Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas
Page: 146The reaction soon set in for Brunhild also; her resentment was all forgotten when she saw the body of Sigurd laid on the pyre, arrayed as if for battle in burnished armour, with the Helmet of Dread at his head, and accompanied by his steed, which was to be burned with him, together with several of his faithful servants who would not survive his loss. She withdrew to her apartment, and after distributing her possessions among her handmaidens, she donned her richest array, and stabbed herself as she lay stretched upon her bed.
The tidings soon reached Gunnar, who came with all haste to his wife and just in time to receive her dying injunction to lay her beside the hero she loved, with the glittering, unsheathed sword between them, as it had lain when he had wooed her by proxy. When she had breathed her last, these wishes were faithfully executed, and her body was burned with Sigurd’s amid the lamentations of all the Niblungs.
The End of Brunhild
In Richard Wagner’s story of “The Ring” Brunhild’s end is more picturesque. Mounted on her steed, as when she led the battle-maidens at the command of Odin, she rode into the flames which leaped to heaven from the great funeral pyre, and passed for ever from the sight of men.
“They are gone—the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth:
It shall labour and bear the burden as before that day of their birth:
It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd hath sped,
And the hour that Brynhild hath hastened, and the dawn that waketh the dead:
It shall yearn, and be oft-times holpen, and forget their deeds no more,
Till the new sun beams on Baldur and the happy sea-less shore.”
The death scene of Sigurd (Siegfried) is far more powerful in the Nibelungenlied. In the Teutonic version his treacherous assailant lures him from a hunting party in the forest to quench his thirst at a brook, where he thrusts him through the back with a spear. His body was thence borne home by the hunters and laid at his wife’s feet.
The Flight of Gudrun
Gudrun, still inconsolable, and loathing the kindred who had treacherously robbed her of all joy in life, fled from her father’s house and took refuge with Elf, Sigurd’s foster father, who, after the death of Hiordis, had married Thora, the daughter of King Hakon. The two women became great friends, and here Gudrun tarried several years, employing herself in embroidering upon tapestry the great deeds of Sigurd, and watching over her little daughter Swanhild, whose bright eyes reminded her vividly of the husband whom she had lost.
Atli, King of the Huns
In the meantime, Atli, Brunhild’s brother, who was now King of the Huns, had sent to Gunnar to demand atonement for his sister’s death; and to satisfy his claims Gunnar had promised that when her years of widowhood had been accomplished he would give him Gudrun’s hand in marriage. Time passed, and Atli clamoured for the fulfilment of his promise, wherefore the Niblung brothers, with their mother Grimhild, went to seek the long-absent princess, and by the aid of the magic potion administered by Grimhild they succeeded in persuading Gudrun to leave little Swanhild in Denmark and to become Atli’s wife in the land of the Huns.