Success! I Have A Manuscript!

Much thanks to Hyperion (aka Dan) for all your help, especially for preparing my manuscript for me. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Twilight of Yggdrasil, the Dark Realm is very near to becoming a real book! This is book 1 of a trilogy, for those who are new to my blog.

Last step before beginning the enquiry process: a final review to make sure all recent edits and revisions are accurate, etc, and then I’m finished.

I’ve made myself a latte, the laptop is on, and I’m ready to get started!

Wish me luck, folks! The journey to publication is about to begin!

And to all of you who’ve stuck around since almost the very beginning, a big thank you for all your support and encouragement!

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Keepers of the Stones, Part 4

Keepers of the Stones, Part 4

Continuing the tale of Olwen, after the tragic murder of both her parents and her narrow escape, she is taken in by the gnomes who discovered her after her narrow escape into the forest. The tribe’s most renowned Seer and bard will be responsible for her upbringing. To avoid having this story get too long, I’ve decided to skip ahead a little. Read on to find out what happens next.

Terrwyn's_House

Olwen was just a girl when her parents were brutally murdered by dwarves while traveling through the mountains. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of strangers, she would have been lost. As the years passed by, the gnomes who had welcomed her into their midst became like family to her. She still lived with the Seer, Terrwyn, and had taken to calling him Grandfather. He taught her well, and as a result, she was becoming an adept healer, just like her mother. But what she most enjoyed was the magical connection she had to nature. When Olwen wished it, clouds would roll in, bringing rain. She could touch a plant and watch it grow, cause flowers to bloom with the warmth of her breath. Animals were drawn to her, and it was not uncommon for a deer or a wolf to approach her when she strolled through the woods and allow her to pet them.

Terrwyn was proud of her, as he so frequently reminder her. But he was growing old now, and was not as able as he had once been. It saddened Olwen to see how stooped and feeble had had become, and she did what she could for him, but even her healing powers could not stave off the effects of old age indefinitely.

      Hearth3

      A day came, when Terrwyn called her to his side where he sat bundled in a thick shawl before the fire of his small house. Most of the gnomes lived in dwellings too small for Olwen to enter, save for Chief Cledwyn’s hall in the ancient willow and Terrwyn’s home, which, having foreseen her coming, had been modified in preparation for her. Still, she had to duck her head to pass through the low doorways.

It was nearly midwinter, with the longest night just days away. The sun set early this time of the year, and despite being only late afternoon, it was already dark. Olwen carried a wooden bowl of hot rabbit stew over to Terrwyn, and seated herself beside him on a cushion.

“You wish to speak with me, Grandfather?” she asked, handing him the bowl. He sniffed the steaming stew and smiled.

“Your rabbit stew is the best I’ve ever eaten, my dear,” he said, bringing a spoon full to his mouth.

Olwen waited patiently until he had swallowed his food.

Terrwyn cleared his throat, and turned his sharp, beady eyes on her. “I am old, Olwen,” he said seriously. “I will not live to see the spring.”

“Don’t say that!” Olwen cut in. “You have many years, yet.”

The old Seer shook his head. “You know as well as I that that isn’t true,” he replied. “I have lived a long and good life, and am ready leave this tired body. But your story is only just beginning, and there is much you must know.”

“Tell me, Grandfather,” Olwen urged, leaning forward to prop her elbows on the armrest of Terrwyn’s seat.

The old gnome sighed and tugged his shawl more snugly about his body. “Long ago, before you came to us,” he began, speaking slowly and choosing his words with care, “Chief Cledwyn had a vision. The old willow is the heart and soul of our people, and she speaks to us, offering her wisdom to those who seek, and she told him that an elven girl, bearing the gem of the heavens about her neck, would come to us, and that her life would be in danger. I had the same vision; as did the other elders. There could be no doubt that we were meant to help this girl, and so, when you entered the forest, our Chief sensed your presence.”

Olwen smiled. “But I know all this, Grandfather,” she said affectionately.

Terrwyn shook his head. “You don’t know everything,” he stated. “That is no ordinary jewel you wear,” he added, prodding the bright, blue sapphire that hung from a silver chain about Olwen’s neck. She gave him a quizzical look. “You are aware of it’s magical powers, but you don’t know why or where it came from. The Sky Jewel gets its name because it fell from the heavens. Some believe it was a star which was plucked from the sky by the Gods and given to the elves. Long ago, there were several such stones, of different colours, and each had unique magical properties, but most were destroyed by those who were jealous of the elves, who alone could wield their powers.”

Olwen was mesmerized. “Tell me more!” she pleaded.

Terrwyn chuckled. “There are now only two stones left,” he said. “Yours and one other.”

“Who has the stone?” she asked.

“A dark elven chief,” answered the Seer in a foreboding tone. “His is called the Blood Stone, for it is red as blood and makes its bearer invincible in battle. Arawn is his name, and he rules the underworld.”

Olwen gasped. “I have heard his name before!” she exclaimed.

“I am not surprised,” replied Terrwyn. “Arawn has a terrible reputation for being a cruel and bloodthirsty warlord, but there is more that you must know. For reasons unknown to me, your parents betrothed you to Arawn when you were a little girl, and it has come to the Chief’s attention that Arawn has learned of your parent’s fate and has been seeking you all these long years.”

Olwen frowned. “Surely, there must be some mistake,” she said. “I cannot believe my parents would not have done such a thing! How did you come by this information?”

“The same way we knew of your coming,” he answered. “It was revealed to me in a vision.”

There was a flicker of fear on Olwen’s face. “You will not tell him that I am here? Please, I am safe here. You must let me stay!” she cried.

“A promise is a promise,” he replied, shaking his head. “Chief Cledwyn intends to send word to Arawn after my passing.”

“No! He mustn’t!” exclaimed Olwen.

Terrwyn held up a weathered hand to silence her. “But he will not force you to marry against your will,” he assured her. “If Arawn wishes to take you as his wife, he must earn your favour. That is Chief Cledwyn’s decree.”

Relief mingled with dread in Olwen’s eyes. She was afraid. What if Arawn would disregard Chief Cledwyn’s decision and force her into marriage anyway? Throughout the course of the next days, she wondered if it might be better to run away.

At last, she decided to visit her old friend, Deri.

Olwen2

I hope you enjoyed this latest installment of Keepers of the Stones. Stay tuned for the next part, coming soon! Please, leave a comment, and feel free to share a link on your own blogs if you enjoy reading my writing.

Keepers of the Stones, Part 3

Keepers of the Stones, Part 3

Greetings, fellow bloggers! My apologies for keeping you all waiting, though I doubt anyone had to resort to rabid nail-biting or other nervous tics after being left off on a cliff-hanger. ;-D

Anyhow, I present you with Keepers of the Stones, part 3, and do hope you enjoy it. If you like what I do here, please spread the word, and don’t forget to leave a comment. Reader feedback, positive or negative, is always appreciated!

For those of you just joining us, I recommend reading parts one and two of Keepers of the Stones, first.

