The Northern Way

Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL

THIS Ballad, peculiar to the Faroës, furnishes an explanation of Brynhild's determination to wed none but Sigurd, and is therefore placed by Lyngby immediately after 'Regin'-an arrangement which shows greater regard for logic than critical acumen. No such explanation would be required by those steeped in the old traditional lore, and the romantic, slightly facetious tone seems to me in the taste of a later generation, fed on such fables as are told in the He1denbuch. Ísmal's slaying of the twelve dragons Forms a flagrantly inartistic echo of the story of Sigurd and Fávnir.

A mere meeting between Sigurd and Brynhild in the house of her kinsman Heimi is described in V.S. 32., but occurs after the Riding of the Waver-Lowe.

No allusion to Sigurd's half-sister is found elsewhere, though his daughter by Gudrun bears the name Svanhild; and the name of Budli's Queen, Gunhild, also found only in this Ballad.

The Samson of v. 31 is the King of Salerno who belongs to the Didrek Cycle.

BURDEN

GRANE bore the golden hoard,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword;
There he slew the Dragon grim,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword;

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL

BURDEN(refrain):
GRANE bore the golden hoard,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword,
There he slew the Dragon grim,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword.
1.
OH many a billow broad & blue
Swells in the midmost sea;
" 'Twas Ísmal cried to his seneschal:
" Go saddle my steed so free!
2.
" And see ye deck my gallant steed
With housings of scarlet hue,
For I will forth to Hjálprek's garth,
His daughter fair to woo. "
3.
Now forth they lead the gallant steed
Under the castle wall,
Housings all of scarlet
Down to his fetlocks fall.
4.
Into the saddle sprang Ísmal,
A-wooing in haste to go,
He steadied him neither with sword nor shield,
Nor yet with saddle-bow.
5.
Oh, he was a lusty warrior,
& lightly he took the road,
With gilded rings a-jingling
Whene'er his war-horse trode,
6.
With gilded rings a-jingling
That made a merry din;
& he changed his cloak for the scarlet fair
The grass-grown garth within.

126       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

7.
Into the hall went Ísmal,
Clad all in the scarlet fine,
Where Hjálprek & five hundred men
Sat birling at the wine. (1)
8.
Now ever it was the custom
In the brave days of old,
That e'en with the suitor's greeting
His purpose should be told.
9.
Thus did the courteous warrior
His purpose straight declare: -
" Now hail, thou good King Hjáprek;
Give me thy daughter fair! "
10.
" A brother bold hath the maiden,
Sigurd men call the swain,
& he that doth ride by Sigurd's side
Hath strength of more than twain.
11.
" A brother bold hath the maiden,
Sigurd the Valiant hight;
If Sigurd stand at thy right hand
Ne' er wilt thou flee from fight. "
12.
It was Svanhild Sunlight
That entered in anon,
& scarce had she looked on Ísmal
Ere her heart was lost & won.
13.
Long Hjálprek sits & ponders
While heavy the moments go,
Whether this valiant wooer
Shall have the maid or no.

1. birl = spin

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL       127

14.
Up spake good King Hjilprek
Amid his warriors all:
" Yea, I will give the maid to thee,
& the wedding-feast withal! "
15.
Right glad was all the company,
& glad the lovers both
When Ísmal turned to the maiden
& plighted her his troth.
16.
" 'Twas Ísmal looked from face to face
Of those who sat anear:
" Now who will fare to Sigurd,
& tell mine errand here? "
17.
Up spake good King Hjálprek:
" Methinks, in very deed,
That thou thyself shouldst seek him
Were still the readiest rede! "
18.
" Twas Ísmal the lusty warrior
Hied him to good greenwood! (1)
& it was Sigurd Sigmundarson
That in his pathway stood.
19.
Full well did he know courteisie (2)
That spake in greenwood vale:
" I bid thee, Sigurd Sigmundarsont
To drink my blithe bridale! "
20.
Up & answered Sigurd
With hand upon his knife:
" Which maid of all in land that live
Hast wooed to be thy wife? "

1. hie = to go

2. sic courtesie?

128       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

21.
" King Hjálprek hight her father,
Hjørdis her mother hight;
& thou art the maid's half-brother,
If the tale is told aright. "
22.
" It thus befits no honest man
His daughter's hand to give;
Were mine upon thy weasand, fool, (1)
No longer shouldst thou live!
23.
" Hast plighted troth with sister mine,
Nor asked for leave o' me?
A drubbing rude with staff of wood
Is the gift I'll give to thee! "
24.
" Tho' I knew thee not, thou Sigurd,
Yet thy sister's troth I won,
& I wot, ere thou drub me with wand of wood,
Full fast thy sweat shall run! "
25.
" Or ever thou wed with sister mine,
Of maidens courtliest,
Thou bold of mood, thy hardihood
Must pass a fearful test. "
26.
Up spake valiant Ísmal,
Nor sought his words to spare:
Such feats for Svanhild will I do
As no man else may dare! "

