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The Third Norn

Alastair Macleod

The Third Norn

at Bennibister


To the Three Norns, the weavers of the web of life. Skuld, the maiden, shy, sometimes moody, yet full of potential, capable having visions. Verdandi, the mother, fulsome, fertile, life giver, nurturing, caring, and Urd, the older woman, holder of the knowledge of the tribe, giver of wise council, font of stories, capable of shamanistic guidance to the troubled. ................................................................................................................................... disclaimer; The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.


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The Third Norn at Bennibister

 

 

This is the third and final novella in the trilogy of Bennibister. Characters from the previous two novellas continue and new ones enter.

 

 

It happened as they viewed the whale. She had taken Erland and Magnus and Freya, now five, along the shore over the rocks and ware to a tiny sandy cove at Grit Ness. They began to meet people coming back from viewing.

The wind was biting, a north westerly, full in the face. Yet it was clear, the sea bright blue and out beyond Eynhallow the white röst stood up like icing where the two tides met.

The stranded whale came into view. From a distance it rose like a grey sausage above the low rocks.

Nearer and its colour changed to orange and yellow and white. Only on the underneath was it grey. It had clearly drifted for some time. Its upperparts exposed to the sun and salt.

It was large, about thirty five to forty feet long; a sperm whale and decidedly male. Lying on its side, its huge pointed penis hung down almost to the sand. The blubbery eye socket was the size of a saucer; the eye itself long gone, pecked out by gulls.

They stood in silence. It demanded respect, not just for the size and former power but for its unspoken journey. What sights had that eye seen, what sea miles had it travelled?

They lingered. Cameras flashed.

Then the biting cold made them turn and retreat. It was then Isobel’s Iphone rang. It was her mum. Her dad had died. After a long battle with cancer, the twinkly farmer who had been her rock for all her life had slipped away. The children sensed the news. They gathered round.

“Its granddad, he’s gone.” Said Isobel.

“Gone where?” Said Freya only five.

“He’s died,” said Magnus. Were there tears there, or was it the wind bringing water from his eyes? Already at nine he tried to put on a manly bearing.

Erland turned away and looked out to sea. He and his grandfather had been become close over the recent years.

Isobel felt the need of her daughter. Helga was away at college.

Her mother? Her mother was at the bedside in the Macmillan ward. She had encouraged them to come out here to see the whale.

“Ye might niver see such a thing it again”.

Isobel felt immediate regret that she hadn’t been there at his last moments. Yet here on the Evie shore with the wind tugging at their clothes she felt as if he had not died, that he was here with them in the sunlight.

They walked back in silence to the pickup. Isobel phoned Charles and after a few brief words said they were going to the hospital.

All were quiet on the drive back into town.

 

The nurse ushered them in. Connie, her mother rose and embraced her daughter. Her dad lay on his back, his face still a little pink from the recent oxygen.

“He went peacefully,” said her mother.

Isobel stared at his hands. Strong working hands that had lifted sheaves, milked kye, lifted her on to her first horse. The tears welled up. Freya was gently sobbing. The boys just looked at their granddad. He had seemed immortal, now he was gone, like a piece of the cliff face exposing new rock.

 

Sometime later, after the funeral and the other relatives had departed, Connie rang her daughter.

“Ah’m gaan to give up the ferm. It aal reminds me of Jim. Ah need to get oot.”

“Come and stay with us,” said Isobel

“Are ye sure?” Said Connie.

“Of course we have plenty of room.”

So granny came to stay.

 

Isobel noticed an unexpected change in her mother. Connie was now alert, energised and taking a keen interest in everything, the bairns, the horses, her.

She recognised that the last months had been pushing her mother down; the long drawn out illness had drained her spirit.

And yet she began to suspect there was more, from a few things her mother said.

Connie admitted to feeling a strange mixture of grief yet liberation. Freed from her married role and the farm she felt light. She and Jim had had a long marriage, forty years, but in that time she had felt her own identity submerged by the farm and by her role as a farmer’s wife.

