IV. Of the birth and fostering of Sinfiotli, Signy's Son.
So wrought is the will of King Siggeir, and he weareth Odin's sword,
And he holdeth the milk-white Signy as his handmaid and his wife,
And nought but his will she doeth, nor raiseth a word of strife;
So his heart is praising his wisdom, and he deems him of most avail
Of all the lords of the cunning that teacheth how to prevail.
Now again in a half-month's wearing goes Signy into the wild,
His words were few and heavy, for seldom his sorrow slept,
Yet ever his love went with them; and men say that Signy wept
When she left that last of her kindred: yet wept she never more
Amid the earls of Siggeir, and as lovely as before
Nor for fear nor any longing; and no man said for sooth
That she ever laughed thereafter till the day of her death was come.
So is Volsung's seed abiding in a rough and narrow home;
He fell on the men of the merchants, lest, wax he overbold,
The tale of the wood-abider too oft to the king should be told.
Alone in the woods he abided, and a master of masters was he
In the craft of the smithying folk; and whiles would the hunter see,
And the boldest of all the fishers would hear his hammer benight.
Then dim waxed the tale of the Volsungs, and the word mid the wood-folk rose
That a King of the Giants had wakened from amidst the stone-hedged close,
Where they slept in the heart of the mountains, and had come adown to dwell
To come anigh to his house-door, or wander wide in his woods,
For a tyrannous lord he is, and a lover of gold and of goods.
So win the long years over, and still sitteth Signy there
For the worship of her fairness, and remembrance of her ill.
So it fell on a morn of spring-tide, as Sigmund sat on the sward
And she cried:
"O Forest-dweller! harm not the child nor me,
For I bear a word of Signy's, and thus she saith to thee:
'I send thee a man to foster; if his heart be good at need
Then may he help thy work-day; but hearken my words and heed;
That thou weary thy heart with such-like: let him wend the ways of his fate.'"
And no more word spake the maiden, but turned and gat her gone,
So he took the lad on his shoulder, and bade him hold his sword,
And waded back to his dwelling across the rushing ford:
But the youngling fell a-prattling, and asked of this and that,
As above the rattle of waters on Sigmund's shoulder he sat!
So he fostered him there in the woodland in life full hard and rough
For the space of three months' wearing; and the lad was deft and strong,
Yet his sight was a grief to Sigmund because of his father's wrong.
On a morn to the son of King Siggeir Sigmund the Volsung said:
Against I bring the venison."
So forth he fared on his way,
And came again with the quarry about the noon of day;
Quoth he: "Is the morn's work done?" But the boy said nought for a space,
And all white he was and quaking as he looked on Sigmund's face.
“Tell me, O Son of the Goth-king," quoth Sigmund, "how thou hast fared?
Quoth the lad: "I went to the meal-sack, and therein was something quick,
Loud Sigmund laughed, and answered: "I have heard of that son of a king,
And said:"Now fearest thou this, that men call the serpent of death?"
Then said the son of King Siggeir: "I am young as yet for the war,
Then abroad went the King in the wind, and leaned on his naked sword
But at last when the moon was arisen, and the undark night begun,
He sheathed the sword and cried: "Come forth, King Siggeir's son,
Thou shalt wend from out of the wild-wood and no more will I foster thee."
Forth came the son of Siggeir, and quaked his face to see,
So they went through the summer night-tide by many a wood-way dim,
Till they came to a certain wood-lawn, and Sigmund lingered there,
And spake as his feet crushed o'er it: "The June flowers blossom fair."
So they came to the skirts of the forest, and the meadows of the neat,
There stayed Sigmund the Volsung, and said:
"King Siggeir's son,
Bide here till the birds are singing, and the day is well begun;
Then go to the house of the Goth-king, and find thou Signy the Queen,
And tell unto no man else the things thou hast heard and seen:
'Mother, I come from the wild-wood, and he saith, whatever befall
Alone will I abide there, nor have such fosterlings;
For the sons of the Gods may help me, but never the sons of Kings.'
Go, then, with this word in thy mouth, or do thou after thy fate,
Then he turned his back on the acres, and away to the woodland strode;
But the boy scarce bided the sunrise ere he went the homeward road;
So he came to the house of the Goth-kings, and spake with Signy the Queen,
Nor told he to any other the things he had heard and seen,
For the heart of a king's son had he.
And long she pondered, and said: "What is it my heart hath feared?
And how shall it be with earth's people if the kin of the Volsungs die,
And King Volsung unavenged in his mound by the sea-strand lie?
