The Story of Bjarni Herjólfsson

Part Two of “The Vinland Tales” by Tim van de Vall

(To read from the beginning, please see “The Vinland Tales” Part One: The Story of Erik the Red)

The news of Bjarni Herjólfsson’s arrival spread quickly among the Greenlanders, and in the wake of these events Erik the Red soon forgot his own troubles about Leif’s prolonged absence. And once Bjarni was comfortably seated beside his father Heriuf, with a large mug of mead in his hand, he told his new acquaintances of his journey from Iceland.

“It has always been my custom to spend the winters in the house of my father,” began Bjarni, “and when I discovered that he had left to find the chieftain, Erik Thorvaldson in Greenland, I was determined to follow, though I did not know the exact location of the island. My crew and I set sail bearing northwest, on the lookout for a land of glaciers. We had readied our longship with supplies – enough ale, cured sausages, and nuts to last us a week – ample time we thought to reach our illusive destination. But Greenland, we soon discovered, is not not so easy to find.

Bjarni Herjólfsson
Bjarni Herjólfsson at the bow of his longship

“For three days we sailed with no land in sight, until our strong wind ceased, and a heavy fog settled over the sea. Then the northern winds filled our sails, and lead us on for several more days, and finally when the skies cleared and the fog lifted, we perceived land in the distance.

“ ‘But that cannot be Greenland,’ I said to my crew. ‘That land is wooded and covered with rolling hills, and Greenland is a land of frost and frozen mountains.’

‘If it is not Greenland, then what land is it?’ my crew asked me, but to this I had no answer then, and have no answer still.”

Throughout the hall, Eric the Red heard the curious murmuring of voices. A land to the west? This was news to everyone. He looked piercingly as Bjarni Herjólfsson, but he could see no deceit in the traveler’s eyes. He was telling the truth. He had found a new land, or at least, he wholeheartedly believed he had done so.

Bjarni Herjólfsson continued. “We left the strange wooded land and sailed for another day, hoping to find our proper destination. And soon land appeared once more on the horizon. But this land too, I immediately realized, could not be Greenland either. It too was wooded, but it was also flat, and there were no mountains. Greenland was said to have many ice mountains. Again my crew asked me what was the nature of this land, and again, regrettably, I had no answer.

“By now our provisions were growing short, and my crew suggested we stop to resupply for wood and fresh water. But I did not wish to discover the nature of a foreign shore so ill prepared, and decided to press on. We sailed for about a day and half, and then the third land appeared.

“I thought to myself, ‘Surely this must be Greenland,’ but as we approached, I knew that it could not be, for while there indeed were ice mountains, the land seemed entirely inhospitable for the settlement of man.

greenland-coast-600w
Bjarni Herjólfsson sights Greenland

 

“Two days passed, and by now we were down to the last of our supplies. My crew was uneasy, and some suggested we turn back, and seek out the wooded land. Again I refused. I was determined to find Greenland. And that evening a fourth and final land appeared. And this land, I said to my men, fit the description of the land of Erik the Red. Soon I saw a cape and a boat, and it was not long before I found my father, and then made my way to this hall to pay my respects to the Jarl.”

That was the end of the strange tale of Bjarni Herjólfsson.

“Three unexplored lands,” said Erik the Red thoughtfully. “And to think they have been there all this time, just a few days away by sail. A most curious tale, Bjarni.” And that was all the Jarl said of the matter.

The evening passed merrily, and as Erik the Red sat drinking his wine, in his heart he felt a sudden strong desire to see these new lands with his own eyes. But not yet. He would wait for Leif to return. He felt certain his son would not want to miss out on such an adventure.

To be continued…

Source: “The Story of Bjarni Herjólfsson” is part of a retelling of the “The Voyages to Vinland,” from the Harvard Classics Volume, “American Historical Documents,” which is an excerpt from the A.M. Reeves 1890 translation of the 13th century manuscript, “The Saga of Eric the Red.” The Finding of Wineland the Good by A.M. Reeves (1895) – Internet Archive

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *