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Viking Tales by  Jennie Hall

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WINELAND THE GOOD

[174]

O
N an autumn, a year or two after Leif came home, Eric and his men saw two large ships come to land not far down the shore from the house.

"They look like trading ships," Eric said. "Let us go down to see them."

"I will go, too," Gudrid said. "Perhaps they will have rich cloth and jewelry. It is long since I had my eyes on a new dress."

So they all went down and found two large trading ships lying in the water. A great many men were on the shore making a fire.

"Welcome to Greenland!" called Eric. "What are your names and your country?"

Then a fine, big man walked out from among the men and went up to Eric.

"I am Thorfinn," he said, "a trader. I sailed this summer from Iceland with forty men and a shipload of goods. On [175] the sea I met this other ship from Iceland. The master is Biarni. Come and look at my goods."

So he rowed Eric and Gudrid out and they went aboard his boat. Thorfinn opened his chests and showed Eric gleaming swords and bracelets and axes and farm tools. But before Gudrid he spread beautiful cloth and gold embroidery and golden necklaces. As they looked, he told of doings in Iceland and asked of Greenland.

"We never see such things as these in this bare land," Gudrid said, as she smoothed a beautiful dress of purple velvet. "I envy the women of Iceland their fair clothes."

"There is no need of that," Thorfinn said, "for this dress is yours and anything else from my chests that you like. Here is a necklace that I beg you to take. It did not have a fairer mistress in Greece where I got it."

"You are a very generous trader," Gudrid said.

Then Thorfinn gave Eric a great sword with a gold-studded scabbard. After a [176] while he took them to Biarni's ship. He also gave them gifts. They all talked and laughed much while they were together.

"You are merry comrades," Eric said. "I ask you both and all your men to spend the winter at my house. You can put your goods into my store-houses."

"By my sword! a generous offer," said Thorfinn. "As for me, I am happy to come."

Biarni and all the rest said the same thing. Thorfinn walked to the house with Eric and Gudrid, while the other men sailed to the ship-sheds and pulled their boats under them.

Then Thorfinn saw to the unloading and storing of his goods.

"Is this Gudrid your daughter?" he asked of Eric one day.

"She is the widow of my son Thorstein," Eric said. "He died the same winter that they were married. Her father, too, died not long ago. So Gudrid lives with me."

Now all that winter until Yuletime Eric spread a good feast every night. [177] There was laughter through his house all the time. Often at the feasts the men cast lots to see whether they might sit on the cross-bench with the women. Sometimes it was Thorfinn's luck to sit by Gudrid. Then they talked gaily and drank together.

At last Yule was coming near. Eric went about the house gloomy then. One day Thorfinn put his hand on Eric's shoulder and said:

"Something is troubling you, Eric. We have all noticed that you are not gay as you used to be. Tell me what is the matter."

"You have carried yourselves like noble men in my house," Eric answered. "I am proud to have you for guests. Now I am ashamed that you should not find a house worthy of you. I am ashamed that when you leave me you will have to say that you never spent a worse Yule than you did with Eric the Red in Greenland. For my cupboards are empty."

"Oh, that is easily mended," Thorfinn said. "No house could feed eighty men [178] so long and not feel it. I never knew so generous a host before. But I have flour and grain and mead in my boat. You are welcome to all of it. You have only to open the doors of your own store-houses. It is a little gift."

So Eric used those things, and there was never a merrier Yule feast than in his house that winter.

When Yule was over, Thorfinn said to Eric:

"Gudrid is a beautiful and wise woman. I wish to have her for my wife."

"You seem to be a man worthy of her," Eric said.

So that winter Gudrid and Thorfinn were married and lived at Eric's house.

One day Thorfinn said to Eric:

"I have heard much of this wonderful Wineland since I have been here. It seems to me that it is worth while to go and see more of it."

"My son Thorstein and I tried it once," said Eric. "It was the year after Leif came back. We set out with a fair ship and with glad hearts, but we tossed about all summer on the sea and got [179] nowhere. We were wet with storm, lean with hunger and illness, and heartsick at our bad luck."

"And yet," Thorfinn said, "another time we might have better weather. I have never seen so fair a land as this seems to be."

Then he went to Leif and talked long with him. Leif told him in what direction he had sailed to come home, and how the shores looked that he had passed.

"I think I could find my way," Thorfinn said. "My heart moves me to try this frolic."

He spoke to Gudrid about it.

"Oh, yes!" she cried. "Let us go. It is long since I felt a boat leaping under me. I am tired of sitting still. I want to feel the warm days and see the soft grass and the high trees and taste the grapes of this Wineland the Good."

Then he talked with his men and with Biarni.

"We are ready," they all said. "We are only waiting for a leader."

"Then let us go!" cried Thorfinn.

