“There you are, all finished. Go an’ have a look at yourself.”
“Thank you,” Aglovale bowed his head stiffly, not without apprehension, trying not to upset the arrangements the women around him had just spent hours placing atop his head. Turning to look into a mirror against a wooden wall, he gazed at his reflection for the first time since arriving in Siegfried’s homeland. The sight plucked a strange thrill from his heart.
His long, golden hair was decadently accented with dozens of braids, all twisted amidst the loose strands, which were swept back and set beautifully. Flowers, sprigs of barley, and thin heather were woven artfully among them, as if they had been embroidered along the crown of his head. The tunic they had given him was a ceremonial one, woven from bright blue and red wool. It was strikingly simple, save for the intricate patterns stitched along the collar and opening, all of which certainly carried meanings that he had no knowledge of. Aglovale barely recognized himself in the mirror as he peered at the strange yet stunning sight, trying to believe it. Today he was no king, simply Siegfried’s nameless guest in a foreign land. Today, he was also a groom.
The four wedding attendants who had assisted in preparing him all stood back voicing their approval heartily. The young man among them murmured to one of the older women in the Vols language, “ Hárfagr ...” and she giggled, whispering “ Já ,” in return.
“You all have magnificent skill, the technique is exquisite—” Aglovale stopped himself, remembering to speak with less formality during his covert stay here. “Er, my meaning is—thank you all for your generous help.”
The woman closest to him grinned, clasping her hand warmly on his shoulder. “Well, how d’you like it?”
“Very much,” Aglovale smiled modestly. “Though it’s quite different from what I’m used to.”
“Don’t worry dear, we don’t normally wear such like this. You’re only wed once, after all—gods willing.”
Aglovale chuckled, allowing her jokes and unfamiliar manner of speech to put him at ease. She turned to leave the room.
“Pray, may I ask your name?” Aglovale stopped her.
“Unna,” the woman nodded.
“Thank you, Unna. I am grateful to you.”
“Since you’ve brought no mother to help dress you, I thought you could use a stand-in.” Unna smiled. “We’ll be waiting for you outside once you’re satisfied with preening.” She closed the door gently to give him a few moments alone.
Aglovale’s lips twitched in a near smile. He turned again to his reflection in the mirror, feeling an odd prick of longing at the sight. Unna was right, his mother should be here with him. She should be alive to see this day. He wondered what she would think of him concealing his identity to become a part of this unusual, rugged place. He wondered if the sight of this earthy, beautiful wedding attire would make her eyes water with surprise or with pride. But he had never wondered for a moment whether she would be happy for him. He knew this was the kind of happiness she had always wished for him, more than could be found in any lordly achievements.
For a brief moment he was reminded of times he would sneak out into the townships of Wales in disguise, especially in his younger days, to mingle anonymously with the common people. Those times had been enlightening, sometimes humbling and exciting, but here he was truly out of his depth. Aglovale had agreed to conceal his identity as king while he visited. It was a rare opportunity for him to simply be a man, rather than a lord or knight, in the eyes of a people who had use for neither. To them, he was merely Siegfried’s beloved—an anonymous, foreign stranger.
Aglovale took a steadying breath, trying to sink into that uncomplicated role, feeling the sudden insecurity of its freedom. After a lifetime of personal detachment, he often had little sense of himself as anything but the leader of Wales. He was unsure what Aglovale the man, once crownless, might say or do. But looking down at the hem of his humble, yet beautiful tunic, he promised to unearth this newly freed self.
Aglovale gathered himself up and followed where Unna had gone down the narrow, creaking stairs to the sun-washed grass outside the lodge. He looked up to see a small crowd parting, and the man behind them looked up expectantly. When he saw Aglovale, the man’s lips parted in surprise, and he moved as if drawn to him by a river’s strong current.
Aglovale almost did not recognize him, but at second glance, this was somehow the most like himself Siegfried had ever looked. His entire movement, attitude, and even the air around him seemed changed, as if even the very trees around him were old friends congratulating him. His tunic, fitted with more panels of red than blue, hung about him like a second skin, familiar to him. His expression was free from the hesitance he often wore, and his eyes were cleared of their far-off mystery. He was smiling, truly smiling, somehow brighter and with a gentle ease. Here he looked more the part of a prince among his people. Only the elegance of his decorated hair, always so unkempt and wild otherwise, seemed a bit too fine for him, as if his own stubborn nature ran even deeper than his heritage.
The attendants beside him stepped back, allowing Siegfried to approach his betrothed, and he stood before Aglovale transfixed, blinking in the sunlight. Remembering himself, Aglovale cleared his throat softly.
“Siegfried, you look magnificent. Moreso than any garment from Wales or Feendrache could ever do you justice. I see why you wanted to have a ceremony here…”
“My love,” Siegfried whispered, almost not hearing him. He brushed a hand on Aglovale’s cheek. “Let me look at you.”
Aglovale’s pulse tripped lightly, once. He parted his lips and turned gently to the side, taking a moment to be self-indulgent by showing off the exquisite detail of his braided hair. Tilting his head invitingly to display the arc of his neck, he glanced away demurely as his long eyelashes caught the golden evening sun. Touching a hand to his chest, he smoothed his collar and ran long fingers against the bright blue and red embroidery as Siegfried’s gaze took him in. It was shameless, but what shame should there be between lovers about to be joined in marriage? For a moment he remembered being a child, watching his mother in her dazzling beauty, recalling flickers of a moment when he imagined the secret pleasure a bride must feel in being admired on her wedding day. He smiled quietly.
“Breathtaking…” the dark-haired groom sighed. He knelt down to pluck a small, violet wildflower from its stem and threaded it carefully into the braids above Aglovale’s ear, beaming with pride. “Beautiful. I thought a day like this might never come for me and yet… here you are, before me.”
Aglovale could not believe how frank and sentimental this man was being. Siegfried’s eyes shone with an admiration that felt so fresh, yet strangely familial, as if they had already been husbands for many years and he was now thinking back on all of them with the fond memory of their early love. Aglovale wondered how Siegfried’s eyes seemed so oddly timeless and ancient, and he wondered if Siegfried would still look at him this way once they grew old together in their long years. Something told him he would. His chest swelled so full of love for this beautiful man that it overflowed and pooled uncomfortably at the bottom of his throat, forcing Aglovale to swallow back his emotion.
A large crowd was beginning to gather around them, Volsung villagers of every age, each in robes of what Aglovale guessed were their family colors. All were barefoot, some carrying instruments and hand drums, while a few brought some odd garments that looked like furs or costumes, passing them to each person.
