The Histories of the Realm of Beardsgaard by Beardsgaard | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

The Saga of Frostwood

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In the vast northern reaches of Jotunheim lie countless acres of deep, frozen forests. The trees in these forests never die, nor do they ever truly live and grow. They sprang from the frigid ground in the early days of the realm’s creation formed as they are still, giants hardened by the elements.

But amongst the tall spruce, and farther north, Ironwood, even giants disappear. In these lands real giants do indeed roam, rare and terrible in the mountain mists, when they were seen at all. 

Ages had passed since the eyes of the outside world had seen giants or those forests of Ironwood, petrified by the deep frosts at the edge of the world. 

Now the mountainous border between the giant lands of Jotunheim and the dwarven lands of Nidavellir was held fast by a raging blizzard of wind and snow and ice that was said to cut like blades and rip to pieces any who dared to enter its maelstrom.

But this day, one who ventured alone stood alone on the south ridge of the mountain range, wind grabbing at his cloak and pulling tendrils of silver hair from beneath his hood. Before him was naught but white in the raging storm.

Ice blue eyes on the storm before him, lungs burning in the cold, thin air, Mithrilon ran his fingers over the smooth silver stone set into his belt. It sparkled like moonlight on snow and then he heard nothing, but was instead cocooned inside a shell of still air.

He stepped forward onto the snow before him without sinking down into the soft fall beneath a brittle iced shell, and continued down the mountain toward the wall of forest to the north.

Under the cover of the forest, Mithrilon released the circle of still air around him to look up toward the falling white flakes skirting their way through the branches above. They sky was darkening from its blank pale slate shade to a deeper charcoal.

Mithrilon ran his fingers over the red stone on his belt, and a blaze sparked to life inches above the snow, crackling like a bonfire made of dry wood, although there was none of that in this place. He touched the blue stone and he stood in the same spot, now inside a small cabin, the fire settled to popping and hissing inside a hearth.

Settling into a chair in front of the hearth for warmth, he closed his eyes to sleep.

When we dream, we are usually in our own dreams. Mithrilon had never appeared in his. His dreams were stories, true or not, he did not know.

He dreamed of the forbidden love of a dark, beautiful, shadow creature and a joyous spirit with flowing honeyed curls, both shrouded in the prismic light of fire and ice.

He dreamed of light and darkness in human form, joined to become twilight.

He dreamed of the depths of the earth rising to meet the peaks of the mountains.

When he woke from these dreams, breathless always, he felt he was home, among family, although he had never had much of that. Rising, he touched the blazing amber stone on his belt, and the cabin was gone.

Mithrilon set out north again.

Mithrilon had grown to manhood on a small homestead on the edge of wood and meadow in Midgard where he lived with his father Habadon, the finest cobbler within a day’s ride of their land. As a child he ran free through the fields and climbed the smaller, then taller trees along the edge of the forest, and fished in the cool dark ponds, shaded by willow branches.

He had never known his mother. When he asked, his father would only say that she arrived in the spring and left in the winter. And that he had mended her boot. And that she had silver hair. Although sometimes he said it had been the color of honey. Sometimes moonless night. Sometimes the color of the sunrise.

Fleet of fingers and train of thought, the shoemaker at the edge of the woods had few cares or worries. The animals they raised were fat and happy, and the gardens bore bountiful harvests, unhampered by hungry pests. The well never ran dry, and the storms that passed were always a gentle, gloomy respite to the sun-dappled afternoons of the countryside.

And every time they seeded the gardens for a new spring, Habadon would pluck from his pocket his lucky stone, which also happened to be his father’s lucky stone and his father before him. Then together father and son would give the stone a rub for good luck, and within weeks they would have shoots and tendrils of vines overtaking the garden, fat, tender peas exploding from their shells.

In such an idyllic setting, all young boys’ minds turn to mischief and exploring the boundaries of their world. Each day of play took him a little further from his home, always carrying his father’s lucky stone with him when he set out to play. Couldn’t hurt, his father said.

One day it took him all the way to the foothills that separated Muspelheim, the land of fire, from the gentle lands of Midgard. The air past the ridge of the foothills glowed red and blasted heat like an open stove. And although he could not move closer to the inferno, Mithrilon’s eyes followed a dancing bit of flame that moved separately from the rest. 

It flickered and danced, and Mithrilon began to move along with it. The flame paused. So did he. And then he pulled his lucky stone from his pocket, flipping it in the air and catching it again. A small and fiery form popped its head above the ridge and blinked at Mithrilon. And then something flipped into the air, sparking fire like a ruby cracked by the sun itself.

Mithrilon flipped his lucky stone again. So did his new friend, who appeared to be a young fire elemental. But this time, the fiery stone did not come down straight, and instead took a wayward bounce off a lava rock and came tumbling down the hill. The elemental started as if to chase after the stone, but pulled back at the cooler air before it and fled back over the ridge.

The ruby stone landed with a soft thud at young Mithrilon’s feet. He picked it up, and when he dusted it off, a small inferno exploded directly in his face.

When he arrived back at the homestead, well-singed, but otherwise unhurt, he did not tell his father of his adventures that day, and tucked the brilliant ruby stone inside a slipper under his bed.

When Mithrilon had grown from youth to man, his father began to send him on supply runs beyond the borders of Midgard, and later he became his emissary of sorts, traveling to commissioners, taking measurements, presenting material samples, and finalizing the details for his father’s sartorial creations. 

