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Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume II  : Part 2: Germanic Mythology
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The Story of Norna-Gest

9. Of Brynhild and Lodbrokarson

"It is now yet to be told," said Gest, "that I traveled north to Denmark, and settled down on my inheritance, since my father had died shortly before. Shortly afterward I heard of the death of Sigurd and the Gjukungs, and I thought that was important news."

The king said: "How was Sigurd slain?"

Gest answered: "Most men say that Guttorm Gjukason ran a sword through him when he was sleeping in Gudrun's bed. The German men say that Sigurd was slain out in the woods. But small birds said that Sigurd and the sons of Gjuki had ridden to a Thing and they slew him then. But one thing is said by all, that they ventured on him when he was lying down and unprotected, and betrayed him during a truce."

One of the men asked: "How did Brynhild respond then?"

Gest answered: "Then Brynhild killed seven of her slaves and five handmaidens, and ran a sword through herself, and bade that she be taken to the pyre along with these people and burned to death. And so it was done, that one pyre was made for her, and another for Sigurd, and he was burned before Brynhild. She was driven in a chariot, with a canopy of velvet and costly stuff, and everything gleamed with gold, and so she was burned.

Then people asked Gest, if Brynhild had chanted anything when she was dead. He said that this was true. They bade him chant it, if he could.

Then Gest said: "When Brynhild was taken to the pyre on the way to Hell, she was taken near some cliffs. There a giantess dwelled. She was out before the doors of her cave and was in a black leather kirtle."

She had a long wand from the forest in her hand, and said: "I will offer this for your burning, Brynhild, and it would be better if you were burned alive for your deeds, that you had Sigurd Fafnisbani, such a splendid man, slain. I was often his companion, and because of that, I will address you in song with words of vengeance, so that everyone will see you as loathsome who hears such things about you.

After that, Brynhild and the giantess chanted to one another. The giantess sang:

"You shall not
Go through
The stone portals
Of my courtyard.

It would have seemed better for you
To weave a tapestry
Rather than to attack
A comfortable house.

Why shall you
Visit my house
From Vallandi
Fickle head.

You have given the robber-wolves
If they come to attack
Many a man's blood
For food."

Then Brynhild sang:

"Do not reproach me
Bride from the stone
Although I was formerly
Involved in plundering
I must, of us two
Appear the higher
wherever noble men
knew us."

The giantess sang:

"You are, Brynhild
Daughter of Budli.

In an evil hour
You were born into the world
You have destroyed
The children of Gjuki
And broken up
Their good home."

Brynhild sang:

"I must say to you
True words
Deceitful woman
If you wish to know
How the heirs
Of Gjuki made me
without love
and with broken vows.

The courageous king
Delivered me from sorrow.

Eight sisters
Living under the oak.

I was twelve years old
If you wish to know
When I swore an oath
To the young king.

I caused the old
Brother of a giantess,
Hjalmgunnar, the next one
To be doomed to die.

I gave to victory to the young
Brother of Auda.

Odinn was wrathful
Because of that.
He surrounded me with shields
Edges touching
Red and white
In Skatland.

Then he bade him
To tear me from my sleep,
Who in no land
Knew fear.

He caused to burn
Around my south-facing hall
Howling dogs of fire
The masts from on high.

Then he bade him
Alone to ride over.

Then is brought to me
The gold of Fafnir.

The bestower of gold
rode good Grani
there where my foster father
ruled his hall
Alone he seemed there
The Danish Viking,
Best to all
In high worth.

We slept and were content in one bed
As if he as my brother
Had been born.

Each of us could
Lie there
One hand over the other
For eight nights.

Thus Gudrun reproached me
Daughter of Gjuki
That I slept
In Sigurd's arms.

Then I became aware
Of that I wished not to know
That they had betrayed me
In taking a husband.

In adversity
All too long
Women and men
Shall be born living.

We shall never
Tear ourselves apart
Sigurd, together.
Sink now, giantess."

Then the giantess cried out a terrible scream, and leaped into the cliff.

Then the king's retainers said: "That is fine, and tell us more."

The king said: "There is no need to say more of such things."

The king said: "Were you ever with Lodbrok's sons.

