04 March 2006

Alternate history, another strange idea I've had

Ah, breaking into socially irrelevant topics! Such is Alt-History, with its fans and supporters and fretting historians worrying about the purity of their studies. I remember talking to one historian in college that was aghast at the idea that people might even *try* to see how the past could have behaved differently: to him what was done is all there was. So sad, when the study of history should be about how peoples change and react and come to terms with events, even as they make them. And so much of history dangles on threads... little tipping points that beg the question "What if...?" When I could read whole novels I had some goodly number of Alt-History works within that reading and always saw that our history is that of the improbable and has always hung on slender threads of happenstance.

So, this excursion takes us back to just after the founding of the Greenland colony by Eric the Red. Eric had been sent away by his homeland and Iceland and was looking for a third land to settle on his own, so he could have rest and family. And in our history he died by not going with his son Leif on a further exploration, because of a fall from a horse, which Eric thought to be a harbinger of bad luck if he went. Instead he stayed and caught the plague, and while some settlers may have gone to Vinland, they finally ended up de-camping. And so it went, more or less with lots of encapsulation and glossing over, in our world.

But there is a story that gives one pause of some years before that, when Eric's wife sought to have a church built close to home. She had converted to Christianity and, like all new converts, was a fervent follower of the new belief. Eric, being somewhat set in his ways and conservative, would abide by that, but did not himself convert (save maybe upon his deathbed, but those things are hard to tell at such distance and with so little evidence). Pestered, flustered, possibly having his children also add to the chorus, and then having his husbandly rights denied until the church was built, he decided that it would be at the furthest he could throw a stone from home. And so it was that he and Leif built that little church, or so it is as I have heard it, with Leif barely a stripling.

And here is a turning point for a man: two lands have sent him yonder through being expelled via their Things. He abided by such and did the honorable actions of founding a new colony for such as he to live in peace. Others attracted to Greenland in those years before the Little Ice Age and the colony swelled to its largest it could support. Christianity is brought in and many convert and Eric sees old ways being replaced, and clearly shook his head at this. But then strife came from his wife and her conversion and teaching his children these new ways. And, at some point, a man reaches a point when he will say 'no more'! And one can picture his reaction to his wife, the thinking he did, and then his own children telling *him* what to do! Can a man not find ANY PEACE?

He would remain quiet, the man who is a Viking, called the Red one with redness upon his hair and beard and hands. But he would not do violence and be outcast yet again, but this... this! he knew he could not put up with and would be pestered and nagged and refused until the end of his days, which would be short but seem overly long. And at the gathering the last before the trading and sailing season is over he would make his announcement, and one can imagine it something like this...

"You all know me and have trusted me with leadership here. I have done things in the past, perhaps not so good, and have gone to three lands because I was not wanted in two of them. And now this third land brings strife to my heart and I will not have that AGAIN. And so next season I will sail to the west and south. We have heard the stories from the natives and I will bring a guide with me to help. I will seek a new land for myself and any willing to follow. In this land we will be remote from the Raven Banner and the King and be truly Viking in the vanguard. Yet this land will be ruled by the Thing and be based on one fact more, that no one shall push and preach and pester another with religion as those beliefs are sacred to each of us. You may preach to your own, discuss with any who want, but the pestering, pleading and all that goes with it will not be allowed by ANY! And so when the first sails come with any who would join, I will go west then south, as we have heard the barrenness of the North. And as this third land does not offer peace, I will go three lands more. On the third land, be it barren or bountiful, I shall make my place. Others may come or not as they please, but I, at least shall leave."
And so would Eric Three Lands be born. Perhaps some few hundred from the colony would join him and perhaps as many as a thousand more, hearing upon his words and the wisdom of them and misliking the changes in their people. And so in late spring he would sail, needs be leaving young Leif behind. They would go past Markland and leave indicators there, then south until west and westward more until mid-summer and a second land. Now as to vines in Vinland, many have their say, but to Eric it would be but the second land to learn of the way to go. Interacting with the summering native population he would learn of west and south, and then head that way for the third land as three would be his luck.

He would like the estuary he had heard of to the direct west, but mistrust the currents he would also hear about. And so south by west and then the coast he would go, seeing the rocky land give way to trees as summer waned, many wanting to stop in these northerly climes, but Eric deciding on some week or more along the coast. And then as luck would have it, they would come to a great bay, with a long curving spit of land and a fine place for a colony. Trees, fresh water, grassy lands and natives to interact with. Soon trees being felled and boats out to fish and gathering and trading for the winter needs. A land of fog and freedom lay in which Eric Three Lands would stay.

These people would treat and trade well with neighbors and be large enough to defend, but not so large as to give offense. And the locals would provide a buffer against the more murderous tribes to the south. And so this Freeland would be formed, under the Red One, named Eric Three Lands. The next year word would head back and meet up with Lucky Leif who had espied excellent fishing off the coast as more settlers were led by him and his brothers. They would encounter the gifts being sent back to Greenland, Iceland and to the Kings. And Leif would murmur some at the bear shirts for those Kings and one small group of new settlers would smile broadly and know that they had come home.

And so the tales are told of Berserkers and their native counterparts, as the rich iron ores were sought by the years and these Freelanders came upon another nation and their mighty warriors. One would beguess that the interaction of Berserker and Mohawk would be awful until both people realized that peace could be had without more bloodshed. Thus would Five Nation of Iroquois and Freelanders join together, assuredly with differences and spats, but respect each the other and soon learning to live and welcome as trade is preferable to war. But that would be years onwards from that founding.

The preachers of the new religion would get warning to not overstep their welcome. Preach peaceably and not forcefully and when a man says 'Nay' to let him be. For heads of many who did not and were exiled would adorn the streets. For Vikings they were and kept to the common law set by Eric of Three Lands, who was intemperate in his day but also had wisdom to see a way. His wife would bejoin him in latter days, and when plague swept Greenland, those coming would be kept apart on islands for a month or so, to keep such things away.

Thus Eric and his family would finally be at peace with each other. And a land of Freedom would be built by strong and sturdy men and women, willing to live and let live so long as peace be kept, and ever ready to strike out when safety be threatened. A land where no King ruled and the freemen kept to peace, and every year each Thing would have its say to ensure that laws were kept. Who knows how this new land would turn out, with such a strange beginning, but no stranger than Puritans blown off-course and low on beer, settling in to survive and found a colony... and perhaps more sense that a people who placed so much on self-reliance and living with community would seek out new and better ways for all of them to be free from pestering.

And one may imagine that one day the Kingdoms in Europe would be faced with a strong land of common folk, respecting their own and wanting none above them. A strong land and a blend of peoples and beliefs as all were respected.

Because one man had been pushed just a little bit too far.

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