Sigurd the Volsung

Book IV, Pre-Kelmscott Edition, 1876, edited by Stuart Blersch

[In preparation]

VI. Of the Slaying of hte Niblung Kings


Lo now, 'tis an hour or twain, and a labour lightly won

By the serving-men of Atli, and the Niblung blood is gone

From the golden house of his greatness, and the Elastland dead no more

Lie in great heaps together on Atli's mazy floor :

Then they cast fair summer blossoms o'er the footprints of the dead,

They wreathe round Atli's high-seat and the benches fair bespread.

And they light the odorous torches, and the sun of the golden roof,

Till the candles of King Atli hold dusky night aloof.

So they toil and are heavy-hearted, nor know what next shall betide, As they look on the stranger-woman in the heart of Atli's pride.

Now stand they aback for the trumpet and the merry minstrelsy.

For they tremble before King Atli, and golden-clad is he,

And his golden crown is heavy and he strides exceeding slow, [woe.

With the wise and the mighty about him, through the house of the Niblungs'



There then by the Niblung woman on the throne he sat him down, And folk heard the gold gear tinkle and the rings of the Eastland crown : Folk looked on his rich adornment, on King Atli's pride they gazed, And the bright beams wearied their eyen, by the glory were they dazed ; There the councillors kept silence and the warriors clad in steel, All men lowly, all men mighty, that had care of Atli's weal ; Yea there in the hall were they waiting for the word to come from his lips, As they of the merchant-city behold the shield-hung ships Sweep slow through the windless haven with their gaping heads of gold, And they know not their nation and names, nor hath aught of their errand been

[told. But King Atli looketh before him, and is grown too great to rejoice. And he speaks and the world is troubled, though thin and scant be his voice :

" Bring forth the fallen and conquered, bring forth the bounden thrall. That they who were once the Niblungs did once King Hogni call."

So they brought him fettered and bound ; and scarce on his feet he stood But men stayed him up by the King ; for the sword had drunk of his blood, And the might of his body had failed him, and yet so great was he That the East-folk cowered before him and the might of his majesty.

Then spake the all-great Atli : " Thou )rielded thrall of war,

I would hear thee tell of the Treasure, the Hoard of the kings of yore !"

But words were grown heavy to Hogni, and scarce he spake with a smile : " Let the living seek their desire ; for indeed thou shalt live for a while."

"Wilt thou speak and live," said Atli, "nor pay for the blood thou hast spilt?"




Said he : " Thou art waxen so mighty, thou mayst have the Gold when thou

[wilt" Said the King: "I will give thee thy life, and forgive thee measureless woe.'*

" It was gathered for thee," said Hogni, " and fashioned long ago."

"Speak, man o'ercome," quoth Atli, " Is life so little a thing?"

''Art thou mighty? put forth thine hand and gather the Gold !" said the King.

" Wilt thou tell of the Gold," said the East-King, "the desire of many eyes?"




Yea, once on a day," said Hogni, "when the dead from the sea shall arise.'


Said he : "So great is my longing, that, O foe, I would have thee live. Yea live and be great as aforetime, if this word thou yet wouldst give."

Said the Niblung : " Thee shall I heed, or the longing of thy pride ?

I, who heeded Sigurd nothing, who thrust mine oath aside,

When the years were young and goodly and the summer bore increase !

Shall I crave my life of the greedy and pray for days of peace ?

I, who whetted the sword for Sigurd, and bared the blade in the mom,

And smote ere the sun's uprising, and left my sister forlorn :

'Yea I lied,' quoth the God-loved Singer, 'when the will of the Gods I told !'

— Stretch forth thine hand, O Mighty, and take thy Treasure of Gold !"

Then was Atli silent a little, for anger dulled his thought.

And the heaped-up wealth of the Eastland seemed an idle thing and nought:

He turned and looked upon Gudrun as one who was ain to beseech.



