In this book is told of the earlier days of the Volsungs, and of Sigmund the father of Sigurd, and of his deeds, and of how he died while Sigurd was yet unborn in his mother’s womb.
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.”
Such words in the hall of the Volsungs spake the Earl of Siggeir the Goth,
Bearing the gifts and the gold, the ring, and the tokens of troth.
But the King’s heart laughed within him and the King’s sons deemed it good;
For they dreamed how they fared with the Goths o’er ocean and acre and wood,
Till all the north was theirs, and the utmost southern lands.
But nought said the snow-white Signy as she sat with folded hands
And gazed at the Goth-king’s Earl till his heart grew heavy and cold,
As one that half remembers a tale that the elders have told,
A story of weird and of woe: then spake King Volsung and said:
“A great king woos thee, daughter; wilt thou lie in a great king’s bed,
And bear earth’s kings on thy bosom, that our name may never die?”
A fire lit up her face, and her voice was e’en as a cry:
“I will sleep in a great king’s bed, I will bear the lords of the earth,
And the wrack and the grief of my youth-days shall be held for nothing worth.”
Then would he question her kindly, as one who loved her sore,
But she put forth her hand and smiled, and her face was flushed no more
“Would God it might otherwise be! but wert thou to will it not,
Yet should I will it and wed him, and rue my life and my lot.”
Lowly and soft she said it; but spake out louder now:
“Be of good cheer, King Volsung! for such a man art thou,
That what thou dost well-counselled, goodly and fair it is,
And what thou dost unwitting, the Gods have bidden thee this:
So work all things together for the fame of thee and thine.
And now meseems at my wedding shall be a hallowed sign,
That shall give thine heart a joyance, whatever shall follow after.”
She spake, and the feast sped on, and the speech and the song and the laughter
Went over the words of boding as the tide of the norland main
Sweeps over the hidden skerry, the home of the shipman’s bane.
So wendeth his way on the morrow that Earl of the Gothland King,
Bearing the gifts and the gold, and King Volsung’s tokening,
And a word in his mouth moreover, a word of blessing and hail,
And a bidding to King Siggeir to come ere the June-tide fail
And wed him to white-hand Signy and bear away his bride,
While sleepeth the field of the fishes amidst the summer-tide.
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-bole, 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 that Ran who dwells thereunder will many a man beguile:
And I bear a woman with me; nor would I for a while
Behold that sea-queen’s dwelling; for glad at heart am I
Of the realm of the Goths and the Volsungs, and I look for long to lie
In the arms of the fairest woman that ever a king may kiss.
So I go mine house to order for the increase of thy bliss,
That there in nought but joyance all we may wear the days
And that men of the time hereafter the more our lives may praise.”
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.
But the feast sped on the fairer, and the more they waxed in disport
And the glee that all men love, as they knew that the hours were short.
Yet a boding heart bare Sigmund amid his singing and laughter;
And somewhat Signy wotted of the deeds that were coming after;
For the wisest of women she was, and many a thing she knew;
She would hearken the voice of the midnight till she heard what the
Gods would do, And her feet fared oft on the wild, and deep was her communing
With the heart of the glimmering woodland, where never a fowl may sing.
So fair sped on the feasting amid the gleam of the gold,
Amid the wine and the joyance; and many a tale was told
To the harp-strings of that wedding, whereof the latter days
Yet hold a little glimmer to wonder at and praise.
Then the undark night drew over, and faint the high stars shone,
And there on the beds blue-woven the slumber-tide they won;
Yea while on the brightening mountain the herd-boy watched his sheep.
Yet soft on the breast of Signy King Siggeir lay asleep.
Now or ever the sun shone houseward, unto King Volsung’s bed
Came Signy stealing barefoot, and she spake the word and said:
“Awake and hearken, my father, for though the wedding be done,
And I am the wife of the Goth-king, yet the Volsungs are not gone.
So I come as a dream of the night, with a word that the Gods would say,
And think thou thereof in the day-tide, and let Siggeir go on his way
With me and the gifts and the gold, but do ye abide in the land,
Nor trust in the guileful heart and the murder-loving hand,
Lest the kin of the Volsungs perish, and the world be nothing worth.”
So came the word unto Volsung, and wit in his heart had birth;
And he sat upright in the bed and kissed her on the lips;
But he said: “My word is given, it is gone like the spring-tide ships:
To death or to life must I journey when the months are come to an end.
Yet my sons my words shall hearken, and shall nowise with me wend.”
Then she answered, speaking swiftly: “Nay, have thy sons with thee;
Gather an host together and a mighty company,
And meet the guile and the death-snare with battle and with wrack.”
He said: “Nay, my troth-word plighted e’en so should I draw aback:
I shall go a guest, as my word was; of whom shall I be afraid?
For an outworn elder’s ending shall no mighty moan be made.”
Then answered Signy, weeping: “I shall see thee yet again
When the battle thou arrayest on the Goth-folks’ strand in vain.
Heavy and hard are the Norns: but each man his burden bears;
And what am I to fashion the fate of the coming years?”
She wept and she wended back to the Goth-king’s bolster blue,
And Volsung pondered awhile till slumber over him drew;
But when once more he wakened, the kingly house was up,
And the homemen gathered together to drink the parting cup:
And grand amid the hall-floor was the Goth king in his gear,
And Signy clad for faring stood by the Branstock dear
With the earls of the Goths about her: so queenly did she seem,
So calm and ruddy coloured, that Volsung well might deem
That her words were a fashion of slumber, a vision of the night.
But they drank the wine of departing, and brought the horses dight,
And forth abroad the Goth-folk and the Volsung Children rode,
Nor ever once would Signy look back to that abode.
So down over acre and heath they rode to the side of the sea,
And there by the long-ships’ bridges was the ship-host’s company.
Then Signy kissed her brethren with ruddy mouth and warm,
Nor was there one of the Goth-folk but blessed her from all harm;
Then sweet she kissed her father and hung about his neck,
And sure she whispered him somewhat ere she passed forth toward the deck,
Though nought I know to tell it: then Siggeir hailed them fair,
And called forth many a blessing on the hearts that bode his snare.
Then were the gangways shipped, and blown was the parting horn,
And the striped sails drew with the wind, and away was Signy borne
White on the shielded long-ship, a grief in the heart of the gold;
Nor once would she turn her about the strand of her folk to behold.
Thenceforward dwelt the Volsungs in exceeding glorious state,
And merry lived King Volsung, abiding the day of his fate;
But when the months aforesaid were well-nigh worn away
To his sons and his folk of counsel he fell these words to say:
“Ye mind you of Signy’s wedding and of my plighted troth
To go in two months’ wearing to the house of Siggeir the Goth:
Nor will I hide how Signy then spake a warning word
And did me to wit that her husband was a grim and guileful lord,
And would draw us to our undoing for envy and despite
Concerning the Sword of Odin, and for dread of the Volsung might.
Now wise is Signy my daughter and knoweth nought but sooth:
Yet are there seasons and times when for longing and self-ruth
The hearts of women wander, and this maybe is such;
Nor for her word of Siggeir will I trow it overmuch,
Nor altogether doubt it, since the woman is wrought so wise;
Nor much might my heart love Siggeir for all his kingly guise.
Yet, shall a king hear murder when a king’s mouth blessing saith?
So maybe he is bidding me honour, and maybe he is bidding me death:
Let him do after his fashion, and I will do no less.
In peace will I go to his bidding let the spae-wrights ban or bless;
And no man now or hereafter of Volsung’s blenching shall tell.
But ye, sons, in the land shall tarry, and heed the realm right well,
Lest the Volsung Children fade, and the wide world worser grow.”
But with one voice cried all men, that they one and all would go
To gather the Goth-king’s honour, or let one fate go over all
If he bade them to battle and murder, till each by each should fall.
So spake the sons of his body, and the wise in wisdom and war.
Nor yet might it otherwise be, though Volsung bade full sore
That he go in some ship of the merchants with his life alone in his hand;
With such love he loved his kindred, and the people of his land.
But at last he said:
“So be it; for in vain I war with fate,
Who can raise up a king from the dunghill and make the feeble great.
We will go, a band of friends, and be merry whatever shall come,
And the Gods, mine own forefathers, shall take counsel of our home.”
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.
So they drew the bridges shipward, and left the land behind,
And fair astern of the longships sprang up a following wind;
So swift o’er Ægir’s acre those mighty sailors ran,
And speedier than all other ploughed down the furrows wan.
And they came to the land of the Goth-folk on the even of a day;
And lo by the inmost skerry a skiff with a sail of grey
That as they neared the foreshore ran Volsung’s ship aboard,
And there was come white-hand Signy with her latest warning word.
“O strange,” she said, “meseemeth, O sweet, your gear to see,
And the well-loved Volsung faces, and the hands that cherished me.
But short is the time that is left me for the work I have to win,
Though nought it be but the speaking of a word ere the worst begin.
For that which I spake aforetime, the seed of a boding drear,
It hath sprung, it hath blossomed and born rank harvest of the spear;
Siggeir hath dight the death-snare; he hath spread the shielded net.
But ye come ere the hour appointed, and he looks not to meet you yet.
Now blest be the wind that wafted your sails here over-soon,
For thus have I won me seaward ’twixt the twilight and the moon,
To pray you for all the world’s sake turn back from the murderous shore.
— Ah take me hence, my father, to see my land once more!”
Then sweetly Volsung kissed her: “Woe am I for thy sake,
But earth the word hath hearkened, that yet unborn I spake;
How I ne’er would turn me backward from the sword or the fire of bale;
— I have held that word till today, and today shall I change the tale?
And look on these thy brethren, how goodly and great are they,
Wouldst thou have the maidens mock them, when this pain hath past away
And they sit at the feast hereafter, that they feared the deadly stroke?
