Myths, legends of ancient world

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The Revenge

Retold by Jenny Bennett*

Sigmund, the son of Volsung stood staring at the sky.

The stars were bright and the moon was just a thin sliver of white, but in the east streaks of orange were beginning to appear. Within moments dawn would break and the sun would bathe Gothland in gold. Sigmund lowered his head and automatically reached for his sword.

It was on a morning like this, thirty years earlier, that he had seen his father fall to the earth of Gothland with the sword of King Siggier buried in his heart. The Geatish king, who was married to Volsung’s only daughter, had tricked his father-in law and his wife’s ten brothers into visiting his kingdom.

Without warning, Volsung’s treacherous son-in-law had ambushed the Volsungs with an army of a thousand men, killing the old king of Hunland and capturing his sons. Sigmund remembered how he and his brothers had been stripped and chained to trees in the middle of the forest where, one by one, each of them had been eaten by a she-wolf. He alone had survived with the help of his twin sister Signy who was being imprisoned in the castle by her treacherous husband.

Determined to avenge the death of her father and brothers, Signy tried to raise her firstborn son to be fierce and brave and strong. But the boy was neither brave nor strong and the more she tried to toughen him up, the more frightened and sickly he became.

Her second son was like the Volsungs in size and strength but unlike his grandfather and uncles, he was not brave and did not pass Sigmund’s test of courage. Disappointed in her two eldest boys, Signy placed her hopes in her youngest child; a child born fourteen years after her father’s murder.

This boy, whom she named Sinfjolti, was a true Volsung. Strong and fearless, he passed his uncle’s test of courage when he was barely nine years old and stayed with Sigmund to be trained as a warrior. 

Now, at sixteen, Sinfjolti was as tall and as strong as his uncle. He was skilled in the arts of war and had no lack of courage. Sinfjolti was ready.

Sigmund turned back to his hut just as the sun began to rise. Already, his nephew was awake and had stoked up the fire and was kneading the dough to make bread.

“Make enough loaves for five days Sinfjolti,” the man ordered, taking down his bow from the wall. “You and I are going on a journey, boy.”

Sinfjolti looked up in surprise.

“Where are we going, Uncle?” he asked.

“We’re going to pay a little visit to the king of Gothland,” Sigmund replied.

Sinfjolti stood up, his eyes bright.

“Is it time to avenge the death of Volsung, Uncle?” he asked excitedly.

Sigmund nodded.

“Yes, vengeance has waited long enough,” he said. “The blood of my father and brothers has been crying to me from the earth of Gothland for thirty years. But now, you are ready, and together, we will take the castle of Siggier and destroy him and his entire household.”

“And my mother will finally be free!” the youth sighed.

Seven years had passed since he had left the castle under the cover of night, but the image of his mother’s face was still as clear in his mind as it had been on that night. Moments before he had left, Queen Signy had held him as though she would never let him go and when she had finally released him, the boy had seen tears in his mother’s eyes; something he had never seen there before in all of his nine years. She had always been strong and stern; pushing him to his limit in everything; never satisfied with second best. But underneath it all, the boy had known that she loved him more than life itself. He was her last hope for revenge and freedom. And he knew that he could not fail her. He would not fail her.

Deep in the forest with his uncle, the boy had persevered in his training; bearing the pain of his aching muscles; the fatigue; his blistered hands. He had borne it all in silence for the image of his mother’s face was constantly before his eyes and the knowledge that all her hopes had been placed on him was ingrained in his heart.

“For too long she has suffered the tyranny of that beast in silence,” the young man said, clenching his fists. “I never understood why she did not fight back; why she has waited so long. I have seen her with a sword and bow and her skill is as great as yours, Uncle. Why has she not ended the king’s life herself. I know she has wanted to for many years.”

Sigmund smiled sadly and shook his head.

“Your mother is a better archer and rider than either of us, boy,” he said. “In Hunland, Signy and I were trained together by our father and she could beat even the most skilled of the king’s soldiers in hand to hand combat.”

“Then why does she need us to do this Uncle?” Sinfjolti asked in bewilderment. “She has suffered in silence for thirty years when she could have easily taken the king’s head and his throne in one night.”

“Your mother has held back because of a promise she made to our father, Volsung.” Sigmund explained. “The night before Father died, Signy came to us secretly. She had overheard the king and his generals planning an attack, and knowing that there were only eleven of us, she came to warn us to leave Gothland. When father refused to flee, she begged him to let her stay with us and fight, but father would not allow her to do so. Instead, he made her promise to return to the castle and to remain with her husband. ‘Whatever happens to us,’ he told her. ‘You must swear that you will never seek vengeance against your husband with your own hand. You have been united to this man before the gods.’ Signy protested, but in the end, she obeyed and gave Father her word never to harm Siggier with her own hand. Instead, she raised you to avenge our father.”

Sinfjolti nodded. Obedience to one’s master was a lesson he had learnt with great difficulty. His mother was a greater woman than he had thought. 

“We will kill this treacherous king and free my mother,” he said aloud. “Then together, we will return to Hunland and recover the throne of Volsung.”

Sigmund nodded, smiling at the boy’s eagerness. Yes, with Signy’s son at his side, he would finally be able to bring the wrath of Volsung down upon Siggier.

What would become of Sigmund and his nephew? Would they be able to carry out their plan? We will find out next time...

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