The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs.
Vol. 49, pp. 307-317 of The Harvard Classics
Brynhild, favorite goddess of Norse mythology, plighted troth with Sigurd, fearless warrior. But Sigurd forgot Brynhild and married Gudrun, whose brother, Gunner, then set out to win the beautiful Brynhild. Complications very like a modern triangle arose.
The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
XXIV. Sigurd sees Brynhild at Hlymdale
IN those days came home to Heimir, Brynhild, his foster-daughter, and she sat in her bower with her maidens, and could more skill in handicraft than other women; she sat, overlaying cloth with gold, and sewing therein the great deeds which Sigurd had wrought, the slaying of the Worm, and the taking of the wealth of him, and the death of Regin withal.
Now tells the tale, that on a day Sigurd rode into the wood with hawk, and hound, and men thronging; and whenas he came home his hawk flew up to a high tower, and sat him down on a certain window. Then fared Sigurd after his hawk, and he saw where sat a fair woman, and knew that it was Brynhild, and he deems all things he sees there to be worthy together, both her fairness, and the fair things she wrought: and therewith he goes into the hall, but has no more joyance in the games of the men folk.
Then spake Alswid, “Why art thou so bare of bliss? this manner of thine grieveth us thy friends; why then wilt thou not hold to thy gleesome ways? Lo, thy hawks pine now, and thy horse Grani droops; and long will it be ere we are booted thereof?”
Sigurd answered, “Good friend, hearken to what lies on my mind; for my hawk flew up into a certain tower; and when I came thereto and took him, lo there I saw a fair woman, and she sat by a needlework of gold, and did thereon my deeds that are passed, and my deeds that are to come.”
Then said Alswid, “Thou hast seen Brynhild, Budli’s daughter, the greatest of great women.”
“Yea, verily,” said Sigurd; “but how came she hither?”
Alswid answered, “Short space there was betwixt the coming hither of the twain of you.”
Says Sigurd, “Yea, but a few days agone I knew her for the best of the world’s women.”
Alswid said, “Give not all thine heed to one woman, being such a man as thou art; ill life to sit lamenting for what we may not have.”
“I shall go meet her,” says Sigurd, “and get from her love like my love, and give her a gold ring in token thereof.”
Alswid answered, “None has ever yet been known whom she would let sit beside her, or to whom she would give drink; for ever will she hold to warfare and to the winning of all kinds of fame.”
Sigurd said, “We know not for sure whether she will give us answer or not, or grant us a seat beside her.”
So the next day after, Sigurd went to the bower, but Alswid stood outside the bower door, fitting shafts to his arrows.
Now Sigurd spake, “Abide, fair and hale lady,—how farest thou?”
She answered, “Well it fares; my kin and my friends live yet: but who shall say what goodhap folk may bear to their life’s end?”
He sat him down by her, and there came in four damsels with great golden beakers, and the best of wine therein; and these stood before the twain.
Then said Brynhild, “This seat is for few, but and if my father come.”
He answered, “Yet is it granted to one that likes me well.”
Now that chamber was hung with the best and fairest of hangings, and the floor thereof was all covered with cloth.
Sigurd spake, “Now has it come to pass even as thou didst promise.”
“O be thou welcome here!” said she, and arose therewith, and the four damsels with her, and bore the golden beaker to him, and bade him drink; he stretched out his hand to the beaker, and took it, and her hand withal, and drew her down beside him; and cast his arms round about her neck and kissed her, and said—
“Thou art the fairest that was ever born!”
But Brynhild said, “Ah, wiser is it not to cast faith and troth into a woman’s power, for ever shall they break that they have promised.”
He said, “That day would dawn the best of days over our heads whereon each of each should be made happy.”
Brynhild answered, “It is not fated that we should abide together; I am a shield-may, and wear helm on head even as the kings of war, and them full oft I help, neither is the battle become loathsome to me.”
Sigurd answered, “What fruit shall be of our life, if we live not together: harder to bear this pain that lies hereunder, than the stroke of sharp sword.”
Brynhild answers, “I shall gaze on the hosts of the war-kings, but thou shalt wed Gudrun, the daughter of Giuki.”
Sigurd answered, “What king’s daughter lives to beguile me? neither am I double-hearted herein; and now I swear by the Gods that thee shall I have for mine own, or no woman else.”
And even suchlike wise spake she.
Sigurd thanked her for her speech, and gave her a gold ring, and now they swore oath anew, and so he went his ways to his men, and is with them awhile in great bliss.
