Myths, legends of ancient world - The Fate of the Queen

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

Queen Borghild sat in her chambers staring at the glowing embers in the hearth. They were like eyes; like the gleaming eyes of a wild beast. And for a moment, the Queen felt as though her very soul was reflected in that fireplace; reflected with all its venom; all its hatred; all its rage.

She sighed and looked down at her hands which trembled in the dim red light of the dying fire. 

 She had taken a life last night. Her husband’s child; his firstborn and dearest son. She had killed him with poison to avenge her brother’s death. And yet, the pain in her heart was there still, sharper than ever. The act had not healed it. Nothing could heal it. And now, she was a murderer. 

The sound of her husband’s howl echoed in her mind. The raw pain in his voice had cut into her heart and she had watched in silence as he had lifted the lifeless form of Prince Sinfjotli in his arms and staggered out of the mead hall into the darkness that enveloped Hunland; a darkness that everyone felt would never lift. Now, many hours later, the sun had risen again, its light embracing the land, reassuring its people that Hope still lived and would never be conquered, not even by death. But the heavy darkness that had covered Hunland the night before had not disappeared. It was now wrapped tightly around the heart of the woman who stood before the fire; so tightly that not one ray of the sun would ever penetrate it again.

“My Lady,” it was her handmaid; a woman one who had been with her since childhood, and who had always understood her even when nobody else could. She was in the doorway, her eyes fixed upon the floor.

“Has the king returned?” Borghild heard herself ask and there was a slight, barely audible tremor in her voice.

“He has been seen at the city gates,” the woman replied, still not looking at her mistress. 

“And the body? Does he carry it still?” the question was a mere whisper.

The woman at the door swallowed and a shudder went through her thin frame before she shook her head.

“No Mistress,” she replied.  “The King no longer carries the...the...”

“Then he has buried it somewhere,” Borghild said more to herself than to the servant. “I wonder if he suspects?”

“Suspects, my lady?” the servant glanced briefly at the Queen’s face.

“You alone know my secret, Inge,” Borghild said turning back to her companion. “You helped me milk the viper venom into my vial.”

“And I have not spoken a word to any soul, Mistress!” 

“Then there is no reason he should know!” the Queen exclaimed, trying to smile. “I shall go down and greet him when he returns. I shall offer him comfort as a good wife should. He is in pain.”

The servant lowered her eyes again and bit her bottom lip. There were tears glistening upon her wrinkled cheeks and her thin hands clutched at the hem of her garment.

“I did it for Hogni,” Borghild said quietly. “I did it for my brother whose life Sinfjotli stole. Surely, you must understand that.”

The old servant looked up at the girl she had raised almost from infancy, and said nothing.

The noise of the great door being opened below cut into the silence and the queen gasped.

“The king is home, my Lady,” the maid said with a bow and Borghild, feeling suddenly weak, had to steady herself to keep from falling.

“Borghild!” the cry came from below. It was the voice of King Sigmund the Volsung: strong, bold, merciless.

The Queen lifted her pale face, and her eyes were wild with fear.

“He knows!” she choked. “He knows!”

And the heavy footsteps of the king resounded in the hall getting louder and louder until his large shadow fell across the floor and he stood in the doorway: a broken man.

The servant, gasping, threw herself upon the floor at the king’s feet.

“Mercy, Lord!” she pleaded, while in the corner, the Queen stood white and trembling.

The king stopped in the doorway and threw into the room a white object that fell upon the floor with a clutter and rolled to rest at Borghid’s feet. It was Prince Sinfjotli’s drinking horn.

“It is stained with venom,” Sigmund said quietly. 

The queen, looking down at the horn, began to whimper.

“With that poison, you stole everything from me Borghild!” the king said clutching at the door frame for support.  “And if you were a man, I would crush you where you stand.”                                  Borghild had fallen to her knees and now looked up at her husband, her mouth opening and closing in silence.

“You and your servants will leave Hunland today,” the king declared. “For the murder of my son, you are banished from my home and from my kingdom. Never let me set eye upon you again.”

And without another word, the king turned away, leaving the queen staring after him in stunned silence. With a sob caught in her throat, the woman reached with a trembling hand and picked up the empty horn. 

What would become of King Sigmund’s bride? And what of the King? Would he ever recover from the loss of his dearest son? We will find out next time...

 

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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