The Banner Saga https://bannersaga.com Wed, 20 Jun 2018 22:09:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Fan Art Contest Runners Up – Part 2 https://bannersaga.com/2018/05/25/fan-art-contest-runners-up-part-2/ Fri, 25 May 2018 03:30:20 +0000 https://bannersaga.com/?p=5292 It’s fan art Friday again, which brings us to the last submissions from our recent contest. If you missed it, be sure to check out the winners or the prior post showcasing the other runners up. Those posts are being updated with links to the artist’s personal sites if you want to see more work or get in touch. And if you haven’t, come join the our Discord server to personally congratulate our contestants on the art channel.

Once again, be sure to click on the image to see a much larger image of the artwork.

https://dikxrpw3rdepo.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Hridvaldrys-Will-Maxence-Deschamps-Resized.jpgHridvaldyr’s Will

by Maxence Deschamps

Much like Daniel Sachs’ Griss, Deschamps draws heavily of Earle Eyvind’s style. The artist does a careful job of filling out the image with backgrounds inspired by Banner Saga. Yet, he was careful to leave the most attractive and eye-catching elements in the center.

If you look closely, you may notice the interesting patterns embroidered in the scarf. Applause is due here, because detailing such designs atop folds of clothing is no easy task. But what’s more interesting is the weapon— most dredge arms are bulky, with a design philosophy involving harmonics. The “tuning fork” blades of the stonesingers and scourge for example. But here, it’s an seemingly ordinary (if high quality) spear.

Curious and question raising… and ripe with story telling possibilities.

Rather than a regular portfolio, Deschamp has a demo reel of art to share with us all. Nice.

 


https://dikxrpw3rdepo.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Horse-and-Godstone-Brian-Tyrrell-Resized.jpgHorse and Godstone

by Brian Tyrrell

While most of the submissions focused on traditional drawing and painting techniques, Tyrrell took a novel approach. His technique is called linocut, where an artist carves out a piece of linoleum, dips the results in ink and then presses them onto the medium.

It’s even possible to do a layered approach as well, cutting some away, doing a print, and then adding further details before printing again against the same surface. This is called reductive printmaking, and it’s interesting because like sculpting, it’s thinking about the results in a negative way rather than something that accumulates.

Great work Brian! I love the spring colors! And please check out Brian’s portfolio!

 

 

 


Disarmed Tryggvi - Dave ResizedDisarmed Tryggvi

by Dave

Community Manager Katie and I really liked this one. Where others tried their hand at painting or drawing, Dave preferred the geometrical cutout approach more akin to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park. Dave’s whimsical approach had us wondering. Could everyone’s favorite mad Viking be a secret, Banner Saga Canadian? Why not? All the cool characters are!

… Now! Let’s put this conversation down and never speak of this again.


Bolverk and Gang - Manuel Mesones ResizedBolverk and Gang

by Manuel Mesones

Mesones’ strong piece, Bolverk and Gang, was tied during the judging process with Daniel Sachs’ Griss and Alex Holt’s Godstone for quite a while. It took several rounds of voting before it narrowly came in at sixth place.

It only takes a glance to see why.

While most artists chose one character or object, Mesones proved quite ambitious with a display of the Ravens as a whole. The core four from Banner Saga 2 are present, alongside latecomers Oli and Dytch. The detailing is superb, from Oli’s tattoos to Folka’s brooch to the Raven insignia on the shields. There’s a fine difference between being the best and being the most awesome. And although Bolverk and Gang is not the former, it could very well be the latter.

Be sure to click on the image and take in the full grandeur of this gorgeous work. Don’t forget to stop by his site for more awesome artwork!

 


Confrontation - Mihai Georgescu ResizedConfrontation

by Mihai Georgescu

Georgescu was extremely on point with capturing the aesthetic of Banner Saga. His colors are vivid and eye-catching, and commemorate a time before Banner Saga as we best know it— before the sun had stopped.

The character in the back is almost no doubt Rugga, now sporting a stump instead of a right hand, along with his signature scalp tattoos and knife-like brooch. What’s more interesting is the character sporting an arrow in his side. Those clothes, that helmet and shield, that hair… it would certain suggest it’s Dagr. And while he never used an axe in the game, his fallen comrade there seems to have a very familiar sword.

Awesome job Mihai! Take a gander at his portfolio for more great stuff!

 

 


That’s it for the contest. A huge thanks to all the participants for their outstanding talents! And be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more news as we march towards Banner Saga 3!

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Fan Art Contest Runners Up – Part 1 https://bannersaga.com/2018/05/18/fan-art-contest-runners-up-part-1/ Fri, 18 May 2018 20:19:38 +0000 https://bannersaga.com/?p=5254 So fans and friends alike have been clamoring to see the fruits of the recently concluded art contest. In celebration of fan art Friday, we’ll be presenting not but two postings giving the runners up their moment in the sun. We’ll be presenting these in no particular order, but with a few thoughts on each piece. I will warn you that there is a possibility of spoilers from the prior two games in these pieces of art however. So if you’re concerned about the story being spoiled, best look away. Consider yourself warned.

Just as with the winners, clicking on the image will take you to a larger version. Oh, and for part two of the runners up, go here.

Hakon - 17Yame48 ResizedHakon

by 17Yame48

17Yame48’s approach really tapped into a personal sweet tooth of mine. One must appreciate the exhausting effort that went into the shading of hundreds of cloth ripples. Although the artist took a conservative approach to color, the careful lighting and values make for a level of detail that draws the eye regardless.

I particularly appreciate the shadow on the parchment background. It makes the piece feel reminiscence of ancient Chinese works, much like Ma Yuan’s On a Mountain Path in Spring, but with modern pop. The contest maybe over, but I’ll be watching this artist’s portfolio long after.

Be sure to visit yame’s Deviant Art account too.

 

 

 


Godstone Blue and Purple - Madeline B ResizedGodstone Blue and Purple

by Madeline B

Madeline B’s piece involves the godstone of Bjorulf. What isn’t clear is whether the background is meant to be suggestive of night or the encroaching darkness. Or perhaps the aurora borealis— the northern lights— which can be seen in Sweden should anyone have the inclination to visit.

In fact, looking at the art suddenly makes me think of “Standing Stones,” perhaps my favorite track from the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim soundtrack, by Jeremy Soule. Put the music on and listen to it for a while. And you may very well catch a glimpse of some of the magic Madeline is conveying.

 

 

 

 


Young Oddleif - Evan Purcell ResizedYoung Oddleif

by Evan Purcell

When we meet Oddleif in Banner Saga, we come to know her as the wizened wife of the chieftain, a master archer and excellent adviser. As such, pretty much everyone wonders what she must have been like when she was younger. Was she more adventurous? Did she see herself as getting out of traditional village life? Or perhaps someday taking charge of Skogr? And how did she end up with that scar on her cheek?

We’re pretty accustomed to using the phrase “a good man,” but perhaps we seldom enough say, “a good woman.” But Oddleif is just that, mixed with initiative and the qualities of a strong leader. And I’m certainly not one to think that such individuals come from a total vacuum.

There’s a story hiding behind those crystal blue eyes, mark my words.

For more of Purcell’s work, head to his blog.

 

 


Dredge and Nid - Kim Gibson ResizedDredge and Nid

by Kim Gibson

One of the things that got fans particularly excited for Banner Saga 3 was the promise of finally earning allied dredge units. The prior games sometimes even hint at the possibility. What’s more frustrating is that while the menders seem to know what’s going on, they’re not sharing. Only the dredge might know for sure, and we can’t understand them… so far.

Many fans strangely hope to not have reason to hate the dredge when this is over. Perhaps they even hope for a scene like the one provided by Kim Gibson— one that stirs hope. Despite how bizarre the dredge can be, there still might be something shockingly human about them. Even as the varl try to overlook that…

Time will tell.

 

 


Defiance - Patrick Fittkau ResizedDefiance

by Patrick Fittkau

Our last piece for this Friday comes from Patrick Fittkau, who noticed one intriguing detail about everyone’s least favorite patience-destroying prince. In Fittkau’s own words:

“I always wondered why prince Ludin uses a spear and not a sword like his father. A sword would seem a more kingly weapon. I imagined there must have been a day quite a while back, when he decided to oppose his father’s expectations openly. Probably didn’t do him much good then. So my name for the picture became: Defiance.”

Fittkau certainly stoked the imagination with these excellent points.

By the way, be sure to check out his portfolio.

 

 


So that’s all for this Friday. Tune in next week as we showcase the remaining five contestants.

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Fan Art Contest Winners https://bannersaga.com/2018/05/14/fan-art-contest-winners/ Mon, 14 May 2018 20:13:13 +0000 https://bannersaga.com/?p=5130 Any words we could offer pale before the awe and humbleness that we’ve felt in the last couple of weeks. In that time, fans of Stoic and the Banner Saga series have worked diligently to prove that they are some of the most talented and skilled folks to ever grace the internet. So before we announce the winners, we just wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed. You’re all Viking legends in your own right! To see the runners up, you can go to part 1 or part 2.

Picking the top five winners was no easy task. There were many ties through the first few rounds, which prompted expanded voting. After much deliberation, we eventually came to a consensus on the top five (and even then there was still a tie). So without further ado, here are the top five submissions of the fan art contest.

(By the way, clicking on the images will bring you to a larger sample of the image.)

"Godstone" by Alex Holt4th Place Tie: “Godstone”

by Alex Holt

Myths, and the oral histories that often accompany them, are double-edge swords. On one hand they are fragmented, passed from parents and teachers to students and thus changing over time. This has given us great variations of the stories we know. Likewise, there could very well be hundreds of stories that have been lost, all because they were never preserved with written words. Even real Norse mythology has a number of unknowns, such as details regarding the Vanir half of their pantheon.

That’s why Alex Holt’s Godstone, a depiction of Ingrid, is a strong reminder of everything we do not yet know of Banner Saga’s mythos. Even while the godstone description suggests she maybe a goddess of writing and poetry, we actually can’t be certain. Especially given the raw power the menders have tapped by translating her stone.

One could even read some psychological notes in Holt’s additions to the original piece, such as the faint mist that suggests being forgotten or fading away. And the migrating birds as if to say a season and time is ending… hints of what is to come.

 


"Griss: by Daniel Sachs4th Place Tie: “Griss”

by Daniel Sachs

The moment it arrived, Daniel Sachs’ Griss checked a lot of boxes. The easy looking yet deceptively challenging art style of Eyvind Earle? Check. The splendor of Banner Saga‘s gorgeous backgrounds and hints of its vast, barely scratched mythology? Got it. A secondary character begging to have his story expanded upon? Oh yeah.

And there are subtle details that many people would miss about Sachs’ work. The proportions to varl are about right, the care given to Griss’ hands (a bane of many artists that Sachs handles with skill), and the facial wrinkles of everyone’s favorite cantankerous tank.

But perhaps the secret that won us over lies in how Griss’ pose suggests more. Is he just resting, or is there something of importance to that stone? Is there a tale to tell behind those worn eyes? We may very well find out…

A big congratulations to Daniel Sachs for his terrific work!


"Hadrborg in View" by Brett Bullion Resized3rd Place: “Hadrborg in View”

by Brett Bullion

In the digital age, skilled environmental artists aren’t exactly something you run into everyday. Fortunately, Brett Bullion was around to remind us all how essential they are. Little else can hit that wow you’ve been craving like sunlight striking the mountain. Or rather, the godstone of Hadrborg, the resident Allfather of the Banner Saga universe.

Bullion knew exactly how to elicit that awe that we were looking for, that all encapsulating sense of what makes Banner Saga so captivating. One glance at his art page and Instagram account prove he is no stranger to evocative art, the kind that draws strangers in and transforms them into fans. In the artist’s own words:

“This piece is meant to be a lone varl, perhaps the last varl, standing before Hadrborg’s godstone. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of varl extinction and what they must think of the one that created them. Do they hold regret, sorrow, anger?”

Good questions, Brett. And perhaps we’ll find out come Banner Saga 3.


"Derdriu" by Alexander Charleux2nd Place: “Derdriu”

by Alexander Charleux

Where do you even begin to talk about a piece like this? The colors, the lighting, the way each brush stroke crafts life from nothing. I highly recommend opening this image up to feast your eyes on the hundreds of details you risk missing otherwise. There are subtleties and nuances that cannot be expressed in a mere 300 by 450 pixel snapshot.

Charleux’s piece doesn’t just pop. It singes the eyes with the raw emotions of the horseborn, threatening to pull the myth out of our minds and into reality. Derdriu is something special, and something this writer will pull out to admire whenever he needs to be reminded of the definition of art. I honestly can’t think of anything else to say… the work simply speaks for itself.

Amazing work, Alexander Charleux!

 

 


"Nid and Oddleif" by Nuo Xu.1st Place: “Nid and Oddleif”

by Nuo Xu

Nid and especially Oddleif hold special places in our hearts. They were there from the beginning, and while one was an old hand at the bow, the other could prove to be a capable protege. They also come from shockingly different walks of life; one the housewife and mother of three kids, the other an adviser and chief archer who helped keep Skogr alive against the tidal wave of dredge.

While we never imagined the women portrayed with manga influences, Nuo Xu came out of nowhere to flabbergast us with a vivid and jaw-dropping image of the two. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend clicking on the image on the left to take in the full majesty of their work. No one should miss out on the careful line work beautiful trimmings that went into this masterpiece.

As a matter of fact, Xu’s work has charged this writer with a few fresh ideas… but let’s not give away too much just yet. Fantastic work, Nuo Xu! And check out their portfolio here!

 


Another huge thanks to everyone else who produced works and pieces for the fan art contest. We’ll be posting the runners-up on social media so everyone can see how incredible talented our fans really are. And keep your eyes peeled for more Banner Saga news as we get closer to the release of Banner Saga 3!

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Fan Art Contest Deadline Extended https://bannersaga.com/2018/04/11/fan-art-contest-deadline-extended/ Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:32:50 +0000 https://bannersaga.com/?p=5047 Greetings Bannerfolk!

