Legend of the Black Islesbymaxdname©
I recorded this saga as told to me by a haggard crumpled man who claimed he lost count of his years after 85 while I was researching a Master's thesis on 'iterative anthropology.' The Orkney Island native narrated this tale claiming it was one retold 50 times over but never penned. His thick accent, while charming, has been edited to make this saga more accessible to the reader. A brief portion of his verbatim oration follows to provide some feel for his quaint iteration.
"Da far-hard lad stewed squintin' inta da low hanging late soomer soon over da mon Faermon's (pronounced pher'-mun) left shoulder. Twas a soon of golden lairs hooverin' 'bove a slate coolered horizon brooshed wit' swahbs oof grain moose und gerse on lahnd."
Other than the elimination of the old man's pronunciation nothing--not one single word--has been altered from the taped conversation recorded five months before his disappearance. This narrative style may read as somewhat verbose but the integrity of his story was of paramount importance. The man claimed he 'needed' to set some measure of history straight.
This is his tale.
The fair-haired lad stood squinting into the low hanging late summer sun over the man, Faermon's, left shoulder. It was a sun of golden layers hovering above a slate colored horizon brushed with swabs of green moss and gorse on land.
[Ed. note: during the period of 800 and 1000 AD numerous periods of radical weather swings and extreme climactic changes have been noted by climatologists and dendrochronologists (scientists who study tree rings and pollen layers in lake bottoms). It is believed the old man's story may have been formulated during those) centuries.]
All was a glitter above the frigid wind-scoured seas, sporting their gauzy gray collars of mist that hugged the empty black isles rising up from their narrow wave-battered beaches. The breezes of that age were a fearsome beast, impelled onto the shore as though rushing back to the sky from whence they were born.
That one day was no different than most except that was the day Faermon met the lad who came to be known as Christian.
Few people of the day could remember a season before the Celts had left a signature upon the land. They were a race of dark-haired invaders, shorter than the noble Danish race that had ruled the northern seas for so many lifetimes, but they fought valiantly spreading their beliefs widely--numerous Celtic crosses bearing silent witness--amongst those living on the crossroad islands, of the Hiberian Uplands. [Ed. note: this includes present day Ireland et. al.]
The grandfather of Faermon ruled with great wisdom and he saw no need to war against the Celtic savages, save for the periodic raids the king's ships might make to secure food stuffs after the weakest summers or when greater numbers of women were needed as partners for the young men.
As his father and grandfather before him, Faermon swept down the coast of Eire [Ed. note: Eire is present day Ireland] where the plains met the seas, thus avoiding the scattered Gaelic peoples that inhabited the Grampian Mountains. [Ed. note: Grampian Mountains are the central Scottish Highlands.]
In their long boats, Faermon's men set out only to acquire food to fill the bellies of their young. A summer without the warmth to finish a crop sent Faermon and his party to the seas, in search of plunder to carry them through the chill of winter. But during their numerous conquests one place presented the men with women unusually fair and desirable.
After those many weeks at sea Faermon decided to make one more foray before returning home. The many raids had filled their larders but losses to his men--both in battle and from fatigue--and one boat that broke up on a rocky beach, prompted the leader to retire before winter storms whipped the seas into a demons' form.
Sailing fast on the littoral breezes found near Baile Atha Cliath [Ed. note: this is the modern day city of Dublin, Ireland. Baile Atha Cliath translates to 'Town of the Ford of the Hurdles.'] the battle group quickly assaulted the city killing those men who stayed to engage them. Losses to the Danish force had grown steadily from the outset and this last attack cost Faermon dearly.
A boy, stout with broad shoulders and a thick neck, stood, determined, at the head of a small group of similar looking lads, each bearing a fiery hatred in their eyes. Faermon's path blocked by the small band the Dane listened to the impudent lad, who called himself Christian.
With both palms pressed firm against the unpolished hilt of his broad sword--a weapon almost again as large as the boy--he growled out his terms. The ragged boy demanded terms of surrender or, said he, the fight would resume and only death would finish it. Faermon held his hand and those of his platoons neither wishing to kill a lad of such metal nor risk further injury to his already weakened force.