“It looks like they’re ready to begin the procession,” Siegfried said, glancing about.
“Will we lead the way?” Aglovale asked, still uncertain of his role.
“Each bride or groom’s family accompanies them, but we’ll separate into two parties. It’s important to arrive apart so that any vættir , or spirits, won’t know which of us to follow. Tradition holds that the wedding cannot be thwarted if no mischievous vættir can identify the brides or grooms, so we’ll all wear disguises until we reach the protection of the ceremony’s site.”
Aglovale’s anthropological interest was piqued, and he could not help watching the proceedings with academic curiosity.
“The vættir , what sort of spirits are they? Deities?”
Siegfried thought for a moment, as if he had never had to explain the concept before. “I believe your word for some of them is ‘Primal’, or ‘monster’... but more broadly it encompasses every type of magical being. The same ones you have encountered in Wales, and some unseen ones as well. The Volsunga have a connection to them that spans before other skydwellers began to study and classify them.”
Aglovale nodded. He reminded himself that the Volsung way of life developed separately from the structured ones he had always known, and that the categories and sciences he understood the world through were simply another lens with which to see the same things. Perhaps the lines between monsters, Primals, and so-called Astrals were not so definite after all. And perhaps one encountered them much differently while living deep in the mountains.
“It’s time,” Siegfried said with a spark of excitement, pulling Aglovale out of his thoughts and reminding him why they were here. “Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Aglovale nodded firmly.
Siegfried took Aglovale’s hands in his and held them aloft, turning towards the villagers who had gathered on each side of them.
“We will meet at the hallowed place,” he announced.
“Where two shall become one!” The two halves of the crowd each chorused excitedly in answer.
Aglovale watched as Siegfried donned a mask with the antlers of a young stag and disappeared behind the shroud of a shimmering veil enclosing their half of the procession. Around him, people were disguising themselves with hoods, helms of horns, and even wreaths of shells or furs to mimic the spirits of monsters and primals. Someone handed Aglovale a mask that came to a beak-like point, and they slid a cloak of spotted owl feathers around his shoulders. A woman beside him raised her mask, which was draped with willow vines like hair, and he recognized her as Unna. She winked encouragingly and fastened on her disguise, staying close to him, and Aglovale felt secretly grateful to her. The same translucent veil was unfurled above their party, trailing over them and reminding him of the heraldic standard which Wales’ soldiers carried while marching.
“It’s to help keep any meddling spirits from joining the procession and taking the shape of one of us,” Unna whispered to him. “Confuses them.”
Just then the musicians began beating the hand drums, and some played flutes or shook their strands of jingling bells. A gentle chant in the Vols language was rising from the voices around him, and they began the march through the forest, parting ways from Siegfried’s company. Once they had disappeared from sight between the trees, the chanting turned to a lively song, whose words he guessed were in anticipation of the ceremony. It was truly a bit otherworldly, huddled beneath the shroud and surrounded by strangers dressed as forest spirits. It had the feeling of passing between realms, leaving everything behind and not yet being allowed to enter into whatever was to come. Several times he thought he glimpsed the other wedding party weaving through the distant trees.
Finally the flicker of lanterns could be seen up ahead, and a voice rang out in song to greet them. The marchers around him cheered in answer, and they approached a clearing, demarcated by a wide circle of branches and lanterns. The drums ceased, but the crowd continued singing. Finally the second procession arrived, its costumed members gathering at the edge of the circle. The man with antlers stepped forth, and Unna nodded, urging Aglovale forward. He joined Siegfried’s side, and together they were first to enter the circle, which he remembered had been prepared all day as a sacred space for this occasion.
They waited as everyone stepped beneath the archway and formed a ring around them at the edges. Aglovale glanced up at the golden, early evening sunlight and took in their surroundings.
The summer skies were a deep, jeweled blue, almost falsely brilliant against the distant snow-dusted mountain peaks. The grass felt plush and wild, sighing softly beneath his bare feet. Aglovale assured himself it was just his foreigner’s unfamiliarity with these people’s attitudes and celebrations, but the very air and fauna around him felt vividly unreal and dream-like. Perhaps there was truly something to their consecrating rituals and all the enovking of spirits within this newly-hallowed ground.
An elder who had greeted the processions stood at the center with them, wearing a robe edged with gold and holding a staff. She was unmasked and stepped forward to lead the ceremony.
“I bid the lovers to call out to one another. Ask a question only your love would know how to answer, to prove they are no imposter or shape-shifting spirit.”
Siegfried stepped closer, his voice sounding more distant from behind his wooden mask.
“What is my beloved’s favorite moment of each year?”
Aglovale paused, surprised at his simple prompt, knowing he had admitted the answer to him long ago. “The first snowfall of winter.”
Siegfried lifted his mask, smiling warmly, and gave the ceremonial response. “That is my love’s voice who answers my call.”
Aglovale’s heart jumped lightly, caught up in the moment and relieved to see Siegfried in all his decorated beauty again. He readied his question.
“Where did we share our first kiss?”
Siegfried smiled again. “In secret, above your roof as the sun was setting.”
Aglovale too removed his mask and cloak gratefully. “That is my love’s voice who answers my call.”
A hearty cheer rippled through the crowd and they each removed their costumes, knowing they had all arrived safely within the hallowed ground and were free to proceed.
The elder smiled, grasping one of each of their hands and looking out into the crowd.
“Welcome, friends, and sons and daughters of Volsung. I, Vár the Elder, have prepared the sacred hringr in which we gather, as we have done since days of old, wherever our people have roamed. Today we surround these two who intend to forge their bonds of love before us. We are all witnesses to the oaths they take this day. I call upon the very earth and skies, and all within them, to bless this bond along with us, should their love prove worthy.”
There was a pause as a breeze shifted through the trees around them, almost as if in answer. Aglovale could have sworn he heard whispering from the trees themselves.
“Let the witnesses now take their place at the side of the grooms.”
A woman stepped forward to take the place of honor at Siegfried’s side. Aglovale could not tell if the resemblance between them was from true relation, or just the familiar features of Siegfried’s that he had begun to recognize among many Volsung. Behind him approached a familiar presence, and he turned to see his brother Lamorak removing his mask to stand at his side. Aglovale had known he would be here, but it was a relief to see his face. His younger brother smiled, making a face to show he was impressed with Aglovale’s wedding attire, then smiling warmly in reassurance. Volsung tradition, Aglovale had been told, was to let someone testify on your behalf who best knew your character, and Lamorak had eagerly agreed to attend a celebration with the people of the mountains. Aglovale’s thoughts traveled briefly to Percival, who had agreed to tend to the kingdom in Wales while they were away, and promised to attend their royal ceremony instead. He turned back to the elder and nodded that they were ready.
