The Story of the Volsungs/Appendix 8

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The Story of the Volsungs
Appendix VIII: The Whetting of Gudrun

Gudrun went down unto the sea whenas she had slain Atli, and she cast herself therein, for she was fain to end her life: but nowise might she drown. She drave over the firths to the land of King Jonakr, and he wedded her, and their sons were Sorli, and Erp, and Hamdir, and there was Swanhild, Sigurd's daughter, nourished: and she was given to Jormunrek the Mighty. Now Bikki was a man of his, and gave such counsel to Randver, the king's son, as that he should take her; and with that counsel were the young folk well content.

Then Bikki told the king, and the king let hang Randver, but bade Swanhild be trodden under horses' feet. But when Gudrun heard thereof, she spake to her sons --

     Words of strife heard I,
     Huger than any,
     Woeful words spoken,
     Sprung from all sorrow,
     When Gudrun fierce-hearted
     With the grimmest of words
     Whetter her sons
     Unto the slaying.

     "Why are ye sitting here?
     Why sleep ye life away?
     Why doth it grieve you nought?
     Glad words to speak,
     Now when your sister --
     Young of years was she --
     Has Jormunrek trodden
     With the treading of horses? --

     "Black horses and white
     In the highway of warriors;
     Grey horses that know
     The roads of the Goths. --

     "Little like are ye grown
     To that Gunnar of old days!
     Nought are your hearts
     As the heart of Hogni!
     Well would ye seek
     Vengeance to win
     If your mood were in aught
     As the mood of my brethren,
     Or the hardy hearts
     Of the Kings of the Huns!"

     Then spake Hamdir,
     The high-hearted --
     "Little didst thou
     Praise Hogni's doings,
     When Sigurd woke
     From out of sleep,
     And the blue-white bed-gear
     Upon thy bed
     Grew red with man's blood --
     With the blood of thy mate!

     "Too baleful vengeance
     Wroughtest thou for thy brethren
     Most sore and evil
     When thy sons thou slewedst,
     Else all we together
     On Jormunrek
     Had wrought sore vengeance
     For that our sister.

     "Come, bring forth quickly
     The Hun kings' bright gear,
     Since thou has urged us
     Unto the sword-Thing!"

     Laughing went Gudrun
     To the bower of good gear,
     Kings' crested helms
     From chests she drew,
     And wide-wrought byrnies
     Bore to her sons:
     Then on their horses
     Load laid the heroes.

     Then spake Hamdir,
     The high-hearted --
     "Never cometh again
     His mother to see
     The spear-god laid low
     In the land of the Goths.
     That one arvel mayst thou
     For all of us drink,
     For sister Swanhild,
     And us thy sons."

     Greeted Gudrun
     Giuki's daughter;
     Sorrowing she went
     In the forecourt to sit,
     That she might tell,
     With cheeks tear-furrowed,
     Her weary wail
     In many a wise.

     "Three fires I knew,
     Three hearths I knew,
     To three husbands' houses
     Have I been carried;
     And better than all
     Had been Sigurd alone,
     He whom my brethren
     Brought to his bane.

     "Such sore grief as that
     Methought never should be,
     Yet more indeed
     Was left for my torment
     Then, when the great ones
     Gave me to Atli.

     "My fair bright boys
     I bade unto speech,
     Nor yet might I win
     Weregild for my bale,
     Ere I had hewn off
     Those Niblungs' heads.

     "To the sea-strand I went
     With the Norns sorely wroth,
     For I would thrust from me
     The storm of their torment;
     But the high billows
     Would not drown, but bore me
     Forth, till I stepped a-land
     Longer to live.

     "Then I went a-bed --
     -- Ah, better in the old days,
     This was the third time! --
     To a king of the people;
     Offspring I brought forth,
     Props of a fair house,
     Props of a fair house,
     Jonakr's fair sons.

     "But around Swanhild
     Bond-maidens sat,
     Her, that of all mine
     Most to my heart was;
     Such was my Swanhild,
     In my hall's midmost,
     As is the sunbeam
     Fair to beheld.

     "In gold I arrayed her,
     And goodly raiment,
     Or ever I gave her
     To the folk of the Goths.
     That was the hardest
     Of my heavy woes,
     When the bright hair, --
     O the bright hair of Swanhild! --
     In the mire was trodden
     By the treading of horses.

     "This was the sorest,
     When my love, my Sigurd,
     Reft of glory
     In his bed gat ending:
     But this the grimmest
     When glittering worms
     Tore their way
     Through the heart of Gunnar.

     "But this the keenest
     When they cut to the quick
     Of the hardy heart
     Of the unfeared Hogni.
     Of much of bale I mind me,
     Of many griefs I mind me;
     Why should I sit abiding
     Yet more bale and more?

     "Thy coal-black horse,
     O Sigurd, bridle,
     The swift on the highway!
     O let him speed hither!
     Here sitteth no longer
     Son or daughter,
     More good gifts
     To give to Gudrun!

     "Mindst thou not, Sigurd,
     Of the speech betwixt us,
     When on one bed
     We both sat together,
     O my great king --
     That thou wouldst come to me
     E'en from the hall of Hell,
     I to thee from the fair earth?

     "Pile high, O earls
     The oaken pile,
     Let it be the highest
     That ever queen had!
     Let the fire burn swift,
     My breast with woe laden,
     And thaw all my heart,
     Hard, heavy with sorrow!"

     Now may all earls
     Be bettered in mind,
     May the grief of all maidens
     Ever be minished,
     For this tale of sorrow
     So told to its ending.