A Scottish Romeo and Juliet Story
Contributed by Marilyn McPhie
Isle Maree is one of sixty-six small islands on Loch Maree in the west of Scotland.
Hundreds of years ago, Loch Maree was ruled by a Viking Prince named Olaf. He was a skilled and fierce warrior and commanded a group of fighters on a ship on Loch Ewe.
When Olaf fell in love, his fighting men despaired. They feared that he would want to settle down with his bride and would no longer join them in their battles. And indeed, this seemed to be the case. Olaf built a tower on the island, and he and his wife lived there in harmony for a time.
An ambitious expedition had been planned for many months, and Olaf’s men begged him to lead them as he once had. Afraid for his safety, Olaf’s bride urged him to stay safe with her. However, the success of the expedition, the men insisted, depended on him. And finally, Olaf was convinced.
When he told his wife that he intended to join the expedition, he assured her that he loved her and would return to her as soon as possible. They devised a plan to let her know of his safety. When his ship was returning and was in sight of the tower, he would fly a white flag. Thus, she could see from far away that he was still alive. However, in the event that he had died in the expedition, his men would fly a black flag so that she would prepare herself for the tragic loss. The flags were obtained and taken with Olaf on his ship.
The expedition was a success, and on his return to Isle Maree, Olaf had his men hoist the white flag so that his wife would know of his safe return. However, in his absence, Olaf’s wife had been consumed with worry. She worried that he would be killed in battle. She worried that, even if he were not killed in battle, once he returned to his warrior life, he would no longer be content to stay with her. He would be drawn into one battle after another. She even worried that he had forgotten her or never really loved her. As these thoughts swirled in her head, she decided to test Olaf’s love for her.
When one of her lookouts informed her that Olaf’s ship was approaching and flying a white flag, the wife set out to meet him in her own small boat. She instructed her men to raise a black flag on her boat, to indicate that in Olaf’s absence, she had perished. Then she placed herself on a bier in the center of the boat, pretending to be dead. She instructed her maidens to surround the bier, weeping, and mourning. She wanted to see Olaf’s reaction. Would he really mourn her? That would be a test of his love.
When Olaf saw the black flag flying from his wife’s boat, he was filled with dread. When he leapt aboard and saw her lying on the bier, apparently lifeless, he uttered a single cry of anguish and plunged his dirk into his chest. His wife immediately ended her charade of death, but it was too late. Olaf was dead, lying in a pool of blood. His bride snatched the dirk and plunging it into her own heart, followed her lover in death.
The bodies of Olaf and his love are said to be buried on Isle Maree with their feet towards each other, so that when they rise in the afterlife, they will be facing each other. The graves can still be seen, marked with two stones engraved with medieval crosses, beneath a canopy of holly. A tragic warning to all who would foolishly set tests for their lovers.