Friday, November 29, 2002

Sigurd Part IV

Signy went to Seggeir, privately, and said, “I think you shouldn’t kill my brothers right away, but you should put them in stocks. For my sake, please don’t kill them quite yet.”

Seggeir mocked her, “You are crazy! It is far worse for your proud brothers to be put in stocked that to be merely killed. I am happy to do what you ask; they should suffer more.”

Seggeir had a big tree trunk in the forest made into stocks that would fit all ten of the brothers at once. He clapped all of them in the stocks and left them there in the woods.

At night, they were still there, helpless. A huge hungry wolf found them, and ate one of them.

In the morning, Signy’s man told her what had happened. She was horrified and filled with grief, but there was nothing she could do. Every night, the wolf came back to eat another brother. At last, only Sigmund, her twin was left.

This time, Signy sent her man to Sigmund, with some honey. She told him to smear the honey all over Sigmund’s face and to put some in his mouth. This done, he went away and left Sigmund to his fate.

Naturally, the wolf came back again for her supper. But this time she smelled the honey. She licked it all off Sigmund’s face, and was beginning to lick the honey out of the inside of his mouth. Sigmund was ready for this, and when her tongue licked into his mouth, he bit down hard and wouldn’t let go.

The wolf jerked back in pain, and kicked at the tree to get away. The tree broke, freeing Sigmund. But he still wouldn’t let go! He clung onto the struggling wolf until her tongue ripped out, and she died.

Some people say that the wolf was Seggeir’s mother, who was a witch and could turn herself into other creatures. Could be. But Sigmund took care of her!

So now he is free! He ran into the woods and stayed there. Signy sent men to find out where he was, and when she found out, she went to him.

Together, they made him a cozy home in the ground in the woods. Sigmund stayed there for quite a while.

But King Seggeir thought he had killed the whole Volsung family. But Signy turned inside herself, plotting revenge.

She had two sons by Seggeir. When the oldest was ten, she sent him to see Sigmund, to see if he could help Sigmund take his revenge on Seggeir.
Sigmund received the boy, and talked with him for a while. Then he gave him a sack of flour and asked him to make bread while he went out to gather firewood.

This was just a test for the boy.

When Sigmund came back, he asked where the bread was. The boy said, “There was something in the bag, and I didn’t want to open in.”

Sigmund lost all respect for the boy, because he had no courage. He knew that the boy would be no help avenging their family.

When he saw Signy next, he told her that. Signy said, “Kill him them. I have no more use for him.” And Sigmund did.

When he next boy was old enough, the same thing happened to him.

Signy despaired of finding the proper man to help Sigmund take revenge upon Seggeir. She was sitting in her chamber, trying to decide what to do about it, when a sorceress of great skill came in to see her.

Signy saw her opportunity: “Change shapes with me!” The sorceress agreed. After all, Signy was the queen.

So they switched shapes, and the sorceress stayed in the palace. The king never knew it wasn’t Signy.

But Signy, in the shape of the sorceress, was off to the woods to see Sigmund. I’m only telling you what happened.

Signy went up to Sigmund’s door, “Please,” she said, “I am a poor woman, cold in the woods. Please let me in and give me shelter.”

Sigmund let her in and treated her well. He never had any idea that it was his sister. He fed her dinner and looked closely at her. She seemed like a fine woman to him. You can imagine what happened next. He asked her to sleep with him, and she did.

For three nights, they were together. Then Signy left to go back to the castle. She met with the sorceress and changed shapes again. No one ever knew.

But now she had a baby. He was the child of Sigmund. She named him Sinfjotli when he was born. As he grew up, he was strong and looked all Volsung. Well, he was.

Even before he was ten, Signy sent him to Sigmund. He went through the same bake-bread-while-I-gather-firewood scenario. When Sigmund came back, the bread was all ready for him.

Sigmund asked him if he had found anything in the flour. Sinfjotli replied, “I suspect there was something, but whatever it was, I just mixed it in with the bread.”

Sigmund was delighted with this response. He said, “You might not want to eat this bread for dinner tonight. You kneaded in the most poisonous snake into the bread.”

Sigmund ate the bread, though. He was tough enough to stand any poison. Sinfjotli could only stand external poison; he couldn’t eat it.

posted by Murphy 11/29/2002

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Once the sword was out of the tree, everyone could see it was finer and more beautiful than they had even thought. Everyone admired it.

King Seggeir really wanted the sword. He said to Sigmund, “I’ll give you three times its weight in gold for that sword.”

