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.
Of the last battle of King Sigmund, and the death of him.
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 Eylimi's coasts.
Sore boded the heart of the Isle-king of what the end should be. But Sigmund long beheld him, and he said: "Thou deem'st of me That my coming hath brought thee evil; but put aside such things; For long have I lived, and I know it, that the lives of mighty kings Are not cast away, nor drifted like the down before the wind; And surely I know, who say it, that never would Hiordis' mind Have been turned to wed King Lyngi or aught but the Volsung seed Come, go we forth to the battle, that shall be the latest deed Of thee and me meseemeth: yea, whether thou live or die, No more shall the brand of Odin at peace in his scabbard lie."
And therewith he brake the peace-strings and drew the blade of bale, And Death on the point abided, Fear sat on the edges pale.
So men ride adown to the sea-strand, and the kings their hosts array When the high noon flooded heaven; and the men of the Volsungs lay, With King Eylimi's shielded champions mid Lyngi's hosts of war, As the brown pips lie in the apple when ye cut it through the core.
But now when the kings were departed, from the King's house Hiordis went, And before men joined the battle she came to a woody bent, Where she lay with one of her maidens the death and the deeds to behold.
In the noon sun shone King Sigmund as an image all of gold, And he stood before the foremost and the banner of his fame, And many a thing he remembered, and he called on each earl by his name To do well for the house of the Volsungs, and the ages yet unborn. Then he tossed up the sword of the Branstock, and blew on his father's horn, Dread of so many a battle, doom-song of so many a man. Then all the earth seemed moving as the hosts of Lyngi ran On the Volsung men and the Isle-folk like wolves upon the prey; But sore was their labour and toil ere the end of their harvesting day.
On went the Volsung banners, and on went Sigmund before, And his sword was the flail of the tiller on the wheat of the wheat-thrashing floor, And his shield was rent from his arm, and his helm was sheared from his head: But who may draw nigh him to smite for the heap and the rampart of dead? White went his hair on the wind like the ragged drift of the cloud, And his dust-driven, blood-beaten harness was the death-storm's angry shroud, When the summer sun is departing in the first of the night of wrack; And his sword was the cleaving lightning, that smites and is hurried aback Ere the hand may rise against it; and his voice was the following thunder.
Then cold grew the battle before him, dead-chilled with the fear and the wonder: For again in his ancient eyes the light of victory gleamed; From his mouth grown tuneful and sweet the song of his kindred streamed; And no more was he worn and weary, and no more his life seemed spent: And with all the hope of his childhood was his wrath of battle blent; And he thought: A little further, and the river of strife is passed, And I shall sit triumphant the king of the world at last.
But lo, through the hedge of the war-shafts a mighty man there came, One-eyed and seeming ancient, but his visage shone like flame: Gleaming-grey was his kirtle, and his hood was cloudy blue; And he bore a mighty twi-bill, as he waded the fight-sheaves through, And stood face to face with Sigmund, and upheaved the bill to smite. Once more round the head of the Volsung fierce glittered the Branstock's light, The sword that came from Odin; and Sigmund's cry once more Rang out to the very heavens above the din of war. Then clashed the meeting edges with Sigmund's latest stroke, And in shivering shards fell earthward that fear of worldly folk. But changed were the eyes of Sigmund, and the war-wrath left his face; For that grey-clad mighty helper was gone, and in his place Drave on the unbroken spear-wood 'gainst the Volsung's empty hands: And there they smote down Sigmund, the wonder of all lands, On the foemen, on the death-heap his deeds had piled that day.
Ill hour for Sigmund's fellows! they fall like the seeded hay Before the brown scythes' sweeping, and there the Isle-king fell In the fore-front of his battle, wherein he wrought right well, And soon they were nought but foemen who stand upon their feet On the isle-strand by the ocean where the grass and the sea-sand meet.
And now hath the conquering War-king another deed to do, And he saith: "Who now gainsayeth King Lyngi come to woo, The lord and the overcomer and the bane of the Volsung kin?" So he fares to the Isle-king's dwelling a wife of the kings to win; And the host is gathered together, and they leave the field of the dead; And round as a targe of the Goth-folk the moon ariseth red.
And so when the last is departed, and she deems they will come not aback, Fares Hiordis forth from the thicket to the field of the fateful wrack, And half-dead was her heart for sorrow as she waded the swathes of the sword. Not far did she search the death-field ere she found her king and lord On the heap that his glaive had fashioned: not yet was his spirit past, Though his hurts were many and grievous, and his life-blood ebbing fast; And glad were his eyes and open as her wan face over him hung, And he spake: "Thou art sick with sorrow, and I would thou wert not so young; Yet as my days passed shall thine pass; and a short while now it seems Since my hand first gripped the sword-hilt, and my glory was but in dreams."
She said: "Thou livest, thou livest! the leeches shall heal thee still."
"Nay," said he, "my heart hath hearkened to Odin's bidding and will; For today have mine eyes beheld him: nay, he needed not to speak: Forsooth I knew of his message and the thing he came to seek. And now do I live but to tell thee of the days that are yet to come: And perchance to solace thy sorrow; and then will I get me home To my kin that are gone before me. Lo, yonder where I stood The shards of a glaive of battle that was once the best of the good: Take them and keep them surely. I have lived no empty days; The Norns were my nursing mothers; I have won the people's praise. When the Gods for one deed asked me I ever gave them twain; Spendthrift of glory I was, and great was my life-days' gain; Now these shards have been my fellow in the work the Gods would have, But today hath Odin taken the gift that once he gave. I have wrought for the Volsungs truly, and yet have I known full well That a better one than I am shall bear the tale to tell: And for him shall these shards be smithied; and he shall be my son To remember what I have forgotten and to do what I left undone. 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?
How King Sigmund the Volsung was laid in mound on the sea-side of the Isle-realm.
Now Hiordis looked from the dead, and her eyes strayed down to the sea, And a shielded ship she saw, and a war-dight company, Who beached the ship for the landing: so swift she fled away, And once more to the depth of the thicket, wherein her handmaid lay: And she said: "I have left my lord, and my lord is dead and gone, And he gave me a charge full heavy, and here are we twain alone, And earls from the sea are landing: give me thy blue attire, And take my purple and gold and my crown of the sea-flood's fire, And be thou the wife of King Volsung when men of our names shall ask, And I will be the handmaid: now I bid thee to this task, And I pray thee not to fail me, because of thy faith and truth, And because I have ever loved thee, and thy mother fostered my youth. 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 crowned 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.
How Queen Hiordis is known; and how she abideth in the house of Elf the son of the Helper.
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.
