Hammersfall: Saga of Verbjorn, Part 8 The Duel.
The gates swung open and a crowd greeted Verbjorn and his companions. There was an air of excitement and anticipation. Dwarven soldiers shouted encouragements and blessings as the party passed. Condul and Osun discreetly broke off to get a good vantage point to watch for any abnormalities or trickery by the small cadre of trolls that accompanied their chieftain. They travelled to the outer walls and passed through the city gate, cheers ringing out behind them from the citizens of the city. Near the wall, a sandy area had been chosen for the duels, it was ringed with rocks to delineate the fighting space. A cluster of tall, monstrous looking trolls stood on the far side, watching the party approach. When they reached the ring, Verbjorn entered, weapon drawn ready to begin. He was slightly intimidated, as the trolls were half again his height. He prepared himself as Blodgrypr approached through the crowd.
Verbjorn was slightly taken aback as the troll chieftain grew closer. He could see that the creature was monstrously large, even by troll standards, standing twice his height. The scarred face was covered in scarlet and black tattoos, with large tusks jutting out from his lower jaw. Below the heavy brow, blood red eyes burned with a hatred of all things, and a gutteral growl emanated from the massive chest with every step. Verbjorn felt the ground shudder as the creature stepped into the circle, carrying a massive axe crafted from a small tree and a piece of flint the size of his torso. The beast roared and lunged at the champion of the Svartalfr. The fight was begun.
Verbjorn sidestepped the overhanded swing and the axe buried itself in the ground nearly to the haft. Blodgrypr roared in anger and ripped the axe from the soil below the sand, leaving a gash in the ground large enough to trip a man. Verbjorn continued to wheel around, looking for an opening, but the enraged troll was moving too fast to get more than a feint in. The axe seemed to come in from both sides at once in horizontal sweeps, causing Verbjorn to backpedal to the ring of stones, where he was shoved inward by the trolls ringing the fight. He dodged another overhanded swing, and narrowly avoided the backswing from the axe. A massive fist lashed out and he managed to get the shield up in time to block it, the impact jolting up his arm deep into his shoulder. He continued to dodge the attacks, but the monstrosity seemed to have an endless supply of rage and ferocity.
In the crowd, Osun elbowed Condul and pointed at a troll nearby. It was holding something and rocking and chanting, focused on the fight. Condul worked his way through the crowd, watching the troll as Verbjorn continued to barely dodge the attacks that seemed to come ever faster. The troll was holding a small bear totem, which seemed to be the focus of the chanting while keeping its eyes on Blodgrypr in the ring. Condul drew close and snatched the totem, running back toward the thickest part of the dwarves as the troll bellowed in anger and tried to pursue him. The Svartalfar guards closed in behind him, blocking the troll who raged. A few others started making threats, but did not come any closer to the armed contingent. Reaching Osun and Gildhund, he showed them the totem. Osun took it and smashed the totem, a red haze leaked from within.
Reeling from blocking an axe strike with the now battered and nearly broken shield, Verbjorn noticed that Blodgrypr had paused, slightly confused, then continued his attacks. The axe came in much slower and Verbjorn was able to counterattack, driving the troll to a defensive posture. The mist circled in around Verbjorn, and he felt angry and strong. He let himself go, all of his anger and rage for every injustice he ever bore the brun to welling up in him. He felt like he was possessed, animal thoughts of survival pushed out any other thought. He started slashing and pressing in on the troll chieftain, forcing him to lash out with his fists to try to force the man back. Verbjorn slashed at the monster’s powerful legs, nearly severing one and bringing the beast to his level. Dodur cheered, the challenge was won! Lost in his rage, Verbjorn continued his path, severing the now frightened troll’s head clean from his shoulders in one strike. The trolls howled in disbelief, their chieftain defeated and slain. The group broke toward their army’s lines, fearing they would be next. The dwarves started to circle in around Verbjorn, but cleared out as he gave chase, slashing at the backs of the fleeing creatures. An unlucky dwarf found himself running in a pack of trolls and felt the bite of the seax as Verbjorn started slaughtering the group. Screams of fear emanated from the retreating trolls, their number rapidly dwindling.
Condul tried to catch Verbjorn, but was struck by the shield as Verbjorn turned to face him, and then continued after the trolls. Osun and Dodur helped Condul to his feet, and the three backed toward the gates, unsure of what to do next.
