You never know what you might find on the south shore of Nova Scotia: blue sea glass, a water-bogged couch, or a three-tonne rune stone. It was Halloween and I was planning to post a blog about a headless woman whose apparition haunts a stone wall in Seabright. Somehow, I could not get into the mood – the weather was so warm and sunny, inviting me to head out one more time before the onset of winter in search of yet another strange artifact.
A rune stone. I saw a picture of it in a blog and was instantly intrigued. This was not the Fletcher Stone of Yarmouth or the Green Island runes. Who had carved it and why? How come no historian or journalist had written about it? Was is that new or had it been overlooked? I simply had to find out and reach the stone before hordes of Viking enthusiasts hit the shore.
Armed with a map of Second Peninsula and a tide table showing a narrow window of opportunity, I balanced on slippery stones on the coast. I was supposed to find a beach across from Backman’s Island, where eagles fly and tide comes in faster than you’d think. Which of the hundreds of stones was the right one? There … A solitary boulder, much larger than I had expected, full of grooves blackened by the elements and lit up by the merry orange of lichens. Holding my breath, I stepped closer.
Here be dragons. I spied the snarling head of a fine Norse dragon, and then another one on the opposite side. Below them, a string of runes, a hero with a sword, his trusted steed awaiting nearby. What was that lump on its back – was the horse carrying something? Of course … It had started to dawn on me that I was looking at a scene from the Völsunga saga.
The kneeling hero was Sigurd slaying Fafnir. Fafnir used to be a dwarf whose innate greed got out of control after he acquired the magical ring and gold of another dwarf, Andvari. The treasure was laced with a potent curse, causing Fafnir to grow mean and evil, driving him away from his kind, into the wilderness where he could be alone with his precious ring. Fafnir might as well be Smaug: J. R. R. Tolkien was heavily influenced by the Norse mythology, as was Richard Wagner, the composer of The Ring of the Nibelung which, incidentally, sparked a Viking revival in the 1800s.
What loomed in front of me was no ordinary rune stone – it was a Sigurd stone, separated from its Scandinavian counterpart by ocean of water and time. Around the year 1030, a noble family in Sweden commissioned a rune stone just like this one, only larger and more complex. Known as Sö 101 or the Ramsund Stone, it spells “Sigríðr, Alríkr’s mother, Ormr’s daughter, made this bridge for the soul of Holmgeirr, father of Sigrøðr, her husbandman.” Leave it to Vikings to raise a cool memorial for their beloved.
Had our secret rune master carved the stone for someone he loved or wished to remember? I am not sure we will ever know. My inquiries made at the public library and the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in the colourful town of Lunenburg produced no satisfactory answer. The only indication, perhaps, is a stone cottage in the vicinity of the carving. Maybe its builder and our rune master were one and the same, a skilled stone mason who saw fit to create a dragon on the south shore of Nova Scotia.
Dragons … Mythical creatures inhabiting the stories of people from time immemorial. Dragons imagined or dragons remembered? What do you think of this one, whose shape or spirit was captured by my friend’s camera?