By Thor Olavsrud
As recorded in the Bjorningsaga, nearly 300 years ago, a great migration of sea peoples calling themselves the Halegyrings invaded the Middarmark. The legends say dragonships beyond number appeared one fog-shrouded dawn upon the Rik Bay of the Rimsfjord, landing in the place now called Rimholm.
The Halegyrings were a confederation of sea kings and queens, each clan with a fleet of ships and complement of doughty warriors, fearsome sorcerers and terrifying shamans at their command.
Many say they were the children of the Lords of Valor and Terror who crossed the Shroud Between Worlds from the Otherworld to seize a foothold in the mortal realm. Most scholars, citing the Halegyrings’ close relation to the Gotts and the folk of Ostergard, believe they were a mortal people driven west by forces at their eastern frontier.
Regardless, they fell upon the Middarmark in great numbers and scythed a bloody swath across the land, driving the Sakki people deep into the Ironwold Forest (it would be some years yet before the Grælings and Skyrnir would be forced to bend knee to the bloody-handed conquerors).
With a foothold established and the Sakki people fleeing to lick their wounds, for the first and last time as the Halegyrings, the conquerors held the Thing of All Middarmark to decide which of their number would rule their new land. Many chieftains held forth their claims. The Halegyrings debated the claimants’ virtues and flaws for three days. Skalds declaimed soaring panegyrics to their favored candidates and delivered searing invectives on the failings of those candidates’ rivals. Reputations were made and broken, and more than a few skalds found that even the sacred protection of poets had limits when their careers reached an end in a blade in the dark.
Two names that rang out louder than any of the others were the twin brothers, Scef Serpenteye and Bjorn Longfarer.
Scef was a great champion of the Halegyrings: bold, generous, unmatched in valor, cunning and cruel — a leader both revered and feared. Bjorn, ever at his brother’s side, was also a great warrior, though even better known for his incisive wit. If Scef was a raging fire, Bjorn was a cold, fathomless spring. They were inseparable.
Yet, in the first battles of the conquest, bold Scef had led his host into the thickest of the fighting. They stood tall like heroes, but so, too, they bore the brunt of the casualties. When the Halegyrings beat arms upon their shields to elect their new high king, many of Scef’s host lay silent and sightless in their graves. So it was that Bjorn’s supporters raised the greatest clangor. Bjorn the Victorious was acclaimed high king of the Middarmark.
Enraged and weeping at his brother’s perceived betrayal, Scef pronounced a curse upon Bjorn, his line, and their followers and led his host back to their ships, boasting they would claim their own land. The Halegyrings were no more. The Scefings and the Bjornings were born. Some folk claim that Scef Serpenteye may have said the words, but the curse came from the howling ghosts of the murdered Sakki, and coils about the Scefings and Bjornings equally to this day.
Scef and his people sailed south out of Bjorning knowledge for a time. To the southeast of Middarmark they found the Skera Strait: narrow, treacherous waters between Middarmark and Svanland, where the Regn Sea and Skyet Sea meet and the dreaded kraken hunts. In the Skera Strait they found barren islands and skerries they called Toskarinn, or the Tusks, for their ability to savage ships piloted by anyone without expert knowledge of the region. Even Bjornings born to the sea cower at the thought of daring those waters.
Rocky and desolate, the Tusks are useless for farming or raising stock, but perfect as a base for piracy, raiding and mercenary work. Reputedly, they have a dour fortress called Toskborg with a protected harbor hidden somewhere in Toskarinn where they winter and refit their ships. Few free, non-Scefing folk have ventured there. Fewer have returned.
Most stories claim Toskborg is a cheerless place filled with sad, desperate people. Some, however, say it is raucous, convivial and dangerous, full of ostentatious displays of wealth, gaudy fashions, fripperies, goods and luxuries from distant lands. It depends whether you ask a slave or a slaver.
The tales do tend to agree that the Scefings have a great appreciation for poetry, whether bawdy or stately.
A port and fortress hidden in the treacherous islands of Toskarinn. It serves as the base of operation for Scefing pirates, mercenaries and slavers. It’s currently ruled by the Scefing Queen Torveig.
Type: Dilapidated Port
Skills: Commander, Haggler, Sailor
Traits: Extravagant, Jaded
Docks, flophouse, market, homes, queen’s hall (equivalent to hotel), shrine, streets, tavern, wall, well
Few Scefings fish, farm or raise stock. In part that’s due to the harsh environment of the Tusks, but even in richer lands most Scefings trade in misery in the form of piracy, raiding, war and slavery to support themselves. Far and away, the most lucrative of these is the capture of slaves in Svanland and Valland, where Scefings have become figures of terror. The demand for slaves in the distant eastern markets of Ostergard is seemingly endless, driven by lands even farther to the east and the south.
While the profit is greatest in Ostergard, the voyage across the Skyet Sea is long and risks encounters with Bjorning ships out of Rimholm. The Bjorning and Scefing peoples are both expert sailors, but the Bjornings are more numerous.
Nine years ago, the Scefings, under Queen Torveig, took a mercenary contract from the Græling Rath of Stortmarke to destroy the host of Jarl Arngrim and free them from the Bjorning yoke. The Scefings defeated the jarl of Sudstrond at the maritime Battle of Sølvfjord, just beyond the harbor of Stortmarke. Torveig then turned around and demanded a crushing tribute from Stortmarke. More importantly for the Scefings, she demanded preferential access to the great slave market of the city, allowing the Scefings to sell their slaves much closer to home and transferring to others the risk of moving the suffering human chattel to Ostergard.
In recent years, Scefing hersar have increasingly begun to supplement their income with mercenary contracts. Some say King Eyvind the Stout of Jeilirdal has recently hired a Scefing warband. Whether he intends to use them against the Goatriders’ Horde, the Brotherhood of Plunder or High Queen Astrid is anyone’s guess.
Few organizations are more aware of the scourge of the Scefings than the merchant network known as the Havn League. The League is a confederation of cities in Gottland, Holmsea, Svanland, Valland, Vestreyjar and the Regn Coast of the Middarmark. The League’s purpose is to encourage trade and protect shipping in the Regn Sea from the Scefing pirates.
Despite the wealth the merchant guild continues to pour into the effort, the Scefings prey upon League ships with impunity. Much of the continuing state of affairs can be blamed on the lack of unified action by League cities. Some ports, like Stortmarke, agree to pay tribute to the pirates to protect their ships. The cities that refuse such extortion often accuse their rivals of selling information about their shipping to the Scefings as part of the tribute.
Precisely which cities pay tribute and which refuse changes from year to year, which is just as the Scefings prefer it. Sooner or later, the League will unify against the threat or collapse under the strain.