TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Doom of the Volsungs
The Swan Maidens--Weland Legend----Asa-god's Adventure--The Treasure Curse--Fafner becomes a Dragon--Regin the Wonder Smith--The Volsung Family--Odin brings the Magic Sword--Marriage of Signy--King Siggeir's Treachery--Volsung and his Sons are slain--The Survivor, Sigmund--Desire for Vengeance.
ERE the sons of Ivalde warred against the gods, they loved three swan maidens, whose songs in summer were sweet to hear. One morning the snow-white birds flew towards a lake in Wolfdales. The brothers followed them, and. they beheld sitting on the shore three beauteous valkyries, who were singing and spinning flax. Beside them lay their swan coverings, and these the brothers captured. Then had they the swan maids in their power, and they took them to be their brides. Egil-Orvandel had Obrun, Slagfin-Gjuki had Swan-white, and Thjasse-Volund had All-white.
For seven years they all lived happily together. But in the eighth year the swan maids were seized with longing, and in the ninth they flew away in search of conflicts. Nor did they ever again return. In vain did Orvandel-Egil make swift pursuit on his skees, and in vain did Slagfin-Gjuki search for his lost bride. But Thjasse-Volund remained behind, and when the Winter War began to be waged, he retired to a deep mountain recess where he concealed his treasure, which he cursed with spells.
Then did Thjasse-Volund erect a smithy where he forged the magic Sword of Victory, so that he might wreak his vengeance upon the gods, and become chief ruler in Asgard. A wondrous serpent ring did he also fashion. It was given power to multiply without end, and when Mimer came suddenly upon the cunning artificer and bound him, he found within the smithy a chain of seven hundred rings which could fetter the wind.
In ancient England minstrels were wont to sing to Angles and Saxons of Volund, the wonder Smith, whom they called Weland. 1 He was a prince of the fairies. In other lands and in other tongues was the "Lay of Volund" sung also. Mimer was named Nithud, and called "King of Sweden".
Now King Nithud desired greatly to possess the treasures of Weland. So he sent mounted warriors to Wolfdales to take the elf prince captive. In bright moonlight the men rode forth clad in shining armour. When they reached Weland's hall, they entered it boldly, for the Smith, who was a skilled archer, was hunting afar. They beheld, hanging on the wall, a chain of seven hundred rings; they took it down, and one ring they kept. Then the men concealed themselves. In time Weland returned from the chase. Keen-eyed was he indeed, for he at once seized the rings and sat down on a bear's skin to count them. He found that one was missing, and he deemed fondly that his fairy wife had returned, because for her he had forged the ring. Musing thus a long time, he fell fast asleep. In sorrow he awoke; his hands were chained and his feet were fettered.
Then his captors bore him away, and they put him on an island to forge weapons and ornaments for the king. The heart of Weland was filled with wrath.
"On Nithud's belt," he cried, "I behold the sword which I fashioned with all my skill. I have lost for ever my shining blade. Bodvild, the queen, hath now the ring of my fairy bride. I shall ne'er be appeased."
In his secret heart Weland vowed to be avenged. He took no rest; he sat not by day nor slept at night. He kept striking with his hammer.
One day two young sons of the king entered the smithy. He slew them, and of their skulls made drinking-cups which he sent unto the king. Then unto him came also Bodvild, the queen, and she loved him because that she wore the magic ring. So by the wonder smith was she beguiled.
Weland ceased not to work until he had fashioned for himself eagle pinions. Then he flew away, leaving the queen to grieve bitterly for him because of the spell that was upon her, while Nithud lamented for his sons.
When Thjasse-Volund perished in Asgard, whither he had flown, and the other sons of Ivalde passed also, the curse remained upon the treasure, which was then guarded by a dwarf, or, as some tell, by a fiery dragon. In after days the curse fell upon each man who became possessed of the doomed hoard of the sons of Ivalde. And ever did the rings continue to multiply, and the chain to grow, ring following ring and linking one to the other, and each one like to the first that was forged by the wonder smith. The rings came down the Ages and the chain extended from land to land.
So grew also, link by link, the wondrous story chain of Ivalde's sons and of the swan maidens whom they loved and lost. Their fame can never end nor, their sorrows, nor can the doom of the treasure curse pass away while ring follows ring and the chain grows on.
Old is the ring tale of the Volsung's doom. By Iceland's skalds was it sung to harp music in other days, and warriors loved to hear it in the feasting hall as they drank mead, while the log fire reddened their faces and the night wind bellowed through the gloom.
For it was told that there was once a dwarf king named Hreidmar who possessed much treasure. He had three sons and three daughters. The first son was named Fafner, the second Ottar, and the third Regin. Fafner had great strength, and was fierce as he was surly: he claimed the possessions of the others for himself. Ottar was wont to fish in otter guise, and caught salmon in the river, which he laid out on the bank. Regin had neither the might of Fafner nor the cunning of Ottar, but he had skilful hands, and he became a wonder smith who shaped weapons of iron and ornaments of silver and gold.
