Myth, legends of ancient worlds

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

“Higher Daddy!Higher!” the little boy squealed, his face bright with excitement. Sigurd laughed and caught his son before tossing him up even higher than before. 

“Don’t drop him!” Gundrun called out anxiously, rocking the infant who was in her arms, but her husband only grinned at her before reaching up to arrest the boy’s descent.

“No an ounce of fear in him!” Sigurd said proudly as he set the little fellow upon the ground. 

“A little daredevil, he is,” agreed the princess, shaking her head as the boy drew his wooden sword from his belt and began to attack the dog.

Sigurd reached out to draw the woman to his side and bent down to kiss the small face of his sleeping daughter.  Then, with an arm around Gundrun’s  waist, he stood watching the older child at play.

“He has grown so fast,” he murmured. “It seems like only yesterday that you brought him out into the world. Such a tiny mewling thing he was. Like his sister Swanhild here. Now look at him. Only three, but as tall as a seven year old!”

“He will be as great in stature as you,” Gundrun replied, leaning her head against the man’s chest. “Another Volsung to strike terror into the hearts of our enemies.”

“And there is so much strength in his arms. Why yesterday I saw him wrestle Hagar’s teenage boy to the ground and pin him down. I think I should start giving him proper training. He already handles his little sword very well.”

“Sigmund!” Gundrun called out as the dog ran howling from the child. “Don’t be cruel to the creature. You have hurt it!”

Laughing, Sigurd scooped up his son and sat him upon his shoulder.

“Tomorrow I will start teaching you how to use a real sword,” he chuckled. “Then the palace dogs had better keep their distance!”

As the family made its way into their home to rest, Gundrun’s brothers sat in the meadhall, feasting behind locked doors.

Young Prince Guttorm had just returned from the mountains where he had spent the day enjoying the peace and quiet of nature. Now he was between his two older brothers, baffled by their sudden and unfamiliar friendliness towards him. Gunnar had met him at the door of the hall and had quickly ushered him to the table where a feast and a gleaming silver goblet awaited. He had been told to eat and had nervously picked at the meat on the plate before him, wondering what possible motives his brothers could have for treating him so well for a change. They had always been cruel to him. Teasing him for the way he appreciated nature’s beauty; mocking him for his inability to harm any living creature and reminding him day after day that he was a disappointment to his father and to the kingdom.

“You should wear a dress and sit in the house spinning with the women!” they would laugh. “Men do not weep when a hind is killed. Men do not go searching for the creature’s fawn to raise up on goat milk. You are not a man, Guttorm. You do not deserve to live beneath the same sky as real men like us.”

 The youth watched in bewilderment as his brother poured the silver goblet’s contents into his drinking horn and handed it to him. The smell of blood and venom filled his nostrils and Guttorm gagged. But Gunnar was insistent. He glared at the young man, slammed his fist into the table and frightened Guttorm into submitting to his will. Lifting the horn to his lips, Gunnar drank the strange liquid.

The potion burned his throat and his heart; destroying all that was tender and soft and weak; devouring the gentleness and sweetness that had once marked Guttorm out as different and branded him as unmanly. Within minutes, Guttorm was gone; replaced by a monster of flesh and blood and fire; its heart filled with rage and and all-consuming thirst for blood.

“Sigurd is the enemy,” Gunnar whispered in his ear. “Sigurd the Volsung must die.”

And rising to its feet, this strange creature that had once been the gentle prince Guttorm, made its way towards the home of Sigurd. 

It was midnight and Sigurd was fast asleep in his chambers; his wife at his side. The man did not hear the footsteps that climbed the stairs and made their way down the hallway. He did not see the dark figure with burning eyes that hesitated at his doorway. He did not see the sharp blade that gleamed in the night as it came closer and closer to where he lay.

The sword plunged, so fast and with such force that its tip pierced into the wooden bed beneath the sleeping man; buried up to its hilt in Sigurd’s flesh.

The sharp pain woke him and opening his eyes, Sigurd saw the terrified face of his wife; pale in the darkness. He heard her shrill scream which shattered the silence of the night. Already the dark patch upon the blankets was spreading; swiftly spreading as Sigurd’s life drained from him. The assassin was already at the doorway; retreating from the scene of his crime. But not fast enough. Sigurd’s axe followed him swiftly and found its mark. The monster that had once been Guttorm fell to his knees upon the floor. 

“Our son!” Sigurd gasped, pointing in the direction of the nursery. “Our boy!”

A brief cry of surprise from the hallway, in a dear little voice that he knew too well, told him that it was too late. Outside Sigurd’s door, Brynhild stood with the lifeless form of little Sigmund in her arms, and her dreadful laughter filled the air. 

Sigurd looked into the eyes of his wife and reached up to take her face in his hands.

“You have nothing to fear, my love. Your brothers will not harm you or little Swanhild. And they will never allow Brynhild to harm you.” he whispered. “But they will regret what they have done tonight. And they will regret not allowing my son to live. He would have become the protector of the kingdom as I have been. ”

Gundrun’s eyes widened and she started for the door, clutching her crying baby to her bosom.

“It is too late,” Sigurd said, restraining her with one hand. “It is over. Tonight, young Sigmund and I will be in Valhalla, dining with Volsung and all his sons. You must be strong Gundrun. Swanhild needs you.”

And with a final smile at his wife, Sigurd’s spirit left him. From Asgard, Odin and the Aesirs watched as Sigurd made his way to the Hall of Heroes with his little boy upon his shoulders. 

Princess Gunrun had lost both husband and child in one night. Would she be able to cope with their loss? And what of the cruel Brynhild and her husband Gunnar? What would become of the kingdom of King Giuki? And what of the little princess Swanhild?  We will find out next time...

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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