The following is a rough draft of chapter one of my book. There will be future revisions, but for now, it must take a back burner while I work on other chapters. This is by far my least favourite chapter of the six that I have written so far. Hopefully, in its final draft it will be much improved. Enjoy! As always, I welcome critiques.
On a cool, crisp autumn morning, an hour before dawn, a young elf mounted her pale horse, a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder. Her silvery blonde hair was bound in a long braid. She had a narrow face with soft angular features, creamy white complexion and bright green eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness. A silver ring pierced the left nostril of her slender nose. She was dressed in an olive green tunic, belted at the waist, and tan deerskin pants, her knee high boots made of the same soft leather trimmed with fur.
She heeled her horse into a trot and set off out of the town. She cut across fields and meadows, crossed a gurgling brook, the horse’s hooves kicking up a spray of cold water through the knee deep stream.
The first rays of the sun were just beginning to peak over the horizon by the time the elf had ridden deep into the forest, where the leaves had already turned to shades of red, orange and gold. She smiled as she inhaled the sweet, earthy scent of fallen leaves, damp earth and decaying wood. She loved the forest in autumn, when, with the turning of the leaves, the whole canopy of wise old trees became a cacophony of vibrant colours, the air turned cool with the changing seasons, and the brambles were heavy with ripe berries. She always felt invigorated at this point in the great wheel of the year, and nothing brought her more joy than the hunt. She rode a great stallion. He was a war horse whose former rider had fallen in battle a few years ago. Dagmar had claimed him, and he had proved a brave and reliable steed.
In the faint light, just as the sun was starting to climb out from the underworld, Dagmar, astride her great horse, spotted a stag through the sparse trees, grazing on the grasses just beyond the shelter of the wood. Silently, she raised her bow, strung an arrow and drew it back. As she focused her aim, she sent a surge of energy flowing through her into the bow grasped tightly in her right hand. A faint green glow radiated into the sleek wood, while a barely perceptible hum rose with the tension in the string. Even the air seemed to still, until, on an exhalation, she letreleased the arrow loose. It shot through the air in a flash, hitting it’s mark; the stag staggered forward and collapsed onto the dewy grass.
Slipping from her horse, the elf sprinted soundlessly toward the fallen beast, and kneeling at his side, drew a long knife from her belt, its razor sharp blade glinting in the early morning light. She plunged the blade into the stag’s throat, tearing through its flesh, a gush of blood pouring from the wound.
A few days later brought the arrival of dragon ships carrying elven warriors returning from their exploits abroad where they’d been engaged in patrolling the coasts and defending the settlements from raiding parties from the north.
Returning home with the warriors were Dagmar’s two elder brothers, Siegfried and Hagar. She rushed out to greet them when their arrival was announced, and threw herself into Hagar’s arms, who laughed. “Did you miss me, little sister?” He asked cheerfully.
She smiled. “I always miss you when you go away,” she said. “Why won’t you take me with you?”
Hagar put his arm around her shoulders and steered her towards their father’s hall. “You know why,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”
“It isn’t too dangerous for you and Siegfried,” she persisted.
“We are men,” said Siegfried seriously, falling into step beside Dagmar. “We are warriors. You’re just a girl.”
Dagmar caste him a reproving glance. “I can fight,” she retorted. “The other day, I even killed a stag!”
“Hunting deer is not the same as fighting dark elves. You wouldn’t stand a chance against a seasoned warrior,” Siegfried insisted.
“You don’t know that,” answered Dagmar. “I have been practicing.”
“We are only looking out for you, little sister. A battlefield is no place for a woman,” said Hagar.
“Our mother was a Valkyrie. She always rode into battle with father,” Dagmar argued.
“And it was on a battlefield that she died,” said Hagar, giving Dagmar’s shoulders a squeeze. Releasing her, he strode ahead to greet his father, Chief Sigmundr, who had just emerged from the hall to welcome his two sons home.
“Men die on battlefields, too,” Dagmar muttered to herself.
That evening, a feast was held in Chief Sigmundr’s hall in honour of his sons’ homecoming and all the warriors who would winter in Anu Duinn.
When the feast was underway, several serving ladies entered the hall, carrying platters of food, including roasted venison from the stag Dagmar had killed.
Dagmar seated herself at the high table, along with her father and two brothers. She observed that Siegfried and her father were engrossed in conversation, their voices low, so as not to be overhead, and she wondered what could be so important.
“Damn the dark elves!” barked Siegfried suddenly, slamming his fist on the table. “Why should we make peace with any of them? They are all of them evil!” he growled.
This caught Dagmar’s attention, and she leaned in closer to hear what they were discussing.
“Would you prefer war?” Chief Sigmundr asked.
“If it would mean destroying the whole lot of them, then it would be worth it,” Siegfried replied.
“Ah, but at what cost?” Asked the chief. “Would it be worth sending all of our men to their deaths?” To this, Siegfried said nothing, and Sigmundr continued. “You still have much to learn, my son. It is unwise to be reckless in battle.”
