Viking Raiders, page 3
The last boat Tom had been on was the pedalo his mum and dad had hired when they were on holiday in Spain. Vikings were supposed to know about sailing, and Tom was supposed to be a Viking. Thinking quickly, he decided to bluff.
“Ha ha! Of course I do! I just couldn’t see it properly – dust in my eyes.” Tom rubbed at his eyes. Turning to Isis, he added, “But my friend here doesn’t know anything about sailing.”
Isis glared at Tom.
Magnus nodded and explained to Isis. “The crystal Erik’s holding is called a sunstone. It reflects light, even on a cloudy day like this, so he can see where the sun is.”
The gale blew harder and harder until Tom could barely keep his eyes open. The longship started to groan and creak. It was taking a real battering against the crashing waves. Terrified, Tom wondered if it would it hold together under the strain.
“HEAVE! HEAVE! HEAVE!” The rowers chanted, trying to push the boat forward against the headwind.
But the harder they rowed, the more the ship seemed to be tossed about like a carrot in a massive cooking cauldron. Even Erik had begun to look worried.
A wave crashed over the ship. Freezing-cold spray showered over them, which felt like icy needles.
“I don’t want to die again!” Isis shrieked.
Tom could see she was wild-eyed with fear.
“Don’t worry, my child,” said the grey-haired Geir, shrugging as the seawater dripped off his wiry eyebrows.
How can he be so calm? Tom wondered.
Suddenly, they felt the entire ship jolt against something hard. A horrible scraping noise came from the bottom of the hull.
“What’s that?” Tom cried.
The wood started to creak as though it was being bent to its very limits. Tom clutched at the bench. He wondered if the ship was going to snap in two.
“We’ve hit rock bottom,” Magnus said.
“You can say that again,” Isis whimpered.
“Are we going to sink?” Tom asked.
The longship swung round and suddenly a rocky outcrop loomed before them. It reminded Tom of scary-looking teeth, reaching out to bite the ship in half.
“Drop anchor, men!” Erik bellowed. “We’ll camp on this here island until the storm’s blown over.”
The Vikings grunted with effort but managed to steer the longship towards a strip of white sand. One surge of seawater pushed them into the tiny bay.
In the worst of the storm, Tom had pulled the hood of his cloak right down over his face. Now he dared to look up.
“Everybody out!” Erik said.
The Vikings sprang to their feet, snatching up rolls of cloth, rope and pegs from chests that were stowed beneath the benches. Within minutes, the outcrop swarmed with busy men, all pitching neat little tents in a perfect circle.
“Come on!” Magnus shouted over to Tom and Isis. “Hold the tent pegs while I knock them in. You can both share with me.”
Isis flung back her hood and stumbled on wobbly sea legs over to the camp. “Me? Share, with you two?” she sniffed.
“Suit yourself,” Magnus said. “You can share with Bjørn the Bone-crusher, if you prefer. I hear he’s got very cheesy feet because his boots leak, so there should be plenty of room in his tent.”
Tom laughed. Isis glared at him, but then helped Magnus set up the tent. Soon the wind had died down a little and a fire was crackling. Everybody huddled round its flames, trying to warm up and dry their clothes. When Erik broke open a barrel of mead, the crew roared with delight. They filled their drinking horns to the brim.
“SKOL!” Magnus cheered, pushing a horn into Tom’s hands. “Drink up! Like this…”
Magnus glugged the brew so thirstily that it streamed down his chin.
Tom sipped the thick, sickly sweet drink. “Ugh!” he said. “Have a taste.” He offered the horn to Isis.
Isis sniffed it. “It smells… chewy.”
Tom giggled. He held out his fingers in front of the fire. “This is more like it, though,” he said. “I don’t think I can take much more of that icy water. I’m happy just staying put on dry land for a while.”
But as their fingers and toes thawed out, one by one, the men started to leave the camp and head back down to the beach.
“Where are they going?” Tom whispered to Isis.
“And what on earth are they doing?”
Magnus let out an enormous burp and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his tunic. “Don’t you realise? It’s Saturday!” he cried. “Bath day, of course!”
