TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Gudrun's Flight--Grimhild follows her--The Reconciliation--Wooed by King Atle--Doom Dreams--The Fafner Hoard--Coveted by Atle--Invitation to Gudrun's Brothers--Fateful Journey--Treachery--A Fierce Conflict--How Hogne died--Gunnar among Vipers----Queen slays Atle--Becomes Bride of Jonaker--Her Sons--Svanhild is avenged.
WHEN Sigurd and his son were burned with Brynhild on the pyre, Gudrun refused to be comforted, nor could she abide to remain in the Hall of Giuki among the oath-breakers, her brothers, who had brought her husband to his death. So she went forth alone to wander in the forest with desire that wolves should devour her. Five days she journeyed in her sorrow, knowing not whither she went, until she came to the Hall of King Alv. There was she received with pity and tenderness, and she had for companion Thora, daughter of Hakon, King of Denmark. She was well loved, and with Thora she sat and embroidered on fair tapestry the deeds of Sigurd and Sigmund.
Three summers went past and four winters ere Queen Grimhild came to know where Gudrun had her dwelling. She desired that her daughter should return again, because King Atle the Mighty, the brother of Brynhild, sought her for his bride. So Grimhild gave much treasure to her sons, and went forth with them to appease Gudrun with gifts of gold, so that the blood feud might have end. Five hundred war-men rode with Grimhild and Gunnar and Hogne, and they greeted Gudrun and made offer to her of the treasure which they bore with them. Then did Gunnar give to Gudrun a golden goblet filled with the drink of forgetfulness, which Grimhild had brewed, so that she might put past old sorrows and hate. Gudrun drank and her grief faded.
Thereafter Grimhild told her daughter that King Atle desired her for wife, and said that she would be given more treasure when she was wed to him.
"I desire not another husband," Gudrun said; "nor could I live happily with the brother of Brynhild."
"If thou wilt wed Atle," said Grimhild, "thou shalt have sons, and it shall seem to thee that Sigurd and Sigmund are: again in life."
"I seek not nor hope for gladness any more while I live," Gudrun answered.
But her mother pleaded: "Atle is foremost among kings. A nobler husband thou canst not find. May thou never he wed to any man," she added, "if thou shalt spurn this mighty ruler."
"Alas!" sighed Gudrun; "bid me not wed the brother of Brynhild, for he will bring great evil upon our kin, and be the death-bane of Hogne and Gunnar. By my own hand must he fall in the end if I become his bride."
Grimhild wept, nor listened to what Gudrun said. "I shall give thee lands and many war-men," she told her daughter, "if thou wilt take Atle to be thy husband. Thou shalt have joy with him until thy life's end. Besides, by marrying him thou wilt bring great honour unto thy kin."
"Alas! I must then be wed to him," said Gudrun, "although my heart desireth him not. But there is no gladness in store for me, for he will be a bane to my kin."
Grimhild rejoiced because that she at length worked her will, and soon a great company set forth towards the kingdom of Atle the Mighty. They travelled for seven days by land, and then for seven days they voyaged over the sea, and thereafter they travelled by land again for seven days 'ere they came unto the Hall of the King. A great banquet was held, and King Atle and Gudrun were wed. But the bride's heart was sad within her, nor did she ever have joy in the Hall of Brynhild's brother.
One morning when Atle woke from sleep he was greatly troubled because of the dreams he had dreamed. He spoke to Gudrun, saying: "It seemed that thou didst thrust a sword through my breast."
"To dream of iron," the queen said, "is to dream of fire."
"And I dreamt also," continued the king, "that two water-reeds grew up in my hall. By the roots were they pulled up, and they dripped red blood; of them was I asked to partake. . . . Then it seemed that two hungry hawks flew from my wrist, and they went to Hela. Hearts had they steeped in honey, and I ate them. . . . Thereafter I dreamt that two cubs gambolled at my feet; of these did I also partake."
"Thy dreams forebode much ill," Gudrun said; "verily, thy sons are nigh unto life's end. Black grief is at hand."
Weeks passed and then years, and the doom dreams faded from the king's memory. Yet was there more unhappiness between the ill-mated pair.
Then a time came when Atle spoke much of the accursed treasure which Sigurd had found when he slew Fafner. Well he knew that Gunnar and Hogne had kept from Gudrun the greater part, so that they could boast of immense riches. In his heart Atle coveted the hoard, and desired it for himself; so he took counsel with his nobles, and decided to invite Gunnar and Hogne to visit his Hall. A trusted messenger, whose name was Vinge, was sent forth with a company of war-men to make promises to the brothers and induce them to journey to Hunaland. Gudrun knew well that there was evil intent in her husband's heart, so she carved runes of warning upon a gold ring and gave it to Vinge as her gift to Hogne. But Atle's messenger changed the runes so that they seemed to convey a speedy welcome from the queen.
When Vinge reached the Hall of Giuki he made his mission known. The brothers consulted one with another, suspecting treachery and Atle's lust for gold; but Gudrun's ring reassured them, and after they had drunk mead with the messengers, they promised to go forth with them.
