THE SWORD OF THE VOLSUNGS AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
In Midgard, in a northern Kingdom, a King reigned whose name was Alv; he was wise and good, and he had in his house a fosterson whose name was Sigurd.
Sigurd was fearless and strong; so fearless and so strong was he that he once captured a bear of the forest and drove him to the King’s Hall. His mother’s name was Hiordis. Once, before Sigurd was born, Alv and his father who was King before him went on an expedition across the sea and came into another country. While they were yet afar off, they heard the din of a great battle. They came to the battlefield, but they found no living warriors on it, only heaps of slain. One warrior they marked: he was white-bearded and old and yet he seemed the noblest-looking man Alv or his father had ever looked on. His arms showed that he was a King amongst one of the bands of warriors.
They went through the forest searching for survivors of the battle. And, hidden in a dell in the forest, they came upon two women. One was tall with blue, unflinching eyes and ruddy hair, but wearing the garb of a serving-maid. The other wore the rich dress of a Queen, but she was of low stature and her manner was covert and shrinking.
When Alv and his father drew near, the one who had on her the raiment of a Queen said, “Help us, lords, and protect us, and we will show you where a treasure is hidden. A great battle has been fought between the men of King Lygni and the men of King Sigmund, and the men of King Lygni have won the victory and have gone from the field. But King Sigmund is slain, and we who are of his household hid his treasure and we can show it to you.”
“The noble warrior, white-haired and white-bearded, who lies yonder—is he King Sigmund?”
The woman answered, “Yes, lord, and I am his Queen.”
“We have heard of King Sigmund,” said Alv’s father. “His fame and the fame of his race, the Volsungs, is over the wide world.”
Alv said no word to either of the women, but his eyes stayed on the one who had on the garb of a serving-maid. She was on her knees, wrapping in a beast’s skin two pieces of a broken sword.
“You will surely protect us, good lords,” said she who had on the queenly dress.
“Yea, wife of King Sigmund, we will protect you and your serving-maid,” said Alv’s father, the old King.
Then the women took the warriors to a wild place on the seashore and they showed them where King Sigmund’s treasure was hidden amongst the rocks: cups of gold and mighty armrings and jeweled collars. Prince Alv and his father put the treasure on the ship and brought the two women aboard. Then they sailed from the land.
That was before Sigurd, the fosterson of King Alv, was born.
Now the mother of Alv was wise and little of what she saw escaped her noting. She saw that of the two women that her son and her husband had brought into their kingdom, the one who wore the dress of the serving-maid had unflinching eyes and a high beauty, while the one who wore the queenly dress was shrinking and unstately. One night when all the women of the household were sitting round her, spinning wool by the light of torches in the hall, the Queen-mother said to the one who wore the queenly garb:
“Thou art good at rising in the morning. How dost thou know in the dark hours when it wears to dawn?”
The one clad in the queenly garb said, “When I was young, I used to rise to milk the cows, and I waken ever since at the same hour.”
The Queen-mother said to herself, “It is a strange country in which the royal maids rise to milk the cows.”
Then she said to the one who wore the clothes of the serving-maid:
“How dost thou know in the dark hours when the dawn is coming?”
“My father,” she said, “gave me the ring of gold that I wear, and always before it is time to rise, I feel it grow cold on my finger.”
“It is a strange country, truly,” said the Queen-mother to herself, “in which the serving-maids wear rings of gold.”
When all the others had left, she spoke to the two women who had been brought into her country. To the one who wore the clothes of a serving-maid she said:
“Thou art the Queen.”
Then the one who wore the queenly clothes said, “Thou art right, lady. She is the Queen, and I cannot any longer pretend to be other than I am.”
Then the other woman spoke. Said she: “I am the Queen as thou hast said–the Queen of King Sigmund who was slain. Because a King sought for me, I changed clothes with my serving-maid, my wish being to baffle those who might be sent to carry me away.
“Know that I am Hiordis, a King’s daughter. Many men came to my father to ask for me in marriage, and of those that came there were two whom I heard much of: one was King Lygni and the other was King Sigmund of the race of the Volsungs. The King, my father, told me it was for me to choose between these two. Now King Sigmund was old, but he was the most famous warrior in the whole world, and I chose him rather than King Lygni.
“We were wed. But King Lygni did not lose desire of me, and in a while, he came against King Sigmund’s kingdom with a great army of men. We hid our treasure by the seashore, and I and my maid watched the battle from the borders of the forest. With the help of Gram, his wondrous sword, and his own great warrior strength, Sigmund was able to harry the great force that came against him. But suddenly he was stricken down. Then was the battle lost. Only King Lygni’s men survived it, and they scattered to search for me and the treasure of the King.
“I came to where my lord lay on the field of battle, and he raised himself on his shield when I came, and he told me that death was very near him. A stranger had entered the battle at the time when it seemed that the men of King Lygni must draw away. With the spear that he held in his hand he struck at Sigmund’s sword, and Gram, the wondrous sword, was broken in two pieces. Then did King Sigmund get his death-wound. ‘It must be I shall die,’ he said, ‘for the spear against which my sword broke was Gungnir, Odin’s spear. Only that spear could have shattered the sword that Odin gave my fathers. Now must I go to Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of Heroes.’
“‘I weep,’ I said, ‘because I have no son who might call himself of the great race of the Volsungs.’
“‘For that you need not weep,’ said Sigmund, ‘a son will be born to you, my son and yours, and you shall name him Sigurd. Take now the broken pieces of my wondrous sword and give them to my son when he shall be of warrior age.’
“Then did Sigmund turn his face to the ground and the death-struggle came on him. Odin’s Valkyrie took his spirit from the battlefield. And I lifted up the broken pieces of the sword, and with my serving-maid I went and hid in a deep dell in the forest. Then your husband and your son found us and they brought us to your kingdom where we have been kindly treated, O Queen.”
Such was the history that Hiordis, the wife of King Sigmund, told to the mother of Prince Alv.
Soon afterwards the child was born to her that was Sigmund’s son. Sigurd, she named him. And after Sigurd was born the old King died and Prince Alv became King in his stead. He married Hiordis, she of the ruddy hair, the unflinching ways, and the high beauty, and he brought up her son Sigurd in his house as his fosterson.
Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, before he came to warrior’s age, was known for his strength and his swiftness and for the fearlessness that shone round him like a glow. “Mighty was the race he sprang from, the Volsung race,” men said, “but Sigurd will be as mighty as any that have gone before him.” He built himself a hut in the forest that he might hunt wild beasts and live near to one who was to train him in many crafts.
This one was Regin, a maker of swords and a cunning man besides. It was said of Regin that he was an Enchanter and that he had been in the world for longer than the generations of men. No one remembered, nor no one’s father remembered, when Regin had come into that country. He taught Sigurd the art of working in metals and he taught him, too, the lore of other days. But ever as he taught him, he looked at Sigurd strangely, not as a man looks at his fellow, but as a lynx looks at a stronger beast.
One day Regin said to young Sigurd, “King Alv has thy father’s treasure, men say, and yet he treats thee as if thou wert thrall-born.”
Now Sigurd knew that Regin said this that he might anger him and thereafter use him to his own ends. He said, “King Alv is a wise and a good King, and he would let me have riches if I had need of them.”
“Thou dost go about as a footboy, and not as a King’s son.”
“Any day that it likes me I might have a horse to ride,” Sigurd said.
“So thou dost say,” said Regin, and he turned from Sigurd and went to blow the fire of his smithy.
Sigurd was made angry and he threw down the irons on which he was working and he ran to the horse-pastures by the great River. A herd of horses was there, gray and black and roan and chestnut, the best of the horses that King Alv possessed. As he came near to where the herd grazed, he saw a stranger near, an ancient but robust man, wearing a strange cloak of blue and leaning on a staff to watch the horses. Sigurd, though young, had seen Kings in their halls, but this man had a bearing that was more lofty than any King’s he had ever looked on.
“Thou art going to choose a horse for thyself,” said the stranger to Sigurd.
“Yea, father,” Sigurd said.
“Drive the herd first into the River,” the stranger said.
Sigurd drove the horses into the wide River. Some were swept down by the current, others struggled back and clambered up the bank of the pastures. But one swam across the river, and throwing up his head neighed as for a victory. Sigurd marked him; a gray horse he was, young and proud, with a great flowing mane. He went through the water and caught this horse, mounted him, and brought him back across the River.
“Thou hast done well,” said the stranger. “Grani, whom thou hast got, is of the breed of Sleipner, the horse of Odin.”
“And I am of the race of the sons of Odin,” cried Sigurd, his eyes wide and shining with the very light of the sun. “I am of the race of the sons of Odin, for my father was Sigmund, and his father was Volsung, and his father was Rerir, and his father was Sigi, who was the son of Odin.”
The stranger, leaning on his staff looked on the youth steadily. Only one of his eyes was to be seen, but that eye, Sigurd thought, might see through a stone. “All thou hast named,” the stranger said, “were as swords of Odin to send men to Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of Heroes. And of all that thou hast named there were none but were chosen by Odin’s Valkyries for battles in Asgard.”
Cried Sigurd, “Too much of what is brave and noble in the world is taken by Odin for his battles in Asgard.”
The stranger leaned on his staff and his head was bowed. “What wouldst thou?” he said, and it did not seem to Sigurd that he spoke to him. “What wouldst thou? The leaves wither and fall off Ygdrassil, and the day of Ragnarök comes.” Then he raised his head and spoke to Sigurd. “The time is near,” he said, “when thou mayst possess thyself of the pieces of thy father’s sword.”
Then the man in the strange cloak of blue went climbing up the hill and Sigurd watched him pass away from his sight. He had held back Grani, his proud horse, but now he turned him and let him gallop along the River in a race that was as swift as the wind.
THE SWORD GRAM AND THE DRAGON FAFNIR
Mounted upon Grani, his proud horse, Sigurd rode to the Hall and showed himself to Alv, the King, and to Hiordis, his mother. Before the Hall he shouted out the Volsung name, and King Alv felt as he watched him that this youth was a match for a score of men, and Hiordis, his mother, saw the blue flame of his eyes and thought to herself that his way through the world would be as the way of the eagle through the air.
