| Viking Tales|
|by Jennie Hall|
|We follow the fortunes of Harald from the time he is given his own thrall at the cutting of his first tooth, through his exploits as a viking adventurer, to his crowning as King of Norway. Then population pressures at home and eagerness for adventure and booty from other lands combine to drive some of the bolder Vikings to set forth from their native land. Sailing ever westward across the Atlantic, they hop along the chain of islands that loosely connects Norway with America in search of home and adventure. Ages 6-9 |
 House. In a rich Norseman's home were many buildings.
The finest and largest was the great feast hall. Next
were the bower, where the women worked, and the guest
house, where visitors slept. Besides these were
storehouses, stables, work-shops, a kitchen, a
sleeping-house for thralls. All these buildings were
made of heavy, hewn logs, covered with tar to fill the
cracks and to keep the wood from rotting. The ends of
the logs, the door-posts, the peaks of gables, were
carved into shapes of men and animals and were painted
with bright colors. These gay buildings were close
together, often set around the four sides of a square
yard. That yard was a busy and pleasant place, with men
and women running across from one bright building to
another. Sometimes a high fence with one gate went
around all this, and only the tall, carved peaks of
roofs showed from the outside.
Names. An old Norse story says: "Most men had two names
in one, and thought it likeliest to lead to long life
and good luck to have double names." To be called after
a god was very lucky. Here are some of those double
names with their meanings: "Thorstein" means Thor's
stone; "Thorkel" means Thor's fire; "Thorbiorn" means
Thor's bear; "Gudbrand" means Gunnr's sword (Gunnr was
one of the Valkyrias); "Gunnbiorn" means Gunnr's
 "Gudrid" means Gunnr's rider; "Gudrod" means
Gunnr's land-clearer. (Most of the land in old Norway
was covered with forests. When a man got new land he
had to clear off the trees.) In those olden days a man
did not have a surname that belonged to everyone in his
family. Sometimes there were two or three men of the
same name in a neighborhood. That caused trouble.
People thought of two ways of making it easy to tell
which man was being spoken of. Each was given a
nickname. Suppose the name of each was Haki. One would
be called Haki the Black because he had black hair. The
other would be called Haki the Ship-chested because his
chest was broad and strong. These nicknames were often
given only for the fun of it. Most men had them,—Eric
the Red, Leif the Lucky, Harald Hairfair, Rolf
Go-afoot. The other way of knowing one Haki from the
other was to tell his father's name. One was Haki,
Eric's son. The other was Haki, Halfdan's son. If you
speak these names quickly, they sound like Haki
Ericsson and Haki Halfdansson. After a while they were
written like that, and men handed them on to their sons
and daughters. Some names that we have nowadays have
come down to us in just that way—Swanson, Anderson,
Peterson, Jansen. There was another reason for these
last names: a man was proud to have people know who his
Drinking-horns. The Norsemen had few cups or goblets.
They used instead the horns of cattle, polished and
trimmed with gold or silver or bronze. They were often
very beautiful, and a man was
 almost as proud of his
drinking-horn as of his sword.
Tables. Before a meal thralls brought trestles into the
feast hall and set them before the benches. Then they
laid long boards across from trestle to trestle. These
narrow tables stretched all along both sides of the
hall. People sat at the outside edge only. So the
thralls served from the middle of the room. They put
baskets of bread and wooden platters of meat upon these
bare boards. At the end of the meal they carried out
tables and all, and the drinking-horns went round in a
Beds. Around the sides of the feast hall were
shut-beds. They were like big boxes with doors opening
into the hall. On the floor of this box was straw with
blankets thrown over it. The people got into these beds
and closed the doors and so shut themselves in. Olaf's
men could have set heavy things against these doors or
have put props against them. Then the people could not
have got out; for on the other side of the bed was the
thick outside wall of the feast hall, and there were no
windows in it.
