Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Pentathlon 2015: Poem

I wrote this poem in January 2015, just in time for early compositional entries for Caid’s Pentathlon 2015. The original prose story is found in the 14th century Orkneyinga Saga. I created the poem as a stanzaic fornyrðislag style.

Sigurd and the Raven Banner

Songs we sing of                                 Odin’s messengers

Ravens black, bearers                          of the bright word

One-eye’s will                                     flown into the world,

Sage-spells                                          test men’s deeds.


Hlodver is heir                                    to the Orkneys

Storm-clad center                                of the sea roads.

Dragonships dock                               midst their deadly passage

Soaring the sea                                    to slay their foes.


Earl’s fame earns a queen                   Audna was her name.

Wed he Audna, wife and                   wyrd woman

Vowed to the vaunted lady                victories brave,

No maid’s magic                                 unmanfully asked.


On day Hlodver trod the Hel-path     hale at dawn, dead at noontide.

Earl’s son Sigurd                                 sat the high seat

Stout was he and strong,                    seemingly fearless.

He feared no fate but one –                 to fail that which he faced.


From the Scot’s land to the south       sailed Earl Finnleik

Longships eleven in number               left Skye ports.

Many strong men                                manned the oars

The Orkneys their aim,                        its harbors their prize.


Sigurd sighted them                            set his men to wait

To fall back before their foes              till fief-lord returned.


Sigurd to Skidda-myre                       swiftly rode

The sorceress to see,                            sybil named Audra.

Earl’s own mother,                              augurer and spell-weaver.

Came he to the cave                            living cairn since her lord’s death.


Silently she signed                              for her son to approach.

The earl stood still,                              spoke of Finnleik’s army.

“Seven men to one of mine,                your magic we need.

Witch us so we may wage                  war against the Scots.”


With scorn the sorceress                     her son’s eyes fixed.

“I would have warded you                in my wool-basket

If I knew you feared                           the fall of the brave.

Do your duty                                      and die if God wills.


But since you are set on                      a sager course

then this brave banner                         may bear your courage for you.

Victory it gives him                            afore it is carried

But is the bane of him                         who bears it.”


From a chest she shook a cloth           that shone in the dimness

The weave woven                               by a wise woman.

Black bird soaring on                          bright   banner

Wrought with strange spells               sorcery gleaming.


“A goodly gift                                    grants the raven

For he who fields the flag will            fall and to Valhalla go.

But he who bears not the banner        his bravery is forfeit

Huginn and Muninn will judge           between them.”


Sigurd was wroth at her words           for wicked he judged them.

Silently he snatched the banner          and strode from her sight

If to Odin geld was owed                  then the Earl would pay,

But Finnleik would fall                       first on the field.


To Skidda-myre Sigurd rode              the Scots to meet.

In battle array brawling men               bore proud banners

Weapons glittered, warriors roared,    war-surge meets

Glint of weapons, blood-glistened     shields glaring at the foe.


Armies clashed, crashed together       with clanging blades

Sigurd’s standard-bearer                     streamed the raven banner

Into the air aloft it flew                      all who fought Sigurd fell

and the banner bearer too                   was borne to the ground.


Three more brave bearers                    bore it across the field

Three more fighters to the fates          fell that day

Ere the valiant for vanity’s sake         his victory achieved

Warriors be wary                                 of spell-wrought deeds.


Wind-blown banner whets                  blade woes

And bearer’s blood                             is its bounty.

Yet Orkneymen overlooked               Earl’s lost honor

For the savage sacrifice                       satisfaction was deemed.


Twenty years of time                          then trod the earl

While the spell-wrought raven            rested in shadows.


Then Máel Mórda                               monarch of Leinster

rose in revolt                                       a rival for the high throne.

Brian Boru’s lawful                            brother by marriage

Blood’s brother to Gormflaith,           Brian’s own queen.


Queen Gormlaith gained                     ground with allies

Her brother Mael Morda                     the chief man among them

Her son Sigtrygg despised                  his stepfather Brian

Kinship was naught to killers              with a king to betray.


Sigurd gave Sigtrygg                          his assent to war

To punish the prince                            for his pride of high place.

Crooked conspirators                          to Clontarth would go

Felling Brian Boru                              the royal blood to spill.


Took the earl the wyrd-wrapped        spell-weave

Set sail with his men                           south they bore

Orkney joining Ulster                         and Ui Neill

Ancient rights to recover                    a rule to end.


At Clontarth the companies                clashed on the field.

Monarch’s heir Murchad                     the Irishmen led

Kerthialfad, king’s foster son             cleaved the way

Fell warriors forced                             forward to Sigurd’s line.


Sailed the standard                             snapping in the wind

before many spears bore its                 bearer to the ground.

For honor another raised it                 a man with courage

His battle went badly                          overborne was he.


Standing with Sigurd                          still were his kin

Their sacrifice would stay                   certain defeat.

To Thorstein of Sida                           Sigurd cried

That he should bear the banner           the battle to save.


Yet Asmund the White warned          of woe to come

Thorstein heeded his words                and hasted away.