But he saw her eyes that beheld not, and her lips that knew no speech, And fear shot across his anger, and guile with his wrath was blent And he spake aloud to the war-lords :

" O ye, shall the eve be spent, Nor behold the East rejoicing ? what a mock for the Gods is this, That men ever care for the morrow, nor nurse their toil-won bliss I Lo now, this hour I speak in is the first of the seven-days* feast, And the spring of our exultation o'er the glory of the East : Draw nigh, O wise, O mighty, and gather words to praise The hope of the King accomplished in the harvest of his days : Bear forth this slave of the Niblungs to the pit and the chamber of death. That he hearken the council of night, and the rede that tomorrow saith, And think of the might of King Atli, and his hand that taketh his own, Though the hill-fox bark at his going, and his path with the bramble be grown/'

So they led the Niblung away from the light and the joy of the feast.

In the chamber of death they cast him, and the pit of the Lord of the East :

And thralls were the high King's warders ; yet sons of the wise withal

Came down to sit with Hogni in the doomed man's darkling hall ;

For they looked in his face and feared, lest Atli smite too nigh

The kin of the Gods of Heaven, and more than a man's child die.

But 'neath the golden roof-sun, at beginning of the night.

Is the seven-days' feast of triumph in the hall of Atli dight ;

And his living Earls come thither in peaceful gold attire.

And the cups on the East-King's tables shine out as a river of fire.

And sweet is the song of the harp-strings, and the singers' honeyed words ;

While wide through all the city do wives bewail their lords.

And curse the untimely hour and the day of the land forlorn,



And the year that the Earth shall rue of, and children never bom.

But Atli spake to his thrall-folk, and they went, and were little afraid

To take the glorious Gunnar, and the King in shackles laid :

They deemed they should live for ever, and eat and sleep as the swine,

To them were the tales of the singers no token and no sign ;

For the blossom of the Niblungs they rolled amid the dust.

That well-renownM Gunnar 'neath Atli's chair they thrust ;

The feet of the Eastland liar on Gunnar's neck are set,

And by Atli Gudrun sitteth, and nought she stirreth yet

Outbrake the glee of the dastards, and they that had not dared

To meet the swords of the Niblungs, no whit the God-folk feared :

They forgat that the Noms were awake, and they praised the master of guile,

The war-spent conquering Atli and the face without a smile ;

And the tumult of their triumph and the wordless mingled roar

Went forth from that hall of the Eastlands and smote the heavenly floor.

At last spake Atli the mighty : " Stand up, thou war-won thrall. Whom they that were once the Niblungs did once King Gunnar call ! "

From the dust they dragged up Gunnar, and set him on his feet, And the heart within him was living and the pride for a war-king meet ; And his glory was nothing abated, and fair he seemed and young, As the first of the Cloudy Kings, fresh shoot from the sower sprung. But Atli looked upon him, and a smile smoothed out his brow As he said : " What thoughtest thou, Gunnar, when thou layst in the dust

[e'en now ?** He said : '* Of Valhall I thought, and the host of my fathers' land,



And of Hogni that thou hast slaughtered, and my brother Sigurd's hand.''

Said Atli : " Think of thy life, and the days that shall be yet, And thyself, maybe, as aforetime, in the throne of thy father set"

" O Eastland liar," said Gunnar, " no more will I live and rue."

Said Atli : " The word I have spoken, thy word may yet make true."

" I weary of speech," said the Niblung, "with those that are lesser than I."

" Yet words of mine shalt thou hearken," said Atli, " or ever thou die."

"So crieth the fool," said Gunnar, " on the God that his folly hath slain."

Said Atli : " Forth shall my word, nor yet shall be gathered again."

" Yet meeter were thy silence ; for thy folk make ready to sing."






Gunnar, I long for the Gold with the heart and the will of a king."

This were good to tell," said Gunnar, " to the Gods that feshioned the earth ! "


" Make me glad with the Gold," said Atli, "live on in honour and worth !"

