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While the iron was hot he beat into it some runes. When the men in the smithy saw the runes they opened their eyes wide and looked at the boy, for few Norsemen could read. It was winter and the snow was very deep. So Harald put on his skees and started for a wood that was back from shore.

Down the mountains he went, twenty, thirty feet at a slide, leaping over chasms a hundred feet across.

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In his scarlet cloak he looked like a flash of fire. The wind shot past him howling. His eyes danced at the fun. Now I soar," as he leaped over a frozen river. The rock stood up like a ragged tower, but he did not stop because of the steep climb. He threw off his skees and thrust his hands and feet into holes of the rock and drew himself up.

He tore his jacket and cut his leather leggings and scratched his face and bruised his hands, but at last he was on the top. Soon he had chopped down the tree and had cut a straight pole ten feet long and as big around as his arm. He went down, sliding and jumping and tearing himself on the sharp stones. With a last leap he landed near his skees. As he did so a lean wolf jumped and snapped at him, snarling. Harald shouted and swung his pole.

The wolf dodged, but quickly jumped again and caught the boy's arm between his sharp teeth. Harald thought of the spear-point in his belt. In a wink he had it out and was striking with it. He drove it into the wolf's neck and threw him back on the snow, dead. Then without thinking of his torn arm he put on his skees and went leaping home. He went straight to the smithy and smoothed his pole and drove it into the haft of the spear-point.

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He hammered out a gold band and put it around the joining place. He made nails with beautiful heads and drove them into the pole in different places. Then he weighed the spear in his hand and found the balancing point and put another gold band there to mark it. You bear this like a warrior. 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.

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.


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But first he must drink his father's funeral ale. Strew the floor with pine branches. Brew twenty tubs of fresh ale and mead. Scour every dish until it shines". 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. 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. 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 meat. 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:. 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 strong. 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:.

And 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 shouted:. 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.

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:. He beckoned the thralls, and they brought in a great treasure-chest and set it down by the high seat.


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  8. 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. 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. NOW King Halfdan had many foes. When he was alive they were afraid to make war upon him, for he was a mighty warrior.

    But when Harald became king, they said:. Give it into the hands of the master of the next farm, and say that all men are to meet here within two weeks from this day. They must come ready for war and mounted on horses. Say also that if a man does not obey this call, or if he receives this arrow and does not carry it on to his next neighbor, he shall be outlawed from this country, and his land shall be taken from him. So all through King Harald's country men were soon busy mending helmets and polishing swords and making shields.

    There was blazing of forges and clanging of anvils all through the land. On the day set, the fields about King Harald's house were full of men and horses. After breakfast a horn blew. Every man snatched his weapons and jumped upon his horse. Men of the same neighborhood stood together, and their chief led them. They waited for the starting horn. This did not look like our army. There were no uniforms. Some men wore helmets, some did not. Some wore coats of mail, but others wore only their jackets and tights of bright-colored wool. But at each man's left side hung a great shield.

    Over his right shoulder went his sword-belt and held his long sword under his left hand. Above most men's heads shone the points of their tall spears. Some men carried axes in their belts. Some carried bows and arrows. Many had ram's horns hanging from their necks. King Harald rode at the front of his army with his standard-bearer beside him. Chain-armor covered the king's body. A red cloak was thrown over his shoulders.

    On his head was a gold helmet with a dragon standing up from it. He carried a round shield on his left arm. The king had made that shield himself. It was of brass. The rivets were of silver, with strangely shaped heads. On the back of Harald's horse was a red cloth trimmed with the fur of ermine.

    A horn blew again and the army started. The men shouted as they went, and blew their ram's horns. We will wait but an hour. I am eager for the frolic. So Thorstein raised a white shield on his spear as a sign that he came on an errand of peace. He rode near King Haki, but he could not wait until he came close before he shouted out his message and then turned and rode back.

    King Harald's men waited on the hillside and watched the other army across the valley. They saw King Haki point and saw twenty men ride off as he pointed. They stopped in a patch of hazel and hewed with their axes. You must see the best of the fight. I want to hear a song about it after it is over. King Haki's men rode down into the valley. They drove down stakes all about a great field. They tied the hazel twigs to the stakes in a string.

    But they left an open space toward King Harald's army and one toward King Haki's.

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    Then a man raised a white shield and galloped toward King Harald. At the same time King Haki raised a red shield. King Harald's men put their shields before their mouths and shouted into them. It made a great roaring war-cry. There was a blowing of horns on both sides. The two armies galloped down into the field and ran together.

    The fight had begun. All that day long swords were flashing, spears flying, men shouting, men falling from their horses, swords clashing against shields. And, surely, before night came, King Haki fell dead under "Foes'-fear. King Harald's men chased them far, but during the night came back to camp. Many brought swords and helmets and bracelets or silver-trimmed saddles and bridles with them. So they went over all the battle-field. They put every man on his shield and carried him and laid him on a hill-top.

