II. Wieland the Smith

Now the saga leaves Dietrich for quite a while. Chapters 21 to 89 do not concern him at all, although he is mentioned every once in a while. The saga takes its time introducing people who play major and minor roles later: king Osantrix of Wilkinenland and some important retainers of his, and king Attila of Hunnenland. Their family history and early lives are interesting for their own sake, but not required for understanding the rest of the saga, so we’ll skip them here.

Then the saga comes to Wieland the Smith. Not only is Wieland a heroic character in his own right, known from other stories from Scandinavia and England, but he is also father to Witig, Dietrich's most important hero, and, even more importantly, he forges the sword Mimung, which will play a crucial role in several parts of the saga.

Wade, Wieland’s father, is of the family of Osantrix’ retainers. First the saga says that he apprentices him with the smith Mime, but since this was at the same time Sigfrid was there beating up Mime’s other apprentices165 he returned home. This is chronologically impossible, since Sigfrid was of the generation of Wieland’s son Witig. It is likely added to explain why Wieland named his masterpiece Mimung.

Wieland's father Wade apprentices him with some dwarves, who teach him the art of smithing. Wade agrees that he will come back on a specified date, or Wieland's head will be forfeit. As a precaution he hides a sword nearby. Then Wieland stays with the dwarves for his apprentice time.

Wade returns in time, but is killed in a landslide.

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When the agreed day had come the dwarves opened the mountain, went outside and looked for Wade. Wieland, too, went out of the mountain to search for his father, but could not find him. But then he came to a cliff that had broken off, and he suspected his father had been crushed under it. Then he saw that he could not take revenge for his death, but remembered his father's counsel and searched for the sword Wade had hidden. Initially he searched near the cliff, but then he remembered the sword was in a moor, but the moor had changed considerably due to the landslide.

Then Wieland saw he was in dire straits. His father, dead, he himself, sentenced to death. But then he saw the sword's hilt above the ground and took it. He saw the dwarves on the mountain looking for Wade, Wieland went to them but hid the sword under his clothes. Then he went to the one closest to him and killed him, and then the other one. Then Wieland went into the mountain and took all the smithing tools and also all the gold and silver he could find. Then he took a horse that belonged to the dwarves, packed it with treasure and went north to Denmark.

When he had traveled for three days he came to the Weser river and he could not cross it. Along the river was a large forest, and he stayed there for a while. It was close to the sea. Then Wieland went to work: he felled a large tree close to the river bank, cleaved it in two and hollowed out the parts, and on the thinner side he hid his tools and treasure, and in the thicker part he put his food and drink and himself, and then closed it so firmly that river and sea would not do him damage, and before the holes in the tree he put glass in such a way that he could take them out, but when the glass was in the holes no water could come through them, except as much as when the tree had been whole.

Then the tree lay on the bank, and Wieland and all his goods in it, and he moved within the tree as long as was necessary to get the tree into the river. And this tree now floated into the sea, and floated there for eighteen days until it finally came to land.

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A king named Nidung ruled over the part of Jutland called Thiodi current Thy in the northwesternmost part of Jutland. One day the king's people were close to the shore with nets to bring the king fresh fish for his table, when the net they hauled back was so heavy that they barely managed to pull it back into their boats. And they saw a large tree in the net, and brought it to shore. They inspected it and saw that it was fashioned in a miraculous way and suspected treasure could be found within it because it was so very heavy.

They sent someone to the king and asked him to come look at the tree. And when the king arrived and saw the tree he ordered it to be opened, and when Wieland became aware of them he asked them to be careful, because a man was inside. And when they heard him they thought the Devil himself was in the tree, And they fled, some one way, others another, and told the king the Devil was in the tree.

Then Wieland opened the trunk, got out, and went before the king and said: I am a man, and not a troll, and if you allow me to keep life and goods I will serve you. The king saw he was a foreigner, and a good man instead of a scoundrel, despite his strange manner of coming there, and agreed. Then Wieland hid his tools and treasure, together with the tree, under the earth, but one of the king's knights called Regin saw him do that.

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Now Wieland lived with king Nidung, and his duties consisted of keeping three knives for the king which should lie on his table when he ate. And when twelve months had passed, Wieland went to the sea to wash the king's knives, but one of them fell into the water, and it was so deep that there was no hope of finding it. Wieland went home and considered the king would be angry with him when the knife was missing, and he cursed himself for not doing his service better now that he served a good king, and that the king would never make him responsible for more than what he did now.

