"I'm doing this amazing poem in Old Norse at the moment, about Weland the Smith."
An extract from a letter written by an old friend, a Cambridge scholar of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, and an introduction to the Legend of Wayland, the cunning craftsman of medieval legend from whom this site takes it's name.The morally ambiguous artisan who, oppressed by the powerful and greedy, exacts a terrible vengeance, as beautiful and exquisite as it is brutal and cruel.
Wayland seems almost ubiquitous in the medieval traditions of Northern Europe. Called Weland in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, Wayland in Middle English, Volund or Volundr in Old Norse, Vaulundur in the Icelandic sagas, Weiland or Wiolant in Old High German, Galant in Old French and Guielandus in the latin of the Middle Ages.
Many heroes of medieval tales are equipped with armour or weapons created by Wayland, for which he justly famed, although he creates far more in the way of jewellery. He is as much a Goldsmith and Silversmith as a Blacksmith and Armourer, indeed he is acknowledged as such by none other than the Father of Britain himself, King Alfred the Great, who wrote:-
"Hwaer sint nu thaes wisan Welandes ban, thaes goldsmithes the waes geo maerost."
"Where are now the wise Weland's bones, the goldsmith that was formerly most famous."
There are many variants of his story; here now is that story in it's essential form. Mythology scholars... notes on variants will be added at a later date.
At the time of the most famous episode from his life, Wayland lives alone in a valley by the shore of a lake. He previously left his home and in the course of his wanderings has met and married the Swan-maiden Alvite, with whom he lives for seven winters. When she leaves, promising to return in seven years, Wayland applies himself to goldsmith's work creating seven hundred rings in anticipation of his Love's return.
At the same time a cruel and avaricious king, Niduth, hears of Wayland's beautiful creations and desires to possess them for himself. He and his warriors sneak into Wayland's home and bind his limbs while he sleeps. The Smith is conveyed to Niduth's dwelling where he is confined on a small island, forced to fabricate all manner of jewels for the king, and on the orders of the the queen, hamstrung.
Wayland bides his time and waits for the opportunity to seek revenge for his imprisonment and maiming. Eventually, when the two sons of Niduth visit the artisan, he ensures that they see some of the wondrous golden artefacts created for the king and promises some to them if they visit him in secret the next day.
As greedy as their father, they return in secret and while they are distracted by the gold, Wayland decapitates them and buries their bodies beneath his forge. Mounting their skulls in silver, he fashions them into fabulous goblets and sends them to the king. Their eyeballs are are also encased in silver, turned into beautiful brooches and sent to the queen. He files their teeth into pearls, makes an exquisite necklace of them and sends it to their sister Baudvilde.
Baudvilde, meanwhile, has broken the ring given to her by her father the king; intended by Wayland for his wife, Alvite. A messenger arrives from Baudvilde demanding that Wayland repair the ring without the king's knowledge. Wayland insists that she bring it herself. When she arrives, he gives her a sleeping potion and then rapes her.
His vengeance approaching it's conclusion, he sets about escaping by means of a set of wings he has already created. He flies to the king's hall and seats himself upon the roof, where he recounts to the king the murder of his sons, that their skulls now adorn his table, that he has deflowered his daughter and left Niduth's only heir in her belly. In exchange for the location of his sons bodies, he extracts an oath safeguarding his offspring. Niduth is plunged into grief and in despair at his inability to reach the terrible smith, the agent of these crimes, who has destroyed the royal line and supplanted it. His revenge complete, Wayland flies off laughing.