A Viking Earl’s Karmic Fate
Viking Earl Sigurd Eysteinsson, also known as Sigurd the Mighty (died 892), ruled the Orkney and Shetland Islands off Scotland’s northern coast. Allied with other chieftains, he invaded the Scottish mainland, conquered northern Scotland, overran Sutherland and Caithness, and asserted Viking control as far south as Moray. Sigurd’s exploits in that conquest earned him the epithet “the Mighty” from fellow Vikings. The king of recently unified Norway had sent Sigurd’s brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson, to conquer the Shetland and Orkney islands after they became a refuge for Norwegian exiles, from which they raided their homeland. Rognvald lost a son in that conquest, and in compensation, Norway’s king gave him the islands and made him earl. With interests elsewhere, Rognvald gave the islands and title to his younger brother, Sigurd.
In the course of his conquest of northern Scotland, Sigurd challenged a local chieftain, Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, head of the Mormaerdom, or kingdom, of Moray, to a forty-man-per-side battle. In a slimy move, Sigurd cheated and showed up with eighty men. Outnumbered, the Scots were defeated and massacred, and Sigurd personally beheaded Mael Brigte. He tied the defeated leader’s head to his saddle as a trophy, rounded up his men, and rode back home to celebrate the victory. However, on the way back, as the severed head tied to the saddle bounced around, the bucktooth that gave Mael Brigte his nickname cut Sigurd’s leg. The cut became inflamed and infected, and Sigurd died of the infection before he got back home.