Not The Tree – part 1 : A Silver World

Posted: January 12, 2014 in Alfar & Duergar, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , ,


One does not simply walk into Alfheim…

Slowly his head turned, scanning from side to side for intruders. A chore it was, but someone had to watch the Tree whose blessed branches shaded the entire city of Upspoke. Too many Outlanders relied on its magic to world-walk into Alfheim, and it was far better to appoint Guides around it than to risk letting strangers wander freely. His task was to catch them right away, escort them to whatever business they had, then make sure they left without making too much of a mess.

Ársalf[1] was not alone of course, sitting bored on a mossy rock, chin resting on his fist. No less than three Guides were stationed at all times to greet visitors, each one responsible for watching nine of the great roots. Though he ran like the wind, it took him three minutes to run all the way around the massive trunk[2]. Its base was so large it seemed like a flat wall from up close. Yet ancient as it was, the Tree of Tribes was a mere sapling compared to the mighty World Tree Yggdrasil.

A shimmer to his right caught Ársalf’s attention. At once he started toward it, purple moss squishing beneath his feet with a rising scent of lavender. The shimmer became a transparent woman whose lower-half was hidden by the giant root between them, as the visitor walked along its length toward the Tree.

He broke into a run as the shape became solid, jumping atop the waist-high root into a crouch beside the her. What little sound he made was covered by the soft music of wind chimes, thus he has a chance to inspect her unnoticed. Her blue dress and long brown hair were irrelevant, it was her aura he was interested in.

Thus he noted a light-blue life-glow extending a thumb’s width from her skin, and the usual whitish bubble around her reeking of mortality’s decay. She’s definitely human, he thought. No glamour, not a single shred of it. Have these barbarians no shame?

“Humans,” his Guide master had taught, “are blind to the many lights of the body, and thus do not cover or decorate themselves as civilized folk do. Even their sex and power centers are allowed to protrude indecently in the manner of animals, foolishly believing that clothing hides their nakedness. No matter how crude you find this, avoid staring and keep your eyes on their face. They cannot help being the beasts they are, and deserve pity more than outrage as you guide them.”

Still, he found it embarrassing, and fought the urge to paint a few ivy leaves over her energy centers. To acknowledge seeing another person’s body rather than their glamour – the image painted in their aura – was the height of rudeness and he would not stoop that low. Reaching in to change it was even worse. Thus he resolved himself to ignoring the nakedness of this human female.

“I have found Yggdrasil!” she exclaimed with a giddy laugh, interrupting his thoughts as she absently tucked a strand of hair behind an ear.

She craned her neck straight up, gasping as she beheld the glowing lights. They populated the lowest branches like a multitude of little moons, shrinking to the size of stars further up against the purples and blues of the sky’s fading twilight.

“It really is a tree of lights,” she said, “just like that picture in my calendar. I never imagined it could be so beautiful! All those souls waiting to be born…”

He started whistling a tune softly to get her attention.

She turned and saw the beautiful young man, dressed in a hunter green sleeveless vest atop flowing white silken pants and shirt. His chestnut hair was gently blowing in the wind all the way down to his waist, and her pupils dilated as she licked her lips.

Before he had a chance to speak, she said: “Are you my Spirit Guide?”

He froze, his mouth open in a grimace as he searched for appropriate words. “I… yes, I am your Guide. Also, I need to ask you a few questions before we…”

“Thank you! I’m so glad to meet you! My coven name is Shining Song. Oh… am I not supposed to say my Craft name here? It’s not really a True Name, it’s more a Use Name and I…”

He shushed her with a raised hand, grinding teeth as he held back a cutting insult for the earth worm before him. “Please be quiet so I can give you guidance,” he said, silently adding: and I’ll use small words so a simpleton like you can understand. It’s a wonder you managed to get here at all. “Agreed?”

She nodded.

“First, do not under any circumstance give thanks. That is a great insult among the Alfar, as it implies the thanking to be equal in value to the gift. It is not. Instead, praise the gift or the giver. Nod if you understand.”

She nodded again, and started fidgeting with one of her belt pouches.

“Second, that is not the World Tree Yggdrasil…”

“It isn’t?”

“No,” he sighed, “it is not, and we agreed that you would be quiet until I was done, did we not? Don’t answer that.”

She opened her mouth, then thought better of it. Finally, he reflected. Perhaps these dogs can be taught. His relief was short lived, as she promptly interrupted him again.

“So what is it if it’s not the World Tree? It’s really really big!”

He held his hands out as if holding a large ball, eyes closed in an intense act of concentration. While she might see it as a magical gesture, he was in fact repeating a mantra of a different nature in his head: I shall not strangle the insolent whelp. I shall not strangle the insolent whelp.

“As I was saying,” he said as he opened his eyes, speeding up his speech to avoid further interruptions, “this tree is not that tree. This is the Tree of Tribes, and it binds together the eighteen Great Houses of Alfheim. Those are not souls you see glowing above, they are white flowers. Trees make flowers in the Spring. You have those in Midgard, yes? Just nod if you understand.”

Shifting weight onto her back foot, she crossed her arms and frowned as she replied: “Of course we do. No need to be curt with me, I don’t much like that tone you’re taking and I’m thinking maybe you’re not my Guide. You sound more like an evil trickster spirit.”

Again he made the ball holding gesture and, with a sweet smile that did not reach his eyes, added: “Of course I am your Guide. I am merely here to make your visit to our world a pleasant one. Now, please walk with me while we talk, I need to ask…”

“But I wanted to go touch the trunk of the tree,” she whined.

Of course you did, he thought, taking a large breath. “Very well, you may go touch the tree.”

She ran along the root, letting her hand graze the top of it as she skipped toward the trunk. He ran atop it behind her, softly cursing and praying that she would refrain from causing him too much trouble.

“It’s rough in spots, but smooth under the shingles. Neat!” Bringing her face closer she sniffed. “Smells woody, but a little spicy.”

He nodded as to a child, keeping his mask of kindness firmly in place.

“Okay, what else do you want to show me? Oh, and hey, where are the elves? All I see is people like you in the park, and a few short weird ones. If I’m in Alfheim I wanna see some elves. And why is your face turning purple ?”

I shall not str… there would be Hel’s Teind[3] to pay if I did. “I am a noble born Alfar, human. You are seeing an elf as we speak. No, we do not have pointy ears. And will you please follow me now?”

“Okay,” she answered with a smile.

He jumped down and they walked a while in blessed silence along the root.

“Now,” he said, “I need to know if you were sent here on behalf of a God or Goddess…”

“Oh, what’s that? It’s very pretty.”

They had come to where the root suddenly ended, angling directly down underground. On its outer face was a knot whose edges framed a flat surface the size of a large shield. Three Alfar women were sitting cross-legged a few steps away from it. They chanted softly as they stared at the colorful crest it showed, occasionally looking up at the trunk, and otherwise ignoring the new arrivals.

“This,” he said, “represents one of the Noble Houses. Each one has its emblem on one of the knots. Do not touch it.” She admired it silently for a while before turning to see he was already walking away – toward the forest at the edge of the mossy area.

As she caught up he asked again: “Now, are any Gods, Shining Ones or any other…”

“Hobbit homes!” she exclaimed, upon noticing windows and doors on the many green clover covered mounds, and smoke rising from their tops. Here the forest’s trunks were merely the width of small houses, and each tree separated by a dozen or so house-mounds. With a giggle, she began running toward them.

Now it was his turn to catch up, and as they came nearer she stopped and pointed to the earthen homes: “Do you live in one of those?”

“No. Only Lesser Alfar live in what you call ‘Hobbit homes’.”

“So where do you live Mr. High Elf? You’re a High Elf, yes?”

Blinking rapidly, he regained his composure and said: “Yes, I suppose I am. Look up.”

She did and saw there were homes built like snakes, winding up the huge trees between branches, smooth surfaced and painted to look like greenery with a few swirls of color. Noting they came no lower than the level of the tallest mounds, she asked: “How do you get up there? I don’t see any stairs.”

