Now that Sigurd had wed Gudrun he was one with the Nibelungs. The hoard that was in Fafnir's cave he brought away and he left it in their treasure house. He went into his fosterfather's kingdom again, and he saw King Alv and Hiordis, his mother. But he had no memory now of the House of Flame, nor of Brynhild, who waited there for him.
King Giuki died, and Gunnar, Sigurd's sworn brother, became King in his stead. His mother would have him wed, but Gunnar told her he had seen no maiden whom he would choose for his wife.
But when Sigurd and he were together Gunnar would speak of a maiden far away, one whom he often thought on. And one day when Sigurd pressed him to tell who this maiden was, he spoke of one whom the wisest of the poets told of, a maiden in a Hall with a flame around it, a maiden named Brynhild who was guarded by a ring of fire.
Sigurd laughed to think that his shrewd brother was beguiled by one whom he had only heard of. But if he was beguiled by the tale of her, why should he not come to her and wed her? So Sigurd said. Then Gunnar bent to him and asked Sigurd would he aid him to win her? And Sigurd took Gunnar's hand and swore that he would.
So they started off for Hindfell, Gunnar and Högni and Sigurd. They rode on until they came in sight of the black walls with the mounting and circling fire around them. No memory had Sigurd of the place. With the flame of eagerness upon his stolid face Gunnar went forward to ride through the ring of fire. He brought Goti, his horse, near the flame, but the horse, for no urging, would go through it. Then Gunnar thought that, mounted on Grani, Sigurd's horse, he could ride through the ring of fire. He mounted Grani and came near to the flaring wall. But Grani, knowing that the one who rode him had fear of the fire, reared up and would not go through it. Only with Sigurd on his back would Grani go through the flame.
Then were the three sworn brethren greatly discomfited. But after they had considered it for long Högni the Wise said: "There is a way to win Brynhild, and that is for Sigurd to change shapes, by the magic of his helmet, with Gunnar. Then Sigurd could ride Grani through the wall of flame and come to Brynhild in Gunnar's shape."
So spoke Högni the Wise, and when he saw his sworn brother's gaze fixed on him in pleading, Sigurd could not but agree to ride through the flame and come to Brynhild in the way he said. And so by the magic of his helmet he changed shapes with Gunnar. Then he mounted Grani and rode to the wall of flame. And Grani, knowing that the one he bore was without fear, rode through the flaring fire. Then Sigurd came into the courtyard of the House of Flame. He dismounted from Grani, and he bade his horse be still.
He went within the Hall and he saw one with a bow in her hands shooting at a mark. She turned to him, and he saw a beautiful and stern face, with coils of wondrous, bright-gleaming hair and eyes that were like stars in an unventured-in sea. He thought that the arrow in her hands had been shot through him. But it was not so. Brynhild threw down the bow and came to him with that walk of hers that was as of one moving above the earth. And when she came near and looked upon him she uttered a strange cry.
"Who art thou?" she said. "Who art thou who hast come to me through the wall of flaring fire?"
"Gunnar, son of Giuki, of the race of the Nibelungs," Sigurd said.
"Art thou the bravest one in the world?" she asked.
"I have ridden through the wall of flaring fire to come to thee," Sigurd answered.
"He who has come through that wall of flaring fire may claim me," Brynhild said. "It is written in the runes, and it must be so. But I thought there was only one who would come to me through it." She looked at him, and her eyes had a flame of anger. "Oh, I would strive with thee with warrior-weapons," she cried. Then Sigurd felt her strong hands upon him, and he knew that she was striving to throw him.
They wrestled, and each was so strong that none could move the other. They wrestled, Sigurd the first of heroes, and Brynhild, the Valkyrie. Sigurd got her hand in his in the wrestle. On that hand was a ring, and Sigurd bent back the finger and drew it off.
It was Andvari's ring, the ring he had placed on her finger. And when the ring was taken off it, Brynhild sank down on her knees like one that was strengthless.
Then Sigurd lifted her in his arms and carried her to where Grani, his horse, was waiting. He lifted her across his horse, and he mounted behind her and again he rode through the wall of flame. Högni and Gunnar were waiting, Gunnar in Sigurd's shape. Brynhild did not look upon them, but covered her face with her hands. Then Sigurd took back his own shape, and he rode before Gunnar and Högni to the hall of the Nibelungs.
He went within, and he found Gudrun, his wife, playing with Sigmund, his little son, and he sat beside her and he told her of all that had befallen: how, for the sake of the sworn brotherhood, he had won Brynhild the Valkyrie for Gunnar, and how he had striven with her and had overcome her, and had taken off her finger the ring that he now wore upon his own.
And even as he spoke to his wife the fume of the potion that Gudrun's mother had given him was wearing off, and he had memories of going to the House of Flame on a day that was not this day, and of riding through the wall of fire in his own shape. And again, as on the night when he drank the potion that Queen Grimhild brewed, he became as one whose wits are astray. He stood watching his child as he played, and his wife as she worked at her embroidery, and he was as a man in a dream.
While he was standing there Gunnar and Högni came into the hall of the Nibelungs bringing Brynhild with them. Gudrun rose up to welcome her who came as her brother's bride. Then did Sigurd look on Brynhild and then did he remember all. And when he remembered all such a mighty sigh rose from his heart as burst the links of the mail that was across his breast.
It happened one day that Brynhild, Gunnar's wife, now a Queen, was with Sigurd's wife, bathing in a river. Not often they were together. Brynhild was the haughtiest of women, and often she treated Gudrun with disdain. Now as they were bathing together, Gudrun, shaking out her hair, cast some drops upon Brynhild. Brynhild went from Gudrun. And Sigurd's wife, not knowing that Brynhild had anger against her, went after her up the stream.
