The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.4

7 June, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

‘I understand the Viking women to be in many ways as fierce and capable as the Viking men,’ Tansy said with evident eagerness.

‘Much like Scotswomen,’ Hogan agreed. ‘So often we image the Viking ships wandering the world with only men aboard them, but the stories passed down to us speak frequently of the women who accompany them. Sif was such a redoubtable woman who picked up the reins of leadership after her husband’s untimely passing and managed to keep things going until her son returned to take control—and when he too died rather young as is not uncommon in those rough days, she stepped up again and took charge.’

‘How did her husband die?’ I’m not sure why I had such a morbid curiosity but something in the way he described it piqued my interest.

‘Well, that’s another story but it won’t take long to tell it. Sigurd fought against the Pictish warrior, Máel Brigte, who was known as The Tusk. He and Sigurd battled over the lands around the Moray Firth. They agreed to settle things with an even battle: 40 horses each with men astride them. Sigurd, however, believed only in the letter of the agreement and not its spirit and doubled each horse with two men and so managed to defeat and kill Máel Brigte that day.

‘But the Pictish king got his revenge.’

‘How was that?’ Tansy sipped more of the whisky with a big smile.

‘As you may remember, Máel Brigte was known as The Tusk. This was due to his large teeth. Sigurd beheaded his opponent so he could carry away his distinctive head as a trophy. However, whilst riding north, the teeth scratched his thigh and the wound became infected because he did not tend it, which led to his death.’

‘What a strange ending!’ I shook my head and tried to wave away Hogan’s attempt to refill my glass. ‘A foolhardy man for certain.’

‘Impetuous maybe. It was a different time and he was a man of his time.’

‘Nonetheless, it was foolish to ignore a wound like that,’ Tansy said. ‘So Sif took the throne?’

‘It would perhaps be better to say that she took the reins, for the Vikings and the Arcadians have never been much on pomp in the way of the sassenach. Things are a bit different on the islands. The Orcadian ways are peculiar to outsiders and their methods of accomplishing things can seem worrisome to those not in the know.’

‘That all sounds very mysterious,’ Tansy said, ‘are you hinting at something odd about the way Sif ruled?’

‘There are those who claimed she used witchcraft—though only as a last resort.’

Tansy laughed. ‘Any woman who wields power of any sort has been accused of witchcraft at one time or another, whether Queen Elizabeth or the Pendle Witches.’

‘True enough, true enough,’ Hogan agreed. ‘The magic of these women has been much debated. There are the Finn witches and then there are the hill-folk and the trows. But Sif was something all together different.’

‘The trows, they are the ones who steal away children?’ I seemed to recall more of my nurse’s strange tales. Though they were mostly of her Irish home, I seemed to recall her knowing something of strange folk the land over.

‘So they say, but there is no little mystery in what they do and why. Some say that bairns who wish to wander find a friend, but their parents may not be so sanguine.’

‘Some may not be stolen then, but again taken to odd places and away from the human lands. We have had a little experience with that,’ I added, though to be truthful the strangeness of our little jaunt in Cornwall had begun to seem rather less than mysterious and entirely reasonable the more I settled into the memory of it.

‘Sif was rather different, for she practised the magic of the Viking women. They were able to see into the future via complicated visions and like the Finnfolk, were able to command the weather and it was the latter skill that resulted in a rather strange event that came to my mind tonight.’ As if on cue, the winds around the inn gave a sudden howl and swirled about us as if to set the scene for the revelations of this story…



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