Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Teutonic Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie, [1912], at

p. 322


Brynhild and Gudrun

Brynhild's Magic Sleep--Awakened by Sigurd--Lovers pledge their Troth--The Draught of Forgetfulness --Gudrun wins Sigurd--Gunnar's Wooing--How Brynhild was deceived--Quarrel with Gudrun--Sigurd is murdered--Gudrun's Sorrow--Brynhild dies on Sigurd's Pyre--Ride to Hela.

WHEN Sigurd came nigh to Hindarfell, in the land of the Franks, he beheld a blaze of light on the hill. Then he perceived that a stately castle was girt round with magic fire. Its roof was of shining gold. A banner on the highest tower floated in the wind.

He rode towards the castle. He went through the flames on the back of Grane. He dismounted and went within. There he beheld a beauteous battle maiden wrapped in magic sleep; golden was her hair, and she was clad in armour. . . . He went towards her and took off her gleaming helm, and her locks fell free. Yet her eyes opened not, so strong was the sleep spell that was upon her. . . . He drew his magic sword and cut through her armour so that it fell to pieces, whereat the maiden awoke. . . . Her wondrous eyes glowed upon him; her pale cheeks reddened and her lips opened.

"How long hast thou lain asleep?" asked Sigurd.

"Who art thou," the maiden sighed, "that hast shorn my armour asunder, and hath power to break the runes of sleep? . . . Art thou indeed Sigurd, the son of great Sigmund? Hast thou come at last with the helmet of darkness and the sword which slew Fafner?"

p. 323

Sigurd answered. "I am even Sigurd, the son of Sigmund, and my sword hath shorn thine armour asunder."

"None but a Volsung could have done the deed," cried Brynhild, for indeed it was she--the beauteous valkyrie whom Odin had punished by laying her in a magic sleep because that she had caused to fall in battle those whom he favoured.

"A Volsung am I," Sigurd answered, "and I have come to thee because thou art so fair and full of wisdom. Fain would I learn of thee."

Then Brynhild smiled. She threw back her golden hair, and gazed forth upon the world once more. She saw the bright sun and the fresh green ways, and like a dawn-awakened bird she raised her voice in song.

Long was my sleep, long was my sleep,
Darkling 't was lone and dreamless and deep--
Long as the evils that mankind endure,
        As long and as sure;
Helpless in sunshine and starshine I've lain,
Wrapped by the runes that bind like a chain--
        Helpless ye found me:
        Odin had bound me--
Bound me in sleep where I lay. . . .
        Hail to the day!
     Hail to the sons of the light!
        All hail to the night!
Hail and O hear, beholding us twain,
And give what we hope now to gain. . . .
Hail ye gods and ye goddesses dear,
        And Earth, the mother of all!
Give us of wisdom and tenderness here,
Hands that shall heal and hearts without fear
        Till death shall at length on us call. . . .

Then Brynhild told Sigurd how Odin had touched

p. 324

her with the sleep thorn, and said that never again would she be a chooser of the slain, but would lie in slumber until a lover came.

"But I vowed a vow," she said, "that I would never wed a man who knew what it was to be afraid."

Sigurd said: "Fain would I hear of thy wisdom, for which thou art famed."

"With gratitude can I speak to thee," said Brynhild, "but let us first drink mead together. May thou profit by what I shall teach thee, and may thou in after time remember what I now speak unto thee."

She filled a golden goblet and gave to Sigurd to drink.

"The mead," she said, "is mixed with renown and songs merry and sad, and with wise thoughts and tender heart thoughts and valorous speech. . . . Thou shalt grave war runes on thy blade, and twice shall Tyr be named. Runes of ocean shalt thou carve on stern and rudder and oar; thou shalt have peaceful sea-ways. . . . Runes thou shalt learn to ward off blood vengeance and doom. . . . Runes thou shalt learn to call fairy help when a son cometh, and runes for wound healing which thou shalt carve on trees whose branches are bending towards the east. . . . I shall teach thee runes of high-heartedness and valour--the runes of the gods, the runes of the elves, and the runes of the wise Vans. . . . I shall give thee runes that shall aid thee in all things until life ends. . . . Now thou shalt choose what thou dost desire to be and to have.

Sigurd spake: "I was born to be without fear. I shall forget thee never, and in my heart shall I treasure what thou givest unto me."

