Lost Ages series: Part I. The Awakening
by Clara Hume
Copyright © 2019 Dragonfly Publishing
Cover art © elenara (#csp2874455) and © kamchatka (#csp9834674);
standard licensing through CanStock Photo
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
When Angela awoke, she felt like she was falling. More like rolling across a cold, wooden surface. Opening her eyes, she saw that she was not in Louisville anymore. Above her was a foreign ceiling, with high rafters and square-shaped sky lights. Laden with green mist, clouds floated above the open windows, with murky wisps embracing a fantastically tall and shadowy treeline that would rival the world’s most pristine rainforests. Only no rain came, just silence, interrupted by the occasional call of some sort of animal, probably a bird. The bird, or whatever it was, would call out thrice, a chimed Morse code sound. Short cluck, long cluck, short cluck. Then it would emit a low, long, and steady shrill scream, which permeated the forest.
Angela continued to adjust her eyes to her surroundings and began to piece together what had happened before she had gone to sleep, before she had awoken in a place that was certainly not Louisville. Last night, she and her online friends, with whom she had played Lost Ages for years, had finally defeated Morpheus and his siblings—not the real Morpheus, but an imposter, who, instead of bringing dreams to gods and kings, had brought awful nightmares. After the kill, she and her friends were finally able to collect several stolen, ancient Greek poems that were hidden in the now bloody lair—poems that told of the false and true gates that led to the dream realm. By returning these texts to Morpheus’s father Hypnos, the real sons were unchained from their deceivers, returning the Lost Ages world to its unspoiled state once again.
It had taken hours of synergy, luck, and practice before they had defeated the winged daemon and his charlatan siblings, Icelus and Phantasos. Angela and her friends had gotten world first in that kill, and by the time Angela logged off—though now she couldn’t recall even doing so—she must have been too exhausted even to do her usual skyping with Muir. Angela realized she couldn’t remember much else after the Oneiroi went down in a swirl of circling wisps and flames.
As Angela’s conscience began to function, she began to hear other sounds from the misty woodland. Little peeps here and growls there. But they must have been far away, for the guttural voices were faint and indistinct.
She now lay on a rugged floor, and it took a while to realize that she was in some sort of tree house. The bed next to her was primitive and wood-framed, with ornate carvings and a curtained, golden canopy above. However, the bed didn’t look slept in, which confused Angela. One side of the room led to an open balcony, where she could see that the tree was gnarled and twisted, with a thicker than usual trunk and full branches that dripped leaves in a cold wind. Above her, the light of day was beginning to fade, but through the gabled windows she could make out other rooms above hers.
Her body shivered with cold, and her throat was dry. Now fully alert, she felt something land in in her mouth, which was agape from the awe she felt at the moment. Sitting up quickly, she spit it out. A leaf. A frigging leaf, she thought. Then, she noticed herself. She was not herself. She had transitioned to something else, something exquisite even. She could feel a tiara of tiny flowers in her hair—and her hair! It was long, golden, and silky and reminded Angela of Galadriel’s mane. Angela felt her ears, which were elongated and soft like the rest of her petal skin. A flower fell out of her hair when she withdrew her hand from her ear. The flower looked like edelweiss. She remembered a bit of trivia from when younger, that in the olden days a young man might climb the rugged and dangerous cliffs of the Tyrolese Mountains to pick edelweiss for the one he loved. Checking herself out further, Angela noticed that she wore a ragged gown, the color and texture of burlap with green leaf fringe on its hem.
When it dawned on her that she was strikingly similar to her online character, Rowan the wood elf, Angela reached up to feel for her Necklace of the Moon, but it wasn’t there. If she were now really Rowan, where were her gear and weapons that she worked so hard to gain?
Angela figured that she must have been so exhausted after the raid last night that she had fallen into a dreamful sleep, and she was still in that world. How ironic. Perhaps this was fake-Morpheus’s revenge.
As she was trying to rationalize the surreal situation, she heard a scream pierce the forest. Angela arose from the floor, feeling long waves of hair fall behind her and noticing an Arctic wind shake the tree and freeze her soul. She tried to get a sense of her surroundings. Her tree house room was not too high up, and a smooth ramp descended in a spiral pattern down from the loggia, hugging the tree trunk. Angela reached the bottom of the ramp and realized she had no shoes. Her feet were icy, and her entire body shook in a combination of nebulous terror and cold.
Another scream echoed in the distance, and it sounded familiar. Male. But the sound didn’t come from a clear direction. The world around her didn’t seem to follow common physical properties, though Angela couldn’t put her finger on why she thought that.
At the bottom of the ramp was an open room. The ceiling of the lower room was the floor to the room she’d slept in. But there were no solid walls, only delicate frameworks that Angela could barely make out in this light. The room had a table with a globe—not a worldly globe but some sort of magical globe, which also looked vaguely familiar, but Angela couldn’t figure out why.
She rummaged around in the green and white vaporous room and found a closet with a blanket of fabric so soft and silky it seemed to melt her hands, and for as thin as it was, the blanket generated much warmth. Angela also found slippers of the same material and put them on her feet, and they provided an almost immediate relief from the frigid air. The rest of the room was plain. It led off into a smaller room that looked to have another beautiful bed in it, but exploration would have to wait. Someone out there needed help. Angela descended the front, broad wooden steps of the tree house and touched the ground. She felt lighter than usual, more graceful and agile.
I want to be like this in real life, she thought. Her legs were long and slender, her stomach flat, her lashes long. She wondered where the nearest mirror might be so she could really check herself out. Not that in real life she had been ugly or fat. Just plain, a wallflower, she’d often felt. Mousy brown hair. Hazel eyes that didn’t stand out. A few too many moles on her back.
Angela pondered her transition as she carefully tiptoed along the cold ground. She could see her breath steam into the frosty night. Eventually, she heard a sound like water falling or rushing, but it, like the forest animal sounds and man’s screams, was faint and speculative. Immediately surrounding the tree house was a great woodland, and Angela was afraid she would become lost if she ventured too far. Instead, she circled the house. The base of the tree was so thick that it took her several minutes to walk around it. More white flowers grew at the trunk of the tree.
