- Harper Collins Teaching Guide
They Came on Viking Ships
Can enemy warriors become your friends?
When Vikings raid and destroy a small coastal village, Hekja and her dog, Snarf, are captured and taken to Greenland. In this harsh and cold land, Hekja becomes a thrall - a slave - to Freydis Eriksdottir, daughter of the infamous Erik the Red. Hekja's fiery determination earns her the respect of her mistress. But Hekja's journey was just the beginning, as she and Snarf and other colonists join their leader, Freydis, on a voyage to Vinland to establish a new settlement where more perilous adventures await them...
- 2006 NSW Premier's History Awards, shortlisted for Young People's History Prize
Inspiration for They Came on Viking Ships
It was exciting seeing the text I worked on finally turn into a book. The cover is wonderful, and the story ...
Well, it grabbed me about five years ago. I was reading some of the Icelandic Sagas, the history poems written about eight hundred years ago. The sagas told the stories of Erik the Red, founder of the Greenland colony, and his son Leif, who sailed to 'Vinland' or present day North America.
But there too was Freydis, Leif's sister, who according to one saga also lead an expedition to Vinland. Why do we remember Leif, when Freydis is forgotten?
The more I read the more fascinated I became. Only two of the sagas mention Freydis. In one she is a total villain, who murders the rest of the expedition to get all the profits for herself, and who takes her husband's axe to kill the other women. But in the other she is a modest dutiful heroine, who saves them all when the Skraelings- the native Americans- attack.
The men flee, but Freydis is nine months pregnant and can't run. So she takes up the sword of a fallen Viking, rips her bodice open, slaps the sword against her breast, and charges them, and saves them all.
Which makes sense if you think about it- bows and arrows only work at a distance. Up close an iron sword would win.
So what happened to Freydis? Why has this extraordinary women been forgotten?
Mostly, I think, she was just too strong a character for later poets and historians to cope with. By then the Roman Church had taken over from the Celtic, and they were trying hard to wipe out references to strong women, (St Brigid, for example, was a Bishop, but that but was mostly forgotten too).
'They came in Viking Ships' tells Freydis's story from the point of view of Hekja, a Scottish thrall, or slave, and her dog Snarf, as they are captured by the Vikings, taken to the Greenland colony, and then to the new colony in Vinland. The book was picked up by Harper Collins UK, US and Canada too, even before it came out here. It's an extraordinary story, though that is due mostly to Freydis Eriksdottir, not me.