“Our world was born in darkness and ice. Great monsters and foul spirits wandered in the darkness, feeling their way among the mountains and over the frozen oceans. The only place there was light and warmth was in the halls of the two Lords, Tormir and Ingvi. Ingvi had captured the spirit of Fire, and had it contained within his hearth, warming all who entered his hall. Tormir could only use the great mirror of his wife, Jerga, to reflect a small amount of the light and heat to those within his home.
Lodic, being dedicated to making troubles for all who are in his company, offered to help warm the chilly halls of Tormir. Lodic’s bargain was a simple one; he promised he would bring the same warmth to Tormir’s hall as was in Ingvi’s, if he might be able to borrow Jerga’s mirror to protect him from the intense heat and being blinded by the light.
Tormir quickly agreed, and though Jerga protested initially, she reluctantly relinquished the large circular mirror at the promises of warmth in the hall. Tormir allowed Lodic to take the mirror and a great chain to bind the fire spirit with him. When he was outside, Lodic called his daughter Surda to help carry the chain so that he could better manage the huge mirror.
Surda was a strong girl and with her help, Lodic made excellent time to the great Hall of Ingvi. The great lord and his guests had all retired after a great Simbul and left the hearth unattended. Surda and her father stealthily made their way past the empty goblets and mead pitchers to the hearth and secured the fire spirit with the chain, while hiding behind the mirror. The fire spirit roared menacingly and burned hotter, making the chain hot. Surda asked her father for help, but Lodic had had his hands full with the mirror and could not spare a hand. Surda attached the chain to a sturdy loop of metal on her belt and fastened the belt snugly around her waist.
Releasing the great gates to the hearth, Surda and Lodic were both trying to hold the mirror, certain that the chain and belt would allow them to drag the spirit with them. The spirit took them by surprise and charged for the door, dragging Surda along the floor trailing the mirror with Lodic dragging behind that.
As soon as the fire spirit hit the outside of the Hall, it leapt skyward, jerking the mirror out of Lodic’s hands, leaving him in the snow, spitting and sputtering. The fire spirit tried to shake Surda from the chain, but the belt and its metal loop were too strong and all that happened was that the Mirror went flying into the sky, only to get stuck against the great dome. Surda cried out for help from her father, but the cries were too far away to be heard. Taking matters into her own hands, Surda pulled and yanked on the chain, trying to force the spirit to fall to the earth. Each time she pulled, sparks showered out and stuck against the dome of the sky, creating pinpoints of light against it. Finally harnessing the beast, Surda managed to direct it along the dome of the sky from Ingvi’s hall to Tormir’s hall, then down below the oceans to cool the chain and rose again near Ingvi’s hall. Surda continues to ride this path to this day, making fire serve Man and bringing us the day as well as burning down the homes and places of those who are unjust or have otherwise angered the gods.
Lodic, having lost the Mirror was berated by both Jerga and Tormir, but they could not accuse him of breaking his oath, for as soon as the fire was in the sky, it had started to warm the entire world along its path and melt the ice and snow. The halls of Tormir were indeed as warm as the halls of Ingvi. The snow quickly retreated from the lands except for the very high mountains and the very far north, which was off of the path that Surda follows. When Surda takes the fire spirit below the seas to cool the chain, you can still see the mirror and the sparks in the sky, even tonight.”
Nottulfr blinked twice slowly. She tilted her head, and nodded a little. She said she had heard differently, but it was good enough to give him the boon he requested. She called to one of her pups, who trundled out of the brush and instructed him to bark for Verbjorn, who had made ready the small leather sack. The pup barked and the sack appeared full, and Verbjorn quickly tied it off and put it away for safe keeping. Nottulfr looked at him and told him the way back to the others, promising him that the wolves would allow them to pass safely this time.
Verbjorn thanked her graciously and wandered back into camp well after midnight, where Condul and Gildhund were waiting, worried. He told them of his adventure, and they bedded down for the night, comfortable with the knowledge that they were a little safer.
