“House Near the Sea,” Volodymyr Orlovsky, 1871, WikiArt.

Part 5: Dyrfinna, People of No More

As funeral pyres burned, clouds descended,
Mountaintops obscured, faces and flames
In blood-washing rain, overcome by grief
And burning flesh smoke smell, we stood
In circled-silence, until Gunnolf, Dyrfinna
Led prayers to gods, spoke of heavy loss,
Betrayal, village doomed. Their numbers
Half-reduced, ten women, fifty men, no
Livestock. They were what left and looked
To me, Sister Muriel, for life anew at Sheep
Islands or far-distant promise of Iceland,
Longboats revered, each with living soul.

In burned mead-hall we met, shelter from
Wind-blown rain, gathering of women and
Men, to stay or leave. Staying meant fighting
Invading mountain hoards, sullen prospects
Of losing half again their warriors, dwindling
Clans rebuilding, ever-watchful for attacks.
“Our central hearth life-fires extinguished,
Black-water filled,” stated Dyrfinna. “Children
And mothers lost, if stay, we are people of
No more.” She peered into dark-reflecting
Waters transfixed, vision of pagan woman,
Shells, beads in long-braided hair.

“Who are you Muriel?” Dyrfinna asked, eyes
Of untrusting ire. “One like you I have seen,
Mirror image of face and self, staring back at
Me.” Lo! Dyrfinna saw Betrys, twin sister,
Druid priestess. “What does she want with
me? she, asked, incensed. Thus I explained:
“My sister believes fates governed by host
Of gods, rituals performed in caves of ancient
Gaul, deific streams, trees, mounts, forces
Old as Celtic standing stones.” Dyrfinna
Considered my words, replying. “She knows
Without her help we are people no more.

NatGeo Expeditions Viking Saga Norway to Iceland map.

Althing of sixty Viking strong, Dyrfinna shared
Her vision to assembled villagers, peace envoy
Return to Ireland outer isles, meet with Betrys,
Or with Sister Muriel’s help find our fortune
Or death upon Sheep Isles. Alas! Too few
women, too many men for clan-sustaining
Numbers, complications of child-birth. In
Stoic silence, votes cast, stones in left or right
Piles, they elected to Norway leave, one group
To Ireland, others sailing with me, far distant
Sheep Isles, supplies scavenged, with rosary
Prayers, five longboats sailed at dawn.

Here our poetic story divides: Dyrfinna sailing to Irish islands, meeting Betrys, and Sister Muriel and Gunnolf, sailing to Sheep Isles or modern-day Faeroe Islands. Will they reunite or is this sea-separation permanent? 

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