It was the 5th of December and Mrs A had been out shopping for Christmas gifts when she got hungry. She went to have a bite at the Kark Coffee Shop.
It was a peculiar name for such a place and the story behind it was in many ways mindblowing, that was, if one sat down with a glass of buttermilk and let the full story sink in. Mrs A had done so countless times.
Tormod Kark lived in what would become Mrs A’s remote country more than a thousand years ago, within a skull’s throw of the Polar Circle. He was born a serf at the seat of Sigurd, Earl of Lade, during the Yule night, at the same time that the Earl’s son Haakon was born.
This was way back in pagan times by the end of what was later called the Viking Age. Although the Vikings were pretty courageous in many ways, admittedly to the detriment of lots of people, they were superstitious and had a great respect for the «lagnad», their destiny.
The Polar Circle environs were so scarcely populated during the Viking Age that the simultaneous births of two boys under the same roof must have been not only the news of the day, but it was also perceived as an evident sign from Odin, the Norse God-in-command that the two boys shared a common destiny. The pagan Earl that could retrace his ancestors right up to Odin’s grandson and his pagan Mrs Earl didn’t let the sign pass unnoticed, and when little pagan baby Haakon got his first little pagan tooth, his parents presented him with a gift and the gift was no-one but little Kark.
Did baby Kark have a tooth himself by the time? The sagas didn’t bother to tell and Mrs A had often lain sleepless at night, tormented by the question. What if? What if the serf boy had a tooth already? If he did, it was socially unacceptable and his parents had probably wisely pulled it out before handing him over to the Earl and Mrs Earl. From there on, Kark’s life must have been all about being a nice companion and always second best.
And yet, little Haakon’s first tooth became Kark’s greatest luck. He became his master’s personal serf and the master grew up to be the great, pagan Haakon Sigurdsson, Earl of Lade, practically a king and called «The Mighty», but still just Haakon Earl between friends.
Kark got to share his wealthy master’s mead and bear steaks and didn’t suffer from anti-occidant or vitamin B insufficiency and without suspecting it at all, he also got his own Coffee Shop in what little by little became the capital as well as getting an entry in Wikipedia about a millennium later. It was beyond the wildest of expectations.
But it wasn’t his birth or the tooth in itself that made serf-born Kark become so famous. It was how he ended his life.
In the year 995 A.C. Haakon and Kark were sixty years old. Despite his age Haakon was at the summit of his glory, but was still chased by the younger and ambitious Olav Tryggvasson that had the balls to call himself king of the whole country.
Haakon and Kark escaped to Haakon’s mistress Tora at Romol farm and asked her to hide them. Tora might have been beautiful and interesting and everything, but she certainly was a real klutz as she suggested that they hide in a hole under the pigsty since no-one would believe that a nobleman like the Earl would hide there. This supposedly brilliant idea lead to death for both her lover and his serf and Mrs A wouldn’t be surprised if the Polar Circle neighbours of Romol farm would think of Tora as an alien from then on, that was, if they hadn’t done so for ages already.
According to the sagas, Kark dug the hole and the two men got in, and Tora’s men covered it with dirt and leaves. Some time later, Olav Tryggvason and his people arrived and Olav Tryggvason climbed up on a big rock overhanging the pigsty and held a speech about the wealth and glory that awaited the man that brought him Haakon the Mighty Sigurdsson, Earl of Lade.
Underneath the dirt layer, Haakon and Kark lay in mud and darkness. What a terrible moment! What did they do? It was hard to know, and given that the saga was first written down a couple of centuries later by the best-selling Icelandic saga-writer Snorre Sturlasson, it could be that details were lost on the way from the pigstye to the pergament roll. According to Snorre, Haakon realised that Kark might be tempted and thus promised him a good life.
And what did Kark think? Had he spent his lifetime as a man among men at Haakon Earl’s seat? Or had he just nearly made it – did he spend his one and only life as a wannabe, someone that nearly made it, but not quite? Had he been offered a lifetime honorary membership in the Worldwide Wannabe Viking Club? And did he fully understand the nature of the situation they were in?
Kark killed Haakon and brought Olav Tryggvason his benefactor’s head. Yes, he did. It sure was disappointing. And Olav Tryggvason was happy, but thought it was a bad sign to the enslaved of the world that one could get away with killing the masters, let alone be rewarded for it. His speech had been addressed to free men of course, not to serfs, that went without saying.
Olav Tryggvason was a practical man. He got Kark decapitated as a symbolical gesture and the master’s and the serf’s heads were put on public display, for every free man to see that Haakon Earl was dead and for every serf to understand what the future brought for serfs that didn’t grasp the real difference between themselves and their owners. And thus the two grey-haired friends that were born on the same Yule night and that had spent their whole lives together ended up dying the same day.
This was how Kark, a man of the humblest of origins got his Coffee Shop, his destiny to be a symbol at birth and at death of real power and real powerlessness. And in many ways the story reminded of modern day’s tales of whistleblowers and their like and that bothered Mrs A. quite a lot, and she thought to herself that there was much to learn by history and nothing to overlook.
Kark’s misunderstanding and tragedy was relevant even to her and especially so now that she had this sensitive information about Mrs Donut. Even deeds done with the best of intentions could backfire in the most peculiar ways, and it would do so anytime, anyplace.
She had to be careful.
To be continued tomorrow…
Now – why don’t you share this story? And when that is done, be sure not to click here.