THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.
Of the dwelling of King Volsung, and the wedding of Signy his daughter.
There was a dwelling of Kings ere the world was waxen old; Dukes were the door-wards there, and the roofs were thatched with gold: Earls were the wrights that wrought it, and silver nailed its doors; Earls' wives were the weaving-women, queens' daughters strewed its floors, And the masters of its song-craft were the mightiest men that cast The sails of the storm of battle adown the bickering blast. There dwelt men merry-hearted, and in hope exceeding great Met the good days and the evil as they went the way of fate: There the Gods were unforgotten, yea whiles they walked with men, Though e'en in that world's beginning rose a murmur now and again Of the midward time and the fading and the last of the latter days, And the entering in of the terror, and the death of the People's Praise.
Thus was the dwelling of Volsung, the King of the Midworld's Mark, As a rose in the winter season, a candle in the dark; And as in all other matters 'twas all earthly houses' crown, And the least of its wall-hung shields was a battle-world's renown, So therein withal was a marvel and a glorious thing to see, For amidst of its midmost hall-floor sprang up a mighty tree, That reared its blessings roofward, and wreathed the roof-tree dear With the glory of the summer and the garland of the year. I know not how they called it ere Volsung changed his life, But his dawning of fair promise, and his noontide of the strife, His eve of the battle-reaping and the garnering of his fame, Have bred us many a story and named us many a name; And when men tell of Volsung, they call that war-duke's tree, That crownèd stem, the Branstock; and so was it told unto me.
So there was the throne of Volsung beneath its blossoming bower, But high o'er the roof-crest red it rose 'twixt tower and tower, And therein were the wild hawks dwelling, abiding the dole of their lord; And they wailed high over the wine, and laughed to the waking sword.
Still were its boughs but for them, when lo, on an even of May Comes a man from Siggeir the King with a word for his mouth to say: "All hail to thee King Volsung, from the King of the Goths I come: He hath heard of thy sword victorious and thine abundant home; He hath heard of thy sons in the battle, the fillers of Odin's Hall; And a word hath the west-wind blown him, (full fruitful be its fall!) A word of thy daughter Signy the crown of womanhood: Now he deems thy friendship goodly, and thine help in the battle good, And for these will he give his friendship and his battle-aid again: But if thou wouldst grant his asking, and make his heart full fain, Then shalt thou give him a matter, saith he, without a price, —Signy the fairer than fair, Signy the wiser than wise."
Now the message gladdened Volsung and his sons, but no word spake Signy, till the king asked her what her mind might be. Then said Signy, "I will wed the Goth king, and yet shall I rue my lot in his hall." And Volsung urged her with kind words to do nought against her will, but her mind was fixed, and she said she wrought but what the gods had fore-ordained. So the earl of Siggeir went his way with gifts and fair words, bidding the Goth king come ere a month was over to wed the white-handed Signy and bear her home.
So on Mid-Summer Even ere the undark night began Siggeir the King of the Goth-folk went up from the bath of the swan Unto the Volsung dwelling with many an Earl about; There through the glimmering thicket the linkèd mail rang out, And sang as mid the woodways sings the summer-hidden ford: There were gold-rings God-fashioned, and many a Dwarf-wrought sword, And many a Queen-wrought kirtle and many a written spear; So came they to the acres, and drew the threshold near, And amidst of the garden blossoms, on the grassy, fruit-grown land, Was Volsung the King of the Wood-world with his sons on either hand; Therewith down lighted Siggeir the lord of a mighty folk, Yet showed he by King Volsung as the bramble by the oak, Nor reached his helm to the shoulder of the least of Volsung's sons. And so into the hall they wended, the Kings and their mighty ones; And they dight the feast full glorious, and drank through the death of the day, Till the shadowless moon rose upward, till it wended white away; Then they went to the gold-hung beds, and at last for an hour or twain Were all things still and silent, save a flaw of the summer rain.
But on the morrow noontide when the sun was high and bare, More glorious was the banquet, and now was Signy there, And she sat beside King Siggeir, a glorious bride forsooth; Ruddy and white was she wrought as the fair-stained sea-beast's tooth, But she neither laughed nor spake, and her eyes were hard and cold, And with wandering side-long looks her lord would she behold. That saw Sigmund her brother, the eldest Volsung son, And oft he looked upon her, and their eyes met now and anon, And ruth arose in his heart, and hate of Siggeir the Goth, And there had he broken the wedding, but for plighted promise and troth. But those twain were beheld of Siggeir, and he deemed of the Volsung kin, That amid their might and their malice small honour should he win; Yet thereof made he no semblance, but abided times to be, And laughed out with the loudest, amid the hope and the glee. And nought of all saw Volsung, as he dreamed of the coming glory, And how the Kings of his kindred should fashion the round world's story.
So round about the Branstock they feast in the gleam of the gold; And though the deeds of man-folk were not yet waxen old, Yet had they tales for songcraft, and the blossomed garth of rhyme; Tales of the framing of all things and the entering in of time From the halls of the outer heaven; so near they knew the door. Wherefore uprose a sea-king, and his hands that loved the oar Now dealt with the rippling harp-gold, and he sang of the shaping of earth, And how the stars were lighted, and where the winds had birth, And the gleam of the first of summers on the yet untrodden grass. But e'en as men's hearts were hearkening some heard the thunder pass O'er the cloudless noontide heaven; and some men turned about And deemed that in the doorway they heard a man laugh out. Then into the Volsung dwelling a mighty man there strode, One-eyed and seeming ancient, yet bright his visage glowed: Cloud-blue was the hood upon him, and his kirtle gleaming-grey As the latter morning sundog when the storm is on the way: A bill he bore on his shoulder, whose mighty ashen beam Burnt bright with the flame of the sea and the blended silver's gleam. And such was the guise of his raiment as the Volsung elders had told Was borne by their fathers' fathers, and the first that warred in the wold.