At the back side of the tree, the sound of water became louder. Angela, figuring she couldn’t die in a dream, walked toward the sound. Wild winds fought her, and she wrapped the magically warm blanket about her tightly. She could feel her long hair take off every which way in the sharp gales.
“Halt!” commanded a deep voice.
Angela stopped and gazed about her. Everything was dark here, darker than the green mist from before. Perhaps she had slept during the day and when she awoke it was dusk—and now it was past sundown, though she had not seen any sun.
“Who is it?” Angela called.
Slowly a tall elf stepped out of the dark mist and said, “I’ve been expecting you.” Surrounding him was a halo of golden light.
He had a vivid robe of silver and gray, encircled with billowing trails of crimson and gilded tassels and fringe. His hair lay long, magnificent, and gray down his back. His eyes shone like mirrors, with flecks of slate blue. He seemed to exude light. He must be a different kind of elf than me, thought Angela as she noticed his pointed ears. She felt dark and lowly, as her clothes were so plain compared to his.
“Who are you?” Angela asked, not afraid. Why should she be afraid? Okay, this dream was lasting longer than it should, but by now she felt she could ascertain that this was definitely a dream. So she might as well play along with it.
“I am King Olafr of the Huldufólk,” he replied. “And you are Rowan, one of the älva who roams the forests here.”
“Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly and a little impatiently. “Now there is no time to debate the subject further. You have entered the Lost Ages, and it is your duty to restore the passage to Utopia. The only way to do this, as you should know by now, considering all the years you have done these very tasks online,” he said with a grumble, “is to find the lost manuscripts. With the rest of your friends, you must face all the trials it takes to find the sacred texts. When knowledge is buried,” he said in a scripted voice, “the world becomes corrupt. It is up to you to restore and preserve the truth. Only then can the world become pure again, with peace and love and understanding.”
“So you’re saying this is real?”
“What, this world? Why, of course it is real, my dear. It is the only real thing. Ever heard of the world tree Yggdrasil? It’s as real as anything is real, and its earthly realm Midgard is not too far from where you stand. The other world you think is real is built strongly on this ancient world. Why, it seems even in your quite, may I be honest, trite pursuit back to your origins—and by your, I mean humankind’s origins—your people have used their technology to attempt to parallel our world, accessible by computers.” Again, he groaned with superiority. “How it must feel to click a button to mount a wild steed rather than take the time to carefully approach the animal with true primitive understanding and to spend the hours it takes to learn to stay astride and really tame your pet. You and your friends, and the millions of others in tomorrow land, really have yourselves fooled in your game-playing. Why, I have it on good notion that most of you players derive a false sense of confidence and foolish pomposity from obtaining pixelated armor and weapons and defeating programmed monsters.” He laughed long and hard. His voice boomed into the forest like the wash of water let loose by a busted dam. His face turned from pale gray to a blushing glee.
Angela figured pixels weren’t as cool as real things in his world, but he was so damn serious and kind of grouchy. Who has the upper-hand here, she thought.
“My band of friends is kinda missing from this quest you’re giving me, aren’t they?” Angela asked snidely. Sure, she thought. Let’s just play along with this some more. What can it hurt? In the meantime, if this was the game in real life, who was this guy? An NPC from a newbie area, she thought, most likely the wood elf starting area. But she didn’t remember him. She had started playing years ago, though, so maybe she had forgotten him. Or maybe one of Lost Ages expansions had brought in new NPCs. Maybe he was just an idea off the altered lore shelf that some developer had decided to plop into the game. And if this was based off the game—or, as the supercilious king would say, the game was based off the real world—then she wondered if she were in the starting area for wood elves.
The world had two main continents—the main western and eastern regions, along with a few islands, some big and some small—and many countries within each. Temporal ages intersected physical areas, so time and space intertwined with each other—but if this was the starting wood elf forest, she would be standing now in the dark wood of the Land of the Elves in the Eastern Region. As she was envisioning all possible zones on the game map, King Olafr interrupted her distracted thoughts.
“Your band of friends is here. In fact, one of them, Orkimedes, is the fool you heard screaming in the woods. He came across an unruly boar. It wasn’t my intention for your…landing…to be fraught with wildlife, but one such boar got through and I had to chase him away. Never fear, your friends are being tended to by their own guides. But you shall be joined with them soon enough.”
“Wait a minute,” Angela said. “As I recall, we’re all born into our own lands. Now this tree house seems familiar for me, a wood elf. But Orkimedes is an orc. He would have come from the Land of Orcs, am I right?”
“As he did! And your other friends, Thunderkeg, Sheba, Halfdan, and Wizzlesticks also landed in their own homes.”
The smirk on the king’s face was so strained with desire to laugh abundantly, but this time he refrained. King Olafr evidently had a private joke, which he shared only with himself, thought Angela sarcastically, about the fact she and her friends had gotten here by way some sort of landing. Right now, upon hearing her friends’ online names, she missed them immensely. She had never met them in real life, even though they had spent hours upon hours of online time together over the years. All of them lived too far apart to have ever met. Halfdan, whose real name was Muir, had been her online lover, but in reality he lived in Scotland. The idea seemed preposterous that they would meet here, of all places.
This dream had gone on too long, Angela figured. She tried to train her thoughts to wake up now, but the king interrupted her mind again.
“They were brought here after their initial trials,” he said.
“But I haven’t received my trial yet.”
“It is because you were last to land,” said the king. This time he couldn’t keep from laughing. His laugh was haughty and shallow, but he quickly got to business. “You don’t think I’d send you out in the world without a few tips and tests, did you?”
“But my friends, where are they?”
“You ask too many questions. Your friends are waiting nearby. Don’t worry. I’ve given them some skins to wear and some roasted boar meat. And then they will sleep. Now, let’s see.” The king unrolled a scroll of delicate vellum parchment on which were written many words in a language that Angela did not understand. She could see the words, though, because a natural light seemed to encase the king wherever he went. The writing was delicate and graceful, with serifs and dots and other marks above and below letters. Angela concluded it was an elven type of writing, though the king himself—even if he was an elf—had some kind of Norse hybrid thing going on, so maybe there was some Viking language in there too.
