THE STORY OF THE VOLSUNGS (VOLSUNGA SAGA)
Drew near to dying
As she sat in sorrow
Yet she sighed not
Nor smote hand on hand,
Nor wailed she aught
As other women.
Then went earls to her. Full of all wisdom, Fain help to deal To her dreadful heart: Hushed was Gudrun Of wail, or greeting, But with a heavy woe Was her heart a-breaking. Bright and fair Sat the great earls' brides, Gold arrayed Before Gudrun; Each told the tale Of her great trouble, The bitterest bale She erst abode. Then spake Giaflaug, Giuki's sister: "Lo upon earth I live most loveless Who of five mates Must see the ending, Of daughters twain And three sisters, Of brethren eight, And abide behind lonely." Naught gat Gudrun Of wail and greeting, So heavy was she For her dead husband, So dreadful-hearted For the King laid dead there. Then spake Herborg Queen of Hunland -- "Crueller tale Have I to tell of, Of my seven sons Down in the Southlands, And the eighth man, my mate, Felled in the death-mead. "Father and mother, And four brothers, On the wide sea The winds and death played with; The billows beat On the bulwark boards. "Alone must I sing o'er them, Alone must I array them, Alone must my hands deal with Their departing; And all this was In one season's wearing, And none was left For love or solace. "Then was I bound A prey of the battle, When that same season Wore to its ending; As a tiring may Must I bind the shoon Of the duke's high dame, Every day at dawning. "From her jealous hate Gat I heavy mocking, Cruel lashes She laid upon me, Never met I Better master Or mistress worser In all the wide world." Naught gat Gudrun Of wail or greeting, So heavy was she For her dead husband, So dreadful-hearted For the King laid dead there. Then spake Gullrond, Giuki's daughter -- "O foster-mother, Wise as thou mayst be, Naught canst thou better The young wife's bale." And she bade uncover The dead King's corpse. She swept the sheet Away from Sigurd, And turned his cheek Towards his wife's knees -- "Look on thy loved one Lay lips to his lips, E'en as thou wert clinging To thy king alive yet!" Once looked Gudrun -- One look only, And saw her lord's locks Lying all bloody, The great man's eyes Glazed and deadly, And his heart's bulwark Broken by sword-edge. Back then sank Gudrun, Back on the bolster, Loosed was her head array, Red did her cheeks grow, And the rain-drops ran Down over her knees. Then wept Gudrun, Giuki's daughter, So that the tears flowed Through the pillow; As the geese withal That were in the homefield, The fair fowls the may owned, Fell a-screaming. Then spake Gullrond, Giuki's daughter -- "Surely knew I No love like your love Among all men, On the mould abiding; Naught wouldst thou joy in Without or within doors, O my sister, Save beside Sigurd." Then spake Gudrun, Giuki's daughter -- "Such was my Sigurd Among the sons of Giuki, As is the king leek O'er the low grass waxing, Or a bright stone Strung on band, Or a pearl of price On a prince's brow. "Once was I counted By the king's warriors Higher than any Of Herjan's mays; Now am I as little As the leaf may be, Amid wind-swept wood Now when dead he lieth. I miss from my seat, I miss from my bed, My darling of sweet speech. Wrought the sons of Giuki, Wrought the sons of Giuki, This sore sorrow, Yea, for their sister, Most sore sorrow. "So may your lands Lie waste on all sides, As ye have broken Your bounden oaths! Ne'er shalt thou, Gunnar, The gold have joy of; The dear-bought rings Shall drag thee to death, Whereon thou swarest Oath unto Sigurd. Ah, in the days by-gone Great mirth in the homefield When my Sigurd Set saddle on Grani, And they went their ways For the wooing of Brynhild! An ill day, an ill woman, And most ill hap!" Then spake Brynhild, Budli's daughter -- "May the woman lack Both love and children, Who gained greeting For thee, O Gudrun! Who gave thee this morning Many words!" Then spake Gullrond, Giuki's daughter -- "Hold peace of such words Thou hated of all folk! The bane of brave men Hast thou been ever, All waves of ill Wash over thy mind, To seven great kings Hast thou been a sore sorrow, And the death of good will To wives and women." Then spake Brynhild, Budli's daughter -- "None but Atli Brought bale upon us, My very brother Born of Budli. When we saw in the hall Of the Hunnish people The gold a-gleaming On the kingly Giukings; I have paid for that faring Oft and Full, And for the sight That then I saw." By a pillar she stood And strained its wood to her; From the eyes of Brynhild, Budli's daughter, Flashed out fire, And she snorted forth venom, As the sore wounds she gazed on Of the dead-slain Sigurd.
