The Tale of

Eirek the Traveller

 

© Peter Tunstall, 2005

 

1. Eirek’s Vow

 

Thrand is the name of the first king to rule over Thrandheim. He had a son called Eirek, a well-liked man even from a young age. He was strong in body, brave and excelled at everything; grew up big.

It’s told that one Yule Eve, Eirek made a solemn vow to travel the whole world in search of the place which heathen men call The Deathless Acre, and Christians the Land of Living Folk, or Paradise. This vow became famous throughout Norway.

The following summer, Eirek fits out a magnificent ship and sets sail for Denmark. There were twelve in his ship. The king of the Danes had a son himself who was also called Eirek. The Danish king and his son invited Eirek Thrandarson to stay the winter with them, and he accepted. The two Eireks became friends and entered into partnership, and they were alike in many respects. And in the following spring, Eirek the Dane decided to join his namesake on the expedition. His party also consisted of twelve.

They sailed now and headed for Miklagard,[1] and they arrive there just as the Greek king was raising an army to fight against raiders who were making frequent attacks on his realm. And when the king of the Greeks heard of the Norsemen’s arrival he asks to see them and received them with honour, asking them who they were and where they came from and which way they were bound. Eirek says that they’re Norsemen, kings’ sons, and that they mean to travel widely, exploring the world.

Then the Greek king honoured them exceedingly well in all respects. And when they’d been there for some time they performed many great deeds, with boldness and much good sense, and defended the realm of the Greek king very well. And when the king saw that they were stronger than just about any other men in the land, he prized them highest of all and bestowed on them ranks and distinctions and honours, and even took them into his service, and he employed them on the best terms out of all his men. It’s said that this was the first time Norsemen took honours out in Miklagard.[2]

 

 

2. Eirek Stayed in Miklagard

 

It’s said that one day Eirek of Norway asked the king, “Who made heaven and earth?”

The king says, “One made them both.”

Eirek asked, “Who is that?”

The king answers, “God Almighty who is one God but of three aspects.”

Eirek said, “What are these three aspects?”

The king says, “Consider the sun. In it there are three aspects: fire, brightness and heat, and yet it’s all one sun. So also in God: there’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet he’s one in his omnipotence.”

Eirek said, “He is a great god, this one, to have made heaven and earth. Tell me now something of his greatness.”

The king said, “God is one, alone, without equal and unsurpassable. He’s above all things and endures all things, and he holds the ends of the earth in his hand.”

Eirek said, “Does God know all things?”

The king says, “He alone knows all before him.”

And when the king had said that, Eirek wondered much at the greatness of God.

Eirek said, “Where does God live, in heaven or earth?”

The king says, “He rules in the heavens and that is his kingdom. There’s neither sickness nor weeping there, nor death, no sadness and no grief. There is always joy and everlasting bliss and gladness and heavenly pleasures without end.”

Eirek said, “Who live there with God?”

The king said, “Holy angels live there. God made them as servants for himself at the beginning of time. God Almighty made himself a bright hall. He called that hall the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he made a dark dungeon—that is this world which we live in. In it he set a deep pit which is called hell. In that place is every kind of torment with fire, and there the souls of the wicked are tortured. Satan rules over that pit, the enemy of all mankind, but God Almighty bound him firmly after his Passion. Then he rose on the third day after the death of his body. And on the fortieth day he ascended up to heaven where all the kingdom of God is prepared, for knights and hosts, and all this will serve to fill the gap left when the angels became corrupted, and God will make up the numbers with people who have lived pure lives.”

Eirek said, “What is that pit which you say is in the earth?”

The king said, “That’s the land of death which is prepared for sinful men, and it’s called hell. In that place is every sort of torment with everlasting fire. There wicked men are punished.”

Eirek asked, “Who are they?”

The king says, “Heathens all, and traitors to God.”

Eirek asked, “Why are all heathens bad?”

The king says, “Because they will not worship God, their maker.”

