Chapter I- Winds of Change
It was the first day of Summer. Like bears waking from their long winter sleep, people across Iceland were casting off their furs and stumbling out of their dens with joy into the bright warm sun. But, this day was filled with dread for Erik Thorvaldsson.
For years, Erik’s friends called him “Erik the Red.” A huge man with a massive red beard and eyes bluer than the glacier at Snowfell, people said he looked like Thor in human form, and it was from Thor that Erik claimed descent.
Erik stood before the Law Rock and beside Thorgest, the man whose son Erik had killed. Atop the Rock, sat Snorri Thorgrimsson, the gothi or chieftain of Broad Fjord, and the Lawspeaker of Thorsnes. A ring of twelve men, who acted as jury, surrounded the Rock and the two men. All were gathered for the Thing, where the decision about Erik’s fate would be decided.
Thorgest argued that Erik slew his son, Illugi, and stole his high-seat pillars. Erik claimed that he slew Illugi when Illugi attacked him as he, Erik was taking back his high-seat pillars. These were the very pillars which were his father’s from Norway, and could never be replaced. Erik claimed that it was Thorgest who was the thief and his son had paid the price. Who was telling the truth? Discerning that was the task set before the chieftain and jury.
Because of the difficulty of the case, the thingmen were unable to agree on a verdict, so it was left to the gothi to decide. Snorri pondered the case for a time, and then cleared his throat. “I, Snorri Gothi have come to a decision. Erik Thorvaldsson is found guilty of the man slaughter of Illugi Thorgestsson and four other men of Thorgest. Typically, this is punishable by outlawry, but since Erik claims he was ambushed by Thorgest’s men when he was attempting to regain what had been unlawfully taken from him, I will sentence him to lesser outlawry. Erik, you shall be banished from Iceland for three years. Your wife, Thjohild Jorundarsdottir and your children may stay and mind your farmstead in Haukadal. You have three days to make arrangements, and then you must leave Iceland. If you return before the three years have passed, you will be declared a vargr, a full outlaw, reviled by both gods and men and any man who kills you will not be held accountable. I declare the Thorsnes Thing over.”
With that, the Lawspeaker blew a horn, and the people were dismissed. Thorgest glared at Erik. “Don’t you dare think this is over. You may have gotten off easily today, but Illugi will be avenged and Odin will never let a nithing like you into Valhalla.”
Erik left the Thing in a hurry, untethered his Icelandic horse and sped to his Haukadal, his small farmstead on the coast. He leapt of his horse and left it to one his his thralls to lead it away as he rushed to the low door of his turf house and ducked in. He gathered to himself his wife, Thjohild, his sons, Thorsteinn, Leif, Thorvald, and his daughter Freydis and quickly told them of banishment. As he grabbed a sax and stuck it in his belt, he said to his wife, “I must get my ship and crew ready. Thjohild, pack some supplies for me while I’m gone.”
Thjohild looked fearful. “Erik, did you not say that Snorri Gothi gave you three days to leave. Why are you rushing about like this?”
Erik’s eyes were wild. “I believe Thorgest is planning a heimsokn. I must leave tonight.”
Thjohild had of course heard of heimsokn, or hall-burning. Feuds were a common occurrence in the honor-conscious Norse society, and it was especially common with the wild Icelanders. Someone would either kill or offend another, then the offended was honor-bound to kill the offender. The victim’s family was honor-bound to kill the murderer, and then that victim’s family was honor-bound to kill that murderer. And so nit would go on for often several generations, until one family was exterminated, oft times in a heimsokn. That was why the Althing had been created; to stamp out feuds before they flared too brightly.
A heimsokn happened when the men of one family, carrying weapons, surrounded the longhouse of the family with whom they were feuding. They lit the building on fire, and waited outside the doors. Those who tried to escape were cut down, and anyone who stayed burned to death.
