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September 22 , 2018

Icelandic Sagas, Vol. III

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Icelandic Sagas, Vol. III: The Orkneyingers Saga
by George W. Dasent

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The Sagas of Dxaan Lere

The first book begins with the departure of Oaran and Sicajes, the parents of the title character from their homeland. During the journey foreshadowing events and flashbacks bring an understanding of their decisions and of the history of their world. During the journey Dxaan is born and pivotal characters develop relationships that will mold the…

The two groups of islands, in which the events narrated in the Orkneyingers’ Saga for the most part happened, are widely different in their geographical confirmation.  While the Orkneys lie like Cyclades round Hrossey or the Mainland, and are tolerably equal in size and shape, Shetland may be said to be altogether overpowered by its Mainland, which is larger than all the other islands put together, only two or three of which are of any importance.  Added to this the Orkneys are, with the exception of a part of Hoy, “the tall island,” generally flat;  and the hills even in Hrossey rarely rise to any great elevation.  When we have named Wideford Hill, the Keely Long Hills, the Ward Hill of Orfir, and the uplands of Rowsay, we have almost exhausted the hills of Orkney.  In Shetland, on the other hand, the Mainland is full of high hills and headlands culminating in North Mavin at the extreme north-west of the island in Rona’s Hill.  Between the two groups politically united in the days described in the Orkneyingers’ Saga, but thus physically distinct, lies the waste of waters called Sumburgh Roost in modern times, and “Dynraust,” or Dynröst, that is the “thundering, roaring roost” by the Northmen who saw in its wild waves and rushing tides an apt occasion for the name.  In the midst of this Race lies the Fair Isle, the Friðarey of the Saga, an isle shunned by travellers and steamers at the present time, and memorable in the story of the Armada for Spanish shipwrecks, but not so inhospitable in older days when its bays and creeks afforded frequent shelter to the small craft in which the Northmen ran from one group of islands to the other.  There is probably no part of the British Isles which now plays a less part and is more rarely heard of than the Fair Isle or Fair Hill as it is sometimes incorrectly called, but there was certainly none which in the time of earl Rognvald-Kali was more conspicuous in Orkney story.  Then Friðarey formed the point on which the earl’s operations against the Orkneys turned, and it was on Friðarey that the beacons were to have been lighted which were to warn earl Paul and his adherents that mischief was threatening them from Shetland.  The Fair Isle, therefore, forms in the Saga a geographical link between the two groups of Orkney and Shetland, and we can hardly understand the story unless we keep the position of Friðarey on the map steadily in view.

Having thus roughly sketched in outline the two groups and their connecting link, let us enter more fully into the geographical description of the two groups themselves, and let us begin with Shetland, as the group which the Northmen first made as they ran over from Norway, and which we may be sure was known to their vikings and sea-rovers before the more westerly group.

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