Myths, legends of ancient world

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Sinfjotli’s Choice

Retold by Jenny Bennett

Sinfjotli, the eldest son of Sigmund, sat at the table of one of his father’s allies, feasting and drinking merrily.

It had been more than a year since his younger brother Helgi had conquered the kingdom of King Granmar and won Princess Sigrun as his bride. Sinfjotli had stayed only until his brother’s wedding feast was over and then, bidding the newly married pair farewell, he had set sail once again, seeking out wars to fight and lands to conquer. 

Now, after a series of victories, Sinfjotli was taking a break from battle in the castle of a king who was a friend of his father’s. The king, overjoyed to host his ally’s son, had prepared a feast in the man’s honour and the mead hall was now filled with laughter and music.

While the guests were feasting, a young woman entered the hall and made her way to the king’s side. Catching sight of her, Sinfjotli put down the drinking horn that he had been raising to his lips. He had seen many beautiful women during his travels but something about this girl made him forget all else. She was tall, exceptionally tall for a woman, but she carried herself with dignity and grace, and her perfectly sculpted face was framed by red curls which cascaded freely over her shoulders and down her back. Unlike the many beauties Sinfjotli had seen, this girl wore no jewellery and her long dress was of a simple cut and made from plain cloth. Yet, to Sinfjotli, this girl was more beautiful in the simplicity of her attire than a thousand painted and bejewelled damsels. He watched as she reached the king’s side and bowed respectfully before speaking to him in a low voice. His eyes did not leave her as she bowed again and made her way out of the Hall and into the garden beyond.

“Who was that damsel?” the prince asked his host when the girl had left. 

“That is my sister’s daughter but she is as much my child as any of my own sons are. My sister died giving her life and her father died in battle shortly afterwards so she has been in my care since her infancy.” 

“She is a very beautiful woman,” said the prince. 

“And a more dutiful daughter than any in this kingdom,” the king replied. “And I wouldn’t hesitate to leave my army under her command either for she is almost as good a warrior as Bredi there,” he added, indicating his eldest son who was his finest soldier.

“What do you mean?” Sinfjotli asked, intrigued. “Is she skilled in the arts of war?”

“That she is,” the king chuckled. “She insisted on receiving the same training as my sons when she was wee little thing, and I could not refuse her. Take my advice and never challenge her to a fight while you are here, if you wish to spare yourself the embarrassment of losing.”

Sinfjotli smiled and looked thoughtful. He knew of only one other woman who had been as skilled a warrior as the most experienced soldier: his mother Signy, the daughter of Volsung, and she was, without a doubt, a remarkable woman. 

“Such a woman is a rare jewel,” he said to the king.

“She is indeed,” the king replied proudly.

After a moment’s pause, Sinfjotli turned to face his host, his mind quite made up.

“Is there any chance, Sire,” he asked quietly. “That you would let this remarkable niece of yours marry me?”

The king smiled.

“I have lost count of the princes and kings who have asked me that question,” he replied. 

“Then you have already chosen a husband for her?” Sinfjotli’s disappointment was evident in his voice.

“I cannot choose for my niece,” the king explained. “She has a mind of her own and knows her own heart best.”

“Then these men who have asked you....”

“I gave them permission to court her, but none of them was successful. All were hastily rejected by her except for...”

“For whom?” 

“Lord Hogni of Hunland,” the king replied. “He began to woo the girl a few days before you arrived and she has not yet rejected him outright.”

“May I have your permission to court her?” Sinfjotli asked quickly. “For I tell you now, my King, there is nothing upon this earth that I desire more than your beautiful, extraordinary niece.”

“Go with my blessing,” the king said smiling. “For if there is any man I would wish to call son-in-law, it is you, my boy.”

Sinfjotli bowed. He would begin his courting the very next day and he prayed that Odin would touch the maiden’s heart and soften her towards him.

But at that same moment, in the king’s great mead hall, another young man was thinking of the king’s niece.

Lord Hogni of Hunland, the brother of Sinfjolti’s step-mother, had also lost his heart to the beautiful young woman. And he had reason to hope for success in his suit. The young woman had not yet told him directly to stop his wooing. In fact, just this morning she had smiled at him in the Hallway. He was confident that tomorrow, when he asked the big question, there was a good chance she would say yes.

What would happen now that Sinfjotli had also decided to woo the girl? Would she be able to choose between the two men? And what of Lord Hogni? Would he discover Sinfjotli’s intentions? What would become of Sigmund’s son? We will find out next time...

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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