THE SAGA OF ERIC THE RED

The text below is adapted from Arthur Middleton Reeves’ English translation, published in The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America (London, 1890). We have modernised some of the pronoun and verb forms (e.g., ‘do you’ rather than ‘dost thou’), and made light revisions better to reflect the saga’s style in the original Old Norse. Please do not cite this text. The original translation is available on archive.org.

The Saga Oseberg ship, photo by Ole Harald Flåten.

The Saga of Eric the Red

Chapter 1

Olaf was the name of a warrior-king, who was called Olaf the White. He was the son of King Ingiald, Helgi’s son, the son of Olaf, Gudraud’s son, son of Halfdan Whiteleg, king of the people of Uppland. Olaf engaged in Viking expeditions in Britain and captured Dublin in Ireland and the Shire of Dublin, over which he became king. He married Aud the Deep-minded, daughter of Ketil Flatnose, son of Biorn Buna, an excellent man of Norway. Their son was called Thorstein the Red.

Olaf was killed in battle in Ireland, and subsequently Aud and Thorstein went to the Hebrides; there Thorstein married Thurid, daughter of Eyvind Easterling, sister of Helgi the Lean; they had many children. Thorstein became a warrior-king, and entered into fellowship with Earl Sigurd the Mighty, son of Eystein the Rattler. They conquered Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Moray, and more than the half of Scotland. Over these Thorstein became king, before he was betrayed by the Scots, and was slain there in battle.

Aud was at Caithness when she heard of Thorstein’s death; she then had a ship built secretly in the forest, and when she was ready, she sailed out to the Orkney Islands. There she bestowed Groa, Thorstein the Red’s daughter, in marriage; she was the mother of Grelod, whom Earl Thorfinn the Skull-splitter, married. After this Aud set out to seek Iceland, and had twenty freeborn men on board her ship. Aud arrived in Iceland, and spent the first winter at Biarnarhofn with her brother, Bjorn. Aud afterwards claimed all the land in the Dales between Dogurdar river and Skraumuhlaups river. She lived at Hvamm, and she used to pray at Krossholar, where she had crosses erected, for she had been baptized and was a devout Christian. 

Accompanying her on her journey to Iceland were many highborn men who had been captured by Vikings, and who were called slaves. Vifil was the name of one of these: he was a man of good family who had been taken captive in the Western sea, and was called a slave, before Aud freed him. When Aud gave homesteads to the members of her crew, Vifil asked her why she gave him no homestead like the other men. Aud replied that this should make no difference to him, saying that he would be regarded as a distinguished man wherever he was. She gave him Vifilsdal, and he settled there. He married a woman; their sons were Thorbiorn and Thorgeir. They were promising men, and grew up with their father.

Chapter 2

Eric the Red finds Greenland

There was a man named Thorvald; he was a son of Asvald, Ulf’s son, Ox-Thorir’s son. His son’s namewas Eric.  He and his father went from Jaeren to Iceland on account of manslaughter, and settled on Hornstrandir, and dwelt at Drangar. There Thorvald died, and Eric then married Thorhild, a daughter of Jorund, Atli’s son, and Thorbiorg Ship-chest, who had been married before to Thorbiorn of the Haukadal family. Eric then moved from the North, and cleared land in Haukadal, and dwelt at Ericsstadir by Vatnshorn. Then Eric’s thralls caused a land-slide to fall on Valthiof’s farm, Valthiofsstadir. Eyiolf the Foul, Valthiofs kinsman, killed the slaves near Skeidsbrekkur above Vatnshorn. For this Eric killed Eyiolf the Foul, and he also killed Duelling-Hrafn at Leikskalar. Geirstein and Odd of Jorvi, Eyiolf’s kinsmen, conducted the prosecution for the slaying of their kinsmen, and in consequence, Eric was banished from Haukadal.

He then claimed the islands Brokey and Eyxney, and dwelt at Tradir on Sudrey the first winter. It was at this time that he loaned Thorgest his bedstead boards. Eric afterwards went to Eyxney, and dwelt at Ericsstad. He then demanded his bedstead boards back, but did not retrieve them. Eric then carried the bedstead boards away from Breidabolstad, and Thorgest gave chase. They came to blows a short distance from the farm of Drangar, where two of Thorgest’s sons were killed and several other men besides. After this each of them retained a considerable body of men with him at his home.

Styr gave Eric his support, as did also Eyiolf of Sviney, Thorbiom, Vifil’s son, and the sons of Thorbrand of Alftafjord, while Thorgest was backed by the sons of hord the Yeller, and Thorgeir of Hitardal, Aslak of Langadal and his son, Illugi. Eric and his people were condemned to outlawry at Thorsness-thing. He equipped his ship for a voyage, in Ericsvag; while Eyiolf concealed him in Dimunarvag, when Thorgest and his people were searching for him among the islands. He said to them that it was his intention to go in search of that land which Gunnbiom, son of Ulf the Crow, saw when he was driven out of his course, westward across the main, and discovered Gunnbiorn-skerries. He told them that he would return again to his friends, if he should succeed in finding that land. Thorbiorn, and Eyiolf, and Styr accompanied Eric out beyond the islands, and they parted with the greatest friendliness. Eric said to them that he would render them similar aid, so far as it might lie within his power, if they should ever stand in need of his help.

