VIII. Sigurd rideth with the Niblungs, and wooeth Brynhild for King Gunnar
Now it fell on a day of the spring-tide that followed on these things,
And no dwelling of man is anigh it, and no acre forced to yield :
There stay those Kings of the people alone in weed of war,
And they cut a strip of the greensward on the meadow's daisied floor.
And loosen it clean in the midst, while its ends in the earth abide ;
An ancient spear of battle writ round with words of worth ;
And these are the posts of the door, whose threshold is of the earth,
And the skin of the earth is its lintel: but with war-glaives gleaming bare
The Niblung Kings and Sigurd beneath the earth-yoke fare ;
On Earth the fruitful Mother where they rent her turfy gown :
And then, when the blood of the Volsungs hath run with the Niblung blood,
They kneel with their hands upon it and swear the brotherhood :
Each man at his brother's bidding to come with the blade in his hand,
Each man to love and cherish his brother's hope and will ;
Each man to avenge his brother when the Norns his fate fulfill :
And now are they foster-brethren, and in such wise have they sworn
As the God-born Goths of aforetime, when the world was newly born.
And men deem the tidings a glory and the garland of their fame.
So is Sigurd yet with the Niblungs, and he loveth Gudrun his wife,
And glad is the poor in the Doom-ring when he seeth his face mid the Kings,
For the tangle straighteneth before him, and the maze of crooked things.
But the smile is departed from him, and the laugh of Sigurd the young,
And of few words now is he waxen, and his songs are seldom sung.
And men say : Is the king's heart mighty beyond all hope of rest ?
Lo, how he beareth the people ! how heavy their woes are grown !
So oft were a God mid the Goth-folk, if he dwelt in the world alone.
Now Giuki the King of the Niblungs must change his life at the last,
For thus had he said in his life-days : "When my hand from the people shall fade,
Up there on the side of the mountains shall the King of the Niblungs be laid.
Whence one seeth the plain of the tillage and the fields where man-folk go;
Then whiles in the dawn's awakening, when the day-wind riseth to blow,
As they look to the field of the dooming ; and whiles in the even again
Shall I see the spoil come homeward, and the host of the Niblungs pour
Through the gates that the Dwarf-folk builded and the well-beloved door."
So there lieth Giuki the King, mid steel and the glimmer of gold,
But Gunnar is King of the people, and the chief of the Niblung land ;
A man beloved for his mercy, and his might and his open hand;
A glorious king in the battle, a hearkener at the doom,
A singer to sing the sun up from the heart of the midnight gloom.
On a day sit the Kings in the high-seat when Grimhild saith to her son :
If thou do the deed that I bid thee, and wed a wife of the Kings,
No less shalt thou cleave the war-helms and scatter the ruddy rings."
He said : "Meseemeth, mother, thou speakest not in haste,
She said : "Thou sayest the sooth ; I have found the thing I sought :
A white wall waving aloft ; and no window nor wicket is there,
Whereby the shielded earl-folk or the sons of the merchants may fare :
But few things from me are hidden, and I know in that hall of gold
Sits Brynhild, white as a wild-swan where the foamless seas are rolled ;
And wise, and Odin's Chooser, and the Breath of Victory :
But for this cause sitteth she thus in the ring of the Wavering Flame,
That no son of the Kings will she wed save the mightiest master of fame,
And the man who knoweth not fear, and the man foredoomed of fate
And for him she sitteth and waiteth, and him shall she cherish and love.
Though the Kings of the world should withstand it, and the Gods that sit above.
Speak thou, O mighty Gunnar ! — nay rather, Sigurd my son.
Say who but the lord of the Niblungs should wed with this glorious one ? "
Long Sigurd gazeth upon her, and slow he sayeth again :
Then laughed Gunnar and answered : "May a king of the people fear?
Yet nought have I and my kindred to do with fateful deeds;
Lo, how the fair earth bloometh, and the field fulfilleth our needs,
And our swords rust not in our scabbards, and our steeds bide not in the stall,
And oft are the shields of the Niblungs drawn clanking down from the wall ;
And the harp and the sword is beside me, and I joy in the peace and the strife.
