The Passing of Sigurd and Brynhild (Andvari's Curse, Part IX)
An earlier blog post, "The Quarrel of the Queens," described how the spell of forgetfulness lifted from Sigurd so that he remembered how he had loved, pledged troth to, and lain with the Valkyrie Brynhild before he met and married the princess Gudrun. It also told of the bitter jealousy that sprang up between Gudrun and Brynhild, so that at last Brynhild shut herself away, crying that nothing but Sigurd’s death could satisfy her, and tried to kill her husband Gunnar, Gudrun’s brother, when he would not take her revenge for her.
Gunnar and Gudrun asked Sigurd to go see if he could make peace with Brynhild, who was still bound and could not attack him. First he spoke pityingly and offered her gold. She snapped that she could not be bought, that she wanted only his heart’s blood. He said he doubted she’d outlive him long. At this she wept and said she did not care to live without his love. Sigurd, much moved, told Brynhild that he had loved her truly until Gudrun’s mother’s magic potion caused him to forget his first love. Perhaps he meant to prove his sincerity when he asked Brynhild to lie with him. Her answer was furious: she loved him, yes, but she still cared for her honor, if he cared nothing for his, and she was no adulteress. Sigurd offered to divorce Gudrun and marry Brynhild, but he looked absolutely miserable as he made the offer. Brynhild saw this and swore that she would have no man.
Sigurd left her in despair, and Gunnar returned to her. First he ignored her pleas for vengeance. Then he began to think how Sigurd’s death would leave him unrivaled in prowess and in Brynhild’s love—and also to think of the great treasure which Sigurd had won from the dragon Fafnir, though as he brooded over the beauty of the gold he did not remember the curse that lay on it. He consented to Sigurd’s death.
Gunnar had sworn oaths to Sigurd which he dared not break himself, but he plied his brother Guttorm with perilous foods that made him bold and reckless, and he egged Guttorm on to kill Sigurd--and also to kill Sigurd’s infant son, to forestall future vengeance.
Even magically emboldened, Guttorm didn’t dare confront Sigurd face to face. Instead he crept into Sigurd’s bechamber at night and stabbed him. Sigurd woke too late to save himself, but in time to slay Guttorm. Gudrun woke covered in blood to find her husband dying and her son slain, and she cried aloud in grief and fear.
Brynhild hear Gudrun’s cries and she laughed, but her laughter was terrible to hear, and there was no joy in it. Both Brynhild and Gudrun cursed Gunnar for betraying his oath, and they foretold that he would get no joy of the murdered man’s gold. Then Gudrun went away weeping, but Brynhild, whom Gunnar had unwisely freed, killed herself, asking as she died that she might be burned alongside Sigurd, whom she joined in death since she could not join him in life. This request was granted, and the golden flames of their pyre climbed toward the heavens.
And Gunnar, in Sigurd’s absence, took to himself the highest honors in the land, as well as Andvari’s treasure—and Andvari’s curse.