NOW THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK OF THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG, AND THEREIN IS TOLD OF THE BIRTH OF HIM, AND OF HIS DEALINGS WITH REGIN THE MASTER OF MASTERS, AND OF HIS DEEDS IN THE WASTE PLACES OF THE EARTH.
Of the birth of Sigurd the son of Sigmund.
Peace lay on the land of the Helper and the house of Elf his son; There merry men went bedward when their tide of toil was done, And glad was the dawn's awakening, and the noon-tide fair and glad: There no great store had the franklin, and enough the hireling had; And a child might go unguarded the length and breadth of the land With a purse of gold at his girdle and gold rings on his hand. 'Twas a country of cunning craftsmen, and many a thing they wrought, That the lands of storm desired, and the homes of warfare sought. But men deemed it o'er-well warded by more than its stems of fight, And told how its earth-born watchers yet lived of plenteous might. So hidden was that country, and few men sailed its sea, And none came o'er its mountains of men-folk's company. But fair-fruited, many-peopled, it lies a goodly strip, 'Twixt the mountains cloudy-headed and the sea-flood's surging lip, And a perilous flood is its ocean, and its mountains, who shall tell What things in their dales deserted and their wind-swept heaths may dwell.
Now a man of the Kings, called Gripir, in this land of peace abode: The son of the Helper's father, though never lay his load In the womb of the mother of Kings that the Helper's brethren bore; But of Giant kin was his mother, of the folk that are seen no more; Though whiles as ye ride some fell-road across the heath there comes The voice of their lone lamenting o'er their changed and conquered homes. A long way off from the sea-strand and beneath the mountains' feet Is the high-built hall of Gripir, where the waste and the tillage meet; A noble and plentiful house, that a little men-folk fear. But beloved of the crag-dwelling eagles and the kin of the woodland deer. A man of few words was Gripir, but he knew of all deeds that had been, And times there came upon him, when the deeds to be were seen: No sword had he held in his hand since his father fell to field, And against the life of the slayer he bore undinted shield: Yet no fear in his heart abided, nor desired he aught at all, But he noted the deeds that had been, and looked for what should befall.
Again, in the house of the Helper there dwelt a certain man Beardless and low of stature, of visage pinched and wan: So exceeding old was Regin, that no son of man could tell In what year of the days passed over he came to that land to dwell: But the youth of King Elf had he fostered, and the Helper's youth thereto, Yea and his father's father's: the lore of all men he knew, And was deft in every cunning, save the dealings of the sword: So sweet was his tongue-speech fashioned, that men trowed his every word; His hand with the harp-strings blended was the mingler of delight With the latter days of sorrow; all tales he told aright; The Master of the Masters in the smithying craft was he; And he dealt with the wind and the weather and the stilling of the sea; Nor might any learn him leech-craft, for before that race was made, And that man-folk's generation, all their life-days had he weighed.
In this land abideth Hiordis amid all people's praise Till cometh the time appointed: in the fulness of the days Through the dark and the dusk she travailed, till at last in the dawning hour Have the deeds of the Volsungs blossomed, and born their latest flower; In the bed there lieth a man-child, and his eyes look straight on the sun, And lo, the hope of the people, and the days of a king are begun.
Men say of the serving-women, when they cried on the joy of the morn, When they handled the linen raiment, and washed the king new-born, When they bore him back unto Hiordis, and the weary and happy breast, And bade her be glad to behold it, how the best was sprung from the best, Yet they shrank in their rejoicing before the eyes of the child, So bright and dreadful were they; yea though the spring morn smiled, And a thousand birds were singing round the fair familiar home, And still as on other mornings they saw folk go and come, Yet the hour seemed awful to them, and the hearts within them burned As though of fateful matters their souls were newly learned.
But Hiordis looked on the Volsung, on her grief and her fond desire, And the hope of her heart was quickened, and her joy was a living fire; And she said: "Now one of the earthly on the eyes of my child hath gazed Nor shrunk before their glory, nor stayed her love amazed: I behold thee as Sigmund beholdeth,—and I was the home of thine heart— Woe's me for the day when thou wert not, and the hour when we shall part!"
Then she held him a little season on her weary and happy breast And she told him of Sigmund and Volsung and the best sprung forth from the best: She spake to the new-born baby as one who might understand, And told him of Sigmund's battle, and the dead by the sea-flood's strand, And of all the wars passed over, and the light with darkness blent.
So she spake, and the sun rose higher, and her speech at last was spent, And she gave him back to the women to bear forth to the people's kings, That they too may rejoice in her glory and her day of happy things.
But there sat the Helper of Men with King Elf and his Earls in the hall, And they spake of the deeds that had been, and told of the times to befall, And they hearkened and heard sweet voices and the sound of harps draw nigh, Till their hearts were exceeding merry and they knew not wherefore or why: Then, lo, in the hall white raiment, as thither the damsels came, And amid the hands of the foremost was the woven gold aflame.
"O daughters of earls," said the Helper, "what tidings then do ye bear? Is it grief in the merry morning, or joy or wonder or fear?"
Quoth the first: "It is grief for the foemen that the Masters of God-home would grieve."
Said the next: "'Tis a wonder of wonders, that the hearkening world shall believe."
"A fear of all fears," said the third, "for the sword is uplifted on men."
"A joy of all joys," said the fourth, "once come, and it comes not again!"
"Lo, son," said the ancient Helper, "glad sit the earls and the lords! Lookst thou not for a token of tidings to follow such-like words?"
Saith King Elf: "Great words of women! or great hath our dwelling become."
Said the women: "Words shall be greater, when all folk shall praise our home."
"What then hath betid," said King Elf, "do the high Gods stand in our gate?"
"Nay," said they, "else were we silent, and they should be telling of fate."
"Is the bidding come," said the Helper, "that we wend the Gods to see?"
"Many summers and winters," they said, "ye shall live on the earth, it may be."
Said a young man: "Will ye be telling that all we shall die no more?"
"Nay," they answered, "nay, who knoweth but the change may be hard at the door?"
"Come ships from the sea," said an elder, "with all gifts of the Eastland gold?"
"Was there less than enough," said the women, "when last our treasure was told?"
"Speak then," said the ancient Helper, "let the worst and the best be said."
Quoth they: "'Tis the Queen of the Isle-folk, she is weary-sick on her bed."
Said King Elf: "Yet ye come rejoicing; what more lieth under the tongue?"
They said: "The earth is weary: but the tender blade hath sprung, That shall wax till beneath its branches fair bloom the meadows green; For the Gods and they that were mighty were glad erewhile with the Queen."
Said King Elf: "How say ye, women? Of a King new-born do ye tell, By a God of the Heavens begotten in our fathers' house to dwell?"
"By a God of the Earth," they answered; "but greater yet is the son, Though long were the days of Sigmund, and great are the deeds he hath done."
