Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas
With folded hands she lay there, and let the night go by:
And as still lay that Image of Gunnar as the dead of life forlorn,
And hand on hand he folded as he waited for the morn.
So oft in the moonlit minster your fathers may ye see
By the side of the ancient mothers await the day to be.”
When the fourth morning dawned, Sigurd drew the ring Andvaranaut from Brunhild’s hand, and, replacing it by another, he received her solemn promise that in ten days’ time she would appear at the Niblung court to take up her duties as queen and faithful wife.
“‘I thank thee, King, for thy goodwill, and thy pledge of love I take,
Depart with my troth to thy people: but ere full ten days are o’er
I shall come to the Sons of the Niblungs, and then shall we part no more
Till the day of the change of our life-days, when Odin and Freya shall call.’”
The promise given, Sigurd again passed out of the palace, through the ashes, and joined Gunnar, with whom, after he had reported the success of his venture, he hastened to exchange forms once more. The warriors then turned their steeds homeward, and only to Gudrun did Sigurd reveal the secret of her brother’s wooing, and he gave her the fatal ring, little suspecting the many woes which it was destined to occasion.
The Coming of Brunhild
True to her promise, Brunhild appeared ten days later, and solemnly blessing the house she was about to enter, she greeted Gunnar kindly, and allowed him to conduct her to the great hall, where sat Sigurd beside Gudrun. The Volsung looked up at that moment and as he encountered Brunhild’s reproachful eyes Grimhild’s spell was broken and the past came back in a flood of bitter recollection. It was too late, however: both were in honour bound, he to Gudrun and she to Gunnar, whom she passively followed to the high seat, to sit beside him as the scalds entertained the royal couple with the ancient lays of their land.
The days passed, and Brunhild remained apparently indifferent, but her heart was hot with anger, and often did she steal out of her husband’s palace to the forest, where she could give vent to her grief in solitude.
Meanwhile, Gunnar perceived the cold indifference of his wife to his protestations of affection, and began to have jealous suspicions, wondering whether Sigurd had honestly told the true story of the wooing, and fearing lest he had taken advantage of his position to win Brunhild’s love. Sigurd alone continued the even tenor of his way, striving against none but tyrants and oppressors, and cheering all by his kindly words and smile.
The Quarrel of the Queens
On a day the queens went down together to the Rhine to bathe, and as they were entering the water Gudrun claimed precedence by right of her husband’s courage. Brunhild refused to yield what she deemed her right, and a quarrel ensued, in the course of which Gudrun accused her sister-in-law of not having kept her faith, producing the ring Andvaranaut in support of her charge. The sight of the fatal ring in the hand of her rival crushed Brunhild, and she fled homeward, and lay in speechless grief day after day, until all thought she must die. In vain did Gunnar and the members of the royal family seek her in turn and implore her to speak; she would not utter a word until Sigurd came and inquired the cause of her unutterable grief. Then, like a long-pent-up stream, her love and anger burst forth, and she overwhelmed the hero with reproaches, until his heart so swelled with grief for her sorrow that the tight bands of his strong armour gave way.
“Out went Sigurd
From that interview
Into the hall of kings,
Writhing with anguish;
So that began to start
The ardent warrior’s
Off from his sides.”
Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).
Words had no power to mend that woeful situation, and Brunhild refused to heed when Sigurd offered to repudiate Gudrun, saying, as she dismissed him, that she would not be faithless to Gunnar. The thought that two living men had called her wife was unendurable to her pride, and the next time her husband sought her presence she implored him to put Sigurd to death, thus increasing his jealousy and suspicion. He refused to deal violently with Sigurd, however, because of their oath of good fellowship, and so she turned to Högni for aid. He, too, did not wish to violate his oath, but he induced Guttorm, by means of much persuasion and one of Grimhild’s potions, to undertake the dastardly deed.
The Death of Sigurd
Accordingly, in the dead of night, Guttorm stole into Sigurd’s chamber, weapon in hand; but as he bent over the bed he saw Sigurd’s bright eyes fixed upon him, and fled precipitately. Later on he returned and the scene was repeated; but towards morning, stealing in for the third time, he found the hero asleep, and traitorously drove his spear through his back.
The Death of Siegfried
By Permission of the “Illustrirte Zeitung” (J. J. Weber. Leipzig)
Although wounded unto death, Sigurd raised himself in bed, and seizing his renowned sword which hung beside him, he flung it with all his remaining strength at the flying murderer, cutting him in two as he reached the door. Then, with a last whispered farewell to the terrified Gudrun, Sigurd sank back and breathed his last.
”‘Mourn not, O Gudrun, this stroke is the last of ill;
Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of the morn;
Mayst thou live, O woman beloved, unforsaken, unforlorn!’
‘It is Brynhild’s deed,’ he murmured, ‘and the woman that loves me well;
Nought now is left to repent of, and the tale abides to tell.
I have done many deeds in my life-days; and all these, and my love, they lie
In the hollow hand of Odin till the day of the world go by.
I have done and I may not undo, I have given and I take not again:
Art thou other than I, Allfather, wilt thou gather my glory in vain?’”
Sigurd’s infant son was slain at the same time, and poor Gudrun mourned over her dead in silent, tearless grief; while Brunhild laughed aloud, thereby incurring the wrath of Gunnar, who repented, too late, that he had not taken measures to avert the dastardly crime.
The grief of the Niblungs found expression in the public funeral celebration which was shortly held. A mighty pyre was erected, to which were brought precious hangings, fresh flowers, and glittering arms, as was the custom for the burial of a prince; and as these sad preparations took shape, Gudrun was the object of tender solicitude from the women, who, fearing lest her heart would break, tried to open the flood-gate of her tears by recounting the bitterest sorrows they had known, one telling of how she too had lost all she held dear. But these attempts to make her weep were utterly vain, until at length they laid her husband’s head in her lap, bidding her kiss him as if he were still alive; then her tears began to flow in torrents.