Thursday 21 June 2018

Writing: Unclean

In addition to my own writing, I also write on commission. Below is an extract from a 30,000-word novella that I was commissioned to write on modern paganism and possession.



The Settlers and the Fire

from the Book of Settlements, 1214-84

The old stories told that six days’ sailing from the north of Britain lay an uninhabited land. It was said that this land had neither daylight in winter, nor darkness in summer. It was said that travellers ventured there, among their number anchorites from Ireland, farmers from Norway, and Scandinavian seafarers blown astray by northern winds. To those who asked, it was called a land of snow.

A man named Gardar Svafarsson went in search of this land. Guided by his mother and her gift of second sight, they sailed around the island and anchored in the north. They built a house for shelter in the winter, and in the spring they departed. At this time, trees spread from the uppermost mountains to the fringes of the sea. It became known as Gardar’s Isle.

A second man named Flóki Vilgerðarson went in search of Gardar’s Isle. Before the voyage out, his daughter Geirhild drowned. This was a bad omen. Led by three ravens, he found the land, but suffered many trials. He landed during warmer months, when the rivers were teeming with fish. They ate their fill but set no stores aside and made no hay for the harder times to come. His livestock starved in winter, along with many men. Mourning his losses, he climbed a mountain and saw the land gripped with ice. He named it Iceland, and left the following winter, full of sadness and bitterness.

A third man, a viking named Ingolf, made a plan to find the land of ice with his blood-brother Lief. But they were embroiled in fierce battles and many winters passed. Finally, they journeyed to the land but did not stay, returning to Norway after one winter. The following year, Ingolf made a great sacrifice and the oracle told him to return to Iceland. The blood-brothers readied their ships, but they were separated at sea, and landed apart. In view of land, Ingolf flung his highseat pillars from the ship and declared that he would settle wherever the pillars were washed ashore. His brother drifted west and built houses with his slaves, whom he mistreated. One day, they tricked him and his men, and murdered them in a forest. Meanwhile, Ingolf sent his slaves to search for his pillars, and eventually found them in Reykjavík. He learned of the death of his brother many months later, and mourned him fiercely. He lived in Reykjavík for many years and fathered a son whose name was Thorstein. He, in turn, fathered a son: Thorkel Moon the Lawspeaker, who spread wisdom and a love of the land to his only daughter and to his people. Stories told of his deathbed and how he asked to be carried into a shaft of sunlight. They said that he died before he could utter his final words, dedicating his life to the god who created the sun. Some said that these words were to be a plea for forgiveness on behalf of his grandfather.

The old stories did not verify the tale of Ingolf’s transgression, but through spoken words and songs, it entered the myths of the land. In his second winter in the land of ice, Ingolf learned of his blood-brother’s murder. When the body was brought to him, he ordered a site for burial. But the earth was  frozen and the slaves’ tools bent and broke against the icy ground. He ordered a pyre lit instead, but again he was thwarted. The sky and earth were filled with snow, and no kindling would catch. After much toil, the slaves begged to be released. Overcome with rage and grieving, Ingolf slayed them all and called on the gods and spirits in despair. He asked for the power to lay his blood-brother’s body to rest, pledging his soul, body, and life to anyone who would give him fire and light. At his words, the sky glowed green and the pyre glinted with emerald flames. Ingolf fell down in fear at this unnatural sight. It was said that the fire was not the gift of a friendly god. It was said that Ingolf’s words woke a spirit that should never have been sparked from its slumber. It was said that the gift was unclean and that his descendants would suffer its taint for centuries to come.

Despite his fears, Ingolf accepted the gift and laid his brother in the fire. The flames glowed cold and green throughout the night, dancing into the sky and leaving nothing of the body behind. For a week they burned. Some said that Ingolf extinguished them with drifts of snow; others said that he took the fire into himself. All the songs said that he was a colder man after that night. 


Do get in touch if you would like to discuss collaborations or commissions of any kind - poetry, prose, film, or theatre.

L x


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