XXV. Of the Dream of Gudrun, Giuki’s Daughter
THERE was a king hight Giuki, who ruled a realm south of the Rhine; three sons he had, thus named: Gunnar, Hogni, and Guttorm, and Gudrun was the name of his daughter, the fairest of maidens; and all these children were far before all other king’s children in all prowess, and in goodliness and growth withal; ever were his sons at the wars and wrought many a deed of fame. But Giuki had wedded Grimhild, the Wise-wife.
Now Budli was the name of a king mightier than Giuki, mighty though they both were: and Atli was the brother of Brynhild: Atli was a fierce man and a grim, great and black to look on, yet noble of mien withal, and the greatest of warriors. Grimhild was a fiercehearted woman.
Now the days of the Giukings bloomed fair, and chiefly because of those children, so far before the sons of men.
On a day Gudrun says to her mays that she may have no joy of heart; then a certain woman asked her wherefore her joy was departed.
She answered, “Grief came to me in my dreams, therefore is there sorrow in my heart, since thou must needs ask thereof.”
“Tell it me, then, thy dream,” said the woman, “for dreams oft forecast but the weather.”
Gudrun answers, “Nay, nay, no weather, is this; I dreamed that I had a fair hawk on my wrist, feathered with feathers of gold.”
Says the woman, “Many have heard tell of thy beauty, thy wisdom, and thy courtesy; some king’s son abides thee, then.”
Gudrun answers, “I dreamed that naught was so dear to me as this hawk, and all my wealth had I cast aside rather than him.”
The woman said, “Well, then, the man thou shalt have will be of the goodliest, and well shalt thou love him.”
Gudrun answered, “It grieves me that I know not who he shall be; let us go seek Brynhild, for she belike will wot thereof.”
So they arrayed them in gold and many a fair thing, and she went with her damsels till they came to the hall of Brynhild, and that hall was dight with gold, and stood on a high hill; and whenas their goings were seen, it was told Brynhild, that a company of women drove toward the burg in gilded waggons.
“That shall be Gudrun, Giuki’s daughter,” says she: “I dreamed of her last night; let us go meet her! no fairer woman may come to our house.”
So they went abroad to meet them, and gave them good greeting, and they went into the goodly hall together; fairly painted it was within, and well adorned with silver vessel; cloths were spread under the feet of them, and all folk served them, and in many wise they sported.
But Gudrun was somewhat silent.
Then said Brynhild, “Ill to abash folk of their mirth; prithee do not so; let us talk together for our disport of mighty kings and their great deeds.”
“Good talk,” says Gudrun, “let us do even so; what kings deemest thou to have been the first of all men?”
Brynhild says, “The sons of Haki, and Hagbard withal; they brought to pass many a deed of fame in their warfare.”
Gudrun answers, “Great men certes, and of noble fame! Yet Sigar took their one sister, and burned the other, house and all; and they may be called slow to revenge the deed; why didst thou not name my brethren, who are held to be the first of men as at this time?”
Brynhild says, “Men of good hope are they surely, though but little proven hitherto; but one I know far before them, Sigurd, the son of Sigmund the king; a youngling was he in the days when he slew the sons of Hunding, and revenged his father, and Eylimi, his mother’s father.”
Said Gudrun, “By what token tellest thou that?”
Brynhild answered, “His mother went amid the dead, and found Sigmund the king sore wounded, and would bind up his hurts; but he said he grew over old for war, and bade her lay this comfort to her heart, that she should bear the most famed of sons; and wise was the wise man’s word therein: for after the death of King Sigmund, she went to King Alf, and there was Sigurd nourished in great honour, and day by day he wrought some deed of fame, and is the man most renowned of all the wide world.”
Gudrun says, “From love hast thou gained these tidings of him; but for this cause came I here, to tell thee dreams of mine which have brought me great grief.”
Says Brynhild, “Let not such matters sadden thee; abide with thy friends who wish thee blithsome, all of them!”
“This I dreamed,” said Gudrun, “that we went, a many of us in company, from the bower, and we saw an exceeding great hart, that far excelled all other deer ever seen, and the hair of him was golden; and this deer we were all fain to take, but I alone got him; and he seemed to me better than all things else; but sithence thou, Brynhild, didst shoot and slay my deer even at my very knees, and such grief was that to me that scarce might I bear it; and then afterwards thou gavest me a wolf-cub, which besprinkled me with the blood of my brethren.”
Brynhild answers, “I will arede thy dream, even as things shall come to pass hereafter; for Sigurd shall come to thee, even he whom I have chosen for my well-beloved; and Grimhild shall give him mead mingled with hurtful things, which shall cast us all into mighty strife. Him shalt thou have, and him shalt thou quickly miss; and Atli the king shalt thou wed; and thy brethren shalt thou lose, and slay Atli withal in the end.”
