This is something very different from what I usually do on this blog. It is a short story set in the world of The Banner Saga games, and was originally a submission for Stoic's call for short stories a couple of months ago. Sadly, it was rejected, and so I decided to publish it here in case anyone might be interested in reading the first piece of fan fiction I've written in 17 years or so, and the first piece of fiction I published online in roughly a decade.
My goal here was to bring the sensibilities and the tone of medieval Icelandic Sagas to the world of The Banner Saga. I was heavily inspired by my recent reading of several Sagas while writing this story, and tried to imitate some stylistic and formal aspects. Most of all, I tried (and probably failed) to capture some of the dry and often sardonic wit which I admire so much about the dialogue of the best Sagas, as well as the economical and subtle characterisation of protagonists, their motivations and inner lives.
Needless to say, the world described here is not my original invention and the story, set shortly before the events of the first game, draws on the history and lore of the series. That said, all of the characters are my own, and they exist in a geographical niche that wasn't explored in the games.
There was a man called Kveld who spent his days on his farm in Setterlund. People called him Kveld Yoxhead because he was stubborn and hard to deal with. On his last day, Kveld wandered his land, and eventually rested at his son Grim’s burial mound at the top of the hill. From there, he could see his home in the distance and the surrounding land, which had sustained him for most of his life.
He was getting on in years and was more easily tired than in his youth, and so he remained at his son’s grave for a while, and lost track of time. When he came to, he saw that the sun was already high in the sky and was alarmed. He had promised Ketil to meet him at midday, and so Kveld lifted himself off the ground and went on his way.
When he reached Ketil’s farm, it seemed to him as if the sun had barely moved in the meantime, and he doubted his ageing eyes and memory. He saw Ketil’s family and servants standing in the fields, shielding their eyes and pointing up to the sky.
“If my memory serves, you were supposed to be here at midday,” Ketil said and was angry.
“It seems to me the sun is still at its high point, as is its usual custom at midday,” Kveld responded.
“Customs are held in little regard by you, Kveld, and now the same looks to be true of the sun. It has been this way for two hours at least, and I am at a loss to explain it.”
“I do not begrudge anything its deserved rest,” Kveld said. “Creatures more youthful than the sun have need of it from time to time.”
Kveld stayed at Ketil’s home for several hours, although it was difficult to tell the passing of time. Still the sun refused to move, and it became clear to all that this was no trick of the light. People were beginning to be fearful, and even Ketil’s sons were oppressed by the sign.
“This is a strange and great new thing, and I’m afraid nothing good will come of it,” Ketil said. “It pains me to think that you are sent into exile beneath an ill omen like this.”
“I will ease your mind, then. I’m not leaving,” Kveld said.
“Ulf will have your head and call it justice if you do not, you stubborn old fool,” Ketil said and became angry again.
“Killing me will make a fool of Ulf rather than me. Was the verdict not clear? I must leave before the setting of the sun today. As long as the sun does not move, neither will I. Ulf would be reckless to disregard the chieftain’s words.”
Ketil remained silent for a long time.
“Have you talked to Droplaugr about this?” he asked eventually.
“She still expects me to leave today. I will have to go and tell her.”
“Whether you leave or not, take this yox I prepared for you. It carries grain and other things you might find useful. I have a feeling that if you do not leave, you will live in exile in your own home, and you will need everything I can give you.”
Kveld thanked him for the gift and left.
There was a young woman called Droplaugr. She’d been married to Kveld’s son, and her staying with Kveld even after her husband’s death was taken as a great offence by her family, and as a welcome source of rumors by other men in the nearby village of Dalur.
Droplaugr had been waiting for Kveld that day and had grown impatient.
“Where have you been so long, father-in-law?” she asked when he’d finally found his way back. “The sun has stopped, and I thought I must be going mad.”
“I have told you, do not call me that anymore,” Kveld replied, while he unloaded Ketil’s gifts from the yoxen’s back.
“Very well. In that case I will call you Old Yoxhead like the others. I see you have found a companion for yourself.”
“A gift from Ketil for my way into exile. But I’m not leaving. Everything is changed now.”
“You’re still much the same. I do not want you to go, but it might take more than the sun stopping its course to keep my father and brothers from taking revenge once they see you haven’t left.”
“Whatever will happen will happen. If this isn’t a sign for me not to go, then what is it?”
“The gods are dead, surely you are old enough to remember that? Dead gods don’t deal in signs.”
When everything was said, Kveld and Droplaugr remained outside looking up to the sky, waiting for something to happen. The sun didn’t resume its course, and neither was the end of the world upon them. It was a quiet and uneventful day.
Eventually they grew tired and went to bed, but the brightness of the sun kept them awake. After hours of restlessness, a thick cloud drifted across the face of the sun, and Kveld finally fell into a disturbed and uneasy sleep.
A few hours later, Kveld was woken by voices outside. He rose and took his axe and shield with him outside.
“I knew you’d still be clinging to this place. We caught the whiff of old fart a mile away,” Ulf said. With him were twelve men armed with spears, swords, bows and axes.
“Can you be sure it wasn’t the smell of your own men, recalling what happened to Björn’s skull just a few weeks ago?” Kveld retorted.
“I’ll see to it that your fate will be much worse than Björn’s if you don’t conform to the chieftain’s verdict. You are an outlaw now and I could kill you on the spot. In fact, I’m putting my honor on the line even talking to you, after what you did to Björn and my sister.”
At this, Droplaugr appeared, spear in hand.
“You know I am here of my own free will. And if Björn let himself be slain by an old fart, he has no one but himself to blame.”
“Björn was your foster-father, too. You shamed your kin by not calling for revenge.”
“No one will harm this man, unless you want your sister’s blood on your hands as well.”
Ulf was at a loss.
“And neither will you come back with us to Dalur?”
“Not unless you swear you will not force me into a second marriage without my consent.”
“Father will never agree to it. I do not want to be responsible for kin-slaying, but this situation demands action. I fear it will lead to nothing good if you do not leave immediately, Kveld.”
“The day still drags on a bit,” Kveld said. “As a sign of my good intentions, I swear that I will leave as soon as the sun sets.”
“Damn you, Old Yoxhead,” Ulf called, and his head was the color of hot blood. “You will not get out of this by abusing the word of the law. It must be true what people say about your mother lying with the beasts in the barn. One day my sister won’t be here to protect you, and that damned sun will shine on your corpse.”