Just a heads up that some great work has been arriving in the inbox for the Fan Art Contest. We’re also seeing many artists rushing to finish their pieces with only nine days left on the clock. As artists and creators ourselves, we know all too well that haste makes waste. So rather than risk people submitting anything short of their best work, we’ve opted to extend the deadline by two weeks.

The new deadline for the Fan Art Contest is May 4th, 2018.

Want to add more details to Gudmundr’s shirt? Go for it!
More runes to Ingrid’s godstone? Knock yourself out!
More whiskers for Nikels’ weak, weak mustache? Let’s not get carried away…

One more thing. MaxTN over on the Discord channel asked about submitting different versions of what’s otherwise the same artwork. For example, Iver with his sword and shield as opposed to his axe. If this applies to you, go ahead and submit what you think is your best work, but feel free to mention that you have alternative versions in your submission comments. If we like what we see, we’ll ask to see the rest.

So go forth and conquer, and we look forward to what we get by May 4th. Skål!

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Banner Saga Fan Art Contest https://bannersaga.com/2018/03/16/banner-saga-fan-art-contest/ Fri, 16 Mar 2018 19:59:24 +0000 https://bannersaga.com/?p=4919 Winners Announced: The winners have been declared! You can view them here. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Updated April 11th, 2018: The deadline for submissions has been extended to May 4th, 2018.

The Banner Saga is a huge tale, with a cast of characters to match that size. And while we’ve seen a great deal of Rook, Alette, Iver and Bolverk, there hasn’t been much time to develop some of the others on the screen.

Until now.

This month, Stoic Studio is throwing a special art contest. We’re seeking artwork from our very talented fans to celebrate the upcoming release of Banner Saga 3, and to expand the series’ lore through the release of new novellas and stories. These stories will focus mostly on tales before the first game, though occasionally they may cover events concurrent to the game series.

Are you ready to embroider your own signature onto the banner?

Goal:

We’re looking for original pieces of art that highlight the wider Banner Saga world. Ideas for subjects could include:

See the Banner Saga community wiki for more ideas.

Oh! And one more thing. While the plots of the other releases are up in the air, one is guaranteed to star Eirik and Valgard in Strand, long before the events of the first game. Writer James Fadeley will be posting a few teaser pieces of the novella to stoke your creative fires.

Prizes:

“But what’s in it for me?” Now there’s the proper Viking spirit! What raider risks it all if the loot and reputation isn’t worth it?

  • A free copy of the Banner Saga story releases (ebook or later print format)
  • A Banner Saga t-shirt of your choice
  • Your art featured on social media and websites

And of course, a chance to have your art featured on the front cover of a novella or short story anthology, immortalizing your work as part of the Banner Saga itself.

How to Enter:

Email your original character art to mailto:*protected email* before May 4, 2018 11:59 PM PT.  Your image file must be in PNG or PSD format, and should have a DPI of at least 300 and the image should generally be able to work as a book cover of 6-inch width by 9-inch height (15.24 centimeters by 22.86). You may also include a comment of 200 words or less if you feel there are any details you wish to mention about your Submission (for example, “I left space at the top for the Banner Saga logo and title,” or “It’s out of the dimensions, but I’m okay adding a stylized border like the cover of The Gift of Hadrborg to help meet the formatting guidelines,” etc.).

If you have any questions, check the “How to Enter” section of the Official Rules below for more information. You can also ask in Discord (https://discordapp.com/invite/bannersaga) on our art channel, or write to mailto:*protected email*.

Official Rules:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.

Please read these Official Rules before entering the BANNER SAGA NOVELLA FAN ART CONTEST (the “Contest”). By submitting an entry, entrants (hereafter referred to as “Contestants”) represent that they (a) are eligible to enter the Contest, (b) have read and agree to be bound by these Official Rules, and (c) agree to our judges’ decisions related to the Contest as described in these Official Rules.

1. ELIGIBILITY: 

The Contest is only open to legal residents of the United States (including the District of Columbia), Australia, Canada (excluding Quebec), New Zealand, and the member countries of the European Union (excluding the Netherlands), who are at least as old as the minimum age of majority in the jurisdiction from which they enter the Contest, and only to those who have Internet access prior to the Contest start date (the “Contestants”). Contestants may not be represented under any contract that would limit or impair the Sponsor’s ability to use the Contestant’s Submission (as defined below) in any media form; nor can the Contestant be subjected to or under any merchandising agreement or under any other contractual relationship, including but not limited to guild and/or union memberships, that may prohibit them from participating fully in this Contest, or from allowing Contest Entities (as defined below) to use royalty-free, the Submission worldwide in all media in perpetuity. All such individuals are also not eligible.

This Contest is sponsored by Stoic Studio LLC, 400 Stewart St., Suite 400, Seattle, WA 98101 (“Sponsor”). Employees, officers, directors, agents, business associates and representatives of the Sponsor, Stoic LLC, or the legal, promotion, and/or advertising agencies of the aforementioned entities (hereafter “Contest Entities”), including their immediate family members (defined as spouse, mother, father, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandparents and in-laws, regardless of where they live) and those living in their household (whether or not related), and each person or entity connected with the production or administration of the Contest, and each parent company, affiliate, subsidiary, agent and representative of any aforementioned entity are not eligible. This Contest is subject to all applicable federal, state, provincial and local laws and void where prohibited.

2. TIMING: 

ALL ENTRIES MUST BE SUBMITTED DURING THE CONTEST SUBMISSION PERIOD. CONTESTANTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR DETERMINING THE APPLICABLE CONTEST ENTRY TIMES IN THEIR RESPECTIVE TIME ZONES.

The Contest begins on March 16, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time (“PT”) and ends on May 4, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. PT (the “Contest Submission Period”). Judging will occur between May 25 and May 12 2018.

3. HOW TO ENTER:

Limit one (1) entry per Contestant. Only entries submitted in accordance with these Official Rules will be eligible. Contestants are subject to Stoic LLC’s terms of use and privacy policy located at http://www.stoicstudio.com/privacy-policy.

What we’re looking for: We’re seeking original artwork celebrating the unique world and secondary characters of Banner Saga, preferably of events that can canonically happen. Ultimately, we want quality artwork that can be considered for use as covers of these releases, created by our own talented fans.

Here’s how to enter:

a)    During the Contest Submission Period, email your entry to *protected email* and, according to the submission guidelines section contained in these rules (the “Submission Guidelines”), submit an original piece of artwork (“Submission”).

b)    The image file must be in PNG or PSD format. The image should have a DPI of at least 300 and the image should generally be able to work as a book cover of 6-inch width by 9-inch height (15.24 centimeters by 22.86). You may also include a comment of 200 words or less if you feel there are any details you wish to mention about your Submission (for example, “I left space at the top for the Banner Saga logo and title,” or “It’s out of the dimensions, but I’m okay adding a stylized border like the cover of The Gift of Hadrborg to help meet the formatting guidelines,” etc.).

c)    If you have any questions or something to discuss, you can ask in Discord (https://discordapp.com/invite/bannersaga) on our art channel, or write to mailto:*protected email*.

d)    All Submissions must be in English, and all contact information must be current, truthful, and valid. Submissions must be received no later than May 4, 2018 11: 59 p.m. PT according to the Sponsor’s internal server time. No other methods of entry will be accepted. All Submissions received by the end of the Contest Submission Period that are complete and otherwise qualified will be eligible. The Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any Contestant it finds to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Contest or violating these Official Rules; all associated Submissions will be void. Persons discovered entering under several names will be disqualified. Any submission of robotic, automatic, or programmed Submissions, or any Submissions made through other unapproved methods are void. Contest Entities reserve the right to disqualify false Submissions or Submissions suspected of being false or fraudulent. Contest Entities are not responsible for incomplete, late, lost, delayed, damaged, misdirected, incomplete, void, corrupted, garbled, illegible, or unintelligible Submissions and those Submissions are void and will not be accepted; nor are Contest Entities responsible for any problems, bugs or malfunctions Contestants may encounter when seeking to enter their Submissions. Contestants are solely responsible for compliance with these Submission Guidelines.

e)    By uploading your Submission, you represent that your Submission (including your artwork) conforms to the Submission Guidelines, Stoic’s Privacy Policy, and that Contest Entities, in their sole discretion, may remove your Submission and disqualify you from the Contest if they believe your Submission fails to conform to these Official Rules or is otherwise not in keeping with Sponsor’s image.

4. SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:

Your artwork can be as creative as you like within the following guidelines:

a)    It should feature images and characters inspired purely from the Banner Saga universe. All game and story content, and intellectual property rights therein, are owned by Stoic LLC or its licensors and expressly reserved by Stoic LLC (“Stoic Property”). You have the right to use Stoic Property for the purpose of creating a Submission for this Contest and for no other purpose outside of this Contest.

b)    Your artwork may not refer to or rely on any trademark, logo, or trade name of any third party other than Stoic LLC. For example, no images of Eirik dressed as 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd, despite however awesome that might be.

c)    It should be creative but influenced by your experiences playing any of the games or reading any of the extended universe stories.

d)    It may involve characters of secondary or supportive importance to the story (for example, Ekkill, Folka, Ubin, Rugga, etc). Use of primary protagonists is acceptable, but highlighting a supporting character is much preferred.

e)    The artwork may involve scenes of places within the world of Banner Saga (Arberrang, Frostvellr, etc). Original places are also acceptable, provided they fit within the Banner Saga world.

f)    Your work may involve items, weapons or cultural objects of importance from the Banner Saga universe (for example, a city’s banner or Hadrborg’s crest).

g)    It should involve images of strong canonically possibility (Ekkill holding up Iver’s severed head is safely not what we’re looking for, but Mogr battling dredge, or Nid and her children gazing upon the landscape would work).

h)    Your Submission can be funny, silly, amusing, or serious as long as it meets the criteria set out in these Guidelines.

i)    Your Submission may not depict or describe any nudity, animal or plant cruelty, harmful or illegal activity or substances, or be offensive, racist, obscene, political charged or contain inflammatory subject matter as determined at our sole discretion. No Submission shall portray Contest Entities or Banner Saga in a negative light. Please, no personal attacks on anyone.

j)    Including a comment is completely optional, and maybe fewer than 200 words, but not longer than 200 words either, and such comment must also comply with these Official Rules.

k)    Your Submission and any enclosed details must not contain material that is unlawful or in violation of or contrary to the laws or regulations in any jurisdiction where the Submission is created.

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES: All Submissions must be the original product of and created by the Contestant who makes the Submission. So while we want you to be creative, you need to be careful. You may not copy or otherwise plagiarize any source, nor may your Submission include third-party copyrighted material – such as artwork, photographs, movie or TV screenshots, or tattoo designs – without the copyright holder’s permission. By entering, you warrant that your Submission does not infringe any third party’s rights, and that you have obtained all necessary permissions from all relevant third parties to submit the Submission. Similarly, the Contestant must secure – and each Selected Contestant will be required to submit – a written release from any participant featured on any advertising or promotional material or in the New Books, providing that the Sponsor and/or Contest Entities are granted the right to use the participant’s likeness under the terms and conditions of these Official Rules. Sponsor may request evidence of such permissions at any time during or after the Contest Submission Period and Judging Period.

If, in the sole discretion of the Sponsor, your Submission constitutes copyright infringement, the Submission will be disqualified. The Contestant agrees to indemnify the Content Entities against any and all claims of infringement from any third party for any use by the Contest Entities of the design Submission.

We reserve the right to exclude any Submission that we believe does not meet the above criteria or otherwise does not comply with these Official Rules, at our sole discretion.

5. WINNER SELECTION AND NOTIFICATION: 

Judging will be completed in one (1) round. All Submissions will be pre-screened to insure they have correctly met the Submission Guidelines and meet with the Sponsor’s general standards and practices prior to any judging (“Qualified Submissions”). A panel of qualified judges will then conduct judging of all Qualified Submissions received during the Contest Submission Period. Each Qualified Submission will be judged on the following criteria, on a 100-point scale:

  • Creativity and Originality (15 points)
  • Relevance to Themes (40 points)
  • Artistic Quality (35 points)
  • Technical Merit (10 points)

Up to five (5) Submissions will be determined to be selected Contestants (“Selected Contestants”). In the event of a tie, the tying Submissions will be rescored in order to determine the Selected Contestant(s).

Any communication or information transmitted to the Sponsor and/or by electronic mail or otherwise is and will be treated as non-confidential and nonproprietary. Proof of submitting any Submission is not considered proof of delivery to or receipt of such Submission. Furthermore, the Contest Entities shall have no liability for any Submission that is lost, intercepted or not received by the Sponsor. The Contest Entities are not responsible for delays in finalizing winners.

In accordance with the License section below, Contest Entities reserve the right to distribute or display any Submissions in any media and on any website, including on its and affiliated websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube pages. The Contestants understand that users of these sites may share, embed, comment on (including negatively) and re-post their Submissions during and after the Contest Submission Period. Contest Entities are not responsible for such third-party activities.

The name, profile, and the art of each Selected Contestant may be announced and posted on the Contest Entities’ website(s) and social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and in all other media and media forms to be determined solely at the Sponsor’s and Contest Entities’ discretion.

The Selected Contestants will be notified by email (“Notification”). The Selected Contestants will be required to respond to the Notification by email (as directed) within 96 hours of attempted Notification. The failure to respond timely to the Notification may result in forfeiture of the prize (as later described herein); and, in such case, the Sponsor may choose the next highest scoring Submission from among the remaining eligible submissions. The Selected Contestants may be required to sign and return a Declaration of Eligibility and Liability/Publicity Release (“Declaration”) and any other documents the Sponsor or the Sponsor’s representative may require within 96 hours of receipt of the Declaration. Failure to timely return a signed Declaration or other required documents or the return of any prize notification as undeliverable will result in prize forfeiture. If a Selected Contestant cannot be reached, is unable or unwilling to accept the prize (or any portion of the prize) or is disqualified for any reason, the prize may be awarded to a runner-up, if any, in the Sponsor’s sole discretion. Acceptance of any prize shall constitute and signify each Selected Contestant’s agreement and consent that the Sponsor and its designees may use the Selected Contestant’s first name, state/province, country, Submission, and/or prize information in connection with the Contest and the Game for promotional, advertising or other purposes, worldwide, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised, including the internet, without limitation and without further payment, notification, permission or other consideration, except where prohibited by law. With permission and where applicable, their social media handles and/or website pages may also be promoted upon the Stoic Studio and Banner Saga social and promotional outlets. The Sponsor will not make multiple attempts to contact Selected Contestants. Winner selection is subject to verification, including verification of the Selected Contestant’s eligibility.

