Myths, legends of ancient world - The Widow

By Retold by Jenny Bennett ,

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Darkness fell and a deafening hush settled over the countryside. 

The last echo of war had long since been swallowed up by the mountains and now the evening breeze frolicked down the hills, carrying with it the sounds of revelry from the city. 

It circled the trees and darted down to the fields where it tousled the beards of the lifeless forms which lay scattered upon the blood soaked earth. 

Gently, it kissed the gaping wounds and caressed the still, cold faces; filling the unhearing ears with the faint sounds of the conquerors celebrating their victory.  

By the pale light of the moon, a solitary figure could be seen making its way through the fields. 

It was a slight form, cloaked and veiled, and it picked its way slowly around the corpses, kneeling beside one, now and then, to peer carefully at its face before rising again to continue through the fields. 

At a low groan from a few feet away, the cloaked figure stopped with a start and turned, letting the veil fall to reveal the white face of Sigmund’s bride. 

The groan came again and with a gasp, Queen Hjordis hurried towards it. She knelt beside the prostrate form which turned its head and whispered her name.

“Sigmund!” she cried in a strangled voice, reaching down to gently turn him towards her. An arrow protruded from his thigh and a deep gash grinned up at her from his chest.  

“Hjordis...” her name came again and she lowered her face to his, fighting back the sob that had risen to her throat.

His hand moved up slowly, heavily towards her belly and she reached down to hold it there gently.

“A son,” the king said. “The gods have shown me...my avenger.”

“You cannot leave us!” she was weeping now. “Please.”

“My sword is broken,” the king continued. “Find the pieces. Make a new sword for our son.” He stopped, drawing a sharp breath as a shudder ran through his body.

“Sigmund!”

“Hjordis…Don’t let Lygni find you.” 

The woman lowered her head into her husband’s chest and wrapped her arms around him.

“My wife.” Sigmund whispered, and smiling in her embrace, he closed his eyes. Far away, in the realm of the gods, the soul of a warrior-king entered Valhalla.

Queen Hjordis stayed with Sigmund’s body until the sky grew red in the east and the stars, blinking sleepily, began to disappear.  Then, getting to her feet, she gathered all the pieces of the king’s shattered sword and wrapped them in her veil before making her silent way back into the heart of the forest.

In the city, the servants of Eylimi stood before King Lygni, trembling. 

The conquerer’s sword was unsheathed, dripping blood upon the floor and around him lay the lifeless forms of two maids and four old men.

“I will ask you all one more time,” he said, running his free hand over his brow. “Where is Princess Hjordis?”

None of the servants spoke a word but one of the younger girls, a little thing of twelve of thirteen, could no longer hold back her tears and began to sob.

Lygni turned his eyes upon her and a cruel smile spread across his face. 

Stepping towards the weeping girl, he placed a finger under her chin and lifted her head so that she could not avoid looking at him.

“You will tell me, won’t you?” he said. “You will tell me where she is hiding.”

“I d-don’t know!” the child stammered, her hands trembling. “Please believe me!”

Lygni ran a finger over her cheek.

“So young.” he said, shaking his head. “It would be a pity to kill you. 

But if you do not tell me where your mistress is hiding then you, my dear, will join your friends there.” He grabbed the girls face roughly and forced her to look at the corpses that littered the floor. 

“Please Lord!” she whimpered, closing her eyes. Lygni snorted and lifted his sword so that it was pointed at the girl’s chest

“WHERE IS HJORDIS?!”

“You may kill us all, King Lygni!” and old woman had stepped forward and looked boldly up at the king. “But not one of us can tell you where our mistress is, for none of us knows! When we woke up, she was gone and so was her handmaid. Perhaps she has fled to her husband’s kingdom. 

They were planning to leave for Hunland before the news came of your approach. Maybe that is where she went!” Lygni lowered his sword and ran his eyes over the line of servants. Many of them like the young girl before him would be useful in his castle. 

It would be a waste to kill them all.

“Then I must go to Hunland,” he said aloud. Signalling to his men, he indicated with his sword the servants he wanted to keep. 

“Lock the rest up in the hall,” he ordered.

The sun was high in the sky when Lygni and his soldiers left the kingdom of Eylimi. 

The young king turned back once to watch with a smile as red flames engulfed the mead hall and longhouse of Sigmund’s father-in-law, sending black smoke billowing into the sky. He had fulfilled his threat of destroying Eylimi’s kingdom. 

Now he only had to find Hjordis and make her his wife.

Would King Lygni find Sigmund’s widow? Or would the gods send her help? We will find out next time…

 

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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