Then she with the golden burden to the kingly high-seat stepped And away from the new-born baby the purple cloths she swept, And cried: "O King of the people, long mayst thou live in bliss, As our hearts today are happy! Queen Hiordis sends thee this, And she saith that the world shall call it by the name that thou shalt name; Now the gift to thee is given, and to thee is brought the fame."
Then e'en as a man astonied King Elf the Volsung took, While his feast-hall's ancient timbers with the cry of the earl-folk shook; For the eyes of the child gleamed on him till he was as one who sees The very Gods arising mid their carven images:
To his ears there came a murmur of far seas beneath the wind And the tramp of fierce-eyed warriors through the outland forest blind; The sound of hosts of battle, cries round the hoisted shield, Low talk of the gathered wise-ones in the Goth-folk's holy field: So the thought in a little moment through King Elf the mighty ran Of the years and their building and burden, and toil of the sons of man, The joy of folk and their sorrow, and the hope of deeds to do: With the love of many peoples was the wise king smitten through, As he hung o'er the new-born Volsung: but at last he raised his head, And looked forth kind o'er his people, and spake aloud and said:
"O Sigmund King of Battle; O man of many days, Whom I saw mid the shields of the fallen and the dead men's silent praise, Lo, how hath the dark tide perished and the dawn of day begun! And now, O mighty Sigmund, wherewith shall we name thy son?"
But there rose up a man most ancient, and he cried: "Hail Dawn of the Day! How many things shalt thou quicken, how many shalt thou slay! How many things shalt thou waken, how many lull to sleep! How many things shalt thou scatter, how many gather and keep! O me, how thy love shall cherish, how thine hate shall wither and burn! How the hope shall be sped from thy right hand, nor the fear to thy left return! O thy deeds that men shall sing of! O thy deeds that the Gods shall see! O SIGURD, Son of the Volsungs, O Victory yet to be!"
Men heard the name and they knew it, and they caught it up in the air, And it went abroad by the windows and the doors of the feast-hall fair, It went through street and market; o'er meadow and acre it went, And over the wind-stirred forest and the dearth of the sea-beat bent, And over the sea-flood's welter, till the folk of the fishers heard, And the hearts of the isle-abiders on the sun-scorched rocks were stirred.
But the Queen in her golden chamber, the name she hearkened and knew And she heard the flock of the women, as back to the chamber they drew, And the name of Sigurd entered, and the body of Sigurd was come, And it was as if Sigmund were living and she still in her lovely home; Of all folk of the world was she well, and a soul fulfilled of rest As alone in the chamber she wakened and Sigurd cherished her breast.
But men feast in the merry noontide, and glad is the April green That a Volsung looks on the sunlight and the night and the darkness have been. Earls think of marvellous stories, and along the golden strings Flit words of banded brethren and names of war-fain Kings: All the days of the deeds of Sigmund who was born so long ago; All deeds of the glorious Signy, and her tarrying-tide of woe; Men tell of the years of Volsung, and how long agone it was That he changed his life in battle, and brought the tale to pass: Then goeth the word of the Giants, and the world seems waxen old For the dimness of King Rerir and the tale of his warfare told: Yet unhushed are the singers' voices, nor yet the harp-strings cease While yet is left a rumour of the mirk-wood's broken peace, And of Sigi the very ancient, and the unnamed Sons of God, Of the days when the Lords of Heaven full oft the world-ways trod.
So stilleth the wind in the even and the sun sinks down in the sea, And men abide the morrow and the Victory yet to be.
Sigurd getteth to him the horse that is called Greyfell.
Now waxeth the son of Sigmund in might and goodliness, And soft the days win over, and all men his beauty bless. But amidst the summer season was the Isle-queen Hiordis wed To King Elf the son of the Helper, and fair their life-days sped. Peace lay on the land for ever, and the fields gave good increase, And there was Sigurd waxing mid the plenty and the peace.
Now hath the child grown greater, and is keen and eager of wit And full of understanding, and oft hath he joy to sit Amid talk of weighty matters when the wise men meet for speech; And joyous he is moreover and blithe and kind with each. But Regin the wise craftsmaster heedeth the youngling well, And before the Kings he cometh, and saith such words to tell.
"I have fostered thy youth, King Elf, and thine O Helper of men, And ye wot that such a master no king shall see again; And now would I foster Sigurd; for, though he be none of thy blood, Mine heart of his days that shall be speaketh abundant good."
Then spake the Helper of men-folk: "Yea, do herein thy will: For thou art the Master of Masters, and hast learned me all my skill: But think how bright is this youngling, and thy guile from him withhold; For this craft of thine hath shown me that thy heart is grim and cold, Though three men's lives thrice over thy wisdom might not learn; And I love this son of Sigmund, and mine heart to him doth yearn."
Then Regin laughed, and answered: "I doled out cunning to thee; But nought with him will I measure: yet no cold-heart shall he be, Nor grim, nor evil-natured: for whate'er my will might frame, Gone forth is the word of the Norns, that abideth ever the same. And now, despite my cunning, how deem ye I shall die?"
And they said he would live as he listed, and at last in peace should lie When he listed to live no longer; so mighty and wise he was.
But again he laughed and answered: "One day it shall come to pass, That a beardless youth shall slay me: I know the fateful doom; But nought may I withstand it, as it heaves up dim through the gloom."
So is Sigurd now with Regin, and he learns him many things; Yea, all save the craft of battle, that men learned the sons of kings: The smithying sword and war-coat; the carving runes aright; The tongues of many countries, and soft speech for men's delight; The dealing with the harp-strings, and the winding ways of song. So wise of heart waxed Sigurd, and of body wondrous strong: And he chased the deer of the forest, and many a wood-wolf slew, And many a bull of the mountains: and the desert dales he knew, And the heaths that the wind sweeps over; and seaward would he fare, Far out from the outer skerries, and alone the sea-wights dare.
On a day he sat with Regin amidst the unfashioned gold, And the silver grey from the furnace; and Regin spake and told Sweet tales of the days that have been, and the Kings of the bold and wise; Till the lad's heart swelled with longing and lit his sunbright eyes.
Then Regin looked upon him: "Thou too shalt one day ride As the Volsung Kings went faring through the noble world and wide. For this land is nought and narrow, and Kings of the carles are these. And their earls are acre-biders, and their hearts are dull with peace."
But Sigurd knit his brows, and in wrathful wise he said: "Ill words of those thou speakest that my youth have cherished. And the friends that have made me merry, and the land that is fair and good."
Then Regin laughed and answered: "Nay, well I see by thy mood That wide wilt thou ride in the world like thy kin of the earlier days: And wilt thou be wroth with thy master that he longs for thy winning the praise? And now if the sooth thou sayest, that these King-folk cherish thee well, Then let them give thee a gift whereof the world shall tell: Yea hearken to this my counsel, and crave for a battle-steed."
