Retold by Jenny Bennett
Dawn had broken over the land of King Alf and a solitary figure on horseback could be seen making its way towards the grasslands. It was a boy, at the threshold of manhood, with the first down upon his chin.
His finely chiseled face was framed by a disheveled mass of auburn curls and the blue eyes were bright and full of life. This was young Sigurd, the son of Sigmund the Volsung, and he was on his way to choose a horse.
He had been given the choice of all the horses in the king’s stables, but the youth, desiring a horse that had not yet been broken had decided instead to pick a wild one from the herds that roamed the grasslands. And it was to these herds that he now went, eager to select a horse of his own.
At the peak of the hill he stopped, shading his eyes against the rising sun. He smiled as he caught sight of the herd less than a mile away. The horses were grazing at the foot of a rocky mountain, near a large river that snaked its way through the grasslands towards the coast. Even from a distance he could see that the creatures were magnificent and he gave a low whistle of admiration.
“Now which of you is mine?” he asked himself, suddenly a little troubled as he had no idea how he would choose his horse from among all those beautiful beasts.
“Good morning for a ride, isn’t it?” the strange voice took the boy by surprise and he turned quickly to see who addressed him. He had believed himself to be alone and had not seen any evidence of another person for miles around. How then had this old man managed to come so close without him noticing?
“Good morning to you too, Sir!” the boy said respectfully with a nod, taking in the long, white beard and the wrinkled, one-eyed face of the stranger. Something about the newcomer filled him with awe, as though he was in the presence of something far greater than himself and without a second thought, he dismounted and stood gazing up into the man’s face.
The stranger smiled.
“And where are you going so early in the morning, Son?” he asked.
“I am on my way to choose a horse for myself, Sir,” Sigurd explained. “From that herd of wild horses.”
“Ah, yes,” the old man said turning to look at the herd which grazed in the distance. There was a look of pride in his eyes. “This is an excellent herd to choose from. I have it on good authority that some of their number are the offspring of Sleipnir himself!”
“Sleipnir?!” the boy exclaimed in wonder. “The eight legged horse of Great Odin Alfather?!”
The one-eyed man smiled at the child and nodded.
“But how will I know which ones are Sleipnir’s kin?” the boy asked eagerly. “Have they a mark upon them? I would so dearly like to have a horse of Sleipnir’s blood!”
The old man laughed reached out to pat the boy’s shoulder.
“Very few men have had that honour,” he said gently. “But if you choose wisely, I believe you may find the horse you want.”
The boy looked wistfully at the herd and bit his lip. How could he, so young and inexperienced, choose a horse of Sleipnir’s blood to break? After a moment, he turned back to the old man.
“If it pleases you, Sir,” he said. “Would you help me to choose a horse?”
The wide smile upon the weather beaten face told the boy that his old companion was very pleased indeed.
“It is a wise man who knows when to seek guidance and is not afraid to do so,” he said in approval. “Let us go to the herd together, my son.”
And with a rapid pounding in his chest, the youthful son of Sigmund the Volsung made his way towards the distant herd by the old man’s side.
“You have them at a very convenient spot here,” the old man said quietly when they had reached the horses. “Now get on your mount and drive the horses into the river. That is the only way you will know which one is yours.”
The boy nodded and mounted the old cob, then with a mighty roar he galloped towards the wild horses. The creatures snorted in alarm, their eyes wide and startled. In confusion, they fled from the shouting boy and dashed into the river. Half way into the raging waters the creatures began to turn back and make their way back to the banks.
Sigurd watched them carefully and marveled at the beauty and strength of the horses as they swam back towards him and clambered up onto dry land. But there was one horse: a magnificent, grey creature with fire in its eyes that did not turn back from the raging waters. It was the largest of all its fellows but very young in years. No sooner did the boy’s gaze fall upon the horse than he realized that this was the one he had to choose.
The youth turned back once to see his old companion nod in approval before he entered the water to capture his horse.
After what seemed like an eternity, Sigurd, exhausted and soaked to the skin, led the grey horse towards the one-eyed man. The old cob he had ridden from the stables that morning had perished beneath the waters of the river in the pursuit.
“I have chosen!” he panted, his eyes shining with pride.
“And you have chosen well Sigurd,” the old man said with another nod. “Take care that you nourish this creature well, for the blood of Sleipnir runs through its veins and it will be the best of all horses.”
With that and a final smile at the boy, the white-bearded, one-eyed man vanished into thin air, leaving Sigurd staring in open-mouthed wonder.
“Odin, Alfather?” he whispered in awe, realizing that his companion had been none other than the greatest god of Asgard. The boy closed his eyes and offered a prayer of thanksgiving then with a pounding heart, he ran his hand over the wet coat of the animal at his side.
“Come Grani,” he said gently. “Let’s go home.”
What would become of the son of Sigmund? What adventures would he have? And would he fulfill his father’s prophecy by becoming the greatest of all the Volsungs? We will find out next time…