Having shown himself before the Hall, Sigurd dismounted from Grani, and stroked and caressed him with his hands and told him that now he might go back and take pasture with the herd. The proud horse breathed fondly over Sigurd and bounded away.
Then Sigurd strode on until he came to the hut in the forest where he worked with the cunning smith Regin. No one was in the hut when he entered. But over the anvil, in the smoke of the smithy fire, there was a work of Regin’s hands. Sigurd looked upon it, and a hatred for the thing that was shown rose up in him.
The work of Regin’s hands was a shield, a great shield of iron. Hammered out on that shield and colored with red and brown colors was the image of a Dragon, a Dragon lengthening himself out of a cave. Sigurd thought it was the image of the most hateful thing in the world, and the light of the smithy fire falling on it, and the smoke of the smithy fire rising round it, made it seem verily a Dragon living in his own element of fire and reek.
While he was still gazing on the loathly image, Regin, the cunning smith, came into the smithy. He stood by the wall and he watched Sigurd. His back was bent; his hair fell over his eyes that were all fiery, and he looked like a beast that runs behind the hedges.
“Aye, thou dost look on Fafnir the Dragon, son of the Volsungs,” he said to Sigurd. “Mayhap it is thou who wilt slay him.”
“I would not strive with such a beast. He is all horrible to me,” Sigurd said.
“With a good sword thou mightst slay him and win for thyself more renown than ever thy fathers had,” Regin whispered.
“I shall win renown as my fathers won renown, in battle with men and in conquest of kingdoms,” Sigurd said.
“Thou art not a true Volsung or thou wouldst gladly go where most danger and dread is,” said Regin. “Thou hast heard of Fafnir the Dragon, whose image I have wrought here. If thou dost ride to the crest of the hills thou mayst look across to the desolate land where Fafnir has his haunt. Know that once it was fair land where men had peace and prosperity, but Fafnir came and made his den in a cave nearby, and his breathings as he went to and came from the River withered up the land and made it the barren waste that men called Gnita Heath. Now, if thou art a true Volsung, thou wilt slay the Dragon, and let that land become fair again, and bring the people back to it and so add to King Alv’s domain.”
“I have nought to do with the slaying of Dragons,” Sigurd said. “I have to make war on King Lygni, and avenge upon him the slaying of Sigmund, my father.”
“What is the slaying of Lygni and the conquest of his kingdom to the slaying of Fafnir the Dragon?” Regin cried. “I will tell thee what no one else knows of Fafnir the Dragon. He guards a hoard of gold and jewels the like of which was never seen in the world. All this hoard you can make yours by slaying him.”
“I do not covet riches,” Sigurd said.
“No riches is like to the riches that Fafnir guards. His hoard is the hoard that the Dwarf Andvari had from the world’s early days. Once the Gods themselves paid it over as a ransom. And if thou wilt win this hoard, thou wilt be as one of the Gods.”
“How dost thou know that of which thou speakst, Regin?” Sigurd said.
“I know, and one day I may tell thee how I know.”
“And one day I may harken to thee. But speak to me no more of this Dragon. I would have thee make a sword, a sword that will be mightier and better shapen than any sword in the world. Thou canst do this, Regin, for thou art accounted the best swordsmith amongst men.”
Regin looked at Sigurd out of his small and cunning eyes and he thought it was best to make himself active. So he took the weightiest pieces of iron and put them into his furnace and he brought out the secret tools that he used when a masterwork was claimed from his hands.
All day Sigurd worked beside him keeping the fire at its best glow and bringing water to cool the blade as it was fashioned and refashioned. And as he worked, he thought only about the blade and about how he would make war upon King Lygni, and avenge the man who was slain before he himself was born.
All day he thought only of war and of the beaten blade. But at night his dreams were not upon wars nor shapen blades but upon Fafnir the Dragon. He saw the heath that was left barren by his breath, and he saw the cave where he had his den, and he saw him crawling down from his cave, his scales glittering like rings of mail, and his length the length of a company of men on the march.
The next day he worked with Regin to shape the great sword. When it was shapen with all the cunning Regin knew it looked indeed a mighty sword. Then Regin sharpened it and Sigurd polished it. And at last he held the great sword by its iron hilt.
Then Sigurd took the shield that had the image of Fafnir the Dragon upon it and he put the shield over the anvil of the smithy. Raising the great sword in both his hands he struck full on the iron shield.
The stroke of the sword sheared away some of the shield, but the blade broke in Sigurd’s hands. Then in anger he turned on Regin, crying out, “Thou hast made a knave’s sword for me. To work with thee again! Thou must make me a Volsung’s sword.”
Then he went out and called to Grani, his horse, and mounted him and
rode to the river bank like the sweep of the wind.
Regin took more pieces of iron and began to forge a new sword, uttering as he worked runes that were about the hoard that Fafnir the Dragon guarded. And Sigurd that night dreamt of glittering treasure that he coveted not, masses of gold and heaps of glistening jewels.
He was Regin’s help the next day and they both worked to make a sword that would be mightier than the first. For three days they worked upon it, and then Regin put into Sigurd’s hands a sword, sharpened and polished, that was mightier and more splendid looking than the one that had been forged before. And again Sigurd took the shield that had the image of the Dragon upon it and he put it upon the anvil. Then he raised his arms and struck his full blow. The sword cut through the shield, but when it struck the anvil it shivered in his hands.
He left the smithy angrily and called to Grani, his proud horse. He mounted and rode on like the sweep of the wind.
Later he came to his mother’s bower and stood before Hiordis. “A greater sword must I have,” said he, “than one that is made of metal dug out of the earth. The time has come, mother, when thou must put into my hands the broken pieces of Gram, the sword of Sigmund and the Volsungs.”
Hiordis measured him with the glance of her eyes, and she saw that her son was a mighty youth and one fit to use the sword of Sigmund and the Volsungs. She bade him go with her to the King’s Hall. Out of the great stone chest that was in her chamber she took the beast’s skin and the broken blade that was wrapped in it. She gave the pieces into the hands of her son. “Behold the halves of Gram,” she said, “of Gram, the mighty sword that in the far-off days Odin left in the Branstock, in the tree of the house of Volsung. I would see Gram new-shapen in thy hands, my son.”
Then she embraced him as she had never embraced him before, and standing there with her ruddy hair about her she told him of the glory of Gram and of the deeds of his fathers in whose hands the sword had shone.
Then Sigurd went to the smithy, and he wakened Regin out of his sleep, and he made him look on the shining halves of Sigmund’s sword. He commanded him to make out of these halves a sword for his hand.
Regin worked for days in his smithy and Sigurd never left his side. At last the blade was forged, and when Sigurd held it in his hand fire ran along the edge of it.
Again he laid the shield that had the image of the Dragon upon it on the anvil of the smithy. Again, with his hands on its iron hilt, he raised the sword for a full stroke. He struck, and the sword cut through the shield and sheared through the anvil, cutting away its iron horn. Then did Sigurd know that he had in his hands the Volsungs’ sword. He went without and called to Grani, and like the sweep of the wind rode down to the River’s bank. Shreds of wool were floating down the water. Sigurd struck at them with his sword, and the fine wool was divided against the water’s edge. Hardness and fineness, Gram could cut through both.
That night Gram, the Volsungs’ sword, was under his head when he slept, but still his dreams were filled with images that he had not regarded in the day time; the shine of a hoard that he coveted not, and the gleam of the scales of a Dragon that was too loathly for him to battle with.
THE DRAGON’S BLOOD
Sigurd went to war: with the men that King Alv gave him he marched into the country that was ruled over by the slayer of his father. The war that he waged was short and the battles that he won were not perilous. Old was King Lygni now, and feeble was his grasp upon his people. Sigurd slew him and took away his treasure and added his lands to the lands of King Alv.
But Sigurd was not content with the victory he had gained. He had dreamt of stark battles and of renown that would be hardily won. What was the war he had waged to the wars that Sigmund his father, and Volsung his father’s father, had waged in their days? Not content was Sigurd. He led his men back by the hills from the crests of which he could look upon the Dragon’s haunts. And having come as far as those hills he bade his men return to King Alv’s hall with the spoils he had won.
They went, and Sigurd stayed upon the hills and looked across Gnita Heath to where Fafnir the Dragon had his lair. All blasted and wasted was the Heath with the fiery breath of the Dragon. And he saw the cave where Fafnir abode, and he saw the track that his comings and goings made. For every day the Dragon left his cave in the cliffs, crossing the Heath to come to the River at which he drank.
For the length of a day Sigurd watched from the hills the haunt of the Dragon. In the evening he saw him lengthening himself out of the cave, and coming on his track across the Heath, in seeming like a ship that travels swiftly because of its many oars.
Then to Regin in his smithy he came. To that cunning man Sigurd said:
“Tell me all thou dost know of Fafnir the Dragon.”
Regin began to talk, but his speech was old and strange and filled with runes. When he had spoken it all Sigurd said, “All thou hast told me thou wilt have to say over again in a speech that is known to men of our day.”
Then said Regin: “Of a hoard I spoke. The Dwarf Andvari guarded it from the first days of the world. But one of the Æsir forced Andvari to give the hoard to him, masses of gold and heaps of jewels, and the Æsir gave it to Hreidmar, who was my father.
“For the slaying of his son Otter the Æsir gave the hoard to Hreidmar, the greatest hoard that had ever been seen in the world. But not long was it left to Hreidmar to gloat over. For a son slew a father that he might possess that hoard. Fafnir, that son was Fafnir, my brother.
“Then Fafnir, that no one might disturb his possession of the hoard, turned himself into a Dragon, a Dragon so fearful that none dare come nigh him. And I, Regin, was stricken with covetousness of the hoard. I did not change myself into another being, but by the magic my father knew, I made my life longer than the generations of men, hoping that I would see Fafnir slain and then have the mighty hoard under my hands.
“Now, son of the Volsungs, thou dost know all that has to do with Fafnir the Dragon, and the great hoard that he guards.”
