Fiction > Harvard Classics > The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
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  The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Certain Songs from the Elder Edda which Deal with the Story of the Volsungs
 
The Song of Atli
 
 
  GUDRUN, Giuki’s daughter, avenged her brethren, as is told far and wide: first she slew the sons of Atli, and then Atli himself; and she burned the hall thereafter, and all the household with it: and about these matters is this song made:—
        In days long gone
Sent Atli to Gunnar
A crafty one riding,
Knefrud men called him;
To Giuki’s garth came he,
To the hall of Gunnar,
To the benches gay-dight,
And the gladsome drinking.
 
There drank the great folk
’Mid the guileful one’s silence,
Drank wine in their fair hall:
The Huns’ wrath they feared,
When Knefrud cried
In his cold voice,
As he sat on the high seat,
That man of the Southland:
 
“Atli has sent me
Riding swift on his errands
On the bit-griping steed
Through dark woodways unbeaten,
To bid thee, King Gunnar,
Come to his fair bench
With helm well-adorned,
To the home of King Atli.
 
“Shields shall ye have there
And spears ashen-shafted,
Helms ruddy with gold,
And hosts of the Huns;
Saddle-gear silver-gilt,
Shirts red as blood,
The hedge of the warwife,
And horses bit-griping.
 
“And he saith he will give you
Gnitaheath widespread,
And whistling spears
And prows well-gilded,
Mighty wealth
With the stead of Danpi,
And that noble wood
Men name the Murkwood.”
 
Then Gunnar turned head
And spake unto Hogni:
“What rede from thee, high one,
Since such things we hear?
No gold know I
On Gnitaheath,
That we for our parts
Have not portion as great.
 
“Seven halls we have
Fulfilled of swords,
And hilts of gold
Each sword there has;
My horse is the best,
My blade is the keenest;
Fair my bow o’er the bench is,
Gleams my byrny with gold;
Brightest helm, brightest shield,
From Kiar’s dwelling ere brought—
Better all things I have
Than all things of the Huns.”
 
HOGNI SAID

“What mind has our sister
That a ring she hath sent us
In weed of wolves clad?
Bids she not to be wary?
For a wolf’s hair I found
The fair ring wreathed about;
Wolf beset shall the way be
If we wend on this errand.”
 
No sons whetted Gunnar,
Nor none of his kin,
Nor learned men nor wise men,
Nor such as were mighty.
Then spake Gunnar
E’en as a king should speak,
Glorious in mead-hall
From great heart and high:
 
“Rise up now, Fiornir,
Forth down the benches
Let the gold-cups of great ones
Pass in hands of my good-men!
Well shall we drink wine,
Draughts dear to our hearts,
Though the last of all feasts
In our fair house this be!
 
“For the wolves shall rule
O’er the wealth of the Niblungs,
With the pine-woods’ wardens
If Gunnar perish:
And the black-felled bears
With fierce teeth shall bite
For the glee of the dog-kind,
If again comes not Gunnar.”
 
Then good men never shamed,
Greeting aloud,
Led the great king of men
From the garth of his home;
And cried the fair son
Of Hogni the king:
“Fare happy, O Lords,
Whereso your hearts lead you!”
 
Then the bold knights
Let their bit-griping steeds
Wend swift o’er the fells,
Tread the murk-wood unknown,
All the Hunwood was shaking
As the hardy ones fared there;
O’er the green meads they urged
Their steeds shy of the goad.
 
Then Atli’s land saw they;
Great towers and strong,
And the bold men of Bikki,
Aloft on the burg:
The Southland folks’ hall
Set with benches about,
Dight with bucklers well bounden,
And bright white shining shields.
 
There drank Atli,
The awful Hun king,
Wine in his fair hall;
Without were the warders,
Gunnar’s folk to have heed of,
Lest they had fared thither
With the whistling spear
War to wake ’gainst the king.
 
But first came their sister
As they came to the hall,
Both her brethren she met,
With beer little gladdened:
“Bewrayed art thou, Gunnar!
What dost thou great king
To deal war to the Huns?
Go thou swift from the hall!
 
“Better, brother, hadst thou
Fared here in thy byrny
Than with helm gaily dight
Looked on Atli’s great house:
Thou hadst sat then in saddle
Through days bright with the sun
Fight to awaken
And fair fields to redden:
 
“O’er the folk fate makes pale
Should the Norn’s tears have fallen,
The shield-mays of the Huns
Should have known of all sorrow;
And King Atli himself
To worm-close should be brought;
But now is the worm-close
Kept but for thee.”
 
Then spake Gunnar
Great ’mid the people:
“Over-late sister
The Niblungs to summon;
A long way to seek
The helping of warriors,
The high lords unshamed,
From the hills of the Rhine!”
 
Seven Hogni beat down
With his sword sharp-grinded,
And the eighth man he thrust
Amidst of the fire.
Ever so shall famed warrior
Fight with his foemen,
As Hogni fought
For the hand of Gunnar.
 
But on Gunnar they fell,
And set him in fetters,
And bound hard and fast
That friend of Burgundians;
Then the warrior they asked
If he would buy life,
Buy life with gold
That king of the Goths.
 
Nobly spake Gunnar,
Great lord of the Niblungs;
“Hogni’s bleeding heart first
Shall lie in mine hand,
Cut from the breast
Of the bold-riding lord,
With bitter-sharp knife
From the son of the king.”
 