Erik towered above their little group. He slammed down a meaty hand on Magnus’s helmet and chuckled. “That’s right, my boy! We Vikings have a reputation to keep up.”
“Of being bloodthirsty murderers?” Tom said quietly.
Erik guffawed. “Naturally! But also...” he started to run his sausage-like fingers through his tangled red locks, “...the whole world knows a Viking takes pride in his lovely hair and how fresh he smells. Not like the English.”
“What’s wrong with the English?” Tom asked.
Erik suddenly grew serious. “I’ve heard,” he began, “that the English never wash. And I mean, NEVER. In fact, when we land in England, don’t be surprised if the smell knocks you out cold.”
Isis snorted and looked at Tom with a raised eyebrow and a mischievous grin. “Yes, I’ve heard that, too,” she said. “Englishmen smell like a dead horse’s bottom. It’s a fact.”
“Dead horse’s bottom! I love it!” Erik cried.
Erik and Magnus roared with laughter and slapped Isis hard on the back. Tom stuck out his tongue at her, but she was too gleeful to notice. He was just about to defend the fine scent of an Englishman when he remembered that he was supposed to be a Viking.
“Ha!” he said. “Ha ha ha!” He forced himself to laugh along. “Stinky, horse-pooey English people. Ha ha ha!”
But just to be on the safe side, he sniffed his armpits.
Bath time over, the Vikings returned to gather by the crackling fire. But that didn’t mean their odd behaviour stopped there.
Tom watched, bewildered, as Erik heaved a lump of stone towards the fire. It was twice the size of his head, but covered with seaweed rather than red hair.
“Why has he picked up that boulder?” Isis asked. “Do you think he’s going to smash it down on top of someone for fun?”
To their horror, Erik staggered right up to where they were sitting.
“NYAAAGH!” Erik grunted as he dropped the boulder to the ground with a doof!
Without saying a word, Erik flung himself down on to the sand and took out a short, sharp dagger.
“Help!” Tom said, cowering back.
Erik looked over at him. The firelight gave his craggy face scary shadows. He looks more like a monster than a man, Tom thought.
“This dagger isn’t for you, boy,” he said, chuckling.
Erik started to gouge out chunks from the boulder by digging the tip of his dagger into the surface of the stone. Shards of rock flew off in all directions and strange spiked shapes started to appear.
“I’m carving runes,” he explained. “These symbols are magical. A stone with runes has the power to change the future.”
“You’re not planning on casting a nasty spell over us, are you?” Isis asked the huge Viking.
Erik grinned and stroked his beard thoughtfully. He pointed his dagger at her. “Not unless you really want me to. I know a good one that could turn you into a goat!”
Cleo crept out from under Isis’s cloak, her fur standing on end.
“Don’t worry, Fluffpot,” Isis whispered, tickling her behind the ears. “It’s the cold. It makes them crazy!”
Tom’s curiosity overtook his fear. He scrambled closer to Erik to watch as the rock became covered in ancient letters. He wondered whether the runes said something about sailing safely across the ocean, or the Viking spirits protecting them.
“What does it say?” He asked, tingling with excitment
Erik smiled and sheathed his dagger. He blew the dust off the letters and ran his thumb proudly over his handiwork. “It says, ‘May the Viking axes cut the English down like trees’.”
Tom swallowed. What would Erik do to him if he ever found out he was English?
Erik patted the boulder and stood up quickly. He was so tall that Tom thought he looked like a tree – a huge old oak. As the Viking stretched, his arms were like great branches. His hair swung round his shoulders, like ivy scrambling down the trunk.
Erik grinned down at Tom. “But even though the runes’ magic will help us, it doesn’t mean you can slack off with your fighting!” His huge hand reached down and yanked the children to their feet.
Tom looked up into Erik’s twinkling eyes.
“I expect each of my men to kill at least FIVE Englishmen,” the Viking boomed. “And that includes you. It’s the only way to ensure your place in Valhalla!”
Erik stomped away towards the barrel of mead.
