I have typed-up the following notes in order to help me get straight in my head the basics of this rather elaborate tale. Perhaps it will help others, as well…
The gods Odin and Loki and some other god kill an otter in their travels. The otter turns-out to have been (somehow) Hreidmar‘s son. The gods agree to pay the blood-price which Hreidmar demands for his son, which he claims is as much gold as the dead otter’s skin will contain, plus whatever additional amount of gold it takes to cover the entire outside of the skin. This is known as “the otter-payment.”
To obtain the gold, Loki journies into the world of the Black Elves. There he finds the dwarf named Andarvi. Andarvi, for whatever reason, has assumed the shape of a fish in a lake, and Loki ensnares him. Loki then demands all the gold from Andarvi’s cave. This horde includes a very special treasure– a ring which can multiply one’s wealth. The dwarf Andarvi curses the ring as Loki takes it, and Loki allows the curse to remain upon it.
The cursed ring becomes the final piece of treasure to be used to make the otter-payment when Odin places it upon the otter’s last uncovered whisker.
The gods leave Hreidmar and go on their way. They don’t figure again into the story.
— — —
Hreidmar has two greedy sons, Fafnir and Regin. In order to obtain the gold, they murder their father. Afterward Fafnir expels his brother Regin from their property, refusing to share any of the treasure with him. Just goes to show, you should never trust a murderer, or at least a patricider. Fafnir also takes for himself papa Hreidmar’s magic helmet and his excellent sword, Hrotti. The helmet is called the Terror Helmet because it inspires great fear in all who behold it. Neither Hrotti nor the Terror Helmet figure again into the story.
Fafnir then takes away all his ill-gotten gains and crawls into a lair where he turns himself (somehow) into a serpent and lays himself down upon his gold.
Regin (whose own sword is called Refil) eventually becomes a craftsman, and happens to take into his “fosterage” young Sigurd, son of Sigmund son of Volsung. They make a sword for Sigurd, called Gram, which is so powerful that Sigurd is able to split Regin’s anvil with it!
With Refil and Gram in hand, Regin and Sigurd ride to Fafnir’s lair, and not with intentions of healing the fraternal rift, either. Sigurd’s horse is named Grani by the way; no idea what Regin called his ride.
At Fafnir’s place, Sigurd digs a trench for Fafnir to fall into as he slithers down to the nearest water-source in the serpenty form he has adopted. The trap is successful, and Sigurd is able to kill Fafnir with his supersword Gram.
Regin then declares that to atone for killing Fafnir (dear, dear brother!), Sigurd must now roast Fafnir’s heart. The connection between murder-atonement and heart-roasting is lost on me. Regin then proceeds to drink his dead brother’s blood (okaaay…) and to lie down for a nap. I’m sure it was hard work watching young Sigurd dig that trench and then murder and carve out the heart of a gold-guarding dragon/serpent thingee.
While Sigurd is cooking Fafnir’s heart, he accidentally touches it and scalds his finger. After putting his injured finger to his mouth, he finds that he can now understand the chatter of birds. Eavesdropping on their conversation, he learns that Regin is tricking him and plans to avenge his brother’s death on Sigurd. So, in a pre-emptive strike based upon birdsong, young Sigurd murders Regin, son of Hreidmar.
Sigurd then mounts Grani and rides away– but not before taking some of the treasure from Fafnir’s lair… including, you guessed it… the cursed ring. Dun-dun-duuuunnn.
— — —
Strange Interlude – Sigurd First Meets Brynhild The Valkyrie
Sigurd comes to an abode built upon a mountain. Inside, he finds a woman sleeping. She is dressed– perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not– in helmet and mail-coat. Sigurd cuts her mail-coat away with his super-duper sword Gram (boys will be boys!), and she awakes. Call me Hild, she says, though my full name is Brynhild (and by god I can’t get an authoritative spelling on this name). She’s a valkyrie (that is, one of the female figures who fly over battlefields and carry the slain warriors whom they feel are worthy up to Valhalla). Sigurd rides on. If more happened, the story doesn’t say.
