Sigurd the Volsung

Annie Klingensmith June 26, 2022
5 min read
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One Yule-tide, King Volsung entertained his friends and vassals. All down the great hall burned roaring fires. 

King Volsung sat in the high-seat with his guests on either hand. In the middle of the hall grew a large tree, the foliage of which covered the roof. This was called Odin’s tree. 

As the ale horns passed around, and the hall resounded with the laughter of the warriors, a tall old man strode in with a sword in his hand.

With one blow he drove the sword into the roof-tree up to the hilt. Then he exclaimed, “He who draws out this sword shall have it as a gift from me, and he will find that he has never wielded a better sword.” 

With that he strode out, and no man dared ask his name or whither he went. But the guests whispered that it was Odin himself. 

All tried to draw out the sword, but it was immovable.

When Sigmund, King Volsung’s son, touched the sword it was so loose that he drew it out with no effort.

After many years Sigmund was slain in battle and the sword was broken. But the pieces were kept by Sigmund’s son, who was called Sigurd the Volsung.

Sigurd was the bravest and strongest man in the world.

His eyes were so keen that few men dared gaze at him. His hair was golden and hung down over his shoulders, which were as broad as two men’s shoulders.

His shield was of burnished gold with a dragon upon it. All his armor was of gold, and every piece had upon it a dragon like the dragon upon the shield.

Sigurd’s SwordWhen Fafner went away with the gold that had been given by Odin for the death of the otter, he changed himself into a great dragon and lay on Gnita Heath guarding the treasure.

Regin knew that he was not strong enough to kill the dragon, so he made a long journey to the land of a wise king to ask his advice. The wise king sent him to Sigurd the Volsung.

Regin told the Volsung of the hoard, and Sigurd vowed to kill the dragon.

From Odin he received the good horse Gran, and only needed a sword sharp and strong enough to pierce the dragon’s horny skin.

Regin made a sword, but when Sigurd struck it upon the anvil it broke. Regin made another sword and this also Sigurd broke.

Of the pieces of the old sword which Odin had given to his father, Sigurd bade Regin make a new sword. When the sword was finished Sigurd cleft the anvil from top to bottom with it. 

Then he went to a river and held the sword in the water. A piece of wool floated against it and was cut in twain. 

Sigurd mounted Gran, and taking the wonderful sword, rode to Gnita Heath where lay the dragon. 

When Fafner heard him coming, he tried to creep away into the water, but Sigurd lay in a hollow in the ground and pierced him with the sword as he passed over 

Then Regin came and refused to share the gold with Sigurd as he had promised. When Sigurd demanded his share, Regin spoke smoothly, but in his heart he meant to kill him. 

Regin bade the Volsung roast the dragon’s heart for him. While Sigurd was roasting the heart he burned his fingers. Putting them into his mouth, some of the dragon’s blood touched his tongue. At once he understood the songs of birds. “Regin means to kill you,” sang the birds in the tree-tops. “Cut off his head and eat the dragon’s heart yourself.” 

Then Sigurd killed Regin and ate the heart. Immediately he heard two eagles overhead talking together. 

They spoke of a castle on a mountain-top surrounded by blazing flames. 

Within the castle slept a maiden whom Odin had pricked with the magic sleep thorn. “No horse but Gran,” they said, “will go through the fire wall, and no man but Sigurd is allowed to wake the maiden.” 

Sigurd followed the dragon’s track until he came to its den. There he found the treasure in two chests. He put the chests on Gran’s back, but Gran would not move until Sigurd mounted him. 

Sigurd rode until he came to a mountain. At the top was a flickering light as of fire, and the flames shone upon the sky. 

As Sigurd rode through the flame wall he saw a castle. He went into the castle and there lay an armed knight asleep. When he took off the helmet he saw that the knight was a woman. Then, with his wonderful sword, he cut off the maiden’s armor. 

She awoke and said, “Who is this who dares to wake me from the magic sleep?” 

Sigurd told his name, and the maiden said she was Brynhilda. Sigurd stayed three days. When he left he gave Brynhilda Andvare’s golden ring, not knowing there was a curse upon it. 

Then he traveled southward with the treasure to the realm of a king called Guike. This king had a beautiful daughter whose name was Gudrun. 

When the queen saw Sigurd she was pleased with his beauty and strength, and wished him to marry Gudrun. 

One night, when the warriors were feasting, she gave him a cup of magic drink which made him forget Brynhilda. Soon he married Gudrun and no longer remembered that he had ever seen Brynhilda. 

After a time, Gunnar, the king’s son, heard of Brynhilda and wished her for his wife. Brynhilda had sworn to wed the man who would ride through tho wavering fire around her castle. 

She swore this vow, because she was sure no horse but Gran would go through the fire, and that Gran would not move unless Sigurd rode him. 

Gunnar tried to ride through the fire, but his horse shrank back. Then he mounted Gran, but Gran would not move a step. Then the queen gave Sigurd a magic drink which made him look like Gunnar. 

Sigurd mounted Gran, and the good horse plunged into the fire. The flames blazed up to the sky. But as Sigurd rode on the flickering fire wall sank and soon he came to Brynhilda. Brynhilda was sad because it was Gunnar and not Sigurd. 

After three days Sigurd took Andvare’s golden ring and went back, and the queen changed him into his own likeness again. 

Then Brynhilda became Gunnar’s wife, because she had sworn to wed the man who would ride through the fire. 

One day, Gudrun told Brynhilda that it was Sigurd who had ridden through the flames and not Gunnar. Brynhilda reproached Gunnar until he threatened to have her chained. 

Then she opened the door of her bower wide and wept and wailed until Gudrun begged Sigurd to give her gold to quiet her. 

When Sigurd went into the bower, Brynhilda lay upon a couch, and he remembered that it was he who had awakened her from her magic sleep. 

When Sigurd remembered Brynhilda he wished to take her and go away to her castle. But Gunnar had him killed while he slept. When Brynhilda saw that Sigurd was dead, she killed herself with the same sword. 

Gudrun mourned many years for Sigurd. At last her two brothers gave her a cup of magic drink and she forgot him, and became the wife of King Atli, the brother of Brynhilda. 

Atli was angry because of Brynhilda’ s death. Besides, he wanted the gold which Gunnar had taken when Sigurd was killed. So he sent Gunnar an invitation to come to visit Gudrun. 

Gudrun, knowing that Atli meant to kill her brother, sent him word not to come. But he never received the message. 

When Gunnar came into Atli’s palace, he saw many armed men. Atli said, “Give me the golden hoard which by right belongs to Gudrun.” Gunnar refused, and Atli’s knights sprang upon him and his men. 

At last only Gunnar and his brother were left alive. The brother was tortured to death, but he would not tell where the hoard was kept. 

Then Gunnar’s hands were tied and he was cast into a den of serpents. Gudrun brought him a harp, and he played upon it so sweetly with his toes that all the serpents but one were charmed to sleep. This one, a great adder, crept upon him and stung him to death. 

Gunnar had hidden the hoard in the Bhine and no man could find it. In revenge for the death of her kindred, Gudrun killed Atli and his two sons and burned the castle. 

Thus Andvare’s words came true, and the gold brought only trouble to its possessor.

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