At this, Hagar joined the conversation. “Do you mean to negotiate a treaty with Chief Hrothgar, father?” he asked.
Sigmundr turned to his eldest son. “What would you do, if the decision was yours to make, Siegfried?”
“I would much rather see a treaty made with the dark elves of Rathmahen than a feeble promise of peace from Ivar,” Siegfried answered.
“That is where you and I differ, Siegfried. Chief Hrothgar Daggeirsson is far more powerful and infinitely more dangerous than Ivar,” Chief Sigmundr stated. “Never trust Hrothgar. He is cunning and clever and could deceive you without ever breaking an oath.”
“Whereas Ivar is fickle and hungry for power,” Siegfried persisted.
“And far more predictable,” countered Sigmundr. “Ivar is a ravenous dog. You expect him to bite. So, it will come as no great surprise when he does.”
“The elves of the White Wood have made peace with Rathmahen.”
Sigmundr gave his son a disapproving look. “Their Lord also turns a blind eye to the slave trade that goes on in their kingdom,” He stated bitterly. “Hrothgar is patient,” Sigmundr addcontinued. “He will bide his time, lulling his prey into a false sense of security before he strikes,” he spat the words, his expression hard. “There can, of course, never be lasting peace between the elves and dark elves.”
“Chief Hrothgar will not be pleased if he learns that you made peace with his enemies,” Hagar remarked.
“If I make peace with the Berserkir, then let Hrothgar be displeased,” Replied Sigmundr. “As for a treaty with Ivar, I do not yet know if an agreement can be reached.”
“Then you have decided to negotiate with Ivar of the Berserkir?” asked Hagar.
Sigmundr nodded. “It seems to be the safest option.”
Hagar caught Dagmar’s eye at that, and he gave her a questioning look, but she only shook her head.
Later, Hagar came to sit beside his sister. Taking a jug of wine, he poured a glass for himself, then refilled Dagmar’s cup. He turned to study her, but she pretended not to notice. “So, what do you think of father’s plans for dealing with the dark elves?” he asked, at last, when she would reward him with no reaction.
“What do I know of such matters?” she said with a shrug.
Hagar gave her a skeptical look. “You appeared concerned about his decision. I thought, perhaps you’d had a premonition.”
Dagmar frowned. “No, nothing like that. It’s just that I don’t understand why father declined the treaty with Rathmahen’s old chief,” she said, glancing at her brother.
“Daggeir?” Hagar chuckled, brushing his long dark hair from his face. “It was nothing to do with him. He was alright, as far as dark elves go. His son was the problem.”
“Why was that?” Dagmar asked.
Hagar sipped his wine before answering. “Hrothgar Daggeirsson was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with. I have never heard of anyone who loves war and bloodshed the way he does. He knows no fear, and it seems there is no evil he would not commit to further his ambitions. Hrothgar is a thing of nightmares; he can play tricks with your mind, haunt your dreams, and feeds off the agony of his victims and steals their souls!” Hagar flashed a wicked grin, and laughed at Dagmar’s wide eyed expression.
She slammed her fist into his shoulder. “You’re an ass, brother!”
Hagar laughed heartily.
The first snow fell a month later, heralding the beginning of winter. The last weary bands of warriors arrived about this time. Among them was a blonde haired, broad shouldered elf called Ragnar, who was Dagmar’s favourite of Anu Duinn’s warriors. He, likewise, was quite fond of the free spirited girl.
The seasoned warrior was greeted warmly by Chief Sigmundr after riding into the stronghold.
“What news is there from Lan Fayes?” Asked Sigmundr, as he and Ragnar entered the feast hall.
Ragnar accepted a horn of ale a dark haired serving woman brought to him. “They have seen more raids than usual these past few years, and their defences are stretched thin,” he replied.
Chief Sigmundr took his place upon his throne, his expression grave. “I am hearing the same from all over Alfheim. Many of the elven kingdoms are overwhelmed by wave after wave of raiders from the north.”
He looked to Ragnar, who had seated himself at a table near the dais.
“There is rumour that the peace between the Whitewood and Rathmahen is breaking down,” said Ragnar.
Sigmundr’s eyes widened in surprise. “Why is that? Has Hrothgar betrayed them?” he asked.
The blond haired elf shook his head. “Not that I have heard. Hrothgar’s pact with the elves of the Whitewood includes an agreement to help secure the Whitewood against Berserkir raiders, but Rathmahen has its own troubles of late. Word is, the clans are unhappy and that there could be a rebellion. They question their Lord’s decision to make treaties with the elven kingdoms,” Ragnar explained.
“Ha! Is the slave trade not enough for the devils?” Sigmundr thundered.
Ragnar huffed. “The dark elves will never be satisfied until they have total dominion over all of Alfheim! Even that will likely not be enough, and then they will turn their sights to Midgard once more!” he exclaimed in disgust.