Recap: In part one, the heroine, a young elf by the name of Olwen accompanies her parents on a journey to heal a dying girl. Whilst crossing the mountains, they are attacked by dwarves, who then kill both of Olwen’s parents. Only her magical sapphire protects her from harm, and she flees into a forest. There she encounters a young gnome, who brings her back to his village. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by a guard who informs them that the Chief demands an audience with Olwen and her guide, and they are led to his hall within the trunk of an ancient willow tree. Despite having introduced herself to her guide using a false name, mysteriously, the Chief knows who she is. Continue reading to find out what will happen next!

      gnome_house

      Olwen stood before the Chief of the gnomes with her mouth agape, momentarily dumbfounded. With effort, she gathered her composure. “How do you know my name?” she demanded.

The Chief smiled knowingly. His weathered face did not appear unkind, Olwen observed. “You are one of the last keepers of the sacred stones,” he began, then stroked his beard with a gnarled hand, pondering his next words. “Your coming has been foretold.”

Olwen frowned. “Foretold by whom?”

The Chief’s smile broadened and he spread his arms wide, gesturing to the space around them. “This ancient willow, within which I have built my hall, is my people’s Ancestor Tree. We call her Great Grandmother, for she is the memory of the land and of our folk, and we look to her for her wisdom,” the old gnome explained. “I received a vision of your coming in a dream, which the Seer confirmed. You, Lady Olwen, have long been expected. On behalf of my people, I welcome you and offer my sincerest condolences for the loss of your family.” He propped his chin on his clasped hands, as he studied the young elf.

“Thank you,” Olwen muttered.

“But we have not been properly introduced,” said the Chief. “I am Chief Cledwyn, and it is indeed a pleasure to meet you.” He offered Olwen a warm smile, which she struggled to return. “I understand young Deri, here, has extended an offer of hospitality, which was most courteous of him, but that will not do.” Deri’s face fell upon hearing that the elf was not to be his guest, after all. ” I have already made other, more suitable arrangements. You will stay with the Seer, Terrwyn. He will be charged with your care and to oversee your education,” Chief Cledwyn concluded. He motioned to one of the guards at the door, who immediately exited the hall.

Olwen exchanged a curious look with Deri, then Cledwyn invited them to be seated at a table to one side of the hall. A servant entered, carrying silver platters and proceeded to place an assortment of dishes on the table. When she offered to serve the Chief, Cledwyn waved her away.

Olwen peered into the tiny, silver pots which had been placed before her, their contents unfamiliar. Deri grinned. “Try this one,” he said, eagerly, and slid a pot towards her. She opened the lid and spooned a small portion onto her plate. It appeared to be a thick, creamy stew of a dark green colour. The scent of pungent spices wafted into the air, and Olwen’s stomach growled. Using the wooden, three-pronged fork she had been given, Olwen scooped up a small amount and tasted the stew.

“What do you think?” asked Deri, still grinning.

The stew was hearty and rich, and tasted of dandelion leaves, rabbit, and cumin, and other unfamiliar spices and herbs. Olwen smiled. “It’s delicious!” she answered.

Olwen and Deri had just started shoveling various dishes onto their plates, when the doors opened and in walked a stooped, elderly gnome using a twisted wooden staff for support. His mossy-brown eyes swept the hall and came to rest on the elf. Olwen met his gaze, but the gnome turned his attention to Chief Cledwyn and bowed low.

“Thank you for coming, Terrwyn,” said the Chief. “As you can see, the vision proved true, for the elven witch has come.” Chief Cledwyn and Terrwyn both turned to Olwen.

Bewildered, Olwen set down her fork and looked from one gnome to the other. “Why do you call me a witch?” she asked.

“Aren’t you?” asked Cledwyn, smiling.

“No!” exclaimed Olwen. “I mean, it’s not that I have anything against witches, but I’m just a girl. My studies have only just begun,” she added.

“So it is,” chimed in Terrwyn. The unexpected sound of his deep, gruff voice almost startled Olwen. Even Deri looked up from his meal to give his full attention to the old gnome. “But a witch with much to learn is no less a witch,” he stated matter-of-factly.

Before Olwen could open her mouth to protest, Chief Cledwyn cleared his throat. “Lady Olwen, allow me to introduce Terrwyn, our most revered Seer and bard,” he said. “He will be your guardian until you come of age.”

Olwen studied the gnome carefully. His long beard was pure white, to match the thinning hair on his head; He wore faded brown robes, belted around his waist, but despite his advanced age, Terrwyn had sharp, keen eyes, that gave an impression of intelligence.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Olwen said with a note of uncertainty in her tone.

Terrwyn smiled. “The pleasure is all mine, Lady Olwen.”

“When you have finished your supper, Terrwyn will escort you to his home, where a room has been specially prepared for you,” said Chief Cledwyn.

At a loss for words, Olwen only nodded. After they finished eating, she and Deri were bid a good evening by the Chief and shown from the hall.

“Good evening, Deri,” said Terrwyn, pointedly, once they were outside in the the cool, evening air.

Deri nodded, and glanced up at Olwen, his expression sheepish. “Well, Lady, this is where I leave you,” he said sadly. “I hope we shall see more of one another.”

“So do I, Deri,” replied Olwen. “Thank you for your help today.”

Deri watched as Olwen turned away to follow Terrwyn along the narrow, cobbled lane. Then with a sigh, he headed home.

Fairy_Forest2

…to be continued.

Keepers of the Stones, Part 1

Keepers of the Stones, Part 1

Good morning, fellow bloggers! It is Tyr’s day, and today I thought I would do something different. I rarely post any of my writing on here, other than the occasional excerpt, and thought maybe I should do something about that. The other day, as I was organizing the last of my stuff since moving, I came across a folder that had the original short story I wrote in high school, so many years ago. This was the story that inspired the trilogy I am currently writing. (For those who don’t know, the first book is complete and in the process of being formatted into a manuscript in preparation to send to the editor. With any luck, it may soon be published!) I skimmed through the short story, just out of curiosity. It’s been many years since I read it. My first thought was to either post it on WordPress or stash it away where it will never again see the light of day. While my classmates and my English teacher back then may have found it entertaining, my adult self, who has since gone through such a drastic evolution of literary taste, is appalled! I’m glad I waited so long to finally begin writing the book I was determined to write since that high school writing assignment.

Anyway, I came to an alternative. Rather than post the original story, I will instead rewrite the short story as a sort of writing exercise for the entertainment of everyone here. (Sorry, but I’m too embarrassed to share the original for comparison! :-D) After looking it over, I have decided to change some of the original names/place names, because it just isn’t up to my current standard, and I think in this way, I can have a bit of fun with it. After consideration, I have decided to use names of Celtic Gods and characters, but keep in mind, these characters are not the same as those of lore and myth, but rather something of a tribute to them. Anyway, this is just a lighthearted bit of writing fun, and I don’t want to spend months developing the story. I will post this in two parts, or maybe more, depending on how long it takes to write.

So, without further ado, I give you Keepers of the Stones. (I know, I know! Lousy title, but remember, this is a rewritten version of a story I wrote when I was only seventeen.)

      magic_sapphire

      Once, long ago, in a far off land, called Lan Fayes, there lived an elven Druid of great renown. The Druid, Mathonwy, dwelled with his wife and young daughter in a magnificent hall hewn of pure sapphire, and from the very hall itself, they drew their powers, for the sapphire it was made of was enchanted with vast magical powers.

