The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.6

28 June, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

‘What was it?’ I asked feeling a chill down my spine.

Hogan shrugged. ‘Some said it was a special kind of trow, larger and more hungry. Others claimed it was an undead spirit, what some call a draugr, seeking for the fellowship of the damned, for some were Christian folk by then, but only by the by at least until the time of Magnus. Still others said it was a Finnwife looking for meat for her midwinter feast, gather people for her larder. But it may only be that it was the wild north winds who take on a life of their own when invited to stay.

‘Whatever the source of the haunting the people trembled at night and argued during the day and could not wait until the son returned but finally crept out and asked Sif to be their chief after all and save them from the predations of the cruel north gales. Once enough of them had agreed to handing the power to her, Sif put on her red cloak and headed back to the stone circle, this time under the dark moon.

‘She had to fight every step of the way. Those who had the courage to accompany her, said they saw strange creatures made of the night and stars that nipped at her as she walked, but the red cloak seemed to protect her from the worst of their attacks. Once inside the circle, the others stood aside, afraid to enter the space for the strange creatures of night and stars howled and growled as they tore around the circle between the tall stones that stared like impassive sentinels.

‘The story goes that she spoke some words of old magic, runic spells that no one else could remember and just when it seemed as if the wind might carry off the very island itself, a loud crack split the earth at her feet, fire belched forth from the depths a mad voice resounded across the hills of Orkney in crazy laughter that did not make you want to join in with it. Then the winds fell all at once. The silence after the noise was worse than the maddening swirl. In the quiet people feared that some large thing stirred, something that had slept while the gales grew and now it stood up to walk across the land. Sif returned home and the others followed her, eyes wild with fear or imaginings, thinking they heard strange sounds every where and not comfortable even when they got to their homes, closed the doors behind them and drew close to the fire.

‘All through the night they could not sleep but kept eyes and ears cocked for some danger that they could neither see nor hear. But they felt it.’

A strange noise outside the inn made us all start. I hadn’t realised the sun had gone down. The last golden shafts of the sunset bounced off the water like a departing goddess of some kind rippling across the waves. I suddenly felt as if I had never been in a stranger place than that inn, though it had been the epitome of comfort and welcome when we arrived. It is odd how nightfall changes a landscape.

‘In the morning, however, the winds had fallen and the sun returned. The world was right again. People came out of their homes to find a mild midwinter day. Despite their relief in being spared many were wary of Sif and longed for her son’s return. There were a few who swore they saw strange footprints in the morning or scratches along their roof that were not made by any herd animal and there were no wolves in Orkney.’

We sipped our whisky in silence for a while as the night winds whistled outside. We three were the last in the dining room, the single light casting a golden glow that held little warmth just then.

‘And the son returned?’ Tansy asked.

‘Soon. And he ruled until he too died. Sif put him into a cairn next to his father and the people grumbled but they were not willing to go against her wishes. They had been Christian, more or less, since Olaf’s time. No one much worried about the old charms and the power of the Thor’s hammer was undisputed, but burials were a touchy subject. Without a proper burial, spirits were known to wander…’



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