TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
Fate of Sinfjotle--Poisoned by the Queen--The Grey Ferryman--Sigmund woos Hjordis--Battle with King Lynge--Odin intervenes--The Heroes' Last Hours--How the Queen was rescued--Birth of Sigurd--Regin's Story--Sigurd avenges Sigmund's Death--Combat with the Dragon--The Language of Birds--Regin is slain.
WHEN Helgi won his kingdom and his bride, Sinfjotle returned again unto Hunaland. Thereafter he set to warring in distant realms, and he achieved widespread renown and won much treasure. Now it chanced that his eyes fell with love upon an alien maid of exceeding great beauty, and he sought to have her for himself. But she was also desired by the brother of Borghild, Sigmund's queen. So the two fought together, and Sinfjotle slew his rival and laid waste and plundered his land. Thereafter he returned home and brought tidings of his deeds.
Wrothful was Borghild, and she sought to drive her brother's slayer from the kingdom; but Sigmund would brook not such an evil doing. So he made offer of blood treasure to his queen, and she made pretence to be appeased, knowing well she could prevail not against the king's will. Yet in her secret heart she brooded over her brother's death and resolved to be avenged upon Sinfjotle. So she held a funeral feast, and went round with the mead horn among the war men who had gathered in the hall. When she asked Sinfjotle to drink, he feared to partake, and Sigmund seized the horn and emptied it. A second time was the horn filled by Borghild, and a second time Sigmund took it from his son. But the third time Sinfjotle must needs drain the horn himself, and when he did that he fell down and died, because the drink was poisoned. Thus did Borghild take vengeance on her brother's slayer.
Great was the grief of Sigmund when Sinfjotle was dead. The war-men in the hall feared that his sorrow would kill him. Loud mourning was heard there then at the funeral feast, and Sigmund, who had grown old, lamented long for his son. Then tenderly he took Signy's offspring in his arms--that Volsung of Volsungs--and bore him through the evening dusk towards the firth's grey beach with purpose to take him to the opposing shore.
He perceived a small boat. In it was a tall, old man, grave of aspect, grey bearded, and having but one eye. A round hat was drawn low on his forehead, and he wore a dim blue cloak mottled with grey. Men tell it was Odin, but Sigmund knew not who it was.
Unto him the grey ferryman spake, bidding him lay Sinfjotle's body in the boat; but he said there was no room for Sigmund, who must needs go round the firth end if he would reach the opposing shore. So Sigmund parted with him and hastened over the beach. Ere long he turned round to gaze upon the boat as it went over the waters. . . . Suddenly it vanished from his sight. . . . So passed Sinfjotle, son of Sigmund and Signy, whose grandsire was mighty Volsung of Odin's kin.
Sigmund turned homeward. He entered the hall sorrowing. He drave forth Borghild, remembering how Sinfjotle died, and she became an outcast, so that ere long she perished.
Then Sigmund sought another bride. Hjordis, daughter of King Eylime, was comely in his eyes, and he sent messengers to her sire beseeching her for wife. Now King Lynge, son of King Hunding whom Helgi had slain, desired also to have the fair princess. Her sire would favour neither Sigmund nor Lynge, and gave the maid her choice; and she vowed she would wed the Volsung. 'Twas thus it befell, and a great marriage feast was held. Then Sigmund returned to Hunaland with his bride, and King Eylime went with them.
Wroth was King Lynge. Tidings he sent unto Sigmund that he would war against him and shatter the power of the Volsungs. So he assembled a great army and set forth to wreak his vengeance and capture Hjordis.
Sigmund feared the issue of battle, for the stronger force was with Lynge. But his courage faltered not. Great treasures have warriors gained, but Odin gave Sigmund a sword. Although he had grown old, his faith in Gram was strong. Yet he deemed it best that Hjordis should be concealed, and with a bondmaid, and bearing much treasure, the queen was given safe retreat in a deep forest.
A great shore battle was fought. Sigmund contended fiercely against overwhelming odds. None could stand against him, and for a time it seemed that Lynge could not prevail. Sigmund's arms were red with blood of his foeman, nor got he a single wound.
Then entered the field through Lynge's war-men an old and one-eyed man. He wore a blue cloak, and his round hat was drawn low on his brow. In his hand was a great spear, and he went against Sigmund.
That was the Volsung's fateful hour. Odin desired his death.. The god shook his great spear, and when Sigmund smote it the sword Gram broke in twain. There upon Lynge's war-men fell upon the hero and gave him his deathwound. King Eylime, who fought by Sigmund's side, was slain, and the Volsung army was scattered in flight. The shoreland was red with heroes' blood numerous as dead leaves were the bodies of the slain.
