Sigurd the Volsung

The Story of Sigurd the Volsungand the Fall of the Niblungs, Book I, Kelmscott Edition

V. Of the slaying of Siggeir the Goth-king

SO there are those kings abiding, and they think of nought but the day
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
And the watch of the day was departed, as Sinfiotli minded yet.
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:
Yea and so nigh to the feast-hall, that they saw the torches shine
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;
But Sinfiotli gnawed on his shield-rim, and his face was haggard and white:
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
They played with a golden toy, and trundled it here and there,
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
Where lay those night-abiders, and met them face to face,
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,
Lo there on the very threshold did Signy the Volsung stand,
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,
And went to meet her kinsmen: then once more did Sigmund look
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!
But with these thy two betrayers first stain the edge of fight,
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,
And fair in the house of my fathers the benches are bestrown."

SO she stood aside and gazed: but Sinfiotli taketh them up
And breaketh each tender body as a drunkard breaketh a cup;
With a dreadful voice he crieth, and casteth them down the hall,
And the Goth-folk sunder before them, and at Siggeir's feet they fall.
BUT the fallow blades leapt naked, and on the battle came,
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,
And oft to men's beholding his eyes of God would beam
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;
And great was the death before him, till he slipped in the blood and fell:
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:
But a long while wakened Siggeir, for fell and fierce was his mood,
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
Since all their might had failed him to quench the Volsung kin.
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
Into two woeful chambers: alone and not alone
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.
But Sigmund fresh and clear-eyed went to the deadly hall,
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
Wan-faced and eager-eyed, stole through the beginning of night
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
If they held their peace for ever of the deed that then she did:
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.
But her gift do the thralls deem victual, and the thatch on the hall they lay,
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 again he held him silent of bitter words or of sweet;
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
On each side of the trench of blood and the point of that glorious one.
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
As against it bore Sinfiotli: but he cried out at the last:
"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 unto that saw of battle he set his naked hand;
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!
And they leap out merry-hearted; nor is there need to say
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
They bear the ash and the rowan, and build a mighty bale 
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.
By the gable-door stood Sigmund, and fierce Sinfiotli stood
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?
Will ye take my heaped-up treasure, or ten years of my fields' increase,
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,
No tuggers at the hawser, no wasters of the sea:
We will have the gold and the purple when we list such things to win;
But now we think on our fathers, and avenging of our kin.
Not all King Siggeir's kingdom, and not all the world's increase
For ever and for ever, shall buy thee life and peace. 
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."
THEN stark fear fell on the earl-folk, and silent they abide
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,
That beneath the boughs of the Branstock once more we twain may dwell."
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.
Then the men of war surged outward to the twofold doors of bane,
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:
And the light low licked the tables, and the wine of Siggeir drank.
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 many days of toiling, and the travail of my womb,
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
To weary thee with labour and mingle wrong with wrong.
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."
SHE kissed him and departed, and unto Sigmund went
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:
And she said: "My youth was happy; but this hour belike is best
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,
And loathed the sleep I won there: but lo, how all things pass,
And hearts are changed and softened, for lovely now it seems.
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,
Nor spared to spend for its blooming my joy, and my life, and my fame.
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;
The son of Volsung's daughter, the son of Volsung's son.
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
That the Goths and the Gods had builded to last for evermore.
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;
And as she crossed the threshold day brightened at her back,
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
The fire of death confounded with the tokens of the kings.
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.


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