Myths and Legends - The Last Volsung

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

The fleet of ships ploughed through the waves towards the land of the Hundings where King Lygni reigned and at the helm of the swiftest vessel stood the youth Sigurd. This was the son of King Sigmund of Hunland and he was on his way to seek vengeance for his father’s death. At his side hung a sword, forged from the shattered remains of the sword which they called Gram: the sword which had been given to his father Sigmund by the god Odin. 

“The god appeared in the mead hall of Volsung on the night of Signy’s wedding feast,” Queen Hjordis had told him. “And taking the sword from his cloak, he stuck it deep into the wood of Branstock, the famous tree which grew in the centre of the hall. He then lifted his head which had been hooded and declared that the sword belonged to whoever could pull it out of Branstock. Every man in that hall tried his very best to pull it out, but in the end it was Sigmund, your father who succeeded. He was a mere youth at the time, scarcely older than you, my son. And the sword was his and won him every battle that he fought. All except for the very last.” The Queen had paused there, with her hand upon her chest, and her eyes had glistened with tears at the memory.

“The battle against King Lygni,” Sigurd had continued for her. “The one which cost him his life.”

“Yes, my son,” the Queen said with a sad smile. “He told me that Odin had appeared in the midst of the battle and he had accidentally struck the god with his sword, shattering the sword into pieces. He knew then that his time had come and that the sword would never fight again.”

“But it will see battle again Mother,” the youth had said. “For I will have a new sword forged from the pieces of Gram and with it I shall avenge my father’s death. It is time that Lygni and the sons of Hunding knew that the Volsungs are not all dead.”

Knowing that this was the young man’s destiny, the Queen had not tried to dissuade him. It was for this purpose that Sigurd had been born.

“The gods have shown me the child in your womb,” Sigmund had told her as he lay dying upon the battlefield. “He shall grow strong and brave and will avenge me. Take good care of him and nourish his mind as well as his body; mold him into a man worthy of the name of Volsung. And he shall be the greatest of us all. His stories will be told for generations and his name will never be forgotten.”

Once his sword had been forged, Sigurd had approached the king of Denmark, and after thanking him for all the years he had reared him in his household, he had made his request.

“The time has come, Sire, for me to answer to the blood of my father and grandfather which still cry out from the earth for vengeance.”

“Well spoken, Sigurd!” the king had replied, pleased with the young man’s courage. “But you are still so young. Why, you have only just begun to grow a beard! Should you not wait a little longer before devoting your life to this task, as worthy as it is.”

The youth had bowed respectfully and with a glance at his mother had replied:

“My father was younger than I when he first went into battle. As for waiting, why, the spirits of my father and grandfather have waited long enough for revenge. Young I may be, but I am already a man and the time has come to show Lygni and the sons of Hunding that the Volsungs are still alive. Too long they have lived in peace, mocking the dead heroes they slew.”

Seeing that the youth was determined, the king had given his consent.

“But you will need a fleet of ships and an army of warriors,” he had replied. “And these I shall gladly give you. Whatever else you may desire all you need to do is speak, for you are as a son to me and all I have is yours.”

And so the fleet of ships had been prepared and the men gathered and now Sigurd and his warriors were sailing across the sea in search of revenge.

“My Lord, there is a storm yonder and it approaches fast!” one of the men said to the young captain.

Sigurd looked up and saw the dark clouds in the distance.

“It will be upon us soon. I can hear it already!” the soldier said eyeing the clouds anxiously. “Should we lower the sails now?”

“No,” Sigurd replied. “We will not lower the sails.”

“But my Lord?”

Sigurd fixed the man with a steady gaze.

“The masts are strong, as are the men. We will sail through that storm with our sails raised.”

And the man lowered his eyes knowing that he would have to obey. 

All too soon, the storm was upon the ships, blowing fiercely from every direction and beating down hard upon the vessels. But on the ships sailed under Sigurd’s command, with their sails high.

Would the young man’s decision prove fatal to his men and fleet? Or had Sigurd the son of Sigmund chosen correctly? We will find out next time…

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