This is my take on a story told by natives of the Island of Yell. It is set in the Middle Ages at a time after the King of Norway ceded the Shetlands to the King of Scotland and before the latter could bother to take up ownership. It was a lawless time with the islanders continually at the mercy of sea raiders…none worse than he whom they called “The Denschman.” (Denschman=Danishman=Sea raider/pirate/Viking).
The Raiding Season
At the start of each spring raiding season,, the coastal village would appoint a lookout to climb the headland and watch for “Odin’s Raven”. the black hulled, black sailed vessel of the Denschman. As soon as it was sighted, the villagers would abandon home and hearth to hide in the island interior until all their food had been eaten, their ale drunk and anything of use stolen. The Denschman would then hoist sail leaving the villagers to emerge, return to their homes and once again attempt to rebuild their lives.
This went on and on until the year of The Storm followed by no sighting of Odin’s Raven on the horizon. What WAS sighted were the washed up remains of black strakes (side planks of a vessel); black decking; a black mast; a black steerboard; weapons, and many dead, black clad warriors. But alas, the Denschman was not amongst them.
The Denschman atBay
It was two village boys about to go crabbing in a local sea cave, who found him. He was alive and armed with a sword but had been washed up on a high shelf from which there was no escape. To jump onto the jagged rock below would certainly result in broken bones and leave him helpless surrounded by the people he had terrorised for so long.
The boys rushed back to alert the village. The headman went to see for himself and on his return promptly called an all-village meeting to decide what to do. The men immediately fell into a prolonged debate over what would be the bloodiest way of despatching their enemy. Shoot him with arrows until he looked like a hedgehog? Use him for spear throwing practice? Stab him with long handled spears until he leaked like a colander? Use fire arrows and burn him to death? Leave him to slowly starve to death? As the suggestions got progressively more vicious, so the shouts of approval increased in volume to the extent that no-one noticed one person slip quietly away from the meeting.
It was the headman’s only and much loved daughter.
The young woman made her way down to the shoreline, cast off in her father’s boat and as a child of the sea was able to sail it round to the cave that held the Denschman captive. Once there she was able to prop the washed up mast of Odin’s Raven against the ledge and by offering the Denschman her father’s boat, a means of escape to the open sea. Meanwhile the meeting had broken up and following in the girl’s footsteps, the villages set off to the cave. Disregarding the headman’s ’s missing boat, they roared their way, on brandishing their weapons and ready to exact their bloody vengeance.
On finding the cave empty, their cries of triumph immediately turned to bull-like bellows of rage. Deprived of one victim they immediately began to seek another. Then they remembered the missing boat. How could the Denschman have got to it on his own? He must have had help from someone amongst them, but who?
The headman’s daughter stepped forward and admitted she was guilty. Without trial, and as with one voice despite her father’s pleading, she was immediately condemned to death by stoning. She died in agony without saying a word.
The Denschman Returns
Out of habit, the lookout was sent to his traditional spot but returned at a run…he had sited a new black sailed, black hulled, black masted Odin’s Raven coming round the headland! The Denschman was back!
Out of long practise the entire village had soon scooped up what it could and made for the interior of the island. Only tthe well hidden lookout remained, ready to signal the all-clear once danger had passed.
He watched intently. Odin’s Raven dropped anchor off the strand and two small boats were lowered…one all-black, the other the lost boat of the headman into which a huge chest was transferred from Odin’s Raven. Both small boats were rowed ashore, the headman’s being left while the other, rowed by its black-dressed crew to returned to its mother ship.
With that, the big black mainsail was raised and Odin’s Raven sailed away over the horizon.
Much relieved, the lookout lit his signal fire and ran down to greet his returning fellow-villagers with the news. Altogether they went down to the beach to inspect the mysterious chest left in the headman’s boat.
On opening it, they found it crammed full of gold, silver and precious stones and never did the Denschman nor any other raider, ever set foot on Yell again.