One day Odin and Honer and Loke journeyed together, and it chanced that they drew nigh to the dwelling of Hreidmar. On the river bank they saw the otter: he had devoured a salmon and lay fast asleep. Loke, who was ever working evil, flung a sharp stone which smote the dwarf's son and killed him, and when he had done that, he took off the skin. Then the gods went towards the dwelling of Hreidmar and entered it.
Wroth indeed was the dwarf when he beheld the otter's skin, and he seized the gods and demanded ransom. So Loke had to go forth alone to obtain sufficient gold, while Odin and Honer were kept secure.
Now Loke knew that a great treasure hoard lay hidden in a dark mountain cavern; it was guarded by a dwarf named Andvari, who had taken the guise of a pike, and ever concealed himself in a deep pool below a waterfall. Loke resolved to possess the gold, so that the gods might be set free. So he went to Ran, the sea-goddess, and when he had told her of the plight of the gods, he borrowed her wondrous net. Then he hastened to the pool below the waterfall and fished up Andvari the pike.
"What fish art thou?" he said. "Thou dost lack cunning to be thus taken unawares. Of thee I demand life ransom in water gold."
The pike answered: "My name is Andvari, and my sire is Oinn. By a Norn of evil fortune was I doomed to pass my days in cold waters."
But Andvari could deceive not Loke, and was forced to pay life ransom, unwilling as he might be. So changing his shape, he went to the mountain cavern to yield up the treasure of which he was guardian. In vain Andvari sought to keep back a single gold ring which had power to multiply. But Loke demanded it with the rest. Then was the dwarf moved to great anger.
"My treasure is accursed," he cried. "It shall bring death to two brothers, and cause strife among eight kings. No man shall ever be made glad by my gold."
Now Hreidmar had demanded of the gods that ne should receive as ransom for his son's death as much gold as would cover the otter skin. Loke laid upon the skin all the treasure he had obtained save the ring, which he sought to keep for himself. But Hreidmar perceived that a single whisker hair of the otter stood bare, and he demanded that it should be covered. Unwillingly did Loke lay the ring upon it. Then were the gods ransomed and set free.
Loke was angry as the dwarf had been, because he had perforce to part with the magic ring, and ere he went his way he spoke fiercely to Hreidmar, saying:
"Thou hast received gold enough now, and my head is safe. But thou shalt never prosper, nor shall thy sons prosper after thee. Take thou with the gold the curse that follows it."
Then Fafner arose and demanded the entire treasure for himself. He fought with his sire, to whom he gave his deathwound.
Ere he died, Hreidmar besought his daughters to avenge him. But one, who was named Lyngheid, said that a sister could slay not her brother, whereat her sire foretold that she would have a daughter whose son would be his strong avenger.
Fafner drave forth his sisters and his brother Regin, and possessed himself of all the treasure. Heavily indeed did the curse fall upon him, and there was never again any joy in his heart. He went unto a lonely place, which was called "Glittering Heath", to be guardian of his ill-gotten gold, and he brooded over it there with anger and suspicion, until he became a wingless dragon which was feared and hated by all men.
Regin was thus made poor, and he went to a king whose wonder smith he became. He shaped strong weapons and many ornaments of gold and silver, for which he received great praise and royal honours. But in his heart he grieved because that he had been robbed by his brother of his just share of the treasure. Great was his desire that the dragon should be slain, so that he himself might become possessed of the wealth. But many years passed ere the avenger had birth, as Hreidmar had foretold, and Fafner was killed. The avenger was Sigurd, and his sire was Sigmund, son of Volsung. Noble was he and of great strength and battle power, like all his kin. Bright, too, were his days until the curse of the treasure fell upon him.
Now the sire of Volsung was Rerir, who was the, son of Sige. The sire of Sige was Odin. It chanced that Sige went forth to hunt in wintertime through a snow-wreathed forest. With him went Brede, who was a servant to Skadi, and was skilful in the chase. At the day's end Sige was enraged because Brede had taken more game than him; so he slew the man and concealed his body in a snow wreath. But the crime was discovered and Sige was banished from the land of his folk.
Then did Odin come to his son's aid, and gave him war vessels and a force of brave war-men. Many victories were won by Sige. His fame in battle was spread far and near, and he conquered and ruled the land of the Huns. He achieved great glory in his prime, but his life's end was clouded by dissensions in the kingdom. Even the queen's brothers conspired against him. Then a great battle was fought and Sige was slain. His son Rerir reigned after him. His kinsmen he slew and put their army to flight. Thus did he avenge the death of his sire.
Rerir became a greater monarch than Sige. He took for wife a noble lady, but as the years went on they fell to mourning, because that no child was born to them. So they prayed to the gods, and Freyja heard them with compassion. Then was one of her maids, who was a daughter of the giant, Hrimner 2, sent to earth in crow guise bearing an apple for the queen. Thus was the queen's desire fulfilled. But soon afterwards the king sickened and died. The child was not born until he was seven years old, and he was named Volsung.
