Otter’s Ransom: The Rhinegold & Sigurd the Dragon Slayer

In Norse Sagas by Skjalden

Why is gold called Otter’s ransom?

Many seasons ago Odin, Loki, and Hoenir were traveling to learn more about the world. They came to a river and walked along its shore until they came to a waterfall. There they saw an Otter who had caught a salmon and was eating it.

Loki picked up a stone and threw it at the otter and he hit it on its head, the otter fell on the ground and was knocked out. Loki smiled as he said, I have caught an otter and a salmon with one stone.

They picked up the otter and the salmon and continued the journey until they came to a house and here they went inside. Here they met the farmer named Hreidmar who was a powerful man because he was very skilled in the arts of magic.

The Aesir asked if they could stay for the night and offered him to share their food and showed him the otter and the salmon.

When Hreidmar saw the dead otter he immediately called after his two sons, Fafnir and Regin. Look at the dead otter my sons, those travelers have killed your brother Otter. Fafnir and Regin grabbed the Aesir and bound them to a chair.

You will pay for this, this otter was our brother. The Aesir replied we will give you as much wealth in compensation as you demand from us if you let us go.

Hreidmar stood up and walked over the otter, he ripped off the fur and shaped it like a bag. You will fill the inside and cover the outside of this bag with red gold.

Odin then said to Loki, you need to travel to Svartalheim and find the red gold so we can pay our debt.

When Loki came to Svartalheim, he saw the dwarf Andvari who at the sight of Loki quickly turned himself into a fish and jumped into the river Andvarefos. Loki pursued him and after a while, he finally caught the fish.

Listen Andvari you will give me all your gold or I will break your spine. Andvari’s life was literally in the hands of Loki, and he agreed to his demands. They went to his house inside the mountains and here Andvari showed Loki a room full of gold, it was an enormous treasure.

The dwarf tried to hide a little gold ring inside his hand, but Loki saw this and said don’t hide any of your gold from me, I want it all. Andvari begged Loki, please do not take my golden ring, it is precious to me.

If I can keep the ring, I will be able to make more gold for myself again. Loki replied; no, you will not keep one single coin.

Loki picked up all the gold in the room and walked out the door, heading for the exit of the mountain. Andvari yelled after Loki, the ring will be the death of you, the ring will destroy anyone who possesses it. Loki yelled back, I will be fine.

Loki arrived back a the farmhouse and showed Odin the gold. Odin quickly noticed the ring and found it beautiful so he took it for himself and gave the rest of the gold to Hreidmar.

Hreidmar started to stuff the otter skin with as much gold as he could and set it upright when it was full. Odin then came and helped him cover the skin with the gold and when he was done, he said our debt to you has been paid.

Hreidmar looked carefully, but he noticed that one whisker stuck out, you need to cover it or our agreement will be broken. Odin took out the golden ring and covered the whisker and said; We have upheld our agreement and are now free from the otter’s ransom.

While the Aesir was traveling back to Asgard, Loki kept thinking about Andvari’s words saying that the gold and the ring will be the death of anyone who possessed it.

So to answer the question from earlier, this is the reason why gold is sometimes referred to as an otter’s ransom.

The curse on the gold begins to work

What more is there to tell about the gold? Well.. the story has not even started yet.

Hreidmar who had gotten the gold as compensation for his son’s death, but his two sons Fafnir and Regin demanded that they got their share of the treasure. But Hreidmar would not give them one single coin. In response to this Fafnir killed his father.

While their father was laying on the ground covered in his own blood, Regin said to Fafnir let us divide the gold equally among us. Fafnir replied; no the gold is mine and unless you want to share the same fate as your father, you better leave now. Fafnir picked up his father’s helmet and placed it on his own head.

This helmet is called Ægis helmet which means the helm of dread, and it will bring fear to all living things they see it. Fafnir picked up his father’s sword called Hrotti, Regin fled and ran out the door with his sword Refil in his hand.

Fafnir collected all the gold and his belongings and traveled up to Gnita-Heath, where he made a lair for himself. Many seasons came and went, and Fafnir slowly changed himself into the shape of a dragon while he was laying down on his enormous gold treasure.

Sigurd the Volsung

Regin traveled to King Hjalprek in Thjod and became his royal smith. Here he took Sigurd the son of Sigmund who was the son of Volsung as his foster son. Sigurd’s mother was Hjordis the daughter of Eylimi.

Sigurd grew up to be a great and strong warrior, he was curious and full of courage. One day Regin told Sigurd about Fafnir and the huge treasure that he was guarding. Regin then forged the sword called Gram and gave it to Sigurd. This sword was so sharp that it could cut a cord in two by dropping it onto the blade. In fact, it was so sharp that Sigurd cut Regin’s anvil in two with one blow.

Sigurd and Regin now traveled to Ginta-Heath, where they spied on Fafnir and learned which paths he guarded outside his lair. After a few days of learning which paths Fafnir patrolled, Sigurd dug a pit in one of the paths and jumped down into it and waited for Fafnir.

