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

The Training of a Young Viking

"Come, little one, it is time for your exercise!"

The man who spoke was a large, bearded Norseman, who held a long spear in one hand and, in the other, a very small spear, which a boy could handle without much difficulty.

"I will be ready in a moment," said young Biarne,—now grown to be a youth of ten years of age.

It was the custom among the Norsemen to have their children educated for their future duties of life, at the home of some distinguished friend. When a child was received by a Norseman, his foster parent was bound to treat him with the same love and kindness as he would his own child. The child was brought to his new home by his own parent, who placed him upon the knees of his foster-father. The boy was then called the Knesetningr, or the Knee-seated one. This custom was called Knesetia, or Kneeseating,

Young Biarne had been brought to fierce, old Thorwald Knutsen, who was a great warrior and had been in many a battle on the ocean. He lived in a big house, about five miles from the house of Blame's father, and had a large ship of his own which lay in the bay, or fiord, before his residence, and which was rowed by one hundred men. Just now he was living at home, and was attending to the duties of his farm, but every year he went upon a voyage to the southward and came back with much treasure and many stories of fierce adventure with the Picts, the Scots, and other tribes of men who lived in Britain, and the other lands which lay near the wild North Sea.

It was the duty of every teacher to endeavor to make his pupil as strong as he could. Consequently, a boy was taught to ride, to swim, to travel over the deep snow on snowshoes, and how to use the sword and javelin.

Young Biarne followed his teacher out into the garden where a huge target had been hung upon a tree. Then Thorwald made him stand about ten feet away from it, take the javelin in his hand, and throw it at a bull's eye marked in the center.

"You are doing well," said Thorwald, after Biarne had made ten or twelve throws and had twice struck the bull's eye. "Now we will have an hour or two at walking with the dogs."

The Vikings all kept hawks for chasing birds, and also hounds for hunting. They had grey-hounds for running down small game, and also huge, shaggy wolf and bear-hounds for use in the deep forests. Thorwald had a kennel of dogs and he went down to let them out. But, before he did so, he walked up to the house and called out: "Eric! Eric! Come and join us in a hunt with the dogs."

A cry went up from inside: "All right, I am coming!" and soon a boy of the same age as Biarne, with pink cheeks and golden hair, came running down the graveled path which led from the great house.

Eric Grimolfson had also been sent to school under Thorwald, and his father lived not very far away. He was very fond of Biarne, and although they had only been together for a year, they were great companions.

Now the kennel door was opened, and the dogs, eight in all, bounded into the open. In a very few moments they reached the edge of the deep woods which surrounded the mansion house. No sooner had the dogs entered the edge of the forest than one of them set up a deep baying and howling, showing that he had smelled something.

In a moment all the dogs had started off upon a hot scent. They were soon out of sight, and almost out of hearing, although the boys tried their best to keep up with them.

After a short time, a deep baying in the woods showed that the dogs had stopped running. Thorwald cried out:

"Hurry up, boys, hurry. We must see what they have been after!"

Thorwald wore a big sword and had a javelin in his hand, while both Eric and Biarne were armed with short spears. , As they pressed onward they heard a great commotion in the woods, and, coming up with the dogs, saw that they had surrounded a huge, gray wolf, which showed its fangs, snarled evilly, and snapped at them when they approached.

"My, what a big fellow," said Eric. believe that he could kill any dog that attempted to seize him."

"I'll fix Mister Wolf," said Thorwald, as he walked up to within striking distance of the animal. Taking his javelin in his right hand, he hurled it at the beast with all of his might. The sharp point penetrated the animal's side, and, as he turned to bite at the shaft, the dogs were upon him with a rush.

"Good!" shouted Eric. "Now they will finish off Mister Wolf."

It was as he said. The odds were too great against the big, gray fellow, and in a few moments he was lying dead upon the moss of the forest, while the dogs savagely growled above his shaggy body.

"Now that you have seen a hunt," said Thorwald to the boys, "I will show you how to call off the dogs."

Putting a ram's horn to his lips, he blew a sharp blast, and started to walk away into the forest. The boys followed, and, after Thorwald had cried out right lustily: "High-on! High-on!" the dogs left their quarry and followed after.

"Now, boys, it is time for more gentle exercise," said Thorwald. "We will go to the house and will have some lessons upon the harp."

Although the young Vikings were taught how to be warriors and huntsmen, they were also taught to work in wood and metal, and how to play on the harp. To be a good harpist was considered to be the duty of every well-born Norwegian.

They soon reached the great house, called the Holl, and the dogs were put back into the kennels. Thorwald then led the boys into a long room, at the end of which was a large fireplace, and which was carpeted with heavy rugs. Several harps were here, and, taking his position before one, Thorwald gave a harp to each of the boys. Soon they were busily learning the music to a famous Norse saga, or song.

It was soon luncheon time. The music room was left behind and the boys went into the dining room, a low chamber hung with shields, with spears, and with the skins of bears, of wolves, of otter, mink, and foxes. Here they were cheerfully greeted by Thorwald's wife, Enid, and his two daughters, Rodny and Thorhilda, who spread a hearty meal before them.

Thorwald's wife was dressed in a long gown, or kirtle, which was made very wide with a train, and had big sleeves reaching to the wrists. It was fastened around the waist with a belt made of silver, from which a bag was suspended for keeping keys, rings, and ornaments. Over the kirtle was worn a bloeja, a kind of apron, with a fringe at the bottom.

After luncheon was over, the boys were told that they were to go riding. Three fine steeds were brought around to the door; Thorwald had soon mounted; the boys clambered upon the backs of their own horses, and soon all were off for a gallop into the country. When they returned, both Eric and Biarne were quite willing to remain quietly in the house, until bed time.

Thus were young Vikings trained. It was an athletic life, and, under such teaching, they were expected to develop into strong and hardy men.