Retold by Jenny Bennett-Tu’i’onetoa
The gates of Hunland were wide open and on both sides of the road was a crowd, cheering for the procession of soldiers that made their way from the countryside towards the city.
At the head of the procession was King Sigmund, smiling at his people and glorying in his victory against the enemy that had threatened to attack his kingdom.
Riding beside the king was his son Sinfjotli, the best of his warriors.
“Soon we will be in the castle, my boy,” the king said, smiling at the youth. “Eight months is a long time to be gone from home.”
“It seems much longer to those who have pretty young wives waiting for them,” the young man chuckled.
The king grinned at his son and glanced up at the looming towers of his castle. He certainly had missed his Queen and felt awful for leaving her alone at home so soon after their wedding. But when the news came, a month after their wedding feast, of a planned attack on Hunland by the allies of Gothland, the king had no choice but to go to war. Now the threat was gone. He and his army had ended it. The kingdoms that had once been Gothland’s allies, had sworn allegiance to him. The ones that had refused to do so had been destroyed.
“I will certainly be glad to see Queen Borghild again,” the king said quietly.
“She will also be overjoyed to see you, Father,” Sinfjotli said, smiling. “For what it’s worth, Father, I think you have chosen very well. The Queen is a strong and beautiful woman and I am certain she will make you very happy.”
The king glanced at his son and nodded.
“It means a lot to hear you say so, my son,” he said.
Before the castle, the king’s friends and servants had gathered to welcome him home. Sigmund eagerly scanned their faces for a glimpse of his Queen but could not find her. An old stable hand hurried up to help him dismount, grinning toothlessly.
“Good to have you home, my King,” he said with a low bow.
“Where is your mistress?” Sigmund asked, looking around at all the faces around him once again.
“She is in the castle, my Lord,” the old man said bowing again before leading the horse away.
“In the castle?” Sigmund asked himself in bewilderment. “Surely she knows I have returned. Why then does she hide herself in the castle?”
Catching sight of one of the Queen’s maids, the king beckoned.
“Where is your mistress?” he asked. “Does she know we have returned?”
“Yes, Sire,” the girl replied with a curtsey, lowering her eyes. “She heard the cheering when you entered the city and sent me down to tell you how sorry she is that she cannot come down to greet you.”
“What is the matter, girl?” Sigmund asked in alarm. “Is she ill?”
The servant girl squirmed and fidgeted with her apron.
“N-not exactly, my Lord,” she stammered. “She is...um...occupied at the moment.”
“Well if she cannot come down to greet me, I will go to her chamber and see her myself.”
“Oh no, my Lord!” the girl exclaimed. “Please, my mistress begs you not to come to her chamber yet. She says she will send word when she is ready. Please, Sire.”
Having heard enough, the king pushed past the crowd in the courtyard and made his way into the castle.
“Well of all the nonsense...” the king said through gritted teeth. “To come home after so long and be forbidden to see my own wife. What is she playing at, Sinfjotli?”
Behind him, the Prince Sinfjotli bit his lip.
“I’m sure there is a good explanation for this, Father,” he said uncertainly.
“I’ve a mind to go to her chamber at once and demand that she explain herself!” he muttered. “To be gone for eight months and be greeted by this...this...foolishness.”
“Patience, Father,” the prince said, placing a hand upon the king’s shoulder.”As I said, I am sure there is a reason for all of this.”
“My King,” an old woman who had served the family for three generations had entered. “It is wonderful to have you back safely.”
“Inge!” the king exclaimed, embracing her. This woman had been his nurse and Signy’s. She had raised them and cared for them throughout their childhood.
“Please tell me what is wrong with your mistress,” the king said, looking into the old woman’s eyes. The servant merely smiled.
“My Lady requests your presence in her chamber, Sire,” she said. “She apologises for not allowing you to come up sooner, but you will understand soon, my Lord. Come, come, we are wasting time with all this talking.”
With a furrowed brow, the king followed the old servant up the stairs to the Queen’s chambers. At the door, the servant paused and turned to the king with tears in her eyes before she pushed open the door and ushered him in.
There in bed, was Sigmund’s young bride; pale but smiling.
“My Lord!” she said, sitting up slowly.
“You are ill, my love!” the king cried out, rushing to her side and taking her in his arms. “Why did you not send me word that you are ill? And where are the physicians? Why have they not been fetched?!”
“I am not ill, my Lord,” she said, reaching up to caress the king’s face. “I have a gift for you.”
At her words, a servant girl came forth from the corner with something in her arms. It was a little bundle that squirmed and moved and began to cry.
“Greet your son, Sigmund,” the Queen whispered, seeing how her husband had frozen; his mouth ajar and his eyes wide.
The king got to his feet as though in a dream and held out his arms for the bundle.
“You did not send me word, Borghild,” he said in a hoarse voice. “I did not know you were with child.”
“I wanted to keep it a secret,” was the quiet reply. “I wanted you to be surprised when you returned. And our boy decided to enter the world the moment you entered the city gates. He was as eager as I was to see the king of Hunland.”
With tears running down his face, King Sigmund held his son up to the light.
“Oh Gods of my father, look down from Asgard and see this boy. He is Helgi, the son of Sigmund, the son of Volsung.”
In Asgard, Odin was watching with a smile.
“That boy is destined for greatness, Sigmund,” declared the god. “He will grow to be the most renowned of all kings and from him will spring glorious heroes whose names will be remembered for all time.”
What would become of Sigmund’s newborn son? Would he live to fulfil the prophecy of Odin? We will find out next time...
*Based on the Volsunga Saga