V. Of the slaying of Siggeir the Goth-king
When the time at last shall serve them, to wend on the perilous way.
And so in the first of winter, when nights grow long and mirk,
They fare unto Siggeir's dwelling and seek wherein to lurk.
And by hap 'twas the tide of twilight, ere the watch of the night was set
So now by a passage he wotted they gat them into the bower
Where lay the biggest wine-tuns, and there they abode the hour:
Anigh to the hall it was, but no man came thereto,
But now and again the cup-lord when King Siggeir's wine he drew:
When the cup-lord was departed with King Siggeir's dear-bought wine,
And they heard the glee of the people, and the horns and the beakers' din,
When the feast was dight in the hall and the earls were merry therein.
Calm was the face of Sigmund, and clear were his eyes and bright;
For he deemed the time full long, ere the fallow blades should leap
In the hush of the midnight feast-hall o'er King Siggeir's golden sleep.
NOW it fell that two little children, Queen Signy's youngest-born,
Were about the hall that even, and amid the glee of the horn
And thus to that lurking-bower they drew exceeding near,
When there fell a ring from their toy, and swiftly rolled away
And into the place of the wine-tuns, and by Sigmund's feet made stay;
Then the little ones followed after, and came to the lurking-place
And fled, ere they might hold them, aback to the thronging hall.
THEN leapt those twain to their feet lest the sword and the murder fall
On their hearts in their narrow lair and they die without a stroke;
But e'en as they met the torch-light and the din and tumult of folk,
And one of her last-born children she had on either hand;
For the children had cried: "We have seen them, those two among the wine,
And their hats are wide and white, and their garments tinkle and shine."
So while men ran to their weapons, those children Signy took,
On the face of his father's daughter, and kind of heart he grew,
As the clash of the coming battle anigh the doomed men drew:
But wan and fell was Signy; and she cried: "The end is near!
And thou with the smile on thy face and the joyful eyes and clear!
For why should the fruit of my body outlive my soul to-night?"
BUT he cried in the front of the spear-hedge: "Nay this shall be far from me
To slay thy children sackless, though my death belike they be.
Now men will be dealing, sister, and old the night is grown,
SO she stood aside and gazed: but Sinfiotli taketh them up
As the tide of the winter ocean sweeps up to the beaconing flame.
But firm in the midst of onset Sigmund the Volsung stood,
And stirred no more for the sword-strokes than the oldest oak of the wood
Shall shake to the herd-boys' whittles: white danced his war-flame's gleam,
Clear from the sword-blades' tangle, and often for a space
Amazed the garth of murder stared deedless on his face;
Nor back nor forward moved he: but fierce Sinfiotli went
Where the spears were set the thickest, and sword with sword was blent;
Then the shield-garth compassed Sigmund, and short is the tale to tell;
For they bore him down unwounded, and bonds about him cast:
Nor sore hurt is Sinfiotli, but is hoppled strait and fast.
Then the Goth-folk went to slumber when the hall was washed from blood:
And all the days of his kingship seemed nothing worth as then
While fared the son of Volsung as well as the worst of men,
While yet that son of Signy lay untormented there:
Yea the past days of his kingship seemed blossomless and bare
SO when the first grey dawning a new day did begin,
King Siggeir bade his bondsmen to dight an earthen mound
Anigh to the house of the Goth-kings amid the fruit-grown ground:
And that house of death was twofold, for 'twas sundered by a stone
Those vanquished thralls of battle therein should bide their hour,
That each might hear the tidings of the other's baleful bower,
Yet have no might to help him. So now the twain they brought,
And weary-dull was Sinfiotli, with eyes that looked at nought.
And the song arose within him as he sat within its wall;
Nor aught durst Siggeir mock him, as he had good will to do,
But went his ways when the bondmen brought the roofing turfs thereto.
AND that was at eve of the day; and lo now, Signy the white
To the place where the builders built, and the thralls with lingering hands
Had roofed in the grave of Sigmund and hidden in the glory of lands,
But over the head of Sinfiotli for a space were the rafters bare.
Gold then to the thralls she gave, and promised them days full fair
And nothing they gainsayed it; so she drew forth something hid,
In wrappings of wheat-straw winded, and into Sinfiotli's place
She cast it all down swiftly; then she covereth up her face,
And beneath the winter starlight she wended swift away.
And depart, they too, to their slumber, now dight was the dwelling of death.
THEN Sigmund hears Sinfiotli, how he cries through the stone and saith:
"Best unto babe is mother, well sayeth the elder's saw;
Here hath Signy sent me swine's-flesh in windings of wheaten straw."
And quoth Sigmund: "What hath betided? is an adder in the meat?"
Then loud his fosterling laughed: "Yea, a worm of bitter tooth,
The serpent of the Branstock, the sword of thy days of youth!
I have felt the hilts aforetime; I have felt how the letters run
O mother, O mother of kings! we shall live and our days shall be sweet!
I have loved thee well aforetime, I shall love thee more when we meet."
