But the word of Sigurd smote her, and she spake ere the answer came: "Hard speech was between us, Brynhild, and words of evil and shame; I repent, and crave thy pardon: wilt thou say so much unto me, That the Niblung wives may be merry, as great queens are wont to be?"
But no word answered Brynhild, and the wife of Sigurd spake: "Lo, I humble myself before thee for many a warrior's sake, And yet is thine anger heavy—well then, tell all thy tale, And the grief that sickens thine heart, that a kindly word may avail."
Then spake Brynhild and said: "Thou art great and livest in bliss, And the noble queens and the happy should ask better tidings than this: For ugly words must tell it; thou shouldst scarce know what they mean; Thou, the child of the mighty Niblungs, thou, Sigurd's wedded queen. It is good to be kindly and soft while the heart hath all its will."
Said the Queen: "There is that in thy word that the joy of my heart would kill. I have humbled myself before thee, and what further shall I say?"
Then spake Brynhild the Queen: "I spake heavy words today; And thereof do I repent me; but one thing I beseech thee and crave: That thou speak but a word in thy turn my life and my soul to save: —Yea the lives of many warriors, and the joy of the Niblung home, And the days of the unborn children, and the health of the days to come— Say thou it was Gunnar thy brother that gave thee the Dwarf-lord's ring, And not the glorious Sigurd, the peerless lovely King; E'en so will I serve thee for ever, and peace on this house shall be, And rest ere my departing, and a joyous life for thee; And long life for the lovely Sigurd, and a glorious tale to tell. O speak, thou sister of Gunnar, that all may be better than well!"
But hard grew the heart of Gudrun, and she said: "Hast thou heard the tale That the wives of the Niblungs lie, lest the joy of their life-days fail? Wilt thou threaten the house of the Niblungs, wilt thou threaten my love and my lord? —It was Sigurd that lay in thy bed with thee and the edge of the sword; And he told me the tale of the night-tide, and the bitterest tidings thereof, And the shame of my brother Gunnar, how his glory was turned to a scoff; And he set the ring on my finger with sweet words of the sweetest of men, And no more from me shall it sunder—lo, wilt thou behold it again?" And her hand gleamed white in the even with the ring of Andvari thereon, The thrice-cursed burden of greed and the grain from the needy won; Then uprose the voice of Brynhild, and she cried to the towers aloft:
"O house of the ancient people, I blessed thee sweet and soft; In the day of my grief I blessed thee, when my life seemed evil and long; Look down, O house of the Niblungs, on the hapless Brynhild's wrong! Lest the day and the hour be coming when no man in thy courts shall be left To remember the woe of Brynhild, and the joy from her life-days reft; Lest the grey wolf howl in the hall, and the wood-king roll in the porch, And the moon through thy broken rafters be the Niblungs' feastful torch."
"O God-folk hearken," cried Gudrun, "what a tale there is to tell! How a Queen hath cursed her people, and the folk that hath cherished her well!"
"O Niblung child," said Brynhild, "what bitterer curse may be Than the curse of Grimhild thy mother, and the womb that carried thee?"
"Ah fool!" said the wife of Sigurd, "wilt thou curse thy very friend? But the bitter love bewrays thee, and thy pride that nought shall end."
"Do I curse the accursed?" said Brynhild, "but yet the day shall come, When thy word shall scarce be better on the threshold of thine home; When thine heart shall be dulled and chilly with e'en such a mingling of might, As in Sigurd's cup she mingled, and thou shalt not remember aright."
Out-brake the child of the Niblungs: "A witless lie is this; But thou sickenest sore for Sigurd, and the giver of all bliss: A ruthless liar thou art: thou wouldst cut off my glory and gain, Though it further thine own hope nothing, and thy longing be empty and vain. Ah, thou hungerest after mine husband!—yet greatly art thou wed, And high o'er the kings of the Goth-folk doth Gunnar rear the head."
"Which one of the sons of Giuki," said Brynhild, "durst to ride Through the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild's side? Thou shouldst know him, O Sister of Kings; let the glorious name be said, Lest mine oath in the water be written, and I wake up, vile and betrayed, In the arms of the faint-heart dastard, and of him that loveth life, And casteth his deeds to another, and the wooing of his wife."
"Yea, hearken," said she of the Niblungs, "what words the stranger saith! Hear the words of the fool of love, how she feareth not the death, Nor to cry the shame on Gunnar, whom the King-folk tremble before: The wise and the overcomer, the crown of happy war!"
Said Brynhild: "Long were the days ere the Son of Sigmund came; Long were the days and lone, but nought I dreamed of the shame. So may the day come, Grimhild, when thine eyes know not thy son! Think then on the man I knew not, and the deed thy guile hath done!"
Then coldly laughed Queen Gudrun, and she said: "Wilt thou lay all things On the woman that hath loved thee and the Mother of the Kings? O all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this change too hard a part For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent's heart?"
Then was Brynhild silent a little, and forth from the Niblung hall Came the sound of the laughter of men to the garth by the nook of the wall; And a wind arose in the twilight, and sounds came up from the plain Of kine in the dew-fall wandering, and of oxen loosed from the wain, And the songs of folk free-hearted, and the river rushing by; And the heart of Brynhild hearkened and she cried with a grievous cry:
"O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, we twain were one, time was, And the wide world lay before us and the deeds to bring to pass! And now I am nought for helping, and no helping mayst thou give; And all is marred and evil, and why hast thou heart to live?"
She held her peace for anguish, and forth from the hall there came The shouts of the joyous Niblungs, and the sound of Sigurd's name: And Brynhild turned from Gudrun, and lifted her voice and said: "O evil house of the Niblungs, may the day of your woe and your dread Be meted with the measure of the guile ye dealt to me, When ye sealed your hearts from pity and forgat my misery!"
And she turned to flee from the garden; but her gown-lap Gudrun caught, And cried: "Thou evil woman, for thee were the Niblungs wrought, And their day of the fame past telling, that they should heed thy life? Dear house of the Niblung glory, fair bloom of the warriors' strife, How well shalt thou stand triumphant, when all we lie in the earth For a little while remembered in the story of thy worth!"
But the lap of her linen raiment did Brynhild tear from her hold And spake from her mouth brought nigher, and her voice was low and cold:
"Such pride and comfort in Sigurd henceforward mayst thou find, Such joy of his life's endurance, as thou leav'st me joy behind!"
But turmoil of wrath wrapt Gudrun, that she knew not the day from the night, And she hardened her heart for evil as the warriors when they smite: And she cried: "Thou filled with murder, my love shall blossom and bloom When thou liest in the hell forgotten! smite thence from the deedless gloom, Smite thence at the lovely Sigurd, from the dark without a day! Let the hand that death hath loosened the King of Glory slay!"
So died her words of anger, and her latter speech none heard, Save the wind of the early night-tide and the leaves by its wandering stirred; For amidst her wrath and her blindness was the hapless Brynhild gone: And she fled from the Burg of the Niblungs and cried to the night alone:
"O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, what now shall give me back One word of thy loving-kindness from the tangle and the wrack? O Norns, fast bound from helping, O Gods that never weep, Ye have left stark death to help us, and the semblance of our sleep! Yet I sleep and remember Sigurd; and I wake and nought is there, Save the golden bed of the Niblungs, and the hangings fashioned fair: If I stretch out mine hand to take it, that sleep that the sword-edge gives, How then shall I come on Sigurd, when again my sorrow lives In the dreams of the slumber of death? O nameless, measureless woe, To abide on the earth without him, and alone from earth to go!"
So wailed the wife of Gunnar, as she fled through the summer night, And unwitting around she wandered, till again in the dawning light She stood by the Burg of the Niblungs, and the dwelling of her lord.
Awhile bode the white-armed Gudrun on the edge of the daisied sward, Till she shrank from the lonely flowers and the chill, speech-burdened wind. Then she turned to the house of her fathers and her golden chamber kind; And for long by the side of Sigurd hath she lain in light-breathed sleep, While yet the winds of night-tide round the wandering Brynhild sweep.
Gunnar talketh with Brynhild.
On the morrow awakeneth Gudrun; and she speaketh with Sigurd and saith: "For what cause is Brynhild heavy, and as one who abideth but death?"
"Yea," Sigurd said, "is it so? as a great queen she goes upon earth, And thoughtful of weighty matters, and things that are most of worth."
"It was other than this," said Gudrun, "that I deemed her yesterday; All men would have said great trouble on the wife of Gunnar lay."
"Is it so?" said Sigurd the Volsung, "Ah, I sore misdoubt me then, That thereof shall we hear great tidings that shall be for the ruin of men."
"Why grieveth she so," said Gudrun, "a queen so mighty and wise, The Chooser of the war-host, the desire of many eyes, The Queen of the glorious Gunnar, the wife of the man she chose? And she sits by his side on the high-seat, as the lily blooms by the rose."
"Where then in the world was Brynhild," said he, "when she spake that word, And said that her beloved was her very earthly lord?"
