Hello and welcome! Over the next few weeks we're going to be releasing a multiple part story set in the world of The Banner Saga. It'll be the first time we've really talked about the setting, the history and key concepts of the world. We'll be releasing a new part every week, so make sure to check out the latest updates! Without further ado, the first part:
A lot of things were on Hafr’s mind.
Foremost was the ache that had found its way into his feet, unaccustomed as they were to shuffling across hard rock in thin leather shoes. The intricately carved walking stick in his hand had become more of an anchor than an aid. Aside from that, there was the complex pattern he had been failing to memorize for a week, the cumbersome bundle of books and scrolls boring into his shoulders and the irksome memory of a disappointing conclusion to an awkward conversation he had left on the lips of a girl. It chafed, looping over and over in his head with nothing but backcountry paths to distract him from it, and no recourse to be taken. At least, not until he was done with this, another pointless errand.
This was probably why when the bag slipped over his face, and an immeasurable force throttled him by the neck, dashing his head against hard earth, Hafr had no idea it was coming. He wasn’t certain whether he was blacking out or the covering obstructed the light, but his fight or flight instincts had clearly chosen a third option: embrace death. Briefly he considered that the decision may already be beyond him. Muffled voices made casual agreements to take something or go somewhere. Laughter. Then there was the sort of weightlessness that accompanied being hoisted by one’s mid-section, the irregular bounce of a long gait, and finally, there was no mistaking it; a quick descent into unconsciousness.
Hafr awoke to fading sunlight and an intense throbbing behind the eyes, uncertain of whether his head or self-worth had been crushed more, so quickly had he accepted his fate. He sat propped up in a thicket that had been nowhere in sight when last he held dominion over his senses.
Across from him sat a giant. Assuredly not a large man but something else altogether, sporting thick charcoal horns from his head, curved like a yox, an abundant mane and beard equal parts braid and knot, and cumbrous arms extending far beyond the reach of any man. He used them now to hold one of Hafr’s books at an uncomfortable reading distance, thumbing through the pages like the concept itself were foreign. Hafr realized he was alone with a varl, and it did nothing to ease his mind. He knew of varl, but even though they were fairly common sight he had never been in the company of one, relatively sheltered as he had been by the walls of the Guild. Eventually the giant glanced in his direction, noticing that his captive had begun to stir.
“I wasn’t looking for pictures, if you’re wondering,” said the varl with the sort of growling inflection you’d expect to hear coming from a horned giant. He pushed off one knee to hoist himself up to a full height of what must have been at least twelve feet. “You know what I was looking for?”
Hafr remained silent, not only because he was terrified, but because he had no idea.
“I was looking for something of value!” The varl guffawed, gesturing to the contents of Hafr’s pack, splayed across the dirt around them. “Instead, I got books filled with a bunch of things I already knew. So I was worried that we might have wasted your time, my friend.” He frowned. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
Hafr took a moment to weigh his options, and erred on the side of metered compliance. He had no idea who this assailant was or how much he knew, and more importantly, what might happen if he was caught in a lie. “Hafr,” he finally mumbled.
“Hafr?” replied the varl. “Boy, your father named you “Goat”? Maybe he was hoping for a daughter? Hah! Goat it is. Mine’s Bersi.” He tossed the book in the pile beside him and leaned forward on his knees. “Anyway, as I was saying, my companion and I were almost brought to tears thinking that we had throttled you for no good reason, but then we got to looking at that walking stick.”
Hafr did his best to show no reaction.
“Against all odds,” continued Bersi, “You’re the most valuable thing in the bunch! It’s not every day that we have a Mender tied to a tree, so he’s gone off to show your wet nurses that stick of yours and see if they’d like to have the owner back. In the meantime we’ll be spending some time together, what do you say?”
“The Guild’s more likely to drop him off a cliff than pay him,” Hafr managed to squeek.
“Listen, Goat, it’s touching that you’re worried on our behalf, but let us fret about the details. Just relax and we’ll all go on our way if I don’t yawn myself to an early grave first. Agreed?”
Oddly enough, Hafr did relax a bit with the knowledge that the circle would be involved. However they chose to deal with this, things would probably end poorly for these brigands.
“Goats stay out in the yard,” announced Bersi, who was disappearing off into the bracken. “We’ll speak again tomorrow.”
The rope around Hafr’s neck dug into his skin as he shifted his weight against the tree, his bound hands and feet making it more difficult than it should have been. Aside from his pack and books, the small clearing was featureless. So Hafr sat and fretted. The night descended like a bag over his face.
Read: Part II