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  Assipattle and the Mester Stoor Worm

The Mester Stoor Worm: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieIn Orkney lore, there was an evil creature known as the Mester Stoor Worm.

An air of mystery surrounded the origin of the Stoor Worm but it was generally believed that he had been hatched into life by a malignant spirit.

Wherever he came from, he was placed in the depths of the sea, where he was destined to become "one of the nine curses that plagued mankind".

The Stoor Worm's fetid breath was poisonous to any living thing, and he destroyed ships like eggshells.

With his massive forked tongue he could, at a whim, sweep entire cities into the sea or crush the largest castle and suck every living thing into his gaping mouth.

Whenever the Stoor Worm lay with his head near a kingdom it was expected that the people of that unfortunate land had to to satisfy his terrible hunger and supply the creature with food.

Every Saturday at sunrise, the Stoor worm would wake, open his cavernous mouth and yawn nine times. He would then demand a meal of seven virgins for as the old tales records: "although he was a venomous beast he had a dainty taste."

Now, a long time ago, the Stoor Worm set his awful head near the shore of an ancient country and as usual, the folk of that country had to feed the beast every Saturday at sunrise.

Needless to say the unfortunate people of this land soon grew tired of giving up their daughters, watching them being devoured in the pitiless jaws of the worm so they took the advice of an old wizard. This wizard said to the folk that if the King's daughter were fed to the Worm, he would leave and trouble them no more.

On hearing this, the King grew sorry. The Princess was his only daughter and he loved the child dearly.

Nevertheless, his duty to the Kingdom was clear and he was forced to agree - to save the land his beloved daughter should go to the Stoor worm. The grief-stricken King pleaded tearfully against this judgment and was granted ten weeks respite - ten weeks in which he sent couriers to all corners of the land seeking a hero to slay the mighty Stoor Worm in the hope that he might save his daughter.

The King declared that the man who could slay the Stoor Worm would be given the kingdom and the famous sword Sikkersnapper, that he had inherited from Odin himself. Many valiant warriors attended the call but upon seeing the great beast all but twelve fled. These twelve brave men were not successful.

On the last day, a hero arrived.

An unlikely hero in the form of a common farm boy named Assipattle. The youngest of seven sons, Assipattle lived with his father and mother and brothers on a farm by a burn. All his family worked hard on the farm save Assipattle, who could be persuaded to do little. He spent his days lying beside the big open fire in the kitchen caring little when be became covered in the thick peat ash.

Assipattle's mother and father despaired of him and his brothers cursed him for a fool, kicking and beating him regularly. The entire family would laugh out loud when Assipattle recounted his fantastic tales and sagas in which he was the hero of countless incredible battles.

Upon hearing of the King's plea, Assipattle had slipped away from the farm set out to sea in his little boat carrying only a bucket in which lay a smoldering peat from his hearth. As he approached the slumbering monster he could see its head as big as a mountain with eyes like dark round lochs.

The sun began to rise and as it was Saturday, the creature began to yawn. Assipattle steered closer as the creature yawned a second time. With each yawn a vast tide of water was swept down into the Worm's throat until finally, when he was close enough one of these waves swept Assipattle's tiny little boat into the Stoor Worm's maw.

Assipattle and his boat were carried through a cavernous mouth, then down a long throat, through twisting passages and deep dark tunnels. Mile after mile he was whirled, with sea water gurgling all around him until at last the current lessened and the water level dropped. The boat grounded and Assipattle knew he only had a short time before the Stoor Worm yawned again so climbed from his boat and ran as he had never run before.

Turning one corner after another he finally came across the creature's liver. Pulling out a "muckle ragger" (large knife), Assipattle cut a hole in the liver and stuffed the smoldering peat into the wound. He blew on the peat for all he was worth, despairing that it "wid no tak" but finally it took light. With a crackle and a splutter the Worm's monstrous liver began to burn and was soon blazing like a "Johnsmas Bonfire"

Assipattle ran back to his boat and managed to clambering aboard just in time for the burning liver had made the Stoor Worm retch. A flood of water from its stomach picked up the little boat and set it hurtling back towards the Worm's mouth. With a spray of water, Assipattle was spewed from the Stoor Worm's mouth and hurtled back over the sea before landing safely on the shore.

Orkney Tapestry: Illusation by Sigurd TowrieOnce back on shore, Assipattle watched as the fire grew bigger.

Black smoked billowed from the monster's nostrils and in his agony his forked tongue shot out and caught hold of one of the horns of the moon. Fortunately it slipped from moon and fell with such a crash that it made a deep rift on the earth.

The tide rushed into the rift and became the Baltic Sea. The Stoor Worm twisted and writhed in torment, flinging his head up into the sky. Every time it fell back to earth the whole world shook and groaned.

With each fall, teeth dropped from the vile, foaming mouth. The first lot of falling teeth became the Orkney Islands with the next forming the Shetland Islands.

Last of all, when the Stoor Worm was almost dead, the Faroe Islands fell with an almighty splash.

In the end the creature coiled itself together tightly into a huge mass that was said to become the far country of Iceland. Once the sky had cleared and the sun shone again, the King took Assipattle into his arms and called him his son.

A week later, Assipattle and the Princess were married in the Royal Palace and never was there such a wedding and never shall there be one like it again for the folk rejoiced that the Stoor Worm was finally dead.