“Orkney, The Isle of The Wild Boar,” M.M. Perez
He, who once had been the Norwegian Earl Rognvald of More, now King of Orkney, is about to send a message to King Harald Harfagre, King of Norway. The message is of the most urgent nature, since Orkney is again to be taken by pirates, as it had already been in the past, before Rognvald and his men wiped out the outlaws, who had established a base from where to raid the coast of Norway during the summers.
Now, decades later, an older Rognvald has lost many of his men and ships in several of the last raids committed in the same disgraceful and despicable ways. The kingdom of Orkney, if it was ever a kingdom, has now been reduced to a very few small settlements, where a small number of almost defenceless warriors wait for the day to be slaughtered by the rusty swords of pirates; men who found pride in having wholly lost their sense of honour. The message Rognvald gives to his son is this:
“My dear King Harald,
“It’s been a long time since you have been the only king of a united Norway; my late congratulations for your success in the naval battle of Hafrsfjord which, without any doubt, will be remembered as one of the greatest battles of all times, and my apologies for my absence. Don’t think that I am not well aware of what you and my family think of me and my renegade and rebel actions. You believe that I have committed piracy blinded by the ambition of a worthless power, which made my heart bitter and wrathful even against my own kind.
“The reality however, could not be more different than this; and I know you have reason to believe that I am still loyal to you and my country, even if you can’t prove it. I know my silence has not helped to change your opinion of me, but I believe no words would have changed your mind about my deeds. I now confess my weakness, rather than my greed for wealth. I confess that in my young and rebellious mind, I could not find any interest in taking part in a war between men who shared the same ground and blood. In my heart, I could not find one single reason to fight against my own. Is it fair that a man is considered dishonourable for refusing to kill his own people, people who were only being guided by a vision which was not shared with the stronger of their kind?
“My family is loyal to you. It even came to my ears that my younger brother, Sigurd, became one of your most precious warriors; an event, which fills me with the same pride and satisfaction that, I know, fulfils my very family’s blood. Know that I did not come to Orkney to hide away like a coward while the sea was being filled with our blood. I came here to free my people from the slaughter and slavery at the hands of foreigners and deserters, who had sown the seeds of terror on the coast. You must appreciate how things have changed in Norway since I rid this Island of tyranny. I know pirates are like a disease, which seems impossible to eradicate, but remember how miserable and savage it was in the past during the warm summers. Think about how many suffered the loss of the people they loved, how many families were broken through the horror of death and slavery.
“You must be aware of where most of the wealth, that these pirates own, comes from. Most of it comes from selling slaves to Byzantium and Damascus, who pay vast sums of money in silver and gold for, particularly, young women and children. This is the same fortune we share, and will continue sharing, with the fewer natives left alive on this island, for as long as these wicked men live.
“Today, the reason why I am left with no choice but to break my long silence, is that everything I have done for the sake of this island and for the sake of our people back in Norway, is about to become in vain. My army and ships have been devastated and almost reduced to nothing. What was the fear and respect of pirates for decades now is like a mouse waiting to be the owl’s prey as soon as the night falls.
“My proposal is this; pay heed, since its outcome is in your interest as much as it is in mine. We are outnumbered by the renegades who have settled already on the other side of the island. They have brought their slaves and belongings there, from where they plan to take over all. It is here where we entirely come into their plans; they have been continuously raiding the island, like sharks that begin to slowly consume their prey before finally devouring it all. Help us King Harald, let’s unite our strengths and chase these spirits of mischief and fire away from our coasts. In exchange, I offer you this island, and with it, the safety of your people.
“I offer you Orkney, King of Norway. I will come back to the mainland and be loyal to you. I will regain your trust, which I once had, and the trust of my kin. My sons and men’s sons, who remain alive, will serve you with the same honour. You would make them proud if you gave them the chance to join your armies warring in the Baltic; and the chance to fight any enemies who dared to oppose King Harald’s army, whether they were Germanic, Baltic or their Slavic dogs. There is not much time left my King. You must quickly decide, whether you are to gain or loose an ally and old friend; and, whether you are to expand and secure your land making it greater than it is even today; or, if, on the other hand, you are going to let it reach an undeserved and wretched fate.
