This edited article about the Vikings originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 280 published on 27 May 1967.
From the high cliffs, bonfires blaze out in the dark night. The water far below catches the red light, and the blades of many oars send it circling and spinning towards the black rocky shores. The Vikings are home.
Their long, low ships glide into the fiord. Laughter and shouting echo across the water, and above all comes the measured call of the crewmaster, giving time to the oarsmen.
Another raid is over.
“The Scottish men, eh! Did you see them run?” “The fat one – he tripped over his sword . . .” “Aye, and guess who now has the gold goblet he carried . . .” So the men boast and joke among themselves as they approach their village.
But something is wrong. The village, whose huts crouch on the sloping shore, is still. No answering shouts come from the water’s edge, and the guiding bonfires burn in silence. Even the dogs are quiet.
A scraping of the wooden keel on pebbles, and the first Vikings are ashore. They laugh, uncertainly now, as out of the night steps an elder of the village.
“What news, wise one?” the raiders ask.
The elder sighs, and whispers, “The King is dead . . .”
And they take the King’s ship, and at the head of a narrow fiord they bury it. In it they lay to rest Olav, King of Vestfold, son of King Gudr√∂d. On his chest is his sword; at each side of his ship hang his warriors’ shields, 32 a side, yellow and black.
Then the thick clay soil is piled above . . .
Over the centuries, a small group of farms grows up by the royal grave. The place is called Gokstad, and there a tale becomes a legend, passed from father to son. Here is the King’s Mound. But what king, they cannot say . . .
Now it is early in 1880, and in Gokstad, as in the rest of Norway, the winter days are short and bitterly cold. Around a blazing fire, a farmer and his sons while the long evenings away with tales of heroes long gone, of the Vikings and their deeds in war.
So the talk turns to the mound, which the farmers own. Every year, as for so many years past, the plough has sliced its furrow in the strange, man-made hill. But such a monument cannot be easily reduced. It still stands 15 feet high, and is 150 feet long from end to end.
The farmer’s sons are fascinated by the legend which surrounds it, for the story goes that here, in ancient times, a King was buried with all his treasure.
“We will dig and see if it is so,” they declare.
They did. On and off, throughout January of that year, they hacked and shovelled at the stubborn, frozen soil, sinking a shaft down through the centre of the mound. Their only reward was a few pieces of timber.
And there they might have left the matter, had they not talked quite openly about it. As it was, the news reached the ears of a merchant in a town nearby. His hobby was archaeology.
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