THEN Sigmund heard the sword-point smite on the stone wall's side,
And slowly mid the darkness therethrough he heard it gride
"It biteth, O my fosterer! it cleaves the earth-bone fast!
Now learn we the craft of the masons that another day may come
When we build a house for King Siggeir, a strait unlovely home."
THEN in the grave-mound's darkness did Sigmund the king upstand,
And hard the gift of Odin home to their breasts they drew;
Sawed Sigmund, sawed Sinfiotli, till the stone was cleft atwo,
And they met and kissed together: then they hewed and heaved full hard
Till lo, through the bursten rafters the winter heavens bestarred!
A many words between them of whither was the way.
FOR they took the night-watch sleeping, and slew them one and all,
And then on the winter fagots they made them haste to fall,
They pile the oak-trees cloven, and when the oak-beams fail
About the dwelling of Siggeir, and lay the torch therein.
Then they drew their swords and watched it till the flames began to win
Hard on to the mid-hall's rafters, and those feasters of the folk,
As the fire-flakes fell among them, to their last of days awoke.
Red-lit by the door of the women in the lane of blazing wood:
To death each doorway opened, and death was in the hall.
THEN amid the gathered Goth-folk 'gan Siggeir the king to call:
"Who lit the fire I burn in, and what shall buy me peace?
Or half of my father's kingdom? O toilers at the oar,
O wasters of the sea-plain, now labour ye no more!
But take the gifts I bid you, and lie upon the gold,
And clothe your limbs in purple and the silken women hold!"
BUT a great voice cried o'er the fire: "Nay, no such men are we,
For now is the tree-bough blossomed that sprang from murder's seed;
And the death-doomed and the buried are they that do the deed;
Now when the dead shall ask thee by whom thy days were done,
Thou shall say by Sigmund the Volsung, and Sinfiotli, Signy's son."
Amid the flaming penfold; and again the great voice cried,
As the Goth-king's golden pillars grew red amidst the blaze:
"Ye women of the Goth-folk, come forth upon your ways;
And thou, Signy, O my sister, come forth from death and hell,
FORTH came the white-faced women and passed Sinfiotli's sword,
Free by the glaive of Odin the trembling pale ones poured,
But amid their hurrying terror came never Signy's feet;
And the pearls of the throne of Siggeir shrunk in the fervent heat.
But there played the sword of Sigmund amidst the fiery lane
Before the gabled doorway, and by the woman's door
Sinfiotli sang to the sword-edge amid the bale-fire's roar,
And back again to the burning the earls of the Goth-folk shrank:
LO now to the woman's doorway, the steel-watched bower of flame,
Clad in her queenly raiment King Volsung's daughter came
Before Sinfiotli's sword-point; and she said: "O mightiest son,
Best now is our departing in the day my grief hath won,
And the hate, and the fire of longing: thou, son, and this day of the doom
Have long been as one to my heart; and now shall I leave you both,
And well ye may wot of the slumber my heart is nothing loth;
And all the more, as, meseemeth, thy day shall not be long
Yea, and I wot that the daylight thine eyes had never seen
Save for a great king's murder and the shame of a mighty queen.
But let thy soul, I charge thee, o'er all these things prevail
To make thy short day glorious and leave a goodly tale."
As now against the dawning grey grew the winter bent;
As the night and the morning mingled he saw her face once more,
And he deemed it fair and ruddy as in the days of yore;
Yet fast the tears fell from her, and the sobs upheaved her breast:
Of all the days of my life-tide, that soon shall have an end.
I have come to greet thee, Sigmund, then back again must I wend,
For his bed the Goth-king dighteth: I have lain therein, time was,
Yet fear not my forgetting: I shall see thee in my dreams
A mighty king of the world 'neath the boughs of the Branstock green,
With thine earls and thy lords about thee as the Volsung fashion hath been:
And there shall all ye remember how I loved the Volsung name,
For hear thou: that Sinfiotli, who hath wrought out our desire,
Who hath compassed about King Siggeir with this sea of a deadly fire,
Who brake thy grave asunder, my child and thine he is,
Begot in that house of the Dwarf-kind for no other end than this;
Look, look! might another helper this deed with thee have done?"
AND indeed as the word she uttereth, high up the red flames flare
To the nether floor of the heavens: and yet men see them there,
The golden roofs of Siggeir, the hall of the silver door
SHE said: "Farewell, my brother, for the earls my candles light,
And I must wend me bedward lest I lose the flower of night."
And soft and sweet she kissed him, ere she turned about again,
And a little while was Signy beheld of the eyes of men;
Nor once did she turn her earthward from the reek and the whirling wrack,
But fair in the fashion of Queens passed on to the heart of the hall.
AND then King Siggeir's roof-tree upheaved for its utmost fall,
And its huge walls clashed together, and its mean and lowly things
A sign for many people on the land of the Goths it lay,
A lamp of the earth none needed, for the bright sun brought the day.