In his 20th spring, a dwarven duke commissioned a pair of boots, finer than the general dwarven stock, soft and strong and beautiful enough to make his kinsman higher up the line of succession ooze with envy.

For such stock, Habadon dispatched Mithrilon to the land of the light elves, Alfehim, where Moon Elk roam the forests. Their hide is thick enough for leather armor, but supple enough to bend and move like silk on the wearer, shimmering a mix of gold and silver when the light played off it.

The best markets for such hide lay in the interior cities of Alfheim like Enedon, silver roofs dripping with wisteria and freesia blossoms, filigreed walkways spanning the space between the trees like architectural spider’s silks kissed with gold light through the eaves above.

In this part of the realm, even the poorest quality goods in the market were finer than most in Midgard, but his search for the Moon Hide in particular was proving to be nearly as difficult to track as the animals from whence it came. It took him the better part of the afternoon to to locate the merchant stand with Moon Elk hide as fine and fair as the young huntress who had stalked, killed and tanned it.

Her name was Rhewil and she was the loveliest creature Mithrilon had ever seen. Which was why, perhaps for the first time in his life, he had not even attempted to haggle on the price. As he handed her a pile of coin and packed up his get, he saw that the gold filtering through the treetops was turning silver, and the mists had begun to rise in the forest. 

“My dear lady, might you know of an inn to pass an evening?” Mithrilon asked. “It is a long road back to Midgard, and I fear I will lose my way in the forest if I attempt to return this night.”

“Yes, just around the bend there is a place with excellent libations.” she said, busying herself with packing up her stand for the night. “I expect the beds are fair as well. You don’t find many mattresses of straw in Alfheim.” She cocked one sparkling blue eye at him. 

Was she mocking him? The elves tended to live a far more comfortable life than humans, but that definitely felt like a ribbing. She said, “I have my own, so I have not had the occasion to vet them.” It did seem to be a bit of light mocking.

Young, bold and full of unearned confidence, Mithrilon decided to be bold. “Perhaps you will make a deal with me. If you show me the way to the inn, I will spill silver as long as you wish for the both of us on these libations you speak so highly of. And when we are both well and drunk, you decide what we do next, even if that is leaving me alone and naked in the forest after a good spin around.”

“Or I could just go home.” she said.

“Yes, you certainly could. You could also take me with you if you like.”

“Well aren’t you bold.” she said.

“Luck is on my side more often than not.” he said, rubbing the green stone nestled in his pocket.

After many, many drinks and lo many hours, Mithrilon and Rhewil stumbled out into the cool night. He hadn’t had more than a few silver in his pocket after he paid for the hide, but quick wagers with fellow patrons and his stone by his side were always enough to keep the good times flowing, he had found.

They walked the moss-lined paths through the city, laughing and talking and sharing stories until a flash of blue caught Mithrilon’s eye to the north.

“What is that over there?” he asked.

“What, the Míresgal?” 

“The Míresgal?”

“Well yes, you humans have one as well, don’t you? In Manegard, the Dark Elves and the Vanir each have one, and then there is that whole business with the lost giant stone and the Wall of Winds.” As she spoke, it was plain that Mithrilon knew nothing of which she spoke. “Truly?” She considered him for a moment. “Ah, humans. Come, you’ll see.”

They continued along the path to an opening in the trees to their right, which in turn opened to an moonlit glade. In the center stood an opal pedestal, topped by a shining round blue jewel. The trees at the edge of the circle were old, and seemed less than natural, as if they had once been part of a planned structure.

Rhewil saw his eyes widen as he took in the glade and answered him as if she knew his mind. “The edge of this glade were once the living walls of the throne room of the First of the light elves. We don’t build places like this anymore. There is a magic here grown from the trees that go back to the beginning, when the Míresgal were made.”

“Oh that thing?” asked Mithrilon, pointing at the stone. “I have one of those, it is my family’s Luck Stone. But it is green, not blue.” He produced his own stone from his pocket, glinting like sunlit, well-watered grass. Rhewil stared at his stone in wonder. “You can rub it if you like. It’s for good luck.”

Rhewil hesitated. She reached out toward the stone, but when but a hairsbreadth remained between it and her fingers, a large nut fell from a tree branch above and knocked her solidly on the head.

“That’s odd.” said Mithrilon as Rhewil clasped her bruised skull.

“I don’t know what I was expecting.” she said, eyes screwed shut against the pain. 

“What do you mean? It’s a Luck Stone, it brings you luck. That’s what it does. That’s what my father always told me.”

Her look his way was equal parts amused, annoyed, disbelieving, and drunk. And so she sat in the moonlit glade with him, keeping her distance from his stone and told him of the Míresgal, the Stones of Power.

The stones, as Rhewil told Mithrilon, contained the blood of the Firsts, the light of the sun and moon, the breath of the creator, and the earth of the land where the Firsts found their place in the world. They contained all of the magic, the power, and the soul of each of the realm’s peoples.

The Vanir, and to a slightly lesser extent, the gods, held their magic close, and it was powerful in both of those races, with or without their stones.

The light and night elves, while not as fluently magical as the gods and Vanir, still understood their magic deeply, and even the most lowly of them possessed a firm grasp on their inborn magical abilities.

The ice and fire elementals were almost pure magic of their kind, but only immortals and the elementals themselves know anything of those wild, savage lands, mere mortal form cannot withstand the elemental power of those places.

