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.
For an hour or more the procession rode, single file, up the steep and rugged mountain-paths; but the boys were all in high spirits and enjoyed themselves hugely. The mere fact that they were Vikings, on a daring foraging expedition into a neighboring kingdom, imparted a wonderful zest to everything they did and said. It might be foolish, but it was on that account none the less delightful. They sent out scouts to watch for the approach of an imaginary enemy; they had secret pass-words and signs; they swore (Viking style) by Thor's hammer and by Odin's eye. They talked appalling nonsense to each other with a delicious sentiment of its awful blood-curdling character. It was about noon when they reached the Strandholm saeter, which consisted of three turf-thatched log-cabins or chalets, surrounded by a green inclosure of half a dozen acres. The wide highland plain, eight or ten miles long, was bounded on the north and west by throngs of snow-hooded mountain peaks, which rose, one behind another, in glittering grandeur; and in the middle of the plain there were two lakes or tarns, connected by a river which was milky white where it entered the lakes and clear as crystal where it escaped.
"Now, Vikings," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, when the boys had done justice to their dinner, "it behooves us to do valiant deeds, and to prove ourselves worthy of our fathers."
"Hear, hear," shouted Ironbeard, who was fourteen years old and had a shadow of a moustache, "I am in for great deeds, hip, hip, hurrah!"
"Hold your tongue when you hear me speak," commanded the chieftain, loftily; "we will lie in wait at the ford, between the two tarns, and capture the travellers who pass that way. If perchance a princess from the neighboring kingdom pass, on the way to her dominions, we will hold her captive until her father, the king, comes to ransom her with heaps of gold in rings and fine garments and precious weapons."
"But what are we to do with her when we have caught her?" asked the Skull-Splitter, innocently.
"We will keep her imprisoned in the empty saeter hut," Wolf-in-the-Temple responded. "Now, are you ready? We'll leave the horses here on the croft, until our return."