THE VOYAGE OF THORVALD EIRIKSSON

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The tale goes on with the story that Leif had a younger brother named Thorvald. Thorvald seems to have been obsessed with that tension so common in younger brothers of fortunate older siblings and during the following winter when all are congregating in the long hall for sociability and tale telling, Thorvald takes Leif to severe task for "--- not having exploring Vinland sufficiently." Eventually this situation is resolved after some negotiations with the arrangement that Thorvald would return to Leifsbudir and explore to his heart's content. He will be free to borrow but not to own Leif's houses but, moreover, as part of the agreement, Thorvald will salvage the cargo of the wreck on the skerry before he departs on the longer journey. This he does and then leaves with an apparently indeterminate size of complement. The figure may have been as low as thirty men, or as high as 65.(This transcript was written very early in my research.  Subsequent readings of Flaytybok in direct translation finds that the crew was stipulated precisely at 30 men.  In fact, it is now apparent that the Saga complement  all the expeditions exactly defined.)

 

Details from Bayeau Tapestry of 1067 showing inshore navigation of Viking ships.  Left view shows a man taking soundings - a most important task.  Right view is a ship navigating in shallows.  Note the few oarsmen facing forward for slow progress but immediate response; the lookout at the masthead; and the anchorman ready with the only "brake" a ship can have.  The lookout is attempting to identify channels where the ship might approach a shore as close as possible. From his height, these channels are clearer than from deck level. All these activities are described or assumed in the Vinland Sagas.

                                             

Thorvald uses the same ship that Leif had sailed, which now, as we see, has been to the coast of Vinland three times when, at last, he arrives there. There is little said concerning his outward journey, only that he arrives at Leifsbudir without difficulty, occupies his brother's houses, and commences to explore. His stay and the explorations are indistinct, with an aura of mysticism and indefinition that make his entire stay at Leifsbudir almost dreamlike; the only episode that comes through with any clarity is a journey to the west of Leifsbudir where he finds this coastline wooded to a rocky shoreline, eventually reaching shoals, difficult navigationlo2 and - all told - only one chronicled sign of men, this being a structure of some sort on an island with no one about. The structure is variously translated to be a barn, shed, grainery, or corncrib. After this they return to Leifsbudir. They are on the coast for two years (actually, by analysis, a year and a half, for we must account for a period of delay for the trip down), and then commence their homeward Journey which in detail and drama add much to our suppositions.

As they start homeward they make a landing as they see something on the shore that interests them.  It is three native boats upturned and beneath are five natives asleep. Viking blood comes to the fore and the sagas simply say that these natives were killed. Uncharacteristically for Vikings, who were not in the habit of explaining themselves thus, they rationalize that the reason they did so was because these men seemed to be "- outlaws from the land" Thorvald, too, may have been converted by force, as it would not seem his Christian ethics ran very deep! The native food supply is described as being "blood and marrow mixed and carried in sacks."

They go on and make another landing on a cape or peninsula which is so covered with the excrement of "animals" that it is hard to walk there, so they name this place "Dungeness - cape of excrement.

Again, while sailing on, perhaps in a storm, they suffer a grounding and this is severe; it breaks

the keel of the ship in such a way that they cannot proceed without repairing it, which they do; but these repairs consume two whole months. When it is finished they set the old keel upright in the sand and name the place "Keelness."

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But even though these repairs must have been aggravating we can see from immediate events that Thorvald was yet in no great hurry to sail directly to Greenland for his courses from Keelness are well defined and signify an attitude of continued explorations.  He is said to have sailed north and around a north pointing cape and thence turned in-land (var. west, occasionally east, "inland" the more common translation).  and then comes to a place which is well detailed and where an informative drama takes place.

They enter a bay (var. fjord)  and make landing on an island or headland. It is high and has steep banks so rather than make the ordinary "beaching" landing they moor alongside the bank and go ashore on a gangplank, then climb to the top of the hill.  Off in the distance they see "mounds" which seem to be a village of natives. Then they see closer to, and on the same island, more upturned native boats so they investigate and find yet nine more men asleep under them. Again they attack the innocent natives and manage to kill eight, but one survives to escape by furiously paddling a "boat" away toward the village.

They return to the top of the hill and Thorvald looks around and declares that the land seems to be so fair and he likes it so well that he would like to stay and settle the place (var."- linger there a long time"). Thorvald and others of his crew then make speculations on where they are. They say that it seems they are not far from their old camp, Leifsbudir (var. Hop), and that the mountains seem to be of the same range as those at Leifsbudir. (This remark is the most in the sagas, for it enables comprehension of the land of Vinland.)

Suddenly everyone is overcome with a mysterious lethargy and they return to the ship (or a nearby meadow) and go to sleep. They are shocked awake by a voice that comes from above, saying, "Arise, Thorvald, you and all your men! Danger is at hand! If you would save life take to your arms!" Indeed danger was close by! They looked out and saw a multitude of boats approaching - it was the survivor of their massacre returning with many reinforcements. The "skraelings" (skreetchers, barbarians) do not stop to parlay but immediately go into attack while still in their boats; in the interval while the Norse prepare to defend themselves, Thorvald gives orders that they should fight only so hard as to defend themselves and not go into counterattack. For, he says, "I still think this so fair a land that I would settle here and I wish to make no more enemies for this combat." (translation approximate.)

The battle is fast and furious and a number of natives are slain. They eventually break off and return the way they came.

Then Thorvald turns to his crew and inquires if anyone is wounded and is told that no one is hurt. He then says, "I fear it is as I said and that I will linger here for a long time, for I have been hit with an arrow and I believe it will be the death of me. He then pulls the arrow out from under his armpit (var. groin) and shows it around. He then says, "'This is indeed, a fair land for I see much fat from my insides stuck to the arrowhead. When I die I want you to bury me here and not in Greenland." He dies and his crew buries him with crosses at both his head and his feet so they name this place Crossannes.

The crew then takes ship and returns to Greenland and on the way make only one definite waystop. Two are described but one of these is told with such mystical events surrounding that it cannot be used for detailing the voyage. The definite one is said to be a river which flowed from the east to west and the ship is moored along the north (var. south) bank.

Some of the mystical events which surround both this and the following brief one of Thorstein Erickson are interesting in themselves and may have some basis in fact. Somewhere along the homeward trip a landing is made either by Thorvald, or possibly Thorstein, and two native children are captured and taken home. These two are well treated and survive to adulthood and so learn to speak Norse. They then tell of another land near where they came from where the people were white like the Norse and carried white banners before them as they "screamed." The king of this other land was named Valdidida.

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