Chapter III- The Welcoming
Erik’s original crew of ten had now dwindled to seven, but there were still enough help to butcher and divide up the whale meat. A quarter of the minke meat went to Erik and his sons, half was split between the crew, and on Erik’s insistence, the rest was left for the landvaettir, spirits the Norse believed inhabited and roamed the land. The West Fjords was the territory of the Great Bull and the meat was Erik’s tribute to it.
By midday the meat was packed and stowed onboard and the Wave Swine set sail for Budardal.
Erik sat in the prow of the knarr and gathered his boys into his massive arms. Over the swishing sound of the oars as they dipped and glided through the calm waters, and the cry of seagulls circling overhead, Erik told his sons all about the land he had discovered in the west.
“I first saw land after two days of sailing west of Iceland. The sea along the coast was completely frozen, so we sailed south and west for another day to skirt the ice on the western side of the cape I named Hvarfsgnupr. A short distance north of there, we traveled up a fjord, and made landfall on a steep, rocky beach. I named it Brattahlid, Steep Slope, and claimed it for my own.
“These three years away from you, I spent them all exploring this new land. It is many times larger than Iceland, though not all of it is useful— the interior is covered by a great ice sheet. From Brattahlid we sailed two days north along the coast and came to a place I called Nordseta. Longer than the length of Iceland this region was, and abounding with game. There are creatures there that are known here, like reindeer and seal, but there are many I had never seen before; sea beasts with teeth the size of langsaxs, whales with one great horn, massive and shaggy oxen, and bears with fur as white as snow. The sea is full of fish, and the strand is strewn with driftwood. We reaped Nordseta’s bounty for three days yet it was as if we had never been there, so plentiful is that land.
“On our fourth morning in Nordseta, we were approached by men dressed in furs. They were shorter than us, but stouter. In all of our travels, we had never encountered men in this land, so we had assumed it was uninhabited. We were wrong. These men seemed friendly at first and were fascinated with our iron weapons, for they used weapons made only of bone. Though we could not understand their words, they made known to us that they wished to trade for our superior iron weapons. We of course declined. They left that evening, and we made camp.
“Before dawn, we were attacked by ten of the natives, who hid their faces behind driftwood masks. They rushed on our camp with their bone weapons. Their war-cry was like nothing I had ever heard, shrill whooping cries, more like beasts than men. For this, we called them Skraelings, or screechers.
“Mind you, if we knew they were coming to do battle, we would have slaughtered them. But they came while we slept, and taking us by surprise, they killed Thorbjorn and Styr, and Gunnar later died of his wounds. Once roused, we killed five of them on the spot, and the rest fled. After building a pyre for our brothers on the beach and watching the flames take them, we left Nordseta that morning, and sailed once again to the uninhabited south.”
Just then, the Wave Swine came around a spit of land and there before them was the town of Budardal with its squat turf hovels that looked more like earthen mounds than dwellings. Two wooden piers thrust out into the fjord and several knarrs and other smaller fishing vessels were tied up to them. As they drew near, a young man who was unloading a basket of fish from his Feraering looked up and seeing them, he stood staring. Eyjolf recognized the man as his cousin and cried out to him. That’s when a smile spread across the young fisherman’s face and he waved. He then set his basket down and ran into the village. By the time their knarr drew alongside the pier, many had gathered to greet Erik and his men. There was much back slapping and arm grasping, joyful shouting and hearty laughter. It was as if Erik was a hero welcomed home. And for Leif and his brothers who were for so long without their father, so long relegated to the shadows, this was glorious and they basked in the brightness of their father’s presence and fame.
Several men tried to persuade Erik and his men to join them for a drink at the ale house just off the beach. Eyiolf and Helgi accepted the invitation but Erik begged off. He had whale meat to get home and a wife to greet. There was more back slapping and laughter and then everyone dispersed and went about their business.
Erik secured a horse for Leif and sent him home to bring news of his arrival and to fetch Tyrker and his men and a cart to carry their haul. The large red bearded Norseman hoisted Leif into the saddle and slapped the rump of the horse which startled it into a good trot. The tow-headed youth kicked the horse into a gallop.
Leif and Thorvald sat with Tyrker in the loaded down cart. It was a good day. The sun was shining, the men were singing a bawdy drinking song and his father was with them once again, riding his horse before them, leading the way home. As they neared the small lake that bordered Haukadal, a bird-call sounded to their right. It came from behind a rocky outcropping, and from that very place a group of twelve men emerged, each astride an Icelandic horse. The leader dismounted, took up his shield and held his axe aloft, “Erik Thorvaldsson, I have come to give you a proper welcome! But this shall be the closest you come to your dear home. Tonight this bloody patch of ground shall be your bed .” The one who challenged them was none other than Thorgest, the father of Illugi whom Erik killed when he went to reclaim what was his. Thorgest had come to avenge his son.