Then Brynhild gave runes to Sigurd, and she counselled him to give friendship for friendship, and to have forbearance so that he might win fame among men.

p. 325

[paragraph continues] "Take close account of what is evil," she said; "from a maiden's love and a man's own wife wrong may come. Give little heed to those who speak more harshly of others than they deem they do; take not advice from men of poor judgment. Ever be watchful of danger wherever thou farest; let not a woman enchant thee in the feasting hall. Heed not the unwise speech of a man who hath drunken deep. Keep the oaths thou dost swear. Trust not him whose kin thou hast slain. . . . I can read not of thy future right well, nor perceive clearly what shall befall thee, but may evil come not from thy wife's kindred."

Sigurd said: "None other but thee shall I have for my bride."

Brynhild made answer: "If it were given me to make choice among all the sons of men, thee alone would I desire to be mine."

Sigurd gave to the gold-haired maiden the magic ring which was in Fafner's hoard.

Then did they swear binding oaths together, vowing that they would ever be faithful one to another until life's last loop was spun.

Thereafter went Sigurd on his way, for he must needs travel unto the hall of King Giuki. Loving Brynhild, he went, but it was doomed that he should break his binding vows, and spurn the golden-haired maiden whom he had rescued from magic sleep. It was indeed fated that he should drink the draught of forgetfulness, so that new love might enter his heart, for he must needs suffer because of the treachery of another.

A warrior of noble seeming was Sigurd, and wondering eyes beheld him as he drew nigh to the dwelling of Giuki. Great was his height, and he had the shoulder-breadth of two men. Young was he, and very fair.

p. 326

[paragraph continues] His eyes were blue, and of such brightness that men quailed before him; his nose was high-ridged, and bent like to an eagle's beak; broad was his face from cheek bone to cheek bone. His hair was copper-brown, and hung over his shoulder gleaming in sunshine, and his beard was short and fair. All beholders gazed with mute wonder upon his great sword Gram.

He was withal fearless and high-hearted, one who loved his friends and was unafraid of any foe. Ever ready was he to give aid to kinsmen and allies. Such eloquence of speech was his that men were drawn towards him.

Those who played games round Giuki's hall ceased when Sigurd came nigh. King Giuki greeted him with welcome to his dwelling, and the treasure chests were taken from Grane's back and borne within.

The king had for wife the crafty Grimhild, who was a sorceress, and they had a beauteous daughter who was named Gudrun. Their three sons were Gunnar, Hogne, and Guttorm.

Now, when Grimhild beheld Sigurd, she was taken with desire that he should have her daughter for his bride, and ill-pleased was she when she found that his heart was filled with love for Brynhild.

It chanced that the two maidens dreamed dreams. Brynhild had a vision of Gudrun coming towards her, and on the day that followed Gudrun indeed came in a gold-decked chariot with all her maidens, for Gudrun had also dreamt a dream and desired that the wise Brynhild should solve it.

Brynhild, who was King Budle's daughter, dwelt betimes at her castle, and betimes at the Hall of Heimar, who had for wife her sister Bænkhild. Her brother was King Atle the Mighty.

p. 327

It was at Heimar's hall that Giuki's daughter found the fair battle maiden on that fateful day.

Gudrun told Brynhild of her dream. "It seemed," she said, "that we were together in a forest and saw a noble stag. Copper-coloured was its hair, and we both desired to possess it. But no one save myself alone could reach the stag, and I possessed it, and was made glad. Then thou didst come, Brynhild, and thou didst slay my stag, and I wept bitterly. Thereafter thou didst give me a young wolf which was red with the blood of my kin."

"Alas!" Brynhild sighed; "I can read thy dream. Thou shalt marry Sigurd, whom I desire for my lover. A magic drink he shall receive, and he shall turn from me. Then shall there be a feud, and he shall be slain, and thou shalt thereafter marry my brother King Atle the Mighty, whom thou shalt slay in the end."

Gudrun wept. "Terrible indeed it is," she said, "to have knowledge of these things."

So she left Brynhild and returned with her maidens to the hall of King Giuki, her sire.

Three years passed, and Sigurd remained with the king who had given him welcome. With Gunnar and Hogne he took oaths of fellowship, and they hunted together and made merry.

Ever did Queen Grimhild desire that Sigurd should take Gudrun for his bride, and at length she brewed a magic drink which would make him forget the battle maiden whom he had chosen for his bride.

A night came when they sat together in the feasting hall, and the queen rose and filled the drinking horn with the magic drink and gave it unto Sigurd, saying:

"It hath pleasured us to have thee abiding with us

p. 328

here. Thou shalt receive from us all thou dost desire. Drink thou from this horn the mead which I have prepared for thee."