I think this really shows that Seggeir was an idiot. Everyone in the hall knew that the sword was special, not something you just buy. Sigmund was meant to have it, and that’s why he was the only one who could pull it out.

Sigmund turned Seggeir down, “ You could have taken the sword from where it stood, no less than I did, if it were meant for you to carry it; but now that it has come first into my hands, you will never get it, even if you should offer me all the gold you own.”

Well. Seggeir did not like that answer one bit. He thought that Sigmund was being a snotty-nose punk and that he had no right to talk that way or even THINK that way about him, the mighty King Seggeir.

But he kept a straight face. He already knew how to lie. He didn’t say much more about it. But he decided he had to leave.

This was totally rude! Wedding feasts were supposed to go on for days and days. It gave everyone a chance to celebrate, and the family a chance to say goodbye to their daughter or sister. King Seggeir tried to cover up how rude he was being by saying, “You all must visit my kingdom soon. Everybody! Bring all your friends and servants and whoever you want! In three months, okay?”

Volsung and his family agreed to come, and Seggeir left with Signy.

Now this is where is gets sad. King Volsung and all his sons got ready and came when they promised, suspecting nothing. But when their boats reached King Seggeir’s kingdom it was dark.

Signy was waiting for them. She snuck up to see them, because she had to warn them.

She told her dad, “Seggeir has been waiting for you, but he has gathered together a huge army to fight with you and kill you. You must turn around at once. Gather up your armies and come back prepared to meet with him in battle! Otherwise, you will be trapped by his lies and surprise attack!”

But Volsung seemed to have a habit of not listening to his only daughter. He made light of the situation and got all heroic and fatalistic. This is exactly what he said:

“All peoples bear witness that unborn I spoke one word and made the vow that I would flee neither fire nor iron from fear, and so I have done until now. Why should I not fulfill that vow in my old age? Maidens will not taunt my sons during games by saying that they feared their deaths, for each man must at one time die. No one may escape dying that once, and it is my counsel that we not flee, but for our own part act the bravest. I have fought a hundred times, sometimes with a larger army and sometimes with a lesser on. Both ways I have had the victory, and it will not be reported that I either fled or asked for peace.”

Stubborn Volsung! He was being very brave, but I don’t think he was being very smart. In those days, our people felt like peace was another word for coward, or “not good enough to win.” He wouldn’t go back and regroup.

Signy was completely upset; she cried and said she wanted to stay with them and not go back to the wicked Seggeir. But her father told her that her duty was with her husband, no matter what happened with the battle.

She left, crying and distraught, to go back to her husband.

Volsung and all the brothers armed themselves and got ready for the war they knew would be happening. As soon as they stepped off the boat in the morning, they walked into Seggeir’s army.

Wow, they fought like the best, hacking and slashing their way through the ranks of the enemy. They had gone through the ranks eight times and were turning around to do it again, when Volsung fell. The brothers looked around, and realized that their father was down and the rest of their ranks were all down except for themselves, the ten sons of Volsung.

The odds were too great. Seggeir’s men captured them, and took them away bound in chains.

Signy heard about it pretty quickly. She was full of grief that her father was dead, but since her brothers were still alive, she wanted to do anything she could think of to help them.

posted by Murphy 11/28/2002

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Volsung grew up and was really good at everything people wanted him to do. He could hunt, and he could fight. When he was old enough, Hrimnir sent his daughter Hjold to marry him.

Hjold was the one who had dropped the apple for Odin on Hrimnir's lap. She was a very special lady, not for just anybody. But Hrimnir could tell that Volsung was the right kind of man for her. They were married, and were incredibly close. They loved each other very much and told each other everything.

He had all kinds of treasure, and he had built a big hall to be his palace. The hall had a lot of marvelous things in it, but one of the most amazing was the big tree that grew in the middle of the hall. It was huge, with a strong trunk and branches that spread all throughout the roof. The tree would blossom beautifully; you can imagine how much they loved this tree and how proud they were. They called the tree Barnstock.

Volsung didn't have the same only-child problems his grandfather and father had. He and Hjold had 11 kids, 10 boys and 1 girl. First off, they had twins. That was where the daughter came in; the twins were a boy and a girl named Sigmund and Signy. They really were the rulers of the roost among the kids. Everyone knew they were the handsomest and the best at whatever. They were really good friends too.

After they had grown up, a neighboring king took interest in Signy. His name was Siggeir, and he was a very popular king. To Volsung and his sons, Siggeir seemed to be everything they could want for Signy. But Signy didn't like him.