But Mathonwy’s wife was no less renowned than himself. Called the May Queen by the people of Lan Fayes, Cordelia wielded power over living things that could cause flowers to bloom, trees to bud new leaves, and to bring forth new life to the land. She had a heart full of love, and Cordelia loved no one so much as her daughter, the care-free child of Spring, Olwen. On the day of her birth, Cordelia gifted to Olwen a very magical sapphire which changed colours and was enchanted with the power to protect its bearer.

“May it keep you safe from all harm, my darling girl,” Cordelia whispered as she fastened a silver chain bearing the sapphire around Olwen’s neck. And from that day, Olwen wore the precious gem always.

As Olwen grew, so, too, did her own magical powers. Like her mother, she had a special affinity for growing things. Mathonwy and Cordelia were greatly pleased to note that their daughter had also inherited Cordelia’s healing powers, and so they taught her well.

When Olwen was nearing womanhood, there came an urgent message from a chief of a distant clan, desperate to save his dying daughter, who had been afflicted with a curse by a jealous woman. In his message, the chief pleaded for Mathonwy and Cordelia to come, and make great haste, for his daughter’s time was running out. And so, Mathonwy and his family set off on a journey that would lead them over the mountains to the chiefdom that lay beyond.

It was a long journey by horseback, and they did not reach the mountains for many days. It would take many days more to make the crossing, but they were making good time, and Mathonwy had high hopes of reaching the afflicted girl in time. But on the fifth night of their travels through the mountains, they were set upon by dwarves, whose thick skins and enchanted armour shielded them from Mathonwy’s magic. Helpless to fight against the dwarves, Mathonwy ordered his wife and daughter to flee to safety.

Just then, the leader of the dwarf band, strutted forward and pointed his ax at the Druid. “After this day, the dwarves will sing praises that Hafgan the Terrible slayed the the famous Druid of the Faye! Mathonwy, today is the day you die!” the dwarf declared.

Battling_dwarves

Cordelia and and Olwen started to turn back, but Mathonwy held up his hand. “Go,” he shouted. “I will hold them off!” He braced himself for the fight, as Hafgan stalked closer. Cordelia’s face was pained as she gazed one last time on her husband, before turning away and urging her daughter on.

The dwaves closed in around Mathonwy, but he never took his eyes off Hafgan. In an instant, the fight began. Hafgan lunged at the Druid, and Mathonwy counted with a powerful spell that blasted against the dwarf’s heavy armour, but only succeeded in causing Hafgan to stumble back. The dwarf charged Mathonwy a second time, this time darting out of range as he sent another spell. The force struck a boulder, which burst in a million shards of splintered rock. Before he could gather his energy for another attack, Hafgan struck down Mathonwy with one powerful swing of his ax that lodged deep in his chest. His face contorted in agony and he gasped for breath as blood welled in his throat. Hafgan grinned cruelly, jerked his ax blade free, and set off in pursuit of Cordelia and her daughter.

Mounted on horseback, Cordelia and Olwen were faster than the dwarf, and he soon fell behind until they lost sight of him completely. But still they rode on, afraid to slow their steeds, lest the dwarves should catch up with them. Tears streamed from Cordelia’s face for her fallen husband, but if Olwen wept, she hid her tears well. But they had not gone far, when more dwarves descended from the secret passages in the mountain, to bar their escape.

Cordelia screamed, and Olwen’s terrified gaze darted from the dwarves to her mother, seeking instruction. Then she saw him. Hafgan, and the sapphire her mother had given her, shone indigo. How he had caught up to them so quickly was, to Olwen, a wonder. Frightened as she was, she felt hatred boiling up inside her.

“Olwen, run!” Cordelia whispered, suddenly at her side. When Olwen started to protest, Cordelia hushed her with a look. “I will distract them. You must escape. Now go!”

Cordelia threw everything she had at the dwarves, just as Olwen heeled her horse and charged past the dwarves who attempted to bar her way. She made saplings erupt into massive trees beneath their feet, rocks came tumbling down from the slopes to crash upon the dwarves below, wind howled, rain sleeted, pelting their faces, but it was none of it enough. The dwarves were too many, and too strong. Hafgar laughed when he plunged his ax into Cordelia’s back.

The last thing Olwen saw as she made her escape, was her mother fall to her knees, but already, she was too far way to see the anguish she knew would have shown on Cordelia’s face. After that, all was a blur. Dwarves pursued her, but could not catch her, could not touch her, and any who tried, did not live to try again, for the magical stone that Olwen wore about her neck protected her from harm. And so she rode, until the dawn broke and she found herself in a forest like none she had ever seen before.

fantasy

To be continued…

Ready, Set, Go!

Ready, Set, Go!

And it’s time to knock out the last chapter! (Technically, not the last chapter of the book, because I already completed editing chapter 11 before proceeding chapters, so I’m now working on chapter 10. The non-writers in my life are always so baffled when they hear how out of order I work! Haha!)

Anyway, to jumpstart my morning writing session, I’ve made a very tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, swiss chard, mushrooms, spring onion and sundried tomatoes, as well as a homemade latte! No cutting corners on the espresso, either. I buy good beans and grind them fresh, then brew my double shot of espresso, steam the milk, and ta-da! Professional quality latte! (And yes, it really is, because I used to work in a cool little bakery making all the cappucinos, lattes, mochas, etc.)

Well, enough talk of food and lattes. Time to get to work!

Another One Down!

Editing for chapter 9 is finished! Only one more chapter to go. Then I just need to review the small additional scenes before Hyperion can do the formatting. After that, it will be off to the editor, and I’ll be contacting those of you who volunteered to read the finished product!

Ahhh!!!! I’m so excited to have made it this far!!!!

The Twilight of Yggdrasil – The Dark Realm, Book 1: Chapter 1

The Twilight of Yggdrasil – The Dark Realm, Book 1: Chapter 1

Here is the first chapter. Just like with the prologue, pay no attention to the numbered paragraphs. I look forward to hearing everyone’s honest opinion and hope you all enjoy the chapter.

1. On a cool, crisp autumn morning, an hour before dawn, an elf, with silvery blonde hair bound in a long braid, and a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder, mounted her pale horse. Her bright green eyes emitted a soft glow in the darkness, and a look of determination sharpened the otherwise gentle features of her face. The two moons still shone in the predawn sky, and the amethyst and sapphire pearlescent light caught at the silver ring that pierced the left nostril of her slender nose. She wore an olive green tunic, belted at the waist, and tan deerskin pants. Her boots, made of the same soft leather and trimmed with fur, rose to her knees, accentuating her svelte figure. She only considered the warmth and protection of her attire. The admiring glances from the guards never registered as she rode out of her father’s keep. She rode a great, pale stallion. He was a war horse, whose former rider had fallen in battle a few years ago. She had claimed him, and he had proved a brave and reliable steed. Dagmar was her name, and she was the only daughter of Sigmundr, Chief of Anu Duinn, which was a small, but prosperous elven kingdom in Álfheimr‒ home of the elves, and one of the nine worlds of Yggdrasil, the world tree.

