The Dark Times is the name given to a period in the early years before Øde’s reign. There is little recorded history during these times, and it is a period that spanned at minimum several centuries. No one knows what caused the Dark Times, nor what came before them, but it is agreed upon that something did cause them, and something did come before. There is ample evidence for both of these claims, both physical and natural. The very geography and geology of Asgard is itself evidence of both. The realm is not whole, though it is clear that it once was. Asgard as it is now exists as the remains of what was once an ancient and mighty world. Now, its few people cling its shattered remains. The ancient Æsir practised a magic so powerful that their workings thousands of years old still hold strong today. Their magic had been worked into the soil and the rock, the air and the water, so that even when a great calamity struck the planet and tore it asunder, a small shard and a few scattered people and beasts upon it were able to survive.
Asgard now is but a small floating island in the vastness of Ginnungagap. Though it is small, and its people few, it still sits atop the World Tree as the most powerful of all the realms. These following chapters detail a period of Asgard’s history that are not well documented. The history that is documented has largely been recorded retroactively, as very few during this time knew their runes. For generations, most history was recorded orally, except in rare cases where wealthy kings could afford to employ hofgoði to etch their histories in runes.
As for what existed before the Dark Times, we simply do not know, and may never know. There is no record, written or otherwise, that survives today. There are no legends that survive, and only few monuments to the people who came before. Old King’s Castle is one such monument, but there are others as well. It is exactly as its name suggests, a castle so grand and so old, it could have only belonged to some ancient and forgotten king from before the calamity. But the castle is so old that the stones that were used to construct it are crumbling and rotten. Its libraries long emptied, used as fuel for fires centuries before anyone thought to wonder who might have built the castle. Eastgate and Old Castle, both on the banks of Wyvern River, are other monuments to these ancient people, and suffering the same fate. Old Castle is another such ancient castle, and Eastgate is what remains of an ancient walled city, which happens to have an eastward-facing gate. Dark Harbour, on Asgard’s east coast, was once a bustling city, which may have housed a million people or more. Today, there are barely more than five hundred living along its coast. Throughout Asgard, the ruins of such cities have crumbled to dust, reclaimed by the forests. Other settlements are new, formed as people fled the cities and the vandals within to seek the relative safety of the forest. And to some extent, it was a sound strategy. It was easier for a band of twenty or thirty to defend themselves than it was for two or three people to defend themselves against dozens of similarly-outfitted parties. With time, these small bands became permanent camps led by jarls, and some of those jarls became kings in their own right. And what was once a great realm returned to squabbling tribes hurling stones and swinging axes at one another.
And Asgard remained like this for several centuries or more. Some scholars say it was as little as two hundred years, while others say it was as long as a thousand. The only thing that’s known with certainty is that nothing changed until Øde marched on every one of Asgard’s 42 kingdoms and unified the realm under his own banner, bringing with him an era of great change and forward progress.
There is little recorded history of Yggdrasil and the Ten Realms before Øde’s Conquest, though this should not be taken to mean that there is no history. The period known today as Øde’s Conquest is a disputed period, ranging between ten and twenty years. Records of this period do not begin emerge until the last few years of his conquest, and by that point it is clear that the conquest had already been going for some time.
The sources of the material you are about to read are varied, and at times unreliable. These unreliable sources are included all the same, because without them we would have no information at all.
Prior to Øde’s Conquest the realms of Yggdrasil largely followed an oral tradition. Few knew their runes, and fewer still were literate enough to write coherently. It was through Øde’s conquest that education spread to the thrall classes, enabling even slaves to learn to read.
Before we begin on Øde and the dynasty he built, we must first look at the realms themselves, and the people of them. Yggdrasil is not a physical place one can stand upon, but the name for the realms connected by a network of Dragon Lines. These Dragon Lines are of disputed origin, with some scholars believing them to be the work of ancient sorcerers. Others believe the lines to be a natural phenomenon. There is ample evidence across many of the realms to support the theory of ancient civilisations far more advanced than those thriving today, and Asgard itself provides much evidence of ancient sorcerers powerful enough to create and destroy worlds. One theory states that the same ancient civilisation inhabited all of the realms, but became splintered and reduced in power and numbers after some great calamity. Evidence for this is scarce, and the theory is largely supported by a distinct lack of evidence, as no written record for anything occurring before Øde’s reign exists on any realm. Yet, ancient fortresses and castles stand, far older than any can remember. These ancient structures show a refined building technique that would not be discovered again until Øde’s reign.
This theory also suggests that Asgard was once the centre of this ancient civilisation. The foundation for this assertion lays on Asgard’s own soil. The other realms are whole; living worlds with all things necessary to sustain life upon their surfaces. Asgard, by contrast, is broken and shattered. It exists as a small island of life in the void. This broken world is not the perfectly round world that all other realms are. It should not be capable of sustaining life, and yet it is. Its sea should flow into the void of space and leave behind a barren, rocky waste in its wake, and yet it does not. The sea does flow to the void, and the water does fall off the edge of the world into the vast nothing beyond, but the sea still remains all the same, surrounding the entire realm. There is air to breathe, and fresh water to drink. There are fish in the water, and elk and boar and other game in the forests. Asgard, or what remains of it, exists only because of powerful magic. And of this, there is ample evidence. Asgard is a realm built of magic. There is magic in every part of the realm, including the people who live there.
Whether there was some ancient, powerful civilisation is a mystery for another time. Our story begins during a time that has come to be known as the Dark Times. During these times, the Ten Realms were largely isolated. Occasionally, some daring explorer would stumble upon a Dragon Line and find himself in another world, but these explorers would often find themselves captured and taken as slaves. We know from later writings, during the Conquest and after, that it was widely known that crossing these lines was dangerous, and best left avoided.
There are four distinct races across the realms, though most have their own smaller sub groups. These races are men, elves, giants, and dwarves. There is still some dispute as to where these lines fall, and whether there ought to be more than four. There are also Old Gods and other creatures such as dragons and trolls, though these are not recognised as higher life forms deserving of such distinction. Further, men can become dragons, and the definition of a troll is so varied and convoluted, it is difficult to accurately state what a troll is.
The race of men are themselves one of the most varied. They are best defined as being not of the other three, which are all distinct in their way and appearance. Men, by contrast, can often be mistaken for the other races. They can primarily be found on Asgard, Vanaheimr, and Midgard, though it is still debated over whether the Eastern Jötnar of Jötunheimr are men, and whether the Angels of Heven are simply men who have learned to fly.
The men of Asgard and Vanaheimr are possessed of great magics. The Æsir practise a form of psychic magic, allowing them to understand and be understood in any language. The Vanir, by contrast, can harness the very elements of nature, controlling the storm and the forest alike. The men of Midgard have no magic of their own, but they are capable of learning nearly any magic offered to them, though often at a great price. The mortals’ affinity for magic has caused them as many problems as the magic has solved.
The elves are very similar to men, but the subtle differences between them are important. The elves are further divided into two core groups as well: the Ljósálfar (Light Elves) of Álfheimr and the Dökkálfar (Dark Elves) of Svartálfheimr. Both are slightly taller on average than men, and of a slimmer stature. Their most notable feature is their ears, long and pointed. The Ljósálfar are always of fair skin and hair, and the Dökkálfar have flesh of deep blues and violets, with dark hair. Both are considerably longer-lived then men, and are born with an innate talent for magic most men find difficult, if not impossible to master.
The Ljósálfar and Dökkálfar further divide themselves as well. A race of Dökkálfar called Ice Elves began to appear during Øde’s reign, and are identical to typical Dökkálfar in every way except for the location of their birth. While Dökkálfar are typically found on Svartálfheimr, Ice Elves are found on Jötunheimr. Though they are not a true race in and of themselves, they have long been recognised as such.
