Myths, legends of ancient world - Queen Grimhild

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

“What is ailing you girl?” the Queen asked sharply as her daughter dropped her spindle for the fifth time that morning. “You cannot seem to concentrate on your work!”

The princess lowered her eyes and mumbled an apology as her nimble fingers once again began to spin the wool into thread. But her mother was not to be pushed aside so easily.

“Come here beside me Gundrun,” she said in a much gentler tone, patting the seat beside her. “Leave your work for a moment.”

The girl sighed and rose to her feet, laying down the spindle and distaff.

She knew her mother’s gaze had been fixed upon her since morning and had tried hard to appear happy. But try as she may, she had not been able to keep her sorrow at bay and occasionally felt a tear escape and roll down her cheek. She would hastily dash it away before the Queen could notice and would try to focus all her attention upon her work, but her mother was not one to be fooled.

“Something is troubling you child,” she said, taking Gundrun’s chin in her hand and turning her face towards her so that the girl could not avoid her gaze. “Look at me now. Do not look away!”

Gundrun, who had averted her eyes as best as she could now raised them to meet her mother’s gaze. She had always feared her mother and the great power she possessed, even as a little girl. She had realized very early that the rumours of sorcery that were whispered in the streets and the dark corners of the burg, were not unfounded. Queen Grimhild was not an ordinary woman. And one could hide nothing from her. Gundrun had learnt as a young child of the power in her mother’s gaze. For it penetrated you deep into your very soul and would unearth your deepest, darkest secrets; the ones that you tried with all your might to bury far, far beneath. It did so now and the Queen, releasing the girl’s face began to laugh.

Gundrun felt the tears spring from her eyes and course down her face. She had tried so hard to keep it hidden. But now…

“You are in love with him!” the Queen chuckled, shaking her head. “And you thought I wouldn’t notice.”

Gundrun felt her face burn and bit her lip to keep from sobbing. 

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of child,” Queen Grimhild said taking the girl’s hand and squeezing it gently. “Sigurd is the best of men and you are my daughter so of course you are worthy of him.”

Gundrun took a deep breath.

“He loves another,” she heard herself whisper. 

“Yes,” her mother replied. “Everyone knows that he loves Brynhild the shield-maiden. But what of it? That can be changed.”

Gundrun cast a furtive glance at her mother’s face.

“His is not the kind of love that can be ended, Mother,” she said aloud. “Sigurd loves Brynhild more that he loves life itself. And I cannot deny it. They are both so…so perfect for each other. Both Sigurd and Brynhild are far greater beings than everyone else…like gods! And I am a fool for loving him.”

“You might well be a fool, girl,” the Queen laughed. “But Sigurd is not a god. He is merely a man. And even the strongest man is not immune to influence.”

Gundrun looked up to study her mother’s face and what she saw there chilled her to the marrow.

“Influence?” she heard herself ask. “What influence?”

The Queen patted her hand with a careless air and leaned back in her chair.

“He will love you, Gundrun,” she said with a yawn. “I will see to it that he does.”

“Mother?” Gundrun felt a familiar sinking in her chest. Whenever her mother decided that something would happen, it inevitably would. The problem lay in the means she employed to achieve her goals. For more often than not, she would resort to sorcery. “What do you mean?”

“Just leave it to me, girl,” the Queen replied with a chilling smile. Just see to it that tomorrow night you bring yourself to the meadhall instead to keeping yourself hidden in your chambers. And wear that green dress I made for you. No! Don’t tell me it’s too tight! It’s perfect. And for once, take off that ugly veil you insist on wearing. Let your hair hang loose about your shoulders.”

“But mother, what will you…?”

“I said leave it to me!” the Queen hissed. “Now go and hide your pale, tear stained face, the sight of it irritates me and see to it that you wear a smile when you come to the feast tomorrow.”

Gundrun made her way slowly to her chambers, her mind sorely troubled. What would her mother do to Sigurd? As much as she wanted the man to return her love, she did not wish him to be forced to do so! She wanted to be loved for herself! But Brynhild was in the way, wasn’t she? So long as Brynhild filled Sigurd’s mind and heart, there was no room there for Gundrun. Perhaps her mother was right after all. Perhaps she did need her help.

Gundrun watched that night from the shadows as the Queen, cloaked and hooded made her way down to the riverbank with an empty basket hanging from her arm. Gundrun felt her heart race as she watched her leave the burg. The Queen had always left the burg at night whenever she wished to brew a potion. As a very little girl, Gundrun had often been taken along, but as she grew older the Queen began to keep her in the dark about her magic. 

“You are a coward, Gundrun,” the Queen’s words from so long ago echoed in her mind. “And there is not an ounce of magic in your weak blood. You are not fit to learn the secret arts of sorcery.”

And Gundrun, relieved that she no longer had to venture into the dark forest at night where every shadow and every rustle froze her blood, had accepted her mother’s judgement. Magic was not for her, and yet, now it seemed that magic would help her after all.

What was Queen Grimhild planning to do to Sigurd? Would Gundrun go along with her mother’s plan? And what would become of the son of Sigmund who was oblivious to the danger he was in? We will find out next time…


*Based on the Volsunga Saga and dedicated to my dear niece, Rosemary Sulifoa, who is thirteen today.

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