With a dreadful voice cried Gunnar : " O fool, hast thou heard it told Who won the Treasure aforetime and the ruddy rings of the Gold ? It was Sigurd, child of the Volsungs, the best sprung forth from the best : He rode from the North and the mountains and became my summer-guest,



My friend and my brother sworn : he rode the Wavering Fire,

And won me the Queen of Glory and accomplished my desire ;

The praise of the world he was, the hope of the biders in wrong,

The help of the lowly people, the hammer of the strong :

Ah, oft in the world henceforward, shall the tale be told of the deed.

And I, e'en I, will tell it in the day of the Niblungs' Need :

For I sat night-long in my armour, and when light was wide o'er the land,

I slaughtered Sigurd my brother, and looked on the work of mine hand.

And now, O mighty Atli, I have seen the Niblungs* wreck,

And the feet of the faint-heart dastard have trodden Gunnar's neck;

And if all be little enough, and the Gods begrudge me rest.

Let me see the heart of Hogni cut quick from his living breast.

And laid on the dish before me : and then shall I tell of the Gold,

And become thy servant, Atli, and my life at thy pleasure hold.

O goodly story of Gunnar, and the King of the broken troth

In the heavy Need of the Niblungs, and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth !"

Grim then waxed Atli bemocked, yet he pondered a litde while,

For yet with his bitter anger strove the hope of his greedy guile.

And as one who falleth a-dreaming he hearkened Gunnar's word,

While his eyes beheld that Treasure, and the rings of the Ancient Hoard.

But he spake low-voiced to his sword-carles, and they heard and understood.

And departed swift from the feast-hall to do the work he would.

To the chamber of death they gat them, to the pit they went adown,

And saw the wise men sitting round the war-king of renown :

Then they spake : " We are Atli*s bondmen, and Atli's doom we bring :

We shall carve the heart from thy body, and thou living yet, O King/*



Then Hogni laughed, for they feared him ; and he said : " Speed ye the work ! For fain would I look on the storehouse where such marvels used to lurk, And the forge of fond desires, and the nurse of life that fails. Take heed now ! deeds are doing for the fashioners of tales."

But they feared as they looked on the Niblung, and the wise men hearkened and And bade them abide for a season, yea even for Atli's sake, [spake,

For the night-slaying is as the murder; and they looked on each other and feared, For Atli's bitter whisper their very hearts had heard : Then they said : " The King makes merry, as a well the white wine springs, And the red wine runs as a river ; and what are the hearts of kings, That men may know them naked from the hearts of bond and thrall ? Nor go we empty-handed to King Atli in his hall."

So the sword-carles spake to each other, and they looked and a man they saw. Who should hew the wood if he lived, and for thralls the water should draw, A thrall-bom servant of servants, begetter of thralls on the earth : And they said ; " If this one were away, scarce greater were waxen the dearth, Tliat this morning hath wrought on the Eastland ; for the years shall eke out his And no day his toil shall lessen, and worse and worse shall he grow." [woe.

They drew the steel new-whetted, on the thrall they laid the hand ; For they said : "All hearts be fashioned as the heart of the King of the land." But the thrall was bewildered with anguish, and wept and bewailed him sore For the loss of his life of labour, and the grief that long he bore.

But wroth was the son of Giuki and he spake : " It is idle and vain, And two men for one shall perish, and the knife shall be whetted again. It is better to die than be sorry, and to hear the trembling cry,



And to see the shame of the poor : O fools, must the lowly die

Because kings strove with swords ? I bid you to hasten the end.

For my soul is sick with confusion, aiid fain on the way would I wend.*"

But the life of the thrall is over, and his fearful heart they set

On a fair wide golden platter, and bear it ruddy wet

To the throne of the triumphing East-King ; he looketh, and feareth withal

Lest the house should faU about him and the golden roof should fall :

But Gtmnar laughed beside him, and spake o'er the laden gold :

" O heart of a feeble trembler, no heart of Hogni the bold ! A gold dish bears thee quaking, yet indeed thou quakedst more When the breast of the helpless dastard the burden of thee bore.'*

The great hall was smitten silent and its mirth to fear was turned. For the wrath of the King was kindled, and the eyes of Atli burned. And he cried as they trembled before him : "Let me see the heart of my foe! Fear ye to mock King Atli till his head in the dust be alow !"