Eric sailed out to sea from Snaefells-jokul glacier, and arrived [in Greenland] at that glacier which is called Blackserk. From there he sailed to the southward, so that he might ascertain whether there was habitable land in that direction. He passed the first winter at Ericsey, near the middle of the Westem-settlement. In the following spring he proceeded to Ericsfjord, and selected a site there for his homestead. That summer he explored the western uninhabited region, remaining there for a long time, and assigning many local names there. The second winter he spent at Ericsholm beyond Hvarfsgnipa. But the third summer he sailed northward to Snaefell, and into Hrafnsfjord. He believed then that he had reached the head of Ericsfjord; he turned back then, and remained the third winter at Ericsey at the mouth of Ericsfjord. The following summer he sailed to Iceland, and landed in Breidafjord. He remained that winter with Ingolf at Holmlatr. In the spring he and Thorgest fought together, and Eric was defeated; after this a reconciliation was effected between them. That summer Eric set out to colonise the land which he had discovered, and which he called Greenland, because, he said, men would be the more readily persuaded there if the land had a good name.

Chapter 3

Concerning Thorbjorn

Thorgeir, Vifil’s son, took as his wife Arnora, daughter of Einar of Laugarbrekka, Sigmund’s son, son of Ketil Thistil, who settled Thistilsfjord. Einar had another daughter named Hallveig; she was married to Thorbiom, Vifil’s son, who got with her Laugarbrekka-land on Hellisvellir. Thorbiorn moved there, and became a very distinguished man. He was an excellent farmer, and had a prosperous estate. Gudrid was the name of Thorbiorn’s daughter. She was the most beautiful of women, and in every respect an excellent woman. There lived at Arnarstapi a man named Orm, whose wife’s name was Halldis. Orm was a good farmer, and a great friend of Thorbiorn, and Gudrid lived with him for a long time as a foster-daughter.

There was a man named Thorgeir, who lived at Thorgeirsfell; he was very wealthy and had been freed from enslavement; he had a son named Einar, who was a handsome, well-bred man, and very showy in his dress. Einar was engaged in trading voyages from one country to the other, and was quite successful. He spent his winters alternately either in Iceland or in Norway.

It is said that one autumn, when Einar was in Iceland, he went with his goods out along Snaefellsness, with the intention of selling them. He came to Arnarstapi, and Orm invited him to remain with him, and Einar accepted this invitation, for there was a strong friendship [between them]. Einar’s wares were carried into a store-house, where he unpacked them, and displayed them to Orm and the men of his household, and asked Orm to take such of them as he liked. Orm accepted this offer, and said that Einar was a good merchant, and was greatly favoured by fortune. Now, while they were occupied with the goods, a woman passed before the door of the store-house. Einar enquired of Orm: ‘Who was that handsome woman who passed before the door? I have never seen her here before.’ Orm replies: ‘That is Gudrid, my foster-child, the daughter of Thorbiom of Laugarbrekka.’ ‘She must be a good match,’ said Einar; ‘has she had any suitors?’ Orm replies: ‘Of course she has been courted, friend, nor is she easily to be won, for it is believed that both she and her father will be very particular in their choice of a husband.’ ‘Be that as it may,’ said Einar, ‘she is the woman to whom I mean to propose, and I would have you present this matter to her father on my behalf, and use every exertion to bring it to a favourable result, and I shall reward you to the full of my friendship, if I am successful. It may be that Thorbiorn will regard the connection as being to our mutual advantage, as while he is a most honourable man and has an excellent home, his personal situation, I am told, is somewhat worsening. On the other hand, neither I nor my father are lacking in lands or chattels, and Thorbiorn would thus be greatly supported, if this match were brought about.’ I certainly believe myself to be your friend,’ replies Orm, ‘but I am not at all keen to act in this matter, for Thorbiorn has an arrogant attitude, and is moreover a most ambitious man.’ Einar replied that he wished for nothing else than that his suit should be broached; Orm replied that he should have his will. Einar went again to the South until he reached his home.

Sometime after this, Thorbiorn had an autumn feast, as was his custom, for he was a man who lived in great style. Here came Orm of Arnarstapi, and many other of Thorbiorn’s friends. Orm came to speak with Thorbiorn, and said that Einar of Thorgeirsfell had visited him not long before, and that he was become a very promising man. Orm now makes known the proposal of marriage on Einar’s behalf, and added that for some persons and for some reasons it might be regarded as a very suitable match: ‘it would be a substantial support to you in terms of your financial situation.’ Thorbiorn answers: ‘ Little did I expect to hear such words from you, that I should marry my daughter to the son of a slave; and since it seems to you that my means are diminishing, she shall not remain longer with you, considering that you deem such a low match suitable for her.’ Orm afterward returned to his home, and all of the invited guests to their respective households, while Gudrid remained behind with her father, and spent that winter at home. 

In the spring, Thorbiorn gave a party for his friends, attended by many, and it was a noble feast. At the banquet, Thorbiorn called for silence, and spoke: ‘ Here have I lived a life of some length, and have experienced the good will of men toward me, and their affection; and our relations together have been pleasant. But now I begin to find myself in straitened circumstances, although my estate has until now been considered a respectable one. Now will I rather abandon my farming than lose my honour, and rather leave the country than bring disgrace upon my family. For that reason I have now concluded to put that promise to the test, which my friend Eric the Red made, when we parted company in Breidafjord. It is my present design to go to Greenland this summer, if matters fare as I wish.’ Peoplewere greatly astonished at this plan of Thorbiorn’s, as he was blessed with many friends, but they were convinced that he was so firmly fixed in his purpose that it would not do to try to dissuade him from it. Thorbiorn gave gifts to his guests, after which the feast came to an end, and everyone returned to their homes.

Thorbiorn sells his lands and buys a ship, which was laid up at the mouth of Hraunhofn. Thirty people joined him in the voyage; among these were Orm of Arnarstapi and his wife, and other of Thorbiorn’s friends, who would not part from him. Then they put to sea. When they sailed the weather was favourable, but after they came out upon the open seas, the fair wind failed, and there came great gales, and they lost their way, and had a very tedious voyage that summer. Then illness appeared among their people, and Orm and his wife Halldis died, and the half of their company. The sea began to run high, and they had a very wearisome and wretched voyage in many ways, but arrived, nevertheless, at Heriolfsness in Greenland, during the Winter Nights. At Heriolfsness lived a man named Thorkel. He was a man of ability and an excellent farmer. He received Thorbiom and all of his ship’s company, and housed them well during the winter.