Let us do our day’s work deftly for the praise and the glory of folk;
And if the Norns will have it that the Volsung kin shall fail,
Yet I know of the deed that dies not, and the name that shall ever avail.”
But she wept as one sick-hearted: “Woe’s me for the hope of the morn!
Yet send me not back unto Siggeir and the evil days and the scorn:
Let me bide the death as ye bide it, and let a woman feel
That hope of the death of battle and the rest of the foeman’s steel.”
“Nay nay,” he said, “go backward: this too thy fate will have;
For thou art the wife of a king, and many a matter may’st save.
Farewell! as the days win over, as sweet as a tale shall it grow,
This day when our hearts were hardened; and our glory thou shalt know,
And the love wherewith we loved thee mid the battle and the wrack.”
She kissed them and departed, and mid the dusk fared back,
And she sat that eve in the high-seat; and I deem that Siggeir knew
The way that her feet had wended, and the deed she went to do:
For the man was grim and guileful, and he knew that the snare was laid
For the mountain bull unblenching and the lion unafraid.
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 forebore 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.
Lo, now as the plotting was long, so short is the tale to tell
How a mighty people’s leaders in the field of murder fell.
For but feebly burned the battle when Volsung fell to field,
And all who yet were living were borne down before the shield:
So sinketh the din and the tumult; and the earls of the Goths ring round
That crown of the Kings of battle laid low upon the ground,
Looking up to the noon-tide heavens from the place where first he stood:
But the songful sing above him and they tell how his end is as good
As the best of the days of his life-tide; and well as he was loved
By his friends ere the time of his changing, so now are his foemen moved
With a love that may never be worsened, since all the strife is o’er,
And the warders look for his coming by Odin’s open door.
But his sons, the stay of battle, alive with many a wound,
Borne down to the earth by the shield-rush amid the dead lie bound,
And belike a wearier journey must those lords of battle bide
Ere once more in the Hall of Odin they sit by their father’s side.
Woe’s me for the boughs of the Branstock and the hawks that cried on the fight!
Woe’s me for the tireless hearthstones and the hangings of delight,
That the women dare not look on lest they see them sweat with blood!
Woe’s me for the carven pillars where the spears of the Volsungs stood!
And who next shall shake the locks, or the silver door-rings meet?
Who shall pace the floor beloved, worn down by the Volsung feet?
Who shall fill the gold with the wine, or cry for the triumphing?
Shall it be kindred or foes, or thief, or thrall, or king?
So there the earls of the Goth-folk lay Volsung ’neath the grass
On the last earth he had trodden; but his children bound must pass,
When the host is gathered together, amidst of their array
To the high-built dwelling of Siggeir; for sooth it is to say,
That he came not into the battle, nor faced the Volsung sword.
So now as he sat in his high-seat there came his chiefest lord,
And he said: “I bear thee tidings of the death of the best of the brave,
For thy foes are slain or bondsmen; and have thou Sigmund’s glaive,
If a token thou desirest; and that shall be surely enough.
And I do thee to wit, King Siggeir, that the road was exceeding rough,
And that many an earl there stumbled, who shall evermore lie down.
And indeed I deem King Volsung for all earthly kingship’s crown.”
Then never a word spake Siggeir, save: “Where be Volsung’s sons?”
And he said: “Without are they fettered, those battle-glorious ones:
And methinks ’twere a deed for a king, and a noble deed for thee,
To break their bonds and heal them, and send them back o’er the sea,
And abide their wrath and the bloodfeud for this matter of Volsung’s slaying:”
“Witless thou waxest,” said Siggeir, “nor heedest the wise man’s saying;
’Slay thou the wolf by the house-door, lest he slay thee in the wood.’
Yet since I am the overcomer, and my days henceforth shall be good,
I will quell them with no death-pains; let the young men smite them down,
But let me not behold them when my heart is angrier grown.”
E’en as he uttered the word was Signy at the door,
And with hurrying feet she gat her apace to the high-seat floor,
As wan as the dawning-hour, though never a tear she had:
And she cried: “I pray thee, Siggeir, now thine heart is merry and glad
With the death and the bonds of my kinsmen, to grant me this one prayer,
This one time and no other; let them breathe the earthly air
For a day, for a day or twain, ere they wend the way of death,
For ’sweet to eye while seen,’ the elders’ saying saith.”
Quoth he: “Thou art mad with sorrow; wilt thou work thy friends this woe?
When swift and untormented e’en I would let them go:
Yet now shalt thou have thine asking, if it verily is thy will:
Nor forsooth do I begrudge them a longer tide of ill.”
She said: “I will it, I will it — O sweet to eye while seen!”
Then to his earl spake Siggeir: “There lies a wood-lawn green
In the first mile of the forest; there fetter these Volsung men
To the mightiest beam of the wild-wood, till Queen Signy come again
And pray me a boon for her brethren, the end of their latter life.”
So the Goth-folk led to the woodland those gleanings of the strife,
And smote down a great-boled oak-tree, the mightiest they might find,
And thereto with bonds of iron the Volsungs did they bind,
And left them there on the wood-lawn, mid the yew-trees’ compassing,
And went back by the light of the moon to the dwelling of the king.
But he sent on the morn of the morrow to see how his foemen fared,
For now as he thought thereover, o’ermuch he deemed it dared
That he saw not the last of the Volsungs laid dead before his feet,
Back came his men ere the noontide, and he deemed their tidings sweet;
For they said: “We tell thee, King Siggeir, that Geirmund and Gylfi are gone.
And we deem that a beast of the wild-wood this murder grim hath done,
For the bones yet lie in the fetters gnawed fleshless now and white;
But we deemed the eight abiding sore minished of their might.”
So wore the morn and the noontide, and the even ’gan to fall,
And watchful eyes held Signy at home in bower and hall.
And again came the men in the morning, and spake: “The hopples hold
The bare white bones of Helgi, and the bones of Solar the bold:
And the six that abide seem feebler than they were awhile ago.”
Still all the day and the night-tide must Signy nurse her woe
About the house of King Siggeir, nor any might she send:
And again came the tale on the morrow: “Now are two more come to an end.
For Hunthiof dead and Gunthiof, their bones lie side by side,
And the four that are left, us seemeth, no long while will abide.”
O woe for the well-watched Signy, how often on that day
Must she send her helpless eyen adown the woodland way!
Yet silent in her bosom she held her heart of flame.
And again on the morrow morning the tale was still the same:
“We tell thee now, King Siggeir, that all will soon be done;
For the two last men of the Volsungs, they sit there one by one,
And Sigi’s head is drooping, but somewhat Sigmund sings;
For the man was a mighty warrior, and a beater down of kings.
But for Rerir and for Agnar, the last of them is said,
Their bones in the bonds are abiding, but their souls and lives are sped.”
That day from the eyes of the watchers nought Signy strove to depart,
But ever she sat in the high-seat and nursed the flame in her heart.
In the sight of all people she sat, with unmoved face and wan,
And to no man gave she a word, nor looked on any man.
Then the dusk and the dark drew over, but stirred she never a whit,
And the word of Siggeir’s sending, she gave no heed to it.
And there on the morrow morning must he sit him down by her side,
When unto the council of elders folk came from far and wide.
And there came Siggeir’s woodmen, and their voice in the hall arose:
“There is no man left on the tree-beam: some beast hath devoured thy foes;
There is nought left there but the bones, and the bonds that the Volsungs bound.”
No word spake the earls of the Goth-folk, but the hall rang out with a sound,
With the wail and the cry of Signy, as she stood upright on her feet,
And thrust all people from her, and fled to her bower as fleet
As the hind when she first is smitten; and her maidens fled away,
Fearing her face and her eyen: no less at the death of the day
She rose up amid the silence, and went her ways alone,
And no man watched her or hindered, for they deemed the story done.
So she went ’twixt the yellow acres, and the green meads of the sheep,
And or ever she reached the wild-wood the night was waxen deep
No man she had to lead her, but the path was trodden well
By those messengers of murder, the men with the tale to tell;
And the beams of the high white moon gave a glimmering day through night
Till she came where that lawn of the woods lay wide in the flood of light.
Then she looked, and lo, in its midmost a mighty man there stood,
And laboured the earth of the green-sward with a truncheon torn from the wood;
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 fail:
Then spake the white-hand Signy: “Now shalt 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.”
He said: “We sat on the tree, and well ye may wot indeed
That we had some hope from thy good-will amidst that bitter need.
Now none had ’scaped the sword-edge in the battle utterly,
And so hurt were Agnar and Helgi, that, unhelped, they were like to die;
Though for that we deemed them happier: but now when the moon shone bright,
And when by a doomed man’s deeming ’twas the midmost of the night,
Lo, forth from yonder thicket were two mighty wood-wolves come,
Far huger wrought to my deeming than the beasts I knew at home:
Forthright on Gylfi and Geirmund those dogs of the forest fell,
And what of men so hoppled should be the tale to tell?
They tore them midst the irons, and slew them then and there,
And long we heard them snarling o’er that abundant cheer.
Night after night, O my sister, the story was the same,
And still from the dark and the thicket the wild-wood were-wolves came
And slew two men of the Volsungs whom the sword edge might not end.
And every day in the dawning did the King’s own woodmen wend
To behold those craftsmen’s carving and rejoice King Siggeir’s heart.
And so was come last midnight, when I must play my part:
Forsooth when those first were murdered my heart was as blood and fire;
And I deemed that my bonds must burst with my uttermost desire
To free my naked hands, that the vengeance might be wrought;
But now was I wroth with the Gods, that had made the Volsungs for nought
And I said: in the Day of their Doom a man’s help shall they miss;
I will be as a wolf of the forest, if their kings must come to this;
Or if Siggeir indeed be their king, and their envy has brought it about
That dead in the dust lies Volsung, while the last of his seed dies out.
