THE STORY OF SIGMUND AND SIGNY
He called to his proud horse Grani, stood up on a mound in the Heath and gave a great shout. Grani ,in the cave where Regin had left him, heard and came galloping to Sigurd with flowing mane and eyes flashing fire.
He mounted Grani and rode to Fafnir’s cave. When he went into the place where the Dragon used to to lie he saw a door of iron in front of him. With his mighty sword Gram, he cut through the iron, and with his strong hands he pulled the door back. Then, in front of him he saw the treasure that the Dragon guarded; masses of gold and heaps of shining jewels.
But as he looked at the hoard Sigurd felt some shadow of the evil that lay over it all. This was the hoard that long ago the River Maidens watched over as it lay deep under the flowing water. Then Andvari the Dwarf forced the River Maidens to give it to him. Then Loki had taken it from Andvari, releasing as he did, Gulveig the Witch who had such evil power over the Gods. Fafnir had killed Hreidmar, his father for the hoard, and Regin had plotted death against Fafnir, his brother.
Sigurd did not know all this history but a shadow of its evil touched his spirit as he stood there before the gleaming and glittering heap. He would take all of it away, but not then. The tale that the birds told was in his mind, and the green of the forest was more important to him than the glitter of the treasure. He would come back with chests and load it up and carry it to King Alv’s hall. But first he would take some things he himself could wear.
He found a helmet of gold and he put it on his head. He found a great arm ring and put it around his arm. On the top of the arm ring there was a small finger ring with a rune engraved on it. Sigurd put it on his finger. This was the ring that Andvari the Dwarf had put the curse on when Loki had taken the hoard from him.
He knew that no one would cross the Heath and come to Fafnir’s lair, so he did not worry about leaving the treasure unguarded. He mounted Grani, his proud horse, and rode toward the forest. He would search for the House of Flame where she lay sleeping, the maiden who was the wisest and the bravest and the most beautiful in the world. With his golden helmet shining above his golden hair Sigurd rode on.
As he rode toward the forest he thought of Sigmund, his father, whose death he had avenged, and he thought of Sigmund’s father, Volsung, and of the grim deeds that the Volsungs had suffered and caused.
Rerir, the son of Sigi who was the son of Odin, was the father of Volsung. When Volsung was a young man he built his hall around a mighty tree. Its branches went up to the roof and made the beams of the house and its great trunk was the center of the hall. The tree was called “The Branstock”, and Volsung hall was named “The Hall of the Branstock.”
Volsung had many children, eleven sons and one daughter. All his sons were strong and good fighters and Volsung of the Hall of the Branstock was a mighty chief.
It was through Signy, the daughter of the house, that a feud and a deadly battle was brought to Volsung and his sons. She was a wise and fair maiden and her fame went through all the lands. Now, one day Volsung received a message from a King asking for the hand of Signy in marriage. Volsung who knew of this King through reports of his battles sent a message to him saying that he would be welcome to the Hall of the Branstock.
So King Siggeir came with his men. But when the Volsungs looked into his face they did not like it. Signy shrank away, saying, “This King has an evil heart and speaks falsely.”
Volsung and his eleven sons discussed it together. Siggeir had a great force of men with him, and if they refused to give her he could kill them all and harm their kingdom. Besides they had promised to give Signy when they had sent him a message of welcome. They discussed it together for a long time and at last ten of Signy’s brothers said, “Let Signy marry this King. He is not as evil as he seems in her mind.” Ten brothers said it. But one spoke out, saying, “We will not give our sister to this evil King. Rather let us all go down fighting with the Hall of the Branstock flaming above our heads.”
It was Sigmund, the youngest of the Volsungs, who said this.
But Signy’s father said, “We know nothing evil about King Siggeir. Also our word has been given to him. Let him feast with us tonight in the Hall of the Branstock and let Signy leave us with him as his wife.” Then they looked at her and they saw Signy’s face and it was white and stern. “Let it be as you have said, my father and my brothers,” she said. “I will marry King Siggeir and go with him overseas.” But Sigmund heard her say to herself, “It is trouble for the Volsungs.”
A feast was prepared and King Siggeir and his men came to the Hall of the Branstock. Fires were lit and tables were spread, and great cups of mead went around the guests. In the middle of the feasting a stranger entered the hall. He was taller than the tallest there, and his manner made everyone show him respect. Someone offered him a cup of mead and he drank it. Then, from under the blue cloak that he wore, he drew a sword that made the brightness of the Hall even brighter.
He went to the tree that the Hall was built around, to the Branstock, and he thrust the sword into it. Everyone was silent. Then they heard the voice of the stranger, a voice that was like a trumpet’s call, “The sword is for the hand that can draw it out of the Branstock.” Then he went out of the Hall.
Everyone looked at where the sword was placed and saw a wonderful brightness. Everyone wanted to lay hands on the hilt, but Volsung’s voice told them to stand still. “It is only right,” he said, “that our guest and our son-in-law, King Siggeir, should be the first to put hands on its hilt and try to draw the sword of the stranger out of the Branstock.”
King Siggeir went to the tree and grasped the broad hilt. He tried hard to draw out the sword, but all his might could not move it. As he strained himself to draw it and failed, a dark look of anger came into his face.
Then others tried to draw it, the captains who were with King Siggeir, and they, too, failed to move the blade. Then Volsung tried and Volsung could not move it. One after the other, his eleven sons strained to draw out the stranger’s sword. At last it came to the turn of the youngest, Sigmund, to try. And when Sigmund laid his hand on the broad hilt and drew it, the sword came with his hand, and once again the Hall was brightened with its marvelous light.
