Part 10: Once More Upon the Sea
Great fanfare was made as the ships sailed out of the harbor and out into the open sea. Once land had disappeared below the horizon, the small ship that carried Verbjorn, Condul and Gildhund turned north, while the rest continued westward toward the Aelfar Empire.
The trip northward was long and uneventful compared to the voyage that Verbjorn had endured to get to the Svartalfar Island Kingdom. The tropical heat exchanged itself for comfortable temperance which then slipped away into a numbing chill. Just as the temperature had changed, so did the coastline as they followed. Initially the low marshlands gave way to grasslands and sandy dunes which were abruptly interrupted by towering amber colored cliffs which tuned to a grey and green mountain range pressed close to the ocean. They finally turned west when the mountains appeared to hold more snow than trees, the shore cutting away toward the southwest, as though suddenly fleeing a foe from the north. The small ship continued to hug the shoreline, occasionally seeing the smoke from a small settlement, likely of dwarven origin. They continued west for a few days, a mountainous island riding out of the sea to the north, cradling them in the choppy seas between it and the mainland.
They arrived at a small resupply port very near the Svartalfar Empire Capitol, which was in the mountains above the port. They were met by a local official, sent by the Emperor or his advisors, who were alerted to the coming of the ship by a message sent by Dodur. The mood in the port was guarded, and the men were not allowed to leave the ship. The official, a mid level bureaucrat, stated that the Empire was not at war with the Aelfar at that time, and could not allow the men to meet with the Emperor, since they were branded dangerous criminals by the Aelfar. Gildhund, incensed, demanded hospitality. The official blinked slowly and told her she was free to leave the ship any time she liked, but Verbjorn and Condul could not. She sputtered at the official and showed him the letters from Dodur once more, and the official said he regretted that Dodur and Sindiri decided to go war with the Aelfar but the Empires were not at war officially. He left the boat and Gildhund fumed, stalking around the ship’s confined quarters, working herself up. She finally stormed of the ship, vowing to find some way to get the men into the Empire’s Capital to petition the Emperor to go to war and help free man from enslavement.
Verbjorn and Condul waited on the ship, resting and wondering what Gildhund had in mind. A few hours later, she returned with a robed and hooded Svartalf in tow. She introduced him as a member of the local mage’s coterie and that he had some sway with the local officials, but there was a price to pay for his help. It seemed that Dodur had a plan when giving his gifts, as the mage wanted several hard to get components in exchange for influencing the powers keeping them from entering the Svartalfar capital.
The first request was a bark from a dire wolf pup. The wild dire wolves across the channel were notoriously quiet except when they had just killed prey and only a few pups had ever been spied. The second would be much harder, the truth from a Hrafnmengskr, a race of raven-men known for their ability to tell lies that made the truth sound false. Legend had it that one of these creatures was able to convince one of the gods that the sun was the moon and day was night. The final request was the tear from an Eikvif. These female nature spirits roamed the alpine forests luring men to their deaths, without remorse. The list would have been impossible, if not for the rewards that they received from the Lord of the Island Kingdoms. The mage left and Gildhund told the brothers that she had already arranged to have the ship resupplied so that they could leave immediately to cross the channel.
The ship easily crossed the channel, and sailed west along the shore until they reached a landing where a ferry would dock and take travelers to the Svartalfar Capital. They grabbed their packs and disembarked the ship, ready for the next leg of their journey. They followed a path into the hilly forest, keeping an eye out for the dire wolves that were said to roam there. As dusk approached, they found a clearing to set up camp, which Condul offered to do while the others gathered wood for a fire. Gildhund headed back down the trail, while Verbjorn wandered a short way into the forest to look for deadfall there.
Verbjorn had the feeling of being watched, and stayed alert for predators while he gathered an armful of dried wood from a tree top that had broken off during one storm or another. He kept seeing a shadow out of the corner of his eye, but whenever he turned to look, it was gone. He continued to gather wood, but he realized that with his alertness focused on predators, he failed to mark the path back to the camp. Night was falling, and he hoped he would be able to find his way back by fire light. He called out, but no answer came. He heard faint rustling in the bushes, inhuman and stealthy. He dropped the wood and started to walk away from it, fearing a bear or other animal was stalking him. The rustling followed him, and he broke into a trot, crushing through the underbrush, trying to find a tree to clamber up without breaking stride, but the tall aspens were short on low branches or crotches and he was unsure of being able to shimmy up one fast enough to evade whatever was on his trail. While scanning for a branch, he tripped on a log and fell forward. He caught himself, and was just about to regain his feet and start running when he looked up and into a large pair of golden colored eyes. He froze. The dire wolf stood as tall as he was at the shoulder, and the sable coat was sleek and thick. The wolf asked him why he invaded the lands of her daughters, and why she should let him pass instead of feeding her pups. Verbjorn stayed still, trying to comprehend what was happening. Nottulfr asked him again, adding that her children would come soon and demanded he answer her question. Verbjorn could only stammer that he was on a quest given by the gods, and the entire fate of his people rested on his completing it. Nottulfr looked at him unimpressed, sitting back on her haunches and allowing him to regain his feet. He told her about the quest he was on to get the bark of a dire wolf pup, and she nodded. She told him that her father had said to expect him, but did not say she had to give this up without exacting a price for it. Her mother had told her that Verbjorn was an honorable Man, and that helping him would be a boon to many. Verbjorn nervously said he had little to give but would give whatever he could to help his people, thinking of his family trapped in the Aelfar Capital. Nottulfr sat for a moment in thought. She said she already knew his story, but perhaps he knew another story that might be worth her time. He asked her if she knew the story of how the Sun and the Moon came to be. She said she knew, but would entertain the story to see if Man knew as well.
Verbjorn sat on the log in the darkness, looking into the glowing golden eyes and began telling his tale.