Tom had no intention of killing anyone. He just wanted to find the amulet as quickly as possible, and escape before he and Isis got caught up in any violence.
“Five?” came a strangled voice at his side.
Magnus, who’d been eavesdropping, had turned a sickly shade of grey. He was tugging at his plaits nervously.
“You were boasting about looting earlier,” Isis said to him. Her black eyebrows were knitted together in a frown. “You said you were excited. So what’s wrong now, Mr Tough Guy?!”
Magnus just put his head in his hands and groaned.
Tom pulled Isis to one side by her elbow. “Hey, stop teasing him. We need to concentrate on the amulet. Did you notice what Erik said?”
Isis nodded. “Valhalla,” she said. “It was in the riddle, wasn’t it? Another clue! Do you know what Valhalla is?”
Tom rubbed his chin. “I’m not sure,” he said. “But it does sound familiar, like some kind of warriors’ hall of fame, or something. Let me have a think...”
He looked up at the starry sky and racked his brains for all the history facts he had stored there. It was like rummaging through a big box of Lego, looking for exactly the right piece. But as hard as he tried he couldn’t remember what Valhalla was.
“Nope. Not a clue,” he said, shaking his head.
Isis turned to the young Viking, and tapped him on the helmet.
“Hey! What’s Valhalla?” she asked.
Magnus looked up and stared at Isis in disbelief. “It’s the place where all brave Vikings go when they die, of course. An afterlife for warriors.” He started to smile. “A banqueting hall where you feast forever, and drink and fight with the gods themselves. Imagine that!”
The colour flushed back into Magnus’s cheeks and his smile broadened into a delighted grin as he thought about Valhalla. Just then, Erik stomped back, mead sloshing from the horn in his hand.
“Talking about - hic - Valhalla - hic?” Erik hiccupped, lifting the mead to his mouth. He missed and poured some down his matted red moustache. “You’d better make sure you kill five Englishmen as soon as you land, hic!” he said, swaying slightly. “That way, if you get killed yourself, you’ll go straight there.”
The scent of stewing meat wafted over from the cooking pot. But even the comforting smell didn’t make Tom feel any less fearful.
“Thanks for the advice, Erik,” he said, meekly.
The ground started to rumble beneath him. At first Tom wondered if it was his stomach growling. But Isis gripped his arm and Cleo scratched at the ground with her razor-sharp claws.
“Anubis!” Isis whispered.
Tom scanned the camp, trying to spot the god’s dog-head. Where was he?
“The cooking pot!” Isis gasped in horror.
Sure enough, Anubis’s head popped out of the stew. His eyes flickered in the fire’s flames like burning coals. His black muzzle stuck out like a lump of charred wood.
“PAH!” he scoffed. “Valhalla doesn’t exist. I’m the god of the Underworld, so I should know!”
Isis strode towards the fire and threw her hands in the air. “What do you want? You gave us a mission and we’re doing it. Why do you have to stick your snout into everything?”
Tom thought she was being even more cheeky than usual.
Anubis bared his long, sharp teeth. “I’ve come to tell you that these hairy heathens are right about one thing.”
“Oh, yes? What’s that then, Your Dogliness?!” Isis asked.
Anubis sniggered cruelly and vanished in a puff of black smoke. All that remained in the cooking pot was the greasy, meaty stew. But his booming voice echoed on the wind:
“Get ready to die on the mainland!”
“Back on board the boat, you lot!” Erik’s gruff voice came from outside.
Tom’s eyes flickered open. He felt cold, hard ground beneath him. He saw the cloth of the tent above him and heard snoring right by his head. It was morning.
“Pack up! It’s time to go!” ordered Erik.
Tom scrambled to his knees. In the murky light, he saw Isis. She was sleeping with her hands crossed over her chest. Cleo was curled up at her feet. Next to her, taking up so much of the tent that his feet stuck right out of the flap, was a snoring Magnus.
Tom shook them both roughly awake. Isis stretched and rubbed her almond-shaped brown eyes.