Sigmundr sighed. “I don’t doubt it,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not strong enough to ward off all the raiders of Svartalfheim, and the more we fight against them, the weaker we will become.”
“What do you propose?” asked Ragnar, as he refilled his drinking horn.
“Before the summer raids begin again, I plan to sail to Berserksheim, to negotiate a truce with Chief Ivar,” he answered.
“Do you think that is wise, my Lord?” Ragnar asked. “Ivar is known to be an oath breaker.”
“Yes, Ragnar, I am well aware of that fact, but I do not expect a permanent peace between us. My hope is to buy us time to regather our strength,” Sigmundr replied.
“Why not make your peace with Hrothgar? At least he keeps his promises, and Rathmahen is far more powerful and a much greater threat to have as an enemy than the Berserkir,” Ragnar suggested.
“Hrothgar will demand a regular payment of slaves,” Sigmundr stated flatly.
“And Ivar will not?” countered Ragnar.
“Of course he will!” said Sigmundr. “But Ivar is shortsighted. He will only care how many slaves he can get out of the deal. Do you know what Hrothgar demands from the elves of the Whitewood?”
“Women!” Ragnar joked.
“Be serious, man!” retorted Sigmundr. “Hrothgar demands boys and fighting men! He keeps his enemies weak by taking the strongest elves. The rest — women, prisoners — are only accepted to fill the quota. How will we ever rebuild our forces if we must give up our menfolk as slaves for the slaughter?”
Ragnar, saying nothing, considered his chief’s words.
There was much work to be done in preparation for the winter months. Wood had to be stockpiled for the fires; livestock had to be culled; repairs to buildings and fortifications to be made. Fortunately, there had been a bountiful harvest that year, so there was no shortage of food.
After his return to Anu Duinn, Ragnar kept himself busy helping with the work. He had been home for several days before Dagmar came to see him. He was splitting wood when she found him.
“Ragnar!” cried the elven princess, as she came around the corner of the barn. He lowered his axe when he saw her. “I’ve only just heard you were back!” she declared, smiling.
“My Lady,” said Ragnar, with a bow. “I wondered when I might see you.”
Dagmar, stepping forward, took the axe from his hand, and twirled it, before swinging it down, the sharpened edge lodging in the chopping block. “I have been up in the hills with the skald these past few weeks,” she explained, turning to face the tall elf.
Ragnar smiled. “So, you have not abandoned your studies?” he inquired.
“Of course not!” she replied with a laugh. “Now that you are back, can we resume our lessons?” Dagmar asked, a mischievous glint in her bright green eyes.
Ragnar’s expression became serious. “Are you still set on becoming a warrior?” he asked, stepping towards a barrel to splash water over his face.
“You know that I am,” answered Dagmar, following him.
Ragnar searched her face, his pale blue eyes stern. “Your father disapproves,” he stated.
Dagmar shrugged. “My father worries too much. He does not believe me when I tell him that I have seen it in the fire. It is my fate to be a shield maiden. My father cannot shelter me forever.”
Ragnar went back to the chopping block and tugged the axe loose; his strong brow furrowed. He tossed another log onto the block, and with one swing of the axe, split the log in two.
“Well?” said Dagmar, stepping up beside him. “You have not given me your answer.”
Setting the next log in place, he said, “Come find me at first light tomorrow.”
Dagmar grinned and dropped a quick kiss on his cheek, then darted off.
Ragnar was already waiting in the courtyard the next morning when Dagmar slipped soundlessly from the house, her sword sheathed at her right hip. Ragnar looked her over critically, then motioned for her to follow.
“Are you going to tell me where we are going?” she asked after they had been walking for some time.
“I thought we’d practice in the woods today,” he said, without slowing his swift pace.
Dagmar had to jog to keep up with the solidly built elf, but she was excited for a new challenge.
Once well within the woods, Ragnar commanded her to wander off a ways. He waited until she was far enough ahead, then slipped out of sight.
Dagmar had been walking as quietly as she could for some minutes when she noticed how quiet it had become. Glancing around, she searched for Ragnar, but he was nowhere to be found. “Ragnar?” she called out, but there came no reply. Frowning, she concentrated her mind, and allowed herself to sense the woods around her. She could feel the coolness of the trees, hear the soft breeze through the barren limbs, smell the sharp scent earth and snow. Then she let her mind reach further, and further — and then, she felt it — a presence somewhere in the trees behind her. Slowly, she stepped forward; maintaining her focus, she slid her sword from its sheath, being careful to keep her back to the presence, until she sensed it draw nearer. With a sudden, swift movement, she spun and lunged forward. Her sword struck out at Ragnar just as he sprang from cover of the nearby trees, but he was too quick for her and easily dodged out of reach. Immediately, he came in for the attack, and Dagmar, quickly recovering, blocked him at the last moment, then stepped away so as to whip her sword towards his legs. Again, Ragnar was too fast, and flicked her sword away with his own. Dagmar was quick and agile, but the seasoned warrior evaded her attacks. When she did succeed in striking him, he seemed to absorb the blow, only to come back at her with such force that it nearly knocked her off her feet.