Honor dictated that any women and children trying to escape should be spared; only men would be killed. But, Erik believed that Thorgest had no honor. Thjohild and the children would also die, not just him. Unless, Erik got away first. It was a calculated risk. Erik believed that Thorgest would not risk his own outlawry without Erik’s blood as a prize. Thorgest had not enough time to gather men to attack on the night of the Thing. Erik believed the ambush would happen the next day. So he left his family and his farmstead right then and there to deny Thorgest his revenge.
Erik took a deep breath of the salty air, as a gust of wind blew in his face. Finally, he was back on the sea. It felt like it was longer ago than the end of last summer, when he was last riding the waves, but Erik spent every free moment of the summer on his ship, the Wave Swine. Whether it was for Viking expeditions, or just sailing along the coast, he relished these times. Many thought he loved his ship and the sea even more than he loved his wife and children. Perhaps he did.
Ever since his father Thorvaldr was banished from Norway, when Erik was just six winters old, and took him on the crossing to Iceland, he had loved to be on †he whale’s road. Erik knew he wouldn’t mind lesser outlawry overly much. It would mean three years of freedom from responsibility. It would be just he and his ship. He relished the idea.
Shortly after midnight, the Wave Swine sailed out of Dimunarvagr, a creek near Haukadal. Because of the urgency, Erik was only able to gather a crew of ten men, but, these were the most loyal and hardworking men in the Westfjords! Erik had sailed with them many times, and trusted them with his life.
When the shore was obscured by the fog, Erik’s first mate, Eyjolf came to his side. “Where shall we sail, Red? Norway? The Danelaw? Neustria?”
“I intend to head west,” answered Erik.
“West?! But, there’s nothing out west, but the coils of Jormungand and the edge of Midgard!” exclaimed Eyjolf.
Erik remained calmer than the Broad Fjord. “And people said the same thing to Gardar Svavarsson. Yet, he discovered Iceland,” he smiled and continued, “Fifty years ago, Gunnbjorn Ulfsson saw skerries to the west, when he was blown off course. Skerries are usually close to land. So, I would wager there is land out there.”
Now that Erik was gone, Thjohild knew that she would need a man who would help her to take care of the children, one who could teach them. She looked no further than the hut behind their longhouse where Erik’s former thrall Tyrker lived. People called him “the Turk” because of his dark hair and eyes, but Tyrker always claimed he was, in fact, a Magyar. Several years before, Tyrker had bought his freedom from Erik, but he continued to work at Haukadal.
After Erik left that evening, Thjohild visited the home of Tyrker. “My lady. Welcome to my home.” Tyrker had a subtle accent, but otherwise spoke Norse perfectly. Thjohild stooped through the doorway, and sat at one of the benches before the fire.
Tyrker was a short man. His beard was closely cropped, and his head was covered with dusky curls. He had shown himself very wise in their service and was a patient teacher whenever it was necessary to pass on one of his acquired skills to another thrall. This is why Thjohild sat before his hearth fire. She had chosen him to help raise her children while Erik was gone.
The former thrall ran his hand through his hair, “I’m afraid I have no ale to offer you,” then his eyes brightened, “but I could make you a hot drink I brewed with angelica, birch, and the lichen that grows on the lava fields. It is quite refreshing!”
“No, but I thank you. I have come to ask you a favor.” Thjohild told Tyrker about Erik’s banishment and her predicament. Tyrker asked no questions, though he occasionally nodded his head.
When she finished the tale, Tyrker stared into the fire for a few moments, before slowly asking, “And you wish me to help rear your children?”
Thjohild nodded. “I do. The boys need a man to show them the ways of men, and all my children must learn to read and draw words as you do. Of course, you shall be paid, just as you are now.”
“I must make two requests if I do this. The first, that I be excused from farm work during this period. The second, that I be allowed to stay in the longhouse, and to be treated as a guest, rather than as a servant.”
Thjohild hesitated on the second request, but agreed. “Both of these I shall grant you, for as long as your service is needed.”
Tyrker grinned. “Then I accept. When do you wish me to start?”