XIII. Of the slaying of Sigurd the Volsung
'Ere the noon ariseth Brynhild, and forth abroad she goes,
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 :
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
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
He spake : "O woman, thou mockest ! what King of the people is here?
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 ?
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 ;
She said : "What aileth thee, Gunnar ? time was thou wert great and glad,
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;
"I look upon thee," said Brynhild, "I know thy race and thy name,
"Nought, nought," he said, "may amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword,
"Thou hast spoken the word," said Brynhild, "if the word is enough, it is well.
"O all-wise woman," said Gunnar, "what deed lieth under the tongue?
She said : "Our garment is Shame, and nought the web shall rend.
"Speak, mighty of women," said Gunnar, "and cry out the name and the deed
"To slay," she said, "is the deed, to slay a King ere the morn,
She turned and departed from him, and he knew not whither she went ;
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 :
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?
He said : "For the heart of Sigurd ; and thus all is rent away
Then spake Hogni and answered : "All lands beneath the sun
"Speak, brother of Kings," said Gunnar, "dost thou know deeds better or worse
"I am none of the Norns," said Hogni, "nor the heart of Odin the Goth,
Again spake Grimhild the wise-wife : "Where then is Guttorm the brave ?
Then Hogni laughed and answered : "His feet on the threshold stand :
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,
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 ;
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 :
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 :
Forth flashed the flame from his eyen, and he cried: "Where then is the foe,
"Drink son," she said, "and be merry ! and I shall tell his name,
He drinketh and craveth for battle, and his hand for a sword doth seek.
Then Grimhild goes from the chamber, and bringeth his harness of war,
And praiseth his mighty name and his deeds that laughed on death.
Now dusk and dark draw over, and through the glimmering house
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,
Slow, all alone goeth Guttorm to Sigurd's chamber door,
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;
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,
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 :
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
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
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 :
Than the grey soft-footed morning heeds yester-even's war.
But Guttorm clashed in the cloisters and through the silence strode
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.
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 ;
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.
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 :
Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of the morn ;
Mayst thou live, O woman beloved, unforsaken, unforlon !"
Then he sank aback on the sword, and down to his lips she bent
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 :
There was silence then in the chamber, as the dawn spread wide and grey,
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,
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,
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
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
In the house rose rumour and stir, and men stood up in the morn,
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 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,
"Mourn now, O Niblung people, for gone is Sigurd our guest,
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 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.
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
Meanwhile elsewhere the women and the wives of the Niblungs wail
So rent is the joy of the Niblungs ; and their simple days and fain