Myths, legends of ancient world

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The Wrath of Volsung

Retold by Jenny Bennett


Siggier, the king of Gothland was asleep in his great Hall. There had been a feast there to celebrate the defeat and capture of Volsung’s son Sigmund and his accomplice who had attacked the castle a day earlier.

The king had been alerted to the presence of the men by his two young children who had seen them lurking in the hallway and with his army, he had subdued the pair and put them in chains. Now his two enemies were imprisoned in a barrow of stone with a large slab of rock separating them. There the men would slowly die of starvation and thirst; a fitting death for traitors who dared to attack the king.

Now Siggier, full of meat and wine, was in a deep sleep, secure in the knowledge that the last of the Volsungs were doomed. He did not hear the shattering of stone in the distant yard where the traitors’ barrow stood. He did not hear the sound of heavy feet approaching the Great Hall. He did not hear the thud of wood as the door was bolted from without. But it was the acrid smell of smoke filling his nostrils that jolted him out of his slumber.

He sat up coughing as his lungs filled with smoke and stared at the yellow flames which danced all around the hall roaring in merriment as they licked at the wood of the long table and at the clothes of the sleepers. He saw his men; his family, consumed by the greedy orange tongues and heard their screams shattering the silence of the night.

“Who has done this?!” Siggier roared above the screams. “I burn! I burn!”

“It is I Sigmund, the son of Volsung whom you murdered,” came a loud voice from outside. “And with me is Sinfjotli, the son of my sister Signy whom you have imprisoned and made to suffer these many years. Hear me, oh king of Gothland and know that the Volsungs are not all dead. Feel the wrath of my slain father and brothers in the flames that envelope you.” 

Siggier looked about through the dense smoke but could not see his wife in the Hall. She must have left after he had fallen asleep. He could not use her against her brother now.

“Traitor!” the king bellowed. “Traitors, all of you!”

Outside the Hall, their faces lit by the flames which engulfed the building before them, stood the two men, tall and powerfully formed. These were the last of the Volsungs.

“Signy!” Sigmund called. “Come out of your chamber and see how this tyrant burns. Come my sister and witness the wrath of our father Volsung and the revenge that we have plotted together for many years. Come and see your freedom!” 

“I see it, Sigmund,” a soft voice behind him made the men turn. It was Signy, the Queen of Gothland and the only daughter of Volsung. She was dressed in black with a hood over her head.

“Mother!” the younger of the two men cried, reaching out to embrace her. 

“Come, my sister,” Sigmund said clasping the woman’s hand. “You are free of this man now. Let us return to our homeland together and take back the throne of our father Volsung.”

The woman smiled but shook her head.

“I thank you, Sigmund, for avenging the death of our father,” she said. “You have fulfilled our duty to the dead. But I cannot return with you to Hunland...”

“Sister!” Sigmund retorted, but Signy cut him off with a shake of her head.

“Hear now, my brother, if I have not been faithful to the memory of our father and to our revenge.” She continued. “Three sons have I raised and molded into warriors for a single purpose. Deadening the natural love of a mother in my heart, I have lost forever the two elder whom you deemed unworthy of our purpose, they might as well have died. Night and day I have pondered our revenge and plotted in my heart against the man I called ‘Husband’. Knowing that the sons of Siggier would never be brave enough or strong enough to assist you in our revenge, I came to you in the forest on a moonlit night, disguised as a peasant woman.”

Sigmund turned deathly pale at her words and turned to look at the boy beside him, wide-eyed.

“Yes, look at him Sigmund!” the woman said. “For he is your son. A true Volsung he is. And now that my purpose has been fulfilled my brother, I have nothing left to live for.” 

She embraced the two men together and kissed her son upon the forehead.

“I vowed to our father to be true to the man I married. So with my husband and the rest of my children in the Hall, I shall die.”

Before they could stop her, the queen unbarred the Hall door and walked into the flames.

Neither man spoke for a very long time but at last, when the wooden hall had crumbled to ashes before them and the screams had faded into silence, Sinfjotli turned to the man beside him.

“What shall we do now, Father?” 

Sigmund placed an arm on the young man’s shoulder.

“You and I shall take a ship and gather some men,” he replied. “And then we will return to Hunland, my son, and take back Volsung’s throne.”

What would become of the last of the Volungs? Would Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli be able to reclaim the kingdom of their father after all these years? We will find out next time...

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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