Similarly, the Ljósálfar can be further divided into Moon Elves and Elves of the Vale, which themselves can be further divided into more categories. Moon Elves are Álfheimr’s most powerful sorcerers, having become one with the very realm itself. Elves of the Vale is a broad term for any elf inhabiting a large vale that cuts across the entire western continent of the realm. We could continue for ages discussing the different sorts of Elves beyond these groups, but that is also a discussion for another time.
Both the Ljósálfar and the Dökkálfar are possessed of powerful magics, able to fling curses and hexes, as well as cast healing magic. These magics are all innate, though require years of practise to fully master.
The giants are as their name implies, and found on Jötunheimr and Múspelheimr. Though not all who inhabit these realms are giants, as previously discussed. Most giants are twice as tall, on average, than men, though giant women tend to be a bit shorter. They are not the towering monsters many believe them to be, though their reputation as such has proven difficult to shake.
The giants themselves are broken into different classifications of Jötnar of Jötunheimr and Eldjötnar of Múspelheimr. The Eldjötnar consist of two primary groups: fire giants, and fire demons. Fire giants are tall and wide, with flesh in shades of red. These have horns and long tails, and many are possessed of magic that allows them to control fire. Fire demons can control fire as well, but are smaller, with flesh of black that cracks and breaks and forms bright scars of red, making them resemble hot coals or lava. There is a persistent myth about both that being touched by one will cause burns to the flesh. This is true only in that both races are capable of summoning flame, and can do great harm if they wish. But it is a conscious act on both parts, and no guarantee.
The Jötnar are divided into six groups: frost giants, ice giants, storm giants, brine giants, mountain giants, and Eastern Jötnar. As discussed previously, there is some debate over whether the Eastern Jötnar are actually themselves men. They’re a bit taller than the average man, but not tall enough to be even mistaken for a giant. Further, they wield no inherent magic, but are able to learn certain branches. The frost giants and the ice giants live in the north of the realm, and are distinguished in subtle ways. Ice giants are of a pale blue, appearing almost pink in some lights, while frost giants are of a deeper blue. But the most important distinction between the two is their lifestyle. The frost giants live farther south, allowing them to form permanent settlements and farm during the warmer months. The ice giants are nomadic, moving from place to place with the seasons. Both the frost giants and the ice giants are possessed of magic focused around ice and snow and cold, and a similar myth to that of the Eldjötnar persists here as well. But a frost giant will no more freeze a person by accident, as their magic is also consciously controlled.
To the south, on the western continent, live the brine giants. These are giants of the sea and water, and though they possess no magic, they make up for it in size and might. The brine giants are amongst the largest of all the Jötunn races, and they sail the Brine Sea, attacking any vessels daring enough to cross it.
Toward the centre of the western continent live the storm and mountain giants. These, along with the brine giants, are fair of skin, and have earned a reputation for ruthlessness. The storm giants are possessed of elemental magic, similar to that used by the Vanir, while the mountain giants possess no known magic.
Lastly, the dwarves of Niðavellir are the simplest and least varied of the races. Half as tall as men, the dwarves are twice as strong and thrice as fierce. They possess no known magics, though even before Øde’s conquest, their smiths had mastered the runes, using them to cast magic upon their tools and weapons.
We have mentioned other beings, such as Elder Gods and trolls. Elder gods can take any shape, and thus are difficult to classify otherwise. These beings are known to be powerful beyond imagination, and are said to have been behind the very creation of Yggdrasil itself. Whether this is true is a matter for the hofgoði to discuss.
We mentioned earlier that the theory of an ancient, unified civilisation rests on a bed of no evidence, but this is not to say that there is no evidence at all for this line of thought. There is one point which formed the theory to spring up in the first place, and that is the similarity in social and class structure across most of the realms, though Heven and Álfheimr both have their own twist on the system. All ten realms strictly adhere to a rigid class system, though it is not a system with no mobility. A person can climb the social ladder as well as fall down its rungs, though it is much easier to fall than it is to climb it. Atop each ladder sits a king, or a queen, in the case of Heven and Álfheimr. For the sake of simplicity, and because most realms have a king, this is the word that will be used henceforth. Before Øde’s Conquest, most realms had many kings, each reigning over their own piece of real estate. After the conquest, each realm became governed by a single king, each a vassal to the throne of Asgard. In all instances, this seat passed to the eldest son (or daughter, for Heven and Álfheimr). This seat could not pass to or through a daughter. If a king had no sons, the throne in theory would pass to a male relative. More often than not, war was waged and the throne seized by another instead.
Beneath the king, jarls governed individual villages and towns, taking care of government needs on the local level, and paying tribute to the local king. Each jarl headed a þing, consisting of the village elders, known and goði, and each king headed an alþingi consisting of his jarls. Goði would often help manage individual parts of a village, overseeing farms or fishing or trade. A small village may only have two or three goði, while a large city might have a dozen or more. In addition to overseeing the local industry, the goði were also responsible for collecting taxes and tribute from free men and land workers.
Similar to goði are the hofgoði. Usually the eldest hofgoði would also have a seat on a þing or alþingi, though his role was focused around the hofs or temples. The hofgoði would oversee the religious rites, and collect sacrifices for the altars. The goði and hofgoði are part of a class beneath jarls, called karls. The karl class was, and remains the largest social class. These are free men with influence and wealth, though not necessarily power of their own.
Beneath the karls are the thralls. The thrall class includes slaves and free men alike, though with some exceptions, many are born poor, and will die poor. Some merchants can gain wealth, but this wealth does not come with any power or influence. Servants within the thrall class can enjoy a level of comfort unknown most low-born, and those in castles and palaces can often earn enough gold to retire on. Becoming a servant in a castle or palace is often the goal of many within the thrall class, but it is not the highest one can hope to climb. Even slaves at the very bottom of the ladder can rise up to become goði or even jarls themselves, while even princes and kings can find themselves in chains.
This structure remains largely unchanged today, though some roles have shifted over time. Warriors and even palace guards have ascended from the thrall to the karl classes since Øde’s conquest, while some jarls have taken regency positions, given them the power of kings. All of this, we will see in great detail throughout this history, as the story of Yggdrasil is the story of many rises and falls of great people. But the fact that most of the realms shared this structure long before Øde’s Conquest does lead some veracity to the idea that at some point lost to history, the realms had all been united. And yet, on Heven and Álfheimr, the subtle differences create an atmosphere that has caused conflict many times in the past, and will continue to do so long into the future. On those realms with kings, women held no power or position in these early days. A king or jarl with sons could continue his line. Daughters, by contrast, were property to be sold to the highest bidder. Even as queen, these women held no sway in any context. Once given to her new husband, a woman had the sole duty of birthing sons. Often, women who failed to do this adequately would be executed. There were no laws governing how a man must treat his wife, and many men of high status often took multiple wives to ensure many sons. The only crime one could commit against a woman was rape, and even then it was the father or husband who was considered the victim. To rape an unmarried girl was to steal the future dowry from her father. To rape a married woman was tantamount to stealing a potential son from the husband. In either case, the punishment for the rapist was often death. The punishment for the woman who had been raped was often to be cast out, as her value and worth had been destroyed.