6. PRIZE PACKAGES: 

Up to five (5) prize packages will be available to be awarded, one to each of the Selected Contestants. Selected Contestants may have their art used as the cover of the next Banner Saga book release (the “New Books”). Contest Entities are not obligated to use any Selected Contestant’s Submission in the New Books or on any other promotional product.

They will also receive one Banner Saga t-shirt of their choice from a list provided by the Contest Entities, as well as a copy of the novella in either e-book or print format, depending on date of publication.

Each Selected Contestant may have the opportunity to meet, via VoIP or video chat, members of the Stoic Banner Saga development team or associates for the purpose of including the Selected Contestant’s art onto the New Books. Contest Entities are not obligated to use a Selected Contestant’s artwork in the New Books, game series or on any other promotional product.

Each Selected Contestant will be included in the copyright page of the New Books, per whichever release uses their artwork, if any.

Additionally, each Selected Contestant’s artwork may also be featured on the Contest Entities’ websites, at the Contest Entities’ sole discretion.

Each prize package for each Selected Contestant is valued at a maximum of USD $25, which includes the t-shirt, the book, and the opportunity to meet via electronic communication the Stoic Studio representation. The opportunity to use the Selected Contestant’s artwork shall be valued upon a separate contractual agreement between Stoic Studio and the Selected Contestant, which will handle due royalties and agreements regarding usage rights, to be detailed between the Selected Contestant and Stoic Studio privately.

For all prizes, all federal, state provincial and local taxes (including income and withholding taxes) and other expenses in connection with the prize are the sole responsibility of the Selected Contestant. Selected Contestants are solely responsible for any other unspecified expenses related to prize. All activities related to the prize, are at the Selected Contestants’ own risk and subject to whatever restrictions are imposed by the entities that govern activities. Selected Contestants not entitled to any surplus between actual retail value of the prize and stated ARV and any difference between stated ARV and actual value of the prize will not be awarded. No substitution, transfer, or cash redemption of prize is allowed, provided however that Sponsor reserves the right to substitute a prize with another prize of equal or greater value should the advertised prize become unavailable for any reason, including, without limitation, in the event the Sponsor or Contest Entities determine in their sole discretion to not commercially release the New Books. If a prize is awarded but goes unclaimed or is forfeited by recipient, the prize will be forfeited and, at Sponsor’s discretion, an alternate Selected Contestant will be selected. Each Selected Contestant will meet with the Banner Saga team at a time mutually convenient to both parties within a commercially reasonable time after the conclusion of the Contest (exact timing subject to changing time schedules and availability of the Banner Saga team members). Book credits will be included and contingent upon the commercial release of the New Books. Limit: One (1) prize per person per household.

7. LICENSE: 

As a condition of accepting any prize, and unless prohibited by applicable law, all Contestants hereby grant the Contest Entities, and their respective licensees, designees, assigns and successors (collectively, “Licensed Parties”) a shared worldwide license to use, edit, modify, distribute, copy, create derivative works from, and publicly display the Submission, in whole or in part, in any and all media throughout the world until the expiration of this license, for any purpose whatsoever (including without limitation as a PC wallpaper, in a game and at trade shows), without any additional compensation, the term of which shall be the entire life of the copyright. Should any Contestant be unwilling or otherwise unable to enter into license, or provide permissions and or releases or otherwise cannot accept or receive the prize for any reason, Contestants with the next highest score will be chosen from the remaining Submission until one who is able to meet all requirements can be selected. Contestants may not sell, assign or transfer any of their rights in their Submissions under these Official Rules. Contestants will not be paid for their Submissions, or for granting Licensed Parties any of these rights. The terms agreed upon in the publishing contract as part of the Prize Packages shall override any points mentioned here.

At any time before or after the Contest Submission Period, the Contest Entities may post, share or print Submission concepts in any order or sequence, with or without commentary, in its sole discretion. While Contest Entities will seek to post Submissions in the form as provided at the time of entry, all Contestants agree that due to technical or other limitations, Submissions may be altered from their original form and that Sponsor reserves the right to edit or modify the Submission in its sole discretion, including adding its logo or other trademarks. Selected Contestants further understand and agree that their Submission or any portion thereof, may be used, edited, and/or modified by Sponsor at any time before or after the end of the Contest Submission Period for promotional purposes, including without limitation, for the purpose of promoting the New Books, other Contest Entities’ games, and Contest Entities’ offerings.

8. CONDITIONS: 

Contest is subject to these Official Rules. By participating, Contestants agree: (i) to be bound by these complete Official Rules and the decisions of Sponsor which shall be final and binding; and (ii) to waive any right to claim ambiguity in the Contest or these Official Rules, except where prohibited by law. By accepting a prize, Selected Contestants agree to release Contest Entities, including their parent, subsidiary and affiliated entities together with their respective directors, employees, officers, licensees, business associates, licensors and agents, and respective advertising and promotion entities and any person or entity associated with the production, judging, or administration of the Contest (collectively, the “Releasees”) from any and all liability, loss or damage arising from or in connection with awarding, receipt and/or use or misuse of prize or participation in any prize-related activities.

Releasees shall not be liable for: (i) VoIP system, mobile phone or computer hardware, software or other technical or computer malfunctions, lost connections, disconnections, delays or transmission errors; (ii) data corruption, theft, destruction, unauthorized access to or alteration of entry or other materials; (iii) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind, including death caused by the prize or resulting from acceptance, possession or use of a prize, or from participation in the Contest; or (iv) any printing, typographical, administrative or technological errors in any materials associated with the Contest. Sponsor disclaims any liability for damage to any computer system resulting from participating in, or accessing or downloading information in connection with this Contest. The Sponsor reserves the right to cancel or suspend the Contest, in its sole discretion, should it receive fewer than 5 entries, or receive no entries that have a judged score above 60 points, or due to circumstances beyond its control, including natural disasters. Submissions will not be returned and may be destroyed.

By participating, each Contestant further agrees that Releasees are not responsible or liable for, and shall be released and held harmless from any and all losses, damages, rights, claims and actions of any kind in connection with or resulting from participation in the Contest, or acceptance of the prize, including without limitation, claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion of privacy. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL CONTESTANTS BE PERMITTED TO OBTAIN AWARDS FOR, AND CONTESTANTS HEREBY WAIVE ALL RIGHTS TO CLAIM, PUNITIVE, INCIDENTIAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, INCLUDING ATTORNEYS’ FEES, OTHER THAN CONTESTANT’S ACTUAL OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES (E.G. COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH ENTERING THE CONTEST). CONTESTANTS FURTHER WAIVE ALL RIGHTS TO HAVE DAMAGES INCREASED.

Releasees are not responsible and shall not be held liable, and your Submission may be disqualified and may not be considered for any prize, should your Submission be removed from a social media or other hosting site for any reason (including without limitation DMCA take-down).

The Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to cancel, modify or suspend the Contest should a virus, bug, computer problem, unauthorized intervention or other causes corrupt the administration, security or proper play of the Contest. Sponsor may prohibit a Contestant from participating in the Contest or winning prize if, in its sole discretion, it determines such Contestant is attempting to undermine the legitimate operation of the Contest in any way by cheating, hacking, deception, or any other unfair playing practices of intending to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other players or Sponsor representatives. Use of automated entry devices or programs is prohibited. Any attempts to access the site, enter the Contest via a bot script, device or brute-force attack will result in disqualification, including that IP address becoming ineligible for the entire Contest. Caution: any attempt to deliberately damage or undermine the legitimate operation of the Contest may be in violation of criminal and civil laws and will result in disqualification from participation in the Contest. Should such an attempt be made, Sponsor reserves the right to seek remedies and damages (including attorney fees) to the fullest extent of the law, including criminal prosecution.

The laws of the United States and the laws of the State of Washington govern the Contest and all claims must be resolved in the United States. As a condition of participating in the Contest, Contestants agree, to the extent permitted by law, that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action out of or in connection with this Contest, will be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in King County, Washington.

For residents of the EU: The limitations on damages provisions in the foregoing statements in this Section do not apply to claims against Sponsor their representatives and its vicarious agents for damages because of personal injury or death, and to claims for damages in case of intent or gross negligence by Sponsor, its representatives or vicarious agents. In such circumstances, the release will apply to the fullest extent permitted by law.

9. PUBLICITY: 

Contest Entities reserve the right to use the Submissions and any portion thereof for publicity purposes prior to, during, or after the Contest end date, in any media, and to use the state and country of any Contestant, including all or part of their Submission throughout the world, for the duration of the shared licenses, without any further compensation or prior review unless specifically prohibited by law. Contestants will not be paid for their Submissions or for granting Sponsor any of these rights. Should any Selected Contestant be unwilling or otherwise unable to provide permissions and or releases or otherwise cannot accept or receive the prize for any reason, the Selected Contestant with the next highest score will be chosen from the remaining entries until one who is able to meet all requirements can be selected.

10. WAIVER OF JURY TRIAL: 

Except as prohibited by applicable law and as a condition of participating in this Contest, each Contestant hereby irrevocably and perpetually waives any right s/he may have to a trial by jury in respect of any litigation directly or indirectly arising out of, under or in connection with this contest, any document or agreement entered into in connection herewith, any prize available in connection herewith, and any of the transactions contemplated hereby or thereby.

11. PRIVACY AND PERSONAL INFORMATION: 

Nothing in these Official Rules shall be deemed to exclude or restrict any of the Selected Contestants or any Contestant’s statutory rights as a consumer. Participation in the Contest implies authorization to collect, use and disclose the Contestant’s personal information including the right to transfer personal data to the United States for purposes of administration of the Contest and prize fulfillment. All information submitted to the Sponsor as part of this Contest will be treated in accordance with Stoic’s privacy policy, available at http://www.stoicstudio.com/privacy-policy. Personal information includes name, address, email address, birthday, country of residence, and will be used to: (a) contact potential Selected Contestants; and (b) if a Contestant selects to receive additional information from the Contest’s entry form, to send additional information to that Contestant; and (c) to publicly announce the winners of the Contest. The recipient of your personal data is the Sponsor and Contest Entities.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT YOUR INFORMATION WILL NOT BE STORED OR PROCESSED ON SERVERS LOCATED IN THE EUROPEAN UNION.

For Residents of France Only: Pursuant to French law pertaining to data collection and processing, you have a right of access to, modification and withdrawal of your personal data. You also have the right of opposition to the data collection, under certain circumstances. To exercise such right, you may mailto:*protected email*The data controller is the Sponsor. The recipient of your personal data is the Sponsor. Your data will be transferred outside the European Union.

For Residents of Germany Only: Pursuant to the German Federal Data Protection Act, you have a right to information about the personal data stored about you, including its origin, recipient or categories of recipients of the data and the purpose of the storage. In addition, you have the right of correction and, in certain circumstances, to disabling and deletion of your data and, in certain circumstances, the right to object to the collection, processing and use of your personal data. To exercise such right, you may mailto:*protected email*.

All Contestants have the right to access, withdraw, and correct their personal data. Contestants may request such action by sending a message with the request, subject line “THE BANNER SAGA NOVELLA FAN ART CONTEST to mailto:*protected email*.

12. OFFICIAL RULES AND WINNERS LIST: 

For a copy of these Official Rules, you may download the page you are viewing and print it out. For a copy of the winners list, check back on the same site these official rules were posted on after May 12, 2018.

 

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Only Bjorulf Knows — Part V https://bannersaga.com/2017/11/13/only-bjorulf-knows-part-v/ Mon, 13 Nov 2017 19:38:04 +0000 http://bannersaga.com/?p=4793 Only Bjorulf Knows: Part V

← Previous Part

By James Fadeley
Special thanks to Dan Riggins and Erik “Frown” Bergman

Sigbjorn moaned as he finished relieving himself against the side of a small shed. He couldn’t believe how long he had held it, and his mood improved as nature was satisfied. Redoing his leggings, he took in the view of the eastern horizon’s forest.

Just over the tree tops and upon a hill laid Bjorulf’s godstone. If Hadrborg had created varl, then the god of drink and mead was the kind uncle Sigbjorn had grown fondest of. He had promised himself that he would visit the godstone one day, and felt a pang of guilt. He had not done so yet, and today would be no exception.

He remembered that some folks buried their dead in the earth, carving stones over the burial site. Tombstones they were called, the domain of sentimental fools. Despite himself, Tomas’ immolating corpse came to his mind. Would the old spearman, once a gothi, have preferred that to a pyre? The thought made Sigbjorn wonder if the gods themselves were buried under the slabs dedicated in their honor. Surely after they died, they too left mortal coils…

A flock of birds took flight from the trees around the godstone. Something moved amongst the forest. When Sigbjorn squinted he thought he could see… people, leaving the woods. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked almost like a caravan.

A cry stole his attention. Grabbing his great sword, the varl ran towards the clamor.

When he arrived at the yox stable however, Sigbjorn discovered a familiar, weeping girl struggling in Marteinn’s grasp. Something glinted in his hand.

“Come on now,” Marteinn said with a leering grin. “This isn’t all I could take if I wanted.”

“What the faen are you doing?” Sigbjorn asked with strange calm, his drunkenness making the situation seem surreal. “I told you to get everyone to the mead house.”

“Can’t I enjoy a little Reynivik hospitality?” Marteinn twisted his head to ask. The girl took advantage of the distraction to scratch his cheek with her nails, drawing blood. Shouting painfully, he slapped her hard across the face, sending her back. Her tunic ripped as he tore the necklace, her chest spilling out. Marteinn raised the prize high, and Sigbjorn saw the shine of crafted gold.