“Let the two now declare their intent and let us hear their vows,” she pressed their right hands together so they were clasped tight, and gestured to Siegfried first.
Siegfried took a slow breath and readied himself with words he had long prepared.
“Aglovale, my beloved. My strength is found when I am in your arms, and my rest is found when I look into your eyes. When neither of us speaks, I know I am still perfectly understood. My only sadness in loving you is knowing that a lifetime is not long enough for all that I wish to share with you.
“I vow to love you with kindness, with sweetness, with strength and with gentleness. I vow to cherish you with eagerness, with understanding, and with honesty. I will be at your side through all weathers, all times, all hardships and all seasons, but I promise to multiply our joys through them all. With these hands I bind myself, always, to you.”
Aglovale, blinked, realizing he had held his breath for the entire declaration. His throat was tight with emotion. He should have anticipated that Siegfried’s words could seize his heart. The man was a deep well of intense sincerity, and yet Aglovale always found himself swept away by it. He tried to inscribe the words in his memory perfectly, hoping he could retrieve them later to look back on and turn them over in his mind like the pages of a priceless love letter.
The elder wrapped a beautifully embroidered sash around their clasped hands, tying the first knot. Beside them the woman squinted at Siegfried, shaking her head affectionately as if she could not believe how grandly he was speaking. But her eyes shone with a sisterly pride.
To his right Lamorak stood watching eagerly. He was beaming, almost too widely to be solemn enough for the occasion. But he nodded encouragingly to Aglovale, silently urging him to continue. Aglovale took a deep, steadying breath and turned back to Siegfried, who was watching with expectant fondness. Aglovale met his gaze and spoke the vows he had carefully composed and memorized.
“All my life I have strived to build something great. I do not know if I will succeed in the eyes of those who come after me, but I believe my truest fulfillment and greatest happiness lies in the life I shall build together with you, Siegfried. To wake to your smile, to take solace in your council, and to share in your joys and sorrows as though they were my own. To be your comfort, your steadiness, your support, and your devoted partner each and every day. To become a part of your family,” he nodded gratefully at the faces of the Volsungs around him, “and to welcome you as part of mine.
“Siegfried, your love is the treasure I cherish most of all in this world. I swear to uphold it at the cost of my life—by living for the unity of our two intentions, and for those who rely on us. In this my heart will never waver.”
Having finished his prepared words, Aglovale felt they belonged more among the pomp of his royal ceremonies in Wales. He felt the need to speak from his own heart, to match the honest sentiments Siegfried had offered him. His mind buzzed as he tried to quickly improvise a final confession in his vows, leaning in a little closer.
“I delight every day in the warmth of your affection—I could never bear to be parted from it. You have captured my very soul and you carry it with you everywhere you go. Please accept my heart, it has long been fused, inseparably, to yours. I love you, Siegfried, for all our days.”
Vár smiled, wrapping another sash around their hands to tie the second knot. Several people cheered, and the children carrying bells shook them with happy clanging as they shouted.
Aglovale exhaled nervously. It wasn't often that words failed him, and these ones he had found still didn't do his intent justice. But Siegfried was watching with an understanding gleam in his eye, and Aglovale felt he suddenly understood the point of every piece of the varied rituals they were undertaking. The ceremony itself acknowledged that words could never sufficiently convey these complex intentions, and were made to manifest them in both tangible and intangible ways—through common aspects of life and expressions of feeling in song, dance, dress, and even food. Perhaps each of these practices were as much a part of the Vols language as their words. He was beginning to feel grateful to them, rather than daunted by them.
The elder nodded, speaking over their clasped hands upon the completion of their vows. “So you have declared, and so let your words both remind you and bind you to their own truth for all your days.”
“ Ey,” The guests called out in a Vols word of affirmation.
“For the ears of all present, we call upon your witnesses to testify to the truth of your oaths. Can you prove them, Sigrún?”
“Aye,” the woman behind Siegfried stepped forward. “I am Sigrún, daughter of Hogni. Friends, kin, Children of Volsung, you know your brother Sigurðr before you. True, some of you knew him more as the imp of his youth, and a fierce, muddy little scamp he could be.” The crowd chuckled lightly in agreement as she continued. “But the truth of his words lies in his growth as the man you see today. You all know of his great deeds, his blessing from Odin himself, slaying dragons, proving himself in far-off lands, but that can oft mean little more than bonfire tales to tell back at home. But if you know him, you know his heart—capable of feeling great pain as well as love. If there is anything your brother Sigurðr is incapable of, it is falseness. Even as a young boy he was never able to wiggle his way out of trouble, transparent as he was. He learned to face the world head-on, sometimes too sincerely. Sometimes I think that’s where his bit of shyness comes from—a sense that if you looked him right in the eyes, you could see everything behind them before he meant to show you.” She smiled fondly back at Siegfried, who laughed and fidgeted nervously.
“Long ago before he left our mountains to make his way in the world, he promised to become a brother who would make me proud. He could not have proven his word more strongly as the kind, protective, compassionate man that he is. He cares for his own with gentleness and patience, and a fierce will to guard their happiness. If my brother has shown his love here today, you can know it is more than truth. He means his words one-thousandfold, and he will fight with his life to keep them. If he has promised his soul to this man, those are more than words to him—they are truth itself.”
The villagers chorused their agreement.
Vár turned. “Aglovale, would you bring forth your witness?”
He nodded, stepping aside to let his brother come forward. Lamorak faced the crowd, smiling invitingly. Out of the three brothers, he was easily the most adept at charming a room, rather than commanding it.
“My name is Lamorak. Though we are strangers to you now, I hope by this night’s end we will become both your friends and your family. This man before you is my older brother. By now we are motherless and fatherless, I believe none live who know Aglovale so well as his own brothers. Some of you may know that can be both a blessing and a burden, especially when one’s past is darkened by mistakes and grief. I can speak to the depth of my brother’s love more than anyone. He attends to everything, even the slightest details—nothing escapes him. I have not always been loyal, and yet he has always shown loyalty to me. When I disappeared he never stopped looking for me, and when I betrayed him he not only forgave, but understood me. He shows mercy because like me, he has also known darkness.”
Aglovale felt a tightening in his chest. Lamorak often hid his heart behind a smile, he always preferred to keep things lighthearted rather than to dwell on sincerity of feeling. This was more than they ever admitted aloud to one another, though the understanding of it had always been silently tucked away between them. He was grateful to his brother, but Lamorak was cheeky even in his sincerity, though Aglovale supposed that was the right of any younger brother toward his siblings. Still, he felt a pang of relief that, after everything that had passed between them, Lamorak understood how deeply Aglovale cared for him. His brother continued speaking.
