Authors Note: Another assignment from 10th grade English class, we had to write a story based on a historical figure. Given a list of names (I don’t remember the others) I chose Erik the Red due to the excitement I felt about writing a story with a viking in it!
This is it, I thought. This is what I was meant for! The smell of the open sea before me was refreshing, the air thickly coated with salt and moisture. The quiet wind blowing through the sail made it flap to and fro, the faded white canvas dancing with the thrill of gliding over the calming waves once again. Seagulls cried out in conversation to each other as they raced with our ship, partially taunting us by occasionally circling back and easily catching up. They flew in a constant weaving motion, following the pushing and pulling of the waves that gently carried our boat inch by inch.
It was the year 982, and I had just been exiled from my home of Iceland for a rather bloody dispute. “For three years ye must not step foot upon this land,” the judges said.
“Fair enough,” says I to them. I knew I had it coming, though it didn’t settle easily in me gut. With that, I took my wife and our babies off the island and moved elsewhere. However, I did not remain with them in our new home, for what heart I had was being pulled upon to go explore the island of the West, which we- the people of Iceland- referred to as the unknown land. For years as a child I would climb the mountaintops and stare out at what was visible of the island, dreaming about exploring the unknown terrain. Now here I was, setting out on a journey to that very island I longingly gazed at for so long.
“Erik!” a gravelly voice called out, disturbing the calmness of the moment I was having. I turned abruptly from staring out over the water, glaring at my addresser. He stomped his way over to me, not aware he had disturbed me so.
“What have you to say, Thorbjorn? Could there possibly be trouble when we’ve been out at see for barely three hours?” I said irritably, folding my thick hand over the pommel of the sword at my waist.
“Trouble is not the word, sir, not yet,” Thorbjorn said. He folded his tattooed arms over his bare chest, his mustached lip twitching.
“What be it, then? Speak quickly, my temper rises,” I said, copying his stance.
Thorbjorn suddenly realized the anger in my expression, his head shrinking down a little. He cleared his throat, running his fingers through the coarse strands of brown hair dangling from his head. “I’ve been making a few observations, sir, and I think a trick has been played upon our eyes,” said he.
“Oh?” I said, raising a bushy eyebrow. With the wave of a hand, I said, “Continue.”
“Well, from the mountaintops of Iceland it was visible that the unknown island were somewhat distant, though they seemed not too far off,” Thorbjorn said, his hands
nervously gesturing as he talked. “But, if you look at this here sea chart, I’ve retaken some measurements and the island is apparently farther from us than we assumed.”
I snatched the sea chart from Thorbjorn’s dry hands, the paper crinkling under my grip. I scanned the markings and measurements, following the lines and numbers until my eyes fell upon the final figures. I felt a volcano of fury rise in my belly, my eyes widening beyond what should be possible. I felt my face turn hot and red, Thorbjorn apparently seeing it and taking a step back.
“These are correct?” I asked, tugging at my curly red beard.
“Aye. I went over the numbers many times to be sure,” Thorbjorn said.
Words spewed from my mouth, ones that even I wish not to repeat. I felt my face
burn even more, my hands folding into fists around the chart. As I continued cursing and yelling at Thorbjorn and waving my fist to the sky, I crumpled the paper in one violent motion, throwing the wad to the floor of the ship.
Thorbjorn took up the crumpled chart, quietly walking away and going back to his post at the other end of the ship. Another of the men accompanying me on my journey, Styr Thorgrimsson, boldly came up and gripped one of my shoulders.
I calmed a little, biting my tongue to stop the foul words, though I could not help but growl a little. I stared into the sea-green eyes of Styr, studying his calm, patient expression. Finally, I let go of my anger, releasing the tension in my jaw and ceasing the grinding of my teeth.
“What is it that Thorbjorn Vifilsson has said?” Styr asked, his eyes showing concern.
“We won’t be reaching our destination at the expected time,” I mumbled, staring out at my home island that stood only three hours away, then to the unknown island still dazed by the mirage of how close it seemed. “The island is fifty-eight leagues out,” I said.
“That’s no so bad,” Styr said after he finished calculating in his head.
“Not so bad? It means we’ll be at sea over night!” I exclaimed. “This boat isn’t
prepared for us to be onboard overnight!” I threw my hands in the air, scowling. “Easy, friend, calm yourself,” Styr said, patting my shoulder. “We’ll make it
through,” he said. “We’ve got Erik the Red to lead us!” He gripped my shoulder once again, giving me a light shake.
I smiled gratefully, giving styr a firm smack on the back. “Styr Thorgrimsson, you are my one true friend, and a good one at that!” I declared, saying it unashamedly. Being in his company was always the best cure to my anger, and he always seemed to know how to lift my spirit.