“So, let’s get back to you. You are Rowan the wood elf, and in your other life you specialized in druidic healing.”
“Why, yes,” Angela said, rather impressed he held an accurate record of her past.
“It won’t do here,” he said. “I’m sorry, but while your healing powers are going to be useful at times, when in the northern forests, you must work with the many animals and trees to provide the best utility for your band of people. If you are fighting a mob,” he said, faltering, “or whatever you people call it, a druid’s best resource is her communion with the woods—and that means you will find animals and trees to do your bidding. But your main ability will be what you might call damage, or damage per second. DPS is it?”
A complacent smile grew across Angela’s face. “No, no,” she said. “A druid can choose many paths to take. Nature helps in any of them—shape-shifting, summoning animals, healing with the wind and trees. I’ve always been a healer.”
“Did you know,” said the king as he began to roll up the scroll, “that archeological knowledge about druids in your world is really lacking? Like everything else in your reality, knowledge is based on imagination rather than truth. And it is not surprising, since the physical laws of your universe are based upon perception when it comes down to the tiniest quantum essentials. But here, in the real world, truth is revered and genuinely studied and sought. This truth is all kept in our books and by the gods and kings. Corrupted beings have attempted to steal truth away, but then again, that’s why you are here, to find our sacred texts and return them to their rightful places. The gods must be accompanied by their creations, you, to keep sacred knowledge alive. That’s all there is to it. Druids did commune with nature—some of your lore got that right. But they have special powers to do so. They weren’t just a sect of priests during the Iron Age. You see, I guess it comes down to this. Druids, in reality, here in the Lost Ages, are imbued with magical properties, just as you are, even though right now I doubt you even know you are that special.”
Angela didn’t feel anything different about herself. Anyway, she was still disappointed that she couldn’t be the healer. She was always the healer. If her healing had gotten them to defeat the imposter of Morpheus, she was the best healer in the game, world-wide. She told the king so. “I like to heal. It is my nature. I don’t want to do DPS,” she said.
“But you are what you are, not what you imagine yourself to be, and this world doesn’t rely on a mathematical meter of who heals the most and who does the most damage.” he replied, a little softly and almost friendly-like. “In our world, truth is discovered all the time about yourself too. Don’t worry, you will get a chance to help heal at times. But for a wood elf druid of Myrkviðr, the trees and animals of the forests are more apt to provide a different utility, and once you learn how to commune with them, you will find your true calling. Trees will bunch to shelter you and your band of merry friends. Animals can fight for you. You can raise soil and drop rain to hinder your enemy. Not that these things come easy, my dear—they won’t. They will require practice and concentration. And most of all you will need to believe in yourself. But you also must remember who you are and where you came from. Your kind, the älva, have their own skills. You can cause a nasty skin rash, for instance. Imagine fighting a foe when he has to stop and itch himself.”
“What am I supposed to do now then? Let me guess. You want me to go out and collect ten bear ears so I can brew up some skin disease?”
The king laughed again into the edge of night. “Your antics are grievous, Rowan, but even kings have some humor.”
“My real name is Angela,” she corrected.
“Here, you are known as Rowan—your true identity,” he said.
“Well, whatever,” she said, giving up on this issue. She rather liked the name Rowan and had chosen it, of course, in Lost Ages.
“Now,” he said, finally. “We will speak more of truth, knowledge, sacred texts, and all that another day. Your first assignment is to sleep.”
“Sleep? What kind of easy quest is that?” asked Rowan, realizing from here on out in this ridiculous dream that mimicked a philosophical universe, she should think of herself as Rowan, not as Angela.
“You silly girl,” he chided. “Sleep. It is night time. You must learn first that you are not in a dream. This is the most important lesson you can start to understand. Your reality has crossed over and—”
“You learn well, dear. You must sleep in the tree house for the night. In the morning you will go out in the forest to collect a bellows.”
“What in the heck is that?”
“It’s a sort of device that can be used to deliver a blast of air.”
“I have not ever gotten a quest like that. You, as an NPC, must have come along in an expansion with a new quest-line.”
“Ho, ho, ho. You seriously dare to think that our world is a mirror of your gaming world? Not exactly. Though you will find some similarities. How boring would it be to give you the same old quests you’ve done in your pixelated world?”
“Well, then, about this bellows. What does it have to do with me?”
“I’ll get to that. When you meet with your band soon, your first task together will be to collect some manuscripts of the earliest books of Eddur. But you will fight some mobs to find your texts.”
“The Eddas? I have heard of them. The poetic books of Norse mythology?”
“It is Eddur, plural,” the king said with a sigh. “Not that the term Edda was correct, but that’s beside the point. One thing your world and mine have in common is the publication of the Poetic Edda, for it indeed was written during heathen Germanic times. What your world does not know is that earlier skalds were the first to write and sing such poems, which led to the documents your world knows, including Konungsbók, which is the King’s Book. In your world, they liken the King’s Book to the New Testament, also known as Cōdex Rēgius. You know, the Lord as King. Just goes to show how legends can be so similar.”
Rowan was beginning to think her first quest was to show a great deal of patience while sitting through all this drivel. In the real game, you didn’t have to read all the background on a quest. You just went out and did it, by following signs on the map.
“But I digress,” said the king. He shifted his tall body about, causing his natural halo-like light to better outline his features. His face seemed older now, with more engraved lines, than when he first appeared to her. “I know you must sleep, so I’ll abbreviate the story. The skaldic saga tradition of poetry is popular here in the northern regions. They use alliteration and kennings—a truly amazing and poetic speech, recording heroic battles and death and yes, even love, with colorful circumlocution. Why say ship when you can say wave-steed?”
“I had trouble reading Beowulf in high school,” Rowan warned.
