Helgakviða Hundingsbana II – The Second Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer

King Sigmund, the son of Volsung, had as wife Borghild, from Bralund. They named their son Helgi, after Helgi Hjorvarthsson; Hagal was Helgi’s foster-father. Hunding was the name of a powerful king, and Hundland is named from him. He was a mighty warrior, and had many sons with him on his campaigns. There was enmity and strife between these two, King Hunding and King Sigmund, and each slew the other’s kinsmen. King Sigmund and his family were called Volsungs and Ylfings. Helgi went as a spy to the home of King Hunding in disguise. Hæming, a son of King Hunding’s, was at home. When Helgi went forth, then he met a young herdsman, and said:

1. “Say to Hæming | that Helgi knows
Whom the heroes | in armor hid;
A gray wolf had they | within their hall,
Whom King Hunding | Hamal thought.”

Hamal was the name of Hagal’s son. King Hunding sent men to Hagal to seek Helgi, and Helgi could not save himself in any other way, so he put on the clothes of a bond-woman and set to work at the mill. They sought Helgi but found him not.

2. Then Blind spake out, | the evil-minded:
“Of Hagal’s bond-woman | bright are the eyes;
Yon comes not of churls | who stands at the quern;
The millstones break, | the boards are shattered.

3. “The hero has | a doom full hard,
That barley now | he needs must grind;
Better befits | his hand to feel
The hilt of the sword | than the millstone’s handle.”

Hagal answered and said:

4. “Small is the wonder | if boards are splintered
By a monarch’s daughter | the mill is turned;
Once through clouds | she was wont to ride,
And battles fought | like fighting men,
(Till Helgi a captive | held her fast;
Sister she is | of Sigar and Hogni,
Thus bright are the eyes | of the Ylfings’ maid.)”

Helgi escaped and went to a fighting ship. He slew King Hunding, and thenceforth was called Helgi Hundingsbane.

He lay with his host in Brunavagar, and they had there a strand-slaughtering, and ate the flesh raw. Hogni was the name of a king. His daughter was Sigrun; she was a Valkyrie and rode air and water; she was Svava reborn. Sigrun rode to Helgi’s ship and said:

5. “Who rules the ship | by the shore so steep?
Where is the home | ye warriors have?
Why do ye bide | in Brunavagar,
Or what the way | that ye wish to try?”

Helgi spake:

6 “Hamal’s the ship | by the shore so steep,
Our home in Hlesey | do we have;
For fair wind bide we | in Brunavagar,
Eastward the way | that we wish to try.”

Sigrun spake:

7. “Where hast thou, warrior, | battle wakened,
Or gorged the birds | of the sisters of Guth?
Why is thy byrnie | spattered with blood,
Why helmed dost feast | on food uncooked?”

Helgi spake:

8. “Latest of all, | the Ylfings’ son
On the western sea, | if know thou wilt,
Captured bears | in Bragalund,
And fed the eagles | with edge of sword.

9. Now is it shown | why our shirts are bloody,
And little our food | with fire is cooked.”

Sigrun spake:

10. “Of battle thou tellest, | and there was bent
Hunding the king | before Helgi down;
There was carnage when thou | didst avenge thy kin,
And blood flowed fast | on the blade of the sword.”

Prose. In the manuscript the poem is headed “Of the Volsungs,” but most editions give it the title used here. Sigmund: cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 6 and note, which also mentions Volsung. Borghild and Bralund: cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 1 and note. Helgi: the annotator’s explanation that the child was named after Helgi Hjorvarthsson is a naive way of getting around the difficulties created by the two sets of Helgi stories. He might equally well have said that the new Helgi was the old one born again, as he accounts for Sigrun in this way (“she was Svava reborn”). Hagal: not elsewhere mentioned; it was a common custom to have boys brought up by foster-parents. Hunding and Hundland: cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 10 and note. Volsungs and Ylfings: regarding this confusion of family names cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 5 and note. Hæming: his name does not appear in the list of Hunding’s sons. It is quite possible that these opening stanzas (1-4) do not refer to Hunding at all.

1. Helgi appears to have stayed with Hunding under the name of Hamal, but now, thinking himself safe, he sends word of who he really is. Hunding: it has been suggested that the compiler may have inserted this name to fit what he thought the story ought to be, in place of Hæming, or even Hadding. If stanzas 1-4 are a fragment of the Karuljoth (Lay of Kara), this latter suggestion is quite reasonable, for in that poem, which we do not possess, but which supplied material for the compilers of the Hromundar saga Greipssonar, Helgi appears as Helgi Haddingjaskati (cf. final prose note). Nothing beyond this one name connects stanzas 1-4 with Hunding.

Prose. Hagal: Helgi’s foster-father, who naturally protects him.

2. The manuscript indicates line 2 as the beginning of the stanza, the copyist evidently regarding line 1 as prose. This has caused various rearrangements in the different editions. Blind: leader of the band sent to capture Helgi.

3. The manuscript marks line 3 as the beginning of a stanza. Barley: the word literally means “foreign grain,” and would afford an interesting study to students of early commerce.

4. Possibly two stanzas with one line lost, or perhaps the lines in parenthesis are spurious; each editor has his own guess, Sigar and Hogni: it seems unlikely that Hagal refers to the Hogni who was Sigrun’s father, for this part of the story has nothing whatever to do with Sigrun. As Hagal is, of course, deliberately lying, it is useless to test any part of his speech for accuracy.

Prose. No division indicated in the manuscript. Brunavagar (“Bruni’s Sea”): mentioned only in this section. Strand-slaughtering: a killing on the shore of cattle stolen in a raid. Hogni and Sigrun: cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 17 and note; the annotator’s notion of Sigrun as the reincarnated Svava (cf. Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar, concluding prose note) represents a naive form of scholarship. There is nothing in stanzas 5-12 which clearly identifies Sigrun as a Valkyrie, or which, except for the last line of stanza 12, identifies the speaker as Sigrun. Some editors, therefore, call her simply “the Valkyrie,” while Vigfusson, who thinks this section is also a remnant of the Karuljoth, calls her Kara.

6. The manuscript does not indicate the speakers. Hamal: Helgi’s assumption of this name seems to link this section (stanzas 5-12) with stanza 1. Hlesey (“Island of Hler”–i.e., Ægir, the sea-god): generally identified as the Danish island of Läsö; cf. Harbarthsljoth, 37 and note.

7. Guth: a Valkyrie (cf. Voluspo, 31) the birds of her sisters are the kites and ravens.

Prose. Hagal: Helgi’s foster-father, who naturally protects him.

8. The manuscript indicates line 5 as the beginning of a new stanza; some editors reject lines 1-2, while others make lines 5-6 into a fragmentary stanza. Ylfings: cf. introductory prose and note. Bragalund (“Bragi’s Wood”): a mythical place. Bears: presumably Berserkers, regarding whom cf. Hyndluljoth, 23.

9. Has been seperated from the Bellows original translation to conform with the ON.