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  1. The Lucky Penny
  2. The Magic Book
  3. The Story of Sigurd

The Lucky Penny

Two young herdsmen, Peter and Paul, tended jointly all the sheep that belonged to the town. One day as they were sitting together on a hill with a view of all the pasture-lands around, a dealer passed with a drove of fat oxen. They knew the man, and Peter said: "That man may be called happy who is as rich as he is."

"Certainly," answered Paul; " it would not be amiss to have some of his money in one's old age."

"For one's old age?" cried Peter; "no, never mind that time: if I am to have money, let it be while I am young, that I can enjoy it, and live a merry and pleasant life."

While they were thus talking together, there came a little man up the hill with a red cap on his head. Going up to Peter, he showed him a little purse, and said: "This purse I will give to you. There is only one silver penny in it, but every time you are in need of money, you have only to thrust your finger into the purse, and you may take out as much as you please, either silver or gold; but beware you never give the little penny away." Then he showed Peter the silver penny, and gave him the purse.

"But to you," said he to Paul, " I will give good advice - Learn some useful handiwork, that will best promote your fortune."

The little man then left them and disappeared in the mount.

Soon after this event Paul bound himself to a smith; but Peter began to trade. He bought all kinds of goods, went from city to city, always made a good business, and took so much money that he was known all over Jutland under the name of Rich Peter the Huckster. He then thought it was not worthwhile to travel longer about the country, for he had wealth enough, and could, moreover, take daily from his purse as much as he desired. He therefore bought a fine manor, called Lanting. It was surrounded by woods, and near the mansion flowed a river where there were excellent eels. Here Peter established an eel-fishery, and the like of it had never been seen before. Everything in his household was on the most costly scale. He lived in splendour and luxury, and married a young maiden of rank.

Every day there were guests at the mansion, and Rich Peter the Huckster had no other thought than to enjoy himself. His wife, however, thought it impossible that he had money enough to continue such a life, and talked to him on the subject. But he only laughed, and said, she might be quite easy on that score, for there was no end to his riches.

But his wife secretly hoarded the gold and silver which he gave her to buy fine clothes, and this money she wanted to hide in some safe place. Now, down near the eel-pond she had noticed a large piece of timber with a hole in it. The hole was covered by a wedge that had been driven into it. None could see any hole save those who knew it was there. "Here," she thought, "must be a secure hiding-place." One day she stole down to the spot, drew the wedge out and put in all her money into the hole; then replaced the wedge so that no one could see it had been touched. She thought to have the money as a reserve in case her husband ever came to want it.

But some time after this the lady became ill and died, without telling anyone of her treasure. She died childless, and after her death Rich Peter became more squandering than ever. At his house there was a swarm of boon companions who hunted with him, and drank and gambled there also. From evening till the dawn of day they led such a dissolute life that no respectable man would be seen there, much less any respectable woman.

Once, when Peter was sitting with his gambling comrades and they had all drunk too much, he was going to pay one of them what he had lost to him in play, but he was so bewildered with drinking that he knew not what he was doing. So, instead of counting his money piece by piece as he took it out of his purse, he shook the whole contents out on the table and threw the purse into a corner of the room.

Next morning, when he became sober again, he picked up the purse, but the lucky penny was gone, and it was now only like all other purses, it would give no more money out than what had been put into it.

"Never mind," thought he, "I am rich enough as it is." But all the rich woods and fisheries were not enough to pay for the extravagant life he led. Nothing was managed with order, and therefore everything fell into decay; for he was never inclined to look after things himself. In this way matters went on, so that from year to year his property decreased, until he had to sell house and land, and at last to take a wallet on his back and beg from door to door. He was, at the same time, sick and miserable, his spirit was broken and he looked so wretched that none of his former companions could have known him again.

The other herd-boy, Paul, had in the meanwhile become an able smith; he worked from morning to night, yet he could never become rich. He married a young girl as poor as himself, and they had many children. It required much bread to feed so many mouths, but yet they never knew want, although what one day brought in was consumed the next. In the meantime the children grew up, behaved well, and were healthy and industrious. So Paul Smith felt well pleased when he looked at them. His smithy lay near the river that ran past Peter the Huckster's mansion, but many miles apart. One day a large piece of timber came floating down by the stream and got stuck in shallow waters close to Paul's workshop. He went into the water, examined it, and found it was very hard wood. "It may serve to make a new block for my anvil," he thought. And next he and his sons drew it on shore and set it up against a wall, that it might dry.

