TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Last of the Volsungs
Brynhild's Daughter--Escape to Norway--Her Protector murdered--Why she was called Krake--The Princess Thora--Her Dragon--like Serpents--How Ragnar won his Bride--The Northern Cinderella--Wooed by the Viking--The Slave becomes a Queen--Story of Svanhild--Wife of Jormunrek (Ermenrich)--Bikki (Sibech) the Accuser--Fate of Gudrun's Daughter.
Now when Brynhild died, Heimer feared that Giuki's vengeful sons would slay Aslog because that she was the last of the Volsungs, and might rear up a son who would come against them. So he prepared to take flight. He made a harp, in which he concealed Brynhild's child with certain of her treasures, and voyaged to Norway, where he made pretence to be a minstrel. He went to a house in Spangerejd and dwelt in it. He revealed not there the secret of the child's concealment. But one day the housewife perceived that there was treasure in the harp, for the door of Aslog's harp-chamber was not closed, and a portion of rich cloth protruded from it. Then was Heimer murdered in his sleep, and Aslog was taken forth with the treasure that was hers.
The child grew up in the strange household, and her foster-parents were not only poor but cruel and harsh; the high-born girl was made a slave, and was set to work at menial tasks. As the years passed by her beauty shone forth, and her captors, fearing that blame would fall upon them for doing evil, kept her clad in rags, and smeared her face with soot and tar, so that no eye might gaze upon her with wonder. Then was she nicknamed Krake, which signifies "the crow".
Thus did Aslog abide with harsh and strange folk until the coming of the great viking Ragnar Lodbrog, who had fame not only on the high seas for deeds of valour, but also because he had slain the venomous serpents which were the bane of King Heroth's kingdom.
It chanced that the king had gone hunting in the woods, where he found two young snakes; these he bore home with him to his daughter Thora, by whom they were fed until they grew so large that she dreaded to approach them. Each then began to devour an ox daily; and they both became so powerful that they laid waste the countryside, and killed men and beasts with their venomous breath.
King Heroth feared to contend against the serpents, but he offered his daughter in marriage to the man who would slay them. Now Thora was fair to behold, and many heroes went forth to fight the monsters; but they suffered death one after another, and the affliction grew greater, so that all people were in constant fear and peril.
The day came when Ragnar heard of Thora, whom he desired for wife, being set up as a reward for serpent-slaying, and he resolved to win her by mighty deeds. So he bade that a mantle and breeches of wool be fashioned for him, and when they were ready he gave King Heroth to know that he would make attack on the serpents.
It was the season of winter, and he dipped his woollen attire in a stream and it was soon frozen hard. Clad thus, he was protected against the venom, so he girt on his sword and took a spear in his right hand and a shield in his left and went forth to fight, so that Thora might be his bride.
A great serpent came against him, but he feared not, and prepared to combat with it. Then another great serpent hastened to the aid of the first, and he was soon in dire peril. They spouted venom upon Ragnar, but his frost-bound clothing protected him; and they smote him with their tails, but he stood firm. Terrible was the conflict which was waged, and the king and all who were with him were filled with alarm, and sought high and narrow hiding places, fearing that Ragnar would be overcome.
The serpents were enraged, and they made ferocious attack with monstrous jaws agape, but Ragnar raised his shield against them each time they sought to bite. He was indeed sore pressed and greatly wearied; but at length he cast his spear at them and it went through their hearts, so that they were both slain.
A great shout was raised by those who were in hiding, and the king came forth to honour Ragnar. He laughed to see the strange attire of the hero, and nicknamed him "Lodbrog", which signifies "shaggy-breeches".
Then was a great banquet given. Ragnar was attired ill splendour, and he was given Thora for wife. But when she had borne him two sons she died, although young and fair, and her husband mourned for her.
Ragnar then plundered on the high seas and raided Scotland and Pictland. He set a new king over the Orkneys, and went against Norway.
It chanced that he came one day to Spangerejd, and there he sent men ashore to procure bread. When they returned with the food he was made angry because that it was burned. The men told him that they had gone to a house in which there was a beautiful maiden: they could refrain not from gazing upon her, and so the bread was burned.
Now Ragnar bethought him to have such a maiden for his bride, so that he might forget his grief for Thora. He sent to her a message bidding her to come unto him. Desiring to put her wisdom to test, he told his messengers to ask her to come not on foot nor yet driving; not attired and yet not naked; not feasting and yet not fasting; not with anyone and yet not alone.
Aslog, who was named Krake in her poor dwelling, came towards the great sea king neither driving nor on foot but riding upon a goat with her feet trailing upon the ground; she came without attire, but yet not naked, because her hair was so long and bountiful that it covered her body, and she drew a net about her; she came not feasting nor yet fasting, because she held an onion to her lips and tasted of it; she was not alone, because her dog walked by her side. 1
Ragnar, who was now a great king, took beauteous Aslog, the daughter of Sigurd and Brynhild, for his bride, and their sons were named Ingvar and Ubbe. 2
After Sigurd's death Gudrun had a daughter who was named Svanhild. She was given for wife to Jormunrek, 3 King of the Gauts. Like to a sunbeam was she in the hall of Giuki, and there was great sorrow when she went forth with her bondmaids. Much treasure was she given, but the curse of Andvari's gold followed her. It fell that she was falsely accused by Bikki of unfaithfulness with a prince, and so greatly enraged did the king become that he ordered that she should be put to death by being trampled under the hoofs of horses.
Then was Svanhild bound and left lying on a plain; but although the horses ran over her they injured her not, some say because of her surpassing beauty, and others because of the brightness of her Volsung eyes.
The king deemed that his fair bride was innocent, because she had escaped injury, but Bikki, her accuser, poisoned the king's ear, and persuaded him to command that Svanhild should be laid upon the ground with her face downward. Then were the horses driven over her again, and she was trodden deep down into the earth by the multitudinous hoofs. So perished Svanhild, daughter of Gudrun, while Aslog, daughter of Brynhild, reigned as Ragnar's queen in a northern land. In Norway, s royal line alone doth the blood of the Volsungs flow.
The young prince, who was Jormunrek's son, was condemned to death by his sire and was hanged. 4
Click to enlarge
From the painting by M. E. Winge
1 So did Grainne come to Diarmid in the Highland Fian tale. Grimm also gives a version of the story with numerous references to similar tales in other languages than Gaelic and German. In Saxo (Book 9) there is a more sordid account of Ragnar's wooing of "a certain young woman" who became the mother of Ubbe. Like Odin, when he wooed Rhine, Ragnar made use of female attire. Our version is from Ragnar's saga. The Volsunga saga drops Aslog at the point where she became Krake.
2 Here we meet history. By one authority Ingvar and Ubbe are said to be the northmen who murdered King Eadmund of England. Others identify them as the avenging sons who carved an eagle on the back of King Ella in Yorkshire, because he had driven their half-brother Ivar from the throne. Krake is a northern Cinderella, sung of in Norway and Denmark. She was a link between Odin and the Norse kings, who prided themselves in their descent from the Asa-god.
3 Ermenrich (Hermanric) of the Ostrogoths.
4 Saxo gives an account of a sham execution, but in the Dietrich story he is actually put to death. Bikki is Sibech.