The Death of Fafnir the DragonPart II, click here for Part I
Sibling rivalry exists among families of every race, there is nothing new there. What is interesting, however, is when it also manifests among the Gods and Immortals of ancient lore.
It so happened that Regin the Dwarf was consumed with utter hatred for his brother Fafnir, who had stolen their Father’s gold as well as the cursed ring Andvaranaut. Curses being as they are, the ring influenced the two rival brothers Regin and Fafnir to form an unholy alliance in order to kill their father Hreidmar.
That’s right, but once its hold was set on Fafnir, the ring fanned the fires of Fafnir’s greed and bewitched him into driving his brother Regin away in order to have sole possession of the entire gold hoard called the Ottergild. And here the story takes on a typical turn for Fafnir’s avarice became insatiable; so overwhelming in fact that it gradually transformed the Dwarf into a mighty Dragon. In the form of a Dragon he easily secreted the hoard away into a cave on Glittering Heath and from then on stood guard over it, lest any get stolen.
Meanwhile back at his castle Regin’s heart burned with revenge as his mind was increasingly bent on one thing and one thing only; securing that gold hoard he so coveted.
About this time the foster-son of King Alf, Sigurd (also known as Sigfried) was sent to live with Regin. The Dwarf, recognizing the strong qualities in the boy, schemed to make him his instrument for enacting his odious revenge.
Sigurd (Sigfried) knew very little of his parentage, being the posthumous son of Sigmund (who had died attacking a disguised Odin) and Hiordis who then had married King Alf. Furthermore, his only patrimony was the shattered fragments of Sigmund’s sword. Embarking on his dire plan Regin first strove to make Sigurd resent and abjure Alf’s household but, because Alf was a fair foster-father and shared anything with Sigurd, this ploy failed miserably. Alf even gave his son the horse Grani, sired by Odin’s own horse, Sleipnir.
In a last-ditch effort, Regin pretended to take Sigurd into his confidence and, in an extended dramatic rendition, related to him the story of his own past and the treasure of the Ottersgild. Convinced of the unfairness of Fafnir’s theft, Sigurd agreed to help Regin retrieve his treasure.
Delighted, Regin at once turned his smithing skills towards forging a mighty weapon for Sigurd. Unfortunately, his first two attempts failed. Each time Sigurd tested them on Regin’s anvil the swords shattered. With extra diligence Regin incorporated the fragments of Sigmund’s sword and finally made a superb blade, Gram. When Gram was tested by Sigurd, it proved so powerful that it cut clean through the anvil dividing it into perfect halves. Success at last! Surely this would kill the Dragon!
Adept at cunning, Regin then developed the plan of digging a pit on the path Fafnir took down to the brook near his cave on Glittering Heath, hiding in the pit then stabbing Fafnir as he passed over it. In order to absolve Sigurd of the crime of killing his brother, Regin proposed that if Sigurd would cut out the Dragon’s heart, which conferred power over all other men, roast it and feed it to him he would forgo the family’s vengeance. The naive Sigurd agreed.
Regin and Sigurd went out and quickly dug up the pit, but Regin being fearful, made a false pretence and left the Sigurd to face Fafnir alone while he, himself, retreated to safety. After Regin had gone Odin, disguised as an old man, visited Sigurd and told him that if he stayed in the pit he would be drowned by the vast flow of Dragon’s blood pouring out of Fafnir’s body. Odin advised him to dig trenches to drain the blood into holding pits and, after the Dragon was dead, bathe in the beast’s blood, covering his whole body with it so that his skin would gain the property of invulnerability. After Odin vanished Sigurd dug the trenches just as Odin had directed then lay down in the main one on the path to await the arrival of Fafnir.
|Fafnir by the Creek by BoSt|
The earth started shaking and a loud, fearsome, noise was heard over the Heath as Fafnir approached, snorting venom ahead of him. All this was for naught, however, for Sigurd was not afraid. As Fafnir crawled over the pit Sigurd thrust the enchanted sword Gram upwards with all his strength, aiming at the heart and burying it up to his shoulder in the body of the Dragon. As soon as the blow was delivered Sigurd drew out his sword and leapt out of the pit to get a safe distance away from the thrashings of the Dragon’s body.
Fafnir knew he had been dealt a killing blow but was intent on finding out the name of his slayer so that he could hurl his death-curse at him. He roared, “Who art thou that has done this deed? Who is thy father and what manner are thy kin that ye should come to bear weapons against me?” (Dragons were very formal when weaving curses).
Sigurd knew to avoid the curse and answered that he was born of neither man nor woman and had acted alone.
Fafnir, of course, saw through this and challenged him once more to tell the truth and Sigurd then gave his name and the name of his dead father. Fafnir then asked who had counseled him to attack him. Sigurd again denied that he had any help, whereupon the Dragon then wove a web of assertions and questions that gradually, through circumstantial evidence, drew the answer, unspoken, out of Sigurd. “So it was Regin, my brother, who has brought about my end! It gladdens my heart that he will bring about yours, too, and thus all things will have been shaped to his will.”
“I have reigned in terror over this Heath for many years, spewing out poison so none would come near, and no weapon would be drawn against me. I thought myself stronger than all, for all men were sore afraid of me.”
Sigurd answered, “Few may attain victory by means of terror, for whoever does so comes to discover that no one man is for long the mightiest of all.”
Seeing that Sigurd was going back towards his cave, Fafnir called out, “Ride to my lair, then, and you will find gold enough to last your entire life long, yet that very gold will be your undoing, and the bane of whosoever owns it.”
“If by losing that wealth I would be assured that I would never die, then I would gladly leave the gold where it lies, but every man is fated to die, and I would fain do so with your wealth at my command. You, however, shall wallow in thy death pain until Hel and Death take thee, and thy gold will do thee not good at all.”
Sigurd then went over to one of the holding pools where Fafnir’s blood had gathered, stripped off his armor and bathed in the rank fluid so that it covered his whole skin, except for a spot on his shoulder where a linden leaf had fallen and stuck to him. Once he became invulnerable, Sigurd cut out Fafnir’s heart and began to roast it over a fire as he had promised Regin he would. While the heart was cooking Sigurd got some of the Dragon’s blood on his finger and licked it off. To his surprise he found he could understand the language of birds and some other animals.
Listening to Odin’s ravens as they talked in the tree above him, Sigurd discovered that Regin had indeed plotted to kill him after eating the heart of the Dragon. Thereby having knowledge of the doom Regin had planned, he beheaded him with one stroke of Gram as soon as the Dwarf reappeared to claim his prize. Sigurd ate the roasted Dragon heart himself and gained the gifts of wisdom and prophecy.
As for the Ottersgild treasure, including the ring Andvaranuat, Aegishjalmr the Helmet of Awe, the Golden Byrnie (cuirass), and all its attendant curses, Sigurd took it north with him to Hindfell where he met Brynhild the Valkyrie and had another, much different, adventure of no interest to us as it has no Dragons in it. If you are somewhat interested, however, you may find it told in the Opera by Richard Wagner called The Ring of the Nibelungenlied.