Faermon agreed to leave the lads with some small measure of food and the bows of their fathers who now lay dead or dying fallen before the mighty Danes' onslaught so they could eat through the winter. But Faermon would nary bend where the women were concerned, the king having been smitten by the beauty of the lasses from the city, while Christian, at last, acquiesced to the power of the Vikings' spirit.
"Bring... the women... to me," Faermon, the conquering marauder, proclaimed his arms outstretched above his ragged mop of red hair. Every last female was bought to the middle of the square and stripped to the skin so that they could be inspected by the captain of the guard. Those most fair were covered in the skins plundered from the village and led back to the raider's boats. Children and those women not of their fancy were left behind to scavenge for themselves throughout the returning chill of the impending winter, a cold that bites to the bone leaving all but the strongest, most able, a pallid corpse in its damp wake.
Those able to survive the coming winter, a time when the sun only peers over the mountains briefly during the worst of it, would breed true making strong women but also warriors to test a Viking's metal. Faermon felt it was a shame to kill such brave men but that was the way of the world in the land where glowing spirits danced in the darkest of winter nights above a man's head to the north where Valhalla might be found.
Equipped with rakes for gathering mussels and the numerous cockles and the strong yew bows, Faermon expected some of the conquered clan to come through the bleak winter, drained but alive. He had nary figured on the hardness of the lad named Christian and his young army. Under the tutelage of the young Christian the lads became warriors ready to challenge any force the Danes could muster for battle against them.
Faermon, now ascended as the Dane king, resisted striking out onto the forays himself, leaving the assaults on the coastal Eire to lieutenants obliged to prove themselves before the eyes of the crown. Year after year, boats filled with wounded Danes returned home when the coastal town of Baile Atha Cliath was encountered.
Then one season came news of a band from far asea in nothing but coracles [Ed. note: a coracle is a small wide boat made from interwoven limbs and covered with impermeable animal skins often used by the Welsh and Irish natives in antiquity.] raiding upon the peaceable shores of the Dane king. The invading warriors were said to a savage clan who spoke in an Irish tongue and fought with the strength of three Danes. Coracles were no match for a Viking long boat and Faermon sent his proudest vessel and finest crew to destroy the invaders.
The Irishmen in their more numerous and smaller craft stayed just out of reach of the long boat until the tide turned marooning the long boat atop a rocky point where the coracles could be pulled ashore and the Irish warriors could then attack from the land. The Danes who stayed aboard were trapped and those who leaped into the icy tide pools fared poorly. The ship was found drifting with a gouge in her belly, from where she rest on the barnacle covered rocks, manned by dead and wounded Danes who had made their escape under the cover of darkness, once the tide turned again.
The Dane king became distraught, his kingdom, once thought secure, now lay at the mercy of a crafty enemy. A plan, hatched by Faermon and his council, was set into motion.
Faermon his self and his trusted most guard sailed straight away for town of Baile Atha Cliath to meet with the leader of the invading clan. Many coracles, each carrying a half dozen warriors, shadowed the long boat once it entered the North Channel but the Danish king was neither intimidated nor swayed from his path. Upon landing in the Dubh-linn bay [Ed. note: Dubh-linn translates as 'black pool' in Gaelic, a name first used around 300 AD.] the Dane king offered himself as a prisoner to the former lad, Christian, and his warrior clan.
Faermon then offered Christian a gift to bring about a peace between the two peoples. His gift was the hand of his daughter, the princess, who became known as Brigid of Dubh-linn.
Christian, though the ruler of his clan, had yet to take a wife--he still being of a tender age-- but the woman who had sailed with her father captivated the young Christian's heart with only a look. It was said several of Christian's clan were so struck by her beauty they fell to the ground weeping.
A wedding was then planned and a pact was created between the two kings that would become the law of the land when Brigid and Christian were joined as one.
