Myths and Legends - The Blacksmith’s Plan

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

Sigurd the young Volsung slowed his mount to a trot and cast a questioning glance back at his old teacher whose mare was galloping to catch up. 

“So this is the place, is it?” he asked when the old man was beside him. “Is the dragon’s lair nearby?”

Regin nodded and pointed to a rocky cliff near the river that snaked its way through the forest. 

“There is a large cave hidden in that rocky wall. That is where Fafnir hides his great treasure.” he said quietly. “At sunset the creature emerges and makes its way down to the river to drink.”

Sigurd looked up at the sun which was already beginning its descent. In a few hours, it would disappear behind the mountains.

“You’ve no time to waste,” the blacksmith said following the direction of the youth’s gaze. “You must set to and dig a pit right in the creature’s path.”

“A pit?” Sigurd asked in surprise. “Why must I dig a pit?”

“Why to hide in of course!” Regin replied. “All you’ll need to do is wait for Fafnir to crawl over it and then you can stab the beast’s heart with your sword.”

“And if the dragon falls upon the pit and bleeds out its life, what will become of me, trapped in the hole I dug?” Sigurd asked, shaking his head. “Will the pit not fill with the dragon’s blood and drown me?”

Regin looked at the young man sharply, his eyes narrowing. 

“Are you not up to the task, boy?” he sneered. “For a Volsung, you seem very concerned about danger!”

“I am not afraid Regin,” the prince replied calmly. “I merely think that your plan for killing the beast is a little flawed.”

“Flawed?” the blacksmith retorted angrily. “When have I ever made a flawed plan, boy? You forget that the dragon is my brother and nobody knows it as well as I do. You would do well to take heed of my advice. Digging a pit is the only way to kill the beast.”

“Then I shall do so,” Sigurd said with a sigh. “But I must start at once or the sun will set before I am done.”

“And I shall stay nearby and watch you,” the old man said pulling his horse to a halt.

Sigurd nodded and rode forward to the river bank. Dismounting, he examined the track made by the dragon and marvelled at the size of the creature that could leave such a wide and deep impression in the ground.  

“Regin assured me that Fafnir was an average sized dragon,” he muttered to himself. “And yet these tracks were made by something gigantic; much, much larger than the dragons I have heard of.”

And wondering at his teacher’s dishonesty, the youth set to work digging. But instead of digging one pit as Regin had directed him, he dug an interconnected network of many pits.

“A creature this size must hold an awful lot of blood,” Sigurd said aloud. “Digging a single pit would be suicide.” And he pondered deeply how his trusted teacher could have suggested such a foolish thing. 

“The blacksmith is getting old,” he concluded at last. “Perhaps he is not as sharp as he used to be.”

But the prince was wrong. Regin was as sharp and as cunning as ever. In fact, while the young man worked, the blacksmith was riding away from the dragon’s lair as fast as he could, smiling as he thought of how by nightfall he would be rid of both the dragon and the prince. For he had deliberately thought of a plan that would ensure his pupil’s death in order that he alone might keep the dragon’s treasure after the creature was slain.

Sigurd however, knew nothing of the old man’s intentions and went about his work with a light heart. At last just as the sun began to sink below the horizon, the pits were dug and Sigurd sat himself down in the central hole to await the dragon. He drew out his sword Gram and gently ran a finger over its blade. The sword seemed to gleam in anticipation and Sigurd felt a surge of energy run through him. He closed his eyes imagining the sword in his father’s hand in action upon the battlefield. This sword had never failed his father and had won countless battles, writing with its blade the legend of Sigmund the Volsung. 

“You’ll not fail me either, my friend,” he whispered to the sword. Just then a loud roar shattered the silence of the forest. It was unlike anything Sigurd had ever heard before. 

“Fafnir,” he whispered and prepared himself for the attack. The earth trembled as the great beast made is way out of the cave and down towards the river, each step resounding throughout the forest.

Sigurd waited, tense and ready. At last the creature’s head appeared over the pit, followed by its neck. The youth watched with bated breath and then, just as the dragon’s chest appeared over the pit, he got to his feet and plunged the sword into Fafnir’s heart. So deep was the thrust that Sigurd’s arm sank into the creature’s flesh right up to the shoulder and when he drew back the sword, his entire arm was red with dragon’s blood.

A cry of pain and rage filled the air as Fafnir the dragon realised that he had been wounded.

“Who?! Who dares to attack me? Who?!” he roared in a terrible voice.

And Sigurd rose to his feet and lifted his head.

“It is I!” was his bold reply.

“A boy?!” roared Fafnir. “A mere boy dares to attack the mighty Fafnir?!”

The creature’s eyes glowed yellow in the fading light and red froth flew from its mouth. From the gaping hole in its chest, blood poured to the earth, filling up the pits that Sigurd had dug. But the dragon refused to fall. Instead, it opened its giant mouth and lunged at the young man with its final strength.

Would the dragon Fafnir end Sigurd’s life? Or would the young Volsung be victorious? And what of Regin and his evil plan to kill the prince? We will find out next time...

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