“I hold out the hope that this message will reach you in time, and that my words won’t leave you indifferent. I also wish you to consider the possibility of making my brother, Sigurd, the next lord of Orkney. I believe if I could keep control over this island, he would be able to do so too. Who could be better chosen for such a venture? Yet, this is a matter for your sole consideration, King Harald; for my conquered land could be now yours, whether I am dead or alive by the time you take a decision. I put my life, my sons and people’s lives, in your hands, expecting Odin will open your eyes and heart to help you recognize what would be convenient and prudent for you; so that from him, we will get the strength to fight these wrathful spirits led by no god.”
Meantime, on the other side of the island, Loki, one of the two leaders of the menacing group of pirates lying in wait, is keeping in a stone kist over a hundred different silver items such as brooches, necklets, armlets and an assortment of fragments and ingots with a collection of Anglo-Saxon and Arabic coins.
Once he’s finished, he calls two men who wait outside the stone settlement. He orders one to bring Pie, the leader with whom he is supposed to share the leadership, while he orders the other to stay. When the first one goes away meekly obeying his chief’s orders, Loki orders the other to help him carry the large chest to a safe place.
After the first man goes, Loki and his companion leave the place taking an almost opposite direction towards the shore of the bay. Loki makes sure nobody can see or follow them; on the way he uses the chance to try to convince his companion that he is going to share the treasure with him in exchange for his help. He also takes the opportunity to try to flatter him for the valour he has shown in the raids.
Then, they take the most unusual and hidden way across the woods, through dells and bogs, until it nearly meets the shore of the bay. Right there, Loki decides to stop, has a look around and continues plotting how to keep the treasure safe for himself. Loki’s ally is young and pays no attention to any possible untold intentions that Loki could be concealing.
The two men start quickly digging a hole in the mouth of a rabbit burrow. They put the kist in it, but the position chosen causes the lid of the kist to open and some coins fall out. Loki seems highly-strung and very concerned with the idea of being seen, so he moves swiftly putting the lid back and grabbing the coins that have fallen out, he pours them on top of the kist making them visible and avoiding the risk of losing them.
The young man starts pouring the sand back into the hole on the ground, when Loki unseen withdraws his sword and approaching the boy’s back murders him. He finishes the work; drags the dead body far from the rabbit burrow concealing it in the woods; then begins his return journey to the camp.
The camp is mainly composed of the wooden settlements built by Rognvald’s men and metalsmiths, but there are a few stone fortifications, which were built by the natives; they lie not so far from where the much newer ones have been built to work metal. Loki occupies one of the older fortifications and on his way back finds Pie waiting for him there.
‘Finally, you are back! I was about to kill,’ says Pie furious, ‘the man who brought me here in vain. You can’t trust anyone these days. Anyone could be plotting your death behind your back,’ adds the cunning pirate while suddenly throwing a glance at his ally; who enraged. ‘The ambition for silver and power doesn’t make any one trustworthy, let alone treacherous pirates just like us,’ Pie observes. ‘It’s for this reason that we need to mind each other’s backs, since it would be impossible for us to mind them alone,’ he states in a less furious tone.
‘Thanks for coming Pie, as you can imagine we still have much to talk about,’ Loki replies to Pie’s speech. ‘I have to admit that I’ve been trying to find a reason to excuse you from not coming to talk to me before; and, the idea of treachery, has been truly running through my head too.’ Loki finally stops moving around the room as if looking for something; then faces Pie and, staring into his eyes, asks with a strange smile on his face: ‘Tell me, what is it that keeps you so interested in this island, Pie?’
‘I don’t think there is time to loose if we want to eventually snatch the island from Rongvald. We must attack before the remaining forces recover, or someone comes to assist them,’ Pie states determined.