In the evening Fafnir came out from his lair again and walked down the path to get the river. Fafnir passed right over the pit where Sigurd was waiting, and Sigurd quickly struck his sword through his stomach, which instantly killed Fafnir.

The Valkyrie Brynhild and the Gjukungs

Regin who had been hiding in one of the bushes came over to Sigurd who was standing next to the dead dragon. Regin said Sigurd you have killed my brother Fafnir, but if you cook Fafnir’s heart on the fire for me, I will forgive you.

Regin then took out a cup and started to fill it with Fafnir’s blood, he drank it and went to sleep. Sigurd began to cook the heart over the fire, and when he thought it was cooked he touched it with one finger, but it was still cold and raw. But some of the boiling juices from the heart ran on to his finger, and he put his finger into his mouth.

As soon as the juices and blood from the heart ran on to his tongue, he suddenly understood the speech of the birds. He heard nuthatches speaking as they sat in the trees next to him, one of them said:

There sits Sigurd, spattered with blood, as Fafnir’s heart he roasts, on the fire.

Wise would seem the breaker of rings if he would eat the gleaming heart.

Another said:

There lies Regin, making his plans, intending to betray the boy who trusts him.

Moved by anger he gathers evil thoughts; the forger of trouble wants vengeance for his brother.

After hearing this, Sigurd went over to Regin and killed him. Sigurd mounted his horse named Grani and rode it until he came to Fafnir’s lair. Sigurd collected all the gold and put it into sacks and placed them on his horse and rode on his way.

For this reason, gold is also sometimes called Gnita-heath or Grani’s burden.

Sigurd traveled until he came to a house on a mountain. He jumped off his horse and went inside here he saw a woman laying down sleeping in a bed, equipped with a helmet and mail coat.

He took out his sword and cut off the mail coat, the women woke up and said her name was Hild, but people call her Brynhild, I am a Valkyrie.

Sigurd walked out the door and mounted his horse again and rode away until he came to the king named Gjuki and his wife named Grimhild. Their children were named Gunnar, Hogni, Gudrun, and Gudny. Gothorm was Gjuki’s stepson.

Sigurd stayed with them for a long time, and married Gjuki’s daughter Gudrun and swore oaths of brotherhood with Gunnar and Hogni.

Sigurd stayed with them for a long time and fell in love with the Kings daughter Gudrun, who he married and he became blood brothers with her two brothers.

Gunnar was in love with Brynhild so the next day Sigurd and Gunnar and Hogni went traveling together to find Atli, the son of Budli, to ask him for his sister Brynhild’s hand in marriage.

Brynhild was living on the mountain called Hindafell, around her hall burned a weaving flame. Brynhild had taken an oath to only marrying the man who dared ride through the wavering flame.

Sigurd and the two brothers rode up to the mountain, with Gunnar intending to ride through the waving flame. When they came to the hall and Gunnar tried to ride into the flame, his horse which was named Goti, would simply not jump into the fire.

Then Sigurd and Gunnar exchanged their shapes and their names, because Sigurd’s horse Grani, refused to be ridden by any other man. Sigurd jumped onto Grani’s horse and rode through the waving flame.

In the evening Sigurd married Brynhild. But when they got into the bed, Sigurd drew out his sword Gram from its sheath and placed it between them. When they woke up in the morning Sigurd got dressed and gave Brynhild the golden ring that he had got from Fafnir which is called Andvarinaut in return he took another ring as a remembrance.

He walked out to his horse and rode back to his companions. Sigurd and Gunnar then returned to their own shapes. Brynhild came down from the mountain on her horse, and they all traveled back to King Gjuki. Shortly after Gunrun, Sigurd’s wife would give birth to Sigmund and Svanhild.

Brynhild and Gunrun Quarrel

One day Brynhild and Gudrun went down to the river to wash their hair. Brynhild walked a little further up the mountain along the river and said I don’t want the dirty water that has already touched your hair. Because my husband is a lot braver than yours, so I deserve better.

Then Gudrun followed her, and said; It is my privilege to wash my hair higher up the river because I am married to the bravest man in the world. It was my husband that killed both Fafnir and Regin and claimed all their treasures.

Brynhild replied and said; It was a much greater feat when Gunnar rode through the wavering flame, while Sigurd would not dare.

Gudrun looked at her and began to laugh, Do you really think that it was Gunnar who rode through the wavering flame?

The one who came into your bed gave you the golden ring called Andvaranaut (also called Andvari’s gift) as a morning gift. That ring was won at Gnita heath, and I do not think it was Gunnar that slew the dragon Fafnir.

Brynhild then grew silent and returned home to Gunnar. She tried to convince Gunnar and his brother Hogni to kill Sigurd. But they were blood brothers with Sigurd, so they would not touch a hair on his head.