And then there were the giants and dwarves and humans. They each held a quiet magic of their own, some more overt than others, but none strongly enough to be seen as true magic.

While each of the races held a kind of magic that was unique to them, each only had the ability to channel these elements. With the Míresgal of each of the lands, one of that bloodline could channel and summon their individual element of magic out of whole cloth.

And if a hand not of the blood of each stone were to attempt to touch it or wield its power, that power would be turned back upon that hand in ways that brooked no argument.

Rhewil told Mithrilon all she knew of the stones of power, and when she had, he snorted.

“Hog cockles. If that’s true, how can I hold this?” he asked, retrieving the Fire Stone from his other pocket. Rhewil pulled back from his with a sharp intake of breath.

“I think I would know if I were half fire elemental.” he said, giving the Fire Stone a rub. A small flame sparked between them, waltzing with the wind in the moonlight. “My father may have his head in the clouds on occasion, but one would imagine he might have noticed that in my making.” The flame paused, spun on its axis and wisped out with a shower of sparks. 

“That’s impossible.” she said.

“Obviously not.” he said, and stood. “Watch.” With a few long strides he stood before the pedestal, reached out, and picked up the blue stone. Nothing happened. Rhewil watched him with elfin stillness.

“Look, nothing to be afraid of!” he exclaimed. “If this one is anything like the two I have, it doesn’t do anything until you rub it.” Which he did. 

And in that moment, great vines began to curl out of the ground, interweaving themselves into a gazebo of wisteria over and around the pedestal. “Well would you look at that.” he said, craning his head to look at the finely woven ceiling of trailing flowers, gold light beginning to filter through them. 

Morning was breaking. He replaced the stone on its pedestal and turned back to Rhewil.

She remained very still, but she no longer focused on Mithrilon and the stone. Instead her eyes darted, as if tracing the lines of her thoughts from one end to the other. “Dear lady, is something amiss?” he asked.

She leveled her eyes at him, still paddling if no longer swimming with drink, but she focused herself nonetheless. “This is something.” she said.

“Most things are something.” he replied.

The thought of hitting him ran briefly across her face, before being summarily dismissed by the presence of the Luck Stone in his hand. No, this is important, all of this…” she flailed in the direction of his hand, pocket and the pedestal.

“Listen. Each Míresgal holds the powers of each land’s bloodlines, and each land’s power is its own. We Light Elves possess the Míresgal of Creation. The Night Elves of Destruction. The Vanir, Eternity, the Gods, Ether, or time, as you mortals know it, and the elementals are apparent.” 

“But you mortals of Beardenheim, we other beings are not sure, you have long lost your ties to magic.” A look of frustration crossed her face, lightly brushed with disgust.

“I suppose this answers that then.” he said, flipping his Luck Stone in the air. “Although it does raise a few questions too.” He retrieved the Fire Stone from his pocket and flipped it for good measure.

The gold fringes of morning light on the leaves stirred as a cool breeze wound its way through the glade. Their eyes met.

“Like what would happen if you tried another one?” she asked, picking up the Míresgal. “If you were up for an adventure, that is.” She placed the stone in her pocket.

Mithrilon stopped, eyes darting between her pocket and the edges of the glade. “Can you just...take that?”

“Of course, I am of the blood. You are too, you could also take it if you wished.”

Mithrilon fingered the upper edge of his ear. No, no points.

She continued, “This stone is of the blood of the light elves, but it does not belong to any of us. The magic of the Míresgal will do as it wills, for good or ill. Fear not, if it does not wish to be carried by you, or I for that matter, some horrible fate will befall us and it will end up back here with or without our assistance.” 

“That’s...comforting.”

“It is, in a way. You aren’t dead yet, after all” Rhewil said. “The legends of the Míresgal trace back to the beginning of time, but so far as I have ever heard, no being has ever been able to channel the power of more than one. Much less a human.”

“So, just out of curiosity…” he said.

“Yes, I know where to find another one.” she said.

Mithrilon and Rhewil gathered a cache of supplies from Enedon, paid for with Mithrilon’s excess silver from the night before. He held his Fire and Luck Stones, and she the Creation Stone.

He sent a messenger dragonfly to his father with a tale of there being no Moon Elk hide to be found in the markets, so he was setting off with a guide to find it, hence the anticipated lateness of his return. 

And with that, the pair set off north toward Svartalfheim.

If the night elves were protective of their Míresgal, they had no need to guard it physically, for the land of itself did a well enough job of that. 

Despite the apparent dangers of this unforgiving place, and the well-founded legends that go with them, the journey thus far had been no more treacherous than the trek from Midgard to Alfheim had been for Mithrilon on his own. 

The way was made all the easier by Rhewil and the Míresgal of the light elves. Swampy lowlands grew into mats of soft, thick grass for their passing. Rocky chasms that might have taken half a day to climb down and back up again were quick enough to cross with a strong bridge of vines. 

They had passed through the foothills of the Gaul Mountains into Svartalfheim, crossed the rocky peaks, and had already made good work of the descent into the sun-banished lands beyond. The light had dimmed slightly in that way that, here, at least, was the only way to tell that night was coming on. 

They has just set their camp on a bluff overlooking the valley below when Rhewil spotted a fiery orange glow in the distance. Mithrilon assumed it to be a campfire, it wasn’t, not here. She knew precisely what it was. They were almost there.