‘You are not a man of great plans or deeds, Pie. This is none too easy to realize,’ Loki remarks, trying to sound convincing and ironically encouraging. ‘Who is coming to help Rognvald, Pie? Rognvald is as much a deserter as we are. He abandoned his family and people for his kingdom far away from home, where he has survived due to all he has stolen from people like us, pirates. But at least we are not afraid of admitting our chosen condition,’ Loki puts his right hand on Pie’s shoulder. ‘Rognvald is alone and what is left of his armed forces is doomed to failure and oblivion!’ Loki exclaims, convinced of his triumphal words.
‘That’s why the sooner we get rid of him, the sooner we will substitute his kingdom,’ Pie argues wilfully; when Loki arrogantly turns around again showing him his back. Pie continues his argument. ‘We must be swift. Absolutely nothing can stop us from achieving this goal. What are we waiting for? Are you afraid of Rognvald’s ghost?’ he asks, but continues talking before Loki even tries to answer his questions: ‘What keeps you hidding here Loki? What stops you from going grabbing what now belongs to you?’ Pie concludes.
‘A kingdom is not something one builds from one day to the next. We first need to get used to having our own servants. We need to make these slaves believe that they are serving a lord and not a rebel. Finally, we need to make sure that during the last raid we don’t lose what we’ve already attained; so, who can tell whether we can trust each other or not, Pie?’ Loki looks uptight, but sounds righteous. ‘You have admitted to not trusting anyone. How do I know that you are not going to turn against me as soon as you have the slightest chance? Who can reassure me that you are not interested in my part of the haul? I know you must be wondering why I waste time speculating on these matters instead of facing the last battle, but one starts building a kingdom only when the moment comes.’
‘Although never before the blood’s been spilt,’ Pie hastens to reply. Loki seems to have lost interest in the conversation, and, without concealing it, ignores Pie.
‘I am to be known as Loki, the evil spirit of fire; the one who got to break his own curse changing his own fate. All those who thought I was nothing but a dog doomed to live and die in the sea will soon regret their useless way of thinking.’ Loki makes his point while closing both fists with impetuosity. ‘The reason why I called you however, is of a different nature.’ And when he says these words, he seems to relax again.
‘This morning, I realized that most of the silver which was being kept by our men has disappeared,’ he, then, mentions calmly.
‘Disappeared, How?’ Pie raises his voice. ‘Tell me who was looking after our belongings and silver; they’ll either confess or die!’ he cries.
‘Calm down, Pie. Use your brain,’ Loki says. ‘We need these men whether they are mediocre rats or the most honourable warriors of all,’ and he draws his sword out of its case, which lay on the side. ‘My silver is nothing compared to the kingdom that I am about to gain; but, what’s a kingdom without it? I just mean to warn you about something that you already seem to be well aware of,’ he pronounces these words slowly while keeps observing his blade; and, at once, he grabs a stone to start sharpening it.
‘I believe the best we can do before we finally attack Rognvald’s decrepit force, is to find out who are the responsible ones for such an outrageous robbery. Not just for the silver itself, but also for our safety. So when we raid Rognvald’s camp in the end, neither treason nor traitors, will take us by surprise. We need to find out which of our men are plotting against us. The sooner we get rid of them, my friend, the sooner we will be ready to start our new lives as lords. But, remember, we must be cautious in our doings,’ Loki ends with this statement; Pie takes it as an order.
With this blind trust in devious Loki’s alliance, Pie starts fitting into Loki’s cheating plan. Loki plots to get rid of Pie by making Pie’s men finally believe that he has stolen all of the loot. Deceitful Loki knows very well that to reach this goal, he only needs time to create confusion, adversity and madness among the men, who are, at the present, under his and Pie’s command.
During the taking of Orkney, Rognvald and his men witnessed how the tyrants, who occupied the island until that very day, put many of their slaves to the sword. The slaves were mainly the earlier inhabitants of the island who had not yet been sold. Loki had ordered them to be killed afraid that they would turn against him during the battle, despite the majority being women and children.