The king ignored her. “What your world knows of these writings isn’t complete. The earlier Edda was partially lost, but there were even earlier writings than those, dictated by the gods, inspired by nature, and further produced by the famous skaldic poets. Our gods remain apparent, you know. Not like your gods, who have disappeared and whose texts have become debased ‘truths’ on how to live from humans who see gods only in their crazy self-appointed prophets. And why, you might ask, weren’t these earlier Edda editions found? Well, I will tell you. Some were stolen. One of these early books had several of its sections stolen by a pack of powerful trolls, right here in these mountains. The Æsir have been fighting these trolls for years. But it isn’t defeating the trolls that is the problem. Do you know how many caves, mounds, crevices, and valleys are in these mountains? The trolls could have hidden the texts anywhere. These creatures, of course, are isolated and don’t like to be found. Most of them live peacefully, if you ask me, but a few are corrupt and have stolen our keepsakes. When the Æsir fight—again, not all of them, just some bad apples—it isn’t to find lost texts but to rectify property disputes. The Æsir comes across a nice piece of hillside for him and his lady, you see, and a family of ice trolls is living there.”
“You sure do go on a lot. So, my newbie quest involves learning my mad skills, and I’m to seek out a—what did you call it again? And what does this have to do with trolls and Æsir and lost books?”
“I was getting to that, Rowan, and then you must sleep. We are going on far too long. The bellows. You must collect a bellows that will be hidden in a troll cave just to the north of the tree house. Well, it is a day’s ride, but I’ll lend you a steed in the morning.”
Rowan had never been on a horse in her life. “That should be interesting,” she said.
“Don’t worry; the troll who lives there won’t be there. He and his kind will be out on a hunt. You will need to get past a guard, but we’ll talk more on that in the morning. The guard is usually drunk, so it shouldn’t be a problem. The bellows was made by the dwarves, across the sharp eastern mountains, so it’s not easy to come by. But it’s the only known cure for skin diseases, at least that the trolls are aware of. Of course, they are not exactly a bright bunch.”
“So I ride a horse for a day to get some sort of instrument from a drunk guard while the trolls are out on a hunt?”
“That’s your trial assignment, yes. The trolls must not have any of these bellows lying around because someday very soon, my dear, you are going to disease their crooked fighters, and when you defeat them you will learn more about where the missing manuscripts are. Of course, the trolls might try to bribe you with butter or—”
“I think I’ve heard enough lore for one evening,” Rowan suggested. She figured by morning she would have woken up from this nightmare, for this did not seem to be that great of a fantasy after all, thus why a pixelated world of such nature was much easier to fall into.
The king laid his hand on her forehead. His hand felt warm and tingly. A rush of drowsiness swept through her body.
“You didn’t think you would have to do this alone, did you?”
“Anything and everything. It’s all magic here,” he proclaimed. “But kings and gods can help you along. If the gods had created a more unbalanced world, they would simply find the lost texts themselves, and easily so. Earthly creatures, however, must provide balance and struggle to seek truth—but gods and kings, we can help. This is why I have just given you natural sleepiness. You will now go upstairs to the elfin bed. Be sure to take the blanket and slippers so you’ll stay warm, for by midnight fierce gales will blow and snow will come down the mountain.”
“Sure, okay,” replied Rowan, sleepily. She felt drugged and floaty as she said good bye to the king. He vanished into the night rather quickly, the light left behind pinpointing to a circle of orange on the cold, dark floor of the forest outside the tree house.
When Rowan awoke to a golden mist, she began to realize maybe she hadn’t been dreaming after all, unless this was a dream inside a dream. With the morning light, she could make out the tree house more clearly. Not a Keelber type of home, it was elegant and mired in gold trim. A fanciful Baroque roof partially covered her room and other rooms above her escaped into the clouds. Evidently, the home was far taller than she had seen or imagined last night.
“Good! You’re finally awake.” The king came up the ramp to begin his morning dialog.
“Can’t you let a girl wake up in peace? Where’s the bathroom, anyway? And food? I suppose you have food here. I remember learning how to cook in Lost Ages, and I made this awesome stamina food with eggs and onions.”
The king grinned, and lines creased his face. “First things first,” he said, holding a mirror up to her face.
Rowan was astonished when she saw her face. Clear complexion, very light. Her eyes were pale emerald and translucent, with long, envious, dark eyelashes. Her mouth grinned back at her, full and sensual, with a natural red tint. No pimples. No hairs that needed to be tweezed. This was, she thought, a pretty good world to land in.
“Self-admiration is arduous,” the king said, as he took the mirror away. “I just wanted to show you that you are not who you think you are, or were. Now you are Rowan the wood elf. There’s a—what do you call it—boudoir up the tree, where you can relieve yourself. But don’t bother fixing yourself up too much.”
“Hey, about that,” Rowan said. “I’m not exactly a physically fit person. I mean, I liked to swim back in my real life, but I am not sure I am cut out to be doing this real quest stuff.”
The king’s face grew stern. “M’lady,” he said, “You have a new body here. But your spirit is of the old world. Or should I say the tomorrow world. Whatever, what matters is how you are inspired to live here. The blueprint for success is built-in, always was, always will be. But so is failure. It is up to you to use what you were given to survive.”
Rowan had noticed that indeed other than her bodily appearance, she was the same old, same old. Even her voice sounded the same. Her thoughts were the same. She was simply given a new vessel here.
“Well, I guess I’ll go use the boudoir then,” she said.
“Good. Don’t take long. When you come back, you are to dress in warmer clothes, which you will find in a bundle on your bed. Then you can join me downstairs for breakfast.”
After fitting on her new clothes—still not as awesome, or anywhere near so, as her gear in the real, or fake, Lost Ages—Rowan made her way down the ramp to join Olafr. At this time of the morning, the golden hue was beginning to fade, and large snowflakes began to fall outside. Rowan noticed that it had snowed the night before, just as the king had warned it would, and a crisp white layer of snow spread across the hilly forest surrounding the ornate tree house. The silky warm material of her new duds, along with a leather tunic and leggings, made Rowan warmer than she had felt so far here, considering that her bedroom wasn’t completely closed off to the outside environment.
The king offered her bread and cheese, along with a chalice of wine.
“If I drink wine now, I’ll be buzzed,” she told him.