And as with any marriage deigned to ally former enemies the fair Brigid was presented before the elder women, sorcerers, and healers of the clan who could examine, the king Faermon's daughter, for evidence of child birth or easy virtue. Two men present went mad at her beauty and the women spoke of her sex as one only possessed by a goddess with a pearl that rose up, even to the eyes of those who would take no pleasure in her form.
Faermon's daughter, the princess Brigid, was said to be the fairest in the land, with hair as red as the setting sun, a lithesome figure said to inspire the most dedicated warrior to poetry, skin as white as snow, a face as fair as ever seen, and a lust above any woman's as proven in bloody details along Christian's back those years they shared together.
Their marriage was not one of royal alliance but one of two great lovers connected by the passion of the other's carnal comfort. Many subjects came from far flung villages to view the royal couple who shared such desire between them. As the royal couple's bloodied sheets [Ed. note: sheets bearing a spot of blood, a sign that a woman's virginity was intact until the wedding night, were often hung for all to see as proof of her 'virtue.'] flapped in the soft breeze the morning after the fete an heir to follow in Christian's footsteps was a prayer often heard across the Eire landscape.
Five good seasons followed the marriage and many subjects thought the couple a blessing to both lands but the union still failed to produce spawn. Several times fair Brigid grew heavy with child but each blessing burst forth too early as though impatient for entry into this world.
With these repeated failures Christian grew more desperate. Trying for an heir Christian kept his hope alive and his heart open to Brigid who returned the man's every desire multiplied. Despite the shortfalls, the couple's love grew stronger each passing day and each passing night. To all who came near the couple, an unbounded love between the two shown brighter than a summer's sun. So overwhelming was their love, that couples about to enter into a marriage would beg for an audience before the royal pair in hopes some mote of mutual adoration might fall on the soon-to-be-wed. Never had two separate souls been tied so closely.
Christian would nary consider another mate to carry his child even though his beloved Brigid begged him to consider such a deed. His love for her was too strong for him to even see any woman other than his queen.
A call went out into the kingdom for any who might see the queen through a birth. Christian offered money and position to anyone who could assist the couple issue an heir. Many answered the call and Brigid felt a gentle widening of her body and tenderness in her breasts alerting her yet another chance at maternal joy. The newly appointed staff, charged solely with the queen's comfort and disposition, hurried about their tasks not by the promise of earthly reward but in a sincere desire to see a couple, deeply in love, share a child from that love: a child that the entire kingdom could adore. Fair Brigid had carried much longer than past attempts and it seemed she might give birth to a child at last.
A man from afar presented himself before the king's council on one dreary morning bearing some knowledge of the king's child. Christian, though convinced his bride would carry to full term this time, still allowed the man to speak as the king honoring his pledge to hear and consider any person's advice with regards to a royal heir.
Introduced as a former council to Faermon, the man spoke quickly and asked only for a pittance so that he might escape the wrath of both the Danish king and Christian. The king furrowed his brow at the request, not understanding why the man would fear for his life while he offering up true advice but Christian agreed.
Faermon had hatched a plan years prior when Christian first began raiding the Danish coast, designed to weaken the Irish clan to its roots. The man explained that the princess Brigid was the daughter of Faermon--this Christian already knew--and of a woman known to Christian. The mother of Christian's bride was also his mother. When taken back to the Danish homeland Faermon had conceived a child with Christian's kidnapped mother and that child was fair Brigid. Faermon's hope was to destroy the royal lineage of Christian by breeding half-brother and sister thereby creating children that would be an abomination, carrying those weakness known to accompany incestuous relations.
A tremendous clamor rose from the members of the council, several threatening the life of the newcomer but Christian stayed their hands, though the king appeared shaken and pallid by this news.
The man produced an amulet that Christian recognized as his mother's asking the king to show the talisman to Brigid. If she saw that amulet as her own mother's then, the man said, the king would know the truth.
Christian bayed his council members to tell no one of this meeting and determined to find out for himself if he had fallen in love with his own sibling.
