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 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.
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,
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
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,
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,
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
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,
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
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;
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,
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!
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:
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.
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."
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,
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
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,
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,
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:
'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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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
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;
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."
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
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;
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;
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:
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:
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;
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:
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."
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,
Till all his heart was softened; and the man was all alone,
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;
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,
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;
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!
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."
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?"
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;
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,
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:
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,
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,
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:
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,
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
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:
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
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.
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
And he gathered the thing in his hand, and did it over him;
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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,
Than ever she was aforetime, and the twain went merry away.
THEN swiftly rose up Sigmund from where his fosterling lay,
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
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;
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,
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:
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,
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:
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,
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.