Since that time every large snowdrift has been called a "Bredi's drift."
Following Sigi's condemnation as an outlaw, Odin guided him to a place where many warships lay and provided him with troops. Through his successful raids, Sigi became a powerful king, ruling over Hunland. [According to Snorri Sturluson, Sigi ruled over Frakkland (France).]
Sigi's wife bore him a son named Rerir, who with time became an even more powerful king.
Rerir took for himself a wife, but for a long time she bore him no children. They prayed fervently to the gods, asking for offspring. It is said that Frigg [Odin's wife] heard their prayers and conveyed the wish to Odin, who in turn gave one of his wish-maidens an apple, telling her to give it to Rerir.
The wish maiden assumed the shape of a crow, then dropped the apple onto King Rerir's lap. Sensing its purpose, he visited the queen and ate some of the apple.
The son was named Volsung, and he became King of Hunland.
Volsung married Hljod, and together they had ten sons and one daughter. The eldest son was named Sigmund, and he had a twin sister named Signy.
It is said that King Volsung had an excellent palace built with a large tree growing from the main hall, its branches stretching through the roof. The tree was named "Barnstock" [child-trunk].
It is told that one evening a stranger [probably Odin] came into the hall. He wore a hooded cape. He was very tall and had only one eye. He approached the tree Barnstock, then drew a sword and thrust it up to the hilt into the trunk, saying, "I give this sword to whoever can pull it from the tree."
With this he turned and walked away. No one knew who he was or where he went.
Many noble men were present there, and one after another they tried to pull the sword from the tree, all without success, until Sigmund came forward. He easily pulled the sword from the trunk.
Everyone marveled at the sword's excellent quality, and Siggeir offered to give Sigmund three times the sword's weight in gold for the weapon.
Sigmund refused, saying, "You could have pulled the sword from the tree as easily as I did, if it were meant to be yours, but you were not able to do so."
These words greatly angered Siggeir, and he resolved to gain revenge against his future brother-in-law.
He replied, "It will not be said of me that I lack courage. You must return to your husband, and I will face whatever danger comes my way."
Signy returned home. The next morning, just as Signy had warned, King Siggeir attacked King Volsung. In the battle that followed King Volsung and all his men were killed. Only his ten sons survived, and they were taken prisoner.
Learning the fate of her father and her brothers, Signy proposed to her husband that her brothers be put into stocks rather than being killed immediately. "Let them suffer before they die," she said, hoping to thus rescue one or more of them.
King Siggeir had a large tree trunk fashioned into stocks, and the ten brothers were imprisoned by their feet somewhere in the woods.
Each night a she-wolf attacked one of them, killing him and eating him, until only Sigmund remained alive.
Through a trusted servant Signy learned the fate of her brothers. She gave the servant some honey, instructing him to smear it on Sigmund's face, and to put some of it in his mouth. That night, the wolf approached Sigmund, then started to lick the honey from his face and mouth. The wolf reached her tongue into Sigmund's mouth, and Sigmund bit down hard. The wolf jerked back in pain, pulling so hard that she split the tree trunk apart, and Sigmund escaped.
King Siggeir thought that his revenge was complete, that all the Volsungs, save his wife Signy, were dead.
King Siggeir had two sons by his wife Signy, and Signy thought that they might help her avenge the death of her father and brothers. When the elder one was ten years old she sent him to visit Sigmund in his underground dwelling. Before sending him out, she tested his courage by sewing shut the cuffs of his shirt, with the stitches going through his flesh and skin. He withstood this ordeal poorly, and cried out in pain.
As a further test, Sigmund handed him a sack of flour containing snakes, and asked him to make some bread. The boy refused, stating, "There is something alive in the flour."
Sigmund reported this incident to his sister the next time that they met.
"The boy lacks courage," said Signy. "Take him out and kill him."
Sigmund did as his sister requested.
A year later much the same events transpired with Signy's younger son. He too was found lacking in courage, and he too was killed at his mother's bidding.
