The Northern Way

Fragments of the Lays of Sigurd and Brynhild.


        Sigurd then rides away from Hindarfiall, and journeys on till he comes to the habitation of Heimir, who was married to Beckhild, Brynhild’s sister. Alsvid, Heimir’s son, who was at play when Sigurd arrived at the mansion, received him kindly, and requested him to stay with him. Sigurd consented, and remained there a short time. Brynhild was at that time with Heimir, and was weaving within a gold border the great exploits of Sigurd.

        One day, when Sigurd was come from the forest, his hawk flew to the window at which Brynhild sat employed on weaving. Sigurd ran after it, saw the lady, and appeared struck with her handiwork and beauty. On the following day Sigurd went to her apartment, and Alsvid stood outside the door shafting arrows. Sigurd said: “Hail to thee, lady!” or “How fares it with thee?” She answered: “We are well, my kindred and friends are living, but it is uncertain what any one’s lot may be till their last day.” He sat down by her. Brynhild said: “This seat will be allowed to few, unless my father comes.” Sigurd answered: “Now is that come to pass which thou didst promise me.” She said: “Here shalt thou be welcome.” She then arose, and her four maidens with her, and, approaching him with a golden cup, bade him drink. He reached towards her and took hold of her hand together with the cup, and place her by him, clasped her round the neck, kissed her, and said: “A fairer than thou was never born.” She said: “it is not wise to place faith in women, for they so often break their promise.” He said: “Better days will come upon us, so that we may enjoy happiness.” Brynhild said: “It is not ordained that we shall live together, for I am a shield-maiden (skjaldmær).” Sigurd said: “Then will our happiness be best promoted, if we live together; for harder to endure is the pain which herein lies than from a keen weapon.” Brynhild said: “I shall be called to the aid of warriors, but thou wilt espouse Gudrún, Giuki’s daughter.” Sigurd said: “No king’s daughter shall ensnare me, therefore have not two thoughts on that subject; and I swear by the gods that I will possess thee and no other woman.” She answered to the same effect. Sigurd thanked her for what she had said to him, and gave her a gold ring. He remained there a short time in great favour.

        Sigurd now rode to Heimir’s dwelling with much gold, until he came to the palace of King Giuki, whose wife was named Grimhild. They had three sons, gunnar, Högni, and Guthorm. Gudrún was the name of their daughter. King Giuki entreated Sigurd to stay there, and there he remained a while. All appeared low by the side of Sigurd. One evening the sorceress Grimhild rose and presented a horn to Sigurd, saying: “Joyful for us is thy presence, and we desire that all good may befall thee. Take this horn and drink.” He took it and drank, and with that drink forgot both his love and his vows to Brynhild. After that, Grimhild so fascinated him that he was induced to espouse Gudrún, and all pledged their faith to Sigurd, and confirmed it by oaths. Sigurd gave Gudrún to eat of Fafnir’s heart, and she became afterwards far more austere then before. Their son was named Sigmund.
        Grimhild now counseled her son Gunnar to woo Brynhild, and consulted with Sigurd, in consequence of this design. Brynhild had vowed to wed that man only who should ride over the blazing fire that was laid around her hall. They found the hall and the fire burning around it. Gunnar rode Goti, and Högni Hölknir. Gunnar turns his horse towards the fire but it shrinks back. Sigurd said “Why dost thou shrink back, Gunnar?” Gunnar answers: “My horse will not leap this fire,” and prays Sigurd to lend him Grani. “He is at thy service,” said Sigurd. Gunnar now rides again towards the fire, but Grani will not go over. They then changed forms. Sigurd rides, having in his hand the sword Gram, and golden spurs on his heels. Grani runs forward to the fire when he feels the spur. There was now a great noise, at it is said:

1. The fire began to rage,
and the earth to tremble,
high rose the flame
to heaven itself:
there ventured few
chiefs of people
through that fire to ride,
or to leap over.

2. Sigurd Grani
with his sword urged,
the fire was quenched
before the prince,
the flame allayed
before the glory-seeker
with the bright saddle
that Rök owned.

        Brynhild was sitting in a chair as Sigurd entered.
She asks who he is, and he calls himself Gunnar Giuki’s son. “And thou art destined to be my wife with my father’s consent. I have ridden through the flickering flame (vafrlogi) at they requisition.” She said: “I know not well how I shall answer this.” Sigurd stood erect on the floor resting on the hilt of his sword. She rose embarrassed from her seat, like a swan on the waves, having a sword in her hand, a helmet on her head, and wearing a corslet. “Gunnar,” said she, “speak not so to me, unless thou art the foremost of men; and then thou must slay him who has sought me, if thou hast so much trust in thyself.” Sigurd said: “Remember now thy promise, that thou wouldst go with that man who should ride through the flickering flame.” she acknowledged the truth of his words, stood up, and gave him a glad welcome. He tarried there three nights, and they prepared one bed. He took the sword Gram and laid it between them. She inquired why he did so. He said that it was enjoined him so to act towards his bride on their marriage, or he would receive his death. He then took from her the ring called Andvaranaut, and gave her another that had belonged to Fafnir. After this he rode away through the same fire to his companions, when Gunnar and he again changed forms, and they then rode home.

