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Ivar The Viking

By

Paul Du Chaillu

 

CHAPTER I

 

Hjorvard And Gotland

 

The manner sailing in the Baltic, as he skirts the shores of Gotland, sees on a promontory of that island several large cairns and mounds over-looking the sea, and the country that surrounds them. This promontory was the burial-place of a family of great Vikings and rulers who held sway over the whole island a few centuries before and

after our era. Among the most conspicuous cairns two are pointed out to the stranger, those of Hjorvard and his son Ivar, the hero of the present narrative.

 

The events of which I am going to speak to you relate to them, and to what happened during their lives, towards the latter end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, between the years A.D. 270 and 320, or about sixteen hundred years ago. Hjorvard, "the wide spreading", so called on account of the widely extended maritime expeditions he had undertaken, was one of the most renowned Vikings of his time. In all his expeditions he had been successful and always victorious in his battles. The Roman fleets had never dared to attack him as he sailed with his numerous ships along the coasts of their wide empire to make war upon the different countries over which they held dominion.

 

Hjorvard's ancestors, by the side of whom he now lies buried, had been great warriors and sea-faring men like himself. They had sailed from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea, by the present Gulf of Finland, and also westward, along the coast of Friesland, Gaul, Britain, and as far south as the Mediterranean. The ships used by them in their

river expeditions or along the coast during the summer months were unlike those of the Romans, and were much admired by them. Even in the first century the Romans feared these men of the north on account of the great fleets they possessed, and placed them as living on the most northern shores of the sea, in the very ocean itself. They called them Sueones; and all they knew of their country was what these Sueones told them about it, for the Baltic was an unknown sea to the Romans.

 

Hjorvard was of high lineage, for he was descended from Odin, and he belonged to that branch of the family of Odin called Ynglingar, which ruled over Svithjod, a realm that embraced a great part of the present Sweden.

 

Sigrlin, his wife, was a very handsome woman, and possessed all the accomplishments belonging to women of her high rank. She was also of Odin's kin; was a direct descendant of Skjold (the Norse word for shield), one of the sons of Odin, from whom the Skjoldungar are descended. The Skjoldungar ruled over that part of the land which

today is called Denmark, but which was then called Gotland. Her father was called Halfdan, and resided at Hleidra, not far from where Copenhagen stands to-day, and was one of the great rulers of the north.

 

Not far from the cairns and mounds just mentioned was Dampstadir, the head "by", or burg, the residence of Hjorvard and of the rulers of Gotland. From this place a long panorama of coast and land could be seen, and the eye lost itself in the dim horizon of the sea. There Hjorvard lived in great splendor. The buildings which made up Dampstadir were among the finest of the northern lands; they were of different sizes and varied architecture, and, like all the structures of those days in the north, were entirely of wood. They were roofed with shingles, heavily tarred, their dark color contrasting pleasantly with that of the log walls of the houses.

 

All the numerous buildings formed a vast quadrangle, enclosing a large plot of grass called "tun", or town. From the center of the square the sight was extremely beautiful and picturesque, for there were not two buildings of the

same appearance or size. Some were finer than others, of course, but all were quaint; from their roofs and sides, gargoyles, representing heads of horses or dragons and other wild beasts, stuck out boldly into the air from every side, or looked, with heads inclined downward, towards the ground. There were a few houses with towers, called lofts; in these towers were a number of sleeping-rooms, and from their tops, in time of war, a sharp lookout was kept for the enemy's vessels. Many buildings were also used as storehouses.

 

Before the doors of many houses were porches, ornamented with carvings, while others had belfries and dark piazzas with ladder-like stairs leading to them, their weather-beaten walls of hard logs seeming to defy the ravages of time, for many of them, at that time even, dated centuries back. Some were especially for the use of the women members of the family of Hjorvard and for their household, for it was customary for women to have their "kemmas", or bowers, all to themselves. There they received their friends and spent their time in sewing and embroidering. There were several festive halls for every-day use. During the winter long fires ran along the center of these, the smoke escaping through openings in the roof, which openings could be closed when necessary. Along the walls ran long benches, and tables were set in front of them. The light came in through windows, instead of glass, the transparent membrane enclosing the new-born calf was stretched over what were called the light-holes.

 

The every-day life of Hjorvard was very simple. At the principal, or day meal, Sigrlin sat on the left hand of her husband, the seats next to this, on both sides, being the most dignified for men and women, while the farthest ones, near the door, were the least so. The most high born, oldest, and wisest man for it was the custom for rulers to have wise men with them who knew the ancient examples and customs of their forefathers sat on the

northern high seat, called the lower high seat, opposite that of Hjorvard, on whose right hand were women, the men being on his left. It was also the custom for chiefs to carry the ale over the fire, and drink to the man opposite the high seat, and it was thought to be a great honor to be toasted by the host.

 

The most imposing and striking of all the structures along that enormous square was the great banqueting hall; of all the buildings, this was the one in which the chiefs and rulers took the greatest pride, for it was there that they received their most honored guests and gave their most splendid feasts. The banqueting hall at Dampstadir was

ranked the sixth for beauty and grandeur in the land of the Vikings, and was very old. Two superb doors at the two ends led into the interior. The door-ways, or jambs, of these were of solid oak, about two and a half feet wide, and several inches thick; these were adorned with beautiful carvings, representing scenes belonging to the religious history of the race, and varying greatly in depth, so as to give a fine artistic effect of light and shade. The doors themselves were of solid oak also, and were ornamented with intricate designs made with flat iron bands, of exquisite beauty, and perfect gems of art. A massive gold knocker adorned each door. By one door the women entered, by the other the men.