Some time after it happened that a poor, miserable beggar came to his door and begged for a bit of bread. The smith's wife gave him both beer and food, and he chanced to hear that the smith's name was Paul. They started to talk a little with one another, and then it became clear that the beggar was the same person who had once been called Rich Peter the Huckster and who in his youth had been a herd-boy together with Paul. The smith now made him welcome, and they told each other of how they had fared. Peter talked about his great mansion, his woods and his fine fisheries, and how he had lost it all after parting with his lucky penny. Paul on the other hand showed him his children and his little property.

When they had thus talked together for some time, the smith said that he must go out to his work; he was going to chop a piece of wood to make a block for his anvil.

When Peter soon after went into the yard, and looked at the piece of timber. He said: "I am not much mistaken, this has belonged to my eel-pond."

It proved to be true; for there was his name cut on the end of the log, and he told them why it was so chopped. At length his eyes fell on the wedge, which was so rotten that it came out as soon as it was touched. Then, to their great astonishment, out rolled the gold and silver. Peter thought that the money must be his, but did not know how it had got there.

Paul wished him to take it, saying, "It belongs to you by right."

But Peter did not care about it. "Money and lack of it," he said, "were in turn the cause of my misfortunes." Now he had neither courage nor strength to begin any new trade. It was the same to him how he dragged out the last days of his miserable life.

The smith wished at least to share the money with him, and also offered to keep him in his house and take care of him, but the other would not let him do that. It suited him best, he said, to wander from place to place; for he never felt at rest or at peace with himself; but he would once more before long return and see the old companion of his youth.

They smith and his family were unable to persuade him to remain with them, and next morning he again set out on his wanderings. As he would not take a single piece of the money that was found, the smith's wife consulted with her husband, and they agreed that they would bake a good part of the money into a loaf that she would give to the beggar to take with him on his journey. They thought, "When he finds the money he will find a use for it."

She then filled his bag with provisions and put the loaf in at the bottom.

Peter bade them farewell, said that hopefully he would come soon again, and set forth on his wanderings with his beggar's staff. The bag on his back soon felt too heavy, he took it off, examined it, and found that it was the loaf that weighed the most. He then went to the nearest cottage and said that some kind friends had given him a loaf to take on his journey, but it was too heavy for him to cany, and asked whether the cottagers would buy it of him. They said they would, and gave him as much for it as they thought it was worth. Then hecontinued on his way.

The woman who had bought the bread said to her husband: "The other day I borrowed a loaf from the smith. This one seems to be a well-baked one, so let us send it to him in its place." The man was afraid the loaf was too small, but when they weighed it, they found it had the right weight, which was caused by the money baked in it. So it was sent to the smith's, with their thanks for the loaf they had lent.

Paul and his wife were not a little astonished to see the money come back to them in such a strange way. But they would not use it, and determined to keep it till Peter should come again. But this never happened; for a few days after he was found dead in a field, with his bag of provisions and his staff by his side.

Paul now considered that he could with justice use the money as his own property, and so he passed his old age in wealth and happiness.

To top

The Magic Book

There was once an old couple named Peder and Kirsten who had an only son called Hans. From the time he was a little boy he had been told that on his sixteenth birthday he must go out into the world and serve his apprenticeship. So, one fine summer morning, he started off to seek his fortune with nothing but the clothes he wore on his back.

For many hours he trudged on merrily, now and then stopping to drink from some clear spring or to pick some ripe fruit from a tree. The little wild creatures peeped at him from beneath the bushes, and he nodded and smiled, and wished them "Good-morning." After he had been walking for some time he met an old white-bearded man who was coming along the footpath. The boy would not step aside, and the man was determined not to do so either, so they ran against one another with a bump.

"It seems to me," said the old fellow, 'that a boy should give way to an old man."

