The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.3

31 May, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

‘But do tell us about the Vikings,’ Tansy said diplomatically, turning back to our host. Say what you will about the strangeness of Popkin, he was a gentleman of good habits and politeness.

‘Well, there are so many stories,’ Hogan said pouring out more of the whisky though we had scarce touched ours, ‘but perhaps I could begin with a story of storms to make you aware of just how dangerous they can be.’

‘We have been through storms. I have been through them at sea,’ Tansy said, ‘Even a squall that came up unexpectedly as we rounded Cape Horn one year.’

‘Cape Horn? I shall want to hear that story,’ our host said with an eagerness.

I could see the two of them swapping seafaring stories into the night, so I gently steered the conversation back to where it had begun. ‘I imagine the Vikings were fairly intrepid travellers across the oceans as they were. Their boats must have been enormous.’

‘Indeed they were not. You would be most amazed to see just how small a Viking ship could be.’ Hogan shook his head. ‘Imagine setting out into the sea without any modern nautical equipment, trusting to the sun and the stars for your location, a hundred men jammed into a boat that we might quail at taking across the straights. It was quite a monument to their courage.’

‘So tiny as that?’

‘We have dug up the remains of a boat or two on our shores, whilst digging for foundations or when the storms uncovered wreckage on the beaches. They were alarmingly small and yet we have stories passed down to us of how they set out without much concern because they had heard of islands being spotted off to the west from Norway or from Denmark.’

Tansy swallowed a good draught of the whisky with a bit of a cough. This Scottish stuff was nothing like our good sweet whiskey which I believe was Irish perhaps, or even American. I was not certain where it came from. This elixir one could imagine being stirred up on the cliffs of the Cairn Gorm and run down the icy cold waters of the rivers until it settled in the peat only to be extracted by busy men with huge beakers and coppery pots in some nigh-on alchemical process.

Or perhaps it was the liquor just going to my head.

‘The story I wanted to tell concerns the Earl Rognvald who had received rulership of the islands from the great Norwegian king, Harald of the Golden Hair. He passed it along to his brother who was much more eager to take a hand in the, shall we say, rather challenging lands.’ Hogan laughed. ‘I know you sassenach probably consider the whole of the north to be a challenge.’

‘It’s true we’re rather ignorant about this land and its people.’ Tansy sighed. ‘Whilst in London, I admit we seldom think of anything outside the city.’

‘It’s a rather blinkered existence, if you don’t mind me saying.’ Hogan chuckled. ‘Though admittedly bairns up here seldom give a thought to the southern lands until they want to make a fortune.’

‘Well, I suppose if all the money ends up in London, it makes sense.’ Tansy frowned. ‘I hadn’t ever thought about that.’

‘I want to hear about the Vikings,’ I reminded our host gently, for I hated banking and money matters whenever I was not actually labouring at my job. ‘So this Earl ruled the land?’

‘To be fair, no. He passed the rule along to his brother Sigurd who ruled for some time and when he died, the land in turn passed to his son who died without an heir. While a suitable male heir was sought, Sigurd’s wife Sif ruled in his stead. My tale takes place whilst she ruled…’

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