Sigurd drank as she desired, and he forgot Brynhild and the binding vows he had sworn with her. The love he had for her passed away, and he saw that Gudrun was very fair.

Then the queen said: "King Giuki shall be to thee a sire, and his sons are thy brethren."

To the king in secret Grimhild spake, as she embraced him: "Give thou our daughter for wife unto Sigurd. Great is his wealth, and it would be well that he should ever be with us."

Giuki disdained to offer his daughter even unto Sigurd, but the queen constrained her son Gunnar to counsel the young hero to have the beauteous maid for his bride.

So it fell that Sigurd and Gudrun were wed in the Hall, and they dwelt happily together. They had a son, and his name was Sigmund.

Queen Grimhild next desired that her son Gunnar should have Brynhild for wife, and she said: "Go thou and woo the battle maiden, and Sigurd shall go with thee."

"That will I do right willingly," Gunnar made answer, "for I would fain have golden-haired Brynhild for my bride."

Then he rode forth towards the hall of Heimar, and with him went Sigurd. Grimhild had wrought a spell so that Brynhild would know not her former lover.

Gunnar besought of Heimar that he should have the battle maiden for wife, but Heimar said: "Brynhild shall only wed him whom she herself doth choose. To her thou must go. She dwelleth in a castle beyond,

p. 329

which is girt about with magic fire, and thou must needs ride through the flames to win nigh unto her."

Then Gunnar rode towards the dwelling of Brynhild, and Sigurd went with him. But when they came nigh to the fire-girt castle Gunnar's steed would go no farther, for it feared the flames.

Sigurd said: "To thee shall I give Grane, on whom to ride through the fire."

So he dismounted; but when Gunnar sat upon the back of Grane, the steed refused to move forward. None save Sigurd could go unto Brynhild; none could ride through the flames save Sigmund's noble son.

Then took Sigurd the semblance of Gunnar, and Gunnar the semblance of Sigurd, as Queen Grimhild had given each of them power to do, and Sigurd leapt upon Grane's back and rode through the magic fire.

Brynhild saw Sigurd coming towards her and said: "Who art thou who hast come through the magic fire?"

Sigurd answered: "My name is Gunnar, son of Giuki. Thee shall I have for my bride, because that thou didst vow to marry him who would reach thee through the flames."

"Thee shall I wed, Brynhild said, "if thou shalt promise to slay those who also desire to have me for wife."

"That shall I promise thee," answered Sigurd, and the battle maiden was well pleased.

Three nights he abode with Brynhild in the castle, and ere he left her she gave to him the ring that was once Andvari's, and had been taken by Sigurd from the hoard of Fafner--the ring of doom which was a bane to them both.

Through the flames once more went Sigmund's great

p. 330

son. With Gunnar he again changed shapes, and together they returned unto the hall of Giuki.

In time fair Brynhild left her fire-girt castle and went unto the dwelling of Heimar, to whom she told how fate had served her.

"Fain was I," she said, "that it had happened as aforetime--that Sigurd had come through the flames towards me instead of Gunnar."

"As it hath chanced," said Heimar, "so must it be."

Now Brynhild had a daughter, whose name was Aslog. A Volsung was she by birth, for her sire was Sigurd, and it was fated that she would be the last of her race. The battle maiden gave the child to Heimar, so that she might be nourished and fostered and kept free from harm.

When Brynhild did that she went with King Budle, her father, to the hall of Giuki. There was a feast of splendour held, and Gunnar and the battle maiden were wed. They drank mead together and made merry.

But if joy came to the heart of Brynhild, it speedily vanished when she beheld Sigurd with another bride. In secret she bewailed her fate, because that her first love who had awakened her from magic sleep had been taken from her by treachery and sorcery. Nor could such sorrow have long endurance. The treasure curse was upon them all; the shadow of doom was already darkening their days.

Ere long the pent-up grief storm broke forth in lamentation and feud; ere long there was shedding of blood and the heart call of vengeance.

It chanced that Brynhild and Gudrun bathed together in the river, and the battle maiden perceived that Andvari's doom ring was worn by Sigurd's bride. They fell to quarrelling one with another. Thereafter Brynhild

p. 331

went home; pale was her face and anger burned in her eyes: her heart was in torment.

On the morn that followed Gudrun besought Brynhild to sorrow not.

"Thy heart is evil," the battle maiden said; "it giveth thee joy to see me grieve. But thou shalt escape not thy due, for no longer can I endure to see thee with Sigurd."