Then was Sigurd silent a little, and Gudrun spake no more; For despite the heart of the Niblungs, and her love exceeding sore, With fear her soul was smitten for the word that Sigurd spake, And yet more for his following silence; and the stark death seemed to awake And stride through the Niblung dwelling, and the sunny morn grew dim: Till, lo, the voice of the Volsung, and the speech came forth from him:
"Hearken, Gudrun my wife; the season is nigh at hand, Yea, the day is now on the threshold, when thou alone in the land Shalt answer for Sigurd departed, and shalt say that I loved thee well; And yet if thou hear'st men say it, then true is the tale to tell, That Brynhild was my beloved in the tide and the season of youth; And as great as is thy true-love, e'en so was her love and her truth. But for this cause thus have I spoken, that the tale of the night hast thou told, And cast the word unto Brynhild, and shown her the token of gold. —A deed for the slaying of many, and the ending of my life, Since I betrayed her unwitting.—Yet grieve not, Gudrun my wife! For cloudy of late were the heavens with many a woven lie, And now is the clear of the twilight, when the slumber draweth anigh. But call up the soul of the Niblungs, and harden thine heart to bear, For wert thou not sprung from the mighty, today were thy portion of fear: Yea, thou wottest it even as I; but I see thine heart arise, And the soul of the mighty Niblungs, and fair is the love in thine eyes."
Then forth went the King from the chamber to the council of the Kings, And he sat with the wise in the Doom-ring for the sifting of troublous things, And rejoiced the heart of the people: and the Wrath kept watch by his side. And his eyen were nothing dimmer than on many a joyous tide.
But abed lay Brynhild the Queen, as a woman dead she lay, And no word for better or worse to the best of her folk would she say: So they bore the tidings to Gunnar, and said: "Queen Brynhild ails With a sickness whereof none knoweth, and death o'er her life prevails."
Then uprose Gunnar the Niblung, and he went to Brynhild his wife, And prayed her to strengthen her heart for the glory of his life: But she gave not a word in answer, nor turned to where he stood, And there rose up a fear in his heart, and he looked for little of good: There he bode for a long while silent, and the thought within him stirred Of wise speech of his mother Grimhild, and many a warning word: But he spake: "Art thou smitten of God, unto whom shall we cast the prayer? Art thou wronged by one of the King-folk, for whom shall the blades be bare?"
Belike she never heard him; she lay in her misery, And the slow tears gushed from her eyen and nought of the world would she see. But ill thoughts arose in Gunnar, and remembrance of the speech Erst spoken low by Grimhild; yet he turned his heart to beseech, And he spake again: "O Brynhild, if I ever made thee glad, If the glory of the great-ones of my gift thine heart hath had. As mine heart hath been faithful to thee, as I longed for thy life-days' gain, Tell now of thy toil and thy trouble that we each of each may be fain!"
Nought spake she, nothing she moved, and the tears were dried on her cheek; But the very words of Grimhild did Gunnar's memory seek; He sought and he found and considered; and mighty he was and young, And he thought of the deeds of his fathers and the tales of the Niblungs sung; How they bore no God's constraining, and rode through the wrong and the right That the storm of their wrath might quicken, and their tempest carry the light. The words of his mother he gathered and the wrath-flood over him rolled, And with it came many a longing, that his heart had never told, Nay, scarce to himself in the night-tide, for the gain of the ruddy rings, And the fame of the earth unquestioned and the mastery over kings, And he sole King in the world-throne, unequalled, unconstrained; And with wordless wrath he fretted at the bonds that his glory had chained, And the bitter anger stirred him, and at last he spake and cried:
"How long, O all-wise Brynhild, like the dead wilt thou abide, Nor speak to thy lord and thy husband and the man that rode thy Fire, And mocked at the bane of King-folk to accomplish thy desire? I deem thou sickenest, Brynhild, with the love of a mighty-one, The foe, the King's supplanter, he that so long hath shone Mid the honour of our fathers, and the lovely Niblung house, Like a serpent amidst of the treasure that the day makes glorious."
Yet never a word she answered, nor unto the great King turned, Till through all the patience of King-folk the flame of his anger burned, And his voice was the rattling thunder, as he cried across the bed:
"O who art thou, fearful woman? art thou one of the first of the dead? Hast thou long ago seen and hated the tide of the Niblung praise, And clad thee in flesh twice over for the bane of our happy days? Art thou come from the far-off country that none may live and behold For the bane of the King of the Niblungs, and of Sigurd lord of the Gold?"
Then she raised herself on her elbow and turned her eyes on the King: "O tell me, Gunnar," she said, "that thou gavest Andvari's Ring To thy sister the white-armed Gudrun!—thou, not thy captain of war, The son of the God-born Volsungs, the Lord of the Treasure of yore! O swear it that I may live! that I may be glad in thine hall, And weave with the wisdom of women, and broider the purple and pall, And look in thy face at the chess-play, and drink of thy carven cup, And whisper a word in season when the voice of the wise goes up, And speak thee the speech of kindness by the hallowed Niblung hearth. O swear it, King of the Niblungs, lest thine honour die of the dearth! O swear it, lord I have wedded, lest mine honour come to nought, And I be but a wretch and a bondmaid for a year's embracing bought!"
Till his heart hath heard her meaning at the golden bed he stares, And the last of the words she speaketh flit empty past his ears; For he knows that the tale of the night-tide hath been told and understood, And now of her shame was he deeming e'en worse than Brynhild would. So he turns from her face and the chamber with his glory so undone, That he saith the Gods did evil when the mighty work they won, And wrought the Burg of the Niblungs, and fashioned his fathers' days, And led them on to the harvest of the deeds and the people's praise. And nought he sees to amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword, And the war without hope or honour, and the strife without reward.
So alone he goeth his ways, and the morn to the noontide falls, And the sun goeth down in the heavens, and fades from the Niblung walls, And the dusk and the dark draw over, and no man the King may see. But Sigurd sits in the hall mid the war-dukes' company: Alone of the Kings in the Doom-ring, and the council of the wise, By the street and the wharf and the burg-gate he shines in the people's eyes; Stately and lovely to look on he heareth of good and of ill, And he knitteth up and divideth, with life and death at his will.
Of the exceeding great grief and mourning of Brynhild.
Now the sun cometh up in the morning and shines o'er holt and heath, And the wall of the mighty mountains, and the sheep-fed slopes beneath, And the horse-fed plain and the river, and the acres of the wheat, And the herbs of bane and of healing, and the garden hedges sweet; It shines on the sea and the shepherd, and the husbandman's desire; On the Niblung Burg it shineth and smiteth the vanes afire; And in Gudrun's bower it shineth, and seeth small joy therein, For hushed the fair-clad maidens the work of women win; Then Gudrun looketh about her, and she saith: "Why sit ye so, That I hearken but creak of the loom-stock and the battens' homeward blow? Why is your joy departed and your sweet speech fallen dumb? Are the Niblungs fled from the battle, is their war-host overcome? Have the Norns given forth their shaming? have they fallen in the fight? Yet the sun shines notwithstanding, and the world around is bright."
Then answered a noble woman, and the wise of maids was she: "Thou knowest, O lovely lady, that nought of this may be; Yet with woe that the world shall hearken the glorious house is filled, On the hearth of all men hallowed the cup of joy is spilled. —A dread, an untimely hour, an exceeding evil day!"
Then the wife of Sigurd answered: "Arise and go thy way To the chamber of Queen Brynhild, and bid her wake at last, For that long have we slept and slumbered, and the deedless night is passed: Bid her wake to the deeds of queen-folk, and be glad as the world-queens are When they look on the people that loves them, and thrust all trouble afar. Let her foster her greatness and glory, and the fame no ages forget, That tomorn may as yesterday blossom, yea more abundantly yet."
Then arose the light-foot maiden: but she stayed and spake by the door: "O Gudrun, I durst not behold her, for the days of her joyance are o'er, And the days of her life are numbered, and her might is waxen weak, And she lieth as one forsaken, and no word her lips will speak, Nay, not to her lord that loveth: but all we deem, O Queen, That the wrath of the Gods is upon her for ancient deeds unseen."
Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, but the fear in her soul arose, For she thought of the golden Sigurd, and the compassing of foes, And great grew the dread of her maidens as they gazed upon her face: But she rose and looked not backward as she hastened from her place, And sought the King of the Niblungs by hall and chamber and stair, And bright was the pure mid-morning and the wind was fresh and fair.
So she came on her brother Gunnar, as he sat apart and alone, Arrayed in the Niblung war-gear, nor moved he more than the stone In the jaws of the barren valley and the man-deserted dale; On his knees was the breadth of the sunshine, and thereon lay the edges pale, The war-flame of the Niblungs, the sword that his right hand knew:
White was the fear on her lips, and hard at her heart it drew. As she spake: "I have found thee, O brother! O Gunnar, go to her and say That my heart is grieved with her grief and I mourn for her evil day."
Then Gunnar answered her word, but his words were heavy and slow: "Thou know'st not the words thou speakest—and wherefore should I go, Since I am forbidden to share it, the woe or the weal of her heart? Look thou on the King of the Niblungs, how he sitteth alone and apart, Fast bound in the wiles of women, and the web that a traitor hath spun, And no deed for his hand he knoweth, or to do or to leave undone."
Wan-faced from before him she fled, and she went with hurrying feet, And no child of man in her going would she look upon or greet, Till she came unto Hogni the Wise; and he sat in his war-array, The coal-blue gear of the Niblungs, and the sword o'er his knees there lay:
She sickened, and said: "What dost thou? what then is the day and the deed, That the sword on thy knees is naked, and thou clad in the warrior's weed? Go in, go in to Brynhild, and tell her how I mourn For the grief whereof none wotteth that hath made her days forlorn."