"The path is for me as well as for you," answered young Hans saucily, for he had never been taught politeness.

"Well, that's true enough," answered the other mildly. "And where are you going?"

"I am going into service," said Hans.

"Then you can come and serve me," replied the man.

Well, Hans could do that; but what would his wages be?

"Two pounds a year, and nothing to do but keep some rooms clean," said the new-comer.

This seemed to Hans to be easy enough; so he agreed to enter the old man's service, and they set out together. On their way they crossed a deep valley and came to a mountain, where the man opened a trapdoor, and bidding Hans follow him, he crept in and began to go down a long flight of steps. When they got to the bottom Hans saw a large number of rooms lit by many lamps and full of beautiful things. While he was looking round the old man said to him:

"Now you know what you have to do. You must keep these rooms clean, and strew sand on the floor every day. Here is a table where you will always find food and drink, and there is your bed. You see there are a great many suits of clothes hanging on the wall, and you may wear any you please; but remember that you are never to open this locked door. If you do ill will befall you. Farewell, for I am going away again and cannot tell when I may return.

No sooner had the old man disappeared than Hans sat down to a good meal, and after that went to bed and slept till the morning. At first he could not remember what had happened to him, but by-and-by he jumped up and went into all the rooms, which he examined carefully.

"How foolish to bid me to put sand on the floors," he thought, "when there is nobody here by myself! I shall do nothing of the sort." And so he shut the doors quickly, and only cleaned and set in order his own room. And after the first few days he felt that that was unnecessary too, because no one came there to see if the rooms where clean or not. At last he did no work at all, but just sat and wondered what was behind the locked door, till he determined to go and look for himself.

The key turned easily in the lock. Hans entered, half frightened at what he was doing, and the first thing he beheld was a heap of bones. That was not very cheerful; and he was just going out again when his eye fell on a shelf of books. Here was a good way of passing the time, he thought, for he was fond of reading, and he took one of the books from the shelf. It was all about magic, and told you how you could change yourself into anything in the world you liked. Could anything be more exciting or more useful? So he put it in his pocket, and ran quickly away out of the mountain by a little door which had been left open.

When he got home his parents asked him what he had been doing and where he had got the fine clothes he wore.

"Oh, I earned them myself," answered he.

"You never earned them in this short time," said his father. "Be off with you; I won't keep you here. I will have no thieves in my house!"

"Well I only came to help you," replied the boy sulkily. "Now I'll be off, as you wish; but to-morrow morning when you rise you will see a great dog at the door. Do not drive it away, but take it to the castle and sell it to the duke, and they will give you ten dollars for it; only you must bring the strap you lead it with, back to the house."

Sure enough the next day the dog was standing at the door waiting to be let in. The old man was rather afraid of getting into trouble, but his wife urged him to sell the dog as the boy had bidden him, so he took it up to the castle and sold it to the duke for ten dollars. But he did not forget to take off the strap with which he had led the animal, and to carry it home. When he got there old Kirsten met him at the door.

"Well, Peder, and have you sold the dog?" asked she.

"Yes, Kirsten; and I have brought back ten dollars, as the boy told us," answered Peder.

"Ay! but that's fine!" said his wife. "Now you see what one gets by doing as one is bid; if it had not been for me you would have driven the dog away again, and we should have lost the money. After all, I always know what is best."

"Nonsense!" said her husband; "women always think they know best. I should have sold the dog just the same whatever you had told me. Put the money away in a safe place, and don't talk so much."

The next day Hans came again; but though everything had turned out as he had foretold, he found that his father was still not quite satisfied.

"Be off with you!" said he, "you'll get us into trouble."

"I haven't helped you enough yet," replied the boy. "To-morrow there will come a great fat cow, as big as the house. Take it to the king's palace and you'll get as much as a thousand dollars for it. Only you must unfasten the halter you lead it with and bring it back, and don't return by the high road, but through the forest."

The next day, when the couple rose, they saw an enormous head looking in at their bedroom window, and behind it was a cow which was nearly as big as their hut. Kirsten was wild with joy to think of the money the cow would bring them.

"But how are you going to put the rope over her head?" asked she.