I have given my best and bravest, as my heart's blood I would give,
Lo the first gift cast aback: and how shall it be with the last,
If I find out the gift for the giving before the hour be passed?"
Long while she mused and pondered while day was thrust on day,
And that man in the depths of the forest in the cave of the Dwarfs of old.
And once in the dark she murmured: "Where then was the ancient song
That the Gods were but twin-born once, and deemed it nothing wrong
To mingle for the world's sake? whence had the Aesir birth,
Now amidst those days that she pondered came a wife of the witch-folk there,
Fierce then in the heart of Signy a sudden flame 'gan burn,
And the eyes of her soul saw all things, like the blind, whom the world's last fire
Hath healed in one passing moment 'twixt his death and his desire.
And she thought: "Alone I will bear it; alone I will take the crime;
Yea, and he for the life is fated and the help of many a folk,
And I for the death and the rest, and deliverance from the yoke."
Then wan as the midnight moon she answered the woman and spake:
As to change thy body for mine ere the night is waxen old?"
Nought the witch-wife fair gainsaid it, and they went to the bower aloft
But the guest held forth a mirror, and Signy shrank aback
From the laughing lips and the eyes, and the hair of crispy black,
But though she shuddered and sickened, the false face changed no whit;
But ruddy and white it blossomed and the smiles played over it;
And the light feet longed for the dance, and the lips for laughter and lies.
So that eve in the mid-hall's high-seat was the shape of Signy the Queen,
Her thoughts were of men's lives' changing, and the uttermost ending of earth,
And the day when death should be dead, and the new sun's nightless birth.
Men say that about that midnight King Sigmund wakened and heard
With her raiment wet to her midmost, as though with the river-wave:
And he cried: "What wilt thou, what wilt thou? be thou womankind or fay,
Here is no good abiding, wend forth upon thy way!"
She said: "I am nought but a woman, a maid of the earl-folk's kin:
And have strayed from the way benighted: and I fear the wolves and the wild:
By the glimmering of thy torchlight from afar was I beguiled.
Ah, slay me not on thy threshold, nor send me back again
Through the rattling waves of thy ford, that I crossed in terror and pain;
I am weak and thou art mighty: I will go at the dawning hour."
So Sigmund looked in her face and saw that she was fair;
As though I were nought but thy brother; and then mayst thou tell, if thou wilt,
Where dwelleth the dread of the woodland, the bearer of many a guilt,
Though meseems for so goodly a woman it were all too ill a deed
In reward for the wood-wight's guesting to betray him in his need."
So he took the hand of the woman and straightway led her in
And in many wise she wooed him; so they parted not that night,
Nor slept till the morrow morning, when the woods were waxen bright:
And high above the tree-boughs shone the sister of the moon,
And hushed were the water-ouzels with the coming of the noon
And turned to the dwellings of men, and the ways where the earl-folk rode.
But next morn from the house of the Goth-king the witch-wife went her ways
With gold and goods and silver, such store as a queen might praise.
But no long while with Sigmund dwelt remembrance of that night;
It fled like the dove in the forest or the down upon the blast:
Yet heavy and sad were the years, that even in suchwise passed,
As here it is written aforetime.
Thence were ten years worn by
When unto that hidden river a man-child drew anigh,
By the crag and the stony dwelling where the Dwarf-kin wrought of old.
Then the boy cried: "Thou art the wood-wight of whom my mother spake;
Now will I come to thy dwelling."
So the rough stream did he take,
And the welter of the waters rose up to his chin and more;
And he came and gazed on Sigmund: but the Volsung laughed, and said:
"As fast thou runnest toward me as others in their dread
Run over the land and the water: what wilt thou, son of a king?"
But the lad still gazed on Sigmund, and he said: "A wondrous thing!
But my mother Signy told me none might behold that face,
And keep his flesh from quaking: but at thee I quake not aught:
Sure I must journey further, lest her errand come to nought:
Yet I would that my foster-father should be such a man as thou."
But Sigmund answered and said: "Thou shalt bide in my dwelling now;
"Sinfiotli they call me," he said, "and ten summers have I seen;
So Sigmund looked on the youngling and his heart unto him yearned;
And what hath my heart to do to cherish Siggeir's son;
A brand belike for the burning when the last of its work is done?"
But there in the wild and the thicket those twain awhile abode,
Where hardihood might help him; but his heart was fierce and fell;
And ever said Sigmund the Volsung: The lad hath plenteous part
In the guile and malice of Siggeir, and in Signy's hardy heart:
But why should I cherish and love him, since the end must come at last?
