THE DRAGON’S BLOOD

Sigurd went to war and with the men that King Alv gave him he marched into the country that was ruled over by the killer of his father. The war that he waged was short and the battles that he won were not difficult. King Lygni was old then, and his power over his people was feeble. Sigurd killed him and took away his treasure and added his lands to the lands of King Alv.

But Sigurd was not content with the victory he had gained. He had dreamt of great battles and fame that would be won the hard way. What was the war he had waged compared to the wars that Sigmund his father, and Volsung his father’s father, had waged in their days? Sigurd was not content. He led his men back by way of the hills from the top of which he could look on the Dragon’s home.Having come as far as those hills he told his men return to King Alv’s hall with the treasure he had won.

They went, and Sigurd stayed on the hills and looked across Gnita Heath to where Fafnir the Dragon had his lair. The Heath was all wasted with the fiery breath of the Dragon. He saw the cave where Fafnir lived, and he saw the track that his comings and goings made for every day the Dragon left his cave in the cliffs, crossing the Heath to come to the river at which he drank.

For a day Sigurd watched from the hills the land of the Dragon. In the evening he saw him emerging from the cave, and coming on his track across the Heath, like a ship that travels swiftly because of its many oars.

Then he went to Regin in his smithy. Sigurd said to that cunning man, “Tell me everything you know about Fafnir the Dragon.”

Regin began to talk, but his speech was old and strange and filled with runes. When he had finished Sigurd said, “Everything you have told me you will have to repeat in a language I can understand.”

Then said Regin,” I spoke of a hoard. The Dwarf Andvari guarded it from the first days of the world but one of the Æsir forced Andvari to give the hoard to him, masses of gold and heaps of jewels, and the Æsir gave it to Hreidmar, who was my father.

“The Æsir gave the greatest hoard that had ever been seen in the world to Hreidmar, for the killing of his son Otter. But Hreidmar didn’t have it long because his son killed him. That son was Fafnir, my brother.

“Then so that no one could disturb his possession of the hoard, Fafnir, turned himself into a Dragon so fearful that no one dared come near him. And I was stricken with desire for the hoard. I did not change myself into another being, but, by the magic my father knew  made my life longer than the generations of men, hoping that I would see Fafnir killed and then have the mighty hoard in my hands.

“Now, son of the Volsungs, you know everything about Fafnir the Dragon, and the great hoard that he guards.”

“I care nothing about the hoard he guards,” Sigurd said. “I only care that he has made the King’s good lands into a waste and that he is an evil thing to men. I want to be famous for killing Fafnir the Dragon.”

“With Gram, the sword you have, you could kill Fafnir,” Regin cried, his body shaking with his desire for the hoard. “You could kill him with the sword you have. Listen now and I will tell you how you can give him the fatal blow through the coils of his armor. Listen, because I have thought of everything.

“The track of the Dragon to the river is wide, because he always takes the same track. Dig a pit in the middle of that track, and when Fafnir comes over it strike up into his coils of mail with Gram, your great sword. Only Gram can pierce that mail. Then Fafnir will be killed and the hoard will be left unguarded.”

“What you say is wise, Regin,” Sigurd answered. “We will make this pit and I will strike Fafnir in the way you said.”

Then Sigurd rode  away on Grani, his proud horse, and he presented himself to King Alv and to Hiordis, his mother. Afterwards he went with Regin to the Heath that was the land of the Dragon, and in his track they dug a pit for the killing of Fafnir.

In case his horse should scream aloud at the coming of the Dragon, Sigurd had Grani sent back to a cave in the hills. It was Regin that took Grani away. “I am afraid and can do nothing to help you, son of the Volsungs,” he said. “I will go away and await the killing of Fafnir.”

He went, and Sigurd lay down in the pit they had made and practiced thrusting upward with his sword. He lay with his face upward and with his two hands he thrust the mighty sword upward.

But as he lay there he thought of a dreadful thing that might happen,namely, that the blood and venom of the Dragon might pour over him as he lay there, and dissolve his flesh and bone. When he thought of this Sigurd hurried out of the pit, and he dug other pits nearby, and made a passage for himself from one pit to the other so that he could escape from the flow of the Dragon’s venomous blood.

As he lay down again in the pit he heard the Dragon approaching and he heard the Dragon’s strange and mournful cry. The Dragon came on and he heard his breathing. His shape came over the pit. Then the Dragon held his head and looked down at Sigurd.