And now none might know for what cause Brynhild must bewail with weeping for what she had prayed for with laughter: but she spake --
"Such a dream I had, Gunnar, as that my bed was acold, and that thou didst ride into the hands of thy foes: lo now, ill shall it go with thee and all thy kin, O ye breakers of oaths; for on the day thou slayedst him, dimly didst thou remember how thou didst blend thy blood with the blood of Sigurd, and with an ill reward hast thou rewarded him for all that he did well to thee; whereas he gave unto thee to be the mightiest of men; and well was it proven how fast he held to his oath sworn, when he came to me and laid betwixt us the sharp-edged sword that in venom had been made hard. All too soon did ye fall to working wrong against him and against me, whenas I abode at home with my father, and had all that I would, and had no will that any one of you should be any of mine, as ye rode into our garth, ye three kings together; but then Atli led me apart privily, and asked me if I would not have him who rode Grani; yea, a man nowise like unto you; but in those days I plighted myself to the son of King Sigmund and no other; and lo, now, no better shall ye fare for the death of me."
Then rose up Gunnar, and laid his arms about her neck, and besought her to live and have wealth from him; and all others in likewise letted her from dying; but she thrust them all from her, and said that it was not the part of any to let her in that which was her will.
Then Gunnar called to Hogni, and prayed him for counsel, and bade him go to her, and see if he might perchance soften her dreadful heart, saying withal, that now they had need enough on their hands in the slaking of her grief, till time might get over.
But Hogni answered, "Nay, let no man hinder her from dying; for no gain will she be to us, nor has she been gainsome since she came hither!
Now she bade bring forth much gold, and bade all those come thither who would have wealth: then she caught up a sword, and thrust it under her armpit, and sank aside upon the pillows, and said, "Come, take gold whoso will!"
But all held their peace, and she said, "Take the gold, and be glad thereof!"
And therewith she spake unto Gunnar, "Now for a little while will I tell of that which shall come to pass hereafter; for speedily shall ye be at one again with Gudrun by the rede of Grimhild the Wise-wife; and the daughter of Gudrun and Sigurd shall be called Swanhild, the fairest of all women born. Gudrun shall be given to Atli, yet not with her good will. Thou shalt be fain to get Oddrun, but that shall Atli forbid thee; but privily shall ye meet, and much shall she love thee. Atli shall bewray thee, and cast thee into a worm-close, and thereafter shall Atli and his Sons be slain, and Gudrun shall be their slayer; and afterwards shall the great waves bear her to the burg of King Jonakr, to whom she shall bear sons of great fame: Swanhild shall be sent from the land and given to King Jormunrek; and her shall bite the rede of Bikki, and therewithal is the kin of you clean gone; and more sorrow therewith for Gudrun.
"And now I pray thee, Gunnar, one last boon. -- Let make a great bale on the plain meads for all of us; for me and for Sigurd, and for those who were slain with him, and let that be covered over with cloth dyed red by the folk of the Gauls, (1) and burn me thereon on one side of the King of the Huns, and on the other those men of mine, two at the head and two at the feet, and two hawks withal; and even so is all shared equally; and lay there betwixt us a drawn sword, as in the other days when we twain stepped into one bed together; and then may we have the name of man and wife, nor shall the door swing to at the heel of him as I go behind him. Nor shall that be a niggard company if there follow him those five bond-women and eight bondmen, whom my father gave me, and those burn there withal who were slain with Sigurd.
