The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.5

14 June, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

‘It was some time after Sigurd’s death and the men had decided they had waited long enough for the son to return. It being winter, they had too little to occupy them and that gave rise to drinking ale and boasting. Several decided that they needed to have a man in charge, for though women had often led Viking settlements—indeed with their men gone a-viking for months or even years at a time, it was inevitable that they did—because there were enough men around at the time for offering opinions they assumed it would be better if they ruled, because they were bound to do it better than she.’

‘Such is the ignorance of men,’ Tansy said with an ironic chuckle. I could see that he took it to heart a bit more than one might be expected to do in other circumstances, but that’s what happens when you are sometimes a woman and sometimes a man. Your sympathies shift along with your affiliations, I supposed.

‘True enough,’ Hogan agreed. ‘While there had been no particular troubles with the time Sif had ruled the islands, these men decided that either one of them should be chosen to lead or she should use her magic to hasten her son’s return. Sif agreed to the latter and went to the circle of stones on the ness of Brodgar when the time was propitious—which is to say, under the full moon.’

‘Why is it always the full moon?’ Tansy asked.

‘I suppose there is some mystical reason,’ I mused, ‘when the stars and the moon are in some sort of conjunction, like Shakespeare always goes on about.’

Hogan chuckled. ‘It also has the practical advantage of offering more light than on other nights. As I say, Sif went to the circle because it was renowned as a place of practicing magic, used long before the Vikings arrived. Calling to the winds of the north, like the Finnish women do, she beckoned them all to come to the islands and carry her son back with them.

‘When people heard this the approved of the move, but they didn’t realise that Sif had done something more than they had asked for. By rousing all the north winds, she had set in motion a storm the like of which they had never seen before. In the morning the wind and the tides had risen enough to make everyone feel uncomfortable. Though winter it was then, it was the milder part of the season, before the great gales came and cleared the land of any debris no fastened down for the nonce.

‘Soon the winds howled louder and louder and the waves licked higher than anyone could ever remember them doing. The folk of the islands grew concerned. A few stopped by Sif’s farm and begged her to intervene with the winds. After all, she had called them up, she should be able to calm them once more.

‘However, she refused to do so, claiming that it was impossible. The winds raised had to blow until they were finished. People hid themselves inside, afraid to go out n the wind, bringing as much of their livestock inside as they could manage for many of the sheep were in danger of blowing off into the sea. By the third day, the whistling and howling had driven every one to distraction and by the fourth day many found it difficult to light fires. At that point arguments arose in every house where the men lived who had forced Sif to make the choice between them and returning her son with all due speed.

‘On the fifth day a new sound crept into the howl and swirl of the winds, a sound that no one had ever heard before. Sometimes it sounded much like the howl of the winds and other times it sounded more like a cry. People swore they could hear it pass between the houses and often in the night they discovered that one of the livestock disappeared from the house without a sound, leaving only a trail of blood behind that led out the door…

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