The Story Of Sigurd

: The Red Fairy Book

[This is a very old story: the Danes who used to fight with the English in King

Alfred's time knew this story. They have carved on the rocks pictures of

some of the things that happen in the tale, and those carvings may still be

seen. Because it is so old and so beautiful the story is told here again,

but it has a sad ending--indeed it is all sad, and all about fighting and

killing, as might be expected from the Danes.]

ONCE upon a time there was a King in the North who had won

many wars, but now he was old. Yet he took a new wife, and

then another Prince, who wanted to have married her, came up

against him with a great army. The old King went out and fought

bravely, but at last his sword broke, and he was wounded and his men

fled. But in the night, when the battle was over, his young wife came

out and searched for him among the slain, and at last she found

him, and asked whether he might be healed. But he said `No,' his

luck was gone, his sword was broken, and he must die. And he

told her that she would have a son, and that son would be a great

warrior, and would avenge him on the other King, his enemy. And

he bade her keep the broken pieces of the sword, to make a new sword

for his son, and that blade should be called Gram.

Then he died. And his wife called her maid to her and said,

`Let us change clothes, and you shall be called by my name, and I

by yours, lest the enemy finds us.'

So this was done, and they hid in a wood, but there some strangers

met them and carried them off in a ship to Denmark. And when

they were brought before the King, he thought the maid looked like

a Queen, and the Queen like a maid. So he asked the Queen, `How

do you know in the dark of night whether the hours are wearing to

the morning?'

And she said:

`I know because, when I was younger, I used to have to rise

and light the fires, and still I waken at the same time.'

`A strange Queen to light the fires,' thought the King.

Then he asked the Queen, who was dressed like a maid, `How

do you know in the dark of night whether the hours are wearing

near the dawn?'

`My father gave me a gold ring,' said she, `and always, ere the

dawning, it grows cold on my finger.'

`A rich house where the maids wore gold,' said the King. `Truly

you are no maid, but a King's daughter.'

So he treated her royally, and as time went on she had a son

called Sigurd, a beautiful boy and very strong. He had a tutor to

be with him, and once the tutor bade him go to the King and ask

for a horse.

`Choose a horse for yourself,' said the King; and Sigurd went to

the wood, and there he met an old man with a white beard, and

said, `Come! help me in horse-choosing.'

Then the old man said, `Drive all the horses into the river, and

choose the one that swims across.'

So Sigurd drove them, and only one swam across. Sigurd chose

him: his name was Grani, and he came of Sleipnir's breed, and was

the best horse in the world. For Sleipnir was the horse of Odin, the

God of the North, and was as swift as the wind.

But a day or two later his tutor said to Sigurd, `There is a great

treasure of gold hidden not far from here, and it would become you

to win it.'

But Sigurd answered, `I have heard stories of that treasure, and

I know that the dragon Fafnir guards it, and he is so huge and

wicked that no man dares to go near him.'

`He is no bigger than other dragons,' said the tutor, `and if you

were as brave as your father you would not fear him.'

`I am no coward,' says Sigurd; `why do you want me to fight

with this dragon?'

Then his tutor, whose name was Regin, told him that all this

great hoard of red gold had once belonged to his own father. And

his father had three sons--the first was Fafnir, the Dragon; the next

was Otter, who could put on the shape of an otter when he liked;

and the next was himself, Regin, and he was a great smith and

maker of swords.

Now there was at that time a dwarf called Andvari, who lived in

a pool beneath a waterfall, and there he had hidden a great hoard of

gold. And one day Otter had been fishing there, and had killed a

salmon and eaten it, and was sleeping, like an otter, on a stone.

Then someone came by, and threw a stone at the otter and killed it,

and flayed off the skin, and took it to the house of Otter's father.

Then he knew his son was dead, and to punish the person who had

killed him he said he must have the Otter's skin filled with gold,

and covered all over with red gold, or it should go worse with him.

Then the person who had killed Otter went down and caught the

Dwarf who owned all the treasure and took it from him.

Only one ring was left, which the Dwarf wore, and even that

was taken from him.

Then the poor Dwarf was very angry, and he prayed that the

gold might never bring any but bad luck to all the men who might

own it, for ever.

Then the otter skin was filled with gold and covered with gold,

all but one hair, and that was covered with the poor Dwarf's last


But it brought good luck to nobody. First Fafnir, the Dragon,

killed his own father, and then he went and wallowed on the

gold, and would let his brother have none, and no man dared go

near it.

When Sigurd heard the story he said to Regin:

`Make me a good sword that I may kill this Dragon.'

So Regin made a sword, and Sigurd tried it with a blow on a

lump of iron, and the sword broke.

Another sword he made, and Sigurd broke that too.

Then Sigurd went to his mother, and asked for the broken pieces

of his father's blade, and gave them to Regin. And he hammered

and wrought them into a new sword, so sharp that fire seemed to

burn along its edges.

