| Viking Tales|
|by Jennie Hall|
|We follow the fortunes of Harald from the time he is given his own thrall at the cutting of his first tooth, through his exploits as a viking adventurer, to his crowning as King of Norway. Then population pressures at home and eagerness for adventure and booty from other lands combine to drive some of the bolder Vikings to set forth from their native land. Sailing ever westward across the Atlantic, they hop along the chain of islands that loosely connects Norway with America in search of home and adventure. Ages 6-9 |
ERIC THE RED
T was a spring day many years after Ingolf died. All
the freemen in the west of Iceland had come to a
meeting. Here they made laws and punished men for
having done wrong. The meeting was over now. Men were
walking about the plain and talking. Everybody seemed
much excited. Voices were loud, arms were swinging.
"It was an unjust decision," some one cried. "Eric
killed the men in fair fight. The judges outlawed him
because they were afraid. His foe Thorgest has many
rich and powerful men to back him."
"No, no!" said another. "Eric is a bloody man. I am
glad he is out of Iceland."
Just then a big man with bushy red hair and beard
stalked through the crowd. He looked straight ahead and
"There he goes," people said, and turned to look after
 "His hands are as red as his beard," some said, and
But others looked at him and smiled, saying:
"He walks like Thor the Fearless."
"His story would make a fine song," one said. "As
strong and as brave and as red as Thor! Always in a
quarrel. A man of many places—Norway, the north of
Iceland, the west of Iceland, those little islands off
the shore of Iceland. Outlawed from all of them on
account of his quarrels. Where will he go now, I
This Eric strode down to the shore with his men
"He is in a black temper," they said. "We should best
not talk to him."
So they made ready the boat in silence. Eric got into
the pilot's seat and they sailed off. Soon they pulled
the ship up on their own shore. Eric strolled into his
house and called for supper. When the drinking-horns
had been filled and emptied, Eric pulled himself up and
smiled and shouted out so that the great room was full
of his big voice:
 "There is no friend like mead. It always cheers a man's
"He looked straight ahead of him and scowled"
Then laughter and talking began in the hall because
Eric's good temper had come back. After a while Eric
"Well, I must off somewhere. I have been driven about
from place to place, like a seabird in a storm. And
there is always a storm about me. It is my sword's
fault. She is ever itching to break her peace-bands
and be out and at the play. She has shut Norway to me
and now Iceland. Where will you go next, old comrade?"
and he pulled out his sword and looked at it and smiled
as the fire flashed on it.
"There are some of us who will follow you wherever you
go, Eric," called a man from across the fire.
"Is it so?" Eric cried, leaping up. "Oh! then we shall
have some merry times yet. Who will go with me?"
More than half the men in the hall jumped to their feet
and waved their drinking-horns and shouted:
"More than half the men in the hall jumped to their feet"
 Eric sat down in his chair and laughed.
"O you bloody birds of battle!" he cried. "Ever hungry
for new frolic! Our swords are sisters in blood, and we
are brothers in adventure. Do you know what is in my
heart to do?"
He jumped to his feet, and his face glowed. Then he
laughed as he looked at his men.
"I see the answer flashing from your eyes," he said,
"that you will do it even if it is to go down to
Niflheim and drag up Hela, the pale queen of the stiff
His men pounded on the tables and shouted:
"Yes! Yes! Anywhere behind Eric!"
"But it is not to Niflheim," Eric laughed. "Did you
ever hear that story that Gunnbiorn told? He was
sailing for Iceland, but the fog came down, and then
the wind caught him and blew him far off. While he
drifted about he saw a strange land that rose up white
and shining out of a blue sea. Huge ships of ice sailed
out from it and met him. I mean to sail to that land."
 A great shout went up that shook the rafters. Then the
men sat and talked over plans. While they sat, a
stranger came into the hall.
"I have no time to drink," he said. "I have a message
from your friend Eyjolf. He says that Thorgest with all
his men means to come here and catch you tonight.
Eyjolf bids you come to him, and he will hide you until
you are ready to start; for he loves you."
"Hunted like a wolf from corner to corner of the
world!" Eric cried angrily. "Will they not even let me
finish one feast?"
