Myths, legends of ancient world

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The Sons of Sigmund*

The sun was beginning to set over Hunland, and in the courtyard of the king’s castle, a man was playing with a little child.

“Giddy up horsey!” the child cried, rocking back and forth on the man’s shoulders. “Go faster! Faster!”

The man lifted the boy; tossing him high and laughter and squeals filled the air. Above them, looking out of a window, was a face that had no trace of laughter or joy upon it. It was the face of Queen Borghild; the wife of Sigmund.

“They are having fun down there,” the king had come up behind her and was looking out over her shoulder at his two sons. The queen turned around with a frown.

“Sinfjotli is too rough,” she said shortly. “He might injure our Helgi.”

“Nonsense!” Sigmund laughed. “Sinfjotli dotes on the boy. He’d never let him fall.”

“I just think,” the Queen insisted. “That Helgi should spend less time around the man. You know the temper your son has. What if he strikes Helgi in a fit of impatience and hurts him? I could never forgive you if that happened.”

Sigmund placed his hands upon the Queen’s shoulders and looked deep into her eyes.

“Why do you dislike Sinfjotli, my love?” he asked gently but with a frown upon his brow. “You try to hide it but it is quite obvious that you cannot bear to see him or to have him near. Has he ever wronged you, Borghild?”

“He is coarse and vulgar,” the Queen replied. “And I’m afraid that he may be jealous of our son. That is what I fear the most.”

The king looked down at the courtyard and saw Sinfjotli running about on his hands and knees with the little one upon his back.

“You promised me on the day my child was born,” the queen said reaching up to touch the king’s cheek. “You swore that Helgi would be your heir.” 

“And so he will be!” Sigmund said. 

“But what of Sinfjotli?” the woman asked. “Don’t you think he might resent being passed over in favour of his younger brother? Wouldn’t it tempt him to get rid of our son so that he and he alone will have your throne?”

Sigmund shook his head in disbelief. 

“You do not know my son like I do, Borghild!” he said. “He has no interest in wearing a crown. I raised Sinfjotli to be a warrior, not a king, and he knows that. You misjudge him, wife and you wrong him with these thoughts and words. Just look out of the window. Look at how gently he fondles the child’s hair. See how our son clings to his neck and buries his face in his beard. Sinfjotli would give his life for that boy.”

With that and with a final glance at the Queen’s stony face, the king left.

“I wish I could believe you, Sigmund,” Borghild said to herself. “But my heart tells me otherwise.”

In the courtyard, Sigmund called out to his sons.

Squealing in delight, little Helgi scrambled out of his brother’s arms to run to the king who scooped him up and held him close. Kissing the boy’s wet forehead, the king put him down again.

“Go inside now, Helgi,” he ordered. “Your mother is waiting for you in her chamber. Run along!”

He stood watching the boy toddle off into the castle.

‘My brother grows strong,” Sinfjotli said proudly, coming to stand beside the king. “It seems like yesterday that I saw him for the first time, in his little crib. He was an ugly, wrinkled little thing then but now look at him. He is growing tall and his arms have real strength in them.”

“He will be four winters soon,” the king replied. “And I’m of a mind that he will soon be ready to learn how to fight.”

“Let me do it, Father!” Sinfjotli said quickly. “Let me train my brother!”

“Wouldn’t it be boring for you, son?” Sigmund asked, turning to look at the man in surprise. “To spend all day training a little tot to shoot arrows and wield a wooden sword? I was thinking of asking an old retired soldier to do it, for a sum.”

“Oh No, Father!” Sinfjotli said, shaking his head. “Another man might be impatient with my brother and beat him.”

“But all boys must be hardened with blows,” the king chuckled. “That is how I trained you to be strong and fierce!”

“Helgi is different, Father,” Sinfjotli retorted. “He is not just a boy; he is the future king of Hunland. He must be taught to fight without breaking his spirit. I could not bear to see him treated harshly! Please let me teach him. I will be a much gentler teacher than you ever were!”

Sigmund chuckled and reached out to touch his son’s shoulder.

“You are your brother’s greatest ally, my son.”

“I feel a tenderness for Helgi that I have never felt before, for any person, not even my mother.” Sinfjotli confessed quietly. “His wellbeing is my greatest concern. Please, let me teach him and protect him, Father. And when he is a man, let me serve him until the day I die.”

“Very well,” the king replied, smiling. “Helgi is yours to train.”

Would Sinfjotli teach his brother well? Would Helgi grow to adulthood and become the king of Hunland? What of Queen Borghild’s fears? Would they ever come true? We will find out next time...

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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