Hekja lives the life of a Viking slave, using her long-distance running abilities to help her mistress fulfill her ambition of discovering new territories for the Vikings to populate. Hekja is a young girl living in a seaside village who is happy to spend her days fulfilling her duty as a cattle-herder with her dog, Snarf. One day, a Viking ship lands on their coast and the Vikings destroy their village, killing the adults and taking the children as slaves. Hekja and Snarf almost escape because Hekja is such a good runner but in the end, they are caught and brought onto the Viking ship.
Hekja learns that the ship belongs to Leif Eriksson who is the son of the great Viking chief, Erik the Red, founder of Greenland. Hekja is allowed to roam the decks unbound but she is watched by another thrall (slave) called Hikki, who was enslaved since he was a little boy. Hikki doesn't mind being a slave as he thinks that one day he may earn his freedom and be able to own land and have a wife. Hikki tells her that she is now the slave of Freydis – one of the few Viking women on the ship.
Their ship is bound for Greenland, with stops in Norway and Iceland. When they approach Iceland, they are caught in a storm. Snarf gets washed off the boat and Hekja recklessly jumps into the ocean to save him. She is pulled back on-board by Freydis and tied to a mast. After the storm passes, the ship encounters problems from icebergs – a bad sign as this means that their ship must have drifted far off course. As the ship sails through the mist, Snarf proves useful by barking a warning whenever an iceberg threatens to hit them so that the Vikings can navigate around it. This causes the crew to respect Hekja and Snarf a bit more.
Freydis proves to be a kinder mistress than Hekja expected. Freydis is Erik's daughter and she also has dreams of discovering new lands like her forefathers did. When the ship finally finds its way to Greenland, a feast is thrown for their safe arrival. Hekja is brought to Freydis and her husband, Thorvard's house. Life with Freydis and Thorvard isn't as bad as Hekja thought it could have been, but Hekja still dreams of freedom and she becomes homesick.
One day, traders arrive in Greenland. A young man named Snorri who is a nobleman skald (a singer storyteller) comes with them. Because Hekja is a good runner, she and Hikki are sent to send a message to Erik's youngest son, Thorstein, to tell him to bring goods for trading. Freydis, who is always competing with her brother, Leif, tells Hekja that she had better arrive at the destination first and make her mistress proud or else she will be beaten. Hekja and Hikki compete on this long-distance race but the day is misty and the track treacherous. Hikki ends up injuring himself but Hekja helps him. The two decide to end the race at the same time.
At a feast that night, Freydis makes an announcement that she and her husband will join the Viking ships to discover new territories. They plan on journeying to Vinland, a place where rivers are thick with salmon and the weather is warm. That winter, Hekja befriends Snorri, and Snorri listens to her singing and admires her voice. The winter is harsh and Erik the Red, passes away in his sleep. After his death, Freydis inherits a portion of Erik's wealth while Leif inherits the other portions. One day, Leif tells Freydis that the expedition to Vinland is impossible now that Leif has responsibilities in Greenland as his father's official heir. Freydis is determined to lead the Viking ships, without her brother. Even in the Viking settlements, it is unheard of for a woman to lead an expedition. Freydis must share leadership of the expedition with another Viking man, named Finnbogi, in order to get enough men to join her crew.
Freydis and Finnbogi both take their own ships to Vinland. Among the people who board the ship are Hikki and Snorri. During the journey across the Atlantic, the ships encounters icebergs and storms and Hekja gets a chance to get to know Snorri a bit more. Finally, one day, Snarf again barks aloud to indicate that there is land and the crew arrives in Vinland.
Finnbogi arrives in Vinland first but he brought only men and no women or cattle. He is already showing signs of disloyalty to Freydis and her family who were supposed to rule Vinland. Hekja's first mission is to run with Hikki to explore the surrounding lands and take note of sources of food and water. During their run, Hikki seems to be interested in Hekja and jealous that Hekja admires Snorri. They encounter “skraelings” (natives) one day and they follow the skraelings to their settlement. Hekja sends her report to Freydis who decides to take the friendly approach rather than the violent one. The Vikings end up trading their cheese for animal pelts from the skraelings. Snorri is sent out as an ambassador of sorts to live with the skraelings. He becomes more distant towards Hekja but she doesn't have time to wonder about it as she is too busy caring for Freydis who is now pregnant.
One day, Hikki, who had been sent to explore the southern lands, re-appears and he shows Hekja a beautiful piece of land that he claims will be his once he is free. He wants Hekja to marry him but Hekja can't help but want to return home one day and see whether her old village survived. A few days later, the skraelings attack their settlement. Hikki tries to lead the women to safety but is killed by an arrow. Hekja and Freydis decide to take it upon themselves to defend their people and grab swords from fallen men to fight the skraelings. Their courage stirs up the courage in the men who launch a new attack on the skraelings, forcing them to retreat. In the process, however, Snorri is severely injured but survives his wounds. He professes his love for Hekja and the two agree to marry.
Freydis is so impressed by Hekja's loyalty that she frees her and makes Hekja her own daughter. Freydis finds out that Finnbogi had caused the skraelings to view the Vikings as enemies because he had stolen some women from them to take on as wives for his men. Freydis kills Finnbogi and his men for what they did.
Once the weather becomes milder again, Freydis says her goodbyes to Hekja and Snorri who are to set sail for their homeland. The story ends with Hekja and Snorri bound for Norway, Snorri's home.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that this book gave the readers a glimpse into the Viking way of life from the point of view of a Viking woman. There are many Viking stories about male warriors, but few about female warriors and explorers. Also, I like that the story was more about how the Vikings lived in their settlements with their families, and less about how the Vikings are like when they are rowdy, raiding villages and killing people, as the typical Viking story would heavily feature.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Hekja and Hikki go on their first run together (when they were going to deliver the message to Erik's son). I like that Hekja didn't try to make HIkki look bad by running ahead once he was injured. It was a nice show of camaraderie.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Hekja is loyal, prizes friendship and values life. Living with the Vikings is difficult because they have no qualms about killing their enemies and taking the lives of thralls, however, Hekja stands up for what she believes in, whenever possible.