2. Dagmar heeled her horse into a trot and set off through the elven town. Her horse’s hooves clattered on the cobbled streets that were lined by trees of birch, whose delicate golden leaves fluttered in the gentle breeze. She passed by houses built of wood and stone, some with exquisite archways carved, or hung with creeping vines; some with doors adorned with intricate designs. Wherever there was a patch of soil, a burst of foliage and the last of the late summer blossoms held on in the dewy predawn light. This was an elven town, where nature was not suppressed to make way for the lifeless creations of sentient beings, but rather, the dwellings of the elves were interwoven into a harmonious co-existence with the living world.

3. The cobbled lane gave way to rolling fields, and Dagmar steered her horse to cut across the open ground. Once out on the meadows, she heeled her horse into a gallop, her body matching the rhythm of her horse. She squinted with the crisp morning breeze stinging her eyes, laughing gleefully as she threw her arms out to her sides as if she were soaring through the air. She crossed a gurgling brook, the horse’s hooves kicking up a spray of cold water through the knee-deep stream, and then meandered amidst the sparse trees. Eventually, the trees grew denser, a gradual transition from meadow to wood.

4. The first rays of the sun were just beginning to peak over the horizon by the time the elven princess had ridden deep into the forest, where the leaves had already turned to shades of carmine and amber and gold. Dagmar 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.

5. Dagmar spotted a stag through the trees in the faint light, just as the sun was starting to climb out from the underworld. It was grazing on the grasses just beyond the shelter of the wood. Silently, she raised her bow, strung an arrow and, her eyes trained on her mark, sent a surge of energy flowing through her into the bow grasped in her right hand. She drew back the bowstring. A golden 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 released the arrow. It shot through the air in a flash, hitting its mark. The stag staggered forward and collapsed onto the dewy grass.

6. Dagmar dismounted and 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 steel into the stag’s throat, tearing through its flesh, and blood gushed from the wound.

7. The stag was too heavy for Dagmar to lift onto her horse, so she fashioned a litter by lashing a few sturdy branches together. Next, she laid it out beside the stag and heaved the beast onto it. Then she hitched it to her horse with a hempen rope.

8. The ride home took much longer with the stag being dragged behind her horse. When she returned, it was to news of the arrival of dragon ships. Elven warriors had returned from their exploits abroad.

9. Among the warriors to return were Dagmar’s two elder brothers, Siegfried and Hagar.

10. Dagmar had returned with her kill only an hour ahead of her brothers. When their arrival was announced, she rushed out to greet them. Sauntering across the courtyard was a group of elven warriors. Prominent among them were two elves with long dark hair and bright green eyes, their attire and armour marking them as lords of Anu Duinn. Dagmar’s face lit with joy when she caught sight of her two brothers, and she darted across the flagstones to throw herself into Hagar’s arms.

11. Her brother burst into laughter, and he embraced her in his muscular arms. “Did you miss me, little sister?” he asked cheerfully, releasing her.

12. Dagmar smiled. “I always miss you when you go away,” she said. “Why won’t you take me with you?”

13. Hagar put his arm around her shoulders and steered her towards their father’s hall. “You know why,” he said. “It is too dangerous.”

14. “No one seems to think that it is too dangerous for you and Siegfried,” she persisted.

15. “We are men,” said Siegfried flatly, falling into step beside Dagmar. “And warriors. You are just a girl.”

16. Dagmar cast him a reproving glance, slipping free of Hagar’s arm. “I can fight,” she retorted. “This morning, I even killed a stag!”

17. “Hunting deer is not the same as fighting the Svartálfar. You wouldn’t stand a chance against a seasoned warrior,” Siegfried insisted, then strode ahead. Taking the steps two at a time, he was halfway to the top when his sister replied.

18. “What makes you so certain that I do not have what it takes to be a warrior?” retorted Dagmar to Siegfried’s back. “I have been practicing, and I want to fight!” she proclaimed with passion.

19. Siegfried slowed. Dagmar could see him tense and knew he was biting back his frustration. Her eldest brother never did have much patience with her.

20. “We are only looking out for you, little sister,” the younger of her two brothers said to console her. “A battlefield is no place for a woman,” he added.

21. “Our mother was a shield maiden, and she always rode into battle with Father,” Dagmar argued.

22. “And it was on a battlefield that she died,” said Hagar sadly, giving Dagmar’s shoulders a squeeze. He released her and sprang lithely up the steps of the great hall to greet his father, Chief Sigmundr, who had just emerged from the open doors to welcome his sons home.

23. “Men die on battlefields, too,” Dagmar muttered to herself. Her brothers and father could think what they liked, but Dagmar would not be discouraged. She had seen a glimpse of her fate and knew that she was destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The time would come for her to prove herself a shieldmaiden, and she would be ready.

24. 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. Lining the hall were long tables and benches, and Chief Sigmundr’s Hirðmenn took up more than half the space. Several serving women entered, carrying platters of food, including roasted venison from the stag Dagmar had killed.

25. The elven princess took her place at the high table with her father and two brothers. She observed Siegfried and her father engrossed in conversation, their whispers drowned in the cacophony of boasts, the grate of drinking horns smashed together, and the raucous laughter of warriors glad to live through another season of battle.

26. “Damn the Svartálfar!” barked Siegfried, slamming his fist on the table. “Why should we make peace with any of them? They are all of them evil!” he growled.

27. Siegfried’s sudden outburst caught Dagmar’s attention, and she leaned in closer to hear what had brought it on.

28. “Would you prefer war?” Chief Sigmundr asked calmly.

29. “If it would mean destroying the whole lot of them, then it would be worth it,” Siegfried replied.

30. “Ah, but at what cost?” asked the elven 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.”

31. At this, Hagar joined the conversation. “Do you mean to negotiate a treaty with Hrothgar, Father?” he asked.

32. “The King of Rathmahen? He is the most formidable of all the lords of Svartálfheimr,” Sigmundr remarked. Then he turned to his eldest son. “What would you do, Siegfried, if the decision was yours to make?” he asked. “Would you seek a treaty with King Hrothgar and the Svartálfar of Rathmahen, or would you prefer to take your chances with a weaker adversary, and sue for peace with Jarl Ivar of Berserksheimr?”

33. “If those were my only choices,” Siegfried said after careful thought, “I would much rather see a treaty made with the Svartálfar of Rathmahen than a feeble promise of peace from Ivar,” he decided.

34. “That is where you and I differ, Siegfried. Hrothgar Daggeirsson is far more powerful and infinitely more dangerous than Ivar,” Chief Sigmundr stated. “Never trust Hrothgar. He is a bloodthirsty warlord who is as cunning as he is ruthless. He could deceive you without ever breaking an oath.”

35. “Whereas Ivar is fickle, as bloodthirsty as Hrothgar, and hungry for power,” Siegfried persisted.

36. “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.”

37. “I have heard of Hrothgar’s ruthlessness in battle. His military prowess is legendary,” chimed in Hagar. “But nothing I’ve heard tell would have me doubt that he is a man true to his word. The elves of the White Wood have made peace with Rathmahen, and it seems to have been effective at stemming the flow of raiders in their lands.”

38. Sigmundr gave his son a disapproving look. “The Lord of the White Wood also turns a blind eye to the slave trade that goes on in their kingdom,” he stated with bitterness. “Would you have me sell my own people into slavery?” Hagar looked down at the table and did not answer, so Sigmundr continued. “Hrothgar is patient. He will bide his time and lull his prey into a false sense of security before he strikes,” he spat the words. His expression grew hard. “There can, of course, never be lasting peace between the Álfar and the Svartálfar.”