In the morning, spurred on by Rhewil’s renewed vigor with end in sight, they made quick work of their descent from the bluffs. The undergrowth and trailing dead vines grew thicker as they pressed on, and night fell. Mithrilon gave a gentle rub to his red stone which summoned a flame that danced above their heads, and they did not stop until they reached the glade.

It was much like the Alfheim Míresgal glade, but far more worn by time and the elements than that shimmering moonlit place. Here the broken moonlight glowered on the crumbling walls of ancient wood and stone and here an onyx pedestal held a blazing amber stone. 

His first thought was how we was going to fit a thing the size of a dog’s head in his pocket.

“Why is it so big?” he asked.

Rhewil did not answer, eyes fixed on the stone, one hand in front of her, as if absorbing the heat of a fire on a cold night.

“Hello?”

She took a slow step closer to the stone, fingers reaching.

“Hey now, that seem like a bad idea. What did you say this one did? I think it was a bad thing.”

She took another step.

“I would quite appreciate you stopping that immediately.”

One more step.

“Now that’s quite enough!” he bellowed in panic, grabbing her hand.

She snapped to attention, meeting his eyes, but her pupils still swam. “This one is dangerous. We need to get away from here. If you’re going to take it, do it quickly.”

“What does it do again?” he asked.

“This is the Destruction Stone.”

“That, ehrm, does not sound good. And you want ME to touch it? You’re the immortal one!”

She did not answer. He still faced her, but his eye cocked over to the stone. And he felt it too. A slow, sucking draw toward the glow. His father’s voice. Warm, slender arms holding him, cocooned by a shroud of long tresses the color of silver and honey and moonless night and sunrise. The scents of fresh hay and wood fires.

With no sense of time or place, he suddenly found himself with his hand on the blazing amber stone. And it was small, the size of the others. And he was back in himself. Nothing had happened.

Rhewil’s feet carried her faster south through the forest than they had on the way north, aided by each tumble she took down hill and hollow. Where the vines and grasses that grew from the will of the Creation Stone in this otherwise barren place had before been an aid on their path, now they grasped at her ankles and tripped her stride.

“Curse every foot of this bloody forest.” she muttered under her ragged breath, retrieving the Míresgal from her pocket. She rubbed it gently and the ground beneath her erupted in thick, leafy vines thick with orange trumpet-like flowers that swelled from the stem before engorging into a mass of squash and gourds that knocked her off her feet.

As she fell, tumbling backward over a knee-high pumpkin, she lost her grip on the Míresgal. It landed with a soft thud on a large velveteen leaf, set in a vine that continued to coil from the ground, lazily making its way to settle at Mithrilon’s feet.

Rhewil’s head popped up from the tangle of fleshy ovoids and she scrambled to her feet, eyes darting all around to find the dropped stone. And then she saw it.

“What…” she started toward Mithrilon and the stone, and from the cold, dead earth sprung an impenetrable wall of sunflowers between them. He bent to pick up the Míresgal, and a dense, inviting carpet of moss bubbled up to form a path next to him, leading to the east.

Their eyes met between the sunflower stalks. “Well, I don’t know if it could be any clearer.” she said. 

“I don’t...but...what are we supposed to do now?” he asked.

“I don’t seem to be an authority on the matter, seeing as I was just abandoned by my own blood. But if I were to hazard a guess, you are to go that way, and I am to get lost.” she said, motioning toward the mossy trail to the east with one hand and to the lightening wood to the south behind her.

“But you have to take this back to Enedon, don’t you?” said Mithrilon, holding out the stone toward her. The sunflowers sprouted thorns.

“Apparently not.” she said. “A hunter I may be, but this hunt is not mine.”

Mithrilon still held the Creation Stone before him. “I can’t...I’m just supposed to take this? I mean, I’m not saying I’ve never walked off with something that wasn’t mine, but I would rather not have a cadre of elven palace guards on my tail.”

“I would like to see them try.” she said, eyes trailing up the sunflower stalks. She took a step forward, and the huge flowers towering above their heads set themselves ablaze. She stepped back again.

“The stones know their own minds, whether you do or not. And I think they’re teaming up. I think you had better go where they tell you.”

In the halls of Óleryd under the mountain of Orod lived the dwarven king, the royal family, varied distant nobles, and the endless quarters of the sturdy dwarven miners and craftsman that built the wondrous engineering feats for which dwarves are known throughout the realm.

Now, here, he had been left unattended in the great hall where a weighty throne sat upon the dais, stonework adorned with gold filigree and encrusted with sparkling jewels. At the top of the throne, gold light shone from a palm-sized stone inlaid into the surrounding stone. 

Mithrilon had noticed it the moment he entered the room, and even when the guard went to summon the duke for his boot fitting, his eyes did not leave the golden light. These things really did have a way of falling right in his path.

Where else would the dwarves keep a Míresgal. Somewhere all of the other important dwarves could lay eyes on it, of course.

Without even a thought, his hand reached into his pocket. His fingers traced the curve of the blue Creation Stone, and in his other hand appeared a gold shining stone that looked exactly like the one set into the throne.

Mithrilon held no illusions that the stone that he had just created held the powers of the dwarven Míresgal, but it looked the part. Besides, if Rhewil was correct, the dwarves knew little more of the stone except its power to sparkle and shine. The mortals, Rhewil said, had little knowledge or ties to their innate magic, the lore forgotten in the passage of short lives.

