Part Two: The Valkyrie
SUMMARY OF WHAT HAS BEEN PUBLISHED
Alberich, of the race of the Nibelungs, had stolen the gold of the Rhine and forged a ring from it, which gave him power and wealth. The god Wotan was to reward the giants Fasolt and Fafner for having built Valhalla, and he gave them the riches and the golden ring which he had taken from Alberich the Nibelung. As Alberich had cursed the ring, as soon as Fasolt put it on his finger, his companion Fafner smashed his skull with a sledgehammer and he became the sole owner of everything.
The hero of the Völsungs
A long time had passed since the Nibelung Alberich had stolen the gold from the Rhine. In the meantime, men had begun their bloody feuds. The struggle was between two opposing sides: the Völsungs, protected by Wotan, and the Neidings, favourites of the Nibelungen.
The nine Valkyries, daughters of the lord of Valhalla, were present in the thick of the fighting and picked up the heroes who fell on the battlefields. On their horses, invisible as they were, the brave Amazons carried the bodies of the warriors to the abode of the gods, where their immortal souls formed the heroic guard of Valhalla.
Wotan reigned omnipresent over the gods, but he always thought of the ring forged by Alberich from the gold of the Rhine, which he, the god of justice, had torn from the hand of the Nibelung by doing violence to the Nibelung. He had then been forced to give the jewel to the giants in exchange for Freia, the goddess of eternal youth.
The ring was still in the possession of the giant Fafner, along with the magic helmet and all the riches that Wotan had taken from Alberich. The god could not take it from him; he was prevented from doing so by the pact made with the giant, inscribed on his ash-tree shaft; but he could conquer it by some hero of the Völsung race, who were his protégés.
On one of his wanderings through the earth, Wotan, wrapped in a wolf skin, entered the forest. In a hut, he heard the wandering of a child. He was alone, beside his dead mother.
The little boy was robust and vigorous. From his features, the prince of the gods saw that he was a Völsung and thought: “This may be the hero who will snatch the ring from Fafner. He named him Siegmund, raised him in the middle of the jungle and accustomed him to face the greatest dangers.
When he was barely out of infancy, Siegmund began to fight the enemies of his race. Over the years, many Nibelungs fell under his blows, but in an ambush, he lost his weapons, was wounded, and could only avoid death by fleeing through the forest amid a horrible storm.
After wandering through the forest all night, he came to a large hut. A young woman gave him hospitality and dressed his wounds. After several hours of rest, Siegmund sat up and asked the young woman her name and lineage.
“My name is Sieglinde,” she answered with a sad accent. “I am of Völsung stock, but my husband is not; he is a Neiding. His name is Hunding. He attacked my people and brought me here. I was almost a child then and he forced me to be his wife; from that day on I have been with him, much to my regret.”
Siegmund tried to get up.
“I am in the house of an enemy of my race,” he said. “I will not stay here a minute longer.”
“At this moment I am the mistress of this house, and I am of your race. For some days past Hunding has been engaged in a hunting party far away from here. Tomorrow, when you are recovered from your wounds, you may go.”
It was not yet dark when the door opened and Hunding entered.
Seeing the man lying by the fire, he questioned Sieglinde:
“He sleeps; he is wounded,” she answered. Let him rest until dawn, even if we don’t know who he is. Hospitality is sacred. Prepare me some mead. I am thirsty and tired. I will sleep soundly tonight, and rise early tomorrow.”
And indeed, Hunding fell into a much deeper sleep than he had imagined. Sieglinde poured a narcotic into the flask of mead she offered to the rough hunter. Confident that her husband would not wake before dawn, the young woman approached Siegmund and said:
“Let us flee, Siegmund! I can no longer be the slave of a man who destroyed my home and murdered my people.”
“I can leave the house of my enemy, but if I flee with you I will be committing a grave offence against the laws of hospitality. Consider that you are the wife of the owner of this hut in which you have sheltered me. Hunding will hunt us down and kill us both. The gods would protect him in the event of a fight, for he would act in defence of his sullied honour.”
“He is your enemy, and I am one of your blood, whom he holds prisoner as spoils of war! You have not received hospitality from him. It was I who took you into the hut. He would not have done so, surely.”
“We are running to certain death, believe me, Sieglinde. Hunding will kill us both. Me as a perfidious guest, an enemy of his race; you as a wife who has betrayed him. That is what will happen, and we cannot avoid it. “
“Don’t you trust your courage and strength, Sigmund?”
“I am unarmed. In my fight with Hunding, I could only win with the sword that Wotan promised me when I was a boy.”
“Have you ever seen Wotan? Did the lord of Valhalla speak to you?”
“Throughout my orphaned childhood, the god cared for me with loving solicitude. When I was no longer a child, he exposed me to the dangers of animals and men and accustomed me to the rigours of fighting. Because of the education I have received, nothing frightens me; I fear no one. In parting, Wotan said that when I possessed the necessary strength to be able to pull out a sword sunk in a log…”
“A sword sunk in a log, you say? Outside is the ash tree, in the trunk of which the hilt of Wotan’s sword glows at night. No Neiding has ever been able to pull it out of there, despite several attempts.”
As he said this. Sieglinde led Sigmund out of the hut and pointed to a dry tree with a tormented trunk. In the moonlight, the hilt of a sword gleamed in the strong wood.
The sword glittered like a jewel in the hero’s hand.
“Let us flee, Sieglinde. Destiny binds us together. No one shall separate us.”
And they walked away through the tangle of dense forest, through the branches of which the sun’s rays were beginning to filter.