1.0 PRINCESS ASLAUG SIGURDSDOTTIR

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

 

CHAPTER ONE

1.0 PRINCESS ASLAUG SIGURDSDOTTIR  (Circa 800 AD)

 

Jarl Heimer and Princess Aslaug (Kraka) by A. Malmstrom (c. 1880)

 

King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson’s third wife, Princess Aslaug, was a young survivor of the Saga of the Volsungs and was a daughter of King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ Fafnirsbane, so this is where Ragnar’s story begins in almost all the ancient stories (except Saxo’s).  In our series, we explore this tail end of the Volsung’s Saga because King Sigurd appears to be the first ‘Dragon-Slayer’ and King Ragnar would seem to be the second so, it is a good opportunity to postulate the origins of Fire Breathing Dragons and how they were slain.

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 800 AD)  In ancient times, back when Saint Alcuin was still working on his miniscule font of the Anglish language, Europe was divided up into many various small kingdoms and principalities and over each ruled a king or a prince.  In south-eastern Europe, just north of the Roman Lands between the cities of Cherson and Constanza, there ruled an old Oster-Goth or Greutung family of royals called the House of Volsung, and, of the royals, King Sigurd Fafnirsbane was the most renowned, for he was purported to have slain a fire-breathing sea-snake or dragonship of Constantinople.  He was betrothed to the beautiful shield-maiden Brynhild, whom he had saved from the burning Byzantine bireme.  She had been very grateful of the saving and, in thanks, she had blessed Sigurd with her chastity and they were both blessed with the birth of their daughter, Princess Aslaug.  But before they were to marry, King Sigurd made an embassy to the Kingdom of Thervingia, to King Gjuki of the Vaster-Goths, whose daughter, Princess Gudrun, fell in love with the visiting heroic Snake-Killer king.  Her mother, Queen Chriemhild, noticed this and thought about how great an alliance would be between the Thervings and the Greutungs, between the Vaster-Goths and the Oster-Goths of the Kingdom of the Volsungs.  The queen was also the head witch and healer of the Thervings, just as King Gjuki was the head priest or warlock of the land, so she prepared a glamorous or charmed draught of mead which the unsuspecting Sigurd quaffed, and he instantly became inflamed with love for Princess Gudrun.

When King Sigurd returned home with Prince Gunnar, Gudrun’s brother, to work out nuptial arrangements and bride-price, the prince fell in love with Princess Brynhild, and they worked out a bride-price for her as well.  A double wedding in King Gjuki’s palace was planned, but when it came time to leave for the land of the Thervings, Brynhild refused to go.  When Prince Gunnar released two ravens that his mother, the queen, had given him, Chriemhild carved some love runes into a whale bone and Brynhild relented and joined the nuptial retinue and now seemed somewhat attracted to the young Prince Gunnar.  So there was a double wedding in the palace of King Gjuki and Queen Chriemhild.

“After a few months of marriage, both Gudrun and Brynhild were with child and while Gunnar and Brynhild were visiting at the palace of King Sigurd, Gudrun and Brynhild were bathing in a stream near the greathall and Queen Gudrun insisted in washing herself upstream of Princess Brynhild, saying she was of higher station and entitlement.  Brynhild retorted that she would be of just as high a station once King Gjuki passed his crown on to Prince Gunnar, so she refused to change places, and this infuriated the spiteful young queen and she laid bare the sorcerous secrets of her theft of the love of King Sigurd, the Dragon-Slayer, and the glamoured beguiling of Brynhild’s love for her brother, Gunnar.  The princess was understandably vexed by this news, but didn’t know what to do with it.  It, however, knew what to do with her, and she quickly fell out of love with Prince Gunnar.  She didn’t see Queen Gudrun again until after the births of their babies.  Gudrun had blessed King Sigurd with a son and Brynhild had blessed Prince Gunnar with a daughter and when they got to talking children, Brynhild concluded that Gudrun had forgotten the insults and shade she had thrown her way.  This ate up Brynhild even further.  As a shield-maiden, she was duty bound to avenge the magical heist of her former lover and she discussed her quandary with her new martial arts trainer Guttorm, who was of lower station, but had many secrets, one being he always secretly loved Brynhild.  She had hired him because he was an expert in the weapons of the Romans, especially a new handheld bow that shot five arrows at a time.  Learn the language of your enemy so that you might turn it against them, she had been taught, and learn the weapons of your enemy lest they be turned upon you.  Guttorm assured her that she was correct in her right to vengeance and said he would help in whatever she decided upon by way of revenge.