Eirek said, “Do we not worship Gods?”

The king says, “They’re not God, for wretched things are told of them, how wickedly they died and what criminal lives they lived. Their souls are now in eternal fire and unquenchable torments.”

Eirek said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this about them before now.”

The king says, “That’s why your beliefs are mistaken, because you never heard of this, but if you wish to believe in everlasting God who is in trinity, then after death you will go to him in eternal bliss.”

Eirek said, “I would like that, to get eternal life after death.”

The king says, “You will achieve this wish if you believe in everlasting God and then take holy baptism, and you will then be brought to life in his body and blood and become a friend of God. Accept Christ and praise him well in all things.”

Eirek said, “I’ll do exactly what you urge. But tell me what I ask you: Where is hell?”

The king says, “Under the earth.”

Eirek asked, “What is above the earth?”

“Sky,” says the king.

Eirek asked, “What is above the sky?”

“The Firmament-Heaven. In that heaven are all the stars like burning fire.”

Eirek said, “What is above the firmament?”

“Waters are fixed there, as cloud.”

“What is above the waters?”

“The Spiritual Heaven, and it’s believed that angels live here.”

“What is above that heaven?”

“The Heaven of Intellect. In that heaven God himself and his kingdom may be seen by those who are deserving of this.”

Then Eirek was amazed at how wise the king was and said, “How great and sublime and unsurpassable your wisdom is. Tell me, if you know, how great is the breadth of the earth?”

The king says, “You’re curious, Eirek, and you want to know many things which are irrelevant and unusual and very obscure. But to answer your question, hear what I say and learn: The circumference of the earth, wise men tell, is a hundred and eighty thousand leagues, and it’s not held up by any pillars but by God’s omnipotence.”

Eirek asked, “How far is it between heaven and earth?”

“You are curious, Eirek,” says the king, “From earth to the highest heaven it’s said to be one hundred thousand, three hundred and eighty-five miles.”

Eirek asked, “What lies around the outside of the earth?”

“A great sea which is called Ocean.”

Eirek asked, “What is the most distant land in the southern part of the world?”

The king answered, “India-land, we say, marks the ends of the earth in that part of the world.”

Eirek asked, “Where is that place which is called The Deathless Acre?”

The king says, “We call that Paradise, or the Living Land.”

Eirek asked, “Where is it situated?”

The king says, “The country is east of furthest India.”

Eirek asked, “Can I get there?”

“I don’t know about that,” says the king, “A wall of fire stands before it which reaches right up to heaven.”

And when the king had told Eirek all that and much more besides, Eirek fell at the king’s feet and said, “I beg you, best of kings, for your help to speed my journey, for I stand in great need on account of my vow, for I solemnly vowed to go south through the world in search of The Deathless Acre, and I know that I have no chance of getting there without your help.”

The king says, “Stay the next three years here with us and then go, since you’re in need of my help, and you must heed all my warnings. Be baptised and I will assist you.”

Eirek quizzed the king about the rewards of righteousness and the pains of hell. He asked too about the peoples and regions of the world, about seas and distant lands and all about the eastern and southern parts of the world, about mighty kings and various islands, about deserts and about those places they had to cross, about strange and wondrous races, and how they dressed, and the customs of many nations, about vipers and winged dragons and all sorts of animals and birds, about great hoards of gold and jewels. The king answered these enquiries and many others well and wisely. After this, they were baptised, Eirek and his men.

 

 

3. Eirek Went to India

 

When three years had passed, and Eirek had received such information and much more besides, they headed with their crew to Syria with the seal of the Greek king, and after that they go by ship and horse—but mostly they walked—journeying some years till they came to furthest India. And wherever they go in strange lands, they were welcomed, and everyone helped them on their way because they had with them the letter and seal of the Greek king and the patriarch from Miklagard which was written too on the tongues of all those people they expected to meet on the way. It was also said that wherever they were, or wherever they chose to travel, it was apparent how much God’s grace was with them and what a friend of God the Greek king was, for wherever his letter was seen, honours were bestowed upon them and they suffered no harm, for God’s mercy protected Eirek and his companions, and the luck of the Greek king was with them, and his wise advice saved them much trouble on the way.