“Go home, Thorgest! I would not spill your blood today. I have served out my exile, so let this be done.”
“It will not be done until I take your life from you, as you took my son from me.” With that Thorgest shouted and started down the slope toward Erik and his men.
Erik leapt off his horse and called out to Tyrker who threw to him first his shield and then his Dane Axe. Armed and bristling for a fight, the red haired giant of a man roared in defiance.
Tyrker hissed at Leif and Thorvald, “Hide under the cart.” Without looking back at them, he grabbed a spear and leaping to the ground, sprinted to Erik’s side. The two thralls riding in the back of the cart also joined their master. Thorsteinn, taking his place beside his father made five.
Leif wanted to fight alongside his father, but he did as Tyrker told him and he grabbed his younger brother and ducked beneath the cart as the battle began.
Thorsteinn was the first to act. As the enemy ran toward them he lofted his spear and felled one man in the midst of his battle-cry. Moments later, the two forces collided. Leif could hear the clash of iron, the rending of flesh and the roaring of men. Blood began to flow under the cart as men died. As a whole, Erik’s men were outnumbered and ill-equipped. But it was a dangerous thing to underestimate Erik the Red. Each swing of his mighty Dane Axe was a mortal blow. Those who came at him he swept away like annoying midges and soon a trail of dead men lay behind him as he strode toward Thorgest.
Tyrker with spear in hand, dispatched three warriors himself and was in a deadly grappling match with a fourth. The other combatants had stopped fighting to watch Erik and Thorgest duel. Thorgest banged his axe against his shield in defiance, laughing like a madman. “It shall be your blood soaked corpse people will recall whenever they hear the name Erik the Red.” He rushed at Erik with his shield to knock him off his feet. Erik sidestepped him and as he did, he swung his Dane Axe down in what would have been a killing blow, but Thorgest quickly threw his shield over his head to block it. A great cracking sound split the air. The shield quivered and Thorgest was knocked to his knees. Erik swung at the shield again and this time it broke it in two, shattering the arm beneath. Thorgest’s cry of pain and rage was cut short when Erik swiftly lifted his axe one final time and dropped the blade down on Thorgest’s head. With their leader lying lifeless on the field, Thorgest’s two remaining men turned to flee. They were dropped with spears in their backs. One of those spears was thrown by Thorsteinn, the other by Tyrker.
Many from Budardal and the surrounding countryside had gathered at Snorri Gothi’s property in Laxardal for the Sumarblot. They had gathered to hear the tales of Erik the Red and the fantastical land he called “Greenland.”
“It is indeed a beautiful, green country! The summers are warm, and the winters are mild. The earth is fertile, and there the forests are full of game. And best of all, it awaits any who would come and claim it. This Midsummer, I will pack up my family and belongings and we will resettle in Greenland. Any who will join me are welcome!”
People in the hall erupted with excitement. During the Settlement, Iceland had become the land of promise for the overcrowded in Norway. Over the past generation, Iceland was becoming overcrowded too. Erik’s spell had been cast and as he left the mead-hall, many were already making plans.
When Erik and the boys had left the hall and were heading back home, Leif questioned him, “Why did you call it Greenland and speak nothing of the ice or the Skraelings?”
Erik gave a crooked smile, and tapped the side of his nose. “Because, men will desire much more to go there if the land has a good name. Who would go if I told them it’s colder than Hel or it’s occupied by mask wearing, screeching enemies? Once they join us there, they will learn to survive and then see its bounty and be glad. I would have many join us and in this new land, I will be like a king to them. Imagine that! Snorri Gothi banishes me for three years. I come back and steal his people from under his nose. This is why I call it Greenland!”
Midsummer had finally arrived. For Thjodhild, the days slipped by too quickly. She had grown up in Iceland and had known no other home. She did not want to leave for Greenland, but Erik was determined and would not be swayed. Like his mother, Thorsteinn did not want to leave. It was Gudrun Osvifrsdottir who held his attention and he could not imagine his life without her in it. But for Leif, their departure could not come fast enough. He longed for adventure, for life on the sea, for exploring new lands and discovering new creatures. As they made the cart-ride from Haukadal to Budardal, Leif wondered how many of the villagers would be joining them.
What he saw before him took his breath away. Twenty-five knarrs as well as smaller ships were docked in Budardal. Five-hundred freemen had decided to go on the first voyage along with their families and thralls. In all, there were nearly three-thousand people who had answered the call. Most were from the West Fjords, but a goodly number had come from Reykjavik, a few were from Akureyri, and one was from the Faeroe Islands. Erik’s invitation had spread far and wide and all these folk were ready to sail with him into the unknown west.