Viking raiders, p.2

Viking Raiders, page 2


Viking Raiders

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  Tom hoped the Viking had understood his plea for mercy. Everywhere else that Anubis had sent them, he and Isis had magically been understood. He just had to hope that his English words had come out in Old Norse.

  Beside Tom, Isis skipped backwards and forward. Her fists were balled, but next to the huge Viking, she looked like a chick trying to pick a fight with a cockerel. “Come on, then, you big red hairball!” she shouted up at him. “You don’t mess with a princess!”

  Cleo hissed and swiped a claw at the Viking. The little cat’s stripy fur was standing on end. Tom admired his friends’ courage.

  “I am Erik the Red!” the man said in a voice so deep it seemed to come from his toes. He grabbed Isis by her cloak and held her up so that her fists punched helplessly at thin air. “And I’m going to knock your brains out for skulking about near my boat.”

  “Please let her go, sir, she’s only a little girl!” Tom pleaded, desperate for Erik to release Isis.

  “Little girl?” Isis shrieked, outraged. “There is nothing little about me. I am royal – and I fight better than you ever will.”

  Erik burst out laughing and dropped Isis back to the ground in a heap of plaits and furry cloak. Cleo rubbed up against her, checking that she was all right.

  “She’s a feisty one, isn’t she?” Erik said to Tom. “Where did you find her?”

  “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Tom said, laughing nervously. He decided to draw Erik’s attention away from Isis, in case she annoyed him again. “So where are you and your men off to?”

  Erik set his helmet straight on his head. As he did so, Tom caught a whiff of sweat and damp.

  “We’re about to go on a little expedition,” Erik said. “There’s nothing like a bracing ocean voyage to blow away the cobwebs.”

  Tom looked at the dragon at the helm of Erik’s longship and remembered the words of the riddle. “Setting sail on your long and thin boat, are you?” Tom said loudly, trying to attract Isis’s attention.

  But Isis was busy trying to pull Erik’s red beard.

  “Sailing across stormy seas, eh?!” Tom shouted.

  Isis finally turned to Tom and winked. “Can we come too?” she asked Erik, innocently.

  Erik’s fiery eyebrows bunched together in a terrifying scowl. “Children on a Viking raid? Are you trying to insult me?” he boomed. “This is a looting party, you know. Do you have any idea what me and my men will be doing?”

  Tom pursed his lips and swallowed hard. “Er, setting fire to people’s houses? Stealing? That kind of thing.”

  Erik grinned and slapped Tom hard on the back. “Precisely, lad! That’s no pastime for a youngster like you. You’d only get in the way.”

  Tom felt their chance slipping away… if he didn’t hurry up and convince Erik to let them come, they’d never get the amulet and he’d be stuck in freezing Scandinavia forever.

  “We’re brilliant fighters, aren’t we, Isis?” he said.

  Isis nodded. “Yes! Sword fighting with knights. Net fighting with gladiators. You name it, we’ve done it.” She mimed shooting an arrow from a bow. “I’ve been specially trained in archery by the captain of my father’s Royal Guards.”

  Erik took off his helmet and started to scratch his scalp. His lips twitched, as if he was trying hard not to smile. “Tell you what,” he said. “Prove to me you can fight, and I might let you come with us.” He put his fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing wolf whistle. “Ho! Bjørn,” he shouted to a blond-haired warrior, who was loading a sack on to the longship. “Throw us over some armour and an axe or two. These youngsters want to come with us!”

  With the crew of the longship gathered round to watch, Erik rammed a helmet each on to Tom’s and Isis’s heads. Tom’s was far too big and fell over his eyes.

  “Why don’t these helmets have horns?” he asked, pushing it back up. Vikings in films and cartoons always wore horned helmets, Tom thought.

  Erik looked down at him and frowned. “Horns? Don’t be so stupid, boy! If we had horns on our helmets, the enemy would be able to grab them and just wrench them off our heads. You don’t give your enemy helpful handles, son. What a funny idea!”

  He gave them axes that were so sharp and lethal-looking that Tom wondered if he’d make it on to the boat with all his arms and legs.

  “Now, if you’re going to chop each others’ heads off, be sure you don’t dent the helmets!” Erik chuckled.