Therewith from out the thicket the grey wolves drew anigh,
And the he-wolf fell on Sigi, but he gave forth never a cry,
And I saw his lips that they smiled, and his steady eyes for a space;
And therewith was the she-wolf’s muzzle thrust into my very face.
The Gods helped not, but I helped; and I too grew wolfish then;
Yea I, who have borne the sword-hilt high mid the kings of men,
I, lord of the golden harness, the flame of the Glittering Heath,
Must snarl to the she-wolf’s snarling, and snap with greedy teeth,
While my hands with the hand-bonds struggled; my teeth took hold the first
And amid her mighty writhing the bonds that bound me burst,
As with Fenrir’s Wolf it shall be: then the beast with the hopples I smote,
When my left hand stiff with the bonds had got her by the throat.
But I turned when I had slain her, and there lay Sigi dead,
And once more to the night of the forest the fretting wolf had fled.
In the thicket I hid till the dawning, and thence I saw the men,
E’en Siggeir’s heart-rejoicers, come back to the place again
To gather the well-loved tidings: I looked and I knew for sooth
How hate had grown in my bosom and the death of my days of ruth:
Though unslain they departed from me, lest Siggeir come to doubt.
But hereafter, yea hereafter, they that turned the world about,
And raised Hell’s abode o’er God-home, and mocked all men-folk’s worth —
Shall my hand turn back or falter, while these abide on earth,
Because I once was a child, and sat on my father’s knees;
But long methinks shall Siggeir bide merrily at ease
In the high-built house of the Goths, with his shielded earls around,
His warders of day and of night-tide, and his world of peopled ground,
While his foe is a swordless outcast, a hunted beast of the wood,
A wolf of the holy places, where men-folk gather for good.
And didst thou think, my sister, when we sat in our summer bliss
Beneath the boughs of the Branstock, that the world was like to this?”
As the moon and the twilight mingled, she stood with kindling eyes,
And answered and said: “My brother, thou art strong, and thou shalt be wise:
I am nothing so wroth as thou art with the ways of death and hell,
For thereof had I a deeming when all things were seeming well.
In sooth overlong it may linger; the children of murder shall thrive,
While thy work is a weight for thine heart, and a toil for thy hand to drive;
But I wot that the King of the Goth-folk for his deeds shall surely pay,
And that I shall live to see it: but thy wrath shall pass away,
And long shalt thou live on the earth an exceeding glorious king,
And thy words shall be told in the market, and all men of thy deeds shall sing:
Fresh shall thy memory be, and thine eyes like mine shall gaze
On the day unborn in the darkness, the last of all earthly days,
The last of the days of battle, when the host of the Gods is arrayed
And there is an end for ever of all who were once afraid.
There as thou drawest thy sword, thou shalt think of the days that were,
And the foul shall still seem foul, and the fair shall still seem fair;
But thy wit shall then be awakened, and thou shalt know indeed
Why the brave man’s spear is broken, and his war-shield fails at need;
Why the loving is unbelovèd; why the just man falls from his state;
Why the liar gains in a day what the soothfast strives for late.
Yea, and thy deeds shalt thou know, and great shall thy gladness be;
As a picture all of gold thy life-days shalt thou see,
And know that thou too wert a God to abide through the hurry and haste;
A God in the golden hall, a God on the rain-swept waste,
A God in the battle triumphant, a God on the heap of the slain:
And thine hope shall arise and blossom, and thy love shall be quickened again:
And then shalt thou see before thee the face of all earthly ill;
Thou shalt drink of the cup of awakening that thine hand hath holpen to fill;
By the side of the sons of Odin shalt thou fashion a tale to be told
In the hall of the happy Baldur: nor there shall the tale grow old
Of the days before the changing, e’en those that over us pass.
So harden thine heart, O brother, and set thy brow as the brass!
Thou shalt do, and thy deeds shall be goodly, and the day’s work shall be done
Though nought but the wild deer see it. Nor yet shalt thou be alone
For ever-more in thy waiting; for belike a fearful friend
The long days for thee may fashion, to help thee ere the end.
But now shalt thou bide in the wild-wood, and make thee a lair therein:
Thou art here in the midst of thy foemen, and from them thou well mayst win
Whatso thine heart desireth; yet be thou not too bold,
Lest the tale of the wood-abider too oft to the king be told.
Ere many days are departed again shall I see thy face,
That I may wot full surely of thine abiding-place
To send thee help and comfort; but when that hour is o’er
It were good, O last of the Volsungs, that I see thy face no more,
If so indeed it may be: but the Norns must fashion all,
And what the dawn hath fated on the hour of noon shall fall.”
Then she kissed him and departed, for the day was nigh at hand,
And by then she had left the woodways green lay the horse-fed land
Beneath the new-born daylight, and as she brushed the dew
Betwixt the yellowing acres, all heaven o’erhead was blue.
And at last on that dwelling of Kings the golden sunlight lay,
And the morn and the noon and the even built up another day.
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 again in a half-month’s wearing goes Signy into the wild,
And findeth her way by her wisdom to the dwelling of Volsung’s child.
It was e’en as a house of the Dwarfs, a rock, and a stony cave.
In the heart of the midmost thicket by the hidden river’s wave.
There Signy found him watching how the white-head waters ran,
And she said in her heart as she saw him that once more she had seen a man.
His words were few and heavy, for seldom his sorrow slept,
Yet ever his love went with them; and men say that Signy wept
When she left that last of her kindred: yet wept she never more
Amid the earls of Siggeir, and as lovely as before
Was her face to all men’s deeming: nor aught it changed for ruth,
Nor for fear nor any longing; and no man said for sooth
That she ever laughed thereafter till the day of her death was come.
So is Volsung’s seed abiding in a rough and narrow home;
And wargear he gat him enough from the slaying of earls of men,
And gold as much as he would; though indeed but now and again
He fell on the men of the merchants, lest, wax he overbold,
The tale of the wood-abider too oft to the king should be told.
Alone in the woods he abided, and a master of masters was he
In the craft of the smithying folk; and whiles would the hunter see,
Belated amid the thicket, his forge’s glimmering light,
And the boldest of all the fishers would hear his hammer benight.
Then dim waxed the tale of the Volsungs, and the word mid the wood-folk rose
That a King of the Giants had wakened from amidst the stone-hedged close,
Where they slept in the heart of the mountains, and had come adown to dwell
In the cave whence the Dwarfs were departed, and they said: It is aught but well
To come anigh to his house-door, or wander wide in his woods?
For a tyrannous lord he is, and a lover of gold and of goods.
So win the long years over, and still sitteth Signy there
Beside the King of the Goth-folk, and is waxen no less fair,
And men and maids hath she gotten who are ready to work her will,
For the worship of her fairness, and remembrance of her ill.
So it fell on a morn of springtide, as Sigmund sat on the sward
By that ancient house of the Dwarf-kind and fashioned a golden sword?
By the side of the hidden river he saw a damsel stand,
And a manchild of ten summers was holding by her hand.
And she cried:
“O Forest-dweller! harm not the child nor me,
For I bear a word of Signy’s, and thus she saith to thee: ’I send thee a man to foster; if his heart be good at need
Then may he help thy workday; but hearken my words and heed;
If thou deem that his heart shall avail not, thy work is over-great
That thou weary thy heart with such-like: let him wend the ways of his fate.’”
And no more word spake the maiden, but turned and gat her gone,
And there by the side of the river the child abode alone:
But Sigmund stood on his feet, and across the river he went.
For he knew how the child was Siggeir’s, and of Signy’s fell intent.
So he took the lad on his shoulder, and bade him hold his sword,
And waded back to his dwelling across the rushing ford:
But the youngling fell a prattling, and asked of this and that,
As above the rattle of waters on Sigmund’s shoulder he sat!
And Sigmund deemed in his heart that the boy would be bold enough.
So he fostered him there in the woodland in life full hard and rough
For the space of three months’ wearing; and the lad was deft and strong,
Yet his sight was a grief to Sigmund because of his father’s wrong.
On a morn to the son of King Siggeir Sigmund the Volsung said:
“I go to the hunting of deer, bide thou and bake our bread
Against I bring the venison.”
So forth he fared on his way,
And came again with the quarry about the noon of day;
Quoth he: “Is the morn’s work done?” But the boy said nought for a space,
And all white he was and quaking as he looked on Sigmund’s face.
“Tell me, O Son of the Goth-king,” quoth Sigmund, “how thou hast fared?
Forsooth, is the baking of bread so mighty a thing to be dared?”
Quoth the lad: “I went to the meal-sack, and therein was something quick,
And it moved, and I feared for the serpent, like a winter ashen stick
That I saw on the stone last even: so I durst not deal with the thing.”
Loud Sigmund laughed, and answered: “I have heard of that son of a king,
Who might not be scared from his bread for all the worms of the land.”
And therewith he went to the meal-sack and thrust therein his hand,
And drew forth an ash-grey adder, and a deadly worm it was:
Then he went to the door of the cave and set it down in the grass,
While the King’s son quaked and quivered: then he drew forth his sword from the sheath,
“Now fearest thou this, that men call the serpent of death?”
Then said the son of King Siggeir: “I am young as yet for the war,
Yet e’en such a blade shall I carry ere many a month be o’er.”
Then abroad went the King in the wind, and leaned on his naked sword
And stood there many an hour, and mused on Signy’s word.
But at last when the moon was arisen, and the undark night begun,
He sheathed the sword and cried: “Come forth, King Siggeir’s son,
Thou shalt wend from out of the wild-wood and no more will I foster thee.”
Forth came the son of Siggeir, and quaked his face to see,
But thereof nought Sigmund noted, but bade him wend with him.
So they went through the summer night-tide by many a wood-way dim,
Till they came to a certain wood-lawn, and Sigmund lingered there,
And spake as his feet brushed o’er it: “The June flowers blossom fair.”