"It is good, my sister," said Hogni, "to abide in the harness of war When the days and the days are changing, and the Norns' feet stand by the door. I will nowise go in unto Brynhild, lest the evil tide grow worse. For what woman will bear the sorrow and burden her soul with a curse If she may escape it unbidden? and there are words that wound Far worse than the bitter edges, though wise in the air they sound. Bide thou and behold things fated! Hast thou learned how men may teach The stars in their ordered courses, or lead the Norns with speech?"
She stood and trembled before him, nor durst she long behold The silent face of Hogni and the far-seeing eyes and cold. So she gat her forth from before him, and Sigurd her husband she sought, And the speech on her lips was ready, till the chill fear made it nought; For apart and alone was he sitting in all his war-gear clad, And Fafnir's Helm of Aweing, and Regin's Wrath he had, And over the breast of Sigurd was the Hauberk all of gold That hath not the like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told.
But he set her down beside him and said: "What fearest thou then? What terror strideth in daylight mid the peace of the Niblung men?"
She cried: "The Helm and the Sword, and the golden guard of thy breast!"
"So oft, O wife," said Sigurd, "is a war-king clad the best When the peril quickens before him, and on either hand is doubt; Thus men wreathe round the beaker whence the wine shall be soon poured out. But hope thou not overmuch, for the end is not today; And fear thou little indeed, for not long shall the sword delay: But speak, O daughter of Giuki, for thy lips scarce held the word Ere thou sawest the gleam of my hauberk and the edge of the ancient Sword, The Light that hath lain in the Branstock, the hope of the Volsung tree, The Sunderer, the Deliverer, the torch of days to be."
She sighed; for her heart was heavy for the days but a while agone, When the death was little dreamed of, and the joy was lightly won; And her soul was bitter with anger for the day that Brynhild had led To the heart of the Niblung glory: but fear thrust on, and she said: "O my lord, O Sigurd the mighty, an evil day is this, A chill, an untimely hour for the blooming of our bliss! Go in to my sister Brynhild, and tell her of very sooth That my heart for her sorrow sorrows, and is sick for woe and ruth."
"The hour draws nigh," said Sigurd, "for I know of the speech and the word That is kind in the air to hearken, and is worse than the whetted sword. Now is Brynhild sore encompassed by a tide of measureless woe, And amidst and anear, as I see it, she seeth the death-star grow. Yet belike it is, O Gudrun, that thy will herein shall be done; But now depart, I pray thee, and leave thy lord alone: Heavy and hard shall it be, for a season shall it endure, But the grief and the sorrow shall perish, and the fame of the Gods is sure."
Yet she sat by his side and spake not, and a while at his glory she gazed, For his face o'erpassed the brightness that so long the folk had praised, And she durst not question or touch him, and at last she rose from his side, And gat her away soft-footed, and wandered far and wide Through the house and the Burg of the Niblungs; yet durst she never more Go look on the Niblung Brethren as they sat in their harness of war.
But the morn to the noon hath fallen, and the afternoon to the eve, And the beams of the westering sun the Niblung wall-stones leave, And yet sitteth Sigurd alone; then the sun sinketh down into night, And the moon ariseth in heaven, and the earth is pale with her light: And there sitteth Sigurd the Volsung in the gold and the harness of war That was won from the heart-wise Fafnir and the guarded Treasure of yore, But pale is the Helm of Aweing, and wan are the ruddy rings: So whiles in a city forsaken ye see the shapes of kings, And the lips that the carvers wrought, while their words were remembered and known, And the brows men trembled to look on in the long-enduring stone, And their hands once unforgotten, and their breasts, the walls of war; But now are they hidden marvels to the wise and the master of lore, And he nameth them not, nor knoweth, and their fear is faded away.
E'en so sat Sigurd the Volsung till the night waxed moonless and grey, Till the chill dawn spread o'er the lowland, and the purple fells grew clear In the cloudless summer dawn-dusk, and the sun was drawing anear: Then reddened the Burg of the Niblungs, and the walls of the ancient folk, And a wind came down from the mountains and the living things awoke And cried out for need and rejoicing; till, lo, the rim of the sun Showed over the eastern ridges, and the new day was begun; And the beams rose higher and higher, and white grew the Niblung wall, And the spears on the ramparts glistered and the windows blazed withal, And the sunlight flooded the courts, and throughout the chambers streamed: Then bright as the flames of the heaven the Helm of Aweing gleamed, Then clashed the red rings of the Treasure, as Sigurd stood on his feet, And went through the echoing chambers, as the winds in the wall-nook beat; And there in the earliest morning while the lords of the Niblungs lie 'Twixt light sleep and awakening they hear the clash go by, And their dreams are of happy battle, and the songs that follow fame, And the hope of the Gods accomplished, and the tales of the ancient name, Ere Sigurd came to the Niblungs and faced their gathered foes. But on to the chamber of Brynhild alone in the morning he goes, And the sun lieth broad across it, and the door is open wide As the last of the women had left it; then he lifted his voice and cried:
"Awake, arise, O Brynhild! for the house is smitten through With the light of the sun awakened, and the hope of deeds to do."
She spake: "Art thou come to behold me? thou, the mightiest and the worst Of the pitiless betrayers, that the hope of my life hath nursed."
He said: "It is I that awake thee, and I give thee the life and the days For fulfilling the deedful measure, and the cup of the people's praise."
She cried: "O the gifts of Sigurd!—Ah why didst thou cast me aside, That we twain should be dwelling, the strangers, in the house of the Niblung pride? What life is the death in life? what deeds—where the shame cometh up Betwixt the speech of the wise-ones and the draught of the welcoming cup; And the shame and repentance awaketh when the song in the harp is awake? Where we rise in the morning for nothing, and lie down for no love's sake? Where thou ridest forth to the battle and the dead hope dulleth thy light, And with shame thy hand is cumbered when the sword is uplifted to smite? O Sigurd, what hast thou done, that the gifts are cast aback? —O nay, no life of repentance!—but the bitter sword and the wrack!"
"O Brynhild, live!" said the Volsung, "for what shall the world be then When thou from the earth art departed, and the hallowed hearths of men?"
She said: "Woe worth the while for the word that hath come from thy mouth! As the bitter weltering ocean to the shipman dying of drouth, E'en so is the life thou biddest, since thou pitiedst not thine own, Nor thy love, nor the hope of thy life-days, but must dwell as a glory alone!"
"It is truer to tell," said Sigurd, "that mine heart in thy love was enwrapped Till the evil hour of the darkening, and the eyeless tangle had happed: And thereof shalt thou know, O Brynhild, on one day better than I, When the stroke of the sword hath been smitten, and the night hath seen me die: Then belike in thy fresh-springing wisdom thou shalt know of the dark and the deed, And the snare for our feet fore-ordered from whence they shall never be freed. But for me, in the net I awakened and the toils that unwitting I wove, And no tongue may tell of the sorrow that I had for thy wedded love: But I dwelt in the dwelling of kings; so I thrust its seeming apart And I laboured the field of Odin: and e'en this was a joy to my heart, That we dwelt in one house together, though a stranger's house it were."
"O late, and o'erlate!" cried Brynhild—"may the dead folk hearken and hear? All was and today it is not—And the Oath unto Gunnar is sworn, Shall I live the days twice over, and the life thou hast made forlorn?"
And she heard the words of Hindfell and the oath of the earlier day, Till the daylight darkened before her, and all memory passed away, And she cried: "I may live no longer, for the Gods have forgotten the earth, And my heart is the forge of sorrow, and my life is a wasting dearth."
Then once again spake Sigurd, once only and no more: A pillar of light all golden he stood on the sunlit floor; And his eyes were the eyes of Odin, and his face was the hope of the world, And his voice was the thunder of even when the bolt o'er the mountains is hurled: The fairest of all things fashioned he stood 'twixt life and death, And the Wrath of Regin rattled, and the rings of the Glittering Heath, As he cried: "I am Sigurd the Volsung, and belike the tale shall be true That no hand on the earth may hinder what my hand would fashion and do: And what God or what man shall gainsay it if our love be greater than these, The pride and the glory of Sigurd, and the latter days' increase? O live, live, Brynhild beloved! and thee on the earth will I wed, And put away Gudrun the Niblung—and all those shall be as the dead."
But so swelled the heart within him as he cast the speech abroad, That the golden wall of the battle, the fence unrent by the sword. The red rings of the uttermost ocean on the breast of Sigurd brake: And he saw the eyes of Brynhild, and turned from the word she spake:
"I will not wed thee, Sigurd, nor any man alive."
Then Sigurd goes out from before her; and the winds in the wall-nook strive, And the craving of fowl and the beast-kind with the speech of men is blent, And the voice of the sons of the Niblungs; and their day's first hour is spent As he goes through the hall of the War-dukes, and many an earl is astir, But none durst question Sigurd lest of evil days he hear: So he comes to his kingly chamber, and there sitteth Gudrun alone, And the fear in her soul is minished, but the love and the hatred are grown: She is wan as the moonlit midnight; but her heart is cold and proud, And she asketh him nought of Brynhild, and nought he speaketh aloud.
Of the slaying of Sigurd the Volsung.