— — —
Sigurd winds-up at the court of King Giuki. There he marries King Giuki’s daughter, Gudrun. Time marches on…
Eventually, Sigurd voyages with King Giuki’s son Gunnar and some of Gunnar’s brothers to the home of King Atli Budlason. Their mission is to get King Atli to agree to allow his sister to marry Gunnar. His sister just happens to be Brynhild.
I’m a little confused as to how Brynhild is both a valkyrie and King Atli’s sister. I’m also confused by the fact that this time, instead of simply being in a house on a mountainside, Brynhild is in a hall surrounded by flame.
Brynhild has vowed that she will only marry the man who dares ride through the flames to get to her. Poor Gunnar just can’t do it. Sounds like he blames his horse. But Sigurd has his trusty steed, Grani. So Sigurd and Gunnar (somehow) exchange forms. Sigurd (now looking like Gunnar) then rides through the flames and enters into marriage with Brynhild. However, that night– the wedding night of Brynhild and “Gunnar”-really-Sigurd– Sigurd puts his sword (presumably Gram) between them. I’m sure poor Brynhild was a wee disappointed. Before parting, “Gunnar” and Brynhild exchange rings. And guess what ring it is that Sigurd gives her? Yep. So Brynhild got the cursed ring from Sigurd who got it from Fafnir who got it from Hreidmar who got it from Odin who got it from Loki who got it from the fish-shaped dwarf Andarvi.
Time marches on…
Brynhild still believes that it was her now-husband Gunnar who rode through the flames and exchanged rings with her. Sigurd by now has two children with wifey Gudrun, son Sigmund and daughter Svanhild.
One day, while Brynhild and Gudrun are bleaching and washing out their hair in a stream, they begin arguing about who has to stand downstream from the other. They both contend that the right to stand upstream from the other belongs to the woman possessing the most valiant husband. Listening to Brynhild go-on about how brave her husband is– Gudrun can contain herself no longer and finally tells Brynhild that it was NOT Gunnar who rode through the flames that day, but Sigurd!– and the (cursed) ring proves it!
Well, sword in the middle of the wedding bed or no, honor is honor. Brynhild tries to convince her husband Gunnar and his brother Hogni to kill Sigurd. However, they claim that they have sworn brother-oaths to Sigurd and so can’t murder him. Otherwise, sure… Luckily, they have a stepbrother Gothorm who is beholden to no such oath, and Gothorm stabs Sigurd to death in his sleep. However, before dying, Sigurd manages to throw his awesome sword Gram after the fleeing Gothorm– slicing him in two at the middle. Helluva sword. The Edda says that the three-year-old Sigmund is also killed at this time (though I’m not sure how).
But Brynhild is still not happy, so she stabs herself and is burned on the pyre with Sigurd.
Brynhild’s brother, King Atli Budlason (remember him?), marries Sigurd’s widow Gudrun. Brothers Gunnar and Hogni wind-up with Sigurd’s gold and the cursed ring.
Before taking a trip to visit King Atli and his new wife (and their sister) Gudrun, Gunnar and Hogni hide their treasure in the Rhine. Unfortunately for them, King Atli has them both killed during their visit, and their treasure– including the cursed ring– has never been seen again.
Gudrun then kills the two sons she has had with King Atli and has their skulls covered with silver and gold and made into goblets. At the funeral of her two slain brothers Gunnar and Hogni, she serves Atli a special drink in these goblets, a mead mixed with the blood of the two sons she has slain. She also has cooked their hearts, and they are given to the king to eat. Only afterwards does she tell Atli what she has done.
The Edda doesn’t tell us King Atli’s response to all this. Later, Hogni’s son helps Gudrun kill Atli while he is sleeping. For good measure, they also burn down the hall with all the people inside.
The story moves on… and so did I…