So they came to the skirts of the forest, and the meadows of the neat,
And the earliest wind of dawning blew over them soft and sweet:
There stayed Sigmund the Volsung, and said:
“King Siggeir’s son,
Bide here till the birds are singing, and the day is well begun;
Then go to the house of the Goth-king, and find thou Signy the Queen,
And tell unto no man else the things thou hast heard and seen:
But to her shalt thou tell what thou wilt, and say this word withal:
’Mother, I come from the wild-wood, and he saith, whatever befal
Alone will I abide there, nor have such fosterlings;
For the sons of the Gods may help me, but never the sons of Kings.’
Go, then, with this word in thy mouth — or do thou after thy fate,
And, if thou wilt, betray me! — and repent it early and late.”
Then he turned his back on the acres, and away to the woodland strode;
But the boy scarce bided the sunrise ere he went the homeward road;
So he came to the house of the Goth-kings, and spake with Signy the
Queen, Nor told he to any other the things he had heard and seen,
For the heart of a king’s son had he.
But Signy hearkened his word;
And long she pondered and said: “What is it my heart hath feared?
And how shall it be with earth’s people if the kin of the Volsungs die,
And King Volsung unavenged in his mound by the sea-strand lie?
I have given my best and bravest, as my heart’s blood I would give,
And my heart and my fame and my body, that the name of Volsung might live.
Lo the first gift cast aback: and how shall it be with the last —
If I find out the gift for the giving before the hour be passed?”
Long while she mused and pondered while day was thrust on day,
Till the king and the earls of the strangers seemed shades of the dreamtide grey
And gone seemed all earth’s people, save that woman mid the gold
And that man in the depths of the forest in the cave of the Dwarfs of old.
And once in the dark she murmured: “Where then was the ancient song
That the Gods were but twin-born once, and deemed it nothing wrong
To mingle for the world’s sake, whence had the Æsir birth,
And the Vanir and the Dwarf-kind, and all the folk of earth?”
Now amidst those days that she pondered came a wife of the witch-folk there,
A woman young and lovesome, and shaped exceeding fair,
And she spake with Signy the Queen, and told her of deeds of her craft,
And how the might was with her her soul from her body to waft
And to take the shape of another and give her fashion in turn.
Fierce then in the heart of Signy a sudden flame ’gan burn,
And the eyes of her soul saw all things, like the blind, whom the world’s last fire
Hath healed in one passing moment ’twixt his death and his desire.
And she thought: “Alone I will bear it; alone I will take the crime;
On me alone be the shaming, and the cry of the coming time.
Yea, and he for the life is fated and the help of many a folk,
And I for the death and the rest, and deliverance from the yoke.”
Then wan as the midnight moon she answered the woman and spake:
“Thou art come to the Goth-queen’s dwelling, wilt thou do so much for my sake,
And for many a pound of silver and for rings of the ruddy gold,
As to change thy body for mine ere the night is waxen old?”
Nought the witch-wife fair gainsaid it, and they went to the bower aloft
And hand in hand and alone they sung the spell-song soft:
Till Signy looked on her guest, and lo, the face of a queen
With the steadfast eyes of grey, that so many a grief had seen:
But the guest held forth a mirror, and Signy shrank aback
From the laughing lips and the eyes, and the hair of crispy black,
But though she shuddered and sickened, the false face changed no whit;
But ruddy and white it blossomed and the smiles played over it;
And the hands were ready to cling, and beckoning lamps were the eyes,
And the light feet longed for the dance, and the lips for laughter and lies.
So that eve in the mid-hall’s high-seat was the shape of Signy the
Queen, While swiftly the feet of the witch-wife brushed over the moonlit green,
But the soul mid the gleam of the torches, her thought was of gain and of gold;
And the soul of the wind-driven woman, swift-foot in the moonlight cold,
Her thoughts were of men’s lives’ changing, and the uttermost ending of earth,
And the day when death should be dead, and the new sun’s nightless birth.
Men say that about that midnight King Sigmund wakened and heard
The voice of a soft-speeched woman, shrill-sweet as a dawning bird;
So he rose, and a woman indeed he saw by the door of the cave
With her raiment wet to her midmost, as though with the river-wave:
And he cried: “What wilt thou, what wilt thou? be thou womankind or fay,
Here is no good abiding, wend forth upon thy way!”
She said: “I am nought but a woman, a maid of the earl-folk’s kin:
And I went by the skirts of the woodland to the house of my sister to win,
And have strayed from the way benighted: and I fear the wolves and the wild
By the glimmering of thy torchlight from afar was I beguiled.
Ah, slay me not on thy threshold, nor send me back again
Through the rattling waves of thy ford, that I crossed in terror and pain;
Drive me not to the night and the darkness, for the wolves of the wood to devour.
I am weak and thou art mighty: I will go at the dawning hour.”
So Sigmund looked in her face and saw that she was fair;
And he said: “Nay, nought will I harm thee, and thou mayst harbour here,
God wot if thou fear’st not me, I have nought to fear thy face:
Though this house be the terror of men-folk, thou shalt find it as safe a place
As though I were nought but thy brother; and then mayst thou tell, if thou wilt,
Where dwelleth the dread of the woodland, the bearer of many a guilt,
Though meseems for so goodly a woman it were all too ill a deed
In reward for the wood-wight’s guesting to betray him in his need.”
So he took the hand of the woman and straightway led her in
Where days agone the Dwarf-kind would their deeds of smithying win:
And he kindled the half-slaked embers, and gave her of his cheer
Amid the gold and the silver, and the fight-won raiment dear;
And soft was her voice, and she sung him sweet tales of yore agone,
Till all his heart was softened; and the man was all alone,
And in many wise she wooed him; so they parted not that night,
Nor slept till the morrow morning, when the woods were waxen bright:
And high above the tree-boughs shone the sister of the moon,
And hushed were the water-ouzels with the coming of the noon
When she stepped from the bed of Sigmund, and left the Dwarf’s abode;
And turned to the dwellings of men, and the ways where the earl-folk rode.
But next morn from the house of the Goth-king the witch-wife went her ways
With gold and goods and silver, such store as a queen might praise.
But no long while with Sigmund dwelt remembrance of that night;
Amid his kingly longings and his many deeds of might
It fled like the dove in the forest or the down upon the blast:
Yet heavy and sad were the years, that even in suchwise passed,
As here it is written aforetime.
Thence were ten years worn by
When unto that hidden river a man-child drew anigh,
And he looked and beheld how Sigmund wrought on a helm of gold
By the crag and the stony dwelling where the Dwarf-kin wrought of old.
Then the boy cried: “Thou art the wood-wight of whom my mother spake;
Now will I come to thy dwelling.”
So the rough stream did he take,
And the welter of the waters rose up to his chin and more;
But so stark and strong he waded that he won the further shore:
And he came and gazed on Sigmund: but the Volsung laughed, and said:
“As fast thou runnest toward me as others in their dread
Run over the land and the water: what wilt thou, son of a king?”
But the lad still gazed on Sigmund, and he said: “A wondrous thing!
Here is the cave and the river, and all tokens of the place:
But my mother Signy told me none might behold that face,
And keep his flesh from quaking: but at thee I quake not aught:
Sure I must journey further, lest her errand come to nought:
Yet I would that my foster-father should be such a man as thou.”
But Sigmund answered and said: “Thou shalt bide in my dwelling now;
And thou mayst wot full surely that thy mother’s will is done
By this token and no other, that thou lookedst on Volsung’s son
And smiledst fair in his face: but tell me thy name and thy years:
And what are the words of Signy that the son of the Goth-king bears?”
“Sinfiotli they call me,” he said, “and ten summers have I seen;
And this is the only word that I bear from Signy the Queen,
That once more a man she sendeth the work of thine hands to speed,
If he be of the Kings or the Gods thyself shalt know in thy need.”
So Sigmund looked on the youngling and his heart unto him yearned;
But he thought: “Shall I pay the hire ere the worth of the work be earned?
And what hath my heart to do to cherish Siggeir’s son;
A brand belike for the burning when the last of its work is done?”
But there in the wild and the thicket those twain awhile abode,
And on the lad laid Sigmund full many a weary load,
And thrust him mid all dangers, and he bore all passing well,
Where hardihood might help him; but his heart was fierce and fell;
And ever said Sigmund the Volsung: The lad hath plenteous part
In the guile and malice of Siggeir, and in Signy’s hardy heart:
But why should I cherish and love him, since the end must come at last?
Now a summer and winter and spring o’er those men of the wilds had pass’d.
And summer was there again, when the Volsung spake on a day:
“I will wend to the wood-deer’s hunting, but thou at home shalt stay,
And deal with the baking of bread against the even come.”
So he went and came on the hunting and brought the venison home,
And the child, as ever his wont was, was glad of his coming back,
And said: “Thou hast gotten us venison, and the bread shall nowise lack.”
“Yea,” quoth Sigmund the Volsung, “hast thou kneaded the meal that was yonder?”
“Yea, and what other?” he said; “though therein forsooth was a wonder:
For when I would handle the meal-sack therein was something quick,
As if the life of an eel-grig were set in an ashen stick:
But the meal must into the oven, since we were lacking bread,
And all that is kneaded together, and the wonder is baked and dead.”
Then Sigmund laughed and answered: “Thou hast kneaded up therein
The deadliest of all adders that is of the creeping kin:
So tonight from the bread refrain thee, lest thy bane should come of it.”
For here, the tale of the elders doth men a marvel to wit,
That such was the shaping of Sigmund among all earthly kings,
That unhurt he handled adders and other deadly things,
And might drink unscathed of venom: but Sinfiotli so was wrought,
That no sting of creeping creatures would harm his body aught.
But now full glad was Sigmund, and he let his love arise
For the huge-limbed son of Signy with the fierce and eager eyes;
And all deeds of the sword he learned him, and showed him feats of war
Where sea and forest mingle, and up from the ocean’s shore
The highway leads to the market, and men go up and down,
And the spear-hedged wains of the merchants fare oft to the
Goth-folk’s town. Sweet then Sinfiotli deemed it to look on the bale-fires’ light,
And the bickering blood-reeds’ tangle, and the fallow blades of fight.