“You have improved while I was away!” Ragnar commented, when she blocked a particularly powerful blow, holding her ground and throwing such force that he stumbled back. “How did you do that?” he asked in surprise.
“I’ve been practicing!” Dagmar boasted, flashing a grin.
“Enough for today?” Ragnar asked, moving to sheath his sword. Dagmar nodded. “Where did you learn to do that? Throw your weight like that?” he asked. “You should not have had the strength to knock me off balance.”
Dagmar shrugged. “The skald has been teaching me things,” she answered slyly.
“What sort of things?” asked Ragnar as he placed a rough hand on her shoulder to steer her back the way they had come.
“Secret knowledge. Galdr and Rúnar,” she answered, casting a sidelong glance at the elf walking along beside her.
“Magic,” he remarked quietly, frowning.
“I am learning to channel the forces of nature,” she explained, and noticing his doubtful expression, added, “Binding the elements to my will— water, earth, air, fire.”
Ragnar looked at her skeptically.
Dagmar made an exasperated sound. “It isn’t difficult. All elves can do it,” she said.
“I have done many things, princess, but I have never channeled any elements,” he stated flatly. “Unless pissing ale counts!”
Dagmar laughed. “Of course you have!” she exclaimed. “You are like an immovable boulder, yet you absorb a blow, bending with it, rather than letting it crush you. The boulder, your strength — that is earth, but bending and flowing around an obstacle is water.”
“And what you did— forcing me back?” he asked.
“That was the force of the earth, but this is a simplistic way of using these energies. There are other ways— controlling wind, causing the earth to shake, or calming the seas — these are all examples of elemental magic,” Dagmar explained.
“You have learned how to do such things?” Ragnar inquired.
“Some things, but not all. I still have much to learn,” she answered.
Ragnar was thoughtful, and they walked on in silence for some time. “Is it true that your mother was a seer?” he asked, breaking the silence.
Dagmar nodded. “Yes, it is true,” she said.
“Do you get it from her, the gift of prophecy and magical abilities?” he inquired.
“Probably,” said Dagmar. “My brother, Hagar, tells me she was a Valkyrie, but I think he must have been teasing. He tells me all sorts of nonsense, and it is difficult to tell when he is speaking truth and when he is having a laugh,” she added, smirking.
Ragnar nudged her with his shoulder, saying, “Poor little elf. You are not to be teased.”
Over the course of the winter, Dagmar divided her time between her lessons with Ragnar and with the skald. She was improving, growing stronger and quicker in combat skills, while her ability to conjure the elements and bend the forces of nature to her will became more powerful.
At long last, winter was nearing its end. The last of the snow melted and the ground began to thaw. The farmers began preparing their fields for the sowing of the first crops, while the sheep were let out to graze, the lambs bounding over the grassy meadows. Soon, the sea ports would be busy again with merchants and fishing boats coming and going.
Dagmar was glad for the milder weather, and spent much time outside, enjoying the sunshine. She was just heading out one morning, when, to her surprise, she saw a familiar young woman with auburn hair wearing a brilliant green dress crossing the courtyard.
The woman’s face brightened when she spotted Dagmar descending the steps from the house. “Princess, I was just on my way to see you!” the young woman called out. Her name was Ingrid, and Dagmar had known her all her life. Though Ingrid was a few years older, they had long been friends. Dagmar strode forward, and hugged her. “Lady Ingrid, I have missed you!” she exclaimed. “Why have I not seen you sooner?”
“Did you not hear? My sister had her baby, and I stayed to help her during the winter.”
Ingrid’s elder sister, who had married two years earlier, lived in a neighbouring village a good day’s ride from there.
“When did you get back?” Dagmar asked.
“Only yesterday,” Ingrid replied. “And where are you off to?”
“Nowhere in particular. Would you care to join me?”
“I’d be delighted!” said Ingrid with a smile. “Actually, I wanted to ask if you’d like to pick flowers with me in the woods.”
Dagmar agreed, and they walked arm and arm along the cobbled lane which led north of town, while Ingrid talked cheerfully of all that had been happening while she had been visiting her sister.
Within the woods, they happened upon a creek, and Ingrid stopped to admire a cluster of pretty blue flowers growing near the bank. She looked up in astonishment as Dagmar kicked off her shoes and stepped into the shallow water. “Have you gone mad? The water must be freezing!” she cried.
Dagmar laughed. “It isn’t terribly cold!”
Stepping near the water’s edge, Ingrid took Dagmar by the hand, and pulled her away. “Come, I want to speak with you!” she said.
“We have been speaking,” said Dagmar, smiling as she let her friend lead her away from the water.