Not many of the women survived, but the few who did ended up marrying and serving Rognvald’s men until the very last day of their lives. Most of these women didn’t even speak the same language, although a few of them did.
Alba was one of them, and her beauty captured Rognvald’s heart from the first time he saw her. She happened to be originally from Norway, and had been kidnapped by pirates along with her parents a long time ago. As a young girl, she had seen how her father was killed trying to stop some of the pirates from taking her mother away to be sold in the orient. She was still alive, and this was the reason why she considered herself very fortunate.
Rognvald was already married and had two sons; he took Alba as a servant, who soon would give him another son, Einar. Rognvald resisted numerous pirates’ attacks as the years went by. Endless battles he fought away from home. Yet, all the time he had been away, had not been enough to make him forget all he had once left behind.
He believed in a unified Norway, however he could never believe in its sacrifice or the sacrifice of all those who had always been part of it. During his youth, he had held the belief, that if he had ever dared to go back to Norway; or if any members of his family had had the chance to put their hands on him, he would have been killed. The thought of being a coward, a deserter and a tyrant in the minds and hearts of his beloved family always loomed in his mind provoking the most merciless nightmares.
He had started now to believe that this was the true reason why he had broken his silence, and not the danger to which he and his men were exposed. A deep remorse was beginning to torture Rognvald’s conscience, and made him realise that he didn’t have the strength that he used to have any more, either to fight his enemies or his own fears. He had spent so many years loyal to his own beliefs, that now that he was getting old and was close to death, he wasn’t sure any more about what he had valued the most in his life.
He had always been sure that obeying one’s heart was the only real duty of an honourable warrior; that a man’s loyalty to his own beliefs would make the noblest warrior of all, if not a king. But everything he was now finding in the same heart seemed to be quite different. His heart frightened him with all the thoughts and doubts that he had never had before, and punished him with the idea of being nothing but a stranger to his own mother; what’s worse, a man able to prey on his own flesh and blood for gold.
He had not the strength to reject his fears any more, so his fears started to transform and distort his idea of himself. Nothing seemed to bring back to Rognvald’s mind the true version of his own story; his own reasons for the chosen path. Yet, he knew that his fear and moral punishment only proved that his feelings towards Norway were, and had always been, true and honest; and that his message to King Harald, said everything that was really of his immediate concern.
In Rognvald’s mind, only the good gods used men to commit the most honest and courageous actions of all. At this very moment, without the pride, arrogance and wariness of a noble young heart, Rognvald had spoken the truth, so the truth was in the air for anyone willing to acknowledge it.
Skoll, one of King Harald’s men rushes into the king’s fort looking for him. He finds him in the main room of the building; outside this room he leaves his companion waiting for orders. He waits for the king’s attention while the king is surrounded by his heralds; after a while, when his turn comes, he speaks.
‘King Harald, there is a messenger outside waiting to deliver an urgent message. He, the messenger, claims to be Hallad, son of Rognvald of More, my lord.’
The king’s countenance turns into a dazed expression of mysterious surprise, as if his man was announcing the coming of a living dead, and says:
‘Hallad, son of the Earl Rognvald of More?’ he questions. ‘Are you sure that’s what he said?’ The king almost mumbles this last question, and bewildered, at long last raises his voice: ‘Let him in. Bring him in right now!’
Skoll, obeying the king’s orders, rapidly goes to let Hallad know the wishes of the king and brings him in.
‘King Harald,’ says Hallad while bowing forward, ‘I set sail to satisfy my father’s wishes and let you know the dreadful situation in which we find ourselves, and what fearful thoughts dwell in my father’s mind as he gets older.’
Hallad delivered the message exactly as his father had told him. The king meditates in silence for a while in front of Hallad; then, he orders Skoll to bring to the fort Sigurd, Rognvald’s younger brother, one of his most valuable warriors and a man of trust. King Harald continues talking to Hallad while they wait for Sigurd to arrive.
