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."
The question now was to elude Brumle-Knute's vigilance; for the Sons of the Vikings had good reasons for fearing that he might interfere with their enterprise. They therefore waited until Brumle-knute was invited by the dairymaid to sit down to dinner. No sooner had the door closed upon his stooping figure, than they stole out through a hole in the fence, crept on all-fours among the tangled dwarf-birches and the big gray boulders, and following close in the track of their leader, reached the ford between the lakes. There they observed two enormous heaps of stones known as the Parson and the Deacon; for it had been the custom from immemorial times for every traveller to fling a big stone as a "sacrifice" for good luck upon the Parson's heap and a small stone upon the Deacon's. Behind these piles of stone the boys hid themselves, keeping a watchful eye on the road and waiting for their chief's signal to pounce upon unwary travellers. They lay for about fifteen minutes in expectant silence, and were on the point of losing their patience.