Back in those days, women didn't really get to pick their own husband. Especially royalty. I mean, it's like that now, too. Political alliances and all kinds of other considerations got it the way. Maybe that's was Volsung was thinking about when he decided to let SIggeir marry Signy.

She was trying to be a good girl, and obey her father. She told him that she didn't want to marry Siggeir, but that she would do what he said.

Naturally, Volsung said marry him.

But at the wedding supper, the strangest thing happened! This old man, in a shabby hooded cloak and no shoes walked into the hall carrying a sword. Weirdest of all, he only had ONE EYE. Volsung's family and all the guests were so amazed, they completed forgot their manners and just stared at him.

This one-eyed man walked straight up to Barnstock and stabbed the sword into the tree all the way to the hilt. He announced, "He who draws the sword out of the trunk shall receive it from me as a gift, and he himself shall prove that he has never carried a better sword than this one."

Then, he turned around, and walked straight out of the room. That is all they heard from him.

As you can imagine, everyone was stunned!

But as soon as they came to themselves, there was a mad dash for the sword. All the men tried to pull it out. Every last one of them, regardless of rank, pulled and tugged and kicked and yanked at the sword, trying to get it out of the tree.

Everyone could see that it was a really good sword. Plus, they all wanted to prove that they were the ones worthy of the challenge.
Finally, after everyone else had had a shot, Sigmund steps up and pulls out the sword.

As easy as that!

I'll tell you more next time...

posted by Murphy 11/27/2002

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Every family has its stories. Maybe some of them are stories older siblings tell on younger siblings. My brother likes to tell the story of how I loved to shove rice krispies up my nose when I was in my high chair.
My mom likes to tell the story of how she fell in love with my dad. It was on their second date, and they were at the zoo. She said, “I don’t think I should say this so soon…But I think I am in love with you.”
My dad answered, “Me too.”

My dad has a story about his grandmother. Everyone knows this story. My frontierswoman grandmother, who was barely 5 feet tall, was outside one day with the baby. She was doing her regular chores, and then she noticed that there was a WOLF coming towards her child. Nobody was going to mess with her baby! She grabbed an axe and killed the wolf all by herself.

Imagine that!

It’s entered the family legends. There are lots of them. And it’s interesting, because no one that tells the story now was alive when the wolf was killed. But that’s okay, because it’s our family history.

I just read a little piece of my family history. It’s called Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Yeah, I’ll call it family history, why not? My family comes from Nordic stock. We are every one of us Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Germanic, big, tall, fair-haired and PALE. The original folks who told the story of Sigurd were Scandinavian, or Goths. I’m sure we were related somehow.

So I will claim kin, and tell you one of the family legends. It’s time you all heard it.

I have to start with a little background on Sigurd. He was supposed to be descended from Odin. But I have a few doubts about it. There might be some skeletons in the “descended from the gods” closet; I’ll let you hear the evidence and decide.

But even if he wasn’t Odin’s great-grandson, he still was quite a hero.

There was a man named Sigi, and HE was the son of Odin, so they say. Now, he had a servant or slave, what they called a thrall back then, named Bredi. Bredi was one of the best of men, really a great guy. He was strong and brave, far more than anyone expected a servant to be. Once, Sigi and Bredi were out hunting for deer. Sigi tried to capture and kill this stag, but he missed. Bredi kept chasing it though, and he caught it.

When Sigi caught up to Bredi, and saw that he’d caught the deer, he was jealous and mad. He lost it, and said, “how dare you, a slave, catch a deer when I cannot!”

He killed Bredi.

Now, back then, if you killed someone and admitted it, it was okay. I mean, they didn’t want people to go around KILLING each other, but if you owned up to it, they would let you make it right. They would let you off easier; you had to pay a man-price called “Were Gild” according to the value of the person. There were set amounts for how much the lives of different classes of people were worth. A slave was worth less than a king--I do remember that.

But Sigi was a coward. He hid Bredi in a snowdrift and took off.

Big no-no. If he were found out, he would be considered a murderer, and would have to be dealt with as such.

Sigi took the long route home. When he got there, people asked where Bredi was. He tried to act innocent. Bredi wandered off, he told them. He acted like he was surprised Bredi wasn’t back yet.

But they smelled a fish. That didn’t sound right to the people, and they went looking for Bredi. Maybe they had already figured out Sigi’s character. I guess it doesn’t mean much to have Odin as your daddy—you can still be a lying good-for-nothing.

They found Bredi in the snowdrift. After that, Bredi was the word they used for snowdrift, and even glacier.

But it also meant that Sigi was in trouble. He ran. He knew that they would consider him a “wolf in hallowed places” if he stayed amongst them. He couldn’t be trusted.

