In 1004 A.D., four years after Leif Erikson has reached modern-day Newfoundland, a group of merchants and vikings make the same trip. Their purpose is two-fold: bring back supplies to aid famine-stricken Greenland, and find the people responsible for the death of Thorvald, Leif's older brother, who did not return from the last voyage out west.
Our story centers around Gudrid, wife of famed-merchant and expedition leader Thorfinn Karlsefni, and Freydis, Leif's half-sister. When the Norse are visited by a first-nations tribe in Vinland (Newfoundland), Karlsefni decides that peace is possible. After Gudrid gives birth to a son, Snorri, Karlsefni even considers settling in Vinland permanently. But Freydis and her husband Thorvard have plans of their own. Mistaking group-member Ragnar's kindness to the tribe as evidence of cooperation (Ragnar, present on the trip prior, vouched that this tribe was not responsible for Thorvald's death), they murder Ragnar, using his death as an opportunity to wage war with the tribe. Karlsefni, believing Ragnar was killed by this tribe, agrees to attack them, resulting in casualties on both sides. Soon thereafter, Ragnar's body is discovered and Karlsefni realizes the truth, but by now it is too dangerous to stay, so they all depart for Greenland.
In Greenland, Freydis, suspecting Karlsefni knows the truth about Ragnar, complicates matters by revealing to Gudrid her secret past relationship - and failed pregnancy with - Gudrid's husband Karlsefni, which causes Gudrid to question everything she knows about him. Eventually, Leif gets involved, resulting in a clash with Karlsefni over Gudrid, whom Leif has always secretly loved. When Leif and Karlsefni fight, Leif gets the upper hand, but Freydis steps in to save Karlsefni's life. She confesses her and Thorvard's role in Ragnar's death, infuriating Leif, but Karlsefni convinces him not to punish Freydis, but to pin it instead on her husband, Thorvard, who actually slew Ragnar. Leif agrees.
After Thorvard is banished from Greenland, Gudrid convinces Karlsefni that they should return to their native Iceland. Back home, they begin again, but soon Karlsefni takes ill and dies, leaving Gudrid to raise their son alone. After some years, Thorvard appears, seeking retribution for his outlawry and separation from Freydis, which he suspects is Karlsefni's fault. Finding Karlsefni has died, he takes hold of Snorri as payment, but Gudrid, in her bravest moment, defends Snorri by swinging her axe into Thorvard's back, killing him. Soon thereafter, Freydis appears unexpectedly, leaving Gudrid to fearfully explain what has happened. But to Gudrid's surprise, Freydis offers forgiveness. When Gudrid decides to atone for her act by making a pilgrimage to Rome, she entrusts Snorri into Freydis' care. And here, the saga ends.
FAR TRAVELERS, a viking opera.
Libretto by Jeffrey Leiser
Composed by Jeffrey Leiser