And in three years’ space were his war-deeds far more than the deeds of a man:
But dread was his face to behold ere the battle-play began,
And grey and dreadful his face when the last of the battle sank.
And so the years won over, and the joy of the woods they drank,
And they gathered gold and silver, and plenteous outland goods.
But they came to a house on a day in the uttermost part of the woods
And smote on the door and entered, when a long while no man bade;
And lo, a gold-hung hall, and two men on the benches laid
In slumber as deep as the death; and gold rings great and fair
Those sleepers bore on their bodies, and broidered southland gear,
And over the head of each there hung a wolf-skin grey.
Then the drift of a cloudy dream wrapt Sigmund’s soul away,
And his eyes were set on the wolf-skin, and long he gazed thereat,
And remembered the words he uttered when erst on the beam he sat,
That the Gods should miss a man in the utmost Day of Doom,
And win a wolf in his stead; and unto his heart came home
That thought, as he gazed on the wolf-skin and the other days waxed dim,
And he gathered the thing in his hand, and did it over him;
And in likewise did Sinfiotli as he saw his fosterer do.
Then lo, a fearful wonder, for as very wolves they grew
In outward shape and semblance, and they howled out wolfish things,
Like the grey dogs of the forest; though somewhat the hearts of kings
Abode in their bodies of beasts. Now sooth is the tale to tell,
That the men in the fair-wrought raiment were kings’ sons bound by a spell
To wend as wolves of the wild-wood, for each nine days of the ten,
And to lie all spent for a season when they gat their shapes of men.
So Sigmund and his fellow rush forth from the golden place;
And though their kings’ hearts bade them the backward way to trace
Unto their Dwarf-wrought dwelling, and there abide the change,
Yet their wolfish habit drave them wide through the wood to range,
And draw nigh to the dwellings of men and fly upon the prey.
And lo now, a band of hunters on the uttermost woodland way,
And they spy those dogs of the forest, and fall on with the spear,
Nor deemed that any other but woodland beasts they were,
And that easy would be the battle: short is the tale to tell;
For every man of the hunters amid the thicket fell.
Then onwards fare those were-wolves, and unto the sea they turn,
And their ravening hearts are heavy, and sore for the prey they yearn:
And lo, in the last of the thicket a score of the chaffering men,
And Sinfiotli was wild for the onset, but Sigmund was wearying then
For the glimmering gold of his Dwarf-house, and he bade refrain from the folk,
But wrath burned in the eyes of Sinfiotli, and forth from the thicket he broke;
Then rose the axes aloft, and the swords flashed bright in the sun,
And but little more it needed that the race of the Volsungs was done,
And the folk of the Gods’ begetting: but at last they quelled the war,
And no man again of the sea-folk should ever sit by the oar.
Now Sinfiotli fay weary and faint, but Sigmund howled over the dead,
And wrath in his heart there gathered, and a dim thought wearied his head
And his tangled wolfish wit, that might never understand;
As though some God in his dreaming had wasted the work of his hand,
And forgotten his craft of creation; then his wrath swelled up amain
And he turned and fell on Sinfiotli, who had wrought the wrack and the bane
And across the throat he tore him as his very mortal foe
Till a cold dead corpse by the sea-strand his fosterling lay alow:
Then wearier yet grew Sigmund, and the dim wit seemed to pass
From his heart grown cold and feeble; when lo, amid the grass
There came two weazles bickering, and one bit his mate by the head,
Till she lay there dead before him: then he sorrowed over her dead:
But no long while he abode there, but into the thicket he went,
And the wolfish heart of Sigmund knew somewhat his intent:
So he came again with a herb-leaf and laid it on his mate,
And she rose up whole and living and no worser of estate
Than ever she was aforetime, and the twain went merry away.
Then swiftly rose up Sigmund from where his fosterling lay,
And a long while searched the thicket, till that three-leaved herb he found,
And he laid it on Sinfiotli, who rose up hale and sound
As ever he was in his life-days. But now in hate they had
That hapless work of the witch-folk, and the skins that their bodies clad.
So they turn their faces homeward and a weary way they go,
Till they come to the hidden river, and the glimmering house they know.
There now they abide in peace, and wend abroad no more
Till the last of the nine days perished, and the spell for a space was o’er,
And they might cast their wolf-shapes: so they stood on their feet upright
Great men again as aforetime, and they came forth into the light
And looked in each other’s faces, and belike a change was there
Since they did on the bodies of wolves, and lay in the wood-wolves’ lair,
And they looked, and sore they wondered, and they both for speech did yearn.
First then spake out Sinfiotli: “Sure I had a craft to learn,
And thou hadst a lesson to teach, that I left the dwelling of kings,
And came to the wood-wolves’ dwelling; thou hast taught me many things
But the Gods have taught me more, and at last have abased us both,
That of nought that lieth before us our hearts and our hands may be loth.
Come then, how long shall I tarry till I fashion something great?
Come, Master, and make me a master that I do the deeds of fate.”
Heavy was Sigmund’s visage but fierce did his eyen glow,
“This is the deed of thy mastery; — we twain shall slay my foe —
And how if the foe were thy father?”—
Then he telleth him Siggeir’s tale:
And saith: “Now think upon it; how shall thine heart avail
To bear the curse that cometh if thy life endureth long —
The man that slew his father and amended wrong with wrong?
Yet if the Gods have made thee a man unlike all men,
(For thou startest not, nor palest), can I forbear it then,
To use the thing they have fashioned lest the Volsung seed should die
And unavenged King Volsung in his mound by the sea-strand lie?”
Then loud laughed out Sinfiotli, and he said: “I wot indeed
That Signy is my mother, and her will I help at need:
Is the fox of the King-folk my father, that adder of the brake,
Who gave me never a blessing, and many a cursing spake?
Yea, have I in sooth a father, save him that cherished my life,
The Lord of the Helm of Terror, the King of the Flame of Strife?
Lo now my hand is ready to strike what stroke thou wilt,
For I am the sword of the Gods: and thine hand shall hold the hilt.”
Fierce glowed the eyes of King Sigmund, for he knew the time was come
When the curse King Siggeir fashioned at last shall seek him home:
And of what shall follow after, be it evil days, or bliss,
Or praise, or the cursing of all men — the Gods shall see to this.
So there are those kings abiding, and they think of nought but the day
When the time at last shall serve them, to wend on the perilous way.
And so in the first of winter, when nights grow long and mirk,
They fare unto Siggeir’s dwelling and seek wherein to lurk.
And by hap ’twas the tide of twilight, ere the watch of the night was set
And the watch of the day was departed, as Sinfiotli minded yet
So now by a passage he wotted they gat them into the bower
Where lay the biggest wine-tuns, and there they abode the hour:
Anigh to the hall it was, but no man came thereto,
But now and again the cup-lord when King Siggeir’s wine he drew:
Yea and so nigh to the feast-hall, that they saw the torches shine
When the cup-lord was departed with King Siggeir’s dear-bought wine,
And they heard the glee of the people, and the horns and the beakers’ din,
When the feast was dight in the hall and the earls were merry therein.
Calm was the face of Sigmund, and clear were his eyes and bright;
But Sinfiotli gnawed on his shield-rim, and his face was haggard and white:
For he deemed the time full long, ere the fallow blades should leap
In the hush of the midnight feast-hall o’er King Siggeir’s golden sleep.
Now it fell that two little children, Queen Signy’s youngest-born,
Were about the hall that even, and amid the glee of the horn
They played with a golden toy, and trundled it here and there,
And thus to that lurking-bower they drew exceeding near,
When there fell a ring from their toy, and swiftly rolled away
And into the place of the wine-tuns, and by Sigmund’s feet made stay;
Then the little ones followed after, and came to the lurking-place
Where lay those night-abiders, and met them face to face,
And fled, ere they might hold them, aback to the thronging hall.
Then leapt those twain to their feet lest the sword and the murder fall
On their hearts in their narrow lair and they die without a stroke;
But e’en as they met the torch-light and the din and tumult of folk,
Lo there on the very threshold did Signy the Volsung stand,
And one of her last-born children she had on either hand;
For the children had cried: “We have seen them — those two among the wine,
And their hats are wide and white, and their garments tinkle and shine.”
So while men ran to their weapons, those children Signy took,
And went to meet her kinsmen: then once more did Sigmund look
On the face of his father’s daughter, and kind of heart he grew,
As the clash of the coming battle anigh the doomed men drew:
But wan and fell was Signy; and she cried:
“The end is near! —
And thou with the smile on thy face and the joyful eyes and clear!
But with these thy two betrayers first stain the edge of fight,
For why should the fruit of my body outlive my soul tonight?”
But he cried in the front of the spear-hedge; “Nay this shall be far from me
To slay thy children sackless, though my death belike they be.
Now men will be dealing, sister, and old the night is grown,
And fair in the house of my fathers the benches are bestrown.”
So she stood aside and gazed: but Sinfiotli taketh them up
And breaketh each tender body as a drunkard breaketh a cup;
With a dreadful voice he crieth, and casteth them down the hall,
And the Goth-folk sunder before them, and at Siggeir’s feet they fall.
But the fallow blades leapt naked, and on the battle came,
As the tide of the winter ocean sweeps up to the beaconing flame.
But firm in the midst of onset Sigmund the Volsung stood,
And stirred no more for the sword-strokes than the oldest oak of the wood
Shall shake to the herd-boys’ whittles: white danced his war-flame’s gleam,
And oft to men’s beholding his eyes of God would beam
Clear from the sword-blades’ tangle, and often for a space
Amazed the garth of murder stared deedless on his face;
Nor back nor forward moved he: but fierce Sinfiotli went
Where the spears were set the thickest, and sword with sword was blent;
And great was the death before him, till he slipped in the blood and fell:
Then the shield-garth compassed Sigmund, and short is the tale to tell;
For they bore him down unwounded, and bonds about him cast:
Nor sore hurt is Sinfiotli, but is hoppled strait and fast.