Ere the noon ariseth Brynhild, and forth abroad she goes, And sits by the wall of her bower 'twixt the lily and the rose; Great dread and sickness is on her, as it shall be once on the morn When the uttermost sun is arisen 'neath the blast of the world-shaking horn: Her maidens come and go, but none dares cast her a word; From the wall the warders behold her, and turn round to the spear and the sword; Yea, few dare speak of Brynhild as morning fadeth in noon In the Burg of the ancient people mid the stir and the glory of June.
Then cometh forth speech from Brynhild, and she calls to her maidens and saith: "Go tell ye the King of the Niblungs that I am arisen from death, And come forth from the uttermost sickness, and with him I needs must speak: That we look into weighty matters and due deeds for king-folk seek."
So they went and returned not again, and it was but a little space Ere she looked, and behold, it was Gunnar that stood before her face, And his war-gear darkened the noon-tide and the grey helm gleamed from his head, But his eyes were fearful beneath it: then she gazed on the heavens and said:
"Thou art come, O King of the Niblungs; what mighty deed is to frame That thou wearest the cloudy harness, and the arms of the Niblung name?"
He spake: "O woman, thou mockest! what King of the people is here? Are not all kings confounded, and all peoples' shame laid bare? Shall the Gods grow little to help, or men grow great to amend? Nay, the hunt is up in the world and the Gods to the forest will wend, And their hearts are exceeding merry as they ride and drive the prey: But what if the bear grin on them, and the wood-beast turn to bay? What now if the whelp of their breeding a wolf of the world be grown, To cry out in the face of their brightness and mar their glad renown?"
She heeded him not, nor hearkened: but he said: "Thou wert wise of old; And hither I come at thy bidding: let the thought of thine heart be told."
She said: "What aileth thee, Gunnar? time was thou wert great and glad. And that was yester-morning: how then is the good turned bad?"
He said: "I was glad in my dreams, and I woke and my glory was dead."
"Hath a God then wrought thee evil, or one of the King-folk?" she said.
He said: "In the snare am I taken, in the web that a traitor hath spun; And no deed knoweth my right-hand to do or to leave undone."
"I look upon thee," said Brynhild, "I know thy race and thy name. Yet meseems the deed thou sparest, to amend thine evil and shame."
"Nought, nought," he said, "may amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword. And the war without hope or honour, and the strife without reward."
"Thou hast spoken the word," said Brynhild, "if the word is enough, it is well. Let us eat and drink and be merry, that all men of our words may tell!"
"O all-wise woman," said Gunnar, "what deed lieth under the tongue? What day for the dearth of the people, when the seed of thy sowing hath sprung?"
She said: "Our garment is Shame, and nought the web shall rend, Save the day without repentance, and the deed that nought may amend."
"Speak, mighty of women," said Gunnar, "and cry out the name and the deed That the ends of the Earth may hearken, and the Niblungs' grievous Need."
"To slay," she said, "is the deed, to slay a King ere the morn, And the name is Sigurd the Volsung, my love and thy brother sworn."
She turned and departed from him, and he knew not whither she went; But he took his sword from the girdle and the peace-strings round it rent, And into the house he gat him, and the sunlit fair abode, But his heart in the mid-mirk waded, as through the halls he strode, Till he came to a chamber apart; and Grimhild his mother was there, And there was his brother Hogni in the cloudy Niblung gear: Him-seemed there was silence between them as of them that have spoken, and wait Till the words of their mouths be accomplished by slow unholpen Fate: But they turned to the door, and beheld him, and he took his sheathed sword And cast it adown betwixt them, and it clashed half bare on the board, And Grimhild spake as it clattered: "For whom are the peace-strings rent? For whom is the blood-point whetted and the edge of thine intent?"
He said: "For the heart of Sigurd; and thus all is rent away Betwixt this word and his slaying, save a little hour of day."
Then spake Hogni and answered: "All lands beneath the sun Shall know and hearken and wonder that such a deed must be done."
"Speak, brother of Kings," said Gunnar, "dost thou know deeds better or worse That shall wash us clean from shaming, and redeem our lives from the curse?"
"I am none of the Norns," said Hogni, "nor the heart of Odin the Goth, To avenge the foster-brethren, or broken love and troth: Thy will is the story fated, nor shall I look on the deed With uncursed hands unreddened, and edges dulled at need."
Again spake Grimhild the wise-wife: "Where then is Guttorm the brave? For he blent not his blood with the Volsung's, nor his oath to Sigurd gave, Nor called on Earth to witness, nor went beneath the yoke; And now is he Sigurd's foeman; and who may curse his stroke?"
Then Hogni laughed and answered: "His feet on the threshold stand: Forged is thy sword, O Mother, and its hilts are come to hand, And look that thou whet it duly; for the Norns are departed now; From the blood of our foster-brother no branch of bale shall grow; Hoodwinked are the Gods of heaven, their sleep-dazed eyes are blind; They shall peer and grope through the darkness, and nought therein shall find, Save the red right hand of Guttorm, and his lips that never swore; At the young man's deed shall they wonder, and all shall be covered o'er: Ho, Guttorm, enter, and hearken to the counsel of the wise!"
Then in through the door strode Guttorm fair-clad in hunter's guise, With no steel save his wood-knife girded; but his war-fain eyes stared wild, As he spake: "What words are ye hiding from the youngest Niblung child? What work is to win, my brethren, that ye sit in warrior's weed, And tell me nought of the glory, and cover up the deed?"
Then uprose Grimhild the wise-wife, and took the cup again; Night-long had she brewed that witch-drink and laboured not in vain, For therein was the creeping venom, and hearts of things that prey On the hidden lives of ocean, and never look on day; And the heart of the ravening wood-wolf and the hunger-blinded beast And the spent slaked heart of the wild-fire the guileful cup increased: But huge words of ancient evil about its rim were scored, The curse and the eyeless craving of the first that fashioned sword.
So the cup in her hand was gleaming, as she turned unto Guttorm and spake; "Be merry, King of the War-fain! we hold counsel for thy sake: The work is a God's son's slaying, and thine is the hand that shall smite, That thy name may be set in glory and thy deeds live on in light."
Forth flashed the flame from his eyen, and he cried: "Where then is the foe, This dread of mine house and my brethren, that my hand may lay him alow?"
"Drink, son," she said, "and be merry! and I shall tell his name, Whose death shall crown thy life-days, and increase thy fame with his fame."
He drinketh and craveth for battle, and his hand for a sword doth seek, And he looketh about on his brethren, but his lips no word may speak; They speak the name, and he hears not, and again he drinks of the cup And knows not friend nor kindred, and the wrath in his heart wells up, That no God may bear unmingled, and he cries a wordless cry, As the last of the day is departing and the dusk time drawing anigh.
Then Grimhild goes from the chamber, and bringeth his harness of war, And therewith they array his body, and he drinketh the cup once more, And his heart is set on the murder, and now may he understand What soul is dight for the slaying, and what quarry is for his hand. For again, they tell him of Sigurd, and the man he remembereth, And praiseth his mighty name and his deeds that laughed on death.
Now dusk and dark draw over, and through the glimmering house They go to the place of the Niblungs, the high hall and glorious; For hard by is the chamber of Sigurd: there dight in their harness of war In their thrones sit Gunnar and Hogni, but Guttorm stands on the floor With his blue blade naked before them: the torches flare from the wall And the woven God-folk waver, but the hush is deep in the hall, And those Niblung faces change not, though the slow moon slips from her height And earth is acold ere dawning, and new winds shake the night.
Now it was in the earliest dawn-dusk that Guttorm stirred in his place, And the mail-rings tinkled upon him, as he turned his helm-hid face, And went forth from the hall and the high-seat; but the Kings sat still in their pride And hearkened the clash of his going and heeded how it died.
Slow, all alone goeth Guttorm to Sigurd's chamber door, And all is open before him, and the white moon lies on the floor And the bed where Sigurd lieth with Gudrun on his breast, And light comes her breath from her bosom in the joy of infinite rest. Then Guttorm stands on the threshold, and his heart of the murder is fain, And he thinks of the deeds of Sigurd, and praiseth his greatness and gain; Bright blue is his blade in the moonlight—but lo, how Sigurd lies, As the carven dead that die not, with fair wide-open eyes; And their glory gleameth on Guttorm, and the hate in his heart is chilled, And he shrinketh aback from the threshold and knoweth not what he willed.
But his brethren heed and hearken, and they hear the clash draw nigh, But they stir no whit in their pride, though the lord of all creatures should die. Then they see where cometh Guttorm, but they cast him never a word, For white 'neath the flickering torches they see his unstained sword; But he gazed on those Kings of the kindred, and the beast of war awoke; And his heart was exceeding wrathful with the tarrying of the stroke: And he strode to the chamber of Sigurd, and again they heeded well How the clash, in the cloister awakened, by the threshold died and fell.
But Guttorm gazed from the threshold, and the moon was fading away From the golden bed of Sigurd, and the Niblung woman lay On the bosom of the Volsung, and her hand lay light on her lord; But dread were his eyes wide-open, and they gleamed against the sword, And Guttorm shrank from before them, and back to the hall he came: There the biding brethren behold him flash wild in the torches' flame, Nor stir their lips to question; but their swords on their knees are laid; The torches faint in the dawning, and they see his unstained blade.
