The Northern Way

Atlakviða

The Lay of Atli.

Page 1

Gudrún, Giuki’s daughter, avenged her brothers, as is well known. She first killed Atli’s sons, and afterwards Atli himself, and burnt the palace with all the household. On these events was this lay composed.

1. Atli sent riding
a messenger to Gunnar,
a crafty man,
Knefrud was his name.
To Giuki’s courts he came,
and to Gunnar’s hall,
to the seats of state,
and the glad potation:

2. There drank the courtiers
wine in their Valhall -
but the guileful ones silence kept -
the Huns’ wrath they feared.
Then said Knefrud,
with chilling voice: -
the southern warrior
on a high bench sat -

3. “Atli has sent me hither
on his errand riding
on a bit-griping steed,
through the unknown Myrkwood,
to pray you, Gunnar!
that to his bench ye come,
with helms of state,
Atli’s home to visit.

4. Shields ye there can choose,
and smooth-shaven spears,
gold-red helms,
and of Huns a multitude,
silver-gilt saddle-cloths,
sarks gory-red,
the dart’s obstruction,
and bit-griping steeds.

5. The plain he will also give you,
the broad Gnítaheid,
whistling javelins,
and gilded prows,
vast treasures,
and Danp’s towns,
with that famed forest,
which men the Murkwood call.”

6. Gunnar his head then turned,
and to Högni said:
“What counselest thou, bold warrior?”
now suchlike we hear?
Of no gold I knew
on Gníta’s heath,
to which we possess not
other equal.

7. Seven halls have we
filled with swords,
of each of which
the hilt is gold.
My horse I know the best,
and my sword the keenest;
my bow adorns my seat,
my corslets are of gold,
my helm and shield the brightest,
brought from the hall of Kiar:
mine alone are better
than all the Hunnish ones.

8. What thinkest thou the woman means,
by sending us a ring
in a wolf’s clothing wrapt?
I think that she caution enjoins.
Wolf’s hair I found
twined in the red-gold ring:
wolfish is the way
we on our errand ride.”

9. No sons persuaded Gunnar,
nor other kinsman,
interpreters nor counsellors,
nor those who potent were.
Then spake Gunnar,
as beseemed a king,
great in his mead-hall,
from his large soul:

10. “Rise now up, Fiörnir!
let along the benches pass
the golden cups of heroes,
from the attendants’ hands.

11. The wolf shall rule
the Niflungs’ heritage,
o bearded sages!
if Gunnar perish;
black-coated bears
earth’s fruit tear with their teeth,
to the dogs’ delight,
if Gunnar come not back.”

12. Honoured men,
weeping led
the land’s ruler
from the Huns’ court.
Then said Högni’s
youthful heir:
“Go now, prudent and prosperous,
whither your wishes lead.”

13. The warriors made
their bit-griping steeds
over the mountains fly,
through the unknown Murkwood.
The whole Hunnish forest trembled
where’er the warriors rode;
over the shrubless, all-green plains
they sped.

14. Atli’s land they saw,
and the high watch-towers;
Bikki’s people stood
on that lofty fortress;
the south people’s hall
was round with benches set,
with well-bound bucklers,
and white shields,
the javelin’s obstruction.
There Atli drank
wine in his Valhall:
his guards sat without,
Gunnar and his men to watch,
lest they there should come
with yelling dart,
to excite their prince to conflict.

15. Their sister forthwith saw,
when the hall they had entered,
her brothers both -
beer had she little drunken -
“Betrayed art thou now Gunnar!
though strong, how wilt thou contend
with the Huns’ deadly wiles?
Go quickly from this hall!

16. Better hadst thou, Gunnar!
in corslet come,
than with helm of state,
to see the home of Atli;
thou in the saddle wouldst have sat
whole sun-bright days,
and o’er the pallid dead
let the Norns weep,
the Hunnish shield-maids
misery suffer;
but Atli himself thou shouldst
into the serpent-pen have cast;
but now the serpent-pen
is for you two reserved.”

17. “Sister! ‘tis now too late
the Niflungs to assemble,
long ‘tis to seek
the aid of men,
of valiant heroes,
over the rugged fells of Rhine.”

18. Then the Burgundians’ friends
Gunnar seized,
in fetters laid,
and him fast bound.

19. Högni hewed down seven,
with the keen sword,
but the eighth he thrust
into the raging fire.
So should a valiant man
defend himself from foes.

20 Högni had Gunnar’s
hands protected.
The bold chief they asked,
if the Goths’ lord
would with gold
his life redeem?

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21. “Högnis heart
in my hand shall lie,
cut bloody from the breast
of the valiant chief,
the king’s son,
with a dull-edged knife.”

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They the heart cut out
from Hialli’s breast;
on a dish bleeding laid it,
and to Gunnar bare.

 

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