Hammersfall: Saga of Verbjorn, Part 3- Storm
Shortly after sunset, Honr thumbed the slab of oak, marvelling at the silken texture of the relic. Just as the ash tablet had been carefully handled and cared for, the wood of the oak slab had been carefully oiled and handled by so many over the Cycles that it shone as though wet in the torch light. The third night of the summer thing was certainly as hot if not hotter than any that had come before, yet the gathering of children seemed larger than the night before. Some were new arrivals, their families arriving from the farthest of the Host clan holdings. There were several older children in the group as well, on the cusp of becoming adults and joining the festivities in the other parts of camp. A few young mothers cradled their infants in the heat, preferring the quiet tales to the loud and sometimes bawdy music that filtered over from the main gathering.
“I see you all came back and brought friends to listen to the old stories! Ivar, can you tell me what has transpired since we started the tale?” He looked expectantly at his new apprentice, who had passed his trials today and taken his Skrifari oaths and family name. The young man stood and delivered his description of the heroes of the tale; Verbjorn, gifted with a vision from the gods, Condul, faithful elder brother and the cowardly Osun, cousin to the brothers. He recited the gift of the vision in perfect detail, the betrayal of Verbjorn, and the trial and sentencing of Verbjorn by Susk-Il-Findis. He continued on to describe the Rite of Iron, the Svartalfar Lord, the sacrifice of Kordo, a free man and the escape of the heroes by ship. The children let out small cheers as the heroes were described and escaped and more than a few booed when the Aelfar Justicar was described. Honr nodded approvingly, he was a fast student with a sharp mind. “Thank you, apprentice. You have jogged my memory and allowed me time to compose myself properly to continue our tale.” The young man bowed and seated himself nearby, ready to assist as necessary.
Honr started the tale, his rumbling voice nearly drowning out the noise of the revelry on the far side of camp. “Verbjorn, Condul, and Osun watched the Aelfar city slide away in the growing darkness, until the screams of the dying man drifted away on the breezes of the sea. The men continued to stare back until the glimmering lights slipped below the horizon and the moon rose before the ship’s bow. It was a small ship, of the type used for messengers and personal transport by nobility, built for speed more than commerce or war. The ship’s mate showed the men to cramped quarters in the forward cargo hold, with a small supply of water and food laid out for them. The men ate in silence and were overcome by an unnatural sleep, the food seemingly poisoned. Verbjorn tried to make his way to the door, to shout an alarm, but his body became heavy and the world faded from his vision.
Verbjorn awoke to find the floor awash in water, entering the room from under the door. The ship bucked and swayed as a child shakes a toy. Outside, he could hear the thundering of a massive storm and the waves crashing against the hull, threatening to stave it in with every impact. He tried to awaken Condul and Osun, to no avail. He made his way to the door, the floor threatening to slip from under his feet. The ship rocked back as it rose upon a massive wave, hammering him into the door, causing it to fly open and throw Verbjorn to the floor below the hatch to the deck. The hatch was open and lightning lit the world as the sun on a clear day. He could see several Svartalfar in the hold, with gaping wounds to their necks and chests. The sea poured in as the ship foundered and pitched. The air hung heavy with salty mist, and Verbjorn fought to climb the ladder to the main deck.
Once up on the deck, he could see more of the Dwarven crew lying against the railings, with wounds similar to those below. The main mast had snapped halfway up and now lay upon the deck, having shattered a section of railing and splaying rope and sail cloth in a writhing mass toward the forecabin of the ship. Verbjorn clung to the ship as it pitched and he headed aft, toward the captain’s quarters. He could see a limp body at the helm, the wheel spinning freely as the ship careened between waves. Rain and salt water lashed at him, stinging his eyes as he fumbled with the latch on the door, finally opening the door and falling over a body as he entered. The door slammed shut as he picked himself up. The captain’s quarters were in disarray, but there were no signs of a struggle. Instead, the captain, mate and navigator appeared to be sitting at a table as though dining. Their throats had been carefully slit and they had a peaceful look on their face, as though simply sleeping. The navigator’s holy symbol hung limply from his hand, the bronze whale fluke covered in blood. Nearly every navigator on the sea took the worship of Njoran as a sacred duty and part of their trade.
Verbjorn spied the captain’s sheathed seax on the floor, having fallen from the top of a small table. He quickly removed his restricting and soaked upper robe and fastened the belt and scabbard around his waist. Verbjorn would not want to encounter the murderer without a basic weapon at his disposal, lest he wind up like his hosts. He went to the door, pulled the body out of the way and peered out on the stormy deck through the small barred window. He could see someone on the deck, heading toward the hatch to the below decks. Verbjorn threw open the door and the shaft of light from the lamps in the room beamed out across the deck, catching the man in mid stride by surprise. He held a dagger in one hand and was covered in the blood of his victims. He immediately started toward the door, with a murderous look in his eye. Verbjorn drew the seax and the man stopped, surprised further that he faced an armed and conscious opponent. The ship buckled and tossed as a giant wave hit amidship and caught the sail and broken mast. The rope on the deck seemed to spring to life and entrapped the legs of the murderer, pulling him toward the railing. He slashed at the ropes, as one would slash at a snake, cutting several of them loose. He took a step toward Verbjorn, but the wind caught the sail as the mast slid overboard and the man was wrapped tightly by both the ropes and the sail and carried into the sea. The storm seemed to lessen immediately, and the ship lurched hard as it hit something in the water, pitching Verbjorn forward with enough force to send him hurtling below decks through the hatch. He struck his head on the ladder and was again engulfed by blackness and unconsciousness.