There was a smith with king Nidung and he was called Amilias, and he forged everything for the king that was made out of iron. Wieland went to this Amilias, but he was not in his smithy because he was having dinner with his servants. Wieland sat down to forge a knife that was the same as the one he had lost, and in addition a three-ridged nail which he laid on the anvil. And he did all of this before Amilias came back and before the king went to dinner.

When Amilias returned to the smithy he found the nail on the anvil, and wondered who had made it, but none of his servants spoke up, and they never saw such a well-forged nail either before or after.

I have no idea what the three-ridged nail means. The saga never mentions it again.

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But Wieland stood by king Nidung's table and served him as usual. When the king sat down Wieland brought him his knives, and the king took a knife and sliced a piece of bread, but the knife sliced not only through the bread but also through the table. And the king marveled at how sharp this knife was and asked Wieland who had made it.

Wieland said: Who else but Amilias, your smith? And Amilias heard this conversation and said that he had made the knife, just like all the others, and that king Nidung had no smith but him. But the king said he had never seen a knife like this come from his hands, and he didn't know who made this knife, but Amilias didn't. And then the king turned to Wieland and asked him if he had made the knife. But Wieland still maintained that it had been Amilias. Then the king warned him that if Wieland was lying he would become angry. And Wieland said he did not want the king's displeasure, and told him what had happened.

The king said he knew Amilias couldn't have made this knife, and wondered aloud if Wieland was maybe a better smith than Amilias. Now Amilias could no longer be silent and said that while Wieland may have made this knife, he, Amilias, would be equally able to make such a thing if he but gave all his skill, and he did not want to admit Wieland was the better smith before they were both put to the test. And Wieland said that his forgecraft was but small, but he was willing to put it to the test by both of them making a tool from which others could tell who was the better smith.

Amilias proposed they bet on it, and Wieland said he had hardly any treasure. And Amilias said that if that were true they should bet their heads: whoever was the better smith would behead the other. And Wieland said: Bet whatever you like, but what will we make? And how will we decide which one is best? Then Amilias said: You will make a sword, as well as you can, but I will make a helmet and armour. If your sword can pierce my armour and wound me you shall have my head, but if it cannot penetrate my armour I'll have yours. And we both shall do this within twelve months.

And Wieland accepted, provided Amilias would keep his word. Amilias said he would have guarantors who would keep him to his word. And two knights of king Nidung came forward and guaranteed Amilias' word. But, Amilias asked Wieland, who will be your guarantor? Wieland replied he did not know, since he knew no one in this country.

Then the king himself said: He has done well in all that he has built. And he remembered the tree that Wieland had come in, and how wonderfully it was fashioned, and said that he himself would guarantee Wieland's word. And in this way they completed their bet.

The same day Amilias went to his smithy and started to work with all his journeymen, and he worked for the full twelve months. But Wieland served the king as before, as if nothing had happened, and continued doing so for half a year.

Wieland takes his time. When he wants to start forging his sword, more at king Nidung's urging than of his own volition, he discovers that Regin, the man who had seen him hide his stuff, stole it. In the end Wieland has to create a statue of Regin so king Nidung can identify the culprit. Then Wieland gets his stuff back.

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And when the time was up king Nidung asked Wieland why he didn't forge the sword that he needed for his bet. And Wieland pretended he was ready to do so, and said that if the king counseled him to do so, he would do so. The king said it seemed to him that Wieland had to deal with a talented, quite evil man Amilias, so he should go and forge the sword.

Now Wieland went to his smithy, went to work and forged a sword in seven Mb & Sv: seven; A & B: four days. On the seventh day the king himself came to him, and Wieland had a sword ready that the king thought was the best he had ever seen. Now they went to a stream, and Wieland took a flake of wool one foot thick, threw it into the water and let the current carry it against the sword, and the sword cut the flake in two. The king said this was a good sword, and he wanted to carry it himself. But Wieland said this wasn't a good sword yet, and it would become much better before he parted with it. They went home, and the king sat in his hall and was quite happy.

But Wieland went back to his smithy, took a file, and filed the sword into iron dust, then took the iron dust and put it in milk, and he mixed this with flour and kneaded it together. Then he took geese Everyone assumes these are geese, but the saga doesn't specify and says alifugla that had been starved for three days, and fed them the flour. Then he took the birds' feces and smelted it, and separated the iron from what was left of the dough, and with this he forged a new sword that was a little bit smaller than the previous one. And when fourteen days had gone by this sword was ready.