‘You may not remember me, but you and I met when you were only a child and your father was the Earl Rognvald of More. Too many things have taken place during your father’s absence. Don’t think that I haven’t thought of you and your father during all this time. Of course I have; and, of course, I wasn’t the only one who thought of the possibility of one day being attacked by your father’s army, who knows, maybe led by you.’ The king makes the last word long, as if trying to imply something; ‘Although, I must admit that it’s hard for me to believe that he’s still alive. Too many stories our ears have heard and been believed about your father. Tell me, in all this time, didn’t you ever wonder once about your family over here on the mainland?’ the king asks Hallad with a somehow familiar tone.
‘My lord, I was too young when my father took me and his men away. However, I have never forgotten the place where I belong, as neither has my father.’
‘Your family is one of the most honourable families in Norway, even though your father is considered a deserter, if not even a pirate. Nevertheless, they have always been loyal to their king, which makes me not so sure about how they might receive your news,’ the king says with a doubtful tone.
‘King Harald, my family will always be beloved. But I am not here to listen to the tales that some people made up in their boredom, but to speak the truth that I have already spoken. If I am as honest as I am expected to be, I should say that I would kill, without the slightest remorse, any one who dared to call me or my father pirates.’
The young man keeps a solemn calm before the king. Soon, Skoll is back bringing Sigurd with him.
‘My lord, Skoll told me you were wished to see me. Tell me that the reason you want to see me is not related to this story about Rognvald and his son Hallad? How many stories will my family and I have to put up with?’ Then he rushes to answer his own question. ‘We all know Rognvald is dead, that he perished in as much a mysterious way as he once disappeared, and with him, everyone who that day decided to follow him.’
King Harald answers Sigurd, who is extremely uptight and rather offended about what he believes is nothing but more spiteful idle gossip.
‘Sigurd, this is not gossip. This is your nephew Hallad. He’s brought with him a message from your brother Rognvald, Lord of Orkney, who is still alive and who is asking us for immediate help, as Orkney seems to be about to be taken by pirates.’
‘How do you know this man is telling the truth and that he’s Hallad, my lord? Who told you so?’ Sigurd asks sceptically.
‘Well…, Sigurd, if I can trust this man is your brother’s son by looking into his eyes, why don’t you look at him yourself and ask him what he’s come to tell us?’
Young Hallad, then, stands forward beginning to talk to his uncle Sigurd.
‘It came to our ears that you became one of the noblest king’s warriors Sigurd, and this news was celebrated by all of us, your brother’s men, back in Orkney; men, who also fought next to your present king before you really knew the art of the sword. All I can tell is that for my father your accomplishment was as his own son’s accomplishment.’
When Sigurd hears Hallad’s words his whole body becomes stiff for a moment and experiencing all kinds of mixed emotions responds to him: ‘Hallad, for all gods, tells us all the truth! Speak now! Rognvald can’t imagine how it’s been for us to try to justify that which was unknown and misunderstood by those he decided to leave behind. How to justify either his death or silence from the world beyond? He sends you now to tell us, that he, who was supposed to be the king of pirates, and who died as such, is alive and about to die at the hands of pirates?’
Hallad, lacking a sword, immediately withdrew a dagger he kept in his boot and moved rapidly towards Sigurd. But Sigurd, having noticed Hallad’s intention, had withdrawn his sword pointing it right at Hallad’s throat at once keeping him standing steady right in front of him. In this position, Hallad speaks while both gaze into each other’s eyes.
‘The mother of my own son was a slave until the day she became my wife,’ Hallad sounds offended and raises his voice. ‘She was one of the pirates’ slaves we found on the island on our arrival, and one of the very few survivours. My brother is the son of a woman who was slave too, a woman who shares our Norwegian blood. Be not so sure that one day your own children won’t fall into pirate’s hands, for many of us already have.’
King Harald removes Sigurd’s sword from Hallad’s throat; then he says:
‘Hallad, give your father’s message now to your uncle Sigurd.’
Following this, Hallad delivers again the exact words that his father was sending to King Harald. Once he has finished, the king begins to question:
‘Does Rognvald deserve our help? Did Rognvald give us his help when we most needed it?’