"Why dost thou go so far up the river, Brynhild?" Gudrun asked.
"So that thou mayst not shake thy hair over me," answered Brynhild.
Gudrun stood still while Brynhild went up the river like a creature who was made to be alone. "Why dost thou speak so to me, sister?" Gudrun cried.
She remembered that from the first Brynhild had been haughty with her, often speaking to her with harshness and bitterness. She did not know what cause Brynhild had for this.
It was because Brynhild had seen in Sigurd the one who had ridden through the fire for the first time, he who had awakened her by breaking the binding of her breastplate and so drawing out of her flesh the thorn of the Tree of Sleep. She had given him her love when she awakened on the world. But he, as she thought, had forgotten her easily, giving his love to this other maiden. Brynhild, with her Valkyrie's pride, was left with a mighty anger in her heart.
"Why dost thou speak so to me, Brynhild?" Gudrun asked.
"It would be ill indeed if drops from thy hair fell on one who is so much above thee, one who is King Gunnar's wife," Brynhild answered.
"Thou art married to a King, but not to one more valorous than my lord," Gudrun said.
"Gunnar is more valorous; why dost thou compare Sigurd with him?" Brynhild said.
"He slew the Dragon Fafnir, and won for himself Fafnir's hoard," said Gudrun.
"Gunnar rode through the ring of fire. Mayhap thou wilt tell us that Sigurd did the like," said Brynhild.
"Yea," said Gudrun, now made angry. "It was Sigurd and not Gunnar who rode through the ring of fire. He rode through it in Gunnar's shape, and he took the ring off thy finger—look, it is now on mine."
And Gudrun held out her hand on which was Andvari's ring. Then Brynhild knew, all at once, that what Gudrun said was true. It was Sigurd that rode through the ring of fire the second as well as the first time. It was he who had struggled with her, taking the ring off her hand and claiming her for a bride, not for himself but for another, and out of disdain.
Falsely had she been won. And she, one of Odin's Valkyries, had been wed to one who was not the bravest hero in the world, and she to whom untruth might not come had been deceived. She was silent now, and all the pride that was in her turned to hatred of Sigurd.
She went to Gunnar, her husband, and she told him that she was so deeply shamed that she could never be glad in his Hall again; that never would he see her drinking wine, nor embroidering with golden threads, and never would he hear her speaking words of kindness. And when she said this to him she rent the web she was weaving, and she wept aloud so that all in the hall heard her, and all marveled to hear the proud Queen cry.
Then Sigurd came to her, and he offered in atonement the whole hoard of Fafnir. And he told her how forgetfulness of her had come upon him, and he begged her to forgive him for winning her in falseness. But she answered him: "Too late thou hast come to me, Sigurd. Now I have only a great anger in my heart."
When Gunnar came she told him she would forgive him, and love him as she had not loved him before, if he would slay Sigurd. But Gunnar would not slay him, although Brynhild's passion moved him greatly, since Sigurd was a sworn brother of his.
Then she went to Högni and asked him to slay Sigurd, telling him that the whole of Fafnir's hoard would belong to the Nibelungs if Sigurd were slain. But Högni would not slay him, since Sigurd and he were sworn brothers.
There was one who had not sworn brotherhood with Sigurd. He was Guttorm, Gunnar's and Högni's half-brother. Brynhild went to Guttorm. He would not slay Sigurd, but Brynhild found that he was infirm of will and unsteady of thought. With Guttorm, then, she would work for the slaying of Sigurd. Her mind was fixed that he and she would no longer be in the world of men.
She made a dish of madness for Guttorm—serpent's venom and wolf's flesh mixed—and when he had eaten it Guttorm was crazed. Then did he listen to Brynhild's words. And she commanded him to go into the chamber where Sigurd slept and stab him through the body with a sword.
This Guttorm did. But Sigurd, before he gasped out his life, took Gram, his great sword, and flung it at Guttorm and cut him in twain.
And Brynhild, knowing what deed was done, went without and came to where Grani, Sigurd's proud horse, was standing. She stayed there with her arms across Grani's neck, the Valkyrie leaning across the horse that was born of Odin's horse. And Grani stood listening for some sound. He heard the cries of Gudrun over Sigurd, and then his heart burst and he died.
They bore Sigurd out of the Hall and Brynhild went beside where they placed him. She took a sword and put it through her own heart. Thus died Brynhild who had been made a mortal woman for her disobedience to the will of Odin, and who was won to be a mortal's wife by a falseness.
They took Sigurd and his horse Grani, and his helmet and his golden war-gear and they left all on a great painted ship. They could not but leave Brynhild beside him, Brynhild with her wondrous hair and her stern and beautiful face. They left the two together and launched the ship on the sea. And when the ship was on the water they fired it, and Brynhild once again lay in the flames.
And so Sigurd and Brynhild went together to join Baldur and Nanna in Hela's habitation.
Gunnar and Högni came to dread the evil that was in the hoard. They took the gleaming and glittering mass and they brought it to the river along which, ages before, Hreidmar had his smithy and the Dwarf Andvari his cave. From a rock in the river they cast the gold and jewels into the water and the hoard of Andvari sank for ever beneath the waves. Then the River Maidens had possession again of their treasure. But not for long were they to guard it and to sing over it, for now the season that was called the Fimbul Winter was coming over the earth, and Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, was coming to the Dwellers in Asgard.