Retold by Jenny Bennett
The sun had set over the kingdom of Gothland and the arms of darkness were beginning to encircle the land. Near the castle of the king, two figures were hiding in the shadows: men, tall and powerfully built with heavy swords hanging from their belts and large bows strapped to their backs. Hidden by the night, the pair made their way in silence across the moat and over the high wall which surrounded the king’s home.
Sinfjolti, the younger of the two men stood for a moment and looked around. Everything seemed so much smaller now; the wall, the grounds, the castle itself. He remembered how, many years earlier, he had whispered farewell to the castle and its grounds before slinking out through a hidden hole in the wall to join his uncle in the forest.
He had been a little fellow, barely nine years old at the time, but he still remembered how the cold wind had whipped his face and neck as he made his long journey to Sigmund’s hidden den and how the skies had appeared so vast to his young eyes. More vivid than any recollection of that night was the sharp pain in his wrists which he tried in vain to ignore.
His mother, to test his courage, had sewn the boy’s gloves to his flesh. To try him further, the woman had flayed off the skin with the cloth leaving a wide strip of exposed flesh around each wrist. Knowing what she expected of him, the child had withstood the test without a grimace or a groan.
“You do not cry, Sinfjolti!” the Queen had exclaimed with a smile.”Your two older brothers wept and pleaded with me to stop when I tested them this way.”
The boy had taken a deep breath and smiled in spite of the pain which spread in waves of fire up his arms.
“My great ancestor Volsung would not have felt such a small sting as this,” he had replied through gritted teeth.
The Queen had taken the boy in her arms.
“You are a true Volsung, my son,” she had whispered.
Sinfjolti had not seen the Queen again since that day but the image of her face and the words she had spoken that night had never faded from his mind.
“Hurry, nephew,” a sharp whisper from the older man brought Sinfjolti back to the present and the pair quickly made their way towards the king’s home.
In the castle, King Siggier, surrounded by his guards, was seated before the fire, watching his children play. In a corner, half hidden by the shadows, sat the Queen. Her hands were busy with her spindle, but her eyes remained upon her husband, and the expression in them was not one of love or tenderness.
It was on a night like this, more than thirty years ago that she had been led by this man into the great hall of King Volsung of Hunland, for their wedding feast. She remembered sitting beside him without touching a morsel of food; her soul weeping within her. She had not wanted to marry the Geatish king.
In fact, she had not wanted to marry anyone at all! It was only in obedience to her father, Volsung, that she had agreed to be Siggier’s wife. But even at their wedding feast, she had begun to regret her decision bitterly. Siggier was a loud, arrogant man who had only wanted Princess Signy as a trophy to display in his castle and as a source of heirs with Volsung’s blood. He did not love her. He could not love her. He was already too deeply in love with himself.
Three months after their wedding, Siggier had tricked Volsung and his ten sons into accepting an invitation to his country where he ambushed the Volsungs with an army of a thousand men. Having killed the old king, the man captured his wife’s brothers and had them stripped and bound to stocks in the forest. To ensure the deaths of all the Volsungs, Siggier had sent his mother in the form of a she-wolf into the forest, to devour one every night. Unknown to him, Sigmund, his wife’s twin brother had survived.
The Queen, unable to harm her husband because of a promise she had made to her father, had raised first her firstborn, then her second son for the purpose of assisting her brother in his revenge on King Siggier of Gothland. Neither boy, however, had been able to pass Sigmund’s test of courage. At last, in her third son, Signy had found a true Volsung and her hopes of vengeance became centred upon young Sinfjolti.
With a sigh, Signy turned her face away from her husband and the two young children who played at his feet and gazed longingly out into the night. Of all her children, Sinfjolti was the only one she had ever loved. The rest were too much like their father; too little like the Volsungs to awaken any tenderness in her breast.
It did not help that she rarely saw them and did not take care of them, for the king, after the mysterious disappearance of his three sons, one after another, had given the rest of his children over to the care of servants.
Now, years had passed since Signy had said farewell to her son. She knew that he would be a man already; tall and strong like his uncles and grandfather. Soon, very soon, he would return to carry out the task he was born to do.
The children’s laughter broke into Signy’s thoughts.
They were at their father’s feet playing with a little golden ball; each taking turns to roll it across the floor. The elder of the two, a fair-haired girl, threw it with such great force that the ball rolled right out of the room through the open door. Down the hallway it rolled with the two children chasing after it, shrieking with laughter. Suddenly, the laughter ceased and the children stopped in their tracks. There before them, hiding in the shadows, were two strange men, large, fierce and armed.
What would the children do? And what of Sigmund and his nephew Sinfjolti? Would they be able to keep the youngsters from alerting King Siggier and his guards? We will find out next time...
*Based on the Volsunga Saga