With a rub of the green stone for good luck, he dashed across the room to the dais, plucked the true gold Míresgal from its throne, and popped his false stone into its place before darting back to his original spot.

Before his breath had even had time to settle, the thick wood door crashed open and Duke Raegion rumbled over the threshold, clanking with more armor and finery than was strictly required for mid-afternoon on a Thursday.

“Ah! Lad!” Raegion exclaimed. “You’re late! But, fine goods take time, and your father makes the very best. But I told him, I must have these boots in hand for the gathering. I shall need to be rubbing them in some faces in a month’s time.”

“Of course, your majesty. The boots of Habadon are bespoke, custom fitted to the individual feet. I will need to take your measurements, would you have a seat please?”

Raegion glanced over Mithrilon’s shoulder at the door. Not being the noblest of noble, the guards outside the throne room were not watching overly close. He smirked, and trotted over to take a seat on the throne, stretching out his left foot to Mithrilon.

He knelt at the duke’s feet, retrieving a sheet of parchment, his writing implements, and a well-worn measuring tape. He set to work, while the duke unfurled a string of boasts and stories of exploits and triumphs that Mithrilon was taking with a boulder of salt. During one particularly aggressive eyeroll, his roll stopped on the false Míresgal behind the duke.

“Oh, aye, you like that, eh? The dwarves are LITTERED with finery like that. That is why we can afford boots like these, instead of being the ones to make them.”

Mithrilon let his eyes continue their roll.

“But no one has ever seen the likes of this before, never found another one like it, no matter how deep the mines go.”

“Where did that one come from?” Milthrillion asked.

“No one knows anymore. It is assumed it was a unearthed in the mountain long ago, but our written records only go back so far. But my cousin, the KING, don’t you know, said that he once attended a summit in Asgard where Rínor, THEIR king, had one set in his crown. But it was yellow, like the sun, not gold. I don’t know why anyone would prefer the sun to gold, but to each…”

Mithrilon had stopped listening. “That should do it, your majesty! I have everything I need here, and I must make haste to my next appointment. To ensure the speediest possible delivery of your boots, might I trouble you to direct me to a courier so I may send your material and measurements to my father? I must be off.”

Another day, another throne room. Mithrilon had saved a length of moon hide before he sent the duke’s boot makings back to his father. It had worked as the perfect lure to get him in the room with the king of the gods, where he now knelt, measuring the king’s feet. 

He was nearly finished, but he was no closer to snatching the Míresgal from the king’s crown than he had been back in Nidavellir. But he had taken his time with the measuring, charming and flattering the king and the room as Rínor regaled the assembly with the stories nobles tend to tell.

The king’s friends and consorts littered the overstuffed leather and velvet chaises that edged the room, spilling onto floors strewn with down pillows and furs. Then again, if gods can’t drip with extravagance, who can? Everyone was now also dripping with drink, as upon his first cleverly landed joke, the king had called to have a cup of wine brought for Mithrilon.

Each subsequent peal of laughter brought a flurry of servants to refill the drained wine cups of the assembled entourage. By now the king, whose queen was not in attendance at this gathering, was bragging, in much detail, of his extramarital exploits in the realm.

“I do enjoy the fiery ones, but the cold ones are just as steamy. It’s so much more exclusive.” said the king. He looked down at Mithrilon going about his work. “I would say you should try it, dear boy, but only we gods, well, and the Vanir, too, I suppose, can even get near the fire and ice elementals, much less lie with them.” 

He turned his attention back to his fawning sycophants. “The ice queens are too cold for me though, I prefer the mist spirits. Mist-resses are the best sorts of mistresses.”

The room may as well have been filled with a pack of braying hounds. Mithrilon painted a manic grin on his face and made an off color remark bolstering the king’s masculinity.

Rínor clapped Mithrilon’s shoulder with his hand. “This one! I like this one. And I think I’m going to like these boots, too.”

The king’s head had tilted down a bit too far between drink and addressing Mithrilon, and his crown slipped off his head. In a blink, Mithrilon caught it before it hit the floor. He froze for a moment, as did the rest of the room. The king lurched forward to grab drunkenly at the crown, and settled it back on his head. “Good hands!” he said.

Rínor continued, “Did you…” his head tilted sharply to the side this time to speak to a gaggle of courtiers, and his crown slipped down the side of his head again, but this time he himself stopped it before it fell, now preferring to hold it in his hand for expediency’s sake.

“Did you know they have a Míresgal too? Seems silly, elementals needing elemental magic.” He let forth a resonant hiccup. “Hithfaerdes told me they don’t even know where it is anymore, probably buried down deep beneath the glaciers. Ah, what do they care, they don’t need it and no one else can claim it.”

He leaned further, as if speaking confidentially to the whole room. “The last time I was out sailing the Southern Sea, I could swear I saw a white light flickering inside the glacier, right on the edge where the ice cliffs turn to waterfalls that flow to the sea. One of these days it it going to pop right out into the ocean.”

As soon as the talk had turned to the Míresgal, as it always seemed to with proud, boastful royalty, in his limited experience, Mithrilon had grabbed hold of his Luck Stone in his pocket. And just now, as his thumb smoothed over the surface, the king was wracked by a great belch, and dropped his crown a third time. This time right into Mithrilon’s hand.

“Well look at that, this cobbler can catch anything! Shall we see if he can juggle?”

