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Valhalla Rising

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Into Oblivion

JUNE 1035
Somewhere in North AmericaThey
moved through the morning mist like ghosts, silent and eerie in
phantom ships. Tall, serpentine prows arched gracefully on bow and
stern, crowned with intricately carved dragons, teeth bared
menacingly in a growl as if their eyes were piercing the vapor in
search of victims. Meant to incite fear into the crew's enemies,
the dragons were also believed to be protection against the evil
spirits that lived in the sea.
little band of immigrants had come across a hostile sea in long,
elegantly shaped black hulls that skimmed the waves with the ease
and stability of trout in a peaceful brook. Long oars reached from
holes in the hulls and dipped into the dark water, pulling the
ships through the waves. Their square red-and-white striped sails
hung limp in the listless air. Small lapstrake boats twenty feet
long and carrying extra cargo were tied to the sterns and towed
These people were the precursors of those who would come much
later: men, women and children, along with their meager
possessions, including livestock. Of the paths Norsemen had blazed
across the oceans, none was more dangerous than the great voyage
across the North Atlantic. Despite the perils of the unknown,
they'd boldly sailed through the ice floes, struggled under the
gale-force winds, fought monstrous waves and endured vicious storms
that surged out of the southwest. Most had survived, but the sea
had exacted its cost. Two of the eight ships that had set out from
Norway were lost and never seen again.
Finally, the storm-worn colonists reached the west coast of
Newfoundland, but instead of landing at L'Anse aux Meadows, the
site of Leif Eriksson's earlier settlement, they were determined to
explore farther south in the hope of finding a warmer climate for
their new colony. After skirting a very large island, they steered
a southwesterly course until they reached a long arm of land that
curved northward from the mainland. Continuing around two lower
islands, they sailed for another two days past a vast white sandy
beach, a great source of wonder to people who had lived all their
lives on unending coastlines of jagged rock.
Rounding the tip of the seemingly unending stretch of sand,
they encountered a wide bay. Without hesitation, the little fleet
of ships entered the calmer waters and sailed west, helped along by
an incoming tide. A fog bank rolled over them, casting a damp
blanket of moisture over the water. Later in the day, the sun
became a dim orange ball as it began to set over an unseen western
horizon. A conference was shouted among the commanders of the ships
and it was agreed to anchor until morning, in hopes the fog would
first light came, the fog had been replaced with a light mist, and
it could be seen that the bay narrowed into a fjord that flowed
into the sea. Setting out the oars, the men rowed into the current
as their women and children stared quietly at the high palisades
that emerged from the dying mist on the west bank of the river,
rising ominously above the masts of the ships. What seemed to them
to be incredibly giant trees forested the rolling land behind the
crest. Though they saw no sign of life, they suspected they were
being watched by human eyes hidden among the trees. Every time they
had come ashore for water, they had been harassed by the
Skraelings, their term for any foreign-born natives that lived in
the alien country they hoped to colonize. The Skraelings had not
proven friendly, and on more than one occasion had unleashed clouds
of arrows against the ships.
Keeping their usual warlike nature under firm control, the
expedition leader, Bjarne Sigvatson, had not allowed his warriors
to fight back. He knew well that other colonists from Vinland and
Greenland had been plagued by the Skraelings, too, a situation
caused by the Vikings who had murdered several of the innocent
inhabitants purely out of a barbaric love of killing. This trip
Sigvatson would demand that the native inhabitants be treated in a
friendly manner. He felt it vital for the survival of the colony to
trade cheap goods for furs and other necessities, without the
bloodshed. And, unlike Thorfinn Karlsefni and Leif Eriksson, whose
earlier expeditions were eventually driven off by the Skraelings,
this one was armed to the teeth by men who were blood-hardened
Norwegian veterans of many battles with their archenemies, the
Saxons. Swords slung over their shoulders, one hand clutching a
long spear, the other a huge axe, they were the finest fighting men
of their time.
incoming tide could be felt far up the river and helped the rowers
make headway into the current, which was mild due to the low
gradient. The river's mouth was only three-quarters of a mile wide,
but it soon broadened to almost two miles. The land on the sloping
shore to the east was green with lush vegetation.
