Read CHAPTER XII of Gudrid the Fair A Tale of the Discovery of America , free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on

Thore was very good to her, as he had promised, but he had to be obeyed.  Directly he saw the token which she wore, he wanted to know about it.

“What is that which you wear round your neck?  It looks to be gold.”

She said it was a token.  “A token!  And what kind of a token?” She said she had had it when she was a child.

“Let me look at it,” said he.  He held it near to the light.

“Rats have been at this,” he said.  “Here are teeth-marks.  Hungry rats, too, they must have been.  And that was a good coin of England once — and valueless now.  There’s the half of a king for you.  That was Knut King of England — a rare man I have heard my father say.  And rats have bitten him in half.  Take it off, my girl.  You don’t want such things now.”  She thought that reasonable, and took it off, to be laid aside.  She had not much feeling about it now, and yet could not bear it should be lost.  She put it carefully away in her chest next day.

By and by she told Thore that she had not spoken the truth.  She had not been really a child when it was given her.

“I never thought so,” said Thore.

“And it was not rats that bit it.”

“Rats, indeed!  Never in the world.”

Then she told him the whole story, which he took very good-humouredly.  “So that’s it, is it?  And when I take you to Iceland I suppose you will call him up with that?”

“Not unless I want to see him,” she said.

“Not unless I want to see him, you would say?”

“I think you will be as pleased with him as I shall be,” said Gudrid.  So all went well except for Einar perhaps, whose prospects certainly were not enhanced by being talked about.  The stronghold of a lover is to be so deeply hid that he is never talked of.

It was the fact that Gudrid was happy with her blunt blackbeard of a man.  He was easy to live with, always much the same, and did not ask for more than he was able to give.  He was very thrifty, and taught her to be so, for she was anxious to please.  He was never jealous, though Thorstan had a way of coming to the house.  At the same time, he told her one night that he wouldn’t have him there when he himself was away.  He was often from home two and three days together.  “It has a bad look,” he said.  “The neighbours look pityingly at a man.  I won’t have that.  Not that there is any harm in Thorstan.  He is the son of a friend of mine, and a very honest young man, though I call him dull.  A man ought to be able to talk.  I think him hot-tempered, too.  He killed a lover of his sister Freydis once, and might as well have left it alone.  She could have looked after herself.  Besides, we are not so handy with our weapons as our fathers were in Iceland.  Life is hard enough in this country without cold steel.  Now remember — ” and he pinched her cheek — “no men here when I am away.”

Certainly she did not love Thore as she believed she had loved Einar the sailor.  Thore never made her heart beat, or brought mist over her eyes.  But she was happy and proud of her great house and many maids and young men.  And she was happy enough to be sorry for Thorstan, who followed her about with a dog’s patient eyes, and evidently worshipped her shadow.  He told her that he went down to Heriolfsness when he heard that she was promised to Thore.  When there he had gone to see Thorberg.  What did she tell him?  Gudrid wanted to know; but he wouldn’t answer.  He said, however, that she had told him that he himself had the sight.  “I had thought as much,” he said, “and now I know that I have.”

Gudrid became very much interested, but not enough to dare probe any further.  Indeed, she asked him not to tell her what he had seen.  Thorstan looked away.  “I would not tell you even if I knew anything,” he said; “I would die sooner.”  She felt that she might become very fond of this moody and melancholy Thorstan, as a woman readily will of a man who, through no fault of his own, seems marked out for misfortune.  She could not find that he had any faults.  While very manly, and of great strength and courage — for he was untiring at hunting, could swim like a seal, and was believed to be afraid of nothing — with all this he was as gentle as a woman.  She knew that he was a poet, though he would not sing her any of the verses he made.  She thought to herself, “I could make him if I cared”; and the thought gave her joy.  She told herself that if ever she loved a man again, as she had once understood love, it would be this man.  And upon the heels of that thought came another, which she instantly put away, What and if Thorstan was to be her second husband?  She put that out of her mind for Thore’s sake — Thore’s, who had freed her and made her happy.  It was odd that Thore, whom she could never love, had made her happy, while Thorstan whom she could have loved, it was certain, would never do that.

In the course of that year the great event was the home-coming of Leif, Eric Red’s eldest son.  He sailed up the frith in the early morning of a June day, and when Eric came out of doors, there was Leif’s fine ship in the anchorage, and many boats about it.