Now Volsung became the most powerful king of his time. He was far famed as a warrior, and he ruled his people justly and well. A great house did he cause to be built. In the midst of it grew a mighty oak which was named Branstock, and its branches overhung the roof. It was told that Volsung had for wife the giant's daughter, Ljod, whom gentle Freyja had sent with the magic apple to his queen mother. They had two sons and one daughter, and the first-born were Sigmund and his twin sister, Signy. The lad was as strong and brave as the girl was comely and fair.
At that time Siggeir was King of the Gauts, and he sought to have Signy for his bride. So it came that they were wed in Volsung's hall. A great feast was given and the warriors of the Gauts were there, and they made merry with Volsung's nobles and his two sons.
When the feast was over, a tall, old man entered the hall. He wore a blue cloak, mottled with grey, a round hat which was drawn down over his face, and tight breeches of linen. He had but one eye, and his feet were bare. In his hand he carried a gleaming sword, and he plunged it into Branstock right up to the hilt. None spoke, but they all watched him with mute amaze. Then he spake gravely unto them.
"I gift this sword", he said, "unto the man who can draw it from Branstock. He shall find it a goodly blade indeed, for it hath no equal."
Then he vanished from before them. . . . He was Odin, but no man knew him.
Now the chief warriors who were there laid hands, one after the other, upon the sword. But in vain did they endeavour to draw it forth. It stuck deep in the tree, defying them as it tempted them. But at length Sigmund grasped the hilt in his strong right hand, and pulled out the blade, which he thus had for himself as a gift from Odin.
Ill pleased was King Siggeir, for he sought greatly to possess the shining blade for himself, and he made offer to purchase it with much treasure; but Sigmund refused to deliver it up even though the King of the Gauts gave unto him all the gold he possessed.
Siggeir answered not. He sat moodily apart, for he deemed that the young warrior had spoken scornfully. With anger in his heart he devised a treacherous scheme with purpose to gain his desire and to wreak vengeance upon the kinsfolk of his queen. So next morning he made ready to depart, although the wedding celebrations were not ended, and he invited Volsung and his sons to visit him after the space of three months. Volsung gave his word to do so, and took leave of Siggeir and Signy. Unwilling indeed was the fair bride to leave the land of her people, and she would have parted with her husband had her father permitted her.
When three moons had waxed and waned, Volsung and his sons with their followers voyaged in three ships to Gautland. Fair winds favoured them and they made speedy passage, and on a fragrant evening they reached a haven and went ashore. Then came Signy to them in secret to persuade them to return, because that her husband had collected together a great army to accomplish their fall. But Volsung disdained to go back.
"A hundred battles I have fought," he said, "and I was ever victorious. In my youth I feared not my foemen, and in my old age I shall flee not before them. A man can die but once, and he can escape not death at his appointed time. So we shall fare onward nor fear aught, and no man shall tell that Volsung ever fled from danger or sued for peace." Signy desired to remain with her kin, but Volsung bade her return to Siggeir and stay with him.
Next morning brave Volsung and his two sons with all their followers went fully armed towards the hall of Siggeir. But a strong force came out against them, and after fierce and long fighting Volsung was slain with all his followers, and his two sons were taken captive. Siggeir then became possessed of Sigmund's sword, which was named Gram.
Earnestly did Signy entreat that her brothers should not be put to death, and although the cruel Gaut king relented somewhat, he caused them to be bound together to a felled tree in a deep forest. In the midst of the night a fierce she wolf came and devoured one of them. Secret messengers bore the sad tidings unto Signy and she grieved piteously. On the second night another son of Volsung was devoured; and so night after night one perished by the wolf until Sigmund alone remained alive.
Then Signy sent her messengers to smear Sigmund's body with honey, and they did according to her desire. In the darkness of night the wolf came to devour him. But when the monster smelt the sweet savour, she began to lick the young hero's face. At length she thrust her tongue into his mouth, and Sigmund seized it between his teeth and bit it off. As he struggled, he burst his fetters and the monster was slain.
Now the wolf was none other than King Siggeir's mother, who was skilled in witchcraft and had power to change her shape.
Sigmund found a safe retreat in the wood, where he made for himself a subterranean dwelling. In time Signy came to know that it fared well with him, but Siggeir knew not that Sigmund remained alive and awaited the hour of vengeance.
1 Beowulf had armour made by Weland. In Scott's Kenilworth, chap. xiii, he appears as "Wayland Smith ", whose fame "haunts the Vale of the Whitehorse" in Berkshire. The legend is associated with the burial place of a Danish chief. "Wayland", like the Highland fairy, performs during the night work left for him to do. His fee is sixpence. This fairy smith was also known in France.
2 Angerboda, the Hag of Ironwood, when she was a maid attendant to Freyja.