They awoke with the sun, the fire had burned itself out and in the frost they could see a ring of wolf tracks circling their camp, as though they were being guarded while they slept. They ate a cold breakfast and headed off of the trail into the foothills, as it seemed more likely to encounter an eikvif in the wild than along a well traversed path. They walked well past midday and were just about to have a rest and a meal when a delicious smell wafted down the hill toward them. Curious, they crept through the light trees to the edge of a clearing and peered through the underbrush.
More brambles. “Shit.” Willie swore looking at the overgrown trail as he crested the ridge. “You could always take the road,” croaked the crow unhelpfully. “Like that’s an option,” Willie shot back. The goons would be on the road, and while they were dumber than a pile of rocks, they had automatic weapons and were more interested in shooting people they didn’t know than talking about it. It had taken five days to get to the mountains outside of the city, dodging both the paramilitary survival freaks and the ‘legitimate’ military. Willie had plenty of supplies and had heard that on the other side of the Appalachians things were a little less intense, with more space and less people to worry about.
He started down the old hiking trail, the thick undergrowth managing to stab through his jeans like he was being attacked with thousands of tiny hypodermic needles borne by deranged fairies. He made a fair amount of noise, with a little more swearing and a lot of pulling himself through the tangling briars. Blackberries stained his clothes as he crushed them on his bid to get down the trail. “Told you you should have brought gloves,” the crow chided, following it with tongue clicking sounds. “All that noise and berry juice is going to bring a bear and it’s going to enjoy fucking you in the ass as it eats you alive.” Willie thought about finding a rock and throwing it at the crow, but he was fairly certain that would take too long and he was less certain it wasn’t a hallucination from detoxing on the water additives that the government was adding to pacify the population. Willie looked up at the crow, “go eat a bag of dicks, bastard.” The crow just cackled at him with mocking laughter.
The cackle died off and was replaced by something crashing through the undergrowth. Willie froze. “It’s the goddamn bear! Run, idiot!” screamed the crow. Willie took off through the underbrush, shredding his hands and forearms, as whatever it was changed direction to trail him. Willie redoubled his efforts, scrambling through the brambles and up a rocky slope. He chanced a look back and nearly fell over as he saw a large brown bear sized object thunder out of the trees on to the path. “Run! Run” Willie wasn’t sure if he was yelling it or it was the crow, but it seemed like good advice and he obliged by regaining his balance and charging up the last bit of the trail. He found a hilltop clearing waiting for him and an abandoned ranger platform at the far edge.
Behind him, the underbrush crashed and he could hear snorting and panting as the beast rushed up the path behind him. He broke into a sprint, aiming to catch a cross member on the supports and leverage himself up.
He crossed the field and as the bear entered the clearing he leapt, catching the crossmember. His legs kept going and he felt his body continue through an arc and his grip failed as he reached the full swing. “Shi-” The crossmember receded from him and he landed flat on his back, his breath leaving his body as panic set in. The crow flapped around in front of his face, “Get up, he’s gonna eat you, dumbass!” A roar from across the field came as he gasped and struggled to regain his feet. He could hear the weight of the bear charging as he made a desperate leap for the cross member, catching it and using his feet against a support to assist him. He scrambled up, pulling his feet after him as the paws hammered the support where his feet had just left. The entire tower rocked dangerously at the impact. Willie clung to the upper support and pulled himself into the platform, which was rocking like a ship in heavy seas as the bear tried to knock it down.
He layed in the dust and mold, praying that the platform would hold up under the abuse. The rocking slowed and finally stopped with a frustrated snort. Losing interest, the bear started to wander off. The crow cackled, “I told you there was a fucking bear, and that he wanted to eat you..” Willie turned his head to look at the crow, “you’re still an asshole.”
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.