The sorceress was able to do this, and that night she, in Signy's shape, slept with King Siggeir, who was not aware of the exchange.
Signy, in the sorceress's shape, went into the woods to Sigmund's dwelling. "I have lost my way," she told him.
Sigmund gave her shelter. She was very beautiful, and they shared the same bed. After three nights she returned home and exchanged shapes again with the sorceress.
Some time later Signy gave birth to a son who was named Sinfjotli. He grew large and strong, very much like the Volsung stock. When he was not quite ten years old she sent him to his father Sigmund in the underground shelter. As she had done previously, she tested his ability to withstand pain by stitching his shirt cuffs to his skin. He did not flinch.
After arriving at the underground shelter, Sinfjotli was given snake-infested flour to make bread with. "There was something in the flour," he later reported to Sigmund, "but I kneaded it into the bread, whatever it was."
One time Sigmund and Sinfjotli came to a house where two men were asleep under a spell. A wolf skin hung over each man which could be shed only every tenth day. Sigmund and Sinfjotli put on the skins, and they could not get them off. Now they howled like wolves and ran off into the forest, killing many men. One time they quarreled with each other, and Sigmund bit Sinfjotli in the windpipe, nearly killing him. A raven [from Odin?] flew by with a leaf, which Sigmund applied to Sinfjotli's wound, bringing him back to full health.
When they were next able to remover the wolf skins, they burned them in a fire.
Sinfjotli was now fully grown and tested. With his help Sigmund would now avenge the death of his father and his brothers. The two of them went to King Siggeir's estate and hid themselves in an outer room. Queen Signy saw them there, and together they planned the act of revenge.
Signy and Siggeir had two young children. That evening one of the children saw Sigmund and Sinfjotli hiding in the outer room, and he told his father about the strangers. Signy overheard this, and took the two children to Sigmund and Sinfjotli, saying, "These children have betrayed you. I advise you to kill them."
Sigmund replied, "I will not kill your children," but Sinfjotli had no such qualms. Without hesitating he drew his sword and killed the two children, then threw down their bodies before King Siggeir.
A great battle ensued. Sigmund and Sinfjotli fought valiantly, but the king's soldiers finally overpowered them.
Wanting to subject them to the slowest death possible, King Siggeir had Sigmund and Sinfjotli buried alive inside a large stone mound. As the mound was being closed, Signy approached, carrying a bundle of straw, which she threw into the mound. Inside the straw was Sigmund's sword, and that night he used the sword to saw an opening in the rock mound.
Sigmund and Sinfjotli were now free. They carried wood into the king's hall, where the men were all asleep. Then they set it afire. The king, surrounded by flames, asked who had done this deed, and Sigmund answered, "I, Sigmund, and my sister's son Sinfjotli have done this deed! Know this, that not all the Volsungs are dead!"
Signy could have saved herself from the flames, but chose otherwise. "I married King Siggeir against my will," she said, "but now that my father's and my brothers' deaths have been avenged, I die with him willingly." So saying, she wished Sigmund and Sinfjotli farewell and walked into the flames.
Sigmund now returned with Sinfjotli to his homeland, and he regained the kingship that had once belonged to Volsung.
Sigmund married a woman named Borghild, and they had two sons, one named Helgi and one named Hamund.
At Helgi's birth the Norns [supernatural beings who control fate] said of him that he was destined to become the most famous of all kings.
Acting on Sigrun's wish, Helgi assembled a large convoy of men and ships just off King Hodbrodd's coast. Many of Hodbrodd's men, including his brother and his father, approached the strangers to asses their strength and their intentions.
Sinfjotli, who was with Helgi, was a man who knew how to speak to kings, and he shouted to the men on shore, "After you have fed your pigs and kissed your bondwomen, inform Hodbrodd that Helgi is here to do battle with him."
Hodbrodd's father answered, "You lie about noble men. It is obvious that you know nothing of ancient lore! You are one who sucks the blood from cold corpses killed by wolves."