Chapter 4

At that time there was a season of great dearth in Greenland; those who had been at the fishing had had poor hauls, and some had not returned. There was a woman there in the settlement, whose name was Thorbiorg. She was a prophetess, and was called Little Sibyl. She had had nine sisters, all of whom were prophetesses, but she was the only one still alive. It was Thorbiorg’s custom in the winters to go visiting from farm to farm, and she was especially sought after at the homes of those who were curious to know their fate, or what might be in store for them in the coming year; and inasmuch as Thorkel was the leading farmer in the neighbourhood, it was considered fitting for him to find out when the hard times which were upon them would cease.

Thorkel invited the prophetess to his home, and careful preparations were made for her reception, according to the custom which prevailed when women of her kind were to be received. A high seat was prepared for her, in which a cushion filled with poultry feathers was placed. When she came in the evening, with the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in a dark-blue cloak, fastened with a strap, and set with stones all the way down to the hem. She wore glass beads around her neck, and upon her head a black lamb-skin hood, lined with white cat-skin. She carried a staff, upon which there was a knob ornamented with brass and set with stones. Circling her waist she wore a charm-belt, and attached to it a great skin pouch in which she kept the charms which she used when she was practicing her sorcery. She wore upon her feet shaggy calf-skin shoes, with long, tough latchets, upon the ends of which there were large brass buttons. She had cat-skin gloves upon her hands, which were white inside and lined with fur. When she entered, all of the folk felt it to be their duty to offer her becoming greetings. She responded to the salutations of each individual according to how the person appealed to her.

Farmer Thorkel took the sibyl by the hand, and led her to the seat which had been made ready for her. Thorkel asked her to run her eyes over man and beast and home. She had little to say concerning all these. The tables were brought forth in the evening, and it remains to be told what manner of food was prepared for the prophetess. A porridge of goat’s milk was made for her, and for meat there were dressed the hearts of every kind of beast available there. She had a brass spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus tusk with a double hasp of brass around the haft, and from this the point was broken. And when the tables were removed, Yeoman Thorkel approaches Thorbiorg, and asks how she is pleased with the home, and the character of the folk, and how speedily she would be likely to become aware of that concerning which he had questioned her, and which the people were anxious to know. She replied that she could not give an opinion in this matter before the morning, after that she had slept there through the night.

And late the next day, such preparations were made as were necessary to enable her to accomplish her soothsaying. She asked them to bring her those women, who knew the incantation which she required to work her spells, and which she called ward songs; but such women were not to be found. Thereupon a search was made throughout the household to see whether any one knew this [incantation]. Then says Gudrid : ‘I am neither skilled in magic nor a prophetess, but my foster-mother, Halldis, taught me in Iceland a chant that she called ward songs.’ Thorbiorg answered : ‘Then you know more than I expected.’ Gudrid replies: ‘This is an incantation and ritual of such a kind, that I do not mean to lend it any aid, because I am a Christian woman.’ Thorbiorg answers: It might so be that you could give your help to the company here, and still be no worse woman than before; however I leave it with Thorkel to provide for my needs.’ Thorkel now urged Gudrid that she said she must comply with his wishes. The women then made a ring round about, while Thorbiorg sat up on the platform raised for the ritual. Gudrid then sang the song, so beautifully and well, that no one remembered ever before to have heard the melody sung with so fair a voice as this. The sorceress thanked her for the chant, and said : ‘She has indeed lured many spirits here, who think it pleasant to hear this song, those that were accustomed to turn away from us previously and refused to submit themselves to us. Many things are now revealed to me, which hereto have been hidden, both from me and from others. And I am able to announce that this period of famine will not last longer, but the season will mend as spring approaches. The outbreak of disease, which has been plaguing you for long, will disappear sooner than expected. And you, Gudrid, I shall reward out of hand, for the assistance, which you have secured for us, since the fate in store for you is now all made manifest to me. You shall make a most worthy match here in Greenland, but it shall not be of long duration for you, for your future path leads out to Iceland, and a lineage both great and illustrious shall spring from you, and a bright ray of light shall shine above your line. And now farewell, my daughter!’

After this the people went to the sibyl, and each asked for information about those things which they were most curious to know. She was very ready in her responses, and little of what she predicted failed to come true. After this they came from a neighbouring farmstead to fetch her, and she departed. Thorbiorn was then sent for, since he had not been willing to remain at home while such heathen rites were being carried out. The weather improved speedily, when the spring opened even as Thorbiorg had prophesied. Thorbiorn equipped his ship and sailed away, until he arrived at Brattahlid. Eric received him with open arms, and said that it was well that he had come there. Thorbiorn and his household remained with him during the winter, while quarters were provided for the crew among the farmers. And the following spring Eric gave Thorbiorn land on Stokkaness, where a goodly farmstead was founded, and he lived there from then on.

Chapter 5

Concerning Leif the Lucky and the introduction of Christianity into Greenland

Eric was married to a woman named Thorhild and had two sons; one of these was named Thorstein, and the other Leif. They were both promising men. Thorstein lived at home with his father, and at that time, there was no man in Greenland who was considered to have as much promise as he. Leif had sailed to Norway, where he was at the court of King Olaf Tryggvason. When Leif sailed from Greenland, in the summer, they were driven off course to the Hebrides. It was late before they got fair winds from there, and they remained there far into the summer.

Leif fell in love with a woman whose name was Thorgunna. She was of good family, and Leif noted that she knew more than a little. When Leif was preparing for his departure, Thorgunna asked to go with him. Leif asked whether she had the approval of her kinsmen. She replied that she did not care for it. Leif responded that he did not deem it wise to abduct so high-born a woman in a foreign country, ‘and we so few in number.’ ‘It is by no means certain that you will find this to be the better decision,’ said Thorgunna. ‘I’ll risk it all the same,’ said Leif. ‘Then I tell you,’ said Thorgunna, ‘that I am no longer a lone woman, for I am pregnant, and I declare it to be caused by you. I predict that I will give birth to a boy in due course. And although you ignore this, I will raise the boy and send him to you in Greenland when he is fit to travel with other men. And I predict that you will get as much profit from this son as you deserve from our parting; moreover, I mean to come to Greenland myself before the end comes.’ Leif gave her a gold finger-ring, a Greenland mantle, and a belt of walrus-tusk. This boy came to Greenland, and was called Thorgils. Leif acknowledged his paternity, and some men will have it that Thorgils came to Iceland in the summer before the hauntings at Froda river. However, Thorgils stayed in Greenland after that, and there seemed to be something not altogether natural about him before it was all over. Leif and his companions sailed away from the Hebrides, and arrived in Norway in the autumn.

Leif went to the court of King Olaf Tryggvason. He was well received by the king, who felt that he could see that Leif was a man of great accomplishments. On one occasion the king spoke with Leif, and asks him, ‘ Do you intend to sail to Greenland in the summer?’ ‘That is my plan,’ said Leif, ‘if it is your wish.’ ‘I consider that a good plan,’ answers the king, ‘and there you shall go on my errand, to proclaim Christianity in Greenland.’ Leif replied that the king should decide, but expressed his belief that it would be difficult to carry this mission out successfully in Greenland. The king replied that he knew of no man who would be better fitted for this undertaking, ‘and you will have the good fortune that’s needed.’ ‘That will only be,’ said Leif, ‘if I enjoy the grace of your protection.’ Leif put to sea when his ship was ready for the voyage. For a long time he was tossed about upon the ocean, and came upon lands of which he had previously had no knowledge. There were self-sown wheat fields and vines growing there. There were also those trees there which are called maple, and they took specimens of all of them. Some of the timbers were so large that they were used in building. Leif found people upon a ship’s wreck, and took them home with him, and procured quarters for them all during the winter. In this way he showed his nobleness and goodness, since he introduced Christianity into the country, and saved the people from the wreck; and he was called Leif the Lucky ever after.

Leif landed in Ericsfjord, and then went home to Brattahlid; he was well received by every one. He soon proclaimed Christianity throughout the land, and the Catholic faith, and announced King Olaf Tryggvason’s messages to the people, telling them how excellent and glorious this faith was. Eric was slow in forming the determination to forsake his old belief, but Thiodhild was quick to embrace the faith, and had a church built at some distance from the house. This building was called Thiodhild’s Church, and there she and those persons who had accepted Christianity –  and they were many – offered their prayers. Thiodhild would not sleep with Eric after her conversion, much to his displeasure.

At this time there began to be much talk about a voyage of exploration to the country Leif had discovered. The leader of this expedition was Thorstein Ericsson, who was a good man and intelligent, and blessed with many friends. Eric was likewise invited to join them, for the men believed that his luck and foresight would be of great help. He was slow in deciding, but did not refuse when his friends asked him to go. Next, they equipped the ship in which Thorbiorn had come out, and twenty men were selected for the expedition. They took little cargo with them, nothing else save their weapons and provisions. On the morning when Eric set out from his home, he took with him a little chest containing gold and silver; he hid this treasure, and then went his way. He had proceeded only a short distance, however, when he fell from his horse and broke his ribs and dislocated his shoulder, and cried ‘Ai, ai’! Because of this accident, he sent his wife word that she should retrieve the treasure which he had concealed, because he attributed his misfortune to the hiding of the treasure. After that, they sailed cheerily out of Ericsfjord in high spirits, and they were excited about their plan.

They were long tossed about upon the ocean, and could not follow the course they wished. They came in sight of Iceland, and likewise saw birds from the Irish coast. Their ship was driven here and there over the sea and in the autumn they turned back, worn out by toil and exposure to the elements, and exhausted by their labours, and arrived at Ericsfjord at the beginning of winter. Then said Eric, ‘ More cheerful we were in the summer, when we put out of the fjord, but we’re still alive, and it could have been much worse’. Thorstein answers, ‘It would be a generous act to look after all these men who are now in need, and to make provision for them during the winter.’ Eric answers, ‘ It is ever true, as it is said, that “it is never clear before the answer comes,” and so it must be here. We will act now upon your counsel in this matter.” All of the men, who were not otherwise provided for, accompanied the father and son. They landed thereupon, and went home to Brattahlid. where they remained throughout the winter.

Chapter 6

Thorstein Ericsson weds Gudrid; Apparitions

Now it is to be told that Thorstein Ericsson sought the hand of Gudrid, Thorbiorn’s daughter, in marriage. His suit was favourably received both by herself and by her father, and it was decided that Thorstein should marry Gudrid, and the wedding was held at Brattahlid in the autumn. The feast was a success and was very well attended. Thorstein had a home in the Western-settlement at a farmstead called Lysufjord. Half of this property belonged to a man named Thorstein, whose wife’s name was Sigrid. Thorstein went to Lysufjord in the autumn, to his namesake, and Gudrid went with him. They were well received and remained there during the winter. It came to pass that sickness appeared in their home early in the winter. Gardi was the name of the overseer there; he had few friends; he fell sick first and died. It was not long before one after another took sick and died. Then Thorstein, Eric’s son, fell sick, and Sigrid, the wife of Thorstein, his namesake; and one evening Sigrid wished to go to the outhouse, which stood opposite the door of the farmhouse, and Gudrid accompanied her; they were facing the outer door when Sigrid uttered a loud cry. ‘We have acted carelessly,’ exclaimed Gudrid, but though you are cold, you need not cry; let us go in again as quickly we can.’ Sigrid answers, ‘I will not go as things stand now. All of the dead folk are standing here in front of the door now; among them I see your husband, Thorstein, and I can see myself there, and it is terrible to look upon.’ When this had passed she exclaimed, ‘Let us go now, Gudrid; I no longer see them! ‘ The overseer had vanished from her sight, whereas it had seemed to her before that he stood with a whip in his hand, ready to whip the people. So they went in, and before the morning came she was dead, and a coffin was made for the body.