With Gildhund leading the way, the brothers made their way to the throne room, the various dwarves they encountered thanking them along the way. The doors were open and as they entered, the Karls rose and applauded. Dodur on his throne, beckoned them closer. He announced the gratitude of the Svartalfar and presented them with three gifts. The first was a small leather sack that could capture a sound to be released later, the second was a small stone that would capture the truth from a liar, and the last was a small glass vial that would keep a liquid in it fresh indefinitely. Verbjorn thanked the Karls and Lord, placing them in a pouch for safe keeping. Dodur then announced that the Island Steading would send troops and ships to support the High Forge and retrieve the families of the men. A feast would be held in honor of Sindiri, slain leader of the High Forge that evening. Dodur motioned to four seats near his throne, and asked the brothers and Gildhund to honor him by staying for the remainder of the afternoon, to advise him if necessary. Verbjorn, humbled agreed and they seated themselves, feeling more than a little out of place.
They spent a few hours listening to various Svartalfar petition for help rebuilding after the invasion as well some delivering resources to help those less fortunate. Most of the issues were easily solved, though there were a few property squabbles that would have to be addressed after rebuilding was further along. Verbjorn found it interesting, but it became tedious as the afternoon wore on. He wondered where Osun was at, hoping his cousin did not encounter trouble or get lost.
There was a disturbance in the hallways outside of the throne room, intensifying as a harried advisor entered the room, quickly announcing a delegation from the Aelfar Empire. Directly on his heels, an armed escort appeared, surrounding Susk-Il-Findis and Osun. Osun walked just behind the Alefar Justicar, his head down. Susk, head held high, greeted the Lord of the Svartalfar Island Kingdom and requested an audience. Dodur’s eyes narrowed and he granted it. Susk bowed with a flourish and thanked him. The aelfar brought greetings from the Aelfar Emperor and regret over the slaying of the Lord of the High Forge. He assured Dodur that it was the act of a rogue agent and the Empire had taken steps to punish those responsible. He turned toward Verbjorn, and announced that he was visiting to retrieve a fugitive who had committed a high crime against the Empire and while there were those who collaborated with him, they would not be held responsible if they returned immediately and remanded the traitor to the Empire’s custody, they would be allowed to live and return to their masters. If they did not come peacefully, Susk had already given the order to round up their families and put them to death within a fortnight of this meeting. He indicated Osun and stated that this one had already agreed to the terms as presented.
Dodur’s fingers had gripped the throne so tightly that his knuckles had popped audibly, and he shook with rage. He told the Aelfar that it was a mercy that they were not killed on sight for the slaying of the Lord of the High Forge. In either case, the men were under his hospitality, and he was no inclined to turn them out. The decision would be theirs alone. He turned and looked at Verbjorn and Condul, who were clearly conflicted. Osun hung his head low, avoiding everyone’s gaze. Condul, stood telling Susk-Il-Findis that while he respected the decision of Osun, he and his brother would have to decline the offer. Susk brely concealed his contempt and made a slight motion. Lightning quick, one of the guards lashed out and ran Osun through, surprising the man, and causing every Svartalfar guard to draw weapons on the small Aelfar contingent. The room grew silent and tense, the Svartalfar were waiting for their lord to command them to attack. The command never came. Dodur rose, his voice exploding in the room, commanding the Alefar out and to return to their ship, before they were put to death on the spot. He ordered Susk to take a message back to the Aelfar Emperor that the Island Kingdom was coming for payment for the blood spilled and then some. The Aelfar backed out of the Throne Room and Dodur’s men followed them, presumably to their ship.
Verbjorn and Condul rushed to the dying Osun. They asked him why he would agree to such a thing, why he would fall for the lies of the Aelfar, who had only ever caused him pain and misery. He struggled to answer, but could not, his last breath an apology for breaking their Oath. He expired and his cousins closed his eyes, uttering a prayer for him. Dodur looked on silently, barely containing his anger.
