One time when we stayed at a village during a week of trading I met a nice young lady who decided to help me keep warm at night. At the end of the week we had traded with most of the people in the area and I was getting ready to leave the next day. Cheryl asked me for a small copper coin I had kept for a long time as a souvenir from travels south. I noticed earlier that it was a picture of a woman and was Spanish (anything south of mid-France was considered 'Spain').
I thought nothing of it. I couldn't do anything else for her. She had refused any compensation and wouldn't even allow me to pay for the food we had eaten. She said she would treasure the coin more than anything except for the child she hoped was now in her. Without money having exchanged hands she hoped for a greater spirit to inhabit the child.
The coin would be a reminder of our loving. I thought that an especially wonderful touch as we had both enjoyed ourselves immensely.
I was a visitor of good stock and my wavy blond hair it was hoped would make a good contribution to the straight hair of the villagers. The next morning I was a bit surprised to see the coin had grown a hole in it and a string. The string was firmly tied behind her neck and she proudly wore it when she saw us off. We sailed up the coast and were not back for months.
I had completely forgotten about the incident but when we returned I had no sooner gotten ashore and I was backed into a fence by five of the prettiest lassies I have had the honor to have met. They all had the same proposition. I was to chose one of them and for a coin like I gave Cheryl they would stay with me for the week. They were all beautiful but the second one was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. She was so stunning with luscious hair and a voice that I wanted to listen to with my eyes closed. She rivaled any of the best of our women back home in beauty, demeanor and humility.
All the coins these young ladies had ever seen had kings and other men on them. It was just the 'Spanish' penchant for making their women royalty that had destined the odd little coin to become imprinted with a woman's likeness.
All I wanted then was to find another of those pennies. I stomped around upset at the world for an hour. I hunted down every member of my crew. 'Do you have any small coins from Spain.' Being careful not to explain in too great a detail what I was really looking for, and why. Finally one of the men found he had one and he handed it to me very slowly with a lot of curiosity on his face. One look into that forlorn face of his and I knew he would never get laid on it's merits. I felt terribly uncomfortable then. It was just the same feeling I get sometimes when a woman walks away after a trade. Every once in a while I realize that she had just spent everything she had on something that was of little real use to her. A trade like that was a failure.
I shelved my original plan for the girl that fascinated me so much when I realized the coin was not just copper to the man but that it had some sentimental value. As his captain he was virtually obligated (in our culture) to do exactly what I said and provide me whatever I asked him for. Whether it was a penny or his life in defense of the ship made no difference to a true Viking. We acted as one and I was just the head. I was totally obligated to figure out a way to replace that sentiment* and then I remembered something.
The sailor was surprised the next hour to see me with two girls on my arm. They had been two of the five that had made the wonderful offer to me and I had remembered that they were sisters. I worked out a deal and the two sisters were to get the coin and share it until we came back, then I would give them another. I was so happy the sister and the crewman who gave me the coin hit it off right away.
The great thing about this item. Well, there were a number of great things about it. We had the whole coast to ourselves. And the markup we made from those coins were incredible. On the way back down the coast I had a month to think of how to keep this exciting trade completely to ourselves. When we got to where we could get the coins (I think in Amsterdam) I bought 5,000 of them. Any time a Viking or other trader buys a lot of anything or finds a way to make good money there is someone there trying to cut himself in. Our coast had a few smugglers. I simply told those who asked that we needed the coins to free a Viking who was being held hostage by an aggressive but not too knowledgeable group that wanted the coins in exchange for releasing our man. The hostage holders didn't seem aware of how little the coins were really worth.
Of course my men couldn't keep from telling everybody the truth of the girls desire for the coins but after my story it didn't make a bit of difference. You must understand that smugglers had no friends to bail them out of trouble. And if I was telling the truth and armed Vikings were being kidnapped, they didn't stand any hope of not being kidnapped. They would end up captives and killed when nobody showed up to pay for their release. None of them were willing to take that kind of a chance. They were doubly confused about the truth. People will go to the captain to find out the truth when a sailor lies. Especially with me because I had an impeccable reputation. Never the other way around!
When we got back to the village I handed the girls quite a few of the coins. This was a powerful belief that Vikings held. A belief that good fortune must be shared. They also deserved pay for a role they played but I'll get to that in a minute.
Wherever we went the women were waiting for us. The coins were a solid trade item. A person could carry a lot of them as they were easily smuggled past the toll stations along the roads. The coins made their way a hundred or more miles inland. They fetched three times their weight in silver. When they were very popular they almost fetched their weight in gold!
It was madness. I remember walking around the corner of one house and being charged by 20 or more women. Every man got one penny whenever we touched shore and I had a happy crew.
Three years later there was a disagreement involving a man who didn't want to honor a business deal and made me look a dishonest man (which is a total dishonor). My men for a short time wondered just a bit about my honor. Then the man was found out. It got back to the story about the hostage and I decided it was time to clear things up since there was less demand for the pennies by then. I explained that I never lied. I simply phrased the truth in a way that would frightened those who had hearts of sharks and only wanted to deprive us of our gains.
© 2003, 2020 John Pinil