On Álfheimr and Heven, the roles were, and still are, quite reversed. In these realms, women held the power, while men were viewed as little more than property. In recent times, at least on Álfheimr, the roles of elvish men and women has grown more equal, though no man has ruled Álfheimr for as long as anyone can remember. Even now, outside of the Vale, elvish men provide labour and daughters to their wives. Men can hold no office or land, and make up the lowest ranks of society and the military. They do hold more rights than women in other realms, however. Elvish men are often solitary, roaming the realm and selling their skills as fighters, sorcerers, and other labour. Some who do not wish to marry may sell themselves to pleasure houses or jarls, putting themselves to stud for women who choose to take no husbands, but wish for daughters. Álfheimr is also the only realm to have not made it a crime for men to lay with other men. On all other realms, the punishment for such ranges from gelding to death. These men, known as ergi, often find themselves unable to hold land or employment, and will often sell themselves into slavery if it means the promise of a daily meal.
On Heven, the situation is far more bleak. No one knows why, but the birth rate has become dangerously imbalanced on Heven, with only one boy being born for every 100 girls. When a boy is born on Heven, he is taken from his mother to live a life of religious devotion and slavery. The population of Heven is also very low, even today. There may be fewer than 100,000 people in the entire realm. When a woman wants a child on Heven, she pays a visit to the temple and chooses a man to lay with. Her daughter will grow to become a warrior like all women on Heven, provided a child is born at all. Most women never bear children on Heven, and the few that are born are precious.
In recent years, Heven has begun a policy of introducing fresh blood by capturing men they face in battle. It has been thought that when the imbalance in their birth rates first began, it began to self-perpetuate as the available options fell. It is known know that every woman on Heven is a close cousin of one another, because of the distribution of available males. By capturing men from other realms, Heven may be able to stabilise their population in the future.
Álfheimr and Heven differ from the other realms in one other key aspect. In all other realms, a child’s race is determined by the race of his father. A child born to a Jötunn father and an Æsir mother will be Jötunn. He will look like his father, though perhaps lack the expected stature. He will have his father’s magic, and be, in every way Jötunn. If the father were Æsir, and the mother Jötunn, the child would be Æsir. The child will resemble its father, and inherit his father’s magic. There are some complications to this, which we will discuss later, but this is the accepted way of things.
On Álfheimr and Heven, race is inherited from the mother, and as such both the Angels and the Ljósálfar tend to be very picky about laying with men of other races. A Jötunn child born to an Álfar mother would not be able to easily pass as Álfar. If the child’s father were Æsir, considering the child to be an elf like his mother is an easy narrative to push. But it is believed that this quirk in biology is what led to the absolute reign of men over women in most of the realms. A woman could not pass on her name, or her race, and owned no possessions to pass on. She could produce children, and that was all.
Much indeed has changed in the years since Øde’s conquest, and much of these changes came about because of decisions he made during his reign. But to credit Øde with these changes directly is almost laughable, since these things changed in spite of him, rather than because he willed it.
The words that follow in this history are the work of countless individuals over the last 300 or so years. Many scholars, sorcerers, and hofgoði have left records for us to piece together. As literacy improved in the realms, it became common practise for the literate to keep records of their own, writing journals on parchment and binding them into great tomes. For the first years of this history, much of the information we possess comes from sources written after the fact, often by people who were not there. But these are the only sources we have, and so we have no choice but to assume there is at least a grain of truth to them. For the years leading up to the start of Øde’s reign, we rely on a source of unclear origin. A hofgoði named Henrik Holmkellsson collected many of these tellings, but did not record them personally. He copied them and bound them all together, and that is all we know of the origins of his work. There is no evidence to suggest he so much as interviewed a single person in the gathering of these records, and yet his records are bound into three total volumes. Titled simply The History of Øde’s Conquest, Henrik gives us insight to many of the events that led to a unified Yggdrasil. We must both assume that everything Henrik tells is is true, but also give doubt to all of it.
Henrik compiled his three-volume history in the years between Øde’s 12-14th years of reign. The volumes were then filed away in Asgard’s library to be copied and copied again, taught as history across the realms. Some changes have been made over times, some mere alterations in style or spelling, while others change entire sequences of events. This history is using the original copies Henrik himself compiled, which still sit upon the shelves of Asgard’s great library today.
It is impossible to say when exactly our story begins. To mortal men, the Nine Realms of Yggdrasil are ancient beyond time, eternal and incomprehensible. However, to the scribes and sages of Asgard, barely 300 years have passed since Øde began his conquest to unite the realms under a single banner. Before gods commanded the heavens, the Nine Realms were little more than primitive tribes, squabbling and warring amongst themselves and one another for power and supremacy. In such times, the distinction between gods and men hadn’t yet been written. Gods were gods, and men were men, but the line between was fuzzy and easily crossed. This is because in truth, gods became gods much in the same way kings become kings; through force of will and bloody conquest.
The first god to rule as such was himself but a man. Øde is oft credited with being the first to re-discover the Dragon Line’s after Asgard’s destruction, and the first to learn to walk their paths, but we know this to not be entirely true. The Lines were known and walked, but it was dangerous to do so. Øde was the first to use them for war, however, and the first to chart all their positions within Yggdrasil. Øde is also said to have been Æsir, but this is much debated and not regarded as fact by any whose opinion matters. It’s believed he instead came to Asgard from another realm, though which realm it might have been has never been agreed upon. He may have been Æsir, or he may have been born on Midgard, or even Vanaheimr. Some believe he may have been Eastern Jötunn. All that is known for certain is that Øde belonged to the race of men, and not elf or dwarf or giant, and that he rose to power very slowly. He had no army at first; only a raiding party of indeterminate size. Some of the sources in Henrik’s History says that Øde’s party consisted of barely more than a dozen men. Others say it was as many as five hundred, capable of moving across the realm like ghosts. It’s likely both may have been true, and that the reports simply come from different points in time.
Before Øde’s conquest, the concept of time was an abstract one. Many people could not count at all, and those who could count, and cared to know their age, needed only know how many dark winters they had lived through. Namedays were a thing of the wealthy nobility, who had hofgoðis who could track the moons and stars above by their phases. To some people, a dozen may as well have been five hundred, for all the difference it made. Øde’s Conquest officially began 13 years before his first year of reign, but we know that is not when it actually began. This date marks his first march on Vanaheimr, but his conquest started well before he ever left Asgard. Before he could unite the realms, he had first to unite Asgard. The order in which he did this, and how long it took is anyone’s guess. But we know that he did it, and he did it some time before that year 13 date.
Henrik’s History does contain some information on these early raids, however. Though they lack any information that may help us date these events, what information they do contain aligns with his behaviour on other realms. Øde would lead his raiding party into villages, and would have started with the smallest first to work up his strategy and forces. With a dozen men, he could have easily taken over small farming and fishing villages simply by timing his raids to happen while most of the fighting men were away. Henrik’s History agrees that the jarls who yielded to him and pledged loyalty were allowed to keep their land and title, while those who fought often faced death. Henrik’s History also agrees that when a jarl resisted him, Øde allowed his men to sack the village, taking anything of value they could carry, including women. This was a standard practise at the time, and we see this in Øde’s documented raids in other realms. Whether Øde himself participated in the sacking is unclear. We know that he did later on, but we also see a pattern of escalation from him. It’s likely that in these early raids, Øde himself did not participate directly. It’s a likely assumption that in these early days, Øde believed himself to be operating under some greater good, and by not directly participating in rape and the taking of war brides, he was able to hold himself as a just conqueror.
Henrik’s History also agrees with another practise Øde was known for later. When jarls resisted him, and were later overthrown, Øde gave the newly vacant position to the strongest men in his party, compelling the villages to join him. In this way, he very easily could have gone from a dozen men to 500 or more very quickly, just as we see him doing later on a larger scale.
