The Thrall's Tale
Einar owns me, the runes at my collarbone speak from the carved stone, smooth with wear. The amulet belonged to another before me, another thrall whose name is lost. They don't remember even how she died, only that she did about the time that I was born.
At my birth I was named for the fire burning beneath the mountain's ice, "Katla," and the string was tied, and so I have ever worn it. I have always been a slave.
Then why the unfamiliar sorrow that I am leaving the only land I've ever known, this land of my bondage? Yet I gaze about me almost mournfully as my master, Einar, stands upon the shore, tall among the circle of chieftains, setting the last of the plans before we see this place no more. The only one taller is Eirik Raude himself, his flaming head bright beside the others' mostly gray. It is he who planned this voyage to the great land to the west, beyond the open sea.
Serving at my master's banquet table two years ago at Yule, I heard Eirik tell of its lush pastures and its deep fjords brimming with walrus, seals, and birds. "So broad and vast and rich, friend Einar," he said. "Think on it! Think, if you dare, to come. Already there's a fjord named for you. I've set it so myself - Einarsfjord! - all rich and green, the fairest farm save perhaps my own - and set beside mine, with naught between our mighty homesteads but a pasture thick with grass and moss so fresh, sprouting up to make your cows' milk sweet and your sheep fat enough to slaughter even before the springtime's melted snows."
"You say 'tis such . . . ?" I saw my master raise a grizzled brow. "Well, to think on it. There's naught so fine about this Iceland now. Thick it is with homesteads, and only the lowliest grounds left upon the ashen hills - barely enough to feed our sheep, yet quick run thick with blood and feud if others have first claimed it. Your talk is tempting, Eirik, almost too fair to be believed."
"Yet you know me well, Einar."
"That, old friend, I do. I would not cross you in a fight, or when you're hard at drinking. Yet I'll tell you, you are mostly honest, if hard-tempered. For this, I'll think upon your offer and speak of it with my mistress, Grima. Yet what shall I tell her is the name of this new place?"
"Ah," Eirik Raude full-smiled then, his teeth rough-chipped, yellowish some, and broken in his ruddy beard. "Greenland." Slowly Eirik Raude did muse.
"Greenland." And the sound of it, so thick and fresh and hopeful on my master's tongue. So, and now, many months long past, we are set about to go.
I wait with the other thralls in a line before the plank. Einar's hefty trader's ship keens chorus with the other knarrs: twenty-five in all, each with bright-painted shields of wood and clanking metal hung upon their low-slung rails, and outstretched, dripping oars. Each is set to be captained by another master: Hafgrim, Herjolf, Ketil, Hrafn, even Helgi Thorbrandsson among their lot, all powerful here in Iceland once, but pushed out by hunger, vengeance, greed. They and all their households, their wives and sons, daughters and married kindred, and all their thralls, like me, packed to go to sea.
Such a crowd. All about are bondsmen's scalps - bald pates, shaved and shining as this morning's spring-ish dew - while we bonded women wear our best and only sheath of wadmal cloth, gray and drab and of a sweaty woolen, with a flaxen kerchief tied around our brows and braids. Nay, we look yet all the same, all dull and soiled, reeking, worn threadbare upon our elbows, while the freemen and their ladies nearly dance upon the Breidafjord rocks, flaunting all their finest, thickest woolens, their boots of fur and leather, their cloaks of seal, reindeer skins, and sometimes even bear with claws, all cheered and tucked and warm, set about to face the sea's fierce chill.
Excerpted from The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh. Copyright © 2006 by Judith Lindbergh. Excerpted by permission of Plume, a division of Penguin Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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