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Long Serpent

As the snow fell cold and heavy
out of skies as dark as Hel-night,
came King Olaf from his steading
down to Hladhamrar the fairest,
there to speak with Thorberg Skafhogg,
builder of the fastest warships,
builder of the stoutest vessels.

“I would have you, master-builder,
make for me a ship as never
was before seen in these waters.
One to hold my band of warriors,
one to ride the waves like lightning,
one to sail the wide world over,
one that lives, and breathes the fair winds,
‘til she shall be buried with me!”

Thorberg grasped his hand in honour;
“Oak shall be her ribs and body,
pine shall be her mast and decking;
broad, high-sided, strongly timbered,
she shall be thy sea-borne lover
(prow and stern shall be well gilded),
tongue as sharp as ice-maid splinters,
lips as soft as southern winters!”

Through the dark and coldest season
Hladhamrar did ring with felling;
strakes were shaped and nails were smithied
as the long-ship grew by moonlight;
at her heart a mast-fish beating
(ropes were twisted, striped-sail woven),
at her prow a dragon roaring.
Came King Olaf in the springtime,
called her then his keel ‘Long Serpent’!

© Alan Hodgson

Ormen Lange (Long Serpent) was one of the most famous of the Viking longships.
It was built for the Norwegian King Olav Tryggvason, and was the largest and
most powerful longship of its day.

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