So I live, till at last in the sword-play midst the uttermost longing of fame
I shall change my life and be merry, and leave no hated name.
Yet nevertheless, my mother, since the word hath thus gone forth,
And I bid you, Kings and Brethren, with the wooer of Queens to ride,
That ye tell of the thing hereafter, and the deeds that shall betide."
"It were well, O Son," said Grimhild, "in such fellowship to fare ;
And a deed all lands shall tell of, and the hope of the Niblung bliss."
So apart for long dwelt Grimhild, and mingled the might of the earth
And she gave the drink to her sons; and withal unto Gunnar she spake.
And told him tales of the King-folk, and smote desire awake ;
Till many a time he bethinks him of the Maiden sitting alone,
And the Queen that was shapen for him ; till a dream of the night is she grown,
And the net of the Norns was about him, and the snare was spread in his ways,
And his mother's will was spurring adown the way they would ;
For she was the wise of women and the framer of evil and good.
In the May-morn riseth Gunnar with fair face and gleaming eyes,
"Today shall we fare to the wooing, for so doth our mother bid;
We shall go to gaze on marvels, and things from the King-folk hid."
So they do on the best of their war-gear, and their steeds are dight for the road,
Thereto cometh Grimhild the wise-wife, and on each head layeth her hand,
As she saith : "Be mighty and wise, as the kings that came before !
For they knew of the ways of the Gods, and the craft of the Gods they bore :
And they knew how the shapes of man-folk are the very images
Be wise and mighty, O Kings, and look in mine heart and behold
The craft that prevaileth o'er semblance, and the treasured wisdom of old !
I hallow you thus for the day, and I hallow you thus for the night,
And I hallow you thus for the dawning with my fathers' hidden might.
And tonight shall be the weaving, and tomorn the web shall ye win."
So they leap to the saddles aloft, and they ride and speak no word.
So they come to the Waste of Lymdale when the afternoon is begun,
And the red flame roars up to it from the midst of the desert's dearth.
None turns or speaks to his brother, but the Wrath gleams bare and red,
And blood-red is the Helm of Aweing on the golden Sigurd's head,
And bare is the blade of Gunnar, and the first of the three he rides,
Then the heart of a king's son failed not, but he tossed his sword on high
Fled fast as the foals unbitted on Odin's pasturing plain ;
Wide then he wheeled with Gunnar, but with hand and knee he dealt,
And the voice of a lord beloved, till the steed his master felt,
And bore him back to the brethren ; by Greyfell Sigurd stood.
But Hogni sat in his saddle, and watched the flames up-roll ;
And he said : "Thy steed has failed thee that was once the noblest foal
In the pastures of King Giuki ; but since thine heart fails not,
And thou wouldst not get thee backward and say, The fire was hot.
Let Sigurd lend thee his steed that wore the Glittering Heath,
And carried the Bed of the Serpent, and the ancient ruddy rings.
So perchance may the mocks be lesser when men tell of the Niblung Kings"
Then Sigurd looked on the twain, and he saw their swart hair wave
But at last he spake : " O brother,on Greyfell shalt thou ride.
And do on the Helm of Aweing and gird the Wrath to thy side.
And cover thy breast with the war-coat that is throughly woven of gold,
That hath not its like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told :
And so sink the flames before them and the might of their desire."
Then Hogni laughed in his heart, and he said : "This changing were well
Then Sigurd looked on the speaker, as one who would answer again,
The huge king towering upward in the dusky Niblung gear :
There sits the eager Gunnar, and his heart desires the deed,
And of nought he recketh and thinketh, but a fame-stirred warrior's need ;
But Greyfell trembleth nothing and nought of the fire doth reck :
And the sharp cry springeth from Gunnar — no handbreadth stirred the beast;
The dusk drew on and over and the light of the fire increased,
And still as a shard of the mountain in the sandy dale alone
Was the shape of the cloudy Greyfell, nor moved he more than the stone;
As he stood in the gold red-litten with the Wrath's thin edges bared.
