THE STORY OF
SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
AND THE FALL OF THE NIBLUNGS.
IN THIS BOOK IS TOLD OF THE DEEDS OF SIGURD, AND OF HIS SOJOURN WITH THE NIBLUNGS, AND IN THE END OF HOW HE DIED.
I. Of the Dream of Gudrun the Daughter of Giuki
AND now of the Niblung people the tale beginneth to tell,
And the dust is about and behind them, and the fear speeds on before,
As they shake the flowery meadows with the fleeting flood of war.
Yea, when they come from the battle, and the land lies down in peace.
No less in gear of warriors they gather earth's increase,
These come to the council of elders with sword and spear and shield,
And shout to their war-dukes' dooming of their uttermost desire :
These never bow the helm-crest before the High-Gods' fire
But show their swords to Odin, and cry on Vingi-Thor
Yet though amid their high-tides of the deaths of men they sing.
And of swords in the battle broken, and the fall of many a king,
Yet they sing it wreathed with the flowers and they praise the gift and the gain
Of the war-lord sped to Odin as he rends the battle atwain.
With sword and harp and beaker on the skirts of the Norns they wait.
Now the King of this folk is Giuki, and he sits in the Niblung hall
And his sons on each hand are sitting; there is Gunnar the great and fair,
With the lovely face of a king 'twixt the night of his wavy hair :
And there is the wise-heart Hogni; and his lips are close and thin,
And gray and awful his eyen, and a many sights they win :
And the heart that never resteth till the swords in the war-wind dance :
And there is Gudrun his daughter, and light she stands by the board,
And fair are her arms in the hall as the beaker's flood is poured :
She comes, and the earls keep silence; she smiles, and men rejoice;
So blossom the days of the Niblungs, and great is their hope's increase
Now betimes on a morning of summer that Giuki's daughter arose,
And she spake :
"What ails thee, daughter, as one asleep to tread
Why hast thou no more joyance on the damsels' glee to smile ?
Why biddest thou not to the wild-wood with horse and hawk and hound?
Why biddest thou not to the heathland and the eagle-haunted ground
To meet thy noble brethren as they ride from the mountain-road ?
Wouldst thou wend away from thy kindred, and scorn thy fosterer's praise?
— Or is this the beginning of love and the first of the troublous days ?"
Then spake the fair-armed Gudrun : "Nay nought I know of scorn
And I shall be fain tomorrow of the deeds that the maidens win :
But if I wend the summer in dull unlovely seeming,
It comes of the night, O mother, and the tide of last night's dreaming."
Then spake the ancient woman : "Thy dream to me shalt thou show ;
Blood-red was waxen Gudrun, and she said : "But little it is :
And the fear of men went with him, and the war-blast under his wings :
But I feared him never a deal, nay, hope came into my heart,
And meseemed in his war-bold ways I also had a part ;
And my eyes still followed his wings as hither and thither he swept
For over the hall of the Niblungs he hung a little space.
Then stooped to my very knees, and cried out kind in my face :
And fain and full was my heart, and I took him to my breast.
And fair methought was the world and a home of infinite rest."
Her speech dropped dead as she spake, and her eyes from the nurse she turned,
But the nurse laughed out and answered : "Such the dreams of maidens are ;
Who shall fly full wide o'er the world in fame and victory,
Till he hangs o'er the Niblung dwelling and stoops to thy very knee ?
And fain and full shall thine heart be, when his cheek shall cherish thy breast,
And fair things shalt thou deem of the world as a place of infinite rest."
But cold grew the maiden's visage : "God wot thou hast plenteous lore
For her forthright would I find, how far soever I fare,
Lest I wend like a fool in the world, and rejoice with my feet in the snare."
Quoth the nurse : "Though the dream be goodly and its reading easy and light,
And come to the hall of Brynhild, the maid and the shielded Queen,
The Queen and the wise of women, who sees all haps to come :
And 'twill be but light to bid her to seek thy dream-tale home ;
Though surely shall she arede it in e'en such wise as I ;
"Thou hast spoken well," said Gudrun, "let us tarry now no whit ;
So they make the yoke-beasts ready, and dight the wains for the way.
And bind with the leaves of summer the wandering of their hair :
Then they drive by dale and acre, o'er heath and holt they wend,
Till they come to the land of the waters, and the lea by the woodland's end ;
And there is the burg of Brynhild, the white-walled house and long,
So fare their feet on the earth by the threshold of the Queen,
And Brynhild's damsels abide them, for their goings had been seen ;
And the mint and the blossomed woodruff they strew before their feet,
And their arms of welcome take them, and they kiss them soft and sweet.
Most goodly were its hangings and its webs were glorious
With tales of ancient fathers, and the Swans of the Goths on the sea,
And weaponed Kings on the island, and great deeds yet to be ;
And the host of Odin's Choosers, and the boughs of the fateful Oak,
So therein the maidens enter, but Gudrun all out-goes,
Runs over her rippling raiment and stirs the gold at her side.
But she stands and may scarce move forward, and a red flush lighteth her face
As her eyes seek out Queen Brynhild in the height of the golden place.
But lo, as a swan on the sea spreads out her wings to arise
So Brynhild arose from her throne and the fashioned cloths of blue
When she saw the Maid of the Niblungs, and the face of Gudrun knew ;
And she gathers the laps of the linen, and they meet in the hall, they twain,
And she taketh her hands in her hands and kisseth her sweet and fain :
Though forsooth the hall of Brynhild is no weary way to find :
How fare the kin of the Niblungs ? is thy mother happy and hale.