“I have watched my brother admit when he is wrong, and learn to ask for help when he needs it. My brother knows love is complicated, often painful, and yet he clings to it like his own life depends on it, and would do anything to keep it alive. Through all our lives, family has always been the most important thing there is to him, such that he would conquer demons for it. If he loves Siegfried enough to pledge his life to him, he will never break that bond. And I have seen the love he has for this man, and the true happiness it brings him. Never was a groom so sincere, never was a man’s joy so transformed by love as my brother’s is now. His love is complete, his word is true. He will live by it for all his days”
Vár bowed her head graciously to acknowledge his words and stepped forward again. “So you have both been spoken for, but let us put your hearts to the test.” she continued. “For the vows you take are not merely the joining of families or the clasping of hands. By binding to one another, you bind all of us here in a pledge to aid in preserving and upholding your union, should you have any lack or weakness, so that you shall be able to maintain your promises of partnership and love for all your days to come. Let every person here put your words to trial until all are satisfied and in agreement. For no marriage is upheld by two minds alone, but by the strength of many.”
“ Ey, ey !” answered some of the crowd in affirmation.
Aglovale shifted his weight nervously, feeling sweat on his palm beneath the ties that bound his hand to Siegfried’s. If he failed to meet their questions with pleasing answers, what then? This practice was an especially foreign one to him. Beneath their bonds, Siegfried squeezed his hand warmly.
A woman stepped forward, holding a braided cord, and asked the first challenge.
“What made you first know you loved him?”
She seemed to be asking Siegfried, so Aglovale waited for him to speak. Perhaps only one answer was needed on their behalf for each question.
Siegfried smiled to himself as if selecting a private memory he would allow them a glimpse of. “When I saw the way he smiled toward only me. One day I noticed he looked at no one else this way. I confess, it was like a charm over me.”
Aglovale’s neck flushed with heat, he had no awareness that his expression looked any different with Siegfried. The man glanced at him entreatingly, as if asking that he would not withhold this smile, now that this was known to him.
The crowd seemed to approve of this answer, enjoying Aglovale’s reaction greater still. There were some laughs and a gentle whoop. The woman who had asked the question shook her head as if in disbelief at the sentimental answer, but everyone could hear the unwavering sincerity in all of Siegfried’s words. She stepped forward and looped her cord around their clasped palms, tying the ends and looking to Vár as she recited her words of confirmation.
“Their bond is strong, their love lifelong.”
The second guest stepped forward bearing his cord, a bearded man who looked as broad and strong as the mountains that surrounded them. He seemed to look directly, almost skeptically, at Aglovale this time.
“What have you sacrificed in order to sustain this love of yours?”
Aglovale thought for a moment, composing his answer, and then spoke. “The need to rule my own life and heart as if it answered to none. I yield myself to trust him with each part of me, and he always honors that trust. We share in this life together, each hand steering with equal weight.”
The guests murmured “aye”s of agreement, nodding and affirming in more thoughtful tones than they had given to Siegfried’s response. The bearded man stepped forward to add his cord to the ones already encircling their hands and echoed the same blessing.
“Their bond is strong, their love lifelong.”
A younger woman stepped forward, not a girl, but not yet twenty. Her fearless gaze pierced Siegfried as she spoke.
“What would you do should you ever find you have hurt your partner?”
Siegfried took a thoughtful breath, exhaling slowly before responding.
“I would listen with an open heart, and invite in the sorrow that my faults had caused him. I would, of course, right the wrongs and strive to never repeat them. But I would know to listen before I veered off course ever again, and ask his counsel, rather than his forgiveness after it is too late.”
The young guest seemed satisfied, coming forward to add her cord to the handfasting.
“Their bond is strong, their love lifelong.”
Next an older woman stepped forward, and her question sounded tinged with a sense of personal experience. She turned to Aglovale.
“What would you do if your partner fell ill, or lost all the health in their limbs and could no longer rise?”
Aglovale felt it was a wise question, even two people as young and strong as they were could not know what losses might suddenly befall them. He briefly thought of the dragon’s curse Siegfried already lived with, and the promise he had made to discover a cure for him. But that was Siegfried’s own secret to hold. He answered with confident gentleness.
“Any partner who promises their life to another is not pledging to remain true only in fair, painless circumstances. It is the promise to meet life with them regardless of the unknown. But I do not feel that faithfulness alone is enough to continue together in marriage. For myself, I would not cease striving to find ways to uplift him, to ease his burden and alter our habits to help him continue participating fully in our shared lives. If all his limbs failed, I would provide him tools and means of assistance. And if he were confined to bed, I would bring the world to him.”
The old woman smiled. Her eyes seemed to perceive a sort of naivete in his words, but she appeared to be persuaded by their intention. As she fastened her cord around their hands, Aglovale saw they were woven with strands of thin, silver thread. He wondered if they held a special meaning apart from the others.
“Their bond is strong, their love lifelong,” she announced in approval.
Aglovale felt the weight of her blessing more than the previous few. For a moment he felt small and humble, so far from his throne in Wales, but he held tightly to that feeling. This cord around his wrist somehow felt more valuable than any gift he had been given in his court. He wondered if some day he might decide to return and seek her counsel. Was that the true intention of these bonds after all?
“Do you intend to have children?”
It took Aglovale a moment to realize this shout had come from the crowd, rather than as a formal question. The guests seemed itching for the somber ceremony to end and for celebrations to commence.
“Yes!” Siegfried called out in answer for both of them, smiling playfully.
The small crowd roared a cheer of approval, several of them whooping giddily.
“ How many ?” someone yelled out of turn, but was shouted down playfully by the others.
Siegfried laughed merrily, but deftly avoided answering.
It felt as if the questions were hurrying to an end. Several more asked their piece, and both grooms did their best to answer. At last the final questioner stepped forward, and the guests shook their bells and hand drums to a crescendo in anticipation.
“What about this marriage will bring you the most happiness in life?”
Siegfried put his free arm around Aglovale and drew him close with a smile. “The comfort of one who knows me best of all.”
There were brief cheers, quickly hushed in anticipation.
Aglovale tried to sum such a thought up into a small, happy answer as well. “The feeling of true peace… from your steady hand in mine.”
The small crowd cheered joyfully as the final cord was tied, and everyone spoke in unison.
“ Their bond is strong, their love lifelong !”
Siegfried’s mouth twitched with an emotional smile, which he hid by kissing Aglovale’s forehead. Aglovale mostly felt relief, as if he had passed an exam in school, but the joyful cheers soon pulled a smile from him as well.
