The song Tribute (to a King) tells the story of Wayland the Smith.
Wayland was a legendary blacksmith who, according to legend, forged multiple legendary items. Among those items are the sword “Gramr” which is used by Sigurd to defeat the dragon Fafnir, and the sword and chainmail worn by Beowulf.
As with many legends, there are multiple versions of this story. In one version, Völundr (Wayland) and his brothers Egil and Slagfiðr came across the three valkyries Ölrún, Hervör alvitr and Hlaðguðr svanhvít in the forest. After seven long years, the valkyries leave the brothers. Egil and Slagfiðr chased after them, never to return.
In another version, Wayland comes across his future bride Hervör while she’s spinning flax at the waterside. They fall in love and she follows Wayland home. There, he manages to steal the lady’s coat and hide it, forcing her to stay in human form. Now she had no choice but to marry the smith. She stays with Wayland for seven years before she manages to get her coat back and leave him.
In both versions of the story, Hervör leaves the smith a golden ring as a parting gift. This ring is precious to Wayland, and so he holds on to it, hoping for her return one day. In the first version of the story he creates seven hundred duplicates of it.
Nevertheless, she never returns before something terrible befalls Wayland….
Niðhad, a cruel king, had heard of the smith Wayland and his legendary skills. He sent his men to capture the blacksmith so he could work for him and only him, and they caught him while he slept. Wayland was taken to the island Sævarstöð, far away from contact with anyone else, and put to work in a smithy built just for him.
To make sure the smith would not escape, the king ordered him to be hamstrung.
The king gave Wayland’s precious ring to his daughter (the princess Böðvildr), and the king took the smith’s sword for himself.
The blacksmith plotted for revenge, and one day when the king’s sons came over to the smithy to have some weapons forged, he gave them promises of gold the following day, but they had to tell no one about their little secret.
The princes returned the next day, and Wayland killed both of them. And that is when the smith started his work.
From their skulls, he fashioned two goblets, and he gifted them to the king.
From their eyes, he fashioned gems, and he gifted them to the queen.
From their teeth, he fashioned a brooch, and he gifted that to the princess.
When the princess asked Wayland if he could mend a ring for her, the smith’s own very special ring, he makes her drink a drugged beer from her brother’s skull and she passes out. While she is unconscious he rapes her and gets her pregnant. The ultimate form of humiliation to both the princess and the king.
The smith knew his plans must never be discovered before he could escape, and so he had forged a pair of wings in secret. As he took off, he flew to the king’s palace and told him about the death of his sons, and the abuse of his daughter. The king ordered his archers to shoot him down, but the smith had already flown away, never to be seen again.
And so ends the tale of Wayland the smith…