Styr gave a nod of his head, and though his lips did not part, a smile was in his eyes.“Aye, same to you,” he said. “Now you’d best give out some more commands to these low lives before they go sour!”
I chuckled, observing the filthy, loud, sailor-mouthed group I called my crew. My ship consisted of Styr, who I considered my righthand-man; Thorbjorn, who was a good man but someone I wouldn’t mind throwing overboard at times, though I did need him for no man in all the land knew measurements better than he; Eyjolf of Sviney, who was
by far the strongest of the crew, besides myself; and the two sons of Thorbrand who, though still young, were as good as the rest of us.
“Alright, everyone grab an oar and let’s get to rowing!” I shouted, using the full force of my voice. Every man yelled back a reply, scurrying to a bench and placing both hands around one of the long oars. I went to the very front, seating myself along the lefthand side. “Ready, men!” I shouted, not as a question, but as a command. Anyone not ready was deserving of punishment. “ROW!” Over and over, I repeated the command until we were all perfectly synchronized, each oar moving in one swift motion, pushing and pulling the water to help the boat move along.
This went on for many hours, with only a few breaks in between. When one man got tired, we all took a break. Breaks were scarce though., for I would not allow weakness amongst my men. My words were strong and stern, showing the full extent of power I held. If I received any mouthing off or complaints, I’d make the man row both his oar and the one next to him, after he received some unspeakable words from me. After the first few times I had to deliver such punishment, my crew became the perfect example of a well-in-order ship.
Nightfall came swiftly, and it was time to plan what to do. If we stopped rowing, the ship would slow, and it would take even longer to get to the unknown island. On the other hand, if we kept rowing we had no guarantee we would stay on course, being that we hadn’t a light strong enough to guide us. Not sure on what my decision should be, I pulled Styr aside in order to collaborate with him.
“This is a tricky situation,” Styr agreed. He scratched his chin, the stubble along his jawline rubbing against his fingers. “Perhaps we could take shifts,” he suggested.
I thought it over, rubbing my own beard. With a satisfied nod, I gave Styr a pat. “Good plan. Each man can light a lantern every so often, look around, and if need be, wake the rest up and get us all rowing again.”
“Aye, what do ya say to switching shifts every hour?” Styr said.
“Sounds good. Every man gets one hour, then he sleeps,” I said. “I’ll take the first shift.” We relayed our plan to the others, everyone nodding in agreement. “Styr, you can have second shift, then Thorbjorn, then Eyjolf, then the boys can share a shift together,” I said.
“Sounds good,” Styr said. “We’d best get some shuteye then!” The crew quickly scurried around, huddling under the benches and grabbing the blankets we had brought along for when we reached the island. Closing their eyes tight, the men made not another sound, everyone forcefully falling asleep.
Since I was not at all tired, I went over to the prow, leaning against the intricately designed wood and imagining it in the dark. I listened to the sound of the waves against the boat, the quiet wind as it stayed awake as though the sun never set, the ever still world around me fast asleep in a peaceful slumber. My mind wandered back to my home, remembering the days of my childhood. I combed through every memory I possibly could, and soon enough, Styr was tapping me on the shoulder.
“Rest now, Thorvaldsson,” he said. I half nodded, suddenly realizing I was indeed very tired. I would get four hours of sleep before my next shift, which, though it was
hardly enough to have good rest, sounded very pleasing to me. Taking my helmet off, I set it against the wall of the boat where I would easily remember it was.
I crawled to a bench, grabbing a coarse blanket and lazily dropping it over me. I left my feet that were covered by my soft leather boots sticking out, since I was too big to be fully under the sheet. My sword clinked as I slipped off my belt, laying it right beside me. That old piece of metal had been by my side for many years. Slowly I began drifting off into slumber, all consciousness of the world fading as the last thing I noticed was the calmness of the waters….
“Erik! Erik!” I was startled from my sleep, nothing but muddled confusion reaching my senses. Their were constant loud noises, men shouting, someone groaning, and a nauseating rocking as the boat swayed.
“Wake up you blasted fool!” Thorbjorn yelled as he ran by. I sat up, trying to clear my vision, but then realized it was still night. Every man had a lantern with him, each one panicking as they scrambled about.
“What be the meaning of all this?” I shouted.
“A storm!” Thorbrand’s boys shouted.
Looking about, I suddenly realized the torrential waves crashing against my ship.
The sky was thickened by black clouds, the moon and all the stars hidden behind the dark storm. Lighting flashed across the sky like a great fire, thunder following close behind and resonating like a thousand war drums. Heavy rain was falling, drenching everyone with sticky, cold water.
