As dawn broke over the land of King Giuki, a young man on horseback made his way out of the burg.
His tall, well-built form was clad in silver armour and his finely chiselled face was framed by jet black hair that reached almost to his shoulders. An onlooker would have been right to assume from the young man’s noble bearing that he was no ordinary soldier. Indeed, he was a prince, for this was Gunnar, the first born son and heir of King Giuki.
In silence the man rode, his eyes rising often to fix themselves upon a certain mountain which was a mere speck in the distance. And as the speck grew larger, so too did the anticipation in the youth’s eyes.
“Brynhild,” he whispered to himself now and then as he lifted his eyes to the mountain. “I am coming for you.” And the thought of finally seeing the maiden he had heard so much about, broadened his smile and made him urge his horse on impatiently.
“There is no one in all the land who can compare to the fair Brynhild.” the words of Sigurd, his brother-in-law, echoed in the man’s mind. It had been the first week of Sigurd’s visit to Giuki’s burg and they had been on their way to the hunt.
“Why do you say so?” Gunnar had asked. Sigurd had smiled, his eyes softening and his expression becoming distant and dreamlike.
“Brynhild is the wisest of womankind. Indeed she is wiser than all the sages I have ever met.” Sigurd had explained. “Just hearing her speak fills one with awe. Her low and gentle voice rises and falls so enchantingly and, with her words, she opens the mind to such ideas and possibilities. Things that have never before crossed my mind, she spoke of...”
“But what does she look like?” the youngest of the princes had cut in, voicing Gunnar’s own desire. It was all very well for a woman to be wise, but to a young man with fire in his blood, beauty was also of great importance.
Sigurd had chuckled, apparently not offended by the interruption.
“Brynhild’s beauty is without comparison,” Sigurd had replied. “Her hair is the colour of fire and cascades down her back almost to her ankles in an untamed mass of curls. So soft is it to the touch that many an hour did I spend running my fingers through the silken tresses and often I would bury my face in her curls, blissfully drowning in their intoxicating fragrance. Her eyes are of the deepest blue and seem to pierce to the very soul when she turns them upon you. And her eyes I studied with great interest, for with every expression the shade alters: lightening with joy, darkening fiercely with anger, turning violet with sorrow. It is like looking into the depths of the ocean; now smooth and welcoming, now turbulent and dangerous.” Sigurd had stopped there, seemingly lost in thoughts of Brynhild and it was obvious that he loved the maiden deeply.
“I have heard that she is of great height and is as strong as any man,” Gunnar had heard himself say. “Are the rumours true?”
“She is the tallest woman I have ever seen,” Sigurd had replied. “Her head reaches to my chin and there is great power in her arms and legs, for in play did she bid me to wrestle with her and very nearly was I defeated!”
“Then she must be formed like a man!” the younger prince had exclaimed.
“On the contrary!” Sigurd had laughed. “Her form is graceful and shapely with a fine bust, slender waist and rounded hips. And her skin was as soft and smooth beneath my fingers as a child’s. Truly, there is no maiden anywhere who can compare to my Brynhild.”
And Gunnar had agreed whole-heartedly. Never once, however, had he thought that he would be riding towards Brynhild’s mountain to woo her! Brynhild and Sigurd had sworn an oath to one another and the love that the man bore the remarkable maiden had seemed to be of the deepest kind: unchanging and eternal. But Sigurd, in spite of his apparently great love for the maiden, had forgotten all about her and within a few months had married Gunnar’s sister.
It was a week ago now, the night after Sigurd and Gundrun’s son was born, that Queen Grimhild had summoned her firstborn to her presence.
“Are you happy Gunnar?” she had asked him. “Do you have all that you desire from life?”
“I suppose so,” had been his hesitating answer.
“Well it is true that you have wealth and strength and glory,” the Queen had continued. “And you also have the promise of your father’s kingdom to rule one day. But isn’t there something you lack?”
Gunnar had fixed his mother with an impatient stare. He did not like the cunning games she played. In fact, he strongly suspected that she was behind Sigurd’s strange memory loss and his resulting abandonment of Brynhild. But he said nothing.
“Have you seen your little nephew?” the Queen had asked with a knowing smile.
“You know I have, Mother,” Gunnar had snapped. “You saw Sigurd place the boy in my arms last night.”
“And did that not awaken in you a desire for a son of you own, Gunnar?”
“I will have children one day, Mother,” the man had suppressed a chuckle. “Never fear.”
“But how will you give me grandchildren without a wife?!”
Gunnar had laughed out loud.
“So this is why you sent for me!” he had exclaimed. “To urge me to marry. Well, Mother, I have not yet met a woman who is worthy to take your place one day as Queen. Until I do, I will not marry.”
“Brynhild is more than worthy to be your wife,” Queen Giuki had almost shouted.
“Brynhild?” Gunnar had asked in disbelief. “The shield-maiden who lives in the circle of fire?”
“Yes,” the Queen had replied. “She waits there now for a man to claim her. She is yours for the taking, Son.”
“Sigurd is married to your sister now! What? Are you too cowardly to take Brynhild?”
“Do not insult me, Mother,” Gunnar had said quietly.
“Then go and get her,” the Queen had replied. “You know that you have loved Brynhild from the moment Sigurd’s tales of her beauty reached your ears. Now you have the chance. Claim her for yourself.”
And Gunnar had obeyed, making preparations for his journey. He had even asked Sigurd if he should try to woo Brynhild and if he had any chance of winning her. To his great surprise, Sigurd did not seem to know of whom he spoke and had gladly urged him on to the task.
Now Gunnar was nearing the mountain where Brynhild lived. Would he be able to pass through the wall of fire that surrounded her castle like Sigurd had done so long ago? And if he did, would Brynhild agree to be his wife? We will find out next time...
*Based on the Volsunga Saga