The sale of the farm left Granny with considerable resources.

She paid for the conversion of one of the old byres into a smart cottage; this way she could have independence yet be close, for it became clear granny was not going to sit by the fire in the kitchen and knit.

It was from Connie that Isobel got her good looks. Fine bone structure meant a Gran had a face that almost did not age; a neat strait nose divided a pair of intelligent bright blue green eyes. Her complexion was pale, framed by her now dyed auburn hair. Shorter than Isobel, her frame was sparse. An active life had kept her figure trim. Her little blue car came and went as she organized her house. She chivvied the workmen to get the work just as she wanted.

“Mither ye’ll exhaust yoursel,” said Isobel as her mother exited from the building site that was to be her “hoose.”

Both women went into the horse barn. Isobel made her a coffee.

“Isobel, ye dinna understan; fir years Jim planned almost everything, the farm the house repairs, purchase of vehicles. Now, if ah canna hiv Jim ah want to be able to decide for meesel how ah live.”

Her mother was so broad; her accent was that of the farm and her own childhood in the island of Westray, yet when she chose she could speak “proper” as she put it.

She had sold the Volvo and got herself a “peedy” Italian Fiat 500.

In the renovated barn not only was she going for underfloor heating but she had ordered a designer kitchen with a ceramic hob and a walk in shower.

Isobel found herself reeling from this new, assertive, driven, woman.

“What will she do when the house is finished?" Said Charles, keeping well to the sidelines.

He need not have feared that she might interfere in the stables and farm.

“No,” she said to him, “Ah’v done wi fermin; forty years of it is enough.” But no more was revealed as yet.

 

Isobel began to notice Mum in smart new outfits.

With the help of Erland she bought and mastered the basics of the Ipad, well enough to throw out most of her old clothes and began to order stuff on the internet. She got a Facebook presence.

For a while Isobel was concerned, but Charles said it was the grief. When her mother moved into her new nest she would calm down. But in her heart Isobel was not so sure.

On the outside the barn kept its traditional look of harled walls and small windows, set deep in the thick rubble walls, but above, velux roof lights let loads of light into the interior and she kept the walls white. While the kitchen was full of modern appliances, including a dishwasher, it had a traditional feel with a stone tiled floor and a range, The living room hosted a wood burner in the one wall left in exposed stone. But to this room she brought the old dresser from the farm. It had belonged to her own granny. Isobel felt its presence comforting; on its dark wood were the stains and marks of her childhood, as were those of her mother and her great grandmother; it was a record of their lives. Two comfy armchairs made this room snug and Freya especially like to curl up with Gran on the sofa for a story.

Isobel was present at the old farmhouse when her mother finally left.

“Wit aboot the bed?” she said.

They had been emptying a cupboard.

“Get Charles to burn hid,” she said. There was no malice in her voice. Isobel said nothing. It had been a happy marriage.

It was a sign, a full stop on one phase of life and of the start of a new.

 

And so a new bed arrived at the renovated barn. To Freya’s delight it was a delicate four poster. Once put together she snuggled down on the mattress.

“Can I sleep with you tonight Gran?” She asked demurely.

“Of course,” said Gran, “and I will tell you the story of the Princess and the Pea, and the story of the Merbaby.”

“And the story of the Seal Woman?” said Freya.

“Of course.”

For all Gran’s grasp at modernism she held the traditions dear and storytelling was one of them.

Isobel suggested a housewarming during the spring school holidays and Connie agreed. To this came some of the builders, Charles, Isobel of course, Helga home from college, Erland , Magnus and Freya, Tonya, Chloe, old Harrold and Jean.

All eagerly explored the house and its features. Tonya and Connie had been baking fancies, small cakes and

buns.There was a toast and some photos.The builders left quite soon, off to another job, Charles back out to the land, Isobel and Chloe to the horses.

Gran was left with Freya, Erland, Magnus and Helga,

“Whose is the pipe?” Said Magnus picking up an old dark briar from the mantle piece.

&

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