The Northern Way

Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer

THE RIME OF NORNAGEST

NORNAGEST'S THÁTTR (episode) is found, not in Heimskringla, but in the Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason (Flateyjar Bók, and Codex Arn. Magn.), and exists independently in a fifteenth-century paper MS.

This Tháttr (fourteenth century) shows the true and inimitable Northmen blend of realism, legend, and fairy-story. The mysterious, high-bred old man, who arrives at the court of Trondhjem, and accepts baptism as a condition of entering the Household, is as living a character as King Olaf himself. With his recollections of Sigurd-elicited by a wager, not the ridiculous Oxen (1) business-we enter the region of legend; and that of Folk-tale with the account of the three Norns who attended his birth, and the candle with which his life was bound up. Nornagest is the Norse Meleager, plus some affinity with Ogier le Danois.

Why the scene of his death (Trondhjem in the Tháttr) should be transferred by the Ballad to 'Frankland,' was best known to the minstrel, though perhaps Faroëse ship-mania was partly responsible. The diving (v. 41) implies that the object containing the vital essence had been sunk in the water for the sake of security. (See Frazer's 'Golden Bough' for practices associated with the Separable Soul.)

This home-spun Ballad has been, to my mind, unjustly decried. Some rather wistful charm clings to

1. captalization sic.

154       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

the affectionate picture of Sigurd and his companions, while the repetitions of phrase and rhyme graphically suggest the garrulity of and Agèd Carle.

Høgni's foulness of face (v. 15), which seems to have been traditional, is mentioned more than once in Nibelungenlied.

BURDEN

GOOD rede indeed dost thou need in peril:
When a swain doeth so.

THE RIME OF NORNAGEST

BURDEN(refrain):
GOOD rede indeed dost thou need in peril:
When a swain doeth so.
1.
OF Nornagest the tale is told,
Good rede indeed dost thou need in peril-
Comrade he of warriors bold,
-When a swain doeth so.
2.
Oxen twelve in the mart they buy,
& lead them up to the castle high.
3.
The King was fain those beasts to fell,
With such a fighter the work went well.
4.
So mightily did the monarch hew
That the blood drove out of the wound like dew.
5.
Straight those oxen dead did fall,
& the axe stuck fast in the wooden stall.
6.
All men praised that stroke so true,
Which drove the blood from the wound like dew.
7.
An ancient carle he joined the train,
Who steadied his steps on crutches twain.
8.
Up spake the King so blithe & free:
" And hast thou no word of praise for me?

156       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

9.
" Thy stroke was worthy a warrior,
But a stronger knew I in days of yore.
10.
" Hast heard of Sigurd the Bold, I wis;
Never was prowess like to his!
11.
" The world was shaken with the wonder
When Sigurd hewed the Worm asunder. "
12.
'Now tell thy tale of than valiant swain,
Whose like will never be seen again! "
13.
" Oh deeds of Sigurd did I behold
Whereof the like hath ne'er been told.
14.
" All earth was shaken, upper & under,
When Sigurd hewed the Worm asunder.
15.
" Høgni was a warrior free,
Foul of face as man might be;
16.
" Gunnar, like to Gjúki's Queen,
Was strong & bold & blithe of mien,
17.
" Strong & bold & blithe of mien,
Not soon will his like in land be seen!
18.
" A peaceful dwelling had father mine,
With store of steeds & store of kine.
19.
" I warded our steeds 'neath greenwood tree,
& I saw in saddle those warriors three,

THE RIME OF NORNAGEST       157

20.
" Gunnar & Høgni & Sigurd swain,
Whose like will never be seen again.
21.
" Home they fared to house & hold,
Gunnar & Høgni & Sigurd bold,
22.
" And they leapt a dyke the mires among;
I saw it all when these eyes were young.
23.
" Gunnar's steed leapt far & wide,
Well could Gunnar joust & ride!
24.
" Høgni's steed leapt lightly then,
But Grane fell in the miry fen.
25.
" Yea, last of all leapt Sigurd's steed,
Ever was wont to be good at need,
26.
" Yet Grane in the fen stuck fast,
& his saddle-girth asunder brast (1) .
27.
" Straight from saddle sprang they down,
All to save the steed were boun (2) ;
28.
" Gunnar & Høgni & Sigurd swain
Tugged at Grane's bridle-rein.
29.
" Oft have I ridden this road aright,
Both by day & darksome night!
30.
" Gestur, thy service I desire
To cleanse my steed from mud & mire.

1. brast = burst

2. boun = ready

158       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

31.
" The buckle that brast when I was thrown,
I'll give thee, Gestur, for thine own. "
32.
" Down to a river did we ride,
Where never a man was seen beside.
33.
" I washed his croup & breast-plate there,
His houghs & hoofs, till all was fair.
34.
" I cleansed him all from mud & mire,
& Sigurd took me as his Squire.
35.
" We rode to Fávni's lair eftsoon,
Where gold shone bright as sun at noon.
36.
" A hair I took from that steed so free,
White as silver, & fair to see.
37.
" A hair I took from that steed so true,
Which measured a fathom & more therto.
38.
" Wide have I wandered this world around,
Yet my light & life I ne'er have found! "
39.
A ship did the King on that carle bestow,
& told him the way that he must go.
40.
" In Frankland is a water wide,
Thy light & life are there beside. "
41.
Deep he dived, that courteous wight,
Or ever he found the matchless light.

THE RIME OF NORNAGEST       159

42.
By Körnar the Priest was he sained & signed, (1)
& he lived his life while the fair light shined.
43.
But when the light to an end was brent,
His life & living alike were spent.

1. sain = sanctify, bless

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