Odin stepped in again. I guess he was trying to help out his son. They went traveling, and as the story goes, they took a trip so long it was amazing. I don’t know anything about where they went or what they did, but the next thing you know, Sigi is married to somebody. He seemed to think she was quite a catch, and for all I know she was. But I never caught her name. He had built himself up all kinds of treasure and gotten himself made king of somewhere. So this lady was his queen.

Sigi and his queen had a son; they named him Rerir. He was a good boy, by the standards of the day. He managed to fight hard, like the princes are supposed to do, get gold and a kingdom, and he married a worthy woman. I never caught her name either, but I do know they really loved each other, and were very happy.

The only problem was that they were having some trouble conceiving. They prayed to their gods, long and loud, because they really wanted to have a child. Well, Rerir was Odin’s grandson after all. Freya, Odin’s wife, heard their cries. Like a good wife, she reminded Odin to take care of the problem.

I don’t know what Freya thought of Odin’s relationship with Sigi. I mean, really. I am pretty darn sure Odin was fooling around when Sigi was “in process.” But Freya was nice about Rerir’s problem. She thought Rerir was a very good man, a warrior and all kinds of other good things. So she spoke to Odin about it.

Odin decided to enlist the help of a Valkyrie wish-maiden. I really don’t know that much about this woman, but she’s important later. The wish-maiden was the stepdaughter or something to the Giant Hremnir. Apparently, they needed Hremnir help with this.

Odin gave the wish-maiden an apple, a special apple. The wish maiden changed into a crow (a crow!) and kind of nonchalantly flew over to Hremnir with this special apple. She’s sitting up over Hremnir while he’s on the ceremonial mound outside his house. Hremnir is surveying his domain from the mound, and the wish-maiden-turned-crow drops the apple in his lap.

Hremnir is no fool, whatever you may have heard about giants. He sees the apple and knows right away what’s up. But I guess he’s okay with it, because he takes it and goes to see Rerir’s queen.

Now, this is the part of the story that makes me raise my eyebrows. They SAY that they just “shared the apple,” but that sounds a little euphemistic to me. I don’t KNOW what happened, and I am not saying what happened or what didn’t, but you can be the judge.

All we know for sure is that afterwards the queen was pregnant, and they were overjoyed. That special apple did the trick.

But back then kings were always off warring. It was part of the job, I guess, they had to keep up with the killing, or they would lose respect I guess. King and Peace didn’t really belong in the same sentence, at least not they way they made it sound. So, Rerir had to leave and go battle somebody while his queen was still pregnant.

Only this time, he actually gets killed. While he is in his old-style lingering death throes, the queen manages to get her pregnant body down to the battlefield and say goodbye.

“Isn’t there anything I can do? Let’s get you patched up, “ she says.

But Rerir is a hero in all senses of the word. “There is no point. If I knew that I was never going to die, that would be one thing. But this is something that comes to everyone. It is my time to die.”

The queen was beside herself with grief. She stayed with Rerir on the battlefield, as he passed away. He told her not to be too sad, that she was carrying a son and he would also be a great hero. Finally, he died.

Now, the queen was having some trouble with her pregnancy. She was apparently pretty strong and healthy, but the baby did not want to come out. She was pregnant for 6 years. You can imagine this was not an optimal situation. The child kept growing within her. Finally, she realized that she was going to die because of the child. She told a doctor that he should open her up and take the child, because she was going to die anyway. The child came out, and he was a boy.

He was huge! He had been growing all along inside her, but he was a big boy for being six. His whole life, he was larger than other men who were considered big.

But he was able to kiss his mother before she died. She named him Volsung.

He became a famous hero, and all his children were named after him. In fact, a famous poem, called the Volsungasaga was written about him and his family.

Yes, my family! We should be proud.

I’ll tell you more about him tomorrow. We haven’t gotten to the part about Sigurd yet.

Just wait.

posted by Murphy 11/26/2002

Monday, November 25, 2002

Driving around my new city last friday night, I stumbled upon a Peace demonstration. Lots of people in Hollywood were standing in the warm night, holding signs and chanting things: PEACE!

There were quiet a lot of people. I thought it was a very nice night for a protest. It really was quite warm and pleasant. There were a lot of kids out.

As I was waiting at a red light, I saw a man dressed as the grim reaper, propping up a protest sign and a scythe.

He had a frightening yellow skull mask over his face: the reaper wants peace!

While I watched him, he brought a lighted cigarette to the mouth hole of his mask and took some long drags.

The irony is unbelievable.
posted by Murphy 11/25/2002

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