39. “King Hrothgar will not be pleased if he learns that you made peace with his enemies,” Hagar remarked. “Does not the prospect of his retaliation concern you, Father?”

40. “If I make peace with the Berserkir, then let Hrothgar be displeased,” replied Sigmundr sourly. “As for a treaty with Ivar, I do not yet know if an agreement is reachable, and so for the time being, I will not concern myself with what Hrothgar might do.”

41 “Then you have made up your mind; you will negotiate with Ivar of the Berserkir?” asked Hagar, his disapproval thick in his voice.

42. Sigmundr nodded. “It seems to be the safest option.”

43. Hagar frowned. “I disagree, Father, but the decision is not mine to make,” he conceded.

44. “No, it is not your decision to make,” Chief Sigmundr reiterated, a little more harshly than he had intended.

45. Hagar caught Dagmar’s eye and noticed the pensive look in her eyes. He gave her a questioning look, but she only shook her head.

46. Later, Hagar came to sit beside his sister. Taking a flagon of wine, he poured a glass for himself, then refilled Dagmar’s cup. Hagar turned to study her, but she pretended not to notice. “So, what do you think of Father’s plans for dealing with the Svartálfar?” he asked, at last, when she would reward him with no reaction.

47. “What do I know of such matters?” she said with a shrug and sipped her wine.

48. Hagar gave her a skeptical look. “You appeared concerned about his decision. I thought, perhaps you’d had a premonition.”

49. Dagmar frowned. “No, nothing like that. It’s just that I don’t understand why father declined the treaty with Rathmahen’s old king,” she said, glancing at her brother. “I liked him. He seemed like a good man, and he was kind to me. All the troubles our people have endured over the years might have been prevented, had Father agreed to his terms.”

50. “The dead King Daggeir?” Hagar chuckled, brushing his long dark hair from his face. “It was nothing to do with him. He was alright, as far as Svartálfar go. His son was the problem.”

51. “Why was that?” Dagmar asked.

52. 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. King Hrothgar is a thing of nightmares; he can play tricks with your mind and haunt your dreams. He feeds on the blood and agony of his victims, and steals their souls!” Hagar flashed a wicked grin and burst into laughter at Dagmar’s wide-eyed expression.

53. Dagmar pursed her lips and slammed her fist into his shoulder. “You’re an ass, brother!”

54. Hagar roared with laughter, which rewarded them with curious glances from guests seated at the lower tables. He turned up his glass, slammed it on the table, and rose from his seat. “Come dance with me,” Hagar said, holding his hand out to Dagmar.

55. She smirked, but accepted his hand and let him lead her into the middle of the feast hall, where other elves were already dancing. Dagmar and her brother fell into step with the lively music, and she laughed with glee when Hagar lifted her up and whirled her about. When the song ended, Dagmar’s cheeks were flushed, and she grinned happily. Hagar exaggerated a bow, making her giggle, and together, they returned to their seats at the high table. It occurred to Dagmar that she was never so happy as when her brother was home, and she smiled inwardly.

***

56. The first snow fell a month later, heralding the beginning of winter. The last weary bands of elven warriors arrived about this time. Chief Sigmundr’s shipmaster, the blonde haired Ragnar, was the last to sail into port. He was a broad-shouldered warrior, battle-hardened and good-natured, and well liked by his crew and his Chief.

57. Upon his return, Ragnar received a warm welcome from Chief Sigmundr when he was shown into the great hall. He knelt with head bowed before his Chief, rising only when Sigmundr beckoned for him to approach the dais.

58. “What news is there from Lan Fayes?” Chief Sigmundr inquired.

59. “The Álfar of Lan Fayes have seen more raids than usual these past few years, and their defences are stretched thin,” he replied.

60. Chief Sigmundr sent for drink, then motioned for Ragnar to be seated. A serving woman entered the hall and offered him a horn of ale, which Ragnar accepted. Next, she ascended the dais to serve the Chief. Sigmundr waved the serving woman away after she had filled his drinking horn. Then he turned his attention back to Ragnar. “I hear the same from all over Álfheimr. Many of the Álfar lords are overwhelmed by an influx of raiders from the north,” he confided. “Who is behind the raids on Lan Fayes?”

61. Ragnar shrugged. “Svartálfar from Rathmahen and from Berserksheimr,” he guessed. “They’re all the same‒ foul creatures, born of darkness. There will be no peace in our world so long as the Svartálfar can voyage to Álfheimr at will.”

62. Sigmundr sighed. “Well, unless the Æsir see fit to sever the connection between our two worlds, then I am afraid we must continue to endure their unwelcome presence,” he replied.

63. Ragnar took a long draught of ale, then looked to his chief, his brow furrowed. “There is more, my Lord,” he said in a low voice. “King Varr is dead; slain in battle by Svartálfar out of Rathmahen.”

64. The look of horror that crossed Sigmundr’s face was palpable. “This is grave news,” he remarked. “Tell me, Ragnar, who now rules in Lan Fayes?”

65. Ragnar shrugged. “The crown should pass to his eldest son, but Jari is weak. I expect Reginn will contest the appointment of his elder brother as heir and will make a claim for the throne himself,” he answered.

66. Sigmundr shook his head. “This does not bode well, my friend,” he remarked wearily. “The White Wood pays homage to Rathmahen, and now the kingdom of Lan Fayes is on the brink of ruin. Who will we turn to for aid when we are faced with war?” he wondered aloud.

67. “If it comes to war,” said Ragnar. “There is still hope yet for a truce with our enemies, is there not?” he inquired.

68. Chief Sigmundr laughed bitterly. “And what kind of a truce can we hope for?” he asked rhetorically. “King Hrothgar is too shrewd to be outwitted in negotiations, and Jarl Ivar will not keep the peace for long, even if a treaty can be made,” he admitted regretfully.

69. “There is a rumour that the peace between the Whitewood and Rathmahen is breaking down,” remarked Ragnar.

70. Sigmundr’s eyes widened in surprise at that news. “Why is that? Has Hrothgar betrayed them?” he asked.

71. The blonde haired elf shook his head. “Not that I have heard. Hrothgar’s pact with the Álfar 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 there could be a rebellion. They question their Lord’s decision to make treaties with the lords of Álfheimr,” Ragnar explained.

72. “Har! Is the slave trade not enough for the fiends?” Sigmundr thundered.

73. Ragnar huffed. “The Svartálfar will never be satisfied until they have total dominion over all Álfheimr! Even that is not likely to be enough, and then they will turn their sights to Miðgarðr once more!” he exclaimed in disgust.

74. Sigmundr sighed. “I don’t doubt it,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not strong enough to ward off all the raiders of Svartálfheimr, and the more we fight against them, the weaker we will become.”

75. “What do you propose?” asked Ragnar, as he refilled his drinking horn.

76. “Before the summer raids begin again, I plan to sail to Berserksheimr, to negotiate a truce with Jarl Ivar,” he answered.

77. “Do you think that is wise, my Lord?” Ragnar asked. “Ivar is a known oath breaker, and not to be trusted.”