Sinfjotli replied, "You should know something of wolves. I am the one who sired nine wolves by you. I was the father of your wolf-children.
Hodbrodd's father answered, "You lie again. You could not father anything, because the giant's daughters gelded you at Thrasness."
Sinfjotli responded, "Have you forgotten that you were a mare to the stallion Grani? Then afterward you served as the giant Golnir's goatherd."
Hodbrodd's father answered, "I'll not stand here quarrelling with you any longer. Instead, I'll feed your corpse to the birds," and with that he rode back to King Hodbrodd, reporting that King Helgi was preparing to attack their land with thousands of men.
King Hodbrodd assembled his own troops, and a savage battle ensued. In the midst of the furor a large band of shield-maidens [Valkyries?] appeared. Helgi's troops were victorious, and Hodbrodd was killed. Helgi took possession of his kingdom and married Sigrun. He is now out of the saga.
Borghild asked her husband Sigmund to exile Sinfjotli from the kingdom, but Sigmund refused to do this. To avenge her brother's death, Borghild prepared a poisonous drink for Sinfjotli, her stepson. Upon drinking it, Sinfjotli fell dead to the ground. Sigmund, overcome with sorrow, picked up the body and carried it toward a fjord, where he saw a man [Odin?] in a small boat.
The man asked if he wanted to be ferried across the fjord, to which Sigmund answered, "Yes."
The boat was too small for all three, so the stranger took Sinfjotli's body, leaving Sigmund alone on the shore. Sigmund walked alongside the boat for some distance, and then the boat disappeared before his eyes.
Sigmund returned home and drove out Borghild. She died a short time afterward.
Sigmund continued to rule, and it is said that he was the greatest king in ancient times.
"King Sigmund is very old," she said, "but he is the most famous of all kings. I choose him."
King Lyngvi did not accept this loss easily, and he attacked Sigmund's forces with a large army. At the peak of the battle a strange man [Odin] entered the fray. He had but one eye, wore a hooded cloak, and was armed with a spear. Raising his spear, he came up against Sigmund, who struck hard at the spear with his sword. The sword, which he had pulled from the tree Barnstock, and which had served him so excellently in countless earlier skirmishes, now broke in two.
The tide turned against Sigmund and his men, and he no longer sought to protect himself.
Hjordis sat with Sigmund until he died, then she ran into the woods with a faithful bondwoman.
A large troop of Vikings had observed the carnage from their ships, and they also saw the women fleeing into the woods. They pursued the women and brought them to their leader, a king named Alf, who recognized the royalty of Hjordis.
Upon hearing her story, Alf agreed to marry Hjordis forthwith and to care for her unborn son.
In keeping with tradition, Sigurd was placed under the care of a foster father, Regin, the son of Hreidmar. Regin taught him runes, sports, chess, and languages.
One day Sigurd went into the woods, where he came upon an old man with a long beard. The man, who was none other than Odin, offered Sigurd a horse, saying, "Raise this horse carefully, for it is descended from Sleipnir."
Sigurd named this horse Grani.
One day Regin said to Sigurd, "You have too little wealth. Let me tell you where a great treasure lies. If you could take possession of it, it would bring you great glory. It lies but a short distance from here at a placed called Gnitaheath, and is guarded by a serpent named Fafnir."
Then Regin related to Sigurd the story of how Fafnir came to control the great treasure.
One day Odin, Loki, and Hoenir approached a waterfall where my brother Otr (in the shape of an otter) had just caught a salmon. Loki killed the otter with a stone, and together the Aesir skinned him. Fafnir and I seized them and forced them to agree to pay compensation for the death of our brother. The amount agreed upon was the otter's skin filled with gold. Loki coerced a dwarf named Andvari into providing the gold. At first Andvari tried to hold back one golden ring, but finally he gave this up as well, saying, "This ring [known henceforth as Andvaranaut], and indeed the entire treasure, will be the death of whoever owns it."