That same day the men planned to row out to fish, and Thorstein accompanied them to the landing-place, and at dusk he went down to check on their catch. Thorstein, Eric’s son, then sent word to his namesake that he should come to him, saying that all was not as it should be there, for the housewife was seeking to rise to her feet, and wished to get in under the clothes beside him, and when he entered the room she was come up on the edge of the bed. Then he seized her hands and held a pole-axe before her breast. Thorstein, Eric’s son, died before night-fall.

[The other] Thorstein asked Gudrid to lie down and sleep, saying that he would keep watch over the bodies during the night. She did so. Gudrid fell asleep, and early in the night, Thorstein, Eric’s son, sat up and spoke, saying that he wished Gudrid to be summoned, for he wanted to speak with her: ‘It is God’s will that this hour be given to me to improve my condition.’ Thorstein, the master, went in search of Gudrid, and woke her, and asked her to cross herself, and pray God to help her; ‘Thorstein, Eric’s son, has said to me that he wishes to see you; you must decide what to do, for I have no advice to give you.’ She replies, ‘It may be that this is intended to be one of those incidents which shall afterward be held in remembrance, this strange event, and it is my trust that God will keep watch over me. With God’s mercy, I will risk going to him and learning what it is that he wants to say, since I won’t escape this if it is designed to bring me harm. I’d rather that he not go any further, and I suspect that would be the alternative.’ So Gudrid went and approached Thorstein, and he seemed to her to be weeping. He spoke a few words in her ear, in a low tone, so that she alone could hear them. But this he said so that all could hear: that those persons would be blessed who kept the faith, and that it brought help and mercy. Yet there were many, he said, who kept it poorly. ‘It is no good practice, which has been observed here in Greenland since Christianity was introduced here, to bury people in unconsecrated earth with barely any funeral service. I wish to be taken to the church, together with the others who have died here. Gardi, however, I would have you burn upon a pyre, as speedily as possible, since he has been the cause of all the hauntings which have occurred here this winter.’ He spoke to her also of her own destiny, and said that she had a remarkable future in store for her, but he asked her to beware of marrying any Greenlander; he directed her also to give their property to the church and to the poor, and then sank down again a second time. 

It had been the custom in Greenland, after Christianity was introduced there, to bury persons on the farmsteads where they died in unconsecrated earth; a pole was erected in the ground, touching the breast of the dead, and subsequently, when the priests came there, the pole was withdrawn and holy water poured in [the hole], and the funeral service held there, although it might be much later.

The bodies of the dead were taken to the church at Ericsfjord, and funeral services were held there by the clergy. Thorbiorn died soon after this, and all of his property then passed to Gudrid. Eric took her to his home and carefully looked after her affairs.

Chapter 6

Concerning Thord of Höfdi

There was a man named Thord, who lived at Hofdi on Hofdi-strands. He married Fridgerd, daughter of Thori the Loiterers and Fridgerd, daughter of Kiarval the King of the Irish. Thord was a son of Biorn Chestbutter, son of Thorvald Spine. Asleik’s son, the son of Biorn Ironside, the son of Ragnar Shaggy-breeches. They had a son named Snorri. He married Thorhild Ptarmigan, daughter of Thord the Yeller. Their son was Thord Horse-head. Thorfinn Karlsefni was the name of Thord’s son. Thorfinn’s mother’s name was Thorunn. Thorfinn was engaged in trading voyages, and was considered to be a successful merchant. One summer Karlsefni got his ship ready with the intention of sailing to Greenland. Snorri, Thorbrand’s son of Alptafjord accompanied him, and there were forty men on board the ship with them. There was a man named Biarni, Grimolf’s son, a man from Breidafjord, and another named Thorhall, Gamli’s son, an East-fjord man. They got their ship ready the same summer as Karlsefni, with the intention of making a voyage to Greenland; they also had forty men in their ship. When they were ready to sail, the two ships put to sea together. It has not been recorded how long a voyage they had, but it is to be told that both ships arrived at Ericsfjord in the autumn. Eric and other of the inhabitants of the country rode to the ships, and a brisk trade was soon established between them. Gudrid was requested by the skippers to take such of their wares as she wished, while Eric, on his part, showed great generosity in return, in that he extended an invitation to both crews to accompany him home for winter quarters at Brattahlid. The merchants accepted this invitation and went with Eric. Their stock was then conveyed to Brattahlid; there was no lack of good and commodious store-houses, in which to keep it, nor much of what they needed, and the merchants were well pleased with their entertainment at Eric’s home during that winter.