Yet wroth was the lad and answered: "I have many a horse to my need, And all that the heart desireth, and what wouldst thou wish me more?"
Then Regin answered and said: "Thy kin of the Kings of yore Were the noblest men of men-folk; and their hearts would never rest Whatso of good they had gotten, if their hands held not the best. Now do thou after my counsel, and crave of thy fosterers here That thou choose of the horses of Gripir whichso thine heart holds dear."
He spake and his harp was with him, and he smote the strings full sweet, And sang of the host of the Valkyrs, how they ride the battle to meet, And the dew from the dear manes drippeth as they ride in the first of the sun, And the tree-boughs open to meet it when the wind of the dawning is done: And the deep dales drink its sweetness and spring into blossoming grass, And the earth groweth fruitful of men, and bringeth their glory to pass.
Then the wrath ran off from Sigurd, and he left the smithying stead While the song yet rang in the doorway: and that eve to the Kings he said: "Will ye do so much for mine asking as to give me a horse to my will? For belike the days shall come, that shall all my heart fulfill, And teach me the deeds of a king."
Then answered King Elf and spake: "The stalls of the Kings are before thee to set aside or to take, And nought we begrudge thee the best."
Yet answered Sigurd again; For his heart of the mountains aloft and the windy drift was fain: "Fair seats for the knees of Kings! but now do I ask for a gift Such as all the world shall be praising, the best of the strong and the swift Ye shall give me a token for Gripir, and bid him to let me choose From out of the noble stud-beasts that run in his meadow loose. But if overmuch I have asked you, forget this prayer of mine, And deem the word unspoken, and get ye to the wine."
Then smiled King Elf, and answered: "A long way wilt thou ride, To where unpeace and troubles and the griefs of the soul abide, Yea unto the death at the last: yet surely shalt thou win The praise of many a people: so have thy way herein. Forsooth no more may we hold thee than the hazel copse may hold The sun of the early dawning, that turneth it all unto gold."
Then sweetly Sigurd thanked them; and through the night he lay Mid dreams of many a matter till the dawn was on the way; Then he shook the sleep from off him, and that dwelling of Kings he left And wended his ways unto Gripir. On a crag from the mountain reft Was the house of the old King builded; and a mighty house it was, Though few were the sons of men that over its threshold would pass: But the wild ernes cried about it, and the vultures toward it flew, And the winds from the heart of the mountains searched every chamber through, And about were meads wide-spreading; and many a beast thereon, Yea some that are men-folk's terror, their sport and pasture won.
So into the hall went Sigurd; and amidst was Gripir set In a chair of the sea-beast's tooth; and his sweeping beard nigh met The floor that was green as the ocean, and his gown was of mountain-gold, And the kingly staff in his hand was knobbed with the crystal cold.
Now the first of the twain spake Gripir: "Hail King with the eyen bright! Nought needest thou show the token, for I know of thy life and thy light. And no need to tell of thy message; it was wafted here on the wind, That thou wouldst be coming to-day a horse in my meadow to find: And strong must he be for the bearing of those deeds of thine that shall be. Now choose thou of all the way-wearers that are running loose in my lea, And be glad as thine heart will have thee and the fate that leadeth thee on, And I bid thee again come hither when the sword of worth is won, And thy loins are girt for thy going on the road that before thee lies; For a glimmering over its darkness is come before mine eyes."
Then again gat Sigurd outward, and adown the steep he ran And unto the horse-fed meadow: but lo, a grey-clad man, One-eyed and seeming-ancient, there met him by the way: And he spake: "Thou hastest, Sigurd; yet tarry till I say A word that shall well bestead thee: for I know of these mountains well And all the lea of Gripir, and the beasts that thereon dwell."
"Wouldst thou have red gold for thy tidings? art thou Gripir's horse-herd then? Nay sure, for thy face is shining like the battle-eager men My master Regin tells of: and I love thy cloud-grey gown. And thy visage gleams above it like a thing my dreams have known."
"Nay whiles have I heeded the horse-kind," then spake that elder of days, "And sooth do the sages say, when the beasts of my breeding they praise. There is one thereof in the meadow, and, wouldst thou cull him out, Thou shalt follow an elder's counsel, who hath brought strange things about, Who hath known thy father aforetime, and other kings of thy kin."
So Sigurd said, "I am ready; and what is the deed to win?"
He said: "We shall drive the horses adown to the water-side, That cometh forth from the mountains, and note what next shall betide."
Then the twain sped on together, and they drave the horses on Till they came to a rushing river, a water wide and wan; And the white mews hovered o'er it; but none might hear their cry For the rush and the rattle of waters, as the downlong flood swept by. So the whole herd took the river and strove the stream to stem, And many a brave steed was there; but the flood o'ermastered them: And some, it swept them down-ward, and some won back to bank, Some, caught by the net of the eddies, in the swirling hubbub sank; But one of all swam over, and they saw his mane of grey Toss over the flowery meadows, a bright thing far away: Wide then he wheeled about them, then took the stream again And with the waves' white horses mingled his cloudy mane.
Then spake the elder of days: "Hearken now, Sigurd, and hear; Time was when I gave thy father a gift thou shalt yet deem dear, And this horse is a gift of my giving:—heed nought where thou mayst ride: For I have seen thy fathers in a shining house abide, And on earth they thought of its threshold, and the gifts I had to give; Nor prayed for a little longer, and a little longer to live."
Then forth he strode to the mountains, and fain was Sigurd now To ask him many a matter: but dim did his bright shape grow, As a man from the litten doorway fades into the dusk of night; And the sun in the high-noon shone, and the world was exceeding bright.
So Sigurd turned to the river and stood by the wave-wet strand, And the grey horse swims to his feet and lightly leaps aland, And the youngling looks upon him, and deems none beside him good. And indeed, as tells the story, he was come of Sleipnir's blood, The tireless horse of Odin: cloud-grey he was of hue, And it seemed as Sigurd backed him that Sigmund's son he knew, So glad he went beneath him. Then the youngling's song arose As he brushed through the noon-tide blossoms of Gripir's mighty close, Then he singeth the song of Greyfell, the horse that Odin gave, Who swam through the sweeping river, and back through the toppling wave.
Regin telleth Sigurd of his kindred, and of the Gold that was accursed from ancient days.
Now yet the days pass over, and more than words may tell Grows Sigurd strong and lovely, and all children love him well. But oft he looks on the mountains and many a time is fain To know of what lies beyond them, and learn of the wide world's gain. And he saith: "I dwell in a land that is ruled by none of my blood; And my mother's sons are waxing, and fair kings shall they be and good; And their servant or their betrayer—not one of these will I be. Yet needs must I wait for a little till Odin calls for me."