As Brynhild’s love for Gunnar faded, her shattered love for Sigurd pulled itself together like broken shards of glass.  Whenever she visited with the Volsungs she would try to secretly liaise with Sigurd to try to rekindle his love for her, but the only love she garnered was Guttorm’s growing infatuation with her, but she needed Guttorm’s help, so when he secretly began to kiss her and grope her during visits, she had to allow him that much, but that is all she allowed him, though he obviously wanted all of her.  Over time, her tryst with her trainer grew more and more dangerous as their plans escalated to the point of planning the murder of Gudrun.  Guttorm began to control Brynhild, for he had enough evidence against her to expose her to King Gjuki, so, when he one day bent her over she had no choice but to let him take her from behind.  But that was all she allowed him.  As her planned visits grew more frequent, the rapes grew more intense.  She sometimes worried that Guttorm was trying to get caught, trying to force her to make a choice, and, one day, while throwing up, she knew she must gain her vengeance soon.  But Guttorm kept stalling and drawing out the planning until Brynhild was finding it difficult to hide her condition.  Finally, she ordered her rapist lover to sneak into the bedchamber of Sigurd and Gudrun and slay the woman as she slept, in order to break the spell Queen Chriemhild had placed upon ‘the Dragon-Slayer’, but, instead, when Brynhild let Guttorm into her former bedchamber, he killed Sigurd with a sword stroke in the darkness that was so violent it also killed their young son, sleeping between the couple, taking the top of his skull right off.  He then fled the room before Gudrun could see who the assailant was, but Gudrun lept out of bed and chased after him, screaming out to guards in the palace.  Princess Brynhild slipped into the dimly lit bedchamber and saw her love, Sigurd, lying dead in his bed right next to his innocent son, the top of his skull lying on the silk bedsheet, like a small white cup, red with wine.  She realised that Guttorm had murdered Sigued to gain her love, co-conspirators in darkling murder.  She put her shield down upon the bed and she fell onto her sword and landed on it beside her lover and his son, their shield-maiden in death to guide them to Valhalla.

There was an old witch who lived in the palace of the Volsungs and she had known all along who Prince Guttorm really was…the half-brother of Queen Gudrun, who had grown up as a fosterling hostage in Constantinople.  An unknown son sent by Queen Chriemhild to ply Princess Brynhild with love philtres to win her back for Prince Gunnar, to bring her back in the fold, as it were.  But Guttorm had wanted her for himself and had drawn himself into Brynhild’s vengeance plans with that goal in mind.  The old witch had recognized Guttorm from years past and had used her magic to learn what the Prince of the Thervings was doing there and she had followed Brynhild and Guttorm as they put their plan of vengeance into action, and, from the shadows, she had seen Guttorm flee the king’s bedchamber with the blood bespattered queen in hot pursuit and then she saw the Princess Brynhild slip into the room and she followed her only to find the king, his son and Brynhild, dead upon the bed.  The old witch had known that Brynhild was pregnant, for it was getting very hard to hide, and it looked as though the shield-maiden had fallen on her sword with the intent of taking her baby to Valhalla with her.  As the witch was surveying the carnage, a baby’s arm popped out of the terrible gaping wound and the baby’s hand was clutching the umbilical cord and the fingers on it were moving.  The old witch was also a healer and she knew all about Julius Caesar’s birth by Caesarean section, so she took out the seax from her belt and she cut the baby free and she bundled the crying baby in a blanket along with the umbilical cord and the afterbirth it was attached to and she made the scene look like a proper Suttee suicide and she left.