  Finally, he passed them each a round shield that was made from wood and covered in iron rivets.

  “Right.” He clapped his hands. “Get on with it then. We need to set sail soon.”

  The Viking crew stamped their feet on the ground. “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” they chanted.

  Realising they had no choice if they were to find the amulet, Tom and Isis shrieked at the tops of their voices, rounding on each other with a clang! of metal as their axes met.

  Isis backed away, wrenching her axe apart from Tom’s. Tom waved his above his head, in a bid to look as menacing as possible.

  “Huh! Anyone can do that!” Isis said, lifting her weapon into the air and swinging it round.

  Cleo skipped between Tom and Isis, mewing loudly and chasing her tail.

  But Tom could tell Isis was struggling with the weight of the axe, as her arm faltered. Suddenly, Cleo darted into her path, sending Isis off balance. Seizing the opportunity, Tom knocked her helmet clean off her head with the flat of his axe’s blades.

  “AAARRRGGGHHHHH!” he cried and split the helmet on the ground clean in two with his axe.

  The watching crew exploded into deafening applause.

  “Thor’s hammer, give me strength! I thought I said be careful with the helmets!” Erik cursed. Chuckling, he added, “But I suppose that was a pretty impressive show.”

  “So we can come?” Tom asked hopefully.

  Erik looked down at Tom and shook his head. “No, I’m afraid it’s just too dangerous.”

  “Look, Mr Red, we’re kind of desperate,” Isis said, talking quickly. “There’s an angry Egyptian god with a face like a dog and breath to match, who wants us to find a hidden amulet. If we can’t go with you, we won’t be able to find it and I’ll never get into the Afterlife.” She finally stopped to catch her breath.

  Erik stared at her. Then he burst into laughter. “You spin a good yarn, little girl!” he said. “Go on then. Get on board before I change my mind. At least you two will liven up the long journey.”

  Isis grinned at Tom. “Where are we going?” she asked Erik.

  Erik gazed out across the horizon. He pointed his finger west, across the sea. “To England, of course! The land of green fields, churches stuffed with gold, and home to a load of wimpy peasants.” Then he punched his palm with a fist as big as a bowling ball. “We’re going to grind them into flour for our bread!”

  Erik turned and marched to the longship, his red hair and animal-skin cloak flapping in the wind.

  Isis grabbed Tom’s arm. “Why can’t we go somewhere nice and warm?” she moaned. “This is the second time we’ve ended up going to that cold mud puddle!”

  Tom shook her hand away. “Hey! That’s my home you’re talking about. I can’t wait to see England through a Viking’s eyes! This will be so cool.”

  Then Tom remembered what he’d read about how the Vikings had battled their way down the length of the country, murdering anything that breathed and destroying any town that stood in their path. He gulped, but it wasn’t as if they had a choice. The riddle said they needed to board the longship if they wanted to find the amulet. “Come on,” he said. “Our adventure begins here.”

  Erik introduced his men as the children stepped into the boat. “Bjørn the Bone-crusher!” Erik shouted. “Say hello to my new crew members.”

  Bjørn bowed to the three of them. “Be healthy! May your jug be always full of mead,” he said in greeting. He tugged at his blond plaits and his stern face cracked into a smile.

  Erik moved on to the next man.
Tom’s neck was beginning to ache from looking up at the tall men. It was the same routine with each one.

  “Grisly Gunnar!” Erik bellowed.

  Grisly Gunnar slammed down a fist on to Tom’s shoulder. “Be healthy!” he boomed. “May your sword be always red with the blood of the English.”

  “Er… thanks,” Tom said, hoping that Grisly Gunnar never found out that he was English.

  Just as Erik was about to go through the same routine with yet another man, Isis clapped her hands together like an impatient school teacher. “Hello, long-haired giants,” she shouted at the top of her voice. “I’m Isis, he’s called Tom, and this is my cat, Cleo. Nice to meet you. And yes, let’s allbe healthy! But can we just get on the boat and go now?”

  On board the longship, benches ran from one side of the hull to another. The vessel rocked unsteadily as the bulky Vikings sat down. Tom tripped over their long legs as he and Isis looked for seats. The Vikings were all squashed together and there didn’t seem to be any spaces left.