Vár placed her palm atop their two tied hands. “All here have acknowledged your bond, and so have vowed to uphold your union for all your days. May it strengthen you both, and us together with it.”
A young boy approached, bearing an empty wooden cup that had many intricate carvings on it. Another elder came beside him and poured a small amount dark liquid inside.
Vár placed it in their hands. “This love-cup signifies the same source of life from which you both partake. First of vinegar, for you will share each others’ bitter hardships as one, and be strengthened together.”
They were made to both hold the cup together with their untied hands as each one drank. The vinegar was sharp, but hearty with deep flavor.
Vár continued “And now of mead, that your love may always be celebrated, and that it may bring you prosperity and gladness.”
The sweet tang of the mead cured the bitterness from the first drink. It was not a drink Aglovale was accustomed to, sweeter than the ale in Wales, and he took a liking to it.
“And, to seal your love,” Vár held out a finger and pressed it to their bottom lips, leaving a dot of honey upon each of them, “pure honey, that your love may be sweetest when you cherish one another amidst all circumstances.”
“ Kyssa, kyssa !” whispered the guests teasingly in Vols.
Siegfried obliged them with a mischievous look before cupping Aglovale’s face with his free hand and drawing him in for a kiss. The sweet stickiness of honey was an odd sensation between them, but Siegfried lingered, holding him close as he kissed again and again to laughs and cheers, seeming as if he meant to have every last trace of honey from Aglovale’s lips.
When they parted, the bells shook again and drums were beaten to the sound of more cheering. Vár waited before speaking her next piece.
“The people have blessed your union, but now the earth and skies must partake in the blessing as well.”
With their handfasting still tied, the grooms knelt as two young girls approached them, placing circled crowns of woven wheat and flowered sapling branches atop their heads.
Vár instructed them to reach down and grasp a handful of soil from the ground below them, and to sprinkle it atop their fastened hands. She then washed it away, pouring a cask of snowmelt water from the mountains over them.
“The earth has given you life, and so shall you give back.”
Siegfried and Aglovale followed the elder to the edge of the hringr , following her instruction to kneel and plant a sapling tree into the ground and then cover it with earth. They placed a stone carved with their names at the foot of the new growth.
“As this tree grows in size and strength, so shall your love. This tree will outlive you, and will continue providing shade and fruit to those who come after you. That is also the way of a good partnership in marriage. Promise now to return to stand under its branches, renewing your love each time you do.”
They bowed their heads in promise. Siegfried had explained before today that this tree was meant to be planted in front of the couples’ new home, to grow alongside them and shelter each generation after. A second potted tree stood beside it, cut from the same clipping, which they would take back to Wales with them and plant as a sister tree in Aglovale’s castle garden for exactly its intended purpose.
Standing once more, they shared a kiss above the newly planted saplings.
The golden evening sun had begun turning reddish orange as it slipped through the trees. It was time for the final rituals.
“Do you each have a token of your past?”
They nodded, having been asked to bring something that represented the old condition they were leaving behind as they transitioned into a marriage together. Siegfried reached in his pocket and withdrew a tattered scrap of dark blue fabric, which Aglovale recognized as a piece of the cloak he often wore beneath his armor. Aglovale withdrew his cloth from a pocket, which was a piece of white sash from a shirt that had been nearly destroyed some years ago. It was a piece of his life that he particularly wanted to leave behind, but not to forget—something he had worn the day Siegfried had rescued him from himself as he stood foolishly beneath the gate to the Otherworld. Tying the two cloths in a knot, they placed them in the shallow bowl that Vár held.
“Earth, water, skies, and now fire—the spirits of the vættr are aligned with your bond. Just as two flames merge into one, so do your two loves join to become one living thing.”
Vár held the bowl up to a ceremonial lamp until the flame caught, causing it to glow brightly as the cloths twisted and vanished into ash.
“Now,” Vár smiled, “pass on your flame.”
Siegfried and Aglovale moved as one, hands still bound, approaching the stacked logs and branches prepared for the bonfire and tossing the bowl in. The flame caught quickly, sweeping over the bundles and blazing triumphantly. All the guests rang out in a final cheer, and Vár held their tied hands aloft one last time.
“The joining is true! May their marriage be forever blessed. Now, let us celebrate!”
The music began and the dancing immediately followed. Vár helped the couple unbind the cords at their hands, twisting them into one rope and gifting them the braid to keep.
They joined the dancing at first, Aglovale remembering the simple line steps that Siegfried had taught him over the past month. It felt different here, with the grass beneath his bare feet and the simple instruments playing behind them. He heard himself laugh as Siegfried lifted him and caught him again, sweeping him along in the merriment while the villagers clapped in time with the steps.
They danced a short while, but were soon happy to stand beside and watch the guests carry on as the sunset mirrored the orange flames of the fire. Some came to congratulate the couple, or speak a few words of blessing in Vols. Aglovale found himself wandering curiously, weaving between the dancers and the children running about playing games to amuse themselves.
The bonfire rumbled like dragon’s breath and the young logs gave whiplike cracks as flames settled over them. Just as the air of summer’s day cooled to exchange heat with the fire, so did their light source exchange as twilight gathered in dim gold around them. A few crickets began whistling through the brush, and above them the clouds glowed with a pink crust. Aglovale watched the guests chatter around them, eager to re-group for more song and dance.
Before anyone could call their attention away, Siegfried reappeared at his side and gathered his face with both hands in a motion that was now very familiar to Aglovale. It was something Siegfried often did when steadying himself, trying to shut out everything and let Aglovale be his entire world for a few centering breaths. He too seemed overwhelmed and a little jittery from the celebrations, never one for being the center of attention. Siegfried rested their foreheads together, his calloused thumbs brushing lightly across Agloavle’s cheeks and his fingers curling softly around the back of his neck. Aglovale smiled, closing his eyes and waiting for Siegfried to drink his fill. There was something hypnotic about his wide hands blocking out sound and sense, while surrounding Aglovale with rough, gentle strength. Aglovale glanced about and quietly wondered if this habit of his was a gesture he had learned from the Volsunga.
Siegfried sighed and released him slowly, placing a grateful kiss on his forehead and gazing fondly into his eyes. Aglovale was swept up in his fierce love once again. He instructed himself to release his focus on trying to adapt to the unfamiliar rituals and to remember the reason he was here, and how much he truly adored this man. He blinked, realizing the ceremonial moment had already passed, and it was official. They were bonded forever. He did not feel much different than he had hours before, and he supposed the act of speaking words and burning cloths did not much change what had already grown between them.