Now dieth moon and candle, and though the day be nigh The roof of the hall fair-builded seems far aloof as the sky, But a glimmer grows on the pavement and the ernes on the roof-ridge stir: Then the brethren hist and hearken, for a sound of feet they hear, And into the hall of the Niblungs a white thing cometh apace: But the sword of Guttorm upriseth, and he wendeth from his place, And the clash of steel goes with him; yet loud as it may sound Still more they hear those footsteps light-falling on the ground, And the hearts of the Niblungs waver, and their pride is smitten acold, For they look on that latest comer, and Brynhild they behold: But she sits by their side in silence, and heeds them nothing more Than the grey soft-footed morning heeds yester-even's war.
But Guttorm clashed in the cloisters and through the silence strode And scarce on the threshold of Sigurd a little while abode: There the moon from the floor hath departed and heaven without is grey, And afar in the eastern quarter faint glimmer streaks of day. Close over the head of Sigurd the Wrath gleams wan and bare, And the Niblung woman stirreth, and her brow is knit with fear; But the King's closed eyes are hidden, loose lie his empty hands, There is nought 'twixt the sword of the slayer and the Wonder of all Lands. Then Guttorm laughed in his war-rage, and his sword leapt up on high, As he sprang to the bed from the threshold and cried a wordless cry, And with all the might of the Niblungs through Sigurd's body thrust, And turned and fled from the chamber, and fell amid the dust, Within the door and without it, the slayer slain by the slain; For the cast of the sword of Sigurd had smitten his body atwain While yet his cry of onset through the echoing chambers went.
Woe's me! how the house of the Niblungs by another cry was rent, The wakening wail of Gudrun, as she shrank in the river of blood From the breast of the mighty Sigurd: he heard it and understood, And rose up on the sword of Guttorm, and turned from the country of death, And spake words of loving-kindness as he strove for life and breath:
"Wail not, O child of the Niblungs! I am smitten, but thou shalt live, In remembrance of our glory, mid the gifts the Gods shall give!"
She stayed her cry to hearken, and her heart well nigh stood still: But he spake: "Mourn not, O Gudrun, this stroke is the last of ill; Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of the morn; Mayst thou live, O woman beloved, unforsaken, unforlorn!"
Then he sank aback on the sword, and down to his lips she bent If some sound therefrom she might hearken; for his breath was well-nigh spent: "It is Brynhild's deed," he murmured, "and the woman that loves me well; Nought now is left to repent of, and the tale abides to tell. I have done many deeds in my life-days, and all these, and my love, they lie In the hollow hand of Odin till the day of the world go by. I have done and I may not undo, I have given and I take not again: Art thou other than I, Allfather, wilt thou gather my glory in vain?"
There was silence then in the chamber, as the dawn spread wide and grey, And hushed was the hall of the Niblungs at the entering-in of day. Long Gudrun hung o'er the Volsung and waited the coming word; Then she stretched out her hand to Sigurd and touched her love and her lord, And the broad day fell on his visage, and she knew she was there alone, And her heart was wrung with anguish and she uttered a weary moan: Then Brynhild laughed in the hall, and the first of men's voices was that Since when on yester-even the kings in the high-seat had sat.
But the wrath of Gunnar was kindled and the words of the king out-brake, "Woe's me, thou wonder of women! thou art glad for no man's sake, Nay not for thine own, meseemeth, for thou bidest here as the dead, As the pale ones stricken deedless, whose tale of life is sped."
She hearkened him not nor answered; and day came on apace, And they heard the anguish of Gudrun and her voice in the ancient place.
"Awake, O House of the Niblungs! for my kin hath slain my lord. Awake, awake, to the murder, and the edges of the sword! Awake, go forth and be merry! and yet shall the day betide, When ye stand in the garth of the foemen, and death is on every side, And ye look about and around you, and right and left ye look For the least of the hours of Sigurd, and his hand that the battle shook: Then be your hope as mine is, then face ye death and shame As I face the desolation, and the days without a name!"
And she shrieked as the woe gathered on her, and the sun rose over her head: "Wake, wake, O men of this house, for Sigurd the Volsung is dead!"
In the house rose rumour and stir, and men stood up in the morn, And their hearts with doubt were shaken, as if with the Uttermost Horn: The cry and the calling spread, and shields clashed down from the wall, And swords in the chamber glittered, and men ran apace to the hall. Nor knew what man to question, nor who had tidings to give, Nor what were the days thenceforward wherein the folk should live. But ever the word is amongst them that Sigurd the Volsung is slain, And the spears in the hall were tossing as the rye in the windy plain. But they look aloft to the high-seat and they see the gleam of the gold: And Gunnar the King of battle, and Hogni wise and cold, And Brynhild the wonder of women; and her face is deadly pale, And the Kings are clad in their war-gear, and bared are the edges of bale. Then cold fear falleth upon them, but the noise and the clamour abate, And they look on the war-wise Gunnar and awhile for his word they wait; But e'en as he riseth above them, doth a shriek through the tumult ring:
"Awake, O House of the Niblungs, for slain is Sigurd the King!"
Then nothing faltered Gunnar, but he stood o'er the Niblung folk, And over the hall woe-stricken the words of pride he spoke:
"Mourn now, O Niblung people, for gone is Sigurd our guest, And Guttorm the King is departed, and this is our day of unrest; But all this of the Norns was fore-ordered, and herein is Odin's hand; Cast down are the mighty of men-folk, but the Niblung house shall stand: Mourn then today and tomorrow, but the third day waken and live, For the Gods died not this morning, and great gifts they have to give."
He spake and awhile was silence, and then did the cry outbreak, And many there were of the Earl-folk that wept for Sigurd's sake; And they wept for their little children, and they wept for those unborn, Who should know the earth without him and the world of his worth forlorn. But wild is the wailing of women as they fare to the place of the dead, Where cold is Gudrun sitting mid the waste of Sigurd's bed. Then they take the man beloved, and bear him forth to the hall, And spread the linen above him, and cloth of purple and pall; And meekly Gudrun followeth, and she sitteth down thereby, But mute is her mouth henceforward, and she giveth forth no cry, And no word of lamentation, though far abroad they weep For the gift of the Gods departed, and the golden Sigurd's sleep.
Meanwhile elsewhere the women and the wives of the Niblungs wail O'er the body of King Guttorm and array him for the bale, And Grimhild opens her treasure and bears forth plenteous gold And goodly things for his journey, and the land of Death acold.
So rent is the joy of the Niblungs; and their simple days and fain From that ancient house are departed, and who shall buy them again? For he, the redeemer, the helper, the crown of all their worth, They looked upon him and wondered, they loved; and they thrust him forth.
Of the mighty Grief of Gudrun over Sigurd dead.
Of old in the days past over was Gudrun blent with the dead, As she sat in measureless sorrow o'er Sigurd's wasted bed, But no sigh came from her bosom, nor smote she hand in hand, Nor wailed with the other women, and the daughters of the land; Then the wise of the Earls beheld her, smit cold with her dread intent, And they rose one after other, and before the Queen they went; Men ancient, men mighty in battle, men sweet of speech were there, And they loved her, and entreated, and spake good words to hear: But no tears and no lamenting in Gudrun's heart would strive With the deadly chill of sorrow that none may bear and live.
Now there were the King-folk's daughters, and wives of the Earls of war, The fair, and the noble-hearted, the wise in ancient lore; And they rose one after other, and stood before the Queen To tell of their woes past over, and the worst their eyes had seen: There was Giaflaug, Giuki's sister, she was old and stark to see, And she said: "O heavyhearted; they slew my King from me: Look up, O child of the Niblungs, and hearken mournful things Of the woes of living man-folk and the daughters of the Kings! Dead now is the last of my brethren; to the dead my sister went; My son and my little daughter in the earliest days were spent: On the earth am I living loveless, long past are the happy days, They lie with things departed and vain and foolish praise, And the hopes of hapless people: yet I sit with the people's lords When men are hushed to hearken the least of all my words. What else is the wont of the Niblungs? why else by the Gods were they wrought, Save to wear down lamentation, and make all sorrow nought?"
No word of woe gat Gudrun, nor had she will to weep, Such weight of woe was on her for the golden Sigurd's sleep: Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew For the love they had taken from her, and the day with nought to do.
Then troth-plight maids forsaken, and never-wedded ones, And they that mourned dead husbands and the hope of unborn sons, These told of their bitterest trouble and the worst their eyes had seen; "Yet all we live to love thee, and the glory of the Queen. Look up, look up, O Gudrun! what rest for them that wail If the Queens of men shall tremble, and the God-kin faint and fail?"
No voice gat Gudrun's sorrow, no care she had to weep; For the deeds of the day she knew not, nor the dreams of Sigurd's sleep: Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew, Because of her love departed, and the day with nought to do.
Then spake a Queen of Welshland, and Herborg hight was she: "O frozen heart of sorrow, the Norns dealt worse with me: Of old, in the days departed, were my brave ones under shield, Seven sons, and the eighth, my husband, and they fell in the Southland field: Yet lived my father and mother, yet lived my brethren four, And I bided their returning by the sea-washed bitter shore: But the winds and death played with them, o'er the wide sea swept the wave, The billows beat on the bulwarks and took what the battle gave: Alone I sang above them, alone I dight their gear For the uttermost journey of all men, in the harvest of the year: Nor wakened spring from winter ere I left those early dead; With bound hands and shameful body I went as the sea-thieves led: Now I sit by the hearth of a stranger; nor have I weal nor woe, Save the hope of the Niblung masters and the sorrow of a foe."