So strode he to the Branstock nor greeted any lord, But forth from his cloudy raiment he drew a gleaming sword, And smote it deep in the tree-hole, and the wild hawks overhead Laughed 'neath the naked heaven as at last he spake and said:
"Earls of the Goths, and Volsungs, abiders on the earth, Lo there amid the Branstock a blade of plenteous worth! The folk of the war-wand's forgers wrought never better steel Since first the burg of heaven uprose for man-folk's weal. Now let the man among you whose heart and hand may shift To pluck it from the oakwood e'en take it for my gift. Then ne'er, but his own heart falter, its point and edge shall fail Until the night's beginning and the ending of the tale. Be merry Earls of the Goth-folk, O Volsung Sons be wise And reap the battle-acre that ripening for you lies: For they told me in the wild wood, I heard on the mountain side, That the shining house of heaven is wrought exceeding wide, And that there the Early-comers shall have abundant rest While Earth grows scant of great ones, and fadeth from its best, And fadeth from its midward and groweth poor and vile:— All hail to thee King Volsung! farewell for a little while!"
So sweet his speaking sounded, so wise his words did seem, That moveless all men sat there, as in a happy dream We stir not lest we waken; but there his speech had end, And slowly down the hall-floor, and outward did he wend; And none would cast him a question or follow on his ways, For they knew that the gift was Odin's, a sword for the world to praise.
But now spake Volsung the King: "Why sit ye silent and still? Is the Battle-Father's visage a token of terror and ill? Arise O Volsung Children, Earls of the Goths arise, And set your hands to the hilts as mighty men and wise! Yet deem it not too easy; for belike a fateful blade Lies there in the heart of the Branstock for a fated warrior made."
Now therewith spake King Siggeir: "King Volsung give me a grace To try it the first of all men, lest another win my place And mere chance-hap steal my glory and the gain that I might win."
Then somewhat laughed King Volsung, and he said: "O Guest, begin; Though herein is the first as the last, for the Gods have long to live, Nor hath Odin yet forgotten unto whom the gift he would give."
Then forth to the tree went Siggeir, the Goth-folk's mighty lord, And laid his hand on the gemstones, and strained at the glorious sword Till his heart grew black with anger; and never a word he said As he wended back to the high-seat: but Signy waxed blood-red When he sat him adown beside her; and her heart was nigh to break For the shame and the fateful boding: and therewith King Volsung spake:
"Thus comes back empty-handed the mightiest King of Earth, And how shall the feeble venture? yet each man knows his worth; And today may a great beginning from a little seed upspring To o'erpass many a great one that hath the name of King: So stand forth free and unfree; stand forth both most and least: But first ye Earls of the Goth-folk, ye lovely lords we feast."
Upstood the Earls of Siggeir, and each man drew anigh And deemed his time was coming for a glorious gain and high; But for all their mighty shaping and their deeds in the battle-wood, No looser in the Branstock that gift of Odin stood. Then uprose Volsung's homemen, and the fell-abiding folk; And the yellow-headed shepherds came gathering round the Oak, And the searchers of the thicket and the dealers with the oar: And the least and the worst of them all was a mighty man of war. But for all their mighty shaping, and the struggle and the strain Of their hands, the deft in labour, they tugged thereat in vain; And still as the shouting and jeers, and the names of men and the laughter Beat backward from gable to gable, and rattled o'er roof-tree and rafter, Moody and still sat Siggeir; for he said: "They have trained me here As a mock for their woodland bondsmen; and yet shall they buy it dear."
Now the tumult sank a little, and men cried on Volsung the King And his sons, the hedge of battle, to try the fateful thing. So Volsung laughed, and answered: "I will set me to the toil, Lest these my guests of the Goth-folk should deem I fear the foil. Yet nought am I ill-sworded, and the oldest friend is best; And this, my hand's first fellow, will I bear to the grave-mound's rest, Nor wield meanwhile another: Yea, this shall I have in hand When mid the host of Odin in the Day of Doom I stand."
Therewith from his belt of battle he raised the golden sheath, And showed the peace-strings glittering about the hidden death: Then he laid his hand on the Branstock, and cried: "O tree beloved, I thank thee of thy good-heart that so little thou art moved: Abide thou thus, green bower, when I am dead and gone And the best of all my kindred a better day hath won!"
Then as a young man laughed he, and on the hilts of gold His hand, the battle-breaker, took fast and certain hold, And long he drew and strained him, but mended not the tale, Yet none the more thereover his mirth of heart did fail; But he wended to the high-seat and thence began to cry:
"Sons I have gotten and cherished, now stand ye forth to try; Lest Odin tell in God-home how from the way he strayed, And how to the man he would not he gave away his blade." So therewithal rose Rerir, and wasted might and main; Then Gunthiof, and then Hunthiof, they wearied them in vain; Nought was the might of Agnar; nought Helgi could avail; Sigi the tall and Solar no further brought the tale, Nor Geirmund the priest of the temple, nor Gylfi of the wood.
At last by the side of the Branstock Sigmund the Volsung stood, And with right hand wise in battle the precious sword-hilt caught, Yet in a careless fashion, as he deemed it all for nought: When lo, from floor to rafter went up a shattering shout, For aloft in the hand of Sigmund the naked blade shone out As high o'er his head he shook it: for the sword had come away From the grip of the heart of the Branstock, as though all loose it lay. A little while he stood there mid the glory of the hall, Like the best of the trees of the garden, when the April sunbeams fall On its blossomed boughs in the morning, and tell of the days to be; Then back unto the high-seat he wended soberly; For this was the thought within him; Belike the day shall come When I shall bide here lonely amid the Volsung home, Its glory and sole avenger, its after-summer seed. Yea, I am the hired of Odin, his workday will to speed, And the harvest-tide shall be heavy.—What then, were it come and past And I laid by the last of the sheaves with my wages earned at the last?