No word for a while spake any, till Gunnar leapt to the earth
Dost thou laugh in the hall, O Mother? dost thou spin, and laugh at the tale
That has drawn thy son and thine eldest to the sword and the blaze of the bale?
Or thou, O God of the Goths, wilt thou hide and laugh thy fill,
While the hands of the fosterbrethren the blood of brothers spill ? "
But the awful voice of Sigurd across the wild went forth :
And how may a King sustain it ? but forbear with the dark to strive ;
For thy mother spinneth and worketh, and her craft is awake and alive."
Then Hogni spake from the saddle : "The time, and the time is come
And face to face behold him, and take his hand in thine hand :
Then be thy will as his will, that his heart may mingle with thine,
And the love that he sware 'neath the earth-yoke with thine hope may intertwine."
Then the wrath from the Niblung slippeth and the shame that anger hath bred,
But he doth by his brother's bidding, and Sigurd's hand he takes.
And he looks in the eyes of the Volsung, though scarce in the desert he wakes.
There Hogni sits in the saddle aloof from the King's desire.
And little his lips are moving, as he stares on the rolling fire,
But the craft of the kings of aforetime on those Kings of the battle lay ;
Dark night was spread behind them, and the fire flared up before,
And unheard was the wind of the wasteland mid the white flame's wavering roar.
Long Sigurd gazeth on Gunnar, till he sees, as through a cloud,
Then the face is alone on the dark, and the dusky Niblung mail
Is nought but the night before him : then whiles will the visage fail,
And grow again as he gazeth, black hair and gleaming eyes.
And fade again into nothing, as for more of vision he tries :
And the fire-wall Sigurd forgetteth, nor feeleth the hand of the King :
Nay, what is it now he remembereth ? it is nought that aforetime he knew,
And no world is there left him to live in, and no deed to rejoice in or rue ;
But frail and alone he fareth, and as one in the sphere-stream's drift.
Then at last is he stayed in his drifting, and he saith, It is blind and dark ;
Yet he feeleth the earth at his feet, and there cometh a change and a spark,
And away in an instant of time is the mirk of the dreamland rolled.
And there is the fire-lit midnight, and before him an image of gold,
Full sad he gazeth on Sigurd from the great wide eyes and grey ;
And the Helm that Aweth the people is set on the golden hair.
And the Mail of Gold enwraps him, and the Wrath in his hand is bare.
Then Sigurd looks on his arm and his hand in his brother's hand.
Then he looks on the sword that he beareth, and, lo, the eager blade
That leaps in the hand of Gunnar when the kings are waxen afraid ;
And he turns his face o'er his shoulder, and the raven locks hang down
From the dark-blue helm of the Dwarf-folk, and the rings of the Niblung crown.
Then a red flush riseth against him in the face ne'er seen before,
As he cries : "I know thy bidding ; let the world be lief or loth.
The child is unborn that shall hearken how Sigurd rued his oath !
Well fare thou brother Gunnar ! what deed shall I do this eve
That I shall never repent of, that thine heart shall never grieve?
Nay not the King of the Niblungs, and the lord of the best of the earth?"
The flames rolled up to the heavens, and the stars behind were bright.
That his heart forgat his glory, and the ways of Odin's lords.
And the thought was frozen within him, and the might of spoken words.
But Sigurd leapeth on Greyfell, and the sword in his hand is bare.
As unheard the war-gear clasheth, and the flames meet over his head,
Yet a while they see him riding, as through the rye men ride.
When the word goes forth in the summer of the kings by the ocean-side;
But the fires were slaked before him and the wild-fire burned no more
Not once turned Sigurd aback, nor looked o'er the ashy ring,
And dark in the gear of the Niblungs through the gleaming door he strode :
All light within was that dwelling, and a marvellous hall it was.