Now as it drew toward Yule, Eric became very taciturn, and less cheerful than usual. On one occasion Karlsefni spoke with Eric privately and said: ‘Don’t you have anything weighing upon you, Eric? The folk have remarked, that you are somewhat more silent than you have been until now. You have entertained us with great liberality, and we must repay you in any way we can. Please tell me now what is causing your melancholy.’ Eric answers : ‘You accept hospitality gracefully and respectfully, and it was not my intention that you should suffer on account of your staying here. But I’m troubled at the thought, if word gets out, that you have never passed a worse Yule than the one that is approaching, when Eric the Red was your host at Brattahlid in Greenland.’ ‘There shall be no cause for that,’ replies Karlsefni, ‘we have malt, and flour, and grain in our ships, and you are welcome to take anything you wish, and to provide as liberal a feast as seems fitting to you.’ Eric accepts this offer, and preparations were made for the Yule feast, and it was so sumptuous, that it seemed to the people they had scarcely ever seen so grand an entertainment before. And after Yule, Karlsefni broached the subject of a marriage with Gudrid to Eric, for he assumed that with him rested the right to bestow her hand in marriage. Eric answers favourably, and says that it is likely that she will turn out as had been prophesied whether or not she married him, adding that he had heard only good reports of him. Now the subject is broached with Gudrid and she deferred the matter to Eric. And, not to prolong this, the result was, that Thorfinn was betrothed to Thurid, and the banquet was augmented, and their wedding was celebrated. There was great merriment at Brattahlid that winter.

Chapter 7

Beginning of the Vinland voyages

About this time there began to be much talk at Brattahlid, to the effect that Vinland the Good should be explored, because, it was said, that country must be possessed of many good qualities. And so it came to pass that Karlsefni and Snorri fitted out their ship, for the purpose of going in search of that country in the spring. Biarni and Thorhall joined the expedition with their ship, and the men who had accompanied them. There was a man named Thorvard; he was wedded to Freydis, an illegitimate daughter of Eric the Red. He also accompanied them, together with Thorvald, Eric’s son, and Thorhall, who was called the Huntsman. He had been for a long time with Eric as his hunter and fisherman during the summer, and as his steward during the winter. Thorhall was stout, dark and burly; he was a man of few words, though given to abusive language, when he did speak, and he had a tendency toward doing ill. He had had little to do with the Christian faith since it arrived in Greenland. He had a wide knowledge of the unsettled regions. He was on the same ship with Thorvard and Thorvald. They had that ship which Thorbiorn had brought out. They had in all one hundred and sixty men, when they sailed to the Western-settlement and from there to Bear Island. From there they bore away south for two days. Then they saw land, and launched a boat, and explored the land, and found there large flat slabs of stone and many of these were twelve ells wide; there were many Arctic foxes there. They gave a name to the country, and called it Helluland [the land of stone slabs]. Then they sailed with northerly winds two days and again saw land, and it had a great wood and many wild beasts; an island lay off the land to the south-east, and there they found a bear, and they called this Biarney [Bear Island], while the land where the wood was they called Markland [Forest-land]. From there they sailed southward along the land for a long time, and came to a cape. The land lay upon the starboard; there were long strands and sandy banks there. They rowed to the land and found upon the cape there the keel of a ship, and they called it there Kialarnes [Keel point]; they also called the strands Furdustrandir [Wonder-beaches] because they were so long to sail by. Then the country became indented with bays, and they steered their ships into a bay.

When Leif was with King Olaf Tryggvason and he asked him to evangelise Christianity to Greenland, the king had given him two Scots; the man’s name was Haki, and the woman’s Hekia. The king told Leif to call on these people if he was in need of speed, because they ran faster than deer. Eric and Leif had sent this couple to Karlsefni as servants. Now when they had sailed past Wonder-strands, they put the Scots ashore, and told them to run southward, and explore the nature of the country, and return again before the end of the third day. They were each dressed in a garment which they called ‘kiafal’, which was so fashioned, that it had a hood at the top and it was open at the sides, sleeveless, and fastened between the legs with buttons and loops, but they wore nothing else. When they returned, one of them carried a bunch of grapes, and the other an self-sown wheat. They went on board the ship and Karlsefni and his followers continued on their way until they came to where the coast was indented with bays. They stood into a bay with their ships. There was an island out at the mouth of the bay, about which there were strong currents, and they called it Straumey [Stream Isle]. There were so many birds there that it was scarcely possible to step between the eggs. They sailed through the fjord, and called it Straumfiord [Streamfjord] and carried their cargoes ashore from the ships, and established themselves there. They had brought with them all kinds of livestock. It was a fine country there. There were mountains thereabouts.

They occupied themselves exclusively with the exploration of the country. They remained there during the winter, and they had not prepared for this during the summer. The fishing began to fail and they began to fall short of food. Then Thorhall the Huntsman disappeared. They had already prayed to God for food, but it did not come as quickly as their need was urgent. They searched for Thorhall for three days, and found him on a projecting cliff. He was lying there, and looking up at the sky, with mouth and nostrils agape, and mumbling something. They asked him why he had gone there; he replied, that this did not concern anyone. They asked him then to go home with them, and he did so. Soon after this a whale appeared there, and they captured it, and cut it up, and no one could tell what manner of whale it was; and the cooks boiled this whalemeat and ate it and everyone became ill from it. Then Thorhall, approaching them, says: ‘Did not the Red-beard prove more helpful than your Christ? This is my reward for the verses which I composed to Thor, my guardian; seldom has he failed me.’ When the people heard this, they cast the whale down into the sea and made their appeals to God. The weather then improved, and they could now row out to fish, and from then on they had no lack of provisions, for they could hunt game on the land, gather eggs on the island, and catch fish from the sea.

Chapter 8

Concerning Karlsefni and Thorhall

It is said that Thorhall wished to sail to the northward beyond Wonder-strands, in search of Vinland, while Karlsefni desired to proceed to the southward, off the coast. Thorhall prepared for his voyage out below the island, having only nine men in his party, for all of the remainder of the company went with Karlsefni. And one day when Thorhall was carrying water aboard his ship, and was drinking, he spoke this verse:

When I came, these brave men told me,

Here the best of drink I’d get,

Now with water-pail behold me,-

Wine and I are strangers yet.

Stooping at the spring, I ‘ve tested

All the wine this land affords ;

Of its vaunted charms divested,

Poor indeed are its rewards.