“What is going on?” Freylaug approached, her eyes widening at the girl’s exposure. “What is he doing with Jofast?”

Marteinn snarled and raised a fist at Jofast, who was about to pounce to reclaim her property. She cringed away, cradling her bared chest and grimacing with rancor at the man and varl. Something about her reaction angered the lunatic and he stepped before Sigbjorn. “I fight and kill dredge like the rest of us! These people owe us their lives, so why the faen can’t I claim payment? You know who we are better than anyone!”

Sigbjorn’s cheek twitched in annoyance, vexed as to why Marteinn would expound justification to him. The yelling and violent motions Marteinn made cut through his inebriated state, triggering something primal. Something defensive, as though the varl was the one being accused. He growled, low and dangerous.

“I can’t believe you!” Freylaug screamed with an aggravating shrill. “Who are you to do this to our people? You’ve done nothing for Reynivik except drink yourselves senseless, and now you think you can take that which isn’t yours?”

Sigbjorn’s teeth flashed. He was on the red edge, the cliff beyond which there was no reason. Freylaug, realizing something terrible was amiss, stepped back and silenced herself. However, Marteinn recklessly waved his seax as he shouted, his face both rouged and bloodied. “Who the faen do you think you are t—”

Sigbjorn palmed Marteinn’s head with tightened fingers, and deftly twisted.

There was the sound of eggs cracking, and the seax fell from nerveless fingers. Marteinn’s convulsing body dropped into a pile on the ground, his eyes rolling upward in death.

“You…” Freylaug stuttered. “But, he was…”

“Was what?” Sigbjorn asked, his tone calm. He gazed at Marteinn’s fresh corpse and felt… little. No remorse, no pity for the lunatic. At best a coldness swept over him, a sensation that might have been regret for losing control. But not for the consequences.

“I…” Freylaug swallowed, her complexion lighting to a pallor. Her gaze went to Jofast, who clutched her torn shirt as she stood. “We are, grateful, for your justice. But we need fighting men,” Freylaug’s hands trembled as she raised them defensively. “Perhaps, disciplining him for… assaulting Jofast, could have been less severe? Or after we are safe?”

Sigbjorn took the void within him as a sign, and rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Being an ungracious guest would have gotten him a warning. It was mouthing off that got him killed.”

Freylaug’s gaze widened, her mouth gapping like a fish out of water. Rubbing her stricken cheek, Jofast stepped to the corpse. She pried open Marteinn’s clutched fingers and reclaimed her necklace, before again covering her chest. “Freylaug? Shall, we go?”

“Yeah,” Sigbjorn said. “Let’s all go back.”

The women huddled together as they walked, checking the varl behind them several times. His brooding presence kept them silent as they entered the hall.

Aron awaited them, armed and ready. “Didn’t find anyone. You see Marteinn?”

“Yep. Dead.” Sigbjorn responded in a nonchalant tone.

Aron was stunned, but recovered. “Dredge?”

“Nope.”

Aron opened his mouth to reply, but glanced at Freylaug and the half-naked Jofast, both of whom whispered to the crowd. The villagers whom they spoke to glared at them in horror.

Sigbjorn snorted and walked over to his drink. After downing the mead, he turned to a large barrel, setting his sword against the wall before tapping the spigot. The slowness of the pour told him that it was the last of Bjorulf’s Blessing, save whatever was stashed in the keg under the nearby table. As he sipped, his mood rapidly improved. Faen Marteinn, he thought. He knew he would not miss the ass-shining lunatic.

Yet when the respite passed, the hall’s oppressive silence bothered him, and his mind sought relief. Before long, a hum built in his throat, a joviality that even the villager’s scared looks couldn’t kill. He remembered the gist of it, but not the lyrics. “Hey Aron. The mood in here is a bit cold, don’t you think.”

“I…” Aron started but didn’t finish, his mouth twitching. The youth refused to meet Sigbjorn’s gaze.

“How about you sing that song again? How did it go?”

“Uh, if it’s alright, I’m going to check Marteinn’s path again. He may have missed someone,” Aron said glumly, opening the door.

“Fine, do that.” Sigbjorn replied as the youth departed. He took a long gulp, then another. His head began to spin, and the silence and stares were getting to him. At last, he stood and pointed to a group of people. “What’s a matter with you all?”

The people of Reynivik froze.

“You’re alive, dammit!” The varl sloshed some of his drink as his arms swept to either side. “You’re alive and surrounded by mead! C’mon! Have a drink while you still can!”

The villagers glanced at one another. Uggi was the first to get a horn and give himself a pour, followed by his wife. Others soon followed, some trembling as they did.

Sigbjorn laughed. What was it about fear that could be so funny, so amusing? He raised his stein in a toast. “To Reynivik! Skal!”

He drank it all. When he returned his gaze to the room, he realized he might have been the only one to partake. Their eyes were turned away, or stared at nothing. There was resignation to them, a death of the spirits that was worse than death itself. Snorting derisively, Sigbjorn turned to a different keg and refilled his stein.

“Well, I’m not about to leave all this for the dredge!” He gulped it down, coughing slightly when a more tangy, spiced flavor washed over his palette. When he finally lowered his stein, he caught something in his molars and chewed, recognizing the pulp of a tart elderberry. Laughing giddily, he wiped the blue from his lips, relishing the taste of the melomel.

Still, few partook, their features remaining glum and empty. A woman in a corner crumbled onto her knees, sobbing. Sigbjorn couldn’t believe it, and shook his head despondently. What was with most humans that they so often fell into this pit rather than enjoy what little time they had? A long life only proved that most of it was overrated. Scoffing, he opened his mouth to berate them again.

Sigbjorn! Sigbjorn they’re here!

Slamming his stein on the table, the varl charged out of the mead house, grabbing his sword on the way. Turning a corner around a home, he saw Aron in the street. A grunt was down before him, an arrow sticking from the slag’s neck. But more figures approached, including a few larger ones from behind.

“Aron!” Something seized the varl just then. An inexplicable dread, a need to save the youth. He ran, trying desperately to reach the fellow Raven as the dredge closed about him. But no matter how hard he pumped his legs, time slowed. Time slowed as a scourge stepped from behind a corner, raising his double-pronged great sword.

The youth screamed, gurgling as the scourge ran him through. The bow fell, and blood splashed against the muddy road. Aron’s face contorted in agony, his eyes pleading with the varl to help him, before he went slack.

And the century-old cracks in Sigbjorn’s heart painfully grew wider.

He roared and charged, his world a blur of speed and drunkenness. The dredge were ill-prepared. A grunt turned in time to take his speeding sword through the throat. A stoneguard swung but Sigbjorn stepped behind, his head spinning dizzily as steel bit his foe’s back. The scourge too staggered forth, and as Sigbjorn parried he recognized a familiar, triangular sun rune on the dredge’s chest.

With a burst of bitter laughter the varl turned and ran, the dredge giving chase. A thrill overtook him, a taste of life that could only be appreciated on the keen edge of death. A place where skill was the only immortality. He had forgotten that morbid joy, and relished it as he hid behind a home. Taking several deep breaths, he struggled to contain his laughter.

And his tears.

How drunk was he that he could ride on the high of battle, and ache within like this? Sigbjorn grit his teeth and shut his eyes. But a tear escaped anyway, running down his cheek to be lost in his beard. He tried desperately to block it out, but arrow wounds hurt less.

“He didn’t… didn’t deserve…” He swallowed, unable to say the youth’s name. His resistance crumbled as he knew he was alone again.

Just remember Sigbjorn. I often joke about men and their short lives, but… the final kendr will be a man. So if you find yourself the last of us alive, just do me a favor. Die as we have lived. Die laughing. Laugh so that the mountains rumble as they join in. Laugh such that the wind will forever echo with our mirth, on and on until the end of time. So that the heir of our people will never forget us.

Sigbjorn winced and rolled his jaw contemptuously as the memory came back to him. It was too much. He would, could not, do it. He would not be the last of his kind.

Then he saw them.

People. In the distance, a caravan with an incredibly long red banner. Probably the very same ones who had spilled out of the forests near Bjorulf’s godstone. But his joy turned to horror when the scattered dredge began to amble their way.

“No,” Sigbjorn muttered, his voice building with his ardor. “They’re mine. This is my death, not yours! Not yours! Hey slag! It was me! It was my sword that carved your clansfolk!”

A stoneguard unleashed a warbled scream, pointing a weapon Sigbjorn’s way. With a howl of delight, the varl ran back. Back into the mead house, where he slammed and bolted the door.

“What have you done?” Freylaug screamed hysterically. “We saw you cry out to them! You’ve led them here!”

The doors thudded. Then thudded again as wood splintered, a piece falling away. The villagers huddled in horror as the dredge continued to chip away at the entrance. Still, it would hold long enough for one final drink. Sigbjorn wobbly sauntered over to collect his stein, then scooped the keg from the table.

“And I was hoping to enjoy this on the road.” The door buckled and the beam securing it cracked down the middle. As Sigbjorn drank, he finally remembered the lyrics. Lowering his stein, he licked his lips and chuckled as he began to sing.

“Fly the black and let them know… fly the black and let them know.”

Decide Sigbjorn’s fate in The Banner Saga, available now.
For more
Banner Saga stories, check out The Gift of Hadrborg, on sale now.
Or head over to The Official Banner Saga Forums to chat with fellow fans.

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Only Bjorulf Knows — Part IV https://bannersaga.com/2017/11/06/only-bjorulf-knows-part-iv/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 15:14:55 +0000 http://bannersaga.com/?p=4789 Only Bjorulf Knows: Part IV

← Previous Part | Next Part →

By James Fadeley
Special thanks to Dan Riggins and Erik “Frown” Bergman

“… And I kid you not, that is how Sparr joined us!”

The end of Sigbjorn’s tale, which never once mentioned Bolverk or the Ravens, left Marteinn and Aron laughing. Even Tomas cackled, the sound like a crow’s caw as he clutched his side with a pained expression. Aron raised his drinking horn with a wide grin. “Skal!”

Skal!” Marteinn and Sigbjorn echoed the word and gesture, Tomas the latter, and they downed their mead. The varl smacked his lips after, feeling a weight lifted from his shoulders. It felt amazing to drink again, his cares melting away as his mood improved.

Aron sputtered during their revelries, coughing mid gulp. Marteinn burst into hysterical laughter, prodding Sigbjorn with an elbow. “No wonder they sent the dead weight with us, eh?”

It was more of that ass shiner behavior. The varl found himself loathing the excuse-for-a-man more and more. “And what exactly did you do to earn your place on this critical duty?”

“How do you think?” Marteinn smirked, then took a long sip. Sigbjorn figured it was a feint to buy the lunatic time to scheme a lie. “A girl of course.”

“Was she pretty?” Aron asked with a perked brow. The varl snorted in exasperation.

“Aye, you know it. Fine girl with hair the color of straw. Ruddy complexion with freckles, and a goodly bust. Her father didn’t let that one go hungry!” Marteinn burst into lewd laughter as Aron’s brows rose from whatever image his imagination painted for him.

Sigbjorn’s scowled, rather glad Hadrborg never deigned to curse varlkind with such distractions. “So, a woman got you in trouble, did she?”

“Well, heard the Governor took a fancy to her.” Marteinn replied, scratching his nose. “May have complained to Bol— the boss.”

Now it was Sigbjorn’s turn to smirk as Marteinn’s big mouth solved the puzzle. “Yox dung.”

Marteinn said nothing.

“Heard a little tale from Folka last week. Somethin’ about a meal in the Governor’s court to discuss our defense strategy. She heads off to relieve herself and happens across one of our men getting a little forward with a girl. Or rather, a well-dressed lady too deep in her cups to know better. So, our trusted shieldmaiden escorted her away, but not before a huskarl got an eyeful.”

Marteinn’s head moved in a twitchy fashion, like that of a bird, as he turned his attention elsewhere.

Sigbjorn continued. “So, the huskarl whispered something to one of the Governor’s guests. Some merchant or caravan master, who knows. Unfortunately, this trader is one of the last with ample food supplies, and enough guards to protect it. And our well-meaded little girl just so happens to be his daughter.”

Tomas coughed laughter, his stump of a tongue wagging between his open lips. Aron shook from a giggling fit, covering his face to hide his amusement. For a moment, Marteinn scrunched up, as though ready to explode in fury. But soon, even he grinned. “Faen maiden-shield of a shieldmaiden.”

Sigbjorn guffawed. So Marteinn could take some humiliation after all. Perhaps the varl could like him, someday. Until then, drink would help, and the varl tossed his back. Yet he frowned when he realized his horn, so tiny in his hands, was already empty.

“Hey barkeep…” He spoke loudly enough to be heard in the other room. “Uggi, you there?”

There were some mutterings before a middle-aged man peeked into the hall from the kitchen door.

“You got anything more fit for a varl to drink from? Maybe a bit to eat too?”

Uggi groaned and stepped away. A moment later he returned, polishing the dust off a large metal stein. It was tall as a man’s forearm and wide as one’s neck. Uggi’s arm trembled from strain as he poured from a massive barrel in the collection.

“My wife is preparing something,” Uggi said, his voice tense as he carried the hefty drink to Sigbjorn. “I can have some fruits and cured meats brought out in the meantime. We did not anticipate guests.”

“Sounds good Uggs,” Sigbjorn replied as he accepted the drink, his host frowning at the nickname. The varl’s eyes lit up as his lips touched the stein, the foam washing over his tongue with a bouquet of sour cherries and something vibrant. “What is this fantastic drink?”

Uggi stopped in his tracks and spun. After studying the carving on the cask’s top, he slapped his forehead. “That… that is one of our best brews. Made with Tistelberries for an added kick. We call it Bjorulf’s Blessing.”

As he disappeared into the kitchen, Sigbjorn stood. He took his blade from the wall and sauntered over to one of the small barrels.

