The Story of Erik the Red

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

Erik the Redar to the north, where the land is frozen and the glaciers carve the tundra, the currents of the Atlantic are shattered upon the coast of the largest island in the word: Greenland, home of the Vikings.

Erik the Red, chieftain of Greenland, stepped out from his Brattahlid estate in the Eastern Settlement. A bitter wind flew in from the sea and soon his thick red beard was peppered with ice and snow. Erik the Red, son of Thorvald, had been banished from Iceland, just as Thorvald had been banished from Norway. Manslaughter had been the crime of both father and son. No one knew how many men Thorvald had killed. But Erik knew well how many lives he had taken.

Landing of the Vikings
“The Landing of the Vikings” by Arthur C. Michael

He had killed Eyjiolf and Holmgang-Hrafn to avenge the deaths of his thralls. Not long thereafter he had taken the lives of Thorgest’s sons. Thorgest, the fool who had lost the setstokkr, the mystical beams that belonged to Erik’s family. And in the scuffle against Thorgest’s next of kin, a few other men had perished, but they were of little importance, for history has long forgotten their names.

In Iceland Erik the Red had been an exile, but now he ruled as Jarl, paramount chieftain of the Eastern and Western Settlements, which together encompassed over 5000 Vikings. He had set out from Iceland with 25 ships. Fourteen had arrived safely upon the Greenland shores. The others had turned back or succumb to the might of Aegir, Norse god of the ocean. Now those courageous ones who had followed Erik benefited from their bravery, for in Greenland the farms flourished, the livestock pens were full of sheep and Iceland cows and horses, and in the short summer months they hunted seals and walruses, and desecrated the carcasses of beached whales.

But now the summer was almost over, and as the days began to grow shorter, a heaviness brewed in the mind of the mighty chieftain, for his son Leif had not returned from his voyage to Norway. Erik the Red looked to the horizon, hoping to see the square sail of the longship due to return, but the morning view from Brattahlid was just as the ones before: an empty horizon against a gray Arctic sky, vast, empty and bleak.

The day faded quickly and at night the fires roared in the Viking hall, and the great chieftain sat surly at the head of the table. His wife Thjodhildr sat to his right, and to his left sat his other children: his daughter Freydis, who was strong-willed, but manipulative and ambitious, and next to her sat Erik’s remaining sons, Thorvald and Thorstein, who were both honorable men.

They ate mutton and drank wine in an uncomfortable silence, which was suddenly broken by the loud creaking of the hall door.

“Jarl Erik, he has arrived!” It was the voice of Heriuf, son of the Bard.

Erik the Red stood up from his table. “Has Leif returned?” he exclaimed eagerly.

Heriuf looked at his chieftain for a confused moment, and hesitated.

“Has Leif returned?” demanded the Jarl, raising his voice.

At last Heriuf spoke. “I beg your pardon, my Jarl, but I do not know where Leif is. I am speaking of my own son. Bjarni has arrived on our shores at last, and he comes with news of a strange land to the west!”

Continue Reading >> The Vinland Tales Part Two: The Story of Bjarni Herjólfsson

Source: The above text is 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

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