    They hung his sword over his shoulder and laid his spear by his side. So they laid all the dead together there on the hill-top. Then King Harald said, looking about:. It looks far over the country. The sound of the sea reaches it. The wind sweeps here. It is a good grave for Norsemen and Vikings. But it is a long road and a rough road to Valhalla that these men must travel. Let the nearest kinsman of each man come and tie on his hell-shoes. Tie them fast, for they will need them much on that hard road.

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    Every man set to work with what tools he had and heaped earth over the dead until a great mound stood up. They piled stones on the top.

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    On one of these stones King Harold made runes telling how these men had died. Let every man bring to that pole all that he took from the foe. Here are the piles for the chiefs, and these things go to the other men of the army. So every man went away from that battle richer than he was before, and Thor looked down from Valhalla upon his full temple and was pleased. The next morning King Harald led his army back. But on the way he met other foes and had many battles and did not lose one. The kings either died in battle or ran away, and Harald had their lands.

    She can both read and make runes. No other woman in the world knows so much about herbs as she does. She can cure any sickness. And she is proud of all this! So Guthorm and his men came to that house and they told the king's message to the foster-father. Gyda was standing near, weaving a rich cloak. She heard the speech.

    She came up and said, holding her head high and curling her lip:. Norway is a strange country. There is a little king here and a little king there—hundreds of them scattered about. Now in Denmark there is but one great king over the whole land. And it is so in Sweden. Is no one brave enough to make all of Norway his own? She laughed a scornful laugh and walked away. The men stood with open mouths and stared after her. Could it be that she had sent that saucy message to King Harald? They looked at her foster-father.

    He was chuckling in his beard and said nothing to them. They started out of the house in anger. When they were at the door, Gyda came up to them again and said:. So Guthorm and his men rode homeward across the country. They did not talk. They were all thinking. At last one said:.

    It was late when they rode into the king's yard; for they had ridden slowly trying to make some plan for softening the message, but they had thought of none. So they went in with very heavy hearts. There sat King Harald in the high seat. The benches on both sides were full of men. The tables had been taken out, and the mead-horns were going round. Is there no man brave enough to make himself king of all Norway? Tell King Harald that I will not marry him unless he puts all of Norway under him for my sake.

    The guests sat speechless, staring at Guthorm. All at once the king broke into a roar of laughter. I thank you, Gyda. Did you hear it, friends? King of all Norway! Why, we are all stupids. Why did we not think of that? I say that I will not cut my hair or comb it until I am king of all Norway. That I will be or I will die.

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    Then he drank off the horn of mead, and while he drank it, all the men in the hall stood up and waved their swords and shouted and shouted. That old hall in all its two hundred years of feasts had not heard such a noise before. On the very next day King Harald sent out his war-arrows. Soon a great army was gathered. They marched through the country north and south and east and west, burning houses and fighting battles as they went. People fled before them, some to their own kings, some inland to the deep woods and hid there. But some went to King Harald and said:.

    The men took off their swords and laid them down and came one by one and knelt before the king. They put their heads between his knees and said:. I will serve you in war. For my land I will pay you taxes. I will be faithful to you as my king. Many kings took that oath and thousands of common men. Of all the battles that Harald fought, he did not lose one. Now for a long time the king's hair and beard had not been combed or cut. They stood out around his head in a great bushy mat of yellow. At a feast one day when the jokes were going round, Harald's uncle said:.

    After this you shall be called Harald Shockhead. As my naming gift I give you this drinking-horn. During these wars, whenever King Harald got a country for his own, this is what he did. He said:. For his farm every man shall pay me taxes. But some you shall keep for yourselves. You shall punish any man who steals or murders or does any wicked thing. When your people are in trouble they shall come to you, and you shall set the thing right.

    You must keep peace in the land. I will not have my people troubled with robber vikings. The earls did all these things as best they could; for they were good strong men. The farmers were happy. They said:. Before King Harald came, something was always wrong. The vikings would come and steal our gold and our grain and burn our houses, or the king would call us to war.

    Those little kings are always fighting. It is better under King Harald. But the chiefs, who liked to fight and go a-viking, hated King Harald and his new ways. One of these chiefs was Solfi. He was a king's son. Harald had killed his father in battle. Solfi had been in that battle. At the end of it he fled away with two hundred men and got into ships. So they harried the coast of King Harald's country.

    They filled their ships with gold. They ate other men's meals. They burned farmhouses behind them. The people cried out to the earls for help. So the earls had out their ships all the time trying to catch Solfi, but he was too clever for them. We can become this Shockhead Harald's thralls, we can kneel before him and put our heads between his knees. Or else we can fight. My father thought it better to die in battle than to be any man's thrall. How is it? Will you join with my cousin Arnvid and me against this young Shockhead? MANY men felt as Solfi did.

