Myths, legends of ancient world

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Retold by Jenny Bennett

Sigmund lowered his drinking horn and turned to smile at the king who sat at the head of the long table. It had been seven days since he had first arrived in Eylimi’s kingdom and each night the feast had been more grand that the last.

“You are an excellent host my friend,” he said to the king. “But I have one complaint to make.”

King Eylimi turned somewhat pale.

“Forgive me, your majesty,” he said quickly, reaching out to clasp his guest’s hand. “In what way have I and my people erred? Tell me and I shall address the matter immediately.”

King Sigmund laughed.

“For seven days I have enjoyed the hospitality of your people; for seven nights I have sat at your bountiful table but not once have I seen your daughter, about whom I have heard so much.”

Eylimi’s face relaxed into a smile.

“I agree with King Sigmund,” said another guest, the youthful King Lygni, son of Hunding. He had arrived two days after King Sigmund and now held his state in Eylimi’s hall; alongside the greying King of Hunland. “I have been hoping to catch even a glimpse of the beautiful Hjordis since I arrived but have not had that pleasure. Why are you hiding the girl from us, Eylimi?”

The host smiled and shook his head.

“I ask your forgiveness, my Lords,” he said looking from one of his guests to the other. “My daughter, at a young age, asked to be allowed lived in a longhouse of her own some distance inland with her servants.” 

“And you allowed her to do so?” King Lygni asked with a frown. “A woman’s place at her father’s side until she marries. Then her place is at her husband’s side. Independence in a woman is unbecoming.”

Eylimi looked away from Lygni’s disapproval.

“I have known a few independent women,” Sigmund said gravely without looking at his fellow guest. “And I still consider them the best of womankind: strong, brave and wise.”

King Eylimi nodded his thanks and smiled.

“Hjordis is unlike most girls her age,” he explained. “She rarely attends feasts at my mead-hall, preferring the solace and silence of the forest for her thoughts.”

 “Is it true that your people often go to her for advice on important matters?” Sigmund asked, signaling to a servant to refill his horn. “I have heard high praise of her wisdom even in Hunland.”

“Her wisdom is indeed valued by many,” the king replied. “I frequently request her counsel on important matters of state and many a time has she stopped me from making terrible mistakes in the past.”

“And your advisors approve of your seeking counsel from a woman?” King Lygni asked with a laugh. 

“I don’t know what the women are like in your kingdom,” Sigmund said sternly, looking at his fellow guest with narrowed eyes. “But some of my wisest subjects in Hunland are women and there are quite a few of them on my own council.”

Eylimi had risen and now bowed to his guests.  He knew he had to leave the hall lest the tension between his guests grew stronger.

“Forgive me my Lords but I must retire,” he said as graciously as he could. “And King Sigmund, as you have requested it, I will ask my daughter to be present at tomorrow night’s feast.”

When he had left King Lygni shook his head.

“Shameful lack of manners that,” he grumbled. “The host should never leave his guests. As for the Princess Hjordis, I fear this old man has spoilt her miserably. Her future husband will have to straighten her out some. It’s a good thing I…” he stopped mid-sentence and looked up in alarm.

Sigmund was on his feet, his hand upon the hilt of his sword.

“Say one more word against our host or his daughter and I will kill you, boy,” the old king said in a voice that was chillingly calm and devoid of emotion.

And Lygni, seeing the restrained fury in his fellow guest’s eyes, knew that Sigmund meant every word.

Clutching at his drinking horn with both hands, he drained it of mead and did not speak another word for the remainder of the night.

Sigmund made his way out into the gardens and surveyed the land which gleamed faintly in the light of the moon. It was a small kingdom and not a very wealthy one, but he was determined to form an alliance with its king.

“Princess Hjordis,” he whispered. “Tomorrow I will finally see you and hopefully you will not be repelled my grey beard and aging body.”

He thought of his wife who had died in exile. She had also been young and exceedingly pretty but often he had wished that she was wiser, for her girlish ways which were quite unsuitable for a Queen, had frequently annoyed him. And in her foolish jealousy and rage she had even killed his dear son, Sinfjotli.

“I will never marry again,” he had declared to his advisors after he had banished Queen Borghild from Hunland. “Marriage has brought me nothing but pain.”

Yet here he was, a few years later, coming to seek the hand of Princess Hjordis in marriage.

“She is very youthful, Sire, a girl still, but by all accounts she is exceedingly wise.” the council had told King Sigmund. “She alone of all the royal ladies we know is suitable to be your Queen.”

And in King Eylimi’s garden, Sigmund found himself praying that the girl would not reject his suit.

What would become of King Sigmund? Would Princess Hjordis accept his proposal? Or would she favour the handsome and young King Lygni? We will find out next time…

 

*Based on the Volsunga Saga

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