Feast Hall. The feast hall was long and narrow, with a
door at each end. Down the middle of the room were flat
stones in the dirt floor. Here the fires burned. In the
roof above these fires were holes for the smoke to go
out, but some of it blew about the hall, and the walls
and rafters were stained with it. But it was pleasant
wood smoke, and the Norsemen did not dislike it. There
were no large windows in a feast hall or in any other
Norse building. High up under the eaves or in the roof
 narrow slits that were called wind's-eyes.
There was no glass in them, for the Norsemen did not
know how to make it; but there were, instead, covers
made of thin, oiled skin. These were put into the
wind's-eyes in stormy weather. There were covers, too,
for the smoke-holes. The only light came through these
narrow holes, so on dark days the people needed the
fire as much for light as for warmth.
Foster-father. A Norse father sent his children away
from home to grow up. They went when they were three or
four years old and stayed until they were grown. The
father thought: "They will be better so. If they stayed
at home, their mother would spoil them with much
Foster-brothers. When two men loved each other very
much they said, "Let us become foster-brothers."
Then they went and cut three long pieces of turf and
put a spear into the ground so that it held up the
strips of turf like an arch. Runes were cut on the
handle of the spear, telling the duties of
foster-brothers. The two men walked under this arch,
and each made a little cut in his palm. They knelt and
clasped hands, so that the blood of the two flowed
together, and they said, "Now we are of one blood."
Then each made this vow: "I will fight for my
foster-brother whenever he shall need me. If he is
killed before I am, I will punish the man who did it.
Whatever things I own are as much my
foster-brother's as mine. I will love this man until I
die. I call Odin and Thor and all the gods to hear my
vow. May they hate me if I break it!"
 Ran. Ran was the wife of Aegir, who was god of the sea.
They lived in a cave at the bottom of the ocean. Ran
had a great net, and she caught in it all men who were
shipwrecked and took them to her cave. She also caught
all the gold and rich treasures that went down in
ships. So her cave was filled with shining things.
Valkyrias. These were the maidens of Odin. They waited
on the table in Valhalla. But whenever a battle was
being fought they rode through the air on their horses
and watched to see what warriors were brave enough to
go to Valhalla. Sometimes during the fight a man would
think that he saw the Valkyrias. Then he was glad; for
he knew that he would go to Valhalla.
An old Norse story says this about the Valkyrias: "With
lightning around them, with bloody shirts of mail, and
with shining spears they ride through the air and the
ocean. When their horses shake their manes, dew falls
on the deep valleys and hail on the high forests."
Odin's Ravens. Odin had a great throne in his palace in
Asgard. When he sat in it he could look all over the
world. But it was so far to see that he could not tell
all of the things that were happening. So he had two
ravens to help him. An old Norse story tells this about
them: "Two ravens sit on Odin's shoulders and whisper
in his ears all that they have heard and seen. He sends
them out at dawn of day to see over the whole world.
They return at evening near meal time. This is why Odin
knows so many things."
 Reykjavik. Reykjavik means "smoky sea." Ingolf called
it that because of the steaming hot-springs by the sea.
The place is still called Reykjavik. A little city has
grown up there, the only city in Iceland. It is the
capital of the country.
Peace-bands. A Norseman always carried his sword, even
at a feast; for he did not know when he might need it.
But when he went somewhere on an errand of peace and
had no quarrel he tied his sword into its scabbard with
white bands that he called peace-bands. If all at once
something happened to make him need his sword, he broke
the peace-bands and drew it out.
Eskimos. Now, the Eskimos live in Greenland and Alaska
and on the very northern shores of Canada. But once
they lived farther south in pleasanter lands. After a
while the other Indian tribes began to grow strong.
Then they wanted the pleasant land of the Eskimos and
the seashore that the Eskimos had. So they fought again
and again with those people and won and drove them
farther north and farther north. At last the Eskimos
were on the very shores of the cold sea, with the
Indians still pushing them on. So some of them got into
their boats and rowed across the narrow water and came
to Greenland and lived there. Some people think that
these things happened before Eric found Greenland. In
that case he found Eskimos there; and Thorfinn saw red
Indians in Wineland. Other people think that this
happened after Eric went to Greenland. If that is true,
he found an empty land, and it was Eskimos that
Thorfinn saw in Wineland.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics