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The museum at Christiania has a good example of the full war gear
of a lady of the Viking times.
Hakon, the son of Harald Fairhair, and foster son of our
Athelstane, took the throne of Norway in A.D. 935, which is
approximately the date of the story therefore. The long warfare
waged by Dane and Norseman against the Irishman at that time, and
the incidental troubles of the numerous island hermits on the Irish
coast, are written in the Irish annals, and perhaps most fully in
"the wars of the Gaedhil and the Gaill."
Chas. W. Whistler.
Chapter 1: The Old Chief And The Young.
The black smoke eddied and wavered as it rose over my father's
burning hall, and then the little sea breeze took it and swept it
inland over the heath-clad Caithness hills which I loved. Save for
that black cloud, the June sky was bright and blue overhead, and in
the sunshine one could not see the red tongues of flame that were
licking up the last timbers of the house where I was born. Round
the walls, beyond reach of smoke and heat, stood the foemen who had
wrought the harm, and nearer the great door lay those of our men
who had fallen at the first. There were foemen there also, for it
had been a good fight.
At last the roof fell in with a mighty crash and uprush of smoke
and sparks, while out of the smother reeled and staggered half a
dozen men who had in some way escaped the falling timbers. I think
they had been those who still guarded the doorway, being unwounded.
But among them were not my father and brothers, and I knew that I
was the last of my line by that absence.
It was not my fault that I was not lying with them under our roof
yonder. I had headed a charge by a dozen of our best men, when it
seemed that a charge might at least give time for the escape of the
few women of the house to the glen. My father had bidden me, and we
went, and did our best. We won the time we fought for, and that was
all. Some of us got back to the hall, and the rest bided where they
fell. As for me, I had been stunned by an axe blow, which my helm
had turned, and came to myself to find that I was bound hand and
foot, and set aside under the stable wall with two others of our
men, captives also. Thence I must watch all that went on,
helplessly, and after the roof fell I cared no more what should be
done with me, for I was alone and desolate.
Nor did I know who these foemen were, or why they had fallen on us.
In the gray of the morning they had come from inland, and were
round the hall while we broke our fast. We had snatched our weapons
as best we might, and done what we could, but the numbers against
us were too great from the first.
They had come from inland, but they were not Scots. We were at
peace with all the Caithness folk, and had been so for years,
though we had few dealings with them. My father had won a place for
himself and his men here on the Caithness shore in the days when
Harald Harfager had set all Norway under him, for he was one of
those jarls who would not bow to him, and left that old Norse land
which I had never seen. Presently, he handselled peace for himself
here by marriage with my mother, the daughter of a great Scots lord
of the lands; and thereafter had built the hall, and made the
haven, and won a few fields from the once barren hillside. And now
we had been well to do, till this foe came and ended all.
They were not Norsemen either. The Orkney jarls were our friends,
and for us Harald cared not. Norsemen on the Viking path we knew
and welcomed, and being of that brotherhood ourselves, we had
nothing to fear from them. It is true that we owned no king or
overlord, but if the Scots king asked for scatt we paid it,
grumbling, for the sake of peace. My father was wont to call it
rent for the hillsides we tilled.
Yet it would have been better to be swept out of the land by the
Scots we won it from, than to be ruined thus for no reason but that
of wanton savagery and lust of plunder, as it seemed. At least they
would have given us fair warning that they meant to end our stay
among them, and take the place we had made into their own hands.
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