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.
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.