Interview with Gudbjartur Einarsson From Axe of Iron: The Settlers by J. A. Hunsinger
A tall, muscular man of imposing proportion, out of place and time, suddenly appeared before the contemporary interviewer. He spoke not a word of greeting while the modern man’s eyes examined his ancient attire, coming to rest briefly on the wicked battleaxe hanging at his side from a broad leather belt.
The interviewer shuddered inwardly and consulted his clipboard. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Your name is hard to pronounce, can you help our readers with that?
“Aye, using your phonics you can pronounce my name as G-uhd-byar-tuhr. My friends call me Guhj.”
“Okay then, Guhj. Tell us where you are from and what you are doing here in Vinland?”
“It is a long story, I think, but I will do my best. I am twenty some of your years old and I was born in Iceland. My name is Icelandic. My last name, Einarsson, tells people that I am ‘Einar’s son.’ We Norse still use this naming system in your time. My sister’s last name would be Einarsdattur, e.g. Ingunn Einarsdattur.”
“That seems better than our system.”
“Aye, it has always worked for us because we pass the father’s name down with his offspring. I have two sons, Ivar and Lothar. Their last name is Gudbjartursson.”
“I understand. Please continue your story.”
“My father, Einar, moved with the chieftain Eirik the Red, to the new settlement, Eiriksfjord, on Greenland in the summer of 986. Soon after our arrival, Eirik sent people to Lysufjord where another settlement was established. I was about 12 of your years at that time. Life on Greenland was good until there were too many people for the fragile Arctic environment.”
“How did too many people affect your life on Greenland?”
“We Norse are livestock farmers. Within fifteen of your years, we had too many animals. The only forage on Greenland is on the southwestern coast and our animals overgrazed that area and started eating the stunted willow and birch trees; soon they were all gone. We began to eat our replacement females in winter. That cannot continue for long. It became obvious to many of us that a drastic change was called for.”
“What kinds of animals do you have?”
“Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens are our farm animals. We also have dogs and cats.”
“Why did you not cultivate grain crops to supplement the meat, cheese, milk, and eggs from your animals?”
“We grew barley in the beginning, but worsening winters soon shortened the growing season so much we could not raise grain any longer.”
“Worsening winters? Let us talk about that in a moment. For now, I am surprised that you transported large animals such as horses and cattle on your wooden ships. Tell our readers how you did that.”
Gudbjartur chuckled. “We selectively bred our horses and cattle over the centuries to be small and compact, so we could transport them on our ships. All of our animals are smaller, especially the horses and cattle. They are one-third the size of yours.”
“How interesting. Many of our readers will identify with your dogs and cats. We, too, keep them as pets.”
“Pets? You do not understand. They are not pets; they both have work to do. The dogs protect our livestock from predation; warn us of intruders; they also haul small loads for us and clean up scraps around the settlement. The cats keep rats and mice from our granaries and longhouses. We do not feed them except in winter. In lean years we eat them if need be. No, they are not pets; our medieval lifestyle has no room for pets.”
“That will be hard for some of our readers to understand.”
“Perhaps your readers have never been hungry. With months of blizzards raging outside the longhouse, I can assure you that a hungry man will eat whatever will keep starvation at bay.”
“With the plenty in our contemporary lives, it is difficult to relate to that mindset. We digress; please continue with your story.”
“Where was I?”
“Tell us about the worsening weather before continuing with your story.”
“Aye, the worsening weather: in the eight century, as you reckon the passage of time, the winters began to become moderate, finally warming so much that the numbers of my people increased many fold. You refer to this period as the Medieval Warm Period, when the Arctic was warmer than it is in your time. What you call the Viking Age began about 793 as a result. We Norse burst from our northern lands, raided, and settled much of what you now call Eastern and Western Europe.
“The settlement of Iceland and Greenland occurred during this time. At the beginning of the eleventh century, the winters on Greenland became much colder. You call this climate change the Mini-Ice Age. The ice in our fjords stayed longer each year, shortening our summer hunting and growing season. During the summer of 1005, a chieftain arrived on Greenland, at Eiriksfjord, with two ships of settlers from the Norse homeland. He spent the next two summers assessing the settlement situation at both Eiriksfjord and Lysufjord; both had been experiencing increasing weather related problems over the preceding two years.
“He soon decided that no good farming ground remained on Greenland for his people. I, too, was concerned about the future for my family, so I joined his expedition. We found that the people of both settlements had eaten so many of their domestic animals that the herd numbers were not sustainable. A drastic change in lifestyle was called for. As the true situation on Greenland became apparent, the chieftain, Halfdan Ingolfsson, selected me to be his second-in-command for an expedition of settlement to Vinland.
“Together, with the permission of Eirik, we talked to almost everybody in Eiriksfjord and Lysufjord and gradually a plan took shape. Halfdan decided that the expedition of six ships, four from Eiriksfjord and two from Lysufjord, would sail to Vinland with ice breakup the following spring. That would be spring of the year 1008.”
“This is fascinating, Guhj, please continue.”
Gudbjartur looked keenly at his interviewer. “This I will not do. Halfdan will want to tell his part of our tale.”
“I can appreciate that, Guhj, but since he is not here with us, why not tell the tale yourself?”
Gudbjartur shook his head; the unblinking, pale blue eyes skewered his interviewer causing the man to withdraw inwardly as his eyes noted the Northman’s right hand come to rest on the head of the battleaxe at his belt. “I said I would not do that. I am the axeman of my chieftain. This is his story to tell.”
The interviewer steeled himself to ask another question. “How will we know what happened, who will continue the story of your people?”
Gudbjartur’s scowl became a smile. “A man from your time is telling our story in a series of books. You will hear our voices relate the adventures of my people, seen through our eyes, as we struggle to establish a settlement in Vinland in the face of fierce resistance from the Skraelings.”
“Do you know this man? Have you met him?”
“No, I have not, but we have a connection. We each feel the other.
Read Axe of Iron: The Settlers, the first book of the series about my people.”
“How will I find this book?”
“You will find it if you look. Gudbjartur’s right hand chopped down in a dismissive gesture. “That is all; it will be as I say. He turned away and soon disappeared into the mist from whence he had come.”
The man watched him as he disappeared. A chill coursed through his body. Has this all been a dream?