78. “Yes, Ragnar, I am well aware of that fact, but I do not expect a permanent peace between us. I hope to buy us time to regather our strength,” Sigmundr replied.

79. “Why not make your peace with Hrothgar? At least he keeps his promises, and Rathmahen is far more powerful, and thus, a much greater threat to have as an enemy than the Berserkir,” Ragnar suggested.

80. “Hrothgar will demand a regular payment of slaves,” Sigmundr stated flatly.

81. “And Ivar will not?” countered Ragnar.

82. “Of course he will!” said Sigmundr. “But Ivar is short-sighted, and I will persuade him to accept other terms. Do you know what Hrothgar demands from the Álfar of the Whitewood?”

83. “Women!” Ragnar joked.

84. “Be serious, man!” snapped Sigmundr. “Hrothgar demands boys and fighting men! He keeps his enemies weak by taking the strongest among them. 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?”

85. Ragnar drummed his thumbs on the edge of the table, pondering over what Sigmundr had said. King Hrothgar was dangerous; everyone knew that. But Ivar‒ he was a snake, and Ragnar could see no advantage to negotiating with him, but it was his Chief’s decision, and he was not one to question his superiors.

86. Neither spoke for a long while. Then Chief Sigmundr broke the silence. “I worry about my daughter most of all,” he confessed, unexpectedly.

87. Ragnar looked up abruptly and noted the sadness in Sigmundr’s green eyes. “Why do you worry, my Lord? She is well protected here,” he assured his Chief.

88. “You had not been long in my service when my wife died. I don’t suppose you remember her?” Sigmundr looked at the rugged elf.

89. Ragnar nodded, saying, “Lady Gersemi. I remember her well. Your daughter takes after her.”

90. Sigmundr chuckled at that, adding, “She does indeed. Too much, I fear.”

91. Ragnar waited patiently for his Chief to continue.

92. “My wife had the Sight,” Sigmundr said. “Of course she did, being the daughter of Freyja,” he added, smiling wistfully. “When my daughter was a small child, my wife came to me to tell me of a vision she had had of Dagmar. Though she could not say by whom, Gersemi was certain that our daughter would be hunted by those who meant her harm. She begged me to make a sacred vow to keep our daughter safe, and I have done all in my power to protect her,” he explained. “But Dagmar– well, you know she can be. Stubborn to a fault.”

93. Ragnar’s face lit with a knowing smile. “She is that,” he remarked with a chuckle.

94. Chief Sigmundr studied the elf for a moment. “The girl is fond of you,” he said.

95. Ragnar averted his eyes, reluctant to meet his Lord’s perceptive gaze.

“I know she convinced you to train her,” Sigmundr declared, to Ragnar’s surprise. He waved his hand to silence Ragnar’s protest. “Do not deny it, Ragnar. I’ve heard all about her lessons! Oh, not from her, of course!” Sigmundr asserted, and there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “I don’t like it, of course. These notions of hers– to be a shieldmaiden– ought not to be encouraged, but if I forbid her to train with you, she will be all the more determined. Dagmar is not to be denied!” he laughed.

96. “My Lord,” ventured Ragnar. “Teaching a girl to fight would hardly make her more vulnerable. If there is a true threat to her safety, she would be better able to defend herself, than if she were not skilled with a sword.”

97. Chief Sigmundr smiled. “I do believe that you are fond of her, as well,” he accused, not unkindly. “Careful that you do not grow too fond of her,” he warned.

98. Ragnar did not flinch from his Chief’s gaze this time. “She is my Princess, my Lord,” he stated boldly. “I would give my life to defend her, and you need not fear that I would ever do anything to harm her.”

***

99. There was much work to do in preparation for the winter months. The community had to stockpile wood for the fires, cull livestock, and repair buildings and fortifications. Good Fortune brought a bountiful harvest that year, so there was no shortage of food.

100. Now that he was home, Ragnar kept himself busy helping with the workload. He had been in Anu Duinn for several days before Dagmar came to see him. He was splitting wood outside the barn when she found him, shirtless with sweat glistening on his tanned skin, the split logs already heaped high beside him.

101. “Ragnar!” cried the 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, as her eyes skimmed over his muscled chest and down to his lean waist.

102. Ragnar pretended not to notice. “My Lady,” he said, inclining his head. “I wondered when I might see you.”

103. Dagmar stepped forward and took the axe from his hand. She tested the weight of it and twirled it, before swinging it down. The sharpened edge lodged in the chopping block. “I have been up in the hills with the Vitki these past few weeks,” she explained, and with her chin held high, turned to face the tall elven warrior.

104. Ragnar smiled down at her, amused by her self-assured manners. “So, you have not abandoned your studies?” he inquired in a tone that suggested disappointment if she had.

105. “Of course not!” she replied with a laugh. “Now that you are back, might we resume our lessons?” Dagmar asked, a mischievous glint in her bright green eyes.

106. “How did I know you were going to ask that?” Ragnar teased. “It is the only reason you pay me any mind because you know that I am fool enough to do anything you ask of me.”

107. Dagmar sulked as she gazed up at him. “That is not true, Ragnar,” she cooed. “You are my dearest friend.” And it was no lie, for of all Anu Duinn’s warriors, Ragnar was Dagmar’s favourite, and he was quite fond of the free-spirited girl, as well.

108. Ragnar’s expression became serious. “You still wish to be a shieldmaiden,” he said, stepping towards a barrel to splash icy water on his face.

109. “You know I do,” insisted Dagmar, following him.

110. Ragnar wiped his face with a cloth and flung it over the edge of the water barrel. He turned back to Dagmar and searched her face, with sternness in his pale blue eyes that she was not accustomed to. “Your father disapproves,” he stated.

111. 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 shieldmaiden. My father cannot shelter me forever.”

112. 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.

113. “Well?” said Dagmar, moving in close beside him. “You have not given me your answer.”

114. Setting the next log in place, he said, “Come find me at first light tomorrow.”

Dagmar grinned and, standing on tip-toe, dropped a quick kiss on his cheek, before darting off.

115. Ragnar flinched in astonishment and shook his head as he watched her go. Then he tossed another log onto the block and swung the axe.

***

116. Dagmar slipped from the house the next morning, her sword sheathed at her right hip. She found Ragnar across the courtyard, leaning against the wall of the armoury. He looked her over, then motioned for her to follow.

117. “Are you going to tell me where we are going?” she asked after they had been walking for some time.

118. “I thought we’d practice in the woods today,” he said, without slowing his swift pace.

119. Dagmar had to jog to keep up with Ragnar’s long stride, excited about the new challenge.

120. Once well in the woods, Ragnar commanded her to go on further. He waited until she was far enough ahead, then slipped out of sight.

121. Dagmar had been walking as silent as she could for some minutes when she noticed how quiet it had become. Glancing around, she searched for Ragnar but could find him nowhere.

122. “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 of earth and snow. Then she let her mind reach farther, and farther — and then, she felt it — a presence somewhere in the trees behind her. She crept forward. Maintaining her focus, she slid her sword from its sheath, being careful to keep her back to the apparition, until she sensed it draw nearer. With a sudden, swift movement, she spun and lunged. Her sword struck out at Ragnar just as he sprang from the cover of the nearby trees, but he was too quick for her and dodged out of reach. Immediately, he came in for the attack, and Dagmar, quickly recovered, blocked him at the last moment, then stepped away 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 almost knocked her off her feet.