Sigvatson, who was standing with his arm around the great
dragon prow of the lead ship, gazing through the dying mist into
the distance, pointed to a shadow in the steep rock palisades
looming around a slight bend. "Pull toward the left bank," he
ordered the rowers. "There looks to be an opening in the cliffs
where we can shelter for the night."
they drew closer, the dark, forbidding entrance of a flooded cavern
grew in size until it broadened wide enough for a ship to enter.
Sigvatson peered into the gloomy interior and saw that the passage
traveled deep under the sheer walls of the cliff. He ordered the
other ships to drift while the mast on his ship was unstepped and
laid flat to permit entry beneath the low arch at the cavern's
mouth. The fjord's stream swirled around the entrance, but the
hardy rowers easily drove the ship inside, shipping the oars only
slightly to keep them from striking the flanks of the
they passed through, the women and children leaned over the
bulwarks and stared down through water of startling clarity,
schools of fish clearly visible swimming over the rocky bottom
nearly fifty feet below. It was with no little trepidation that
they found themselves in a high-ceilinged grotto easily large
enough to hold a fleet of ships three times the size of the little
Viking fleet. Though their ancestors had embraced Christianity, old
pagan traditions died hard. Naturally formed grottos were regarded
as the dwelling places of the gods.
walls on the interior of the grotto, formed by the cooling of
molten rock 200,000 million years earlier, had been sculpted and
worn smooth by the waves of an ancient sea against the volcanic
rock layers that were an extension of nearby mountains. They arched
upward into a domed ceiling that was bare of moss or hanging
growth. Surprisingly, it was also free of bats. The chamber was
mostly dry. The water level stopped at a ledge that ascended three
feet and stretched into the inner reaches of the cavern for a
distance of nearly two hundred feet.
Sigvatson shouted through the grotto entrance for the other
ships to follow. Then his rowers eased off their strokes and let
the ship drift until its stem post bumped lightly against the edge
of the second cavern's floor. As the other ships approached the
landing, long gangplanks were run out and everyone scurried onto
dry land, happy to stretch their legs for the first time in days.
The foremost matter of business was to serve the first hot meal
they'd eaten since an earlier landing hundreds of miles to the
north. The children spread out throughout the caverns to gather
driftwood, running along the shelves that eons of water erosion had
carved in the rock. Soon the women had fires going and were baking
bread, while cooking porridge and fish stew in large iron pots.
Some of the men began repairing the wear and tear on the ships from
the rugged voyage, while others threw out nets and caught schools
of fish teeming in the fjord. The women were only too happy to find
such comfortable shelter from the elements. The men, on the other
hand, were big, tousle-haired outdoorsmen and sailors who found it
unpleasant to exist in rock-bound confinement.
After eating and just before settling in for the night in their
leather sleeping bags, two of Sigvatson's young children, an
eleven-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl, came running up to him,
shouting excitedly. They grabbed his big hands and began dragging
him into the deepest part of the cavern. Lighting torches, they led
him into a long tunnel barely large enough to stand in. It was a
tube passage, a rounded cave system originally formed when
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
gods had shown the way to the children, who led the grown-ups to
what they all hoped was their newly found paradise.
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 Leif 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
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.
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
fore and aft decks were planked with a spacious open deck amidships
that could be loaded with cargo or livestock. The crew and
passengers suffered in the open, protected only by ox hides. There
were no special quarters for chieftains such as Sigvatson; Vikings
sailed as ordinary seamen, all equal to one another, their leader
assuming command for important decisions. The knarr was at home in
rough seas. Under gale winds and towering swells, she could barrel
through the worst the gods could throw at her and still plunge
ahead at five to seven knots, covering over 150 miles a
Built of sturdy oak by superb Viking shipwrights who shaped by
hand and eye and used only axes to work the wood, the keel was cut
from a single piece of oak into a T-shaped beam that increased
stabilization in heavy seas. Next came oak planks that were hewn
into thin strakes running with the grain and which curved
gracefully before being joined at the stern and stem posts. Known
as a clinker-type hull, the planks above overlapped the ones below.
