Monday, May 17, 2010

The Heroes, Part Three

Sigmund returns to rule his hereditary lands, marries a woman named Borghild, and has two sons. When his son Helgi is born, Norns come and “set his destiny, saying that he would become the most famous of all kings.” At age fifteen, he goes off with Sinfjotli to lead troops in war.

While viking, Helgi kills a king named Hunding in battle. Hunding’s sons, predictably, raise an army of revenge but themselves fall at Helgi’s hands. After the battle, Helgi discovers a group of women at the edge of a forest, including a princess named Sigrún. Her father, King Hogni, has promised her to a man named Hodbrodd, and she implores Helgi to save her: “Fight him with your army and take me away, because there is no king with whom I would rather dwell than with you.”

After an exchange of ritual insults between Sinfjotli and a brother of Hodbrodd, a battle begins between the parties of the rival suitors. In the midst of the slaying, “they saw a large band of shield-maidens – it was like looking into a fire; Sigrún the king’s daughter had arrived.” Sigrún appears to be a valkyrie; in the light of Brynhild’s later recitation of runic wisdom, it is significant that Sigrún’s name means “victory-rune.” Helgi and Sigrún marry, and, as the writer says, “he is out of the saga.”

Sinfjotli goes off viking again, and, in contest over a woman, slays the brother of Borghild, Sigmund’s wife. When Sinfjotli returns home, Borghild prepares a funeral banquet for her dead brother and offers her son-in-law a drinking horn. He realizes that the drink is poisoned, and Sigmund takes it from him and drinks it down, as he is “so hardy that he could eat poison with no ill effect.” This happens two more times. The last time, Sigmund is drunk, and says, “Filter it through your moustache, son.” Sinfjotli drinks, and is killed instantly.

Sigmund carries his son into the woods and to a fjord. A man in a small boat offers passage for the body across the fjord. Sigmund loads the body into the boat and walks alongside, but the boat and its ferryman quickly disappear before his eyes. The mysterious man is, again, Odin – this time in his aspect as the ferryman who brings the dead to the afterlife.

Sigmund returns home and drives his wife out. She dies shortly thereafter, another murderous queen who kills kin for revenge. He goes to woo Hjördís, the young daughter of King Eylimi. She is also being pursued by King Lyngvi, the son of King Hunding, the man killed by Helgi. Hjördís chooses Sigmund, and Lyngvi and his brothers raise an army of revenge. The bride hides with her treasure and a slave-girl in the forest as the battle begins. Sigmund is protected by spádísir, valkyrie-like female spirits. After the battle rages for a time, Odin appears on the field and faces Sigmund with raised spear. Sigmund swings his sword, and it splinters in two on the spear. The tide of the battle turns, and Sigmund and Eylimi both fall.

The night after the battle, Hjördís finds the dying Sigmund and says, “I would lack nothing, if you were healed and took revenge for my father.” He tells her that she is carrying a child, and gives her the broken pieces of the sword that will eventually be reforged into a new weapon: “Our son will bear it and with it accomplish many great deeds, which will never be forgotten. And his name will endure while the world remains.”

After Sigmund dies, Hjördís spots a fleet of vikings landing at the edge of the battlefield. She exchanges clothes with her slave-girl and heads for the woods. In a direct echo of the meeting of Helgi and Sigrún, they are spied out by the viking leader Alf, son of King Hjalprek of Denmark. The slave-girl plays the part of the princess and describes the events of the battle. Alf asks her to lead his men to the king’s treasure, which he then loads up on to his ships. Now a rich king, he returns to his lands with the two women. He eventually discovers the disguised princess and marries her.

Hjördís gives birth to Sigurd, who is her son by the deceased Sigmund. The boy is raised under King Hjalprek, but is fostered to a man (or, more likely, a dwarf) named Regin. “Fosterage,” according to Jesse L. Byock, “was a Norse custom of having a child raised in another household in order to extend kinship bonds or to form political alliances.” What the advantage is in being linked to the bitter and dispossessed Regin is unclear.

Regin teaches young Sigurd “sports, chess, and runes.” He goads the young boy into finding a horse for himself and, when Sigurd wanders into the forest, he meets Odin. The god asks him his business and advises him to chase a group of horses into the river. Only one horse is strong enough to brave the deepest part of the river and is chosen by Sigurd. Odin reveals that the horse is a descendant of Sleipnir, his own mystic horse.

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