Finally finished up Nial's backpiece. When he first approached me about the project 4 or 5 years ago he had an idea to get an interpretation of the Ramsund carving, which depicts the story of Sigurd and the dragon Fafnir as found in the Völsunga saga.
The Ramsund carving is not quite a runestone as it is not carved into a stone, but into a flat rock close to Ramsund, Södermanland in Sweden. It is believed to have been carved around the year 1030. It is generally considered an important piece of Norse art in runestone style.
We decided that instead of doing a true rendition of the stone, we would design a dragon that better filled his (huge) frame and then add depictions from the story stone inside. It has taken a long time as Nial is from England and he and his wife Hazel have had 2 children since the time we started this. A good portion of the savgata pattern in the dragon is actually done with hand tools while I attended the London Convention a few years in a row.
The runic text on the stone is ambiguous, but one interpretation of the persons mentioned in the inscription, based on inscriptions on other runestones found nearby, is that Sigriþr (a woman) was the wife of Sigröd who has died. Holmgeirr is her father in law. Alrikr, son of Sigriþr, erected another stone for his father, named Spjut, so while Alrikr is the son of Sigriþr, he was not the son of Sigruþr. Alternatively, Holmgeirr is Sigriþr's second husband and Sigröd (but not Alrikr) is their son.
The inspiration for using the legend of Sigurd for the pictorial decoration was probably the close similarity of the names Sigurd (Sigurðr in Old Norse) and Sigröd.
Old Norse transcription:
Sigriðr gærði bro þasi, moðiR Alriks, dottiR Orms, for salu HolmgæiRs, faður SigrøðaR, boanda sins.
"Sigríðr, Alríkr's mother, Ormr's daughter, made this bridge for the soul of Holmgeirr, father of Sigrøðr, her husbandman."
This photo of Nial is actually in several tattoo magazine articles from long before the backpiece was completed :-)
Sigurd is sitting naked in front of the fire preparing the dragon heart, from Fafnir, for his foster-father Regin, who is Fafnir's brother. The heart is not finished yet, and when Sigurd touches it, he burns himself and sticks his finger into his mouth.
As he has tasted dragon blood, he starts to understand the birds' song. The birds say that Regin will not keep his promise of reconciliation and will try to kill Sigurd...
which causes Sigurd to cut off Regin's head. Regin is dead beside his own head, his smithing tools with which he reforged Sigurd's sword Gram are scattered around him.
The previous event when Sigurd killed Fafnir.
Sigurd's horse Grani is laden with the dragon's treasure.
A little addition of our own shows the newly forged sword Gran, which slices through the anvil as if it were butter :-)
This is from Wikipedia:
In the Völsunga saga, Sigurd was supposedly the posthumous son of Sigmund and his second wife, Hiordis. Sigmund dies in battle when he attacks Odin (who is in disguise), and Odin shatters Sigmund's sword. Dying, Sigmund tells Hiordis of her pregnancy and bequeaths the fragments of his sword to his unborn son.
Hiordis marries King Alf, and then Alf decides to send Sigurd to Regin as a foster. Regin tempts Sigurd to greed and violence by first asking Sigurd if he has control over Sigmund's gold. When Sigurd says that Alf and his family control the gold and will give him anything he desires, Regin asks Sigurd why he consents to a lowly position at court. Sigurd replies that he is treated as an equal by the kings and can get anything he desires. Then Regin asks Sigurd why he acts as stableboy to the kings and has no horse of his own. Sigurd then goes to get a horse. An old man (Odin in disguise) advises Sigurd on choice of horse, and in this way Sigurd gets Grani, a horse derived from Odin's own Sleipnir.
Finally, Regin tries to tempt Sigurd by telling him the story of the Otter's Gold. Regin's father was Hreidmar, a magician, and his two brothers were Ótr and Fafnir. Regin was a natural at smithing, and Ótr also had magical talents; he liked to take the form of an otter and swim at a waterfall, where the dwarf Andvari lived. Andvari often assumed the form of a pike and swam in the pool as well.