Then they were caulked with tarred hair from the animals. Except
for the crossbeams that braced the hull and supported the decks,
there wasn't another piece of wood on the ship that lay in a
straight line. The whole thing looked too fragile for the storms
that swept the North Atlantic, but there was a method to the
seeming madness. The keel could flex and the hull warp, enabling
the ship to glide effortlessly with less resistance from the water,
making her the most stable ship of the middle centuries. And her
shallow draft allowed her to slip over huge waves like a
rudder was also a masterwork of engineering. A stout steering oar
attached to the starboard quarter, its vertical shaft was turned by
the helmsman using a horizontal tiller. The rudder was always
mounted on the right side of the hull and was called a
stjornbordi-the word came to mean starboard. The helmsman kept one
eye on the sea and the other on a bronze, intricately designed
weathervane that was mounted on either the stem post or mast. By
studying the whims of the wind, he could steer the most favorable
large oak block served as the keelson where the foot of the mast
was set. The mast measured thirty feet tall and held a sail that
spread nearly twelve hundred square feet cut in a rectangle only
slightly wider than a square. The sails were woven from coarse wool
in two layers for added strength. Then they were dyed in shades of
red and white, usually in designs of simple stripes or
only were the Vikings master shipbuilders and sailors; they were
exceptional navigators as well. They were born with a genius for
seamanship. A Viking could read the currents, the clouds, the water
temperature, wind and waves. He studied the migrations of fish and
birds. At night he steered by the stars. During the day he used a
sun shadow board, a disklike sundial with a center shaft that was
slipped up and down to measure the sun's declination by tracing its
shadow on notched lines on the board's surface. Viking latitude
calculations were amazingly accurate. It wasn't often that a Viking
ship became hopelessly lost. Their mastery of the sea was complete
and never challenged.
the following months the colonists built thick wooden longhouses
with massive beams to support a sod roof. They raised a great
communal hall with a huge hearth for cooking and socializing that
also served for storage and as a livestock shelter. Hungry for rich
land, the Norsemen wasted no time in planting crops. They harvested
berries and netted fish in great abundance from the fjord. The
Skraelings proved curious yet reasonably friendly. Trinkets, cloth
and cows' milk were traded for valuable furs and game. Sigvatson
wisely ordered his men to keep their metal swords, axes and spears
out of sight. The Skraelings possessed the bow and arrow, but their
hand weapons were still crudely made of stone. Sigvatson correctly
took it for granted that before long the Norseman's superior
weapons would either be stolen or demanded in trade.
fall they were fully prepared for a harsh winter. But this year the
weather was mild, with little snow and few frigid days. The
settlers marveled at the sunny days that were longer than they'd
been used to in Norway and during their short stay in Iceland. With
spring, Sigvatson prepared to send out a large scouting expedition
to explore the new and strange land. He chose to remain behind to
assume the duties and responsibilities of running the now-thriving
little community. He picked his younger brother, Magnus, to lead
the expedition.
hundred men were selected by Sigvatson for the journey he expected
would be long and arduous. After weeks of preparation, sails were
raised on six of the smallest boats while the men, women and
children who remained behind waved farewell to the little armada as
it set off up the river to find its headwaters. What was to have
been a two-month scouting expedition, however, turned into an epic
journey of fourteen months. Sailing and rowing except when they had
to haul their boats overland to the next waterway, the men traveled
on wide rivers and across enormous lakes that seemed as vast as the
great northern sea. They sailed on a river that was far larger than
any of them had seen in Europe or around the Mediterranean. Three
hundred miles down the great waterway, they came ashore and camped
in a thickly wooded forest. Here they covered and hid the boats.
Then they launched a year-long trek through rolling hills and
endless grasslands.