“That’s a fine-looking sword you got Sig,” Marteinn said, as though the compliment was a peace offering. “Steel?”

“You bet your scrawny ass.” Sigbjorn gently stabbed the top of the tiny keg and removed the lid, still stuck on the point. Setting his blade on a bench, he lifted the container with a single hand and began to chug.

“Has it got a name? All great ones do.”

Yeah, it’s ‘shut the faen up and let me drink, you slack jawed idiot.’ Sigbjorn thought as he finished off the keg, then ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth. The dry mead was without fruits or spices, cloyingly sweet over his tongue. He carried the empty container to the larger barrel and began filling it with Bjorulf’s Blessing, wanting to save some for later. “Hmmm, a name.”

“How about Dredgehamarr?” Aron offered.

Vedrstal!” Marteinn countered.

“Both terrible,” Sigbjorn said. The keg filled to the brim, he plucked the lid from his sword’s point and began resealing the container. “I name her… Olkerbani.”

“Cask slayer!” Marteinn screamed in delight. He slapped his leg, roaring with laughter before raising his horn again. “Skal!

The axe whirled through the air, clattering against the stone wall as it missed.

“Dundr’s beard, you’re terrible.” Marteinn shook his head. “Guess those skills with the bow don’t transfer over.”

The youth rubbed the back of his neck, the last of his throwing axes expended. “I guess not. Anyway, your turn.”

Sigbjorn downed another stein of mead. The men were getting tipsy but his buzz had only begun, the pain of his headwound long abated. Leaning back in his seat, he slapped against a barrel which echoed from emptiness. It was the second they had finished, and the varl began to feel hungry. In the far corner, a table stacked with dirtied dishes marked all that remained of the snacks Uggi had provided.

Marteinn took his place and readied his axes. The first hit the bottom of the target mounted on the wall. The second whipped across the room and sank a hand below the bullseye. Marteinn was about to toss his third when the kitchen door opened. Uggi’s plump wife Drifa stepped out, carrying out a steaming bowl. The lunatic grinned lecherously. “What’ya got for us?”

Drifa scrunched her face at Marteinn’s leer. “Skause.”

Sigbjorn grunted. He couldn’t say he was in the mood for stew, less so after catching a whiff of the meal. He spotted bits of white carrots and cabbage leaves, and smelled no spices but the muddy scent of river carp. The woman’s hostility suggested she hadn’t even bothered to remove the bones. Sigbjorn had no doubt his hosts were ridding the worst of the pantry over unwelcomed guests. As she set the large bowl down on a table, Sigbjorn reached for his sword.

Steel whooshed through the air. Drifa screamed, the bowl spilling over as the blade sank home.

The target cracked and fell, split from the bottom.

“I win!” Sigbjorn declared, raising his fists victoriously. He stumbled a bit, blinking in surprise before glancing at the panic-stricken Drifa. “Oh no, our meal. I’m sure you make a most delicious carp skause too.”

Marteinn snickered while Tomas smiled meekly. Aron, to the varl’s surprise, giggled. Uggi’s wife trembled, her features twisted in a mixture of anger and terror.

“I suppose you don’t have anything else to share? Perhaps something more rib sticking?” Sigbjorn offered, smirking as he cracked his knuckles. “We are fighters, after all.”

Drifa paled, her temper outmatched. She retreated to the kitchen over Marteinn’s laughter.

“Woo,” Sigbjorn said as he tried to sit down. He misjudged his balance however, and landed hard on the bench. The wood cracked and broke off-center, the varl sliding sideways onto the floor.

His men burst into hysterical laughter. Even he found it hilarious.

“Gods, how much have we drunk?” Marteinn asked, slurring.

“Only Bjorulf knows,” Sigbjorn replied, feeling a bit dizzy. Drifa had provided them with steaks after her chastisement, but whatever rejuvenation the meal offered was wearing off. He leaned over and knocked on several now-empty barrels. He, of course, had downed the whale’s share of drink.

“You ever think of owning a mead house, boss?” Aron asked, his eyes half-closed dreamily.

The varl took another sip while he pondered the question, his tongue too coated to taste the sweetness anymore. “Now there’s a thought. Sigbjorn’s House of Mead.”

“Hey, that’s got a nice ring to it,” Aron replied.

“Yeah, not bad at all! What do you think Tomas?” Marteinn asked, turning to the man.

Tomas was hunched over, head drooping and eyes shut. Marteinn snorted and brushed the spearman with his elbow. The mute fell off his seat, clattering upon the stone floors. He did not move.

Marteinn covered his forehead, his mocking laughter a harsh bark. “Tomas passed out!”

“No.” Sigbjorn paused, catching a glimpse of Tomas’ soaked bandage. “I think he’s dead.”

Marteinn guffawed and thrust a finger at the mute. “You weakling!”

However, Aron stood and ran over to his comrade’s side, his expression full of concern. After checking his breath, the youth felt for a heartbeat, his jaw dropping. “He’s… he’s gone.”

“Maybe we could prop him outside with a horn and a sign that reads, ‘Welcome to Sigbjorn’s!’” Marteinn offered. The varl found the idea amusing.

“Hey, enough jokes already. He was a comrade,” Aron said, balling a fist. “Are we at least going to bury him?”

Sigbjorn sighed and set his stein down, pointing a finger at the mug as he rose. “Don’t move, I’ll be back real soon.”

Near the nameless river’s edge, they placed several logs and sticks, and laid Tomas’ remains upon the bed. At his side they placed his spear, a capped drinking horn, and a purse with a few coins inside. It was paltry, but all they could spare.

A part of Sigbjorn’s mind screamed at him that a funeral pyre was a terrible idea, that the smoke would attract the enemy. And like all varl, he had no love of fire. However, that voice seemed muddled and distant behind the hazy layers of alcohol clouding his wits. Just before he lit the bed of firewood beneath Tomas’ body, Aron spoke. “Aren’t we going to say something?”

The varl’s shoulders drooped and he heaved a sigh. Tomas meant little to him, and his inebriation did nothing to expound those feelings. Burying the dead was tantamount to regaining his freedom, but if a few words could give Aron peace, so be it. “Fine. Marteinn, you start.”

The lunatic rubbed the back of his head before finally commenting. “Tomas, I’ve fought with worse. May you prove yourself a master spearman to Lauga on the other side.”

He concluded his eulogy by patting his crotch.

Sigbjorn rolled his eyes at the gesture. “Aron?”

The youth stood perfectly still, staring at Tomas’ peaceful form. He didn’t speak until the varl moved to start the pyre. “He told me through notes once, that he used to be a gothi.”

Aron’s statement stopped Sigbjorn cold, the bed still unlit. “What?”

“A gothi, a priest. He had a wife and daughter and lived in some small village. Kept preaching and preaching about an afterlife where the gods awaited us. The villagers got rather tired of it too. Then one day, bandits struck. They raided, seized the crops and took advantage of his family. And he… he kept screaming at them that only Baldringr’s inferno awaited them for what they were doing.”

Sigbjorn shuddered.

“The bandits left soon after killing his family. But the surviving villagers, they were furious. Tomas kept ranting about divine justice, so they forced him to the ground and took a knife to his tongue. ‘Have a real taste of Baldringr, you lying, worthless faen,’ one said as they cauterized the stump. Then they left him alive.” Aron rubbed a tear from his cheek, lowering his voice. “I don’t think Tomas ever really bothered to grieve for his family. He was… broken. He buried them, picked up a spear and just… marched. Ended up in the Ravens sometime after.”

Sigbjorn almost ignited the pyre, but stopped again. Something about Aron’s story gave him pause, a nagging sense of uncertainty. “Why?”

Aron blinked. “Why what?”

“I never understood why there were humans who felt a compulsion to become ‘priests,’ other than madness really. The gods existed, although they died long before you or Tomas ever knew them. They carved their words in stone and taught their children. When they lived, they spoke for themselves. So why should anyone speak for the long dead?”

Aron stared at the sight of Tomas’ body for a hard moment before finally replying. “Is it true that Hadrborg himself created you?”

“It is.” Sigbjorn closed his eyes, letting the darkness envelop his sight. The trepidation grew, his pulse quickening, but he forced himself to see the radiance of Hadrborg. His memory of the god’s profile may have grown hazy through the years, but he could never forget. “We all meet him on the day we were taken from the fire. Varl are born fearing, and so we’re ready for the rest of life.”

All except one. Sigbjorn’s mouth twitched.

“And we are human,” Aron replied. “We put on airs and feign bravery, but we die afraid. And can only hope that when that day comes, we will see our creators and ancestors. That is what many of us hope for.”

Sigbjorn considered this, and slowly nodded. He still didn’t believe that the dead, divine or not, cared. But it did no harm to let the old spearman have his spiritual comforts. When no one added anything else, the giant touched the torch to the pyre bed.

As the flames took, the three watched. Despite the urge to edge away, Sigbjorn forced himself to stand before the heat. He watched through stinging vision as the fire blackened the old man’s flesh and turned his clothes to cinders.

They waited until the blaze died down and Tomas’ remains were more ashes than flesh. Content, Sigbjorn dusted his hands and then jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m thinking a drink to his memory.”

“Aye!” Marteinn said. Aron sighed with melancholy, and solemnly followed.

Unfortunately, they were greeted by perhaps two dozen people as they returned to the mead house. Frightened faces huddled in the corners, next to travel packs. Some had drinks in their trembling hands, trying to soothe shaken nerves. A few even nursed wounds.

Sigbjorn already knew the story as Freylaug approached. “The families from the outskirts have been pouring into town. Dredge, they claim. Some were even attacked,” her voice turned frantic. “You promised us protection!”

The varl rolled a palm over his temple, glancing at his mug in the corner. Admittedly, a fight did sound good about then, but score-to-one odds didn’t sound appealing. Instead, he reclaimed his sword from the wall. “Whatever you say, ‘Laug lady. Aron, Marteinn, split up. Gather any lingering villagers and bring them here.”

“Where are you going?” Aron asked as Sigbjorn pushed the door open.

“Well no one wants to visit Sigbjorn’s Pisshouse, do they?”

To be concluded.
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Only Bjorulf Knows — Part III https://bannersaga.com/2017/10/30/only-bjorulf-knows-part-iii/ Mon, 30 Oct 2017 04:42:57 +0000 http://bannersaga.com/?p=4775

Only Bjorulf Knows: Part III

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By James Fadeley
Special thanks to Dan Riggins and Erik “Frown” Bergman

None of them knew how long they had run. But they did not ease until they came across a log longhouse. Aron propped himself against the walls, sliding to his knees. He rasped something a few times before finally blurting, “I… I can’t…”

Sigbjorn couldn’t protest. He put a trembling arm against the longhouse’s siding, the other letting his sword tip touch the earth. Had they been in the northern mountains, the beating his heart inflicted against his ribs could have started an avalanche.

“Hadrbo—” the varl’s mouth was too dry to finish the curse. Yet when a faint memory of the god’s face came to mind, Sigbjorn figured that for the best. Shaking his head, he forced himself to survey behind them. There was nothing. Just fields upon fields of grass and snow, spanning on and on to the Wyrmscale Mountains. There were no distant, gray figures. Only gray clouds. The Ravens had lost the enemy entirely.

Marteinn coughed, holding his knees. Tomas held his stomach and breathed through his mouth, making smacking noises. Sigbjorn chuckled without a sound and patted the mute’s shoulder. “At least you don’t have a tongue to parch.”

Tomas bared his teeth and gave the varl a rude gesture, to which he smirked.

“We ain’t… gonna run no more,” Marteinn gasped. “Are we?”

Sigbjorn bobbled his head and dragged his weapon to the corner of the longhouse, tiredly clinging to the walls. On the other side was a pile of split firewood. Afar, he saw farm fields that led to a few more homes. Beyond were several more stretches before a small gathering of halls and huts, the center of Reynivik.

The varl took a massive breath, then exhaled slowly, his aching heart finally slowing. He felt the weariness in his limbs and grunted. Although they were smaller and weaker, he knew from experience that humans often possessed as much stamina as his kind. Sigbjorn sighed.

“It would be foolish to march into the village now. If these folks want to fight, we’re in bad condition to meet them.” He patted the structured logs. “Let’s see if anyone’s home. Eat, drink, rest and then say hello.”

They circled about the longhouse and came to the door. After knocking, Sigbjorn found it unlocked and ducked to enter. It was dark inside, the shutters closed and the firepit dead. The varl found space to stand under the ridge boards, but knelt to check the ashes of the pit, discovering them quite cold.

“Hmm,” Sigbjorn murmured, setting his blade down. “Aron, grab me a few logs from that pile outside. Tomas, Marteinn, check for food and valuables. Doubt you’ll find anything, but check anyway.”

It didn’t take long for them to confirm Sigbjorn’s doubts. The cupboards and pantries had been emptied. There were a couple of cots, but the dressers were ransacked. Tomas kept looking as Marteinn growled angrily and kicked over a stool. “Sorry boss. There’s nothing. Even found a cubby hole behind one of the beds, but that’s been pinched too. And no water.”

“Then the family who lived here bolted.” Sigbjorn shrugged over his flint and steel. “It is what it is. What’s taking that boy so long?”

“Sorry,” Aron announced as he returned. Under one arm were some logs, the other bore a sloshing bucket. “I found a well on the other side of the house. Fresh water.”

“For that, I forgive you,” Sigbjorn said with a smile, taking the bucket between two fingers, the container like a cup to him. Opening his mouth, he tossed it back and downed the contents. More than fresh, the water was slightly sweet as though cleansed over rocks. When he lowered his head, he saw Tomas and Marteinn both giving him the sorrowful look of thirsting dogs.

The varl grunted and set the bucket on the ground. “Go on, wet your lips. But bring back more wood.”

The two rushed to obey as Sigbjorn took Aron’s logs, setting to work.

They kept the fire small and low, enough to stave off the chill that came with the rainfall. Over it they warmed a meal consisting of stale oat bread, salted goat cheese, dried fish and some leeks they had discovered growing outside. Once they finished their repast, Sigbjorn ordered his men to sleep. He would take first watch.