123. “You have improved while I was away!” Ragnar commented after she blocked a particularly powerful blow, holding her ground and throwing such force that he stumbled back. “How did you do that?” he asked, astonished.

124. “I’ve been practicing!” Dagmar boasted, flashing a grin.

125. “Enough for today?” Ragnar asked, moving to sheath his sword. Dagmar nodded.

126. “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.”

127. Dagmar shrugged. “The Vitki has been teaching me things,” she answered.

128. “What sort of things?” asked Ragnar as he placed a rough hand on her shoulder to steer her back the way they had come.

129. “Secret knowledge. Galdr and Rúnar,” she answered, casting a sidelong glance at the elf walking along beside her.

130. “Sorcery,” he remarked, frowning.

131. “I am learning to channel the forces of nature,” she explained, and noticing his doubtful expression, added, “Bending the elements to my will— water, earth, air, fire.”

132. Ragnar raised an eyebrow.

133. Dagmar made an exasperated sound. “It isn’t difficult. All Álfar do it,” she said.

134. “I have done many things, Princess, but I have never channeled any elements, unless pissing ale counts!”

135. Dagmar burst into a fit of giggles. “Of course you have!” she exclaimed when her laughter subsided enough to speak. “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.”

136. “And what you did— forcing me back?” he asked.

137. “That was the force of the earth, but this is a simplistic way of explaining these energies. There are other ways— controlling the wind, causing the earth to shake, or calming the seas — these are all examples of elemental magic,” Dagmar explained.

139. “You have learned how to do such things?” Ragnar inquired.

140. “Some things, but not all. I still have much to learn,” Dagmar answered.

141. Ragnar was thoughtful, and they walked on in silence for some time. “Is it true that your mother was the daughter of our Lady Freyja?” he asked, breaking the silence.

142. Dagmar nodded. “Yes, it is true,” she said. “Who told you that?

143. Ragnar shrugged. “Just something your father said,” he replied. “Do you get it from her, the gift of prophecy and magical abilities?”

144. “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 the truth and when he is having a laugh,” she added, smirking.

145. Ragnar nudged her with his shoulder, saying, “Poor little Álfr. You are not to be teased.”

146. Dagmar shoved him hard and laughed. “I have missed you, Ragnar,” she remarked.

***

147. Over the course of the winter, Dagmar divided her time between her lessons with Ragnar and with the Vitki, who was a Seer and keeper of the sacred wisdom and magic of the elves. Dagmar was improving, growing stronger and quicker in combat skills, while her ability to wield the magic of Galdr and Rúnar, conjure the elements and bend the forces of nature to her will became more honed and powerful. The Vitki also taught her the history of Anu Duinn and of all Álfheimr. He showed her the ancient and sacred lore, and he taught her to develop her gift of Sight.

148. Midwinter came and went, along with its festivities, and once again, Dagmar returned to the hills where the Vitki, Bran, resided. She met him in the sacred grove, where an ancient ash tree stood sentinel. For many generations, the tree had endured, guarded and cared for by the Vitkar and Völur who had ever served the Lords of Anu Duinn. The Vitki, dressed in robes of black and carrying a staff hewn from ash, was waiting for Dagmar beneath this sacred tree. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his fair hair to ward against the cold.

149. The Vitki stood when he saw Dagmar approaching, and she bowed in greeting. Bran motioned for Dagmar to follow, and they walked together amidst the barren trees, speaking in soft tones. They talked about the great wheel of time and the changing of the seasons, and Dagmar told Bran of her most recent visions.

150. Then, after a while, Bran said, “Let us see how much you have learned, Princess. Tell me, how were the worlds formed?”

151. “It was the Úr Aldr— the Primal Age,” Dagmar, pensive, began. “In that time there was no sand, nor grass, no sea, nor cool waves. There was only a mighty chasm, Ginnungagap. Then in the north formed a world of mist, called Niflheimr. In its midst lies a spring, Hvergelmir, from which flow the Élivágar rivers.

152. “In the southern region of Helheimr was Sökkdalir, known as the sunken dales or by another name, the ancient land of the Fire Giants called Musspelheimr. It is a world that burns bright and hot, but there was no sun to shine. From Helheimr flows Urðarbrunnr, the fountain of warmth and strength.

153. “The Élivágar rivers flowed into the chasm where they hardened into ice. From this ice Kvikudropar, the poisonous liquid spewed out and froze into icy rime. Then layer by layer the hoarfrost grew in the northern regions of Ginnungagap.

154. “Within the gap, there was mist and windswept rain. But light grew in the south from the sparks and glowing embers which flowed out of Helheimr. The fire gave life to the ice, and Ginnungagap became as mild as a windless sky. In each direction rose a sacred fountain which would bring life into the worlds.”

155. The Vitki, Bran, nodded approvingly. “And how did Yggdrasil come into being?” he asked.

156. Dagmar studied the wise old trees, under whose barren limbs they walked, and answered, “Where Ginnungagap once was lies Mímisbrunnr, the well of wisdom. In the darkness, a golden seed was formed, which fell into the well. From this seed sprouted the mighty World Tree, Yggdrasil, which sent out roots through the three powers. Its interlacing root threads formed the foundation on which Jörmungrund, the underworld, rests. Throughout the long ages the tree grew ever higher, and upon its overlapping branches the various worlds would have their foundations.” Dagmar looked expectantly at the Vitki when she had finished reciting.

157. “Excellent,” he commented. “Tomorrow, you will tell me who were the first beings in the ancient land and how they sprang to life. Off you go now, Princess,” said Bran with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

158. The next day, Dagmar returned, just as she had the day before. As they walked through the wood, she told him how Ymir, the first Jötun grew out of the dripping rime; and of his descendants, Mímir and Bestla, who gave rise to a family of beautiful and benevolent Jötnar. Also, of those descendants of Ymir, who descended from his strange three-headed son, the frost giants called Hrímþursar.

159. A long time they walked beneath the trees until Dagmar had finished the tale. Then Bran led her to sit beside a spring which lay in the shadow of the ancient ash. Steam rose from the surface of its warm water. Around this spring the earth remained green with vegetation all year round.

160. The Vitki sat in silent contemplation for some time, then asked, “Do you remember from whence came the Rúnar?”

161. Dagmar nodded and answered, “Óðinn sought a drink from Mímisbrunnr, to gain power and wisdom. Mímir, the well’s guardian, would grant his request if Óðinn would prove himself worthy through self-sacrifice. Óðinn said,

“I know that I hung

On the wind-tossed tree

Nine nights,

Wounded by my spear,

Given to Óðinn,

Myself to myself;

On that tree

Of which no one knows

From what root it springs.”

162. “And so,” Dagmar continued, “Óðinn received Fimbulljóðar, the nine rún songs, that contain secret powers.” She went on to explain how the Rúnar came to all races of beings, saying, in conclusion, “Even to the Jötnar, by whom the Rúnar would afterward be put to ill use.”