“Little do I care about the hoard he guards,” Sigurd said. “I care only that he has made the King’s good lands into a waste and that he is an evil thing to men. I would have the renown of slaying Fafnir the Dragon.”
“With Gram, the sword thou hast, thou couldst slay Fafnir,” Regin cried, his body shaken with his passion for the hoard. “Thou couldst slay him with the sword thou hast. Harken now and I will tell thee how thou mightst give him the deathly stroke through the coils of his mail. Harken, for I have thought of it all.
“The track of the Dragon to the River is broad, for he takes ever the one track. Dig a pit in the middle of that track, and when Fafnir comes over it strike up into his coils of mail with Gram, thy great sword. Gram only may pierce that mail. Then will Fafnir be slain and the hoard will be left guard less.”
“What thou sayst is wise, Regin,” Sigurd answered. “We will make this pit and I will strike Fafnir in the way thou sayst.”
Then Sigurd went and he rode upon Grani, his proud horse, and he showed himself to King Alv and to Hiordis, his mother. Afterwards he went with Regin to the Heath that was the haunt of the Dragon, and in his track, they dug a pit for the slaying of Fafnir.
And, lest his horse should scream aloud at the coming of the Dragon, Sigurd had Grani sent back to a cave in the hills. It was Regin that brought Grani away. “I am fearful and can do nothing to help thee, son of the Volsungs,” he said. “I will go away and await the slaying of Fafnir.”
He went, and Sigurd lay down in the pit they had made and practiced thrusting upward with his sword. He lay with his face upward and with his two hands he thrust the mighty sword upward.
But as he lay there, he bethought of a dread thing that might happen; namely, that the blood and the venom of the Dragon might pour over him as he lay there, and waste him flesh and bone. When he thought of this Sigurd hastened out of the pit, and he dug other pits nearby, and he made a passage for himself from one pit to the other that he might escape from the flow of the Dragon’s envenomed blood.
As he lay down again in the pit, he heard the treading of the Dragon and he heard the Dragon’s strange and mournful cry. Mightily the Dragon came on and he heard his breathing. His shape came over the pit. Then the Dragon held his head and looked down on Sigurd.
It was the instant for him to make stroke with Gram. He did not let the instant pass. He struck mightily under the shoulder and toward the heart of the beast. The sword went through the hard and glittering scales that were the creature’s mail. Sigurd pulled out the sword and drew himself through the passage and out into the second pit as Fafnir’s envenomed blood drenched where he had been.
Drawing himself up out of the second pit he saw the huge shape of Fafnir heaving and lashing. He came to him and thrust his sword right through the Dragon’s neck. The Dragon reared up as though to fling himself down on Sigurd with all his crushing bulk and dread talons, with his fiery breath and his envenomed blood. But Sigurd leaped aside and ran far off. Then did Fafnir scream his death scream. After he had torn up rocks with his talons, he lay prone on the ground, his head in the pit that was filled with his envenomed blood.
Then did Regin, hearing the scream that let him know that Fafnir was slain, come down to where the battle had been fought. When he saw that Sigurd was alive and unharmed, he uttered a cry of fury. For his plan had been to have Sigurd drowned and burnt in the pit with the stream of Fafnir’s envenomed blood.
But he mastered his fury and showed a pleased countenance to Sigurd. “Now thou wilt have renown,” he cried. “Forever wilt thou be called Sigurd, Fafnir’s Bane. More renown than ever any of thy fathers had wilt thou have, O Prince of the Volsungs.”
So he spoke, saying fair words to him, for now that he was left alive there was something, he would have Sigurd do.
“Fafnir is slain,” Sigurd said, “and the triumph over him was not lightly won. Now may I show myself to King Alv and to my mother, and the gold from Fafnir’s hoard will make me a great spoil.”
“Wait,” said Regin cunningly. “Wait. Thou hast yet to do something for me. With the sword thou hast, cut through the Dragon and take out his heart for me. When thou hast taken it out, roast it that I may eat of it and become wiser than I am. Do this for me who showed thee how to slay Fafnir.”
Sigurd did what Regin would have him do. He cut out the heart of the Dragon and he hung it from stakes to roast. Regin drew away and left him. As Sigurd stood before the fire putting sticks upon it there was a great silence in the forest.
He put his hand down to turn an ashen branch into the heart of the fire. As he did a drop from the roasting Dragon-heart fell upon his hand. The drop burnt into him. He put his hand to his mouth to ease the smart, and his tongue tasted the burning blood of the Dragon.
He went to gather wood for the fire. In a clearing that he came to there were birds; he saw four on a branch together. They spoke to each other in birds’ notes, and Sigurd heard and knew what they were saying.
Said the first bird: “How simple is he who has come into this dell! He has no thought of an enemy, and yet he who was with him but a while ago has gone away that he may bring a spear to slay him.”
“For the sake of the gold that is in the Dragon’s cave he would slay him,” said the second bird.
And the third bird said: “If he would eat the Dragon’s heart himself, he would know all wisdom.”
But the fourth bird said: “He has tasted a drop of the Dragon’s blood and he knows what we are saying.”
The four birds did not fly away nor cease from speaking. Instead they began to tell of a marvelous abode that was known to them.
Deep in the forest, the birds sang, there was a Hall that was called the House of Flame. Its ten walls were Uni, Iri, Barri, Ori, Varns, Vegdrasil, Derri, Uri, Dellinger, Atvarder, and each wall was built by the Dwarf whose name it bore. All round the Hall there was a circle of fire through which none might pass. And within the Hall a maiden slept, and she was the wisest and the bravest and the most beautiful maiden in the world.
Sigurd stood like a man enchanted listening to what the birds sang.
But suddenly they changed the flow of their discourse, and their notes
became sharp and piercing.
“Look, look!” cried one. “He is coming against the youth.”
“He is coming against the youth with a spear,” cried another.
“Now will the youth be slain unless he is swift,” cried a third.
Sigurd turned round and he saw Regin treading the way toward him, grim and silent, with a spear in his hands. The spear would have gone through Sigurd had he stayed one instant longer in the place where he had been listening to the speech of the birds. As he turned, he had his sword in his hand, and he flung it, and Gram struck Regin on the breast.
Then Regin cried out: “I die–I die without having laid my hands on the hoard that Fafnir guarded. Ah, a curse was upon the hoard, for Hreidmar and Fafnir and I have perished because of it. May the curse of the gold now fall on the one who is my slayer.”
Then did Regin breathe out his life. Sigurd took the body and cast it into the pit that was alongside the dead Fafnir. Then, that he might eat the Dragon’s heart and become the wisest of men, he went to where he had left it roasting. And he thought that when he had eaten the heart he would go into the Dragon’s cave and carry away the treasure that was there, and bring it as spoil of his battle to King Alv and to his mother. Then he would go through the forest and find the House of Flame where slept the maiden who was the wisest and bravest and most beautiful in the world.
But Sigurd did not eat the Dragon’s heart. When he came to where he had left it roasting, he found that the fire had burnt it utterly.
THE STORY OF SIGMUND AND SIGNY
He called to Grani, his proud horse; he stood up on a mound in the Heath and he sent forth a great shout. And Grani heard in the cave where Regin had left him and he came galloping to Sigurd with flowing mane and eyes flashing fire.
He mounted Grani and he rode to Fafnir’s cave. When he went into the place where the Dragon was wont to lie, he saw a door of iron before him. With Gram, his mighty sword, he hewed through the iron, and with his strong hands he pulled the door back. Then, before him he saw the treasure the Dragon guarded, masses of gold and heaps of shining jewels.
But as he looked on the hoard Sigurd felt some shadow of the evil that lay over it all. This was the hoard that in the far-off days the River-Maidens watched over as it lay deep under the flowing water. Then Andvari the Dwarf forced the River-Maidens to give it to him. And Loki had taken it from Andvari, letting loose as he did Gulveig the Witch who had such evil power over the Gods. For the sake of the hoard Fafnir had slain Hreidmar, his father, and Regin had plotted death against Fafnir, his brother.
Not all this history did Sigurd know. But a shadow of its evil touched his spirit as he stood there before the gleaming and glittering heap. He would take all of it away, but not now. The tale that the birds told was in his mind, and the green of the forest was more to him than the glitter of the treasure heap. He would come back with chests and load it up and carry it to King Alv’s hall. But first he would take such things as he himself might wear.
He found a helmet of gold and he put it on his head. He found a great armring and his put it around his arm. On the top of the armring there was a small finger ring with a rune graved upon it. Sigurd put it on his finger. And this was the ring that Andvari the Dwarf had put the curse upon when Loki had taken the hoard from him.
He knew that no one would cross the Heath and come to Fafnir’s lair, so he did not fear to leave the treasure unguarded. He mounted Grani, his proud horse, and rode toward the forest. He would seek the House of Flame where she lay sleeping, the maiden who was the wisest and the bravest and the most beautiful in the world. With his golden helmet shining above his golden hair Sigurd rode on.
As he rode toward the forest he thought of Sigmund, his father, whose slaying he had avenged, and he thought of Sigmund’s father, Volsung, and of the grim deeds that the Volsungs had suffered and wrought.
Rerir, the son of Sigi who was the son of Odin, was the father of Volsung. And Volsung when he was in his first manhood had built his hall around a mighty tree. Its branches went up to the roof and made the beams of the house and its great trunk was the center of the hall. “The Branstock” the tree was called, and Volsung hall was named “The Hall of the Branstock.”
Many children had Volsung, eleven sons and one daughter. Strong were all his sons and good fighters, and Volsung of the Hall of the Branstock was a mighty chief.
It was through Signy, the daughter of the house, that a feud and a deadly battle was brought to Volsung and his sons. She was a wise and a fair maiden and her fame went through all the lands. Now, one day Volsung received a message from a King asking for the hand of Signy in marriage. And Volsung who knew of this King through report of his battles sent a message to him saying that he would be welcome to the Hall of the Branstock.
So King Siggeir came with his men. But when the Volsungs looked into his face they liked it not. And Signy shrank away, saying, “This King is evil of heart and false of word.”
