I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to participate in these Author Aerobics exercises being posted by T. S. Bazelli on her blog, but I decided to participate this week, at least. (I say I’m not sure because the situation on the home-front may evolve such that I might need to take a short break from regular daily blog updates, for a little while, to focus my attention on things there or for school.)
Anyway, this week’s challenge was a dialogue punctuation excercise, asking us to utilize a number of different dialogue tags and punctuation. Which means, of course, that the story would largely involve a lot of talking. Oh, and we were asked to touch on the theme of “spring” (with the sly suggestion at the end that this could mean “the season” or “the coil”… or something else, entirely). I decided to pass on another shot at a steampunk (it’s too soon), as much as I enjoyed the last one, and go straight for a little mythology-inspired fantasy that actually arose from pondering both the word “Niflheim” and the antecedent of spring: winter.
So, a couple notes: yes the dialog is a little archaic and stilted. It reflects the mood I was in after reading a few wikipedia entries on norse mythology. I also struggled with adding “The End”, because this doesn’t really feel like the end of a story, but the end of a chapter. I contemplated using the phrase “The End?” with a question mark, but decided that was a little silly looking. I contemplated not putting “The End” at the end. Ultimately, though, I’ve no idea if I’ll ever return to the world described in this short tale, so for now “The End” is appropriate.
I call this 1,004-word taste of fantasy (woohoo, almost in the word-limit!):
From the Farthest North
By: Stephen Watkins
“No,” he said. “The law is the law. I will not allow it to be broken, not even by you.” Ingurd turned away from his impetuous son to gaze out at the thick banks of snow visible in the pale moonlight.
Hulfur Ingurdson would not be deterred. “Do you want our village to die, father! Our food will not last. The spring has abandoned us, and we will all perish unless we do something!”
Ingurd turned on his son, a fire in his eye. “Do not lecture me, boy! Our laws have kept us safe for generations. You cannot conceive of what is out there, of what I’ve—“
“Peace, Ingurd,” Snorri interrupted, holding his hand up in a gesture of conciliation. “Allow me to speak to the boy, to explain again our law, so that he can understand. The winter,” he said, turning his attention to Hulfur, “has always come. And it has always ended. And with the coming of the winter, there have always been the Niflurmur, who feed on men’s souls. You have thought that they were legends, but there was a time when their attacks on Holdur Thyul were relentless.
“That was before we built the wall. And that was before the Law of Winter. None can go outside the walls, as long as Winter’s claw grips the land. Any who goes out is Lost, for we cannot risk the touch of the Worms of Nifhel here in Holdur Thyul. When the spring thaw melts the mantel of winter, then we are safe, for the Niflurmur always retreat to Niflhimor with the retreat of winter.”
“But what if the winter will not retreat?” Hulfur pressed. “It has been six turns of the moon since Deepwinter’s Night. The spring is past due by at least two turns. This winter…” He cast his glance over the wall toward the heavy drifts of snow, ghostly in the pallid light. A raven settled at the peak of the wooden palisade and squawked once. “This winter will not end…”
Ingurd turned again from his son, scowling, and shooed the raven away. Snorri frowned momentarily before answering Hulfur. “The winter always ends, Hulfur. The spring always comes. It has been thus ever since our people came out of Mitlhimor to this northern land. The spring comes, and then we will plant.”
Hulfur sighed. Snorri was a skaald. He was the keeper of the history and the laws of Holdur Thyul. These were things he would know. He glanced at Ingurd, who kept stoic watch over the winter-gripped forest beyond the palisade walls of Holdur Thyul.
“You would be wise to listen to the boy.”
Ingurd started at the sudden voice. He gazed over the heavy drifts, from which the voice had sounded. “Who… who dares—“
A figure stepped from the shadows of the woods, covered in a long dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. Ingurd swore a curse. “By the din of Vyolnir!” He turned to sound the alarm.
The stranger raised his hand in a gesture of peace, striding toward the walls. “Hold your alarm, I am no Worm of Nifhel.”
Ingurd growled. “Hold yourself, stranger. Whether you be Niflurmur or no, I cannot tell, but you’ll not cross the gates of Holdur Thyul this night.”
The stranger smiled, and his hand disappeared into his cloak. “I will wait here, then, in the shadows of your walls, until my message is heard.”
“What message is worth hearing in the cold of winter?”
“You fool, Ingurd Baldurson. You cower behind your wall as the reach of Nifhel grows longer and tighter over Mitlhimor. Do you think your walls can hold back the ravages of winter? Do you think that you can hide from Nifhel’s gaze here, at the very steps to Nifhel’s Gate? The boy is right. The time for bold action has come.”
Ingurd eyed the stranger, wondering how the man knew his name. “Who are you, stranger, that you come here and speak so, that you walk about in the depths of winter as though you have no fear of Nifhel?”
The raven settled on the stranger’s left shoulder as he produced a deep chuckle. “A fool only has no fear of Nifhel’s might, but a fool also who goes about in winter unequipped to deal with Nifhel’s minions.” The raven on his shoulder squawked again. “I am called Gylfar, and I will deliver my message.
“Know this, Ingurd Baldurson, and Snorri Sturlungson, and all you of Holdur Thyul: the Twilight is at hand, and the Ashur move again in the Middle Realms. The Bane of Turun stirs in the deep, and the Fell Fang is abroad, wreaking death and havoc. You, Snorri, know that these are the signs of the Twilight.
“But the Lords of the Ashur, the Ragna, will not let the long night fall without sending their might against Lukur and his consort, Nifhel. The call has gone forth to gather the armies of men against that dark day. Vyolnir, the Hammer of Turun, has been raised in the city of Fallsgard. There, the princes of all of Mitlhimor wait for the sound of the horn, and for the Nine to come down from the Farthest North.”
“The Nine from the Farthest North?” Snorri interrupted. “All these things are spoken of in the Elder Songs. But surely you don’t mean—“
“Holdur Thyul,” Gylfar nodded, “is the Farthest North. The last village of men before the Gates of Nifhel.” He pulled his hand from the depths of his cloak. The raven took flight, cawing loudly, as he held up a small, shining object. “Behold the Eye of Othar!”
Hulfur gazed in awe as the stranger was engulfed in an intense light that made the night as day. An Ashling! One who had been touched by the Ashur, and carried their power. Hulfur turned to his father, who looked humbled by this display.
The stranger spoke again. “Eight you must send forth, lead by Hulfur Ingurdson. I will be the Ninth.”