Carefully, he removed a single shutter board from each window so he could watch almost all directions. He allowed the flames to dwindle into little more than embers, wanting neither smoke nor light to draw attention. Gray skies were the closest thing to night those days, and the varl had no wish to attract either the dredge or Reynivik’s citizens.

And his watch began.

Boredom didn’t take long to seize him, his eyelids growing heavy with each passing moment. Only the occasional pop of the firepit broke up both the monotony of the rain’s trickling and Marteinn’s powerful snoring. Sigbjorn quickly regretted volunteering, and sought something, anything, to occupy his mind.

He spotted a stick on the ground and plucked it, spinning the twig about his fingers to keep his mind occupied. The longing for mead returned, for the tang over his palette would surely have kept him awake, thirsting for the next sip.

He’d even settle for a sour wine or thin beer, as the quiet solitude made his wits begin to wander. Many of his kind preferred being alone, but Sigbjorn had never cared for it. Even the annoyance of man was better than the memories which bubbled to the surface in silence. He shut his eyes, trying to block out the faint whispers only he could hear. Voices that called to him from old graves.

There was a better way, Sigbjorn.

“Shut up,” he muttered.

“Who are you talking to?” The voice belonged to Aron, who slunk into the ember’s light.

The varl inhaled sharply through his nostrils, caught unaware. “You should be resting.”

Aron sat down beside the pit and rubbed his arms. “I tried, but… I’m shaky. The fighting I think.”

Sigbjorn nodded. In truth, he was glad for the company. “Today wasn’t your first kill, was it?”

“No…” The youth’s voice trailed off as he stared long into the fire before continuing. “Maybe my eighth or ninth. Most of my tallies are from a distance, so it’s hard to tell. Nor was it my first slinger but I… I never thought of them as having family.”

Sigbjorn didn’t reply. It was better Aron not know. The silence lingered as the varl bent down and checked all the peepholes in the shutters. He could see people in the distance around Reynivik, but no one approached. There were no dredge to be found.

“Can I ask a question?” Aron started, holding his palms towards the warmth.

Sigbjorn shrugged, rolling the stick over his fingers.

“Are varl immortal? Do you live forever if you don’t get cut down?”

The giant smirked and rubbed the engravings on his horns. He considered teasing the youth, but decided against it. Aron had performed admirably enough to deserve a modicum of respect. “Truthfully? Faen if I know. For a lot of us, ‘died of old age’ is a polite way of saying ‘got slow with the axe.’”

Aron barked a laugh, but stopped immediately when Tomas stirred on his cot. When the sleepers settled, he spoke again in a low voice. “Was that how your mentor, Karli, went?”

Sigbjorn pulled a knee to his chest, pondering the question. It dawned upon him that all day long, the nagging voice had belonged to that long dead graybeard. It took the varl a moment to realize he was holding his breath. Slowly he released it, dreading the thought of digging up those bones again. “Easiest way to put it, I guess.”

“Did Karli instruct you in ways of battle?”

Sigbjorn’s chest froze. He had fought so long that his methods were second nature, simply instinct. Not merely taught but beaten into him. He closed his eyes and saw his instructor… a black-horned figure, staring out over the snow-covered peaks. The dark varl clenched his fingers as though desperate to choke the sky itself.

For no other save a god could bear such passionate rancor for life.

Sigbjorn’s eyes shot open. His neck throbbed from his quickened pulse, and the hint of sweat began to tickle his brow. Yet still, the warlord’s name eluded his recollection. He swallowed before he spoke. “No…”

The youth waited. Sigbjorn took a deep breath, seized the reins of his emotions, and continued.

“There was a varl, a veteran of both Great Wars, who had this… grand vision. This idea that combat, fear and life were all just the same thing. He said every day, we fight our terror or we battle to survive. Or by living do we fear, so through fear do we fight. No matter how one arranged the words, his thinking was… sound, reasonable. His views made sense then and still does, for the most part.

“But he took it one step further than any other. And he began to see more and more value in fear itself. One day he took a handful of his favorite pupils and spoke to us. ‘Survival is the greatest and only true justification. Thus, it is not enough that fear is conquered, for mastery of horror is mastery of everything.’ We called him the First Warhawk.

Sigbjorn stared into the embers, his gaze stinging from his refusal to blink.

“He trained us in his techniques and his vision. He dreamed… that someday, we would march south and slay all men. To finish what we began in the First Great War. Our king then forbade it of course, as did the one that followed. Instead, we hunted dredge in the north for sport.”

Aron hugged his knees as he listened, enraptured by the tale.

“One day, we came across a dredge party almost three times our size. Ambushing them, we cut almost all of them down. All save two.” Sigbjorn paused to swallow, forcing himself to remember the images, the memories of that day.

“He took one and sliced off an arm and leg on the right side. For the other, the limbs on the left. Then he cauterized the wounds, and bound the two together at their stumps. ‘Tell your clans, you misbegotten freaks,’ he said. ‘Tell them what we did to you.’ He sent those dredge home, stumbling, trying to walk and move as one. Their survival wasn’t really important… our message was in the scars we gave them.”

Sigbjorn closed his eyes, finally relieving his agonized whites in the darkness. When he opened them again, he noticed Aron staring with a sorrowful countenance. “This guy wasn’t Karli you said? And Karli was a mentor?”

“Yes. And a friend.”

Aron gulped. “What did he teach you?”

Something welled in Sigbjorn’s chest, like a flood mounting from the rain. Inside he struggled, desperate to keep the words from escaping his mouth. Yet Karli’s countenance flashed before his sight, and his will failed him. “He taught… he reminded me, that there is no god of death.”

“What do yo—”

The stick snapped. The varl glanced down and realized his fist trembled. He forced his muscles to relax and tossed the broken twig into the fire. “No more questions, Aron. Since you’re up, you can take watch.”

The youth nodded.

Sigbjorn leaned back, propping his head on the ground. He regretted mentioning the old varl’s name almost a day ago, even in jest. When was the last time he had thought of him before yesterday? Years? Decades? Sigbjorn still couldn’t remember. But ever since he had uttered Karli’s name aloud, it was as though he had permitted a ghost to haunt his life.

Someone shoved him awake from the inky blackness of dreamless sleep. “What?”

“Footsteps,” Marteinn whispered. He was armed.

The varl sat up. The embers had long died, and everyone else was alert and ready. Sigbjorn stood and took his blade, crouching low to escape through the door swiftly, if needed. With everyone silent he realized the rain had stopped, replaced by the patter of a runner.

“Did anyone see them?”

“They were moving too quick,” Marteinn said. “And there’s fog outside. I couldn’t tell if they were dredge or man.”

Sigbjorn nodded. “Wait for my command.”

The steps drew closer. The varl heard Aron’s bow stretch as the youth readied to loose. Whoever it was moved quietly enough, perhaps a grunt. Sigbjorn swallowed and tightened the grip on his great sword.

The door jerked open.

A man, dressed in the battered tunic and trousers of a farmer, gazed inside. His jaw dropped, stunned at the sight of three armed men and a giant.

Aron eased his bow without firing, and Marteinn and Tomas lowered their weapons. Their leader breathed easy. “Sorry about that, we thought you wer—”

Sigbjorn shut his eyes as something squelched, and hot sputters struck his cheeks and brow. He wiped his vision clear to find the farmer blanching. A double-pronged blade pierced his stomach, viscera dribbling onto the ground.

The varl charged, horns first.

The farmer fell while the scourge freed his blade in time to meet the giant. Sigbjorn yelled as the weapon nicked his forehead, yet pushed on. He rammed the scourge’s stomach, his momentum carrying them past a few more attackers. When he finally stopped, the scourge tumbled over, sliding in the mud. The varl’s sword rose fluidly then chopped the recovering dredge’s crown, the helm splitting with a thunderous crack!

Sigbjorn didn’t study his kill. He turned in time to witness Marteinn step in for Tomas, who cradled his wounded side. The lunatic stabbed a gasping grunt in the abdomen, tendrils of black blood seeping down his seax. With his foe wounded, Marteinn ripped an axe from his belt and slashed across the dredge’s neck. The grunt knelt, gurgling as the lifeblood gushed out and spilt over his chest.

“Any more?” Sigbjorn asked.

A twang answered his question. He glanced to Aron, and followed his shaft to a dropped slinger. The arrow protruded from the downed dredge’s back, suggesting an attempt to flee.

“Not bad.” Sigbjorn nodded at the youth, then turned his attention back to Tomas.

The mute sagged, hanging onto his spear for dear life, his countenance a rictus mask of pain. Sigbjorn took one glimpse at the spearman’s red soaked tunic and knew the wound was serious. “Marteinn, patch him up immediately.”

“You’re bleeding,” Aron said.

Sigbjorn didn’t realize he was being spoken to until something tickled his nose. Wiping his bridge with a wrist, the varl found smeared blood on his skin. Aron approached, pulling a bandage from his pouch. Sigbjorn knelt so the youth could study the wound, wincing from the sharp pain caused by his touch. “How bad is it?”

“It’s a decent gash. Not terrible, but I wouldn’t ignore it.” Aron pulled a small wooden container from his pouch. As he opened it, Sigbjorn smelled the sweet scent of purple bellflowers, their petals crushed into the concoction. He grunted his approval as Aron dabbed the unguent over the cut.

A few moments later, a bandage circled the varl’s head. Testing it with a finger, he found it bound firmly but not uncomfortably, and nodded. “Good work.”

A horrific, throaty moan turned Sigbjorn’s attention to Tomas, as Marteinn tightened the dressing about his hip. The bloodspot had expanded to the bandage, the linens a vivid red.

“Can you run?” The varl asked.

Tomas sneered, but shrugged.

Sigbjorn took a moment to survey the path to the village. There were a couple of dark shapes in the mist, though whether human or dredge he could not guess. After a moment, he returned to the longhouse’s door. Sighing at all the blood, he lifted the corpse, throwing it over the crimson half of his tunic. Cradling his blade in his other arm, he turned back, double burdened. “Alright, we’ll make our way to Reynivik. Move briskly but quietly and stay away from anything you can’t identify.”

“We fightin’ the villagers?” Marteinn asked, perking his brow at the body.

“No, I got an idea. Don’t mention the Ravens or Bolverk while we’re there. In fact, just shut up and let me do the talking.”

The Ravens moved with the right mix of speed, guile and patience. Whenever a solitary figure approached they made their numbers known, sometimes splashing puddles to scare off the possible interloper. When the silhouettes were more numerous, they ducked down and waited patiently until the coast seemed clear. Despite their urgency, Sigbjorn slowed the pace whenever Tomas lagged, allowing the wounded spearman to catch up.

As they neared the center of the village, they walked more casually on the muddy roads. The mist eased around the few clustered homes, and people peered from windows and regarded them from corners. When they stopped, a woman approached, hesitating before the varl.

“Who are you and what do you want?” she asked.

Sigbjorn glanced down at the gray robed woman, who barely came to his thigh in height. Her hair was blonde but her wrinkled features suggested some white hidden among those strands. He wasn’t sure if her blue eyes were on his horns, or the corpse slung over his shoulder. “We’re from Boersgard. The Governor sent us to safeguard the city’s best food source.”

“Since when did Governor Rugga begin employing varl?”

He carefully set the body down, trying to be gentle and reverent. “Since the dredge began invading. We found this man murdered on the road here.”

She sighed through her nostrils while checking the body. After a moment, she turned and spoke to a girl. “Jofast, please go and tell Hjolp to come here. I will tell her about her brother.”

As the girl ran off, the elder woman turned her attention back to them. “I am Freylaug.”

“Are you in charge here?” Sigbjorn asked. He suspected not only the answer, but that she would not surrender her role readily.

“I am. Our chieftain died two days ago, so I ordered a few of our men to petition the Governor for aid. Did they make it to Boersgard?”

Marteinn brushed the hair from his eyes. “Not exactly lady—”

One look from Sigbjorn silenced him. He turned back to Freylaug. “No, I’m sorry. We found their bodies, just as the slag attacked. We lost good comrades getting here as well.”

His lie had the desired effect. Freylaug’s shoulders eased, as did her brow. “I see. Thank you.”

“Ma’am, my name is Sigbjorn. How many survivors are there, and how much food is left?” It was important not to show his real goal with too much haste. “Are there any ships or yoxen left?”

“Just arrived and already wanting to leave?” Freylaug’s sharp edge returned. “There are perhaps a few dozen of us left. Anyone who had a boat packed up and drifted to Deepmot. Most of our yoxen carts have already taken what they could to Boersgard. Yet the stone men have killed, stolen or eaten our remaining beasts. We have a fair amount of supplies, but no means to carry them.”

Then we will die here after all. Something withered in Sigbjorn, his head wound suddenly throbbing as his eyes went to a sign over a drinking hall. He had been to this mead house a lifetime ago, but he remembered it served some of the best drinks he ever sampled. The gold thirst overtook him, and he found himself wandering towards the entrance.

“Where are you going?” Freylaug’s voice stopped the varl’s steps. “Do you seriously think that three men and a giant can protect us here? Or on a march to Boersgard?”

Sigbjorn frowned, thinking of the fastest lie he could. “There’s a relief force… coming in two days. We’ll make ourselves defensible and just hold on until they arrive.”

“Is there really, giant?” Freylaug asked.

Sigbjorn turned. For a moment, he considered a show of strength to put this human in her place, but decided against it. His eyes swept the crowd, meeting each of their gazes. “Listen carefully! More fighters will arrive in a few days with carts. Use this time wisely. Gather whatever crops you can, pack what you need, keep your loved ones close and stay the faen away from the west. The dredge have been drifting in from that direction. If you see any, and I mean more than just a few, give the alarm. Go!”

The varl suppressed a wicked smile as many of the faces watching him lit up. They urgently obeyed, his words having stoked the fire of hope within them. Freylaug seemed ready to call to them, to tell them not to trust the giant’s promise. Yet Jofast returned with another girl, and the elder woman frowned. Shaking her head at the outsiders, she went to attend to her grim duty while Reynivik itself prepared to depart.