Now again it happed on a day that he sat in Regin's hall And hearkened many tidings of what had chanced to fall, And of kings that sought their kingdoms o'er many a waste and wild, And at last saith the crafty master: "Thou art King Sigmund's child: Wilt thou wait till these kings of the carles shall die in a little land, Or wilt thou serve their sons and carry the cup to their hand; Or abide in vain for the day that never shall come about, When their banners shall dance in the wind and shake to the war-gods' shout?"
Then Sigurd answered and said: "Nought such do I look to be. But thou, a deedless man, too much thou eggest me: And these folk are good and trusty, and the land is lovely and sweet, And in rest and in peace it lieth as the floor of Odin's feet: Yet I know that the world is wide, and filled with deeds unwrought; And for e'en such work was I fashioned, lest the songcraft come to nought, When the harps of God-home tinkle, and the Gods are at stretch to hearken: Lest the hosts of the Gods be scanty when their day hath begun to darken, When the bonds of the Wolf wax thin, and Loki fretteth his chain. And sure for the house of my fathers full oft my heart is fain, And meseemeth I hear them talking of the day when I shall come, And of all the burden of deeds, that my hand shall bear them home. And so when the deed is ready, nowise the man shall lack: But the wary foot is the surest, and the hasty oft turns back."
Then answered Regin the guileful: "The deed is ready to hand, Yet holding my peace is the best, for well thou lovest the land; And thou lovest thy life moreover, and the peace of thy youthful days, And why should the full-fed feaster his hand to the rye-bread raise? Yet they say that Sigmund begat thee and he looked to fashion a man. Fear nought; he lieth quiet in his mound by the sea-waves wan."
So shone the eyes of Sigurd, that the shield against him hung Cast back their light as the sunbeams; but his voice to the roof-tree rung: "Tell me, thou Master of Masters, what deed is the deed I shall do? Nor mock thou the son of Sigmund lest the day of his birth thou rue."
Then answered the Master of Sleight: "The deed is the righting of wrong, And the quelling a bale and a sorrow that the world hath endured o'erlong, And the winning a treasure untold, that shall make thee more than the kings; Thereof is the Helm of Aweing, the wonder of earthly things, And thereof is its very fellow, the War-coat all of gold, That has not its like in the heavens, nor has earth of its fellow told."
Then answered Sigurd the Volsung: "How long hereof hast thou known? And what unto thee is this treasure, that thou seemest to give as thine own?"
"Alas!" quoth the smithying master, "it is mine, yet none of mine, Since my heart herein avails not, and my hand is frail and fine— It is long since I first came hither to seek a man for my need; For I saw by a glimmering light that hence would spring the deed, And many a deed of the world: but the generations passed, And the first of the days was as near to the end that I sought as the last; Till I looked on thine eyes in the cradle: and now I deem through thee, That the end of my days of waiting, and the end of my woes shall be."
Then Sigurd awhile was silent; but at last he answered and said: "Thou shalt have thy will and the treasure, and shalt take the curse on thine head If a curse the gold enwrappeth: but the deed will I surely do, For today the dreams of my childhood hath bloomed in my heart anew: And I long to look on the world and the glory of the earth And to deal in the dealings of men, and garner the harvest of worth. But tell me, thou Master of Masters, where lieth this measureless wealth; Is it guarded by swords of the earl-folk, or kept by cunning and stealth? Is it over the main sea's darkness, or beyond the mountain wall? Or e'en in these peaceful acres anigh to the hands of all?"
Then Regin answered sweetly: "Hereof must a tale be told: Bide sitting, thou son of Sigmund, on the heap of unwrought gold, And hearken of wondrous matters, and of things unheard, unsaid, And deeds of my beholding ere the first of Kings was made.
"And first ye shall know of a sooth, that I never was born of the race Which the masters of God-home have made to cover the fair earth's face; But I come of the Dwarfs departed; and fair was the earth whileome Ere the short-lived thralls of the Gods amidst its dales were come:— And how were we worse than the Gods, though maybe we lived not as long? Yet no weight of memory maimed us; nor aught we knew of wrong. What felt our souls of shaming, what knew our hearts of love? We did and undid at pleasure, and repented nought thereof. —Yea we were exceeding mighty—bear with me yet, my son; For whiles can I scarcely think it that our days are wholly done. And trust not thy life in my hands in the day when most I seem Like the Dwarfs that are long departed, and most of my kindred I dream.
"So as we dwelt came tidings that the Gods amongst us were, And the people came from Asgard: then rose up hope and fear, And strange shapes of things went flitting betwixt the night and the eve, And our sons waxed wild and wrathful, and our daughters learned to grieve. Then we fell to the working of metal, and the deeps of the earth would know, And we dealt with venom and leechcraft, and we fashioned spear and bow, And we set the ribs to the oak-keel, and looked on the landless sea; And the world began to be such-like as the Gods would have it to be. In the womb of the woeful earth had they quickened the grief and the gold.
"It was Reidmar the Ancient begat me; and now was he waxen old, And a covetous man and a king; and he bade, and I built him a hall, And a golden glorious house; and thereto his sons did he call, And he bade them be evil and wise, that his will through them might be wrought. Then he gave unto Fafnir my brother the soul that feareth nought, And the brow of the hardened iron, and the hand that may never fail, And the greedy heart of a king, and the ear that hears no wail.
"But next unto Otter my brother he gave the snare and the net, And the longing to wend through the wild-wood, and wade the highways wet: And the foot that never resteth, while aught be left alive That hath cunning to match man's cunning or might with his might to strive.
"And to me, the least and the youngest, what gift for the slaying of ease? Save the grief that remembers the past, and the fear that the future sees; And the hammer and fashioning-iron, and the living coal of fire; And the craft that createth a semblance, and fails of the heart's desire; And the toil that each dawning quickens and the task that is never done; And the heart that longeth ever, nor will look to the deed that is won.
"Thus gave my father the gifts that might never be taken again; Far worse were we now than the Gods, and but little better than men. But yet of our ancient might one thing had we left us still: We had craft to change our semblance, and could shift us at our will Into bodies of the beast-kind, or fowl, or fishes cold; For belike no fixed semblance we had in the days of old, Till the Gods were waxen busy, and all things their form must take That knew of good and evil, and longed to gather and make.
