Friday, May 21, 2010

The Heroes, Part Four

Regin next tells the tale of his own lost wealth, a story that is connected to the purely mythological world. Odin, Hœnir, and Loki are out for a walk one day and spy an otter half-dozing on a rock after catching a salmon. On impulse, Loki throws a rock and kills the otter, thinking himself clever for having snared both otter and salmon at one throw. In the evening, they arrive at the home of a man named Hreidmar and show him their catch. The man is furious, because the otter was actually his son Ótr, who was such an ardent fisherman that he sometimes turned into his namesake animal to catch his prey. He demands wergild for the killing – enough gold to fill his son’s pelt and completely cover it. Loki is, as per usual, sent off to make up for his troublesome behavior.

Rán and her net by Anker Eli Petersen (2004 stamp, Faroe Islands)

Loki borrows the fishing net of the sea-goddess Rán (“plunder”) and catches a dwarf named Andvari (“careful one”). The dwarf, the owner of a massive hoard of treasure, likes to disguise himself as a pike and hide in a waterfall. Loki demands the treasure as ransom for the dwarf’s life, and the dwarf hands it all over except one gold ring, Andvaranaut (“Andvari’s heirloom”). When Loki forces it from him, the dwarf says that “the gold ring would be the death of whoever owned it, and the same applied to all the gold.”

The gods stuff the otter’s skin and cover it with gold, but Hreidmar sees that one whisker sticks out of the pile and demands that it be covered. Odin places the ring on the whisker, and Loki passes on the curse to Hreidmar and his sons.

Fafnir, son of Hreidmar and brother to Ótr and Regin, kills his father and takes the gold out into the wilds. He is so foul-tempered and greedy that he turns into “the most evil serpent and lies now upon this hoard.” Regin leaves home to become the smith of King Hjalprek.

Sigurd tests sword (12th century, Norway)

The dwarf encourages Sigurd to slay the dragon and claim the treasure for himself, and the young man insists he must be forged a sword equal to the task. The first two swords shatter when the powerful youth strikes them against the anvil, so Sigurd asks his mother for the two pieces of Sigmund’s mystic sword Gram (“wrath” – a fitting name for a sword gifted by Odin / Wotan). At this point, the meaning of his mother’s name becomes clear; Hjördís means “sword goddess,” and she is revealed as another valkyrie who has married a man of the Volsung line.

Regin refashions the weapon, which seems “as if flames were leaping from its edges.” The sword is powerful enough to hew the anvil to its base, and sharp enough to cut a piece of wool in two when Sigurd lets it gently run against the blade in the river’s current.

Regin now demands that Sigurd face the dragon Fafnir, but the youth insists he must first avenge his father. He is given a force by Hjalprek and Alf, and sets off in ships to face the sons of Hunding. When they pass a rockyheadland, Odin appears and asks to be taken aboard. The powerful storm that had troubled them immediately subsides and they sail peacefully until they reach the land of their enemies, at which point Odin disappears. Sigmund and his forces attack the sons of Hunding, including Lyngvi, the one who led the attack on Sigmund. Sigurd personally kills every remaining son of Hunding and heads back to Regin, saying he is now ready to face the dragon.

Sigurd kills Fafnir (12th century, Norway)

Sigurd and Regin ride to the dragon’s heath and onto the path that Fafnir takes when he goes to drink water. The dwarf advises the young hero to dig a ditch, lay in it, and stab up into the dragon’s heart when he passes over. Regin then runs off in cowardly terror, and Odin appears while Sigurd is digging the ditch. The god advises that he dig secondary ditches for the blood to run into, so that he doesn’t drown in the flood that will pour out of the dying serpent.

The plan works, and the mortally-wounded dragon tells Sigurd that the treasure will be the cause of his own death, but also reveals that the hoard contains an Ægishjálmr (“helm of terror”), a magical helmet that gives him dominion over others.

Sigurd roasts heart (12th century, Norway)

Regin reappears after the battle, drinks his dragon brother’s blood, and asks Sigurd to roast the monster’s heart so he can eat it. While roasting the heart, Sigurd pokes it and licks his finger to see if it’s ready to eat. He immediately understands the speech of the birds perched in the tree above him. They tell him that he can gain wisdom by eating the heart himself and warn him that Regin is going to betray him. They advise him to kill his foster father, take the treasure, and ride to Hindarfell (“hind mountain”) to seek the wisdom of the sleeping Brynhild. Sigurd follows all of their advice.

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