King Lynge waited not on the battleground. He pressed onward with his army towards Sigmund's hall; but when he reached it he could find not Hjordis nor any treasure. So search was made through all the kingdom, and although Lynge found not the bride he sought, he was made glad because that the Volsung power was ended and the. last of the line was slain. But he recked not of a hero unborn, and although he set an alien ruler over Hunaland the glory of the Volsungs was fated to return again in greater splendour.
Now when night fell, Hjordis went towards the battleground and found Sigmund where he lay grievously wounded and awaiting death.
She sought to give him healing, so that he might avenge her sire; but Sigmund told her that his wounds could heal not, for Odin desired his death, and his sword Gram was shattered.
"I have fought while Odin willed it," he said, "and now 'tis his desire that I should die."
Then he counselled Hjordis to keep the broken sword, so that it might be welded for her son unborn, and he foretold that the babe would grow up to achieve renown which would live through the ages.
"Now," said Sigmund faintly, "I am death-weary, and must go hence to be with my kin."
All night long Hjordis sat beside the dying king. She soothed him; she watched him tenderly, and when dawn was breaking golden in the east she dosed his eyes in death, and wept over him.
Click to enlarge
WOOD PORTALS FROM A CHURCH AT HILLESTAD, NORWAY
Carved with scenes from the Volsung Saga. Sigurd is shown with his thumb in his mouth at the bottom of the left portal
Then seaward she gazed and beheld a fleet of viking ships coming nigh to the shore. Hastily she bade her bondmaid change raiment with her, saying: "Henceforth thou shalt say that thy name is Hjordis."
The leader of the viking horde was Alv, son of King Hjaalprek of Denmark. He came ashore with his warmen. He spoke to Hjordis and her maid, and was told of the hidden treasure, and that he took speedily on board a war ship. The queen he took also and her bondmaid.
Then Alv returned to Denmark, and ever he deemed that the bondmaid was Sigmund's queen, but Hjaalprek's spouse, when she beheld the two women, suspected that the bondmaid was the nobler of the two.
To the king she spoke secretly thereanent, and Hjaalprek fell to questioning the pair. First he addressed her who pretended to be queen, and said:
"How knowest thou the hour of rising in wintertime when the stars are clouded over?"
The bondmaid answered him, saying: "It hath been my wont to drink heavily at dawn, and I awake athirst."
"A strange custom for a king's daughter," the king remarked.
Then Hjaalprek asked of Hjordis how she could tell when the hour of rising came, and she answered thus:
"My sire gifted me a magic gold ring, and it turns ice-cold on my finger when the hour cometh to rise in the wintertime."
The king laughed. "No bondmaid's sire giveth gold rings. A king's daughter art thou. Of this thou shouldst have told us heretofore."
Then Hjordis made confession that she was indeed Sigmund's queen, and thereafter she was honoured and well loved in the Hall of Hjaalprek.
When her son was born, the name he received was Sigurd. A Volsung was he indeed. Bright were his eyes, and his face was kingly, and Hjaalprek took pride in him. He grew up to be strong and fearless; a warman's skill had he ever and Volsung pride, and he had great wisdom, and was eloquent of speech.
His foster father was Regin, the wonder, Smith, brother of the dragon Fafner, and he gave the lad instruction in many arts, and in the mystery of runes, and taught him many languages.
One day Regin asked the lad if he knew that his father had left great treasure, and that Hjaalprek guarded it; and Sigurd said it was guarded for him and he had faith in the king. Then Regin urged him to ask a horse from Hjaalprek, and when the lad did that the king bade him select the one he desired.
An old, grey-bearded man, with one eye, came to Sigurd, who knew not that he was Odin, and he chose for the lad a steed which was of Sleipner's race. Sigurd called it Grane because it was grey, nor was its equal to be found in the world.
Now Alv took Hjordis for wife, and they lived happily together.
Then a day came when Regin, perceiving that the lad grew to manhood's strength and wisdom while he was yet young, bethought to tell him of the treasure over which the dragon Fafner kept constant guard. He urged Sigurd to slay the monster.
"I am scarce more than a child yet," Sigurd said; "why dost thou urge me to do this mighty deed?"
Then Regin told the story of the treasure, and how Loke had taken it from the dwarf Andvari; how it was given to his own sire, whom his brother Fafner slew so that he might have all the gold for himself.
Sigurd heard him in silence, and when Regin said: "If thou shalt go forth to slay Fafner I shall forge a mighty sword for thee."
So the lad said: "Forge then a sword for me which shall be without an equal, for fain would I do mighty deeds."