He lifted his eyes as he thought it, for now was he come to his place, And there he stood by his father and met Siggeir face to face, And he saw him blithe and smiling, and heard him how he spake: "O best of the sons of Volsung, I am merry for thy sake And the glory that thou hast gained us; but whereas thine hand and heart Are e'en now the lords of the battle, how lack'st thou for thy part A matter to better the best? Wilt thou overgild fine gold Or dye the red rose redder? So I prithee let me hold This sword that comes to thine hand on the day I wed thy kin. For at home have I a store-house; there is mountain-gold therein The weight of a war-king's harness; there is silver plenteous store; There is iron, and huge-wrought amber, that the southern men love sore, When they sell me the woven wonder, the purple born of the sea; And it hangeth up in that bower, and all this is a gift for thee: But the sword that came to my wedding, methinketh it meet and right, That it lie on my knees in the council and stead me in the fight."
But Sigmund laughed and answered, and he spake a scornful word: "And if I take twice that treasure, will it buy me Odin's sword, And the gift that the Gods have given? will it buy me again to stand Betwixt two mightiest world-kings with a longed-for thing in mine hand That all their might hath missed of? when the purple-selling men Come buying thine iron and amber, dost thou sell thine honour then? Do they wrap it in bast of the linden, or run it in moulds of earth? And shalt thou account mine honour as a matter of lesser worth? Came the sword to thy wedding, Goth-king, to thine hand it never came, And thence is thine envy whetted to deal me this word of shame."
Black then was the heart of Siggeir, but his face grew pale and red, Till he drew a smile thereover, and spake the word and said: "Nay, pardon me, Signy's kinsman! when the heart desires o'ermuch It teacheth the tongue ill speaking, and my word belike was such. But the honour of thee and thy kindred, I hold it even as mine, And I love you as my heart-blood, and take ye this for a sign. I bid thee now King Volsung, and these thy glorious sons, And thine earls and thy dukes of battle and all thy mighty ones, To come to the house of the Goth-kings as honoured guests and dear And abide the winter over; that the dusky days and drear May be glorious with thy presence, that all folk may praise my life, And the friends that my fame hath gotten; and that this my new-wed wife Thine eyes may make the merrier till she bear my eldest born."
Then speedily answered Volsung: "No king of the earth might scorn Such noble bidding, Siggeir; and surely will I come To look upon thy glory and the Goths' abundant home. But let two months wear over, for I have many a thing To shape and shear in the Woodland, as befits a people's king: And thou meanwhile here abiding of all my goods shalt be free, And then shall we twain together roof over the glass-green sea With the sides of our golden dragons; and our war-hosts' blended shields Shall fright the sea-abiders and the folk of the fishy fields."
Answered the smooth-speeched Siggeir: "I thank thee well for this, And thy bidding is most kingly; yet take it not amiss That I wend my ways in the morning; for we Goth-folk know indeed That the sea is a foe full deadly, and a friend that fails at need."
And for all the words of Volsung e'en so must the matter be, And Siggeir the Goth and Signy on the morn shall sail the sea.
Then the feast sped on the fairer, far into the night, but amidst the mirth Sigmund and Signy were sad at heart. And before the sun was risen next day Signy came to her father in secret and begged him to stay in his own country rather than trust the guileful heart and murder-loving hand of Siggeir. But Volsung answered that he must go to be Siggeir's guest, for he could not break his pledged word through fear of peril. So on the morrow the smooth-speeched Siggeir departed with Signy, and when two months were passed Volsung made ready to visit them.
How the Volsungs fared to the Land of the Goths, and of the fall of King Volsung.
So now, when all things were ready, in the first of the autumn tide Adown unto the swan-bath the Volsung Children ride; And lightly go a shipboard, a goodly company, Though the tale thereof be scanty and their ships no more than three: But kings' sons dealt with the sail-sheets and earls and dukes of war Were the halers of the hawsers and the tuggers at the oar.
But when the sun on the morrow shone over earth and sea Ashore went the Volsung Children a goodly company, And toward King Siggeir's dwelling o'er heath and holt they went. But when they came to the topmost of a certain grassy bent, Lo there lay the land before them as thick with shield and spear As the rich man's wealthiest acre with the harvest of the year. There bade King Volsung tarry and dight the wedge-array; "For duly," he said, "doeth Siggeir to meet his guests by the way." So shield by shield they serried, nor ever hath been told Of any host of battle more glorious with the gold; And there stood the high King Volsung in the very front of war; And lovelier was his visage than ever heretofore, As he rent apart the peace-strings that his brand of battle bound And the bright blade gleamed to the heavens, and he cast the sheath to the ground. Then up the steep came the Goth-folk, and the spear-wood drew anigh, And earth's face shook beneath them, yet cried they never a cry; And the Volsungs stood all silent, although forsooth at whiles O'er the faces grown earth-weary would play the flickering smiles, And swords would clink and rattle: not long had they to bide, For soon that flood of murder flowed round the hillock-side; Then at last the edges mingled, and if men forbore the shout, Yet the din of steel and iron in the grey clouds rang about; But how to tell of King Volsung, and the valour of his folk! Three times the wood of battle before their edges broke; And the shield-wall, sorely dwindled and reft of the ruddy gold, Against the drift of the war-blast for the fourth time yet did hold. But men's shields were waxen heavy with the weight of shafts they bore, And the fifth time many a champion cast earthward Odin's door And gripped the sword two-handed; and in sheaves the spears came on. And at last the host of the Goth-folk within the shield-wall won, And wild was the work within it, and oft and o'er again Forth brake the sons of Volsung, and drave the foe in vain; For the driven throng still thickened, till it might not give aback. But fast abode King Volsung amid the shifting wrack In the place where once was the forefront: for he said: "My feet are old, And if I wend on further there is nought more to behold Than this that I see about me."—Whiles drew his foes away And stared across the corpses that before his sword-edge lay. But nought he followed after: then needs must they in front Thrust on by the thickening spear-throng come up to bear the brunt, Till all his limbs were weary and his body rent and torn: Then he cried: "Lo now, Allfather, is not the swathe well shorn? Wouldst thou have me toil for ever, nor win the wages due?"