And when they’d travelled as much as forty-four miles through the regions of India, they came at last to dark regions where they saw stars as clearly by day as by night. All over the land they found great lumps of gold. They saw many wonders besides in that land. And when they’d gone a long way through thick woods, incredibly tall, they come at last out of the forest. Then it got light and became bright and they saw before them a great river. Over it was a bridge of stone. On the far bank of the river they saw a beautiful country with tall flowers and plenty of honey, and from it they smelt a sweet scent. That direction was bright to look at. They saw neither hill nor height nor mountain in that country. Eirek realises these must be the lands the Greek king spoke of. It dawned on him that this must be the river called Phison that flows from Paradise. But as they neared the bridge, they saw a terrible dragon lying on it with gaping jaws, and it let out a savage-sounding roar. Then Eirek began to make his way towards it, and he intended to get across the river somehow. But when Eirek the Dane saw that, he told his namesake not to go, and he said the dragon would swallow him in no time. But Eirek the Norwegian said he wasn’t going to be scared of the dragon, “and he won’t stop my journey.”

Danish Eirek said, “I beg you, best friend, don’t throw your life away; come back with us instead, because you’ll surely die if you go on.”

Eirek said he wouldn’t turn back, and they both wished each other good luck. Now Eirek of Norway draws his sword and grasps it in his right hand and takes one of his companions by the left hand. They rush up and leap into the mouth of the dragon, and it looked to Eirek the Dane as if the dragon swallowed them both. He turns back now with his companions, back the way they came, and after many years he comes home to his own land. Then he reported what was the last he’d seen of Eirek the Norwegian, what had happened, as it seemed to him. Now this man gets to be famous because of his travels, and he was regarded as a splendid man, and that’s the end of his story.

 

 

4. Beyond the Dragon

 

But when Eirek the Norwegian and his companion had leapt into the dragon’s mouth, it seemed like they were wading through smoke. And when they came out of the smoke, they saw a beautiful land, lush and bright as satin, with sweet scents and tall flowers, and streams of honey ran all over the land, in every direction. That country was broad and flat. There was constant sunshine there, so that it never got dark and never cast so much as a shadow. The air was calm but with just a little breeze on the ground, so that they smelt the sweet scent even more than before. They walked for a long time and wondered if they would see any habitations or populated districts, or how far it went on.

They then saw what looked for all the world like a column suspended in the air with nothing holding it up. As they got closer they saw it was a tower hanging in the sky with no props. A ladder stood against the south side of the tower. They were amazed at the strength of whatever power was making this possible, and it all seemed very strange to them. Then they went up the ladder and into the tower.

They saw that it was furnished with the most beautiful and opulent satins and velvet. There was a table standing there, beautifully prepared, and on it stood a silver dish. On that there were all sorts of tasty treats, and it was loaded with white sweet-scented bread. There was a jug set with gold and gemstones. There was a goblet full of wine. There were beds, well made and spread with cloth of gold and fine velvet.

Then Eirek said, “See here is The Deathless Acre, that we travelled so many roads and faced such trials and troubles to see.”

They praised God and said, “Great and good is God for letting us see all this.”

And after that they enjoyed the food and then went to sleep.

And as Eirek slept, there appeared to him a youth, bright and handsome, who said to him, “Great is the firmness of your faith, Eirek. Tell me, how do you like this land?”

“Very well—it’s all I could have wished for. And of all the lands I’ve seen, this is the one I like the best. But who are you? And there’s a big difference between your knowledge and mine, because you know me and call me by my name, but I don’t know who you are.”