But Hogne's wife, Kostbera, made keen scrutiny of Gudrun's ring in her bedchamber, and she saw that the runes had been altered from warning to welcome. To her husband she spoke thereanent. She had also dreamt an ominous dream, in which she saw the Hall overthrown by a rising flood.
But Hogne chided her for thinking ill of Atle. He had given his promise to Vinge to fare forth with him, and scorned to break it.
Gunnar's wife had also dreams of warning. She saw her husband pierced by a sword, while wolves howled about him.
"Little dogs will bark at us," Gunnar said.
"Methought I also saw," his wife continued, "a battle maiden of sad visage entering the hall. She seemed to be a valkyrie."
"A man must die at his appointed hour," Gunnar said; "besides, it is not good to live over long."
Now Gunnar, who was king, for Giuki had departed hence, was well loved by his people, and in the morning they clamoured about him, beseeching that he should not leave them.
But he bade them to feast with him. "We may never again drink mead together," he said, "but no man can escape his fate."
Gunnar's wife spake unto Vinge. "Methinks," she said, "that ill fortune will come to our kind from this journey."
But Vinge swore many oaths, saying that no evil was intended. "May I be hanged," he said, "if a sign of treachery is shown against Gunnar and Hogne in the kingdom of Atle."
There were tears and lamentations when the warrior sons of Giuki went forth never again to return to the kingdom of their sires, although great glory would be theirs by reason of valorous deeds and unflinching courage.
Gunnar's wife embraced her king, and Kostbera embraced Hogne, saying: "May days of gladness be thine."
"Forget not to make merry," Hogne said, "no matter what befalls us on our journey."
When they had voyaged over the sea, there were dumb foretellings of their doom. So swiftly and hard did the oarsmen ply their blades that rowing pins snapped and half the ship's keel was shorn off upon the beach. They leapt ashore and feared not. Gunnar and Hogne went inland towards Atle's stronghold with armour and full war gear and all their men. Two sons of Hogne were with, them, and valorous Orkning, the brother of Kostbera, who had fame for mighty deeds.
They rode together through a dark wood, and when they approached the stronghold of Atle they perceived that the gate was closed against them. A great army was assembling to receive the guests.
Hogne raised his battleaxe and smote the gate asunder, for he must needs enter with dignity becoming his rank.
"Thou hast done wrong," Vinge snarled; "'twere more fitting that thou shouldst wait until I bring the gallows on which ye shall all hang. By smooth words have I induced ye all to come hither; ere long shall ye die together."
"Thy boasts affright me not," answered Hogne; "we shrink not from conflict, if conflict there must be. Yet hast thou wrought us ill, so take thy reward."
As he spake, Hogne swung his battleaxe and slew Vinge with a single blow.
Boldly rode the sons of Giuki until they came to the Hall of Atle. There was a strong army drawn up in line of battle.
King Atle came forth, and spake to the brothers.
"I bid ye welcome," he said, "but unto me must be now given up the great treasure which Sigurd won when he slew Fafner, and is now mine by right of Gudrun."
So fell the treasure curse upon them all in that hour of doom.
Gunnar spake. "Thou shalt never possess our riches," he said, "and if thou dost battle against us, we shall make of thee and thy kin a feast for the eagle and the wolf."
"Long have I desired," said Atle, "to punish ye for the slaying of Sigurd. That indeed was a shameful doing, for his equal was found not among men."
Hogne spake boldly: "Long then hast thou brooded over that matter. A wonder it is that thou didst not sooner set thyself to the task."
Then began the battle, and against one another they cast their spears.
Tidings were borne unto Gudrun of hard fighting, and she hastened forth in great anger. She cast from her the royal robe, and rushing into the midst of the fray embraced her brothers and kissed them.
But in vain did she intervene. The time for peace was past, so she armed herself and fought beside Gunnar and Hogne against the war-men of Atle.
Bravely fought the brothers. The king's three brothers were slain, and Atle cried:
"Now am I the last of my kin, and by thee was Brynhild slain."
"Thou shalt have thy faring in time," answered Hogne; "the gods have decreed thy punishment."
Fiercer grew the conflict, for Atle rallied his war-men and urged them to battle. But he was driven back into his Hall, which soon streamed with blood. Great were the deeds of the valorous Giukings.
But at length Gunnar and Hogne were pressed hard and overpowered. Then were they bound in fetters.
Atle was wroth when he perceived that so many of his war-men were cut down, and he scowled upon Hogne.
"He hath cut down a host of my heroes," he said; "so let his heart be cut out."
"Do thy will," answered Hogne, "for I fear not. So grievously am I wounded that I may as well die."
But the king delayed taking vengeance. He desired first to know where the Fafner treasure was concealed, so he had the brothers cast into separate dungeons.
Gunnar was first brought before him. "Thy life shall be spared," Atle said, "if thou wilt reveal where the treasure lies hidden."
Gunnar answered him. "Ere I speak," he said, "Hogne's heart must be brought unto me."