Then Regin went to his smithy and made a sword; but the lad smote it on the anvil and it flew in pieces. A second sword he splintered also. 1
Thereafter Sigurd went to his mother and asked for the broken pieces of his sire's great sword Gram. Then he bade Regin forge it anew, and the Smith did that, although unwillingly. When it was made, the lad put the blade to test and clove the anvil in twain. Next he cut wool with it in the river, so keen was its edge. He was well pleased with Gram.
Regin then bade him promise to slay Fafner, and Sigurd said: "As I promised thee, so shall I do, but first I must set forth to avenge the death of my sire."
Stronger grew the lad, and he was of great stature 2 and skilled in feats of arms. Ere he set forth to do deeds of valour he paid visit to Griper, his mother's brother, who had power to foretell what would come to pass. Sigurd desired to know what the norns had decreed regarding him, and although Griper was at first unwilling to tell him, he at last unfolded to the lad his whole future life.
Thereafter Sigurd went to the king and besought that he should get ships and war-men to go forth against the tribe of Hunding, and avenge upon King Lynge the death of Sigmund. Hjaalprek gave him according to his desire. A great storm broke forth as he crossed the seas, and as the ships came nigh a headland a man beckoned to Sigurd and desired to be taken aboard. The young hero commanded that this should be done. His name was Fjorner 3, and he carried out the behests of Urd. He sang strange runes regarding the battle that was to be. As he did so the storm passed away, and they drew nigh to the kingdom of King Lynge. Then Fjorner vanished.
Sigurd laid waste the country, and tidings were borne to King Lynge that fierce foemen had invaded the kingdom. A great army was collected to oppose them, but Sigurd was given victory, and he slew Lynge, and thus avenged his sire's death. With the sword Gram he clove the king in twain, and all the sons of Hunding who were there he slew also. So did Sigurd achieve great renown, and with the treasure he had captured he returned unto Hjaalprek.
Ere long Regin spake to him in secret, calling to mind his promise to slay the dragon Fafner.
"As I have promised," Sigurd said, "so shall I do."
Regin went forth towards the Glittering Heath with the young hero, whom he counselled to make a pit so that he might slay the dragon from beneath when it came out to drink.
"If the dragon's blood fills up the pit, how will it fare with me?" Sigurd exclaimed.
"Thou seem'st to be afraid," Regin said. "'Unlike thy kin art thou."
Sigurd went towards the dragon's dwelling, but Regin waited at a distance. Then to the young hero came an old and grey-bearded man with one eye, and he gave counsel that he should dig many pits, so that the blood of the dragon might not drown him. 4 Sigurd knew not that the man was Odin, but he did as he was advised: he dug many pits, and in one of them he concealed himself and waited for the dragon to come forth.
In time Fafner crawled from his lair, roaring and spouting venom. The earth shook, and Regin trembled in his hiding place. But Sigurd was not afraid. He waited until the monster was over the pit in which he stood, then he plunged his sword Gram through the dragon right up to the hilt. He drew it forth again, and the blood reddened his arms, and ran into the pits.
Fafner tossed in fury, and destroyed all things that were nigh him, but soon he knew well that he was wounded unto death. As he lay helpless and weak he beheld Sigurd coming forth.
Fafner spake and asked him: "Who art thou that feared me not? What is thy name, and what is thy sire's name?"
Sigurd answered: "My folk are strangers among men. My name is Lordly Beast. I have nor sire nor mother, and hither came I alone." 5
Fafner said: "Wilt thou lie to me in my hour of death) by saying that thou hast nor sire nor mother or other name than Lordly Beast?"
Sigurd thereupon said: "My name is Sigurd, and I am Sigmund's son."
"Brave was thy sire," said the dragon, "but didst thou never hear that I was feared among men? Name thou him who urged thee to slay me."
Sigurd told not of Regin, and the dragon warned him that the gold would be a curse to him.
But the young hero said: "We can but keep our gold till life's end, and a man dieth once only."
Fafner then said: "By Regin was I betrayed. Thee too would he betray; he desires my death and thine."
Soon afterwards the dragon died, whereupon Regin came forth from his hiding place. He came humbly towards the young hero and spake words of flattery to him. Then he said: "But, alas! thou hast slain my brother, nor am I myself without blame."
Sigurd said angrily: "When I performed this great deed thou didst crouch like a coward in a bush."
"It was I who forged the sword with which thou didst slay Fafner," said Regin.
Then Sigurd answered: "Better in battle is a brave heart than a strong sword."
Again Regin said: "Alas! thou hast slain my brother, nor am I myself without blame."
Sigurd cut out the dragon's heart, and Regin drank the blood. Then the wonder smith bade the young hero to roast the heart for him while he lay down to sleep. The lad thrust a rod through it and roasted it over a fire. When the heart frizzled he laid his finger on the spot, lest the blood should come forth, and then he thrust his finger in his mouth. When he did that he at once understood the language of birds. 6
One bird sang: "Why dost thou sit roasting the dragon's heart for another when thou shouldst eat it thyself and obtain great wisdom?"
