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The Adventures of Leif Erikson

The year is 1492. The greatly renowned Italian explorer Christopher Columbus reportedly sets foot on North American soil, the first time for a man of European descent. What if this was not the case? What if someone traversed the grounds of North America over 500 years before this monumental moment? This is the story of Leif Erikson.

Early Life

The year is ca. 970 AD. After a turbulent past, Erik the Red has managed to settle into a somewhat peaceful life on his large estate in the northern part of Iceland, called Hornstrandir. Here, a small boy was born, yet oblivious of the great things that await him in life.

The boy’s father, Erik, was a man who was infamous for his hot-headedness and impulsive decisions. One of these decisions led him to be exiled from Iceland and so set forth to Greenland, where he would be the first man to successfully establish a settlement. This would end up being the young Leif’s real childhood home. With the establishment of a successful settlement, Erik became a very busy man, as he was elected as the leader of said settlement. One of Erik’s thralls, Tyrker, was assigned as a caretaker of his children and would later be seen as Leif’s foster father, as he would be around more than his real father. As Leif grew up in Greenland, his adventurous spirit and ambitions would grow stronger. Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, he decided to head out to sea. His first journey was a long one, all the way to his father’s homeland, Norway. His ambition was to visit the court of King Olaf Tryggvason, to experience different parts of the world. During his voyage to Norway, something went terribly wrong.


The Storm Hits

Painting by: Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677)

The same fate struck Leif as with many other unfortunate seafarers and explorers. A violent storm hit his ship while in the middle of the sea. Leif was thrown off course, unable to navigate properly or steer the wooden ship in the direction he wanted. When the storm finally subsided, he saw land. This turned out to be anything but Norway, as he had landed in the Hebrides, a Scottish archipelago just west of the mainland. Leif and his crew failed to find favorable wind while on the Scottish islands and stayed there for a long period during the summer. During his time in the Hebrides, he fancied one of the native women, whom he ended up courting. After a truly pleasant summer, she became pregnant with Leif’s child. With a life full of exploration left to do, Leif could simply not settle down, so he refused to marry her and continued his journey to Norway.


Onward to Norway

When Leif and his crew finally arrived on the shores of Norway, he contacted the Norwegian King Olaf.

He joined the bodyguard of King Olaf Tryggvason, and the king formed an excellent opinion of him, and it appeared to him that Leif was a well-bred man. Once upon a time the king entered into conversation with Leif, and asked him, “Dost thou purpose sailing to Greenland in summer?”

After spending some time as a guest at his court, Leif would experience the Christian religion. His father was always a devout follower of the old ways, but Leif would form his own identity by embracing Christianity as his religion. King Olaf seeing this opportunity to be credited with spreading the faith, he would task Leif to convert the people of Greenland. And so, Leif set course back to his home.


Christianization of Greenland

When Leif finally arrived home, he was welcomed with open arms, except for the fact that he was now Christian. Being a zealous Norseman, Erik saw no favorable light in Christianity but did allow his son to do as he saw fit. His wife Thjodhild did in fact accept the new religion and built the first church in Greenland. This spelled doom for Erik as Thjodhild now refused to lay with him. Truly a horrible faith!


Sights on Greater Things

One day, a ship arrived at the port of the settlement. The captain of the ship, Bjarni Herjolfsson, was expected to be back many moons ago. Lost at sea, he veered way off course, until he finally saw land. He recited amazing stories of a land filled with lush, green forests, never before seen flora, and the land teeming with wildlife. This ignited Leif’s adventurous spirit and so he had a new target in sight.

Leif purchased Bjarni’s ship and hired a new crew of hardy Norsemen. All he now needed was an experienced captain. There could only be one man for such a task in Leif’s mind, Erik the Red. Even as he was showing signs of aging, Erik still agreed to the task, albeit a bit reluctantly. With some preparation, the big day finally dawned. The ships, the crew, and Leif were all packed and ready, waiting by the harbor. As Erik was joining them, he ended up falling from his horse. Taking this as a bad omen, he decided not to join and said:

“It is not ordained that I should discover more countries than that which we now inhabit, and we should make no further attempt in company.”

And so, Leif would set out without the help of his father.



Painting by: Christian Krohg (1852–1925)

Surprisingly, the journey had no recorded hiccups and ended up being smooth sailing all the way to the same spot that Bjarni had described. Following in the footsteps of Bjarni, Leif would first land on a piece of land he would name “Markland”. Here he would camp over the winter, gathering supplies to bring back to Greenland. This includes much-needed timber and other exotic supplies native to the land. Erik had also brought his foster father, Tyrker, with him. He would explore the vast lands around the camp, but would one day stray too far and was lost for days.

“Why wert thou so late my fosterer, and separated from the party?” asked Leif. A confused-looking Tyrker responded, “I have not been much further off, but still have I something new to tell of; I found vines and grapes.” “But is that true, my fosterer?” quoth Leif. “Surely is it true,” replied he, “for I was bred up in a land where there is no want of either vines or grapes.”

At this, Leif was overjoyed, for he knew the grapes would be well received back in Greenland. Because of this, he would name this new land Vinland. The entire expedition was surprised and happy beyond belief that the winter would end up being similar to the summers. With no snow or extreme colds, even the horses could continue feeding off the green grass. The expedition forces then also build a small settlement, which would serve as an important landing point for further Norse expeditions. Leif would call this settlement Leifsbudir.


Leif the Lucky

As the winter season was ending, the crew set sail back to Greenland. The journey was once again, an unassuming one. Then a man put in his word and said to Leif:

“Why do you steer so close to the wind?” Leif answered: “I attend to my steering, and something more, and can ye not see anything?” They answered that they could not observe anything extraordinary. “I know not,” said Leif, “whether I see a ship or a rock.” Now looked they, and said it was a rock. But he saw so much sharper than they that he perceived there were men upon the rock. “Now let us,” said Leif, “hold our wind so that we come up to them, if they should want our assistance, and the necessity demands that we should help them; and if they should not be kindly disposed, the power is in our hands, and not in theirs.”

Painting by: Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728–1808)

The men on the rocks turned out to be ship-wrecked Norsemen who were desperate for assistance. No one could really explain how Leif could have spotted them or how he knew to go there, but after this day, he would be called Leif the Lucky.


The End of a Journey

After months away from his home, Leif would finally set course for Greenland. Bringing with them much-needed supplies, the inhabitants were joyous at their arrival. Unfortunately, as Leif was undergoing his own adventures, his father had already passed away. This would mark the end of Leif’s great adventure to an unknown land that he would never return to again. This certainly was not the end of his undertakings. But that will be a story for another day.

A very wise jötunn. Only appears in this poem

A very wise jötunn. Only appears in this poem

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