“Isn’t there anything you want to tell me?” she asked, but Dagmar only stared at her in confusion. “I’ve been hearing rumours about you and a certain handsome, blonde warrior,” she said teasingly. “Does the name Ragnar mean anything to you?”
Dagmar’s eyes widened in surprise. “Ragnar? He’s my friend!” she answered.
“Only a friend?” Ingrid persisted.
“Yes, of course!” said Dagmar. “Why, what have you been hearing?”
“Oh, that the two of you were secretly in love,” replied Ingrid, playfully.
Dagmar looked to her friend in astonishment. “That’s absurd! I am not in love with Ragnar,” she insisted.
“Are you sure?” Ingrid asked.
“Of course I’m sure!” said Dagmar. “He is only a friend!”
“Well, if you say so…” Ingrid said. “You would tell me, wouldn’t you?” she asked softly after a moment.
“Yes, certainly,” answered Dagmar, casting Ingrid a questioning look. “Why do you ask?” Suddenly an expression of realization lit up her face. “You like him!” she accused. Ingrid avoided Dagmar’s gaze. “Of course, that’s it! You fancy him, but thought that I am love him!” Dagmar declared triumphantly.
“That’s just — it’s not true,” Ingrid muttered.
Dagmar laughed, saying, “Yes, it is! Look at you, you’re blushing!”
Her friend glanced at her scathingly. “Has no one ever told you that it’s not nice to tease?” Dagmar’s giggling ceased at once. “Besides, he’s never even noticed me,” Ingrid added with a pout.
Dagmar offered a sympathetic smile.
They continued on in silence, Ingrid pausing every so often to add another flower to her basket, while the elven princess appeared to be daydreaming.
Suddenly, Dagmar halted. “Did you see that?” she asked, staring off to a point further along the creek.
Ingrid turned to look in the same direction. “See what?” she replied.
“A shadow crossed my eyes,” and Dagmar started off in the direction she’d seen the shadow move.
Ingrid darted after her. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“I want to find out what that was!” Dagmar called back.
Her eyes quickly scanned her surroundings, and then spotting a flicker of movement, she dashed across the creek and off into the trees, leaving her friend trailing behind.
“Dagmar!” Ingrid called out when she lost sight of the princess, but there came no answer. Ingrid had never been as athletic as her friend, and was soon out of breath from chasing after the younger elf. She paused to catch her breath, and then continued on.
Dagmar had been unaware that Ingrid had fallen behind as she wove her way quickly through the trees. The creek had come around a bend, and she soon found herself following it once more, splashing through the water that gurgled over slippery rocks. She sensed a presence that she had not noticed here before. The elf squinted her eyes as the forest grew darker, and shot a glance up through the trees. Surely, it cannot be very late, she thought.
Slowing her pace now, she allowed her senses to hone in on the presence she had felt. It was still there, she noticed, and growing stronger as the forest grew ever darker. A cold chill ran down her spine, and she unslung her bow from her shoulder, silently notching an arrow. Dagmar felt that she was getting closer. A mist had formed not far ahead, and she crept towards it, keeping her bow aimed straight ahead. As she stepped into the mist, she found herself in a clearing and there appeared to be a spring a few paces further.
Meanwhile, Ingrid was still searching for her friend. “Dagmar, where are you!” she cried out desperately. She could not run any further, and didn’t know in which direction Dagmar had gone. Tears had begun to stream down her rosy cheeks, when she stepped into a clearing. A pool of crystal clear spring water lay before her, and there on the other side, drenched from head to toe, stood the silvery blonde haired elf, her back to the pool. Dagmar’s bow and arrows lay near the water’s edge before Ingrid.
“My lady! Are you hurt?” cried the auburn haired elf, quickly darting around the pool.
Dagmar turned to face her when she approached. “What?” she asked, a confused expression on her face.
“Are you hurt?” Ingrid repeated, and Dagmar shook her head. “I’ve been looking all over for you! Why did you run off? What were you thinking?” she demanded frantically.
Dagmar opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head. “There was someone here,” she explained.
“I don’t know.” she answered. “He’s gone now.”
“He?” Ingrid repeated. “There was a man here?”
Dagmar stared at her wide eyed as she replied, “I don’t know! One moment he was here and then he was gone again!”
Ingrid was at a loss for words. She looked down at her friend’s soaked white dress, and asked, “Why are you wet?”
Dagmar looked down and shrugged. “I swam across the pool,” she explained.
“Why?” was Ingrid’s exasperated reply.
“I don’t know!” answered Dagmar
Pulling off her shawl, Ingrid wrapped it around Dagmar’s shoulders, saying, “Come, let’s get you home.”
Ingrid accompanied the princess all the way back to Chief Sigmundr’s stronghold, and would not leave again before Dagmar was dressed in dry clothes. Only after Prince Hagar had assured her that he would keep a close eye on his sister, did Ingrid feel satisfied and bid them both farewell.
Taking a seat on the couch beside her, Hagar looked his sister in the eyes. “What happened in the forest?” he inquired. “Ingrid said you saw someone.”