And when they were ready, they hoisted sail; upon which Thorhall spoke this verse:

Comrades, let us now be faring

Homeward to our own again.

Let us try the sea-steed’s daring,

Give the chafing courser rein.

Those who will may bide in quiet,

Let them praise their chosen land,

Feasting on a whale-steak diet,

In their home by Wonder-strand.

Then they sailed away to the northward past Wonder-strands and Keel-point, intending to cruise to the westward around the cape. They encountered westerly gales, and were driven ashore in Ireland, where they were grievously maltreated and thrown into slavery. There Thorhall lost his life, according to that which traders have related.

It is now to be told of Karlsefni, that he cruised southward off the coast, with Snorri and Biarni, and their people. They sailed for a long time, and until they came at last to a river, which flowed down from the land into a lake, and so into the sea. There were great bars at the mouth of the river, so that it could only be entered at the height of the flood-tide. Karlsefni and his men sailed into the mouth of the river, and called it there Hóp [a small land-locked bay]. They found self-sown wheat-fields on the land there, wherever there were hollows, and wherever there was hilly ground, there were vines. Every brook there was full of fish. They dug pits, on the shore where the tide rose highest, and when the tide fell, there were halibut in the pits. There were great numbers of wild animals of all kinds in the woods. They remained there half a month, and enjoyed themselves, and kept no watch. They had their live-stock with them.

Now one morning early, when they looked about them, they saw a great number of hide-canoes and poles were waved from the boats, and it made a swishing sound, and they were turned in the same direction in which the sun moves. Then said Karlsefni: ‘What does this mean?’ Snorri, Thorbrand’s son, answers him: ‘It may be, that this is a signal of peace, and let us take a white shield and display it.’ And thus they did. Then the strangers rowed toward them, and went upon the land, marvelling at those whom they saw before them. They were dark men and threatening-looking, and the hair on their heads was ugly. They had large eyes, and their cheeks were broad. They stayed there for a while looking curiously at the people they saw before them, and then rowed away to the south around the point. Karlsefni and his followers had built their huts above the lake, some of their dwellings being near the lake, and others farther away. Now they remained there that winter. No snow came there, and all of their live-stock lived by grazing.

And when spring opened, they discovered, early one morning, a great number of hide-canoes rowing from the south past the cape, so numerous that it looked as if coals had been scattered on the bay; and on every boat poles were waved. Thereupon Karlsefni and his people displayed their shields, and when they came together, they began to barter with each other. The strangers particularly wished to buy red cloth, for which they offered in exchange pelts and grey skins. They also desired to buy swords and spears, but Karlsefni and Snorri forbid this. In exchange for perfect unsullied skins, the Skrellings would take red cloth a span in length, which they would bind around their heads. So their trade went on for a time, until Karlsefni and his people began to grow short of cloth, when they divided it into such narrow pieces, that it was not more than a finger’s breadth wide, but the Skrellings still continued to give just as much for this as before, or more.

It so happened that a bull that belonged to Karlsefni and his people ran out from the woods, bellowing loudly. This so terrified the Skrellings that they sped out to their canoes, and then rowed away to the southward along the coast. For three entire weeks nothing more was seen of them. At the end of this time, however, a great multitude of Skrelling boats was discovered approaching from the south, as if a stream were pouring down, and all of their poles were waved in a direction contrary to the course of the sun, and the Skrellings were all crying out loudly. Thereupon Karlsefni and his men took red shields and displayed them. The Skrellings sprang from their boats, and they met then and fought. There was a fierce shower of missiles, for the Skrellings had war-slings. Karlsefni and Snorri saw that the Skrellings raised up on a pole a great ball-shaped thing, almost the size of a sheep’s belly, and nearly black in colour, and this they hurled from the pole up on the land above Karlsefni’s followers, and it made a frightful noise, where it fell. At this, Karlsefni and all his men became very fearful, so that they could only think of running away and making their escape up along the river bank. It seemed to them that the troop of the Skrellings was rushing towards them from every side, and they did not pause until they came to jutting cliffs, where they offered a stout resistance.

Freydis came out, and saw that Karlsefni and his men were fleeing. She cried: ‘Why do you flee from these wretches, sturdy men like you, who look capable of slaughtering them like cattle. If I only had a weapon, I would fight better than any of you’. They paid no attention to her words. Freydis wanted to follow them, but she lagged behind for she was pregnant. She went after them into the forest, while the Skrellings pursued her; she found a dead man in front of her; this was Thorbrand, Snorri’s son, his skull split by a flat stone; his naked sword lay beside him. She took it up, and prepared to defend herself with it. The Skrellings then approached her, whereupon she opened her shift to expose her breast and slapped it on the sword. This terrified the Skrellings and they ran down to their boats and rowed away. Karlsefni and his companions, however, joined her and praised her good fortune. Two of Karlsefni’s men had fallen, and a great number of the Skrellings. Karlsefni’s party had been outnumbered.

They now returned to their dwellings and bound up their wounds, and weighed carefully what people that could have been, which had seemed to descend upon them from the land; it now seemed to them that there could have been but the one party, that which came from the boats, and that the other troop must have been an illusion. The Skrellings, moreover, found a dead man, and an axe lay beside him. One of their number picked up the axe, and struck at a tree with it, and one after another [they tested it] and it seemed to them to be a treasure, and to cut well. Then one of them seized it, and hacked at a stone with it so that the axe broke, upon which they concluded that it could be of no use since it would not withstand stone, and they cast it away. It now seemed clear to Karlsefni and his people, that although the country here was attractive, their life would be one of constant dread and turmoil because of its inhabitants.

