Sigurd the Volsung

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

VI. How Sigmund cometh to the Land of the Volsungs again, and of the death of Sinfiotli his Son

NOW Sigmund the king bestirs him, and Sinfiotli, Signund's son,
And they gather a host together, and many a mighty one;
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Then they set the ships in the sea-flood and sail from the stranger's shore,
And the beaks of the golden dragons see the Volsungs' land once more:
And men's hearts are fulfilled of joyance; and they cry: The sun shines now
With never a curse to hide it, and they shall reap that sow!
Then for many a day sits Sigmund 'neath the boughs of the Branstock green,
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With his earls and lords about him as the Volsung wont hath been.
And oft he thinketh on Signy and oft he nameth her name,
And tells how she spent her joyance and her lifedays and her fame
That the Volsung kin might blossom and bear the fruit of worth
For the hope of unborn people and the harvest of the earth.
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And again he thinks of the word that he spake that other day,
How he should abide there lonely when his kin was passed away,
Their glory and sole avenger, their after-summer seed.

AND now for their fame's advancement, and the latter days to speed,
He weddeth a wife of the King-folk; Borghild she had to name;
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And the woman was fair and lovely and bore him sons of fame;
Men called them Hamond and Helgi, and when Helgi first saw light,
There came the Norns to his cradle and gave him life full bright,
And called him Sunlit Hill, Sharp Sword, and Land of Rings,
And bade him be lovely and great, and a joy in the tale of kings.
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And he waxed up fair and mighty, and no worser than their word,
And sweet are the tales of his life-days, and the wonders of his sword,
And the Maid of the Shield that he wedded, and how he changed his life,
And of marvels wrought in the gravemound where he rested from the strife.
BUT the tale of Sinfiotli telleth, that wide in the world he went,
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And many a wall of ravens the edge of his war-flame rent;
And oft he drave the war-prey and wasted many a land:
Amidst King Hunding's battle he strengthened Helgi's hand;
And he went before the banners amidst the steel-grown wood,
When the sons of Hunding gathered and Helgi's hope withstood:
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Nor less he mowed the war-swathe in Helgi's glorious day
When the kings of the hosts at the Wolf-crag set the battle in array.
Then at home by his father's high-seat he wore the winter through;
And the marvel of all men he was for the deeds whereof they knew,
And the deeds whereof none wotted, and the deeds to follow after.
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AND yet but a little while he loved the song and the laughter,
And the wine that was drunk in peace, and the swordless lying down,
And the deedless day's uprising and the ungirt golden gown,
And he thought of the word of his mother, that his day should not be long
To weary his soul with labour or mingle wrong with wrong;
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And his heart was exceeding hungry o’er all men to prevail,
And make his short day glorious and leave a goodly tale.
SO when green leaves were lengthening and the spring was come again
He set his ships in the sea-flood and sailed across the main;
And the brother of Queen Borghild was his fellow in the war,
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A king of hosts hight Gudrod; and each to each they swore,
And plighted troth for the helping, and the parting of the prey.
Now a long way over the sea-flood they went ashore on a day
And fought with a mighty folk-king, and overcame at last:
Then wide about his kingdom the net of steel they cast,
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And the prey was great and goodly that they drave unto the strand.
But a greedy heart is Gudrod, and a king of griping hand,
Though nought he blench from the battle; so he speaks on a morning fair,
And saith: "Upon the foreshore the booty will we share
If thou wilt help me, fellow, before we sail our ways."
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SINFIOTLI laughed, and answered: "O'ershort methinks the days
That two kings of war should chaffer like merchants of the men:
I will come again in the even and look on thy dealings then,
And take the share thou givest." Then he went his ways withal,
And drank day-long in his warship as in his father's hall;
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And came again in the even: now hath Gudrod shared the spoil,

