Myths, legends of ancient world - The King’s Guest

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The young woman sat alone beneath the shade of a tall fir tree some distance from the castle. She was dressed in fine robes which were embroidered in golden thread and her white neck gleamed with precious stones, but the soft blue eyes were glazed and distant and the pale brow was marred by an uneasy frown. This was Gundrun, the daughter of King Giuki and as any onlooker might have surmised, she was troubled. The cause of her distress was a strange dream she had been having repeatedly over the past few nights; a dream from which she would wake in the middle of the night, weeping and trembling. 

In the dream, she was walking through the forest with her friends and attendants when she caught sight of the most beautiful stag she had ever seen. It was tall and majestic, with golden antlers that reached almost to the topmost branches of the surrounding trees. Its coat was red-gold in hue and gleamed brightly in the darkness of the woods and its eyes were grey and shone boldly from beneath its antlers. As soon as she laid eyes upon the magnificent creature, Gundrun felt a strange warmth spread through her chest and immediately she desired to touch the stag; to possess it, for it seemed to her that the animal was the greatest treasure in the world, worth more than even her father’s rich kingdom and all of his vast wealth. She reached out to touch the creature but just as she felt its soft, silky coat beneath her fingers, a spear flew towards it and pierced its side. Then a tall and beautiful woman with long, curling auburn hair appeared out of nowhere. She was dressed in silver armour and wielded a long, gleaming sword in one hand while she held a shield in the other. Ignoring Gundrun’s pleas, the stranger drove the sword into the creature’s neck with a cry of rage and the beautiful stag gasped out its life in Gundrun’s arms. Heartbroken, the princess would wake up sobbing.

“It must have a meaning of some sort,” she had told her mother that morning. “Perhaps it is a warning from the gods.”

“Nonsense, child,” the Queen had replied. “It is only a dream and means nothing. Get on with your spinning and embroidery. That should keep such fanciful thoughts out of your head.”

Her old nursemaid had been a little more helpful.

“The stag must be some handsome young man who loves you,” she had said with a knowing smile. “Or perhaps you have seen a nobleman at court, my dear, and have lost your heart to him.”

“None of the young men in my father’s court are worthy of any attention,” the princess had retorted. “They are a bunch of empty headed braggarts who do not know the meaning of honour. I would sooner love a hart or hawk than any of them!”

And more distressed than ever, the girl had left the castle for the silence of the woods. Here at least she could think in peace. But as she sat there, lost in thought, the tranquility of the forest was shattered by the sound of hooves. She felt it first in the earth beneath her, which trembled with each thud. What kind of creature could shake the earth so?

The sound grew louder and louder until from the dense wood beyond, a grey horse emerged, the largest horse Gundrun had ever seen. But amazing though the horse was, the first glimpse of its rider drove all thoughts of the creature from her mind. Surely, this was no mortal man but a god! With shoulders as broad as the shoulders of two men and so great in stature that the large beast he rode seemed a mere colt beneath him. His armour and sword gleamed golden and upon his shield was drawn a large, red dragon. But what arrested the gaze of the princess were the piercing grey eyes that flashed fiercely from beneath the proud brow and the golden-red locks that hung loose down his back. Immediately the image of the stag from her dream returned; with its gleaming grey eyes and red-gold coat and golden antlers that reached the treetops. The man rode past her, his gaze fixed ahead upon the castle beyond. He had not seen her.

Gundrun stared after the rider and his horse until they had disappeared behind the walls. Trembling, she rose to her feet and hurried towards the castle with a rapid drumming in her chest and a strange lightness in her limbs. She had to see him again. She had to know his name. 

She reached the castle in time to see her father and his men assemble in the courtyard to greet the stranger.

“Who are you, Sir?” King Giuki was asking. “And how have you come here without the leave of my sons who guard this land?”

The stranger dismounted and bowed before the king.

“Your majesty, I ask your pardon for not sending notice but as you see, I ride alone and have no emissaries or attendants to bring tidings.” He bowed again and smiled apologetically, before adding.

“I am Sigurd, the son of Sigmund.”

A collective gasp rose from the crowd. There was not one man among them who had not heard of Sigurd, the dragon slayer, who as a mere boy had defeated King Lygni and the sons of Hunding and as a youth had slaughtered Fafnir, the great fire-breathing dragon. His brave and noble deeds were spoken of throughout all the land and no hero was held in greater esteem than the son of Sigmund the Volsung. There was also no hero anywhere who possessed more wealth than he.

“Sigurd,” Gundrun whispered, savouring each syllable upon her tongue.”Sigurd Fafnir’s Bane.”

 Her dream of the stag was forgotten. Here before her stood the noblest man in all the land and there was no room in Gundrun’s mind for anything else.

What would become of King Giuki’s daughter? And what of Sigurd, the dragon slayer, who had pledged himself as a husband to Brynhild the Shieldmaiden? Was there in Gundrun’s dream a hint of his fate? We will find out next time…

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