The next several days were a blur to Verbjorn, a grand funeral was prepared for Osun, followed by preparations for the brothers and Gildhund to voyage to the Svartalf Emperor’s court. Dodur spent much of the time directing various Karls and their generals in preparation to go to war with the Aelfar Empire. Gildhund spent the time preparing the materials she thought she would need as well as procuring proper traveling clothes and equipment for the men. The night before they were to depart, a final feast was held, both to thank Verbjorn and Condul one final time but also as a boon to the Karls and their men who would depart for the Aelfar Empire in the morning. While the overt mood is festive, the underlying feeling is one of grim determination. Condul and Verbjorn eventually retire, wanting one more night of rest in real beds before getting back on a ship.
Verbjorn slipped easily into sleep, the day’s activities were exhausting and the thought of his family being slaughtered by the Aelfar for his crimes wore heavily on everything he did. His dreams took him many places that were familiar as though cataloging his travels. His dreams eventually found him on a misty battlefield, he was alone and many of his foes lay slain all around him. In the distance, he could hear his wife and children, as though they were going about their day. Out of the mists walked a warrior. She wore armor of elaborate make, fashioned from metal chain links and a few protective metal plates, all scarred as if she had been in heavy fighting. She held a sword in one hand and a battered metal shield in the other. She called him by name, telling he must continue with his quest, regardless of what the consequences he perceived were. He argued that his family would be killed if he did not return to punishment. She countered that his family would die regardless, for the Aelfar would not allow a vengeful family member to exist and cause more trouble. He riposted with his love for his wife, and that he would rather die with her than leave her to die alone and helpless. The woman disarmed him by telling him that she would not die alone, nor helpless. If he continued his quest, the woman promised that she would teach his wife to fight and she would die as honorably as any soldier or king. He started to protest, but he was assaulted with a vision of his wife, standing tall in armor of Svartalfar make, standing at the head of a group of women, issuing orders. He saw them slaying Aelfar in the High Forge and driving them back. The vision faded and Verbjorn felt slightly comforted. The woman drew close and told him that this went far beyond just him and his family, but for the good of all his people. His persistence was the catalyst of a chain of events that would bring Man to freedom and standing as equals in the world. He finally relented, and awoke filled with resolve. The sun was beginning to rise through the window of the room he was in, and for the first time it felt as though it was rising on his quest as well.
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.
They retired to new quarters, with a room for each man and fresh clothes and a spring fed bathing area. They washed and changed into the clothing, quietly debating what problems the trolls could be causing that the Svartalfar could not handle themselves. Osun cautioned that they may be beyond their ken, while Condul pointed out that the dwarves had saved their lives not once, but twice and they owed some sort of were-gilt for the sailors who died to secure their escape and those in the city that might die due to their part in those events. Verbjorn agreed with Condul, and advised Osun that the debt was his as well. There was a knock at the door, and the dwarven woman announced herself as Gildhund before entering. The face was familiar, as she had been the dwarf attending the men when they were recovering. She stated that she was assigned to help them find their way around the sprawling stronghold and assist them with the household customs. Verbjorn thanked her for her kindness and for the help, for they had never been seen as anything more than slaves and they would not want to violate their host’s hospitality. She made sure that they were comfortable and offered to lead them to Dodur’s dining rooms.
The men followed her through the labyrinthine halls, relaying a short bit of history about the Island Stead and that the lands had been wrested from the savage trolls long ago and the dwarves had been able to settle much of the archipelago over the intervening cycles. She stated that the return of the trolls had been a surprise as most had believed that they were legends to frighten small children and the subject of tall tales. The group arrived at a large pair of doors, which swung inward to reveal a large room filled with a large table piled high with delicacies. Dodur rose when they entered, welcoming them and encouraging the men to help themselves to the food and libations.
