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
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.