It’s easy to believe Henrik’s assembled accounts in this area, because it all follows a familiar pattern. But it must also be considered that these accounts, written well after the fact, may have themselves filled missing information with known events. Perhaps we see a pattern here because this pattern was truly well established. Or perhaps we see a pattern here because someone else assumed Øde would follow a predictable pattern and retroactively applied it. Given the safety in assuming Henrik’s History is correct in this regard, many scholars today believe that the events he gathered happened as they are written, though perhaps not in the same order. Many villages and towns record Øde coming with his growing army of men, but many times sources within the same village cannot agree on when this happened.
We do know which settlements resisted him, because we do have a record of jarls. However, because there was no unified calendar at this time, villages did not record years as we do today. At the time of Øde’s Conquest, many of those he overthrew were kings of their own making. After Øde brought his raiders to their lands, these kings all became jarls, and each of these were recorded by local hofgoðis. But these records only noted the number of dark winters that passed while a king sat a throne. When Øde installed his loyal followers as jarls, the record simply states that this happened. There is scant evidence of when any of these transitions took place. We know that Helmgard resisted, and that Alfvard the Black was given the seat. After Bear Skull fell, Øde gave the seat to Skalli Olarsson. Both were said to have been boys, with some sources recording Skalli as no older than six years old when Øde put him in power. While this may seem unlikely, this as well holds to a pattern Øde would continue throughout his reign. Often when he would overthrow or remove a ruler from power, he would fill the seat with a young child just as soon as he would a close ally. The child would then be given a regent, of Øde’s own choosing, who would groom this new jarl or king to rule as vassal. It was a strategy that often proved effective, but it had just as often caused further problems later.
Far more of these ancient kings chose to follow Øde than resist him, as we can see in the records as well. Asgard had only two settlements which could have generously been considered cities at this time. Dark Harbour, east of Wyvern Peaks, had an estimated 5,000 inhabitants. North Port, north of Black Peak, had an estimated 4,000 inhabitants. Both of these sit on Asgard’s coast, and have ample resources to support so many people. But all of Asgard was very poor at this time. The gold mines in Winter Root were controlled by King Jógrímr, with very little leaving his treasury. Asgard had no roads for the gold to travel over, nor trade for gold to be spent on. Each small kingdom existed as if in its own world, away from those around it until raiding season. Wealth moved from kingdom to kingdom and from village to village through these raids. Jógrímr was himself a boy of barely sixteen when Øde marched on Winter Root, and it is said he saw the raiding party coming and welcomed Øde into his hall to dine alone, just the two of them. They spoke for an hour, and emerged again with King Jógrímr now becoming Jarl Jógrímr, and possession of the gold mine, along with half of Jógrímr’s wealth moving to Øde, without a single weapon having been drawn.
Other sources tell the story differently. Some say that Jógrímr was as young as fourteen, crowned barely more than a week when Øde marched on Winter Root. Others say that the two men spoke alone for a full day and night before emerging again, having reached the same accord as laid out above. All we know for certain of Øde’s alleged raid on Winter Root is that it happened when Jógrímr was a young man, freshly crowned, and that Jógrímr died an old man. One thing all sources agree upon is that not a drop of blood was spilled when Øde marched on Winter Root. Based on estimates of Jógrímr’s age when he died, it’s likely Øde marched on Winter Root between 18-22 years before the start of his reign. Many scholars and hofgoði have attempted to find a date that disagrees with this thought, and for good reason. Even at the most generous estimate of 18 years before his conquest, Øde would have lived impossibly long, even for the Æsir.
In fact, Øde’s age has long been the subject of debate, and has led to the debate of who he truly was. There are some who believe that Øde was in fact two men, one taking the name and identity of another who perished before him. There is no evidence to support this claim, beyond the simple point of Øde’s unusual longevity. To be skilled and respected enough to lead such a competent raiding party, Øde would have had to have been a man grown when he began his conquest. Even if we assume he took Winter Root in his very first raid and experienced an astonishing amount of luck, he still cannot have been much younger than twenty years old at this time. And yet, he sat on Asgard’s throne for 99 years, far longer than any king since his reign. It is simply impossible for an Æsir man to reach such an age without the aid of magic. We know that Øde did use magic, learned from a variety of sources, but none truly mastered. Some believe he may have been half elf, the result of some raid on Álfheimr gone very right or very wrong. We know it could not have been a raid by elves on any other realm, because Øde had no recorded elvish qualities. He was tall, but not uncommonly so. In his youth, he was said to be broad and well-muscled, neither of which are qualities possessed by elves. As he grew older, weight caught up with him, and when he died, he is said to have done so miserable and fat. If he were half elf, it could have only been on his mother’s side. And yet, if he were half elf, even from his mother, he would still possess some innate magic where he clearly possessed none. He is known to have struggled in his learnings, succeeding only through dogged determination.
Even for a half elf, he would still have lived uncommonly long. Half elves, regardless of which parent it comes from, inherit their elvish parent’s longevity. Most elves barely live longer than 90 years by their own calendar. Øde would have been very close to this age, if not older still when he died. By Asgard’s calendar, this is closer to two lifetimes. And we know that he could not have been himself a boy of twenty when he took Winter Root, simply because of the scale of his Asgardian conquest. To say that Øde was a boy of 20 when he began his conquest is a romantic fantasy, and it is far more likely that he was well into proper manhood when his goals shifted from petty raids to outright conquest. Before Øde unified Asgard under a single throne, there were 42 separate kingdoms to conquer. 42 kingdoms he had to travel to, overthrow, and re-establish under his own banner. To say that he did this all in six years beggars belief. His Asgardian conquest is known to have taken the longest of all the realms he marched upon, because with Asgard he could not leave a single village unclaimed if he wished to legitimise himself on the throne. He could not begin marching on other realms until all of Asgard stood behind him, lest he risk an uprising while on a campaign elsewhere.
He would have had to travel by dangerous paths to each village individually, with no roads to march upon. And sources all agree that Øde was present in each village he raided. He wanted to be there to personally witness each step along the way, and for his new jarls to swear loyalty directly to him. Øde was not one to conquer from the comfort of his home. He led from the front, marching with his party, and later his army, each and every time.
And yet, he did bring all 42 kingdoms under his banner. It is thought that during his Asgardian conquest is when Øde found many of the Dragon Lines. He did not march from village to village in a continuous line. He instead established a camp on Asgard’s west coast, on a narrow strip of land that jutted out into the sea. With treacherous water on three sides, his camp was easily defensible. To the south of the camp, a large rocky island prevented ships from getting close, while tall cliffs to the north and west offered protection from those directions. With a simple wall, Øde had a secure camp where he and his men could return between raids to recover and regain their strength. We also know that the realm itself would have hindered his progress. Asgard has three suns and two moons, and the five of them dictate much of what is possible and what is not as they dance above the realm. In the summers, Asgard bakes beneath the suns that spend three months in the sky, never setting below the horizon. Dark winter comes and brings three months of cold and darkness, freezing the realm in its tracks and burying it with snow. It is unlikely Øde did much marching in the summer, and nearly impossible for him to have done anything at all in the winter. He would have spent half the year at camp, which to this day still stands, and is called simply Old Camp.