But of gold were its hangings woven, and its pillars gleaming as glass,
And Sigurd said in his heart, it was wrought erewhile for a God :
And lo, on the height of the dais is upreared a graven throne,
And thereon a woman sitting in the golden place alone ;
Her face is fair and awful, and a gold crown girdeth her head ;
And a sword of the kings she beareth, and her sun-bright hair is shed
As a swan on the billow unbroken ere the firth and the ocean meet,
On the dark-blue cloths she sitteth, in the height of the golden place,
Nor breaketh the hush of the hall, though her eyes be set on his face.
Now he sees this is even the woman of whom the tale hath been told,
And hushed in the hall he standeth, and a long while looks in her eyes.
And the word he hath shapen for Gunnar to his lips may never arise.
The man in Gunnar's semblance looked long and knew no deed ;
Then the image of Gunnar trembled, and the flesh of the War-King shrank;
"King, King, who art thou that comest, thou lord of the cloudy gear ?
The speech of her lips pierced through him like the point of the bitter sword,
But he clencheth his hand on the war-blade, and setteth his face as the brass,
And the voice of his brother Gunnar from out his lips doth pass :
"When thou lookest on me, O Goddess, thou seest Gunnar the King,
The King and the lord of the Niblungs. and the chief of their warfaring.
That she bideth the coming of kings to ride her Wavering Flame,
Lest she wed the little-hearted, and the world grow evil and vile ?
For if thou be none other I will speak again in a while."
She said : "Art thou Gunnar the Stranger? O art thou the man that I see ?
O men of the Earth behold me I hast thou seen, O labouring Earth,
Such sorrow as my sorrow, or such evil as my birth ?"
Then spake the Wildfire's Trampler that Gunnar's image bore :
And rides with the gods of battle in the fore-front of the swords.
Now therefore awaken to life ! for this eve have I ridden thy Fire,
When but few of the kings would outface it, to fulfill thine heart's desire.
And such love is the love of the kings, and such token have women to know
The stem of the world's desire, and the tree that shall not be abased,
Till the day of the uttermost trial when the war-shield of Odin is raised.
So my word is the word of wooing, and I bid thee remember thine oath,
That here in this hall fair-builded we twain may plight the troth ;
And be called the Queen of the Niblungs, and awaken unto life."
Hard rang his voice in the hall, and a while she spake no word,
She ceased and he answered nothing ; and a hush on the hall there lay,
Thou shalt wed with King Gunnar the Niblung and increase his worth with thy worth."
And again was there silence a while, and the War-King leaned on his sword
For thee, for the King, have I waited, and the waiting now is done ;
I shall bear Earth's kings on my bosom and nourish the Niblung's son.
Though women swear and forswear, and are glad no less in their life.
Tonight shall I wed with the King-folk and be called King Gunnar's wife.
For for thee alone was it shapen, and the deed is due and meet."
Up she rose exceeding glorious, and it was as when in May
And they turned again to the high-seat, and their very right hands met.
And King Gunnar's bodily semblance beside her Brynhild set.
But over his knees and the mail-rings the high King laid his sword.
And before all things to love her till all folk should praise her life.
Unmoved did Brynhild hearken, and in steady voice she swore
To be true to Gunnar the Niblung while her life-days should endure ;
So she swore on the hand of the Wooer : and they two were all alone,
But no while looked each on the other, and hand fell down from hand,
And no speech there was betwixt them that their hearts might understand.
At last spake the all-wise Brynhild : "Now night is beginning to fade.
He rose and looked upon her : as the moon at her utmost height.
And hung were the walls fair-builded with the Gods and the kings of the earth
And the deeds that were done aforetime, and the coming deeds of worth.
There they went in one bed together ; but the foster-brother laid
Twixt him and the body of Brynhild his bright blue battle-blade,
With folded hands she lay there, and let the night go by :
And as still lay that Image of Gunnar as the dead of life forlorn,
And hand on hand he folded as he waited for the morn.
So oft in the moonlit minster your fathers may ye see
Thus they lay as brother by sister — and e'en such had they been to behold.
Had he borne the Volsung's semblance and the shape she knew of old.