No wailing word gat Gudrun, no thought she had to weep O'er the sundering tide of Sigurd, and the loved lord's lonely sleep: Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew, Since her love was taken from her and the day of deeds to do.
Then arose a maid of the Niblungs, and Gullrond was her name, And betwixt that Queen of Welshland and Gudrun's grief she came: And she said: "O foster-mother, O wise in the wisdom of old, Hast thou spoken a word to the dead, and known them hear and behold? E'en so is this word thou speakest, and the counsel of thy face."
All heed gave the maids and the warriors, and hushed was the spear-thronged place, As she stretched out her hand to Sigurd, and swept the linen away From the lips that had holpen the people, and the eyes that had gladdened the day; She set her hand unto Sigurd, and turned the face of the dead To the moveless knees of Gudrun, and again she spake and said:
"O Gudrun, look on thy loved-one; yea, as if he were living yet Let his face by thy face be cherished, and thy lips on his lips be set!"
Then Gudrun's eyes fell on it, and she saw the bright-one's hair All wet with the deadly dew-fall, and she saw the great eyes stare At that cloudy roof of the Niblungs without a smile or frown; And she saw the breast of the mighty and the heart's wall rent adown: She gazed and the woe gathered on her, so exceeding far away Seemed all she once had cherished from that which near her lay; She gazed, and it craved no pity, and therein was nothing sad, Therein was clean forgotten the hope that Sigurd had: Then she looked around and about her, as though her friend to find, And met those woeful faces but as grey reeds in the wind, And she turned to the King beneath her and raised her hands on high, And fell on the body of Sigurd with a great and bitter cry; All else in the house kept silence, and she as one alone Spared not in that kingly dwelling to wail aloud and moan; And the sound of her lamentation the peace of the Niblungs rent, While the restless birds in the wall-nook their song to the green leaves sent; And the geese in the home-mead wandering clanged out beneath the sun; For now was the day's best hour, and its loveliest tide begun.
Long Gudrun lay on Sigurd, and her tears fell fast on the floor As the rain in midmost April when the winter-tide is o'er, Till she heard a wail anigh her and how Gullrond wept beside, Then she knew the voice of her pity, and rose upright and cried:
"O ye, e'en such was my Sigurd among these Giuki's sons, As the hart with the horns day-brightened mid the forest-creeping ones; As the spear-leek fraught with wisdom mid the lowly garden grass; As the gem on the gold band's midmost when the council cometh to pass, And the King is lit with its glory, and the people wonder and praise. —O people, Ah thy craving for the least of my Sigurd's days! O wisdom of my Sigurd! how oft I sat with thee Thou striver, thou deliverer, thou hope of things to be! O might of my love, my Sigurd! how oft I sat by thy side, And was praised for the loftiest woman and the best of Odin's pride! But now am I as little as the leaf on the lone tree left, When the winter wood is shaken and the sky by the North is cleft."
Then her speech grew wordless wailing, and no man her meaning knew; Till she hushed her swift and turned her; for a laugh her wail pierced through, As a whistling shaft the night-wind in some foe-encompassed wood; And lo, by the nearest pillar the wife of Gunnar stood; There stood the allwise Brynhild 'gainst the golden carving pressed, As she stared at the wound of Sigurd and that rending of his breast: But she felt the place fallen silent, and the speechless anger set On her own chill, bitter sorrow; and the eyes of the women met, And they stood in the hall together, as they stood that while ago, When they twain in Brynhild's dwelling of days to come would know: But every soul kept silence, and all hearts were chill as stone As Brynhild spake: "Thou woman, shall thine eyes be wet alone? Shalt thou weep and speak in thy glory, when I may weep no more, When I speak, and my speech is as silence to the man that loved me sore?"
Then folk heard the woe of Gudrun, and the bitterness of hate: "Day cursed o'er every other! when they opened wide the gate, And Kings in gold arrayed them, and all men the joy might hear, As Greyfell neighed in the forecourt the world's delight to bear, And my brethren shook the world-ways as they rode to Brynhild's bower, —An ill day—an evil woman—a most untimely hour!"
But she wailed: "The seat is empty, and empty is the bed, And earth is hushed henceforward of the words my speech-friend said! Lo, the deeds of the sons of Giuki, and my brethren of one womb! Lo, the deeds of the sons of Giuki for the latter days of doom! O hearken, hearken Gunnar! May the dear Gold drag thee adown, And Greyfell's ruddy Burden, and the Treasure of renown, And the rings that ye swore the oath on! yea, if all avengers die, May Earth, that ye bade remember, on the blood of Sigurd cry! Be this land as waste as the trothplight that the lips of fools have sworn! May it rain through this broken hall-roof, and snow on the hearth forlorn! And may no man draw anigh it to tell of the ruin and the wrack! Yea, may I be a mock for the idle if my feet come ever aback, If my heart think kind of the chambers, if mine eyes shall yearn to behold The fair-built house of my fathers, the house beloved of old!"
Then she waileth out before them, and hideth her face from the day, And she casteth her down from the high-seat and fleeth fast away; And forth from the Hall of the Niblungs, and forth from the Burg is she gone, And forth from the holy dwellings, and a long way forth alone, Till she comes to the lonely wood-waste, the desert of the deer By the feet of the lonely mountains, that no man draweth anear; But the wolves are about and around her, and death seems better than life, And folding the hands and forgetting a merrier thing than strife; And for long and long thereafter no man of Gudrun knows, Nor who are the friends of her life-days, nor whom she calleth her foes.
But how great in the hall of the Niblungs is the voice of weeping and wail! Men bide on the noon's departing, men bide till the eve shall fail, Then they wend one after other to the sleep that all men win, Till few are the hall-abiders, and the moon is white therein, And no sound in the house may ye hearken save the ernes that stir o'erhead, And the far-off wail o'er Guttorm and the wakeners o'er the dead: But still by the carven pillar doth the all-wise Brynhild stand A-gaze on the wound of Sigurd, nor moveth foot nor hand, Nor speaketh word to any, of them that come or go Round the evil deed of the Niblungs and the corner-stone of woe.
Of the passing away of Brynhild.
Once more on the morrow-morning fair shineth the glorious suns And the Niblung children labour on a deed that shall be done. For out in the people's meadows they raise a bale on high, The oak and the ash together, and thereon shall the Mighty lie; Nor gold nor steel shall be lacking, nor savour of sweet spice, Nor cloths in the Southlands woven, nor webs of untold price: The work grows, toil is as nothing; long blasts of the mighty horn From the topmost tower out-wailing o'er the woeful world are borne.
But Brynhild lay in her chamber, and her women went and came, And they feared and trembled before her, and none spake Sigurd's name; But whiles they deemed her weeping, and whiles they deemed indeed That she spake, if they might but hearken, but no words their ears might heed; Till at last she spake out clearly: "I know not what ye would; For ye come and go in my chamber, and ye seem of wavering mood To thrust me on, or to stay me; to help my heart in woe, Or to bid my days of sorrow midst nameless folly go."
None answered the word of Brynhild, none knew of her intent; But she spake: "Bid hither Gunnar, lest the sun sink o'er the bent, And leave the words unspoken I yet have will to speak."
Then her maidens go from before her, and that lord of war they seek, And he stands by the bed of Brynhild and strives to entreat and beseech, But her eyes gaze awfully on him, and his lips may learn no speech. And she saith: "I slept in the morning, or I dreamed in the waking-hour, And my dream was of thee, O Gunnar, and the bed in thy kingly bower, And the house that I blessed in my sorrow, and cursed in my sorrow and shame, The gates of an ancient people, the towers of a mighty name: King, cold was the hall I have dwelt in, and no brand burned on the hearth; Dead-cold was thy bed, O Gunnar, and thy land was parched with dearth: But I saw a great King riding, and a master of the harp, And he rode amidst of the foemen, and the swords were bitter-sharp, But his hand in the hand-gyves smote not, and his feet in the fetters were fast, While many a word of mocking at his speechless face was cast. Then I heard a voice in the world: 'O woe for the broken troth, And the heavy Need of the Niblungs, and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth! Then I saw the halls of the strangers, and the hills, and the dark-blue sea, Nor knew of their names and their nations, for earth was afar from me, But brother rose up against brother, and blood swam over the board, And women smote and spared not, and the fire was master and lord. Then, then was the moonless mid-mirk, and I woke to the day and the deed, The deed that earth shall name not, the day of its bitterest need. Many words have I said in my life-days, and little more shall I say: Ye have heard the dream of a woman, deal with it as ye may: For meseems the world-ways sunder, and the dusk and the dark is mine, Till I come to the hall of Freyia, where the deeds of the mighty shall shine.'"
So hearkened Gunnar the Niblung, that her words he understood, And he knew she was set on the death-stroke, and he deemed it nothing good: But he said: "I have hearkened, and heeded thy death and mine in thy words: I have done the deed and abide it, and my face shall laugh on the swords; But thee, woman, I bid thee abide here till thy grief of soul abate; Meseems nought lowly nor shameful shall be the Niblung fate; And here shalt thou rule and be mighty, and be queen of the measureless Gold, And abase the kings and upraise them; and anew shall thy fame be told, And as fair shall thy glory blossom as the fresh fields under the spring."