"Now more yet would I say, but for my wounds, but my life-breath flits; the wounds open, -- yet have I said sooth."
Now is the dead corpse of Sigurd arrayed in olden wise, and a mighty bale is raised, and when it was somewhat kindled, there was laid thereon the dead corpse of Sigurd Fafnir's-bane, and his son of three winters whom Brynhild had let slay, and Guttorm withal; and when the bale was all ablaze, thereunto was Brynhild borne out, when she had spoken with her bower-maidens, and bid them take the gold that she would give; and then died Brynhild, and was burned there by the side of Sigurd, and thus their life- days ended.
Now so it is, that whoso heareth these tidings sayeth, that no such an one as was Sigurd was left behind him in the world, nor ever was such a man brought forth because of all the worth of him, nor may his name ever minish by eld in the Dutch Tongue nor in all the Northern Lands, while the world standeth fast.
The story tells that, on a day, as Gudrun sat in her bower, she fell to saying, "Better was life in those days when I had Sigurd; he who was far above other men as gold is above iron, or the leek over other grass of the field, or the hart over other wild things; until my brethren begrudged me such a man, the first and best of all men; and so they might not sleep or they had slain him. Huge clamour made Grani when he saw his master and lord sore wounded, and then I spoke to him even as with a man, but he fell drooping down to the earth, for he knew that Sigurd was slain."
Thereafter Gudrun gat her gone into the wild woods, and heard on all ways round about her the howling of wolves, and deemed death a merrier thing than life. Then she went till she came to the hall of King Alf, and sat there in Denmark with Thora, the daughter of Hakon, for seven seasons, and abode with good welcome. And she set forth her needlework before her and did thereinto many deeds and great, and fair plays after the fashion of those days, swords and byrnies, and all the gear of kings, and the ship of King Sigmund sailing along the land; yea, and they wrought there how they fought, Sigar and Siggeir, south in Fion. Such was their disport; and now Gudrun was somewhat solaced of her grief.
So Grimhild comes to hear where Gudrun has take up her abode, and she calls her sons to talk with her, and asks whether they will make atonement to Gudrun for her son and her husband, and said that it was but meet and right to do so.
Then Gunnar spake, and said that he would atone for her sorrows with gold.
So they send for their friends, and array their horses, their helms, and their shields, and their byrnies, and all their war- gear; and their journey was furnished forth in the noblest wise, and no champion who was of the great men might abide at home; and their horses were clad in mail-coats, and every knight of them had his helm done over with gold or with silver.
Grimhild was of their company, for she said that their errand would never be brought fairly to pass if she sat at home.
There were well five hundred men, and noble men rode with them. There was Waldemar of Denmark, and Eymod and Jarisleif withal. So they went into the hall of King Alf, and there abode them the Longbeards and Franks, and Saxons: they fared with all their war- gear, and had over them red fur-coats. Even as the song says --
"Byrnies short cut,
They were fain to choose good gifts for their sister, and spake softly to her, but in none of them would she trow. Then Gunnar brought unto her a drink mingled with hurtful things, and this she must needs drink, and with the king thereof she had no more memory of their guilt against her.
But in that drink was blended the might of the earth and the sea with the blood of her son; and in that horn were all letters cut and reddened with blood, as is said hereunder --
the horn's face were there
And so now, when their hearts are-brought anigh to each other, great cheer they made: then came Grimhild to Gudrun, and spake.
"All hail to thee, daughter! I give thee gold and all kinds of good things to take to thee after thy father, dear bought rings and bed-gear of the maids of the Huns, the most courteous and well dight of all women; and thus is thy husband atoned for: and thereafter shalt thou be given to Atli, the mighty king, and be mistress of all his might. Cast not all thy friends aside for one man's sake, but do according to our bidding."
