Myths, legends of ancient world

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The Stepmother

Retold by Jenny Bennett

Queen Borghild of Hunland was alone in her chambers when her maid hurried in nervously and with a quick curtsey, hurried to her mistress’ side. 

“What is it girl?” the queen asked without looking up from her spindle.

“My Lady,” the servant said. “There is a messenger to see you. He is waiting in the throne room.”

“A messenger?”the queen looked up in surprise. “From where?”

“He did not say, my Queen,” was the reply. 

“Tell him to wait for King Sigmund to return from the Hunt,” Queen Borghild ordered turning back to her spindle. “He can tell his message to the king.”

“P-p-please Mistress,” the maid stammered. “He said his message was for you, my Lady. He says it’s important.”

“Well it had better be important,” Queen Borghild said, getting to her feet. “For your sake...I don’t like being disturbed during my spinning.”

In the throne room a man, middle aged and heavily bearded, was standing in the corner with his eyes fixed upon the ground. When the queen entered the room he turned and bowed low before raising his eyes to her face. 

“Knorr?” Queen Borghild gasped, stopping in her tracks. “I did not know it was you!”

“My Lady!” The man said, bowing again. “Forgive me.”

The Queen, smiling, hurried forward to embrace the messenger.

“Oh dearest cousin! It is a pleasure to see you after so long!” she stepped back to look at him.

“And where is Hogni? Is he on his way? Is that your message?” the Queen said excitedly. “We’ll prepare a feast!”

“My Lady,” the man said, his voice breaking. “I am so sorry...”

“What Knorr?” Queen Borghild asked with a frown. “Is my brother not coming?”

The man shook his head and reached out to take the Queen’s hands in his own. 

“Forgive me Borghild for the news I bring,” he said quietly. “But your brother Hogni is dead.”

The Queen recoiled as if she had been struck. 

“Dead?” she whispered. “Hogni....dead?”

“Yes my Queen,” the messenger said. 

“How?” Borghild asked after a moment. “How did my brother die?”

“With honour, my Lady,” the man replied. “He fought very well and died with honour.”

“In which battle?” the Queen asked. “I only heard of the victories but not of the heroes who fell.”

“It was not in a battle, my Lady,” Knorr replied, lowering his eyes. “Lord Hogni lost his life in a fight which was the result of a personal dispute.”

“I don’t understand,” the Queen said, shaking her head. “Hogni has no enemies!”                            “The Lord Hogni was courting Princess Lljod,” the man explained. “Then another man decided to woo the maiden. That was the cause of the dispute and the fight that cost him his life.”

“And who was his opponent? What was his name?”

“Prince Sinfjotli,” the man said through gritted teeth. “Your stepson.”

The Queen’s lips tightened and she turned away. 

“He is no son of mine,” she said through gritted teeth. “And I swear to you that he will pay for my brother’s life.”

With that, Queen Borghild left the room and returned to her chambers.

The sun was low in the sky when the king returned to the castle. The Queen was waiting for him in the Hallway, her face white and strained and her eyes swollen and red-rimmed.

“Borghild!” Sigmund exclaimed reaching forward to take the Queen’s hand. “What is the matter?!”

“My brother is dead!” she cried out.

“Lord Hogni?” Sigmund asked. “Did he die with honour, upon the battle field?” 

“Your son killed him!” the Queen shouted. “That animal Sinfjotli killed my brother.”

“What are you talking about?” the king asked, shaking his head.

“Your son dishonoured Hogni by wooing the girl he was courting,” the Queen said. “Then he killed my brother.”

“Borghild...” 

“No Sigmund,” the Queen cut him off. “Your son dishonoured my brother then killed him. You must banish him from Hunland. I don’t want to see his face ever again.”

Upon the sea, only a few miles from the shores of Hunland, Prince Sinfjotli was in his ship on his way home.

Standing at the bow, the man was gazing out across the blue water at the mountains of his homeland but his mind was upon a young woman: a tall, slender girl with a perfectly sculpted face framed by a mass of red curls which cascaded freely over her shoulders and down her back. The young woman who had refused his offer of marriage only days earlier.

“You don’t understand, Prince Sinfjotli,” Princess Lljod had said firmly, looking him in the eye as she did so. “I have no intention of marrying anyone. Not even you, Sir.”

“But I have fought Lord Hogni for your hand, Princess!” Sinfjotli had exclaimed in disbelief, remembering how he had defeated the large, fierce warrior in a difficult battle. “It was for your sake that I defeated him; to win your hand.”

“I am not a prize to be ‘won’, Sir,” the girl had said, shaking her head. “The death of Lord Hogni was unfortunate and I tried to stop it but neither of you would listen.”

“Please Princess...”

“Prince Sinfjotli,” the girl had said decisively. “I do not want to marry you, and I will not. Nothing you can say or do will change my mind.”

Now the young man was on his way home to the castle where his father and stepmother stood debating his future.

Would Sigmund do as his wife had asked? Would Prince Sinfjotli be banished from Hunland for killing his stepmother’s brother? Or was the king’s love for his son too deep? We will find out next time...

“But he said it was important.”

“It had better be important,” Queen Borghild muttered. “

 



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