Then he casteth his arms about her, and hot is the heart of the King For the glory of Queen Brynhild and the hope of her days of gain, And he clean forgetteth Sigurd and the foster-brother slain: But she shrank aback from before him, and cried: "Woe worth the while For the thoughts ye drive back on me, and the memory of your guile! The Kings of earth were gathered, the wise of men were met; On the death of a woman's pleasure their glorious hearts were set, And I was alone amidst them—Ah, hold thy peace hereof! Lest the thought of the bitterest hours this little hour should move."
He rose abashed from before her, and yet he lingered there; Then she said: "O King of the Niblungs, what noise do I hearken and hear? Why ring the axes and hammers, while feet of men go past, And shields from the wall are shaken, and swords on the pavement cast, And the door of the treasure is opened; and the horn cries loud and long, And the feet of the Niblung children to the people's meadows throng?"
His face was troubled before her, and again she spake and said: "Meseemeth this is the hour when men array the dead; Wilt thou tell me tidings, Gunnar, that the children of thy folk Pile up the bale for Guttorm, and the hand that smote the stroke?"
He said: "It is not so, Brynhild; for that Giuki's son was burned When the moon of the middle heaven last night toward dawning turned."
They looked on each other and spake not; but Gunnar gat him gone, And came to his brother Hogni, the wise-heart Giuki's son, And spake: "Thou art wise, O Hogni; go in to Brynhild the queen, And stay her swift departing; or the last of her days hath she seen."
"It is nought, thy word," said Hogni; "wilt thou bring dead men aback, Or the souls of kings departed midst the battle and the wrack? Yet this shall be easier to thee than the turning Brynhild's heart; She came to dwell among us, but in us she had no part; Let her go her ways from the Niblungs with her hand in Sigurd's hand. Will the grass grow up henceforward where her feet have trodden the land?"
"O evil day," said Gunnar, "when my queen must perish and die!"
"Such oft betide," saith Hogni, "as the lives of men flit by; But the evil day is a day, and on each day groweth a deed, And a thing that never dieth; and the fateful tale shall speed. Lo now, let us harden our hearts and set our brows as the brass, Lest men say it, 'They loathed the evil and they brought the evil to pass.'"
So they spake, and their hearts were heavy, and they longed for the morrow morn, And the morrow of tomorrow, and the new day yet to be born.
But Brynhild cried to her maidens: "Now open ark and chest, And draw forth queenly raiment of the loveliest and the best, Red rings that the Dwarf-lords fashioned, fair cloths that queens have sewed, To array the bride for the mighty, and the traveller for the road."
They wept as they wrought her bidding and did on her goodliest gear; But she laughed mid the dainty linen, and the gold-rings fashioned fair: She arose from the bed of the Niblungs, and her face no more was wan; As a star in the dawn-tide heavens, mid the dusky house she shone: And they that stood about her, their hearts were raised aloft Amid their fear and wonder: then she spake them kind and soft:
"Now give me the sword, O maidens, wherewith I sheared the wind When the Kings of Earth were gathered to know the Chooser's mind."
All sheathed the maidens brought it, and feared the hidden blade, But the naked blue-white edges across her knees she laid, And spake: "The heaped-up riches, the gear my fathers left, All dear-bought woven wonders, all rings from battle reft, All goods of men desired, now strew them on the floor, And so share among you, maidens, the gifts of Brynhild's store."
They brought them mid their weeping, but none put forth a hand To take that wealth desired, the spoils of many a land: There they stand and weep before her, and some are moved to speech, And they cast their arms about her and strive with her, and beseech That she look on her loved-ones' sorrow and the glory of the day. It was nought; she scarce might see them, and she put their hands away And she said: "Peace, ye that love me! and take the gifts and the gold In remembrance of my fathers and the faithful deeds of old."
Then she spake: "Where now is Gunnar, that I may speak with him? For new things are mine eyes beholding and the Niblung house grows dim, And new sounds gather about me, that may hinder me to speak When the breath is near to flitting, and the voice is waxen weak."
Then upright by the bed of the Niblungs for a moment doth she stand, And the blade flasheth bright in the chamber, but no more they hinder her hand Than if a God were smiting to rend the world in two: Then dulled are the glittering edges, and the bitter point cleaves through The breast of the all-wise Brynhild, and her feet from the pavement fail, And the sigh of her heart is hearkened mid the hush of the maidens' wail. Chill, deep is the fear upon them, but they bring her aback to the bed, And her hand is yet on the hilts, and sidelong droopeth her head.
Then there cometh a cry from withoutward, and Gunnar's hurrying feet Are swift on the kingly threshold, and Brynhild's blood they meet. Low down o'er the bed he hangeth and hearkeneth for her word, And her heavy lids are opened to look on the Niblung lord, And she saith: "I pray thee a prayer, the last word in the world I speak, That ye bear me forth to Sigurd, and the hand my hand would seek; The bale for the dead is builded, it is wrought full wide on the plain, It is raised for Earth's best Helper, and thereon is room for twain: Ye have hung the shields about it, and the Southland hangings spread, There lay me adown by Sigurd and my head beside his head: But ere ye leave us sleeping, draw his Wrath from out the sheath, And lay that Light of the Branstock, and the blade that frighted deaths Betwixt my side and Sigurd's, as it lay that while agone, When once in one bed together we twain were laid alone: How then when the flames flare upward may I be left behind? How then may the road he wendeth be hard for my feet to find? How then in the gates of Valhall may the door of the gleaming ring Clash to on the heel of Sigurd, as I follow on my king?"
Then she raised herself on her elbow, but again her eyelids sank, And the wound by the sword-edge whispered, as her heart from the iron shrank, And she moaned: "O lives of man-folk, for unrest all overlong By the Father were ye fashioned; and what hope amendeth a wrong? Now at last, O my beloved, all is gone; none else is near, Through the ages of all ages, never sundered, shall we wear."
Scarce more than a sigh was the word, as back on the bed she fell, Nor was there need in the chamber of the passing of Brynhild to tell; And no more their lamentation might the maidens hold aback, But the sound of their bitter mourning was as if red-handed wrack Ran wild in the Burg of the Niblungs, and the fire were master of all.
Then the voice of Gunnar the war-king cried out o'er the weeping hall: "Wail on, O women forsaken, for the mightiest woman born! Now the hearth is cold and joyless, and the waste bed lieth forlorn. Wail on, but amid your weeping lay hand to the glorious dead, That not alone for an hour may lie Queen Brynhild's head: For here have been heavy tidings, and the Mightiest under shield Is laid on the bale high-builded in the Niblungs' hallowed field. Fare forth! for he abideth, and we do Allfather wrong, If the shining Valhall's pavement await their feet o'erlong."
Then they took the body of Brynhild in the raiment that she wore, And out through the gate of the Niblungs the holy corpse they bore, And thence forth to the mead of the people, and the high-built shielded bale; Then afresh in the open meadows breaks forth the women's wail When they see the bed of Sigurd and the glittering of his gear; And fresh is the wail of the people as Brynhild draweth anear, And the tidings go before her that for twain the bale is built, That for twain is the oak-wood shielded and the pleasant odours spilt.
There is peace on the bale of Sigurd, and the Gods look down from on high, And they see the lids of the Volsung close shut against the sky, As he lies with his shield beside him in the Hauberk all of gold, That has not its like in the heavens, nor has earth of its fellow told; And forth from the Helm of Aweing are the sunbeams flashing wide, And the sheathed Wrath of Sigurd lies still by his mighty side. Then cometh an elder of days, a man of the ancient times, Who is long past sorrow and joy, and the steep of the bale he climbs; And he kneeleth down by Sigurd, and bareth the Wrath to the sun That the beams are gathered about it, and from hilt to blood-point run, And wide o'er the plain of the Niblungs doth the Light of the Branstock glare, Till the wondering mountain-shepherds on that star of noontide stare, And fear for many an evil; but the ancient man stands still With the war-flame on his shoulder, nor thinks of good or of ill, Till the feet of Brynhild's bearers on the topmost bale are laid, And her bed is dight by Sigurd's; then he sinks the pale white blade And lays it 'twixt the sleepers, and leaves them there alone— He, the last that shall ever behold them,—and his days are well nigh done.
Then is silence over the plain; in the noon shine the torches pale As the best of the Niblung Earl-folk bear fire to the builded bale: Then a wind in the west ariseth, and the white flames leap on highs And with one voice crieth the people a great and mighty cry, And men cast up hands to the Heavens, and pray without a word, As they that have seen God's visage, and the face of the Father have heard.
They are gone—the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth: It shall labour and bear the burden as before that day of their birth: It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd hath sped, And the hour that Brynhild hath hastened, and the dawn that waketh the dead: It shall yearn, and be oft-times holpen, and forget their deeds no more, Till the new sun beams on Baldur, and the happy sealess shore.
HEREIN IS TOLD OF THE DAYS OF THE NIBLUNGS AFTER THEY SLEW SIGURD, AND OF THEIR WOEFUL NEED AND FALL IN THE HOUSE OF KING ATLI.
King Atli wooeth and weddeth Gudrun.