And throughout that day of summer not light had been his toil:
Forsooth his heap was the lesser; but Sinfiotli looked thereon,
And saw that a goodly getting had Borghild's brother won.
Clean-limbed and stark were the horses, and the neat were fat and sleek,
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And the men-thralls young and stalwart, and the women young and meek;
Fair-gilt was the harness of battle, and the raiment fresh and bright,
And the household stuff new-fashioned for lords' and earls’ delight.
On his own then looked Sinfiotli, and great it was forsooth,
But half-foundered were the horses, and a sight for all men’s ruth
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Where the thin-ribbed hungry cow-kind; and the thralls both carle and quean
Were the wilful, the weak, and the witless, and the old and the ill-beseen;
Spoilt was the harness and house-gear, and the raiment rags of cloth.
NOW Sinfiotli's men beheld it and grew exceeding wroth,
But Sinfiotli laughed and answered: "The day's work hath been meet:
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Thou hast done well, war-brother, to sift the chaff from the wheat;
Nought have kings' sons to meddle with the refuse of the earth,
Nor shall warriors burden their long-ships with things of nothing worth."
THEN he cried across the sea-strand in a voice exceeding great:
"Depart, ye thralls of the battle; ye have nought to do to wait!
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Old, young, and good, and evil, depart and share the spoil,
That burden of the battle, that spring and seed of toil.
But thou king of the greedy heart, thou king of the thievish grip,
What now wilt thou bear to the sea-strand and set within my ship
To buy thy life from the slaying? Unmeet for kings to hear
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Of a king the breaker of troth, of a king the stealer of gear."
THEN mad-wroth waxed King Gudrod, and he cried: "Stand up, my men!
And slay this wood-abider lest he slay his brothers again!"
But no sword leapt from its sheath, and his men shrank back in dread:
Then Sinfiotli's brow grew smoother, and at last he spake and said:
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"Indeed thou art very brother of my father Sigmund's wife:
Wilt thou do so much for thine honour, wilt thou do so much for thy life,
As to bide my sword on the island in the pale of the hazel wands?
For I know thee no battle-blencher, but a valiant man of thine hands."
NOW nought King Gudrod gainsayeth, and men dight the hazelled field,
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And there on the morrow morning they clash the sword and shield,
And the fallow blades are leaping: short is the tale to tell,
For with the third stroke stricken to field King Gudrod fell.
So there in the holm they lay him; and plenteous store of gold
Sinfiotli lays beside him amid that hall of mould;
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"For he gripped," saith the son of Sigmund, "and gathered for such a day."
THEN Sinfiotli and his fellows o'er the sea-flood sail away,
And come to the land of the Volsungs: but Borghild heareth the tale,
And into the hall she cometh with eager face and pale
As the kings were feasting together, and glad was Sigmund grown
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Of the words of Sinfiotli's battle, and the tale of his great renown:
And there sat the sons of Borghild, and they hearkened and were glad
Of their brother born in the wild-wood, and the crown of fame he had.

So she stood before King Sigmund, and spread her hands abroad:
"I charge thee now, King Sigmund, as thou art the Volsungs' lord,
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To tell me of my brother, why cometh he not from the sea?"
Quoth Sinfiotli: "Well thou wottest and the tale hath come to thee:
The white swords met in the island; bright there did the war-shields shine,
And there thy brother abideth, for his hand was worser than mine."
BUT she heeded him never a whit, but cried on Sigmund and said:
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"I charge thee now, King Sigmund, as thou art the lord of my bed,
To drive this wolf of the King-folk from out thy guarded land;
Lest all we of thine house and kindred should fall beneath his hand."
THEN spake King Sigmund the Volsung: "When thou hast heard the tale,
Thou shalt know that somewhat thy brother of his oath to my son did fail;
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Nor fell the man all sackless: nor yet need Sigmund's son
For any slain in sword-field to any soul atone.
Yet for the love I bear thee, and because thy love I know,
And because the man was mighty, and far afield would go,
I will lay down a mighty weregild, a heap of the ruddy gold."
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BUT no word answered Borghild, for her heart was grim and cold;
And she went from the hall of the feasting, and lay in her bower a while;
Nor speech she took, nor gave it, but brooded deadly guile.
And now again on the morrow to Sigmund the king she went,
And she saith that her wrath hath failed her, and that well is she content
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To take the king's atonement; and she kissed him soft and sweet,
And she kissed Sinfiotli his son, and sat down in the golden seat
All merry and glad by seeming, and blithe to most and least.
And again she biddeth King Sigmund that he hold a funeral feast
For her brother slain on the island; and nought he gainsayeth her will.
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AND so on an eve of the autumn do men the beakers fill,
And the earls are gathered together 'neath the boughs of the Branstock green;
There gold-clad mid the feasting went Borghild, Sigmund's Queen,
And she poured the wine for Sinfiotli, and smiled in his face and said:
"Drink now of this cup from mine hand, and bury we hate that is dead."
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So he took the cup from her fingers, nor drank but pondered long
O'er the gathering days of his labour, and the intermingled wrong.
Now he sat by the side of his father; and Sigmund spake a word:
"O son, why sittest thou silent mid the glee of earl and lord?"
"I look in the cup," quoth Sinfiotli, "and hate therein I see."
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"Well looked it is," said Sigmund; "give thou the cup to me."
And he drained it dry to the bottom; for ye mind how it was writ
That this king might drink of venom, and have no hurt of it.
But the song sprang up in the hall, and merry was Sigmund’s heart,
And he drank of the wine of King-folk and thrust all care apart.
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THEN the second time came Borghild and stood before the twain,
And she said: "O valiant step-son, how oft shall I say it in vain,
That my hate for thee hath perished, and the love hath sprouted green?
Wilt thou thrust my gift away, and shame the hand of a queen?"
So he took the cup from her fingers, and pondered over it long,
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And thought on the labour that should be, and the wrong that amendeth wrong.

