The Viking (Chapter 1, page 2 of 6)

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It was a proud ship of oak wood carved upward at both the stern and the bow until it reached twice the height of the tallest man. The horn was carved into the fierce head of a dragon and faced outward to ward off sea monsters while the back represented the dragon's tail. Attached to each side of the ship's bow was the golden image of a fierce lion to ward off any animal dangers they might encounter on land.

The large ship could easily hold a hundred men, although Donar chose to take only sixty per ship. Fewer men meant more room for sleeping, supplies and any captives they happened to bring back. In preparation for each voyage there was much to consider and Donar ran a mental check list of supplies, which he always saw to the loading of himself. But when it came to enough food, he searched the face of the man seated to his right until Anundi understood his concern and nodded - they had ample food aboard and Donar's only son, his only living family, in fact, would not taste hunger on this voyage.

Satisfied his ship was ready, the commander took up a position near his son in the stern, took hold of the rudder post, raised his other hand high and looked across the water at the other ships in his fleet. Each man also held his oar straight up and was staring at his ship's stroke, who in turn impatiently watched Donar for the signal.

The race was about to begin.

It was the same each time they left shore and only once had another ship beaten Donar's crew out of the bay, through the narrow fjord and into the open waters of the North Sea. Some said he cheated, for his mooring was at least a hairs-breath closer to the fjord than the other ships. To prove them wrong, Donar had the Sja Vinna moved northward several feet and inwardly smiled.

Donar's men were not stronger or more skilled; it was his ship that gave him the advantage. All Viking ships had shallow hulls which enabled the men to beach the ship, strike and make good their escape with lightning speed. But the pride of the Viking fleet was fitted with a hull that was a good six inches shallower than the others, allowing just enough more speed and agility to win nearly every race.

Someday he would share that secret with his son. It was not cheating so much as it was a necessary challenge for the men, lest they grow lazy and incompetent. And it was good fun for all. Every man, woman and child came to watch and most hastened to place a wager or two, for or against the longship Sja Vinna.

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