When the sword had hardened completely the king came to the smithy, and when he saw the sword he thought it was the most precious thing he'd ever seen, and he wanted to take it. But Wieland said: My lord, this is a good sword, but it will become even better. Again they went to the stream, and now Wieland threw a flake of wool two feet thick into the water, and the sword cut the flake in half, like before. The king said he'd never seen a better sword, even though it was slightly smaller than the previous one. Wieland said it wasn't a really good sword yet, and he would make it even better. The king went back to his hall and was happy.

And Wieland went back to his smithy and filed this sword to dust as well, and did the same he had done before. And when three weeks had passed Wieland had made a sword that sparkled, and its grip was inlaid with gold. The king came to Wieland and saw the sword, and he had never seen a sharper sword, and it was a large one, larger than the ones he had made before. Again they went to the stream, and now Wieland took a flake of wool three feet thick, and threw it into the water, and calmly held the sword in the current, and when the flake touched the sword it cut it in two as smoothly as the water itself as the water itself is cut in two, I suppose.

And the king said he wanted this sword, because he had never seen a better one and he wanted no one else to have it, and he would carry it against his enemies. And Wieland said he would give the sword to no one else, but first he would fashion the sheath and the carrying strap, and give it to the king when it was fully ready. The king agreed, went back to his hall, and was happy.

But Wieland went back to his smithy and forged another sword that was so simiar to the first that no one could keep them apart. Wieland hid the good sword under his bellows, and said: "Lie there, Mimung, and who knows if I'll need you before the end?"

Note that Mimung is not a magic sword — in fact, the saga just told us exactly how it was forged. Moreover, feeding iron to geese seems to make sense chemically, since the passage through their digestive system adds carbon to the iron, bringing it a step closer to steel. As we are shown immediately, Mimung is an extremely hard and sharp sword, and normal iron cannot stand against it

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Now Wieland was done with his smithing and he served king Nidung each day. When the day had come, early in the morning Amilias strapped on his armoured leggings and went out to the market and showed himself, and all who saw him said they had never seen such good armour, and it was all double-plated or double-forged? Retranslate. And he went to breakfast in the king's hall with his ring mail on, and everyone admired it. Amilias was cheerful and praised himself and his armour. And when he sat down for breakfast he donned his iron helmet, which was shiny and hard and thick, and the king liked those armour pieces.

And when the king had eaten and breakfast had ended Amilias went out to a field where a chair stood, and sat on it. Now the king and his men also went out, and Wieland with them, to view the end of this bet. And Amilias was quite ready for it.

Then Wieland went to his smithy and took the sword Mimung, and went back to the king with the sword in his hand. And he stood behind Amilias' chair and put the sword's edge on his helmet, and asked Amilias if he felt something. Amilias said: Strike with all your might!

Now Wieland pressed the sword strongly against the helmet, and it cut through helmet and head, and armour and torso until the belt, and again asked Amilias if he felt anything. And Amilias said he felt as if cold water ran over his back. Then Wieland said: Now shake yourself, and you'll understand. And Amilias shook himself and fell apart in two pieces on both sides of the chair and thus Amilias came to his end. And many quoted the saying that he who carried his head highest would fall deepest.

Now the king asked Wieland to give him the sword, and Wieland said he wanted to fetch the sheath which was in the smithy, and give everything together. And the king agreed. Then Wieland went back to the smithy and hid Mimung under his bellows and took the other sword he had made, put it in the sheath, and gave it to the king. And the king thought he had the same sword that Wieland had done this great deed with. And then much time went by.

Then the saga inserts a second story about Wieland, which is more in line with the poetic Edda’s Vǫlundarkviða. Wieland wins king Nidung's daughter by bringing him his Siegerstein during a campaign, but is hindered by a knight, whom he kills. He goes into exile. Later he returns, but is recognised by Nidung's daughter. Nidung, who is much more evil in this second story, cuts Wieland's hamstrings to prevent his escape. In revenge Wieland kills Nidung’s sons and seduces his daughter, who gives birth to Witig. Then he fashions wings and flies away, while his brother Egil shoots an arrow at him that hits a bladder filled with pig's blood, so that everyone thinks Wieland dies.

It is quite possible that these two stories about Wieland come from different sources. The first one is crucial to the saga, since it tells about Mimung, and since Wieland is related to a royal family that later plays a minor part in the saga.

The second one really isn’t all that important, and seems a bit of a side track. The only really relevant point here is that Wieland and Nidung's daughter are the parents of Witig. In order to stitch the stories together the saga says that Wieland and Nidung reconciled, so that everyone is in position for the start of Witig's story.

The saga now continues with the adventures of Witig Wieland's son, who bears Mimung for the rest of the saga.

Continue

The next chapter is Witig. How Witig Wieland's son comes to Bern.