“The palace guards captured Guttorm and he confessed to killing Sigurd and son, but refused to say why Brynhild had killed herself beside them.  A trial was held and Guttorm was sentenced to be hanged, but Brynhild’s half-brother, Atli, the new King of the Huns, arrived from Atil, the capital city of the Khazars, with a large Hunnish host and he wanted to know what had driven his half-sister to kill herself.  It was law thereabouts that anyone who drove a victim to mental straights whereby they killed themselves, were just as guilty of the death as if they had run the sword through them themselves.  When he asked Guttorm what had driven them to such lengths, he refused to talk.  When he wanted to torture Guttorm to get at the truth, King Gjuki intervened and prevented such action against his son, the condemned prince.  While the Volsungs were busy hanging the murderer, King Atli was busy hiring himself a Volsung witch.  Guttorm was left hanging in the city of the Volsungs as a warning to all and, in the night, Atli and the old witch had the body taken away and the witch carved runes into a stick and put it under the tongue of the prone corpse.

“What would you like me to ask him?” the witch asked, looking up at King Atli.

“Ask him if he knows why my sister killed herself?” Atli asked.

The old witch asked the hanged man the question and a shiver went up Atli’s spine as the dead corpse mumbled something to the witch.

“He says you asked him that question when he was living and he told you then that he had nothing to say about it.  You should have told me that he was an unwilling witness,” the old witch complained.  “I would have used a different spell on him.”

“I didn’t know it made any difference.  You can make him tell me?”

“Most witches can’t.  It takes a warlock spell.  But I’ve mastered it,” she said proudly.  “It will cost double.”

“Fine,” King Atli replied.  “Let’s get on with it.”

The witch sat there and waited.  The king, clearly annoyed by this, reached into his purse and counted out another mark of gold in coins.

“A Danish mark,” she countered.  “Not a Roman mark.”  Atli counted out another few coins until the old woman was satisfied.  She then took the stick out from under the tongue of the dead man and carved some more runes into it and returned the stick to Guttorm’s mouth.

“That’s it?” the king asked.  “That cost double?”

“It’s not double because it takes a lot more work,” she responded.  “It’s double because ninety percent of witches don’t know what the required runes are.  I could be fined by the Guild for charging less.”

“Witches have a guild?” the king asked, surprised by this.

“Of course.  The Guild is everywhere.  We’re a branch of the Healers Guild, of course, and all witches must be healers, though not all healers are witches.  What would you have me ask?”

“Tell him to tell us why my sister killed herself?” Atli demanded.

“I still have to ask him,” the witch replied.  “Politeness counts when dealing with spirits.  They can be spiteful”, she added, and then asked the hanged man the question again.

Atli shivered again as he saw the hand of the corpse squeeze the witches hand and it began to mumble.  “He says he loved your sister and she had ordered him to kill Gudrun, but he killed King Sigurd instead.  He had been secretly raping Brynhild because she needed his help to avenge herself on Gudrun for using witchcraft to steal away the love Sigurd had for her, and her mother, Witch Chriemhild, used a spell to replace the king’s love with her son, Gunnar’s love.  All this Gudrun had, years ago, confessed to in a fit of rage.”

“But why kill Sigurd?” Atli asked.

The witch asked the corpse the question.  “He says he killed the king because he was jealous of their special love and he knew that his love for Brynhild would always be unrequited.  He planned to use the murder as leverage so he could at least keep bending her over and raping her.  Tainted love is better than no love at all.”

“Fock!” Atli cursed and he looked ready to kick the corpse.  A wind whistled through the room and blew some window shutters open.

“Spirits can be spiteful,” the witch warned and King Atli sat back down.  The corpse mumbled some more.  “He apologises for the death of the boy,” she said.  “He didn’t see him in bed between the two lovers, an unsheathed sword as it were.  Is there anything else you wish to ask?”

“Ask him who benefitted most from all this evil sorcery?  Who should be punished?”

She asked the corpse the question.  The corpse, at first, did not want to answer, but the witch insisted.  “He says that Prince Gunnar benefitted the most, because Princess Brynhild was the fairest woman in all the lands and he would never have gained her love without the witchcraft.  Gudrun, on the other hand, had plenty to offer Sigurd and would have likely won him for herself, if not for the love of Brynhild, so, Gunnar definitely benefitted the most and should therefore be the one punished.”

Atli got up, but the hanged corpse mumbled some more.  “He says that Princess Brynhild successfully guided King Sigurd and his son to Valhall and they are raising the boy to be a great warrior come Ragnarok!  She asks that you consider marrying Gudrun.  She is a good woman who can offer much and she took no part in the witchcraft.  She only later learned of it.”