 

The inside of this banqueting hall was a sight not to be soon forgotten. The first artists and wood-carvers of the North had been employed, and had shown wonderful skill in the elaboration and grouping of their designs the scenes represented including many of the deeds and expeditions of Hjorvard's ancestors. The carvings were

considered so beautiful that even the finest tapestry was not hung over them, and the wood itself had become richly dark during the centuries that had elapsed since the hall had been built. All along the walls hung shields of variegated designs and bright colors, ornamented with gold and silver, overlapping each other, and, of course, adding much to the gorgeousness of the spectacle.

 

As was customary, this hall had been built east and west, the long walls running north and south; along the latter were the benches for the guests, and just in the middle of them were the two high seats, facing each other. The most important bench ran along the northern walls, and there the great high seat, the more honored of the two,

stood facing the sun. It was for the master of the house; and to be placed on the high seat opposite was the greatest honor that could be shown to any guest, consequently this seat was always assigned to the most prominent men. The nearer the places on the benches assigned to any one were to the high seat, the greater the honor; the places farther away, near the door, being the lowest. These two high seats were beautifully carved,

with arms on both sides, and two pillars which were both painted and ornamented with carving representing historical subjects.

 

The weapons of Hjorvard hung above his high seat his "sax", or single-edged sword, his best double-edged sword, also his shield, his "brynja", or chain-armor, and helmet of gold. His double-edged sword, called "Hrotti", was a magnificent weapon. The hilt was all ornamented with gold, and so was the scabbard; the blade was of most exquisite damascened workmanship. This sword was in its sheath, which was wrapped with bands called "peace bands" for there was profound peace over the land at the time we are speaking of and no one but Hjorvard could unloose them, for these were holy, and it was only when war had been declared that it could be done.

 

Mementos of the expeditions of Hjorvard and of his forefathers were scattered here and there, treasured as heirlooms. Along the walls hung several Roman swords with Latin inscriptions upon them, which had been in the family for two hundred years. There were Roman statuettes, bronze vessels, and various other bronze objects, and a collection of Roman coins of every emperor from the time of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, to the time of Hjorvard. Among the gems of art were lovely Grecian cups, bowls, and drinking horns of glass, some of the glass cups and bowls adorned with charming paintings representing rural scenes, with wild beasts, lions, bulls, birds of variegated colors, and even men boxing with boxing gloves, all looking as fresh as the day they were painted.

 

At the foot of Dampstadir was a beautiful land-locked bay where the ships of Hjorvard lay at anchor, while on its shores were numerous sheds, under which stood many of the ships which were thus protected from the weather; there were also building yards, where busy carpenters were always at work constructing or repairing vessels.

 

The finest ships to be seen there were the "drekis", or dragon ships. These were the largest and most formidable of all war-ships, and derived their names from the fact that their prows and sterns were ornamented with the head or tail of one or more dragons. Some were covered with sheets of solid gold, which gave a superb appearance to the ships, especially when the sun shone upon their sides. Many of these drekis could carry a crew of from five hundred to seven hundred men.

 

Besides the dragon ships there were other war-vessels called "skeids", "snekkjas", "skutas", "buzas", "karri", "ask", and also many provision ships which followed the fleets on their expeditions. The skeid was a formidable war-vessel, almost equal in power to the dragon-ships, a very fast sailer, which carried two hundred and forty men or more. The snekkja was a smaller ship of the same general description. The skutta was a smaller craft still, which could be maneuvered very quickly. It was generally used for boarding other ships, the upper part of its gunwale being so built that warriors could more easily leap upon other vessels. All these vessels, small or large, had only

one mast.

 

Among these ships could be seen some of the old-fashioned type which has been described by Tacitus, with no mast, and entirely propelled by oars; they were very sharp pointed at both ends, much like the whale-boats of today, about eighty feet long, and in the widest part ten or eleven feet broad, with fifteen or sixteen benches about

three feet apart. These boats were propelled by thirty or thirty-two oars, varying somewhat in length, and of an average of about twelve feet. Two men, and sometimes three, pulled each oar, and a man with a shield protected the oarsmen on each outer side. The thole-pins were fastened to the gunwales with "bast "ropes, and were adorned with graceful carved designs, no two being alike. On the side, at the stern, was the rudder, resembling a large, broad oar. They were so shaped that they could be rowed in either direction. At the time of which we are speaking, this model of naval architecture was fast going out of fashion, and sailing vessels exclusively were coming into general use. All the vessels were of oak, "clinch-built; "that is, the planks overlapped each other,

and were made fast together by large iron bolts.

 

The island of Gotland, over which Hjorvard ruled, had a very dense population, and was, on account of its size and geographical position, a great emporium of commerce, and with its war and trading ships occupied at this time about the same position as the England of our days. Its inhabitants were wealthy, and traded extensively, as their fathers had done, with provinces of Rome, with Greece, and the countries round the Caspian, the Black, and the Mediterranean Seas. From such distant lands as these they brought superb bronze vessels, exquisite glass vases, velvets and silks, beautiful objects of leather, embroidered gold and silver textile material for dress, and many other costly objects which the rich prized very highly, as well as wine.

 

 

 

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