“Curses upon the sea!” I exclaimed, taking up my sword. I went and found my helmet, slipping it on over my drenched hair that stuck against my neck and face. “Since when did all this happen?” I demanded to know. But no one heard me. I grabbed the collar of Thorbjorn, bringing his face close to mine. “When did all this start?!” I yelled.
“But a moment ago, now let me be so I can work on patching the hole!” Thorbjorn said with a scowl.
“There be a hole in my ship?” I asked, growling like a mad dog. “Show it to me!”
“Over here,” Thorbjorn shouted above the storm. He led me to the side and with the light of his lantern showed where water was repeatedly spilling in. I screamed a few curses, shaking my fist at the sky.
“Gather all the blankets and shove them in the hole!” I commanded. Thorbjorn hurried around to find the blankets, bringing them back in a pile and carefully pacing them in every spot of the hole. Seeing there was no more I could do, I went to find Styr.
“Thorvaldsson, Eyjolf is ill,” one of the boys said, a look of great concern on his face. “He says he might have brought something along from back home. His son was greatly ill, so he might’ve caught a bug.”
“What am I to do?” I asked, giving the boy an angry look. “You figure something out! Take your brother and look through our supplies for any medicines or herbs,” I said.
“Aye aye,” the boy said.
“Styr!” I yelled. Seeing a hand waving in the dark, I went to it, finding my companion pulling at the rope that secured the sail. “What’s the damage?” I asked.
“Well, I’m sure Thorbjorn’s shown you the hole in the boat, and there’s a small tear along the sail. It doesn’t look good,” Styr said.
I cursed again, but only a little, for there wasn’t time to waste with angry words. I could do that later. “Maybe we should get someone up there to patch the tear,” I suggested.
“It’s far too dangerous!” Styr said.
“I will do it,” I said. Styr looked at me as though I had gone mad. I stared back with all seriousness to show I meant my words. “Lend me a rope,” I said.
As he handed me half a rope, Styr began to object, saying, “Erik, this isn’t safe. You’re better off with your feet on something solid.”
“Nothing’s solid in this life,” I said. With that, I gripped the mast, and slowly climbed my way up. Muscles aching, fingers cramping, I began to feel no hope in making it. But no, I could not give up, for our lives very well depended on it. Taking only a second to stop and breathe, I continued upward toward the flailing sail.
“Come on, you’ve got it!” Styr shouted, pounding his fists together.
I looked out over the sea. Observing her in such a mood was not pleasant. How could something so beautiful turn like that? Stretching out my arm, I reached the sail, grabbing the torn fabric and drawing myself up more. I carefully wrapped my legs around the poll, securing myself with my thighs, and began tying the sail together. In no time, it was as patched as it could get, so I quickly slid back down to the floor of the boat.
Styr laughed heartily, tapping my chest with his palm. “You deserve to be in legends, my friend,” he said.
“No time for compliments. Let’s help with the hole,” I said.
For what seemed like hours, we worked on patching the hole, ridding the boat of water, and cringing as Eyjolf vomited over the side of the ship. Once he nearly fell in, but fortunately the boys were able to catch him, though the experienced a messy thank you no one would want. Time dragged along slower than ever, the storm raging on without calming even a little.
“Do we even have a chance?” Thorbjorn mumbled to Styr and I.
“There’s always a chance,” Styr said, giving Thorbjorn a comforting grip on the shoulder.
I stayed quiet the entire time, only speaking when commands were needed. Every so often I would stare out at the water, my eyes locked upon the murky black waves that foamed like ravenous beasts.
After what seemed like many more hours, the storm suddenly ceased, daylight breaking through the clouds and the sea becoming tranquil again as though nothing had happened. Every man began to cheer, even Eyjolf showing great signs of relief as his seasickness passed. I began to rejoice as well, but not because of relief of the storm.
“Behold, the unknown island!” I exclaimed. Before us stood a vast piece of land, covered in glistening ice and snow. The deep blue sky around it made it seem like a giant cloud setting close to the ground, it’s beauty greater than I had ever imagined.
“Haha!” Styr laughed, his voice sounding through the air like deep bells in a tower. He gave a a firm hug, punching my arm and laughing some more.
We rowed the ship as close as the ice would let us, every man jumping off and securing the rope anchor in the snow. We all walked a little inland, everyone following me as I breathed in the new air. Grabbing up a handful of clean snow with my fingers, I closed my fist around it then let it fall like sand.
“We are blessed,” Styr said, standing at my side.
I clapped my hand against his shoulder, smiling genuinely for the first time in many years. “Yes, we are indeed.”