Eric the Red - George Upton

Journey of Biorn, Son of Hjerulf, to Greenland

An overpowering passion for exploration and the longing to know of foreign men and countries by personal acquaintance, characterized Biorn, the young and strenuous son of Hjerulf. On his cold island he found nothing that his heart longed for. In the circle of his friends and relatives and in his commonplace everyday life there was nothing that could satisfy the young Northern hero. Fame and riches were a magnet drawing him away from the home place with irresistible force. Favored by various circumstances, he at last came into possession of a trading vessel with which he made trips during the favorable season of the year, remaining at his father's house during the winter season.

Upon returning from a voyage to Norway, he found that Erik had been banished from Iceland for three years, as related in the last chapter, and that Hjerulf, his own father, had followed him to that country. His decision was not long delayed. His disappointment at not meeting his father was bitter, but our Northern hero was made of stout stuff. He did not unload his vessel, which lay at anchor in the Bay of Eyrar, and replied to his crew when they asked what he proposed to do that he was going to spend that Winter with his father in Greenland. "I will steer my course to Greenland," he said to them, "if you will go with me." All assented, although Biorn did not conceal from his crew the difficulties and dangers of the undertaking. "Our voyage," he said, "will be regarded as foolhardy, as none of us has been on the Greenland Sea before." But well pleased, they weighed anchor and set forth courageously upon the high seas.

On board Biorn's vessel was a Christian, a monk from a monastery in the Hebrides Islands. To him we are indebted for saving the song of Biorn, appealing for divine protection, which was sung on board, the last verse of which runs:

To the Tryer of holy men,

To the Knower of danger,

I pray He favor my voyage.

May the Lord,

Who holds heaven and earth,

Protect me with His power.

This simple, heartfelt song, written and sung upon the vessel reeling among the fearful billows of the Arctic Ocean may have been heard many a time sounding across the waves, especially when Christian missionaries were sailing to this unknown, strange land, surrounded by the majestic but terrible waste of waters.

The terror of the sea, however, did not abate. After the bold Icelandic seafarers left their coast a north wind sprang up. Shortly thereafter they were enveloped in a dense fog for several days and completely lost their course. When the weather cleared up, they sailed on for a day and a night and at last saw a land without mountains, which had rising ground and was covered with woods. They were convinced this could not be their destination and put out to sea again. ") ?>It is supposed that the two lands which Biorn approached were Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, which Leif the Lucky, son of Erik the Red, subsequently discovered. He was much censured in Norway and in Iceland because he did not explore the new lands he saw.") ?>

After two days' sailing they beheld another land which was low and wooded. Again they sought the open sea, and a favoring southwest wind filled the sails and after three days the third land came in sight which was high, mountainous, and ice-clad. After cruising along the coast, Biorn was convinced it was an island. As it was not very inviting, however, he did not land but steered further on in the same direction with favoring winds. At last his courage and faith were rewarded. After four days they reached the promontory of Hjerulfness in Greenland. In the bay they found a boat and not far away Hjerulf's house. Biorn was with his father once more and did not leave him until his death. After Hjerulf passed away, Biorn came into possession of his estate. He made a voyage to Norway, probably in 994, when he told Earl Erik, one of the Norwegian jar's or princes, of his travels and experiences, though he must often have reproached himself because he had not sufficiently made himself acquainted with the new country.

This Earl Erik at a later period played an important part in the history of Norway. He was one of the sons of Hakon Jarl. With his brother Svend, King Svend Gabelbart of Denmark, and the Swedish King Olaf Schoos, he closed an alliance against Olaf Trygvasson (995), King of Norway. The allies defeated the latter in a naval battle on September 9, 1000, which was fought either near Swolder on the Pomeranian coast, or in Oresund, between Zealand and Skane. When Olaf Trygvasson saw that all was lost he threw himself, armed as he was, from his vessel, The Long Serpent, into the sea. The sagas say that he was rescued by divers, made a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem, and spent twenty-four years of his life as an abbot in a Syrian or Egyptian monastery. Eric and Svend after these events received the greater part of Norway as their fief.