And the ancient of days, thy father, the King of all avail?"
"It is well with my house," said Gudrun, "and my brethren's days are fair.
And my father's heart is happy, and the Niblung glory grows,
And the land in peace is lying 'neath the lily and the rose :
But love and the mirth of summer have moved my heart to come
To look on thy measureless beauty, and seek thy glory home."
"O be thou welcome !" said Brynhild; "it is good when queen-folk meet.
So they sat, they twain, in the high-seat; and the maidens bore them wine,
And lovely they were together, and they marvelled each at each :
Yet oft was Gudrun silent, and she faltered in her speech,
As they matched great Kings and their war-deeds, and told of times that were,
And their fathers' fathers' doings, and the deaths of war-lords dear.
And the western sky waxed ruddy, for the sun drew near its fall ;
And the speech of the murmuring maidens, and the voice of the toil of folk
Died out in the hall of Brynhild as the garden-song awoke.
Then Brynhild took up the word, and her voice was soft as she said :
But hast thou heard, my sister, how the world grows fair with the word
Of a King from the mountains coming, a great and marvellous lord,
Who hath slain the Foe of the Gods, and the King that was wise from of old ;
Who hath slain the great Gold-wallower, and gotten the ancient Gold ;
And the heart and the eyes triumphant, and the lips that win and teach?"
Then met the eyes of the women, and Brynhild's word died out,
"He is come of a marvellous kin.
Yea now to this land is he coming, and great shall be his fame ;
He is born of the Volsung King-folk, and Sigurd is his name."
Then all the heart laughed in her, but the speech of her lips died out,
" Sister, the day grows late.
That we thine heart may gladden as thou gladdenedst ours today,"
And she rose and kissed her sweetly as one that wendeth away :
Then Gudrun faltered and spake : "Yea hither I came in sooth,
"I shall mock thee nought," said Brynhild ; "yet who shall say indeed
Then spake the daughter of Giuki : "Lo, this was the dream I dreamed :
And fear was borne before him, and death went under his wings :
Yet I feared him not, but loved him, and mine eyes must follow his ways.
And the joy came into my heart, and hope of the happy days :
Then over the hall of the Niblungs he hung a little space
And fain and full was my heart, and I took him to my breast.
And I cherished him soft and warm, for I deemed I had gotten the best."
So speaketh the Maid of the Niblungs, and speech her lips doth fail,
Some glory of Kings shall love thee and thine heart shall hold him dear."
Again spake the daughter of Giuki : "Not yet hast thou hearkened all :
Yet pale was the visage of Brynhild, and she said : "Is it then so strange
From the first to the last shalt thou have him, and scarce shall he die alone.
Rejoice O daughter of Giuki ! there is worse in the world than this :
He shall die, and thou shalt remember the days of his glory and bliss."
"I woke, and I wept," said Gudrun, "for the dear thing I had loved ;
And I went in the land of shadows ; and lo I was crowned as a queen,
And I sat in the summer-season amidst my garden green ;
And there came a hart from the forest, and in noble wise he went,
And bold he was to look on, and of fashion excellent
And upreared his shining antlers against the very sun.
So he came unto me and I loved him, and his head lay kind on my knees,
And fair methought the summer, and a time of utter peace.
Then darkened all the heavens and dreary grew the tide,
And from out of the din and the darkness, a hand and an arm there came,
And a golden sleeve was upon it, and red rings of the Queen-folk's fame :
And the hand was the hand of a woman : and there came a sword and a thrust
And the blood of the lovely wood-deer went wide about the dust.
And all around and about me did the kin of the wild-wolves pass,
And I called them friends and kindred, and upreared a battle-brand.
And cried out in a tongue that I knew not, and red and wet was my hand.
Lo now, the dream I have told thee, and nought have I held aback.
Long Brynhild stood and pondered and weary-wise was her face
Thou shalt live and love and lose, and mingle in murder and war.
Is it strange, O child of the Niblungs, that thy glory and thy pain
Must be blent with the battle's darkness and the unseen hurrying bane ?
Do ye, of all folk on the earth, pray God for the changeless peace,
For the rest, thou mayst not be lonely in thy welfare or thy woe,
But hearts with thine heart shall be tangled : but the queen and the hand thou shalt know,
When we twain are wise together; thou shalt know of the sword and the wood,
Thou shalt know of the wild-wolves' howling and thy right-hand wet with blood,
And the work of the master of masters through the feast-hall goeth about."
They stand apart by the high-seat, and each on each they gaze
At last spake the wise-heart Brynhild : "O glorious Niblung child
And our doom be empty of glory as the hopeless that have died.
Farewell O Niblung Maiden! for day on day shall come
Whilst thou shalt live rejoicing mid the blossom of thine home.
Now have thou thanks for thy greeting and thy glory that I have seen ;
So the hall-dusk deepens upon them till the candles come arow,
And they brushed the side of the acre and the blooming dewy close;
Till at last, when the moon was sinking and the night was waxen late,
The warders of the earl-folk looked forth from the Niblung gate,
And saw the gold pale-gleaming, and heard the wain-wheels crush
So came the daughter of Giuki from the hall of Brynhild the queen