Then spake Sigmund the King: "O son, what aileth thine heart,
When the earls of men are merry, and thrust all care apart?"
But he said: "I have looked in the cup, and I see the deadly snare."
"Well seen it is," quoth Sigmund, "but thy burden I may bear."
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And he took the beaker and drained it, and the song rose up in the hall;
And fair bethought King Sigmund his latter days befall.
BUT again came Borghild the Queen and stood with the cup in her hand,
And said: "They are idle liars, those singers of every land
Who sing how thou fearest nothing; for thou losest valour and might,
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And art fain to live for ever." Then she stretched forth her fingers white,
And he took the cup from her hand, nor drank, but pondered long
Of the toil that begetteth toil, and the wrong that beareth wrong.
BUT Sigmund turned him about, and he said: "What aileth thee, son?
Shall our life-days never be merry, and our labour never be done?"
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But Sinfiotli said: "I have looked, and lo there is death in the cup."
And the song, and the tinkling of harp-strings to the roof-tree winded up:
And Sigmund was dreamy with wine and the wearing of many a year;
And the noise and the glee of the people as the sound of the wild woods were,
And the blossoming boughs of the Branstock were the wild trees waving about;
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So he said: "Well seen, my fosterling; let the lip then strain it out."
Then Sinfiotli laughed and answered: "I drink unto Odin then,
And the Dwellers up in God-home, the lords of the lives of men."
HE drank as he spake the word, and forthwith the venom ran
In a chill flood over his heart, and down fell the mighty man
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With never an uttered death-word and never a death-changed look,
And the floor of the hall of the Volsungs beneath his falling shook.
Then up rose the elder of days with a great and bitter cry
And lifted the head of the fallen, and none durst come anigh
To hearken the words of his sorrow, if any words he said,
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But such as the father of all men might speak over Baldur dead.
And again, as before the death-stroke, waxed the hall of the Volsungs dim,
And once more he seemed in the forest, where he spake with nought but him.
THEN he lifted him up from the hall-floor and bore him on his breast,
And men who saw Sinfiotli deemed his heart had gotten rest,
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And his eyes were no more dreadful. Forth fared the Volsung child
With Signy's son through the doorway; and the wind was great and wild,
And the moon rode high in the heavens, and whiles it shone out bright,
And whiles the clouds drew over. So went he through the night,
Until the dwellings of man-folk were a long while left behind.
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Then came he unto the thicket and the houses of the wind,
And the feet of the hoary mountains, and the dwellings of the deer,
And the heaths without a shepherd, and the houseless dales and drear.
Then lo, a mighty water, a rushing flood and wide,
And no ferry for the shipless; so he went along its side,
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As a man that seeketh somewhat: but it widened toward the sea,
And the moon sank down in the west, and he went o'er a desert lea.

BUT lo, in that dusk ere the dawning a glimmering over the flood,
And the sound of the cleaving of waters, and Sigmund the Volsung stood
By the edge of the swirling eddy, and a white-sailed boat he saw,
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And its keel ran light on the strand with the last of the dying flaw.
But therein was a man most mighty, grey-clad like the mountain-cloud,
One-eyed and seeming ancient, and he spake and hailed him aloud:
"Now whither away, King Sigmund, for thou farest far to-night?"
SPAKE the King: "I would cross this water, for my life hath lost its light,
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And mayhap there be deeds for a king to be found on the further shore."
"My senders," quoth the shipman, "bade me waft a great king o'er,
So set thy burden a-shipboard, for the night's face looks toward day."
SO betwixt the earth and the water his son did Sigmund lay;
But lo, when he fain would follow, there was neither ship nor man,
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Nor aught but his empty bosom beside that water wan,
That whitened by little and little as the night's face looked to the day.
So he stood a long while gazing and then turned and gat him away;
And ere the sun of the noon-tide across the meadows shone
Sigmund the King of the Volsungs was set in his father's throne,
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And he hearkened and doomed and portioned, and did all the deeds of a king.
So the autumn waned and perished, and the winter brought the spring.

 

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