Norsemen found strange animals they'd never seen before. Small
doglike creatures that howled in the night. Large cats with short
tails, and huge furry beasts with horns and enormous heads. These
they killed with spears and found the flesh as delectable as
Because they did not linger in one place, the Skraelings did
not consider them a threat and caused no trouble. The explorers
were fascinated and amused by the differences in the Skraeling
tribes. Some stood proudly and possessed noble bearing, but others
looked little better than filthy animals.
months later, they came to a halt when they saw the peaks of
enormous mountains rising in the distance. In awe of the great land
that seemed to go on forever, they decided it was time to turn back
and reach the colony before the first snows of winter. But when the
weary travelers finally reached the settlement in midsummer
expecting a joyous welcome, they found only devastation and
tragedy. The entire colony had been burned to the ground and all
that was left of their comrades, wives and children were scattered
bones. What terrible friction had caused the Skraelings to go on a
rampage and slaughter the Vikings? What had caused the break of
peaceful relations? There were no answers from the dead.
Magnus and the enraged and grieving surviving Norseman
discovered that the opening to the tunnel leading down to the
cavern where the ships were stored had been covered over with rocks
and brush by the late inhabitants and hidden from the Skraelings.
Somehow the settlers had managed to hide the treasures and sacred
relics Sigvatson had plundered in his younger days, along with
their most cherished personal possessions, concealing them in the
ships during the Skraelings' attack.
anguished warriors might have turned their backs on the carnage and
sailed away, but it was not in their genes. They lusted for
revenge, knowing it would most likely end in death. But to a
Viking, dying while fighting an enemy was a spiritual and glorious
death. And then there was the terrible possibility that their wives
and daughters might have been carried away as slaves by the
with grief and rage, they collected the remains of their friends
and families and carried them down the tunnel to the cavern, where
they placed them in the ships. It was part of their traditional
ceremony to send the dead to a glorious hereafter in Valhalla. They
identified the mutilated remains of Bjarne Sigvatson and laid him
in his ship, wrapping him in a cloak and surrounding his body with
the remains of his two children and his treasures from life and
buckets of food for the journey. They longed to place his wife,
Freydis, beside him, but her body could not be found, nor were
there any livestock left to sacrifice. All had been taken by the
Traditionally, the ships and their dead would have been buried,
but that was not possible. They feared that the Skraelings would
dig up and plunder the dead. So the saddened warriors hammered and
chiseled at a huge rock above the grotto's entrance until it
dropped in a massive spill along with tons of smaller boulders,
effectively sealing off the cavern from the surface of the river.
The rock jammed together in a chute several feet below the
waterline, leaving a large unseen opening underwater.
ceremony completed, the Norsemen prepared themselves for
Honor and courage were qualities they held sacred. They were in
a state of euphoria, knowing they would soon see battle. Deep
within their souls, they had longed for combat, the clash of arms,
the smell of blood. It was part of their culture, and they had
grown up and were trained by their fathers to be warriors, expert
in the art of killing. They sharpened their long swords and
battle-axes that were forged from fine steel by German
craftsmen-treasured objects, highly prized and worshiped. Both
sword and axe were given names as if they lived and
donned their magnificent chain-mail shirts to protect their upper
bodies and their simple conical helmets, some with nosepieces but
none with horns. They took up their shields made of wood painted in
bright colors, a large metal rivet in the front attached to arm
straps in the rear. All carried spears with extremely long, sharp
points. Some wielded broad double-edged swords three feet in
length, while others preferred the big battle-ax.
ready, Magnus Sigvatson led his force of a hundred Vikings toward
the large village of the Skraelings, three miles distant from the
horrible massacre. The village was actually more of a primitive
city containing hundreds of huts housing nearly two thousand
Skraelings. There was no attempt at guile or stealth. The Vikings
stormed out of the trees, howling like mad dogs, and rushed through
the short stake fence that surrounded the village, built more to
keep animals out than attacking humans.