In the days long past some kings had adopted the habit of marriage between siblings and Ptolemy, Pliny the elder, and other historians told those tales, but woe to the royal family that bred within itself. It was a well-known fact these couplings often produced monsters, if not in the first generation then soon after and often. Christian was crestfallen. His love for Brigid had made his eyes blind to all but her virtues and his heart, he knew, could never thaw to another woman.
Christian entered the room where his queen, she now plump with child, lay awaiting the birth of their child. The life within her belly had made Brigid more beautiful than ever and the king's heart ached at what he now had to ask her. Offering Brigid the amulet the king asked if she recognized it. She smiled and claimed she did.
Though her mother had passed on to Valhalla before Brigid was more than five seasons old the Irish queen revealed that she remembered her mother wearing that same amulet many times. Then Brigid asked Christian how it came into his possession.
Those in attendance claimed the king broke down and wept at the bedside of his beloved queen while he related that the amulet was the same as worn by his mother before she was taken to the Danish homeland. Brigid refused, at first, to believe that her father, Faermon, could have treated her so cruelly, allowing her to marry and fall in love with her own brother. But when Christian retold of the meeting, that had taken place only moments before, Brigid found herself appalled at the prospect of what horror might be growing inside her belly.
Those in attendance rushed to her side in an attempt to assuage her fears and begged the queen to see not the possibility of a hideous creature as her child but instead to consider that greatest of loves that possessed her to carry the child of Christian: her king, her love, her husband. Wild-eyed the fair Brigid finished their tirades with the knowledge that he also her brother and that no spawn of such a couple could be treated as anything but a monster.
No amount of persuasion could calm the queen and she rose from her maternity bed never to return to it or to return to the arms of her husband. All attempts to contain her broken spirit fell to the hard stone floors where they mixed with the straw [Ed. note: straw was laid on the stone floor of the time as insulation.] only to be blown away with the slightest breeze.
When they found her at the bottom of a spiral staircase sometime later, her neck broken, fair Brigid, was mourned by all those of the kingdom. The secret of her identity was nary revealed to spare her subjects greater grief.
With a notice of her demise, Christian sent word to the Danish king of his discovery along with an open declaration of war.
Faermon knew of the risk he was taking when he promised Brigid to the Irish clan's leader and he had not sat idle during that time and had, in fact, been building a capable army to face down the defenders of Baile Atha Cliath, which he now hoped to destroy
The council of Faermon now hoped that the Danish king might try to make some further offering of peace, knowing full well the depth of the Christian's love for his half-sister and the wrath that the Danes would face given their betrayal, but Faermon would not be swayed. Growing older, the Danish king had little regard for his own life, but instead was hoping to secure one last victory before he passed to Valhalla. His wish now was to destroy Baile Atha Cliath and all its remnants allowing one of his two young sons a kingdom without the threat posed by Christian's clan. The loss of his daughter, Brigid, moved him only slightly. His concern was for his sons, the future kings, now six and seven seasons old. A great military victory for Faermon would place his sons as undisputed leaders of the kingdom Faermon and his father and his father's father had struggled to build.
Setting out with the grandest pageantry Faermon, bayed his two sons--the future kings--farewell and took to the sea with his entire army aboard every long boat the kingdom could muster. This battle would end the scourge of the Irish usurpers. The Danes rushed towards the city of Baile Atha Cliath knowing that was where the strength of Christian and his allies could be found.
Movement was pressed through the nights and inclement weather until the long boats, with red and white striped sails, manned by the most fearsome Vikings of the time beached their craft at the doorstep of their enemy.
Pilling out of their boats into the city they found themselves in a deserted landscape. No one was left behind. Faermon knew the crafty Christian had some plan in mind--most likely ambush in some interior terrain--and so ordered the city burnt to the ground and marched forward leaving only a small rear guard to tend the boats.
The forced march of the Danes was not without due caution. Each village and crossroad the army encountered was pillaged and the residents questioned at length. Each one had the same answer: the army under Christian's command had retreated before Faermon's strong and steady advance. At each village and crossroad Faermon sent scouts to secure high ground in anticipation of an ambush but at each only signs of a fleeing army could be found.