  “Oh, great! Where are we going to sit?” Isis said.

  “Come over here,” a young man said, patting the tiniest of spaces at his side.

  The man was taller than Tom and lankier than the other Vikings. He had white-blond hair that, like the others, he wore in long, fat plaits. His blue eyes were a little close together, but he looked friendly enough.

  Tom and Isis squeezed on to the bench next to him.

  “Be healthy! I’m Magnus,” the young Viking said, offering Tom his hand.

  Tom’s fingers were almost crushed by Magnus’s iron grip. He forced a smile through the pain. “Nice to meet—”

  “And I’m Geir.” A rich, rumbling voice interrupted Tom. He turned to his left and found himself looking into the lined face of a grey-haired man. He was much older than the other crew members.

  “If you get seasick, be sure you don’t do it on me,” Geir said. His deep-set eyes sparkled playfully. “I’m wearing my best beaver skins.”

  Isis leaned forward and grinned at Geir. “If he does get seasick, I’m definitely pushing him in your direction.” She stroked Cleo, who was sitting on her lap. “I’m wearing my best cat.”

  There was a splash! and a clunk! as Erik hauled the anchor over the side of the boat.

  “Take up your oars!” he cried.

  The men who were seated along the gunwale grabbed the long oars and started to rock back and forth in perfect time with one another. “Heave! Heave! Heave!” they chanted.

  Creaking, the longship pulled away from the riverbank, and they sailed downstream towards the open sea.

  “So, Magnus,” Tom began, feeling like he ought to strike up some chit-chat with the stranger whose knee he was practically sitting on. “Are you excited to be on this voyage?”

  Magnus beamed. “I certainly am. I’m as excited as a wolf howling at the moon.”

  “That excited, eh?” Isis asked.

  “I can’t wait to get to England,” Magnus said. His smile drooped and his face sagged, as though the happiness had leaked out of him. “I can’t stay at home, you see. My oldest brother, Arne, inherited all our family land. He and I don’t get on, and he told me I would have to work as his servant. There’s no way I’m going to do that!”

  Tom frowned. “Are you really going to make enough money out of this expedition to live on?”

  Magnus’s eyes suddenly grew wide. His mouth curled back up into a smile.

  “Why, yes! We’re going looting, aren’t we, lads?” he cried, punching the air. “To England! Where the streets are paved with gold. And the paths will run red with blood. HOORAH!”

  The men sitting nearby all joined in, nodding their heads ferociously.

  “OK!” Tom said, punching the air with what he hoped passed for enthusiasm. He didn’t like the thought of hurting anyone. But he couldn’t risk the Vikings finding that out, or that he was English.

  With hardly any wind, and the water as smooth as glass, the longship cut through the river with barely a ripple. But Cleo had started to scratch and whine on Isis’s lap.

  “What’s wrong, Fluffpot?” Isis asked.

  Cleo spat.

  “Oh! I know what’s the matter with her,” Isis said, clasping her hand to her head. “She absolutely hates water.”

  Suddenly, Cleo shot along the length of the ship and scampered up to the very top of the mast. “MEOOOOW!” She clung on to the wooden pole, trembling and meowing.

  “Poor thing,” Isis said. “She sounds so frightened. Come back down, kitty!”

  Erik started to chuckle. He stroked his bushy red beard and erupted into a gale of hearty laughter.

  “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a new look out, lads!” he said, pointing to Cleo.

  The river grew wider and wider. Waves started to lap against the longship, making it rock from side to side. Soon, the waves grew taller, and crashed against the boat’s hull.

  “We’re on the open sea, boys!” Erik shouted. He stood with his thick tree-trunk legs planted wide apart. Tom marvelled at his balance.

  “Now, brace yourselves!” Erik continued “It’s going to be a long journey. It will probably be dangerous too. But that doesn’t matter, because we Vikings were born to sail, weren’t we, lads?”

  The men started to whistle and clap.

  “Kings of the sea!” Magnus shouted.

  Erik wagged his finger at him. “That’s right! And don’t forget, once we get to England, all the gold and jewels and furs are ours for the taking. Enough for all of us!” He clasped his hand into a large, greedy-looking fist.