Now a summer and winter and spring o'er those men of the wilds had passed
So he went and came on the hunting and brought the venison home,
And said: "Thou hast gotten us venison, and the bread shall nowise lack."
"Yea," quoth Sigmund the Volsung, "hast thou kneaded the meal that was yonder?"
“Yea, and what other?" he said; "though therein forsooth was a wonder:
But the meal must into the oven, since we were lacking bread,
And all that is kneaded together, and the wonder is baked and dead."
Then Sigmund laughed and answered: "Thou hast kneaded up therein
For here, the tale of the elders doth men a marvel to wit,
But now full glad was Sigmund, and he let his love arise
For the huge-limbed son of Signy with the fierce and eager eyes;
And all deeds of the sword he learned him, and showed him feats of war
Where sea and forest mingle, and up from the ocean's shore
And the spear-hedged wains of the merchants fare oft to the Goth-folk's town.
Sweet then Sinfiotli deemed it to look on the bale-fires' light,
And the bickering blood-reeds' tangle, and the fallow blades of fight.
And in three years' space were his war-deeds far more than the deeds of a man:
And grey and dreadful his face when the last of the battle sank.
And so the years won over, and the joy of the woods they drank,
And they gathered gold and silver, and plenteous outland goods.
But they came to a house on a day in the uttermost part of the woods
And lo, a gold-hung hall, and two men on the benches laid
In slumber as deep as the death; and gold rings great and fair
Those sleepers bore on their bodies, and broidered southland gear,
And over the head of each there hung a wolf-skin grey.
Then the drift of a cloudy dream wrapt Sigmund's soul away,
And he gathered the thing in his hand, and did it over him;
And in likewise did Sinfiotli as he saw his fosterer do.
Then lo, a fearful wonder, for as very wolves they grew
In outward shape and semblance, and they howled out wolfish things,
Abode in their bodies of beasts. Now sooth is the tale to tell,
That the men in the fair-wrought raiment were kings' sons bound by a spell
To wend as wolves of the wild-wood, for each nine days of the ten,
And to lie all spent for a season when they gat their shapes of men.
So Sigmund and his fellow rush forth from the golden place;
And lo now, a band of hunters on the uttermost woodland way,
Then onwards fare those were-wolves, and unto the sea they turn,
Then rose the axes aloft, and the swords flashed bright in the sun,
And but little more it needed that the race of the Volsungs was done,
And the folk of the Gods' begetting: but at last they quelled the war,
And no man again of the sea-folk should ever sit by the oar.
Now Sinfiotli lay weary and faint, but Sigmund howled over the dead,
And across the throat he tore him as his very mortal foe
Till a cold dead corpse by the sea-strand his fosterling lay alow:
Then wearier yet grew Sigmund, and the dim wit seemed to pass
From his heart grown cold and feeble; when lo, amid the grass
Till she lay there dead before him: then he sorrowed over her dead,
But no long while he abode there, but into the thicket he went,
And the wolfish heart of Sigmund knew somewhat his intent:
So he came again with a herb-leaf and laid it on his mate,
Than ever she was aforetime, and the twain went merry away.
Then swiftly rose up Sigmund from where his fosterling lay,
That hapless work of the witch-folk, and the skins that their bodies clad.
So they turn their faces homeward and a weary way they go,
Till they come to the hidden river, and the glimmering house they know.
There now they abide in peace, and wend abroad no more
And they might cast their wolf-shapes: so they stood on their feet upright
Great men again as aforetime, and they came forth into the light
And looked in each other's faces, and belike a change was there
Since they did on the bodies of wolves, and lay in the wood-wolves' lair;
First then spake out Sinfiotli: "Sure I had a craft to learn,
Come then, how long shall I tarry till I fashion something great?
Come, Master, and make me a master that I do the deeds of fate."
Heavy was Sigmund's visage but fierce did his eyen glow:
And saith: "Now think upon it; how shall thine heart avail
To bear the curse that cometh if thy life endureth long,
The man that slew his father and amended wrong with wrong?
Yet if the Gods have made thee a man unlike all men,
To use the thing they have fashioned lest the Volsung seed should die
And unavenged King Volsung in his mound by the sea-strand lie?"
Then loud laughed out Sinfiotli, and he said: "I wot indeed
Who gave me never a blessing, and many a cursing spake?
Yea, have I in sooth a father, save him that cherished my life,
The Lord of the Helm of Terror, the King of the Flame of Strife?
Lo now my hand is ready to strike what stroke thou wilt,
Fierce glowed the eyes of King Sigmund, for he knew the time was come