Gest answered: "I was with them for a short time. I came to them when they were plundering south in the Alps and destroyed Vifilsborg. Everyone was terrified of them, since they were victorious wherever they went, and they intended at that time to go to Rome.

One day a man came from King Bjorn Ironside and greeted him. The king received him well and asked from where he might have come. He said that he had come from the south, from Rome."

The king asked: "How long is it to there."

He answered: "Here you must see, O king, the shoe which I have on my foot."

He then took an iron-shoe from his foot, and it was very thick on top, but quite ragged underneath. "The way to Rome is so long as you can see from my shoes, how badly they have suffered."

The king said: "It is a terribly long journey to travel, and we must turn around and not plunder in Rome."

And they did so, traveling no longer, and everyone thought that it was extraordinary, to change their minds so suddenly, on the word of one man, all of which they had previously resolved to. After that, the sons of Lodbrok returned home to the north, and no longer plundered in the south."

The king said: "It was obvious that the holy men in Rome would not allow their passage there, and the man must have been a spirit sent by God, that they changed their plans so suddenly and not do damage to the holiest place of Jesus Christ in Rome."

10: Where Gest Thought it Best to be a King's Man

The king asked Gest further: "Where have you come to the king, whose court seemed best to you?"

Gest said: "I found it most enjoyable with Sigurd and the sons of Gjuki. But the sons of Lodbrok allowed their men to live most independently, as they wished. But with Eirik at Uppsala there was the most happiness. Harald Fair-haired was more difficult with his retainers than any of the previously named kings. I was also with King Hlodve of Saxony, and was given the sign of the cross, for otherwise I would not be allowed there, since Christianity was observed carefully there, and there it seemed to me, on the whole, the best."

The king said: "You can tell us much news, if we wish to ask."

The king then asked many things of Gest. Gest told him everything quite distinctly, until as last he spoke so: "Now I must tell you, why I am called Norna-Gest."

The king said that he wished to hear that.

11: The Prophesy of Norna-Gest

I was brought up in my father's house in that place called Graening. My father was quite wealthy and kept his house in a lavish manner. At that time seeresses, who were called prophetesses, traveled around the land, and told people the future. For this reason, people used to invite them to their houses and prepared feasts for them, and gave them gifts when they parted. My father also did so, and they came to him with a company of men, and they were to foretell my fate. I lay in my cradle, and they were to speak of my fate. Two candles were burning above me. They spoke to me and said that I would be very lucky, greater than my other forbears, or sons of chieftains in the land, and said that everything would come to pass according to my fate. The youngest Norn thought that she was too little valued compared to the other two, since they did not ask her about such prophesies, and so they were valued more. There were also a number of ribald men there, who pushed her off her seat so that she fell to the ground.

She was quite angry at this. She called out loudly and angrily, and bade them cease such good prophesies about me, -- " for I assign his future, that he shall not live longer than that candle burns, which is lighted beside him."

After that, the oldest seeress took the candle and extinguished it, and bade my mother keep it safely and not to light it until the last day of my life. After that, the prophetesses went away, and bundled up the young Norn and so kept her away, and my father gave them good gifts at their departure. When I was full-grown, my mother gave me the candle for safe-keeping. I have it with me now.

The king said: "Why did you come here to us?"

Gest answered: "This came into my mind. I came here hoping that some good fortune would be allotted to me, since you have been very much praised by good and wise men."

The king said: "Will you take holy baptism now?"

Gest answered: "I will do whatever you advise."

It was then done, and the king took him into his affection and made him one of his retainers. Gest was loyal to the king, and followed the customs of the king well. He was beloved by everyone.

12: The Death of Gest

One day, the king asked Gest: "How long do you wish to live, if you could choose?

Gest answered: "Just a short time, if God wills it."

The king said: "What will happen, if you take your candle now?"

Gest then took his candle from the frame of his harp. The king bade it to be lit, and so it was done. And when the candle was lighted, it burned quickly.

The king asked Gest: "How old a man are you?"

Gest answered: "I am now three hundred years old."

"You are quite old," said the king.

Gest lay down. He asked them to anoint him with oil. The king had it done. And when it was done, there were very little of the candle left unburned. Then people realized that Gest had little time left. Gest passed away just as the candle was fully burned, and everyone thought that his passing was remarkable. The king thought much of his story, and thought that what he said of his life was quite true.

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