"Thou hast Gunnar, my brother," said Gudrun; "a worthier lord is he than thou dost deserve. Well mayest thou take joy in him."

"Happy would I indeed be with one more noble," Brynhild answered.

Then Gudrun taunted her, and told how Sigurd had gone through the flames in the guise of Gunnar so that she might be beguiled.

There was no joy in the heart of Brynhild thereafter. Her days and nights she spent in lamentations, so that she was heard by all. Nor would she speak unto anyone, not even her husband; for when she wailed not, she lay like to one who was dead; alone in her chamber she lay; her face was white as winter's snow, and ice-hard and cold.

At length Gunnar besought Sigurd to go unto her, for to none had she spoken for many days, nor had she eaten or drunken aught.

But Sigurd feared that he could quench not the flames of her grief, and knew well that she fostered ill against him with dire intent. Yet was he constrained to speak to her. So Sigurd entered her chamber.

"Arise, O Brynhild," he cried, "for lo! the sun is bright; grieve no more, and make merry in our midst."

Brynhild opened her eyes, as aforetime she had done when Sigurd awakened her from magic sleep.

So," she spake, "thou art so bold as to come hither

p. 332

[paragraph continues] --thou who hast among all the others been most treacherous unto me."

"Speak not thus," said Sigurd for what reason dost thou sorrow so deeply?"

"Because the sword is not red with thy heart's blood," Brynhild answered.

Then was Sigurd moved to grief also. To Brynhild he spake tenderly and low. "Thee did I love better than mine own life, he said; "but alas! I was given to drink of the mead of forgetfulness, so that a spell was cast over me and I knew thee not. Yet did I sorrow when I came to know that thou, my heart's desire, wert wife to another. . . . Now be my doom fulfilled, for I desire not to live any more."

"Too late! . . . too late!" cried Brynhild. "It is too late to speak of thy sorrow. Now will greater scorn be turned against me than heretofore. . . . Women shall mock; none shall pity me."

Then Sigurd said he would put away Gudrun and nave her for wife, but Brynhild would hearken not.

"All things have changed," said the woman of sorrow, "and I would fain die. . . . I have been deceived. I desire thee not, and I desire no other."

In sore grief did Sigurd leave her; his head was bowed, his eyes were dimmed, and never again was there joy in his heart.

"I would fain die," Brynhild wailed. "I have been deceived. . . . Sigurd hath deceived me and death is his due. . . . I will not have him live with her who taunts me with scorn. Even now he telleth her of what hath passed, and she mocketh me."

When Gunnar entered Brynhild's chamber she spake:

"Thou shalt live not another night if thou dost not slay Sigurd.

p. 333

Nor aught else would she say unto him.

That was indeed a grievous speech to the ears of Gunnar--to be asked to slay one with whom he had taken binding vows. Yet did he love Brynhild more than Sigurd. So he went unto his brother Hogne and told him what had come to pass.

"If Sigurd is slain," Hogne said, "a noble warrior indeed shall be cut off, and doom and shame may be our dower."

So together they went unto Guttorm, who was young and had not sworn oaths with Sigurd, and he consented to do the will of Brynhild.

In the morning Guttorm entered the bedchamber where Sigurd and Gudrun lay fast asleep. He drew his sword. He thrust it through Sigurd's body and gave him his deathwound. Then he turned to make hasty escape.

Sigurd woke in his agony, and, seizing his sword Gram, he flung it at Guttorm and slew him.

Then Gudrun, who lay with her arms about her loved one, awoke to her sorrow; her body was wet with the blood that streamed from Sigurd's deathwound. Bitterly she moaned and wept.

"Grieve not too much," her husband sighed: "as the norns have decreed, so has it come to pass; my doom was hidden from me, and it has now fallen. . . . The hand of Brynhild is in this foul deed: she who loves me above all other men desireth that I should die. . . . Ah! had I not been stricken while I slept, many great men would have fallen ere I could be overcome . . . ."

Then Sigurd died. . . . Even while he spake he was taken from Gudrun, and she gave forth a loud and bitter cry that was heard throughout the Hall.

Brynhild laughed. . . .

p. 334

Said Gunnar: "Thou dost not laugh for joy, O monstrous woman, for thy cheeks have grown grim and death-white. . . . How wouldst thou feel now if thine own brother Atle were slain before thine eyes?"

"Vain is thy threat against Atle," Brynhild answered; "there shall yet be much bloodshed, but thou thyself must fall ere he shall die."