The men settled in and Dodur began explaining that the trolls had been driven from the islands around the time of the founding of the High Forge and that they had disappeared from knowledge until recently, arriving in force and driving many of the Svartalfar from their settlements. The armies had ben able to secure a solid line, but could make no progress against the invasion. For many months, skirmishes and stalemate occurred but no great gain or loss was achieved. A parley was requested, but the troll chieftain, Blodgrypr slew the emissaries and continued to harass the lines. Several attempts to kill this chieftain were made, but he was either too well protected or when caught alone fought with a ferocity that overcame any of the warriors sent against him. He had recently taken to taunting the Svartalfar, offering a duel to first blood to resolve the matter, but frequently first blood was the champion’s last breath. Tomorrow, he would be expected to make the challenge again, and there were few who were willing to accept and none of those had the skill to defeat the troll. Dodur cut Verbjorn off before he could commit to accepting the challenge, saying he should think carefully through the night and render a decision in the morning. Condul agreed, and Verbjorn reluctantly accepted this advice. They finished their meal and Gildhund returned the men to their quarters, advising them that she was across the hall if they required anything.
The men quietly debated the merits and faults of accepting the challenge, including the fact that none of them had actually had combat training. Still undecided, the men retired, falling into an uneasy sleep. Verbjorn woke in the night, the moon shining through the windows, casting the room in pale colors and unsure shapes. He lay staring at the ceiling, pondering his course of action and debating what answer to give in the morning. If he died performing the task, his quest would likely end, as he was unsure if Condul could keep Osun from persuading him to abandon their path after his death. However, failing to resolve the fight here meant that the Svartalfar in the High Forge and his family would certainly come to harm and nothing would change. He drifted back to sleep and his dreams were filled with wild things running free in the forests and over the plains of some far off land.
The men woke shortly after dawn, and Verborn declared he would go through with the contest, as it was the only way to get the help they needed, despite not being absolutely certain. Condul agreed with this reasoning and Osun was forced to agree despite having reservations. Verbjorn asked Condul and Osun to watch for anything that might indicate trickery or a trap while he was fighting, something did not make sense if the troll champion could defeat so many skilled warriors alone. A knock came at the door and Gildhund stepped inside and announced Dodur, who entered behind her. He managed to look only slightly rested, and he was in slight disarray, as though he rushed to dress and meet with the men. He was followed by several servants bearing a hearty breakfast and encouraged the men to eat. While they ate, they made small talk. Verbjorn asked of news from the Aelfar Capital, but Dodur had none to share, despite being anxious for the same.
As the meal wound down, Verbjorn stated his intention to fight for the dwarves if he could be assured that helping the High Forge could be at least considered again amongst the Karls, if that was where the decision was being held. Dodur surprised by the generosity of his guest, agreed and offered Verbjorn his choice of any equipment he would require for the fight. Verbjorn accepted the offer and asked Gildhund to take them to an armory to select what they would need. Dodur directed her to the armory of his personal guard and then excused himself to make preparations of his own. He looked relieved as he departed, stating he would see Verbjorn again before the fight.
The challenge came, and was accepted shortly before midmorning. Verbjorn strode toward the gates of the stronghold, dressed in slick looking leather armor. He had the option of a heavier but opted for mobility against a certainly larger opponent. He bore a thick oaken buckler, painted with a boar motif, and a short sword of Svartalf make. Dodur met them at the gate, with his personal guards flanking him. He looked over Verbjorn and nodded in approval. He commented that the sword Verbjorn had chosen was a fine one, but said that there was a better choice and produced the seax from the captain of the ship. He explained that the captain was a close relative and the seax had been in the family for generations. Dodur felt it was only right that Verbjorn carry it into battle to honor the former owner and as gratitude for making sure his remains were respectfully dealt with. Verbjorn accepted it and handed the other sword off to his brother. The group moved toward the gates and the duel.
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.
Verbjorn awoke to the sounds of sea birds and surf upon the rocks. Water lapped at his legs and hips, and his head thundered from striking it on the ladder. He shakily gained his feet, and looked to the hatch. Sunlight streamed in and a cloudless sky was visible. He could hear movement in the forward hold, where Condul and Osun presumably still slumbered. He staggered to the door, and saw Condul stirring, while Osun snored in a hammock. Verbjorn helped Condul to his feet, relaying his experiences the night before as they climbed to the deck of the ship. Condul said that the only man he had seen on the ship other than them had been the captain’s galley cook, and it must have been he who killed the crew and it was fortunate that the sea had taken him.