"So dwelt we, brethren and father; and Fafnir my brother fared As the scourge and compeller of all things, and left no wrong undared; But for me, I toiled and I toiled; and fair grew my father's house; But writhen and foul were the hands that had made it glorious; And the love of women left me, and the fame of sword and shield: And the sun and the winds of heaven, and the fowl and the grass of the field Were grown as the tools of my smithy; and all the world I knew, And the glories that lie beyond it, and whitherward all things drew; And myself a little fragment amidst it all I saw, Grim, cold-heart, and unmighty as the tempest-driven straw. —Let be.—For Otter my brother saw seldom field or fold, And he oftenest used that custom, whereof e'en now I told, And would shift his shape with the wood-beasts and the things of land and sea; And he knew what joy their hearts had, and what they longed to be, And their dim-eyed understanding, and his wood-craft waxed so great, That he seemed the king of the creatures and their very mortal fate.
"Now as the years won over three folk of the heavenly halls Grew aweary of sleepless sloth, and the day that nought befalls; And they fain would look on the earth, and their latest handiwork, And turn the fine gold over, lest a flaw therein should lurk. And the three were the heart-wise Odin, the Father of the Slain, And Loki, the World's Begrudger, who maketh all labour vain, And Haenir, the Utter-Blameless, who wrought the hope of man, And his heart and inmost yearnings, when first the work began;— —The God that was aforetime, and hereafter yet shall be, When the new light yet undreamed of shall shine o'er earth and sea.
"Thus about the world they wended and deemed it fair and good, And they loved their life-days dearly: so came they to the wood, And the lea without a shepherd and the dwellings of the deer, And unto a mighty water that ran from a fathomless mere. Now that flood my brother Otter had haunted many a day For its plenteous fruit of fishes; and there on the bank he lay As the Gods came wandering thither; and he slept, and in his dreams He saw the downlong river, and its fishy-peopled streams, And the swift smooth heads of its forces, and its swirling wells and deep, Where hang the poised fishes, and their watch in the rock-halls keep. And so, as he thought of it all, and its deeds and its wanderings, Whereby it ran to the sea down the road of scaly things, His body was changed with his thought, as yet was the wont of our kind, And he grew but an Otter indeed; and his eyes were sleeping and blind The while he devoured the prey, a golden red-flecked trout. Then passed by Odin and Haenir, nor cumbered their souls with doubt; But Loki lingered a little, and guile in his heart arose, And he saw through the shape of the Otter, and beheld a chief of his foes, A king of the free and the careless: so he called up his baleful might, And gathered his godhead together, and tore a shard outright From the rock-wall of the river, and across its green wells cast; And roaring over the waters that bolt of evil passed, And smote my brother Otter that his heart's life fled away, And bore his man's shape with it, and beast-like there he lay, Stark dead on the sun-lit blossoms: but the Evil God rejoiced, And because of the sound of his singing the wild grew many-voiced.
"Then the three Gods waded the river, and no word Haenir spake, For his thoughts were set on God-home, and the day that is ever awake. But Odin laughed in his wrath, and murmured: 'Ah, how long, Till the iron shall ring on the anvil for the shackles of thy wrong!'
"Then Loki takes up the quarry, and is e'en as a man again; And the three wend on through the wild-wood till they come to a grassy plain Beneath the untrodden mountains; and lo a noble house, And a hall with great craft fashioned, and made full glorious; But night on the earth was falling; so scantly might they see The wealth of its smooth-wrought stonework and its world of imagery: Then Loki bade turn thither since day was at an end, And into that noble dwelling the lords of God-home wend; And the porch was fair and mighty, and so smooth-wrought was its gold, That the mirrored stars of heaven therein might ye behold: But the hall, what words shall tell it, how fair it rose aloft, And the marvels of its windows, and its golden hangings soft, And the forest of its pillars! and each like the wave's heart shone, And the mirrored boughs of the garden were dancing fair thereon. —Long years agone was it builded, and where are its wonders now?
"Now the men of God-home marvelled, and gazed through the golden glow, And a man like a covetous king amidst of the hall they saw; And his chair was the tooth of the whale, wrought smooth with never a flaw; And his gown was the sea-born purple, and he bore a crown on his head, But never a sword was before him: kind-seeming words he said, And bade rest to the weary feet that had worn the wild so long. So they sat, and were men by seeming; and there rose up music and song, And they ate and drank and were merry: but amidst the glee of the cup They felt themselves tangled and caught, as when the net cometh up Before the folk of the firth, and the main sea lieth far off; And the laughter of lips they hearkened, and that hall-abider's scoff, As his face and his mocking eyes anigh to their faces drew, And their godhead was caught in the net, and no shift of creation they knew To escape from their man-like bodies; so great that day was the Earth.
"Then spake the hall-abider: 'Where then is thy guileful mirth, And thy hall-glee gone, O Loki? Come, Haenir, fashion now My heart for love and for hope, that the fear in my body may grow, That I may grieve and be sorry, that the ruth may arise in me, As thou dealtst with the first of men-folk, when a master-smith thou wouldst be. And thou, Allfather Odin, hast thou come on a bastard brood? Or hadst thou belike a brother, thy twin for evil and good, That waked amidst thy slumber, and slumbered midst thy work? Nay, Wise-one, art thou silent as a child amidst the mirk? Ah, I know ye are called the Gods, and are mighty men at home, But now with a guilt on your heads to no feeble folk are ye come, To a folk that need you nothing: time was when we knew you not: Yet e'en then fresh was the winter, and the summer sun was hot, And the wood-meats stayed our hunger, and the water quenched our thirst, Ere the good and the evil wedded and begat the best and the worst. And how if today I undo it, that work of your fashioning, If the web of the world run backward, and the high heavens lack a King? —Woe's me! for your ancient mastery shall help you at your need: If ye fill up the gulf of my longing and my empty heart of greed, And slake the flame ye have quickened, then may ye go your ways And get ye back to your kingship and the driving on of the days To the day of the gathered war-hosts, and the tide of your Fateful Gloom. Now nought may ye gainsay it that my mouth must speak the doom, For ye wot well I am Reidmar, and that there ye lie red-hand From the slaughtering of my offspring, and the spoiling of my land; For his death of my wold hath bereft me and every highway wet. —Nay, Loki, naught avails it, well-fashioned is the net. Come forth, my son, my war-god, and show the Gods their work, And thou who mightst learn e'en Loki, if need were to lie or lurk!'
"And there was I, I Regin, the smithier of the snare, And high up Fafnir towered with the brow that knew no fear, With the wrathful and pitiless heart that was born of my father's will, And the greed that the Gods had fashioned the fate of the earth to fulfill.
"Then spake the Father of Men: 'We have wrought thee wrong indeed, And, wouldst thou amend it with wrong, thine errand must we speed; For I know of thine heart's desire, and the gold thou shalt nowise lack, —Nor all the works of the gold. But best were thy word drawn back, If indeed the doom of the Norns be not utterly now gone forth.'