At the court of King Sigurd there lived an exiled king called Heimer who was the chief skald and musician of the Volsungs, and had personally witnessed the great love of King Sigurd and Princess Brynhild for their daughter, Princess Aslaug, and when they’d both died together that one night and Prince Atli, the Hun half-brother of Brynhild showed up, likely to take the young surviving princess off to the land of the Huns in Khazaria, he took the small child and hid her in the casement of a large harp he owned and he smuggled her out of the country.  The kingly old bard joined a group of refugees leaving Volsunga for Kiev and the old witch saw him and introduced him to a nursemaid who was taking a baby girl to King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs of Kiev and she asked the old bard to look after her along their way together.  Jarl Heimer told the old witch that he would do his best and he escorted the nursemaid and baby along the first leg of Princess Aslaug’s escape route.

Jarl Heimer kept Aslaug hidden away from the other refugees and would only let her out in the privacy of their little awning.  From Kiev he took her north through many small Slav kingdoms and principalities toward Oster-Gotland in southern Sweden from whence the Greutung Goths had migrated centuries earlier during the world-wide cooling period that had made Scythia impassable for hundreds of years.  The world was back into a warming cycle and the riverways and pathways were once more open to travel and Heimer, a former king and warrior, wore a great broadsword at his side to ward off thieves and he carried the great harp upon his back with Aslaug inside.  When they were far from human habitation, Heimer would let Aslaug walk beside him and she would gather flowers and berries from the wayside.  One evening, Heimer was at the edge of a small hamlet, playing his harp and singing for their supper and he sang the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd he had written to honour Aslaug’s parents and the townsfolk were gathered around and when he got to the part where the beautiful Brynhild fell upon her sword, the harp could be heard to weep with the music emanating from it and the people were amazed.

When Heimer got further along the pathway from the village he stopped and shared bread with Princess Aslaug and he told her as they ate that the Lay of Brynhild was his best work and usually brought them the most bread and milk in donations so, she had to embrace the song in silence when he played it or they might not be dining as finely as they now were in the woods.  He reminded her to be brave, for she’d had a shield-maiden for a mother and a dragon-slayer for a father.  Nights were getting cooler as they worked their way north and Heimer had to begin asking villagers for a warm place to lie with his harp at night, but always, Princess Aslaug slept inside the harp.  When they got to the Baltic, Heimer caught a ship to cross the sea by playing old sailing chanties for the sailors but they could only drop him off in south Skane.  He would have to work his way northeast into Oster-Gotland, where he had relatives who would help him.

While trekking along the coast he came upon a dwelling and he asked the old woman inside if she had a place where he could warm himself and perhaps play her a tune or two on his harp.  She let him in, but refused to rekindle the fire until he began playing upon his harp, then she changed her tune and got a nice blaze going for him, not so much for the music, as for the gold armring she saw as he was playing.  As the fire roared, she saw a piece of costly embroidered cloth sticking out of the casement of the harp and she imagined a great wealth hidden in the harp and became determined to get possession of that wealth.  When her husband came home the old bard played him a tune or two then retired for the evening.  The old woman told her man about the wealth she had seen and she convinced old Ake to help her slay the old man for the riches in his harp.  The wicked twosome slipped up on either side of the sleeping bard and they cut his throat so the skald would sing no more.

With the evil deed done, the old couple rushed to open the harp and get at their newfound wealth, but instead out stepped a beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed young girl.  Aslaug looked up at the evil old couple and panicked, looking about for her old guardian and she rushed over to him and pulled at him and tried to wake him but soon realized that he was dead, murdered by those two.  The old man caught her up as she ran past them towards the door and he held her as they debated on whether to kill her too or not.  But Aslaug’s despair was too touching and her beauty too rare to destroy, so they resolved to spare her and adopt her as their own child.  They dressed her coarsely and allowed her no speech and the old woman told others that she was a cast-off of one of her ailing sisters that they’d agreed to adopt and raise as their own.  Young Aslaug begged them to give Heimer a fine burial by the sea and she pleaded with them to keep her silver-plate picture of her mother and father she had packed, which was not a problem for the old couple, as they saw the Alchemists’ Guild exposure to be the work of sorcerers and made Aslaug keep it in her room.  Young Aslaug memorized and remembered the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd that Heimer had written and she remembered the instructions he had given her to tell the King of Oster-Gotland when they’d gotten there, if only they’d gotten there!  Often, as Aslaug worked as a slave, she would wonder what her life would have been like if Heimer hadn’t taken her north, but he had gotten her away just in time.