Gunnar and Hogni then told their brother Gothorm to kill Sigurd. So one late night he sneaked into Sigurd’s house and pierced him with his sword while he slept. Sigurd woke up and threw his sword Gram at Gothorn which chopped him in half.

Sigurd died a few moments later together with his three-year-old son Sigmund, whom they also had killed. Brynhild then thrust a sword into herself, and she was burned with Sigurd.

Gunnar and Hogni took Sigurd’s wealth that he had gotten from slaying Fafnir along with the cursed ring Andvarinaut and ruled over the lands.

The Rhinegold, King Atli’s Greed and Queen Gudrun’s Vengeance

Brynhild’s brother King Atli, the son of Budli, then married Gudrun, Sigurd’s former wife, and together they had children. King Atli invited the two brothers Gunnar and Hogni to come for a visit, and they both accepted the invitation.

Before the two brothers left their home, they hid their gold in the river called the Rhine. This gold has never been found.

When the two brothers arrived at Atli’s kingdom his men attacked them and captured them. King Atli had Hogni’s heart cut out with a knife while he was still alive. Gunnar was thrown down into the snake pit but had secretly been given a harp.

He began playing the harp with his toes because he hands were still bound. All the snakes fell asleep, except for one adder. This adder glided towards him and struck just below his breastbone so she buried her head into his flesh, grabbing hold of his liver until he died.

Gunnar and Hogni are called Niflungs and Gjukungs, and for this reason, the gold is called the treasure of the Niflungs.

Shortly after this happened Gudrun killed her two sons, and she had goblets made from the skulls, using gold and silver.

A funeral feast was then held for the Niflungs, and Gudrun had mead served for King Arti in these two skull cups mixed with the blood from the two dead brothers.

Gudrun also had the hearts from the two brothers roasted and served for the King. After the King had eaten the two hearts and drunk the mead, she told him what she had done.

Later in the evening, people at the feast had fallen asleep at the tables, because of all the good food and strong mead. Gudrun came into the hall with Hogni’s son and killed the King as he slept in his chair. Then they sat fire to the hall and everyone inside burned to death.

Gudrun’s third marriage

Gudrun walked down to the river and wanted to drown herself, but the weaves carried her across the fjord to the lands ruled by King Jonak.

When Jonak saw how beautiful Gudrun was, he took her as his own and married her. Together they had three sons, Sorli, Hamdir and Erp. Their hair was a black as a raven’s feathers, just like it had been on Gunnar and Hogni.

Svanhild who was the daughter of Sigurd had been raised in these lands and was known as one of the most beautiful women there.

King Jormunrek the powerful had heard about her beauty, so he sent his son Randver to ask her for her hand on his behalf. When Randver arrived at Jonak, he was given the permission to bring Svanhild back to Jormunrek.

But the King’s adviser said that it would be better if Randver got married to Svanhild, because they were both young, whereas Jormunrek was an old man.

Both Randver and Svanhild liked this idea, but when King Jormunrek heard about it, he had his son seized and sent to the gallows. Before Randver was hanged he plucked out the feathers from his hawk and had it sent to his father.

When King Jormunrek saw the hawk, he realized that just like the featherless hawk that now was unable to fly without any feathers, his kingdom was also not able to continue without any heir to the throne.

A few weeks went by and King Jormunrek was returning from a hunt in the forest. When he saw Queen Svanhild sitting next to the river washing her hair. By his command, he and his men rode her down trampling her to heath under the feet of horses. When Gudrun learned about this, she told her sons to seek vengeance for Svanhild. Gudrun equipped them with an armor that was so strong that not even iron could pierce them.

Gudrun told her sons when they arrive, they should wait until the sun had set to attack the King.

And Sorli and Hamdir should cut off his arms and legs and Erp should cut off the head.

As the brothers were traveling on foot, Sorli and Hamdir asked their brother Erp what assistance they could expect from him, should they actually get to King Jormunrek. Erp answered them and said: I will help you, just like the hand helps the foot. Sorli answered back and said the foot is not supported at all by the hand.

Before the brothers had left their home, their mother Gudrun had taunted them, which had left them in a bad mood. This silly response from Erp had been the final straw, and because Erp was the son that Gudrun loved the most, Sorli and Hamdir killed him.

A few hours later, as Sorli was walking, one of his legs slipped under him, and he fell to the ground but quickly supported himself with his hand, to prevent his head hitting the ground.

While he was laying down on the ground he said, “The hand now has helped the foot” It would have been better if Erp had still been alive.

In the evening the two brothers arrived at King Jormunrek’s sleeping quarters. He awoke as they struck off his hands and legs, and called out to his guards.

Then Hamdir said, if we had left Erp alive, the head would have been off, and the King would not have been able to call for on his guards.

The guards came into the room and attacked the two brothers, but they could not harm them with their weapons.

Jormunrek yelled to his men, use stones not swords. The guards picked up stones and threw them at the brothers and they fell to the ground.

The King bleed out and now the house of Gjuki and all his descendants were dead.