Centuries ago near Loch Resort, in the isle of Lewis, lived a herdsman. He was also an evil robber, quite capable of murder in order to despoil his victims.
Late one September day, after a terrible storm, the herdsman discovered an exhausted sailor. He was apparently a survivor of a shipwreck, lying just clear of the sea in the bay of Uig.
Seeing that the sailor was still clutching a bundle, and assuming that it contained things of value, instead of helping the poor man after all his efforts to survive, the herdsman mercilessly strangled him.
When he opened the bundle he discovered a number of small images intricately carved from walrus ivory and whale's teeth. He had no idea of this, or of anything regarding the images, some of which were stained red. In fact they intimidated him so much into thinking that they were magic charms that would surely punish him for his crime, that he immediately replaced them all in the bundle and buried them in the sand covering the spot with a large stone. He then hid the sailor's body, and ran away like a frightened animal.
The murderous herdsman never forgot those images, so much so that they often haunted him and caused him to suffer from hideous nightmares.
When he was eventually pursued, caught, tried and sentenced to death for another murder, he couldn't restrain himself from confessing to what he had done in the bay of Uig. But he was far more concerned about where he had buried the little images, than where he had hidden the poor sailor's body.
Before he was executed he was convinced that his soul would be redeemed enabling him to at last find peace, on condition that the little images be found. But no one paid any attention to his wild, unintelligible ramblings.
Four hundred years later, in 1831, the little images were finally discovered in a sand bank of Camus Uig. Sixty seven of them are now displayed in the British Museum. Eleven of them can be seen in the Edinburgh Museum of Scotland. They are known as the Lewis Chessmen, and are thought to have been made in Norway by one of the last generations of Vikings in the 12th century.
If there is any truth in the legend, then it would seem that the sailor had his revenge. The final, fatal check-mate that the evil herdsman so well deserved.
Scottish myths 22
Scottish myths 22
Scottish myths 20
Retelling © Mirino. Sources include Beryl Beare's Scotland myths and Legends, with thanks. Top photograph © Dr Julian Paren (South side of Loch Resort). Lower image- Loch Resort. With thanks. November, 2012