This is a short account of Leif's detour to the Hebrides as found in the Sagas.
At the age of 24, Leif was asked to captain his first voyage. This was to bring gifts to King Olaf in Norway. Many preparations were made and Leif was very excited. Leif took along a crew of 14 and Thyrker.
The wind Leif was sailing on was fair at the beginning, but after their first day it slowed only to a gentle breeze. It was five days before they sighted Iceland. Most voyages make it in two.
The crew wanted to go ashore but Leif would not let them, so they kept sailing. They sailed for many days and Leif thought they would run out of food. Finally they sighted some small islands, the Hebrides, they realized they had sailed farther south than they had intended.
The day they arrived, a storm came in and didn't allow them to leave for a month. During this time Leif stayed in the house of the lord of the island. There lived the lord's daughter who was named Thorgunna. She was known to embroider tapestries and was believed to be learned in witchcraft.
Before Leif left for Norway, Thorgunna told him she was going to have his baby and she foresaw that it would be a boy. She had her child and named him Thorgils. Later he traveled to Greenland and Leif accepted him as his son. This is the only child known to be Leif's.
What has never been explained is how Leif ever got out of the Hebrides alive. The King's daughter was watched and protected like no other person in the kingdom. Her destiny is almost always to marry other royalty. It seems very unlikely any stranger would ever be allowed to be alone with a princes. If you look at a King's daughter sideways you could get chopped into small pieces very fast, often.
So what happened and was it true?
Yes, it was true and much more happened than was written. This saga was made into a bedtime story and then later it was written down so a few things have been changed and/or removed. Here is what I remember happened.
I was sailing from I think Greenland to Norway and by the time we got to Iceland it looked like a storm was coming in. That is why in the saga the men wanted to go ashore.
However, we needed the moon to travel with at night and we had timed our trip so that we would reach the Faeroe Islands at the full moon. There were thick fogs in the spring but you could still see the moon enough to navigate with and also have light to see where you were headed. If we waited any amount of time then part of the night would be moonless and we could end up crashed on the rocks of the Faroes. Back then it was a warm period of history and the currents were much stronger through that area than they are now. Going through the Faroes the currents were just tremendous. It would speed up to about 15 MPH (25 km/h) when the current went between the islands. You had to row fast enough to go 10 mph in addition to the 15 mph current so that you had some control or you would smash on the rocks for certain since the wind would blow you to one side eventually.
Without the moon you would not see the rocks until after you hit them, that is if you were still alive. It was a fun ride when you could see where you were going. Of course riding the rapids at 25 mph in the moonlight while hoping a cloud doesn't block the moon light is probably only something a Viking would consider as being fun.
So I decided that going on and using the moon was a lot safer than stopping.
I don't recall yet exactly how we got so lost but we did. You can't believe how embarrassing it is for a Viking to get lost in the first place but this was exceedingly lost. I mean I got so lost that I sailed southeast instead of east.
Here look at the map. You can see the Faroe Islands circled in yellow. Or if you are in America...
In essence, we ended up knocking on doors in the Hebrides to find out where we were.
Vikings had gotten lost before but not often.
They have ended up in the Orkney's and even on the Shetland Islands but no Viking had ever ended up in the Hebrides before. It bothers me that nobody has ever made mention of this incredible blunder but it was luck in disguise.
It turned out that there were great wars in the Hebrides and we had just sailed right into the middle of them. We knew nothing about any wars but nobody believed us about being lost. So of course the King and his court thought the story was a lie and that we were invading Vikings that had been hired by another King as mercenaries to invade his principality. So Leif and his whole crew were promptly put straight into prison.
Then our captors went to Scotland to find out who we were. When they saw a Viking ship they told the crew about us and the crew just laughed so they realized that we were actually lost and harmless. The crew knew all about the lost Viking ship because when a Viking ship gets lost there is like an all points bulletin put out for the missing Vikings. As it turned out there were two ships looking for us but in Northern Norway.
Then for about a week they didn't know what to do with us but they were thinking of selling us back to Vikings for the trouble we made. That was my first ship and it was sure to be my last one no matter what happened.
Being sold back to Vikings is about the worse fate possible for a Viking.
Another thing happened that was just about as bad and that was that I got caught away from my men while relieving myself when two men grabbed me from behind. You can't let yourself get captured if you are a Viking and if you get caught you must have killed several of the enemy and your sword got stuck in one of them so they were able to grabbed you. But I didn't know that anyone was around and I did not even have that sword drawn.
It seemed like I was going to live in total disgrace for the rest of my life no matter what happened.
Then I was taken to the castle and given this very nice room and I slept very well.
Early the next morning the King's daughter slipped into my bed. I don't think I knew who she was at the time though. A bit later we talked and I found out she was the kings daughter. That was bad enough by itself but she had been a virgin. My life was going be cut very short if I got caught. Then guess what?
Her father came into the room and talked with us but I don't remember if I even listened to his words. I was in shock. Then he walked out. She explained it to me after I calmed down most of the way.
The kingdom was in dire jeopardy. Thorgunna had six brothers and five were killed in battle and the last one moved to England or Scotland, she told me. She had two sisters that had been married off to another kingdom to secure an alignment (and for love) but the alignment didn't work out. She was the most learned of the three daughters and spoke four Mainland European languages in addition to the local dialects and languages. So she was quite intelligent as well as having a very beautiful figure.