        Brynhild related this in confidence to her foster-father Heimir, and said: “A king named Gunnar has ridden through the flickering flame, and is come to speak with me; but I told him that Sigurd alone might so do, to whom I gave my vow at Hindarfiall, and that he only was the man.” Heimir said that what had happened must remain as it was. Brynhild said: “Our daughter Aslaug thou shalt rear up here with thee.” Brynhild then went to her father, King Budli, and he with his daughter Brynhild went to King Giuki’s palace. A great feasting was afterwards held, when Sigurd remembered all his oaths to Brynhild, and yet kept silence. Brynhild and Gunnar sat at the drinking and drank wine.

        One day Brynhild and Gudrún went to the river Rhine, and Brynhild went farther out into the water. Gudrún asked why she did so? Brynhild answered: “Why shall I go on along with thee in this more than in anything else?” “I presume that my father was more potent than thine, and my husband has performed more valorous deeds, and ridden through the blazing fire. They husband was King Hiálprek’s thrall.” Gudrún answered angrily: “Thou shouldst be wiser than to venture to vilify my husband, as it is the talk of all that no one like to him in every respect has ever come into the world; nor does it become thee to vilify him, as he was thy former husband, and slew Fafnir, and rode through the fire, whom though thoughtest was King Gunnar; and he lay with thee, and took from thee the ring Andvaranaut, and here mayest thou recognize it.” Brynhild then looking at the ring, recognized it, and turned pale as though she were dead. Brynhild was very taciturn that evening, and Gudrún asked Sigurd why Brynhild was so taciturn. He dissuaded her much from making this inquiry, and said that at all events it would soon be known.

        On the morrow, when sitting in their apartment, Gudrún said: “Be cheerful, Brynhild! What is it that prevents thy mirth?” Brynhild answered: “Malice drives thee to this; for thou hast a cruel heart.” “Judge not so,” said Gudrún. Brynhild continued: “Ask about that only which is better for thee to know; that is more befitting women of high degree. It is good, too, for thee to be content, as all goes according to thy wishes.” Gudrún said: “It is premature to glory in that: this forebodes something; but what instigates thee against us?” Brynhild answered: “Thou shalt be requited for having espoused Sigurd; for I grudge thee the possession of him.” Gudrún said: “We knew not of your secret.” Brynhild answered: “We have had no secret, though we have sworn oaths of fidelity; and thou knowest that I have been deceived, and I will avenge it.” Gudrún said: “Thou art better married than thou deservest to be, and thy violence must be cooled.” “Content should I be,” said Brynhild, “didst thou not posses a more renowned husband than I.” Gudrún answered: “Thou hast as renowned a husband; for it is doubtful which is the greater king.” Brynhild said: “Sigurd overcame Fafnir, and that is worth more than all Gunnar’s kingdom, as it is said:

“Sigurd the serpent slew,
and that henceforth shall be
by none forgotten,
while mankind lives:
but thy brother
neither dared
through the fire to ride,
nor over it to leap.”

        Gudrún said: “Grani would not run through the fire under King Gunnar: but he (Gunnar) dared to ride.” Brynhild said: “Let us not contend: I bear no good will to Grimhild.” Gudrún said: “Blame her not; for she is towards thee as to her own daughter.” Brynhild said: “She is the cause of all the evil which gnaws me. She presented to Sigurd the pernicious drink, so that he no more remembrest me.” Gudrún said: “Many an unjust word thou utterest, and this is a great falsehood.” Brynhild said: “So enjoy Sigurd as thou hast not deceived me, and may it go with thee as I imagine.” Gudrún said: “Better shall I enjoy him than thou wilt wish; and no one has said he has had too much good with me at any time.” Brynhild said: “Thou sayest ill and will repent of it. Let us cease from angry words, and not indulge in useless prattle. Long have I borne in silence the grief that dwells in my breast: I have also felt regard for thy brother. But let us talk of other things.” Gudrún said: “Your imagination looks far forward.”

        Brynhild then lay in bed, and King Gunnar came to talk with her, and begged her to rise and give vent to her sorrow; but she would not listen to him. They then brought Sigurd to visit her and learn whether her grief might not be alleviated. They called to memory their oaths, and how they had been deceived, and at length Sigurd offered to marry her and put away Gudrún; but she would not hear of it. Sigurd left the apartment, but was so greatly affected by her sorrow that the rings of his corslet burst asunder from his sides, as is said in the Sigurðarkviða:

“Out went Sigurd
from that interview
into the hall of kings,
writhing in anguish;
so that began to start
the ardent warrior’s
iron-woven sark
off from his sides.”

        Bynhild afterwards instigated Gunnar to murder Sigurd, saying that he had deceived them both and broken his oath. Gunnar consulted with Högni, and revealed to him this conversation. Högni earnestly strove to dissuade him from such a deed, on account of their oaths. Gunnar removed the difficulty, saying: “Let us instigate our brother Guthorm; he is young and of little judgement, and is, moreover, free of all oaths; and so avenge the mortal injury of his having seduced Brynhild.” They then took a serpent and the flesh of a wolf, and had them cooked, and gave them to him to eat, and offered him gold and a large realm, to do the deed, as is said:

“The forest-fish they roasted,
and the wolf’s carcase took,
while some to Guthorm
dealt out gold;
gave him Geri’s flesh
with his drink,
and many other things
steeped therein.”

        With this food he became so furious, that he would instantly perpetrate the deed. On this it is related as in the Sigurðarkviða, when Gunnar and Brynhild conversed together.

 

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