All over a lie.

Bolverk would never spare anymore Ravens. Sending more men would risk failing their contract, and Bloodaxe’s word was the only thing he still considered sacred. No aid was coming, yet the ruse had purchased a few days to drink their fill before dying. As far as last requests went, they could do far worse.

“The only afterlife is a hangover,” Sigbjorn said to himself as he entered the mead house.

The double doors permitted the varl entry without squeezing through or ducking his horns. Once inside, he marveled at the massive hall. Large barrels stood stacked on either side of the entrance, with a massive tub in a corner. The floors were stone except for a center of patchwork wooden panels. A long pit for fire coals rested to the right, and several long tables and benches ran alongside the walls.

“Sorry about the mess,” a man said as he approached. “How can I help you?”

“Spot a drink for a few fighters?” Sigbjorn asked.

“Yeah, liquid courage isn’t just for the ladies,” Marteinn added.

“I…” The man Sigbjorn judged to be the barkeep stopped himself, rubbing the back of his neck. “We were kind of hoping to save it.”

“Reinforcements arrive in a few days. We’re fighting to protect you, so what’s the harm in us lightening the load?”

To be continued…
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Only Bjorulf Knows — Part II https://bannersaga.com/2017/10/23/only-bjorulf-knows-part-ii/ Mon, 23 Oct 2017 19:19:10 +0000 http://bannersaga.com/?p=4767 Only Bjorulf Knows: Part II

← Previous Part | Next Part →

By James Fadeley
Special thanks to Dan Riggins and Erik “Frown” Bergman

Sigbjorn heard Aron swallow, and couldn’t blame him. There was at least a score of them, though smaller ones seemed to hide behind their ranks. Far too many for four Ravens, caught out in the open, to take on. Worse, the hills were no longer too steep to charge down.

“Back,” Sigbjorn hissed. He began to crawl in reverse, dragging his weapon across the grass. “Get to the river.”

His men obeyed, slinking along. Until a warbling scream cut through the air, a thick blade pointed their way.

“Run!” The varl screamed, scrabbling to his feet. “Pass the river! Get to the forest and stick together!”

Aron snapped around. “But you sai—”

Now!

They charged towards the wood line, fiery rock raining down around them. Most of the smoking slag missed, though Marteinn yelped as a round blazed past his ear. Sigbjorn heard the din of thundering stone. The enemy warriors pursued them.

The sound was drowned out as Tomas hit the river first, almost slipping over on a slimy rock. He recovered, and without finesse wallowed through the current. Marteinn and Aron followed, but Sigbjorn noticed the wolves still gathered about their meal. They were readying themselves to pounce on the spearman.

With a sprinting start, the varl launched himself, sailing half over the river. Descending, he took a bounding hop, splashing a geyser of water skyward and finishing his flight.

Landing before Tomas, Sigbjorn roared. His voice echoing through the trees.

The wolves, once ready to spring, instead shrank before the deafening howl. The largest turned and bolted, his tail between his legs. The smaller ones chased after him, no braver than their leader.

As Marteinn and Aron ascended the banks, the varl reached down and grabbed a large rock.

“What do we do?” Marteinn asked, huffing. His seax was drawn, as was one of his throwing axes.

“You remember the Halsar weave?”

They nodded. Tomas grinned, reaching for the hunting javelins over his shoulder.

“Aron, with me. Marteinn, Tomas, go west. And shout when you throw, dammit!”

The two men rushed to obey just as they heard the splash of the dredge hitting the water. Sigbjorn snorted and stepped away from the tree line. At this distance, he could discern their open helm faceguards and angled horns, rancorous grimaces on their beige faces.

“Right back at you, cave faeners,” he uttered as he picked a target, reared back and hurled his rock.

The payload sped through the air and struck the brow of a stoneguard who failed to raise his tower shield. Sigbjorn laughed at the agonizing, shaking yelp of his victim, and snatched another rock before dashing into the forest’s shadows.

He heard them give pursuit with renewed vigor. Aron fell into step alongside, and Sigbjorn slowed to allow the youth to maintain pace. There was a snap of tree branches as the stone men entered the woods.

Someone shouted. Something clanked.

The varl counted his steps. One, two… and on the fifth, he turned. “Throw!”

Aron spun about, plucking an arrow from his quiver and nocking. He fired without reservation and Sigbjorn saw leaves zip and flutter, caught in the missile’s flight. There was another clank and Sigbjorn waved the youth on. “Go!”

It was six or seven steps before the next cry came from the west, the sound as horrible as death. Sigbjorn feared the worst, then remembered Tomas’ ailment. He barely suppressed the urge to laugh. Don’t. It’ll weaken you.

Another five steps, and Sigbjorn spun and hurled his stone. In the flash, he counted five on their tail as the stone caught a grunt in the chest. Seeing nothing more he could throw on the ground, the varl ran. Aron pulled alongside him and he waved the youth away. “Split! Go!”

As Marteinn’s scream echoed in the forest, Sigbjorn knew it was time. Cupping a hand over his mouth, he faced the west and shouted. “Flock!

Flipping around, Sigbjorn took his sword with two hands, holding it defensively. A trio of grunts charged, their bizarre axes raised and yellow eyes alight with fury. Angling away, Sigbjorn clenched his teeth and aimed low, launching himself into a whirling tempest of steel.

Spinning, the world was a smeared blur, but he felt the resistance against his weapon. He heard the reverberating wails and relished in their suffering. Recovering, he saw two thrashing against the leaf-covered earth, the third still standing upon a deeply gashed leg. Black oozed from the wound, dripping upon detritus.

The grunt stood, raising his weapon. Hate them as he did, Sigbjorn respected his enemy’s bravado. Before his foe could strike, the varl sank steel into the dredge’s chest. As the life went out of the grunt’s eyes, Sigbjorn kicked outward, freeing his blade.

The remaining pair still struggled. One had lost his leg, the stump spurting dark ichor. The other was wounded but intact, almost to his feet. Sigbjorn met this one with a raised blade. Yet he swerved as he chopped, cleaving his foe’s axe-arm.

The maimed grunts’ howls chased the varl as he ran east.

Shuffling from the right drew his attention, and Sigbjorn realized it was Aron falling into step. They charged on until coming to a few shrubs large enough to hide them.

“You,” the boy huffed as he ducked down. “You fought them?”

“Yes.”

“But didn’t… didn’t slay them?”

“No.”

“Why…?”

The varl met the boy’s gaze with a stern glare. “Because it grinds them down, makes them waste food and care on the helpless. Burdens them with those who cannot fight and survive on their own, and weakens their will. You’re not the only one who should sing tales of the Ravens, got it?”

Aron’s mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish out of water. He managed a weak nod.

“Good. Now shut the faen up.”

Trembling, Aron obeyed.

They waited and listened. The forest echoed with the clamor of dredge armor, but the din came from many directions. After a moment they heard rapid footsteps, far softer than the stone men could make. Sigbjorn whistled, and Marteinn and Tomas appeared around the bush.

“Anyone pursuing?” the varl asked.

Tomas shook his head. Marteinn smirked.

“Alright, follow me.”

Sigbjorn led them north. Occasionally, they spotted the shapes of dredge wandering about the forest gloom. Each time, the varl altered their course, avoiding engagement until they at last reached the river again. Despite their urgency, they forded the slow stream as quietly as possible, keeping splashing to a minimum.

Their drenched clothes dripped over the northern bank as they rose. Marteinn whipped droplets from his sleeves, and spoke. “Next stop Reynivik.”

Slag struck the sand, sizzling and scorching the dirt.

Sigbjorn fixed his sight to the base of the hill from which the dredge had appeared. Several figures huddled there. Dredge of some kind but far smaller, more proportional to men than varl. A few whirled raised slings, preparing another volley.

The varl felt his brow twitch and he stepped toward his foes. Then took another step. He heard the men behind him follow. He began to jog. Then run, even as another salvo of hot rock sailed over their heads. He could see the slingers grow unnerved by their charge. They edged away, threatening to rout.

Sigbjorn bowed, ramming the first with his horns.

The slinger flew back, bowling into another. As the pair tumbled to the earth, Sigbjorn raised his sword and swung down, cleaving through a third. He thought he heard a high-pitched shriek as black splattered against the dancing grass. The limbless dredge dropped, grasping their fresh stump.

Taking a moment to survey the battle, Sigbjorn witnessed Tomas spear one of them, before kicking his foe away. The impaled slinger managed to remain standing, cradling a dripping abdomen and scrambling back. Marteinn guffawed during battle, twirling as he slashed a foe’s arm, then using his momentum to hurl an axe behind him. The spinning blade found its mark in a fleeing slinger, forcing them to a knee. Before that dredge could recover, an arrow found their flank, finishing the task.

Sigbjorn looked to Aron as the youth reached for another round. One of the downed dredge stood behind him, drawing a stone dirk from their belt and preparing to stab down.

The varl sprinted, and stabbed just above Aron’s shoulder. The tip sank into the slinger’s neck. The dredge’s poised arm dropped listlessly to the side before they toppled to the ground. Jerking his blade free, Sigbjorn realized that Aron stared at him with eyes more white than blue. With a grunt, he patted the youth’s shoulder.

Marteinn ducked a knife swing, and hamstringed the last foe. A pained shout reverberated from the dredge’s stone helm, black spreading over the hem of their dark orange sash. Marteinn grabbed the slinger’s head from behind and held them down, a kick to the elbow sent their stone blade flying into the grass. “Hey, Aron! Get over here!”

The youth warily approached, scanning the remaining dredge. No more had the will to fight— the remaining handful huddled together, shivering with bowed heads. Marteinn smirked and flipped his seax over, offering the handle to the boy. “Do it.”

Aron stared at the blade for a moment, before looking to Sigbjorn for approval. A faint murmur came from the cowering dredge who watched, but none moved.

You should stop this, a voice whispered to the varl. Yet he waved a hand regardless. “Go on.”

Aron swallowed, slipping his bow over his shoulder. He took the seax with both hands and focused on the restrained slinger. The dredge’s breath rattled, while the dark pool on their robes widened under a heraldic mark of a triangular sun.

“It’ll be merciful,” Marteinn promised.

Tomas glanced away.

The youth tightened his grip on the weapon. With a shrill cry, he stabbed. The tip followed the curve of the slinger’s outfit, burying itself in the grooves of the sternum. The blade stuck halfway, and Aron leaned forth to thrust further within.

The dredge gasped as the light of their eyes dimmed, before going slack in Marteinn’s grasp.

A powerful wail came from the crowd. A pair of the dredge clansfolk held a smaller, robed figure in check. The little one struggled to escape their grip, desperate to reach the dead slinger. The howl sank into a haunting and low groan, until the dredge lowered to their knees, defeated. Aron stared at the pitiful figure, his eyes sorrowful as he realized what he had done, and released the embedded seax.

Marteinn chuckled as he dropped the body, which fell against the soil with a dull thud. Something tumbled from the slain dredge’s pouch with a chime. The lunatic grinned as he plucked two blue crystals.

“I’ve always wanted to play with these,” Marteinn said, bouncing one of the gems in his palm. He stepped toward one of the shuddering clansfolk, who stared at his mad grin. Marteinn cracked the twin crystals together, causing them to glow. With a cackle, he slipped them into the dredge’s robes.

The other dredge edged away, while the one Marteinn chose stood there, strangely calm. Then they turned and ran, tearing past their peers. The dredge got a considerable distance before hurling themselves forward, the Shatterstones igniting. The flash was swiftly lost in the black cloud of smoke, the bang echoing over the plains.

As the dark mist cleared, Sigbjorn saw the ashy remains of the dredge. They were nothing more than a limp pile, split into at least two parts. The only noise was Marteinn’s sinister giggling, a haunting rhythm that the varl found himself echoing. Until he looked at the others.

Tomas grimaced, his jaw drawn tight while his knuckles whitened over his spear’s haft. Aron winced painfully, his whimpering voice cracked as he repeated to himself. “It’s what we got to do. It’s what we got to do.”

He was wrong, Sigbjorn. Fearing death is natural, but a life of terror drives us to seek our own tomb. The thoughts weren’t the varl’s own, but they came to him like a carrion bird coveting a meal. They were slag, Hadrborg damn them. They deserved it. A faint taste of the horror they’ve inflicted.

Marteinn sauntered back and stomped a boot against the corpse bearing his seax, withdrawing it with a squelch. “Well boss, what do you think? Fingers?”

Sigbjorn looked at the lunatic and saw something in him. A fetish for violence that was everything the Ravens were, are and ever would be. And for the first time in more than a century, it sickened him. Yet that was what he, and they, were. The varl shook his head. “No, no time. But we have to slow their warriors down.”

Marteinn nodded and took a step forward, before a huge hand barred his way.

“No. I’ll do it.”

The dredge clansfolk raised their gazes as Sigbjorn strode forth, gripping his massive blade to render them the mercy of steel.


No one spoke as they left the carnage. Blood dripped from Sigbjorn’s sword with every heavy footstep. With each droplet upon the grass, the wonder grew heavier in his mind. Even before the onslaught, the dredge did not run. They simply sat there, bowing their heads and accepting execution. Not one had attempted to escape. He realized that Marteinn’s Shatterstone victim had fled only to save the other clansfolk from harm.

Someone nudged him. Sigbjorn realized it was Tomas.

“What?”

The mute pointed at the varl’s blade.

“Ah, right,” Sigbjorn said, taking a cloth from his satchel. Best not to leave a trail.

“That was some fun, eh kid?” Marteinn asked, elbowing Aron. “How does it feel? To be a real Raven?”

Aron said nothing, staring at the ground as he walked.

“What? Too good to—”

“No more talk,” Sigbjorn bade as he finished cleaning his weapon. Truthfully, he was in no better a mood than the youth, but thought to offer a reason. “Keep your ears keen for any more trouble. I don’t want to be caught blindsided again.”

Marteinn sneered, but obeyed.

They traveled for some time when they heard a sound on the wind. A howl of anguish, wavering at the precipice where grief becomes rage.