In the 13th year before Øde’s reign began officially, he declared himself king of all of Asgard, and bestowed upon himself the title of Allfather. This is the point at which dates grow more clear to us, as it is in this year that Øde moved his capital north, settling a new city at the mouth of a great bay. He gave Old Camp to Hymir Tyrfingsson, with instructions to build it into a great city. Hymir was himself just a boy of fifteen, but he took his role seriously and began work before Øde was gone. Further north, Øde’s new capital would be a grand city with an opulent palace, the likes of which Asgard had not seen in memory before. Øde called this city Asgard, after the realm, but hereafter this narrative will distinguish the city from the realm by referring to it as Asgard City, or similar. Before the first stone was even quarried for the new city, Øde called every one of his new jarls to the location to hold his first alþingi. The last man arrived at the start of the harvest, and the first alþingi was recorded that autumn. Many jarls brought their goði and hofgoði with them, though not all would return home later that autumn. Øde is known to have not known his runes. He could not read and could barely count, but he saw the value in both. During that first alþingi session, Øde claimed six hofgoði for himself, wanting them within his own court. They were Hjalmarr Vragasson from Wild Hound, Bósi Brandarsson from Stone’s Throw, Brimir Oddvarsson from Grey Rock, Játvarðr Egillsson from Stone Hearth, Kolr Olvirsson from Ram’s Horn, and Ráðsviðr Alfsson from White Rush.
Together, these six men would change the role of hofgoði on Asgard. Where before, their duties lay to the gods and the gods alone, these six became scribes and teachers on top of continuing with their usual duties. The eldest of them, Kolr, was given the new title of Jarl Hofgoði. Kolr was not a jarl in a typical sense, but rather the highest authority on all matters assigned to the hofgoði in their existing and new roles. It became Kolr’s role to delegate tasks, and oversee all of the projects Øde set to the hofgoði going forward. It is the Jarl Hofgoði who is also responsible for reading and interpreting the Old Gods’ intent, and speaking for them when needed. Kolr’s first delegation was to Ráðsviðr, the youngest of their number. It was Ráðsviðr who was tasked with teaching Øde his runes and how to read. It had long been the custom of hofgoði to keep a written record of their daily tasks and adventures, and Ráðsviðr did not skimp on the details when it came to teaching his new king to read. He frequently complained in his journals that Øde was a terrible student, expecting the knowledge to jump directly into his head from the page. When this didn’t happen, Øde would become angry, blaming the books, the runes, and Ráðsviðr himself. Øde would pound his fists on anything within reach, often including Ráðsviðr himself. Kolr writes several times of Ráðsviðr coming to him for assistance, running out of ways to teach the new king a skill that had come so easily to him. Kolr always gave the same advice, to keep trying and get better at dodging Øde’s fists.
After two long months of it, Ráðsviðr was finally given a reprieve. He had recorded no progress, but that didn’t matter. As Midwinter neared, Øde began assembling his forces into a new army, far bigger and better organised than any of his raiding parties had been. Each jarl sent as many young men and boys as could be spared, and Øde started them all on training at once. Alfvard the Black was given the rank of general in this new army, and it was he who established the rank structure that has seen only minor changes since. Beneath him, Alfvard assigned nine Chieftains, and each Chieftain was given a legion of Einherjar to command. These Einherjar were not the same we have today. Einherjar at this time were any soldier within the ranks. Each legion of Einherjar was divided into a rank structure, led by nine Berserkers. Each Berserker had nine Raiders beneath him, which each commanded the shield brothers who made up the bulk of the forces. Together, Øde and Alfvard would draw up their attack plans. Alfvard would then relay these plans to his chieftains, who would relay to the Berserkers, who would then relay to the Raiders. In time, this became more streamlined and less complicated, but the basic structure remains the same today with the primary difference being that Einherjar is itself a commanding rank within the structure, above Berserkers.
While Øde’s army trained, those not going on his next march were busy elsewhere. The village of Goldstone was not yet a quarry until Øde began construction on his palace. Every man in Goldstone was sent to begin digging the new quarry, carving blocks to send to the city. The easiest way to get the stone from Goldstone to the city was to haul them overland to North Port, and then float them on a barge around the coast. A wide, rutted road soon formed between the two villages, slowly but surely making hauling the blocks easier and less perilous.
Ten days before Midwinter, Øde marched his entire army to Vanaheimr. It is exceedingly likely that the location Øde chose for his new capital was not by accident. The Dragon Lines that would become an important factor in his conquest pepper the realms, acting as gates from one realm to the next. Each of the other nine realms has a gate which today are all less than a day’s ride from the city. Before Øde constructed his roads, three were within a day’s ride, while the remainder were up to a week away. At the time, no other place on Asgard was so close to so many gates, and even today few places can reach so many destinations in such short a time. With so many Dragon Gates close to the city, it might have seemed logical for Øde to go through the closest one first. But the closest gate was Jötunheimr, and Øde was smart enough to know that he could not march upon Jötunheimr so early in his conquest. Instead, Øde chose a longer march, trudging his army through deep snow to get to the gate leading to Vanaheimr. Henrik’s History often referenced a pattern of escalation that lends veracity to the accounts therein. And it is on Vanaheimr that we get as near to first-hand accounts as it is possible to obtain for this time. Kolr himself took up the task of recording interviews with Øde’s jarls and soldiers, and even a few captured slaves after the fact to get the perspective from Vanaheimr. Whether it was a matter of chance or lucky planning, Øde arrived on Vanaheimr to find the realm coming into summer. Though the Vanir had tribal kings and jarls, they were a wild and savage people. The ruling structure did not seem quite their own, but rather appeared forced upon them by some ancient ruler and kept now only as a matter of tradition.
By all accounts, Kolr describes the Vanir as barely more than wild beasts, having largely abandoned their castles to return to the forests to worship mud and twigs and moss. Øde had conquered Asgard largely through bargaining and reason, but when he tried this approach with the Vanir, he found himself stymied. The Vanir and the Æsir are similar in many ways. They are nearly identical in appearance, and their language is similar. Today, it is believed that the Æsir and Vanir may have shared a common linage before Asgard’s destruction, and that perhaps it is that very destruction which planted the seeds for the two races to take such different paths. As it was, the Vanir valued nothing Øde could offer. They needed no protection, since it was Øde who clearly meant them harm in the first place. They wanted not for gold or fine furs and wools. They lived in the forest, dressed in any old pelts they could find. The villages, if they could even be called such, had nothing of value either. For the first few villages, Øde marched his forces in and allowed his men to take up residence, overwhelming the Vanir until they were shoved out and forced to relocate. Each time Øde moved from one of these camps to the next, he left a small group of Æsir settlers behind, ensuring that his claim on the land remained firm.
A caravan slowly began to move between the realms, opening up fresh land to any who could travel to the gate to claim it. Supplies moved back and forth, establishing a line that would take Øde to the first castle of his Vanir conquest. His approach here did not change. He found the castle unguarded, and was able to simply march his men in, much to the dismay of those who lived there. The name of the man who lived there has been lost, but his deeds in Øde’s presence marked the first of his drastic escalations in strategy. The Vanir jarl who lived in this castle had three children with his wife, who many would later state seemed to be half his age. The children, two boys barely older than twelve, seemed to run wild like animals, unchecked and undisciplined. The girl, who seemed several years older, was always by her father’s side. Three times that first night Øde had taken over this man’s castle, the girl was offered to Øde. And each time, Øde is said to have refused. No doubt, this was done in an effort to make Øde go away, but Øde would not take any bribes of this nature. What happened next, however, shocked Øde and his men alike. The jarl bent his daughter over the table and took her before all in the room. Whether he was showing Øde what he was missing, or attempting to make some other point, we’ll never know. Øde was so disgusted with the act before him, he slaughtered the man right then. The girl wept as her father took her, and screamed when he fell dead upon her.
The girl’s mother soon after revealed that the man Øde had slaughtered had been her own father, and that once he had got the girl pregnant, he would take her as a second wife. Øde had every inhabitant of the castle rounded up after that, and questioning revealed them all to be a single family, the men laying with their daughters and nieces and sisters as soon as they were old enough to breed. The girl’s mother had been her half-sister. Her father had also been her grandfather and her uncle. Øde had every man in the castle executed the following morning at first light, and sent the women back to Asgard as slaves. He had allowed his men to carry off women for brides while conquering Asgard, but he forbade it here. The women were far too inbred to produce strong sons. The boy children, Øde had gelded before sending them to Asgard, not wanting to take the risk of any of them fathering more children.