One day, the Æsir saw Ótr with a fish on the banks, thought him a real otter, and Loki killed him for his pelt. They took the pelt to the nearby home of Hreidmar to display their catch. Hreidmar, Fafnir and Regin promptly seized the Æsir and demanded compensation for the death of Ótr. The compensation was to stuff the body with gold and cover the skin with fine treasures. Loki got the net from the sea giantess Rán, caught Andvari (as a pike), and demanded all of the dwarf's gold. Andvari willingly gave the gold, except for a ring. Loki took this ring, too, although it carried a curse of death on its bearer. The Æsir used this gold to stuff Ótr's skin and then cover it. They then covered the last exposed place (a whisker) with the ring of Andvari. Afterwards, Fafnir murdered Hreidmar and took the gold, denying Regin his share.
Sigurd agrees to avenge Regin and Hreidmar and kill Fafnir, who has been turned into a dragon by a curse sourced in Andvari's ring and gold which he's protecting. Sigurd has Regin make him a sword, which he tests by striking the anvil. The sword shatters, so he has Regin make another. This also shatters. Finally, Sigurd has Regin make a sword out of the fragments that had been left to him by Sigmund. The resulting sword, Gram, cuts through the anvil. To kill Fafnir, Regin advises him to dig a pit, wait for Fafnir to walk over it, and then stab the dragon. Odin, posing as an old man, advises Sigurd to dig trenches also to drain the blood, and to bathe in it after killing the dragon; bathing in a dragon's blood confers invulnerability. Sigurd does so and successfully kills Fafnir; Regin then asked Sigurd to give him Fafnir's heart for himself. Sigurd drinks some of Fafnir's blood and gains the ability to understand the language of birds. Birds advise him to kill Regin, since Regin has also been corrupted by the ring and is plotting Sigurd's death. Sigurd beheads Regin, roasts Fafnir's heart and consumes part of it. This gives him the gift of "wisdom" (prophecy).
Sigurd met Brynhildr, a "shieldmaiden," after killing Fafnir. She pledges herself to him but also prophesies his doom and marriage to another. (In Völsunga saga, it is not clear that Brynhild is a Valkyrie or in any way supernatural.)
Sigurd went to the court of Heimar, who was married to Bekkhild, sister of Brynhild, and then to the court of Gjúki, where he came to live. Gjuki had three sons and one daughter by his wife, Grimhild. The sons were Gunnar, Hogni and Guttorm, and the daughter was Gudrun. Desiring Sigurd's ring and gold for her own family, Grimhild made an "Ale of Forgetfulness" to force Sigurd to forget Brynhild, so he could marry Gudrun. Later, Gunnar wanted to court Brynhild. Brynhild's bower was surrounded by flames, and she promised herself only to the man daring enough to go through them. Only Grani, Sigurd's horse, would do it, and only with Sigurd on it. Sigurd exchanged shapes with Gunnar, rode through the flames, and won Brynhild for Gunnar.
Some time later, Brynhild taunted Gudrun for having a better husband, and Gudrun explained all that had passed to Brynhild and explained the deception. For having been deceived and cheated of the husband she had desired, Brynhild plots revenge. First, she refuses to speak to anyone and withdraws. Eventually, Sigurd was sent by Gunnar to see what was wrong, and Brynhild accuses Sigurd of taking liberties with her. Gunnar and Hogni plot Sigurd's death and enchant their brother, Guttorm, to a frenzy to accomplish the deed. Guttorm attacks Sigurd in bed and they are both killed in the struggle. Brynhild kills Sigurd's three year-old son Sigmund (named for Sigurd's father). Brynhild then wills herself to die, and builds a funeral pyre for Sigurd, his son, Guttorm and herself. Before this tragedy, Sigurd and Brynhild had the daughter Aslaug who married Ragnar Lodbrok.
Sigurd and Gudrun are parents to the twins Sigmund (named after Sigurd's father) and Svanhild.