TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
How Sigmund was Avenged
The Forest Hut--Waiting the Day of Vengeance--Signy's Sons--Why they were slain--Sinfjotle, the Volsung--The Were-wolves--Attack on King Siggeir's Hall--Avengers buried alive--Their Escape--Siggeir's Fate--Signy's Tragic Farewell--Sigmund returns to his Kingdom--Usurper overthrown.
FOR long years, through summer's heat and winter cold, did Sigmund dwell in his forest hut, biding his time. Signy had two sons, and it was her heart's hope that their Volsung blood would stir them up to avenge her sire's death. She set at length to proving their worth. On their hands she put winter gloves, which she sewed through their flesh. But they cried out thereat, and she feared that they had more of Siggeir's nature than that of her kin.
When the eldest was ten years old she sent him unto Sigmund, so that it might be found whether he was fit to give service n the work of blood vengeance. Sigmund greeted the lad and took him within his hut. Then secretly he placed a venomous serpent in the meal sack, and having bidden Signy's son to bake bread, he went through the forest to gather firewood.
In time he returned, and he found that no bread had been baked, so he asked why it was not ready.
"I feared to place my hand in the meal sack," said the lad, "because something darted quickly in it."
Sigmund knew then that the lad lacked courage, and when he met with Signy he said her son was unworthy to be a Volsung.
"Then he is unworthy to live," his mother cried angrily. So Sigmund slew him.
Another winter came, and Signy sent her second son unto her brother; but he proved to be timorous like the first, and was put to death also.
Signy next conspired with a witch, and they changed shapes. The witch lived in Siggeir's hall as his queen. and Signy went through the forest towards Sigmund's secret dwelling. She begged for food and shelter, nor did her brother have knowledge of who she was. For three nights she dwelt in the underground hut and then returned to her home, where she again changed shapes with the witch.
In time Signy's third son was born, and he was indeed of Volsung blood. The name he received was Sinfjotle, and he grew up to pleasure his mother's heart, fair as her kin and strong and without fear. In secret she told him of her sire, and of how he died through Siggeir's treachery, and she told him of the wolf which devoured her fettered brothers. She filled his heart with the glory of the Volsungs and he took pride in their fame. One day she set to proving him, and she sewed gloves on his hands and wrists, piercing his flesh with the needle. But he twitched not a muscle, and her heart was gladdened. Then she tore off the gloves, and the raw flesh was laid bare.
"I have given thee sufficient pain," she said.
But the youth smiled. "Volsung", said he, "would shrink not from wounds so slight."
Soon afterwards Sinfjotle was sent by his mother unto Sigmund, and he was received as were the others, and set to bake bread. A venomous serpent was again placed in the meal sack.
When Sigmund returned with firewood, he found that the bread was made ready.
"Found ye aught in the sack?" he asked the lad.
"Something darted quickly through the meal," Sinfjotle answered, "but I paused not to discover what it was, and it is baked in the bread."
Volsung's great son was well pleased with the lad, but he warned him not to partake of the bread, because he could resist not the poison. But Sigmund ate of it himself, because he was of such great strength that the venom could harm him not.
Signy's son remained with Sigmund, who trained him in feats of strength. Together they robbed and murdered men in the forest, and the lad proved his worth and grew speedily to full strength. Sigmund thought sure he was a son of Siggeir, and he ever prompted him to avenge the death of Volsung, for he feared that the lad was but a Gaut at heart. So he regarded the lad with suspicion, and was watchful lest he might prove treacherous like to Siggeir.
It chanced that on a darksome night they came together to a house in which robbers lay asleep. There they found two wolfskins, which gave those who wore them power to change their shapes. These they took away, and when they put them on, Sigmund and Sinfjotle were transformed into were-wolves. Then were they fierce indeed. Between them they made a compact that one would call upon the other if confronted by seven men, and then they parted to prowl for their prey in the deep forest.
Ere long Sigmund had to fight against seven men. He set up the loud wolf howl, and Sinfjotle hastened to his aid, and between them they slew all the band. After that they parted, and then Sinfjotle had to contend against eleven men. But Signy's wolf son uttered no cry. He fought fiercely and alone, and slaughtered all his opponents. Then wearily he lay down to rest.
