Myths and Legends of the Ancient World

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The Queen’s Sons

Retold by Jenny Bennett


Gundrun sat before the hearth with her child upon her knee. Her fingers were twined in the girl’s soft curls as the child’s head lay upon her shoulder.

“You are so much like your father,” Gundrun whispered, tracing the little nose and lips with her finger. “How I miss him still!”

“Tell me again how Father died,” said the little girl, looking up into her mother’s eyes. “And my brother Sigmund.”

It had been seven years since the woman had watched the body of her beloved husband and son burn upon the pyre. But she remembered it like it happened yesterday. So clearly did she recall how she had woken to find a sword in Sigurd’s side and the bedclothes turning red with his blood. She had shrieked in horror at the sight and had watched helplessly as Sigurd died in her arms. She recalled also, all too clearly, the sound of her young son’s dying gasp as Brynhild took his life. Little Sigmund had only been three years old, but he could not be allowed to live, not after his father had been murdered. The child would grow into a man: a man as strong and powerful as his father. And he would certainly seek revenge! So he too had been killed in his sleep.

Gundrun’s brothers had done it. They had plotted against Sigurd the Volsung and had mercilessly taken his life as he lay sleeping. The man had no cause to suspect them of any treachery for he had given them no cause for anger. But Gunnar’s jealousy had clouded his mind and he had convinced his brothers Hogni and Guttorm to take his side against the Volsung.

“Your uncles are Cowards!” the woman hissed through gritted teeth. “They knew that they would not stand a chance if they attacked Sigurd while he was awake. Even if all three of them had fought him together your father would have defeated them all! He was stronger than them all and had more courage than any man I have ever known.”

The little girl reached up to wipe away the tears that had fallen onto her mother’s cheeks.

“If your brother had been allowed to live,” Gundrun said sadly. “Within a few years he would have been a man. And he would have avenged the death of your father.”

“I will seek vengeance, Mother!” the child said eagerly. “I will make my uncles pay for what they did.”

Gundrun shook her head and smiled sadly, wrapping her arms tightly around the child.

“My little Swanhild,” she whispered. “You truly are your father’s daughter.”

“Shall we ever return to our homeland?” the little girl asked after a moment. “Will I never see your brothers or my grandmother again?”

“I never wish to lay eyes upon any of them ever again,” Gunrun replied. “I will never forgive your uncles for taking your father’s life or my mother for the part she played in Sigurd’s murder. It was her potion that Gunnar and Hogni gave to Guttorm before he took your father’s life. The magic drink changed him from a sweet boy into a bloodthirsty monster. No I never wish to see any of them until I die.”

Just then, the sound of hooves outside the king’s house made the woman turn. The Princess Thora, who had been spinning in another corner got to her feet and peered out through the open door of the long-house. 

“Who is it Thora?” Gundrun asked lifting her child off her lap.

“They look like foreigners,” the Danish princess replied. “Two princes and many servants, all with horses heavily laden.”

The king had made his way out to greet the strangers and upon hearing the reply, Gundrun’s heart froze within her. She recognized that voice. It was a voice she had heard every day since she was a little girl. The voice of her eldest brother Gunnar. As a child, the sound of Gunnar’s voice had always made her feel happy and safe. It meant he had returned in safety from battle or from the hunt. Now, however, Gunnar was her worst enemy. And his voice made the rage that had been lying dormant in her breast, flare up again.

“News has reached us that our sister Gundrun dwells in your house, your majesty,” Gunnar was saying. “We have travelled far and with many gifts hoping that you will allow us an audience with her.”

Gundrun, pale and tight-lipped turned to Princess Thora and shook her head. 

“Please tell your father that I have no desire to see that man or to accept any of his gifts. He is the murderer of my husband and son. I refuse to look upon his face.”

“I understand Gundrun,” the princess said squeezing the woman’s had sympathetically. “I will tell him so.”

Thora gathered up her robes and hurried out into the courtyard where she took her father aside and gave him Gundrun’s message.The king nodded his head gravely. 

“Gundrun is under my protection now,” he said aloud to the princes who stood before him. “And she, understandably, refuses to see you. After all, you did her a great wrong seven years ago. A wound like that cannot heal easily. I advise you to return to your kingdom and give your sister some time to heal and to think.”

“We have journeyed far!” Gunnar retorted. “Just one hour, Sire. That is all I ask. Let us see her for just one hour and then we will be gone.”

The king shook his head.

“I wish for no trouble between our kingdoms Prince Gunnar,” he said. “But the princess Gundrun sought refuge under my roof and as such she is under my protection. You cannot force her to see you or to hear what you have to say if she does not wish to. I advise you to leave in peace. I have no desire to use force against you but if you do not leave now I will be compelled to.”

Prince Gunnar bowed his head. Denmark was a powerful kingdom. He could not afford to turn it into an enemy.

“We too have no wish to cause trouble your majesty,” he answered. “And we will leave now. But if your majesty permits, we will return another time. Perhaps by then, our sister will allow us to see her.”

And so Prince Gunnar and Prince Hogni returned to their homeland without having seen their sister Gundrun.

But would they return to Denmark as they had said they would? And would Gundrun be willing to see them when they returned? And what of her little daughter Swanhild? We will find out next time…


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