“I can do better than that, your majesty.” said Mithrilon, handing back the crown, now that all eyes were on him. “I can catch anything! Blindfolded, if you like.” While not actually true by any means, he had an idea. And luck was on his side.

“Well then, let’s make a wager! We will tie a cloth over your eyes, and you will catch...how about this apple?” If I win, this pair of boots will be made free of charge. And if you win, I will commission another pair. Deal?”

“Yes, my lord, that sounds like an excellent deal.”

A servant in turquoise livery shuffled out of the corner with a cloth to bind Mithrilon’s eyes.

“Let fly!” shouted a courtier.

Mithrilon felt the fruit coming, and caught it with ease. He pulled a bit of the cloth back to see out of one eye.

“Excellent! But far too easy. Let’s up the bet. Two pairs free of charge versus five commissioned.”

“Your majesty.” Mithrilon replaced the cloth over his eye, still feeling green magic in his hands.

The king drained his wine cup and threw it. Hard, and without warning. Still, Mithrilon caught it.

“Again!” shouted the king, with a less congenial note in his tone than before. “Three for 10.”

This time, when Mithrilon’s hands flattened upon each other around the object, he felt a searing line of pain cross his palms, a sharp and shallow slash on each side. The king had thrown a dagger this time. Mithrilon peeked from beneath the cloth again, concern growing. That concern was not assuaged by the color of the king’s face.

“That’s it, I have one for you. And a new bet.” He pulled his crown from his head and popped the Míresgal from its setting. “If you can catch THIS...you get to keep it.”

Mithrilon gulped. Hard. Surely the king assumed that if he did catch it, and he had no reason to believe he wouldn’t, he would be dashed ages into the past or the future, leaving the stone right where it was. And it might. But there was only one way to find out.

“Majesty.” Mithrilon replaced the cloth and braced himself for whatever was going to happen. Every breath in the room caught in their throats, the assembled onlookers watched the king. And then he threw.

In a blink, Mithrilon was gone. And so was the Míresgal.

Trickles of blood flowed from a thousand tiny wounds as Mithrilon fell to the ground, overwhelmed by this unforeseen army or surprising ferocity. He had never been party to a fight that had tickled as much as it hurt. 

The squirrel in his breeches was getting dangerously close to his delicates, the capybara had taken off with his boot, and a team of mice were making quick work on his belt leather. 

His eyes swam with prismic light from above, rainbows dancing in his vision and he closed them hard, rolling one way then the other, feeling small things smoosh beneath his weight. 

Low at first, then gaining in strength, a rhythmic ululation reached his ears, and his eyes snapped open to a battalion of guinea pigs bearing down upon him, led from the air by a cackling, rainbow winged gerbil whose eyes blazed with a manic frenzy.

Regaining his hand from a pack of rabbits, which, he was displeased to discover, now overflowed with dark brown pellets, he reached for his belt to touch the sun yellow Ether Stone. The world around him stopped. Mithrilon rolled over and pushed himself to his knees.

He had traveled far and wide in the realm, heard the tales and legends and hard reports in exchange for good coin at the tap rooms of every inn he had stayed in on his travels. No one, not even once, had mentioned a rodent army in the Southern Sea.

The current had been fast. He had given the Destruction Stone a tiny little rub, just chipping away that bit of the glacier that indeed, as king Rínor had said, held the shining white Míresgal of the ice lands. 

But when it fell, straight into the swift current of Spiritbrook, the current rushed it further out into the Southern Sea, straight toward the little green isle off the coast.

He tracked it down near an enormous gnarled oak, focused so much on the stone that he hadn’t noticed the skittering all about his periphery.

But now he had it. Seven out of nine.

Mithrilon had been in possession of his Luck Stone since he could first remember, and the Fire Stone since he was a boy. The stones of Creation, Destruction, Earth, Ether, and Water he had found in the days in which he was still a young man.

The last two stones, however, had consumed the rest of his youth, and for decades he used his charm, quick tongue, and a bit of luck to plie stories from men in their cups from one end of the realm to the other.

Rumours would abound about the Air Stone, everyone knew the story, but on a border so many leagues wide, searching for a stone on one in an endless range of mountains would require some help. 

He had meant that help to be the Eternity Stone, because while Eternity was a vague element if he had ever heard one, he had thought that perhaps it could help the task not take an eternity.

He had found, however, that the Eternity Stone truly was the rub. The Vanir, the few he had found, at least, as they were the most elusive of the beings when they did not wish to be seen, would not speak to him of the Míresgal. 

That glint that sparked behind their eyes when he asked was the only hint he had that they had ever heard of such an item. 

Until Eristel. He had not so much come across her in the deep Vanaheim woods as she had been waiting for him. At a bend in a game trail she sat next to her campfire, roasting a massive hare on a spit. Mithrilon approached carefully, but she casually waved him over to join her.

One eye shining white, the other a fiery red, Eristel was an ageless woman, not young by any stretch of the imagination, but not a line or crease showed on her slate grey skin.

Having been lost in the forest for weeks, subsisting on the flora of the wood, he was overjoyed when she offered him a leg of the fauna, and he thanked her between wolfful bites.

“Well, young man, we may as well fell the mastodon in the tent, what brings you to your current state of lost in the forest? This is not a place where any but the old gods stay for long, lost or otherwise.”