Sigurd roared at Hrafn the Red          to raise the banner

But Hrafn denied and dared him       “Your own devil bear!”


Sigurd spat his command                    scarce heed gave Hrafn

Earl-kin gave no ground                     no glory in magecraft.

Sigurd snatched up the cloth              the sigil to take.

“Mayhap the beggar should bear        his own bag.”


From its pole he plucked it                 placed it in his cloak

Clasping it close                                  to a coward’s heart

When a spear pierced Sigurd              slicing also the raven.

Fell was his passing and evil               his fate.


This same fate failed his men              and fast they fled

Swiftly taking sail upon                      the gray sea.

Killed was the high king and              of his kin many fell

Fallen too was Mael Morda                much mourned was he.

Irish and Ui Neill and Ulstermen        united in uneasy peace.


Far Skidda-myre saw                          Sigurd’s fall

The weird women of Caithness          the war-weave cut.

Singing their song                               of Earl’s ending

So fell the savage sigil                        the seer of deeds.






“Remnants of Revenants”

A particularly bad undead was the Icelandic duagr or revenant. These pesky undead might be confined to the barrows but the more powerful could range around. The worst of all attacked animals, humans and whole villages.

Click to read “Remnants of Revenants,” a short research paper on the dreaded draugr of Iceland and Norway.

Irish Burial — Revenants?

Lady Avicia was kind enough to send me a link to an article on a strange unearthed burial practice in 8th century Ireland.  

The article led to more research, which led me to realize I had a big misconception about the Viking timeline in Ireland. I replied to Avicia that 8th century Ireland was home to several Viking kingdoms, which thus explained the presence of the Norse legend of the duargr – the revenant. This may have been one of the techniques of burial where the Norse kept the dead from getting back up again. (Note that cremation wouldn’t take care of the  problem — the ashes from the burning landed on animal food and salt licks, and infected animals with a seriously bad temper and supernatural strength.)

However, it turns out that I was “dead” wrong (get it?) about the timeline — the Vikings’ first recorded raid in Ireland wasn’t until the end of the 8th century and they did not start settling inland until at least 830. I am sure that individual Vikings had sailed to Ireland already, thus the subsequent arrival of well-prepared raiding parties who concentrated on wealthy coastal monasteries  like Iona. But I would hesitate to ascribe a burial practice to theoretical individuals. And we have no way of knowing for sure if the stones applied to revenant legends, although the Norse prescribed certain burial rites to keep the dead from rising again.

To be sure, Ireland has always been a hotbed of supernatural activity. They have medieval legends of the corporeal walking dead as does northern England. (Southern England’s ghost stories are largely monastic and center on demon-inspired haunts.) But did the revenant tales occur independently in separated cultures — or due to the cross-pollination of Viking raids or Irish slaves?

* Here is a link to a short paper I wrote on the duargr:“Remnants of Revenants.”


Documentation for “The Wolf’s Story”

This post documents my original story “The Wolf’s Story”

Iceland’s medieval works comprise one of the greatest bodies of national literature. Written between the 12th and 13th centuries, the sagas and stories contain history, romance, and the supernatural – often all at once.

One of the best known and skilful authors was Snorri Sturluson, who lived between 1179 and 1241.Arguably his most famous work is the collection of lessons on poetics that we call The Prose Edda. But he is also well known for his Heimskringla, a Chronicle of the kings of Norway. The Chronicle is made up of multiple entries, including the Ynglinga Saga. This saga begins with the story of Odin and recounts the line of Norse kings descended from Odin’s son Njord.

The Icelandic sagas in particular are characterized by a rather prosaic prose style. There is little commentary on character development or the details of  events, but rather an emphasis on the straightforward action of the tale. This holds true even during the most dramatic battles and hair-raising events, including the frequent appearance of the supernatural.

In contrast to this terse style is the inclusion of short stanzas of poetry. These sophisticated skaldic verses are in sharp contrast to the straightforward prose that they accompany. The verses might serve the purpose of illustrating the writer’s skaldic skills, and also allow the writer to comment on the meaning of the simply told story. This is the style followed by the Ynglinga Saga, my model for developing my own stories.

Below is an example of this melded style from the Ynglinga. Note that although the translated poem has end rhymes, this is not the case in the original. The original obeys obeyed the alliteration, half-line, and stressed syllable schemes of classic Norse poetry. I have set a middle ground with my own skaldic poems, choosing to maintain a similar metrical structure without end rhymes, and providing colorful commentary on the story.

Swegde took the kingdom after his father, and he made a solemn vow to seek Godheim and Odin…  He was five years on this journey; and when he returned home to Sweden he remained there for some time.  He had got a wife in Vanheim, who was called Vana, and their son was Vanlande.  Swegde went out afterwards to seek again for Godheim, and came to a mansion on the east side of Swithiod called Stein, where there was a stone as big as a large house.  In the evening after sunset, as Swegde was going from the drinking-table to his sleeping-room, he cast his eye upon the stone, and saw that a dwarf was sitting under it.  Swegde and his man were very drunk, and they ran towards the stone.  The dwarf stood in the door, and called to Swegde, and told him to come in, and he should see Odin.  Swegde ran into the stone, which instantly closed behind him, and Swegde never came back.  Thiodolf of Kvine tells of this: –

“By Diurnir’s elfin race,
Who haunt the cliffs and shun day’s face,
The valiant Swegde was deceived,
The elf’s false words the king believed.
The dauntless hero rushing on,
Passed through the yawning mouth of stone:
It yawned — it shut — the hero fell,
In Saekmime’s hall, where giants dwell.”

