The Maiden in the Forest
Retold by Jenny Bennett
It was noon and the sun blazed directly overhead, scorching the narrow dirt track that wound through the grasslands. The heat soaked into the stones, withering the few weeds that grew in small, dusty clusters along the road and causing a perpetual haze to rise from the earth.
The faint drumming of hooves and a cloud of dust in the distance announced the approach of riders and within moments, a pair of men came along the path. They were both tall and powerfully built and were dressed in the garb of warriors. One glance at the way the men carried themselves and at the arms they bore would have convinced an onlooker that these were no ordinary soldiers. Indeed, they were not just soldiers but princes, for these were the two sons of King Sigmund of Hunland and grandsons of the great and mighty Volsung. The elder of the two was Sinfjotli and the younger and more handsome of the pair was Helgi, Sigmund’s heir and the general of his army.
Helgi slowed his mount to a trot and turned to look over his shoulder at the army which followed some distance behind them.
“I think I’ll let the men rest here for a while,” he said to his brother. “I hear the sound of flowing water nearby. They can refresh themselves and the horses before we set off again.”
“Sounds good,” the elder said with a nod before turning his horse around and holding up his hand to stop the army.
Sinfjotli was his brother’s most trusted warlord and constant companion. Everyone knew that he would gladly give his life for Prince Helgi and nobody dared to insult the young man or speak ill of him while Sinfjotli was near.
The pair had just returned from battle against King Hunding and his sons where they had won a great victory and were now making their way home to Hunland with their army. Behind them, the men, seeing Sinfjotli’s signal, stopped and before long, the fields were filled with soldiers resting and horses grazing.
Helgi and Sinfjotli too dismounted and sat down upon a large flat rock watching their horses graze.
“Father will be glad to hear of our victory,” Helgi said happily, “I’m sure the emissary has reached Hunland by now and that they are preparing a great feast for us. I cannot wait to see home again.”
Sinfjotli nodded and plucked a blade of grass to chew; looking thoughtfully at the younger prince.
“Why are you watching me that way?” Helgi asked punching the man playfully in the arm.
“I’m just thinking how time has flown by so quickly!” Sinfjotli said with a smile. “It seems like it was just yesterday that father summoned me into his chamber and bid me to look upon you in your little crib. You were an ugly little thing...all wrinkled and red.”
Helgi laughed and shook his head.
“I remember how you used to toss me high in the air when I was a little tot,” he reminisced. “Mother was always so afraid that you would drop me. But I never once doubted you.”
“And a clever little pupil you made when Father handed your training over to me,” the elder said proudly, remembering how the little boy had quickly mastered archery and the sword and was now a better warrior than even Sigmund himself.
“What has made you so sentimental all of a...”
The sound of approaching horses cut him off and the men got to their feet, their hands on their swords.
But their alarm was short lived for they saw soon enough that the riders were women with a handful of men surrounding them. The sons of Sigmund watched the riders approach admiringly for the girls were all pleasing to the eye and well worth a second look. In the midst of them however, was one whose beauty exceeded that of all her companions. In fact, she was the most beautiful woman Helgi had ever seen and an excellent rider as well.
“She bears herself like royalty,” Sinfjotli said quietly, as though reading his brother’s mind. Helgi nodded and stepped forward to face the approaching party.
“Would it please you to rest with us for a while,” he said, addressing the beautiful girl directly. “We have wine and food and the sun is too hot for one as fair as yourself to ride in its heat.”
The girl halted her horse and signalled to her companions to do the same but she did not dismount.
“Who are you, young man?” she asked.
“I am Helgi, the son of Sigmund,” was his reply. “And this is my brother Sinfjotli.”
“Prince Helgi, of Hunland?” the girl asked with amazement written upon her face. “The warrior who has just defeated King Hunding’s formidable army with only a few men? You are a legend, Sir!”
“And what is your name, Lady?” the prince asked brushing aside her praise.
“I am Sigrun, the daughter of King Hogni.”
“Then accept my invitation, Princess Sigrun, and stop for a while to dine with us,” said Helgi, holding out his hand to help the girl dismount, but she shook her head.
“Please accept my apologies Prince Helgi,” she said. “But we cannot stop to dine with you even for a while. We are on our way to the land of King Granmar and we must arrive there before dusk today.”
“What is your errand?” the prince asked with a frown. “Surely, bearing messages is not the work of fair princesses.”
“Unfortunately, it is not a message that I go to take to that kingdom,” she replied with a rueful smile.”I go there to present myself to the king as a gift from my father. You see, Prince Helgi, I have been promised to the king’s eldest son, Hodbrod, and I go there to wed him.”
“Then I wish you great joy, Princess,” the young man said, somewhat sorrowfully.
The princess looked into his face and tears sprang to her eyes, making their way down her cheeks.
“I wish it could be so,” she said quietly so that only the prince could hear her. “But I go against my will, and I would sooner marry a crow than that man. It is my father who forces me.”
Helgi looked at the girl and felt his heart weep for her.
“I wish I could help you, fair Princess,” he said, pressing his lips to the girl’s slender fingers. And the eyes that met his pleaded silently for him to save her from her fate.
Would Prince Helgi be able to save the Princess from her impending marriage? Was there a way that he could stop it? We will find out next time...