Gudrun answers, “Grief and woe to know that such things shall be!”
And therewith she and hers get them gone home to King Giuki.
XXVI. Sigurd comes to the Giukings and is Wedded to Gudrun
NOW Sigurd goes his ways with all that great treasure, and in friendly wise he departs from them; and on Grani he rides with all his war-gear and the burden withal; and thus he rides until he comes to the hall of King Giuki; there he rides into the burg, and that sees one of the king’s men, and he spake withal—
“Sure it may be deemed that here is come one of the Gods, for his array is all done with gold, and his horse is far mightier than other horses, and the manner of his weapons is most exceeding goodly, and most of all the man himself far excels all other men ever seen.”
So the king goes out with his court and greets the man, and asks—
“Who art thou who thus ridest into my burg, as none has durst hitherto without the leave of my sons?”
He answered, “I am called Sigurd, son of King Sigmund.”
Then said King Giuki, “Be thou welcome here then, and take at our hands whatso thou willest.”
So he went into the king’s hall, and all men seemed little beside him, and all men served him, and there he abode in great joyance.
Now oft they all ride abroad together, Sigurd and Gunnar and Hogni, and ever is Sigurd far the foremost of them, mighty men of their hands though they were.
But Grimhild finds how heartily Sigurd loved Brynhild, and how oft he talks of her; and she falls to thinking how well it were, if he might abide there and wed the daughter of King Giuki, for she saw that none might come anigh to his goodliness, and what faith and goodhelp there was in him, and how that he had more wealth withal than folk might tell of any man; and the king did to him even as unto his own sons, and they for their parts held him of more worth than themselves.
So on a night as they sat at the drink, the queen arose, and went before Sigurd, and said—
“Great joy we have in thine abiding here, and all good things will we put before thee to take of us; lo now, take this horn and drink thereof.”
So he took it and drank, and therewithal she said, “Thy father shall be Giuki the king, and I shall be thy mother, and Gunnar and Hogni shall be thy brethren, and all this shall be sworn with oaths each to each; and then surely shall the like of you never be found on earth.”
Sigurd took her speech well, for with the drinking of that drink all memory of Brynhild departed from him. So there he abode awhile.
And on a day went Grimhild to Giuki the king, and cast her arms about his neck, and spake—
“Behold, there has now come to us the greatest of great hearts that the world holds; and needs must he be trusty and of great avail; give him thy daughter then, with plenteous wealth, and as much of rule as he will; perchance thereby he will be well content to abide here ever.”
The king answered, “Seldom does it befall that kings offer their daughters to any; yet in higher wise will it be done to offer her to this man, than to take lowly prayers for her from others.”
On a night Gudrun pours out the drink, and Sigurd beholds her how fair she is and how full of all courtesy.
Five seasons Sigurd abode there, and ever they passed their days together in good honour and friendship.
And so it befell that the kings held talk together, and Giuki said—
“Great good thou givest us, Sigurd, and with exceeding strength thou strengthenest our realm.”
Then Gunnar said, “All things that may be will we do for thee, so thou abidest here long; both dominion shalt thou have, and our sister freely and unprayed for, whom another man would not get for all his prayers.”
Sigurd says, “Thanks have ye for this wherewith ye honour me, and gladly will I take the same.”
Therewith they swore brotherhood together, and to be even as if they were children of one father and one mother; and a noble feast was holden, and endured many days, and Sigurd drank at the wedding of him and Gudrun; and there might men behold all manner of game and glee, and each day the feast better and better.
Now fare these folk wide over the world, and do many great deeds, and slay many kings’ sons, and no man has ever done such works of prowess as did they; then home they come again with much wealth won in war.
Sigurd gave of the serpent’s heart to Gudrun, and she ate thereof, and became greater-hearted, and wiser than ere before: and the son of these twain was called Sigmund.
Now on a time went Grimhild to Gunnar her son, and spake—
“Fair blooms the life and fortune of thee, but for one thing only, and namely whereas thou art unwedded; go woo Brynhild; good rede is this, and Sigurd will ride with thee.”
Gunnar answered, “Fair is she certes, and I am fain enow to win her;” and therewith he tells his father, and his brethren, and Sigurd, and they all prick him on to that wooing.
XXVII. The Wooing of Brynhild
Now they array them joyously for their journey, and ride over hill and dale to the house of King Budli, and woo his daughter of him; in a good wise he took their speech, if so be that she herself would not deny them; but he said withal that so high-minded was she, that that man only might wed her whom she would.