Dagmar stared into the flames roaring in the fireplace of the parlour. “I thought I saw a man, but now I’m not so sure,” she answered.
“Was it another of your visions?”
Dagmar shrugged. “It might have been, but it seemed so real. Not like in a dream. But then it just vanished!”
Dagmar would say no more, and so Hagar did not pursue further explanation. However, he kept a close watch over her throughout the remainder of the day. When their father and Siegfried heard of what happened, they were concerned, but Hagar assured them the best thing to do was leave her be. And so Dagmar was free to ponder over the events of the day.
What she did not tell her brother is that she had indeed seen a man in the forest, and that they had spoken, however briefly. She did not dare to mention how he had lured her to him, nor how effortlessly he had lifted her from the cool water. And what had occurred next caused her to blush just thinking about it.
Summer drew near, and the day of Chief Sigmundr’s departure was fast approaching. Dagmar had begged him relentlessly to take her with him, but it looked as though he would refuse to allow her to accompany him on his journey to Berserksheim. He said it would be too dangerous, but she could not see how that could be, since it was to be a friendly visit.
Chief Sigmundr, going over the final details in preparation for his voyage across the North Sea, stood on the beach, watching elven warriors load supplies onto his longship.
“When will you set sail?” Siegfried asked, joining his father.
“The day after next,” Chief Sigmundr replied.
“Dagmar will never forgive you if you leave her behind,” Siegfried said with a sly smile, casting a sideways glance at his father, who chuckled.
“No, I expect she will never let me forget such an affront!” he exclaimed, amusement plainly showing on his handsome face, a glint in his green eyes. “I suppose it will do no harm, this being a friendly visit, after all,” he reasoned.
Siegfried huffed indignantly, narrowing his eyes. “There can be no such thing as a friendly visit with the dark elves,” he insisted.
Chief Sigmundr sighed, looking to his son. “You know as well as I that Anu Duinn cannot afford a war. We need to ease tensions with Ivar, before the situation worsens.”
Siegfried grunted. “We need to rid the world of their ilk,” he muttered. His father ignored the remark, his gaze fixed upon the distant horizon.
“Perhaps I shall take your sister with me after all,” Sigmundr said after a time. “She wants to see the world. Let her see the worst of it, as well. It will be an education for her.”
The sun rose in a hazy sky on the morning of Chief Sigmundr’s departure. As he joined his crew on the beach readying the ship, a tall, slender girl ran out onto the beach to join him. Her long silver blonde hair was bound in a braid that wrapped from the left side of her head to hang across her opposite shoulder. She was dressed in her usual deerskin pants and fitted olive green shirt; a bag slung over her shoulder. She slowed as she approached, her bright green eyes gazing pleadingly up at her father’s face.
A hint of a smile twitched at his mouth. “Where do you think you are going, daughter?” Sigmundr demanded, looking down at her.
“With you, of course,” she replied with a pout.
Chief Sigmundr raised an arched eyebrow at his daughter, trying not to show his amusement. “Well then, you’d best get on board,” he said with a grin.
Dagmar’s face brightened with joy and she flung her arms around her father, thanked him, then darted off toward the ship. She tossed her bag up to one of the men and clamoured aboard herself.
As the last of the crew climbed up into the sleek ship, they pushed off, taking up oars, to row out into a placid sea.
After nearly a month, they landed at last in the southern region of Berserksheim, but their destination, the stronghold of Chief Ivar, Berserksborg, lay a few day’s journey to the north by land. Chief Sigmundr had allowed only his and Dagmar’s horses to be brought on the sea voyage, so horses had to be hired for the rest of his men. Only a small number of the crew remained behind to guard the ship.
Upon their arrival at Chief Ivar’s stronghold, they were welcomed cordially, if not warmly, into his company. Ivar’s friendly manners could hardly have been believed to be sincere, but his assurances of desiring peace with Anu Duinn gave Chief Sigmundr hope.
Chief Ivar was particularly interested in Sigmundr’s daughter. “Princess Dagmar, what a lovely young lady you are!” he exclaimed, taking her hand in his. “I am delighted that you were permitted to accompany your father on his journey here. Such pleasant company as yours is hard to come by in this dark and desolate land!” he commented cheerfully, his greedy eyes scanning her body. There was something unnerving about his saccharine manners.
Slipping her hand from Ivar’s grasp, Dagmar met his gaze. “Thank you for your kind welcome, Lord Ivar,” she said in stiffly polite response.
Placing a protective hand on Dagmar’s shoulders, Chief Sigmundr directed his attention to the dark elf. “My daughter insists on accompanying me on all of my travels!” he said, in an attempt to be friendly. “And how is your son, Lord Ivar?” Sigmundr inquired.
“Very well!” Ivar answered. “I only regret that Ásbjorn cannot be here to welcome you and your charming daughter, lord Sigmundr, but he is away to the north hunting bears!”