Then did Atle seek to practise deceit with much cunning. He had a thrall seized, so that his heart might be held up before Gunnar. The man screamed with anguish ere yet the knife touched him, for he desired not to miss constant fare and good, nor leave his well-loved swine.
The coward heart was cut out, and it trembled before Gunnar.
"That is not the valorous heart of my brother," he said, "but the heart of a thrall."
So Hogne had to be slain. He laughed when his enemies fell upon him, and they marvelled at his valour.
Then was, the hero's heart plucked forth, and when Gunnar saw it he said:
"That indeed is the heart of great Hogne. See how it still beats without fear. I wavered while my brother was yet alive, but now can I die well satisfied, Atle, for thou shalt never know where the treasure lies hid. Yet thou, O King, shall escape not thy doom, and the Rhine river shall keep the secret of the gold."
Atle was wroth; his brow darkened and his eyes burned fire.
"Take hence the prisoner," he growled, and as he bade his men so did they do. 1
Gunnar was bound and thrust into a loathsome dungeon which swarmed with vipers. But Gudrun sent unto him a harp, and he played upon it with his toes, making such sweet music that all the vipers were charmed into a magic sleep save one, which gnawed his breast until it reached his heart to suck his life's blood. Great torture did Gunnar suffer ere he died.
Men have told that the viper which killed the hero was the mother of Atle, who was a sorceress.
The king boasted before Gudrun, because that he had triumphed over her brothers.
"Gunnar and Hogne are indeed no more," the queen said, "and unto me is given a heritage of vengeance."
Atle liked not her speech, so he said: "Let peace be made between us. Thee shall I give much treasure as atonement for the loss of thy kin."
Gudrun would accept not of blood payment, but she desired that a funeral feast be held for Gunnar and Hogne.
The king gave ready consent, and then was the dread work of vengeance begun. Gudrun slew her two sons. Of their skulls she made drinking cups, and she had their hearts cooked in honey for the king. In his wine she mixed their blood.
When the feast was over, Atle desired that his sons should be brought before him.
"Thou hast given me dark sorrow," Gudrun said, "by slaying my brothers. Now hast thou thy reward. Thou didst eat the hearts of thy sons, and their blood hast thou drunken in thy wine from these their skull cups.
"Vengeful woman," cried Atle, "a great cruelty thou hast done by slaying thine own children."
"There shall be still greater cruelty yet," she answered him.
"Thou shalt be burned alive for this," Atle cried fiercely.
"Thine own death thou dost foretell," she said, "as well as mine."
Now a son of Hogne was left alive. He was a Niblung. 2 With him did Gudrun conspire. When Atle had drunken deep, and slumbered, his wife went with Hogne's son to his bedchamber, and she thrust a sword through him.
Atle woke up and cried: "Who hath given me my deathwound?"
Gudrun made known herself, and said she had taken vengeance for her kin.
Atle pleaded that he would have stately burial, and the queen promised him a great pyre. When he died she set fire to the hall, and all that were within it were burned. In the darkness the war-men sprang one upon the other, and many fell fighting ere the end came.
Gudrun made escape, but she desired not to live any more. She hastened towards the shore and cast herself into the waves, so that her days might have end.
There are those who tell that she died thus, but others say that the waves bore her over the sea and cast her upon the beach nigh to the stronghold of King Jonaker.
A strong warrior was he. When he saw the queen's beauty he desired to have her for bride, and when she was nourished and comforted the twain were married and they dwelt happily together.
Gudrun had three sons, and they were named Hamder, Sorle, and Erp. It is told that when they became full warriors she sent them forth against King Jormunrek to avenge the death of Svanhild. But Erp, it was deemed, was unwilling to go forth, so his brothers slew him.
Then Hamder and Sorle set forth. Their mother charmed their bodies against steel, and when they reached Jormunrek, Hamder cut off his hands and Sorle smote off his feet.
"If Erp were here," one said to the other, "he would have taken the king's head."
Many strong and well-skilled warriors fought against the sons of Gudrun, but without avail, for they could not wound them.
Then in the midst of the fray appeared a wise old man who had but one eye. He was Odin, but they knew it not. He counselled that the warriors should cast stones against the twain, who were protected by spells. As he advised, so was it done. Many stones were flung at Hamder and Sorle, and they were speedily slain.
So endeth the northern tale of the Volsungs and the Giukings.
1 A similar legend regarding a secret is current in the Highlands. Neil Munro gives a spirited version in his picturesque tale "The Secret of the Heather Ale" in The Lost Pibroch.
2 The Giukings were originally the Nibelungs (Hniflungs) who possessed the hoard guarded by Andvari (Alberich). That is why Hogne's son is called a "Niblung". The reference is a survival from one of the older versions of the legend. In the next chapter the Nibelungs are dwarfs (elves) and the Giukings are the Burgundians. How myth and history commingled in endless variations is illustrated by the Dietrich stories. Similarly, myths which had a common and remote origin, and developed separately in various districts, were also fused by wandering minstrels.