To which Sigurd replies:
‘No, my king, he didn’t. Although, according to his message, he exchanged the duties of an Earl for the duties of a rebel warrior when he decided to go away to fight pirates. He claims to still be loyal to you, my lord, and offers you Orkney in order to prove it.’
‘Your brother’s actions have always been odd to me,’ continues saying King Harald, ‘but even if I can’t make sense of them, I can still remember him being one of the most righteous and honourable men that I have even known. And besides,’ keeps arguing the king, ‘If he wasn’t being truthful, would he be sending his own son as a messenger? If he was lying about his situation and intentions, would he risk his son’s life for the sole purpose of tricking us? On the another hand, if his words are as certain as he claims, he must not just hold out hope, but remain courageous and have great faith in us; to trust others we first need to trust ourselves. A trustworthy man is one who is loyal to his own word, a man who is never afraid of being honest to himself.’
Later in the same year, in Orkney, Loki, the pirate, contrived a plan and finally got to get rid of Pie, his supposed partner and rival, he was accused of treason and put to death after denying having stolen the silver; which as a consequence, was lodged in the minds of Loki’s men. He kept the rest of the men satisfied by making one of them his new partner and ally.
Loki is still planning to raid for the last time what is left of Rognvald’s camp on the other side of the wild island; for Orkney was wild, wild and sacred to its first inhabitants, who gave it the name of Orkney, meaning the isle of the wild bore.
Loki hides in an obscure corner of his stone settlement. He is sitting on a side-bench and contemplates a slave woman while she is washing his feet. Out of the blue, he violently breaks his calm and tries to grab the woman by the elbow, but the woman gets away from him fetching a sharp metal, and nearly rotten, object lying close by on a board on top of a few barrels.
Loki, without hesitation, calls for the men who wait for his orders outside, right at the entrance. They come in and immediately hold the woman by her arms. One of them punches her in the stomach and asks Loki what they should do with her. One of the women had already killed one of Loki’s men; she was quickly executed for the daring. Yet, this didn’t seem to have set an example for the other slaves.
Loki replies with a cynical smile on his face and wounded self esteem, that they must put her in the group of slaves who are next to be sold. Afterwards, in rage, from behind he surprises the man who had punched the woman, and holding his neck tight with both arms tries to suffocate him while he whispers these words in his ear:
‘This will be the last thing that will happen to you if I ever see you hurting a woman again.’
Spitefully he releases the man. In the distance, the voice of a man in despair is heard.
‘We are surrounded! We are surrounded! There are boats everywhere; they come from out of the mist where they were hiding like fiends! Men are coming from the hills! They come from the hills!’
Without hesitation, Loki grabs his dagger and thrusts it into the same woman’s belly until she is surely dead. Immediately afterwards, he takes flight. Alas! As the wind blows, Loki’s men are slautered and the whole place set on fire.
Loki is caught by one of Rognvald’s men, who has approached from the other side of the island as soon as they have realised that King Harald’s navy is there as their ally. He is caught in the attempt to flee on his boat, but his boat has burst into the fiery glow of flames, leaving him now doomed to oblivion.
The island was retaken by King Harald Harfagre, and would be governed by Norway up until the fifteenth century. Several of Rognvald’s relatives became his new successors, some of them with more success than others. The first one was his brother, Sigurd, who was followed after his death by Rognvald’s sons: Guthorm, Hallad and Einar.
Pirate attacks lasted for centuries, even after the inhabitants of the island had converted to Christianity under the religious influences of the natives who occupied the closest mainlands of Ireland and Scotland.
Rognvald died as an Earl back in Norway. According to the Orkneyinga saga, he was burnt alive in his house by his own son Halfdan. Halfdan’s life wasn’t spared by the king; and, even though he tried to escape the king’s wrath, he was soon caught and executed.
Nearly nine hundred years later, in 1858, a hoard of over eight kilograms, one of the biggest hoards of the Viking world, was found by a child in a rabbit burrow at Skaill, near St. Peter’s Kirk in Sandwick, Orkney.