Then they prepared to depart, and decided to return to their own country. They sailed to the northward off the coast, and found five Skrellings in skin-bags, lying asleep near the sea. There were vessels beside them containing animal marrow, mixed with blood. Karlsefni and his company concluded that they must have been exiled from their own land. They killed them. They afterwards found a headland upon which there was a great number of deer, and this point looked as if it were one cake of dung because of the animals which lay there at night. They now arrived again at Streamfjord, where they found a great abundance of all those things of which they stood in need. Some men say that Biarni and Freydis remained behind here with a hundred men, and went no further; while Karlsefni and Snorri proceeded to the southward with forty men, staying at Hóp barely two months, and returning again the same summer. Karlsefni then set out with one ship in search of Thorhall the Huntsman, but the greater part of the company remained behind. They sailed to the north around Keel-point and then bore to the westward, having land to the port side. The country there was a wooded wilderness as far as they could see, with scarcely an open space; and when they had journeyed for long, they came to a river flowed down from the east toward the west. They sailed into the mouth of the river, and lay to by the southern bank.

Chapter 9

The slaying of Thorvald, Eric’s son

It happened one morning, that Karlsefni and his companions discovered in an open space in the woods above them, a speck, which seemed to shine toward them, and they shouted at it: it stirred, and it was a one-legged creature who skipped down to the bank of the river by which they were lying. Thorvald, a son of Eric the Red, was sitting at the helm, and the Uniped shot an arrow into his inwards. Thorvald drew out the arrow, and exclaimed: ‘There is fat on my belly; we have hit upon a fruitful country, but we are not likely to profit much from it.’ Thorvald died soon after from this wound. Then the Uniped ran away back toward the north. Karlsefni and his men pursued him, and saw him from time to time. The last they saw of him, he ran down into a creek. Then they turned back; whereupon one of the men uttered this verse:

Eager, our men, up hill down dell,

Hunted a Uniped;

Hearken, Karlsefni, while they tell

How swift the quarry fled.

Then they sailed away back toward the north, and believed they had got sight of the land of the Unipeds; but they did not want to risk the lives of their men any longer. They concluded that the mountains of Hóp, and those which they had now found, formed one chain, and this appeared to be so because they were about an equal distance removed from Streamfjord in either direction. They sailed back, and passed the third winter at Streamfjord. Then the men began to divide into factions. Those who were without wives sought to seize upon the wives of those who were married, and from this, the greatest trouble arose.

Snorri, Karlsefni’s son, was born the first autumn, and he was three winters’ old when they left. When they sailed away from Vinland, they had a southerly wind, and so came upon Markland, where they found five Skrellings, of whom one was bearded, two were women, and two were children. Karlsefni and his people took the boys, but the others escaped, and these Skrellings sank down into the earth. They bore the lads away with them, and taught them to speak, and they were baptized. They said that their mother’s name was Vethild, and their father’s Ovaegi. They said that kings governed the Skrellings, one of whom was called Avalldamon, and the other Valdidida. They stated that there were no houses there, and that the people lived in caves or holes. They said that there was a land on the other side over against their country, which was inhabited by people who wore white garments and yelled loudly and carried poles before them, to which banners were attached; and people believe that this must have been Hvítramanna-land [White-men’s-land], or Ireland the Great. Now they arrived in Greenland, and remained during the winter with Eric the Red.

Biarni, Grimolfs son, and his companions were driven out into the Atlantic and came into a sea, which was filled with worms, and their ship began to sink beneath them. They had a boat which had been coated with seal-tar; this tar the sea-worm does not penetrate. They took their places in this boat, and then discovered that it would not hold them all. Then said Biarni: ‘Since the boat will not hold more than half of our men, it is my advice, that the men who are to go in the boat, be chosen by lot, for this selection must not be made according to rank.’ This seemed to them all such a manly offer, that no one opposed it. So they adopted this plan, the men casting lots; and it fell to Biarni to go in the boat, and half of the men with him, for it would not hold more. But when the men came into the boat, an Icelander who was in the ship, and who had accompanied Biarni from Iceland, said: ‘Do you intend, Biarni, to forsake me here?’ ‘It must be even so,’ answers Biarni. ‘Not such was the promise you gave my father,’ he answers, ‘when I left Iceland with you, that you would thus part with me, when you said that we should both share the same fate.’ ‘So be it, it shall not rest thus,’ answers Biarni; ‘do you come here, and I will go to the ship, for I see that you are eager for life. Biarni thereupon boarded the ship, and this man entered the boat, and they went their way until they came to Dublin in Ireland, and there they told this tale; now it is the belief of most people, that Biarni and his companions perished in the maggot-sea, for they were never heard of afterward.

Chapter 10

Karlsefni and his wife Thurid’s issue

The following summer Karlsefni sailed to Iceland and Gudrid with him, and he went home to Reynines. His mother believed that he had made a poor match, and she was not at home the first winter. However, when she became convinced that Gudrid was a very superior woman, she returned to her home, and their relationship was good. Hallfrid was a daughter of Snorri, Karlsefni’s son, she was the mother of Bishop Thorlak, Runolfs son. They had a son named Thorbiorn, whose daughter’s name was Thorunn, [she was] Bishop Biorn’s mother. Thorgeir was the name of a son of Snorri, Karlsefni’s son, [he was] the father of Ingveld, mother of Bishop Brand the Elder. Steinunn was a daughter of Snorri, Karlsefni’s son, who married Einar, a son of Grundar-Ketil, a son of Thorvald Crook, a son of Thori of Espihol. Their son was Thorstein the Unjust, he was the father of Gudrun, who married Jorund of Keldur. Their daughter was Halla, the mother of Flosi, the father of Valgerd, the mother of Herra Erlend the Stout, the father of Hauk the Lawman. Another daughter of Flosi was Thordis, the mother of Ingigerd the Mighty. Her daughter was Hallbera, Abbess of Reyniness at Stad. Many other great people in Iceland are descended from Karlsefni and Thurid, who are not mentioned here. God be with us, Amen!