The Marriage Proposal
A Triumphant Return
Halfway to the tip of this small peninsula, which was shown to have the name Hornstrandir, Laf's ship was battered by cold north winds coming down from the arctic. To keep his vessel moving at a respectable pace he had his men put in their oars, and then proceeded to nearly exhaust each and every one of them. By the time they finally reached the Hornstrandir peninsula Laf had another fateful decision to make. Should he turn back and return the way he came, or continue along this northern route for home hoping that there were no more surprises ahead? When a strong westerly wind blew up it made the decision for him. He would stay the course and use this wind to propel him east across the northern shores of Iceland before turning south for home.
While Laf was losing time north of Iceland, Heinrekr the Saxon was making up the time he had lost to the others in the earlier storm. As soon as he exited the Breidafjørður strong and favorable winds from the north filled his sails and pushed his vessel southward at a tremendous speed. His men laughed and cheered as the sails filled and stretched under the invisible force that propelled them forward. And when they passed the southern tip of Iceland, with a stiff breeze at their backs, and a clear sky ahead of them, they thanked either the old Gods, or the new God, depending on their beliefs, for their good fortune.
Laf breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to finally turn southeast after skirting around one last peninsula that jutted out into the ocean. His choice had been an awful one ! Not only did they suffer from the cold air that flowed north of the island, but occasionally they had to dodge ice that floated dangerously at this latitude.
Although Laf may have been joyous to get away from the coast of Iceland his men were not happy with their commander at all ! They blamed Laf for their misery, which they felt was caused by his lack of seamanship, and would have conspired to make him lose if not for the fact that he had promised them each a large bonus if he won the race and was able to marry Tóra. Still, the grumbling of his men, and the angry looks they flashed him, made him watch his back the remainder of the journey home.
Although their ships were almost fifty miles apart they were of almost equal distance from Skúvoy. Neither of course knew this, but both wanted to maximize their speed none the less. Heinrekr decided that to do this he must lighten his ship as much as possible. Empty water barrels, extra rations, and even a full barrel of smoked herring was thrown overboard, to increase his speed. When he asked that a smaller half - filled barrel of ale be discarded as well his men nearly mutinied. Realizing he had asked too much of his men Heinrekr quickly rescinded the order.
Laf had a similar idea. The main difference was in how he lightened his ship, and his radical decisions worried his men even more than taking the northern passage home. First he had them throw overboard empty barrels, and tools to repair the ship that he hoped they would not need. When he threw the smaller spare sail over the side his men became even more concerned, and begged him to stop. But what terrified the men the most was when he had some of the ballast, and the anchor thrown into the ocean. They obeyed his commands, but when the ship began to bob up and down on the ocean like a piece of cork, they became wary of every wave that seemed larger than the norm.
The two commanders finally became aware of one another's presence when they entered the Skúvoyafjørður. As they passed Sandoy on their port sides Heirekr was ahead by about half a mile, but the calmer water in between the island of Sandoy and Skúvoy was more favorable to Laf's ship which was now much lighter in the water than Heinrekr's vessel. The crewmen, who had cursed their commander when he had thrown the ballast overboard now cheered him for his foresight.
As both ships turned south on their final leg they set out their oars and added manpower to aide the wind that billowed in their sails. The ships both had thirty - two oarsmen, which gave neither an advantage, but once again it was the weight, or lack thereof, that made Laf's oarsmen more effective. Slowly, ever so slowly, with each pull of their oars, Laf's ship caught up and inched ahead.
Heinrekr screamed at his men as though he were the commander of an ancient Roman war galley, who was about to whip his chained slaves to make them pull harder and harder on their oars. But no matter how loud the Saxon yelled, and no matter how many times he threatened his men, his ship continued to fall further and further behind with every stroke.
When they finally reached the docks, where they had started the race weeks before, Laf decided not to slow down and put in at the dock area, but instead pulled the rudder over hard and headed at full speed for the beach. With the sail still taut ,and his oarsmen straining with each pull of their oars, Laf's ship plowed into the rocky beach with a screech and a final thud. Like a deer jumping over a stone fence Laf exited the ship, and with unsteady sea legs under him, he ran across the beach, and up the hill to Sigmundur's home. As he stumbled up the incline he reached into his pocket and pulled out the coin that was given to him by Eirik the Red. Laf giggled uncontrollably as the coin sparkled in the midday sun. And although he could not be absolutely certain that he was the first to arrive, the only other vessel at the dock was Sigmundur's small ship, so there was a very good chance that he was about to win.
Heinrekr considered running his ship aground too, but when he saw that Laf was already halfway up the hill he knew that he had lost the race. Slowly and carefully he directed his ship into the dock, and had it tied up securely. As he and his men sat dejectedly in their ship, Laf's crew cheered their commander as he reached the top of the hill !
- End Chapter 8
- Next : Chapter 9 : Sigmundur Refuses The Coin
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.