Night hushed as the moon fell downward, and there came the leaden sleep
Till he woke in the dawn and the daylight, and the sun on the gold floor lay,
And Brynhild wakened beside him, and she lay with folded hands
By the edges forged of Regin and the wonder of the lands.
The Light that had lain in the Branstock, the hope of the Volsung Tree,
Then he strove to remember the night and what deeds had come to pass.
And what deeds he should do hereafter, and what manner of man he was ;
For there in the golden chamber lay the dark unwonted gear.
And beside his cheek on the pillow were long locks of the raven hair :
And he turned and spake to Brynhild as he rose from the bolster blue :
"I give thee thanks, fair woman, for the wedding-troth fulfilled ;
But I thank thee well for thy greeting, and thy glory that I have seen,
For but little thereto are those tidings that folk have told of the Queen.
Henceforth with the Niblung people anew beginneth thy life.
And fair days of peace await thee, and fair days of glorious strife.
And all men shall say thou hast wedded a true heart and a king."
So spake he in semblance of Gunnar, and from off his hand he drew
Depart with my troth to thy people : but ere full ten days are o'er
I shall come to the Sons of the Niblungs, and then shall we part no more
Till the day of the change of our life-days, when Odin and Freyia shall call.
Lo here, ray gift of the morning ! 'twas my dearest treasure of all ;
Since thou art the man of mine oath and the best that the earth hath gained."
And lo, 'twas the Grief of Andvari, and the lack that made him loth,
Then in most exceeding sorrow rose Sigurd from the bed.
And again lay Brynhild silent as an image of the dead.
Then the King did on his war-gear and girt his sword to his side.
And was e'en as an image of Gunnar when the Niblungs dight them to ride,
Lay still, and hearkened his footsteps from the echoing chamber pass.
So forth from the hall goes the Wooer, and slow and slow he goes,
As a conquered king from his city fares forth to meet his foes ;
And he taketh the reins of Greyfell, nor yet will back him there,
With his eyes cast down to the earth; till he heareth the wind, and a cry,
And raiseth a face brow-knitted and beholdeth men anigh.
And beholdeth Hogni the King set grey on his coal-black steed.
And beholdeth the image of Sigurd, the King in the golden weed :
Till Hogni cries from his saddle, and his word is a kindly word :
"Hail, brother, and King of the people ! hail, helper of my kin !
Nought Sigurd spake in answer but looked straight forth with a frown,
But sad was the golden Sigurd, though his eyes knew nought of scorn :
And he spake :
" It is finished, O Gunnar ! and I will that our brotherhood
May endure through the good and the evil as it sprang in the days of the good :
But I bid thee look to the ending, that the deed I did yest'reve
Thou art troth-piight, O King of the Niblungs,to Brynhild Queen of the earth,
She hath sworn thine heart to cherish and increase thy worth with her worth :
She shall come to the house of Gunnar ere ten days are past and o'er ;
And thenceforth the life of Brynhild shall part from thy life no more,
And ye bide the Day of the Battle, and the uttermost changing of all."
The praise and thanks they gave him ! the words of love they spake !
But as yet are those King-folk lovely, and no guile of heart they know,
"Rejoice, O mother," saith Gunnar, "for thy guest hath holpen all
So that night in the hall of the ancient they hold high-tide again,
And his heart is afraid for our trouble, lest the Gods our joyance steal.
But that night, when the feast was over, to Gudrun Sigurd came,
Nor his life nor his death he heeded, but told her last night's tale :
Yea he drew forth the sword for his slaying, and whetted the edges of bale;
For he took that Gold of Andvari, that Curse of the uttermost land,
And he spake as a king that loveth, and set it on her hand ;
And bade her bear it for ever, that she might remember him oft
When his hand from the world was departed and he sat in Odin's home.
But no one of his words she forgat when the latter days were come,
Yea thereof, from the Gold of Andvari, the spark of the waters wan,
Sprang a flame of bitter trouble, and the death of many a man.
And the quenching of the kindreds, and the blood of the broken troth.
And the Grievous Need of the Niblungs and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth.