Retold by Jenny Bennett
The trees towered over her, their leaves rustling in hushed tones far above. She looked down at the bow in her hand, and realized that there was a quiver of arrows strapped to her back and a dagger in a golden sheath at her waist.
She turned with a start to see a group of young women approaching through the woods. Alarmed, she reached for her dagger but stopped when she recognized them as her friends and attendants from the castle. They were dressed in short tunics and were armed with bows and daggers just as she was.
“Friends!” she called with a smile then froze in her tracks as her gaze fell upon a stranger in the group. It was a woman, so much taller than the others that the head of the tallest among them barely reached her shoulder. She was clad in armour like a warrior preparing for battle and she held in one hand a shield and in the other a gleaming sword. Her head was bare and the long auburn hair that fell in curls over her shoulders down to her waist framed the loveliest face Gundrun had ever seen.
“Who are you, Lady?” she heard herself ask in wonder, certain that this must be a woman of great renown.
The stranger smiled but there was a gleam in her cold blue eyes that sent a shiver up Gundrun’s spine.
“I am called Brynhild,” she said in a smooth, low voice.
Just then, a rustling behind her made Gundrun turn. There, a short distance away, was a stag: the biggest and tallest that the young woman had ever seen. So large was the creature that the great golden antlers which rose from its head reached almost to the height of the trees above it. Its golden-red coat glowed brilliantly in the dim light of the forest and its eyes were keen and bright and seemed fixed upon the tall, armour-clad maiden behind her.
Gundrun stared at the creature in amazement, feeling an unfamiliar warmth spread through her chest. Her heart drummed rapidly and as she looked at the stag, a great desire to touch its gleaming coat filled her. This animal was suddenly worth more to her than all of her father’s kingdom. She had to have it; to keep it; to feel its soft, warm coat beneath her fingers. She felt no fear of the creature. Only wonder. And love. Gundrun reached out her hand, taking a step towards the great stag. The creature hearing her, turned its gaze away from Bryhild and fixed it upon her face. Looking into its eyes, Gundrun felt joy such as none she had ever felt before and she lowered her hand gently to the stag’s neck. Its coat was softer than down and so smooth beneath her fingers. She heard herself laugh and the stag’s eyes seemed to twinkle, mirroring her joy. It nuzzled into her hand, its eyes filled with warmth. Surely there was no happiness greater than this! Yes, she would sooner give up everything she owned than lose this creature.
Suddenly, a spear flew through the air and before Gundrun’s eyes, the spear found its mark, piercing the stag’s side, sinking deep into its flesh. The creature’s eyes widened in surprise and it looked down in confusion at the spear which protruded from its side. A scream rose to Gundrun’s lips and she threw her arms protectively around the stag’s neck. But someone else had reached the stag: the tall, armour-clad woman with the curling auburn hair stood, towering above them. With a battle cry filled with rage and hatred, Brynhild had hurtled forward with her sword raised. The stag lifted its head to look at its attacker and its eyes were filled not with fear but with sorrow.
“Why?” they seemed to ask. “Why?”
“Stop Brynhild!” Gundrun heard herself cry, reaching one arm up to protect her stag , but the woman, ignoring her, raised her sword high and thrust it down with great strength. The stag trembled in Gundrun’s arms, looking at her once more, before it fell to the earth, its life flowing from it through the gash in its neck. Gundrun heard the forest echo with her screams, her heart shattered within her.
“My lady! My lady!”
The princess opened her eyes to see the anxious face of her handmaid above her. It was night and she was in safe in her bed, in her father’s castle. The maid had lifted the lamp in her hand to better see her mistress’ ashen face and wide, terrified eyes. Gundrun clasped her hands to her chest in a vain attempt to still the rapid drumming there but her frame still shook with sobs and her face was wet with tears.
“He is dead!” she heard herself weep. “My stag! My precious stag!”
“It was a dream Princess!” the maid said soothingly, kneeling beside her. “It was just a dream.”
Gundrun closed her eyes and clenched her fist together but the image of the slain stag refused to be exorcised from her mind. At last the princess was still and her sobs faded into the night. She turned her wet face toward her maid.
“Who is Brynhild?” she asked in a whisper. “Have you heard of such a person?”
“Brynhild?” the maid repeated with widening eyes. “Why yes Mistress. Brynhild is a shield maiden, famed far and wide for her courage and deeds. Why do you ask?”
“Because it was she who killed my stag in the dream,” Gundrun said quietly. “Brynhild.”
Why did Princess Gundrun dream of Brynhild and the stag? Was there a hidden meaning in her dream? Was it a warning of some kind from the gods? We will find out next time…