Then the sword-carles flee before him, and are angry with their dread. For they fear the living East-King yet more than the Niblung dead : They come to the pit and the death-house, and the whetted steel they bear; They are pale before King Hogni ; as winter-wolves they glare Whom the ravening hunger driveth, when the chapmen journey slow. And their horses faint in the moon-dusk, and stumble through the snow.

But Hogni laugheth before them, and he saith : " Now welcome again,

Now welcome again, war-fellows ! Was Atli hood-winked then ?

I looked that ye should be speedy ; and, forsooth, ye needs must haste.



Lest more lives than one this even for Atli*s will ye waste."

About him throng the sword-men, and they shout as the war-fain cry In the heart of the bitter battle when their hour is come to die, And they cast themselves upon him, as on some wide-shielded man That fierce in the storm of Odin upreareth edges wan.

With the bound man swift is the steel : sore tremble the sons of the wise,

And their hearts grow faint within them ; yet no man hideth his eyes

As the edges deal with the mighty : nor dreadful is he now,

For.the mock from his mouth hath faded, and the threat hath failed from his brow,

And his face is as great and Godlike as his fathers of old days.

As fair as an image fashioned in remembrance of their praise :

But fled is the spirit of Hogni, and every deed he did,

The seed of the world it lieth, in the hand of Odin hid.

On the gold is the heart of Hogni, and men bear it forth to the King, As he sits in the hall of his triumph mid the glee and the harp-playing : Lo, the heart of a son of Giuki ! and Gunnar liveth yet. And the white unangry Gudrun by the Eastland King is set : Upriseth the soul of Atli, and his breast is swollen with pride, And he laughs in the face of Gunnar and the woman set by his side : Then he looks on his living earls, and they cast their cry to the roof. And it clangs o'er the woeful city and waUs through the night aloof; All the world of man-folk hearkeneth, and hath little joy therein, Though the men of the East in glory high-tide with Atli win.

But fair is the face of Gimnar as the token draweth anigh ;

And he saith : " O heart of Hogni, on the gold indeed dost thou lie,



And as little as there thou quakest far less wert thou wont to quake When thou layst in the breast of the mighty, and wert glad for his gladness' And wert sorry with his sorrow ; O mighty heart, farewell ! [sake,

Farewell for a little season, till thy latest deed I tell."

Then was Gunnar silent a little, and the shout in the hall had died.

And he spoke as a man awakening, and turned on Adi's pride.

*' Thou all-rich King of the Eastlands, e'en such a man might I be

That I might utter a word, and the heart should be glad in thee,

And I should live and be sorry : for I, I only am left

To tell of the ransom of Odin, and the wealth from the toiler reft

Lo, once it lay in the water, hid, deep adown it lay.

Till the Gods were grieved and lacking, and men saw it and the day :

Let it lie in the water once more, let the Gods be rich and in peace !

But I at least in the world from the words and the babble shall cease."

So he spake and Atli beheld him, and before his eyes he shrank :

Still deep of the cup of desire the mighty Atli drank.

And to overcome seemed little if the Gold he might not have,

And his hard heart craved for a while to hold the King for a slave,

A bondman blind and guarded in his glorious house and great :

But he thought of the overbold, and of kings who have dallied with htc,

And died bemocked and smitten ; and he deemed it worser than well

While the last of the sons of Giuki hangeth back from his journey to Hell :

So he tumeth away from the stranger, and beholdeth Gudrun his wife,

Not glad nor sorry by seeming, no stirrer nor stayer of strife :

Then he looked at his living earl-folk, and thought of his groves of war,

And his realm and the kindred nations, and his measureless guarded store :

And he thought : Shall Adi perish, shall his name be cast to the dead,



Though the feeble folk go wailing ? Then he cried aloud and said :

" Why tarry ye, Sons of the Morning ? the wain for the bondnian is dight ; And the folk that are waiting his body have need of no sunshine to smite. Go forth 'neath the stars and the night-wind ; go forth by the cloud and the moon, And come back with the word in the dawding, that my house may be merry at

