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




The Voyage to Vinland

"Hist, Biarne, are you ready?"

Biarne felt a tug at his shoulder. He sat up, yawned, and looked wonderingly around him, for he was in his own little bed in the house near the blue fiord, upon the waters of which floated the newly christened Valhalla.

"Is that you, Eric?"

"Yes. All is ready. Leif and his men are preparing to set sail this morning, and, if you and I are to go, we must hasten to stow ourselves away where they cannot see us."

"What time is it?"

"Near four o'clock in the morning and the cocks will soon be crowing."

Biarne leaped out of bed and hastily put on his clothes. He had a suit called a biafal, which consisted of a single garment, open at the sides, without arms, and fastened with a button and a strap. He seized a bag, which he had lying nearby, and in which he had placed a change of clothing, some warm outer garments to keep off the wind and the rain, and another pair of shoes. Then he was all ready to join the expedition.

Eric was older than Biarne, by a year, and Eric was filled with the spirit of adventure. He led the way carefully to the beach, seated himself in a little boat, and pushed off towards the Valhalla, which could be dimly seen in the misty murk of dawn. Fortune favored the two adventurers. They found no sentinel on watch, and, clambering over the side, were soon looking for a place to hide themselves, so that they would be taken away without being discovered, until it was too late to make them return to their home.

"Here is where we will hide," whispered Eric, as he discovered a small opening between some large casks of fresh water. "See, there are some pieces of canvas that we can put over us, and then no one can possibly see us until we are far out at sea."

"Splendid!" said Biarne. "Splendid!" And, as a splashing of the water nearby showed that a boat was being rowed toward the ship, the boys quickly stowed themselves away in their hiding place.

They had not crouched there a very long time, before, with a great scraping and bustling, two men hauled themselves over the sides of the vessel and began to pile some boxes into the hold. One of them moved a box to a position immediately next to where the boys were hiding, but it did not disturb them in the slightest. They crouched down very close to the deck and said nothing. As luck would have it, they were not discovered.

A little later more boats put out to the Valhalla  and other seafarers came on board. Leif Ericson, himself, climbed over the side, with a great roaring and singing, so that one would think that some minstrel were going to sea, and not a hardy Norse adventurer.

By daybreak all were ready to leave for the unknown West. The bow of the staunch ship Valhalla  was turned towards the open sea, and, with a rousing cheer, the Vikings seized their long sweeps and dipped them into the blue water of the fiord. A few of the women had gathered on the beach, and these waved a fond adieu, as the high-sided, curiously shaped vessel plowed its way into the Atlantic.

Eric and Biarne crouched low behind the boxes and bales which hid them from the eyes of the Vikings, and, although their legs became very cramped, and they had strange, tingling sensations in them, they nevertheless managed to keep hidden from view.

"How long will we have to crouch down here?" whispered Eric, when the ship had traveled about a mile from the shore.

"We will remain hidden until we have been a day's journey from the land," said Biarne. "Then it will be impossible for Leif to send us back, when we show ourselves."

Eric smiled. "That's a fine idea," said he. "Biarne, you have a long head upon your shoulders."

The ship made good progress, for the wind was fresh, and the great sail bellied out with the steady drive of the breeze. The oarsmen at the sweeps were stout fellows, too, and they churned up the water of the ocean with their long oars. Leif the Lucky stood at the helm, with a great helmet, with two eagle wings upon either side, on his head. A great, hairy coat of bearskin was thrown around his shoulders. To his right was his trusted friend and adviser, Thorbiorn; while nearby stood a Viking who had been with that first adventurer who had sailed near the coast of Nova Scotia, Staumfroid, the fearless one. Thorwald Ericson, Leif's cousin, was also of the party.

Viking ship

ERIC AND BIARNE BECAME VERY CRAMPED IN THEIR HIDING-PLACE.


Eric and Biarne became very cramped in their hiding-place, and their muscles became very stiff and sore. But they held on for the space of a full day and a night. Then they crept out upon the deck to be greeted with loud laughter by those who were at the oars.

"Well! Well! Boys!" said one of the Vikings. "You're with us, sure, and I do not see how we are going to get rid of you; but I doubt if you can stand the hardships of the voyage."

"Oh, yes, we can," cried Biarne. "We, too, are Vikings!"

Just then Leif Ericson, himself, walked up.

"Well spoken, stripling," said he. "I see that you have the spirit of a real Viking in you. Right welcome are you both, and I know that youths of your caliber will be able to share the perils and the hardships of our expedition."

So saying, he gripped each by the hand, and they knew that they had before them a true hero, a man of dauntless daring and undefatigable purpose.

The boys were soon made to feel thoroughly at home. Instead of being badly treated by the Vikings they were patted on the back, were given a hearty meal, and were told that the older men were glad to have them with them upon this dangerous and hazardous undertaking.

The Valhalla  first touched at Greenland, in order to take on more men and supplies, then plowed westward and southward, and finally the cry of "Land! Land!" sounded from the bow, where stood a Viking peering keenly into the distance. As the ship neared the coast it could be seen that the shore was heavily wooded. Dense forests grew down to the gray rocks upon the wave-tossed beach, and, as they neared the coast, flocks of sea-gulls rose from the water and screamed at the mariners.

The Valhalla  was anchored. Several of the sailors went ashore in a boat and wandered inland. Biarne, himself, was with the voyagers, and, as he walked up to a gushing brook, was much surprised to see a large, dark animal, with spreading antlers, go crashing off in the brush. It was a bull moose, but Biarne had never seen such a curious beast before, so he was much excited over the discovery.

The weather was magnificent, and, after the sailors had been on shore for two days, Captain Leif sent Biarne after them to tell them that he wished to cruise further southward. It took Biarne some time to find the Vikings, as they had wandered far inland, but eventually he managed to deliver his message.

All returned to the Valhalla. The great sail was hoisted, and, dipping the massive oars into the clear, blue water which lapped musically against the high sides of the ship, the prow was turned southward so that the Vikings could coast along the shore.

The wind was northwest. The sea was rolling high with white-capped breakers, and, soon sailing out of sight of the land, the Valhalla  careened southward for two days. Then land was seen again, and Leif steered towards it.

The ship drew closer and closer to the land. Finally the anchor was lowered, and many went ashore, but, finding nothing of great importance, the Vikings returned to the Valhalla. She was steered along the coast and finally came to a place where a river emptied into the sea. The stream seemed to course through a large basin, or lake, which was teeming with all manner of fish.

"Rah!" said Leif the Lucky. "We will spend the winter here!"

Down went the anchor into the sandy bottom and the Valhalla's  great square sail was lowered to the deck. She swung gracefully around until her bow pointed into the outgoing tide, and all gazed at the beautiful shore, where pine and hemlock trees grew close to the water's edge.

Biarne and Eric had been in one of the boats which had been used to tow the ship into the lake, for the outgoing tide was very swift. They now came back to the Valhalla, clambered aboard, and assisted the Vikings in loading their bedding and tents into the boats.

"I know that we shall have a glorious time in this new country," cried Eric, joyously.