Then the young man smiled and said, “I’m God’s angel, one of those who guard the gates of Paradise. I was standing nearby when you vowed to go south through the world in search of The Deathless Acre. I prompted you to sail to Miklagard; and through God’s foresight and my will, you took baptism, and for that I call you blessed, for you heeded the good advice and warnings of the Greek king and took his seal and bathed in the holy Jordan. But as for me, the Lord sent me to you. I am your guardian angel and I’ve shielded you on land and sea from all the dangers of the journey and guarded you against all bad things. And we are not human but rather spirits dwelling in our heavenly homeland. But this place which you see here is like a wilderness compared to Paradise, though that’s not so far from here, and that’s where that river comes from which you saw. No one gets there alive, but the souls of the righteous are to live there. And this place you’ve found is called the Land of Living Folk. And before you arrived, God commanded us to watch this place and to show you the Land of Living Folk, in some form, and make a feast for you and reward you for your troubles.”

Then Eirek asked the angel, “Where do you live?”

The angel says, “We live in heaven where we gaze on the face of God, but out of necessity we are sent to earth to offer our service to humans, as you can well believe.”

Eirek said, “What holds up this tower which seems to hang in the air?”

The angel says, “God’s strength alone holds it up. From signs like this you should have no doubt that God made the world from nothing.”

Eirek said, “I’ll not doubt that.”

The angel asked Eirek, “Which would you rather: stay here, or go back to your own country?”

Eirek answers, “I want to go back.”

The angel said, “Why so?”

Eirek says, “Because I want to tell the people I know about these glorious demonstrations of God’s power, and because if I don’t come back, they’ll be sure I died a horrible death.”

The angel said, “Although there is now worship of heathen gods in the northern lands, the time will come when those people will be freed from delusion, and God will call them to his faith. Now I give you leave to go back to your own land and tell your friends about God’s grace, what you saw and heard of it, because they’ll believe in God’s word and his commandments sooner when they hear such tales as this. Pray often. I will come after you some years hence and bear your soul into bliss, and I will guard your bones in that place where they are to await the Judgment. Stay here six days and rest yourselves and then take provisions for the journey and head back north at last.”

Now the angel seemed to vanish from his sight. Eirek did just as the angel said regarding his stay and departure.

 

 

5. Eirek’s Return

 

After resting as long as the angel said, they climbed down from the tower and they go on till they reach the river. Then a great darkness comes over them. They come up out of the dragon’s mouth and resume their journey and see many wonders—but even so, no harm befalls them—and they become enlightened with much wisdom, and after four years they come to Miklagard. And Eirek tells the king of his travels, and the king is amazed he made it back, and has him stay for three years. After that Eirek gets ready and leaves Miklagard and goes north to Norway, and everyone was glad to see him. He was there ten years. And in the eleventh winter, there was one day he went early to pray. Then the Spirit of God took him, and they looked for Eirek but he wasn’t found. Eirek had told his dream to his companion, the one that he dreamt in the tower, and this man passed it on, and he believed that the angel of God must have taken Eirek and kept him safe. This Eirek was called Eirek the Traveller. This story has been confirmed by many witnesses from his own words. Now we’ll leave the story there.

And he who set this adventure down first in this book,[3] which he wrote, did so because he wants everyone to know that there is no real help except through God. Because, though heathen men may get great fame by their deeds and feats of valour, there’s a big difference, when they get to the end of this temporary life, since they’ve had their reward from human praise for their courage, but they can expect nothing but punishments for their sins and lack of faith, as they didn’t recognise their maker. But those who have loved God and put all their faith in Him and acted according to the spirit of holy Christianity, they will get more praise from the wisest men, and also—what’s more—when they’ve gone forth through the universal door of death, from which no flesh may save itself, then they’ll have their reward. That is the difference: everlasting life with Almighty God without end, just like this Eirek, of whom we have just now said.



[1] Byzantium (Constantinople).

[2] Norsemen served the Byzantine emperors during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, forming an elite regiment known as the Varangian Guard.

[3] The priest Jón Þórðarson, in Flateyjarbók The Book of Flatey.