The king was in his 40's and not only healthy but was powerfully built as well. In his youth he hauled horses over the stone walls.* He was indomnible. I learned a lot from him.
Even though the king had been a commoner he had never lost his compassion and interest in all the people. Every day almost, around the middle of the day, he would get some cheese, walk outside at lunch and find one of the people that worked for him. Usually it was a different person each day. They would then sit and eat lunch together.
The kingdoms in the area were small and they vied for the local people. Since there were not very many people they tried to attract as many as they could from the nearby kingdoms.
Obviously Thorgunna's father had the best kingdom of all. So everyone moved to his kingdom and all the other Kings got upset so they declared war on him and formed an alliance and then swore to destroy him and his kingdom. The King was down to his last daughter, Thorgunna, and when she was eliminated or driven off then everyone in the kingdom would realize there was no future with that king. Then they would abandon him or even turn on him.
She said that she had willed me to come there to rescue her father and her. She had a different method of rescue in mind originally when she made her spell but then she had changed her mind about the best method to use me for.
She decided she was going to have her child by her captive Viking captain. Her family was going to remain in power that way. This would turn everything around on their enemies. Her family would not only have an heir but a half Viking heir. The other kings would wonder all the time if their kingdom was going to be invaded by 50 Viking ships. It established a peace that had not existed for many years and wasn't broken for many years after. And I got the trading rights to the Hebrides.
So that is what Thorgunna was doing in my bed. I and my men were to be held hostage until I got her pregnant. She told me immediately that she did not need me to raise her child. If I raised him then he would want to become a Viking and since he was destined to rule the kingdom that was out of the question. Her father would raise him instead. I gave her not only a son but three other children as well. It worked out later that I got the Viking contract for trade for the West Coast of the Hebrides, all of the southern islands and all the Faroes.
That honest trade kept all the other Hebrides Islands aligned with Thorgunna's father.
I was fine with this and I soon found out there was much more to life than hunting Polar Bears and being the captain of a Viking ship.
*They had no metal so they didn't have any gates on the stone fences. Since they breed powerful aggressive ponies they could not have gates. A stallion could kick them until he broke them down to get to a mare. That would ruin 60 years of breeding in two minutes. So they just lifted the horses over the walls when they mated them or took them to the mainland to sell. They were ponies but they were still at least 350 pounds.
The king breed two kinds of ponies. They were small ponies related to Shetland Ponies. One kind was very aggressive. This might sound bizarre but they were a type of war pony. They were intended to replace or augment the dogs of war which were breed to be very large. The ponies were aggressive beyond belief and trained to kill soldiers.
An archer or soldier would ride one of agressive ponies into the battle and then get off the pony. They would put blades on their legs near their hooves and keep them by their sides. They were trained to rear up on their hind legs and kick the enemy with the blades, often killing them instantly. Also they put sometimes put blades on their back legs and tied the pony behind them. If the enemy came from behind the ponies would kick them. Actually they were trained to kick anybody that walked behind them so you had to be very careful around those horses.
They had a very thick neck and a very solid spine so soldiers could put a short lance on their foreheads (up to four feet long) that made them look like a unicorn. They would train a few of them to ram and kill the horses of the knights. Then they would kill the knights. The lance could go right through mail and shields and so it could easily kill knights.
The horses would kill lots of enemy soldiers but unlike dogs they would sometimes get confused and go the wrong direction and then kill the wrong soldiers. It must not have worked out because I never have seen killer ponies on either the BBC, PBS or the History channel.
Later they went the other way. This painting-
- is from the 1400's but the fact of the matter is that dogs were raised the size of ponies. This painting is not an exaggeration of the size that the largest dogs were breed to.
If you want to look for the location of this principality in the Hebrides then I can tell you what to look for. I think it is at the south west part of the Isle of Harris.
They had one thing that was totally unique to all my experiences at the time. The battlements and the remains of the walls should still be there. They consisted of two walls only about 4 feet high but they were staggered about 8 feet apart in such a way that if a horse or cavalry jumped over one wall he would land on the next battlement whose color made it blend into the background. The second battlement would kill the horse and the rider would take a bad fall flipping end over end. I remember at the time (1000 years ago) that I had never seen anything like these battlements. Archers could fire over them and then duck down or retreat to the second row and catch the enemy in between the battlements.
I cant recall yet what pattern the walls were staggered in however even once they had retreated behind the second wall they could return fire at anyone hiding behind even the first wall.
A four foot wall and 75 feet of clear pasture was all the archers really needed because they could then duck behind the wall in a half second which is about the amount of time it took an arrow fired at them from the other side of the pasture to travel that distance.
The archers would set different kinds of arrows on the walls so they were able to fire fast. They had armor (mail) piercing, regular arrows and when the enemy started getting wise to their tricks they had arrows that weighed less than half normal and those went really fast across that pasture. The enemy having seen them standing up would tend to show their own bravery by walking out into the pasture and then of course they got shot with those light arrows.
-To be continued.-
© 2004, 20 John Pinil