Then the Goth-folk went to slumber when the hall was washed from blood:
But a long while wakened Siggeir, for fell and fierce was his mood,
And all the days of his kingship seemed nothing worth as then
While fared the son of Volsung as well as the worst of men,
While yet that son of Signy lay untormented there:
Yea the past days of his kingship seemed blossomless and bare
Since all their might had failed him to quench the Volsung kin.
So when the first grey dawning a new day did begin,
King Siggeir bade his bondsmen to dight an earthen mound
Anigh to the house of the Goth-kings amid the fruit-grown ground:
And that house of death was twofold, for ’twas sundered by a stone
Into two woeful chambers: alone and not alone
Those vanquished thralls of battle therein should bide their hour,
That each might hear the tidings of the other’s baleful bower,
Yet have no might to help him. So now the twain they brought
And weary-dull was Sinfiotli, with eyes that looked at nought.
But Sigmund fresh and clear-eyed went to the deadly hall,
And the song arose within him as he sat within its wall;
Nor aught durst Siggeir mock him, as he had good will to do,
But went his ways when the bondmen brought the roofing turfs thereto.
And that was at eve of the day; and lo now, Signy the white
Wan-faced and eager-eyed stole through the beginning of night
To the place where the builders built, and the thralls with lingering hands
Had roofed in the grave of Sigmund and hidden the glory of lands,
But over the head of Sinfiotli for a space were the rafters bare.
Gold then to the thralls she gave, and promised them days full fair
If they held their peace for ever of the deed that then she did:
And nothing they gainsayed it; so she drew forth something hid,
In wrappings of wheat-straw winded, and into Sinfiotli’s place
She cast it all down swiftly; then she covereth up her face
And beneath the winter starlight she wended swift away.
But her gift do the thralls deem victual, and the thatch on the hall they lay,
And depart, they too, to their slumber, now dight was the dwelling of death.
Then Sigmund hears Sinfiotli, how he cries through the stone and saith:
“Best unto babe is mother, well sayeth the elder’s saw;
Here hath Signy sent me swine’s-flesh in windings of wheaten straw.”
And again he held him silent of bitter words or of sweet;
And quoth Sigmund, “What hath betided? is an adder in the meat?”
Then loud his fosterling laughed: “Yea, a worm of bitter tooth,
The serpent of the Branstock, the sword of thy days of youth!
I have felt the hilts aforetime; I have felt how the letters run
On each side of the trench of blood and the point of that glorious one.
O mother, O mother of kings! we shall live and our days shall be sweet!
I have loved thee well aforetime, I shall love thee more when we meet.”
Then Sigmund heard the sword-point smite on the stone wall’s side,
And slowly mid the darkness therethrough he heard it gride
As against it bore Sinfiotli: but he cried out at the last:
“It biteth, O my fosterer! It cleaves the earth-bone fast!
Now learn we the craft of the masons that another day may come
When we build a house for King Siggeir, a strait unlovely home.”
Then in the grave-mound’s darkness did Sigmund the king upstand;
And unto that saw of battle he set his naked hand;
And hard the gift of Odin home to their breasts they drew;
Sawed Sigmund, sawed Sinfiotli, till the stone was cleft atwo,
And they met and kissed together: then they hewed and heaved full hard
Till lo, through the bursten rafters the winter heavens bestarred!
And they leap out merry-hearted; nor is there need to say
A many words between them of whither was the way.
For they took the night-watch sleeping, and slew them one and all
And then on the winter fagots they made them haste to fall,
They pile the oak-trees cloven, and when the oak-beams fail
They bear the ash and the rowan, and build a mighty bale
About the dwelling of Siggeir, and lay the torch therein.
Then they drew their swords and watched it till the flames began to win
Hard on to the mid-hall’s rafters, and those feasters of the folk,
As the fire-flakes fell among them, to their last of days awoke.
By the gable-door stood Sigmund, and fierce Sinfiotli stood
Red-lit by the door of the women in the lane of blazing wood:
To death each doorway opened, and death was in the hall.
Then amid the gathered Goth-folk ’gan Siggeir the king to call:
“Who lit the fire I burn in, and what shall buy me peace?
Will ye take my heaped-up treasure, or ten years of my fields’ increase,
Or half of my father’s kingdom? O toilers at the oar,
O wasters of the sea-plain, now labour ye no more!
But take the gifts I bid you, and lie upon the gold,
And clothe your limbs in purple and the silken women hold!”
But a great voice cried o’er the fire: “Nay, no such men are we,
No tuggers at the hawser, no wasters of the sea:
We will have the gold and the purple when we list such things to win
But now we think on our fathers, and avenging of our kin.
Not all King Siggeir’s kingdom, and not all the world’s increase
For ever and for ever, shall buy thee life and peace.
For now is the tree-bough blossomed that sprang from murder’s seed;
And the death-doomed and the buried are they that do the deed;
Now when the dead shall ask thee by whom thy days were done,
Thou shalt say by Sigmund the Volsung, and Sinfiotli, Signy’s son.”
Then stark fear fell on the earl-folk, and silent they abide
Amid the flaming penfold; and again the great voice cried,
As the Goth-king’s golden pillars grew red amidst the blaze:
“Ye women of the Goth-folk, come forth upon your ways;
And thou, Signy, O my sister, come forth from death and hell,
That beneath the boughs of the Branstock once more we twain may dwell.”
Forth came the white-faced women and passed Sinfiotli’s sword,
Free by the glaive of Odin the trembling pale ones poured,
But amid their hurrying terror came never Signy’s feet;
And the pearls of the throne of Siggeir shrunk in the fervent heat.
Then the men of war surged outward to the twofold doors of bane,
But there played the sword of Sigmund amidst the fiery lane
Before the gable door-way, and by the woman’s door
Sinfiotli sang to the sword-edge amid the bale-fire’s roar,
And back again to the burning the earls of the Goth-folk shrank:
And the light low licked the tables, and the wine of Siggeir drank.
Lo now to the woman’s doorway, the steel-watched bower of flame,
Clad in her queenly raiment King Volsung’s daughter came
Before Sinfiotli’s sword-point; and she said: “O mightiest son,
Best now is our departing in the day my grief hath won,
And the many days of toiling, and the travail of my womb,
And the hate, and the fire of longing: thou, son, and this day of the doom
Have long been as one to my heart; and now shall I leave you both,
And well ye may wot of the slumber my heart is nothing loth;
And all the more, as, meseemeth, thy day shall not be long
To weary thee with labour and mingle wrong with wrong.
Yea, and I wot that the daylight thine eyes had never seen
Save for a great king’s murder and the shame of a mighty queen.
But let thy soul, I charge thee, o’er all these things prevail
To make thy short day glorious and leave a goodly tale.”
She kissed him and departed, and unto Sigmund went
As now against the dawning grey grew the winter bent:
As the night and the morning mingled he saw her face once more,
And he deemed it fair and ruddy as in the days of yore;
Yet fast the tears fell from her, and the sobs upheaved her breast:
And she said: “My youth was happy; but this hour belike is best
Of all the days of my life-tide, that soon shall have an end.
I have come to greet thee, Sigmund, then back again must I wend,
For his bed the Goth-king dighteth: I have lain therein, time was,
And loathed the sleep I won there: but lo, how all things pass,
And hearts are changed and softened, for lovely now it seems.
Yet fear not my forgetting: I shall see thee in my dreams
A mighty king of the world ’neath the boughs of the Branstock green,
With thine earls and thy lords about thee as the Volsung fashion hath been.
And there shall all ye remember how I loved the Volsung name,
Nor spared to spend for its blooming my joy, and my life, and my fame.
For hear thou: that Sinfiotli, who hath wrought out our desire,
Who hath compassed about King Siggeir with this sea of a deadly fire,
Who brake thy grave asunder — my child and thine he is,
Begot in that house of the Dwarf-kind for no other end than this;
The son of Volsung’s daughter, the son of Volsung’s son.
Look, look! might another helper this deed with thee have done?”
And indeed as the word she uttereth, high up the red flames flare
To the nether floor of the heavens: and yet men see them there,
The golden roofs of Siggeir, the hall of the silver door
That the Goths and the Gods had builded to last for evermore.
She said: “Farewell, my brother, for the earls my candles light,
And I must wend me bedward lest I lose the flower of night.”
And soft and sweet she kissed him, ere she turned about again,
And a little while was Signy beheld of the eyes of men;
And as she crossed the threshold day brightened at her back,
Nor once did she turn her earthward from the reek and the whirling wrack,
But fair in the fashion of Queens passed on to the heart of the hall.
And then King Siggeir’s roof-tree upheaved for its utmost fall,
And its huge walls clashed together, and its mean and lowly things
The fire of death confounded with the tokens of the kings.
A sign for many people on the land of the Goths it lay,
A lamp of the earth none needed, for the bright sun brought the day.
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 lifedays 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.
And now for their fame’s advancement, and the latter days to speed,
He weddeth a wife of the King-folk; Borghild she had to name;
And the woman was fair and lovely and bore him sons of fame;
Men call them Hamond and Helgi, and when Helgi first saw light,
There came the Norns to his cradle and gave him life full bright,
And called him Sunlit Hill, Sharp Sword, and Land of Rings,
And bade him be lovely and great, and a joy in the tale of kings.
And he waxed up fair and mighty, and no worser than their word,
And sweet are the tales of his life-days, and the wonders of his sword,
And the Maid of the Shield that he wedded, and how he changed his life,
And of marvels wrought in the gravemound where he rested from the strife.