It was the instant for him to strike with Gram. He did not let the instant pass. He struck mightily under the shoulder and toward the heart of the beast. The sword went through the hard and glittering scales that were the creature’s armor. Sigurd pulled out the sword and drew himself through the passage and out into the second pit as Fafnir’s venomous blood drenched where he had been.

Drawing himself up out of the second pit he saw the huge shape of Fafnir heaving and lashing. He ran to him and thrust his sword right through the Dragon’s neck. The Dragon reared up as though to throw himself down on Sigurd with all his crushing size and terrible talons, with his fiery breath and his venomous blood. But Sigurd leaped aside and ran far off. Then Fafnir screamed his death scream. After he had torn up rocks with his talons he lay still on the ground, his head in the pit that was filled with his venomous blood.

Then Regin, hearing the scream knew that Fafnir was dead, came down to where the battle had been fought. When he saw that Sigurd was alive and unharmed, he uttered a cry of fury for his plan had been to have Sigurd drowned and burnt in the pit with the stream of Fafnir’s venomous blood.

But he hid his fury and smiled at Sigurd. “Now you will have fame,” he cried. “You will forever be called Sigurd, Fafnir’s destroyer. You will have more fame than any of your forefathers had, Prince of the Volsungs.”

“Fafnir is dead,” Sigurd said, “and the triumph over him was not easily achieved. Now I will present myself to King Alv and to my mother, and the gold from Fafnir’s hoard will make me rich.”

“Wait,” said Regin cunningly. “Wait. You still have to do something for me. With the sword you have, cut through the Dragon and take out his heart for me. When you have taken it out, roast it so that I may eat it and become wiser than I am. Do this for me who showed you how to kill Fafnir.”

Sigurd did what Regin asked. He cut out the heart of the Dragon and he hung it from stakes to roast. Regin left him. As Sigurd stood before the fire putting sticks upon it there was a great silence in the forest.

He put his hand down to turn a branch into the heart of the fire. As he did a drop from the roasting Dragon heart fell on his hand. The drop burnt into him. He put his hand to his mouth to ease the pain, and his tongue tasted the burning blood of the Dragon.

He went to gather wood for the fire. In a clearing that he came to there were birds. He saw four on a branch together. They spoke to each other in birds’ notes, and Sigurd heard and knew what they were saying.

The first bird Said, “How simple is the one who has come into this clearing! He doesn’t know who his enemy is, and yet the one who was with him just a moment ago has gone away so that he can bring back a spear to kill him.”

“He would kill him for the gold that is in the Dragon’s cave,” said the second bird.

And the third bird said, “If he would eat the Dragon’s heart himself he would know all wisdom.”

But the fourth bird said, “He has tasted a drop of the Dragon’s blood and he knows what we are saying.”

The four birds did not fly away or stop speaking. Instead they began to tell of a marvelous place that they knew.

Deep in the forest, the birds sang, there was a Hall that was called the House of Flame. Its ten walls were Uni, Iri, Barri, Ori, Varns, Vegdrasil, Derri, Uri, Dellinger and Atvarder, and each wall was built by the Dwarf whose name it had. All round the Hall there was a circle of fire through which no one could pass. Inside the Hall a maiden slept, and she was the wisest and the bravest and the most beautiful maiden in the world.

Sigurd stood like a man enchanted listening to what the birds sang.

But suddenly they stopped their story, and their notes became sharp and piercing.

“Look, look!” cried one. “He is coming to kill the youth.”

“He is coming against the youth with a spear,” cried another.

“Now will the youth be killed unless he is swift,” cried a third.

Sigurd turned round and saw Regin coming toward him, grim and silent, with a spear in his hands. The spear would have gone through Sigurd had he stayed one instant longer in the place where he had been listening to the speech of the birds. As he turned he had his sword in his hand, and he flung it, and Gram struck Regin on the chest.

Then Regin cried out, “I die without having laid my hands on the hoard that Fafnir guarded. Ah, a curse was on the hoard, for Hreidmar and Fafnir and I have perished because of it. May the curse of the gold now fall on the one who is my killer.”

Then Regin died. Sigurd took the body and threw it into the pit that was alongside the dead Fafnir. Then, so that he could eat the Dragon’s heart and become the wisest of men, he went to where he had left it roasting. He thought that when he had eaten the heart he would go into the Dragon’s cave and carry away the treasure that was there, and bring it as reward of his battle to King Alv and his mother. Then he would go through the forest and find the House of Flame where the maiden slept who was the wisest and bravest and most beautiful in the world.

But Sigurd did not eat the Dragon’s heart. When he came to where he had left it roasting he found that the fire had burnt it completely.