Gildhund tended the gash on Condul’s head while he discussed their next steps with Dodur and Osun. The magic of the totem had a grip on Verbjorn that they could not explain. Periodically, a messenger would return from the rampart with a report of seeing Verbjorn stalking the troll lines, slaying everything in sight. Reports were filtering in from the Svartalfar scouts that the troll lines had broken and were heading toward the sea, as though the killing of Blodgrypr and the theft of the totem had dispelled their bloodlust. Several dwarves had gathered around Osun and the totem, trying to decipher the connection to the magic. The broken totem was made from fired clay and had a hollow in the middle, which likely contained the substance that had held the magic. Gildhund joined them, examining the residue left behind. She thought that the bear shape was a focus for the magic, and perhaps the mist was an herbal concoction of some sort. She rushed off while the men continued to talk, muttering something about sage, wolfsbane and other herbs. Dodur offered to send men to capture Verbjorn, but Condul felt that it was too dangerous, since the bloodlust seemed to not discriminate between friend and foe. Dodur reluctantly agreed, clearly displeased with not having a clear course of action.
Gildhund returned shortly with a large pack of herbs separated into bundles and a handful of small clay bowls. She described a way to calm Verbjorn and possibly counter the magical effect of the totem. The plan was to set out the bowls with dampened herbs in them and place coals on top to cause a heavy smoke that should calm and counter the bloodlust. Verbjorn would have to be lured into the smoke and kept there for a short period. Codul volunteered, but Dodur overruled him, stating that the responsibility was his. He reasoned that the bloodlust was a result of leaning too heavily on Verbjorn to solve the troll problem and it should be his duty to help cure the man who did what no Svartalfar could. Condul protested, but nearly fell as he rose to do so, proving himself unfit for the task at hand. Osun had disappeared, leaving the dwarven lord as the decoy.
Shortly after sunset, Condul, Dodur and Gildhund slipped out of the gate. Dodur went to look for Verbjorn while the others set up the bowls and worked up a heavy smoke that concentrated in a depression, swirling peacefully. Dodur did not have far to go, finding Verbjorn by the sounds of battle and dying trolls. Verbjorn stood over a small group of trolls, covered in blood and grime. Dodur approached quietly, but Verbjorn sniffed the air and spun to look directly at him. Dodur broke into a sprint, not daring to waste his head start. He called out as he ran, alerting the others. Verbjorn lunged and gave chase, rapidly closing the distance between himself and the fleeing dwarf. Dodur, hearing the enraged man closing on him cursed and put in a burst of speed, hurdling bodies and discarded equipment as he headed for the depression. He swore he could feel the hot breath of his pursuer on his neck as he dove into the depression, the smoke billowing around him. Verbjorn plunged in after him, howling in rage. Dodur struggled to regain his feet, but was overcome by the magic of the smoke and fell into a sleep. Verbjorn stood over him, panting. He raised the seax, and as he was starting the downward stroke his eyes rolled backward in his head and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
Verbjorn awoke screaming. He had been bound in his bed and Gildhund and Condul were standing watch. A clay bowl filled with herbs was smoldering on a table not far away. He laid back in the bed, sweating and twitching from the horrors that were at the front of his mind. Gildhund came to the bedside and put a cool cloth on his chest and another on his head. She spoke soothingly to him, advising him to rest and let the herbs do their work. His breathing slowed and he stopped convulsing. He drifted back into tortured dreams of roaming the battlefield, killing everything he saw. This pattern repeated for three nights, each less intense than the previous. The fourth morning, Verbjorn awoke with a peaceful mind, and Condul released the bindings while Gildhund brought him some food and water. Condul related that the troll army had been broken and was either leaving by the ships they came in or cleaned up by the dwarven army. As Verbjorn wolfed down the food, Dodur entered the room. The Svartalfar lord was relieved to know that Verbjorn was recovered from his ordeal, but troubled by news from the High Forge.
Dodur sat while Verbjorn ate, thanking him for his help and relaying that the Karls felt that they should send assistance to the High Forge based on the bravery of their guest as well as news that Sindiri had been slain by an Aelfar assassin shortly after providing refuge to the families of the men. The preparations were already underway, with a fleet leaving within the week. Dodur requested that Verbjorn, Condul and Osun go to the seat of the Dwarven empire far to the north with a message for his cousin Fekkil, Emperor of the Svartalfar Empire. Gildhund was also to join them to ease their passage into the Empire, as the capital is well defended and an insular place, sacred to the dwarves. He also had something special for the men, but would wait until he held court that afternoon to present it. He rose to leave, again thanking Verbjorn for undertaking such a trial for people he did not know.
The morning passed peacefully, as Condul an Verbjorn discussed the next leg of their journey and the supplies they might need. Osun had been away for a few days, occasionally sending word that he was ok and exploring the city outside of the stronghold, which was a little unusual, but not surprising after all of the events that had occurred.