He paused. “Young. Not anymore.” he huffed. “I don’t know why I am still looking, I may as well go home and make shoes.” He tore another piece of meat from the bone, chewing like the very picture of a human.

“Everyone is young to a Vanir. Even most of the gods.” the corner of her mouth quirked, but her attention did not stray from her dinner. “In my timeline, humans don’t live past infancy.” 

He sniffed. “Yes, the Vanir. What, do they run out of words through the ages? Because you’re the first one that would dain to speak to me.”

“This one is a bit different from the rest in these woods, aye?” she said, her eyebrow cocked up, red eye glinting in the reflected flames of the campfire. “Perhaps I picked up a few extra all those years ago when I was running off with a young and handsome dwarf giant.”

*First of all, how goes a giant dwarf...“ he started.

“Dwarf giant” she corrected.

“Ehrm, okay, yes, dwarf giant. As you say. How does that work?” Mithrilon’s face attempted to puzzle it out.

“About the same as the rest, I would say.” she said.

“Oh.” he said, at a loss.

“Was there a second?” she asked.

“A second what.”

Her general elven stillness broke and while she had just leaned toward him across the campfire, it felt like a couched pounce, and he was no longer sure the flame in her eye was reflected. “No, there are seven I would say…”

Mithrilon’s rabbit turned to stone in his throat and he felt his pockets pulling toward her. He felt the stringing of muscles that preceded flight, but he was frozen to the spot.

She relaxed and turned her attention back to a particularly succulent bit of rabbit leg, but her brow did not lower. The tugging stopped. “Aye, now that’s something.” she said.

He scrambled to his feet. “A thousand thank yous my lady, dinner was delectable, but LOOK at the time, I must be on my way.”

She chuckled. “There is no time when you have it in your pocket, child.”

It felt like losing your clothing every few steps.

“And besides,” she said, “Didn’t you have some burning question for a Vanir? Despite my age I may have a few words left.”

Mithrilon paused, unsure if he should speak or run, even as the words tumbled past his lips. “I don’t suppose you know where the Eternity Míresgal is.” He felt something akin to part of his bowel dying inside his abdomen.

“Well,” she laughed. “If a thing is not to be found in the expected places, one must look in the places least expected. Now be off, before you soil yourself. I am already eating, I’m not going to eat YOU.”

The great wailing maw of the mountains that split the lands of giants and dwarves was known in the human and dwarven lands as the Wall of Winds. 

No one knew now what the giants called it, as no giants, dwarves, nor any other had passed its fury since it came to be in ages lost to the mists of time.

Though ages have a way of making things into things that have always been, the raging blizzard that held the border between the giant lands of Jotunheim and the dwarven lands of Nidavellir had not always been so.

Once the giants, dwarves and others had traveled the lands freely. In those days the dwarves trekked north in great numbers to fell the mighty trees, because Ironwood could be melted and forged as mountain iron, but would never become brittle and shatter with the cold.

Old magic lived in the Ironwood forests, a sacred place to the giants of the northern lands. The giants were not pleased with the southern dwarves cutting down their trees, for Ironwood does not live, does not seed, and will not grow again when cut.

And so battles were fought, the dwarves well-protected with their Ironwood-forged axes and shields and armor, and the giants with their sheer size and fury, all evenly matched, and the snow-blanketed mountains for miles on either side of the border were crimson with the blood of both.

Mithrilon could hardly hear so near the wall, the winds screaming in his ears, his face stinging with the cast off of whipping snow. This is the only place it could be, surely.

The giant’s stone, the Air Stone, had been lost to history. The only clue to its whereabouts is that it was lost when the wall went up. Mithrilon stepped closer to the wall and tripped on a hunk of silver. That was in rather large supply on this mountainside, as was gold, copper, and metal ore of many sorts.

Mithrilon stood up and eyed the crumbling mountainside, glittering even under the cold, slate-colored sky. 

He reached for the gold stone on his belt, the Earth Stone and ran his fingers over its smooth surface. Very slowly, the glittering nuggets, loose rock and earth littering the mountainside began to lift, to his knees, to his waist, and finally above his head.

And there it sat, shining silver on the base bedrock, not ten strides away. The Air Stone. He picked it up, and the floating stone and ore above him dropped back down to the mountainside.

His were the first human eyes that had ever been laid upon the Ironwood forests of Frostwood.

The trees stretched so tall before him they appeared as cliffs carved from mountains, ravaged through the eons by ice-laden ocean waves.

But although water lay below him, feet or fathoms of glacier, none could tell here, it was ice and snow that held him before the majesty of the trees.

Their limbs creaked like frozen iron plate, their sounds of their nettles on the wind hard and soft like the metallic silken noises of finely woven chainmail moving over skin.

Once he had passed the Wall of Winds, the world had been blank. All the tales knew of Frostwood was that is lay due north. Well, there was a lot of north up here, and it all looked rather the same when you had but a stone’s throw of visibility in the blizzards that blanketed Jotunheim.

The winds screamed over the mountains and whistled through the valleys, but on their breath, every so often, he heard his name whispered on the howl of it. From the north, yes, but to the west, too. And he had followed it, all the way to Frostwood.

As he moved beyond the armor of ironwood trees edging the ancient forest, the world fell into shadow. The moon that had been so bright upon the white expanse of frozen plains now slivered between the trees, brilliant spots among the velvet darkness all around.

