Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

How Lief the Son of Eric the Red Sailed into the West

Many hundred years ago, Lief, the son of Eric the Red, stood upon the shores of Norway. His hair was fair and long, and his eyes as blue as the sea upon which he looked. And as he watched the sea-horses tossing their foam-manes, his heart longed to be out upon the wild waves.

For Bjarne the Traveller had come home. He had come from sailing far seas, and had brought back with him news of a strange, new land which lay far over the waves towards the setting of the sun. It was a land, he said, full of leafy woods and great tall trees such as had never been seen in Norway. Above a shore of white sand waved golden fields of corn. Beneath the summer breeze vast seas of shimmering grass bowed themselves, and all the air was scented with spice, and joyous with the song of birds.

"I will find this land," cried Lief Ericson, "I will find this land and call it mine."

All day long he paced the shore, thinking and longing, and when the shadows of evening fell he strode into his father's hall.

Eric the Red sat in his great chair, and Lief, his son, stood before him. The firelight gleamed upon the gold bands round his arms and was flashed back from his glittering armour. "Father," he cried, "give me a ship. I would sail beyond the seas to the goodly lands of which Bjarne the Traveller tells."

Then Eric the Red poured shining yellow gold into the hands of Lief, his son. "Go," he cried, "buy the ship of Bjarne and sail to the goodly lands of which he tells."

So Lief bought the ship of Bjarne the Traveller, and to him came four-and-thirty men, tall and strong and eager as he, to sail the seas to the new lands towards the setting sun.

Then Lief bent his knee before his father. "Come, you, O my father," he cried, "and be our leader."

But Eric the Red shook his head. "I am too old," he said. Yet his blue eyes looked wistfully out to sea. His old heart leaped at the thought that once again before he died he might feel his good ship bound beneath him, that once again it would answer to the helm under his hand as his horse to the rein.

"Nay, but come, my father," pleaded Lief, "you will bring good luck to our sailing."

"Ay, I will come," cried Eric the Red. Then rising, the old sea-king threw off his robe of state. Once again, as in days gone by, he clad himself in armour of steel and gold, and mounting upon his horse he rode to the shore.

As Eric neared the ship the warriors set up a shout of welcome. But even as they did so his horse stumbled and fell. The king was thrown to the ground. In vain he tried to rise. He had hurt his foot so badly that he could neither stand nor walk.

"Go, my son," said Eric sadly, "the gods will have it thus. It is not for me to discover new lands. You are young. Go, and bring me tidings of them."

So Lief and his men mounted into his ship and sailed out toward the West. Three weeks they sailed. All around them the blue waves tossed and foamed but no land did they see. At last, one morning, a thin grey line far to the west appeared like a pencil-streak across the blue. Hurrah, land was near! On they sailed, the shore ever growing clearer and clearer. At length there rose before them great snow-covered mountains, and all the land between the sea and the hills was a vast plain of snow.

"It shall not be said that we found no land," said Lief; "I will give this country a name." So they called it Hellaland.

Then on again they sailed. Again they came to land. This time it was covered with trees, and the long, low sloping shore was of pure white sand. They called it Markland, which means Woodland. Again they sailed on, until at length they came to a place where a great river flowed into the sea. There they made up their minds to stay for the winter.

So they cast anchor and left the ship and put up their tents upon the shore. Then they built a house of wood in which to live. In the river they found fish in great plenty, and in the plains grew wild corn. So they suffered neither from cold nor hunger.

When the great house was finished, Lief spoke: "I will divide my men into two bands," he said. "One band shall stay at home and guard the house. The other shall walk abroad and search through the land to discover what they may."

So it was done. Sometimes Lief stayed with the men at home. Sometimes he went abroad with those who explored.

Thus the Northmen passed the winter, finding many wonderful things in this strange new land. And when spring came they sailed homeward to tell the people there of all the marvels they had seen and all that they had done. Then the people wondered greatly. And Lief they called Lief the Fortunate.

Afterwards many people sailed from Greenland and from Norway to the fair new lands in the west. This land we now call North America, and the parts of it which Lief discovered and called Hellaland and Markland we now call Labrador and Nova Scotia. So it was that five hundred years before Columbus lived, America was known to these wild sea-kings of the north.

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