Then he laughed.
"But if I take my sport like a wolf, I must be hunted
like one. So we shall sleep to-night in the woods about
Eyjolf's house, comrades, instead of in these good
beds. Well, we have done it before."
"And it is no bad place," cried some of the men.
"I always liked the stars better than a smoky house
fire," said one.
"Can no bad fortune spoil your good
 nature?" Eric
laughed. "But now we are off. Let every man carry what
So they quickly loaded themselves with clothes and gold
and swords and spears and kettles of food. Eric led his
wife Thorhild and his two young sons, Thorstein and
Leif. All together they got into the boat and went to
Eyjolf's farm. For a week or more they stayed in his
woods, sometimes in a secret cave of his when they knew
that Thorgest was about. And sometimes Eyjolf sent and
"Thorgest is off. Come to my house for a feast."
All this time they were making ready for the voyage,
repairing the ship and filling it with stores. Word of
what Eric meant to do got out, and men laughed and
"Is that not like Eric? What will he not do?"
Some men liked the sound of it, and they came to Eric
"We will go with you to this strange land."
 So all were ready and they pushed off with Eric's
family aboard and those friends who had joined him.
They took horses and cattle with them, and all kinds of
tools and food.
"I do not well know where this land is," Eric said.
"Gunnbiorn said only that he sailed east when he came
home to Iceland. So I will steer straight west. We
shall surely find something. I do not know, either, how
long we must go."
So they sailed that strange ocean, never dreaming what
might be ahead of them. They found no islands to rest
on. They met heavy fogs.
One day as Eric sat in the pilot's seat, he said:
"I think that I see one of Gunnbiorn's ships of ice.
Shall we sail up to her and see what kind of craft she
"Yes," shouted his men.
So they went on toward it.
"It sends out a cold breath," said one of the men.
They all wrapped their cloaks about them.
"It is a bigger boat than I ever saw
 before," said
Eric. "The white mast stands as high as a hill."
"It is a bigger boat than I ever saw before"
"It must be giants that sail in it, frost giants," said
another of the men.
But as they came nearer, Eric all at once laughed
loudly and called out:
"By Thor, that Gunnbiorn was a foolish fellow. Why,
look! It is only a piece of floating ice such as we
sometimes see from Iceland. It is no ship, and there is
no one on it."
His men laughed and one called to another and said:
"And you thought of frost giants!"
Then they sailed on for days and days. They met many of
these icebergs. On one of them was a white bear.
"Yonder is a strange pilot," Eric laughed.
"I have seen bears come floating so to the north shore
of Iceland," an old man said. "Perhaps they come from
the land that we are going to find."
One day Eric said:
"I see afar off an iceberg larger than any one yet.
Perhaps that is our white land."
 But even as he said it he felt his boat swing under his
hand as he held the tiller. He bore hard on the rudder,
but he could not turn the ship.
"What is this?" he cried. "A strong river is running
here. It is carrying our ship away from this land. I
cannot make head against it. Out with the oars!"
So with oars and sail and rudder they fought against
the current, but it took the boat along like a chip,
and after a while they put up their oars and drifted.
"Luck has taken us into its own hands," Eric laughed.
"But this is as good a way as another."
Sometimes they were near enough to see the land, then
they were carried out into the sea and thought that
they should never see any land again.
"Perhaps this river will carry us to a whirlpool and
suck us under," the men said.
But at last Eric felt the current less strong under his
"To the oars again!" he called.
So they fought with the current and sailed out of it
and went on toward land.
 But when they reached the
shore they found no place to go in. Steep black walls
shot up from the sea. Nothing grew on them. When the
men looked above the cliffs they saw a long line of
white cutting the sky.
"It is a land of ice," they said.
They sailed on south, all the time looking for a place
to go ashore.
"I am sick of this endless sea," Thorhild complained,
"but this land is worse."
After a while they began to see small bays cut into the
shore with little flat patches of green at their sides.
They landed in these places and stretched and warmed
themselves and ate.
"But these spots are only big enough for graves," the
men said. "We can not live here."