This treasure should have been shared by Otr's surviving brothers and father, but Fafnir killed his father, then absconded with the treasure.
Regin agreed, and made a sword for Sigurd.
"Let me test your ability as a smith," said Sigurd, then struck the anvil with the sword, breaking the blade.
"Forge me another one," demanded Sigurd. Regin did so, but it too broke when struck against the anvil.
Sigurd then went to his mother, and said, "Is it true that you have the pieces of the broken sword Gram, once owned by my father King Sigmund?"
She affirmed his query, then gave him the pieces. Sigurd took the fragments to Regin, demanding that he forge a new sword from them. When the sword was finished Sigurd tested its strength by striking the anvil with it. The anvil split in two, but the blade remained undamaged. He then tested the sword's sharpness by throwing a tuft of wool into the river, then holding the blade against it as the current carried it downstream . The blade cut the wool asunder, and Sigurd was satisfied.
"I have done my part," said Regin, "now you must help me avenge the death of my father by killing the dragon Fafnir."
"Do as you have promised," advised Gripir, the uncle, "but first you must avenge the death of your own father."
Regin greeted him, saying, "You have avenged your father's death. Now you must keep your vow and help me avenge the death of my father."
Sigurd replied, "I shall do as I have promised."
Sigurd and Regin rode together to the heath where Fafnir was known to dwell. There they found a well-worn track where the dragon crawled to get water.
"Dig a trench within the track and hide in it," advised Regin. "Then you can stab the serpent from beneath when he crawls for water." So saying, Regin ran off in fear.
Sigurd began to dig the trench when he was approached by an old man with a long beard [Odin], who asked what he was doing. On hearing Sigurd's plan, the man said, "You must dig more than one trench, one to hide in, and others to carry away the serpent's blood." Then the man disappeared.
Sigurd did as the old man had advised.
Some time later serpent crawled along his track for water, causing the earth to shake. When he passed above Sigurd, the hero plunged his sword upward through the serpent's heart. Then he leaped from the trench to safety.
The dying creature thrashed about fiercely, thundering, "Who are you who dares to attack me?"
"I am Sigurd, the son of Sigmund," answered the hero.
"Upon my death you may well take my treasure," replied Fafnir, "but you shall receive little benefit from it. It will be your death. I advise you to ride away from here while you still can."
Then Fafnir died.
Then he made one additional request of Sigurd, "Roast Fafnir's heart and let me eat it."
Sigurd cut out the serpent's heart and began to roast it over a fire. When the juice foamed out of it, he tested it with his finger to see if it was done, then put his finger into his mouth. As soon as the serpent's blood touched his tongue he could understand the language of birds.
"If Sigurd would eat Fafnir's heart, he would become the wisest of men," said the one.
"He should beware of Regin," said a second, "who intends to betray him."
"Yes," said a third, "Sigurd should strike off Regin's head immediately, then take possession of the gold."
"Then he should ride to Hindarfell, where the fair Brynhild lies asleep," said a fourth.
Sigurd understood all this, and acted accordingly. He cut off Regin's head with the sword Gram, then ate part of Fafnir's heart, saving the rest for later. Following the serpent's track, he came to the lair where a great hoard of gold was hidden. This he loaded into two large chests.
Taking off the warrior's helmet, he discovered that this was a sleeping woman, not a man. She was dressed in chainmail that was so tight it seemed to have grown into her skin. With the sword Gram he cut though the armor, awakening the woman.
"Is this Sigurd, son of Sigmund who awakens me?" she asked, "And is this sword that cuts so easily through my armor the sword Gram, Fafnir's bane?"
"It is so," answered Sigurd. "I am a descendent of Volsung. I understand that you are Brynhild, the daughter of a famous king, and yourself famous for your beauty and wisdom."
Brynhild replied that two kings had fought. Odin favored the one, but she had granted victory to the other. Angered, Odin had stabbed her with a sleeping thorn.