Volsung and his eleven sons took counsel together. Siggeir had a great force of men with him, and if they refused to give her, he could slay them all and harry their kingdom. Besides they had pledged themselves to give Signy when they had sent him a message of welcome. Long counsel they had together. And ten of Signy’s brothers said, “Let Signy wed this King. He is not as evil as he seems in her mind.” Ten brothers said it. But one spoke out, saying, “We will not give our sister to this evil King. Rather let us all go down fighting with the Hall of the Branstock flaming above our heads.”
It was Sigmund, the youngest of the Volsungs, who said this.
But Signy’s father said: “We know nought of evil of King Siggeir. Also our word is given to him. Let him feast with us this night in the Hall of the Branstock and let Signy go from us with him as his wife.” Then they looked to her and they saw Signy’s face and it was white and stern. “Let it be as ye have said, my father and my brothers,” she said. “I will wed King Siggeir and go with him overseas.” So she said aloud. But Sigmund heard her say to herself, “It is woe for the Volsungs.”
A feast was made and King Siggeir and his men came to the Hall of the Branstock. Fires were lighted and tables were spread, and great horns of mead went around the guests. In the middle of the feasting a stranger entered the Hall. He was taller than the tallest there, and his bearing made all do him reverence. One offered him a horn of mead and he drank it. Then, from under the blue cloak that he wore, he drew a sword that made the brightness of the Hall more bright.
He went to the tree that the Hall was built around, to the Branstock, and he thrust the sword into it. All the company were hushed. Then they heard the voice of the stranger, a voice that was like the trumpet’s call: “The sword is for the hand that can draw it out of the Branstock.” Then he went out of the Hall.
All looked to where the sword was placed and saw a hand’s breadth of wonderful brightness. This one and that one would have laid hands on the hilt, only Volsung’s voice bade them stand still. “It is meet,” he said, “that our guest and our son-in-law, King Siggeir, should be the first to put hands on its hilt and try to draw the sword of the stranger out of the Branstock.”
King Siggeir went to the tree and laid his hands on the broad hilt. He strove hard to draw out the sword, but all his might could not move it. As he strained himself to draw it and failed, a dark look of anger came into his face.
Then others tried to draw it, the captains who were with King Siggeir, and they, too, failed to move the blade. Then Volsung tried and Volsung could not move it. One after the other, his eleven sons strained to draw out the stranger’s sword. At last it came to the turn of the youngest, to Sigmund, to try. And when Sigmund laid his hand on the broad hilt and drew it, behold! The sword came with his hand, and once again the Hall was brightened with its marvelous brightness.
It was a wondrous sword, a sword made out of better metal and by smiths more cunning than any known. All envied Sigmund that he had won for himself that wonder-weapon.
King Siggeir looked on it with greedy eyes. “I will give thee its weight in gold for that sword, good brother,” he said.
But Sigmund said to him proudly: “If the sword was for thy hand, thou shouldst have won it. The sword was not for thine, but for a Volsung’s hand.”
And Signy, looking at King Siggeir, saw a look of deeper evil come into his face. She knew that hatred for all the Volsung race was in his heart.
But at the end of the feast she was wed to King Siggeir, and the next day she left the Hall of the Branstock and went with him down to where his great painted ship was drawn up on the beach. And when they were parting from her, her father and her brothers, King Siggeir invited them to come to his country, as friends visiting friends and kinsmen visiting kinsmen, and look on Signy again. And he stood on the beach and would not go on board his ship until each and all of the Volsungs gave their word that they would visit Signy and him in his own land. “And when thou comest,” he said to Sigmund, “be sure thou dost bring with thee the mighty sword that thou didst win.”
All this was thought of by Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, as he rode toward the fringe of the forest.
The time came for Volsung and his sons to redeem the promise they made to King Siggeir. They made ready their ship and they sailed from the land where stood the Hall of the Branstock. And they landed on the coast of King Siggeir’s country, and they drew their ship up on the beach and they made their camp there, intending to come to the King’s Hall in the broad light of the day.
But in the half light of the dawn one came to the Volsung ship. A cloak and hood covered the figure, but Sigmund, who was the watcher, knew who it was. “Signy!” he said, and Signy asked that her father and her brothers be awakened until she would speak to them of a treason that was brewed against them.
“King Siggeir has made ready a great army against your coming,” she told them. “He hates the Volsungs, the branch as well as the root, and it is his plan to fall upon you, my father and my brothers, with his great army and slay you all. And he would possess himself of Gram, Sigmund’s wonder-sword. Therefore, I say to you, O Volsungs, draw your ship into the sea and sail from the land where such treachery can be.”
But Volsung, her father, would not listen. “The Volsungs do not depart like broken men from a land they have brought their ship to,” he said. “We gave, each and all, the word that we would visit King Siggeir and visit him we will. And if he is a dastard and would fall upon us, why we are the unbeaten Volsungs, and we will fight against him and his army and slay him, and bear you back with us to the Hall of the Branstock. The day widens now, and we shall go to the Hall.”
Signy would have spoken of the great army King Siggeir had gathered, but she knew that the Volsungs never harkened to talk of odds. She spoke no more, but bowed her head and went back to King Siggeir’s hall.
Siggeir knew that Signy had been to warn her father and her brothers. He called the men he had gathered and he posted them cunningly in the way the Volsungs would come. Then he sent one to the ship with a message of welcome.
As they left their ship the army of King Siggeir fell upon the Volsungs and their followers. Very fierce was the battle that was waged on the beach, and many and many a one of King Siggeir’s fierce fighters went down before the fearless ones that made Volsung’s company. But at last Volsung himself was slain and his eleven sons were taken captive. And Gram, his mighty sword, was taken out of Sigmund’s hands.
They were brought before King Siggeir in his hall, the eleven Volsung princes. Siggeir laughed to see them before him. “Ye are not in the Hall of the Branstock now, to dishonor me with black looks and scornful words,” he said, “and a harder task will be given you than that of drawing a sword out of a tree-trunk. Before set of sun I will see you hewn to pieces with the sword.”
Then Signy who was there stood up with her white face and her wide eyes, and she said: “I pray not for longer life for my brothers, for well I know that my prayers would avail them nought. But dost thou not heed the proverb, Siggeir–‘Sweet to the eye as long as the eye can see’?”
And Siggeir laughed his evil laugh when he heard her. “Aye, my Queen,” he said, “sweet to the eye as long as the eye may see their torments. They shall not die at once nor all together. I will let them see each other die.”
So Siggeir gave a new order to his dastard troops. The order was that the eleven brothers should be taken into the depths of the forest and chained to great beams and left there. This was done with the eleven sons of Volsung.
The next day one who had watched and who was faithful to Signy came, and Signy said to him: “What has befallen my brothers?”
And the watcher said: “A great wolf came to where the chained men are, and fell upon the first of them and devoured him.”
When Signy heard this no tears came from her eyes, but that which was hard around her heart became harder. She said, “Go again, and watch what befalls.”
And the watcher came the second time and said: “The second of your brothers has been devoured by the wolf.” Signy shed no tears this time either, and again that which was hard around her heart became harder.
And every day the watcher came and he told her what had befallen her brothers. And it came to the time when but one of her brothers was left alive, Sigmund, the youngest.
Then said Signy: “Not without device are we left at the end. I have thought of what is to be done. Take a pot of honey to where he is chained and smear Sigmund’s face with the honey.”
The watcher did as Signy bade him.
Again the great wolf came along the forest-ways to where Sigmund was chained. When she snuffed over him, she found the honey upon his face. She put down her tongue to lick over his face. Then, with his strong teeth Sigmund seized the tongue of the wolf. She fought and she struggled with all her might, but Sigmund did not let go of her tongue. The struggle with the beast broke the beam to which he was chained. Then Sigmund seized the wolf with his hands and tore her jaws apart.
The watcher saw this happening and told of it to Signy. A fierce joy went through her, and she said: “One of the Volsungs lives, and vengeance will be wrought upon King Siggeir and upon his house.”
Still the watcher stayed in the ways of the forest, and he marked where Sigmund built for himself a hidden hut. Often he bore tokens from Signy to Sigmund. Sigmund took to the ways of the hunter and the outlaw, but he did not forsake the forest. And King Siggeir knew not that one of the Volsungs lived and was near him.
THE STORY OF SIGMUND AND SINFIOTLI
As Sigurd rode the ways of the forest he thought upon Sigmund, his father, on his life and his death, according to what Hiordis, his mother, had told him. Sigmund lived for long the life of the hunter and the outlaw, but he never strayed far from the forest that was in King Siggeir’s dominion. Often did he get a token from Signy. They two, the last of the Volsungs, knew that King Siggeir and his house would have to perish for the treason he had wrought on their father and their brothers.
Sigmund knew that his sister would send her son to help him. One morning there came to his hut a boy of ten years. He knew that this was one of Signy’s sons, and that she would have him train him into being a warrior worthy of the Volsung breed.
Sigmund hardly looked and hardly spoke to the lad. He was going hunting, and as he took down his spear from the wall he said:
“There is the mealbag, boy. Mix the meal and make the bread, and we will eat when I come back.”
When he returned the bread was unmade, and the boy was standing watching the mealbag with widened eyes. “Thou didst not make the bread?” Sigmund said.
“Nay,” said the boy, “I was afeard to go near the bag. Something stirred within it.”
“Thou hast the heart of a mouse so to be frighted. Go back to thy mother and tell her that not in thee is the stuff for a Volsung warrior.”
So Sigmund spoke, and the boy went away weeping.
A year later another son of Signy’s came. As before Sigmund hardly looked at and hardly spoke to the boy. He said: “There is the mealbag. Mix the meal and make ready the bread against the time I return.”
When Sigmund came back the bread was unmade. The boy had shrunk away from where the bag was. “Thou hast not made the bread?” Sigmund said.
“Nay,” said the boy, “something stirred in the bag, and I was afeard.”
“Thou hast the heart of a mouse. Get thee back to thy mother and tell her that there is not in thee the stuff for the making of a Volsung warrior.”