So they went on again. All the time the weather was
growing colder. Eric's people kept themselves wrapped
in their cloaks and put scarfs around their heads.
"And it is still summer!" Thorhild said. "What will it
be in winter?"
"We must find a place to build a house
 now before the
winter comes on," said Eric. "We must not freeze here."
So they chose a little spot with hills about it to keep
off the wind. They made a house out of stones; for
there were many in that place. They lived there that
winter. The sea for a long way out from shore froze so
that it looked like white land. The men went out upon
it to hunt white bear and seal. They ate the meat and
wore the skins to keep them warm. The hardest thing was
to get fuel for the fire. No trees grew there. The men
found a little driftwood along the shore, but it was
not enough. So they burned the bones and the fat of the
animals they killed.
"It is a sickening smell," Thorhild said. "I have not
been out of this mean house for weeks. I am tired of
the darkness and the smoke and the cattle. And all the
time I hear great noises, as though some giant were
breaking this land into pieces."
"Ah, cheer up, good wife!" Eric laughed. "I smell
better luck ahead."
Once Eric and his men climbed the
 cliffs and went back
into the middle of the land. When they came home they
had this to tell:
"It is a country of ice, shining white. Nothing grows
on it but a few mosses. Far off it looks flat, but when
you walk upon it, there are great holes and cracks. We
could see nothing beyond. There seems to be only a
fringe of land around the edge of an island of ice."
The winter nights were very long. Sometimes the sun
showed for an hour, sometimes for only a few minutes,
sometimes it did not show at all for a week. The men
hunted by the bright shining of the moon or by the
As it grew warmer the ice in the sea began to crack and
move and melt and float away. Eric waited only until
there was a clear passage in the water. Then he
launched his boat, and they sailed southward again. At
last they found a place that Eric liked.
"Here I will build my house," he said.
So they did and lived there that summer and pastured
their cattle and cut hay for the winter and fished and
 The next spring Eric said:
"The land stretches far north. I am hungry to know what
Then they all got into the boat again and sailed north.
"We can leave no one here," Eric had said. "We cannot
tell what might come between us. Perhaps giants or
dragons or strange men might come out of this inland
ice and kill our people. We must stay together."
Farther north they found only the same bare, frozen
country. So after a while they sailed back to their
home and lived there.
One spring after they had been in that land for four
years, Eric said:
"My eyes are hungry for the sight of men and green
fields again. My stomach is sick of seal and whale and
bear. My throat is dry for mead. This is a bare and
cold and hungry land. I will visit my friends in
"And our swords are rusty with long resting," said his
men. "Perhaps we can find play for them in Iceland."
"Now I have a plan," Eric suddenly
 said. "Would it not
be pleasant to see other feast halls as we sail along
"Oh! it would be a beautiful sight," his men said.
"Well," said Eric, "I am going to try to bring back
some neighbors from Iceland. Now we must have a name
for our land. How does Greenland sound?"
His men laughed and said:
"It is a very white Greenland, but men will like the
sound of it. It is better than Iceland."
So Eric and all his people sailed back and spent the
winter with his friends.
"Ah! Eric, it is good to hear your laugh again," they
Eric was at many feasts and saw many men, and he talked
much of his Greenland.
"The sea is full of whale and seals and great fish," he
said. "The land has bear and reindeer. There are no men
there. Come back with me and choose your land."
Many men said that they would do it. Some men went
because they thought it
 would be a great frolic to go
to a new country. Some went because they were poor in
Iceland and thought:
"I can be no worse off in Greenland, and perhaps I
shall grow rich there."
And some went because they loved Eric and wanted to be
So the next summer thirty-five ships full of men and
women and goods followed Eric for Greenland. But they
met heavy storms, and some ships were wrecked, and the
men drowned. Other men grew heartsick at the terrible
storm and the long voyage and no sight of land, and
they turned back to Iceland. So of those thirty-five
ships only fifteen got to Greenland.
"Only the bravest and the luckiest men come here," Eric
said. "We shall have good neighbors."
Soon other houses were built along the fiords.
"It is pleasant to sail along the coast now," said
Eric. "I see smoke rising from houses and ships
standing on the shore and friendly hands waving."
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