• Ellen E. Sutherland

Flaming Viking ships, Batman!


Granny D asked, “Jamie, what is the latitude of the Isle of Osiris? Any idea?”

I recited it like it was my home address: “59°50'6.96"N latitude and 7°13'30.88"W longitude. It’s due east of the Shetland Islands.”

“Excellent.” She wrote huge numbers beside the symbols.

(From Destiny of the Departed)

While the Larupine chain of islands are clearly fictional, the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands are not. Further in the book, Jamie says:

This island nation was artificially insulated from the rest of the world. Two hundred years from now, had they survived here, this island chain would become the center of everything with threats more significant than fire. The Shetland and Orkney Islands, Larupine neighbors, would be redefined by those future changes. Perhaps Eliyana’s imaginings of a center like Iona and Lindisfarne weren’t absurd.

Here she refers to the eventual expansion of Norse exploration. Vikings. Explorers. Legends and epic sagas of Vikings.

It has already been mentioned that Eliyana’s people are a blending of Nordic peoples as well as Egyptians. When they find they must evacuate the Isle of Larupus, they do not turn south to the Shetland Islands. Their people and those on Shetland are not the same. Their language and culture divides them. Instead they choose to go east to Norway even through the evacuation will require more planning and risk.

This opens the door to Vikings entering the Jamie Poole saga. Oh, yes, it’s coming!

With the forthcoming book The Wild Hunt it begins. But it really began with the mention of Za’id’s sister:

I hadn’t realized Za’id had a sister. Then again, I hadn’t considered him having any family, and that was plain dumb. Everyone has a family. My eyes returned to Jamila. The similarity in names was not all Jamila and Jumeela shared. They could have been twins. Then Jamila turned her face as she placed bowls of food on the table. Even in candlelight it was obvious. A horrible scar marred her face from the corner of her eye to her mouth. One eyelid drooped slightly, and her earlobe was partly gone. I averted my gaze, not wanting to embarrass her.

“I was in a fire.” Jamila regarded me with eyes the color of warm honey. She was darkly beautiful like her brother. “A Norseman called Eysteinn Pettersson and his son rescued me. That’s a long story I will maybe tell you one day. I am used to people staring.” She touched the scar. “God saved my life through those men’s heroic act, and I am grateful.” She took her leave with a bow.

The Norseman Eysteinn Pettersson pre-dates the age of Vikings. He and his son are explorers. It confirms the tale that Eliyana’s people have married freely with people of Norway.

And while this island chain is fictional, nothing about the activities of the Norsemen in this region is. Eysteinn Pettersson may have been an early explorer, but it is not impossible to imagine he was the only one to sail just a bit east and find the Orkney and Shetland Islands at this time. Sagas written a couple hundred years later such as the Orkneyinga saga tell grand tales of Vikings inhabiting this region as well as parts of Scotland and Ireland. Clydus, with his exposure to the future, reminds Jamie:

“Norsemen,” he hissed like a snake. “You know them as Vikings. They’re everywhere. They rule the Orkney Islands to our south, the Shetland Islands to our east. Even Sutherland from where your friend comes. Where do you think he got his name? ‘The land to the south.’ South of what? Orkney! They raid up and down the Irish and British coasts. The Orkney Islands are a maritime hub of trade, connecting the Scandinavian world: Ireland to Jerusalem and Constantinople and beyond. Larupus could have been that hub. Think of the wealth. The impact on history. The songs. The legends!”

“Bad timing for the volcano then,” I remarked harshly. He and Eliyana had similar ideas despite their different approach.

Here’s a bit of personal humor as I wrote in my family history. Clydus is correct about the surname Sutherland. The name was derived from Old Norse suðr or "south" land, due to the area being south of Scandinavia and the Norse colonies in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. In fact, one of the tales in the Orkneyinga saga speaks of a Viking known as Sigurd Eysteinsson, the second Earl of Orkney. According to the Orkneyinga saga, towards the end of his reign, Sigurd challenged a native ruler, Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed, to a 40-man-a-side battle. Treacherously, Sigurd brought 80 men to the fight. Máel Brigte was defeated and beheaded. Sigurd strapped the head to his saddle as a trophy, but as Sigurd rode, Máel Brigte's buck-tooth scratched his leg. The leg became inflamed and infected, and as a result Sigurd died. He was buried in a tumulus known as Sigurd's Howe, orSigurðar-haugr, from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound or barrow. The location of Sigurd's Howe is most probably modern-day Sidera or Cyderhall near Dornoch. However, it has also been said that he was buried at Burghead in Moray.

My own ancestors came from Dornoch.

Shortly after Eliyana’s time, just as Clydus speaks, The Orkney and Shetland Islands are ruled by Vikings. It became a hub of trade, linking Ireland and Constantinople.

Although today these islands are part of Scotland, reminders of Viking history can be found in ruins throughout the islands. However, you don’t even have to look that closely. The people know their history. It is celebrated. This time of year, it is very prevalent with the festivals known as Up Helly Aa. These are twelve fire festivals held annually on the Shetland Islands. They are held in the middle of winter (the same time as Chinese New Year and Imbolc). The main festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes. There is a main guizer who is dubbed the "Jarl."

They are fire festivals, of course. After dark, the squads dress as Vikings and carry burning torches. There are Viking ships paraded through the streets. Eventually the ship is burned and there is much music and celebration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Up Helly Aa, visit here.

Fiction and history can go hand in hand, making a fascinating story. As we proceed further into the diaries of Jamie Poole, the Vikings will become more and more familiar.

#vikings #Orkney #shetland

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Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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