When I wrote Dolor and Shadow I wanted a Fantasy that started here on Earth…in Norway to be exact—the culture who gave us elves—and expanded into the myth from whence the elves were birthed. That drew me to Norse mythology. With Dolor and Shadow toggling between the fantasy and reality, I had to watch where and when I crossed realms.
In Under Earth and Svartalfaheim, I have imaginative liberty to write whatever I could invent. But in Kallan’s Midgard…that’s our Norway…I had a very rigid realm to follow. I wanted to keep Midgard as historically accurate as possible. What’s worse, because this was Scandinavia, a land that developed 100% free of Roman influence until the 10th century, every Roman reference had to be removed. That mean no Julian calendar, no alphabet, no military or social order. No senate.
But here is what irked me. In the 10th century, Arabia was in its Golden Age. Astrology, mathematics, physics, and paper with books were pouring out of the deserts while Kallan and Rune remained ignorant in Alfheim. Bergen gets out and explores. Bergen has knowledge that my other characters lack through trade, but Kallan and Rune, simply don’t.
Brand, a human Norse explorer, was my first big break in the book to finally, FINALLY talk about all the wonderful things that happened in the 10th century! Money was coined! Greenland (Groen Land) had been discovered by Erik the Red and his son, Leif. Leif would sail on to America, which he called “Vinland.” Promise of a new land had reached the ports in Norway. Books and paper were now available from Arabia. Hops was discovered to make beer. The Mainz Cathedral in Germany had just been built! Astrologists could now map the stars allowing exploration to distant lands! So exciting! And I couldn’t talk about any of it! Until Brand.
When Kallan gets alone with Brand, the young explorer is smitten with the elven queen and I went crazy with the freedom of information I suddenly had! I love so much about this scene. Behold, the results.
Dolor and Shadow – Chapter 52
The scent of sweet hay rolled from the stables as Brand pulled open the doors. Orange light from his swaying lantern streaked the stalls and Kallan swaggered several steps ahead past the rows of horses.
“How old is he?” Brand asked, eager to pull her back to him.
“Well,” Kallan said with a grin, peering over her shoulder. “How old are you?”
Brand flashed his wide grin.
“Does my age change your answer?” he asked.
“How old do you think?” she asked.
“Three, maybe four.”
Kallan shrugged back.
“Let’s call Astrid three, then.”
“Let’s,” Brand said, dropping the lantern onto a hook.
With a hearty pat to Astrid’s neck, Kallan snatched up a brush beside her.
“And ‘Astrid’,” Brand threw his hands to the air, with a half chuckle lost to his grin. “What is that?”
Kallan pushed the brush through his coat as Brand followed her long locks down her back where they stopped at her backside.
“He was born when I was a child,” she said. “I insisted he was a girl and named him Astrid.”
With every stroke of the brush, her ringlets bounced lightly, holding Brand’s attention there at their tips.
“A child?” he whispered. “That would make you…”
“Yeah, let’s say Astrid’s three,” Brand agreed.
With every stroke, the gold cords laced at Kallan’s side caught the light, and he followed the lacing in and out through Kallan’s gown.
“How is it you know of the Palfrey and Courser breeds?” Brand asked pulling his eyes from the gold.
Kallan cocked a single brow as she pushed the brush through Astrid’s coat then abandoned it to a barrel.
“Should I not?”
Brand eyed the hem of her dress. His attention lingered on her feet wrapped in leather then dragged his eyes up.
“Most in the area have never seen anything beyond the creams of the fjord horse,” he said. “Let alone, owns one that looks so much like the horses found along the desert markets south of Volga.”
He watched as Kallan opened her palm for Astrid to snuffle with his wet nose as if sniffing for a treat. After a gentle stroke to his face, Kallan planted a kiss. A lump caught in Brand’s throat as he studied the fine lines of her jaw down to her neck.
“You should come with me,” he whispered.
Kallan looked up, hooking him on the lapis blue rings of her eyes.
“With you?” She kindly grinned.
“When next we go out,” he clarified. He gulped. His hands were cold and damp.
“We?” She couldn’t help, but snicker. “And when would that be?” Her voice lilted with an eagerness that encouraged more from him.