“Well, we are truly married now, aren’t we?” Aglovale asked. “Now may I call you ‘Husband’?” he prodded, almost jokingly.
Siegfried laughed gently. “Well… technically there is the final step before everything is official .”
“Ah…” Aglovale remembered what Siegfried had graciously informed him of before he had agreed to a Volsung wedding. “The consummation ceremony?”
Siegfried smiled sheepishly, clasping Aglovale’s hands in his reassuringly. “It’s just tradition, one of the oldest leftover customs from ancient days. But I promise we’ll have complete privacy. And…” he raised an eyebrow, leaning in to whisper, “I also promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
Aglovale rolled his eyes, pushing Siegfried’s face away playfully. “I gave my word to abide by all your customs and I intend to follow through. But,” he whispered in return, “I look forward to your wedding bed enticements.”
Siegfried laughed, tugging playfully at his hands and pulling him back in for a kiss on the lips. Aglovale returned it, winding his arms around Siegfried’s neck, feeling his stomach flutter giddily as cheers and whoops rang out around them. They broke apart as the guests called out, bidding them to join the festivities as the instruments began playing again.
Sigrún stumbled to Siegfried’s side, barefoot and laughing with a rich, low voice much like his. She was tugging the arm of a bearded man, who followed at her behest.
“Congratulations to the grooms,” she smiled widely, her dark eyes catching the fireglow. “Welcome to the family,” she bowed her head and reached for Aglovale’s hand, clasping it warmly in both of hers, one gripped around the back of his wrist.
“It is an honor,” Aglovale nodded.
“This is my husband, Helgi,” she gestured to the bearded man, who smiled modestly and clasped with both palms for a handshake, as appeared to be the Volsung greeting.
“ Heill ok sæll . Blessings to you both.”
Aglovale recognized the Vols greeting that he had been taught meant “ Be happy and healthy. ”
“You make a fine couple, it’s been a hand of harvests since I’ve seen such a lively wedding trial. Or such handsome grooms,” Sigrún smiled with a twinkle in her eye at Aglovale, and patted Siegfried’s cheek affectionately, which he ducked with a laugh of protest.
“I hope to have done your customs justice,” Aglovale smiled humbly, “both for my sake and yours.”
“ Ey, that you have. You’ve taken to us beautifully, like an otter to water. You are a true honorary son of Volsung now, by bond.”
“May Odin prosper you in strength and health,” Helgi nodded.
“You’ve made me proud, little brother,” Sigrún took Siegfried’s hand, leading him aside. She grasped his head and kissed him on the forehead, seeming almost motherly, though their ages must have been within ten years. “I’m so pleased for you. Til hamingju, Sigurðr . ”
Aglovale frowned lightly, realizing he had heard Siegfried called that name several times since they arrived. Of course, Siegfried must have been born with a name in the Vols language. It caused him to wonder distantly—when did he take on the name Siegfried? It was no doubt a simplified form, or an existing Feendrache name. But the idea gnawed at him that his husband was known by another name, which he had not been aware of until now. A wave of guilt swirled through his mind, dragging a small valley between him and the man he thought he knew better than anyone. How could there still be so much for him to learn about the one he had just pledged himself to?
Aglovale tried whispering the name to himself under his breath. “ Sig—Sigurdhr…”
The flip of the Vols tongue tip still did not come easily to him. Perhaps a frown had touched his brow while he concentrated, as Siegfried returned to his side and drew his arm around him again, facing the roaring bonfire.
“Do your thoughts wander home to Wales?” he asked with gentle concern.
“No, not so.” Aglovale checked a sigh before it escaped him. “Siegfried… do you wish I called you by your true name?”
Siegfried blinked in surprise, turning to face him in light bewilderment. “True name?”
“The name your kin call you. ‘Sigurd’.”
A fond smile overtook him and Siegfried laughed. Aglovale frowned, his pride bristling slightly.
“I hadn’t thought one way or the other, honestly. Both names are mine. It’s almost like Sigurðr makes more sense when surrounded by other Vols words.”
Aglovale must have looked as unsatisfied with that answer as he felt. Insecurity was getting the best of him so far away from home.
“It’s no betrayal of my old self to be called Siegfried. That’s the name you have always known me by, and it’s who I am with you.”
“But you are also one of the Volsung. I would never want to overwrite that.”
Siegfried kissed his hand reassuringly. “Then think of them as pronunciations. Forgive me, but one sounds much more natural on your tongue, Aglovale.”
Aglovale looked around at the celebrations, still feeling a raw distance from it all. “But I want to be a part of this with you now.”
“Tell you what,” Siegfried leaned in closely, looking into his eyes. “Would you like me to teach you more of the Vols tongue even after we’ve returned home?”
Aglovale half-smiled. “Yes. I would like that. I should like to help document it as well, for future generations, so it will not erode away with time.”
“We’ll do that,” Siegfried nodded. Amid the shouts of guests and the snaps of the fire, he pressed close to speak into his ear. “And if you like, perhaps when we’re alone, on special occasions, you might call me Sigurðr .”
Aglovale smiled, watching the firelight dance on Siegfried’s cheek. “I may yet,” he teased.
The lengthening shadows were tangling with one another as evening crept over them. A bit lost in thought, or perhaps somewhat hypnotized by the unfamiliar dance steps of the guests around the fire, Aglovale seemed to lose track of time. Eventually Siegfried took his hand and led aside to the foot of a path, lit by glowing lanterns. A handful of guests had followed them, hard to make out in the dimness, though Aglovale could hear what sounded like children and younger villagers still celebrating by firelight in the distance.
“Before your love-joining, I have a few final blessings for you two,” Vár held out a basket and pulled back the cloth covering it. Algovale’s face nearly flushed and he cleared his throat, grateful for the cooling breeze and the cover of sunset.
First they were offered roasted meat, for virility, a ceremonial-sized morsel that made Aglovale aware of the hunger his nerves had kept at bay all day. He hoped there would be a meal for them afterward. The second food they were given was a small tart with an egg yolk inside, said to be a blessing for fertility.
Sigrún whispered behind them “The charm will still work for the skies to bless the couple with healthy children, no matter how they arrive into the family.” She winked lightly and drew back into the crowd again.
The third morsel was a toasted cake of layers made with honeyed nuts, a blessing for sweetness in lovemaking. The love-cup was handed to them once more for a sip of mead to wash everything down with, and finally a leafy herb was given to them to chew for freshness of breath. As soon as the taste of it filled his mouth, Aglovale began to suspect the leaf carried some sort of possible aphrodisiac effect. He felt a tingling warmth, and an odd rush of boldness that couldn’t be explained by the few sips of mead they had been given. One or two hushed laughs came from the guests as they finished their preparations and spat out the remaining herb.
