Myths and Legends - Ancient World Sigurd’s Sword

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Retold by Jenny Bennett


Regin the blacksmith was hard at work over his anvil. He was forging a sword for his pupil Sigurd, the son of Sigmund the Volsung.  With perspiration pouring from his brow, he lifted the blade which gleamed red in the semi-darkness of twilight and dipped it into the water barrel. It hissed and spluttered in protest. By daybreak, the sword was complete, and Regin laid it out carefully upon a bench near the door so that it would be the first thing his young charge would see when he entered. He stood back to admire his work and smiled then headed off to bed.

“Is this it then?” it was Sigurd. He had come to his tutor’s house after his morning rise along the shore and upon opening the door had immediately spotted the sword upon the bench. Frowing, he picked it up and ran a finger along the blade, testing it. It was enough, yes. But was it strong enough? He lifted it high and brought it down hard against the smith’s anvil. A noise like thunder was followed by the sound of shattering as the blade sell to pieces before his eyes.

“What? What have you done?!” Regin had stumbled out of his bed just in time to see the sword shatter into pieces. He could not believe his eyes. He had certainly underestimated the boy’s strength.

“Is this what you call a sword, old man?” the young man was grinning at him. “And they say you are the best blacksmith in the land. Surely, you can make a sword strong enough for me, can’t you?”

“Give me two weeks, boy,” the old man muttered. “I’ll have a stronger sword waiting for you.”

Laughing, the boy tossed the sword-hilt onto the anvil and made his way out of the blacksmith’s hut.

A fortnight later, he returned to find Regin sitting upon the bench, nursing a carefully wrapped parcel upon his lap.

“So you’ve made it then?” he asked with a smile. “And is it stronger than the last?”

“I should hope so,” grunted the old man. “I’ve laboured over it longer than I’ve ever laboured over anything in my life. This blade should withstand anything.” 

And Regin unwrapped the cloth and held out the sword to the young prince.

Sigurd nodded his thanks and picked up the weapon, holding it up to the light. It looked good. He ran a finger over the blade. It felt sharp. He lifted it and before the old man could stop him, brought it down hard upon the anvil. Once again, the sound of thunder and shattering metal filled the air and the new sword lay in pieces upon the floor. The blacksmith fell upon his knees, staring at the pieces in disbelief. How was this possible?! How could this boy have enough strength to destroy the strongest blade he had ever made?

“Well, frankly, I am a little disappointed Regin,” Sigurd had tossed the hilt on to the floor and now stood leaning against the wall, shaking his head.

“You talk me into going off to slay your dragon brother Fafnir, and yet you cannot even make a passable sword for me to do the deed. Are you trying to get me killed, old man?”

“How can you say such a thing?!” Regin said, looking up at the earnest young face with a frown. “You whom I have treated and loved like a son all these years!”

“I cannot kill Fafnir without a good, strong sword,” was the reply. The pair looked at one another in silence for a moment and then the young man’s eyes brightened.

“What is it, Sigurd?”

The boy shook his head but his face had broken into a smile.

“I have just remembered something my mother told me when I was very young.”

“What was that?”

Sigurd bit his bottom lip.

“I’d rather not get your hopes up, Regin,” he said. “But I must go now to visit my mother. If I am right, you will be able to make a strong enough sword for me very soon.”

And without another word, Sigurd turned and left the old man’s hut.

The Queen was about to sit down to dinner when her son was announced. 

“Sigurd!” she rose to embrace the youth. “You have been gone for quite a while.”

“I have come to speak with you, Mother,” the boy replied, sitting down with her at the table.

“Here, dear boy,” the queen pushed a plate of roasted meat towards him. “You must eat first.”

While the pair dined, Sigurd began to speak.

“I remember you telling me something when I was a little boy,” he began. “Something about my father’s sword. Where did he get it from?”

The Queen nodded.

“Yes. His sword, Gram he called it, was given to him by the god Odin on the night of his sister’s wedding.” She explained. “During the feast, an old hooded man entered the mead hall and stuck a sword into the trunk of the tree that grew in the centre of the hall.”

“Branstock,” the youth said.

“Yes, Branstock, the tree was called,” his mother replied. “All the men at the feast tried to pull the sword out, but only your father who was about the age you are now, was able to pull it out of the wood.”

“And he won every battle he fought with it, didn’t he?” the boy asked eagerly.

Again the queen nodded and then a dark cloud came over her face and she lowered her eyes.

“All, except for the last battle,” she said quietly. “The one that cost him his life.”

“The battle against King Lygni and his allies?”

“Yes, Sigurd. You were still in my womb then and I remember kneeling before your father as he spoke his final words. No other man would have lived so long after receiving the injuries he had. But he held on till dawn the next day. He was the strongest man I have ever known.”

“What happened to his sword, Mother?”

“It broke upon the battle field. And in obedience to him, I gathered the pieces and brought them with me to this land.”

Sigurd’s eyes brightened and he sat up straight.

“Mother, please give me the pieces of my father’s sword Gram,” he said. “I need them to forge a sword of my own.”

Would Queen Hjordis accept her son’s request? And would Sigurd be able to have a new sword forged from the shards of Gram? We will find out next time…

 

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