Myths, legends of ancient world - The old King

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

Above the land of King Eylimi, the stars were blinking sleepily and fading away one by one as dawn drew closer and upon the windswept shores, a solitary figure stood watching as an invisible hand painted the horizon orange. It was a silver bearded man, tall and powerfully built with a scar running the length of his face and heavily calloused hands which he clutched together as he looked across the ocean. 

This was Sigmund, the king of Hunland and a formidable warrior whose daring exploits were spoken of far and wide.

But here upon the shores, watching the breaking dawn, the fearsome warrior and powerful ruler was weeping. Silently, the tears welled up and overflowed, coursing down his wrinkled cheeks to fall unnoticed to the earth.

It was on a morning like this many, many years ago that he had seen his father, Volsung, fall to the earth, with the axe of King Siggier buried in his neck. 

It was on such a morning many years later, after he and his son Sinfjotli had avenged his father’s death, that he had watched helplessly as his twin sister Signy entered Siggier’s burning mead-hall to perish with her husband and children. 

It was also on a morning just like this, only a few years ago, that he had seen the lifeless body of his firstborn son disappear into thin air in the arms of a hooded, one-eyed boatman.  

His Sinfjolti.. Murdered by the woman Sigmund had married. He remembered how he had banished his wife from Hunland, forbidding her ever to set foot in his kingdom again, and shortly afterwards, hearing of her death in exile. He had felt no remorse. She had robbed him of all that he had treasured. His best friend; his faithful shadow; his favourite son. 

Sigmund had been convinced that the death of Sinfjotli had robbed him of all happiness. He would never be happy again. For how could he find joy when he had lost everything? And yet here he was, watching the sun rising on the day of his wedding. 

He smiled through the tears, seeing once again the sweet face and earnest eyes of his young bride as she accepted his proposal. She had chosen him, a man marked by age and burdened with sorrow, over the youthful and handsome King Lygni. It seemed, after all, that happiness was possible!

“I am not a young man anymore, Princess Hjordis,” he had said to her, taking her small soft hand in both of his. 

“But wisdom is worth far more to me than youth, Lord,” the princess had replied reaching up timidly to place a hand upon his cheek. “I have heard something of the sorrows you have had to bear, and it is my desire to bear them with you.” 

He had kissed her hand then with tears that he was no longer ashamed to show.  The gods were good.

In the longhouse of King Eylimi, the young bride-to-be had woken and now sat up in her bed staring out of her open window into the semi darkness outside. 

“I am getting married today,” she whispered to herself and then smiled, thinking of the tenderness in Sigmund’s eyes whenever he looked at her. Yes, he would be a good husband, she had no doubt, and she did not regret her decision to become his wife even though most of her maids were baffled by her decision.

“Why would you choose Sigmund over Lygni?” the boldest one had asked her when her decision had been made known. “He is an old man, my lady!”

“And Lygni is soooooo handsome! Just seeing him makes me feel weak!” threw in another.

“Then why don’t you marry him?” the princess had asked with a little smile. “Perhaps one day you’ll learn that a handsome face and youthful form are worth less than wisdom and a good heart. Now let me hear no more of your nonsense. King Sigmund is my betrothed and I’ll not have him compared to an arrogant young peacock like Lygni.”

But in spite of her happiness, Princess Hjordis felt ill at ease. 

She remembered the look in King Lygni’s eyes when she had rejected his offer of marriage. At first he had stared at her in confusion, then a look of amusement had crossed his face and he had laughed out loud.

“You are teasing me, my little Coquette!” he said, shaking his head. “You just want me to beg a little, don’t you?”

“No, King  Lygni,” she had replied. “I have no wish to become your wife. But I thank you for your offer.”

The young king, sitting back had studied her face in silence for a moment, then convinced that she was quite serious, the amusement in his eyes had changed to anger. 

“Did Eylimi tell you to reject my offer?!” he demanded. “And what? Marry that old man, Sigmund? You’ve got to be joking! He’s as old as your father!”

“I have given you my answer Sir,” Hjordis said quietly, getting to her feet. “Now if you’ll excuse me...” But his hand shot out and grabbing her arm, none too gently, he pulled her down and held her so that her face was only inches away from his own.

“You’d better rethink your answer!” he said through gritted teeth. “I came all the way to this miserable kingdom to make you my wife and by the gods in Asgard, I will!”

“Threatening me will not make me change my mind,” Hjordis had replied, struggling to get out of his grip. “My guards are within earshot and I will call them if you do not release me immediately, Sir!”

He had let her go then, but the fury in his eyes had not abated. He got to his feet and spat upon the ground between them.

“I am no longer welcome here, I sense,” he said, clenching his fists. 

“So I will leave your father’s land this very day. But mark my words Princess, I’ll be back, and when I have laid waste to this pathetic kingdom, I’ll make you mine.”

It was that threat which now cast a shadow upon the girl’s happiness. But with a sigh, she got to her feet, determined to think only of Sigmund and their wedding. 

What would become of King Sigmund and his young bride? Would Lygni carry out his threat of attacking Eylimi’s kingdom? We will find out next time...

Based on The Volsunga Saga

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