So in the spring they fitted up their [180] two ships and put into them provisions and a few cattle. Some of Eric's men also got ready a boat, so that three ships set sail from Eric's harbor carrying one hundred and sixty men to Wineland. As they started, Gudrid stood on the deck and sang:

"I will feast my eyes on new things—

On mighty trees and purple grapes,

On beds of flowers and soft grass.

I will sun myself in a warm land."

They sailed on and past those shores that Leif had spoken of. Whenever they saw any interesting place they sailed in and looked about and rested there.

They had gone far south, past many fair shores with woods on them, when Gudrid said one day:

"This is a beautiful bay with a smooth green field by it, and the great mountains far back. I should like to stay there for a little while."

So they sailed in and drew their ships up on shore. They put up the awnings in them.

"These shall be our houses," Thorfinn said.

[181] They were strange-looking houses—shining dragons with gay backs lying on the yellow sand. Near them the Norsemen lighted fires and cooked their supper. That night they slept in the ships. In the morning Gudrid said:

"I long to see what is back of that mountain."

So they all climbed it. When they stood on the top they could see far over the country.

"There is a lake that we must see," Thorfinn said.

"I should like to sail around that bay," said Biarni, pointing.

"I am going to walk up that valley yonder," one of the men said.

And everyone saw some place where he would like to go. So for all that summer they camped in that spot and went about the country seeing new things. They hunted in the woods and caught rabbits and birds and sometimes bears and deer. Every day some men rowed out to sea and fished. There was an island in the bay where thousands of birds had their nests. The men gathered eggs here.

[182] "We have more to eat than we had in Greenland or Iceland," Thorfinn said, "and need not work at all. It is all play."

Near the end of summer Thorfinn spoke to his comrades.

"Have we not seen everything here? Let us go to a new place. We have not yet found grapes."

Thorfinn and Biarni and all their men sailed south again. But some of Eric's men went off in their boat another way. Years afterward the Greenlanders heard that they were shipwrecked and made slaves in Ireland.

After Thorfinn and Biarni had sailed for many days they landed on a low, green place. There were hills around it. A little lake was there.

"What is growing on those hillsides?" Thorfinn said, shading his eyes with his hand.

He and some others ran up there. The people on shore heard them shout. Soon they came running back with their hands full of something.

"Grapes! Grapes!" they were shouting.

[183] All those people sat down and ate the grapes and then went to the hillside and picked more.

''Now we are indeed in Wineland," they said. "It is as wonderful as Leif's stories. Surely we must stay here for a long time."

The very next day they went into the woods and began to cut out lumber. The huts that they built were little things. They had no windows, and in the doorways the men hung their cloaks instead of doors.

''We can be out in the air so much in this warm country," said Gudrid, "that we do not need fine houses."

The huts were scattered all about, some on the side of the lake, some at the shore of the harbor, some on the hillside. Gudrid had said:

"I want to live by the lake where I can look into the green woods and hear sweet bird-noises."

So Thorfinn built his hut there.

As they sat about the campfire one night, Biarni said:

"It is strange that so good a land [184] should be empty. I suppose that these are the first houses that were ever built in Wineland. It is wonderful to think that we are alone here in this great land."

All that winter no snow fell. The cattle pastured on the grass.

"To think of the cold, frozen winters in Greenland!" Gudrid said. "Oh! this is the sun's own land."

In the beginning of that winter a little son was born to Gudrid and Thorfinn.

"A health to the first Winelander!" the men shouted and drank down their wine; for they had made some from Wineland grapes.

"Will he be the father of a great country, as Ingolf was?" Biarni mused.

Gudrid looked at her baby and smiled.

"You will be as sunny as this good land, I hope," she said.

They named him Snorri. He grew fast and soon crept along the yellow sand, and toddled among the grapevines, and climbed into the boats and learned to talk. The men called him the "Wineland king."

[185] "I never knew a baby before," one of the men said.

"No," said another. "Swords are jealous. But when they are in their scabbards, we can do other things, even play with babies."

"I wonder whether I have forgotten how to swing my sword in this quiet land," another man said.

One spring morning when the men got up and went out from their huts to the fires to cook they saw a great many canoes in the harbor. Men were in them paddling toward shore.

"What is this?" cried the Norsemen to one another. "Where did they come from? Are they foes? Who ever saw such boats before? The men's faces are brown."

"Let every man have his sword ready," cried Thorfinn. "But do not draw until I command. Let us go to meet them."

So they went and stood on the shore. Soon the men from the canoes landed and stood looking at the Norsemen. The strangers' skin was brown. Their faces were broad. Their hair was black. Their bodies were short. They wore leather [186] clothes. One man among them seemed to be chief. He spread out his open hands to the Norsemen.

"He is showing us that he has no weapons," Biarni said. "He comes in peace."