Sigurd tried this blade on the lump of iron, and it did not break,

but split the iron in two. Then he threw a lock of wool into the

river, and when it floated down against the sword it was cut into

two pieces. So Sigurd said that sword would do. But before he

went against the Dragon he led an army to fight the men who had

killed his father, and he slew their King, and took all his wealth,

and went home.

When he had been at home a few days, he rode out with Regin

one morning to the heath where the Dragon used to lie. Then he

saw the track which the Dragon made when he went to a cliff to

drink, and the track was as if a great river had rolled along and

left a deep valley.

Then Sigurd went down into that deep place, and dug many pits

in it, and in one of the pits he lay hidden with his sword drawn.

There he waited, and presently the earth began to shake with the

weight of the Dragon as he crawled to the water. And a cloud of

venom flew before him as he snorted and roared, so that it would

have been death to stand before him.

But Sigurd waited till half of him had crawled over the pit, and

then he thrust the sword Gram right into his very heart.

Then the Dragon lashed with his tail till stones broke and trees

crashed about him.

Then he spoke, as he died, and said:

`Whoever thou art that hast slain me this gold shall be thy ruin,

and the ruin of all who own it.'

Sigurd said:

`I would touch none of it if by losing it I should never die. But

all men die, and no brave man lets death frighten him from his

desire. Die thou, Fafnir,' and then Fafnir died.

And after that Sigurd was called Fafnir's Bane, and Dragonslayer.

Then Sigurd rode back, and met Regin, and Regin asked him to

roast Fafnir's heart and let him taste of it.

So Sigurd put the heart of Fafnir on a stake, and roasted it. But

it chanced that he touched it with his finger, and it burned him. Then

he put his finger in his mouth, and so tasted the heart of Fafnir.

Then immediately he understood the language of birds, and he

heard the Woodpeckers say:

`There is Sigurd roasting Fafnir's heart for another, when he

should taste of it himself and learn all wisdom.'

The next bird said:

`There lies Regin, ready to betray Sigurd, who trusts him.'

The third bird said:

`Let him cut off Regin's head, and keep all the gold to himself.'

The fourth bird said:

`That let him do, and then ride over Hindfell, to the place where

Brynhild sleeps.'

When Sigurd heard all this, and how Regin was plotting to

betray him, he cut off Regin's head with one blow of the sword


Then all 'he birds broke out singing:

`We know a fair maid,

A fair maiden sleeping;

Sigurd, be not afraid,

Sigurd, win thou the maid

Fortune is keeping.

`High over Hindfell

Red fire is flaming,

There doth the maiden dwell

She that should love thee well,

Meet for thy taming.

`There must she sleep till thou

Comest for her waking

Rise up and ride, for now

Sure she will swear the vow

Fearless of breaking.'

Then Sigurd remembered how the story went that somewhere,

far away, there was a beautiful lady enchanted. She was under a

spell, so that she must always sleep in a castle surrounded by flaming

fire; there she must sleep for ever till there came a knight who

would ride through the fire and waken her. There he determined

to go, but first he rode right down the horrible trail of Fafnir. And

Fafnir had lived in a cave with iron doors, a cave dug deep down

in the earth, and full of gold bracelets, and crowns, and rings; and

there, too, Sigurd found the Helm of Dread, a golden helmet, and

whoever wears it is invisible. All these he piled on the back of the

good horse Grani, and then he rode south to Hindfell.

Now it was night, and on the crest of the hill Sigurd saw a red

fire blazing up into the sky, and within the flame a castle, and a

banner on the topmost tower. Then he set the horse Grani at the

fire, and he leaped through it lightly, as if it had been through the

heather. So Sigurd went within the castle door, and there he saw

someone sleeping, clad all in armour. Then he took the helmet off

the head of the sleeper, and behold, she was a most beautiful lady.

And she wakened and said, `Ah! is it Sigurd, Sigmund's son, who

has broken the curse, and comes here to waken me at last?'

This curse came upon her when the thorn of the tree of sleep

ran into her hand long ago as a punishment because she had

displeased Odin the God. Long ago, too, she had vowed never to

marry a man who knew fear, and dared not ride through the fence

of flaming fire. For she was a warrior maid herself, and went

armed into the battle like a man. But now she and Sigurd loved

each other, and promised to be true to each other, and he gave her

a ring, and it was the last ring taken from the dwarf Andvari.

Then Sigurd rode away, and he came to the house of a King who

had a fair daughter. Her name was Gudrun, and her mother was a

witch. Now Gudrun fell in love with Sigurd, but he was always

talking of Brynhild, how beautiful she was and how dear. So one

day Gudrun's witch mother put poppy and forgetful drugs in a

magical cup, and bade Sigurd drink to her health, and he drank, and

instantly he forgot poor Brynhild and he loved Gudrun, and they

were married with great rejoicings.