“Leif has another expedition planned next summer,” Brand rambled on, uncertain why he couldn’t shut up. “He looks to go west.”
“To the islands of Englia?” she asked, pulling herself from Astrid’s face. A single ringlet fell to her eyes.
“Further.” He lowered his voice.
Aching to pull back the ringlet, he dared a step closer, carefully, as if she was a fledgling that would take flight.
“To Groen Land?” Kallan widened her grin. She was shaking her head before Brand could stop her. “False promises of a land rolling with green.” She repeated the stories aloud. “And farmland enough to feed an entire country. Hopeful settlers have returned, laden with stories of fields of ice and barren rock.”
“Well, how else would Leif and Erik draw settlers if not by calling it Groen Land?”
Kallan laughed and his chest tightened.
“It’s an ice block,” she managed to say between chuckles. “Even the Northern Passage is warmer.”
Brand shrugged with a smile.
“Either way.” He shook his head, letting his face fall to severity. “No.”
Kallan stopped laughing as the joviality fell from Brand’s face leaving behind her grin.
“No?” she asked.
Brand shook his head. “Not Groen Land,” and whispered. “Beyond.”
The light of his lantern caught her eye.
“There is nothing beyond,” she whispered. “But Ginnungagap and the tips of the ash branches that stretch into the endless sea made black by the sea worms that fill those waters.”
“There is more,” Brand insisted. “I’ve been there.”
She knew he was serious and her eyes widened with fascination. Now that he held her, captivated, he kept her, refusing to let her go.
“Fields of green and pastures lined with berries in so much abundance that wine flows right out of the ground,” he said.
Kallan shook her head, her grin recovering.
“More false promises of sheets of ice?”
“No.” He lowered his voice, forcing her closer to hear. She smelled of roses and lavender. “This is real.”
“Green ice,” she whispered.
He exploded into a laugh encouraging her smile that launched him into his travels.
“The Empire is building a cathedral in Mainz,” he said. “Books containing the newest innovations are flowing from Râ-Kedet.”
“Books,” she said with intrigue.
“Books bound and made with silks and mesh fibers they call paper. The Arabi have been doing this for two centuries.” His eyes brightened with excitement. “Ideas are written and sold right there in the markets. Innovations and knowledge brimming with possibilities that are moving along the Volga trade roads in exchange for spices and gods from the lands beyond. They say the scholars have found maps in the stars.”
“Maps in the stars,” she said. Too easily, she was forgetting home.
“We can travel farther than anyone before us,” he said. “There’s a world, twenty years ago, we didn’t even know was there. And there’s something there, beyond that one.”
“And how far will you go?” Kallan whispered. “Until the branches of Yggdrasill reach beyond the stars?”
Brand paused, coming down from his maps in the stars to meet Kallan’s mystical eyes beaming with the worlds he spoke.
“Come with me,” Brand bade just above a whisper.
“To the stars?” Her eyes glistened with excitement.
His words brushed her lips.
“Come with me,” he whispered.
“Unfortunately…” Rune’s voice cut through the stables like an ugly horn sounding from the North. “…her Highness has other commitments requiring her immediate attention in Gunir.”
Kallan snarled at Rune as Brand straightened his back. Hate filled Kallan’s head at the sight of Rune, pushing aside thoughts of stars, books, and worlds carved with green ice. On the other side of the lantern, Rune rested a large arm on the stall. His hair tied back, made him appear older, wiser, and angrier than usual.
“Olga has asked me to fetch you.” Rune’s voice rolled through the stall like venom.
“Olga has,” Brand answered, not entirely convinced the Ljosalfr told the truth.
“Yes,” Rune insisted. “She’s in the Mead Hall, saying something about Halvard needing something…with…something…”
Rune handed the words to Brand, not bothering to make his improvisation sound convincing.
Brand exchanged Kallan’s apologetic glance for a remorseful one and, with gross hesitation, walked to the end of the stall. Pulling the lantern from its hook, Brand stopped long enough to gaze at Rune.
With chests puffed out, they sized the other and, after an eternal second, Brand moved on his way.