1. weasand = gullet or throat

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL       129

27.
" By three and by three in yonder dale
The deadly dragons lie,
& or ever thou sitst on bridal bench
Must every dragon die.
28.
" By six & by six the noisome worms
Lie deep in yonder vale,
& one & all at thine hand must fall
Ere we drink thy blithe bridale. "
29.
" & if in the dale those fire-drakes lie,
By one, by two, by three,
Then mete me their measure, thou Sigmund's son, (1)
Or ever I part with thee! "
30.
" The measure of one is ells eighteen,
Of another thirty & three,
& all my men will witness bear
That I speak sooth to thee. "
31.
" Tho' thou mete the one by thirty & three,
& the other by ells eighteen,
Yet son of Samson the Strong am I,
& I will not turn, I ween! "
32.
Alone he fought those fire-drakes fell,
& still was hale & sound,
But the venom they spume with deadly fume
Hath felled him to the ground.
      ·       ·       ·

1. mete. = measure me their size

130       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

33.
It was Sigurd Sigmundarson
Home to the hall did fare,
& it was Svanhild Sunlight
Went forth to meet him there.
34.
Into the hall goes Sigurd
With wrath and dire disdain;
He flings him down on the high-seat
Till the castle rocks again.
35.
In went Svanhild Sunlight,
Fairest of maids was she:
" Now is it thy will, oh Sigurd,
That Ísmal should wed with me? "
36.
" Now get thee hence from sight of mine,
Refrain from tear & cry!
Beseems me not my biting brand
In woman's blood to dye. "
37.
It was Svanhild Sunlight
That sobbed, nor knew relief,
& it was Sigurd Sigmundarson
Was moved to hear her grief.
38.
" Now getthee hence from sight of mine, (1)
& let thy weeping be!
For a lesser man than Ísmal
Were a worthy mate for thee. "

1. getthee

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL       131

39.
Now Sigurd leapt to saddle,
& rode by bush and brake
Far away thro' the greenwood
All for his sister's sake.
40.
Half-drowned in gore of dragon
Long, long had Ísmal lain,
But when he heard the hoof-beats
He lifted his head again.
41.
Oh Sigurd to saddle has raised him up,
& succoured him tenderly,
No fighter wounded on stricken field
In sorrier plight than he!
42.
Oh Sigurd to selle hath raised him up, (1)
& heedfully brought him home:
" Now take him, Svanhild Sunlight,
And tend thy brave bridegroom! "
43.
She tended him well for one day's space,
She tended him well for two,
& all on the third at early dawn
He donned his byrnie blue.
44.
All on the third at early dawn
His bymie he donned again;
& ne' er was beheld in kingly hall
A statelier-seeming swain.
      ·       ·       ·

1. saddle

132       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

45.
& now the merry wedding guests
Stream in on every side;
Twelve hundred hath the bridegroom bidden,
Twelve hundred hath the bride.
46.
No groomsmen lacked young Ísmal,
That was full proudly dight; (1)
On his left hand went King Hjálprek,
& Sigurd on his right.
47.
While Gunhild, Queen of Budli,
& Grimhild, Gjuki's Queen,
Went like two stately shield-maids
With the rosy bride between.
48.
Nor lacked the bride fair maidens
To grace the bridal moon,
With Brynhild the fair on one hand,
& on one the dark Gudrun.
49.
With music & with minstrelsy
Loud rang the royal hall,
For Orvarodd the Ancient (2)
Was king amid harpers all.
50.
Twenty & ten the silver stoups (3)
That matched the goblets fine;
& merry were they on the bridal bench
When all sat down to dine.

1. dight = prepared, dressed

2. sic. not Örvarodd. When and where Örvarodd picked up this accomplishment I have not discovered. His Saga contains no reference to his musical powers.
('Farnaldarsögur Norðrlanda,' ed. V. Asmundarson, Vol. II, Rejkjavik, 1886.)

3. stoup = 2. drinking vessel, such as a cup or tankard

THE BALLAD OF ÍSMAL       133

51.
The dishes of new-wrought silver
By twenty & ten were told.
& Sigurd stood in midmost hall
& sang of warriors bold. "
52.
To nought but Brynhild's beauty
Did Sigmund's son give heed
Till he overthrew or e'er he knew
His gilded cup of mead.
53.
& while they sat a-drinking
Their hearts were all as gay "
As the little birds of the greenwood
At the coming in of day.
54.
With torchs & waxen tapers,
All at the midnight hour,
King Hjálprek & his household
Followed to bridal bower.
55.
Abed they were laid together,
Brave Ísmal & his wife "
Blithely went the bridal,
& merry was their life.
56.
Long they drank & feasted
In the hold of Hjálprek the King,
As many noble chieftains
As the feathers in wild-bird's wing! "

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