erik the red's daughter -- 6/4/19

Today's selection -- from A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. Most have heard about Eirik (Erik) the Red Thorvaldsson, his son Leif, and the Viking voyages to Greenland and Vinland, but few have heard of Eirik's fearless daughter Freydis:

"The saga of the Greenlanders tells of a fourth and final voyage to Vinland. The earlier sails, by Leif, Thorvald, and Karlsefni, were evi­dently judged a success, as 'the trip seemed to bring men both wealth and renown.' So Eirik the Red's illegitimate daughter, the hot­tempered Freydis, decided to try her luck. She contracted with two brothers from Iceland to sail in convoy and share profits from the voy­age. Each ship was to carry thirty 'fighting men' but 'Freydis broke the agreement straight away,' stowing five extra warriors on her ship.

"On reaching Leif's camp, Freydis demanded that only her party occupy the existing homes. So the brothers built a separate longhouse. Their suggestion that the two groups join for winter 'games and enter­tainment' only led to more ill will, 'and each group kept to its own houses.'

"Then, early one morning, Freydis went barefoot through the dew to ask one of the brothers to exchange ships with her, since his was larger and she wanted to go home. He agreeably assented. When she returned to bed, her cold feet woke her husband, Thorvard, who asked why she was wet. Freydis claimed she'd gone to ask about purchasing the broth­ers' ship and been turned down, as well as assaulted. 'But you're such a coward that you will repay neither dishonor done to me nor to your­self,' she said. 'Unless you avenge this, I will divorce you!'

Ninth-century silver valkyrie pendants from Denmark.
Photograph: The National Museum of Denmark

"Duly shamed, Thorvard roused his men and went to seize the brothers and their companions. When he led the bound captives out­side, Freydis ordered them slain. But Thorvard's men balked at killing the five women among them.

" 'Hand me an ax,' Freydis coolly demanded. She then dispatched the five women, and threatened to kill any of her party who told what she had done.

"Freydis proved quite the Valkyrie in combat, too. During an ex­ploratory foray, the Norse came under attack by a large force of Skraelings (Native North Americans) in canoes, wielding a strange weapon. From tall poles, they catapulted 'a large round object, about the size of a sheep's gut and black in color,' which 'made a threatening noise when it landed.' These missiles so terrified the Norse that 'their only thought was to flee.'

"Seeing her kinsmen retreat, Freydis declared, 'Had I a weapon I'm sure I could fight better than any of you.' Though heavily pregnant, she joined the battle, snatching up the sword of a slain Viking. 'When the Skraelings came rushing toward her she pulled one of her breasts out of her bodice and slapped it with her sword. The Skraelings were terrified at the sight of this and fled back to their boats and hastened away.'"



Tony Horwitz


A Voyage Long and Strange


Henry Holt and Company


Copyright 2008 by Tony Horwitz


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