Retold by Jenny Bennett
It was noon and the sun blazed directly overhead, scorching the narrow dirt track that wound through the grain fields of the land of King Eylimi. The heat soaked into the stones, withering the few weeds that grew in small, dusty clusters along the road and causing a perpetual haze to rise from the earth. Not a soul was in sight. Not even a stray cat or hare dared to venture out into the stifling heat, and so nobody saw the lone traveller who rode up the dusty path towards the city.
At the city gates, the guards had escaped the scorching heat under the shade of a tree and sat half asleep, leaning upon their spears. It was only when the rider was almost upon them that they sat upright in surprise and hurriedly got to their feet.
The rider grinned at their alarm and slowed his horse to a stop.
“Who are you, Stranger?” demanded the elder of the two guards, pulling himself up to his full height and straightening the helmet on his head.
“I am a messenger from King Sigmund of Hunland,” the rider replied showing the runes he bore. “I have come to see your king.”
The guard gasped at the mention of King Sigmund’s name and stepped aside with a bow.
“Is the message you carry one of peace or of war, Sir?” the younger man asked.
“That is for your king to find out,” the rider replied, flicking the reigns and setting off past the guards and into the city.
The guards looked at one another and then at the disappearing horse.
“I wonder what message he bears?” one said more to himself than to his companion.
“I’m sure it is one of peace,” his friend replied. “King Sigmund has never waged war upon our kingdom.”
“But there is no alliance between us either,” the first answered. “So I doubt he is requesting help of any kind.”
“An alliance eh?” the elder said thoughtfully after a while. “Could it be that Sigmund is looking to form one with our kingdom?”
“But how would that be done?” the young guard asked with a frown. “And why on earth would a powerful king like Sigmund want to form an alliance with Eylimi?”
The elder laughed and shook his head. “I can think of one very good reason Sigmund might want an alliance with Eylimi.”
“And what might that be?” asked the other.
“Think, my dear fellow!” the elder laughed. “It has been several years now since King Sigmund banished his wife.”
“I heard she died in exile shortly afterwards,” his companion threw in. “Must have been the guilt that hurried her to her grave; the guilt of murdering her own stepson.”
“Ah but you must admit that all of Hunland’s neighbouring kingdoms feel much safer now that Sinfjotli is gone. He was a merciless raider. But that is beside the point!” he added quickly. “The king of Hunland has been without a wife for a long time. What do you think he wants from our king?”
“The beautiful Princess Hjordis!”
In the house of King Eylimi, a young woman sat spinning beside the window, humming quietly to herself. She was tall and slender with long fingers that danced gracefully over her work. Her face, which was framed by a mass of auburn curls, was breathtakingly beautiful but there was no trace of vanity in the large brown eyes which she lifted now and then to the window for a glimpse of the wilted garden outside. She paused momentarily, hearing voices below, then continued her work, turning her mind to the feast her father had thrown only two weeks before in honour of her twentieth birthday.
“You are a woman now, my dear Hjordis,” the king had said to her. “And before long we shall have suitors vying for your hand. As you well know it is or country’s custom to marry daughters off to men of their fathers’ choosing, but it is a tradition I will not follow. You have proven to me over the years that you are not only beautiful and full of grace but that your wisdom far exceeds that of other young women. Aye, you are even wiser by far than some of my aged advisors and I have absolute trust in your judgement. Because of this, you will marry whomsoever you choose, and I will support your choice unconditionally.”
Hjordis smiled and lowered her work for a while to stare off into the distance. She had never given much thought to marriage but knew well the type of man she would choose.
‘Someone wise and experienced,’ she said to herself. ‘Someone who would be a useful ally for our kingdom.’
Below in the throne room, the messenger was being presented to King Eylimi.
“Greetings from King Sigmund of Hunland!” the man said, bowing low before the king. “I come bearing runes from my king for your majesty.”
When the runes were presented, King Eylimi looked over them nervously. For so long his little kingdom had gone unnoticed by the Volsung kings. Why then was Sigmund turning his attention this way?
“Your king seeks permission to visit us!” he exclaimed when he had deciphered the runes, the surprise evident in his voice. “But he does not mention the purpose of his intended visit.”
The messenger bowed again.
“What answer shall I bear to my King, your majesty?” he asked.
King Eylimi tugged at his beard thoughtfully before replying.
“Please tell your king that if he comes in peace and means no harm to my kingdom, then he is welcome here and will be received with great feasting and rejoicing for it would be the greatest honour for me to receive such a powerful king as my guest.”
Smiling, the messenger bowed again.
“I can assure you, my Lord,” he said. “My king means no harm to you or to your kingdom. His visit will be one of peace and friendship.”
“Then King Sigmund is welcome here and we will eagerly await his arrival.”
What was the purpose of Sigmund’s intended visit to Eylimi? Did the beautiful princess Hjordis have anything to do with it? We will find out next time...
*Based on the Volsunga Saga