When at the end of an hour the Skull-Splitter woke from his slumber, much refreshed, Witch-Martha bandaged his arm carefully, and Wolf-in-the Temple (having no golden arm-rings) tossed her, with magnificent superciliousness, his purse, which contained six cents. But she flung it back at him with such force that he had to dodge with more adroitness than dignity.
"I'll get my claws into thee some day, thou foolish lad," she said, lifting her lean vulture-like hand with a threatening gesture.
"No, please don't, Martha, I didn't mean anything," cried the boy, in great alarm; "you'll forgive me, won't you, Martha?"
"I'll bid thee begone, and take thy foolish tongue along with thee," she answered, in a mollified tone.
And the Sons of the Vikings, taking the hint, shouldered the litter once more, and reached Skull-Splitter's home in time for supper.
The Sons of the Vikings were much troubled. Every heroic deed which they plotted had this little disadvantage, that they were in danger of going to jail for it. They could not steal cattle and horses, because they did not know what to do with them when they had got them; they could not sail away over the briny deep in search of fortune or glory, because they had no ships; and sail-boats were scarcely big enough for daring voyages to the blooming South which their ancestors had ravaged. The precious vacation was slipping away, and as yet they had accomplished nothing that could at all be called heroic. It was while the brotherhood was lamenting this fact that Wolf-in-the-Temple had a brilliant idea. He procured his father's permission to invite his eleven companions to spend a day and a night at the Ronning saeter, or mountain dairy, far up in the highlands. The only condition Mr. Ronning made was that they were to be accompanied by his man, Brumle-Knute, who was to be responsible for their safety. But the boys determined privately to make Brumle-Knute their prisoner, in case he showed any disposition to spoil their sport. To spend a day and a night in the woods, to imagine themselves Vikings, and behave as they imagined Vikings would behave, was a prospect which no one could contemplate without the most delightful excitement. There, far away from sheriffs and pastors and maternal supervision, they might perhaps find the long-desired chance of performing their heroic deed.
It was a beautiful morning early in August that the boys started from Strandholm, Mr. Ronning's estate, accompanied by Brumle-Knute. The latter was a middle-aged, round-shouldered peasant, who had the habit of always talking to himself. To look at him you would have supposed that he was a rough and stupid fellow who would have quite enough to do in looking after himself. But the fact was, that Brumle-Knute was the best shot, the best climber--and altogether the most keen-eyed hunter in the whole valley. It was a saying that he could scent game so well that he never needed a dog; and that he could imitate to perfection the call of every game bird that inhabited the mountain glens. Sweet-tempered he was not; but so reliable, skilful, and vigilant, and moreover so thorough a woodsman, that the boys could well afford to put up with his gruff temper.
The Sons of the Vikings were all mounted on ponies; and Wolf-in-the-Temple, who had been elected chieftain, led the troop. At his side rode Skull-Splitter, who was yet a trifle pale after his blood-letting, but brimming over with ambition to distinguish himself. They had all tied their trousers to their legs with leather thongs, in order to be perfectly "Old Norse;" and some of them had turned their plaids and summer overcoats inside out, displaying the gorgeous colors of the lining. Loosely attached about their necks and flying in the wind, these could easily serve for scarlet or purple cloaks wrought on Syrian looms. Most of the boys carried also wooden swords and shields, and the chief had a long loor or Alpine horn. Only the valiant Ironbeard, whose father was a military man, had a real sword and a real scabbard into the bargain. Wolf-in-the-Temple, and Erling the Lop-Sided, had each an old fowling-piece; and Brumle-Knute carried a double-barrelled rifle. This, to be sure, was not; quite historically correct; but firearms are so useful in the woods, even if they are not correct, that it was resolved not to notice the irregularity; for there were boars in the mountains, besides wolves and foxes and no end of smaller game.