“Elves can handle wine well. Don’t worry. It will ease your long ride up to the north valley.”
“If you say so.”
Rowan tasted the wine. It was deep red, like blood, and tasted like heavy grapes, with a hint of plum and pepper. She wanted more, but the king said one glass was enough.
Then he went on to explain her mission. “In the 13th century, in your world, a writer named Snorri Sturluson wrote Prose Edda. I’m only mentioning it because of his allusion to trolls in Gylfagninning. In the 12th stanza it is mentioned that the moon’s devourer comes by troll’s disguise. In the 43rd stanza, there is reference to Thor journeying to the east to fight trolls. The point is, the account paints trolls as bad, similar to earlier narratives. I’m telling you this to help you understand why the trolls would steal the earlier manuscripts.”
“Because they don’t want to be the bad dudes?”
“That. And, because, why else are sacred texts stolen? Either to obscure the truth or to simply make up a new truth. Happens all the time in modern history. Truth is thrown out in favor of imaginary facts that sound better, for whatever reason, to the thief.”
“I thought you said that there is only one truth in your world.”
“Of course,” said the king a little uneasily. “But it is up to the earthly people to find it and reclaim it if it is stolen.”
“I see,” said Rowan, not really sure she did see it.
By and by, the king brought out her horse, a white stallion. Why couldn’t I see that coming, thought Rowen. The horse stood a good twenty hands tall, but his height didn’t seem to take away from his agility. He pranced about gracefully but wildly.
“Uh, where’s the saddle?” Rowan asked.
“There is none,” the king said. “Don’t worry, elven bodies are made to fit on a horse. Your particular people are from horse country down south. I’ll help you up.”
Despite the fact that she was evidently built for riding a horse, Rowan immediately slid off the horse after two clumsy attempts to mount it.
“I can’t imagine I will be very useful on this thing,” she said. “I don’t see how I can even climb up on it without your help.”
“You are the worst elf. And the worst druid.” King Olafr seemed impatient for her to get going. “You’ll have to use that thing up there called your brain if you want to figure these things out. Hint: Druids utilize things in nature. There are rocks, tree stumps, and so on to help you get up on this horse, if you fall off. And by the likes of you, I can bet you’ll fall off this steed twenty times alone just today.”
“Thanks for your vote of confidence.”
The king made her get back on the horse, by giving her a foot hold with one of his large hands, and Rowan slid off once more before finally finding a way to sit correctly without completely losing her balance again. Meanwhile, as she sat up on the fidgety horse, taller than the king now, he told her about her day’s mission.
He pointed to a trail leading into the woods north of the tree house. “Follow that trail north. About mid-day, you’ll come across a bridge, which crosses the lower Fjörm River.”
“Hey! I know that river,” said Rowan. Now she knew where she was. “I remember in game, the river flowed west to the sea. And this place.” She looked up to the tree house. “It was in the game, I suppose, but looked different. Yes, I know the place. North of the river are the ettins, right? It’s pretty snowy up there, and if I recall, a witch roams the path. Don’t tell me I have to deal with a witch while I’m on top of a slippery horse, and then I’ll run into ice trolls who could rip me apart. That reminds me, what kind of weapon do I get?”
“Ah yes. The gaming map. I suppose it’s close enough to our world, but you will find some surprises along the way. There are, as I recall,” King Olafr said, almost deceitfully, “völur who roam the area. Not to be feared, usually, though very powerful, so you won’t want to mess with one. Speaking of the Prose Edda, Snorri wrote in Skaldskáparmál that a witch, or, more accurately a völva, named Gróa, the wife of Aurvandil the Bold, tended Thor and helped heal him from a wound. So, you see, they’re not all bad.”
“In the game, she was called a witch and would strike people riding through with her wand.”
“Another corruption of mythological truths.”
“That sounds like an oxymoron.”
“Not necessarily. Anyway, you asked for a weapon?” He handed her a backpack.
Rowan managed to stay atop the horse while rummaging through her pack, and found some stale bread, hardened cheese, flask of wine, and a floppy hat. “There is no weapon here,” she complained.
“Put on the hat.”
Rowan did as told.
“See what’s under the cap? That’s the only weapon you’ll need today.”
Rowan groaned and placed the pack upon her back.
The king laid his hand upon Rowan’s, and again Rowan felt something churn through her body. His hand was warm and oddly comforting, considering he himself was such an arrogant master. Warmth surged through her body, and along with it something else. Spikes of energy, thought Rowan. She tightened her other hand upon the reigns and listened as the king told her about the troll cave she was to visit today.
“It will take a couple hours to get to the cave from the bridge over the Fjörm,” he told her, continuing to let energy, or whatever that was, pass from his hand to her hand. “You’ll know it when the forest gives way and you come to a large clearing. Once there, you’ll see a water well. Take advantage of it, because you’ll be thirsty by then. Directly after the well, go west until you enter the hinterlands along a northern tributary. Follow the river bank north. You can’t miss the cave. It’s the first one you’ll see. A funny little man guards the place. He is likely to be drinking. The bellows is in the cave somewhere. I do not know exactly where.”
“With all this information, you would think that you yourself have a king’s army or something to go up there and get such an important tool.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” explained the king. “Why else would we have called you to this world if we didn’t need your help?”
Rowan didn’t reply, because it frightened her that there might not be a king’s army and that this world needed a misfit like herself. She didn’t argue. She still expected to wake up, but that reality seemed to be fading each moment that she lingered in the Lost Ages.
Rowan tried to ride expertly into the woods, but fell off once more. The king laughed and waved her off, going back into the tree house. She led the horse over to a boulder jutting out of the ground, and pulled herself back up onto the horse by standing on the rock.
She urged the mount on and asked him, “What’s your name? Or do they give their horses names here? What about Silver? Or no. I think you deserve a better name. Something Norse, I guess. What about Thyrm, because you are such a giant? Of course, I guess Norsemen were all tall. No wonder their horses are humungous like you. Thank goodness I have you to talk to now, because King Olafr talks too much. Can’t get a word in edgewise.”