And mid the hedge of foemen his blunted sword he threw, And, laid like the oars of a longship the level war-shafts pressed On 'gainst the unshielded elder, and clashed amidst his breast; And dead he fell, thrust backward, and rang on the dead men's gear: But still for a certain season durst no man draw anear, For 'twas e'en as a great God's slaying, and they feared the wrath of the sky; And they deemed their hearts might harden if awhile they should let him lie.
Of the ending of all Volsung's Sons save Sigmund only, and of how he abideth in the wild wood.
They joined battle again, but the fight grew feeble after Volsung fell, and his earls were struck down one by one. Last of all, his sons were borne to earth and carried captive to the hall, where Siggeir awaited them, for he himself had feared to face the Volsung swords.
Then he would have slain them at once without torture, but Signy besought him that they might breathe the earthly air a day or two before their death, and he listened to her, for he saw how he might thus give them greater pain. He bade his men lead them to a glade in the forest and fetter them to the mightiest tree that grew there. So the ten Volsungs were fettered with iron to a great oak, and on the morrow Siggeir's woodmen told him sweet tidings, for beasts of the wood had devoured two and left their bones in the fetters. So it befell every night till the woodmen brought word that nothing remained of the king's foemen save their bones in the fetters that had bound them.
Now a watch had been set on Signy lest she should send help to her brethren, but henceforth no man hindered her from going out to the wood. So that night she came to the glade in the forest, and saw in the midst of it a mighty man who was toiling to dig a grave in the greensward.
And behold, it was Sigmund the Volsung: but she cried and had no fear:
"If thou art living, Sigmund, what day's work dost thou here In the midnight and the forest? but if thou art nought but a ghost Then where are those Volsung brethren, of whom thou wert best and most?"
Then he turned about unto her, and his raiment was fouled and torn, And his eyen were great and hollow, as a famished man forlorn;
But he cried: "Hail, Sister Signy! I looked for thee before, Though what should a woman compass, she one alone and no more, When all we shielded Volsungs did nought in Siggeir's land? O yea, I am living indeed, and this labour of mine hand Is to bury the bones of the Volsungs; and lo, it is well-nigh done. So draw near, Volsung's daughter, and pile we many a stone Where lie the grey wolf's gleanings of what was once so good."
So she set her hand to the labour, and they toiled, they twain in the wood, And when the work was over, dead night was beginning to fall: Then spake the white-hand Signy: "Now shall thou tell the tale Of the death of the Volsung brethren ere the wood thy wrath shall hide, Ere I wend me back sick-hearted in the dwelling of kings to abide."
Then said Sigmund:
"We lay fettered to the tree and at midnight there came from the thicket two mighty wood-wolves, and falling on my brethren Gylfi and Geirmund, they devoured them in their bonds, and turned again to the forest. Night after night, my sister, this befell, till I was left alone with our brother Sigi to await the wood-beasts. Then came midnight, and one of the wolves fell upon Sigi and the other turned on me. But I met it with snarling like its own, and my teeth gripped its throat, and my hands strove with the fetters till they burst. So I slew the beast with my irons, but when I looked, Sigi lay dead, and the other wolf had fled again to the thicket. Then I lay hid till Siggeir's woodmen had looked on the place and departed with their tidings, and as I beheld them I knew that pity was killed in my heart, and that henceforward I should live but to avenge me on him who hath so set the gods at nought." Then Signy spake noble words of comfort, saying: "I wot well that Siggeir shall pay the due price of his deeds, though the vengeance may tarry long, and I wot also that thy life shall yet know gladness. Bear a stout heart, therefore, to meet the waiting time, and make thee a lair in the woods whence thou mayest fall on men of the Goth-folk, and win what thy life needeth. As for me, I will see thy face once again ere many days are past to wot where thou dwellest and then must we meet no more."
And so saying, she kissed him and departed, but Sigmund turned in the dawn-light, and sought a wood-lair as she had bidden him.
Of the fostering of Sinfiotli, Signy's son, and of the slaying of Siggeir the Goth-king.
So wrought is the will of King Siggeir, and he weareth Odin's sword And it lies on his knees in the council and hath no other lord: And he sendeth earls o'er the sea-flood to take King Volsung's land, And those scattered and shepherdless sheep must come beneath his hand. And he holdeth the milk-white Signy as his handmaid and his wife, And nought but his will she doeth, nor raiseth a word of strife; So his heart is praising his wisdom, and he deems him of most avail Of all the lords of the cunning that teacheth how to prevail.
Now Sigmund dwelt long in the wild-wood, abiding in a strong cave deep hidden in a thicket by the river-side.
And now and again he fell upon the folk of Siggeir as they journeyed, and slew them, and thus he had war-gear and gold as much as he would. Also he became a master of masters in the smithying craft, and the folk who beheld the gleam of his forge by night, deemed that a king of the Giants was awakened from death to dwell there, and they durst not wander near the cavern.
