A different story
This is a bit different. It tells the story of Freydis from a Norseman's point of view.
Jennifer Leigh Crandall
“It will do you no good,” sighed the old woman as she stepped back to allow the grey haired man to enter the house. “He has refused to speak of that time since I have known him. Ah well, try if you must. I am on my way to my granddaughter’s house. She is due to give birth this night and I must attend her. There is food on the table, you may help yourself. I warn you though, he will not speak.” So saying, she pulled on her cloak and stepped out into the gathering darkness.
The tall man stood just inside the door. The house was long and low with a hard packed dirt floor. Sleeping booths lined one wall while the other wall was covered with hangings and other workings. The fire pit was in the center of the room and the fire had burned low. Smoke hung in the air all through the rafters. An elderly man sat staring into the small blaze; he did not even acknowledge the stranger’s presence.
“Heilsa,” said the stranger as he dropped another dry clod of peat on the fire. The old man did not respond. The stranger grunted and filled a bowl from the stew pot which hung over the fire. He took a small loaf of bread and untied his spoon from his belt. Sitting down across the fire from the old fellow, he dipped the bread in the stew and tasted it. Nodding his head in approval, he silently finished his meal. Having washed his bowl and spoon in the bucket of water, he retied the spoon to his belt and sat back down facing the old man. In truth he was not much younger than the old fellow himself.
“Do you see her there?” he asked at length.
The old man raised his eyes to the stranger then looked back to the fire without speaking.
“Freydis,” said the stranger, “is her face before you in the fire?”
This time the old man’s head snapped up. His eyes, suddenly clear and cold, bored into the eyes of the stranger. At length he spoke. “Who are you to speak that name?” he demanded.
“Peace Greenlander,” said the stranger softly, “I am a friend.”
“No Icelander is a friend to me,” snarled the old man, rising from his seat. “Be gone from my house.” He placed his hand on a cruel looking dagger that hung from his belt.
“I had heard that Bjarni Thorgrimsson was a man of the old ways,” said the stranger without moving. “I claim the protection of this house under the laws of hospitality.”
“She let you in,” sighed the old fellow, dropping his hand away from the knife. He sat back down before the fire. “I guess I am stuck with you. So, who are you Icelander who invokes the old ways? Are you not afraid that one of the priests will hear you? If they do they will burn you in their holy fires and take your lands.”
“I fear the Christian priest no more than you do Greenlander,” laughed the stranger. “I am too old now to fear death. Twice you have asked for my name now and you shall have it. We have met before, you and I, even if I was too young to remember. You were there when the shores of Vinland heard my first cries of life. You were there when I took my first steps on that forgotten land.”
“Snorri,” breathed the old man softly as he peered deeply into the stranger’s eyes. “Yes, I know those eyes. I held your small hand as you took that first step so long ago.” He sighed and sat back. “What brings you to Greenland and why do you speak that name to me? What makes you think I can see Freydis in the flames?”
“I left Iceland to seek you out old friend,” said Snorri. “Of late I have been haunted by dreams of Vinland and the people who were there when I was born. In these dreams I see a woman change into a Valkyrie who slaughters her enemies. You and I are the only ones left alive who were there. I was too young then to understand or remember what happened to drive us away. Only you have the answers I need.”
“Have you no family?” asked old Bjarni.
“I have a wife and children,” answered Snorri. “They are still in Iceland. I came alone and told no one of my true purpose. No one until I spoke with your wife at your door.”
“Why do you come to me now?” asked Bjarni. “The Christians have written the tale in their strange runes. All lies too, I have no doubt, they could not bear the truth of the tale.”
“It is for the truth of the tale that I have come,” replied Snorri. “Only the truth will put my mind at rest, and only the truth will let me sleep again. Vinland calls to me at night. She calls to me in the sounds of the sea and in the cries of the birds. I was born there and in my age, she calls me home. I can find no one to take me there, for they all fear the journey now. Gone is the courage of Karlsefni and Leif. Gone is the courage of Erik’s line, lost in their kneeling prayers. I am doomed to die far from the land of my birth and only the tale that you can tell will give me any peace at all.”
“You will have the tale for it is past time I told it to someone,” sighed Bjarni. With a sigh of his own, Snorri sat back to listen. “I went to Vinland to be near Freydis,” Bjarni began. “I had not wanted to leave Greenland, but when I heard that Freydis was to go, I made my way onto the same ship. Ah, if ever a young lad was bewitched by the sight of an older woman, it was I at the sight of Freydis. Such a woman was she with her flame red hair and her ice blue eyes. I was barely twelve summers grown, but I could not stay behind. She thought me just a child of course, but I had my daydreams as all young men do. I sailed to Vinland to be near her and got my wish. For all our time there I was in the encampment with her. Too young was I to sail with the men so they said, and I did not argue. I had hoped that her husband would be killed by the Skraeling and I would have my chance. That day did not come, of course.
“We had been in Vinland for a few years and it was beginning to feel like home. You and another were always running about and getting under foot. Most of the men spent their time away exploring or trading with the Skraeling. Sometimes their efforts met with bad results. Leif’s brother was killed by a Skraeling arrow. Slowly the Skraeling were beginning to become troublesome.”
“What of the day we were driven out?” encouraged Snorri. “It is of that battle that I dream.”
“That day is burned into my mind,” replied Bjarni, “and I have wished many times it was not. The trouble began a few days before that. A small group of Skraeling paddled into the fiord and came ashore at the encampment. At first all was well. We traded some goods with them and they seemed friendly enough. The peace did not last however. The great bull that was grazing nearby took offence to them and charged into their company. This frightened them nearly to death.” Bjarni chuckled at the memory of that scene. “It took us quite a while to calm them down again,” he went on. “No sooner did we get them calm when one of their number picked up Erik Fairhair’s axe and struck a wooden pole with it. The wood split and they were all buzzing about this wonderful thing.