Despite the horse being perhaps a better conversationalist than the king, Rowan quieted down as she noticed the woods around her. She still felt that energy pulsing through. Whatever it was, it was better than caffeine. Even riding the horse now seemed to be easier than she figured, though occasionally she began to slide one way or the other, and she was still afraid to go too fast. The woods carried a fairytale quality that no graphics engine could produce in Lost Ages. Tall coniferous trees steepled above her, guarding the path from too much snowfall, so the trail was not ice-covered or slippery yet. Flakes whirled through the air, pricking Rowan’s face and clinging to her golden hair and dark eyelashes. Though the magical elf fabric against her skin felt warm and comfortable, it was no match for the northern mountains. Winds rose and howled and picked up snow, drowning flakes in whirlwinds, which would then dissipate into random directions before tossing snow onto a pine branch or the dirt trail below. Thyrm seemed light on his feet despite his powerful build, and he carried her along, seeming already to be like a friend. He had been trained well, thought Rowan, and she slid her gloved hand along the side of his neck and whispered, “You are a good boy, yes.”
Thyrm jerked his head up like he was nodding.
The path was narrow and rocky, ascending up to higher ground with heavier snow and alternately descending into valleys where frozen streams stretched across the terrain. The trail itself was narrow and bound most of the time by rising cliffs and hills, where trees jutted thickly. Their needles were green and aromatic. At times the flanks of the trails evened out to small clearings, where occasionally Rowan spotted a rabbit or lynx. None of the animals seemed to be frightened of her. Most likely they had little human—or perhaps elf or dwarf or other—interaction. Who rode here, Rowan wondered. King Olafr? Trolls? Did trolls ride horses? Or did they walk along the trail in with humped backs and sour faces?
This was impossible, Rowan suddenly realized, wishing for her life back in Louisville. Today would be Monday. She would be at work, behind a desk, developing a website or sitting in a boring meeting. Okay, she thought, that part wouldn’t be so exciting, but tonight she would settle into her easy chair and talk with Muir, whose character’s name was Halfdan. They would play the game while skyping, she would melt at his Scottish accent, and then they would talk each other to sleep.
She’d met Muir five years prior when they both joined the same guild in Lost Ages. They had connected right away, leveling together and eventually sending photos and care packages—cookies, a stuffed animal, books, movies—and finally had gotten to the point that they skyped at least most nights. Through the years, Rowan felt she knew his every dream, his deepest fears, and his soul, though she knew that sounded corny. Problem was, neither really made enough money in their jobs to travel the thousands of miles needed to visit each other. The one year Rowan had saved money to visit Edinburgh, her grandfather had died and she ended up flying to his funeral in Minnesota instead. This was to be the year that Muir came to her, though, and it was still being planned—for this Christmas, just a couple months away.
But, if King Olafr was right, she would see Muir soon. Only, he would not be Muir. He would be Halfdan. And he would not look like his pictures—tall, auburn hair, sexy olive green eyes—he would appear like his character, a human giant and ranger.
In real life, Muir seemed to be a down-to-earth man who lived according to principles he believed in, which Rowan admired. He’d had a chance to go into his father’s logging business but chose instead to work in tree conservation. He went to church to please his grandmother, but didn’t believe in God. He kept fit by biking to and from work, but once home he would sit down like a couch potato and play Lost Ages for hours on end.
Rowan noticed that Thyrm had stopped walking. She was drawn out from her thoughts of Muir and into the present. The snow had picked up wildly and began to cover even the most tree-protected parts of the trail. Rowan nudged the horse forward and said, “Let’s kick it up a notch, Thyrm.”
But as they went forward, Rowan saw why the horse had been hesitant to continue. Ahead, a lone figure walked north in the snowy path. It had not turned around, even though Thryrm’s hoof beats were audible. Rowan slowed the horse again and crept toward the traveler. Within earshot, when the person had not turned around, Rowan called out, “Hello?”
An old, tall woman dressed in a black cloak faced the riders. She did not appear aggressive, nor did she appear to be at harmony with Rowan’s and Thyrm’s approach. Rowan dismounted the horse clumsily and said, “I mean no harm. I’m just passing through.”
What else could you say to a witch on the road? Even though Olafr had told her that witches were a misnomer in this part of the world, Rowan couldn’t get her own world’s scary mythology of witches out of her mind.
The woman did not smile. Rowan noticed that the she withdrew a wand from her cloak. Not fair, thought Rowan. I didn’t get a weapon. She’d not forgotten that strange energy coursing through her body, but that didn’t seem to count, because she didn’t know what to do with it.
The wand was a wooden thing about two feet long, with ornate symbols etched into it and bronze trimmings that formed rings around one end.
“Hello,” said the lady. “I am Herdís, servant of Freyja. Do not be alarmed, for I do not wish to cause harm either. I guard this road when I can,” she explained. Her voice was ragged and weak, but her expression was stern. She seemed civil but not warm.
“I am on my way to run an errand for King Olafr.”
The woman finally smiled. “Oh? I daresay he is getting a little nutty in his old age.”
“Well, he’s a bit of a prankster. Last year he spiked all the drinking horns at Valhalla with extremely potent brew. Everyone was falling down drunk, more than usual anyway. It wasn’t a pretty scene, mind you.”
Rowan smiled. “I would have loved to see that, especially if the king drank it himself.”
“That, he did not,” said Herdís. “I’ve known him all my life and have never seen him lose control—not to drink nor to anger nor melancholy. His greatest emotions are humor and joy, but even when he begins to succumb to those traits, he rights himself quickly.”
“Now I wonder if he might be pranking me?” Rowan asked.
“Why do you ask, dear?”
“Because, you might say that I fell into this world. Yesterday I was in a different universe, and today—”
“Shhh,” warned Herdís, coming closer to Rowan enough that she became genuinely frightened of the old lady’s extremely wrinkled face as well as the powerful wand she held up to Rowan’s lips.
“You must never speak of such things along the road. Why, I might be a wolf in disguise. I’m not, mind you. But it is always possible that those you meet are not who they seem. It’s best to keep such tales and secrets to yourself.”
