Myths and Legends of the Ancient World

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

King Giuki’s burg was bustling with excitement.

Darkness had fallen but the streets were alive with people and lights. It was the first night of the full moon and tonight Prince Gunnar’s bride was expected to arrive.

All had been prepared and the mouth-watering smells of roasted meat and sweet cakes drifted down from the great mead-hall. The hall itself had been decorated with lights and ornaments and the King’s house had been polished from top to bottom until the floors and walls gleamed.

A great crowd had gathered near the gates and it seemed as though nobody save the old and infirm had stayed home. At last the sound of horses hooves were heard in the distance and a cry of “She is coming!” rose up from the crowd. As the horses approached, the crowd fell silent, each person straining to catch a glimpse of the famous Brynhild.

They had all heard so much about her: A shield-maiden as skilled in the arts of war as their greatest warriors and beautiful beyond comparison. Now at last they would see her in person.

And there from the forest emerged a black stallion, its gilded bridle gleaming in the moonlight, and upon it was the tallest woman they had ever seen. Instead of the customary robes of a bride, she was clad in silver armour which reflected the pale light of the moon, but her head was bare, allowing a great quantity of wild auburn curls to cascade down her back and over her horse.

Her face was fiercely beautiful and sculpted to perfection with eyes so piercing that few dared to meet them. From the proud brow to the marble white chin, it was the face of a goddess rather than a mortal and the people, seeing her, gasped in amazement, their expectations far exceeded.

This magnificent woman was to be the wife of their Prince and someday would rule them as their Queen! Surely Prince Gunnar had chosen well!

Behind Brynhild came a long trail of horses, bearing her dowry of silver and gold. But the eyes of all were not upon the glittering wealth but the woman who was now riding through the gates towards the mead-hall.

King Giuki and his children had gathered before the hall to welcome Brynhild and as his bride-to-be approached, Gunnar stepped forward to help her dismount. But she leapt easily off her great horse before he could reach her and with a quiet smile took his offered hand.

“I hope the journey has not tired you, my Lady,” he said lifting her hand to his lips. 

“Not at all,” she replied, bowing to the king. “The night air and your kind welcome have quite refreshed me.” 

And her eyes scanned the royal family, skipping over the tall, thin Queen Grimhild with her gleaming black eyes and over her fine, well-built sons to linger upon the young woman who stood somewhat hidden in the shadows.

She was slight and fair with yellow hair that was half-hidden by a veil of lace. Pretty, yes, but from the nervousness in her pale blue eyes, she was obviously weak: one of those women who needed a man to protect her from the world and who would crumble beneath a single harsh word. So this was the woman who had lured Sigurd away from her? Princess Gundrun. This pitiful, small and pale creature!

She was beneath contempt! And that child in her arms must be Sigurd’s. It had its father’s red-gold hair and grey eyes but was as pale as its mother, poor thing! Brynhild’s searching gaze turned to the crowd behind her but even there, there was no sign of the red-bearded son of Sigmund.

She was relieved. She did not know if she could bear the sight of him just yet. Brynhild took a deep breath to still her rapidly beating heart before allowing Prince Gunnar to lead her into his father’s house. 

Moments later the mead hall rang with the sound of music and laughter. Gunnar had married the shield-maiden and Brynhild now sat beside her new husband at the head of the feast. She watched his horn being filled and tried to smile, but something was bothering her; something she couldn’t quite identify.

This man beside her who was now her husband, seemed a stranger to her. She had spent three days with him within her wall of fire but in those three days she had become familiar with his mannerisms, his tone of voice, the expressions of his face.

But this man beside her who was feasting and drinking with great merriment, seemed to be a different person entirely! The way he moved and spoke and looked at her, were strange and unfamiliar and not at all like the man who had wooed and won her upon her mountain.

A brief hush had fallen over the feast and Brynhild looked up to see that someone had entered. A man taller than anyone else in the room, with shoulders three times as broad as the broadest man and a red-gold beard that hung to his chest. 

“Continue feasting!” she heard him say with a chuckle, his grey eyes twinkling merrily. “I just hope there is mead left for me.”

Brynhild’s heart rose to her throat and a strange weakness filled her. The sight of him; the sound of his voice. She could not bear it!

“Sigurd!” her husband called across the room. “You missed the wedding and the best part of the feast! Come now Brother. Come and meet my wife.”

But before Sigurd could reach the bride and groom’s table, Brynhild had risen to her feet and had made her way out of the hall and into the garden beyond. Her mind was in turmoil and her heart was heavy with sorrow and doubt.

How could he face her knowing that he had betrayed her? How could he callously walk into her wedding feast smiling innocently? Did he not know how much pain he had caused her to bear? And that the very sight of him sent a tempest into her breast?

And then there was her husband who was a stranger to her? How much he had altered since she had seen him last! Was it merely the joy of the wedding and the feast that had wrought such a change in him? Or was there something more sinister at work?

Little did the bride know that the man she had married was not the man who had wooed her and won her hand. For it had been Sigurd in the form of Gunnar who had ridden through the fire to win her heart. But now the men had returned to their own forms, their trick successful in securing Gunnar’s bride and she had as she suspected, married a complete stranger!

What would become of the bride of Gunnar? Would she discover how she had been deceived? And if she did, what would come of it? We will find out next time...

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