He was a man of great height. His sword Gram was seven spans long, and when he girded it about him, then walked through a field of full-grown rye, its tip grazed the top of the standing grain.
He excelled in eloquence and courtesy. He understood the language of birds. He was a master of all combat skills: swordsmanship, archery, spear throwing, and horsemanship.
One day one of Sigurd's falcon's flew to a tower. When Sigurd pursued it he saw a beautiful woman inside the window, embroidering a tapestry. One of his companions said, "That is Brynhild, the daughter of Budli. She arrived here a short time ago." He then added the warning that Sigurd should not attempt to gain her favor. "She does not allow any man near her," he said. "Her only interest is to go warring."
Nonetheless, Sigurd did visit her in her chamber, and she invited him to drink with her. He put his arms around her and kissed her, saying, "You are the fairest of all women."
She replied, "We are not destined to live together. I am a shield-maiden, and I must ride with warrior kings. You are destined to marry Gudrun, the daughter of Gjuki."
"I shall marry you, or no other woman," replied Sigurd. He then gave her a gold ring, and they swore their oaths anew.
There was an even more powerful king named Budli. His daughter was Brynhild, and his son was Atli [Attila the Hun].
One night Gudrun dreamed that she had a handsome hawk on her hand, a hawk with feathers of gold."
A woman told Gudrun, "Your dream means that you will marry a noble king."
"But I do not know who this king is," said Gudrun. "I shall visit Brynhild. She will know."
Brynhild explained: "Sigurd, the man whom I have chosen for a husband, will come to you. Your mother Grimhild will give him a magic potion which will bring grief to all of us. You will marry him, but quickly lose him. Then you will marry King Atli. Afterward you will lose all your brothers, and in the end you will kill King Atli."
Gudrun replied, "I am overcome with grief because of the knowledge of these things to come."
"He must be one of the gods," said one of the king's men, noting Sigurd's height, bearing, and wealth. He was received with respect and honor.
Grimhild knew that Sigurd loved Brynhild, but she thought it would be better if he were to marry her daughter Gudrun. She prepared a magic drink for him, which caused him to forget his love for Brynhild. Sigurd stayed at this court for five seasons. He married Gudrun, and swore an oath of brotherhood with her brothers.
He and Gudrun had a son, whom they named Sigmund [after Sigurd's grandfather].
One day Grimhild approached Gunnar, saying, "All is well with you, except for one thing: you are still unmarried. You should ask for Brynhild's hand in marriage."
"She is very proud," answered King Budli. "She will marry only a man of her own choosing."
Furthermore, Sigurd and Gunnar learned that Brynhild had sequestered herself in a castle behind a wall of flames, and that she would marry only the man who could ride to her through the flames.
They found the castle, but Gunnar's horse would not carry him through the fiery wall. "Take my horse Grani," offered Sigurd, and the two men exchanged horses. However, Grani also would not pass through the flames with Gunnar on his back.
Finally Sigurd and Gunnar exchanged shapes, as Grimhild had taught them. Grani, with Sigurd on his back, passed through the flames unhindered. Sigurd, disguised as Gunnar, entered the hall and found Brynhild. She received him well, and they spent three nights together, sharing the same bed. However, each night Sigurd lay the unsheathed sword Gram between himself and Brynhild. One night he took from her the ring Andvaranaut, which he had previously given her, giving her another ring in its place.
After three nights Sigurd returned to Gunnar, and they once again assumed their own shapes.
Some time later Brynhild returned to her father King Budli, and told him how a brave king named Gunnar had ridden through the wall of flames to court her. Soon afterward Gunnar and Brynhild were married.
One day while bathing in the Rhine, the two women began quarreling as to the valor of their husbands. Brynhild praised Gunnar and found fault with Sigurd, but Gudrun had the last word: "It was my husband Sigurd who killed Fafnir, and furthermore, it was Sigurd -- not Gunnar, as you had been led to believe -- who rode through the wall of flames to court you." To clinch her argument, she showed Brynhild the ring Andvaranaut that Sigurd had taken from here at that time.