So passed the years till on a springtide morning Signy sent forth to Sigmund a damsel leading her eldest son, a child of ten summers, and bearing a word of her mouth to bid him foster the child for his helper, if he should prove worthy and bold-hearted. And Sigmund heeded her words and fostered the child for the space of three months even though he could give no love to a son of Siggeir.
At last he was minded to try the boy's courage, to which end he set a deadly ash-grey adder in the meal-sack, and bade the child bake bread. But he feared when he found something that moved in the meal and had not courage to do the task. Then would Sigmund foster him no longer, but thrust him out from the woods to return to his father's hall.
So ten years won over again, and Signy sent another son to the wild-wood, and the lad was called Sinfiotli. Sigmund thrust him into many dangers, and burdened him with heavy loads, and he bore all passing well.
Now after a year Sigmund deemed that the time for his testing was come, and once again he set an adder in the meal-sack and bade the lad bake bread. And the boy feared not the worm, but kneaded it with the dough and baked all together. So Sigmund cherished him as his own son, and he grew strong and valiant and loved Sigmund as his father.
Now Sigmund began to ponder how he might at last take vengeance on Siggeir, and gladly did Sinfiotli hear him, for all his love was given to Sigmund, so that he no longer deemed himself the Goth-king's son.
At last when the long mirk nights of winter were come, Sigmund and his foster-son went their way to the home of Siggeir and sought to lurk therein. Then Sinfiotli led the way to a storehouse where lay great wine-casks, and whence they could see the lighted feast-hall, and hear the clamour of Siggeir's folk. There they had to abide the time when the feasters should be hushed in sleep. Long seemed the hours to Sinfiotli, but Sigmund was calm and clear-eyed.
Then it befell that two of Queen Signy's youngest-born children threw a golden toy hither and thither in the feast-hall, and at last it rolled away among the wine-casks till it lay at Sigmund's feet. So the children followed it, and coming face to face with those lurkers, they fled back to the feast-hall. And Sigmund and his foster-son saw all hope was ended, for they heard the rising tumult as men ran to their weapons; so they made ready to go forth and die in the hall. Then on came the battle around the twain, and but short is the tale to tell, for Sinfiotli slipped on the blood-stained floor and the shield wall encompassed Sigmund, and so they were both hoppled strait and fast.
The Goth-folk washed their hall of blood and got them to slumber, but Siggeir lay long pondering what dire death he might bring on his foes.
Now at the first grey dawning Siggeir's folk dight a pit and it had two chambers with a sundering stone in the midst. Then they brought the Volsung kindred and set them therein, one in each chamber, that they might abide death alone, and yet in hearing of one another's woe. And over the top the thralls laid roofing turfs, but so lingering were their hands that eve drew on ere the task was finished. Then stole Signy forth in the dusk, and spake the thralls fair, and gave them gold that they might hold their peace of what she did. And when they gainsaid her nought she drew out something wrapped in wheat straw, and cast it down swiftly into the pit where Sinfiotli lay, and departed.
Sinfiotli at first deemed it food, but after a space Sigmund heard him laugh aloud for joy, for within the wrappings lay the sword of the Branstock. And Sinfiotli cried out the joyous tidings to his foster-father, and tarried not to set the point to the stone that sundered them, and lo, the blade pierced through, and Sigmund grasped the point. Then sawed Sigmund and Sinfiotli together till they cleft the stone, and they hewed full hard at the roofing, till they cast the turfs aside, and their hearts were gladdened with the sight of the starry heaven.
Forth they leapt, and no words were needed of whither they should wend, but they fell on King Siggeir's night-watch and slew them sleeping, and made haste to find the store of winter faggots, wherewith they built a mighty bale about the hall of Siggeir. They set a torch to the bale, and Sigmund gat him to one hall door and Sinfiotli to the other, and now the Goth-folk awoke to their last of days.
Then cried Siggeir to his thralls and offered them joyous life-days and plenteous wealth if they would give him life, deeming that they had fired the hall in hatred. But there came a great voice crying from the door, "Nay, no toilers are we; wealth is ours when we list, but now our hearts are set to avenge our kin; now hath the murder seed sprung and borne its fruit; now the death-doomed and buried work this deed; now doom draweth nigh thee at the hand of Sigmund the Volsung, and Sinfiotli, Signy's son."
Then the voice cried again, "Come ye forth, women of the Goths, and thou, O Signy, my sister, come forth to seek the boughs of the Branstock." So fled the white-faced women from the fire, and passed scatheless by Sinfiotli's blade, but Signy came not at all. Then the earls of Siggeir strove to burst from the hall, but ever the two glaives at the doorways drove them back to the fire.
And, lo, now came Signy in queenly raiment, and stood before Sinfiotli and said, "O mightiest son, this is the hour of our parting, and fain am I of slumber and the end of my toil now I have seen this day. And the blither do I leave thee because thy days on earth shall be but few; I charge thee make thy life glorious, and leave a goodly tale."
She kissed him and turned to Sigmund, and her face in the dawn-light seemed to him fair and ruddy as in the days when they twain dwelt by the Branstock. And she said, "My youth was happy, yet this hour is the crown of my life-days which draw nigh their ending. And now I charge thee, Sigmund, when thou sittest once more a mighty king beneath the boughs of the Branstock, that thou remember how I loved the Volsung name, and spared not to spend all that was mine for its blossoming." Then she kissed him and turned again, and the dawn brightened at her back, and the fire shone red before her, and so for the last time was Signy beheld by the eyes of men. Thereafter King Siggeir's roof-tree bowed earthward, and the mighty walls crashed down, and so that dark murder-hall lay wasted, and its glory was swept away.
