Margaret Elphinstone (2000) The Sea Road.

I might have read Margaret Elphinstone’s book, The Sea Road before. Everybody loves Vikings, especially President Putin. The Rus people, he claims, are directly descended from The Sea Road and not from the Asiatic hordes in the East. Another way of saying, white is right. White is might. Pass the longboat and invade Ukraine where it all began.   

I know what you’re thinking, Alzheimer’s. That’s what really scares me. Memory loss. Not being Valhalla less. Being exiled as a ghost that can’t scare up a broth to the place beyond the sea. When I nail down a book review, it no long rises like Dracula from the grave to suck out my brain.

Every book is a dream, in which the writer is a Viking that sets sail. Grit doesn’t work. 10 000 books published annually by HarperCollins and 11 000 and more published by Amazon every week. True grit works even less. Luck now there’s something to be in thrall to. Thrall is a slave. Like the gods of Fate, but only smaller. No writer I know would say they were fated, but some might claim to be lucky. Being a Viking means you’ve got to consider the Fates, or else—

The Viking renegade Erik Raudi (Eric the Red) from Norway, who became an unsettler in Iceland, then a lawmaker in his settlement in Brattahild, Greenland was not thralled with the new religion of Christianity. He thought it made them soft.     

Gudrid’s story is told on 5th July 1051 from the centre of the world an English Convent in St Peter Rome. She tells it to the Agnar, son of Aslief, a monk from Iceland. She’s an old woman, and he’s a young monk.  He transcribes a rough copy of their conversation onto vellum. Please don’t make the mistake of meaning I mean Vellum software.  

Agnar, in making his mark, notes like all Vikings,: ‘When you write down a person’s story…it becomes yours.’

Character building. Gudrid knew hunger as a child. Her father was a chieftain and her mother dead. He was a follower of Erik the Red.  Everyone had Irish slaves. Her father claimed like every Irishman I’ve met to be descended from the kings of Ireland. We all are. It’s not a matter of genetics, but simple mathematics. Just as we are all from out of Africa. No one needed to tell him his daughter, Gudrid, was beautiful. That was a matter of record in which she had two husbands and two sons.

World building. Seasons are short and winters are long. The boundaries of the world become very large and very cold. The sea gives life and takes it. Ghosts haunt the living. Gudrid is a childish witch, but her powers untested. Everything in their season. Nothing wasted. Bird and their eggs are taken for food. Sheep and cattle, the mainstay. Crops are sown. But it’s never enough for life. A ship is needed to hunt enough sea meat for the winter months.

But there are few trees that can withstand the gale-force winds. Wood needed for the keel and stern. The keelson trunk of the mast. Thick oak for planking. And little bog iron for the smithy to make nails. Ropes made from sea hide. Loose wool and thread for caulking.  For people not only to survive but to thrive, they must trade. Trade is a form of plunder. Winner and losers.

Winds must be favourable and Fates dictate heaven or hell.   

‘I’m old and I’m tired,’ says Gudrid. ‘Sometimes I think the more we see, the less we know.’ Read on.


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