The Cairn on the Headland
"The Cairn on the Headland" is a short story by American writer
It has a rather convoluted history, being in effect an adaptation of "Spears of Clontarf" - a
"The Cairn on the Headland", which is set in the present time (though its plot is strongly influenced by the events of 1014), did get published in
James O'Brien is an
O'Brien's promising academic career, and his life's work, is threatened by an insidious blackmailer named Ortali. Ortali is now in possession of evidence which could implicate O'Brien in a murder he didn't commit. With this threat hanging over his head, O'Brien must give Ortali much of his salary and the money he got from various academic awards. Ortali enjoys taunting O'Brien and humiliating him.
Ortali decides on coming back around midnight and dismantle the cairn, in the hope of finding treasure under it. O'Brien strongly objects Ortali's decision, both because it's a historic landmark and he feels a premonition about what lays beneath it. Ortali ignores O'Brien's advice and his view towards superstition. When O'Brien mentions how local citizens believe
The two also argue about the Battle of Clontarf - O'Brien regarding King Brian Boru as not only having freed Ireland from centuries of Viking oppression, but also having saved all of humanity from the occult worship of the Norse deity
Later, O'Brien encounters a mysterious woman, who wears archaic clothing and speaks an ancient version of Gaelic. She introduces herself as Meve MacDonnal and gives O'Brien a golden crucifix, decorated with tiny jewels, of an extremely archaic and unmistakably Celtic workmanship. After a moment, he recognizes it as a legendary relic, the Cross of Saint Brandon, which was considered lost centuries ago.
Shocked on why MacDonald would give away such a rare artifact to an absolute stranger, he points out its priceless value. However, MacDonald scolds O'Brien for placing a monetary value on the cross and explains she gave it to him as a free gift since he would have need of it - and then she disappears behind an alleyway. Suddenly, O'Brien realizes Meve MacDonnal has been dead for three centuries and is buried in a nearby cemetery. The Cross, buried with her, was given to MacDonald as safekeeping by her uncle, the Bishop Liam O'Brien, who died in 1655.
After falling into a troubled sleep, O'Brien relives the
Mistaking the man for a Viking (due to his red hair, unshaven beard, and Norse armor), Odin begged Cumal to provide him with a bundle of holly - the only substance which could restore him to his spirit form. Soon, Odin is died (or at least went into a kind of suspended animation). Red Cumal quickly alerts his fellow Irish warriors. Together, they erected a cairn on the hillside, completely covering Odin's body. Cumal quickly warns everyone around him that the cairn must never be disturbed and no holly should ever be placed anywhere near it - thus originating the "Legend" which would survive into the Twentieth Century.
Waking up and finding Ortali missing from the hotel, O'Brien realizes that he might have returned to the cairn and rushes back there. He arrives at the location just in time to witnesses Ortali uncovering the body of Odin, which remains exactly the same as it was when Red Cumal and his allies built the cairn a thousand years earlier. As Ortali bends down, a sprig of holly drops from his lapel onto Odin's corpse. Odin immediately reawakens and comes to monstrous life, shedding his human appearance before transforming into "a fiendish spirit of ice, frost, and darkness", with "the shuddering gleams of the aurora playing around his grisly head". Feeling no gratitude towards Ortali, but rather a deep hatred against all humans, Odin proceeds to kill Ortali with a single blot of lightning.
Odin quickly turns his attention towards O'Brien. Fortunately, he remembers in time the cross which Meve MacDonnal gave him, holding it high and pointing the relic towards Odin. The cross unleashes a single beam of white light - "unbearably pure, unbearably white" - and the demon shrieks in pain. With a great rush of vulture-like wings, he soared into the stars, dwindling and disappearing.
Soon, O'Brien has survived his ecounter, saved Dublin from the demonic fury of Odin, and freed himself of Ortali's blackmail - since police would later determine that Ortali was struck by lightning and no blame attaches to O'Brien. The story never reveals what O'Brien did afterwards with Saint Brandon's Cross.