“No, child. Do not tell crazy stories of coming from another world. I will have to consult with King Olafr to find the truth—if he even tells me.”
The old lady drew the wand back and said, “I’m sorry if I frightened you. I can walk with you to the bridge if you like, but no further. It is safer for two to walk than one.”
Rowan agreed and said no more about anything from her past or how she fell into this world. She walked Thyrm, holding the reigns, and took pace next to the slow-walking Herdís. It was hard to believe she was talking with someone who personally knew the great Freyja.
“Tell me about your wand. Is it powerful?” asked Rowan, partly to change the subject from her near faux pas but also because the lady really did seem harmless and Rowan was curious.
“I must say that wherever you’re from, you aren’t afraid to get right up into someone’s face,” warned Herdís. “But I am going to trust that it is pure naiveté, rather than ignorance, that guides you. I will tell you about my wands–common knowledge around these parts. Some of their powers are more…secretive. While I will not travel down that road, I will tell you that a wand is both a symbol and a practical tool, a weaving tool even. I like to think that I spin fate—take that as you will.”
Rowan didn’t know what else to say. She could see the bridge in the distance. It was not a tall, grand bridge but an arched bridge that would barely top waters in a flood. The river below it was not completely frozen, and Rowan could hear its icy chunks and quick current flow through. She was reminded of the loud water she heard last night.
“Say, are we near the ocean?”
“It is just to the west. Why do you ask, child?”
“Is it safe to say that I heard water last night, or is that too much info?”
“I take it you were staying at Olafr’s summer home down the road?”
“I think so.”
“Well, then,” explained Herdís, “The sea is an hour west. But what you heard might have also been the grand waterfall of the Vimur. Even though the river springs from Niflheim, north of us, it rises into the clouds to the south and falls from colossal cliffs above the mountains. As it reaches the lower valleys, such as where you stayed last night, the sound can echo around due to its magnitude. Or you might have heard its tributary, which runs Olafr’s mill. The elocution of water is not predictable in these parts, with all the valleys, mountains, and terrains.”
“I didn’t see a mill there.”
“Ah. I suppose you were at the guest home then? The single tree?”
“I slept in a room upstairs. Though it did seem to me that the house rose above me in some sort of Escher-esque way. With rooms tilting out here and there.”
“Regardless, child, that was the guest home. Just south of there is Olafr’s summer retreat, the big house. In the summer, the home is glorious, for the fog burns off in the morning and the sun shines through the forest like strands of gold. You haven’t seen the big home, I am assuming. It’s immense, with a waterfall-powered mill, many rooms, and golden stairways. Seeing it from a distance is like stumbling across an evening star that brightens even the darkest night. Have him show you when you return. Or, I’m sure he plans to anyway. If there’s one thing about good old Olafr, it’s that he is a proud man, which most kings are, I assume.”
“Why is he here in the winter? And where does he spend his winters usually?”
“You certainly are curious, madam. I will leave Olafr to answer your questions; I may brag about his home but don’t wish to intrude on his life by too much gossip. Look. Here is the bridge.” Herdís stopped. “I can go no further at the moment.”
“Sure. Thanks for walking with me.”
The old lady gathered her skirts and waved as she walked back down the road.
“Good bye, Herdís,” called Rowan, and then she mounted the steed again to cross the lonely bridge, under which icy chunks bopped about noisily in a rapid current. The water was steel blue, and Rowan imagined it to be deathly cold. With renewed energy and a bit of adrenaline flowing through her veins, Rowan nudged Thyrm to go faster.
Soon she was flying across the bridge and on to the other side, where Rowan found the water well that Olafr had told her about. It was a stone well that seemed to be on the verge of crumbling apart. Rowan saw that a single pail hung from a rope, which was maneuvered by a crank at the side of the well. With having just passed the river, and with all the snow in abundance here at higher elevations, fresh water seemed plentiful, so Rowan wondered why Olafr had asked her to drink from the well. She figured there must be a reason other than thirst. It took a long time to draw water up, and because she had no drinking vessel, except for the flask in her pack that held wine, which she wasn’t about to pour out and waste, Rowan took off her gloves and drank from her hands. The water was cold and pure. It tasted like spring water on a hot day. Clean. Flawless. Water.
Afterward, when Thyrm had cooled off from his run across the bridge, she let him drink well water straight from the bucket. Rowan wondered what time it was. Getting to the bridge was supposed to have taken half a day, but it didn’t seem that long. The sky had been too misty to see where the sun was, and come to think of it, did this old world only have one sun? Lost Ages had several moons.
Rowan took a break, and ate her cheese and hard bread, and then rode on, heading west toward the tributary, as Olafr had instructed. Here without as many trees, and on a plateau, she could see the whole of the mountainous backdrop and its vast snowy plains, which took her breath away. Above, the sky was lingering with snow but was touched by golden and blue rays of the early afternoon. This was north of Mirky Wood, or Myrkviðr , as Olafr had called it, where the elf lands transitioned into the harsh snow mountains of the ancient Vikings. The terrain so far had been similar to Lost Ages. Rowan wondered what explanation Olafr might have for a “real world” bearing striking resemblance to a future game world. The paradoxes were numerous.
As Rowan rode to the water’s edge and then north, she saw the troll cave in the distance and stopped Thyrm. The cave was very similar to the same cave in the game. She’d always hated coming here, because trolls stuck together densely and fought together. But today there were no trolls. Somewhere in the cave were a drunken man and a bellows.
Rowan touched her hat for luck and dismounted Thyrm. She approached the cave nervously. Its entrance was dark, though a candle glimmered in the back. True to Olafr’s prediction, a funny little man snored drunkenly on a small stool. Rowan would take him for a gnome or a skinny dwarf. This NPC hadn’t been in the game.
“Ho there!” the little man said, waking immediately.
“Hello!” Rowan said, deciding to act as friendly and diplomatically as possible.
The gnome said, “My name is Teensy Widdlebottoms. Do you realize you have just entered an ice troll cave, madam?” His speech was light like a child’s, but also slurred.