Hear now of those Niblung war-kings, how in glorious state they dwell; They do and undo at their pleasure and wear their life-days well; They deal out doom to the people, and their hosts of war array, Nor storm nor wind nor winter their eager swords shall stay: They ride the lealand highways, they ride the desert plain, They cry out kind to the Sea-god and loose the wave-steed's rein: They climb the unmeasured mountains, and gleam on the world beneath, And their swords are the blinding lightning, and their shields are the shadow of death: When men tell of the lords of the Goth-folk, of the Niblungs is their word, All folk in the round world's compass of their mighty fame have heard: They are lords of the Ransom of Odin, the uncounted sea-born Gold, The Grief of the wise Andvari, the Death of the Dwarfs of old, The gleaming Load of Greyfell, the ancient Serpent's Bed, The store of the days forgotten, by the dead heaped up for the dead. Lo, such are the Kings of the Niblungs, but yet they crave and desire Lest the world hold greater than they, lest the Gods and their kindred be higher.
Fair, bright is their hall in the even; still up to the cloudy roof There goeth the glee and the singing while the eagles chatter aloof, And the Gods on the hangings waver in the doubtful wind of night; Still fair are the linen-clad damsels, still are the war-dukes bright; Men come and go in the even; men come and go in the morn; Good tidings with the daybreak, fair fame with the glooming is born: —But no tidings of Sigurd and Brynhild, and whoso remembereth their days Turns back to the toil or the laughter from his words of lamenting or praise, Turns back to the glorious Gunnar, casts hope on the Niblung name, Doeth deeds from the morn to the even, and beareth no burden of shame.
Well wedded is Gunnar the King, and Hogni hath wedded a wife; Fair queens are those wives of the Niblungs, good helpmates in peace and in strife Sweet they sit on the golden high-seat, and Grimhild sitteth beside, And the years have made her glorious, and the days have swollen her pride; She looketh down on the people, from on high she looketh down, And her days have become a wonder, and her redes are wisdom's crown. She saith: Where then are the Gods? what things have they shapen and made More of might than the days I have shapen? of whom shall our hearts be afraid?
Now there was a King of the outlands, and Atli was his name, The lord of a mighty people, a man of marvellous fame, Who craved the utmost increase of all that kings desire; Who would reach his hand to the gold as it ran in the ruddy fire, Or go down to the ocean-pavement to harry the people beneath, Or cast up his sword at the Gods, or bid the friendship of death.
By hap was the man unwedded, and wide in the world he sought For a queen to increase his glory lest his name should come to nought; And no kin like the kin of the Niblungs he found in all the earth. No treasure like their treasure, no glory like their worth; So he sendeth an ancient war-duke with a goodly company, And three days they ride the mirk-wood and ten days they sail the sea, And three days they ride the highways till they come to Gunnar's land; And there on an even of summer in Gunnar's hall they stand, And the spears of Welshland glitter, and the Southland garments gleam, For those folk are fair apparelled as the people of a dream.
But the glorious Son of Giuki from amidst the high-seat spoke: "Why stand ye mid men sitting, or fast mid feasting folk? No meat nor drink there lacketh, and the hall is long and wide. Three days in the peace of the Niblungs unquestioned shall ye bide, Then timely do your message, and bid us peace or war."
But spake the Earl of Atli yet standing on the floor: "All hail, O glorious Gunnar, O mighty King of men! O'er-short is the life of man-folk, the three-score years and ten, Long, long is the craft for the learning, and sore doth the right hand waste: Lo, lord, our spurs are bloody, and our brows besweat with haste; Our gear is stained by the sea-spray and rent by bitter gales, For we struck no mast to the tempest, and the East was in our sails; By the thorns is our raiment rended, for we rode the mirk-wood through, And our steeds were the God-bred coursers, nor day from night-tide knew: Lo, we are the men of Atli, and his will and his spoken word Lies not beneath our pillow, nor hangs above the board; Nay, how shall it fail but slay us if three days we hold it hid? —I will speak to-night, O Niblung, save thy very mouth forbid: But lo now, look on the tokens, and the rune-staff of the King."
Then spake the Son of Giuki: "Give forth the word and the thing. Since thy faithfulness constraineth: but I know thy tokens true, And thy rune-staff hath the letters that in days agone I knew."
"Then this is the word," said the elder, "that Atli set in my mouth: 'I have known thee of old, King Gunnar, when we twain drew sword in the south In the days of thy father Giuki, and great was the fame of thee then: But now it rejoiceth my heart that thou growest the greatest of men, And anew I crave thy friendship, and I crave a gift at thy hands, That thou give me the white-armed Gudrun, the queen and the darling of lands, To be my wife and my helpmate, my glory in hall and afield; That mine ancient house may blossom and fresh fruit of the King-tree yield. I send thee gifts moreover, though little things be these. But such is the fashion of great-ones when they speak across the seas.'"
Then cried out that earl of the strangers, and men brought the gifts and the gold; White steeds from the Eastland horse-plain, fine webs of price untold, Huge pearls of the nether ocean, strange masteries subtly wrought By the hands of craftsmen perished and people come to nought.
But Gunnar laughed and answered: "King Atli speaketh well; Across the sea, peradventure, I too a tale may tell: Now born is thy burden of speech; so rejoice at the Niblung board, For here art thou sweetly welcome for thyself and thy mighty lord: And maybe by this time tomorrow, or maybe in a longer space, Shall ye have an answer for Atli, and a word to gladden his face."
So the strangers sit and are merry, and the Wonder of the East And the glory of the Westland kissed lips in the Niblung feast.
But again on the morrow-morning speaks Gunnar with Grimhild and saith: "Where then in the world is Gudrun, and is she delivered from death? For nought hereof hast thou told me: but the wisest of women art thou, And I deem that all things thou knowest, and thy cunning is timely now; For King Atli wooeth my sister; and as wise as thou mayst be, What thing mayst thou think of greater 'twixt the ice and the uttermost sea Than the might of the Niblung people, if this wedding come to pass?"
Then answered the mighty Grimhild, and glad of heart she was: "It is sooth that Gudrun liveth; for that daughter of thy folk Fled forth from the Burg of the Niblungs when the Volsung's might ye broke: She fled from all holy dwellings to the houses of the deer, And the feet of the mountains deserted that few folk come anear: There the wolves were about and around her, and no mind she had to live; Dull sleep she deemed was better than with turmoiled thought to strive: But there rode a wife in the wood, a queen of the daughters of men, And she came where Gudrun abided, whose might was minished as then, Till she was as a child forgotten; nor that queen might she gainsay; Who took the white-armed Gudrun, and bore my daughter away To her burg o'er the hither mountains; there she cherished her soft and sweet, Till she rose, from death delivered, and went upon her feet: She awoke and beheld those strangers, a trusty folk and a kind, A goodly and simple people, that few lords of war shall find: Glorious and mighty they deemed her, as an outcast wandering God, And she loved their loving-kindness, and the fields of the tiller she trod, And went 'twixt the rose and the lily, and sat in the chamber of wool, And smiled at the laughing maidens, and sang over shuttle and spool. Seven seasons there hath she bided, and this have I wotted for long; But I knew that her heart is as mine to remember the grief and the wrong, So the days of thy sister I told not, in her life would I have no part, Lest a foe for thy life I should fashion, and sharpen a sword for thine heart: But now is the day of our deeds, and no longer durst I refrain, Lest I put the Gods' hands from me, and make their gifts but vain. Yea, the woman is of the Niblungs, and often I knew her of old, How her heart would burn within her when the tale of their glory was told. With wisdom and craft shall I work, with the gifts that Odin hath given, Wherewith my fathers of old, and the ancient mothers have striven."
"Thy word is good," quoth Gunnar, "a happy word indeed: Lo, how shall I fear a woman, who have played with kings in my need? Yea, how may I speak of my sister, save well remembering How goodly she was aforetime, how fair in everything, How kind in the days passed over, how all fulfilled of love For the glory of the Niblungs, and the might that the world shall move? She shall see my face and Hogni's, she shall yearn to do our will, And the latter days of her brethren with glory shall fulfil."
Then Grimhild laughed and answered: "Today then shalt thou ride To the dwelling of Thora the Queen, for there doth thy sister abide."
As she spake came the wise-heart Hogni, and that speech of his mother he heard, And he said: "How then are ye saying a new and wonderful word, That ye meddle with Gudrun's sorrow, and her grief of heart awake? Will ye draw out a dove from her nest, and a worm to your hall-hearth take?"
"What then," said his brother Gunnar, "shall we thrust by Atli's word? Shall we strive, while the world is mocking, with the might of the Eastland sword, While the wise are mocking to see it, how the great devour the great?"
"O wise-heart Hogni," said Grimhild, "wilt thou strive with the hand of fate, And thrust back the hand of Odin that the Niblung glory will crown? Wert thou born in a cot-carle's chamber, or the bed of a King's renown?"
"I know not, I know not," said Hogni, "but an unsure bridge is the sea, And such would I oft were builded betwixt my foeman and me. I know a sorrow that sleepeth, and a wakened grief I know, And the torment of the mighty is a strong and fearful foe."
They spake no word before him; but he said: "I see the road; I see the ways we must journey—I have long cast off the load, The burden of men's bearing wherein they needs must bind All-eager hope unseeing with eyeless fear and blind: So today shall my riding be light; nor now, nor ever henceforth Shall men curse the sword of Hogni in the tale of the Niblung worth."