Járnviðr, The Iron Wood

Newly written opening to chapter three…

Three days on the road, and the sky was dark as steel. It had been snowing since the morning Ásbjorn and his companions rode out of Berserksborg, and they had not seen the sun in all that time.

They were heading deep into the north, to the east of the Iron Mountains. The further north they travelled, the deeper the snow, and the sparser the trees, as the terrain crept ever higher. This far north, it was seldom warm, and snow storms were common even in the summer months.

Ásbjorn rode ahead of the four hunters he’d brought with him. He pulled the hood of his heavy bearskin cloak low over his forehead, to shield his face from the stinging snow and wind. He screwed up his face as he peered into the falling snow, searching for familiar landmarkds.

“It’s no use! The snowfall is too heavy!” shouted one of the dark elves in Ásbjorn’s company. He urged his horse against the wind, until he had caught up to his prince.

Ásbjorn ignored the dark elf, his eyes still scanning the engulfing white.

“Do you hear me, my Lord?” shouted the dark elf. “We can go no further today! We need to make camp!”

  Ásbjorn turned blazing green eyes on the other, glowering. “Are you afraid, Ansgar?” he demanded.

“No, my Lord,” Ansgar replied, his eyes downcast.

“We push on,” Ásbjorn commanded. “I’ve found my way through worse storms; I will find my way through this!” he declared, and heeled his great shaggy horse onward.

Ansgar gestured for the others to follow, and they struggled on through the raging wind and heavy snow well into the night.

They made camp beneath an outcropping of rock, gaining a little shelter from the snow storm. A dark elf of immense stature, who was nearly as tall as Ásbjorn, laid out kindling for a fire. He struck his flint until the sparks caught at the dry moss and crackled into life. The others gathered around as the flames grew, glad for the little warmth it gave off.

“Where do you suppose we are?” the fearsome dark elf wondered aloud.

“We are a days ride east of the mountains,” Ásbjorn replied. “The Iron Wood is another few days northeast.”

“What makes you so sure?” asked the tall, stallwart dark elf.

Ásbjorn knelt before the fire to warm his hands. “I have tracked many a beast through these parts. I know this land like I know the feel of a woman’s breast,” he boasted, his voice a low rumble.

“How can you track anything in all this snow?” Ansgar spoke up.

“The same as you find your way between a woman’s thighs in the dark!” proclaimed another dark elf, and laughed heartily.

Ansgar glowered. “Ebbe,” he snapped, “you wouldn’t be able to find your way between a woman’s thighs even if the sun shone from her–”

“Shut up! All of you!” barked Ásbjorn suddenly. He stood and walked beyond the circle of firelight.

The stallwart dark elf followed. “What is it?” he whispered.

Then they heard it.

“Wolves,” Ásbjorn stated.

The howling sounded again, a long and forlorn sound.

“They are a long ways off,” the other dark elf observed.

“Indeed, Gerhard,” Ásbjorn agreed, then turned back to rejoin the others.

“It is only wolves,” he announced when he’d returned to the camp fire. “They shouldn’t trouble us tonight.”

They ate ate a meagre supper of salted pork, hard bread and ale. After he had finished eating, Ásbjorn tossed another log on the fire. “I’ll take the first watch,” he said.

Halfway through his watch, the wind died down, and Ásbjorn listened closely, but the night was silent, save for the snores of his companions and the occassional hoot of an owl. It came as a relief when his watch ended. He crept passed the fire and nudged Gerhard with his toe.

The dark elf opened his eyes and looked up sleepily.

“It’s your watch,” Ásbjorn commanded.

Ebbe woke them an hour before dawn. Quickly and quietly, the dark elves ate their breakfast, then stowed away their gear and loaded the two pack horses. By the time the first steely light shone from the grey sky, Ásbjorn and his band had left the shelter of the outcrop behind.

It did not snow again for the remainder of their journey, and they came upon a churning river on the evening of the seventh day of their travels. Beyond the river lay a vast, untamed forest. Once, in the ancient times, it had been beautiful. But the trees had turned hard and cold, plagued by the black magic known as Seiðr.

