All the above-named poems are contained in Codex Regius of the Elder Edda. From other sources we may add other poems which are Eddic, not Skaldic, in style, in which other heroic cycles are represented. The great majority of the poems deal with the favourite story of the Volsungs, which threatens to swamp all the rest; for one hero after another, Burgundian, Hun, Goth, was absorbed into it. The poems in this part of the MS. differ far more widely in date and style than do the mythological ones; many of the Volsung-lays are comparatively late, and lack the fine simplicity which characterises the older popular poetry.
Voelund.—The lay of Voelund, the wonderful smith, the Weland of the Old English poems and the only Germanic hero who survived for any considerable time in English popular tradition, stands alone in its cycle, and is the first heroic poem in the MS. It is in a very fragmentary state, some of the deficiencies being supplied by short pieces of prose. There are two motives in the story: the Swan-maids, and the Vengeance of the Captive Smith. Three brothers, Slagfinn, Egil and Voelund, sons of the Finnish King, while out hunting built themselves a house by the lake in Wolfsdale. There, early one morning, they saw three Valkyries spinning, their swancoats lying beside them. The brothers took them home; but after seven years the swan-maidens, wearied of their life, flew away to battle, and did not return.
“Seven years they stayed there, but in the eighth longing seized them, and in the ninth need parted them.” Egil and Slagfinn went to seek their wives, but Voelund stayed where he was and worked at his forge. There Nithud, King of Sweden, took him captive:
“Men went by night in studded mailcoats; their shields shone by the waning moon. They dismounted from the saddle at the hall-gable, and went in along the hall. They saw rings strung on bast which the hero owned, seven hundred in all; they took them off and put, them on again, all but one. The keen-eyed archer Voelund came in from hunting, from a far road.... He sat on a bear-skin and counted his rings, and the prince of the elves missed one; he thought Hlodve’s daughter, the fairy-maid, had come back. He sat so long that he fell asleep, and awoke powerless: heavy bonds were on his hands, and fetters clasped on his feet.”
They took him away and imprisoned him, ham-strung, on an island to forge treasures for his captors. Then Voelund planned vengeance:
“’I see on Nithud’s girdle the sword which I knew keenest and best, and which I forged with all my skill. The glittering blade is taken from me for ever; I shall not see it borne to Voelund’s smithy. Now Boedvild wears my bride’s red ring; I expect no atonement.’ He sat and slept not, but struck with his hammer.”
Nithud’s children came to see him in his smithy: the two boys he slew, and made drinking-cups for Nithud from their skulls; and the daughter Boedvild he beguiled, and having made himself wings he rose into the air and left her weeping for her lover and Nithud mourning his sons.