But the tale of Sinfiotli telleth, that wide in the world he went,
And many a wall of ravens the edge of his warflame rent;
And oft he drave the war-prey and wasted many a land:
Amidst King Hunding’s battle he strengthened Helgi’s hand;
And he went before the banners amidst the steel-grown wood,
When the sons of Hunding gathered and Helgi’s hope withstood:
Nor less he mowed the war-swathe in Helgi’s glorious day
When the kings of the hosts at the Wolf-crag set the battle in array.
Then at home by his father’s high-seat he wore the winter through;
And the marvel of all men he was for the deeds whereof they knew,
And the deeds whereof none wotted, and the deeds to follow after.
And yet but a little while he loved the song and the laughter,
And the wine that was drunk in peace, and the swordless lying down,
And the deedless day’s uprising and the ungirt golden gown.
And he thought of the word of his mother, that his day should not be long
To weary his soul with labour or mingle wrong with wrong;
And his heart was exceeding hungry o’er all men to prevail,
And make his short day glorious and leave a goodly tale.
So when green leaves were lengthening and the spring was come again
He set his ships in the sea-flood and sailed across the main;
And the brother of Queen Borghild was his fellow in the war,
A king of hosts hight Gudrod; and each to each they swore,
And plighted troth for the helping, and the parting of the prey.
Now a long way over the sea-flood they went ashore on a day
And fought with a mighty folk-king, and overcame at last:
Then wide about his kingdom the net of steel they cast,
And the prey was great and goodly that they drave unto the strand.
But a greedy heart is Gudrod, and a king of griping hand,
Though nought he blench from the battle; so he speaks on a morning fair,
“Upon the foreshore the booty will we share
If thou wilt help me, fellow, before we sail our ways.”
Sinfiotli laughed, and answered: “O’ershort methinks the days
That two kings of war should chaffer like merchants of the men:
I will come again in the even and look on thy dealings then,
And take the share thou givest.”
Then he went his ways withal,
And drank day-long in his warship as in his father’s hall;
And came again in the even: now hath Gudrod shared the spoil,
And throughout that day of summer not light had been his toil:
Forsooth his heap was the lesser; but Sinfiotli looked thereon,
And saw that a goodly getting had Borghild’s brother won.
Clean-limbed and stark were the horses, and the neat were fat and sleek,
And the men-thralls young and stalwart, and the women young and meek;
Fair-gilt was the harness of battle, and the raiment fresh and bright,
And the household stuff new-fashioned for lords’ and earls’ delight.
On his own then looked Sinfiotli, and great it was forsooth,
But half-foundered were the horses, and a sight for all men’s ruth
Were the thin-ribbed hungry cow-kind; and the thralls both carle and quean
Were the wilful, the weak, and the witless, and the old and the ill-beseen;
Spoilt was the harness and house-gear, and the raiment rags of cloth.
Now Sinfiotli’s men beheld it and grew exceeding wroth,
But Sinfiotli laughed and answered: “The day’s work hath been meet:
Thou hast done well, war-brother, to sift the chaff from the wheat
Nought have kings’ sons to meddle with the refuse of the earth,
Nor shall warriors burden their long-ships with things of nothing worth.”
Then he cried across the sea-strand in a voice exceeding great:
“Depart, ye thralls of the battle; ye have nought to do to wait!
Old, young, and good, and evil, depart and share the spoil,
That burden of the battle, that spring and seed of toil.
— But thou king of the greedy heart, thou king of the thievish grip,
What now wilt thou bear to the sea-strand and set within my ship
To buy thy life from the slaying? Unmeet for kings to hear
Of a king the breaker of troth, of a king the stealer of gear.”
Then mad-wroth waxed King Gudrod, and he cried: “Stand up, my men!
And slay this wood-abider lest he slay his brothers again!”
But no sword leapt from its sheath, and his men shrank back in dread;
Then Sinfiotli’s brow grew smoother, and at last he spake and said:
“Indeed thou art very brother of my father Sigmund’s wife:
Wilt thou do so much for thine honour, wilt thou do so much for thy life,
As to bide my sword on the island in the pale of the hazel wands?
For I know thee no battle-blencher, but a valiant man of thine hands.”
Now nought King Gudrod gainsayeth, and men dight the hazelled field,
And there on the morrow morning they clash the sword and shield,
And the fallow blades are leaping: short is the tale to tell,
For with the third stroke stricken to field King Gudrod fell.
So there in the holm they lay him; and plenteous store of gold
Sinfiotli lays beside him amid that hall of mould;
“For he gripped,” saith the son of Sigmund, “and gathered for such a day.”
Then Sinfiotli and his fellows o’er the sea-flood sail away,
And come to the land of the Volsungs: but Borghild heareth the tale,
And into the hall she cometh with eager face and pale
As the kings were feasting together, and glad was Sigmund grown
Of the words of Sinfiotli’s battle, and the tale of his great renown:
And there sat the sons of Borghild, and they hearkened and were glad
Of their brother born in the wild-wood, and the crown of fame he had.
So she stood before King Sigmund, and spread her hands abroad:
“I charge thee now, King Sigmund, as thou art the Volsungs’ lord,
To tell me of my brother, why cometh he not from the sea?”
Quoth Sinfiotli: “Well thou wottest and the tale hath come to thee:
The white swords met in the island; bright there did the war-shields shine,
And there thy brother abideth, for his hand was worser than mine.”
But she heeded him never a whit, but cried on Sigmund and said:
“I charge thee now, King Sigmund, as thou art the lord of my bed,
To drive this wolf of the King-folk from out thy guarded land;
Lest all we of thine house and kindred should fall beneath his hand.”
Then spake King Sigmund the Volsung: “When thou hast heard the tale,
Thou shalt know that somewhat thy brother of his oath to my son did fail;
Nor fell the man all sackless: nor yet need Sigmund’s son
For any slain in sword-field to any soul atone.
Yet for the love I bear thee, and because thy love I know,
And because the man was mighty, and far afield would go,
I will lay down a mighty weregild, a heap of the ruddy gold.”
But no word answered Borghild, for her heart was grim and cold;
And she went from the hall of the feasting, and lay in her bower a while;
Nor speech she took, nor gave it, but brooded deadly guile.
And now again on the morrow to Sigmund the king she went,
And she saith that her wrath hath failed her, and that well is she content
To take the king’s atonement; and she kissed him soft and sweet,
And she kissed Sinfiotli his son, and sat down in the golden seat
All merry and glad by seeming, and blithe to most and least.
And again she biddeth King Sigmund that he hold a funeral feast
For her brother slain on the island; and nought he gainsayeth her will.
And so on an eve of the autumn do men the beakers fill,
And the earls are gathered together ’neath the boughs of the
Branstock green; There gold-clad mid the feasting went Borghild, Sigmund’s Queen,
And she poured the wine for Sinfiotli, and smiled in his face and said:
“Drink now of this cup from mine hand, and bury we hate that is dead.”
So he took the cup from her fingers, nor drank but pondered long
O’er the gathering days of his labour, and the intermingled wrong.
Now he sat by the side of his father; and Sigmund spake a word:
“O son, why sittest thou silent mid the glee of earl and lord?”
“I look in the cup,” quoth Sinfiotli, “and hate therein I see.”
“Well looked it is,” said Sigmund; “give thou the cup to me,”
And he drained it dry to the bottom; for ye mind how it was writ
That this king might drink of venom, and have no hurt of it.
But the song sprang up in the hall, and merry was Sigmund’s heart,
And he drank of the wine of King-folk and thrust all care apart.
Then the second time came Borghild and stood before the twain,
And she said: “O valiant step-son, how oft shall I say it in vain,
That my hate for thee hath perished, and the love hath sprouted green?
Wilt thou thrust my gift away, and shame the hand of a queen?”
So he took the cup from her fingers, and pondered over it long,
And thought on the labour that should be, and the wrong that amendeth wrong.
Then spake Sigmund the King: “O son, what aileth thine heart,
When the earls of men are merry, and thrust all care apart?”
But he said: “I have looked in the cup, and I see the deadly snare.”
“Well seen it is,” quoth Sigmund, “but thy burden I may bear.”
And he took the beaker and drained it, and the song rose up in the hall;
And fair bethought King Sigmund his latter days befall.
But again came Borghild the Queen and stood with the cup in her hand,
And said: “They are idle liars, those singers of every land
Who sing how thou fearest nothing; for thou losest valour and might,
And art fain to live for ever.”
Then she stretched forth her fingers white,
And he took the cup from her hand, nor drank, but pondered long
Of the toil that begetteth toil, and the wrong that beareth wrong.
But Sigmund turned him about, and he said: “What aileth thee, son?
Shall our life-days never be merry, and our labour never be done?”
But Sinfiotli said: “I have looked, and lo there is death in the cup.”
And the song, and the tinkling of harp-strings to the roof-tree winded up:
And Sigmund was dreamy with wine and the wearing of many a year;
And the noise and the glee of the people as the sound of the wild woods were,
And the blossoming boughs of the Branstock were the wild trees waving about;
So he said: “Well seen, my fosterling; let the lip then strain it out.”
Then Sinfiotli laughed and answered: “I drink unto Odin then,
And the Dwellers up in God-home, the lords of the lives of men.”
He drank as he spake the word, and forthwith the venom ran
In a chill flood over his heart, and down fell the mighty man
With never an uttered death-word and never a death-changed look,
And the floor of the hall of the Volsungs beneath his falling shook.
Then up rose the elder of days with a great and bitter cry
And lifted the head of the fallen, and none durst come anigh
To hearken the words of his sorrow, if any words he said,
But such as the Father of all men might speak over Baldur dead.
And again, as before the death-stroke, waxed the hall of the
Volsungs dim, And once more he seemed in the forest, where he spake with nought but him.