    So when King Audbiorn and King Arnvid sent out their war arrows, a great host gathered. All men came by sea. Two hundred ships lay at anchor in the fiord, looking like strange swimming animals because of their high carved prows and bright paint. There were red and gold dragons with long necks and curved tails. Sea-horses reared out of the water. Green and gold snakes coiled up. Sea-hawks sat with spread wings ready to fly. And among all these curved necks stood up the tall, straight masts with the long yardarms swinging across them holding the looped-up sails.

    When the starting horn blew, and their sails were let down, it was like the spreading of hundreds of curious flags. Some were striped black and yellow or blue and gold. Some were white with a black raven or a brown bear embroidered on them, or blue with a white sea-hawk, or black with a gold sun. Some were edged with fur. As the wind filled the gaudy sails, and the ships moved off, the men waved their hands to the women on shore and sang: "To the sea!

    To the sea! The wind in our sail, The sea in our face, And the smell of the fight. After ship meets ship, In the quarrel of swords King Harald shall lie In the caves under the sea And Norsemen shall laugh. Some were talking of King Harald. We shall take him by surprise. They sailed near the coast. Solfi in his "Sea-hawk" was ahead leading the way.

    Suddenly men saw his sail veer and his oars flash out. He had quickly turned his boat and was rowing back. He came close to King Arnvid and called:. King Arnvid blew his horn. Slowly his boats came into line with his "Sea-stag" in the middle. Again he blew his horn. Cables were thrown across from one prow to the next, and all the ships were tied together so that their sides touched. Then the men set their sails again and they went past a tongue of land into a broad fiord. There lay the long line of King Harald's ships with their fierce heads grinning and mocking at the new-comers.

    Back of those prows was what looked like a long wall with spots of green and red and blue and yellow and shining gold. It was the locked shields of the men in the bows, and over every shield looked fierce blue eyes. Higher up and farther back was another wall of shields; for on the half deck in the stern of every ship stood the captain with his shield-guard of a dozen men.

    Arnvid's people had furled their sails and were taking down the masts, but the ships were still drifting on with the wind. The horn blew, and quickly every man sprang to his place in bow and stern. All were leaning forward with clenched teeth and widespread nostrils. They were clutching their naked swords in their hands. Their flashing eyes looked over their shields. Soon King Arnvid's ships crashed into Harald's line, and immediately the men in the bows began to swing their swords at one another.

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    The soldiers of the shield-guard on the high decks began to throw darts and stones and to shoot arrows into the ships opposite them. So in every ship showers of stones and arrows were falling, and many men died under them or got broken arms or legs. Spears were hurled from deck to deck and many of them bit deep into men's bodies. In every bow men slashed with their swords at the foes in the opposite ship.

    Some jumped upon the gunwale to get nearer or hung from the prow-head. Some even leaped into the enemy's boat. King Harald's ship lay prow to prow with King Arnvid's. The battle had been going on for an hour. King Harald was still in the stern on the deck. There was a dent in his helmet where a great stone had struck. There was a gash in his shoulder where a spear had cut. But he was still fighting and laughed as he worked. So he came to the bow and stood swinging his sword as fast as he breathed. Every time it hit a man of Arnvid's men.

    Harald's own warriors cheered, seeing him. Slowly King Arnvid's men fell back before Harald's biting sword. Then Harald's men threw a great hook into that boat and pulled it alongside and still pushed King Arnvid's people back. But Harald's sword struck him, and he fell dead. Then a big, bloody viking of King Arnvid leaped upon the edge of the ship and stood there.

    He held his drinking-horn and his sword high in his hands. All along the line of boats men fought for hours. In some places the cables had been cut, and the boats had drifted apart. Ships lay scattered about two by two, fighting. The Norse culture itself was spread across Scandinavia, and most of the clearest records of this time exist in Iceland due to its high literacy rate during this period.

    Even though there are three distinct classes, as with any complex society there were subclasses within them, and things also varied country to country. Slavery Photo Credit. These were the bondsmen and the slaves captured during raids. If you were a slave you had very few rights; however, you could save up and buy your freedom. Slaves, when they became too sick or old to work anymore, were simply put to death. If a slave was freed, he was classed as a freeman but still had a very low status. Many of the slaves came from Baltic countries and were gathered during raids there.

    They were essential for running a farm — in Norway, three slaves was the minimum number needed to run a small farm with only a dozen cows and a couple of horses. In Norse society, slaves worked alongside hired workers; there were no farms where slaves did all the work, but they did do the hardest of the work.

    At perhaps the same level as the thrall were the paupers and vagrants who, though they were freemen, lacked a residence of their own. Jarls were rich, and held their wealth in property, number of followers, treasure, ships and estates. Jarls protected the honor, prosperity and security of their followers. Within these three broad categories were many gradations and degrees. There were richer and poorer in each category. A man might be among the medieval freemen, for instance, but not own any property.

    He might be a tenant on a farm, working the land and doing farm work in exchange for room and board. Women generally took the same societal rank as their fathers, brothers or husbands. Slaves, who were most often taken in raids, were the lowest rank of Norse society. They had hardly any rights.