And this boy, like his brother, went back weeping.
At that time Signy had no other sons. But at last one was born to her, the child of a desperate thought. Him, too, when he was grown, she sent to Sigmund.
“What did thy mother say to thee?” Sigmund said to this boy when he showed himself at the hut.
“Nothing. She sewed my gloves to my hands and then bade me pull them off.”
“And didst thou?”
“Aye, and the skin came with them.”
“And didst thou weep?”
“A Volsung does not weep for such a thing.”
Long did Sigmund look on the lad. He was tall and fair and great-limbed, and his eyes had no fear in them.
“What wouldst thou have me do for thee?” said the lad.
“There is the mealbag,” Sigmund said. “Mix the meal and make the bread for me against the time I return.”
When Sigmund came back the bread was baking on the coals. “What didst thou with the meal?” Sigmund asked.
“I mixed it. Something was in the meal–a serpent, I think–but I kneaded it with the meal, and now the serpent is baking on the coals.”
Sigmund laughed and threw his arms around the boy. “Thou wilt not eat of that bread,” he said. “Thou didst knead into it a venomous serpent.”
The boy’s name was Sinfiotli. Sigmund trained him in the ways of the hunter and the outlaw. Here and there they went, taking vengeance on King Siggeir’s men. The boy was fierce, but never did he speak a word that was false.
One day when Sigmund and Sinfiotli were hunting, they came upon a strange house in the dark wood. When they went within, they found two men lying there sleeping a deep sleep. On their arms were heavy rings of gold, and Sigmund knew that they were the sons of Kings.
And beside the sleeping men he saw wolfskins, left there as though they had been cast off. Then Sigmund knew that these men were shape-changers–that they were ones who changed their shapes and ranged through the forests as wolves.
Sigmund and Sinfiotli put on the skins that the men had cast off, and when they did this, they changed their shapes and became as wolves. And as wolves they ranged through the forest, now and then changing their shapes back to those of men. As wolves they fell upon King Siggeir’s men and slew more and more of them.
One day Sigmund said to Sinfiotli: “Thou art still young and I would not have thee be too rash. If thou dost come upon a company of seven men, fight them. But if thou dost come on a company greater than seven, raise up thy voice as a wolf’s cry and bring me to thy side.”
Sinfiotli promised that he would do this.
One day, as he went through the forest in his wolf’s shape, Sigmund heard the din of a struggle and he stopped to listen for Sinfiotli’s call. But no call came. Then Sigmund went through the forest in the direction of the struggle. On his way he passed the bodies of eleven slain men. And he came upon Sinfiotli lying in the thicket, his wolf’s shape upon him, and panting from the battle he had waged.
“Thou didst strive with eleven men. Why didst thou not call to me?” Sigmund said.
“Why should I have called to thee? I am not so feeble but I can strive with eleven men.”
Sigmund was made angry with this answer. He looked on Sinfiotli where he lay, and the wicked wolf’s nature that was in the skin came over him. He sprang upon him, sinking his teeth in Sinfiotli’s throat.
Sinfiotli lay gasping in the throes of death. And Sigmund, knowing the deadly grip that was in those jaws of his, howled his anguish.
Then, as he licked the face of his comrade, he saw two weasels meet. They began to fight, one with the other, and the first caught the second at the throat, and bit him with his teeth and laid him out as if in death. Sigmund marked the combat and the end of it. But then the first weasel ran and found leaves of a certain herb and he put them upon his comrade’s wound. And the herb cured the wound, and the weasel that was bitten rose up and was sound and swift again.
Sigmund went searching for the herb he saw the weasel carry to his comrade. And as he sought for it, he saw a raven with a leaf in her beak. She dropped the leaf as he came to her, and behold! It was the same leaf as the weasel had brought to his comrade. Sigmund took it and laid it on the wound he had made in Sinfiotli’s throat, and the wound healed, and Sinfiotli was sound once more. They went back to their hut in the forest. And the next day they burnt the wolfskins, and they prayed the Gods that they might never be afflicted with the wolf’s evil nature again. And Sigmund and Sinfiotli never afterwards changed their shapes.
THE STORY OF THE VENGEANCE OF THE VOLSUNGS AND OF THE DEATH OF SINFIOTLI
And now Sinfiotli had come to his full strength and it was time to take vengeance on King Siggeir for the slaying of Volsung and the dread doom he had set for Volsung’s ten sons. Sigmund and Sinfiotli put helmets on their heads and took swords in their hands and went to King Siggeir’s Hall. They hid behind the casks of ale that were at the entrance and they waited for the men-at-arms to leave the Hall that they might fall upon King Siggeir and his attendants.
The younger children of King Siggeir were playing in the Hall and one let fall a ball. It went rolling behind the casks of ale. And the child peering after the ball saw two men crouching with swords in their hands and helmets on their heads.
The child told a servant who told the King. Then Siggeir arose, and he drew his men-at-arms around him, and he set them on the men who were hiding behind the barrels. Sigmund and Sinfiotli sprang up and fought against the men of King Siggeir, but they were taken captives.
Now they might not be slain there and then, for it was unlawful to slay captives after sunset. But for all that, King Siggeir would not leave them above ground. He decreed that they should be put in a pit, and a mound made over them so that they would be buried alive.
The sentence was carried out. A great flagstone was put down to divide the pit in two, so that Sigmund and Sinfiotli might hear each other’s struggle and not be able to give help to each other. All was done as the King commanded.
But while his thralls were putting sods over the pit, one came amongst them, cloaked and hooded, and dropped something wrapped in straw into the side of the pit where Sinfiotli lay. And when the sky was shut out from them with the turf and soil that was put over the pit, Sinfiotli shouted to Sigmund: “I shall not die, for the queen has thrown down to me meat wrapped in a parcel of straw.”
And a while afterwards Sinfiotli shouted to Sigmund: “The queen has left a sword in the meat which she flung down to me. It is a mighty sword. Almost I think it is Gram, the sword you told me of.”
“If it be Gram,” Sigmund said, “it is a sword that can cut through this flagstone. Thrust the blade against the stone and try.”
Sinfiotli thrust the blade against the stone and the blade went through the stone. Then, one on each side, they took hold of the sword and they cut the great stone in two. Afterwards, working together, it was easy to shift the turf and soil. The two came out under the sky.
Before them was the Hall of King Siggeir. They came to the Hall and they set dry wood before it and they fired the wood and made the Hall blaze up. And when the Hall was in a blaze King Siggeir came to the door and shouted, “Who is it that has fired the house of the King?”
And Sigmund said, “I, Sigmund, the son of Volsung, that you may pay for the treason wrought on the Volsungs.”
Seeing Sigmund there with Gram, the great sword, in his hands, Siggeir went back into his Hall. Then Signy was seen with her white face and her stern eyes, and Sigmund called to her, “Come forth, come forth. Sigmund calls. Come out of Siggeir’s blazing house and together we will go back to the Hall of the Branstock.”
But Signy said, “All is finished now. The vengeance is wrought and I have no more to keep me in life. The Volsung race lives on in you, my brother, and that is my joy. Not merrily did I wed King Siggeir and not merrily did I live with him, but merrily will I die with him now.”
She went within the Hall; then the flames burst over it and all who were within perished. Thus the vengeance of the Volsungs was wrought.
And Sigurd thought on the deed that Sigmund, his father, and Sinfiotli, the youth who was his father’s kinsman, wrought, as he rode the ways of the forest, and of the things that thereafter befell them.
Sigmund and Sinfiotli left King Siggeir’s land and came back to the land where was the Hall of the Branstock. Sigmund became a great King and Sinfiotli was the Captain of his host.
And the story of Sigmund and Sinfiotli goes on to tell how Sigmund wed a woman whose name was Borghild, and how Sinfiotli loved a woman who was loved by Borghild’s brother. A battle came in which the youths were on opposite sides, and Sinfiotli killed Borghild’s brother, and it was in fair combat.
Sinfiotli returned home. To make peace between him and the Queen, Sigmund gave Borghild a great measure of gold as compensation for the loss of her brother. The Queen took it and said, “Lo, my brother’s worth is reckoned at this; let no more be said about his slaying.” And she made Sinfiotli welcome to the Hall of the Branstock.
But although she showed herself friendly to him her heart was set upon his destruction.
That night there was a feast in the Hall of the Branstock and Borghild the Queen went to all the guests with a horn of mead in her hand. She came to Sinfiotli and she held the horn to him. “Take this from my hands, O friend of Sigmund,” she said.
But Sinfiotli saw what was in her eyes and he said, “I will not drink from this horn. There is venom in the drink.”
Then, to end the mockery that the Queen would have made over Sinfiotli, Sigmund who was standing by took the horn out of Borghild’s hand. No venom or poison could injure him. He raised the horn to his lips and drained the mead at a draught.
The Queen said to Sinfiotli, “Must other men quaff thy drink for thee?”
Later in the night she came to him again, the horn of mead in her hand. She offered it to Sinfiotli, but he looked in her eyes and saw the hatred that was there. “Venom is in the drink,” he said. “I will not take it.”
And again Sigmund took the horn and drank the mead at a draught. And again the Queen mocked Sinfiotli.
A third time she came to him. Before she offered the horn, she said, “This is the one who fears to take his drink like a man. What a Volsung heart he has!” Sinfiotli saw the hatred in her eyes, and her mockery could not make him take the mead from her. As before Sigmund was standing by. But now he was weary of raising the horn and he said to Sinfiotli, “Pour the drink through thy beard.”
He thought that Sigmund meant that he should pour the mead through his lips that were bearded and make trouble no more between him and the Queen. But Sigmund did not mean that. He meant that he should pretend to drink and let the mead run down on the floor. Sinfiotli, not understanding what his comrade meant, took the horn from the Queen and raised it to his lips and drank. And as soon as he drank, the venom that was in the drink went to his heart, and he fell dead in the Hall of the Branstock.