Then he lifted him up from the hall-floor and bore him on his breast,
And men who saw Sinfiotli deemed his heart had gotten rest,
And his eyes were no more dreadful. Forth fared the Volsung child
With Signy’s son through the doorway; and the wind was great and wild,
And the moon rode high in the heavens, and whiles it shone out bright,
And whiles the clouds drew over. So went he through the night,
Until the dwellings of man-folk were a long while left behind.
Then came he unto the thicket and the houses of the wind,
And the feet of the hoary mountains, and the dwellings of the deer,
And the heaths without a shepherd, and the houseless dales and drear.
Then lo, a mighty water, a rushing flood and wide,
And no ferry for the shipless; so he went along its side,
As a man that seeketh somewhat: but it widened toward the sea,
And the moon sank down in the west, and he went o’er a desert lea.
But lo, in that dusk ere the dawning a glimmering over the flood,
And the sound of the cleaving of waters, and Sigmund the Volsung stood
By the edge of the swirling eddy, and a white-sailed boat he saw,
And its keel ran light on the strand with the last of the dying flaw.
But therein was a man most mighty, grey-clad like the mountain-cloud,
One-eyed and seeming ancient, and he spake and hailed him aloud:
“Now whither away, King Sigmund, for thou farest far to-night?”
Spake the King: “I would cross this water, for my life hath lost its light,
And mayhap there be deeds for a king to be found on the further shore.”
“My senders,” quoth the shipman, “bade me waft a great king o’er,
So set thy burden a shipboard, for the night’s face looks toward day.”
So betwixt the earth and the water his son did Sigmund lay;
But lo, when he fain would follow, there was neither ship nor man,
Nor aught but his empty bosom beside that water wan,
That whitened by little and little as the night’s face looked to the day.
So he stood a long while gazing and then turned and gat him away;
And ere the sun of the noon-tide across the meadows shone
Sigmund the King of the Volsungs was set in his father’s throne,
And he hearkened and doomed and portioned, and did all the deeds of a king.
So the autumn waned and perished, and the winter brought the spring.
Now is Queen Borghild driven from the Volsung’s bed and board,
And unwedded sitteth Sigmund an exceeding mighty lord,
And fareth oft to the war-field, and addeth fame to fame:
And where’er are the great ones told of his sons shall the people name;
But short was their day of harvest and their reaping of renown,
And while men stood by to marvel they gained their latest crown.
So Sigmund alone abideth of all the Volsung seed,
And the folk that the Gods had fashioned lest the earth should lack a deed
And he said: “The tree was stalwart, but its boughs are old and worn.
Where now are the children departed, that amidst my life were born?
I know not the men about me, and they know not of my ways:
I am nought but a picture of battle, and a song for the people to praise.
I must strive with the deeds of my kingship, and yet when mine hour is come
It shall meet me as glad as the goodman when he bringeth the last load home.”
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,
And lie in the bed of the Volsungs, and be his wife alone.
And he saith that he thinketh surely she shall bear the kings of the earth,
And maybe the best and the greatest of all who are deemed of worth.
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:
“I have spoken a word, time was,
That thy will should rule thy wedding; and now hath it come to pass
That again two kings of the people will woo thy body to bed.”
So she rose to her feet and hearkened: “And which be they?” she said.
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,
And to bear the sons of his body: and indeed full well I know
That fair from the loins of Sigmund shall such a stem outgrow
That all folk of the earth shall be praising the womb where once he lay
And the paps that his lips have cherished, and shall bless my happy day.”
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
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.
Under thy girdle he lieth, and how shall I say unto thee,
Unto thee, the wise of women, to cherish him heedfully.
Now, wife, put by thy sorrow for the little day we have had;
For in sooth I deem thou weepest: The days have been fair and glad:
And our valour and wisdom have met, and thou knowest they shall not die:
Sweet and good were the days, nor yet to the Fates did we cry
For a little longer yet, and a little longer to live:
But we took, we twain in our meeting, all gifts that they had to give:
Our wisdom and valour have kissed, and thine eyes shall see the fruit,
And the joy for his days that shall be hath pierced mine heart to the root.
Grieve not for me; for thou weepest that thou canst not see my face
How its beauty is not departed, nor the hope of mine eyes grown base.
Indeed I am waxen weary; but who heedeth weariness
That hath been day-long on the mountain in the winter weather’s stress,
And now stands in the lighted doorway and seeth the king draw nigh,
And heareth men dighting the banquet, and the bed wherein he shall lie?”
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?
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.
Yea, because my womb is wealthy with a gift for the days to be.
Now do this deed for mine asking and the tale shall be told of thee.”
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 war-faring
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.”
So there lies Sigmund the Volsung, and far away, forlorn
Are the blossomed boughs of the Branstock, and the house where he was born.
To what end was wrought that roof-ridge, and the rings of the silver door,
And the fair-carved golden high-seat, and the many-pictured floor
Worn down by the feet of the Volsungs? or the hangings of delight,
Or the marvel of its harp-strings, or the Dwarf-wrought beakers bright?
Then the Gods have fashioned a folk who have fashioned a house in vain;
It is nought, and for nought they battled, and nought was their joy and their pain,
Lo, the noble oak of the forest with his feet in the flowers and grass,
How the winds that bear the summer o’er its topmost branches pass,
And the wood-deer dwell beneath it, and the fowl in its fair twigs sing,
And there it stands in the forest, an exceeding glorious thing:
Then come the axes of men, and low it lies on the ground,
And the crane comes out of the southland, and its nest is nowhere found,
And bare and shorn of its blossoms is the house of the deer of the wood.
But the tree is a golden dragon; and fair it floats on the flood,
And beareth the kings and the earl-folk, and is shield-hung all without:
And it seeth the blaze of the beacons, and heareth the war-God’s shout.
There are tidings wherever it cometh, and the tale of its time shall be told
A dear name it hath got like a king, and a fame that groweth not old.
Lo, such is the Volsung dwelling; lo, such is the deed he hath wrought
Who laboured all his life-days, and had rest but little or nought,
Who died in the broken battle; who lies with swordless hand
In the realm that the foe hath conquered on the edge of a stranger-land.
Now asketh the king of those women where now in the world they will go,
And Hiordis speaks for the twain; “This is now but a land of the foe
And our lady and Queen beseecheth that unto thine house we wend
And that there thou serve her kingly that her woes may have an end.”
Fain then was the heart of the folk-king, and he bade aboard forth-right.
And they hoist the sails to the wind and sail by day and by night
Till they come to a land of the people, and a goodly land it is
Where folk may dwell unharried and win abundant bliss,
The land of King Elf and the Helper; and there he bids them abide
In his house that is goodly shapen, and wrought full high and wide:
And he biddeth the Queen be merry, and set aside her woe,
And he doth by them better and better, as day on day doth go.
Now there was the mother of Elf, and a woman wise was she,
And she spake to her son of a morning: “I have noted them heedfully.
Those women thou broughtst from the outlands, and fain now would I wot
Why the worser of the women the goodlier gear hath got.”
He said: “She hath named her Hiordis, the wife of the mightiest king,
E’en Sigmund the son of Volsung with whose name the world doth ring.”
Then the old queen laughed and answered: “Is it not so, my son.
That the handmaid still gave counsel when aught of deeds was done?”
He said: “Yea, she spake mostly; and her words were exceeding wise.
And measureless sweet I deem her, and dear she is to mine eyes.”
But she said: “Do after my counsel, and win thee a goodly queen:
Speak ye to the twain unwary, and the truth shall soon be seen,
And again shall they shift their raiment, if I am aught but a fool.”
He said: “Thou sayst well, mother, and settest me well to school.”
So he spake on a day to the women, and said to the gold-clad one:
“How wottest thou in the winter of the coming of the sun
When yet the world is darkling?”
She said: “In the days of my youth
I dwelt in the house of my father, and fair was the tide forsooth,
And ever I woke at the dawning, for folk betimes must stir,
Be the meadows bright or darksome; and I drank of the whey-tub there
As much as the heart desired; and now, though changed be the days,
I wake athirst in the dawning, because of my wonted ways.”
Then laughed King Elf and answered: “A fashion strange enow,
That the feet of the fair queen’s-daughter must forth to follow the plough,
Be the acres bright or darkling! But thou with the eyes of grey.
What sign hast thou to tell thee, that the night wears into day
When the heavens are mirk as the midnight?”
Said she, “In the days that were
My father gave me this gold-ring ye see on my finger here.
And a marvel goeth with it: for when night waxeth old
I feel it on my finger grown most exceeding cold,
And I know day comes through the darkness; and such is my dawning sign.”
Then laughed King Elf and answered: “Thy father’s house was fine;
There was gold enough meseemeth — But come now, say the word
And tell me the speech thou spakest awrong mine ears have heard,
And that thou wert the wife of Sigmund the wife of the mightiest King.”
No whit she smiled, but answered. “Indeed thou sayst the thing:
Such a wealth I had in my storehouse that I feared the Kings of men.”
He said: “Yet for nought didst thou hide thee; had I known of the matter then,
As the daughter of my father had I held thee in good sooth,
For dear to mine eyes wert thou waxen, and my heart of thy woe was ruth.
But now shall I deal with thee better than thy dealings to me have been:
For my wife I will bid thee to be, and the people’s very queen.”
She said: “When the son of King Sigmund is brought forth to the light of day
And the world a man hath gotten, thy will shall I nought gainsay.
And I thank thee for thy goodness, and I know the love of thine heart;
And I see thy goodly kingdom, thy country set apart,
With the day of peace begirdled from the change and the battle’s wrack: ’Tis enough, and more than enough since none prayeth the past aback.”
Then the King is fain and merry, and he deems his errand sped,
And that night she sits on the high-seat with the crown on her shapely head:
And amidst the song and the joyance, and the sound of the people’s praise,
She thinks of the days that have been, and she dreams of the coming days.
So passeth the summer season, and the harvest of the year,
And the latter days of the winter on toward the springtide wear.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11