“Járnviðr, the Iron Wood,” Ásbjorn announced, as their horses hooves clattered over the smooth stones at the water’s edge. “Long ago, it was called Gaglviðr, for it was made of copper and bronze. But then Angrboða came here with her black arts, and now she rules as Queen of the Iron Wood. No one passes through this forest without her leave.”

“Is there a way across the river?” asked Ansgar, who watched the rushing rapids doubtfully.

Ásbjorn jutted his chin upriver. “There’s a shallow ford two miles from here,” he answered.

“What river is this?” inquired a dark elf whose eyes burned like two black suns. He had dismounted his horse and stepped towards the water’s edge.

“Keep out of the river, Hallvarðr,” warned Ásbjorn. “This is one of the Élivágar rivers. If you get caught in these rapids, you’ll be bashed against the reefs and churned into food for the fishes.”

Hallvarðr backed away from the river. “The waters of those rivers are poisoned, are they not?” he asked.

“They are,” Ásbjorn confirmed.

Not wanting to attempt the crossing in the dark, the dark elves followed the river east. They arrived at the place where the river was shallow and there they made camp for the night.

At first light, they crossed the river, and turned their course north, where the expanse of frost-stiffened trees stood.

Published by Jessica Urquhart

First off, who am I? My name is Jessica Urquhart. Writing has always been a hobby of mine, which got its start in middle and highschool, when I'd write short stories for the amusement of my friends and classmates. Currently, I'm working on my first book, my one true love of a story I've been saying I would one day write. Well, that day has come. If you'd care to follow my musings on the adventures and hurdles of writing my first fantasy book, then please, read my blog.

8 thoughts on “Járnviðr, The Iron Wood

  1. Thanks! I’m writing about Ásbjorn’s journey into Jötunheimr, and taking liberties, of course. The forest he traverses is the same one that Tolkien based his Myrkwood on. So, I’ve been perusing my copy of the Poetic Edda, and have run out of descriptions of the forests and what one might find there. In my quest for inspiration, I had the impulse to have a look at what Tolkien wrote about it in the Hobbit. It’s been a while since I read it. Anyway, I can’t find it anywhere! I’ve searched all over the apartment and turned up nothing! Arghh!!! 😡

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  2. Very engaging, Jessica. I’m beginning to think the Dark Elves are kinda naughty and that makes them seem playful under the tough conditions they find themselves in. I liked how Aśbjorn kept discipline in the ranks and his men seem to respect him. Great scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! That’s an interesting take on it. In the lore, the Svartálfar are kind of bad guys, so naughty seems fitting. But even villains can be playful. Some are, some aren’t. My interpretation of the dark elves is this: if the light elves are good and pure, then the dark elves are the opposite, in nature, though not as a rule. I expect they would seem demonic to humans. The elves are magical beings, so naturally the dark elves would be, too, but as in most aspects, even their magic would likely be dark compared to their elven cousins.
      For some reason, though, this scene is proving very challenging to write!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like your insights to the Dark and Light Elves. In fact, it is deeply intriguing. All of my writing is based on the concept of darkness and light in human traits and life experiences. When writing it into a story it is challenging. I think if you show that the Dark elves have likeable traits as well as their characteristic dark traits then they become more real in a way that cranks up the mystery and tension when their are conflicts between them and the light elves who can also show some dark characteristics in their emotions or ambitions. That also paves the way for synergy between the groups bringing the reader into the story at a deeper level. Of course, you have your main plot to attend to but bringing your reader in emotionally makes the story memorable and epic. When you are rich and famous will it be okay if I tell my friends I know you? You have an awesome story to tell.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha! You crack me up! If I ever become rich and famous, feel free to brag! 😂
        You make some excellent points. So far, I see this duality of qualities taking shape with the dark elves, but less so with the light elves. I’m far more interested in dark elves, and realize that I may be neglecting the poor elves. Hopefully, all that will get worked out as the story develops. Of course, I have to remind myself that Dagmar is an elf, not a dark elf. Where she is concerned, there is a bit of darkness showing in her character, though not with any evil intent.

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      3. I think it all works well together. One of the biggest challenges is to create a hero or heroine protagonist that has faults and weaknesses. We want them to succeed and conquer all challenges but stories are much more interesting when you have no idea if the protagonist is going to make it or can’t see how they can overcome a major challenge. This creates that tension that keeps us flipping pages to find out.

        Liked by 1 person

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