The Lay of Volund (Summary)

There was once a Swedish king named Níthoth (“Grim Warrior”) who had two sons and a daughter, Bothvild (“War-Maiden”). There were also three sons of a Finnish king. They were named Slagfith (“Finn-Smith”), Egil and Volund (this name has not yet been properly explained, but may be connected with the Old Norse word vél, meaning “craft”). They were running on snowshoes while hunting game and, coming eventually to the Wolfdales, made themselves a house by some water called Wolf Lake.

One morning these young men woke and found by the shore three young women who were spinning flax. These women were valkyries, and being so had swanskins which they had laid beside themselves at the time.

Two were daughters of a king named Hlothvér. These two were called Hlathguth the Swanwhite and Hervor the Allwise. The third valkyrie was Olrún. She was the daughter of King Kíar of Valland. (In order, their names mean “the Necklace-Adorned Warrior-Maiden”, “the Warder of the Host” and “the One Knowing Ale Runes”.)

The brothers, seeing the lovely valkyries on the shore’s edge, took their swanskins and the women as their wives in doing so. Egil took Olrún, Slagfith took Hlathguth, and Volund took Hervor. They all stayed coupled in this manner for seven years before the women were overcome by their inborn longing to be valkyries again. At this time the women left to be at battles and did not return (note: “to be at” does not necessarily mean they actually fought in the battles. It is also a possibility that they hung around the back lines and handed new shields and swords to disarmed men,tended the wounded, or did other things like this. A village cannot survive without an ample supply of women, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to send them to the front lines to be slaughtered).

Egil and Slagfith went forth on snowshoes to look for their wives while Volund stayed in the Wolfdales and waited for his wife to come home. The Njára King, Níthoth heard that Volund was alone in the Wolfdales and went at night with his men to wait for Volund. At his home in the Wolfdales they found seven hundred of the smith’s rings. They only took one so as not to arouse suspicion, though it probably had magic power (suspicion was best avoided since Volund was termed to be a lord of the alfs with supernatural strength).

Volund the Smith, weary from the hunt, soon came striding home.

He made a fire to cook the meat of a bear. He broiled the meat and laid himself down on bearskins to rest. (This is a bit similar to Heracles/Hercules being associated with a lion and wearing a lion skin. He was strong and brave like a lion while Volund is more like a bear. If you also imagine totem animals as magically absorbing damage a warrior receives in battle while giving him strength, that would mean Heracles drew power from the lion while Volund drew power from the bear, and each of their respective animal totems would have absorbed some of their pain.)

Volund rested on these bearskins still as he noticed that one of his rings was missing. His hope was that his wife had come home and taken it. He sat awake for a long time waiting for her before he fell asleep. This is what King Níthoth and his men were waiting for.

As Volund slept, they put heavy shackles on his hands and fastened his feet with strong fetters. When the smith woke he asked who had done this thing to him. Níthoth, rather than giving him a straight answer, accused Volund of stealing from him the gold rings which he and his men had found, and Volund was brought to the king’s hall. In this place King Níthoth gave his daughter Bothvild the gold ring he had stolen from Volund’s hall, and he himself kept the sword Volund had owned.

The Queen mentioned to her husband in a low voice that Volund clearly had hate in his flashing eyes, like the glittering orbs of an adder. She mentioned how he bared his teeth when looking upon his sword and ring, both stolen from him. Then she made the following suggestion, still speaking to her husband in a low voice: “Sever ye soon his sinews’ might, let him sit henceforth in Sævarstath.” (“Sævarstath” = “Stead by the Sea”)

So Volund was hamstrung and set down on an isle called Sævarstath, which wasn’t far from land. Volund then worked with metal to make the king all manner of precious things. During this time, only the king dared to go see him.

Seeing his sword at the king’s side and his bride’s armring being worn by the king’s daughter greatly disheartened him. Then King Níthoth‘s sons drifted to his door one day.

They called for the keys to the chest as they wished to see gold and gems and wealth so wondrous. Naturally, it was at this time that Volund conceived his plan of vengeance. He told them to come back the next day and said he would give them gold then. (There is another version in which he tells them to come after the first snowfall and walk backwards to the door. He later shows the king the tracks leading from the door to clear from himself the suspicion of being involved in their disappearance, which will be explained presently.)

They returned and Volund cut off their heads. He buried their bodies under the bellows’ pit.

He turned their skulls into drinking vessels, set them in silver, and sent them to the king. He made their eyeballs into shining beads and gave them to the cunning queen. Then he made their teeth into beauteous brooches which he sent to the king’s daughter.

(Unfortunately, there is a line missing here. I will summarize based on context as best I can.)

Bothvild, still bearing the ring of Volund’s wife, took it back to the smith in secret so as not to let anyone else know it was broken. Volund told her that he would heal the ring in such a way that would make it seem even fairer to her father, much better to her mother, and the same as before to herself. He then proceeded to get her so drunk that she fell fast asleep. Volund escaped laughing (he may have made himself a pair of wings during his captivity and used these to escape as in the Greek story of Daidalos). When Bothvild woke, she fled the island out of fear of Volund’s escape and her father’s wrath. She wept.

 

Volund rested now on a high house wall as he listened to the queen speak with King Níthoth. She asked him whether he was awake, to which he replied that he had barely slept since the death of his sons. He complained of despair and the cold (i.e. cruel) counsel of women (in accordance with the Old Norse proverb, “woman’s counsel is cold”), as his wife’s words only served to chill him even further rather than helping his grief.

In desperation for an explanation for the early deaths of the sons, he cried out, “Make answer, Volund, thou alfs’ leader! What hath become of my hapless boys?”

The unpleasant reply went as follows:

“Ere shalt thou swear     all oaths to me,

by ship’s bulwark     and shield’s border,

by swift steed’s shoulder     and sharpest sword:

that to Volund’s wife     thou work no harm,

nor brew for my bride     baleful counsel,

though wife I have     whom well ye know,

or child I have     thy hall within.

 

“To the smithy wend,     for Volund builded,

there the bellows shalt     all bloody find:

I hewed off the heads     of thy hapless boys,

and their bodies buried     ‘neath the bellows’ pit.

 

“With skill their skulls     ‘neath the scalp which lay

in silver I set     and sent them to thee;

of the bairns’ eyeballs     shining beads I wrought

and gave to the cunning queen of Níthoth.

 

“But out of the twain’s     teeth made Volund

beauteous brooches     and to Bothvild sent them;

and now Bothvild     is big with child,

your only daughter,     dear to you both.”

Níthoth was very saddened to hear these things and wished to get vengeance, but Volund was so far off the ground that it would’ve been impossible for him to be hauled down and the king didn’t have any men strong enough to shoot that high.

Volund laughed and lifted himself away.

The king told a thrall of his named Thrakkráth (“He Who Gives Pleasant Counsel”) to go bid Bothvild to come so she could speak with him. After she came to him, he asked her if what Volund said was true. She confessed that it was and said she was ashamed, but said that she hadn’t the strength to strive against him.

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