How Sigmund cometh to the Land of the Volsungs again, and of the death of Sinfiotli his Son.
Now Sigmund the king bestirs him, and Sinfiotli, Sigmund's son, And they gather a host together, and many a mighty one; Then they set the ships in the sea-flood and sail from the stranger's shore, And the beaks of the golden dragons see the Volsungs' land once more; And men's hearts are fulfilled of joyance; and they cry, The sun shines now With never a curse to hide it, and they shall reap that sow! Then for many a day sits Sigmund 'neath the boughs of the Branstock green, With his earls and lords about him as the Volsung wont hath been. And oft he thinketh on Signy and oft he nameth her name, And tells how she spent her joyance and her life-days and her fame That the Volsung kin might blossom and bear the fruit of worth For the hope of unborn people and the harvest of the earth. And again he thinks of the word that he spake that other day, How he should abide there lonely when his kin was passed away, Their glory and sole avenger, their after-summer seed.
But far and wide went Sinfiotli through the earth, mowing the war swathe and wasting the land, and passing but little time in song and laughter in his father's hall. So went his days in warfare and valour, and yet his end was not glorious, for he drank of the poisoned cup given him by the sister of a warrior he had rightly slain.
None might come nigh Sigmund in his anguish as he lifted the head of his fallen foster-child, and then swiftly bare him from the hall. On he went through dark thicket and over wind-swept heath, past the foot-hills and the homes of the deer, till he came to a great rushing water, whereon was a white-sailed boat, manned by a mighty man, "one-eyed and seeming ancient." This mighty one told Sigmund he had been bidden to waft a great king over the water, and bade him lay his burden on board, but when Sigmund would have followed he could see neither ship nor man.
But Sigmund went back to his throne, and behaved himself as a king, listening to his people's plaints, and dealing out justice.
Of the last battle of King Sigmund, and the death of him.
Now there was a king of the Islands, whom the tale doth Eylimi call, And saith he was wise and valiant, though his kingdom were but small: He had one only daughter that Hiordis had to name, A woman wise and shapely beyond the praise of fame. And now saith the son of King Volsung that his time is short enow To labour the Volsung garden, and the hand must be set to the plough: So he sendeth an earl of the people to King Eylimi's high-built hall, Bearing the gifts and the tokens, and this word in his mouth withal:
"King Sigmund the son of Volsung hath sent me here with a word That plenteous good of thy daughter among all folk he hath heard, And he wooeth that wisest of women that she may sit on his throne.
"Now hereof would he have an answer within a half-month's space, And these gifts meanwhile he giveth for the increase of thy grace."
So King Eylimi hearkened the message, and hath no word to say, For an earl of King Lyngi the mighty is come that very day, He too for the wooing of Hiordis: and Lyngi's realm is at hand, But afar King Sigmund abideth o'er many a sea and land: And the man is young and eager, and grim and guileful of mood.
At last he sayeth: "Abide here such space as thou deemest good, But tomorn shalt thou have thine answer that thine heart may the lighter be, For the hearkening of harp and songcraft, and the dealing with game and glee." Then he went to Queen Hiordis' bower, where she worked in the silk and the gold The deeds of the world that should be, and the deeds that were of old. And he stood before her and said:
"Often have I told thee that thou shouldst wed only the man thou wouldst. Now it hath come to pass that two kings desire thee."
And she swiftly rose to her feet as she said, "And which be they?"
He spake: "The first is Lyngi, a valiant man and a fair, A neighbour ill for thy father, if a foe's name he must bear: And the next is King Sigmund the Volsung of a land far over sea, And well thou knowest his kindred, and his might and his valiancy, And the tales of his heart of a God; and though old he be waxen now, Yet men deem that the wide world's blossom from Sigmund's loins shall grow."
Said Hiordis: "I wot, my father, that hereof may strife arise; Yet soon spoken is mine answer; for I, who am called the wise, Shall I thrust by the praise of the people, and the tale that no ending hath, And the love and the heart of the godlike, and the heavenward-leading path, For the rose and the stem of the lily, and the smooth-lipped youngling's kiss, And the eyes' desire that passeth, and the frail unstable bliss? Now shalt thou tell King Sigmund, that I deem it the crown of my life To dwell in the house of his fathers amidst all peace and strife."
Now the king's heart sore misgave him, but herewith must he be content, And great gifts to the earl of Lyngi and a word withal he sent, That the woman's troth was plighted to another people's king. But King Sigmund's earl on the morrow hath joyful yea-saying, And ere two moons be perished he shall fetch his bride away. "And bid him," King Eylimi sayeth, "to come with no small array, But with sword and shield and war-shaft, lest aught of ill betide."
So forth goes the earl of Sigmund across the sea-flood wide, And comes to the land of the Volsungs, and meeteth Sigmund the king, And tells how he sped on his errand, and the joyful yea-saying. So King Sigmund maketh him ready, and they ride adown to the sea All glorious of gear and raiment, and a goodly company. Yet hath Sigmund thought of his father, and the deed he wrought before, And hath scorn to gather his people and all his hosts of war To wend to the feast and the wedding: yet are their long-ships ten, And the shielded folk aboard them are the mightiest men of men. So Sigmund goeth a shipboard, and they hoist their sails to the wind, And the beaks of the golden dragons leave the Volsungs' land behind. Then come they to Eylimi's kingdom, and good welcome have they there, And when Sigmund looked on Hiordis, he deemed her wise and fair. But her heart was exceeding fain when she saw the glorious king, And it told her of times that should be full many a noble thing.
So there is Sigmund wedded at a great and goodly feast, And day by day on Hiordis the joy of her heart increased; And her father joyed in Sigmund and his might and majesty, And dead in the heart of the Isle-king his ancient fear did lie.