[noon !" Then the sword-folk rise round Gunnar, round the fettered and bound they As men in the bitter battie round the God-kin over-strong ; [throng,

They bore him away to the doorway, and the winds were awake in the night, And the wood of the thorns of battle in the moon shone sharp and bright ; But Gunnar looked to the heavens, and blessed the promise of rain, And the windy drift of the clouds, and the dew on the builded wain : And the sword-folk tarried a little, and the sons of the wise were there, And beheld his face o'er the war-helms, and the wavy night of his hair. Then they feared for the weal of Atli, and the Niblung's harp they brought, And they dealt with the thralls of the sword, and commanded and besought, Till men loosened the gyves of Gunnar, and laid the harp by his side, [cried, Then the yoke-beasts lowed in the forecourt and the wheels of the waggon And the war-thorns clashed in the night, and the men went dark on their way, And the city was silent before them, on the roofs the white moon lay.

Now they left the gate and the highway, and came to a lonely place, Where the sun all day had been shining on the desert's empty face ; Then the moon ran forth from a cloud, the grey light shone and showed The pit of King Atli's adders in the land without a road. Digged deep adown in the desert with shining walls and smooth For the Serpents' habitation, and the folk that know not ruth.



Therein they thrust King Gunnar, and he bare of his kingly weed. But they gave his harp to the Niblung, and his hands of the gyves they freed ; They stood around in their war-gear to note what next should befall For the comfort of King AtH, and the glee of the Eastland halL

Still hot was that close with the sun, and thronged with the coiling folk,

And about the feet of Gunnar their hissing mouths awoke : [ran.

But he heeded them not nor beheld them, and his hands in the harp-strings

As he sat him down in the midmost on a sun-scorched rock and wan :

And he sighed as one who resteth on a flowery bank by the way

When the wind is in the blossoms at the even-tide of day :

But his harp was murmuring low, and he mused : Am I come to the death.

And I, who was Gunnar the Niblung? nay, nay, how I draw my breath,

And love my life as the living ! and so I ever shall do.

Though wrack be loosed in the heavens and the world be fashioned anew.

But the worms were beholding their prey, and they drew around and nigher, Smooth coil, and flickering tongue, and eyes as the gold in the fire ; And he looked and beheld them and spake, nor stilled his harp meanwhile: "What will ye, O thralls of Atii, O images of guile?"

Then he rose at once to his feet, and smote the harp with hb hand, And it rang as if with a cry in the dream of a lonely land ; Then he fondled its wail as it faded, and orderly over the strings Went the marvellous sound of its sweetness, like the march of Odin's kings New-risen for play in the morning when o'er meadows of God-home they And hero playeth with hero, that their hands may be deft in the end. [wend, j But the crests of the worms were uplifted, though coil on coil was stayed, \ And they moved but as dark-green rushes by the summer river swayed.



Then uprose the Song of Gunnar, and sang o'er his crafty hands,

And told of the World of Aforetime, unshapen, void of lands ;

Yet it wrought, for its memory bideth, and it died and abode its doom ;

It shaped, and the Upper-Heavens, and the hope came forth from its womb.

Great then grew the voice of Gunnar, and his speech was sweet on the wild, And the moon on his harp was shining, and the hands of the Niblung child :

" So perished the Gap of the Gaping, and the cold sea swayed and sang, And the wind came down on the waters, and the beaten rock-walls rang ; Then the Sun from the south came shining, and the Starry Host stood round, And the wandering Moon of the heavens his habitation found ; And they knew not why they were gathered, nor the deeds of their shaping they But lo, Mid-'Earth the Noble 'neath their might and their glory grew, [knew : And the grass spread over its face, and the Night and the Day were bom, And it cried on the Death in the even, and it cried on the Life in the mom: Yet it waxed and waxed, and knew not, and it lived and had not learned ; And where were the Framers that framed, and the Soul and the Might that had