“I thought dark elves only hunt elves?” Dagmar proclaimed, immediately regretting her words; but Ivar only laughed, clapping a hand on Sigmundr’s back, as he led them into the castle.
“The girl has nerve, I’ll give you that!” Ivar said, grinning. “No, my dear! We hunt all manner of creatures, but elves are the most enjoyable!” he remarked, winking mischievously at Dagmar, at which she felt a jab of revulsion that she barely succeeded to suppress.
Anticipating their arrival, Chief Ivar had ordered a grand feast in honour of his guests, and so, that night they dined together in the feast hall. Many of the Berserkir jarls had come, eager to greet the elven chief, and their ranks filled the hall.
“My people are hopeful that your visit here will result in a future of peace between our two kingdoms!” Chief Ivar explained, gesturing to the dark elves who were seated around the hall.
Dagmar noted the optimism which lit up her father’s bright green eyes. She knew how much he desired to see an end to the raids which plagued their lands; yet when she looked into the fiery red eyes of the dark elven chief, she felt only doubt and distrust and could not share in her father’s enthusiasm.
Letting her gaze wander about the hall, she observed the way many of the dark elves watched their guests, often speaking in hushed whispers, casting skeptical— even hostile— glances towards the high table, where Dagmar was seated with her father. Chief Sigmundr did not seem to notice, absorbed as he was in his conversation with Ivar.
One man seated in the hall caught her eye. He had a square jaw, and his long grey hair was in stark contrast to his rugged youthful appearance. A wolf pelt cloak hung from his shoulders, the silver fur glistening in the torchlight.
The grey haired dark elf was having a whispered conversation with a man seated to his right, when he abruptly turned his steely gaze toward Dagmar. The look of pure hatred in those quicksilver eyes sent a chill up her spine and she quickly averted her eyes.
Dagmar turned her attention back to Chief Ivar.
“Your daughter would make a fine match for my son,” she heard Ivar say. He met her gaze, and the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile, his red eyes narrowing.
She held his gaze with a challenging glare.
Her father, however, did not take the bait, saying, “No doubt your son is a fine man, but my daughter is barely of age and I do not wish to be hasty in making arrangements for her betrothal.”
Ivar’s smile faltered and his eyes narrowed. “Naturally,” he said coldly. “No doubt she has many suitors already,” he remarked, the smile returning to his face.
Chief Sigmundr returned the smile. “A princess will always have many suitors,” he replied.
How different it had been, meeting with the old chief of Rathmahen so many years ago. Dagmar had been only a child at the time, and though she did not remember much of their visit, she did recall how kind and fatherly Chief Daggeir had treated her. Indeed, she had liked him, despite the fact that he was a dark elf and an enemy of her kin. He had desired a treaty with Anu Duinn, but for reasons she did not fully understand, Dagmar’s father had refused the conditions proposed, and all discourse with the dark elves of Rathmahen had ceased.
The hour grew late, and the hall grew quiet, as Ivar’s guests departed or in drunken stupor, fell asleep where they sat.
Dagmar, exhausted from her travels and the lateness of the night, rose from the table. “Lord Ivar, it is late, and I believe my father is more tired than he’d care to admit,” she announced with forced politeness.
“Of course, my Lady, as are you, I expect!” Ivar replied, inclining his head. “How inconsiderate I have been to keep you so long from your beds! Then let us retire!” he announced, and rising from his seat, he motioned for a servant to show his guests to their rooms. Sigmundr and Dagmar thanked Ivar for the generous feast, wished him a good night, and departed the hall.
Dagmar struggled to fall asleep that night. Tired as she was, she could not ignore the uneasiness she felt.
When at last she did sleep, she dreamt of the time she had spent in Rathmahen.
The morning sun shone brightly, the air was crisp and cool as Dagmar skipped along the cobbled lane. When she reached the blacksmith’s shop, she stopped just outside the open doors. She could see the blacksmith busy in the back of the barn, but he was not alone. A tall, dark haired warrior was hammering a glowing hot blade at the forge, the clank of metal ringing like a bell. The warrior’s head was shaved on the sides and his ears were pierced with silver rings, as well as the bridge of his nose, his nostril and septum, and his lower lip. He glanced up as Dagmar entered timidly, briefly meeting her eye before returning his attention to his work, his dark hair, which he wore swept to one side, falling across his face.
Avoiding the forge, Dagmar walked towards the blacksmith, who had by now noticed her presence and was coming her way. She unsheathed her sword and held it out to him. “Would you please sharpen this for me?” She asked, handing it to the dark elf. He was a large, muscled man, with long dark hair and an amber fire burning in his eyes.
The man looked at the sword, then thrusting it back into Dagmar’s hands, said in a gravelly voice; “I not work for elves,” his grasp of the common tongue imperfect. He sneered at her before returning to his work.