Except for one place. Deeper into the forest there was a small meadow bathed in moonlight. There the bare earth was not because trees had been cut, or had thinned toward the edges of the clearing, but had receded from the center, clinging tight to each other at the edge.

If they had been people, Mithrilon would have thought they were trying to get as far away from the shrine in the center as possible.

There was a small white altar, shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil, and cocooned on three sides by thick, roughened ice walls that curved up out of the snow before splitting and twisting into branches that interlaced overhead. And on that altar lay a stone swirling with violet light.

Mithrilon breathed, a sparkle of pure brilliance in the moonlight. “Well, if this is the one that kills me, I’ll be a gerbil’s asshole.”

He reached out and picked up the Eternity Stone. Nothing happened. “All that, eh?” He peered deeper into the stone. “I’ve wasted all the good years of my life for…”

The ground shook and the Ironwood trees cowered. The shrine shuddered and the rough layer of ice softened slightly into dense white fur.

The anvil-shaped shrine snorted, sharp eyes blinking open to either side of the horn. And the branches above cracked in the cool night air as the thing pulled itself up to its full height.

Upon far off glance, one would think it had been an ice bear, but standing before it, it was twice that size, with claws like daggers on its huge and heavy front paws that were even now bearing down upon Mithrilon. 

He dove to his left, rolled, and reached for the red stone, rubbing it quickly before landing on his back and unleashing a ball of fire toward the creature.

It eyes blazed as it turned, and, snorting in a deep breath through its huge bull’s nostrils, it roared a stream of flames back at him. Mithrilon dove into a snowdrift behind the base of one of the bigger trees. 

“Fire? Really?” Out of curiosity, he rubbed the white stone, and a thick sheet of ice that had collected in the upper branches fell and shattered against the creature’s horns. He could have sworn he saw it grin, but the teeth behind the steer’s lips were not that of an herbivore. 

The snow below Mithrilon hardened in an instant into shard-like razor blades, the earth cracked to send a shockwave through the ground, lifting the shards into the air briefly, and then a maelstrom of wind picked them up and sent them flying all around him, cutting his cloak and his exposed hands to ribbons.

He ducked behind a tree once more, breathing heavily and wrapping his bleeding hands in bits of his shredded cloak. 

“Oh, so you have all the elements, do you? Let’s try something a little Elvish.” With shaking fingers, he took the orange stone in one hand and the blue in the other and rubbed them with his thumbs.

One of the Ironwood trees shattered into countless pieces, each forming themselves into a spear on the way back down to the earth as he exchanged the stones in his hands for the yellow and green. 

The spears of Ironwood whistled toward the ground. Until they, the air, and even the falling snow stopped.

All but the creature and Mithrilon, but he had not yet activated his Ether Stone to take control of time. The creature fixed him with his gaze.

Someone had created this creature, this golem, to keep the Eternity Stone safe, that was clear. But who could have given it all this elemental magic? None in the realm but he possessed all of the elements, except Eternity, which currently rested on the snow near the feet of the monster. 

On a quest, the key is often planning, sometimes simple perseverance. Sometimes, it is even more simple, in the way that humans are. 

He cocked back his arm and flung the green stone at the creature as hard as he could. It landed square between the its eyes with a great crack that was not the stone or a skull, but the splitting at the base of one of the great Ironwood trees. 

With the creature’s attention diverted, Mithrilon let out a breath, and noted a snowflake float down through it. Then with whistling and a series of thunks, the Ironwood spears found their marks. 

The massive creature sunk to the ground, impaled on dozens of frozen spears, before the tree behind it fell, and the snow bled as the falling tree in the forest made a sound that echoed through all the rest.

Moonlight spilled over the upper branches of the Ironwood in waterfalls flowing through the spaces left behind by the fallen giants. After what seemed an age, he stepped forward into the pool of light and snow. 

His eyes stayed fixed on the crushed creature, but with each slow step they flitted to his Luck Stone, resting on the back of the paw of the thing pinned under the tree.

He knelt lightly, to be able to spring away as quick as his frozen and battered knees would allow, and peered under the great trunk to see the face of the monster. And when he did, he saw the Eternity Stone, half covered by a massive tongue. The creature did not move, nor breathe. 

He picked up a shard of Ironwood that lay on the ground and poked at the open eye. It ruptured and sunk inward with a slight expression of thick white fluid. It did indeed seem to be dead. 

Still cautious, he reached out and quickly plucked the Luck Stone from the back of the great paw, rubbing the stone as he did, because at this point it couldn’t hurt.

With a deep breath, he reached under the trunk, and when he tried to remove the tongue from over the top of the Eternity Stone, it released from the head, having been separated from the mouth by those great carnivorous teeth.

“Somehow I would have though completing a life’s quest would be more glamorous.” he muttered, wiping slime and blood off his hands in the snow. After all these years, he laid his fingers upon the Eternity Stone and picked it up. 

The snow continued to fall. The moon continued to shine. The wind continued to ease itself between the trees, and upon some of its tendrils he could still hear his name.

“What now, then?” He pulled the remaining seven stones from his pockets. Then the wind whispered, directly into his ear in a voice as clear as from the lips of the one who made him, “Good boy.” 

The stones erupted in a shower of rainbowed sparks that painted themselves upon the waterfalls of moonlight pouring through the clearing over the treetops. 

The colors formed into images and scenes on all sides of him, a vision brought to life in this lifeless place in the world.

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