"Wait and you'll see, mother," answered her husband. Then Peder took the ladder that led up to the hayloft and set it against the cow's neck, and he climbed up and slipped the rope over her head. When he had made sure that the noose was fast they started for the palace, and met the king himself walking in his grounds.

"I heard that the princess was going to be married," said Peder, 'so I've brought your majesty a cow which is bigger than any cow that was ever seen. Will your majesty deign to buy it?"

The king had, in truth, never seen so large a beast, and he willingly paid the thousand dollars, which was the price demanded; but Peder remembered to take off the halter before he left. After he was gone the king sent for the butcher and told him to kill the animal for the wedding feast. The butcher got ready his pole-axe; but just as he was going to strike, the cow changed itself into a dove and flew away, and the butcher stood staring after it as if he were turned to stone. However, as the dove could not be found, he was obliged to tell the king what had happened, and the king in his turn despatched messengers to capture the old man and bring him back. But Peder was safe in the woods, and could not be found. When at last he felt the danger was over, and he might go home, Kirsten nearly fainted with joy at the sight of all the money he brought with him.

"Now that we are rich people we must build a bigger house," cried she; and was vexed to find that Peder only shook his head and said: "No; if they did that people would talk, and say they had got their wealth by ill-doing."

A few mornings later Hans came again.

"Be off before you get us into trouble," said his father. "So far the money has come right enough, but I don't trust it."

"Don't worry over that, father," said Hans. "To-morrow you will find a horse outside by the gate. Ride it to market and you will get a thousand dollars for it. Only don't forget to loosen the bridle when you sell it."

Well, in the morning there was the horse; Kirsten had never seen so find an animal. "Take care it doesn't hurt you, Peder," said she.

"Nonsense, wife," answered he crossly. "When I was a lad I lived with horses, and could ride anything for twenty miles round." But that was not quite the truth, for he had never mounted a horse in his life.

Still, the animal was quiet enough, so Peder got safely to market on its back. There he met a man who offered nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars for it, but Peder would take nothing less than a thousand. At last there came an old, grey-bearded man who looked at the horse and agreed to buy it; but the moment he touched it the horse began to kick and plunge. "I must take the bridle off," said Peder. "It is not to be sold with the animal as is usually the case."

"I'll give you a hundred dollars for the bridle," said the old man, taking out his purse.

"No, I can't sell it," replied Hans's father.

"Five hundred dollars!"

"No."

"A thousand!"

At this splendid offer Peder's prudence gave way; it was a shame to let so much money go. So he agreed to accept it. But he could hardly hold the horse, it became so unmanageable. So he gave the animal in charge to the old man, and went home with his two thousand dollars.

Kirsten, of course, was delighted at this new piece of good fortune, and insisted that the new house should be built and land bought. This time Peder consented, and soon they had quite a fine farm.

Meanwhile the old man rode off on his new purchase, and when he came to a smithy he asked the smith to forge shoes for the horse. The smith proposed that they should first have a drink together, and the horse was tied up by the spring while they went indoors. The day was hot, and both men were thirsty, and, besides, they had much to say; and so the hours slipped by and found them still talking. Then the servant girl came out to fetch a pail of water, and, being a kind- hearted lass, she gave some to the horse to drink. What was her surprise when the animal said to her: "Take off my bridle and you will save my life."

"I dare not," said she; "your master will be so angry."

"He cannot hurt you," answered the horse, "and you will save my life."

At that she took off the bridle; but nearly fainted with astonishment when the horse turned into a dove and flew away just as the old man came out of the house. Directly he saw what had happened he changed himself into a hawk and flew after the dove. Over the woods and fields they went, and at length they reached a king's palace surrounded by beautiful gardens. The princess was walking with her attendants in the rose garden when the dove turned itself into a gold ring and fell at her feet.

"Why, here is a ring!" she cried, "where could it have come from?" And picking it up she put it on her finger. As she did so the hill-man lost his power over Hans—for of course you understand that it was he who had been the dog, the cow, the horse and the dove.

"Well, that is really strange," said the princess. "It fits me as though it had been made for me!"

Just at that moment up came the king.

"Look at what I have found!" cried his daughter.