Yet, forsooth, had men looked seaward, they had seen the gathering cloud, And the little wind arising, that should one day pipe so loud. For well may ye wot indeed that King Lyngi the Mighty is wroth, When he getteth the gifts and the answer, and that tale of the woman's troth: And he saith he will have the gifts and the woman herself withal, Either for loving or hating, and that both those heads shall fall. So now when Sigmund and Hiordis are wedded a month or more, And the Volsung bids men dight them to cross the sea-flood o'er, Lo, how there cometh the tidings of measureless mighty hosts Who are gotten ashore from their long-ships on the skirts of King Eylimi's coasts.
Sore boded the heart of the Isle-king of what the end should be. But Sigmund long beheld him, and he said: "Thou deem'st of me That my coming hath brought thee evil; but put aside such things; For long have I lived, and I know it, that the lives of mighty kings Are not cast away, nor drifted like the down before the wind; And surely I know, who say it, that never would Hiordis' mind Have been turned to wed King Lyngi or aught but the Volsung seed. Come, go we forth to the battle, that shall be the latest deed Of thee and me meseemeth: yea, whether thou live or die, No more shall the brand of Odin at peace in his scabbard lie."
And therewith he brake the peace-strings and drew the blade of bale, And Death on the point abided, Fear sat on the edges pale.
So men ride adown to the sea-strand, and the kings their hosts array When the high noon flooded heaven; and the men of the Volsungs lay, With King Eylimi's shielded champions mid Lyngi's hosts of war, As the brown pips lie in the apple when ye cut it through the core.
But now when the kings were departed, from the King's house Hiordis went, And before men joined the battle she came to a woody bent, Where she lay with one of her maidens the death and the deeds to behold.
In the noon sun shone King Sigmund as an image all of gold, And he stood before the foremost and the banner of his fame, And many a thing he remembered, and he called on each earl by his name To do well for the house of the Volsungs, and the ages yet unborn. Then he tossed up the sword of the Branstock, and blew on his father's horn, Dread of so many a battle, doom-song of so many a man. Then all the earth seemed moving as the hosts of Lyngi ran On the Volsung men and the Isle-folk like wolves upon the prey; But sore was their labour and toil ere the end of their harvesting day.
On went the Volsung banners, and on went Sigmund before, And his sword was the flail of the tiller on the wheat of the wheat-thrashing floor, And his shield was rent from his arm, and his helm was sheared from his head: But who may draw nigh him to smite for the heap and the rampart of dead? White went his hair on the wind like the ragged drift of the cloud, And his dust-driven, blood-beaten harness was the death-storm's angry shroud, When the summer sun is departing in the first of the night of wrack; And his sword was the cleaving lightning, that smites and is hurried aback Ere the hand may rise against it; and his voice was the following thunder.
Then cold grew the battle before him, dead-chilled with the fear and the wonder: For again in his ancient eyes the light of victory gleamed; From his mouth grown tuneful and sweet the song of his kindred streamed; And no more was he worn and weary, and no more his life seemed spent: And with all the hope of his childhood was his wrath of battle blent; And he thought: A little further, and the river of strife is passed, And I shall sit triumphant the king of the world at last.
But lo, through the hedge of the war-shafts a mighty man there came, One-eyed and seeming ancient, but his visage shone like flame: Gleaming-grey was his kirtle, and his hood was cloudy blue; And he bore a mighty twi-bill, as he waded the fight-sheaves through, And stood face to face with Sigmund, and upheaved the bill to smite. Once more round the head of the Volsung fierce glittered the Branstock's light, The sword that came from Odin; and Sigmund's cry once more Rang out to the very heavens above the din of war. Then clashed the meeting edges with Sigmund's latest stroke, And in shivering shards fell earthward that fear of worldly folk. But changed were the eyes of Sigmund, and the war-wrath left his face; For that grey-clad mighty helper was gone, and in his place Drave on the unbroken spear-wood 'gainst the Volsung's empty hands: And there they smote down Sigmund, the wonder of all lands, On the foemen, on the death-heap his deeds had piled that day.
Ill hour for Sigmund's fellows! they fall like the seeded hay Before the brown scythes' sweeping, and there the Isle-king fell In the fore-front of his battle, wherein he wrought right well, And soon they were nought but foemen who stand upon their feet On the isle-strand by the ocean where the grass and the sea-sand meet.
And now hath the conquering War-king another deed to do, And he saith: "Who now gainsayeth King Lyngi come to woo, The lord and the overcomer and the bane of the Volsung kin?" So he fares to the Isle-king's dwelling a wife of the kings to win; And the host is gathered together, and they leave the field of the dead; And round as a targe of the Goth-folk the moon ariseth red.
And so when the last is departed, and she deems they will come not aback, Fares Hiordis forth from the thicket to the field of the fateful wrack, And half-dead was her heart for sorrow as she waded the swathes of the sword. Not far did she search the death-field ere she found her king and lord On the heap that his glaive had fashioned: not yet was his spirit past, Though his hurts were many and grievous, and his life-blood ebbing fast; And glad were his eyes and open as her wan face over him hung, And he spake:
"Thou art sick with sorrow, and I would thou wert not so young;
Yet as my days passed shall thine pass; and a short while now it seems Since my hand first gripped the sword-hilt, and my glory was but in dreams."
She said: "Thou livest, thou livest! the leeches shall heal thee still."