Supernatural Elements
Norse medieval literature commonly sports supernatural and fantastic plot elements and themes, but the Icelandic literature is rife with it. Having said that, it is true that the historical sagas sport less of the fantastic than the Icelandic folktale works, called riddarasögur (fornaldarsögur denotes the Norse written folktales). Where they differ is not only in terms of how many times the supernatural elements appear, but how causally they are linked with the action.

“One such factor may be that the causal connections are more emphasized in the sagas of Icelanders than in the more chronicle-related saga genres, and the supernatural is in many cases used to explain what happens. Another factor may be that the sagas of Icelanders are more concerned about entertainment than are sagas of kings and contemporary sagas. The supernatural – and the fantastic – have no doubt a great potential for entertaining; and the supernatural, which is of most relevance for the sagas of Icelanders, brings a kind of mystery and excitement into the story. ”
– Else Mundal

My stories contain some common supernatural motifs including the mysterious völva (Voluspa), supernatural beings such as giants and shape shifters (Egils), the undead (Grettis, Grœnlendinga), and magical weapons or clothing (Hervor).  The saga that inspired my entry has supernatural elements as well, even though it purports to be a history of the kings of Norway. I find that one of the most fascinating elements of the historical sagas, which go along describing a king’s life – and then mention that the king chased after a dwarf and was never seen again!


A History of Icelandic Literature. Ed. by Neijmann, Daisy. (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London.) 2006.
Craigie, W.A. The Icelandic Sagas. (University Press, Cambridge.) 1913.
Faulkes, Anthony. “The sources of Skáldskaparmál: Snorri’s intellectual background.” (University of Birmingham)
Iceland – The Republic. Edited by Nordal, Jóhannes and Kristinsson, Valdimar. (Central Bank of Iceland, Reykjavik.) 1996.
Mundal, Else. “The Treatment of the Supernatural and the Fantastic in Different Saga Genres.” (University of Bergen)
Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla (The Chronicles of the Kings of Norway). 13th century. Tr. by Samuel Laing (London, 1844).

“The Lonely Traveler”

By Caitlin Christiana Wintour

The Cheviot cloud-trails
ring round the fog-shrouded valleys, and
lonely lanes weave round dark fells.
Criminals can be found here,
bringing blood and sorrow
to the unwary far from field and farm.

Yet worse things there are
then wild men in the howling hills.
From the granite ground grow the dark dwarves,
black of hair and heart,
earth-children with no love for men.

The God-praisers know the prayers
to drive the earth-dwellers down,
to exile them deep into the earth
and so their numbers dwindle.
But their hostile hearts are strong
and some still live and learn
to cast the unwary to their deaths,
to weave wickedness in the wild places.

Thus men will not willingly walk
the lonely paths of the high hills.
Fearless or foolish is he
Who does, walking wary the high ways.
Danger rises with the raising of the mists,
Deep-shrouded darkness
makes the lone traveler fiend-ship’s prey.

One night a young man, made unwise by wine,
made his lonely walk along the hill way.
The doom-mist deepened and
spectral light shone,
but no moon-lamp lit the shifting path.
Then young Selwyn saw a fire
burning bright through the fog
and grateful and glad, made his way to it.

Another man sat there in stillness.
He was shorter then Selwyn by a head
but stouter by many more.
The stranger’s raven hair gleamed with gems
and his black beard was twisted with wealth-hoard,
and the fog forged strange shapes all about him.
Selwyn knew a dark dwarf and he near despaired.
Shocked from his drink, doomed was he
unless he remained silent and still
in the dwarf’s demesne,
unmoving and mute until the sun arose.

Food the earth-man offered
but his victim sat voiceless
and stared silently at man’s ancient enemy.
Riddles the dwarf riddled
and their keys the traveler kenned
but Selwyn steeled himself against the game
and would only watch.
Finally the dwarf in reddened rage
pointed to the pathway
and commanded the man to quit his fire.
And the traveler was tempted mightily
for it seemed that sure was his release.
Then Selwyn remembered the rays of the sun
had not yet pierced the vicious veil
and strong was the scourge of the dwarf’s temptations.
So he did not move and mute he sat.

At last the watery rays of dawn
pierced the pall of mist and the dwarf vanished,
the mage-light of his magicked fire slowly dying.
Selwyn stirred and cautiously crept
in the direction the dwarf had bade him take.
He quickly stopped, for the solid-seeming road of night
showed itself a sharp cliff-fall by day.
Under his boot the granite grumbled
and he stepped back onto solid mountain bones.
Turning, he praised the Protector of Travelers
and hurried home under the sun.