Gudrun answers, "Never will I wed Atli the King; unseemly it is for us to get offspring betwixt us."
Grimhild says, "Nourish not thy wrath; it shall be to thee as if Sigurd and Sigmund were alive when thou hast borne sons."
Gudrun says, "I cannot take my heart from thoughts of him, for he was the first of all men."
Grimhild says, "So it is shapen that thou must have this king and none else."
Says Gudrun, "Give not this man to me, for an evil thing shall come upon thy kin from him, and to his own sons shall he deal evil, and be rewarded with a grim revenge thereafter."
Then waxed Grimhild fell at those words, and spake, "Do even as we bid thee, and take therefore great honour, and our friendship, and the steads withal called Vinbjorg and Valbjorg."
And such might was in the words of her, that even so must it come to pass.
Then Gudrun spake, "Thus then must it needs befall, howsoever against the will of me, and for little joy shall it be and for great grief."
Then men leaped on their horses, and their women were set in wains. So they fared four days a-riding and other four a-shipboard, and yet four more again by land and road, till at the last they came to a certain high-built hall; then came to meet Gudrun many folk thronging; and an exceedingly goodly feast was there made, even as the word had gone between either kin, and it passed forth in most proud and stately wise. And at that feast drinks Atli his bridal with Gudrun, but never did her heart laugh on him, and little sweet and kind was their life together.
Now tells the tale that on a night King Atli woke from sleep and spake to Gudrun --
"Medreamed," said he, "that thou didst thrust me through with a sword."
Then Gudrun areded the dream, and said that it betokened fire, whenas folk dreamed of iron. "It befalls of thy pride belike, in that thou deemest thyself the first of men,"
Atli said, "Moreover I dreamed that here waxed two sorb-tree (1) saplings, and fain I was that they should have no scathe of me; then these were riven up by the roots and reddened with blood, and borne to the bench, and I was bidden eat thereof.
"Yea, yet again I dreamed that two hawks flew from my hand hungry and unfed, and fared to hell, and meseemed their hearts were mingled with honey, and that I ate thereof.
"And then again I dreamed that two fair whelps lay before me yelling aloud, and that the flesh of them I ate, though my will went not with the eating."
Gudrun says, "Nowise good are these dreams, yet shall they come to pass; surely thy sons are nigh to death, and many heavy things shall fall upon us."
"Yet again I dreamed," said he, "and methought I lay in a bath, and folk took counsel to slay me."
Now these things wear away with time, but in nowise was their life together fond.
Now falls Atli to thinking of where may be gotten that plenteous gold which Sigurd had owned, but King Gunnar and his brethren were lords thereof now.
Atli was a great king and mighty, wise, and a lord of many men; and now he falls to counsel with his folk as to the ways of them. He wotted well that Gunnar and his brethren had more wealth than any others might have, and so he falls to the rede of sending men to them, and bidding them to a great feast, and honouring them in diverse wise, and the chief of those messengers was hight Vingi.
Now the queen wots of their conspiring, and misdoubts her that this would mean some beguiling of her brethren: so she cut runes, and took a gold ring, and knit therein a wolf's hair, and gave it into the hands of the king's messengers.
Thereafter they go their ways according to the king's bidding: and or ever they came aland Vingi beheld the runes, and turned them about in such wise as if Gudrun prayed her brethren in her runes to go meet King Atli.
Thereafter they came to the hall of King Gunnar, and had good welcome at his hands, and great fires were made for them, and in great joyance they drank of the best of drink.
Then spake Vingi, "King Atli sends me hither, and is fain that ye go to his house and home in all glory, and take of him exceeding honours, helms and shields, swords and byrnies, gold and goodly raiment, horses, hosts of war, and great and wide lands, for, saith he, he is fainest of all things to bestow his realm and lordship upon you."
