Rise of the Runelords
Male Human Skald
Past the Ironbound Archipelago, across the Steaming Sea, lies the Broken Bay, haven of scoundrels, raiders, cutthroats, and killers in the bloodiest viking traditions of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. As a youth, Hakon waited impatiently to come of age and join the seasonal southern raids of his countrymen, eagerly absorbing the tales of distant lands they brought back with the plunder. The proud raiders boasted of desperate battles at sea, of ceaseless storms and sea monsters and foreign towns cloaked in sheets of cascading flames. Hakon committed these stories to memory, adding his own embellishments to create an oral history for his people—vowing to one day make a place for himself within it.
Key to Hakon’s youthful mythology was Hrolf Harfargr, one of the few honorable huscarls of Broken Bay’s despicable King Ingimundr the Unruly. Hakon’s account of Harfargr’s victory over the ice troll Rimeclaw became something of a phenomenon in the Bay’s capital settlement of Bildt. Other skalds tried to outdo Hakon’s telling, adding ever more fantastic feats to the story, increasing Harfargr’s reputation and influence. Nevertheless, even the embellishments acknowledged the original tale as Hakon’s as much as that of Hrolf Harfargr, and the young storyteller became a minor celebrity in Broken Bay. When he turned 15 later that year, Harfargr claimed him for his crew and appointed Hakon as his personal lorekeeper and legend-spinner.
Hakon composed epic poems of Hrolf Harfargr’s encounter with the brine dragon Kelizar, his crushing victory at sea over Styrbjorn Threefingers, and his romance with his greatest rival, the viking hero White Estrid. Hakon stood beside the two lovers as Harfargr and his men joined forces with Estrid on her legendary run through a Chelish blockade at the Arch of Aroden to find harbor in the distant city of Absalom, at the heart of the Inner Sea. On that months-long journey, Hakon recorded the tales of heroes like White Estrid, Runewulf the Unbeliever, Molgard Swordhand, and the twins Bolgi and Bjarni, slayers of the frost wolf Kuldnir.
To keep the memories fresh in his mind, Hakon embroidered representations of the stories into cloth badges sewn along the hem of his long coat. As he moved from badge to badge, Hakon added to the legend of his shipmates, who looked on in excitement with each of his tellings. The smiles and encouragement of heroes stung Hakon in his heart, however, and what should have been pride was instead replaced with regret and shame. For Hrolf Harfargr intended that his personal skald would survive to tell his legend, and thus kept Hakon as far from danger as possible. Over the years of his time in service to White Estrid, Hakon observed the great deeds of heroes triumphing over enemies again and again, but always as a witness, and never as the participant he so wanted to be.
Upon their return to the Lands of the Linnorm Kings from the extended Absalom expedition, White Estrid and Hrolf Harfargr had a falling out that separated Hakon from the band of heroes that had so inspired his imagination. As Estrid and her crew went on to defeat a linnorm dragon and claim the kingdom of Halgrim, Hakon followed Hrolf Harfargr back to the Broken Bay. Over the next several years, Hakon watched as Harfargr’s legend faded. King Ingimundr openly undermined him and tempted the fading lord to strike against him. The final humiliation sentenced Harfargr to serve upon the crew of a longship captained by a spiteful viking named Girt Bearwearer, a hated enemy. Worse, the king ordered Harfargr to sea without his official lorekeeper and the recorder of his legendry deeds. Instead, Ingimundr assigned Hakon’s younger brother, Ostog, to his place at the oars.
Hrolf Harfargr, Ostog, and Hakon’s old companions Bolgi and Bjarni set out on Girt Bearwearer’s ship among a great armada of raiders with hungry eyes on the rich lands of the distant south. They never returned to the Broken Bay, but soon stories made their way to Hakon of a mutiny at sea in which Hrolf Harfargr and his allies attempted to take the longship from its wicked captain. Their heroism was rewarded with sword thrusts and blood eagles. A victorious Bearwearer had his slain enemies thrown overboard, food for sea birds and the ravenous beasts of the deep.
But other stories made their way back to Bildt, too. Tales of a brash young warrior named Ostog the Unslain, a survivor of treachery at sea who somehow washed ashore in the Varisian town of Sandpoint and who immediately set about creating a legend of his own. Hakon had to know if the tales of Ostog’s distant deeds were true, so he set off on a ship of his own to Sandpoint in an attempt to reunite with his brother. He arrived only to find Ostog had already departed, leaving behind him the mangled corpses of twisted monsters and wicked men. Hakon began work on a new series of badges for his coat in Sandpoint—the Saga of Ostog the Unslain.
Hakon and a band of companions followed Ostog all the way down Avistan’s western coast, tracing his brother’s footsteps in the drying blood of the young barbarian’s dismembered enemies. His travels took him into the deepest deserts of Osirion, back to Absalom, and to a dozen ports in between. Though Hakon has not yet caught up with Ostog, the skald’s journeys have brought him his own measure of renown. In Nisroch he slew the dark druid Roverud. His twin axes—Hagrum’s Keel and Limbrender—struck down the marsh giant Fogulnur, gaining Hakon the legendary Horn of Valenhall, a mystical artifact he only partially understands. Tales of these victories fill his companions with unparalleled battle spirit and combat prowess, further cementing Hakon’s growing legend. Now the badges of Hakon’s own exploits stand beside those of the true heroes of the Broken Bay, but the skald knows that his journeys must continue until his deeds shine like those of Hrolf Harfargr, White Estrid, and Ostog the Unslain. Only then will the Saga of Hakon be complete, daring those who come after him to even greater feats of bravery and legend.