“May the skies bear witness and bless your final union. Svá, sameinast í ást . So, unite now in love.”
The onlookers offered up a cheer with a final shaking of the bells, which was quickly taken up by the dancers beside the bonfire as well. Several guests congratulated them and pressed a hand to their shoulder in blessing. Siegfried braced Aglovale’s hands in his, assuring him they were nearly through.
Sigrún stepped above them and called out, “Away with you, leave the grooms to their final rite, and let us retreat into the night!”
The guests turned and immediately took up a cheerful song entirely in the Vols language, which Aglovale could guess carried some suggestive tones. They waited with the elder at the foot of the path until the fire and torches in the distance had been extinguished, and the guests could be heard returning to the village.
Vár turned to them with a final farewell, assuring them they would now be alone, and she smiled proudly. “It is my joy to see you welcomed as one of the Volsung, Aglovale. And you, Sigurðr, I couldn’t be more proud to see you return for your peoples’ blessing.” The elder clasped their joined hands together warmly one last time. “Be sealed in your delight, and cherish one anothers’ happiness.”
They thanked her, and Aglovale bowed his head as she departed, listening to her steps fade along the cool grass. He and Siegfried were alone together at last.
Above them the skies had given way to dusk, shrouded in a dark blue that somehow still felt alive. The crescent moon hung high and clear, piercing insistently through the modest branches as they ascended the rocky hill path further into the forest. Aglovale could see fireflies winking their lights, hovering just above the ground like a trick of the eye, disappearing before one could be certain they’d seen it. Floating lanterns had been set every dozen paces to guide their way, and some had attracted small fae-like creatures which gathered curiously beneath them, slipping out of sight just as the couple approached. From the odd, otherworldly way they moved, Aglovale began to believe the way the Volsunga had spoken about them, wondering if his steps were being further enchanted.
Siegfried looked back and smiled invitingly, and Aglovale’s heart beat faster as he was led up the path. Up ahead he sighted more lights and the spread of a canopy. Several more lanterns were hung, and glowing toadstools clustered at the foot of the path where they arrived. The forest was densely hushed behind them, but the tent had been prepared in a small clearing, high enough to be secluded. Three new stars peered down at them from above.
The canopy shrouded a bed on the grass, surrounding it on three sides with beautifully woven sheer cloths, but leaving an open ceiling for the skies themselves to witness. The thought made Aglovale twinge nervously again, but a sensation of ease soon overtook it as the herb stirred his desire once again. Siegfried took his hand and lowered them both onto the mat, which was softer than it looked. Dozens of pillows surrounded them, and Aglovale chose a large one for himself. He noticed that a tray with crystal jars, oils, and even a flask of water had been supplied for them. A sweet smoke was drifting like incense from one of the burning lanterns, and its aroma soothed his remaining nerves.
“They’ve thought of everything,” Siegfried chatted, drawing closer to Aglovale and taking his hands, while glancing at their surroundings. “At last we’re alone together,” he smiled cheekily, teasing to test the waters.
“In a way,” Aglovale chuckled, glancing at the open air above them.
Siegfried nodded sheepishly. “It is unusual, but I promise it’s just us here. This is our sacred ground for tonight.” He brushed back a loosened wisp of Aglovale’s hair and leaned in to kiss him sweetly. Aglovale lingered, hungering for closeness from either the strain of the day, or from the glow of the ceremonial herbs. Siegfried returned his second kiss with a third and sighed contentedly.
He gazed at Aglovale wistfully, moving his fingers to loosen some of the flowers from his hair and gently letting down one of the braids. Siegfried brought the flower to his lips and took in its scent delicately.
“Aglovale, I’ve imagined this moment for so long—admittedly ever since the first day I knew I had fallen in love with you. But I had never allowed myself to believe it would actually come, even after you agreed to a wedding in my homeland. This moment still feels like a dream.”
“Should it not?” Aglovale answered, letting his eyes stay heavily lidded and leaning in sensually.
Siegfried’s eyes drifted over his face and downward, and he smiled in agreement. “Perhaps you’re right.”
Aglovale traced his fingers over the closure of his tunic, plucking at a button. “Are there rituals to this matter as well? Steps we must follow?”
Siegfried paused, frowning lightly. “It’s possible there might be, but actually, I’m not certain,” he admitted, “For our people, a father is supposed to take his son aside to advise him before the wedding. But since my father died before my birth, I had no one.”
Aglovale smiled triumphantly. “Well then, at least this is one dance I do know all the steps to.” He reached for Siegfried’s face and pulled him downward for a kiss, sweeping his tongue along his lips invitingly. Siegfried gave into him and hovered above him as they kissed. Aglovale’s hand brushed along the embroidered front of the man’s tunic and Siegfried paused, raising himself up to loosen its fastenings.
This, Aglovale thought, was the most beautiful Siegfried has ever looked. Aglovale could tell his disinterest in court finery or even simple fine dress must come from the fact that it has always been foreign to him, and none of it suited him like this did. The natural way he took to these Volsung clothes brought out his glow of ease and confidence, and the stems and herbs woven into his hair made him seem as if he had risen out of the earth itself to seduce Aglovale back down to it. Despite the man’s assurances, it pained Aglovale to know that as king he would be keeping Siegfried for himself in his castle, away from this place where he seemed to draw strength from the earth itself. He silently vowed to carve out freedom for Siegfried to travel as he wished in order to remain a part of this place, and to ensure that someday their children would be a part of it too.
Siegfried rolled his shoulders as he let the tunic slip from them, looking handsomely confident and making a show of his good looks as he straddled Aglovale. He made eye contact, looking down at him with faint embers of desire in his gaze. Aglovale smiled coyly. He had never seen Siegfried quite so in his element, so self-assured and filled with quiet power. It was hypnotizing to watch, and it seemed as if Siegfried was fully aware of his command of the very air around them.
“May I?” he whispered heavily, taking hold of the clasps of Aglovale’s garment in his angular hands.
Siegfried deftly removed the tunic and kissed seductively at his throat beneath it. “Beautiful as always… the moonlight itself is truly the finest garment for your skin, my love.”
Aglovale’s lips parted in surprise, he had never heard Siegfried say something so poetic. Perhaps the herb was affecting them both, or perhaps something was returning to him, amongst his own language and the very soil to which he belonged. Siegfried glanced up at Aglovale, eyelids lidded heavily, and caressed his skin, kissing at the waistband of his trousers and slipping his fingers beneath it. Aglovale’s breath hitched as Siegfried undressed him fully.