Then Gunnar turned his head aside, and spoke to Hogni --
"In what wise shall we take this bidding? Might and wealth he bids us take; but no kings know I who have so much gold as we have, whereas we have all the hoard which lay once on Gnitaheath; and great are our chambers, and full of gold, and weapons for smiting, and all kinds of raiment of war, and well I wot that amidst all men my horse is the best, and my sword the sharpest and my gold the most glorious."
Hogni answers, "A marvel is it to me of his bidding, for seldom hath he done in such a wise, and ill counselled will it be to wend to him; lo now, when I saw those dear-bought things the king sends us I wondered to behold a wolfs hair knit to a certain gold ring; belike Gudrun deems him to be minded as a wolf towards us, and will have naught of our faring."
But withal Vingi shows him the runes which he said Gudrun had sent.
Now the most of folk go to bed, but these drank on still with certain others; and Kostbera, the wife of Hogni, the fairest of women, came to them, and looked on the runes.
But the wife of Gunnar was Glaumvor, a great hearted wife.
So these twain poured out, and the kings drank and were exceeding drunken, and Vingi notes it, and says --
"Naught may I hide that King Atli is heavy of foot and over-old for the warding of his realm; but his sons are young and of no account: now will he give you rule over his realms while they are yet thus young, and most fain will he be that ye have the joy thereof before all others."
Now so it befell both that Gunnar was drunk, and that dominion was held out to him, nor might he work against the fate shapen for him; so he gave his word to go, and tells Hogni his brother thereof.
But he answered, "Thy word given must even stand now, nor will I fail to follow thee, but most loth am I to journey."
So when men had drunk their fill, they fared to sleep; then falls Kostbera to beholding the runes, and spelling over the letters, and sees that beneath were other things cut, and that the runes are guileful, yet because of her wisdom she had skill to read them aright. So then she goes to bed by her husband; but when they awoke, she spake unto Hogni --
"Thou art minded to wend away from home -- ill-counselled is that; abide till another time! Scarce a keen reader of runes art thou, if thou deemest thou hast beheld in them the bidding of thy sister to this journey: lo, I read them the runes, and had marvel of so wise a woman as Gudrun is, that she should have miscut them; but that which lieth underneath beareth your bane with it, -- yea, either she lacked a letter, or others have dealt guilefully with the runes.
"And now hearken to my dream; for therein methought there fell in upon us here a river exceeding strong, and brake up the timbers of the hall."
He answered, "Full oft are ye evil of mind, ye women, but for me, I was not made in such wise as to meet men with evil who deserve no evil; belike he will give us good welcome."
She answered, "Well, the thing must ye yourselves prove, but no friendship follows this bidding: -- but yet again I dreamed that another river fell in here with a great and grimly rush, and tore up the dais of the hall, and brake the legs of both you brethren; surely that betokeneth somewhat."
He answers, "Meadows along our way, whereas thou didst dream of the river; for when we go through the meadows, plentifully doth the seeds of the hay hang about our legs."
"Again I dreamed," she says, "that thy cloak was afire, and that the flame blazed up above the hall."
Says he, "Well, I wot what that shall betoken; here lieth my fair-dyed raiment, and it shall burn and blaze, whereas thou dreamedst of the cloak."
"Methought a bear came in," she says, "and brake up the king's high-seat, and shook his paws in such a wise that we were all adrad thereat, and he gat us all together into the mouth of him, so that we might avail us naught, and thereof fell great horror on us."
He answered, "Some great storm will befall, whereas thou hadst a white bear in thy mind."
"An erne methought came in," she says, "and swept adown the hall, and drenched me and all of us with blood, and ill shall that betoken, for methought it was the double of King Atli."
He answered, "Full oft do we slaughter beasts freely, and smite down great neat for our cheer, and the dream of the erne has but to do with oxen; yea, Atli is heart-whole toward us."
And therewithal they cease this talk.