Øde had picked Vanaheimr as his first realm of conquest because he wanted to test his army in a battle he knew they could win before sending his men to face more difficult foes. He had not expected the Vanir to be so completely hopeless as they were. Vanaheimr had no kings in a true sense, even though their ancient castles dotted the lands. It was there, at Gullnaströnd, that Øde established what would become Vanaheimr’s new government. There was simply no need to raid the realm village by village, because the Vanir wouldn’t resist him anyway. The Vanir conquest lasted little more than a month, and most of that was spent finding the first castle. It took less than a day to clear it out and claim it as his own.
As Øde had the castle cleaned out, some of the locals he had earlier displaced wandered in. Led by a man called Bermóðr Ketilbjarnarson, these people were startled to find the man who had run them out of their homes now here as well. Bermóðr attempted to fight Øde, but he was not a sorcerer, and had only a spear. Øde had two dozen men with swords, and Bermóðr was quickly disarmed. But Øde saw potential in him. He had Bermóðr cleaned up so he could be interrogated. Øde wanted to know how many wives he had, and what his relation to them was. Bermóðr had three wives. One was a sister, one was a cousin, and one was a young niece who had yet to give birth to the first child he fathered upon her. This youngest of Bermóðr’s wives was said to have been barely more than a child, and yet her belly was swollen heavily. Øde declared every one of the marriages invalid, and took all three of his wives back to Asgard. The youngest girl gave birth before the caravan reached the palace. The infant was left in the snow to perish, and upon reaching the city, the girl and the two other women were at once sold as slaves. Their names have all been lost to history.
Bermóðr had another sister whose husband had been killed shortly after they were wed. By Vanir tradition, Gullveig would remain his widow for the rest of her life, never to remarry. Øde had agreed to honour this, but it is not an agreement that stood for long. He sent Gullveig back to Asgard as well, but not to be sold as a slave. She would remain a peace hostage, living on Asgard to keep Bermóðr obedient. Bermóðr was then married to an Æsir girl, and made to swear to take no other wife. Taking multiple wives was common on Asgard as well, but Øde wanted to be sure that Bermóðr’s next child would have Æsir blood.
Alfdís did not take this marriage kindly. A young girl of 16 or 17, she had come to Vanaheimr with her family as part of the caravan of settlers, looking for new land. But her father, upon hearing that Øde sought an unwed girl for this marriage, immediately offered her. Snari was not paid in gold for his daughter, in the usual tradition. Once Alfdís and Bermóðr were wed, Bermóðr was made king of Vanaheimr, to reign vassal beneath Øde. But he would not reign without oversight. Snari was given regency over Vanaheimr, ruling the realm from behind the throne. Bermóðr was granted one request, that he and Alfdís be wed in the Vanir tradition. There were no hofgoði present for Vanir marriages. The ceremony took place in the woods, with vows spoken amongst the trees. Alfdís had to be coached on which words to say, but she said them with tears in her eyes.
Øde and his men had been warned about what would come, but Alfdís was not, reportedly under Bermóðr’s request. Bedding ceremonies were tradition on Asgard, but the Vanir had their own way of doing things here as well. It is likely that she would have been prepared for the Æsir way of doing things, where her new husband would take her to his bed and lay with her all night. Instead, Bermóðr dragged her to the ground and took her before all witnesses. The girl screamed and begged for those onlookers to help her, as she must certainly have believed this to be rape. But none helped her, because this was the Vanir tradition, and Øde was willing to honour some of their traditions if it meant abolishing others more easily. It has been postulated by more than a dozen historians and hofgoði that Bermóðr requested his new bride not be prepared for the Vanir bedding ceremony as a display of dominance over her father. A Vanir girl of the same age would almost certainly have known what to expect. Further, Vanaheimr at the time had no concept of rape in the same way of other realms. By Vanir law, rape only occurred when a man lay with another man’s wife or widow. Unmarried girls were meant to be bred, in the eyes of the Vanir. Often, before a girl had even bled, men would lay their claims to her, but none would lay with her until she had bled. She would then pass like property between the men of the village, guarded jealously only to be stolen away. Once with child, she would be wed to the man thought responsible. Once wed, she became his property, and most men would take half a dozen wives in their lifetimes.
It was this tradition Øde sought to abolish. The Vanir would take their women whenever the mood struck them, often rutting in the dirt like dogs. Øde’s soldiers discovered girls as young as ten falling victim to this practise, but it is the sad reality that not all of Øde’s soldiers cared as much about ending it as he did. A girl, still a child, had been stolen from a jarl who already had four wives. Three men carefully planned their moves, timing their entrance into his hut while he was away, and his other wives busy elsewhere. They dragged the girl outside taking turns on her where all could see. The Æsir soldier who caught them was easily persuaded to take a turn on her as well.
The girl did not survive the ordeal, and neither did any of the men involved in her rape. All four of the men were executed on the spot where they had committed their crime. When questioned, the Vanir men asserted that they had committed no crime at all. The jarl had four wives, and had no need for a fifth. They had dragged her outside so all would know that if she bore a child, the father could not be determined, and thus she could not wed. Had she survived, and this result come to pass, the girl would have become a sort of communal property, to be raped and used by every man in the village. While not a common occurrence, it was not unheard of either. There were several such unwed women who existed in each village, whose circumstances had been created through similar events. It was the view on Vanaheimr that women existed only to be bred to make more Vanir. They were permitted no positions of power, even within their own home, and had little influence in raising their children beyond caring for their daily needs. And this was the life Snari had sold his daughter into. By this time, he would have known what awaited Alfdís, having been on the Realm for several months by that time and would have seen these practises firsthand.
Bermóðr’s first apparent duty as king was to put a son into Alfdís. Under Vanir tradition, she should have already carried his child when they wed. Øde’s Vanaheimr conquest ended with a young girl screaming for help in a forest, and Bermóðr’s reign began in bed, making up lost time to appease tradition. His efforts proved fruitful, and later that year, Alfdís gave birth to his first son, Sóti. Twelve years before Øde’s reign began in earnest, two realms had been united, and a dynasty secured. As far as Øde was concerned, the birth of this boy marked the end of Vanaheimr’s foul and feral ways, and dragged them kicking and screaming into a more civilised world.
Upon his return to Asgard four months after he left, Øde began focusing on his own dynasty. He sent requests to all of his jarls, asking them to send their daughters so he might make one of them queen. He was presented with girls as young as 12, and his alþingi offered advice on which to marry. Kolr suggested taking two or three wives, increasing his odds of sons early. But Øde ignored all of them. Jarl Yngvi Knutsson of Raven Tree presented a daughter he had not been able to sell, because she had been raped by her brother as a young girl. He presented her because he was instructed to, but held no illusion that Øde would chose her. And yet, it was this girl Øde fell in love with. Agdis was quiet, and often fearful of men, but Øde would have no other. By her father’s estimate, she was close to 20 years old, if not a bit older. Too old to marry, by some standards. Øde terrified her at first, already so much older than she was. Their courtship was a long one, as Øde sought companionship as much as an heir at this time. Slowly, Agdis warmed to him, if not to the idea of laying with him. While his builders worked on the palace, and a city grew up around the planned footprint, Øde showered Agdis in gifts. He doted on her, giving her four handmaids. The night before they wed, he gave her a kitten.
Agdis’ handmaids tried to prepare her for what was to come, but Agdis said she already knew what was to come, because her brother had shown her these things the year Asgard had no winter.