With a mischief in his eyes, Siegfried reached out and touched the thin, ceremonial golden garter chain around Aglovale’s thigh, sliding his hands along sensitive skin to unfasten it. Each of the men had been dressed with one before the wedding, a symbol meant to prove their union when they returned from their consummation. The delicate chain slipped from Aglovale’s leg and Siegfried kissed the exposed skin beneath it, his mouth sliding slyly upwards between his legs. A sigh fell from Aglovale’s lips as Siegfried’s tongue painted him lovingly. His hands wandered along Aglovale’s stomach, closing around his hips and forcing him to melt into the pillows beneath them. Aglovale’s head fell back and he glimpsed the blurry stars above them. If any gods or spirits are truly watching , he thought, then let them envy us .
A shiver of pleasure ran through Aglovale beneath Siegfried’s mouth, and the man looked up momentarily, the gold garter chain still entwined through his fingers and pressing fine dents into Aglovale’s hip.
“You’ve claimed your prize,” Aglovale protested breathlessly, “now what about mine?”
Siegfried smiled, rising to his knees, still straddling Aglovale. Aglovale sat up and reached for Siegfried’s broad, dark-haired thigh, unfastening his matching chain to complete the ritual. He moved to fasten it to his wrist as he had been told was custom, but Siegfried caught his hands and brought them to his lips, kissing his wrists seductively. He set aside both their chains on the tray and pressed Aglovale down onto the sheet with a passionate kiss. There was nothing left between them now.
Siegfried gave him kiss after kiss, moving along Aglovale’s skin and sealing each part. Out in the open air, they sounded clearer, crisper, like water droplets hitting him one by one. In his low, rich voice Siegfried spoke words along his skin that sounded like incantations, until Aglovale recognized the sounds of the Volsung tongue.
Siegfried reached up to brush his fingers over Aglovale’s fair hair and removed some of the flowers there, loosening the braids and spreading the strands out like a veil beneath them. He gazed fondly into his eyes and then pressed kisses to his throat, murmuring between them.
“ Augu þín... hafa galdra …”
Aglovale sighed, not stopping him to ask the meaning as Siegfried reached between their bodies to connect them. Aglovale felt his senses floating on the herb they had been given, then being stoked again by the heat of Siegfried’s skin. While holding tightly, Siegfried was a careful lover on this night, and Aglovale could still feel the performative, ritual aspect to this ceremony. It felt right somehow, but as beautiful as the stars above them were, he still looked forward to returning home, and the freedom they would have to be together in union soon, finally as husbands. Aglovale breathed heavily as they moved and he grasped Siegfried’s shoulders for an anchor.
Siegfried kissed him stutteringly as they moved and whispered against his cheek.
“ Ek elska þik… Aglovale … I love you…”
“I’m yours,” Aglovale whispered back.
“ Ek elska þik. ”
- - -
The crickets had grown more insistent, and the breeze that threaded its way through the leaves now carried a chill with it. With the moonlight awash around them, the couple lay hand in hand for a moment, catching their breath in the stillness. More stars were pricked across the black sky—different patterns than Aglovale was used to seeing from his balcony in Wales. His life as king was a distant dream, and Aglovale wished to keep it that way for a little while longer and be nothing more than himself.
“Well,” Siegfried brought Aglovale’s fingers to his lips, kissing them lazily, “now the skies have truly witnessed our union.”
Aglovale shifted restlessly “Then at last, now may I call you ‘my husband’?”
Siegfried closed his eyes and whispered, “Say it once more…”
Aglovale smirked and pulled close to him. “Are you truly mine now, ‘my husband’?”
Siegfried smiled, beaming to outshine the moon. He nodded, “Yes. How utterly wonderful that sounds.”
Aglovale kissed him, lingering naked against him as the magic of their ritual faded.
“I am yours for all of our days,” Siegfried murmured in promise, “and you are mine.”
Aglovale sighed smugly. “How did you say it? In Vols…”
“Hmm?” Siegfried glanced down at him quizzically, almost cross-eyed.
“‘I love you’.”
“Ah. Ek elska þik, ” he recited slowly.
“Ek elska… thigg…” Aglovale attempted warily.
Siegfried chuckled with amusement. “ Þik, it’s like… try again with tongue behind your teeth—”
He was stifled as Aglovale swatted a pillow against his face and pulled away. Siegfried laughed, apologizing and chasing after him, offering a kiss which Aglovale resisted haughtily. Laughter still ringing, Siegfried admitted defeat and helped gather their things. He dressed and assisted Aglovale in buttoning his strange tunic, which returned him to the fair-haired groom’s favor. They helped fasten the gold garter chains on each other’s wrists, and Siegfried kissed Aglovale’s affectionately. Stubbornness melting away, but still lingering in the curl of his smile, Aglovale returned the kiss onto Siegfried’s lips before they turned toward the lighted pathway again. Siegfried wrapped Aglovale in a shawl from among the blankets of the canopy to ward off the cool breeze. Aglovale, still the lord of frost, let it slip lazily about his shoulders as they walked.
Few words passed between them, but it was an indulgent, peaceful silence. To Aglovale, it felt like a foretelling of future moments together. He pictured both of them strolling together in the castle gardens on summer nights such as these for years to come, lingering in the loveliness of escape, just the two of them, even in the days when they were grey and stiff with age.
The sounds of the mountain evening had swelled up around them, but as they made their way toward the village, Aglovale felt the air was oddly quiet. He could see only a few flickering lights in the windows below. Perhaps everyone who had attended earlier were tired from preparations, or were still out clearing away the remains.
Siegfried slipped his hand quietly into Aglovale’s. He clasped it in return, feeling the familiar skin tie his thoughts back to their happiness. Their marriage had only just begun, and he thought of all the promises they had exchanged today, all the ways in which their bond must now shift and grow over time in order to survive. He silently vowed again to Siegfried that he would do everything, all his life, to cherish it. Here with him Aglovale was already more at peace within himself than he had ever felt. And here in the Volsung mountains things felt somehow even simpler.
Siegfried led him around to the back door of the lodge where they had been helped to prepare for the day’s festivities. He paused to squeeze Aglovale’s hand in his before reaching for the door handle. Hushed silence hung in the air as a wordless, hesitant question seemed to form at the tip of Aglovale’s tongue at his gesture. As the door creaked open, they were met with a sight which Aglovale had not even begun to anticipate. Light from a blazing hearth and the grins of a hundred expectant faces turned to greet them with sudden cheers, shouting boisterously in unison.
“ HÚRRA! HÚRRA! ”