Picture This: The Mystery of Maeshowe

by Keith Savage

A narrow band of pavers shoots between farm fields toward a lone, low mound on the horizon. Tiny clovers jostle in the wind as I stalk along the path, determined to pay my respects to the mystery of Maeshowe for the second time. The skies above Orkney seem to be the playground of clouds; they roil and balloon, collide and stack in a monochromatic spectrum of titanic scale. The display makes me certain mists splay across the earth here in the pre-dawn. Our small group gathers for a moment before crab-walking through the mound’s cramped stone corridor. The interior is dark and ancient and hiding everything we wish to know.

The runic etchings of thousand-year-old Norse warriors trail across enormous, smooth lintel stones and high upon the chambered cairn’s slabs. The translations cast light in the dark, like how the midwinter sun illuminates the barrow: “Haermund Hardaxe carved these runes,” “This howe Vermundr carved,” and “It was long ago that a great treasure was hidden here.” The chamber fills with the silence of our exhalations. Forgotten histories fill my mind from the embrace of wraiths. They have been remembered, the few successful. I wish them peace, for they have my breath in the cairn and my all-too-frequent musings on the inscrutable treasure I have taken.

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