“Where are we?” she asked. She looked over at Magnus. “Yuck. What a sight to wake up to. Oh, I remember now. We’ve got to get back on to that horrid little tub of a boat.”
Cleo meowed mournfully. She looked so scared that even Tom wanted to pick her up and cuddle her.
They trudged down to the sandy bay. Standing on a black rock, with his red hair blowing in the breeze, was Erik the Red.
“Come on, you two! Stop dragging your heels and get on board,” he said. He pointed up at the weak sunshine streaming through the grey clouds. “See? My runes have brought us good sailing weather.”
Tom looked at the longship, which was already crammed full of enormous, hairy men. He groaned. Isis moaned. Cleo took one look at the boat’s mast, which was now sopping wet from the storm, and hissed.
“You can sit on my lap, Fluffpot,” Isis said, picking up her cat.
With his plaits swinging round his shoulders, Bjørn the Bone-crusher hung out of the boat and offered Isis a rough hand.
The princess stopped short as the foaming seawater licked the soles of her boots. “Do we really have to?” she asked Tom.
“Just think of the amulet,” Tom whispered.
Sighing, Isis climbed on to the boat.
Tom turned to Erik. “How much longer before we get to England?” he asked.
Erik took off his helmet and scratched his tangled hair. “Two days, by my reckoning.”
As Tom and Isis took their places, squished in between Magnus and Geir, a group of the burliest Vikings pushed the boat fully into the water, hopping in at the very last moment.
“Take your oars, men!” Erik cried. “Let’s go, Vikings!”
The sea was calm. They sailed all through the day and into the freezing, starlit night. On the following morning, Tom noticed that Erik was standing at the front of the boat again. The Viking captain was squinting at something on the horizon. A thin, black line. From under a bench, he pulled out a cage. It contained three squawking crows. He let them loose.
In a flurry of black feathers, the beady-eyed crows flapped off towards the dark line in the distance.
“Land ahoy!” Erik shouted. “Follow the crows, lads!”
“Land?” Tom said, nudging Isis. “And early too!”
As the rhythm of the oars drew them ever closer to the coast, Tom started to see looming cliffs. Crowned with grassy moorland, they looked as though they had sprouted straight out of the water. On top of the cliffs were castle-like buildings. From the crosses on their roofs, Tom guessed they might be monasteries.
“SCOTLAND!” Erik suddenly shouted. “Or at leas
The Vikings all started to cheer with a deafening roar. “HOORAH! HOORAH! HOORAH!”
The longship sailed into shallower waters, and Erik gave the order to drop anchor. Men scrambled to untie the little landing boats, which were lashed to the sides of the longship with thick ropes.
Tom peered up into the grassy hills that hugged the bay. Dotted in small clusters were little stone cottages with thatched roofs. He could see smoke curling upwards from the chimneys. They were so different from the simple wooden roundhouses he and Isis had seen in King Arthur’s England, just four hundred years earlier.
“Into the boats!” Erik ordered the men, thrusting an iron broadsword, a round shield and a sheathed dagger at each of the crew.
“Kill five for Valhalla, remember?” he said, patting each man on the shoulder.
Tom, Isis, Cleo and Magnus were the last to leave the longship. Magnus looked as deathly pale as his white-blond hair. He hopped into one of the little boats and grabbed two sets of oars.
“We’ll row together, Tom,” Magnus said, offering Tom a pair of oars. “Cat-girl can sit and give orders. I think she’ll prefer that.”
Isis flung herself on to the bench at the back and sat regally, with Cleo on her lap.
As Tom pulled on the oars, struggling to keep up with Magnus’s pace, Isis had a jolly time doing the thing she loved most: being bossy.
“Left a bit! No! Right a bit!” she ordered. “Faster! The others have already landed.”
Tom slumped over his oars and groaned. “Would you like a go? Because you obviously you think you can do better.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Isis scoffed. “I’m the brains of this operation.”
“Funny, that,” Tom whispered. “Because I could have sworn you’d had your brains pulled out through your nostrils five thousand years ago.”
Isis’s face crumpled up in outrage. But before she could reply, a voice called, “Get off our island!”