BRYNHILD IN THE HOUSE OF FLAME

The forest paths led him on and up a mountain side. He came to a summit at last. Hindfell, where the trees fell away, leaving a place open to the sky and the winds. On Hindfell was the House of Flame. Sigurd saw the black and high walls, and all around them was a ring of fire.

As he rode nearer he heard the roar of the rising and circling fire. He sat on Grani, his proud horse, and for a long time he looked at the black walls and the flame that went circling around them.

Then he rode Grani to the fire. Another horse would have been frightened, but Grani remained steady under Sigurd. They came to the wall of fire, and Sigurd, who knew no fear, rode through it.

Then he was in the courtyard of the Hall. There was no sound of another living creature. Sigurd dismounted and told Grani to be still. He opened a door and saw a chamber with wall hangings on which was the pattern of a great tree, a tree with three roots, and the pattern was carried across from one wall to the other. On a couch in the center of the chamber someone lay in sleep. On the head was a helmet and across the chest was a breastplate. Sigurd took the helmet off the head. Then a heap of woman’s bright-gleaming hair fell over the couch. This was the maiden that the birds had told him of.

He cut the fastenings of the breastplate with his sword, and he gazed at her for a long time. Her face was Beautiful, but stern. Her arms and hands were beautiful and strong. Her mouth was proud, and over her closed eyes there were strong and beautiful brows.

Her eyes opened, and she turned them and looked at Sigurd. “Who are you who has awakened me?” she said.

“I am Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, of the Volsung race,” he answered.

“And did you ride through the ring of fire to me?”

“Yes I did.”

She knelt on the couch and stretched out her arms to where the light shone. “Hail, Day,” she cried, “and hail, beams that are the sons of Day Night, and daughter of Night, may you look on us with eyes that bless. Hail, Æsir and Asyniur! Hail, fields of Midgard! May you give us wisdom, , and healing power, and grant that nothing untrue or fearful may come near us!”

All this she cried with eyes open wide.They were eyes that had in them all the blue that Sigurd had ever seen: the blue of flowers, the blue of skies, and the blue of battle blades. She turned those great eyes on him and said, “I am Brynhild, once a Valkyrie but now a mortal maiden, one who will know death and all the sorrows that mortal women know. But there are things that I may not know, things that are false.”

She was the bravest and the wisest and the most beautiful maiden in the world. Sigurd knew that it was so. He laid his sword Gram at her feet, and he said her name, “Brynhild.” He told her how he had killed the Dragon, and how he had heard the birds tell of her. She rose from the couch and tied her wonderful hair on her head. He watched her in wonder. When she moved it was as though she floated above the ground.

They sat together and she told him wonderful and secret things. She told him, too, how she was sent by Odin from Asgard to choose the slain for his hall Valhalla, and to give victory to those whom he willed to have it. She told how she had disobeyed the will of All-Father, and how for that she was made an outcast from Asgard. Odin pricked her flesh with the thorn of the Tree of Sleep so that she would remain in sleep until the one who was the bravest of mortal men should waken her. Whoever would break the fastenings of the breastplate would take out the Thorn of Sleep. “Odin granted me this,” she said, “that as a mortal maid I should marry no one but the bravest in the world. And so that no one but him could come to me, All-Father put the ring of fire round where I lay in sleep. And it is you, Sigurd, son of Sigmund, who has come to me. You are the bravest and I think you are the most beautiful too, like Tyr, the God who wields the sword.”

She told him that she must marry whoever rode through the fire and claimed her as his wife.

They talked to each other fondly and the day flowed by them. Then Sigurd heard Grani, his horse, neigh for him again and again. He cried to Brynhild: “Let me go from the gaze of your eyes. I am that one who is to have the greatest name in the world. I have not yet made my name as great as my father and my father’s father made their names great. I have overcome King Lygni, and I have killed Fafnir the Dragon, but that is little. I want to make my name the greatest in the world, and endure all that is to be endured in making it so. Then I will come back to you in the House of Flame.”

Brynhild said to him, “You speak well. Make your name great, and endure what you have to endure in making it so. I will wait for you knowing that no one but Sigurd will be able to pass through the fire that guards where I live.”

They gazed into each other’s eyes and said little. Then they held each other’s hands in farewell, promising each other that they would take no other man or maiden for their mate. And for a sign of their vow Sigurd took the ring that was on his finger and placed it on Brynhild’s . It was Andvari’s ring.