They all stopped to listen, glancing at one another at a loss for words to explain.

“Go, swiftly,” Sigbjorn ordered, taking off. The others were right behind him.

To be continued…
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Only Bjorulf Knows — Part I https://bannersaga.com/2017/10/13/only-bjorulf-knows-part-i/ Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:15:07 +0000 http://bannersaga.com/?p=4729

Only Bjorulf Knows: Part I

Next Part →

By James Fadeley
Special thanks to Dan Riggins and Erik “Frown” Bergman

“Sigbjorn, secure the gate. Sigbjorn, kill the dredge. Sigbjorn, go get the faen mead.” The varl stopped grumbling when his traveling companions gave him strange looks. He sighed heavily enough for his mustache to flutter, rolling his strained shoulder under the burden of his great sword. “Never mind. You’re all terrible company anyway.”

The youth glanced nervously at the one Sigbjorn knew as Marteinn. “Is this trip wise? Or even necessary?”

“If you want to go against Bolverk’s orders, be my guest,” Marteinn replied, lightly punching the third man in the shoulder. “Not that you could taste Reynivik’s finest mead, eh?”

The older spearman shot Marteinn a dark glare in return, before casting his gaze to the dirt road.

Sigbjorn raised an eyebrow at the morbid comment. “Why not?”

“Show ‘em, Tomas,” Marteinn said, smirking.

Sigbjorn noticed the old man resist a sneer before opening his mouth. Between the assortment of remaining yellow teeth wagged the stump of a tongue, severed near the root. The varl chuckled dryly. “Just like Bolverk. Sending someone all the way to Reynivik for a drink they can’t enjoy.”

“And we’re the ones who get to die for it,” the youth said bitterly. He adjusted the bow over his back, one side having caught the drum at his hip.

“That’s the spirit,” Sigbjorn replied, scratching his backside.

The youth shook his head. “I’m Aron by the way.”

“I don’t care.”

Marteinn burst into laughter, and the varl rolled his eyes. The last place he desired to be was traveling Sten’s March, stuck with three yapping men and no yoxen cart. To their right was the unnamed river that ran alongside the road, flowing opposite to their direction of travel. On the left were sloping cliffs with snow, trees and shrubbery clinging to their base. Sigbjorn knew that Rake’s Crossing lay beyond the ascent, perhaps a day’s journey north.

And behind them, resting at the shore of Deepmot, was the dung heap called Boersgard.

Admittedly, it felt good to be away from the cramped city, the streets of which stunk of sweaty, fearful men. For several days, they held it from both the besieging dredge and the rioting citizens. Yet while the Ravens had brought enough food to last the Governor’s employ, their mead had long run dry. Had Bolverk Bloodaxe not discovered Sigbjorn finishing the last cask, he might have avoided this pointless death.

And he had to give me a mute, a worthless drummer and the company’s craziest lunatic, the varl thought.

“What?” Aron asked, alarmed. Marteinn perked a brow as well.

“Never mind.” Sigbjorn rolled his jaw contemptuously. Apparently, his thoughts hadn’t been as inaudible as he thought. A lack of drink had left him grumpier than usual.

“Um, so boss…” Aron said. “What do we do if we run into the stone men?”

“Good question.” The varl rubbed the base of one of his horns, feeling the engravings there. As one of the Raven’s oldest Warhawks, he knew he could stand toe-to-toe with a dredge scourge in strength and height. However, Sigbjorn glanced down at the other three and knew it was hopeless. Tomas was the tallest, yet he only came to the varl’s navel. None of them bore a shield, so forming a wall was out. Nor did the giant know how well any of them fought. “Forget it. If we see any slag, make for the river and hide. Let them find their way to Boersgard and into Bloodaxe’s care.”

“What about hiding in that forest?”

Tomas buried his face in a hand. Marteinn smacked the back of Aron’s head.

“What was that for?” The youth rubbed his struck scalp.

“Let me connect the trade routes for you,” Sigbjorn said evenly. “Have you ever heard of the Lang Loom Forest?”

“Wait, that’s?

Everyone nodded.

Aron seemed to shrink. “I didn’t know.”

“That’s the problem with man. Us varl are always having to look out for you. Holding back slag in the north. Instructing you in swordplay without slicing off your foot. Keeping you from blundering into the world’s most dangerous forest. And how do you repay us? By dying. Yet always after you all have a few kids to annoy us with the same questions, again and again and again. My old mentor Karli was right. Life…” Sigbjorn opened his eyes wide, holding a hand out dramatically. “…is a series of humans.

Aron blanched. Sigbjorn couldn’t tell if Marteinn was amused or angered. Tomas surprised him the most with a single cough, a wide smile on the old man’s countenance.

“I guess it isn’t all bad though. I mean, after a while you all look the same. Why, I once knew one named Gusi. Turned out he was a good drinking buddy. When he died, I dragged his corpse over to one of your pregnant women. Slapped the body down and said, ‘Raise me another one like him!’”

Marteinn slapped his thigh laughing. Even Aron cracked a nervous grin.

“Course, she got the guards t—”

Tomas waved vigorously, cutting the varl off. The mute pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then indicated the north. Sigbjorn followed his gesture, his gaze narrowing.

Dark figures meandered over the cliffs, at least a dozen total. With the sun above, their shapes were shadow-clad. Yet when Sigbjorn discerned their flattened, angular horns and strange blades, he knew who he witnessed.

The varl swallowed, and studied the elevation. The cliffs were steep, and ice lingered in the terrain’s shade. Yet the footing was not treacherous enough to deny descent. “Go to the river. Stick to the banks and give them a few moments to pass.”

The men obeyed silently. As they abandoned the path and trod softer soils, Sigbjorn dearly wished he wore something else that day. His crimson and white parti-colored tunic stood out, even from a distance. Fortune favored them however, and the varl took cover behind a gully along the river bank, completely obscuring himself. Tomas and Aron shared a boulder, while Marteinn settled behind a large bush which glowed a soft lavender in the sunlight.

Swallowing, Sigbjorn set his blade down and reached into his pouch. As he scrounged about, his fingers brushed the soft bristles of a long scarlet feather. When was the last time I mentioned Karli’s name aloud? He thought with a frown, but found his gloves. Slipping them on, he reached for the handle of his great sword.

They waited, each gripping his weapon in anticipation. Yet no telltale sounds came of stone grinding, no rustling of rock-crafted tower shields over long grass. Inhaling sharply through his nostrils, Sigbjorn risked a peek over the ditch wall, his horns accidentally shaking a tree branch.

The dredge never noticed them. Or if they had, then they didn’t care enough to charge. Instead the stone men ventured higher, towards the cliffs over Boersgard.

Sigbjorn waved the other Ravens over. The men stayed low as they rushed into cover beside the varl, prudently keeping out of sight. He spoke softly. “Give them a moment more, then we’ll be on our way.”

“Maybe we should travel along the river?” Aron offered.

Sigbjorn shook his head. “The sand and soil will slow us and leave a trail. And if any dredge are hiding in the forest, we won’t see them coming.”

The youth’s brow creased in frustration. “It’s still a day to Reynivik, and we’re going to have to fight the townsfolk or trick them into giving us the goods. That’s assuming there’s a way we can carry it to Boersgard by ship or yoxen. Why don’t we just go back? Surely Bolverk must realize this is a waste of four Ravens.”

Sigbjorn rolled his eyes. “Let me guess. You’re one of Sparr’s ‘naifs,’ or whatever that term is? Does he ever let you talk to Bolverk?”

The youth’s jaw dropped. Sigbjorn wondered how much naivety was left to expel.

“Look,” Marteinn said, scratching his nose. “If we return empty handed, Bolverk will likely murder us. If we stay here, the dredge will kill us.”

“But,” Sigbjorn interjected. “If we get to Reynivik, then at least we can drink ourselves to death.”

They slogged on.

Sigbjorn sighed, wishing he could tell the time. The sun still stood in the sky, exactly where it had been for the last several weeks. His armpits sticky from sweat, the varl undid the top button of his tunic and scratched his chest hair.

The other Ravens fared little better. Aron rhythmically bobbed his head, while Marteinn gazed intensely at the woods across the river. Tomas tried to remain keen, but the boredom clearly wore him down as well. Everywhere they looked was the same doldrums of green hills, forest or the dirt road expanse.

Sigbjorn considered calling a halt for a meal, but decided against the idea. Bolverk had furnished them only a day’s worth of rations, telling them to find food on the way. Mad as Bloodaxe could be, his reasoning was sound— Reynivik was the region’s breadbasket, the fields amazingly fertile. Rumor had it that every family there was a beekeeper.

Sigbjorn glanced to the sky again and noticed gray clouds in the distance. Rain would have been a blessing and a curse, hiding them from the enemy but slowing them with the mire. Still, the varl could tell that the clouds moved at no haste, and any precipitation would not arrive for some time.

That was when he heard an irritating sound. He tried to ignore the droning noise, thinking it a bee or some other insect. Then he realized it bore a distinct tune. Snorting, he glanced at Aron. “The faen are you doing?”

The youth tripped over a rock, but managed to regain his footing. “I… I was humming.”

“No. You were annoying me.”

Aron glanced down. Marteinn looked from the boy to the varl, before pushing the former. “Thought that was a damn buzzing in my ear. Idiot.”

Sigbjorn’s brow knitted. The lunatic’s behavior implied he was something of an ass shiner. There had been rumors about Marteinn’s bloody antics, how he had impressed Bolverk enough to join the Ravens. But the varl also remembered Folka’s murmuring, that the man did something recently to cross their leader. Annoyed with Marteinn’s assumed authority, Sigbjorn decided to offer the kid a chance to redeem himself. “So, either shut up or sing your little lullaby already.”

“I…” Aron’s brow rose. He reached for his belt, but stopped. “May I use my drum?”

“Fine. Just keep it down.”

The youth took the instrument from his belt. Holding the flat frame in one hand, he started a low beat with solid rhythm. After a moment, the words poured out in a smooth baritone.


Just whose blades are for rent?
Whose short lives have a price?
Who peddles their few days spent
In the sanguine paradise?

For who see peace as a waste
And compassion as a foe
Or those seeking death with haste
Fly the black and let them know
Fly the black and let them know

Let the dead tell of our worth
As their silence shall imply
Let red quench the thirsting earth
While our banner flies on high

And so, leave me where I lie
Thus all who pass shall know
And pin the sun in the sky
So they’ll see our colors flow


Aron finished with a rapid tapping of his fingers. A stunned silence ruled until Tomas broke into throaty, bird-like sounds of amusement. Marteinn chortled, a palm to his forehead. Even Sigbjorn felt the rumble grow within him before he burst into roaring laughter. “Not bad at all! Where did you learn this one, boy? Not vulgar enough to be one of Sparr’s pieces.”

“Actually,” Aron grinned sheepishly as he tucked a hair strand behind an ear. “I wrote it myself. I was… I was thinking it might be an anthem for the Ravens.”

“Bolverk is no lover of poetry,” Sigbjorn said as he shrugged his sword-carrying shoulder, still chuckling. “However, he may make an exception for that melody. It’s us, make no mistake.”

Aron fixed the drum to his belt again. “Maybe if we catch him on a good da—”

Marteinn came to a halt, Tomas too after another step. Sigbjorn looked toward his men, and followed their gaze into the grass off the road. Something was there, beside the bushes. After scanning the horizon and seeing nothing, the varl stepped off Sten’s March and drew closer.

It was a body.

Scratching his beard, Sigbjorn laid his sword down as he knelt to examine the corpse. It was a man, dressed in the worn smock and cap of a farmer. He had been killed recently, the blood mostly dry with no signs of putrefaction yet. His neck was almost entirely severed; Sigbjorn saw the faint pink of the chopped spine amongst the gore. Over the reek of urine, the varl smelled something burned.

Besides Sigbjorn, Tomas kept watch while Marteinn crossed his arms, studying the kill. Aron winced before turning away, his features fading to a pallor.

“The cut’s pretty clean,” Marteinn observed. “What do you think? Bandits?”

“No.” Sigbjorn pointed to the man’s leg. A burned knee was exposed through the seared trousers. “This looks like a Shatterstone wound. I think our man took a blast and dropped. Unable to rise and run, they probably sauntered over and casually executed him.”

“You think? Maybe it was a torch.”

Sigbjorn shook his head, pointing to the dirt beside the lacerated neck. There were two symmetrical holes in the soil, both puddled with blood. “That’s the shape a double-pronged blade would make going straight down. Only dredge make a weapon like that.”

Aron breathed deeply a few times, staring at the ground. “What about this trail of blood though?”

Sigbjorn studied the spot Aron pointed at, and realized the youth was right. Grass had been bent and crushed in a trail leading past Sten’s March. Standing tall, the varl focused that direction. The spoor naturally ended at the river, but there was something just beyond the tree line.

Yellow eyes flashed their way. It took Sigbjorn a moment to discern the gray lupine shapes, their snouts crimson as they dug into their prey. A faint wind began, and as the leaves shifted a ray of light fell on the carcass. It was a man, his mouth slack as blood trickled over his wispy black beard.

“Do you see something?” Aron asked.

Sigbjorn rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Dinner for wolves.”

“Think they were from Reynivik?” Marteinn asked, gripping his seax.

“Maybe. If so, they were probably trying to petition the Governor for aid—” Sigbjorn stopped. He crouched and listened.

The other Ravens instinctively did the same. Only the wind was heard over the hilly plains, washing over tall blades of grass and whipping through the trees. Marteinn turned toward the varl, raising a questioning palm. His question was answered with a steady thump, and the clatter of rock plates. Tomas turned and wagged a finger to the northwest, where figures came over the rise.

Most were about a head taller than a man, though some equaled a varl in height. Their torsos were a touch elongated, their limbs marked with square protrusions from gray armor. Their weapons too were more geometrical, like finely wrought stone art. Strangest of all were the round pauldrons each bore over just one shoulder, always larger than their heads. The asymmetrical weight gave them a stagger.

Dredge.

To be continued…
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