Now the witch, the mother of Gudrun, wanted her son Gunnar

to marry Brynhild, and she bade him ride out with Sigurd and go

and woo her. So forth they rode to her father's house, for Brynhild

had quite gone out of Sigurd's mind by reason of the witch's wine,

but she remembered him and loved him still. Then Brynhild's

father told Gunnar that she would marry none but him who could

ride the flame in front of her enchanted tower, and thither they rode,

and Gunnar set his horse at the flame, but he would not face it.

Then Gunnar tried Sigurd's horse Grani, but he would not move

with Gunnar on his back. Then Gunnar remembered witchcraft

that his mother had taught him, and by his magic he made Sigurd

look exactly like himself, and he looked exactly like Gunnar. Then

Sigurd, in the shape of Gunnar and in his mail, mounted on Grani,

and Grani leaped the fence of fire, and Sigurd went in and found

Brynhild, but he did not remember her yet, because of the forgetful

medicine in the cup of the witch's wine.

Now Brynhild had no help but to promise she would be his wife,

the wife of Gunnar as she supposed, for Sigurd wore Gunnar's shape,

and she had sworn to wed whoever should ride the flames. And he

gave her a ring, and she gave him back the ring he had given her

before in his own shape as Sigurd, and it was the last ring of that

poor dwarf Andvari. Then he rode out again, and he and Gunnar

changed shapes, and each was himself again, and they went

home to the witch Queen's, and Sigurd gave the dwarf's ring to

his wife, Gudrun. And Brynhild went to her father, and said

that a King had come called Gunnar, and had ridden the fire,

and she must marry him. `Yet I thought,' she said, `that no

man could have done this deed but Sigurd, Fafnir's bane, who was

my true love. But he has forgotten me, and my promise I must


So Gunnar and Brynhild were married, though it was not Gunnar

but Sigurd in Gunnar's shape, that had ridden the fire.

And when the wedding was over and all the feast, then the magic

of the witch's wine went out of Sigurd's brain, and he remembered

all. He remembered how he had freed Brynhild from the spell,

and how she was his own true love, and how he had forgotten and

had married another woman, and won Brynhild to be the wife of

another man.

But he was brave, and he spoke not a word of it to the others to

make them unhappy. Still he could not keep away the curse which

was to come on every one who owned the treasure of the dwarf

Andvari, and his fatal golden ring.

And the curse soon came upon all of them. For one day, when

Brynhild and Gudrun were bathing, Brynhild waded farthest out

into the river, and said she did that to show she was Guirun's

superior. For her husband, she said, had ridden through the flame

when no other man dared face it.

Then Gudrun was very angry, and said that it was Sigurd, not

Gunnar, who had ridden the flame, and had received from Brynhild

that fatal ring, the ring of the dwarf Andvari.

Then Brynhild saw the ring which Sigard had given to Gudrun,

and she knew it and knew all, and she turned as pale as a dead

woman, and went home. All that evening she never spoke. Next

day she told Gunnar, her husband, that he was a coward and a liar,

for he had never ridden the flame, but had sent Sigurd to do it for

him, and pretended that he had done it himself. And she said he

would never see her glad in his hall, never drinking wine, never

playing chess, never embroidering with the golden thread, never

speaking words of kindness. Then she rent all her needlework

asunder and wept aloud, so that everyone in the house heard her.

For her heart was broken, and her pride was broken in the same

hour. She had lost her true love, Sigurd, the slayer of Fafnir, and

she was married to a man who was a liar.

Then Sigurd came and tried to comfort her, but she would not

listen, and said she wished the sword stood fast in his heart.

`Not long to wait,' he said, `till the bitter sword stands fast in

my heart, and thou will not live long when I am dead. But, dear

Brynhild, live and be comforted, and love Gunnar thy husband, and

I will give thee all the gold, the treasure of the dragon Fafnir.'

Brynhild said:

`It is too late.'

Then Sigurd was so grieved and his heart so swelled in his breast

that it burst the steel rings of his shirt of mail.

Sigurd went out and Brynhild determined to slay him. She

mixed serpent's venom and wolf's flesh, and gave them in one dish

to her husband's younger brother, and when he had tasted them he

was mad, and he went into Sigurd's chamber while he slept and

pinned him to the bed with a sword. But Sigurd woke, and caught

the sword Gram into his hand, and threw it at the man as he fled,

and the sword cut him in twain. Thus died Sigurd, Fafnir's bane,

whom no ten men could have slain in fair fight. Then Gudrun

wakened and saw him dead, and she moaned aloud, and Brynhild

heard her and laughed; but the kind horse Grani lay down and died

of very grief. And then Brynhild fell a-weeping till her heart broke.

So they attired Sigurd in all his golden armour, and built a great

pile of wood on board his ship, and at night laid on it the dead Sigurd

and the dead Brynhild, and the good horse, Grani, and set fire to it,

and launched the ship. And the wind bore it blazing out to sea,

flaming into the dark. So there were Sigurd and Brynhild burned

together, and the curse of the dwarf Andvari was fulfilled.[33]

[33] The Volsunga Saga.