Back in the Kingdom of the Volsungs, after the bodies of Princess Brynhild and King Sigurd and his son were all burned together on one common funeral pyre, King Atli asked Queen Gudrun to marry him and so he also became King of the Volsungs and, with the Hun army of Khazaria behind him, there were no complaints to the contrary.  But King Gjuki of the Thervings and his sons, Gunnar and Hogne, did not trust the Hun and refused to attend their wedding feast.  Only after Queen Gudrun had blessed King Atli with twin boys, did the sons of Gjuki relent a bit and agree to attend the first birthday feast for the two boys.  King Gjuki warned them not to go, but they wanted to make sure their sister was doing well so, they let bygones be bygones and went to the feast anyway.  The two royal guests came bearing gifts and were immediately subdued by the Hunnish soldiery present everywhere.  King Atli ordered that the still beating heart of Gunnar be cut away from his body and he took a bite out of it in front of Gunnar, Hogni and the screaming Gudrun.  Atli took pity on the innocent young Hogni and ordered him thrown alive into a pit full of venomous snakes.  Pitying people helped him further by throwing him down a harp with which to calm the snakes, but his arms were tied and he could only play it with his toes, yet he managed to calm all but one, the largest one, and it coiled itself around Hogni’s body and bit into his heart as well and the young prince soon died as Gudrun was forced to watch it all play out.

Though King Atli had been told by the hanged man Guttorm that Gudrun had nothing to do with the magics that had killed Brynhild, he did not trust the spirit that had loved and raped his sister and he blamed Gudrun anyway, but at the same time, he loved her beauty and her body so, at night he raped her as Guttorm had raped his sister and he tied her up bent over his shield and he raped her from behind until his lust for her was sated and then he let her lay upon the floor still bound to the shield while he had his way with the young princesses of the Volsungs.  But during the day he acted as if nothing had happened and he allowed her to take care of their two sons and even used the boys to control her.  She let him control her and, once she had descended into madness, for their wedding anniversary she brought out two beautiful cups, seemingly made of ivory and with golden stems and brims and she poured them both some fine Frankish sparkling wines and she offered a toast to their marriage and they drank the wine and then she poured some more and she offered a toast to her two murdered brothers and she told Atli to look closely at the cups, for they were made of the skulls of his two young sons and her toast was that, by this, she had avenged the deaths of her two brothers.  Atli rose to kill her, but he couldn’t move.  Gudrun’s mother was a witch and she had given her a poison to put into his wine to see to that.  Gudrun walked around to his side of the table and she pulled him forward onto the table and she bent him over, pulled down his pants and she raped him from behind with a full bottle of fine Frankish sparkling wine and she drove it right into him and she struck the butt with another bottle and the cork exploded into him and the glass of the bottle broke and then she raped him again with the second bottle and she drove it up inside him and struck the butt with a third bottle and it exploded and broke inside him and she did it again with a fourth bottle and Atli was screaming in pain as the glass tore him up inside until finally he died.

Gunwar left her loving king at table, as it were, and she set fire to the palace of the Volsungs and she walked, a madwoman, all the way back to the land of the Thervings and she spent the rest of her life serving her father, King Gjuki.”

Back in Skane, Princess Aslaug was kept as a slave by the old couple, who had renamed her Kraka, and she grew tall and beautiful and as graceful as a princess and all admired her marvellous beauty.  But she seldom spoke and the local people thought her deaf and dumb.  She was only allowed to share words with the old couple that kept her enslaved, but she loathed talking with them and she fully hated them for slaying her brave guardian.  She whispered to herself each day the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd that Heimer had sung as he’d played the large harp that Aslaug kept in her corner of the room, and she daily repeated his instructions on what to do when finding help in Oster-Gotland.  In the casement of the harp she kept all her belongings she had brought north with her from the Kingdom of the Volsungs.