Beyond the damage to the mast and railing, the ship appeared to be intact. The ship had run aground on a sandbar near an island, dense with overgrowth and a slip of sandy beach running down to the waters. The two men searched the ship for any other survivors and found that they and their cousin were the only survivors of the crew of twenty. In earnest, they began gathering the bodies on the deck and taking stock of their supplies. They had plenty of weapons and clothing, plus a few supplies for fishing. They found some fresh fruit and vegetables that appeared to not have been tampered with, and set them aside. The remaining food they threw overboard, for it was all suspect and could not be trusted. In the hold, they found several sealed barrels of water and let the opened ones drain in case the poison was also in the water. They gathered what sailcloth they could find and noted that the rear sails had been furled, just as they were when they left port. They gathered the various lengths of rope and assessed most to be useless for large tasks but possibly useful for smaller projects.
They had just completed their tasks, and Osun clambered out of the hatch, even more unsteady than usual. The lame and cowardly slave was unsetteld by the bodies and the seax still around Verbjorn’s waist. He immediately chastised Verbjorn and Condul for going too far and killing their hosts, ruining their chances of escape and suvival. He snapped up a fishing spear and backed into the forward cabin, closing the door and barricading it before either brother could protest. Verbjorn tried to explain that it was not his hand that violated the hospitality of their hosts, but Osun could not fathom that they would not be slain first if it was a plot from the Aelfar. Condul vouched for his brother, but Osun was still less than trusting. Condul took another tack, and pointed out that Osun could have been left behind, sure to face the Rite of Iron in Verbjorn’s place if they had any intention of harming him; he also pointed out that none of the men were seamen and killing these Svartalfar would be dooming oneself. This point softened the fear in Osun’s mind and he reasoned that Verbjorn, while sentimental, was no outright fool. Osun also knew that he would not survive alone in an unfamiliar place without help. He asked the men to swear troth on their Gods, Ancestors, and Families that they would work together to survive. Condul countered with a demand to swear to stick together until Verbjorn’s quest was completed, through any trial that the Gods laid before them, including this one. The three men sat in silence, contemplating this oath. Verbjorn stood and swore upon his Gods, Ancestors and Families that he would not abandon the quest nor harm his brother and cousin. Condul accepted and made the same Oath. Satisfied, knowing that he was safe, Osun took the Oath.
The men, satisfied in their pledge, realized they should examine the outside of the ship and see if they could make it to shore. They reasoned that they may have run aground on an island with a settlement, from which they could find passage to their destination. The morning sun continued to climb, burning their skin with its touch. The cool shade on the beach beckoned them to come ashore. They stripped their heaviest clothes and found clean sailor’s clothing in the crew cabin in the fore of the ship. Each man gathered a few tools and a few pieces of fruit to carry them through the morning. They lowered a rope ladder over the side and climbed down into the water next to the ship, the sandbar holding it solidly in place. The water was shallow enough that they could walk around the hull, and nothing appeared to be damaged from the storm or running aground. They carefully waded toward shore, each man keeping his tools out of the salt water by raising the bundles above their heads. The waters were shallow enough that they did not have to swim, which was fortunate for none of them could do so. Once on the beach, the men decided to split into two groups with Osun and Condrul heading north and Verbjorn following the southern beach. They sat and ate some of the fruit, the cool shade doing as much to bolster their strength as the food. They decided to walk until the sun hit its zenith and then turn back, hopefully making it back before the sun set and share what they learned on their trip.