smashing onset wrought great havoc among the Skraelings, who stood
stunned and were cut down like cattle. Nearly two hundred were
slaughtered by the ferocious savagery of the unexpected assault
before they could grasp what was happening. Quickly, in groups of
five and ten men, they began to fight back. Though they were
familiar with the spear and had formed crude stone axes, their
favorite weapon of war was the bow and arrow, and soon a hail of
arrows filled the sky. The women joined in the chaos, throwing a
shower of stones that did little but dent the Vikings' helmets and
Magnus charged ahead of his warriors, fighting two-handed with
spear in one hand, gigantic battle-ax in the other, both drenched
and dripping crimson. He was what the Vikings called a beserkr, a
word that would pass down the centuries as berserk-a seemingly
crazed man intent on striking terror in the minds of his enemies.
He shrieked like a maniac as he hurled himself at the Skraelings,
felling many with his flailing axe.
brutal ferocity overawed the Skraelings. Those who tried to fight
the Norsemen hand-to-hand were beaten off with terrible casualties.
Though they were decimated, however, their numbers never
diminished. Runners scattered to nearby villages and soon returned
with reinforcements, and the Skraelings fell back to regroup as
their losses were replaced.
the first hour, the avengers had worked their deadly way through
the village, searching for any sign of their women, but none could
be found. Only bits and pieces of cloth from their dresses, worn as
adornment by the Skraeling women, were ferreted out. Beyond wrath
there is rage, and beyond rage is hysteria. In a frenzy the Vikings
assumed that their women had been cannibalized, and their fury
turned to ice-cold madness. They did not know that the five women
who had survived the slaughter at the settlement had not been
harmed but passed on to chiefs of other villages as tribute.
Instead, their ferocity mushroomed and the earth inside the
Skraeling village became soaked in blood. But still the Skraeling
replacements kept coming, and eventually the tide began to
Overwhelmingly outnumbered and severely weakened from wounds
and exhaustion, the Vikings were whittled down until only ten were
still left standing around Magnus Sigvatson. The Skraelings no
longer made frontal assaults against the deadly swords and axes.
They no longer feared the Norsemen's spears that had been either
thrown or shattered. A growing army, now outnumbering the dwindling
Vikings by fifty to one, stood out of range and shot great flights
of arrows into the small cluster of survivors who crouched under
their shields as the arrows struck and protruded like quills from a
porcupine. Still the Vikings fought on, attacking, ever
the Skraelings rose up as one, and with reckless abandon smashed
against the Viking shields. The great tide engulfed the small band
of Norsemen and swirled around the warriors making their final
stand. The few who were left stood back to back and fought to the
brutal end, enduring an avalanche of vicious blows by hatchets made
of stone, until they could endure no more.
Their last thoughts were of their lost loved ones and the
glorious death that was waiting. To a man they perished, sword and
axe in hand. Magnus Sigvatson was the last to fall, his death the
most tragic. He died as the last hope for colonizing North America
for the next five hundred years. And he left a legacy that would
dearly cost those who would eventually follow. Before the sun fell,
all one hundred of the brave Norsemen found death, along with more
than a thousand Skraeling men, women and children they had
slaughtered. In a most horrible manner, the Skraelings had come to
recognize that the white-skinned strangers from across the sea were
a marauding threat that could only be stopped by savage
pall of shock spread over the Skraeling nations. No blood battle
between tribes had ever matched the pure ghastly death toll, nor
the horrible wounds and mutilation. The great battle was only an
ancient prelude to the horrendous wars that were yet to
the Vikings living in Iceland and Norway, the fate of Bjarne
Sigvatson's colony became a mystery. No one was left alive to tell
their story, and no other immigrant-explorers followed in their
path across the truculent seas. The colonists became a forgotten
footnote in the sagas passed down through the ages.
Excerpted from VALHALLA RISING © Copyright 2001 by Clive
Cussler. Reprinted with permission from Putnam Pub Group, an
imprint of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved.

Valhalla Rising
by by Clive Cussler

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425185710
  • ISBN-13: 9780425185711