Then Thorfinn showed his empty hands and asked:

"What do you want?"

The stranger said something, but the Norsemen could not understand. It was some new language. Then the chief pointed to one of the huts and walked toward it. He and his men walked all around and felt of the timber and went into it and looked at all the things there—spades and cloaks and drinking-horns. As they looked they talked together. They went to all the other huts and looked at everything there. One of them found a red cloak. He spread it out and showed it to the others. They all stood about it and looked at it and felt of it and talked fast.

"They seem to like my cloak," Biarni said.

One of the strangers went down to [188] their canoes and soon came back with an armload of furs—fox-skins, otter-skins, beaver-skins. The chief took some and held them out to Thorfinn and hugged the cloak to him.


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"The chief held them out to Thorfinn and hugged the cloak to him"

"He wants to trade," Thorfinn said. "Will you do it, Biarni?"

"Yes," Biarni answered, and took the furs.

"If they want red stuff, I have a whole roll of red cloth that I will trade," one of the other men said.

He went and got it. When the strangers saw it they quickly held out more furs and seemed eager to trade. So Thorfinn cut the cloth into pieces and sold every scrap. When the strangers got it they tied it about their heads and seemed much pleased.

While this trading was going on and everybody was good-natured, a bull of Thorfinn's ran out of the woods bellowing and came towards the crowd. When the strangers heard it and saw it they threw down whatever was in their hands and ran to their canoes and paddled off as fast as they could.

[189] The Norsemen laughed.

"We have lost our customers," Biarni said.

"Did they never see a bull before?" laughed one of the men.

Now after three weeks the Norsemen saw canoes in the bay again. This time it was black with them, there were so many. The people in them were all making a horrible shout.

"It is a war-cry," Thorfinn said, and he raised a red shield. "They are surely twenty to our one, but we must fight. Stand in close line and give them a taste of your swords."

Even as he spoke a great shower of stones fell upon them. Some of the Norsemen were hit on the head and knocked down. Biarni got a broken arm. Still the storm came fast. The strangers had landed and were running toward the Norsemen. They threw their stones with sling-shots, and they yelled all the time.

"Oh, this is no kind of fighting for brave men!" Thorfinn cried angrily.

The Norsemen's swords swung fast, [190] and many of the strangers died under them, but still others came on, throwing stones and swinging stone axes. The horrible yelling and the strange things that the savages did frightened the Norsemen.

"These are not men," some one cried. Then those Norsemen who had never been afraid of anything turned and ran. But when they came to the top of a rough hill Thorfinn cried:

"What are we doing? Shall we die here in this empty land with no one to bury us? We are leaving our women."

Then one of the women ran out of the hut where they were hiding.

"Give me a sword!" she cried. "I can drive them back. Are Norsemen not better than these savages?"

Then those warriors stopped, ashamed, and stood up before the wild men and fought so fiercely that the strangers turned and fled down to their canoes and paddled away.

"Oh, I am glad they are gone!" Thorfinn said. "It was an ugly fight."

"Thor would not have loved that battle," one said.

[191] "It was no battle," another replied. "It was like fighting against an army of poisonous flies."

The Norsemen were all worn and bleeding and sore. They went to their huts and dressed their wounds, and the women helped them. At supper that night they talked about the fight for a long time.

"I will not stay here," Gudrid said. "Perhaps these wild men have gone away to get more people and will come back and kill us. Oh! they are ugly."

"Perhaps brown faces are looking at us now from behind the trees in the woods back there," said Biarni.

It was the wish of all to go home. So after a few days they sailed back to Greenland with good weather all the way. The people at Eric's house were very glad to see them.

"We were afraid you had died," they said.

"And I thought once that we should never leave Wineland alive," Thorfinn answered.

Then they told all the story.

[192] "I wonder why I had no such bad luck," Leif said. "But you have a better shipload than I got."

He was looking at the bundles of furs and the kegs of wine.

"Yes," said Thorfinn, "we have come back richer than when we left. But I will never go again for all the skins in the woods."

The next summer Thorfinn took Gudrid and Snorri and all his people and sailed back to Iceland, his home. There he lived until he died. People looked at him in wonder.

"That is the man who went to Wineland and fought with wild men,'' they said. "Snorri is his son. He is the first and last Winelander, for no one will ever go there again. It will be an empty and forgotten land."

And so it was for a long time. Some wise men wrote down the story of those voyages and of that land, and people read the tale and liked it, but no one remembered where the place was. It all seemed like a fairy tale. Long afterwards, however, men began to read those stories with [193] wide-open eyes and to wonder. They guessed and talked together, and studied this and that land, and read the story over and over. At last they have learned that Wineland was in America, on the eastern shore of the United States, and they have called Snorri the first American, and have put up statues of Leif Ericsson, the first comer to America.


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