Sigurd the Volsung, Book I

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 it lies on his knees in the council and hath no other lord;
And he sendeth earls o'er the sea-flood to take King Volsung's land,
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And those scattered and shepherdless sheep must come beneath his hand.
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.
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NOW again in a half-month's wearing goes Signy into the wild,
And findeth her way by her wisdom to the dwelling of Volsung's child.
It was e'en as a house of the Dwarfs, a rock, and a stony cave,
In the heart of the midmost thicket by the hidden river's wave.
There Signy found him watching how the white-head waters ran,
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And she said in her heart as she saw him that once more she had seen a man.
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
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Was her face to all men's deeming: nor aught it changed for ruth,
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;
And war-gear he gat him enough from the slaying of earls of men,
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And gold as much as he would; though indeed but now and again 
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,
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Belated amid the thicket, his forge's glimmering light,
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
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In the cave whence the Dwarfs were departed, and they said: It is aught but well
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
Beside the King of the Goth-folk, and is waxen no less fair,
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And men and maids hath she gotten who are ready to work her will,
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
By that ancient house of the Dwarf-kind and fashioned a golden sword,
By the side of the hidden river he saw a damsel stand,
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And a man-child of ten summers was holding by her hand.
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;
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If thou deem that his heart shall avail not, thy work is over-great
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,
And there by the side of the river the child abode alone:
But Sigmund stood on his feet, and across the river he went,
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For he knew how the child was Siggeir's, and of Signy's fell intent.
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!
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And Sigmund deemed in his heart that the boy would be bold enough.
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:
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"I go to the hunting of deer, bide thou and bake our bread
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.
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“TELL me, O Son of the Goth-king," quoth Sigmund, "how thou hast fared?
Forsooth, is the baking of bread so mighty a thing to be dared?"
Quoth the lad: "I went to the meal-sack, and therein was something quick,
And it moved, and I feared for the serpent, like a winter ashen stick
That I saw on the stone last even: so I durst not deal with the thing."
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LOUD Sigmund laughed, and answered: "I have heard of that son of a king,
Who might not be scared from his bread for all the worms of the land."
And therewith he went to the meal-sack and thrust therein his hand,
And drew forth an ash-grey adder, and a deadly worm it was:
Then he went to the door of the cave and set it down in the grass,
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While the King's son quaked and quivered: then he drew forth his sword from the sheath,
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,
Yet e'en such a blade shall I carry ere many a month be o'er."
THEN abroad went the King in the wind, and leaned on his naked sword
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And stood there many an hour, and mused on Signy's word.
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,
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But thereof nought Sigmund noted, but bade him wend with him.
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,
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And the earliest wind of dawning blew over them soft and sweet:
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:
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But to her shalt thou tell what thou wilt, and say this word withal:
'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,
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And, if thou wilt, betray me! and repent it early and late."
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,
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For the heart of a king's son had he. But Signy hearkened his word;
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,
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And my heart and my fame and my body, that the name of Volsung might live.
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,
Till the king and the earls of the strangers seemed shades of the dream-tide grey,
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And gone seemed all earth's people, save that woman mid the gold  865
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,
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And the Vanir and the Dwarf-kind, and all the folk of earth?"
NOW amidst those days that she pondered came a wife of the witch-folk there,
A woman young and lovesome, and shaped exceeding fair,
And she spake with Signy the Queen, and told her of deeds of her craft,
And how the might was with her her soul from her body to waft
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And to take the shape of another and give her fashion in turn.
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;
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On me alone be the shaming, and the cry of the coming time.
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:
"Thou art come to the Goth-queen's dwelling, wilt thou do so much for my sake,
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And for many a pound of silver and for rings of the ruddy gold,
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
And hand in hand and alone they sung the spell-song soft:
Till Signy looked on her guest, and lo, the face of a queen
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With the steadfast eyes of grey, that so many a grief had seen:
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;
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And the hands were ready to cling, and beckoning lamps were the eyes,
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,
While swiftly the feet of the witch-wife brushed over the moonlit green,
But the soul mid the gleam of the torches, her thought was of gain and of gold;
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And the soul of the wind-driven woman, swift-foot in the moonlight cold, 
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
The voice of a soft-speeched woman, shrill-sweet as a dawning bird:
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So he rose, and a woman indeed he saw by the door of the cave 
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:
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And I went by the skirts of the woodland to the house of my sister to win,
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;
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Drive me not to the night and the darkness, for the wolves of the wood to devour.
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;
And he said: "Nay, nought will I harm thee, and thou mayst harbour here;
God wot if thou fear'st not me, I have nought to fear thy face:
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Though this house be the terror of men-folk, thou shalt find it as safe a place
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."
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SO he took the hand of the woman and straightway led her in
Where days agone the Dwarf-kind would their deeds of smithying win:
And he kindled the half-slaked embers, and gave her of his cheer
Amid the gold and the silver, and the fight-won raiment dear;
And soft was her voice, and she sang him sweet tales of yore agone,