Another sang: "Regin lies there with purpose in his heart to betray Sigurd."
A third sang: "Sigurd should slay Regin and possess all the treasure for himself."
The first bird sang: "Regin hath drunk of the dragon's blood and will become a wolf. Sigurd would be wise if he thought of his own safety. He who hath a wolf's ears will soon have the teeth of a wolf."
Another bird sang: "Sigurd will be less wise than I deem him to be if he spares the man who desired his -own brother's death."
Sigurd leapt up. "The day hath not come when Regin shall slay me," he said, and at once cut off the head of the wonder smith.
Then the young hero ate a portion of Fafner's heart, 7 and took the rest with him. Thereafter he went to the dragon's lair and took forth the treasure--the rings, the awesome helmet, the sword Hrotte, gold armour, and many ornaments. In two chests he placed the treasure, and these he put upon the back of his strong steed Grane.
The birds sang to him.
"There is a maid most fair if thou couldst possess her.
"Green roads twine to the hall of Giuki, and thither is Sigurd led. The king hath a daughter and thou hast gold for her. . . ."
"On Hindarfell there is a high and gold-decked hall; it is girt around with fire. . . .
"There sleepeth on the fell a maid of war, a chosen of heroes; flames flash round her. Odin hath given her long and unbroken sleep, for she hath stricken down those whom he favoured. Brynhild's sleep is sure and lasting; thus have the norns decreed."
So Sigurd rode on. The birds sang to him and he heard with wonder. Nor rested he on the green-girt way until he came to Hindarfell, where Brynhild lay wrapped in a magic sleep.
Click to enlarge
SIGURD THE DRAGON SLAYER
From the painting by E. Nielsen
The Sleeping Beauty
Year after year unto her feet,
She lying on a couch alone,
Across the purple coverlet,
The maiden's jet-black hair has grown
On either side her trancèd form
Forth streaming from a braid of pearl;
The slumbrous light is rich and warm,
And moves not on the rounded curl.
The silk star-broidered coverlid
Unto her limbs itself doth mould
Languidly ever; and, amid
Her full black ringlets downward roll'd,
Glows forth each softly shadow'd arm
With bracelets of the diamond bright;
Her constant beauty doth inform
Stillness with love, and day with light.
She sleeps: her breathings are not heard
In palace chambers far apart.
The fragrant tresses are not stirr'd
That lie upon her charmed heart.
She sleeps on either hand upswells
The gold-fringed pillow lightly prest:
She sleeps, nor dreams, but ever dwells
A perfect form in perfect rest.
. . . . . .
He comes, scarce knowing what he seeks:
He breaks the hedge: he enters there:
The colour flies into his cheeks:
He trusts to light on something fair:
For all his life the charm did talk
About his path, and hover near
With words of promise in his walk,
And whispered voices at his ear.
1 A similar story is told in the Highlands of Finn (Fingal), who shook sword after sword to pieces until the smith forged a matchless blade Which had to be tempered with the blood of the first living thing that entered the smithy in the morning. Finn slew the smith. Both stories are probably of common origin.
2 The Highland Finn was 60 feet high, and Garry was a dwarf because he was but 40 feet in height. Sigurd did not attain such godlike stature, but he was, according to Saga statistics, nearly 20 feet high; for when his sword was girt on, the end of it touched the ears of growing rye. The sword was seven spans in length. Finn also avenged his father's death, but he never slew a dragon nor sought great treasure. His ambitions were those of a huntsman.
3 One of Odin's names.
4 It would appear that in making imperfect swords and advising the construction of only one pit, Regin desired to be rid of Sigurd when he had served his purpose.
5 The reluctance shown by Sigurd is evidence of his belief in the magical power of names. He feared that the dragon could, by using his name, exercise an evil influence over him. Even at the present day certain peoples in these islands are charged with lack of courtesy because they refuse to give their names to strangers.
6 Here again we have strong resemblance to the story of Finn. Black Arky, who slew Finn's father, Coul, caught a certain salmon and asked the lad to roast it without raising a blister. Then he went to sleep. A blister rose, and Finn pressed it down, and having burnt his finger he thrust it into his mouth. He touched a tooth, and it became his "Tooth of Knowledge". He then knew who Arky was and slew him. In some Gaelic stories Finn bites his thumb when he desires to know anything. There are no birds in the Finn story.
7 Because of the cannibalistic belief that by eating an enemy he would obtain from flesh and blood whatever strength or wisdom the other possessed in life.