Verbjorn walked along the shore, which seemed to widen with every step, the curve of the island taking him quickly out of sight of the ship. The forest to his left seemed unreal, the massive thick foliage pressed right down to the sand, and the trees seemed alive with brightly colored birds and the calls of animals made it as noisy as the city ever was. He continued to walk, hoping that around the next corner would be a settlement or a fishing village, but every stretch of beach was as untouched as the one previous. He noted that the sun was nearly stationary above him, meaning that it would soon be time to head back. Looking up, he stumbled over a rock, falling to the sand and dropping the bundle of tools and nearly striking his head on similarly sized rock close by. He gathered himself and bent down to pick up the bundle, looking at the rocks. They were very regular shaped, as though carved or shaped, their facing sides were covered in scrapes, as though something had been drug past them from or toward the sea. Verbjorn looked around, hoping to see a hut or dock he missed on first glance. Instead, he could make out several of the pairs of rocks heading toward the ocean, spaced evenly apart every so far. The one he tripped on was mostly sand covered, and he looked toward the jungle. He paced off the distance of the previous stones and walked toward the jungle the same distance. He used his hands to dig in the sand roughly where he thought the next stones should be and was rewarded by another set of stones. He continued this process until he reached the edge of the jungle. The next set of stones were visible and appeared to be heading inland. Excited, he turned back the way he came and made haste to get back to the ship to share his discovery. He arrived as the sun was low on the horizon, which was much faster than he was accustomed to. He looked at the ship, which listed heavily on the sandbar, as though the water had completely forsaken it. One could simply walk to the ship now, as opposed to wading through the water. Condul and Osun returned, stating that they had found nothing of interest, but they had heard some pigs in the forest and the men might be able to hunt them.
The men started toward the ship, their bellies grumbling and complaining for food. Condul stopped short and pointed at the ship. Something had moved on the deck. Several somethings had in fact been moving on the ship. The ship was silhouetted against the great red sunset, so the men could make out little detail as they moved toward the ship. They readied their weapons and carefully climbed the ladder, Verbjorn first, followed by Condul, and then Osun.
Verbjorn reached the top of the ladder and nearly fell off as a great fanged visage screamed an unearthly cry directly in his face. He caught himself and heaved himself up onto the deck with a bellow, furry bodies scattering in fear. The deck was awash with monkeys, gathering what they could find and leaping down the far side of the ship, carrying anything they could get their hands on. Verbjorn lashed out and kicked one, who dropped a belt buckle it has been clutching to it’s chest. Condul climbed up onto the deck, just in time to see the small bag of fruit follow a furry body over the far railing. A cry behind them men caused them to spin around and look over the side. Osun had fallen, landing in a tidal pool, struggling with a small body trying to take the bundle from him. They struggled for a moment, Osun finally getting the better of the beast, flinging the screaming furry bundle toward shore. It ran off with its brethren, chittering in the growing darkness. Condul and Verbjorn tried to stifle their amusement, for the little beasts had taken the last of their food.
The men made a quick check and were relieved to find that there were a few pieces of fruit left, and the monkeys had paid no attention to the water in the hold. They would be hungry through the night but not completely without nourishment. Each man would sit up a portion of the night to keep an eye out for the monkeys, should they return. On his watch, Verbjorn respectfully moved the bodies to the front cabin, securely latching the door so that any other animals would be less likey to disturb them before they could be dealt with. He also gathered supplies to build a pyre and raft to lay the slain Svartalfar to rest. While the others slept on his watch, Condul began adding cross members to two of the fishing spears, so they could hunt the pigs in the morning and then butcher them the next afternoon. Osun’s watch was spent securing the captain’s cabin and placing anything of value in the rooms so that they were safe. There was a moment of panic when the tide came in and the ship settled level, but it soon passed when the ship moved no further.
Hammersfall is a fantasy world of Norse inspired adventure with its own peculiarities and history. The clans of Man have inherited a dangerous land to settle and tame while contending for resources and lands. The Saga of Verbjorn is the legend of how one man’s quest freed the race of Man from servitude and changed the face of a world. This saga will be serialized in raw form, with revision and edits to come after it is completed. It will be posted Monday through Friday, until completion of the story.
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.