After climbing over and around fallen rock, they ascended upward for two hundred feet. Then the children stopped and motioned to a small crevice. "Father, look, look!" cried the girl. "There is a hole leading outside. You can see the stars."
Sigvatson saw that the hole was too small and narrow even for the children to crawl through, but he could clearly see the nighttime sky. The next day, he put several men to work smoothing the tunnel floor to ease access and widening the exit hole. When the opening was expended so a man could walk through while standing straight, they found themselves stepping into a large meadow bordered by stout trees. No barren, Greenland timberless land here. The supply of lumber to build houses was limitless. The ground was thick with wildflowers and grass to graze their livestock. It was on this generous land high above the beautiful, blue fjord bountiful with fish that Sigvatson would build his colony.
The gods had shown the way to the children, who led the grown-ups to what they all hoped was their newly found paradise.
The Norsemen had a lust for life. They worked hard, lived hard and they died hard. The sea was their element. To them, a man without a boat was a man in chains. Though feared throughout the Middle Ages for their barbarian instincts, they reshaped Europe. The hardy immigrants fought and settled in Russia, Spain and France and became merchants and mercenaries, renowned for their courage and ability with the sword and battle-ax. Hrolf the Gange won Normandy, which was named after the Norsemen. His descendant William conquered England.
Bjarne Sigvatson was the image of a golden Viking. His hair was blond with a beard to match. He was not a tall man, but broad in the shoulders, with the strength of an ox. Bjarne was born in 980 on his father's farm in Norway, and like most young Viking men grew up with a restless yearning to see what was over the next horizon. Inquisitive and bold, yet deliberate, he joined expeditions that raided Ireland when he was only fifteen. By the time he was twenty, Bjarne was a battle-ripened, seaborne raider with enough pillaged treasure to build a fine ship and mount his own raiding expeditions. He married Freydis, a sturdy self-reliant beauty with long golden hair and blue eyes. It was a fortunate match. They blended together like sun and sky.
After amassing a vast fortune from plundering towns and villages up and down Britain and sporting numerous scars from battle, Bjarne retired from raiding and became a merchant, trading in amber, the diamond of its time. But after a few years, he became restless, especially after hearing the sagas about the epic explorations of Erik the Red and his son Lief Eriksson. The lure of strange lands far to the west beckoned, and he became determined to mount his own voyage into the unknown to found a colony. He soon put together a fleet of ten ships to carry 350 people with their families, livestock and farming tools. One ship alone was loaded with Bjarne's fortune in amber and plundered treasure, to be used for future exchange with ships transporting goods from Norway and Iceland.
The cavern made an ideal boat and storage house as well as a fortress against any attack by the Skraelings. The sleek craft were pulled from the water onto trees cut into rollers and placed in hewn cradles on the hard rock shelf. The Vikings constructed beautiful ships that were the marvel of their age. They were not only incredibly efficient sailing machines but also masterworks of sculpture, magnificently proportioned and lavishly decorated with elaborate carvings on stem and stern. Few vessels before or since have matched their lines for pure elegance.
The long ship was the vessel used for raiding around Europe. She was extremely fast and versatile, with ports for fifty oars. But it was the knarr that was the workhorse of the Viking explorers. Fifty to sixty feet long with a broad fifteen-foot beam, the knarr could carry fifteen tons of cargo over great distances at sea. She relied mostly on her big square sail for the open sea, but mounted as many as ten oars for cruising in shallow water near shorelines.
Excerpted from Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler. Copyright © 2001 by Sandecker, RLLLP. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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