163. “Well done, Princess,” Bran remarked with a smile. “Nothing of great worth can be achieved without self-sacrifice,” he added, giving Dagmar a pointed look. “When next we meet, I will tell you how Vanadís Freyja learned the magical arts of Seiðr and Galdr.”

164. Dagmar laughed merrily, saying, “That is easy! Freyja learned Seiðr from the wicked Völr, Gullveig. Óðinn taught Galdr to Freyja in exchange for knowledge of Seiðr.”

165. Bran chuckled. “Well, then, I must think of something else to teach you,” he stated. “But now it is time for you to return to your father’s home.”

166. Dagmar thanked the Vitki and bade him farewell before departing alone.

167. At long last, winter was nearing its end. The last of the snow melted, and the ground began to thaw. The farmers prepared their fields for the sowing of the first crops. Sheep were let out to graze, and the lambs bounded over the grassy meadows. Soon, the seaports would be busy again with ships and boats coming and going, with merchants selling their wares and fishing boats hauling in their catch.

168. Dagmar was glad for the milder weather, and spent much time outside, enjoying the sunshine. She was heading out one afternoon, when, to her surprise, she saw a familiar figure with auburn hair and wearing a green dress crossing the courtyard.

169. The woman’s face brightened when she spotted Dagmar descending the steps from the house with bow and quiver of arrows slung over one shoulder. “Princess, I was just on my way to see you!” the young woman called out.

170. “Lady Ingrid,” hailed Dagmar to her lifelong elder friend. Dagmar strode forward and hugged her. “ I have missed you!” she exclaimed. “Why have I not seen you sooner?”

171, “Did you not hear? My sister had her baby, and I stayed to help her during the winter.”

172. Ingrid’s elder sister, who had married two years earlier, lived in a neighbouring village a good day’s ride away.

173. “When did you get back?” Dagmar asked.

174. “Only yesterday,” Ingrid replied. “And where are you off to?”

175. “Nowhere in particular. Would you care to join me?”

176. “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.”

177. Dagmar agreed, and they walked arm and arm along the cobbled lane which led south of town, while Ingrid talked cheerfully of all that had happened during her visit with her sister.

178. 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 boots and stepped into the shallow water. “My Lady, you mustn’t! The water must be freezing!” she cried.

179. Dagmar laughed. “It isn’t terribly cold!”

180. 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.

181. “We have been speaking,” Dagmar pointed out, grinning as she let her friend lead her away from the water.

182. “Isn’t there anything you want to tell me?” Ingrid prompted, but Dagmar only stared at her in confusion. “I’ve been hearing rumours about you and a certain handsome, blonde warrior,” she teased. “Does the name Ragnar mean anything to you?”

183. Dagmar’s eyes widened in surprise, and a blush rose in her cheeks. “Ragnar? He’s my friend!” she answered.

184. “Only a friend?” Ingrid persisted.

185. “Yes, of course!” said Dagmar. “Why, what have you been hearing?”

186. “Oh, that the two of you are secretly in love,” replied Ingrid, playfully.

187. Dagmar looked at her friend in astonishment. “In love!” she exclaimed, laughing at the absurdity of it. “Well, if the rumour is true, I wish someone would have told me about it! And it wouldn’t have been much of a secret if everyone knew it,” she added.

188. “Then you aren’t in love with him?” Ingrid asked, doubt registering on her pretty face.

189. “Of course I’m not!” exclaimed Dagmar. “He is only a friend.”

190. “Well, if you say so…” Ingrid murmured. “You would tell me, wouldn’t you?” she asked after a moment.

191. “Yes, certainly,” answered Dagmar, casting Ingrid a questioning look. “Why do you ask?” An expression of sudden 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 in love him!” Dagmar declared with triumph.

192. “That’s just — it’s not true,” Ingrid muttered.

193. Dagmar laughed, saying, “Yes, it is! Look at you, you’re blushing!”

194. Her friend cast a scathing glance at her. “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.

195. Dagmar offered a sympathetic smile but could think of nothing to say to console her friend.

196. 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.

197. Suddenly, Dagmar halted. “Did you see that?” she asked, staring off to a point further along the creek.

198. Ingrid turned to look in the same direction. “See what?” she replied.

199. “A shadow crossed my eyes,” Dagmar murmured, then started off in the direction she had seen it move.

200. Ingrid darted after her. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

201. “I want to find out what that was!” Dagmar called back.

202. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, and spotting a flicker of movement, she dashed across the creek and off into the trees, leaving her friend trailing behind.

203. “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.

204. Dagmar was 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. It cannot be late, she thought.

205. 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. She unslung her bow from her shoulder and silently notched an arrow. Dagmar felt that she was getting closer. A mist had formed not far ahead, and she crept through the trees towards it, ready to draw her bow at the first sign of danger. As Dagmar stepped into the mist, she found herself in a clearing and there appeared to be a spring a few paces further. Then, at the far side of the spring, something caught her eye, and she raised her bow.

206. Alone in the woods, 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, her back to the spring, stood the princess, her silver-blonde hair dripping with water and her dress plastered to her skin. Dagmar’s bow and arrows lay discarded near the water’s edge before Ingrid.

207. “My lady! Are you hurt?” cried the auburn-haired elf, darting around the pool.

208. Dagmar turned to face Ingrid as she approached. “What?” she asked, a confused expression on her face.

209. “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.

210. Dagmar opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head. “There was someone here,” she explained.

211. “Who?” Ingrid was exasperated.

212. “I don’t know,” she answered. “He’s gone now.”

213. “He?” Ingrid repeated. “There was a man here?”

214. Dagmar stared at her wide-eyed as she replied, “I don’t know! One moment he was here and then he was gone again!”

215. Ingrid was at a loss for words. She looked down at her friend’s soaked white dress, and asked, “Why are you wet?”

216. Dagmar looked down and shrugged. “I swam across the pool,” she explained.

217. “Why?” Ingrid demanded irritably.

218. “I don’t know!” answered Dagmar. “It was the shortest way to the other side,” she offered weakly.

219. Pulling off her shawl, Ingrid wrapped it around Dagmar’s shoulders. “Sometimes, I really don’t know what to make of you,” she remarked. “Like that time you tried to tunnel under the earth and covered the pit so well that your father didn’t even see it and fell in.” Dagmar broke into hysterics, and Ingrid couldn’t help but laugh along with her. “Come, let’s get you home,” she said eventually.

220. 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 good day.

221. 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.”

222. 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.

223. “Was it another of your visions?”

224. Dagmar shrugged. “It might have been, but it seemed so real. Not like in a dream. Then he just vanished!”

225. Dagmar would say no more, and so Hagar did not pursue a further explanation. Moreover, he kept a close watch over her throughout the rest of the day. When their father and Siegfried heard of what happened, they felt concerned. 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 in peace.

226. 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 lured her to him, nor how effortlessly he lifted her from the cool water. And what occurred next– the touch of his lips on her skin, the heat of his breath when he brought his mouth to hers. Fear gripped her when her tongue slid over the sharp, elongated canines, drowned out by a fiery passion. Dagmar had kissed him hungrily then, the only man she had ever kissed, as her fingers explored the hard muscles of his back. His erection pressed against her belly aroused a need in her that she’d never felt before, and it caused her to blush just thinking about it.