He had been away more than two years, adventuring greatly; but those adventures of his do not belong to this tale.  He had been in Orkney for some time, and had fallen in love with a high lady whose name was Thorgunna.  He knew her to be of great descent, and that she had the gift.  He was much taken with her and she with him, and they set no bounds upon their intercourse, it is understood.  When it came to the day before he sailed, Thorgunna said that she would go with him.  Leif said that could not be, because her kindred would never allow it.  “Maybe my people are as good as yours,” he said, “but yours would not believe it, and I have to make my way in the world.”  “Think nothing of my people,” she said, “but take me.”  But Leif would not.  So then she told him the truth, that she was with child, and the child his.  “If that’s the case, then I stay here till the child is born.  Him I will take, for it is the best thing for you.”  But Thorgunna said that she would bring up the child, and send him out to Greenland as soon as he was old enough.  “I will accept him,” Leif said.

He sailed, then, as he had intended, and went to Norway.  There he fell in with King Olaf Tryggvasson, and was made a Christian.  The King put great trust in him, and when he heard that he was going home to Greenland, gave it in his charge to change the people’s religion.  Leif said that would be a hard matter.  “My mother is a Christian, I know; but my father is not, and never will be, and my brothers are of no account.”  But King Olaf was in earnest about it, and Leif promised that it should be as he wished.

Thore and Gudrid went to Brattalithe to see Leif.  Gudrid thought that she had never seen so fine-looking a man.  He was about thirty-five years old, and six feet four inches high.  He looked as broad as a bull.  He had golden hair and beard, and blue eyes.  His face was burned to a hot brown colour.  He was frank and open in speech, and full of fun and jokes.  No secret was made of his intentions towards the religion of the people in Greenland.  He told his father what he had undertaken; and he set about it at once.  Theodhild, his mother, helped him, and Gudrid made Thore give money to increase the church.  Thorstan and Thorwald were among the first to be sprinkled, but Freydis would have nothing to do with it, and Eric Red said that he was too old to change.  Leif took that good-humouredly and laughed at his father.  “If I were to tell you where was a great store of gold and silver coins, to be had for a little cold water on your back, you would strip to the skin in midwinter.  But you will believe in no treasure which you cannot handle and run through your hands.  Where do you expect to go when you die, with all that wickedness on your shoulders?  You will come to a bad end, and ask me then to help you.  I know how it will be.  But go your way.”

He spent that summer preaching to the people in the Settlement up and down the frith.  Most of the people accepted what he told them, because it was he who told it.  Others said that if the King of Norway was of that way of thinking it was more likely to be the right than the wrong way.

There was another matter very much in Leif’s mind, and that was the voyage of Biorn Heriolfsson.  He had to hear all about that, and he heard it first from Gudrid.  Her face glowed and her eyes showed fire as she spoke of it.  Leif watched her and thought her a lovely woman.  “If you and I were to go out there together,” he said, “we should never come back again.  But your good man would take it in bad part.”  Gudrid said, “Yes, he would.  But to go with us would seem to him still worse.  Yet you will go.”  Leif considered.

“Yes,” he said, “I shall go, and as soon as may be.  But first I must know what course Biorn took, and next I must have his ship to go in.  I would not take my own — she is neither roomy enough, nor strong enough built for such great seas.”

Gudrid had by heart the figures and bearings of Biorn’s voyage, for first Einar had drawn them on Orme’s table, then Heriolf on his own, and then Biorn on Eric’s table.  She fetched a charcoal from the kitchen and drew the map, with all the company crowded about her.  Leif was absorbed in it and her eager explanations.  “I see just what he did,” he said.  “He drifted far south of Greenland, and didn’t know it.  Then when he got a wind he sailed south-south-west, and made that low-lying forest country.  Then he steered north with a wind off the land, and came into the winter which we have here.  He followed the coast along, and then, when it came on to blow from the south-west, he ran before it, and made Greenland.  That’s what he did.  And that’s what I will do.”

“It is what I would do if I were a man,” said Gudrid.

“Good for me that you are not a man,” said Thore, who sat by the wall.

Before that summer was over Thore told Gudrid that he should take her to Iceland, as he had business there.  They would go almost at once.

“How long shall we be there?” she asked him.

He said that there was no telling.  “A year and more, I expect.”

Her face fell.  “Then we shall miss Leif’s sailing.”

“No harm in that,” said Thore.  “What have you to do with Leif and his affairs?  Enough for you that you have made him go.”  He was not angry with her; but he thought Leif altogether too fine-looking a man.  That was a man’s reason — no woman would have reasoned so.