Hammersfall: Saga of Verbjorn, Part 1 – The Vision
Honr slowly moved toward the clearing where the children had gathered, weighed down by a skin of mead, a skin of water, and a slab of ash covered in runes. The heat had been incredibly intense and he was feeling every day of his advanced years, yet still found the strength to walk and not shuffle. The children parted as he approached and two dutifully lit the torches near the stool that awaited him. He took his seat and divested himself of his drinking horn, the two skins and set the ash slab to the side. He settled in, sweat beading on his forehead, and took a measured drink from the skin of water. “Good evening little ones,” he rumbled, the sound of his voice quenching the last bit of murmuring and fidgeting from the children who greeted him in unison. “I seem to have promised you all a tale last night, and I intend on keeping that promise,” he continued, watching their faces light up with the realization that this would not be a continuing lesson on the laws of the clans.
“This tale was old when your grandfather’s grandfathers were young, but it is still with us today for it is very important to every man and woman in our lands.” He picked up the ash slab, worn smooth at the edges by the ages of hands that had held it, keeping it carefully oiled and clean. The runes seemed to dance in the torchlight, glistening as though they had a life of their own. “The story begins when our ancestors were enslaved by the monstrous Aelfar, the creatures that had subjugated them, broken their wills, and kept them as thralls. For generations upon generations, men had been kept as mere livestock, to do the work their masters did not deem worthy, traded on the market as we do with cattle and sheep. The corrupt nature of the Aelfar infected their very civilization, the lot of the men they possessed declined with every successive generation, until their value had decreased as to be killed in the street for the slightest offense such as even having an unseemly appearance. The will of Man had been so broken, that it was not even questioned when such an occurrence happened daily.” He fingered the runes, reading them, almost lost in their meaning, telling the tale he had told so many times over the years.
“There was a man, we know him still today, for his import is so great. He went simply be the name Verbjorn, as the use of the clan names was forbidden in the Aelfar capital, though the slaves all knew each other’s lineage. He was young and strong, and therefore valuable. He was kept with his two brothers, the strong and wise Condul, and the wary and cowardly Osun. The three brothers lived in a chattel house with their families and did what they could to prove their worth to keep from being sold and parceled out, which was common practice for slaves who were of lesser value.” Honr looked at the children, gauging their interest, which was folly for they were intently listening as had every other audience of this tale.
“Until his twentieth summer, Verbjorn’s life had been much as any other thrall’s in the capital of the Aelfar Empire. He was purchased as a child in the slave markets, along with his elder brother Condul, and cousin, Osun. He was paired with a wife and produced children, who would soon be sold on the market just as he was. His master was fair, yet did nothing to protect his property from abuse by the other Aelfar. Osun had been made lame by a poorly controlled horse in Verbjorn’s twelfth year, and was then beaten for being in the way of the spooked animal. After that incident Osun was always very cautious and even cowardly, for his will was crushed just as his leg had been. Condul, having been old enough to sire a child, was nearly killed for daring to try to shelter his daughter when the master of a brothel came to purchase her at the age of ten. The screams of the girl tore at Verbjorn’s soul as she was taken away before the appointed age.”
“It was a midsummer night, such as this, where the heat clinged to everything like a damp tunic. Verbjorn slumbered next to his wife, Alhildr, when he was beset by a dream. Some later would say it was from Ingvi himself, others would argue it was from the horrors of his servitude, still others would claim it was a fever dream from working so hard in the sun that day. Verbjorn found himself looking down upon the world as though amongst the stars, yet he could see all of the things he looked at. He could make out the Svartalf kingdoms, and the jewels of the cities shining below him, but something was amiss. He could see men fighting back against their masters, striking blows and being laid low by the Alfar and their magics. A bright light passed his vantage point and he could see a massive hammer swing from the skies, and strike the Alfar capital, laying waste to vast amounts of the empire that had been there for as long as any could remember. The light blazed and he was transported to a cool mountain meadow, to a peaceful village where men and women tended herds and children played in the sun. They were happy and he knew they had known no bindings or beatings. He stood watching, and was met by his norns; his parents their parents and others who came before them. Voices beseeched him to heed this vision; finally a man approached him, flame haired with skin of bronze and eyes dark as charcoal. The man reached out, touched Verbjorn’s forehead, filling him with the knowledge of the suffering of Man under slavery. The man touched Verbjorn’s chest, setting his heart aflame with the passion of a man free. They looked at each other and the voices became more persistent, until Verbjorn awoke covered in sweat and still bearing the effects of the man’s touch. Covered in sweat but shivering against the chill of such knowledge, Verbjorn did not sleep the rest of the night.
Verbjorn shared his vision with his wife, who thought it was best to keep the matter quiet, lest there be trouble. He shared it with Condul while they worked the stables, and while nothing was decided, he felt that it could be important. Verbjorn became obsessed with the dream, and for several days it was all that was upon his mind. Condul, seeing his brother being eaten from within, had Osun quietly contact the elders of the clans within the city, hoping that they could douse this unusual fire within his sibling. The clan leaders reluctantly agreed to hear of the dream but promised nothing, for their wills were bound to their thralldom.
The night of the meeting came. Verbjorn, Condul and Osun stole from their quarters to a quiet place where the slaves would meet to trade and gossip. The sixteen elders were present, each fearful of discovery, for such a gathering could be met with an immediate execution. The elders held their council while the vision was relayed in detail, occasionally shaking their head in disbelief. Verbjorn argued that there were enough men in the city to revolt and escape their bondage. He argued that the Svartalfar could be convinced to either help or not support the Aelfar in retribution, knowing that they were sympathetic toward the slaves who endured the yoke of slavery. Cowardly Osun, fearful of the possibility that they would be discovered through the loose tongues of the elders, secretly attempted to extract an oath from the elders to never reveal the subject of the meeting to anyone. Thirteen of the elders made the oath, three did not. History does not reveal the clans who did not swear troth, but legend speaks that it was Lendskjold, Furskjold, and the now lost Cuhulain. Thus sworn, the men returned to their quarters to rest and prepare for another day’s work.