Oh, woeful was Sigmund for the death of his kinsman and his comrade. He would let no one touch his body. He himself lifted Sinfiotli in his arms and carried him out of the Hall, and through the wood, and down to the seashore. And when he came to the shore, he saw a boat drawn up with a man therein. Sigmund came near to him and saw that the man was old and strangely tall. “I will take thy burthen from thee,” the man said.
Sigmund left the body of Sinfiotli in the boat, thinking to take a place beside it. But as soon as the body was placed in it the boat went from the land without sail or oars. Sigmund, looking on the old man who stood at the stern, knew that he was not of mortal men, but was Odin All-Father, the giver of the sword Gram.
Then Sigmund went back to his Hall. His Queen died, and in time he wed with Hiordis, who became the mother of Sigurd. And now Sigurd the Volsung, the son of Sigmund and Hiordis, rode the ways of the forest, the sword Gram by his side, and the Golden Helmet of the Dragon’s Hoard above his golden hair.
BRYNHILD IN THE HOUSE OF FLAME
The forest ways led him on and up a mountain-side. He came to a mountain-summit at last: Hindfell, where the trees fell away, leaving a place open to the sky and the winds. On Hindfell was the House of Flame. Sigurd saw the walls black, and high, and all around them was a ring of fire.
As he rode nearer, he heard the roar of the mounting and the circling fire. He sat on Grani, his proud horse, and for long he looked on the black walls and the flame that went circling around them.
Then he rode Grani to the fire. Another horse would have been affrighted, but Grani remained steady under Sigurd. To the wall of fire they came, and Sigurd, who knew no fear, rode through it.
Now he was in the courtyard of the Hall. No stir was there of man or hound or horse. Sigurd dismounted and bade Grani be still. He opened a door and he saw a chamber with hangings on which was wrought the pattern of a great tree, a tree with three roots, and the pattern was carried across from one wall to the other. On a couch in the center of the chamber one lay in slumber. Upon the head was a helmet and across the breast was a breastplate. Sigurd took the helmet off the head. Then over the couch fell a heap of woman’s hair–wondrous, bright-gleaming hair. This was the maiden that the birds had told him of.
He cut the fastenings of the breastplate with his sword, and he gazed long upon her. Beautiful was her face, but stern; like the face of one who subdues but may not be subdued. Beautiful and strong were her arms and her hands. Her mouth was proud, and over her closed eyes there were strong and beautiful brows.
Her eyes opened, and she turned them and looked full upon Sigurd. “Who art thou who hast awakened me?” she said.
“I am Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, of the Volsung race,” he answered.
“And thou didst ride through the ring of fire to me?”
“That did I.”
She knelt on the couch and stretched out her arms to where the light shone. “Hail, O Day,” she cried, “and hail, O beams that are the sons of Day. O Night, and O daughter of Night, may ye look on us with eyes that bless. Hail, O Æsir and O Asyniur! Hail, O wide-spreading fields of Midgard! May ye give us wisdom, and wise speech, and healing power, and grant that nothing untrue or unbrave may come near us!”
All this she cried with eyes open wide; they were eyes that had in them all the blue that Sigurd had ever seen: the blue of flowers, the blue of skies, the blue of battle-blades. She turned those great eyes upon him and she said, “I am Brynhild, once a Valkyrie but now a mortal maiden, one who will know death and all the sorrows that mortal women know. But there are things that I may not know, things that are false and of no bravery.”
She was the bravest and the wisest and the most beautiful maiden in the world: Sigurd knew that it was so. He laid his sword Gram at her feet, and he said her name, “Brynhild.” He told her how he had slain the Dragon, and how he had heard the birds tell of her. She rose from the couch and bound her wondrous hair on her head. In wonder he watched her. When she moved it was as though she walked above the earth.
They sat together and she told him wonderful and secret things. And she told him, too, how she was sent by Odin from Asgard to choose the slain for his hall Valhalla, and to give victory to those whom he willed to have it. And she told how she had disobeyed the will of All-Father, and how for that she was made outcast of Asgard. Odin put into her flesh the thorn of the Tree of Sleep that she might remain in slumber until one who was the bravest of mortal men should waken her. Whoever would break the fastenings of the breastplate would take out the Thorn of Sleep. “Odin granted me this,” she said, “that as a mortal maid I should wed none but him who is the bravest in the world. And so that none but him might come to me, All-Father put the fire-ring round where I lay in slumber. And it is thou, Sigurd, son of Sigmund, who hast come to me. Thou art the bravest and I think thou art the most beautiful too; like to Tyr, the God who wields the sword.”
She told him that whoever rode through the fire and claimed her as his wife, him she must wed.
They talked to each other fondly and the day flowed by them. Then Sigurd heard Grani, his horse, neigh for him again and again. He cried to Brynhild: “Let me go from the gaze of thine eyes. I am that one who is to have the greatest name in the world. Not yet have I made my name as great as my father and my father’s father made their names great. I have overcome King Lygni, and I have slain Fafnir the Dragon, but that is little. I would make my name the greatest in the world, and endure all that is to be endured in making it so. Then I would come back to thee in the House of Flame.”
Brynhild said to him: “Well dost thou speak. Make thy name great, and endure what thou hast to endure in making it so. I will wait for thee, knowing that none but Sigurd will be able to win through the fire that guards where I abide.”
They gazed long on each other, but little more they spoke. Then they held each other’s hands in farewell, and they plighted faith, promising each other that they would take no other man or maiden for their mate. And for token of their troth Sigurd took the ring that was on his finger and placed it on Brynhild’s–Andvari’s ring it was.
SIGURD AT THE HOUSE OF THE NIBELUNGS
He left Hindfell and he came into a kingdom that was ruled over by a people that were called the Nibelungs as Sigurd’s people were called the Volsungs. Giuki was the name of the King of that land.
Giuki and his Queen and all their sons gave a great welcome to Sigurd when he came to their hall, for he looked such a one as might win the name of being the world’s greatest hero. And Sigurd went to war beside the King’s sons, Gunnar and Högni, and the three made great names for themselves, but Sigurd’s shone high above the others.
When they came back from that war there were great rejoicings in the hall of the Nibelungs, and Sigurd’s heart was filled with friendship for all the Nibelung race; he had love for the King’s sons, Gunnar and Högni, and with Gunnar and Högni he swore oaths of brotherhood. Henceforward he and they would be as brethren. King Giuki had a stepson named Guttorm and he was not bound in the oath that bound Sigurd and the others in brotherhood.
After the war they had waged Sigurd spent a whole winter in the hall of the Nibelungs. His heart was full of memories of Brynhild and of longings to ride to her in the House of Flame and to take her with him to the kingdom that King Giuki would have given him. But as yet he would not go back to her, for he had sworn to give his brethren further help.
One day, as he rode by himself, he heard birds talk to each other and he knew the words they were saying. One said, “There is Sigurd who wears the wondrous helmet that he took out of Fafnir’s hoard.” And the other bird said, “He knows not that by that helmet he can change his shape as Fafnir changed his shape, and make him look like this creature or that creature, or this man or that man.” And the third bird said, “He knows not that the helmet can do anything so wonderful for him.”
He rode back to the hall of the Nibelungs, and at the supper board he told them what he had heard the birds say. He showed them the wondrous helmet. Also he told them how he had slain Fafnir the Dragon, and of how he had won the mighty hoard for himself. His two sworn brothers who were there rejoiced that he had such wondrous possessions.
But more precious than the hoard and more wondrous than the helmet was the memory of Brynhild that he had. But of this he said no word.
Grimhild was the name of the Queen. She was the mother of Gunnar and Högni and their half-brother Guttorm. And she and the King had one daughter whose name was Gudrun. Now Grimhild was one of the wisest of women, and she knew when she looked upon him that Sigurd was the world’s greatest warrior. She would have him belong to the Nibelungs, not only by the oaths of brotherhood he had sworn with Gunnar and Högni, but by other ties. And when she heard of the great hoard that was his she had greater wish and will that he should be one with the Nibelungs. She looked on the helmet of gold and on the great armring that he wore, and she made it her heart’s purpose that Sigurd should wed with Gudrun, her daughter. But neither Sigurd nor the maiden Gudrun knew of Grimhild’s resolve.
And the Queen, watching Sigurd closely, knew that he had a remembrance in his breast that held him from seeing Gudrun’s loveliness. She had knowledge of spells and secret brews (she was of the race of Borghild whose brew had destroyed Sinfiotli’s life) and she knew that she could make a potion that would destroy the memory Sigurd held.
She mixed the potion. Then one night when there was feasting in the hall of the Nibelungs, she gave the cup that held the potion into the hands of Gudrun and bade her carry it to Sigurd.
Sigurd took the cup out of the hands of the fair Nibelung maiden and he drank the potion. When he had drunk it, he put the cup down and he stood amongst the feasters like a man in a dream. And like a man in a dream he went into his chamber, and for a day and a night afterwards he was silent and his mind was astray. When he rode out with Gunnar and Högni they would say to him, “What is it thou hast lost, brother?” Sigurd could not tell them. But what he had lost was all memory of Brynhild the Valkyrie in the House of Flame.
He saw Gudrun and it was as though he looked upon her for the first time. Soft were the long tresses of her hair; soft were her hands. Her eyes were like wood flowers, and her ways and her speech were gentle. Yet was she noble in her bearing as became a Princess who would come into a kingdom. And from the first time she had seen him upon Grani, his proud horse, and with his golden helmet above his golden hair, Gudrun had loved Sigurd.
At the season when the wild swans came to the lake Gudrun went down to watch them build their nests. And while she was there Sigurd rode through the pines. He saw her, and her beauty made the whole place change. He stopped his horse and listened to her voice as she sang to the wild swans, sang the song that Völund made for Alvit, his swan-bride.
No more was Sigurd’s heart empty of memory: it was filled with the memory of Gudrun as he saw her by the lake when the wild swans were building their nests. And now he watched her in the hall, sitting with her mother embroidering, or serving her father or her brothers, and tenderness for the maiden kept growing in his heart.
