."
"Is the bidding come," said the Helper, "that we wend the Gods to see?"
"Many summers and winters," they said, "ye shall live on the earth, it may be."
* * * * *
"Speak then," said the ancient Helper, "let the worst and the best be said."
* * * * *
They said: "The earth is weary: but the tender blade hath sprung, That shall wax till beneath its branches fair bloom the meadows green; For the Gods and they that were mighty were glad erewhile with the Queen."
Said King Elf: "How say ye, women? Of a King new-born do ye tell, By a God of the Heavens begotten in our fathers' house to dwell?"
"By a God of the Earth," they answered; "but greater yet is the son, Though long were the days of Sigmund, and great are the deeds he hath done."
Then she with the golden burden to the kingly high-seat stepped And away from the new-born baby the purple cloths she swept, And cried: "O King of the people, long mayst thou live in bliss, As our hearts today are happy! Queen Hiordis sends thee this, And she saith that the world shall call it by the name that thou shalt name; Now the gift to thee is given, and to thee is brought the fame."
Then e'en as a man astonied King Elf the Volsung took, While his feast-hall's ancient timbers with the cry of the earl-folk shook;
* * * * *
With the love of many peoples was the wise king smitten through, As he hung o'er the new-born Volsung: but at last he raised his head, And looked forth kind o'er his people, and spake aloud and said:
"O Sigmund King of Battle; O man of many days, Whom I saw mid the shields of the fallen and the dead men's silent praise, Lo, how hath the dark tide perished and the dawn of day begun! And now, O mighty Sigmund, wherewith shall we name thy son?"
But there rose up a man most ancient, and he cried: "Hail Dawn of the Day! How many things shalt thou quicken, how many shalt thou slay! How many things shalt thou waken, how many lull to sleep! How many things shalt thou scatter, how many gather and keep! O me, how thy love shall cherish, how thine hate shall wither and burn! How the hope shall be sped from thy right hand, nor the fear to thy left return! O thy deeds that men shall sing of! O thy deeds that the Gods shall see! O SIGURD, Son of the Volsungs, O Victory yet to be!"
Men heard the name and they knew it, and they caught it up in the air, And it went abroad by the windows and the doors of the feast-hall fair, It went through street and market; o'er meadow and acre it went, And over the wind-stirred forest and the dearth of the sea-beat bent, And over the sea-flood's welter, till the folk of the fishers heard, And the hearts of the isle-abiders on the sun-scorched rocks were stirred.
* * * * *
Sigurd getteth to him the horse that is called Greyfell.
Now waxeth the son of Sigmund in might and goodliness, And soft the days win over, and all men his beauty bless. But amidst the summer season was the Isle-queen Hiordis wed To King Elf the son of the Helper, and fair their life-days sped. Peace lay on the land for ever, and the fields gave good increase, And there was Sigurd waxing mid the plenty and the peace. Now hath the child grown greater, and is keen and eager of wit And full of understanding, and oft hath he joy to sit Amid talk of weighty matters when the wise men meet for speech; And joyous he is moreover and blithe and kind with each. But Regin the wise craftsmaster heedeth the youngling well, And before the Kings he cometh, and saith such words to tell.
"I have fostered thy youth, King Elf, and thine O Helper of men, And ye wot that such a master no king shall see again; And now would I foster Sigurd; for, though he be none of thy blood, Mine heart of his days that shall be speaketh abundant good."
Then spake the Helper of men-folk: "Yea, do herein thy will: For thou art the Master of Masters, and hast learned me all my skill: But think how bright is this youngling, and thy guile from him withhold; For this craft of thine hath shown me that thy heart is grim and cold, Though three men's lives thrice over thy wisdom might not learn; And I love this son of Sigmund, and mine heart to him doth yearn."
Then Regin laughed, and answered: "I doled out cunning to thee; But nought with him will I measure: yet no cold-heart shall he be, Nor grim, nor evil-natured: for whate'er my will might frame, Gone forth is the word of the Norns, that abideth ever the same. And now, despite my cunning, how deem ye I shall die?"
And they said he would live as he listed, and at last in peace should lie When he listed to live no longer; so mighty and wise he was.
But again he laughed and answered: "One day it shall come to pass, That a beardless youth shall slay me: I know the fateful doom; But nought may I withstand it, as it heaves up dim through the gloom."
So is Sigurd now with Regin, and he learns him many things; Yea, all save the craft of battle, that men learned the sons of kings: The smithying sword and war-coat; the carving runes aright; The tongues of many countries, and soft speech for men's delight; The dealing with the harp-strings, and the winding ways of song. So wise of heart waxed Sigurd, and of body wondrous strong: And he chased the deer of the forest, and many a wood-wolf slew, And many a bull of the mountains: and the desert dales he knew, And the heaths that the wind sweeps over; and seaward would he fare, Far out from the outer skerries, and alone the sea-wights dare.
One day did Regin tell Sigurd of deeds done in the past by kings both bold and wise, and the lad longed, too, to do the like, and his bright eyes glowed with desire. And Regin told him that he should follow his Volsung fathers and roam far and wide, leaving the peace-lovers and home-abiders who had cherished his youth.
This roused Sigurd's wrath, for he would have nought said against those who had reared him, but Regin bade him ask for one of the horses of Gripir, and banished his anger by a song of the deeds of the Choosers of the Slain. Before the song was finished Sigurd went to King Elf and asked that he might have authority to seek a horse from King Gripir.
Then smiled King Elf, and answered: "A long way wilt thou ride, To where unpeace and troubles and the griefs of the soul abide, Yea unto the death at the last: yet surely shall thou win The praise of many a people: so have thy way herein. Forsooth no more may we hold thee than the hazel copse may hold The sun of the early dawning, that turneth it all unto gold."
Then sweetly Sigurd thanked them; and through the night he lay Mid dreams of many a matter till the dawn was on the way; Then he shook the sleep from off him, and that dwelling of Kings he left And wended his ways unto Gripir. On a crag from the mountain reft Was the house of the old King builded; and a mighty house it was, Though few were the sons of men that over its threshold would pass: But the wild ernes cried about it, and the vultures toward it flew, And the winds from the heart of the mountains searched every chamber through, And about were meads wide-spreading; and many a beast thereon, Yea some that are men-folk's terror, their sport and pasture won.