[yeamed ? " On the Thrones are the Powers that fashioned, and they name the Night and the And the tide of the Moon's increasing, and the tide of his waning away: [Day, And they name the years for the story ; and the Lands they change and change. The great and the mean and the little, that this unto that may be strange : They met, and they fashioned dwellings, and the House of Glory they built; They met, and they fashioned the Dwarf-kind, and the Gold and the Gifts and the Guilt

" There were twain, and they went upon earth, and were speechless unmighty and wan ;



They were hopeless, deathless, lifeless, and the Mighty named them Man:

Then they gave them speech and power, and they gave them colour and breath ;

And deeds and the hope they gave them, and they gave them Life and Death:

Yea hope, as the hope of the Framers ; yea, might, as the Fashioners had,

Till they wrought, and rejoiced in their bodies, and saw their sons and were glad:

And they changed their lives and departed, and came back as the leaves of the trees

Come back and increase in the summer : — and I, I, I am of these ;

And I know of Them that have fashioned, and the deeds that have blos- somed and grow;

But nought of the Gods' repentance, or the Gods' undoing I know."

Then falleth the speech of Gunnar, and his lips the word forget, But his crafty hands are busy, and the harp is murmuring yet.

And the crests of the worms have fallen, and their flickering tongues are still.

The Roller and the Coiler, and Greyback, lord of ill,

Grave-groper and Death-swaddler, the Slumberer of the Heath,

Gold-wallower, Venom-smiter, lie still, forgetting death.

And loose are coils of Long-back ; yea all as soft are laid

As the kine in midmost summer about the elmy glade ;

— All save the Grey and Ancient, that holds his crest aloft.

Light-wavering as the flame-tongue when the evening wind is soft :

For he conies of the kin of the Serpent once wrought all wrong to nurse,

The bond of earthly evil, the Midworld's ancient curse.

But Gunnar looked and considered, and wise and wary he grew,



And the dark of night was waning and chill in the dawning it grew ;] But his hands were strong and mighty and the fainting harp he woke, And cried in the deadly desert, and the song from his soul out-broke :

" O Hearken, Kindreds and Nations, and all Kings of the plenteous earth, Heed, ye that shall come hereafter, and are far and far from the birth ! I have dwelt in the world aforetime, and I called it the garden of God ; I have stayed my heart with its sweetness, and fair on its freshness I trod ; I have seen its tempest and wondered, I have cowered adown from its rain. And desired the brightening sunshine, and seen it and been fain ; I have waked, time was, in its dawning ; its noon and its even I wore ; I have slept unafraid of its darkness, and the days have been many and more : I have dwelt with the deeds of the mighty ; I have woven the web of the sword ; I have borne up the guilt nor repented ; I have sorrowed nor spoken the word ; And I fought and was glad in the morning, and I sing in the night and the end : So let him stand forth, the Accuser, and do on the death-shoon to wend ; For not here on the earth shall I hearken, nor on earth for the dooming shall stay, Nor stretch out mine hand for the pleading ; for I see the spring of the day Round the doors of the golden Valhall, and I see the mighty arise. And I hearken the voice of Odin, and his mouth on Gunnar cries. And he nameth the Son of Giuki, and cries on deeds long done, And the fathers of my fathers, and the sons of yore agone.

** O Odin, I see, and I hearken ; but, lo thou, the bonds on my feet, And the walls of the wilderness round me, ere the light of thy land I meet ! I crave and I weary, AUfather, and long and dark is the road ; And the feet of the mighty are weakened, and the back is bent with the load."

Then fainted the song of Gunnar, and the harp from his hand fell down, And he cried : "Ah, what hath betided? for cold the world hath grown,



And cold is the heart within me, and my hand is heavy and strange ; What voice is the voice I hearken in the chill and the dusk and the change ? Where art thou, God of the war-fain ? for this is the death indeed ; And I unsworded, unshielded, in the Day of the Niblungs' Need ! "

He fell to the earth as he spake, and life left Gunnar the King, For his heart was chilled for ever by the sleepless serpent's sting, The grey Worm, Great and Ancient — and day in the East began, And the moon was low in the heavens, and the light clouds over him ran.


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