A day came when he asked Gunnar and Högni, his sworn brethren, for Gudrun. They were glad as though a great fortune had befallen them. And they brought him before Giuki the King, and Grimhild the Queen. It seemed as if they had cast off all trouble and care and entered into the prime of their life and power, so greatly did the King and the Queen rejoice at Sigurd’s becoming one with the Nibelungs through his marriage with Gudrun.
When Gudrun heard that Sigurd had asked for her, she said to the Queen: “Oh, my mother, your wisdom should have strengthened me to bear such joy. How can I show him that he is so dear, so dear to me? But I shall try not to show it, for he might deem that there was no sense in me but sense to love him. So great a warrior would not care for such love. I would be with him as a battle-maiden.”
Sigurd and Gudrun were wed and all the kingdom that the Nibelungs ruled over rejoiced. And Queen Grimhild thought that though the effect of the potion she gave would wear away, his love for Gudrun would ever fill his heart, and that no other memory would be able to find a place there.
HOW BRYNHILD WAS WON FOR GUNNAR
Now that Sigurd had wed Gudrun, he was one with the Nibelungs. The hoard that was in Fafnir’s cave he brought away and he left it in their treasure house. He went into his fosterfather’s kingdom again, and he saw King Alv and Hiordis, his mother. But he had no memory now of the House of Flame, nor of Brynhild, who waited there for him.
King Giuki died, and Gunnar, Sigurd’s sworn brother, became King in his stead. His mother would have him wed, but Gunnar told her he had seen no maiden whom he would choose for his wife.
But when Sigurd and he were together Gunnar would speak of a maiden far away, one whom he often thought on. And one day when Sigurd pressed him to tell who this maiden was, he spoke of one whom the wisest of the poets told of, a maiden in a Hall with a flame around it, a maiden named Brynhild who was guarded by a ring of fire.
Sigurd laughed to think that his shrewd brother was beguiled by one whom he had only heard of. But if he was beguiled by the tale of her, why should he not come to her and wed her? So Sigurd said. Then Gunnar bent to him and asked Sigurd would he aid him to win her? And Sigurd took Gunnar’s hand and swore that he would.
So they started off for Hindfell, Gunnar and Högni and Sigurd. They rode on until they came in sight of the black walls with the mounting and circling fire around them. No memory had Sigurd of the place. With the flame of eagerness upon his stolid face Gunnar went forward to ride through the ring of fire. He brought Goti, his horse, near the flame, but the horse, for no urging, would go through it. Then Gunnar thought that, mounted on Grani, Sigurd’s horse, he could ride through the ring of fire. He mounted Grani and came near to the flaring wall. But Grani, knowing that the one who rode him had fear of the fire, reared up and would not go through it. Only with Sigurd on his back would Grani go through the flame.
Then were the three sworn brethren greatly discomfited. But after they had considered it for long Högni the Wise said: “There is a way to win Brynhild, and that is for Sigurd to change shapes, by the magic of his helmet, with Gunnar. Then Sigurd could ride Grani through the wall of flame and come to Brynhild in Gunnar’s shape.”
So spoke Högni the Wise, and when he saw his sworn brother’s gaze fixed on him in pleading, Sigurd could not but agree to ride through the flame and come to Brynhild in the way he said. And so by the magic of his helmet he changed shapes with Gunnar. Then he mounted Grani and rode to the wall of flame. And Grani, knowing that the one he bore was without fear, rode through the flaring fire. Then Sigurd came into the courtyard of the House of Flame. He dismounted from Grani, and he bade his horse be still.
He went within the Hall and he saw one with a bow in her hands shooting at a mark. She turned to him, and he saw a beautiful and stern face, with coils of wondrous, bright-gleaming hair and eyes that were like stars in an unventured-in sea. He thought that the arrow in her hands had been shot through him. But it was not so. Brynhild threw down the bow and came to him with that walk of hers that was as of one moving above the earth. And when she came near and looked upon him, she uttered a strange cry.
“Who art thou?” she said. “Who art thou who hast come to me through the wall of flaring fire?”
“Gunnar, son of Giuki, of the race of the Nibelungs,” Sigurd said.
“Art thou the bravest one in the world?” she asked.
“I have ridden through the wall of flaring fire to come to thee,” Sigurd answered.
“He who has come through that wall of flaring fire may claim me,” Brynhild said. “It is written in the runes, and it must be so. But I thought there was only one who would come to me through it.” She looked at him, and her eyes had a flame of anger. “Oh, I would strive with thee with warrior-weapons,” she cried. Then Sigurd felt her strong hands upon him, and he knew that she was striving to throw him.
They wrestled, and each was so strong that none could move the other. They wrestled, Sigurd the first of heroes, and Brynhild, the Valkyrie. Sigurd got her hand in his in the wrestle. On that hand was a ring, and Sigurd bent back the finger and drew it off.
It was Andvari’s ring, the ring he had placed on her finger. And when the ring was taken off it, Brynhild sank down on her knees like one that was strengthless.
Then Sigurd lifted her in his arms and carried her to where Grani, his horse, was waiting. He lifted her across his horse, and he mounted behind her and again he rode through the wall of flame. Högni and Gunnar were waiting, Gunnar in Sigurd’s shape. Brynhild did not look upon them, but covered her face with her hands. Then Sigurd took back his own shape, and he rode before Gunnar and Högni to the hall of the Nibelungs.
He went within, and he found Gudrun, his wife, playing with Sigmund, his little son, and he sat beside her and he told her of all that had befallen: how, for the sake of the sworn brotherhood, he had won Brynhild the Valkyrie for Gunnar, and how he had striven with her and had overcome her, and had taken off her finger the ring that he now wore upon his own.
And even as he spoke to his wife the fume of the potion that Gudrun’s mother had given him was wearing off, and he had memories of going to the House of Flame on a day that was not this day, and of riding through the wall of fire in his own shape. And again, as on the night when he drank the potion that Queen Grimhild brewed, he became as one whose wits are astray. He stood watching his child as he played, and his wife as she worked at her embroidery, and he was as a man in a dream.
While he was standing there Gunnar and Högni came into the hall of the Nibelungs bringing Brynhild with them. Gudrun rose up to welcome her who came as her brother’s bride. Then did Sigurd look on Brynhild and then did he remember all. And when he remembered all such a mighty sigh rose from his heart as burst the links of the mail that was across his breast.
THE DEATH OF SIGURD
It happened one day that Brynhild, Gunnar’s wife, now a Queen, was with Sigurd’s wife, bathing in a river. Not often they were together. Brynhild was the haughtiest of women, and often she treated Gudrun with disdain. Now as they were bathing together, Gudrun, shaking out her hair, cast some drops upon Brynhild. Brynhild went from Gudrun. And Sigurd’s wife, not knowing that Brynhild had anger against her, went after her up the stream.
“Why dost thou go so far up the river, Brynhild?” Gudrun asked.
“So that thou mayst not shake thy hair over me,” answered Brynhild.
Gudrun stood still while Brynhild went up the river like a creature who was made to be alone. “Why dost thou speak so to me, sister?” Gudrun cried.
She remembered that from the first Brynhild had been haughty with her, often speaking to her with harshness and bitterness. She did not know what cause Brynhild had for this.
It was because Brynhild had seen in Sigurd the one who had ridden through the fire for the first time, he who had awakened her by breaking the binding of her breastplate and so drawing out of her flesh the thorn of the Tree of Sleep. She had given him her love when she awakened on the world. But he, as she thought, had forgotten her easily, giving his love to this other maiden. Brynhild, with her Valkyrie’s pride, was left with a mighty anger in her heart.
“Why dost thou speak so to me, Brynhild?” Gudrun asked.
“It would be ill indeed if drops from thy hair fell on one who is so much above thee, one who is King Gunnar’s wife,” Brynhild answered.
“Thou art married to a King, but not to one more valorous than my lord,” Gudrun said.
“Gunnar is more valorous; why dost thou compare Sigurd with him?” Brynhild said.
“He slew the Dragon Fafnir, and won for himself Fafnir’s hoard,” said Gudrun.
“Gunnar rode through the ring of fire. Mayhap thou wilt tell us that Sigurd did the like,” said Brynhild.
“Yea,” said Gudrun, now made angry. “It was Sigurd and not Gunnar who rode through the ring of fire. He rode through it in Gunnar’s shape, and he took the ring off thy finger–look, it is now on mine.”
And Gudrun held out her hand on which was Andvari’s ring. Then Brynhild knew, all at once, that what Gudrun said was true. It was Sigurd that rode through the ring of fire the second as well as the first time. It was he who had struggled with her, taking the ring off her hand and claiming her for a bride, not for himself but for another, and out of disdain.
Falsely had she been won. And she, one of Odin’s Valkyries, had been wed to one who was not the bravest hero in the world, and she to whom untruth might not come had been deceived. She was silent now, and all the pride that was in her turned to hatred of Sigurd.
She went to Gunnar, her husband, and she told him that she was so deeply shamed that she could never be glad in his Hall again; that never would he see her drinking wine, nor embroidering with golden threads, and never would he hear her speaking words of kindness. And when she said this to him, she rent the web she was weaving, and she wept aloud so that all in the hall heard her, and all marveled to hear the proud Queen cry.
Then Sigurd came to her, and he offered in atonement the whole hoard of Fafnir. And he told her how forgetfulness of her had come upon him, and he begged her to forgive him for winning her in falseness. But she answered him: “Too late thou hast come to me, Sigurd. Now I have only a great anger in my heart.”
When Gunnar came, she told him she would forgive him, and love him as she had not loved him before, if he would slay Sigurd. But Gunnar would not slay him, although Brynhild’s passion moved him greatly, since Sigurd was a sworn brother of his.
Then she went to Högni and asked him to slay Sigurd, telling him that the whole of Fafnir’s hoard would belong to the Nibelungs if Sigurd were slain. But Högni would not slay him, since Sigurd and he were sworn brothers.
There was one who had not sworn brotherhood with Sigurd. He was Guttorm, Gunnar’s and Högni’s half-brother. Brynhild went to Guttorm. He would not slay Sigurd, but Brynhild found that he was infirm of will and unsteady of thought. With Guttorm, then, she would work for the slaying of Sigurd. Her mind was fixed that he and she would no longer be in the world of men.
