THE DEATH OF SIGURD

It happened one day that Brynhild, Gunnar’s wife, and now a Queen, was with Sigurd’s wife, bathing in a river. They were not often together. Brynhild was the proudest of women, and often she treated Gudrun with disdain. As they were bathing together, Gudrun, shaking out her hair, cast some drops on Brynhild. Brynhild went away from Gudrun. Sigurd’s wife, not knowing that Brynhild was angry with her, went after her up the stream.

“Why do you go so far up the river, Brynhild?” Gudrun asked.

“So that you won’t shake your hair over me,” answered Brynhild.

Gudrun stood still while Brynhild went up the river. “Why do you speak like that to me, sister?” Gudrun cried.

She remembered that from the first Brynhild had been haughty with her, often speaking to her with harshness and bitterness. She did not know what reason Brynhild had for this.

It was because Brynhild loved Sigurd, the one who had ridden through the fire for the first time, had awakened her by breaking the binding of her breastplate and so drawing out of her flesh the thorn of the Tree of Sleep. She had given him her love when she awakened. But he, as she thought, had forgotten her easily, giving his love to this other maiden. Brynhild, with her Valkyrie’s pride, was left with a mighty anger in her heart.

“Why do you speak to me like that, Brynhild?” Gudrun asked.

“It would be bad indeed if drops from your hair fell on someone who is so much higher than you, someone who is King Gunnar’s wife,” Brynhild answered.

“You are married to a King, but not to one more courageous than my lord,” Gudrun said.

“Gunnar is more courageous. Why do you compare Sigurd with him?” Brynhild said.

“He killed the Dragon Fafnir, and won for himself Fafnir’s hoard,” said Gudrun.

“Gunnar rode through the ring of fire. Mayhap you will tell us that Sigurd did the same,” said Brynhild.

“Yes,” said Gudrun, now angry. “It was Sigurd and not Gunnar who rode through the ring of fire. He rode through it in Gunnar’s shape, and he took the ring off your finger. Look, it is now on mine.”

Gudrun held out her hand which Andvari’s ring was on. Then Brynhild knew, all at once, that what Gudrun said was true. It was Sigurd that rode through the ring of fire the second as well as the first time. It was he who had struggled with her, taking the ring off her hand and claiming her for a bride, not for himself but for another, and out of disdain.

She had been won falsely and she, one of Odin’s Valkyries, had been married to someone who was not the bravest hero in the world, and she who could not accept untruth had been deceived. She was silent now, and all the pride that was in her turned to hatred of Sigurd.

She went to Gunnar, her husband, and she told him that she was so deeply shamed that she could never be happy in his Hall again and that he would never see her drinking wine, or embroidering with golden threads, or hear her speaking words of kindness. When she said this to him she tore what she was weaving, and she wept aloud so that everyone in the hall heard her, and were amazed to hear the proud Queen cry.

Then Sigurd came to her, and he offered in amends the whole hoard of Fafnir. He told her how forgetfulness of her had come over him, and he begged her to forgive him for winning her in falseness. But she answered him, “Too late Sigurd. Now I have only rage in my heart.”

When Gunnar came she told him she would forgive him, and love him as she had not loved him before, if he would kill Sigurd. But Gunnar would not kill him, although Brynhild’s passion moved him greatly, since Sigurd was a sworn brother of his.

Then she went to Högni and asked him to kill Sigurd, telling him that the whole of Fafnir’s hoard would belong to the Nibelungs if Sigurd were dead. But Högni would not kill him, since Sigurd and he were sworn brothers.

There was one who had not sworn brotherhood with Sigurd. He was Guttorm, Gunnar’s and Högni’s half-brother. Brynhild went to Guttorm. He would not kill Sigurd, but Brynhild found that he was weak willed. Then, she would try to persuade Guttorm to kill Sigurd. Her mind was fixed that he and she would no longer be in the world of men.

She made a dish of madness for Guttorm, serpent’s venom and wolf’s flesh mixed, and when he had eaten it Guttorm was crazed. Then he listened to Brynhild’s words. She commanded him to go into the room where Sigurd slept and stab him through the body with a sword.

Guttorm did this but, before Sigurd died, he took Gram, his great sword, and threw it at Guttorm cutting him in two.

Brynhild, knowing what had been done, went outside and came to where Grani, Sigurd’s proud horse, was standing. She stayed there with her arms across Grani’s neck, leaning across the horse that was a descendant of Odin’s horse. Grani stood listening for some sound. He heard the cries of Gudrun over Sigurd, and then his heart burst and he died.

They carried Sigurd out of the Hall and Brynhild went to where they placed him. She took a sword and put it through her own heart. Thus Brynhild, who had been made a mortal woman for her disobedience to the will of Odin, and who became a mortal’s wife by deceit died.

They took Sigurd and his horse Grani, and his helmet and his golden war gear and put it all on a great painted ship. They had to leave Brynhild beside him, Brynhild with her wonderful hair and her stern and beautiful face. They left the two together and launched the ship onto the sea. When the ship was on the water they set fire to it, and Brynhild once again lay in the flames.

So Sigurd and Brynhild went together to join Baldur and Nanna in Hela’s home.

Gunnar and Högni came to dread the evil that was in the hoard. They took the gleaming and glittering mass and took it to the river along which, ages before, Hreidmar had his smithy and the Dwarf Andvari his cave. From a rock in the river they hurled the gold and jewels into the water and the hoard of Andvari sank for ever beneath the waves. Then the River Maidens had possession again of their treasure. But they wouldn’t guard it and sing over it for long because now the season that was called the Fimbul Winter was coming over the earth, and Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, was coming to the inhabitants of Asgard.