Hammersfall: Saga of Verbjorn, Part 5 Surviving the Jungle
The sun started to rise behind the island, and Osun woke the other men. Breakfast consisted of water and not much else, but they were hopeful that their hunt would be successful. Verbjorn and Condul would hunt the pigs and Osun would gather driftwood and build a pyre and a second pyre on a small raft for the navigator’s body, as was the custom for followers of Njoran.
Verbjorn followed his brother to the North beaches to where a small game path led into the jungle, likely used by their quarry to access the beaches for foraging anything that might have washed up. They quietly stalked along the path until they could hear the grunts of a group of the wild pigs in a clearing up ahead. The plan was for Verbjorn to circle the clearing and approach from downwind and drive one of the pigs toward Condul, who would run it through with his spear. As Verbjorn started to circle, a squeal of alarm broke out and the men could hear the herd dispersing through the undergrowth. The men started to gather to discuss their plan when an unearthly shrill squeal rang out, accompanied by the sound of something huge thrashing through the brush toward Condul. He readied his spear and a hog the size of a man at the shoulder broke into the clearing. The beast’s eyes were red as the blood it its veins and the mouth bore two tusks the size of a strong man’s arm. Spotting Condul, it charged with a roar. Condul, fully unprepared for such a monstrosity, nearly dropped his spear, but recovered it just in time to set the base against the ground backed by a large root. The giant boar lunged onto the spear, sending the crossbar flying into the forest and causing the root to crack. Condul tried to steady the spear and avoid the tusks, one of which grazed his shoulder, tearing the loose tunic he was wearing. The beast stopped just short of being able to reach him and reared back, freeing the spear from the ground and lifting the man off the ground. Verbjorn charged from the flank, driving his spear deep into the animal’s side. Grievously wounded, the boar twisted to face his attacker, snapping the spear shaft in Verbjorn’s hands and throwing Condul to the ground. Verbjorn drew his seax and drove it into the beast’s right eye. The beast screamed and threw its head to the right, smashing Verbjorn against a tree and driving the seax deeper into its head. The beast thrashed a little more and then slumped to the ground, finally dying. The two men laid in the cool undergrowth, breathing heavily from exertion and fear. Verbjorn laughed as his brother stumbled to his side. The men dressed out their kill and thanked the Gods for their providence as the sun climbed in the sky, the oppressive humidity of the jungle making their clothes wet and sticky. They worked out a rope hitch and strained as they pulled their kill back to the beach, the jungle seeming to cling to the beast, unwilling to let it leave. They arrived back at the ship at midday, to find the two pyres built and the sea receding from the shore. Osun had also rigged a game stand so they could make quick work of the boar. They started a small fire of driftwood and cooked the boar on the coals, the cooking meat making their mouths water. The men hungrily devoured the meat. Their strength replenished, they set about moving the bodies from the ship.
The men did the best they could arranging the bodies respectfully on the pyre, making sure the Svartalfar had weapons and their holy symbols for their trip into the beyond. Each was also given the appropriate coin to pay the Shipmaster to take them where they needed to go, as was the tradition as they knew it from the various sailors they had encountered in the markets. They said a few words and lit the pyre, saluting the men and thanking them for their sacrifices with a small container of mead that was found in a cabinet in the Captain’s quarters. The navigator’s pyre was moved to the edge of the sea, and he was laid to rest, with his holy symbol shining in the dusk and the light of the roaring pyre of his comrades. They lit the pyre and set it afloat as the sun finally slipped below the horizon, the currents carrying it swiftly away from the island as though borne by a sail with a good wind. The men toasted the navigator and thanked Njoran for bringing them to the relative safety of the island. They also prayed they would find their way to their destination. They gathered some fuel for the stove on the ship and hauled the carcass onto the ship, then took turns sleeping as the night passed them by peacefully.
Verbjorn and Condul woke to the smell of cooking meat, Osun having spent a good part of his watch cooking the meat decided that he would continue while the brothers investigated the stone path on the south side of the island. They set out, with the remaining spear and a pair of seax as well as some rope and a large sack to put any forage in and made their way south. They came to the stones in the sand and explored the beach a little before turning inland. Condul found what could have been an old dock in the shallows, the pilings laying just below the water. When they looked at the jungle from the shore, they could see that the trees were much shorter along the path of the stones than elsewhere.
They cut their way through the jungle, making a fair amount of headway in a few hours, the midday sun causing the humidity to be visible and feeling nearly as dense as the foliage they cut through. They could see a clearing ahead, the path staying true toward it. This was obviously not a random game trail, but it was starting to appear to be an old settlement of some sort, perhaps a waystation for a fishing or trading route. That it was so overgrown boded ill for being rescued by a passing ship. The men finally reached the clearing, finding the remains of a large building. The upper stories had long ago succumbed to reclamation by the jungle, but the courtyard and foundations wee mostly intact, except where the jungle had pushed the stones aside to make room for new growth. The stonework was intricate and tight fitting, with few gaps larger than a strand of hair. Condul surmised it was Svartalfar in origin, as it bore some resemblance to the High Forge in the capital. Verbjorn was uncertain, as the bronze fittings where the doors once stood seemed more Aelfar to him. They climbed around the ruins, finding few useful items in the ruins. Condul located a depression that vaguely resembled a cellar entrance, descending into the gloom under the foundations, the faint sounds of the surf seemed to emanate from within.
Verbjorn joined him at the entrance, and they cautiously entered the passage. The darkness was pierced by shafts of light through carefully placed prisms or where masonry had fallen through the floor above. The walls were covered with moss, which mostly obscured the reliefs of sea scenes with fishermen pulling their catches out or ships riding out storms. A large circular chamber lay at the end of the passage, lit by the prisms to strategically call attention to several basins, connected by a network of sluices. A statue of a man stood where the sluices came together in a small trough, and water seeped out of the amphora at his feet. The man held an astrolabe and a compass, as though navigating the seas. The pedestal he stood upon bore the symbol of a whale fluke, the holy symbol of Njoran. The sound of the surf could clearly be heard in the room, despite being so far from the beach. The men examined the amphora more closely, thinking something had been stuffed inside to stop the water. They saw that a few roots had grown into the water supply and pulled them out. The water began flowing freely, filling the troughs and running down the sluices, flowing into the basins. The sound of the surf got louder, until it positively thundered in the room. Despite the noise, it was a very calming presence for the men, and they felt assured that they would soon be away from the island and back on their journey. The men paid their respects and left, heartened that they had done a deed that would be repaid in kind. The sun was slowly setting and the moon was rising full behind the island when Condul and Verbjorn returned to the ship, their bag stuffed with mangos and melons they had encountered on the way back to the shore. Osun had been busy, having bailed much of the water out of the bilge after the last of the boar was cooked. The men sat quietly in the dark as they ate, the brothers sharing what they had found during their exploration. Exhausted, the three retired to the captain’s quarters shortly after.