"Well, that is not worth much, my dear," said he. "Besides, you have rings enough, I should think."

"Never mind, I like it," replied the princess.

But as soon as she was alone, to her amazement, the ring suddenly left her finger and became a man. You can imagine how frightened she was, as, indeed, anybody would have been; but in an instant the man became a ring again, and then turned back to a man, and so it went on for some time till she began to get used to these sudden changes.

"I am sorry I frightened you," said Hans, when he thought he could safely speak to the princess without making her scream. "I took refuge with you because the old hill-man, whom I have offended, was trying to kill me, and here I am safe."

"You had better stay here then," said the princess. So Hans stayed, and he and she became good friends; though, of course, he only became a man when no one else was present.

This was all very well; but, one day, as they were talking together, the king happened to enter the room, and although Hans quickly changed himself into a ring again it was too late.

The king was terribly angry.

"So this is why you have refused to marry all the kings and princes who have sought your hand?" he cried.

And, without waiting for her to speak, he commanded that his daughter should be walled up in the summer-house and starved to death with her lover.

That evening the poor princess, still wearing her ring, was put into the summer-house with enough food to last for three days, and the door was bricked up. But at the end of a week or two the king thought it was time to give her a grand funeral, in spite of her bad behaviour, and he had the summer-house opened. He could hardly believe his eyes when he found that the princess was not there, nor Hans either. Instead, there lay at his feet a large hole, big enough for two people to pass through.

Now what had happened was this.

When the princess and Hans had given up hope, and cast themselves down on the ground to die, they fell down this hole, and right through the earth as well, and at last they tumbled into a castle built of pure gold at the other side of the world, and there they lived happily. But of this, of course, the king knew nothing.

"Will anyone go down and see where the passage leads to?" he asked, turning to his guards and courtiers. "I will reward splendidly the man who is brave enough to explore it."

For a long time nobody answered. The hole was dark and deep, and if it had a bottom no one could see it. At length a soldier, who was a careless sort of fellow, offered himself for the service, and cautiously lowered himself into the darkness. But in a moment he, too, fell down, down, down. Was he going to fall for ever, he wondered! Oh, how thankful he was in the end to reach the castle, and to meet the princess and Hans, looking quite well and not at all as if they had been starved. They began to talk, and the soldier told them that the king was very sorry for the way he had treated his daughter, and wished day and night that he could have her back again.

Then they all took ship and sailed home, and when they came to the princess's country, Hans disguised himself as the sovereign of a neighbouring kingdom, and went up to the palace alone. He was given a hearty welcome by the king, who prided himself on his hospitality, and a banquet was commanded in his honour. That evening, while they sat drinking their wine, Hans said to the king:

"I have heard the fame of your majesty's wisdom, and I have travelled from far to ask your counsel. A man in my country has buried his daughter alive because she loved a youth who was born a peasant. How shall I punish this unnatural father, for it is left to me to give judgment?"

The king, who was still truly grieved for his daughter's loss, answered quickly:

"Burn him alive, and strew his ashes all over the kingdom."

Hans looked at him steadily for a moment, and then threw off his disguise.

"You are the man," said he; "and I am he who loved your daughter, and became a gold ring on her finger. She is safe, and waiting not far from here; but you have pronounced judgment on yourself."

Then the king fell on his knees and begged for mercy; and as he had in other respects been a good father, they forgave him. The wedding of Hans and the princess was celebrated with great festivities which lasted a month. As for the hill-man he intended to be present; but while he was walking along a street which led to the palace a loose stone fell on his head and killed him. So Hans and the princess lived in peace and happiness all their days, and when the old king died they reigned instead of him.

[From Æventyr fra Jylland samlede og optegnede af Tang Kristensen. Translated from the Danish by Mrs. Skavgaard-Pedersen.]

TO TOP

The Story of Sigurd

[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 rocks pictures 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 Danes.]

Once on 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 ring.

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 you are that have slain me this gold shall be your 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, 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 Gram.

Then all the birds broke out singing:

"We know a fair maid, A fair maiden sleeping; Sigurd, be not afraid, Sigurd, win 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 you Come 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 on 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 keep."

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 on 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 you 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.

The Volsunga Saga.

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