It was an extraordinary sword, a sword made out of better metal and by smiths more cunning than any known. Everyone envied Sigmund because he had won for himself that wonderful weapon.
King Siggeir looked at it with greedy eyes. “I will give you its weight in gold for that sword, good brother,” he said.
But Sigmund said to him proudly, “If the sword was for your hand you should have won it. The sword was not for yours, but for a Volsung’s hand.”
Signy, looking at King Siggeir, saw a look of deeper evil come into his face. She knew that hatred for all the Volsung race was in his heart.
But at the end of the feast she was married to King Siggeir, and the next day she left the Hall of the Branstock and went with him down to where his great painted ship was drawn up on the beach. When they were parting from her father and her brothers, King Siggeir invited them to come to his country, as friends visiting friends and kinsmen visiting kinsmen, and see Signy again. He stood on the beach and would not go on board his ship until each and all of the Volsungs gave their word that they would visit Signy and him in his own land. “When you come,” he said to Sigmund, “be sure you bring with you the mighty sword that you won.”
Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, thought about this as he rode toward the edge of the forest.
The time came for Volsung and his sons to keep the promise they made to King Siggeir. They prepared their ship and then sailed from the land where the Hall of the Branstock stood. They landed on the coast of King Siggeir’s country, and they drew their ship up on the beach and they made their camp there, intending to come to the King’s Hall in the light of day.
But in the half light of dawn someone came to the Volsung ship. A cloak and hood covered the figure, but Sigmund, who was on watch, knew who it was. “Signy!” he said, and Signy asked that her father and her brothers be awakened and she would tell them about a treachery that was planned against them.
“King Siggeir has prepared a great army for your arrival,” she told them. “He hates the Volsungs, the branch as well as the root, and it is his plan to attack you, my father and my brothers, with his great army and kill you all. He wants to possess Gram, Sigmund’s wonderful sword. Therefore, I say to you, Volsungs, draw your ship into the sea and sail away from this treacherous land.”
But Volsung, her father, would not listen. “The Volsungs do not run like broken men from a land they have brought their ship to,” he said. “We all gave our word that we would visit King Siggeir and visit him we will. And if he is treacherous and attacks us, why we are the unbeaten Volsungs, and we will fight against him and his army and kill him, and carry you back with us to the Hall of the Branstock. The sun has risen now, and we shall go to the Hall.”
Signy would have told them of the great army King Siggeir had gathered, but she knew that the Volsungs were never afraid of anything. She said no more, but bowed her head and went back to King Siggeir’s hall.
Siggeir knew that Signy had been to warn her father and her brothers. He called the men he had gathered and he posted them cunningly along the way the Volsungs would come. Then he sent one of them to the ship with a message of welcome.
As they left their ship the army of King Siggeir attacked the Volsungs and their followers. The battle that was waged on the beach was very fierce, and many of King Siggeir’s fierce fighters went down before the fearless Volsung’s company. But at last Volsung himself was killed and his eleven sons were taken captive. Gram, his mighty sword, was taken out of Sigmund’s hands.
The eleven Volsung princes were brought before King Siggeir in his hall. Siggeir laughed to see them before him. “You are not in the Hall of the Branstock now, to dishonor me with black looks and scornful words,” he said, “and you will be given a harder task than that of drawing a sword out of a tree trunk. Before the sun sets I will see you cut to pieces with the sword.”
Then Signy who was there stood up with her white face and her wide eyes, and she said, “I do not pray for a longer life for my brothers, for I know well that my prayers would not help them. But don’t you remember the proverb, Siggeir, ‘Sweet to the eye as long as the eye can see’?”
And Siggeir laughed his evil laugh when he heard her. “Yes, my Queen,” he said, “sweet to the eye as long as the eye may see their pain. They shall not die at once or all together. I will let them see each other die.”
So Siggeir gave a new order to his evil soldiers. The order was that the eleven brothers should be taken into the depths of the forest and chained to great beams and left there. This was done with the eleven sons of Volsung.
The next day someone who had watched and who was faithful to Signy came, and Signy said to him, “What has happened to my brothers?”
The watcher said: “A great wolf came to where the chained men are, and fell upon the first of them and devoured him.”
When Signy heard this no tears came from her eyes, but that which was hard around her heart became harder. She said, “Go again, and watch what happens.”
The watcher came the second time and said, “The second of your brothers has been devoured by the wolf.” Signy shed no tears this time either, and again that which was hard around her heart became harder.
Every day the watcher came and he told her what had happened to her brothers. It came to the time when only one of her brothers was left alive, Sigmund, the youngest.
Then Signy said, “There is something we can do. I have thought of what is to be done. Take a pot of honey to where he is chained and smear Sigmund’s face with the honey.”
The watcher did as Signy told him.
The great wolf came again through the forest to where Sigmund was chained. When she came to him she found the honey on his face. She put out her tongue to lick his face. Then, with his strong teeth Sigmund seized the tongue of the wolf. She fought and she struggled with all her might, but Sigmund did not let go of her tongue. The struggle with the beast broke the beam to which he was chained. Then Sigmund seized the wolf with his hands and tore her jaws apart.
The watcher saw this happen and told Signy. A fierce joy went through her, and she said, “One of the Volsungs lives, and vengeance will be brought upon King Siggeir and on his house.”
Still the watcher stayed in the forest, and he saw where Sigmund built a hidden hut for himself. He often took things from Signy to Sigmund. Sigmund became a hunter and an outlaw, but he did not leave the forest. King Siggeir did not know that one of the Volsungs lived and was near him.