“Erik tried to make them give it back, but they would not. One of them turned about and struck a great blow with the axe. He struck a stone and the axe broke. Erik shouted in anger and hit the Skraeling with his great fist, smashing the man’s nose and sending him crashing to the ground. We all fought then, and they were swiftly driven off.
“Freydis was in a fine rage after that. She said they would come back with many more men and that we should all prepare for a battle. The men refused to listen to her and went back to their farming. Freydis sent me into the hills each day after that to keep watch. Three days later the Skraeling returned. There were hundreds of them.
Our men seized up swords and shields and ran to the beach to meet the enemy. The women and small children were sent to the hills to hide in case the battle went against us. Freydis was quite pregnant at the time and so she fell behind as they fled. Back on the beach things went from bad to worse. There were just too many of them and when Erik Fairhair fell, the men lost heart. They broke and ran to the hills. I was among the first to flee.” Bjarni hung his head in silence for a moment.
Snorri could easily appreciate the shame the old man was feeling. “You were no more than a boy and had never seen a battle before,” he said softly. “There is no shame in what you did.”
“There is more,” sighed Bjarni, “there is so much more. The Skraeling chased us and some of the men were killed as we ran. Soon we had fled past the pregnant Freydis and left her behind. The screaming horde of Skraeling were close on our heels and as I turned to look for her I fell across Haldar’s body. A long arrow was sticking out of his back. Whimpering in fear I crawled under some low growing trees and hid myself. Within seconds Freydis came past my hiding place. She was screaming at the fleeing men to come back and defend her, but they did not. Right before my eyes she tripped over the same root I had and fell headlong over Haldar’s body.”
Bjarni was silent for so long that Snorri wondered if he would speak again. He felt the emotions that ravaged the old Viking warrior. It seemed strange to see him thus, this man whom so many men all over Europe feared as they would the devil himself. “What happened after she fell?” he asked gently.
Bjarni’s head snapped up and the coldest eyes Snorri had ever seen burned into his. “That’s when it happened,” he said at last. “For a moment she lay cursing, and then her hand closed over Haldar’s broken sword. As her fingers closed around the handle she cried out to Freya to take her and save the child within her body. She surged to her feet and for a brief moment her eyes met mine. Freydis’ eyes were blue, but those eyes were green and alive with rage.
“She began to sing a berserker song and turned to face the on coming Skraeling. As the rage took her she lost the song and was just screaming her challenge at her enemies. She began to bite at the sword blade and tore the bodice from her gown. Beating her bare breasts with the flat of the sword she charged the Skraeling. Her first blow took off a man’s arm and the second cleaved another’s skull. They could see her eyes too and well they knew what they faced. They did not face a frightened pregnant woman, they faced the goddess of the north and she was in full battle rage. The Skraeling turned to flee and Freydis chased them back into the sea, slaying each one that she caught.
“I was the first to return. She was still hacking at one of their bodies as I reached her. She turned on me with those cold green eyes and my heart shrank in my chest. She reached out to touch my arm and held me spell bound with those eyes. ‘Never again will you hide from your enemies,’ she said in a voice as fierce as a Greenland wind. She touched my chest and I went cold inside, for I knew I was dead. I knew I deserved to die for my cowardliness, but I did not. As she held my arm her eyes changed back to blue and the goddess left her. Freydis collapsed into my arms as the other men returned.
“The rest is easy to guess; we eventually loaded our things on the ships and sailed back to Greenland. I left Greenland with the Icelanders, as I could not look into her eyes again. I went a-Viking and fought many battles throughout Europe. Long did I seek my own death in battle, but Freya hid her face from me and I will die an old man in his bed. I have looked into the eyes of a goddess, and spent much of my life seeking them again. It is said she comes to women in need and a man will see her just at the moment of his death. Soon I hope to see her and Freydis again.”
The old man was silent for a long time. Realizing the tale was ended Snorri rose to go. As he reached the door Bjarni spoke again.
“It is truly in your heart to return there?” the old fellow asked.
“The ache inside me grows greater each day,” replied Snorri. “I had hoped that hearing your tale would ease my suffering, but it has only made the calling stronger.”
“You are quite wrong, you know,” said Bjarni rising and walking over to Snorri. “The blood of Eirik Rode’s children still runs strong in Greenland. There are true men and women living in both Markland and Vinland. They do not farm, just hunt, cut timber and return. Each season ships leave quietly and return the next year. This knowledge has been kept from the Christian priests. What they do not know they cannot steal or tax. The elder gods live still in Greenland hearts. Go to Stokkaness and seek out Haldar the Tall. Tell him Bjarni the Seeker has sent you and that I have said he should take you home.”
Snorri just stood looking at the old man. A ship was leaving for Vinland and he could be on it? How was that possible? Could this be true? The old man had no reason to lie. “How can I ever thank you for this kindness?” he asked softly.
Bjarni reached into his tunic and pulled out a small leather pouch. From it he dumped an old cloak pin into Snorri’s palm. “This was Freydis’ cloak pin,” he said. “I took it from the place where she fell. Take it back and bury it near the largest of the houses. That was her house and it belongs there. I have no further need of the luck it brings.”
“It will be as you ask,” said Snorri as he closed his fingers over the pin. It still held the warmth of Bjarni’s body. He took the older man by the shoulders, “you have given me the greatest gift a man could ask. May you find the peace you seek.” So saying, he strode off into the night. Old Bjarni closed the door and went back to his seat by the fire. With a sigh he resumed his search for Freya’s eyes in the dancing flames.
Jennifer Leigh Crandall
Copyright © June 2000