"Nay," said he, "my heart hath hearkened to Odin's bidding and will; For today have mine eyes beheld him: nay, he needed not to speak: Forsooth I knew of his message and the thing he came to seek. And now do I live but to tell thee of the days that are yet to come: And perchance to solace thy sorrow; and then will I get me home To my kin that are gone before me. Lo, yonder where I stood The shards of a glaive of battle that was once the best of the good: Take them and keep them surely. I have lived no empty days; The Norns were my nursing mothers; I have won the people's praise. When the Gods for one deed asked me I ever gave them twain; Spendthrift of glory I was, and great was my life-days' gain; Now these shards have been my fellow in the work the Gods would have, But today hath Odin taken the gift that once he gave. I have wrought for the Volsungs truly, and yet have I known full well That a better one than I am shall bear the tale to tell: And for him shall these shards be smithied; and he shall be my son To remember what I have forgotten and to do what I left undone."
Then failed the voice of Sigmund; but so mighty was the man, That a long while yet he lingered till the dusky night grew wan, And she sat and sorrowed o'er him, but no more a word he spake. Then a long way over the sea-flood the day began to break; And when the sun was arisen a little he turned his head Till the low beams bathed his eyen, and there lay Sigmund dead. And the sun rose up on the earth; but where was the Volsung kin And the folk that the Gods had begotten the praise of all people to win?
How King Sigmund the Volsung was laid in mound on the sea-side of the Isle-realm.
Now Hiordis looked from the dead, and her eyes strayed down to the sea, And a shielded ship she saw, and a war-dight company, Who beached the ship for the landing: so swift she fled away, And once more to the depth of the thicket, wherein her handmaid lay: And she said: "I have left my lord, and my lord is dead and gone, And he gave me a charge full heavy, and here are we twain alone, And earls from the sea are landing: give me thy blue attire, And take my purple and gold and my crown of the sea-flood's fire, And be thou the wife of King Volsung when men of our names shall ask, And I will be the handmaid: now I bid thee to this task, And I pray thee not to fail me, because of thy faith and truth, And because I have ever loved thee, and thy mother fostered my youth."
So the other nought gainsaith it and they shift their raiment there: But well-spoken was the maiden, and a woman tall and fair.
Now the lord of those new-coming men was a king and the son of a king, King Elf the son of the Helper, and he sailed from warfaring And drew anigh to the Isle-realm and sailed along the strand; For the shipmen needed water and fain would go a-land; And King Elf stood hard by the tiller while the world was yet a-cold: Then the red sun lit the dawning, and they looked, and lo, behold! The wrack of a mighty battle, and heaps of the shielded dead, And a woman alive amidst them, a queen with crownèd head, And her eyes strayed down to the sea-strand, and she saw that weaponed folk, And turned and fled to the thicket: then the lord of the shipmen spoke: "Lo, here shall we lack for water, for the brooks with blood shall run, Yet wend we ashore to behold it and to wot of the deeds late done."
So they turned their faces to Sigmund, and waded the swathes of the sword. "O, look ye long," said the Sea-king, "for here lieth a mighty lord: And all these are the deeds of his war-flame, yet hardy hearts, be sure, That they once durst look in his face or the wrath of his eyen endure; Though his lips be glad and smiling as a God that dreameth of mirth. Would God I were one of his kindred, for none such are left upon earth. Now fare we into the thicket, for thereto is the woman fled, And belike she shall tell us the story of this field of the mighty dead."
So they wend and find the women, and bespeak them kind and fair: Then spake the gold-crowned handmaid: "Of the Isle-king's house we were, And I am the Queen called Hiordis; and the man that lies on the field Was mine own lord Sigmund the Volsung, the mightiest under shield."
Then all amazed were the sea-folk when they hearkened to that word, And great and heavy tidings they deem their ears have heard: But again spake out the Sea-king: "And this blue-clad one beside, So pale, and as tall as a Goddess, and white and lovely eyed?"
"In sooth and in troth," said the woman, "my serving-maid is this; She hath wept long over the battle, and sore afraid she is."
Now the king looks hard upon her, but he saith no word thereto, And down again to the death-field with the women-folk they go. There they set their hands to the labour, and amidst the deadly mead They raise a mound for Sigmund, a mighty house indeed; And therein they set that folk-king, and goodly was his throne, And dight with gold and scarlet: and the walls of the house were done With the cloven shields of the foemen, and banners borne to field; But none might find his war-helm or the splinters of his shield, And clenched and fast was his right hand, but no sword therein he had: For Hiordis spake to the shipmen:
"Our lord and master bade
That the shards of his glaive of battle should go with our lady the Queen: And by them that lie a-dying a many things are seen."
How Queen Hiordis is known; and how she abideth in the house of Elf the son of the Helper.
Then Elf asked of the two women where they would go, and they prayed that he would take them to his land, where they dwelt for long in all honour.
But the old queen, the mother of Elf, was indeed a woman wise above many, and fain would she know why the less noble of the two was dressed the more richly and why the handmaid gave always wiser counsel than her mistress. So she bade her son to speak suddenly and to take them unawares.
Then he asked the gold-clad one how she knew in the dark winter night that the dawn was near. She answered that ever in her youth she awoke at the dawn to follow her daily work, and always was she wont to drink of whey, and now, though the times were changed, she still woke athirst near the dawning.
To Elf it seemed strange that a fair queen in her youth had need to arise to follow the plough in the dark of the winter morning, and turning to the handmaid he asked of her the same question. She replied that in her youth her father had given her the gold ring she still wore, and which had the magic power of growing cold as the hours neared daybreak, and such was her dawning sign.
Then did Elf know of their exchange, and he told Hiordis that long had he loved her and felt pity for her sorrow, and that he would make her his wife. So that night she sat on the high-seat with the crown on her head, and dreamt of what had been and what was to be.
So passeth the summer season, and the harvest of the year, And the latter days of the winter on toward the springtide wear.