"Then Reidmar laughed and answered: 'So much is thy word of worth! And they call thee Odin for this, and stretch forth hands in vain, And pray for the gifts of a God who giveth and taketh again! It was better in times past over, when we prayed for nought at all, When no love taught us beseeching, and we had no troth to recall. Ye have changed the world, and it bindeth with the right and the wrong ye have made, Nor may ye be Gods henceforward save the rightful ransom be paid. But perchance ye are weary of kingship, and will deal no more with the earth? Then curse the world, and depart, and sit in your changeless mirth; And there shall be no more kings, and battle and murder shall fail, And the world shall laugh and long not, nor weep, nor fashion the tale.'
"So spake Reidmar the Wise; but the wrath burned through his word, And wasted his heart of wisdom; and there was Fafnir the Lord, And there was Regin the Wright, and they raged at their father's back: And all these cried out together with the voice of the sea-storm's wrack; 'O hearken, Gods of the Goths! ye shall die, and we shall be Gods, And rule your men beloved with bitter-heavy rods, And make them beasts beneath us, save today ye do our will, And pay us the ransom of blood, and our hearts with the gold fulfill.'
"But Odin spake in answer, and his voice was awful and cold: 'Give righteous doom, O Reidmar! say what ye will of the Gold!'
"Then Reidmar laughed in his heart, and his wrath and his wisdom fled, And nought but his greed abided; and he spake from his throne and said:
"'Now hearken the doom I shall speak! Ye stranger-folk shall be free When ye give me the Flame of the Waters, the gathered Gold of the Sea, That Andvari hideth rejoicing in the wan realm pale as the grave; And the Master of Sleight shall fetch it, and the hand that never gave, And the heart that begrudgeth for ever shall gather and give and rue. —Lo this is the doom of the wise, and no doom shall be spoken anew.'
"Then Odin spake: 'It is well; the Curser shall seek for the curse; And the Greedy shall cherish the evil—and the seed of the Great they shall nurse.'
"No word spake Reidmar the great, for the eyes of his heart were turned To the edge of the outer desert, so sore for the gold he yearned. But Loki I loosed from the toils, and he goeth his way abroad; And the heart of Odin he knoweth, and where he shall seek the Hoard.
"There is a desert of dread in the uttermost part of the world, Where over a wall of mountains is a mighty water hurled, Whose hidden head none knoweth, nor where it meeteth the sea; And that force is the Force of Andvari, and an Elf of the Dark is he. In the cloud and the desert he dwelleth amid that land alone; And his work is the storing of treasure within his house of stone. Time was when he knew of wisdom, and had many a tale to tell Of the days before the Dwarf-age, and of what in that world befell: And he knew of the stars and the sun, and the worlds that come and go On the nether rim of heaven, and whence the wind doth blow, And how the sea hangs balanced betwixt the curving lands, And how all drew together for the first Gods' fashioning hands. But now is all gone from him, save the craft of gathering gold, And he heedeth nought of the summer, nor knoweth the winter cold, Nor looks to the sun nor the snowfall, nor ever dreams of the sea, Nor hath heard of the making of men-folk, nor of where the high Gods be But ever he gripeth and gathereth, and he toileth hour by hour, Nor knoweth the noon from the midnight as he looks on his stony bower, And saith: 'It is short, it is narrow for all I shall gather and get; For the world is but newly fashioned, and long shall its years be yet.'
"There Loki fareth, and seeth in a land of nothing good, Far off o'er the empty desert, the reek of the falling flood Go up to the floor of heaven, and thither turn his feet As he weaveth the unseen meshes and the snare of strong deceit; So he cometh his ways to the water, where the glittering foam-bow glows, And the huge flood leaps the rock-wall and a green arch over it throws. There under the roof of water he treads the quivering floor, And the hush of the desert is felt amid the water's roar, And the bleak sun lighteth the wave-vault, and tells of the fruitless plain, And the showers that nourish nothing, and the summer come in vain.
"There did the great Guile-master his toils and his tangles set, And as wide as was the water, so wide was woven the net; And as dim as the Elf's remembrance did the meshes of it show; And he had no thought of sorrow, nor spared to come and go On his errands of griping and getting till he felt himself tangled and caught: Then back to his blinded soul was his ancient wisdom brought, And he saw his fall and his ruin, as a man by the lightning's flame Sees the garth all flooded by foemen; and again he remembered his name; And e'en as a book well written the tale of the Gods he knew, And the tale of the making of men, and much of the deeds they should do.
"But Loki took his man-shape, and laughed aloud and cried: 'What fish of the ends of the earth is so strong and so feeble-eyed, That he draweth the pouch of my net on his road to the dwelling of Hell? What Elf that hath heard the gold growing, but hath heard not the light winds tell That the Gods with the world have been dealing and have fashioned men for the earth? Where is he that hath ridden the cloud-horse and measured the ocean's girth, But seen nought of the building of God-home nor the forging of the sword: Where then is the maker of nothing, the earless and eyeless lord? In the pouch of my net he lieth, with his head on the threshold of Hell!'
"Then the Elf lamented, and said: 'Thou knowst of my name full well: Andvari begotten of Oinn, whom the Dwarf-kind called the Wise, By the worst of the Gods is taken, the forge and the father of lies.'
"Said Loki: 'How of the Elf-kind, do they love their latter life, When their weal is all departed, and they lie alow in the strife?'
"Then Andvari groaned and answered: 'I know what thou wouldst have, The wealth mine own hands gathered, the gold that no man gave.'
"'Come forth,' said Loki, 'and give it, and dwell in peace henceforth— Or die in the toils if thou listest, if thy life be nothing worth.'
"Full sore the Elf lamented, but he came before the God, And the twain went into the rock-house and on fine gold they trod, And the walls shone bright, and brighter than the sun of the upper air. How great was that treasure of treasures: and the Helm of Dread was there; The world but in dreams had seen it; and there was the hauberk of gold; None other is in the heavens, nor has earth of its fellow told.
"Then Loki bade the Elf-king bring all to the upper day, And he dight himself with his Godhead to bear the treasure away: So there in the dim grey desert before the God of Guile, Great heaps of the hid-world's treasure the weary Elf must pile, And Loki looked on laughing: but, when it all was done, And the Elf was hurrying homeward, his finger gleamed in the sun: Then Loki cried: 'Thou art guileful: thou hast not learned the tale Of the wisdom that Gods hath gotten and their might of all avail. Hither to me! that I learn thee of a many things to come; Or despite of all wilt thou journey to the dead man's deedless home. Come hither again to thy master, and give the ring to me; For meseems it is Loki's portion, and the Bale of Men shall it be.'
