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Thread: At the Edge of the World: History of Orkney

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    At the Edge of the World: History of Orkney

    The hawk-nosed man stood on the beach and watched the sea.
    He shouldn't have been out there. It was the twenty-sixth day of December in the year of our Lord 1066, and it was the very dead of winter.
    In the Medieval Era when people said 'the dead of winter' it wasn't just a figure of speech. Peasant and lord alike would fall victim to fevers or other diseases in the winter months (but also in the autumn ,spring and summer), and would die in a matter of days. Life was short then.

    So has mine been, thought the man. Indeed, he was only twenty-four years of age, but in the 11th century men lived not long beyond twice that, and war or pestilence could shorten that quite quickly...
    But Paul Thorfinnson needed a break. Only three months had passed since that terrible day in Stamford Bridge, a day he wished with all his youthful existence he could forget. The screams of pain, death, and the far worse in-between could still echo in his mind hundreds of miles away...
    He is holding the Raven Banner of Harald Hardraada. All around him shouts in Norse and English are made, the dying scream, and commanders try to rally their men. Next to him is his loyal soldier, Njal of Caithness. Njal asks him: "We'll get out of this, right? King Harald will beat those English, right?" He doesn't answer. Suddenly out of nowhere a group of Huscarls jumps the two Norsemen. Shouting, "Oot! Oot!" the axes are upon Paul and Njal. Paul puts down the banner, and draws his sword. Swooshing through the air, his swords cuts the throat of a Huscarl who had made his ax blow and had no time to recover. Within minutes half the Englishmen are dead, the other half gone. Paul looks around at the raging battle, and sees the arrow flying. It wasn't intended for him. He traced its trajectory as it sliced the air, until it reached a target. "Ahrr.." comes a voice from another world, but Paul can recognize it from miles away. King Harald is dead. Looking in his periphery, he happens upon a far more personal tragedy. Njal is dead, dispatched by an ax in his head...

    England vanished, and the coast of Orkney reappeared. He shook himself free of the past. Njal had received an honorable burial, and all the filthy business of the failed invasion of England was in that which cannot be altered. The past.

    The present beckoned. A voice came from behind. Erlend, his brother called him to the house.

    "Brother, stop brooding. Olaf Haraldsson, the new king of Norway and our liege is calling us. A feast in honor of the shared future of Orkney and Norway!" Erlend snorted. "Olaf knows we're all beat. We're prostrate before anybody who decides to attack us. A Scottish attempt to smoke us out of 'their' land? Sometimes I don't know why Mother married that idiot Malcolm."

    Paul didn't answer. Erlend assumed he was coming by himself and left.
    But Paul didn't come in. He stayed outside, watched the waves that had brought food to the ancient people who had started civilization in Northern Britain, and let the past go...

  2. #2
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    Episode 1: Orkneyjar


    In the closing days of 1066 Paul Thorfinnson, Duke of Orkney was a man of stable position:
    He and his brother Erlend of Caithness had survived the battle of Stamford Bridge and negotiated an honorable peace with the victorious King Harold of England, who then proceeded to die and lose the kingdom of England to William of Normandy in the Battle of Hastings.

    Hastings did not effect Orkney much. Beyond the fact that England and Orkney are very far apart, it is actually possible that an English victory at Hastings would have had negative implications for Norway in general, as Harold would be alive to seek vengeance.
    But that wasn't what Paul worried about: In fact, the death of the tough king Harald could mean a lessening in the power of the crown with a young and inexperienced king on the throne hundreds of miles from Orkney would be welcome. But across the sea was the kingdom of Scotland, which could view the defeat in England as a sign of Norwegian weakness, and might try to dispossess Erlend from Caithness or even try to conquer Orkney.

    Paul needed an heir. As much as he loved his brother he preferred to have his own son as duke after him, and to teach him to rule as he knew.


    A messenger was dispatched to far-off Navarra, asking for the hand of the Princess Urraca.
    By some stroke of fate the answer came two days later, the third day of King William of England's reign:


    The arrival of the royal entourage of Princess Urraca is fortunate for the modern student of Orkneyjar history, because one of its members, a Rodgez de Viviars left an account of Kirkwall in 1066 as part of his memoir,From Navarra to the World.