Gudrun cried: "Sigurd is dead; my kinsmen have slain him."

Nor other moan she made.

Brynhild sighed in secret: "One I loved, and no other, and he is laid in death."

All through the moonless night that followed the death day, Gudrun sat beside her husband's body. Her tears were dried; her cheeks were pale; she smote not her hands nor uttered any cry. Many sought to comfort her, but her heart was cold.

At length her sister came and drew the white sheet from off Sigurd's body, and said:

"Gudrun, turn thine eyes upon him thou lovest. Kiss his lips. Take him in thine arms as if he were still alive."

Gudrun looked in Sigurd's face. . . . His eyes were glazed in death; his lips were cold; pale were his cheeks, and his hair was red with blood.

She lay down beside Sigurd; she kissed his lips and wept.

Then spake her sister: "Never knew I of love like to the love that Gudrun beareth for Sigurd."

Gudrun said: "Like to a sword-lily among grass blades was Sigurd among the sons of Giuki, my brothers.

I whom he raised up am now but a leaf cast to the winds. . . . Never more by day or by night shall I hear his voice most sweet. . . . Upon me have my

p. 335

brothers wrought this sorrow; my brothers have made me grieve with bitterness. Their oaths are broken, and they are brought to shame, and their kingdom shall be laid waste. Never shall they have joy in the treasure which they desire; it shall be their bane and drag them down to death."

Brynhild came and saw Sigurd's body. She stood apart and spake not, but her eyes burned with grief fire.

Then went she unto Gunnar and cursed him and all his kin, because that the vows of friendship were broken and he and they had conspired against Sigurd and her heart's desire.

"Together we plighted our troth," she cried, "and to the grave shall I follow him."

Gunnar desired not that Brynhild should die, but Hogne said: "She hath ever been a bane to us. 'Twere better that she died now."

Ere yet Brynhild sought death, she caused to be slain Sigmund, the son of Gudrun. But Gudrun could find not greater deeps of sorrow than she had already reached.

A great pyre was built, and on it-were laid the bodies of Sigurd and his son. When it was set ablaze, Brynhild rode towards it upon her white steed, and cried:

"Gudrun would have died with Sigurd had she a soul like to mine."

Then she leapt amidst the flames, and was burned with him she loved so well.

So Brynhild passed from the world of men, an she rode the darksome ways towards Hela to search for Sigurd.

At Hela bridge the giant maid, who keeps watch, stood before her and said:

p. 336

"Thou shalt pass not by this way. O gold-haired maiden, thy hands are red with the blood of heroes. . . . On Giuki's hall thou hast brought sorrow and scaith."

"Blame me not Brynhild answered; "my life was robbed of love; my vows were despised; by treachery was this evil done upon me, and I was mocked at and put to shame. . . . Sigurd was betrayed, and I was betrayed by Sigurd, whom I love, and now seek in death."

Then golden-haired Brynhild sang, swan-like and sweet, her death song on Hela bridge.

Ah! but for battle never ending
  Are mortals made alive,
Ah! but to live o'er long to sorrow--
  To sorrow and to strive;
Yet Sigurd and I shall live in Hela,
  As fain we'd lived before--
Our fame shall echo through the Ages
  Ever and evermore.

Spurring her white steed she cried: "Sink down, O giant maid!" and rode on to Hela's glittering plains.


BRYNHILD<br> From the statue by Bissen<br> Photograph by Vilhelm Tryde
Click to enlarge

From the statue by Bissen
Photograph by Vilhelm Tryde


"Gudrun's Sorrow" 1

Home they brought her warrior dead:
  She nor swooned, nor utter'd cry;
All her maidens, watching, said,
  "She must weep or she will die."

Then they praised him, soft and low,
  Call'd him worthy to be loved, p. 337
Truest friend and noblest foe;
  Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
  Lightly to the warrior stept,
Took the face-cloth from the face;
  Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years
  Sat his child upon her knee--
Like summer tempest came her tears--
  "Sweet my child, I live for thee.



336:1 Although the Volsunga saga version of Sigurd's death is followed, a fragment of song pictures the tragedy in a grove from which the warrior's body was carried to Gudrun. Clerk Saunders was slain in bed also, and this ballad suggests the existence of an early version of the Volsung story ere the Helgi lays were introduced. Tennyson's beautiful poem appears to have been suggested by a version of the Gudrun story.

Next: Chapter XXX. The Last of the Volsungs