"Then the Elf drew off the gold-ring and stood with empty hand E'en where the flood fell over 'twixt the water and the land, And he gazed on the great Guile-master, and huge and grim he grew; And his anguish swelled within him, and the word of the Norns he knew; How that gold was the seed of gold to the wise and the shapers of things, The hoarders of hidden treasure, and the unseen glory of rings; But the seed of woe to the world and the foolish wasters of men, And grief to the generations that die and spring again: Then he cried: 'There farest thou Loki, and might I load thee worse Than with what thine ill heart beareth, then shouldst thou bear my curse: But for men a curse thou bearest: entangled in my gold, Amid my woe abideth another woe untold. Two brethren and a father, eight kings my grief shall slay; And the hearts of queens shall be broken, and their eyes shall loathe the day. Lo, how the wilderness blossoms! Lo, how the lonely lands Are waving with the harvest that fell from my gathering hands!'
"But Loki laughed in silence, and swift in Godhead went, To the golden hall of Reidmar and the house of our content. But when that world of treasure was laid within our hall 'Twas as if the sun were minded to live 'twixt wall and wall, And all we stood by and panted. Then Odin spake and said:
"'O Kings, O folk of the Dwarf-kind, lo, the ransom duly paid! Will ye have this sun of the ocean, and reap the fruitful field, And garner up the harvest that earth therefrom shall yield?'
"So he spake; but a little season nought answered Reidmar the wise, But turned his face from the Treasure, and peered with eager eyes Endlong the hall and athwart it, as a man may chase about A ray of the sun of the morning that a naked sword throws out; And lo from Loki's right-hand came the flash of the fruitful ring, And at last spake Reidmar scowling: 'Ye wait for my yea-saying That your feet may go free on the earth, and the fear of my toils may be done That then ye may say in your laughter: The fools of the time agone! The purblind eyes of the Dwarf-kind! they have gotten the garnered sheaf And have let their Masters depart with the Seed of Gold and of Grief: O Loki, friend of Allfather, cast down Andvari's ring, Or the world shall yet turn backward and the high heavens lack a king.'
"Then Loki drew off the Elf-ring and cast it down on the heap, And forth as the gold met gold did the light of its glory leap: But he spake: 'It rejoiceth my heart that no whit of all ye shall lack, Lest the curse of the Elf-king cleave not, and ye 'scape the utter wrack.'
"Then laughed and answered Reidmar: 'I shall have it while I live, And that shall be long, meseemeth: for who is there may strive With my sword, the war-wise Fafnir, and my shield that is Regin the Smith? But if indeed I should die, then let men-folk deal therewith, And ride to the golden glitter through evil deeds and good. I will have my heart's desire, and do as the high Gods would.'
"Then I loosed the Gods from their shackles, and great they grew on the floor And into the night they gat them; but Odin turned by the door, And we looked not, little we heeded, for we grudged his mastery; Then he spake, and his voice was waxen as the voice of the winter sea:
"'O Kings, O folk of the Dwarfs, why then will ye covet and rue? I have seen your fathers' fathers and the dust wherefrom they grew; But who hath heard of my father or the land where first I sprung? Who knoweth my day of repentance, or the year when I was young? Who hath learned the names of the Wise-one or measured out his will? Who hath gone before to teach him, and the doom of days fulfill? Lo, I look on the Curse of the Gold, and wrong amended by wrong, And love by love confounded, and the strong abased by the strong; And I order it all and amend it, and the deeds that are done I see, And none other beholdeth or knoweth; and who shall be wise unto me? For myself to myself I offered, that all wisdom I might know, And fruitful I waxed of works, and good and fair did they grow; And I knew, and I wrought and fore-ordered; and evil sat by my side, And myself by myself hath been doomed, and I look for the fateful tide; And I deal with the generations, and the men mine hand hath made, And myself by myself shall be grieved, lest the world and its fashioning fade.'
"They went and the Gold abided: but the words Allfather spake, I call them back full often for that golden even's sake, Yet little that hour I heard them, save as wind across the lea; For the gold shone up on Reidmar and on Fafnir's face and on me. And sore I loved that treasure: so I wrapped my heart in guile, And sleeked my tongue with sweetness, and set my face in a smile, And I bade my father keep it, the more part of the gold, Yet give good store to Fafnir for his goodly help and bold, And deal me a little handful for my smithying-help that day. But no little I desired, though for little I might pray; And prayed I for much or for little, he answered me no more Than the shepherd answers the wood-wolf who howls at the yule-tide door: But good he ever deemed it to sit on his ivory throne, And stare on the red rings' glory, and deem he was ever alone: And never a word spake Fafnir, but his eyes waxed red and grim As he looked upon our father, and noted the ways of him.
"The night waned into the morning, and still above the Hoard Sat Reidmar clad in purple; but Fafnir took his sword, And I took my smithying-hammer, and apart in the world we went; But I came aback in the even, and my heart was heavy and spent; And I longed, but fear was upon me and I durst not go to the Gold; So I lay in the house of my toil mid the things I had fashioned of old; And methought as I lay in my bed 'twixt waking and slumber of night That I heard the tinkling metal and beheld the hall alight, But I slept and dreamed of the Gods, and the things that never have slept, Till I woke to a cry and a clashing and forth from the bed I leapt, And there by the heaped-up Elf-gold my brother Fafnir stood, And there at his feet lay Reidmar and reddened the Treasure with blood: And e'en as I looked on his eyen they glazed and whitened with death, And forth on the torch-litten hall he shed his latest breath.
"But I looked on Fafnir and trembled for he wore the Helm of Dread, And his sword was bare in his hand, and the sword and the hand were red With the blood of our father Reidmar, and his body was wrapped in gold, With the ruddy-gleaming mailcoat of whose fellow hath nought been told, And it seemed as I looked upon him that he grew beneath mine eyes: And then in the mid-hall's silence did his dreadful voice arise:
"'I have slain my father Reidmar, that I alone might keep The Gold of the darksome places, the Candle of the Deep. I am such as the Gods have made me, lest the Dwarf-kind people the earth, Or mingle their ancient wisdom with its short-lived latest birth. I shall dwell alone henceforward, and the Gold and its waxing curse, I shall brood on them both together, let my life grow better or worse. And I am a King henceforward and long shall be my life, And the Gold shall grow with my longing, for I shall hide it from strife, And hoard up the Ring of Andvari in the house thine hand hath built. O thou, wilt thou tarry and tarry, till I cast thy blood on the guilt? Lo, I am a King for ever, and alone on the Gold shall I dwell And do no deed to repent of and leave no tale to tell.'
"More awful grew his visage as he spake the word of dread, And no more durst I behold him, but with heart a-cold I fled; I fled from the glorious house my hands had made so fair, As poor as the new-born baby with nought of raiment or gear: I fled from the heaps of gold, and my goods were the eager will, And the heart that remembereth all, and the hand that may never be still.