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Till all his heart was softened; and the man was all alone,
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
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When she stepped from the bed of Sigmund, and left the Dwarf's abode;
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;
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Amid his kingly longings and his many deeds of might
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,
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And he looked and beheld how Sigmund wrought on a helm of gold
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;
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But so stark and strong he waded that he won the further shore:
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!
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Here is the cave and the river, and all tokens of the place:
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."
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BUT Sigmund answered and said: "Thou shalt bide in my dwelling now;
And thou mayst wot full surely that thy mother's will is done
By this token and no other, that thou lookedst on Volsung's son
And smiledst fair in his face: but tell me thy name and thy years:
And what are the words of Signy that the son of the Goth-king bears?"
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"SINFIOTLI they call me," he said, "and ten summers have I seen;
And this is the only word that I bear from Signy the Queen,
That once more a man she sendeth the work of thine hands to speed,
If he be of the Kings or the Gods thyself shalt know in thy need."
SO Sigmund looked on the youngling and his heart unto him yearned;
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But he thought: "Shall I pay the hire ere the worth of the work be earned?
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,
And on the lad laid Sigmund full many a weary load,
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And thrust him mid all dangers, and he bore all passing well,
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?
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NOW a summer and winter and spring o'er those men of the wilds had passed
And summer was there again, when the Volsung spake on a day:
"I will wend to the wood-deer's hunting, but thou at home shalt stay,
And deal with the baking of bread against the even come."
So he went and came on the hunting and brought the venison home,
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And the child, as ever his wont was, was glad of his coming back,
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:
For when I would handle the meal-sack therein was something quick,
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As if the life of an eel-grig were set in an ashen stick:
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
The deadliest of all adders that is of the creeping kin:
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So to-night from the bread refrain thee, lest thy bane should come of it."
FOR here, the tale of the elders doth men a marvel to wit,
That such was the shaping of Sigmund among all earthly kings,
That unhurt he handled adders and other deadly things,
And might drink unscathed of venom: but Sinfiotli so was wrought,
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That no sting of creeping creatures would harm his body aught.
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
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The highway leads to the market, and men go up and down,
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:
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But dread was his face to behold ere the battle-play began,
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
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And smote on the door and entered, when a long while no man bade;
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.
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THEN the drift of a cloudy dream wrapt Sigmund's soul away,
And his eyes were set on the wolf-skin, and long he gazed thereat,
And remembered the words he uttered when erst on the beam he sat,
That the Gods should miss a man in the utmost Day of Doom,
And win a wolf in his stead; and unto his heart came home
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That thought, as he gazed on the wolf-skin and the other days waxed dim,

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,
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Like the grey dogs of the forest; though somewhat the hearts of kings
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.
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SO Sigmund and his fellow rush forth from the golden place;
And though their kings' hearts bade them the backward way to trace
Unto their Dwarf-wrought dwelling, and there abide the change,
Yet their wolfish habit drave them wide through the wood to range,
And draw nigh to the dwellings of men and fly upon the prey.
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AND lo now, a band of hunters on the uttermost woodland way,
And they spy those dogs of the forest, and fall on with the spear,
Nor deemed that any other but woodland beasts they were,
And that easy would be the battle: short is the tale to tell;
For every man of the hunters amid the thicket fell.
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THEN onwards fare those were-wolves, and unto the sea they turn,
And their ravening hearts are heavy, and sore for the prey they yearn:
And lo, in the last of the thicket a score of the chaffering men,
And Sinfiotli was wild for the onset, but Sigmund was wearying then
For the glimmering gold of his Dwarf-house, and he bade refrain from the folk,
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But wrath burned in the eyes of Sinfiotli, and forth from the thicket he broke;
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.
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NOW Sinfiotli lay weary and faint, but Sigmund howled over the dead,
And wrath in his heart there gathered, and a dim thought wearied his head
And his tangled wolfish wit, that might never understand;
As though some God in his dreaming had wasted the work of his hand,
And forgotten his craft of creation; then his wrath swelled up amain
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And he turned and fell on Sinfiotli, who had wrought the wrack and the bane,
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
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There came two weasels bickering, and one bit his mate by the head,
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,
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And she rose up whole and living and no worser of estate
Than ever she was aforetime, and the twain went merry away.

THEN swiftly rose up Sigmund from where his fosterling lay,
And a long while searched the thicket, till that three-leaved herb he found,
And he laid it on Sinfiotli, who rose up hale and sound
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As ever he was in his life-days.  But now in hate they had  
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
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Till the last of the nine days perished, and the spell for a space was o'er,
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;
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And they looked, and sore they wondered, and they both for speech did yearn.
FIRST then spake out Sinfiotli: "Sure I had a craft to learn,
And thou hadst a lesson to teach, that I left the dwelling of kings,
And came to the wood-wolves' dwelling; thou hast taught me many things
But the Gods have taught me more, and at last have abased us both,
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That of nought that lieth before us our hearts and our hands may be loth.
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:
"This is the deed of thy mastery; we twain shall slay my foe:
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And how if the foe were thy father?" Then he telleth him Siggeir's tale:
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,
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(For thou startest not, nor palest), can I forbear it then,
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
That Signy is my mother, and her will I help at need:
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Is the fox of the King-folk my father, that adder of the brake,
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,
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For I am the sword of the Gods: and thine hand shall hold the hilt."
FIERCE glowed the eyes of King Sigmund, for he knew the time was come
When the curse King Siggeir fashioned at last shall seek him home:
And of what shall follow after, be it evil days, or bliss,
Or praise, or the cursing of all men, the Gods shall see to this.

 

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