Startled and embarrassed, Dagmar began to turn towards the door, when the warrior who had been quietly observing the girl from his place at the forge, came forward and held out his hand for the sword she carried. “Give it to me,” he ordered, his voice deep and smooth. As Dagmar shyly handed her sword to the warrior, she looked up into his blazing green eyes, blushing as his fingers brushed hers, and she quickly averted her eyes.
Taking the sword in his strong grasp, the warrior held it upright, noting the fine quality of the light blade. “To whom does this sword belong, girl?” he asked, glancing at Dagmar.
“It is mine,” she answered quietly.
“What does a little girl need with a sword?” he growled, raising his brow inquisitively. Dagmar looked at the ground, and when she did not answer, the dark elf went on. “This would be put to better use in the hands of a lad who is destined to become a warrior.” His accent was thick, guttural, and he rolled his R’s, though he spoke the common language flawlessly.
“It was made for me,” Dagmar retorted meekly.
“And what good is it to you?” he demanded. “I ought naught to sharpen it, lest you should cut yourself with it.”
“I will not cut myself, sir!” snapped Dagmar angrily.
The warrior laughed, flashing his sharp canines, but going over to the grindstone, he said; “Take care that you do not, for I will not be held responsible if you injure yourself!” Dagmar attempted to hide a smile as he began sharpening the blade.
When he had finished, he came to Dagmar, extending the hilt of the sword towards her. She reached to take it, but the warrior held it tightly, giving her a stern, challenging glare, before finally releasing the hilt. Dagmar sheathed the blade and thanked him.
“Do you have a name, girl?” he asked, looking down at her.
“Dagmar,” she answered.
“You are the daughter of the elven chief who is here to negotiate a treaty with Chief Daggeir?” The warrior inquired.
“I am,” she replied.
The dark elf studied her face a moment, before he next spoke. “Enjoy your visit, princess.” Then, without waiting for a reply, he turned back to his work at the forge.
When Dagmar awoke in the morning, she pondered over her dream. She never saw the dark elven warrior again, and knew not what had become of him. Curious that she should dream of him now, thought Dagmar.
That morning the sky was dark, as a storm rolled in from the mountains to the west, bringing heavy rain. Lightning lashed across the sky, and thunder shook the ground, and the raging wind howled.
The storm kept everyone indoors the whole day. Chief Ivar’s castle, though large, was ancient and some parts were closed off. Other than the feast hall, only one large parlour was open to Ivar’s guests. After breakfast, Dagmar accompanied Ivar’s wife, Kamilla, into the parlour, while her father and a few of his most trusted men remained in the feast hall with Ivar to discuss the terms of the proposed treaty. Two large north facing windows took up most of one wall, overlooking the grounds and the dark forest beyond.
A fire blazed in the large fireplace set in the western wall, and Dagmar and the lady of the house seated themselves across from one another before its comforting warmth. Lady Kamilla took up her needlework, and they remained in silence for some time, until Dagmar could bear it no longer.
“Fine weather we’re having,” said she.
“Indeed,” replied Kamilla without looking up from her task.
“Is it always so dreary?” Dagmar asked.
Kamilla looked up to fix Dagmar with a cold stare. “I am terribly sorry if you find the weather in our lands so inconvenient. Perhaps you will not care to burden us again with your company,” she snapped haughtily, her golden eyes flashing dangerously, before returning to her needlework.
Dagmar stared aghast at the dark elven woman, then desiring some occupation to pass the time, she glanced about the room. Above the mantle over the fireplace hung a large framed painting depicting Chief Ivar, his wife, and what must be his son, a large, broad shouldered man with black hair and bright green eyes.
“Is that your son?” Dagmar asked Kamilla, pointing to the painting.
Kamilla glanced briefly towards it and nodded. “Yes, and a fine young man he is,
too,” she answered, a smug expression upon her long face.
Dagmar offered a weak smile. Whatever Kamilla’s son might be, he certainly looked formidable, she thought.
Unable to sit in this attitude any longer, Dagmar stood and walked about the room, studying the few portraits which were hung from the walls, and reading the titles of the books on a rather small bookshelf. Lord Ivar and his family did not appear overly fond of reading, she observed. After a while, however, Dagmar grew bored of her perusal of the dark parlour and returned to her seat by the fire. Kamilla continued to ignore her, and the morning was spent in near total silence, until the bell was rang for dinner.
The midday meal was served in the family dining room, rather than the feast hall. Chief Sigmundr was in high spirits, just as Chief Ivar appeared to be.
“Perhaps, we will be friends, yet!” Ivar declared jovially, and held up his glass. “Here’s to a thousand years of peace!” he toasted. Everyone raised their glass in agreement. Everyone except for Dagmar, that is. As she sipped her wine, she saw Chief Ivar’s eyes narrow as he met her gaze, an unpleasant smile turning up the corners of his mouth as he studied her.
When at last the day came to depart from Ivar’s cold abode, Dagmar felt a wave of relief, but it could not melt the sensation of cold dread that had been gnawing at her these last days, though she could not say what troubled her.