    We came to the city on the first day of the Year of Our Lord 1067. As we entered I could not help but see the uniqueness of its construction: The buildings were not especially large or tall, nor were the people. The duke's house is not of much account, and had it not been pointed out to me I would have not known it to be Thorfinnson's residence. The Princess, used to the green mountains of Navarra did not find it encouraging at all. The Norsemen of this island are an alien stock. They are almost heathens, having been converted only decades ago. They still sing of their pagan false gods Thor and Woden, and in all my sojourn in Orkney I had not been able to attend one service, and I had barely a glimpse of the local church, ironic because I was told that Kirkwall means Church Bay in Norse. Leaving the princess, we departed the strange island of the north, and made our way home.

    Rodgez's unsympathetic account is typical of Christian travelers of the period, those who bothered to come.
    Writing just a few years later, a Scotsman named Ewan of Strathclyde, a visitor to Orkney according to his own account, in reality a spy sent to report on the military strength of the Orkneyjar realm, wrote:
    These Norwegian half-heathens did not read Genesis and did not learn anything from Abraham, as they do not know how to treat guests. When I arrived in the city I was immediately recognized for my nationality and was given suspicion from all who saw me. I was forced to pay triple the regular price for a night's lodging in the Inn of the Shattered Axe, because money was the only thing that could convince the innkeeper to let me stay in his "fine establishment".

    Ewan was later discovered and escaped, informed by a paid sympathizer just before the soldiers came to arrest him, which is the only reason we have his damming account.


    Not all those who wrote history in the mid-eleventh century and had something to say about Paul's realm were unsympathetic, but the one we bring here was payed to be sympathetic: Sven of Shetland, a scholar of his eponymous island was hired by the Thorfinnsson clan to write its history, past, present, and future. His chronicle begins at this auspicious moment:
    1067
    This year was wed the Duke Paul to the Princess Urraca of Navarre and on the last day of the month of February the Duchess Urraca announced that she was with child, proving the Duke Paul's prowess.


    Sven goes on for the next nine months to describe various minor events concerning the courtiers of the Duke while his wife was pregnant, but in November he writes:
    Three days before the end of the month of November the Duchess Urraca was in much pain, but the Duke's healers delivered her first child, a daughter, and she called her name Asta.


    One can imagine the masked displeasure of Paul at the disappointment.
    But three months later, Paul himself speaks to posterity for the first time, in a letter to his brother Erlend across the sea in Caithness:

    Dear brother. I have missed you so much since we last met at my wedding. I hope all is well in your county, and there are no raids. At this point I cannot help but remember Father's old saying: "When you are joyous you are most vulnerable." But do not worry, brother, it is the first part that comes to mind. Urraca is pregnant again, and I have felt her belly. The child kicks so hard it is undoubtedly a boy. Think of it, old Erl, you are to have a nephew! Speaking of heirs, have you met a fitting lady yet? There are many in my court that could suit your needs. I am sure they will trip over themselves at the chance to be your countess!

    Beneath the trimmings of brotherly love one can sense the sibling rivalry that inspired Paul's mostly empty boast that his court was filled with fertile women. In fact, his court was not full of much.


    Except, perhaps, if we are to use an old cliche, of love.


    It seems, according to Svein's claim that Her Grace's was so radiant of face and the Duke had foreseen she carried a boy that their marriage of convenience had turned into a marriage of love, blessed by Frigg herself.
    Court historians are usually untrustworthy.

    And so, in November 1068, the love between the ducal couple materialized in the form of a baby boy, as Paul now boasted to his far-off King Olaf, who, having been turned off war and conquest by his father's death, was beginning to be called by his people, half-admiringly for the man who let them keep their lives and lands and children, half-mockingly of the coward who was an unworthy heir to the king all called the 'Hard Ruler', Olaf was 'Kyrre', the Peaceful:
    To my great and honorable liege, King Olaf of Norway and the Isles, I have good news: My royal wife Urraca of the house of Jimenez has given birth to a son! When she recovered we both decided to call him Harald, after your great and illustrious father. We hope he will live up to the magnificent name we have given him, and we know that we are truly a realm for all time, now that we have an heir. Best regards of loyalty and respect, Duke Paul Thorfinnson of Orkney, Caithness, and Shetland.

    The observant will notice that behind the sycophancy of calling his heir Harald, the addition of Caithness and Shetland to Paul's ducal title, plus the calling of Orkney a 'realm' as if it was independent as indeed it was mostly autonomous except for infrequent royal visits, is Paul's declaration that he is almost his own man, that Olaf was too weak to keep in line the faraway islands.