With guile the great one
Would they beguile,
On the wailing thrall
Laid they hand unwares,
And cut the heart
From out of Hjalli,
Laid it bleeding on trencher
And bare it to Gunnar.
 
“Here have I the heart
Of Hjalli the trembler,
Little like the heart
Of Hogni the hardy,
As much as it trembleth
Laid on the trencher,
By the half more it trembled
In the breast of him hidden.”
 
Then laughed Hogni
When they cut the heart from him,
From the crest-smith yet quick,
Little thought he to quail
The hard acorn of thought
From the high king they took,
Laid it bleeding on trencher
And bare it Gunnar.
 
“Here have I the heart
Of Hogni the hardy,
Little like to the heart
Of Hjalli the trembler.
Howso little it quaketh
Laid here on the dish,
Yet far less it quaked
In the breast of him laid.
 
“So far mayst thou bide
From men’s eyen, O Atli,
As from that treasure
Thou shalt abide!
 
“Behold in my heart
Is hidden for ever
That hoard of the Niblungs,
Now Hogni is dead.
Doubt threw me two ways
While the twain of us lived,
But all that is gone
Now I live on alone.
 
“The great Rhine shall rule
O’er the hate-raising treasure,
That gold of the Niblungs,
The seed of the gods:
In the weltering water
Shall that wealth lie a-gleaming,
Or it shine on the hands
Of the children of Huns!”
 
Then cried Atli,
King of the Hun-folk,
“Drive forth your wains now
The slave is fast bounden.”
And straightly thence
The bit-shaking steeds
Drew the hoard-warden,
The war-god to his death.
 
Atli the great king,
Rode upon Glaum,
With shields set round about,
And sharp thorns of battle:
Gudrun, bound by wedlock
To these, victory made gods of,
Held back her tears
As the hall she ran into.
 
“Let it fare with thee, Atli,
E’en after thine oaths sworn
To Gunnar full often;
Yea, oaths sworn of old time,
By the sun sloping southward,
By the high burg of Sigty,
By the fair bed of rest,
By the red ring of Ull!”
 
Now a host of men
Cast the high king alive
Into a close
Crept o’er within
With most foul worms,
Fulfilled of all venom,
Ready grave to dig
In his doughty heart.
 
Wrathful-hearted he smote
The harp with his hand,
Gunnar laid there alone;
And loud rang the strings—
In such wise ever
Should hardy ring-scatterer
Keep gold from all folk
In the garth of his foemen.
 
Then Atli would wend
About his wide land,
On his steed brazen-shod,
Back from the murder.
Din there was in the garth,
All thronged with the horses;
High the weapon-song rose
From men come from the heath.
 
Out then went Gudrun,
’Gainst Atli returning,
With a cup gilded over,
To greet the land’s ruler;
“Come, then, and take it,
King glad in thine hall,
From Gudrun’s hands,
For the hell-farers groan not!”
 
Clashed the beakers of Atli,
Wine-laden on bench,
As in hall there a-gathered,
The Huns fell a-talking,
And the long-bearded eager ones
Entered therein,
From a murk den new-come,
From the murder of Gunnar.
 
Then hastened the sweet-faced
Delight of the shield-folk,
Bright in the fair hall,
Wine to bear to them:
The dreadful woman
Gave dainties withal
To the lords pale with fate,
Laid strange word upon Atli:
 
“The hearts of thy sons
Hast thou eaten, sword-dealer,
All bloody with death
And drenched with honey:
In most heavy mood
Brood o’er venison of men!
Drink rich draughts therewith,
Down the high benches send it!
 
“Never callest thou now
From henceforth to thy knee
Fair Erp or fair Eitil,
Bright-faced with the drink;
Never seest thou them now
Amidmost the seat,
Scattering the gold,
Or shafting of spears;
Manes trimming duly,
Or driving steeds forth!”
 
Din arose from the benches,
Dread song of men was there,
Noise ‘mid the fair hangings,
As all Hun’s children wept;
All saving Gudrun,
Who never gat greeting,
For her brethren bear-hardy,
For her sweet sons and bright,
The young ones, the simple
Once gotten with Atli.
 
The seed of gold
Sowed the swan-bright woman,
Rings of red gold
She gave to the house carls;
Fate let she wax,
Let the bright gold flow forth,
In naught spared that woman
The store-houses’ wealth.
 
Atli unaware
Was a-weary with drink;
No weapon had he,
No heeding of Gudrun—
Ah, the play would be better,
When in soft wise they twain
Would full often embrace
Before the great lords!
 
To the bed with sword-point
Blood gave she to drink
With a hand fain of death,
And she let the dogs loose:
Then in from the hall-door—
—Up waked the house-carls—
Hot brands she cast,
Gat revenge for her brethren.
 
To the flame gave she all
Who therein might be found;
Fell adown the old timbers,
Reeked all treasure-houses;
There the shield-mays were burnt,
Their lives’ span brought to naught;
In the fierce fire sank down
All the stead of the Budlungs.
 
Wide told of is this—
Ne’er sithence in the world,
Thus fared bride clad in byrny
For her brothers’ avenging;
For behold, this fair woman
To three kings of the people,
Hath brought very death
Or ever she died!
  1
 

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