Then they ride to Hlymdale, and there Heimir gave them good welcome; so Gunnar tells his errand; Heimir says, that she must needs wed but him whom she herself chose freely; and tells them how her abode was but a little way thence, and that he deemed that him only would she have who should ride through the flaming fire that was drawn around about her hall; so they depart and come to the hall and the fire, and see there a castle with a golden roof-ridge, and all round about a fire roaring up.
Now Gunnar rode on Goti, but Hogni on Holkvi, and Gunnar smote his horse to face the fire, but he shrank aback.
Then said Sigurd, “Why givest thou back, Gunnar?”
He answered, “The horse will not tread this fire; but lend me thy horse Grani.”
“Yea, with all my good will,” says Sigurd.
Then Gunnar rides him at the fire, and yet nowise will Grani stir, nor may Gunnar any the more ride through that fire. So now they change semblance, Gunnar and Sigurd, even as Grimhild had taught them; then Sigurd in the likeness of Gunnar mounts and rides, Gram in his hand, and golden spurs on his heels; then leapt Grani into the fire when he felt the spurs; and the mighty roar arose as the fire burned ever madder, and the earth trembled, and the flames went up even unto the heavens, nor had any dared to ride as he rode, even as it were through the deep mirk.
But now the fire sank withal, and he leapt from his horse and went into the hall, even as the song says—
The flame flared at its maddest,
Earth’s fields fell a-quaking
As the red flame aloft
Licked the lowest of heaven.
Few had been fain,
Of the rulers of folk,
To ride through that flame,
Or athwart it to tread.
Then Sigurd smote
Grani with sword,
And the flame was slaked
Before the king;
Low lay the flames
Before the fain of fame;
Bright gleamed the array
That Regin erst owned.
Now when Sigurd had passed through the fire, he came into a certain fair dwelling, and therein sat Brynhild.
She asked, “What man is it?”
Then he named himself Gunnar, son of Giuki, and said—“Thou art awarded to me as my wife, by the good-will and word of thy father and thy foster-father, and I have ridden through the flames of thy fire, according to thy word that thou hast set forth.”
“I wot not clearly,” said she, “how I shall answer thee.”
Now Sigurd stood upright on the hall floor, and leaned on the hilt of his sword, and he spake to Brynhild—
“In reward thereof, shall I pay thee a great dower in gold and goodly things?”
She answered in heavy mood from her seat, whereas she sat like unto swan on billow, having a sword in her hand, and a helm on her head, and being clad in a byrny, “O Gunnar,” she says, “speak not to me of such things; unless thou be the first and best of all men; for then shalt thou slay those my wooers, if thou hast heart thereto; I have been in battles with the king of the Greeks, and our weapons were stained with red blood, and for such things still I yearn.”
He answered, “Yea, certes many great deeds hast thou done; but yet call thou to mind thine oath, concerning the riding through of this fire, wherein thou didst swear that thou wouldst go with the man who should do this deed.”
So she found that he spake but the sooth, and she paid heed to his words, and arose, and greeted him meetly, and he abode there three nights, and they lay in one bed together; but he took the sword Gram and laid it betwixt them: then she asked him why he laid it there; and he answered, that in that wise must he needs wed his wife or else get his bane.
Then she took from off her the ring Andvari’s-loom, which he had given her aforetime, and gave it to him, but he gave her another ring out of Fafnir’s hoard.
Thereafter he rode away through the same fire unto his fellows, and he and Gunnar changed semblances again, and rode unto Hlymdale, and told how it had gone with them.
That same day went Brynhild home to her foster-father, and tells him as one whom she trusted, how that there had come a king to her; “And he rode through my flaming fire, and said he was come to woo me, and named himself Gunnar; but I said that such a deed might Sigurd alone have done, with whom I plighted troth on the mountain; and he is my first troth-plight, and my well-beloved.”
Heimir said that things must needs abide even as now they had now come to pass.
Brynhild said, “Aslaug, the daughter of me and Sigurd shall be nourished here with thee.”
Now the kings fare home, but Brynhild goes to her father; Grimhild welcomes the kings meetly, and thanks Sigurd for his fellowship; and withal is a great feast made, and many were the guests thereat; and thither came Budli the King with his daughter Brynhild, and his son Atli, and for many days did the feast endure: and at that feast was Gunnar wedded to Brynhild: but when it was brought to an end, once more has Sigurd memory of all the oaths that he sware unto Brynhild, yet withal he let all things abide in rest and peace.
Brynhild and Gunnar sat together in great game and glee, and drank goodly wine.