    But Olaf didn't seem to mind.

    In the meantime, Urraca's pregnancy became something of an annual ritual as in the beginning of February 1069 she was with child once more.


    As the Navarrase Princess' womb grew for the third time with the newest Orkneyjar news came out of Rome, center of Christianity and home of the Pope:

    The Pope who had supported the Bastard of Normandy's invasion of England was dead, succeeded by one Bishop Hildebrand, who like his predecessor was an almost hypnotized supporter of William

    Not that he lasted long.

    But four months later Svein reports:
    On the seventh of September the Holy Father Hildebrand passed to the arms of Christ and was succeeded by the Bishop of Remis.

    More pertinent matters pressed.

    Another daughter was born, and Svein conveys the somewhat hardened response: "And when the news came to the people of Kirkwall they made no comment and continued upon their ways, reflecting on the vanity of their ruler who makes a celebration off of events that had no bearing on their own lives."

    Like Urraca's fourth pregnancy.

    But five days later, the pious of Orkney received good news:


    The new Pope had decreed that Orkney was now important enough to become a diocese, and on the 17th of December, in time for the Christmas service, Harald Craigies, a bastard son of a moderately important Orkneyjar family became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Orkney.



    One month later, Paul attended Mass in the newly consecrated church of St. Sigrid, a local holy woman, and could reflect that he led a good life.
    He had two lovely daughters and a male heir, plus yet another child on the way.

    The world was mostly calm and peaceful in the beginning of the new decade.


    Though the Bastard was forced to fight the Leofricson brothers' inevitable revolt which forced Morcar ironically to go into exile in Norway, his vassals had settled into life across the Channel, and Scotland seemed not to be intent on invading Caithness. Elsewhere in the world things barely changed since 1066, and peace seemed to reign.
    Paul couldn't approve more. But a Duke's approval is not enough, he thought. Peace is the temporary situation between wars, and soon enough, he thought, Orkney would be embroiled in one of those...

  3. #3
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    Episode 2: Submit

    The halls of Sigurdsson House echoed with that one terrible word: "Excommunication!"
    No one, Duke Paul included, knew why. All they knew was that January day Diocese Bishop Harald had rushed into the Church of St. Sigrid and ordered the service to be stopped. An uproar arose, and Paul asked the Bishop why he of all people was stopping the service, Harald said: "Excommunication!" and all was clear. Apparently someone, namely King William had incited the Pope to excommunicate Paul and place Orkney under an interdict, with the reason of "The Duke has violated church doctrine by allowing pagan customs to take place and did not make any attempt to convert them."



    The northern world was abuzz with the spreading of the news. Rulers from Moray to Brittany laid claim to Orkney, but it was the Bastard, beginning to be known as William the Conqueror, that struck first.


    Svein of Shetland's chronicle for 1070 begins thus:
    This year came the Bishop Harald and declared Orkney under an interdict and the Duke Paul under excommunication so that no man could speak to him or owe any loyalty to him. And the Duke asked why he had been so harshly punished, but no reason was forthcoming.
    And on the sixteenth of February came a herald from the King William of Engla-land and declared that he had come to conquer Orkney and bring it back to the true church, and all loyal men were called up by the Duke Paul in Orkney, and Shetland, including my dear father Sigurd, but the Earl Erlend of Caithness did not raise his men in service to his brother, betraying their fraternity.
    When the month of August had come and no help from the King Olaf of Norway had come, the Duke sent emissaries to Engla-land to ask for peace but the King William remained steadfast in his criminal war.



    War was coming to Orkney.

  4. #4
    First Lieutenant Alex Borhild's Avatar
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    I've definitely had some similar experience - I think it's really irritating when something like that happens. Good luck, though hopefully you won't need to start a new AAR too quickly...
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    i feel like continuing this... what do you guys think?

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    Captain Firehound15's Avatar
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    I for one love CK1, so I say that you continue.
    Awesome Assam! - A Polandball-esque Assam AAR for EU4
    Red Eagle Rising - A Russian Megacampaign AAR - Who wouldn't want to see the Kryvians rise to dominance- In narrative/history book fashion! - On indefinite hiatus until I feel like writing narrative once more.

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    First Lieutenant Conqueristo's Avatar
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    I second Firehound's motion...
    'What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then.' - Falstaff (Henry IV, Pt. 1)

    -Conqueristo

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