Cars and trucks wait in orderly lines, the Moskenes-Værøy ferry still one hour distant. It’s the northern autumn and rain arrives as I leave my car. The church I pass is small, the wet bluestone black. Behind, a mound rising to leaden skies, its sides shrouded in bush and showers of rain. Not far now. My face and hands turn cold.
I’m told she tread this very path; with no written record – a young woman from Tennes, near Reine – religious hymns on her lips, tall and straight. In a wedding-white dress, brown hair falls on strong shoulders. I imagine the Arctic air heavy as now, the village folk hushed; their eyes wide and waiting, until startled from the spell they shuffle aside to let her pass. Heads turn, staring, in denial of what they’ve heard.
At the trial a judgement was easily made, a punishment to match her crime. There had been celebrations and drinking into the night, her fiancée known as brutal and violent. In a fit of despair she struck out and killed the man.
Arrested and jailed – her life a flash before her eyes – slumped head in hands, miserable and wretched, face wet and smeared. Her mother wept with daughter, shaking her head in disbelief. “But this man of yours, he is surely a bad man, so cold and so cruel.” All to no avail; her daughter distraught with some secret guilt. “But mama, you must listen. I am ashamed of what I have done.”
A mother always listens; their faces touched, the words unwanted, her white knuckles gripped the daughter’s red sleeve before desperately pulling away. Could it be her own daughter murdered a baby child? But no, the confession was worse; there were 5 little ones born in secret – all illegitimate – each killed in turn.
My muddy path is slippery, the rain a soft patter on my jacket hood. My eyes wander back to the fishing village of Sørvågen. The trees sway in a soulful breeze as the car ferry sounds its harbour arrival. From atop the mound I see the black hull and raised bow. I turn to the church spire, then down at the memorial, the blade of an executioner’s axe embedded in stone; the grass green at my feet.
I’m among a faceless crowd, mesmerised by a breathtakingly beautiful woman of 44 years; convicted of the most heinous of crimes on the testimony of a heartbroken mother. She calmly kneels, placing her neck across a wooden block; the gnawing of her conscience finally at rest, long hair brushed aside, hands clasped in prayer. A hooded and leather-clad axeman towers above, an exile from his own country; bare arms raised, the axe pausing for the briefest of moments mid-air.