Rumours of Wrongdoing – finding Tennes Kaspara (Lofoten, Norway)

By Ian Cochrane, November 23, 2012

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.

Tennes Kaspara (image from the Else-Maj Johansson website and book `My Lofoten')

Tennes Kaspara (image from Else-Maj Johansson website and book `My Lofoten’)

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.

Sørvågen Village, Lofoten

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.

What do you think?

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