“I figured as much when I came upon the place. You see,” said Rowan, making up dialog as she went along and realizing she was beautiful enough to be charming too, “I was out on a ride this glorious day and have come upon a snowstorm. I saw the shelter here and thought I might warm up. Do you have a fire?”
Teensy looked to a pit near the candle. “It has gone out, miss.”
“Rowan.” Rowan could kick herself for telling him her real name, but maybe he would be too drunk to remember later.
“Let me get it started again. Master Vafþrúðnir is out on a hunt. Oh, I hope he brings back some venison.” Teensy fell out of his chair, hitting his head on the floor, and Rowan rushed forward to help him up. Her golden hair fell across his face, and he breathed in deeply and said, “It is the perfume of the goddesses.”
Rowan had an idea and went outside the cave to rinse a cloth with snow. Back inside, she told Teensy, “Keep this on your head, where you fell. It will help the swelling.”
He looked dazed and smiled crookedly. “Thank you, Miss Rowan.”
Rowan pulled the flask out of her backpack and poured some of her deep red wine into an empty mug sitting next to the gnome. “Drink this. I owe you for allowing me to warm up in your home.”
The gnome took the wine heartily and drank it up, smiling and trying to sing. Then he pulled an instrument from beneath his stool to try to blow oxygen back into the warm coals of the fire. In doing so, he nearly fell again.
“Allow me,” Rowan said with a big grin. She now knew exactly what a bellows was.
She puffed air from the bellows into the fire for Teensy and waited until he had passed out again before rising and thinking how easy her first trial had been.
When it was time to go, Rowan was happy to see that Thyrm was still patiently standing outside the cave, awaiting her. But now the snow was worse, wildly filling the air with such thickness it was hard to see anything beyond a couple feet. Rowan made her way to the horse and said, “Thyrm, it is terrible weather, and I am not tall enough to pull myself up to you. What do you say? Can you get me back to King Olafr?”
The horse whinnied and then bent all the way down so that Rowan could climb onto his back. Thrilled, she smoothed his mane and whispered to him what a good pet he was. Then he rose loftily and trotted back down the river path. Being a druid might be pretty cool after all, Rowan thought. Either the horse had been deeply trained or she had just established a natural connection with the animal. Because the snow was now so dense, she became wet and colder, and couldn’t see anything but white. She bent down to hug the horse’s neck as they rode on.
Sometime later she realized she had drifted off while riding and Thyrm had not let her fall, nor had he taken her back to the treehouse but to a large wooden lodge that had a gargantuan wolf’s head above its heavy front door. While snow still mesmerized her vision and it was hard to see the structure perfectly, it seemed like a good shelter and Rowan could smell fire smoke.
“Thyrm, I hope you haven’t brought me to a bad place.”
The horse whinnied and once again bent down so that she could dismount.
At that moment, the door to the lodge opened and Rowan saw a familiar face.
“Come inside,” the man said. “We’ve been waiting.”
Shivering, Rowan crossed the threshold to what would become known to her as the wolf lodge, a place she only vaguely remembered from the game, and she gazed upon the giant the man who had answered the door. It was Halfdan, of course. She had known by his voice and the way his character had looked in game. He was nearly seven feet tall, and his sandy hair fell to his shoulders and across his face, while sharp, blue eyes gazed at her in seductive appreciation.
Before he could shut the door, a boy, who Rowan didn’t recognize, said he would take care of the horse. Then Halfdan easily lifted Rowan up and took her across a great room, setting her at a bench near a fire pit and covering her with a blanket. Above, rafters rose to a point on the ceiling. Below that, Rowan noticed who was sitting around a long table with mead and bread and cheese and meat.
Slowly, she stared at her friends, who were grinning at her as they paused their dinner. There was Thunderkeg, who had a sneer on his dwarven face. He didn’t seem to be too happy about his big nose or hairy feet or bright orange beard and hair, but he looked to be strong enough to continue to be the group’s warrior. Then Sheba, the group’s priestly seer, who had sometimes taken over healing when Rowan couldn’t make a raid, smiled warmly. A human, Sheba was black and beautiful, with beaded hair and soft eyes. Orkimedes looked like an orc, of course, with green skin and unsightly teeth. He was their sorcerer, the biggest damage dealer of them all, specializing in fire skills. Finally was Wizzlesticks, the goblin rogue. He seemed to be perfectly okay with his small stature and big ears. As a joke, he showed off a skill he had learned. He began to vanish, but then re-materialized and said “Hello, Rowan.”
Rowan laughed, as did the rest. It was almost as if they had always known each other and had never been apart. She felt Hafldan’s large hand rest on her shoulder as he asked, “Hungry?”
“Very,” she agreed. She arose and joined the rest at the table. The mead tasted warm, and heavy winds howled about the lodge. Sleepily, Rowan pinched herself. Nothing about her time here had felt real, she thought. Not one bit of it. All day she hadn’t woken up back in Louisville. But this, seeing her friends as their online characters in the ancient northern lands, was just too much.
Halfdan sat across the table from her. He had a strong, chiseled face and large hands. His body was monstrously large in every way. His blue eyes, beneath long lashes, seemed to gaze right through her. He picked up a chalice of mead and lifted it to her, and she returned the silent toast. Their eyes locked, and he searched her face, her body. She felt herself blush.
“I wonder who has woven this fate of ours,” she told him sleepily, thinking of Herdís.
“Whatever happened, it’s more than a dream,” he said.
Stay tuned for the next part of the Lost Ages series as Rowan the wood elf and her friends learn more about their new fantasy world and search for lost Edda texts in the ancient Norse world! Lost Ages will continue to retell many other world-wide mythologies—each contained in short story sections of about 10,000 words.
About the Author
Clara Hume’s novel Back to the Garden was published in September 2012 by Moon Willow Press. In Back to the Garden, Clara traveled into the future, writing about what the planet might be like after ecological destruction, leaving behind few survivors. In Lost Ages, Clara travels to ancient worlds to rediscover various world mythologies set in the eyes of modern humans. Clara has a degree in anthropology and studies both ecological and mythological systems.