Myths, legends of ancient world

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The Son of Volsung

Retold by Jenny Bennett

The young boy stopped and turned to fix his companion with a frown. The bent old man, who was hobbling along some distance behind him, looked up apologetically. 

“Forgive me, young master,” he gasped in a hoarse voice. “My old legs aren’t as quick as they once were, and my back…”

“Never mind,” the boy muttered, scowling. “At this rate we won’t get to my uncle’s den until sun up! And he’ll think I’m weak and slow.”

“Forgive me, Prince Sinfjolti,” the old servant said, catching up to the boy. “But we are almost there. Sigmund’s hut is in a little clearing about three miles further in. I can hear the river now. The den is upstream a short distance from the river’s source.” “Then we should be there before moondown!” the prince exclaimed

“If we could rest for a minute or two, my aching back is…” “There’s no time to rest old man!” the boy said, stamping his foot. “Can’t you see that I must be at my uncle’s den without delay? I have prepared my whole life for the moment that I will finally stand before the son of Volsung!” “Forgive me, my Prince,” the old man muttered straightening himself with a groan.

“Why don’t you just go back to the castle?” Prince Sinfjolti said, shaking his head. “You have told me where to find Prince Sigmund. I can find my way there alone. I order you to go back to the castle, immediately.”

And without waiting for the old slave’s reply, the boy hurried on. The moon was low in the sky when Prince Sinfjolti reached the heart of the forest and found himself in a small clearing. There in the centre, a little distance from a small spring, was a hut: Sigmund’s hut.

 The child smiled and made his way towards the den. “Where do you think you’re going?”  A deep voice behind him stopped the boy in his tracks. Upon his shoulder was a large, heavy hand. Before he could reply, the hand swung him around and the boy found himself face to face with a large man; powerfully built and taller than anyone he had ever seen before.

The child stared open-mouthed, momentarily unable to speak or to think.

“I asked you a question, boy?” The man said again. “Where are you going?”

“I am going to present myself to Sigmund, the son of Volsung,” the boy heard himself say.

“Is that so?” the man said, releasing the boy and stepping back. “And who are you?”

The boy straightened himself and thrust out his chest. “I am Prince Sinfjolti,” he declared. “The son of Queen Signy and grandson of the Great Volsung; king of Hunland.” 

“Do you know who I am?” the man asked with the hint of a smile upon his lips.

“Yes,” the boy replied, with a low bow. “You are Sigmund, the son of Volsung and you are my master.”  “We shall see about that, young prince,” the man chuckled. “But how is it that you come here alone? Where is your guide?”

“He was too slow for me, Sir,” the boy replied. “I ordered him back to the castle.”

Hours later, the rising sun saw the young prince fast asleep upon a bed of straw in the little hut of Volsung’s son. 

The warmth upon his cheek woke him, and Sinfjolti sat up. At the door stood his uncle, the great Sigmund. He was stringing a bow and watching the sleeping child with a smile.

“Awake are you?” he asked. “Catch!”

The boy caught the bow and got to his feet to follow Sigmund outside. In the sunlight, the boy studied the man. His mother had described her twin brother to him so well and so often that the boy felt as though he knew this man and had known him all his life. His one desire was to be like him in strength and valour.

“Now, show me how well you can shoot, Sinfjolti,” Sigmund said stopping at the forest’s edge. He pointed to a tall tree, some distance ahead. “Do you see that bright red fruit on the bottom bough? Shoot it down.”

The boy pulled an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to his bow. Taking a step back he surveyed the target before pulling back the string and letting the arrow fly.  The fruit landed with a thud in Sigmund’s outstretched palm.

The man nodded in approval and took a bite out of the fruit. 

“Now shoot down the fruit on the topmost branch,”he ordered. Again the boy’s arrow found it’s mark and the fruit fell from the bough.

“Good,” Sigmund said holding the fruit out to the boy. “I see you have some skill.”

Sinfjolti beamed.

“I can also wrestle and use a sword fairly well,” he said proudly. “But Mother told me that I have much more to learn and that you will teach me.” “We shall see,” Sigmund replied. “Now, I will go hunting and you can return to the hut and bake us some bread. The wood is in a pile beside the door and the meal sack is in the corner beside your bed.”

The boy nodded and watched the man disappear into the forest before he made his way back to the hut to bake the bread.

Little did he know that hours earlier, while he was still asleep, Sigmund had placed a viper in the sack of meal.  This was the way Sigmund had tested the courage of his sister’s older sons; boys who had been sent to him years earlier. And both princes had failed. 

Would Sinfjolti too fail this test, like his brothers before him? Or was he a true Volsung? We will find out next time…

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