“Peasant Children,” Vladimir Makovsky, 1890, WikiArt

Coastal storm battering Hebrides outer isles,
Children taking shelter in our stone cottage.
Around flickering candlelight, Ellsbeth, elder
Woman of our island told of Norse legend to
Anxious girls and boys. “For years, Vikings
Lived on Orkney Islands, fishers, shepherds,
Their customs, language enduring along wind-
Tortured slopes,” Ellsbeth began. “How do I
Know this?” she asked, her eyes sea-gleam
Twinkling, captivating young hearts, minds.

“My father’s father’s family lived amongst
Them, Norse speaking, sea-wanderers to
The end.” O! Winds night roared, morning
Light cottage windows specked with salt-
Spray, vegetable garden salt-blighted leaves
Of sun-yearning cabbages. “As islanders,
Norse-folk knew of two kinds of storms,
As we do today, cloudless skies, without
Warning storms descended, Viking clans
Called “invisible tempest,” cresting wave-
Tops blown to spray, horses galloping ashore.”

“Surf day-roared, oft cottage reaching,”
Ellsbeth continued, “island over-washed,
Dangerous as foreboding.” “But what of
Vikings?” young girl asked, blue eyes alight
With curiosity, intrigue. “It was second
Kind of storm,” Ellsbeth replied, finger
Pointing-shaking as she recounted legend.
“Devil rose up from ocean depths, fearsome
Blue streak on horizon’s edge. Escape then
Or Vikings faced everlasting sea-dread.”

“What did they do?” Bright blonde-haired
Boy asked, his grey eyes discerning, wide-
Set. “They took to high seas, south sailing,”
Ellsbeth said, “From Orkneys to Hebrides,
Norse sought shelter from foam-streaked
Waves. Even great longboats felt breaching
Peril of following seas.” Sips of hot tea,
Ellsbeth carried on, “Darkness overtaken,
Winds pushed them into these very shores,
Cliffside crashing, only handful survived.”

“Returning from Fields,” Jules Breton, 1871, WikiArt.

“What happened to them?” children asked
Aloud. Knowing nod, Ellsbeth whisper-
Replied, “Some say they disappeared, died
From cold, drowned. My great-grands knew
Better, hilltop rune-stones told another tale.
As daily words of Norse language survived,
Their bloodline persists with you and me,”
Ellsbeth explained. “We are Gaelic speaking
Descendants, seafarers of equal stead, fishers,
Shepherds, like you, hardy island dwellers,
Children of Norse sea-legend.”

Whilst this poem is more narrated by Willow than about her, it relates longevity of Norse language lingering Orkney and other far-north Scottish islands. I referred to “Historical Dictionary of the Vikings,” Katherine Holman, Scarecrow Press Inc., Lanham, Maryland, and Oxford, 2003, pp. 126-127. “…it has been suggested that the Norse language did not totally drop out of use in the Hebrides until the early 16th century.”
p. 127. Thanks for reading. 

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