They were wed in the temple that had gone up in the city, as the one planned for the palace was not yet complete. It happened on the final daylight of the year, as the sun set for the last time. Despite their long courtship, Agdis is said to have begged her father to not let the marriage happen just days earlier. Øde terrified her still, and she knew she would not be able to please him. Yngvi did nothing to stop the marriage, though it may have been his idea to hold the ceremony by torch and candlelight to conceal the tears that ran down Agdis’ face as they stood before the hofgoði. Though the marriage ceremony remains largely unchanged, the bedding ceremony changed much in the early years of Øde’s reign. After they were wed, he carried Agdis over his shoulder to the house he lived in while the palace was being constructed. Kolr, who performed the ceremony himself, wrote that Agdis wept silently throughout the entire thing, giving credence to the idea about the timing of the ceremony taking place by candlelight. As Øde flung her over his shoulder, Kolr wrote that he could her Agdis begin to sob quietly. Though Øde did not allow witnesses into the bedding, Kolr states that he later went to lurk beyond the door, and heard Agdis weeping still. As it is common for girls who have been sold into marriage to weep after laying with their husbands for the first time, Kolr assumed the bedding had been done, and that Agdis would soon be with child.
Both Øde and Agdis would later admit that he did not bed her that night, or any night for some time after. By the time he got her through the door, she was openly sobbing, terrified at what he was going to do to her. We now know that throughout their marriage, Øde only took her to bed a handful of times, and that she never warmed to the idea. The two did come to love one another deeply, and it was for Agdis that Øde would come to do a great many terrible things in his lifetime. It is also believed that it is because of his love for Agdis that Øde would do some of the terrible things he did to his other wives. Øde is known to have been a violent and cruel man, increasingly so as he got older, but that violence and cruelty was never aimed at Agdis. He would often take his frustrations out on his other wives, be that in bed, or with his fists. Though it is believed that he never once so much as raised his hand to Agdis. There is no way to confirm this rumour, but it is a rumour that is easily believed for Agdis herself perpetuated it.
Throughout the early days of their marriage, Øde had the convenient excuse of ruling two realms who had only recently been under unified rule. That he did not produce a child right away was unusual, but not suspect. In the 11th year before his reign, Øde devised another convenient excuse for his lack of an upcoming child. He set his sights next on Niðavellir. Like Asgard, this realm too had suffered some great, unknowable calamity, and some believe it was the very same that had left Asgard shattered and broken. But Niðavellir was spared this particular fate, and remained whole, though its surface became utterly inhospitable, with soil that turned to poison and skies from whence never shone the sun nor stars again. All that survived on this brutal realm were brutal beasts, driving the dwarves deep underground into their mines. Their towns and cities crumbled to dust, leaving no trace of any of them on the surface.
What Øde found upon his arrival to the realm were endless moors and deadly rivers. The danger here wasn’t the people he had come to conquer, but the realm itself; dragons and gryphons and other giant beasts that would pluck men from the ground, along with the horses they rode, and carry them off to never be seen again. Rivers that appeared as narrow streams were miles deep, with a current that would sweep any who fell in to their deaths. Sandy soil would burn the skin if it got under the clothes leaving marks that lasted for weeks. Øde would not go to Niðavellir to conquer the dwarves; he would go to liberate them.
The first village he came upon was barely more than a hole in the ground, near the convergence of two great rivers. Øde found the people starving, forced to eat the sour grasses that sprouted from the soil and malformed fish that were dragged from the waters. Their jarl, an aged and broken dwarf half Øde’s size, seemed more to welcome the prospect of death than anything. Øde did not go to Niðavellir to bring bloodshed and carnage, and seeing the opportunity to avoid it gave him a new strategy. His scouts had found a new Dragon Gate not far from the village, and so Øde made a bargain.
With the dwarf known only as Baði, Øde agreed to supply the people of the realm with fresh meat and ale, and clean water and wool, if Baði agreed to swear fealty in return. Baði would rule the realm as a vassal, with no regent, and need only pay a yearly tribute to Asgard. Baði agreed, on the condition that his tribute be paid according to Niðavellir’s calendar, and not Asgard’s. Niðavellir’s years are nearly twice as long as Asgard’s, meaning tribute would be paid, on average, every other year. But as conditions went, Øde was willing to agree. It was a bargain easily struck, and Øde returned to Asgard through the new gate, which led to an area west of Winter Root. With summer approaching, the travel was easy, save one treacherous crossing at the Snake. After a week of travel, Øde returned to the city to gather the promised goods. It took him a month to gather everything and deliver everything to Baði, who had something of his own to offer in turn. Baði presented Øde with a blade of black steel, said to be sharp enough to slice through anything it was swung at. Naming the blade Dark Winter, Øde wore it at his side, taking it into every battle he fought thereafter.
To facilitate easier trade between the realms, Øde established a camp on Niðavellir and called it Four Rivers, named for the appearance of such as the two great rivers merged and flowed together for several miles, before splitting off again. Naming Baði the realm’s king and warden, he made good on his promise not to install a regent, though he did leave a jarl at Four Rivers, who would hold a seat on Baði’s alþingi. Otherwise, Baði was free to build his own council and appoint his own jarls. Øde had left him with the task of bringing the rest of Niðavellir to heel for him, rather than dealing with its harsh surface, but the task proved easier than Øde had ever imagined. All of Niðavellir’s cities had moved underground, with many underways connecting them. Word spread quickly that Niðavellir had a new king after being invaded by a foreign army. The dwarves of each city had just enough time talk of taking up arms before the rest of the news followed. Baði was the realm’s king because the foreign army wanted a king that would speak for the entire realm on matters of trade. Until then, each city had operated independently. Niðavellir didn’t have a single, unifying king, but they were willing to adapt to the idea if it meant open trade and fresh food and drink. The realm’s former kings adopted the title of jarl, and soon many others began sending their gold and steel and jewels to Four Rivers. Baði moved from his village, which would later become the mine at Silvertown, to Four Rivers, which served as Niðavellir’s capital city for his entire reign.
The Niðavellir campaign lasted a month and a half, and spilled not a single drop of blood in combat. Øde did face losses from the realm itself, but these were minimal, and considered a fair price to pay for a swift resolution.
When Øde returned, and Agdis had yet to show signs of pregnancy, he began focusing on his dynasty. He had given Agdis ample warning of his intentions, so she might prepare herself to meet him with dignity. Øde never learned to read in all his lifetime, but Agdis had begun learning shortly after her marriage to him. Again, the task fell to Ráðsviðr, who found her a much easier student than he had Øde. She learned quickly, and he encouraged her to write in a journal each day, so she might practise. She wrote of Øde’s return from Niðavellir, and the message she had been sent days earlier. By her account, Øde had not yet taken her to bed, but now it was clear that he would put it off no longer. Agdis saw a healer as soon as she read the message, unsure how she was meant to survive this. At first, the healer was flippant with her, dismissive of her concerns. She was told to do as she always did, and lie back and think of her future children. As advice went, Agdis found it lacking, but she had few options remaining to her. We have it from her own writings that this time when Øde came to her, he did not stop at the sight of her weeping. She tried begging him not to do what he had come to do, but that had no effect on him either.
By her account, it was not a rough or overly painful affair, but he was forceful with her all the same. She tried to resist him, but Øde lost his patience with her quickly after that. He reeked of mead and ale, and in his drunken state had forgotten a promise he had made to her early in their courtship, that he would never hurt her. She would later write that she often felt as though she were married to two different men. Mostly, she describes Øde as a caring man, sensitive to her fears and apprehensions. Whenever he returned from another realm, he would always come bearing fine gifts for her, and later, for his children as well. But the man who came to her bed at nights, she describes as a monster, always drunk and forceful with her. Later, he would praise her efforts to please him, and shower her with more gifts. But as time went on, and he failed to get a child from her, he would become mean and nasty once more, yet she would frequently insist he never so much as raised a hand to her.