  The longship’s crew exploded into deafening whoops.

  Geir stood up and waved his helmet in the air. “Those English can’t fight,” he shouted in his hoarse voice. “They’re a bunch of WEEDS!”

  Isis started to chuckle.

  Tom poked her in the arm. “I managed to defeat you!” he whispered.

  “And we will pluck those weeds!” Erik bellowed. He grabbed hold of one of the men’s plaits and yanked it upwards, as if to demonstrate his weeding skills. Amazingly, the man didn’t even flinch! “All we have to do is step ashore—”

  “And grab the lot!” Bjørn cried, jumping up and down with such vigour that he tripped and crashed headlong into the row of men in front.

  As the longship headed further out to sea, an icy wind battered the crew.

  Tom pulled his fur cloak tightly round him, snuggling into its warmth. “I’m glad we’ve got these,” he said.

  Isis’s teeth chattered. “H-h-how do you n-n-northern n-nincompoops m-manage in this terrible weather?”

  Tom grinned. “We’re made of strong stuff. Not like you softies from the south.”

  “V-v-very f-funny.”

  Night fell and the stars twinkled in the black sky. Four of the Vikings pulled a leather canopy across the top of the boat. Tom looked up, feeling sad he could no longer see the glow of the moon.

  The crew lay on the floor of the longship to sleep, huddled together for warmth and smelling of fish – and worse.

  “Get your feet out of my face!” Isis complained.

  “My feet aren’t anywhere near your face,” Tom said.

  “Then whose feet are they?”

  “Mine!” came a gruff voice.

  Isis wriggled like an angry eel. “Ugh! I’m so uncomfortable. I just want to stretch out.”

  “Well, you can’t,” Tom said.

  Somebody wafted a salted fish in his face. It smelled of rotting socks.

  “Want some more herring?” Magnus offered. “Or Geir’s got some salted moose, if you fancy that.”

  “NO!” said Tom and Isis together. Though Cleo, who had caught a whiff of the fish, came down from the mast and was soon happily purring as she gobbled it up.

  “I wish we’d never come here,” Isis said.

  Tom wiped his freezing nose on her cloak and whispered in the dark, “Anubis warned us that this would be our hardest mission yet. Anyway, it’s not like we had
any choice in the matter.” Trying to cheer his friend up, he added, “Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll find the amulet soon.”

  “How? We don’t even know where to look,” moaned Isis.

  “The riddle mentioned fighting and looting. I’m sure we’ll be doing plenty of that when we get to England.”

  “If we survive the journey, that is,” grumbled Isis.

  As dawn broke, Tom felt the ship rock violently up and down. It was like being on a roller coaster of enormous waves. The wind blew so hard that the canopy was almost ripped off the boat. Even the Viking crew looked worried, as they struggled to keep the longship under control.

  “Do you think Anubis is making the wind?” Isis called to Tom.

  “No!” he yelled back, clutching at Isis’s cloak. “We’re just in the middle of a billion-force gale!”

  “I’m not feeling very well!” Tom groaned, clutching his stomach.

  The longship rose up to the crest of a giant wave, then plunged back down the mountain of water. Tom felt his stomach float up to the top of his ribcage. It was like a never-ending fairground ride that wasn’t fun any more.

  Isis clung on to the bench with white knuckles. “Just don’t speak to me. At all.” Her face was as grey as the stormy clouds. “I’m f-feeling a b-b-bit queasy.” She clapped a hand over her mouth.

  Tom looked at the front of the ship and saw Erik, standing tall, peering all about him. He wrapped his huge arms round the carved dragon’s neck and ducked low over the water. Then he pulled out a long shred of cloth and held it high in the air, flapping wildly.

  “What’s he doing?” Tom shouted to Magnus over the deafening blast of wind.

  Magnus, who was still pink-cheeked and smiling, explained. “He is checking which direction the wind is blowing in, to make sure we’re still travelling towards England. In a gale like this, it’s easy to get blown off course.”

  “But what’s that lump in his hand?”

  Magnus chuckled. “Don’t you know anything about sailing, little fellow?”

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