SIGURD’S YOUTH

A King whose name was Alv reigned in Midgard, in a northern Kingdom. He was wise and good, and he had  a foster son whose name was Sigurd.

Sigurd was so fearless and strong was he that he once captured a bear in the forest and drove him to the King’s Hall. His mother’s name was Hiordis. Once, before Sigurd was born, Alv and his father who was King before him went on an expedition across the sea and came to another country. While they were still far off they heard the din of a great battle. They came to the battlefield, but found no living warriors on it, only heaps of the dead. One warrior they noticed was white bearded and old and yet he seemed the noblest looking man Alv or his father had ever seen. His weapons showed that he was a King of one of the bands of warriors.

They went through the forest searching for survivors of the battle and, hidden in a clearing in the forest, they came upon two women. One was tall and proud with blue eyes and reddish hair, but wearing the clothes of a serving maid. The other wore the rich dress of a Queen, but she was short and her manner was frightened.

When Alv and his father came closer, the one who had on her the clothes of a Queen said, “Help us, lords, and protect us, and we will show you where a treasure is hidden. A great battle has been fought between the men of King Lygni and the men of King Sigmund, and the men of King Lygni have won the victory and have left the field. But King Sigmund is dead, and we who are from his household hid his treasure and we can show it to you.”

“The noble warrior, white haired and white bearded, who lies over there, is he King Sigmund?”

The woman answered, “Yes, lord, and I am his Queen.”

“We have heard of King Sigmund,” said Alv’s father. “His fame and the fame of his race, the Volsungs, is known over the wide world.”

Alv said nothing to either of the women, but his eyes stayed on the one who had on the clothes of a serving maid. She was on her knees, wrapping skin two pieces of a broken sword in a animals’ skin.

“You will surely protect us, good lords,” she ,who had on the queenly dress, said.

“Yes, wife of King Sigmund, we will protect you and your serving maid,” said Alv’s father, the old King.

Then the women took the warriors to a wild place on the seashore and showed them where King Sigmund’s treasure was hidden amongst the rocks: cups of gold and mighty arm rings and jeweled collars. Prince Alv and his father put the treasure on the ship and took the two women aboard. Then they sailed from there.

That was before Sigurd, the foster son of King Alv, was born.

The mother of Alv was wise and had a sharp mind. She saw that of the two women that her son and her husband had brought into their kingdom, the one who wore the dress of the serving maid had proud eyes and great beauty, while the one who wore the queenly dress was lacking confidence. One night when all the women of the household were sitting round her, spinning wool by the light of torches in the hall, the Queen mother said to the one who wore the queenly clothes, “You are good at rising in the morning. How do you know in the dark hours when it is dawn?”

The one wearing the queenly clothes said, “When I was young I used to rise to milk the cows, and I waken ever since at the same hour.”

The Queen mother said to herself, “It is a strange country in which the queens rise to milk the cows.”

Then she said to the one who wore the clothes of the serving maid:

“How do you know in the dark hours when the dawn is coming?”

“My father,” she said, “gave me the ring of gold that I wear, and before it is time to rise I feel it grow cold on my finger.”

“It is a strange country, truly,” said the Queen-mother to herself, “in which the serving maids wear rings of gold.”

When all the others had left she spoke to the two women who had been brought into her country. To the one who wore the clothes of a serving maid she said, “You are the Queen.”

Then the one who wore the queenly clothes said, “You are right, lady. She is the Queen, and I cannot pretend any longer to be other than I am.”

Then the other woman spoke, “I am the Queen as you have said. The Queen of King Sigmund who was killed. Because a King was searching for me I changed clothes with my serving to confuse those who might be sent to carry me away.

“I am Hiordis, a King’s daughter. Many men came to my father to ask for me in marriage, and of those that came there were two who I had heard a lot about. One was King Lygni and the other was King Sigmund of the race of the Volsungs. The King, my father, told me it was for me to choose between these two. Now King Sigmund was old, but he was the most famous warrior in the whole world, and I chose him rather than King Lygni.

“We were married but King Lygni still wanted me, and after a while he attacked King Sigmund’s kingdom with a great army of men. We hid our treasure by the seashore, and I and my maid watched the battle from the edge of the forest. With the help of Gram, his wondrous sword, and his own great warrior strength, Sigmund was able to fight the great force that came against him but suddenly he was wounded. Then the battle was lost. Only King Lygni’s men survived it, and they spread out to search for me and the treasure.

