| 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 |
HARALD IS KING
OW when Harald was ten years old his father, King
Halfdan, died. An old book that tells about Harald says
that then "he was the biggest of all men, the
strongest, and the fairest to look upon." That about a
boy ten years old! But boys grew fast in those days;
for they were out of doors all the time, running,
swimming, leaping on skees, and hunting in the forest.
All that makes big, manly boys.
So now King Halfdan was dead and buried, and Harald was
to be king. But first he must drink his father's
"Take down the gay tapestries that hang in the feast
hall," he said to the thralls. "Put up black and gray
ones. Strew the floor with pine branches. Brew twenty
tubs of fresh ale and mead. Scour every dish until it
Then Harald sent messengers all over that country to
his kinsmen and friends.
"Bid them come in three months' time
 to drink my
father's funeral ale," he said. "Tell them that no one
shall go away empty-handed."
So in three months men came riding up at every hour.
Some came in boats. But many had ridden far through
mountains, swimming rivers; for there were few roads or
bridges in Norway. On account of that hard ride no
women came to the feast.
At nine o'clock in the night the feast began. The men
came walking in at the west end of the hall.
great bonfires down the middle of the room were
flashing light on everything. The clean smell of this
wood-smoke and of the pine branches on the floor was
pleasant to the guests. Down each side of the hall
stretched long, backless benches, with room for three
hundred men. In the middle of each side rose the high
seat, a great carved chair on a platform. All along
behind the benches were the black and gray draperies.
Here hung the shields of the guests; for every man,
when he was given his place, turned and hung his shield
behind him and set his
 tall spear by it. So on each
wall there was a long row of gay shields, red and green
and yellow, and all shining with gold or bronze
trimmings. And higher up there was another row of
gleaming spear-points. Above the hall the rafters were
carved and gaily painted, so that dragons seemed to be
crawling across, or eagles seemed to be swooping down.
The guests walked in laughing and talking with their
big voices so that the rafters rang. They made the hall
look all the brighter with their clothes of scarlet and
blue and green, with their flashing golden bracelets
and head-bands and sword-scabbards, with their flying
hair of red or yellow.
Across the east end of the hall was a bench. When the
men were all in, the queen, Harald's mother, and the
women who lived with her, walked in through the east
door and sat upon this bench.
Then thralls came running in and set up the long tables
before the benches. Other thralls ran in with large
kettles of meat. They put big pieces of
 this meat into
platters of wood and set it before the men. They had a
few dishes of silver. These they put before the guests
at the middle of the tables; for the great people sat
here near the high seats.
When the meat came, the talking stopped; for Norsemen
ate only twice a day, and these men had had long rides
and were hungry. Three or four persons ate from one
platter and drank from the same big bowl of milk. They
had no forks, so they ate from their fingers and threw
the bones under the table among the pine branches.
Sometimes they took knives from their belts to cut the
When the guests sat back satisfied, Harald called to
"Carry out the tables."
So they did and brought in two great tubs of mead and
set one at each end of the hall. Then the queen stood
up and called some of her women. They went to the mead
tubs. They took the horns, when the thralls had filled
them, and carried them to the men with some merry word.
Perhaps one woman said as she handed a man his horn:
 "This horn has no feet to be set down upon. You must
drink it at one draught."
Perhaps another said:
"Mead loves a merry face."
The women were beautiful, moving about the hall. The
queen wore a trailing dress of blue velvet with long
flowing sleeves. She had a short apron of striped
Arabian silk with gold fringe along the bottom. From
her shoulders hung a long train of scarlet wool
embroidered in gold. White linen covered her head. Her
long yellow hair was pulled around at the sides and
over her breast and was fastened under the belt of her
apron. As she walked, her train made a pleasant rustle
among the pine branches. She was tall and straight and
strong, Some of her younger women wore no linen on
their heads and had their white arms bare, with
bracelets shining on them. They, too, were tall and
All the time men were calling across the fire to one
another asking news or telling jokes and laughing.
An old man, Harald's uncle, sat in the high seat on the
north side. That was
 the place of honor. But the high
seat on the south side was empty; for that was the
king's seat. Harald sat on the steps before it.
The feast went merrily until long after midnight. Then
the thralls took some of the guests to the guest house
to sleep, and some to the beds around the sides of the
feast hall. But some men lay down on the benches and
drew their cloaks over themselves.
On the next night there was another feast. Still Harald
sat on the step before the high seat. But when the
tables were gone and the horns were going around, he
stood up and raised high a horn of ale and said loudly:
"This horn of memory I drink in honor of my father,
Halfdan, son of Gudrod, who sits now in Valhalla. And I
vow that I will grind my father's foes under my heel."
"I vow that I will grind my father's foes under my heel"
Then he drank the ale and sat down in the king's high
seat, while all the men stood and raised their horns
And some cried:
"That was a brave vow."
And Harald's uncle called out:
"A health to King Harald!"
And they all drank it.
Then a man stood up and said:
"Hear my song of King Halfdan!" for this man was a
"Yes, the song!" shouted the men, and Harald nodded his
So the skald took down his great harp from the wall
behind him and went and stood before Harald. The bottom
of the harp rested on the floor, but the top reached as
high as the skald's shoulders. The brass frame shone in
the light. The strings were some of gold and some of
silver. The man struck them with his hand and sang of
King Halfdan, of his battles, of his strong arm and
good sword, of his death, and of how men loved him.
When he had finished, King Harald took a bracelet from
his arm and gave it to him, saying:
"Take this as thanks for your good song."
The guests stayed the next day and at night there was
another feast. When
 the mead horns were going around,
King Harald stood up and spoke:
"I said that no man should go away empty-handed from
drinking my father's funeral ale."
He beckoned the thralls, and they brought in a great
treasure-chest and set it down by the high seat. King
Harald opened it and took out rich gifts–capes and
sword-belts and beautiful cloth and bracelets and gold
cloak-pins. These he sent about the hall and gave
something to every man. The guests wondered at the
richness of his gifts.
"This young king has an open hand," they said, "and
After breakfast the next morning the guests went out
and stood by their horses ready to go, but before they
mounted, thralls brought a horn of mead to each man.
That was called the stirrup-horn, because after they
drank it the men put their feet to the stirrups and
sprang upon their horses and started. King Harald and
his people rode a little way with them.
All men said that that was the richest funeral feast
that ever was held.
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