“Land bound Alfar use the paths before you that run between the mounds. High Alfar can rise above these to use the tree paths.” Even as he said it, she could see a man running light-footed above along one of the branches before hopping onto another.

“That’s not very fair,” she replied with a pout.

“This is the natural order of things, elevated beings live above those who are not,” he shrugged.

She cocked her head, noticing faint flute music ahead, then staring at the mossy paths themselves, said: “Are they… glowing?”

“Of course, blue moss brightens the roads at night, and some of us use it indoors as well for that purpose.”

She sighed and said: “Your town is so beautiful, and so are your people. It must be wonderful to live here. I bet there isn’t even any crime here, is there?”

“No, indeed there is not, and your praise brings us all honor,” he said with a beaming smile and nod. Finally receiving the appreciation he expected and deserved as member of a higher race, his mood improved and he asked again: “Now will you please now tell me who sent you here to Alfheim and why?”

“Oh,” she said. “No one sent me. I just wanted to visit the World Tree.”

“And you owe allegiance… to the Aesir? The Jotnar? Do you perform devotions to anyone in particular?”

“Oh no, I just pray to the God and Goddess with my coven. I haven’t picked out any Gods, don’t know that I really want to either. Sounds like a lot of work.”

“I… see. Spirit animals, plant guardians? Anything at all watching over you or sworn to protect you?”

“No,” she shrugged, “just little old me.”

Wonderful, he thought sourly. This ignorant child is no one’s pet, nor does she matter to anyone of worth. She came here only to waste my time and satisfy her curiosity.

Eyes wide she took in the beauty of her surroundings, the grace of its citizens as they walked by and gave her curious glances. “I’d love to live in a place like this,” she sighed with a wistful smile.

A crooked smile slowly formed on his face, as his eyes narrowed. “Would you, now?” he said, with a syrupy voice. “Do follow me, I should like to offer you proper hospitality with food and drink, so you can meet more of our folk. The flavors are to die for, I assure you.”

— — —

Later that night, Shining Song woke with a start, finding herself in darkness on the cold hardwood floor of her living room. The candles placed all around her had long ago burned down to nothing, leaving only the barest light from the windows.

“Dammit, I must’ve dozed off during the meditation,” she muttered aloud. “Why can’t I journey out of body? I did everything the book said. All I remember is relaxing, and then… nothing. Oh well, might as well un-cast the protection circle.”

She went through the motions, saluting each of the four directions, walking around counter-clockwise. It’s weird that I can’t feel magic at all right now, she thought. I must be really tired to not even feel my own circle. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. Or maybe I should just give up. She yawned, closing the blinds to shut out city lights as she went to bed. This Witch thing sure is a lot of work for not a lot of results.

[1] Árs means year in Icelandic, and alf is elf.

[2] Following the Alfar custom of making humans feel dumb, here’s a problem for you: If an Alf can run at a speed of 10 meters per second (the maximum human sprinting speed) and go around the trunk in 3 minutes, knowing branches are 10 times as long as the width of the trunk at its base, how wide is the trunk and how big is the Alfar city of Upspoke?

Solution: The tree trunk would be about half a kilometer (1/3 of a mile) wide and the city itself 10km (6.6 miles) wide. This give it a circular area of 78 square kilometers (35 sq. miles), which is the same as that of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Isn’t math fun? Don’t answer that…

[3] Alfar normally reincarnate only in Alfar bodies. Hela, however, considers this a form of inbreeding and requires a number of them be reincarnated among the other races. This is Hel’s Teind, the price they have to pay for living in the Nine Worlds, by sacrificing some of their own each year to be reborn as “lesser beings.” This according to:

— — —

Further Notes: A very concise paragraph describing faery glamour and customs in ancient lore, in case you aren’t familiar.

  1. Teka Lynn says:

    Oh dear. Poor girl. What DO they teach them at these schools?


  2. Jessica says:

    Linda, I love it. This story is adorable. Have you thought about writing illustrated children’s books?


    • lofnbard says:

      Thank you Jessica! I’d like at some point to make kid versions of my stories but my audience is mainly adults. I don’t expect a lot of kids would find my blog. Also… sequels to this story are probably not for kids small enough to need pictures.


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