Our Little Viking Cousin of Long Ago - C. H. Johnston




The Building of the Ship

"Steady boy, steady, thou wilt hurt thyself. Get thee from beneath these timbers."

The man who spoke was a hairy-bearded Viking who was clad in a workman's garb. He was directing the transportation of some stout beams from his work-shop to the shore, where the skeleton of a ship was lying. Many Norsemen were at work upon the vessel. It great curving sides and high prow showed it to be a typical Viking ship.

The boy stepped aside at this command and allowed the men who were carrying the beams to pass by. Then he walked up to the sides of the vessel in order to watch the progress of the building of the graceful hull. It was Biarne, who had wandered down to see what was going on. He was full of curiosity.

"Biarne, I want to speak to you!" came a voice at his shoulder.

Turning around, Biarne saw Eric, who was carrying some boards on his shoulder.

"What is it, Eric?" he asked. "I see that you are well laden."

"I want to speak to you after I deposit these boards at the ship."

"Very good, I shall be glad to hear what you have to say."

Eric went down to the water's edge, laid down the boards, and was soon back at the side of his friend.

"This vessel is being built for Leif Ericson, the Lucky," said he. "And it is whispered that he is to sail far to the west, where he expects to find a great and prosperous new country."

"Ah!" answered Biarne. "And what of that?"

"Would you not like to go with him, and have some adventure?" Blame's eyes opened wide.

"I had not thought of it. I am too young. How could I man an oar?"

"I am young, also. But I long to see a new country and to have adventures of my own."

Biarne looked solemn.

"That is all very nice; but how could we persuade one of Leif's followers to take us along?"

"That is easily evaded. We will stow away in the hold, and then we will see the wonders of the New World!"

Biarne began to smile. "Why, the idea is wonderful!" said he. "We will wait until the expedition is ready to sail, then we will hide in the bow. Before any one knows it, we will be out at sea and they cannot bring us home. Eric, I am with you!"

Linked arm in arm the two boys walked up the beach, laughing and jesting. They had in them the true, adventurous spirit of the Vikings.

But how was it that Leif the Lucky had knowledge of this land lying far to the west? And how was it that he had determined to go in search of adventures in a strange and unknown country?

The Vikings were bold and hardy adventurers, for the name Viking means "son of the bay," or "son of the ocean." They loved the sea and the bays, or fiords, which were upon the shores of Norway, of Denmark, and of Sweden.

These keen navigators sailed all over the northern seas and some of them settled in Iceland. More than a hundred years after this, a Norseman, named Eric the Red, was ordered to leave Iceland because he had killed another Viking in a sudden fit of passion. He had heard rumors of a western country, so he set out to find it. He and his companions found an island, settled there for a summer, and, because the green grass looked so beautiful, called the place Greenland. Soon more Norsemen came there and several settlements were made in this lonely country.

At this time there lived a man called Biarne Herjulfson—the very same name which little Biarne had; in fact, he was one of his ancestors. His father lived in Iceland, and the adventurous Viking wandered about for a long time before returning to his home to see his parent. When he arrived in Iceland he found that his father had gone to the new Greenland Colony with Eric the Red. So away to the west sailed the bold adventurer, searching for Greenland and his father. He steered by the sun and stars in true Viking fashion, and kept on and on, expecting any moment to come to the low lying shores of Greenland.

Suddenly the cry of "Land! Land!" was heard.

The captain looked eagerly before him, but there was nothing that looked like Greenland. This was a heavily wooded shore, with low hills in the background, and not a country rough and snowbound, as Greenland was supposed to be. He coasted along the shore, sailed into many of the coves and bays, and ran into some wonderfully deep harbors. It was really the coast of Nova Scotia and not Greenland.

"I have lost my way," said the venturesome mariner.

So, turning the bow of the ship towards the north, he sailed back until he reached the shores of Greenland. There he found his old father, just as he expected that he would do. But he was full of the tales of that new land which he had seen far to the west. He told them to all whom he met.

The story of these strange, wooded shores came to the ears of Leif Ericson, known as Leif the Lucky.

"I will go and explore the far western ocean," said he. "And I will build me a goodly ship in which to voyage thither."

But a goodly ship could not be built in Greenland, as the timber there was not big enough, nor had they sufficient men who were skilled in boat building. So Leif had sent over to Norway for a boat sufficiently large for this expedition.

That is how the hammers and the axes came to ring in the little cove, where Biarne and Eric watched the building of the vessel which was to transport this famous adventurer and his followers to the country of the unknown.

Eagerly the boys watched the building of this little bark. It did not look much like the ships of to-day. The bow and the stern were fashioned so as to rise high out of the water, and the middle of the vessel was low and had no deck. There was room for thirty rowers, who were to use oars twenty feet long. A single mast was in the forward part of the ship and it had but one sail, which could be taken down when not in use. The shields of the warriors were hung along the sides of this curious-looking craft. At the prow was a beautifully carved figure of a bear. In the stern was a firm deck, while in the forepart of the vessel were only loose planks, upon which the sailors stepped.

Day by day the work progressed, until finally the mast was shipped, the sail was bent upon the single spar which ran across the top of the mast, and the seams were caulked. The Viking ship was ready to be launched.

Now came a day when all the Vikings gathered upon the shore to see the vessel plow its way into the waves. Leif Ericson was there; tall, well formed, with ruddy face and reddish hair. Near by were Hekia, Vathildi, and Halfrida, his sisters; also Thorbiorn, the son of Halfrida; and Thoruna, mother of the little Biarne. Then there were many others; strong and athletic people of ruddy health, with the blue of the Baltic Sea reflected in their eyes. Hake and Hekia, cousins of Leif Ericson; Staumfroid, Thorhall and Ingveld, stout followers of the noble-hearted Leif. 'With cheerful faces and eager glances they watched the vessel as the pinning was knocked from under its sides, and with a great "swish "and a "splash "it plowed its way into the harbor.

"Hurrah!" cried Eric. "The good ship will soon be on its western journey."

"Hurrah!" whispered Biarne to him. "It will not be long, now, before we have an opportunity to go forth in search of adventure."

And all the people upon the shore gave a great shout as the graceful hull floated upon the waters of the little bay.

"Good luck to the good ship Valhalla!"  cried all, and the cry was taken up by the gulls which wheeled and circled above, with much apparent interest and delight in the christening of the new vessel.

"Good luck to the good ship Valhalla!"