“I came to where my lord lay on the field of battle, and he raised himself on his shield when I came, and he told me that death was very near. A stranger had entered the battle at the time when it seemed that the men of King Lygni would retreat. With the spear that he held in his hand he struck at Sigmund’s sword, and Gram, the wondrous sword, was broken in two pieces. Then King Sigmund received his fatal wound. ‘It must be I shall die,’ he said, ‘for the spear against which my sword broke was Gungnir, Odin’s spear. Only that spear could have shattered the sword that Odin gave my fathers. Now must I go to Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of Heroes.’

“Then Sigmund turned his face to the ground and died. Odin’s Valkyrie took his spirit from the battlefield. I lifted up the broken pieces of the sword, and with my serving maid I went and hid in a deep clearing in the forest. Then your husband and your son found us and they brought us to your kingdom where we have been kindly treated, Oh Queen.”

This was the story that Hiordis, the wife of King Sigmund, told to the mother of Prince Alv.

“‘I weep,’ I said, ‘because I have no son who will come from the great race of the Volsungs.’

“‘For that you need not weep,’ said Sigmund, ‘a son will be born to you, my son and yours, and you shall name him Sigurd. Now take the broken pieces of my marvelous sword and give them to my son when he reaches the age of a warrior .

Soon afterwards she gave birth to Sigmund’s son. She named him Sigurd. After Sigurd was born the old King died and Prince Alv became King. He married Hiordis and he brought up her son Sigurd in his house as his foster son.

 Before Sigurd, the son of Sigmund reached the age of a warrior, he was known for his strength and his swiftness and for the fearlessness that shone round him like a glow. “The Volsung race he sprang from was mighty,” men said, “but Sigurd will be as mighty as any that have gone before him.” He built himself a hut in the forest so that he could hunt wild beasts and live near to one who was to train him in many skills.

He was Regin, a sword maker and a cunning man besides. It was said of Regin that he was an Enchanter and that he had been in the world for longer than the generations of men. No one remembered, nor anyone’s father remembered, when Regin had come into that country. He taught Sigurd the art of working in metals and he taught him, too, the tales of olden days. But even as he taught him he looked at Sigurd strangely, not as a man looks at his fellow, but as a fox looks at a stronger beast.

One day Regin said to young Sigurd, “King Alv has your father’s treasure, and yet he treats you as if you were a peasant.”

Now Sigurd knew that Regin said this so that he would anger him and use him to his own ends. He said, “King Alv is a wise and a good King, and he would let me have riches if I had need of them.”

“You  go about like a footboy, and not as a King’s son.”

“I can have a horse to ride anytime I like,” Sigurd said.

“So you say,” said Regin, and he turned from Sigurd and went to blow the fire of his smithy.

Sigurd was angry and he threw down the irons on which he was working and he ran to the horse fields by the great river. A herd of horses was there, gray and black and chestnut, the best of the horses that King Alv possessed. As he came near to where the herd grazed he saw a stranger near, an old but robust man, wearing a strange cloak of blue and leaning on a staff to watch the horses. Sigurd, though young, had seen Kings in their halls, but this man had a manner that was more regal than any King he had ever seen.

“You are going to choose a horse for yourself,” the stranger said to Sigurd.

“Yes, father,” Sigurd said.

“First drive the herd into the river,” the stranger said.

Sigurd drove the horses into the wide river. Some were swept down by the current, others struggled back and clambered up the bank of the field. But one swam across the river, and throwing up his head neighed as in victory. Sigurd noticed him. He was a gray horse, young and proud, with a great flowing mane. He went through the water and caught this horse, mounted him, and brought him back across the river.

“You have done well,” said the stranger. “Grani, who you have got, is the same breed of Sleipner, the horse of Odin.”

“I am of the race of the sons of Odin,” cried Sigurd, his eyes wide and shining with the very light of the sun. “I am of the race of the sons of Odin, for my father was Sigmund, and his father was Volsung, and his father was Rerir, and his father was Sigi, who was the son of Odin.”

The stranger, leaning on his staff looked at the youth steadily. Only one of his eyes could be seen, but that eye, Sigurd thought, could see through a stone. “Everyone you have named,” the stranger said, “was the sword of Odin to send men to Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of Heroes. Everyone that you have named was chosen by Odin’s Valkyries for battles in Asgard.”

Sigurd cried, “Too much of what is brave and noble in the world is taken by Odin for his battles in Asgard.”

The stranger leaned on his staff and his head was bowed. “What would you do?” he said, and it did not seem to Sigurd that he spoke to him. “What would you do? The leaves wither and fall off Ygdrassil, and the day of Ragnarök comes.” Then he raised his head and spoke to Sigurd. “The time is near,” he said, “when you may possess the pieces of your father’s sword.”

Then the man in the strange blue cloak went climbing up the hill and Sigurd watched him go out of sight. He had held his proud horse Grani back, but now he turned him and let him gallop along the river in a race that was as swift as the wind.