Sigmund came towards him soon afterwards, and when he found that Sinfjotle had surpassed him in valour he sprang upon the youth with wolf anger and did him grievous injury. But he speedily repented what he had done, and carried his companion to the underground dwelling, where he lay nigh unto death. In sore distress was Sigmund, and he vowed never again to go forth as a wolf. Then it chanced that he saw two weasels who fought together. One seized the other as he had done to Signy's son, but it ran speedily to find a herb which restored its companion to full strength again. He sought to find the healing herb, and a raven 1 flew towards him bearing a leaf in its beak, which it let fall at his feet. Perceiving that it was of the herb he desired to find, Sigmund hastened to his hut and laid the leaf upon Sinfjotle's wounds. The youth was at once healed and the affliction passed.
Together the heroes waited until they could regain their wonted shape again. Then they destroyed the wolfskins, lest the one should slay the other.
Sigmund perceived that the lad was his equal in strength, and deemed that the time had come when they could wreak Volsung vengeance against Siggeir, King of the Gauts. So they armed themselves and went forth. When they reached the hall they concealed themselves among the mead casks which stood along the entrance way. But ere night fell two of Siggeir's children, who played with a golden ball, cried out because that they saw two grim warriors in shining armour crouching behind the casks. Sinfjotle sought to slay them, but Sigmund disdained to shed their blood. So the alarm was raised and Siggeir and his war-men issued forth to contend against the intruders. The avengers sprang up with drawn swords. They feared not the overwhelming force that clamoured for their blood. Sinfjotle first slew Siggeir's two children and then the fight raged fierce and fast. Many warriors fell. Sigmund and his companion made great slaughter, but their foemen were so numerous that in the end they were taken captive and bound.
Then did Siggeir and his nobles take counsel together to devise how the twain might be given the most cruel death, and it was decreed that they should be buried alive.
In the morning two stone grave chambers were made, one beside the other, and in these were Sigmund and Sinfjotle laid. Ere the slab and earth were placed over them, Signy came forth with flesh wrapped in straw and flung it into the graves. There was it allowed to remain, so that their torture might be prolonged. Then the barrows were covered over.
The buried heroes spake out one to another in the darkness, and Sigmund bethought him at length to partake of the flesh. So he cast aside the straw, and when he had done that he discovered that a sword was thrust through the flesh. He knew by the hilt that it was Gram, and his heart leapt within him.
With the wondrous sword the two men sawed through the great slab which covered the grave chambers, and when darkness fell they came forth.
It was the night of Volsung vengeance, long desired, long waited for. Sigmund and Sinfjotle hewed logs with Gram, and heaped the wood splinters round the hall. Then they put fire to them, and soon the dwelling of King Siggeir was wrapped in flames.
The king woke up, and through the smoke he cried in anguish: "Who hath come against me with fire? Now death assaileth me!"
Sigmund heard him, and in triumph he answered: "Now dost thou know, O treacherous man, that a son of Volsung remains alive. I am Sigmund, and Sinfjotle, son of Signy, is here with me."
The flames spread. Death encompassed all that were in the hall. None could escape, because the avengers guarded the door. But Sigmund was loath that Signy should perish, and he called to her to make escape with all the treasure she could seize. The queen heard her brother's voice amidst the roar of flames, and she came to the door with empty hands.
"Full well thou knowest," she said unto Sigmund, "that I never forgot how Siggeir killed King Volsung. My very children I had slain because they were too weakly to avenge my sire's death. But behold! Sinfjotle is a mighty warrior indeed, for he is not only mine own son, but a son of a son of King Volsung also. For vengeance have I striven through long years, so that Siggeir might have his deathdue in the end. Now my labour is finished and my purpose is achieved. I have no need of longer days, nor do I desire to live now. By compulsion was my life spent with Siggeir; now that I have free choice I shall die gladly with him. . . . Fare thee well."
So saying she kissed Sigmund and Sinfjotle, and hastening back to her husband she perished with him in the flames. . . . Thus was the death of King Volsung avenged.
Sigmund was now free to return to his own land, and with his son he crossed the sea. A usurper sat upon Volsung's throne, but he was speedily overcome by the avenging heroes, and the glory that had departed from Hunaland was restored once again.
1 One of Odin's ravens.