Friday, 10 April 2015

While the crow's day drags on in the darkness

On the morning tide I saw you searching for my arrival. You were riding along the shore on your dappled mare. I took a small boat into the bay and borrowed a horse from the shore-master. I galloped to meet you at the headland fells. 

For a moment the fates had business elsewhere. I jumped from horseback and helped you alight. You slipped into my arms, slowly and full. Our eyes locked and we were lost. 

I spread my cloak on the soft grasses and we settled together, softly together under the one roof-tree.

Our horses wandered away. Our shadows became longer as the day passed.  

It was not nearly time enough. The fates came looking for us. They found us eyes locked in eyes.

You said, "It is time to look for the horses. I must return home."

I had heard the horses close by but now they were nowhere in sight.  

We walked along the coast line to a nearby farm. We were taken into the hall, sat on the cross benches with the head of the household close to the warm hearth and treated with courtesy. 

That night in our bed closet you chose to sleep on the other side of a barrier that parted bed from bed.

I say, "Open your eyes and turn around. Defy the fates. Come near to me, so near that only the sheen from the deep is left between."

You say, "No, it is better thus. It is all over and done with. Name it no more." 

I say, "I cannot hear you speaking."

I rose and walked outside away from the hall into the moon-lit hay field. 

I sit on the far hay field wall, listening to the crash of the cold sea.  Inland, hills are draped with thin tendrils of mist, illuminated by the moon dancing with snow clouds. You place your hand on my shoulder.  We watch the mist dressing and undressing the hills as as the moon comes and goes. The mist touches us gently with night dew and ocean scent.  

A snow flake settles in your hair.  I said: “Sweet woman, you hair sea-dazzle gleaming, can you see that time has stopped. While the crow's day drags on in the darkness, we are the only ones left here on Earth.”

You say, "You once asked me to make you a shirt. You had no business asking that of me.  So now I ask you to make me a cambric shirt, without seams nor fine needle work. Wash it in the dry well of your love and see that it is dried on the thorn that has never blossomed. Then you will be a true love of mine."

I do not hear, "I have your face etched on my mind. I ache when I think of you.”

You say, "You once promised me a farm house, cattle, fine horses to race and children. You let your bride-price fail. You only get one chance. So now I tell you to find me an acre of land between salt water and the sea-sand. Plough it with a ram's horn, and sow it all over. Reap and barn it in a mouse-hell and thrash it with your shoes. Only then shall you be a true love of mine."

I pause, wondering her words, "You are asking the impossible."

You say, "I ask you nothing more than you ask of me." 


This is my retelling of the story of the meeting of the woman Steingerd and the warrior Kormac on an Icelandic fell more than a thousand years ago. Kormak was a real person - but we do not know if the story of his life-long failed love of Steingerd is fact or fiction.

Steingerd is one of the strongest female protagonists in the Nordic sagas, so I would wish it fact rather than pretense.

Into the story I have deliberately introduced some of Kormak's earlier poetry, the challenges in early versions of "Scarborough Fair" (the Viking port of Scarborough in England was established by Kormac) and an early precursor "The Elfin Knight" than conjures "mouse hell".

I have written about Kormac and Steingerd elsewhere:
1 - the relationship between Kormac's Saga and Scarborough Fair
2 - Named swords and Trial by Combat

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