She made a dish of madness for Guttorm–serpent’s venom and wolf’s flesh mixed–and when he had eaten it Guttorm was crazed. Then did he listen to Brynhild’s words. And she commanded him to go into the chamber where Sigurd slept and stab him through the body with a sword.
This Guttorm did. But Sigurd, before he gasped out his life, took Gram, his great sword, and flung it at Guttorm and cut him in twain.
And Brynhild, knowing what deed was done, went without and came to where Grani, Sigurd’s proud horse, was standing. She stayed there with her arms across Grani’s neck, the Valkyrie leaning across the horse that was born of Odin’s horse. And Grani stood listening for some sound. He heard the cries of Gudrun over Sigurd, and then his heart burst and he died.
They bore Sigurd out of the Hall and Brynhild went beside where they placed him. She took a sword and put it through her own heart. Thus died Brynhild who had been made a mortal woman for her disobedience to the will of Odin, and who was won to be a mortal’s wife by a falseness.
They took Sigurd and his horse Grani, and his helmet and his golden war-gear and they left all on a great painted ship. They could not but leave Brynhild beside him, Brynhild with her wondrous hair and her stern and beautiful face. They left the two together and launched the ship on the sea. And when the ship was on the water, they fired it, and Brynhild once again lay in the flames.
And so Sigurd and Brynhild went together to join Baldur and Nanna in Hela’s habitation.
Gunnar and Högni came to dread the evil that was in the hoard. They took the gleaming and glittering mass and they brought it to the river along which, ages before, Hreidmar had his smithy and the Dwarf Andvari his cave. From a rock in the river they cast the gold and jewels into the water and the hoard of Andvari sank forever beneath the waves. Then the River Maidens had possession again of their treasure. But not for long were they to guard it and to sing over it, for now the season that was called the Fimbul Winter was coming over the earth, and Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, was coming to the Dwellers in Asgard.
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
Snow fell on the four quarters of the world; icy winds blew from every side; the sun and the moon were hidden by storms. It was the Fimbul Winter: no spring came and no summer; no autumn brought harvest or fruit, and winter grew into winter again.
There was three years’ winter. The first was called the Winter of Winds: storms blew and snows drove down and frosts were mighty. The children of men might hardly keep alive in that dread winter.
The second winter was called the Winter of the Sword: those who were left alive amongst men robbed and slew for what was left to feed on; brother fell on brother and slew him, and over all the world there were mighty battles.
And the third winter was called the Winter of the Wolf. Then the ancient witch who lived in Jarnvid, the Iron Wood, fed the Wolf Managarm on unburied men and on the corpses of those who fell in battle. Mightily grew and flourished the Wolf that was to be the devourer of Mani, the Moon. The Champions in Valhalla would find their seats splashed with the blood that Managarm dashed from his jaws; this was a sign to the Gods that the time of the last battle was approaching.
A cock crew; far down in the bowels of the earth he was and beside Hela’s habitation: the rusty-red cock of Hel crew, and his crowing made a stir in the lower worlds. In Jötunheim a cock crew, Fialar, the crimson cock, and at his crowing the Giants aroused themselves. High up in Asgard a cock crew, the golden cock Gullinkambir, and at his crowing the Champions in Valhalla bestirred themselves.
A dog barked; deep down in the earth a dog barked; it was Garm, the hound with bloody mouth, barking in Gnipa’s Cave. The Dwarfs who heard groaned before their doors of stone. The tree Ygdrassil moaned in all its branches. There was a rending noise as the Giants moved their ship; there was a trampling sound as the hosts of Muspelheim gathered their horses.
But Jötunheim and Muspelheim and Hel waited tremblingly; it might be that Fenrir the Wolf might not burst the bonds wherewith the Gods had bound him. Without his being loosed the Gods might not be destroyed. And then was heard the rending of the rock as Fenrir broke loose. For the second time the Hound Garm barked in Gnipa’s Cave.
Then was heard the galloping of the horses of the riders of Muspelheim; then was heard the laughter of Loki; then was heard the blowing of Heimdall’s horn; then was heard the opening of Valhalla’s five hundred and forty doors, as eight hundred Champions made ready to pass through each door.
Odin took council with Mimir’s head. Up from the waters of the Well of Wisdom he drew it, and by the power of the runes he knew he made the head speak to him. Where best might the Æsir and the Vanir and the Einherjar, who were the Champions of Midgard, meet, and how best might they strive with the forces of Muspelheim and Jötunheim and Hel? The head of Mimir counseled Odin to meet them on Vigard Plain and to wage there such war that the powers of evil would be destroyed forever, even though his own world should be destroyed with them.
The riders of Muspelheim reached Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge. Now would they storm the City of the Gods and fill it with flame. But Bifröst broke under the weight of the riders of Muspelheim, and they came not to the City of the Gods.
Jörmungand, the serpent that encircles the world, reared itself up from the sea. The waters flooded the lands, and the remnant of the world’s inhabitants was swept away. That mighty flood floated Naglfar, the Ship of Nails that the Giants were so long building, and floated the ship of Hel also. With Hrymer the Giant steering it, Naglfar sailed against the Gods, with all the powers of Jötunheim aboard. And Loki steered the ship of Hel with the Wolf Fenrir upon it for the place of the last battle.
Since Bifröst was broken, the Æsir and the Vanir, the Asyniur and the Vana, the Einherjar and the Valkyries rode downward to Vigard through the waters of Thund. Odin rode at the head of his Champions. His helmet was of gold and in his hand was his spear Gungnir. Thor and Tyr were in his company.
In Mirkvid, the Dark Forest, the Vanir stood against the host of Muspelheim. From the broken end of the Rainbow Bridge the riders came, all flashing and flaming, with fire before them and after them. Niörd was there with Skadi, his Giant wife, fierce in her war-dress; Freya was there also, and Frey had Gerda beside him as a battle-maiden. Terribly bright flashed Surtur’s sword. No sword ever owned was as bright as his except the sword that Frey had given to Skirnir. Frey and Surtur fought; he perished, Frey perished in that battle, but he would not have perished if he had had in his hand his own magic sword.
And now, for the third time, Garm, the hound with blood upon his jaws, barked. He had broken loose on the world, and with fierce bounds he rushed toward Vigard Plain, where the Gods had assembled their powers. Loud barked Garm. The Eagle Hræsvelgur screamed on the edge of heaven. Then the skies were cloven, and the tree Ygdrassil was shaken in all its roots.
To the place where the Gods had drawn up their ranks came the ship of Jötunheim and the ship of Hel, came the riders of Muspelheim, and Garm, the hound with blood upon his jaws. And out of the sea that now surrounded the plain of Vigard the serpent Jörmungand came.
What said Odin to the Gods and to the Champions who surrounded him? “We will give our lives and let our world be destroyed, but we will battle so that these evil powers will not live after us.” Out of Hel’s ship sprang Fenrir the Wolf. His mouth gaped; his lower jaw hung against the earth, and his upper jaw scraped the sky. Against the Wolf Odin All-Father fought. Thor might not aid him, for Thor had now to encounter Jörmungand, the monstrous serpent.
By Fenrir the Wolf Odin was slain. But the younger Gods were now advancing to the battle; and Vidar, the Silent God, came face to face with Fenrir. He laid his foot on the Wolf’s lower jaw, that foot that had on the sandal made of all the scraps of leather that shoemakers had laid by for him, and with his hands he seized the upper jaw and tore his gullet. Thus died Fenrir, the fiercest of all the enemies of the Gods.
Jörmungand, the monstrous serpent, would have overwhelmed all with the venom he was ready to pour forth. But Thor sprang forward and crushed him with a stroke of his hammer Miölnir. Then Thor stepped back nine paces. But the serpent blew his venom over him, and blinded and choked and burnt, Thor, the World’s Defender, perished.
Loki sprang from his ship and strove with Heimdall, the Warder of the Rainbow Bridge and the Watcher for the Gods. Loki slew Heimdall and was slain by him.
Bravely fought Tyr, the God who had sacrificed his swordhand for the binding of the Wolf. Bravely he fought, and many of the powers of evil perished by his strong left hand. But Garm, the hound with bloody jaws, slew Tyr.
And now the riders of Muspelheim came down on the field. Bright and gleaming were all their weapons. Before them and behind them went wasting fires. Surtur cast fire upon the earth; the tree Ygdrassil took fire and burned in all its great branches; the World Tree was wasted in the blaze. But the fearful fire that Surtur brought on the earth destroyed him and all his host.
The Wolf Hati caught up on Sol, the Sun; the Wolf Managarm seized on Mani, the Moon; they devoured them; stars fell, and darkness came down on the world.
The seas flowed over the burnt and wasted earth and the skies were dark above the sea, for Sol and Mani were no more. But at last the seas drew back and earth appeared again, green and beautiful. A new Sun and a new Moon appeared in the heavens, one a daughter of Sol and the other a daughter of Mani. No grim wolves kept them in pursuit.
Four of the younger Gods stood on the highest of the world’s peaks; they were Vidar and Vali, the sons of Odin, and Modi and Magni, the sons of Thor. Modi and Magni found Miölnir, Thor’s hammer, and with it they slew the monsters that still raged through the world, the Hound Garm and the Wolf Managarm.
Vidar and Vali found in the grass the golden tablets on which were inscribed the runes of wisdom of the elder Gods. The runes told them of a heaven that was above Asgard, of Gimli, that was untouched by Surtur’s fire. Vili and Ve, Will and Holiness, ruled in it. Baldur and Hödur came from Hela’s habitation, and the Gods sat on the peak together and held speech with each other, calling to mind the secrets and the happenings they had known before Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods.
Deep in a wood two of human kind were left; the fire of Surtur did not touch them; they slept, and when they wakened the world was green and beautiful again. These two fed on the dews of the morning; a woman and a man they were. Lif and Lifthrasir. They walked abroad in the world, and from them and from their children came the men and women who spread themselves over the earth.
The Children of Odin