Brynhild recognized the ring, and was overcome with grief and anger.
This grieved Gunnar greatly, for he was bound to Sigurd by an oath of brotherhood. Brynhild was most dear to him, but he did not dare to violate his oath. He took his brother Hogni into his confidence, but he too was bound by the oath and would not harm Sigurd. Together they decided to convince their youngest brother Guttorm to kill Sigurd. Guttorm was young and was not bound by the oath of brotherhood. They prepared a stew of snake and wolf flesh and fed it to Guttorm, which made him violent and fierce.
They sent Guttorm to the room where Sigurd was asleep, and Guttorm drove his sword through the sleeping man's body, then turned to run away. Sigurd, mortally wounded, threw his sword Gram at the fleeing assassin. The sword struck him in the back and cut him into two.
Gudrun, who had been asleep with Sigurd, awoke, drenched in her dying husband's blood. She let out a tormented scream. Brynhild, hearing Gudrun's scream, laughed aloud. However, her laughter soon turned to tears, and -- now overcome with grief and guilt -- she stabbed herself with a sword.
Grimhild discovered where Gudrun had settled, and she and her sons traveled there, offering Gudrun great wealth in compensation for her grievous loss. However, she did not trust them.
In the end Grimhild announced to Gudrun: "It is arranged that soon you shall marry the powerful King Atli [Attila the Hun]. This marriage will bring you great wealth, but you must never abandon your kinsmen."
Gudrun replied, "I shall marry King Atli only against my will. This union will bring only grief to all concerned!"
Nonetheless, Gudrun proceeded with the wedding arrangements. She and her party traveled seven days on horseback, then seven days by ship, then finally another seven days overland before reaching Atli's kingdom [Hungary?]. The wedding was celebrated with a great festival, but there was little affection between the king and his new queen.
Gudrun, sensing her husband's treachery, carved a message in runes to her brothers, warning them of the danger. The messenger read the warning, and changed the runes, turning them into a friendly invitation for her brothers to visit her in her new kingdom.
When Hogni's wife Kostbera saw the message, she recognized at once that the runes had been altered, and she warned Hogni of the deception.
"Let it not be said of us that we shrink from battle," said Hogni, and they entered the stronghold.
When the brothers refused to turn over the treasure, or to reveal its location, a fierce battle broke out. Seeing that the fight was going against her brothers, Gudrun put on a coat of armor and fought beside them.
This done, Gunnar said to Atli, "Now you shall never know the location of the treasure, for I am the only person still alive who knows, and I shall never tell. The Rhine shall retain control over the gold; it shall never decorate the arms of Huns like you."
Then Atli had Gunnar placed in a snake-pit, with his hands and arms securely bound. Gudrun sent him a harp, which Gunnar played with his feet, thus charming the snakes and keeping them from biting him. However, with time one large adder did bite him, causing the death of a valiant man.
Placated, Atli made preparations for a feast celebrating his victories. His joy, however, was short lived. At the first opportunity, Gudrun killed the two sons that she and Atli had had together. She mixed their blood with the wine that was served to Atli, and roasted their hearts for Atli's feast.
When Atli asked where their sons were, she answered, "You have drunk their blood and eaten their hearts."
Then they exchanged many harsh words.
One son of Hogni had survived the great battle, a man named Niflung [Low German for Nibelung]. Together Niflung and Gudrun planned their final act of revenge. In the evening when Atli was asleep with drunkenness, Gudrun, with Niflung's help, thrust a sword into Atli's chest.
The dying Atli asked that a splendid burial site be prepared for him. This Gudrun promised to do, then she set fire to Atli's great hall. This was the end of Atli and all his retainers.
It is said that the Volsungs [Sigurd's family] and the Gjukungs [Gudrun's family] were the greatest people of ancient times. This ends their saga.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised December 15, 2012.