That he loved her dearly is a certainty, and had he not fashioned himself as a great, conquering king, their marriage may have been very different. But she was his queen, and a king needs an heir. Without one, Øde would have no one to inherit his titles, and everything he had worked so hard for would be instantly undone. As his queen, it was Agdis’ duty to provide him with an heir, and several more to spare. It did not take long for Agdis to begin to worry that such a thing would never happen. The healers would blame her brother, Kafli, for what he had done to her so many years before. The hofgoði would blame her for allowing it to happen.
On these same pages, she describes in greater detail the suffering she endured under her brother. She wrote about it only once, and spoke of it never. In her writings, she seems to at time blame herself as well, and eventually came to believe that her marriage to Øde was a punishment from the gods. Yngvi, her father, had made her marry Øde because no other honourable man would want her. Øde had paid a great sum of gold for her, which Yngvi would countless times after boast was ten times the amount he would have got had he sold her to a pleasure house as other fathers would have done. Once, whilst deep in his cups, Yngvi was heard saying that had he known what to expect, he would not have had his only son executed for his deeds.
Kafli was some ten years older than Agdis, and had been drunk one night while their father was off raiding villages with Øde. Their mother had died several years before, and so it was only the two of them in the house together. The following morning, he threatened to put a knife through her throat if she told anyone what he had done. Agdis didn’t wholly understand what he had done to her, and hoped that he wouldn’t do it again. But they were alone for three months, and it soon grew into a habit for him to come to her bed in the night. One night, after weeks of this torment, Agdis smuggled a knife with her to bed, and as he came to her, she stabbed him in the side. But she did not cut him deeply enough to stop him. It only angered him, and as he raped her he made sure it hurt her. He did nothing to silence her, so she screamed, and was loud enough that it woke a neighbour, who came into the house to see the act. Kafli was chained until his father’s return. By then, the entire village knew what had been done to her, and any chance of concealing it had gone. Yngvi returned to a son facing execution, and a daughter who no longer held any value to him.
Kafli confessed to raping his own sister, blaming it on Yngvi for not finding him a wife sooner. As jarl, Yngvi had the final word on Kafli’s sentence, but he adhered to the law and executed his own son for the crime. Because of her young age, and likely because he had already sentenced one of his children to death, Yngvi couldn’t find it within him to cast Agdis out as well. He had tried several times to sell her as she got older, but no man wanted a girl who would allow herself to be raped not just once, but dozens of times, and by her own brother at that. That Øde had wanted her, even after knowing the truth had been something of a miracle in Yngvi’s eyes.
Agdis was a very pretty girl, by all accounts. Quiet and soft spoken, she was often nervous about being surrounded by crowds. She and Øde were married for more than half a year before he took her to bed for the first time, and in those months she had grown to trust him completely. The tenderness Øde showed to Agdis was never matched with another. However, the trust he grew in her would be often broken in more ways than one. He took many wives after Agdis, but that didn’t change the fact that she was his first wife, and had failed to do her duty as queen. Though she was glad when Øde’s attentions became focused elsewhere, in many ways it put more attention upon her. Øde would not have needed to take another wife had Agdis given him a son. But she couldn’t even manage daughters. She had given him nothing, and in doing so had failed him.
It was from the alþingi and Jarl Hofgoði Kolr that Øde received advice to take another wife. Øde wanted no other wife, but it was becoming apparent that he hadn’t much choice. The same suspicions the healers had whispered became rumours, and it wasn’t long before Øde was told that Agdis may never conceive a child, and that choosing her as a bride after what had been done to her was foolish. With the palace still under construction, and the city growing by the day, Asgard was beginning to flourish in a way never seen before. On Vanaheimr, Bermóðr took advantage of Øde’s distractions and took a second wife in secret. This new wife was a much younger sister of his, and he took her in the Vanir tradition of fathering a child upon her first. Upon hearing about this, Øde had the marriage declared invalid, and had the girl removed from the castle. He then decided to answer defiance with defiance. Øde had intended to honour the Vanir tradition where doing so brought no harm, and was prepared to allow Gullveig, Bermóðr’s widowed sister, to remain such as were their ways. Instead, Øde took her for his wife under the Æsir tradition, marrying her in a hof and then hauling her over his shoulder to his bed.
Oddvǫr, the girl Bermóðr kidnapped and wed, was eleven or twelve years old when she was discovered. She had been kept secret from Snari by being kept locked in her chambers. Bermóðr had kidnapped her upon discovering she had become breedable, and would sneak away whenever he had the chance to lay with her. He kept her locked away in a small chamber in the castle, allowing only a select few trusted servants to tend to her. The birth of his son Sóti, by Aldís, provided the distraction necessary to hide the girl away for so long. By the time she was discovered, she was close to giving birth as well. Øde had her brought to the city, and kept her in his own home, giving her to Agdis as a handmaiden. She gave birth within the month to a boy. The midwives assisting her had been instructed to drown the child, and that’s what they did. Oddvǫr was never permitted to hold her son, nor give him a name, and is said to have howled like an animal as she watched her child be drowned before her.
Oddvǫr was a stupid girl, slow to learn and clumsy. Agdis found her of little use as a handmaiden, and soon gave her to Jarl Hofgoði Kolr to do with as he pleased. Kolr had little use for her either, but she could scrub floors and collect offerings and sacrifices. She stayed in the wood and thatch temple until the completion of Asgard’s palace, when she was moved with the hofgoði to the temple within the palace upon its completion. There was, and still remains no law forbidding hofgoði from marrying, but many abstain from doing so as a matter of tradition. Oddvǫr soon became a welcome presence within the temple. A slave in all but name, she had no choice but to lay with the men of the temple, and drink the bitter tea they would give her each morning. Though it’s likely, given her Vanir heritage and upbringing, her treatment within the temple was kinder than the treatment she had received before being discovered. During her time with the hofgoði, Oddvǫr gave birth to three more children, each likely fathered by a different man. Little is known about these children. All that is recorded of them is that they were born, and immediately sold into slavery to fill the temple’s treasury. They are not recorded in the usual places for births, but in the temple’s ledgers. Two of the children were sold to sorcerers, and it is believed these two were likely boys. A third, sold to slavers for nearly twice the amount of gold the temple received for the other two children combined, is believed to have been a girl. Sorcerers gifted in seiðr, a now-forbidden form of magic, would often take young boys to practise their magic upon. A girl would be of far more value to slavers, because she could be sold to pleasure houses. This is, of course, only speculation, and we may never know the truth.
Upon hearing of Øde’s treatment of Gullveig and Oddvǫr, and the fate of his son, Bermóðr grew enraged. By the time he came to Asgard to demand the marriage be undone and Oddvǫr returned to him, Gullveig was already showing the early signs of pregnancy. She blamed him for it, shouting at him that she would not have been forced to wed Øde had Bermóðr honoured his agreement. On the matter of Oddvǫr, Øde simply refused to return her. She had been given to the hofgoði to serve their varied needs, and it would be impolite to take her away. Bermóðr’s only defense to having married her in the first place was that the girl had begun to bleed, and she needed to be bedded as quickly as possible. He had been the one to do it, and by law she was his. Øde’s response to this was to punch Bermóðr in the face, laying him out flat onto the ground. He declared then that the Vanir tradition of raping young girls to lay a claim to marriage would be outlawed, and that he would send enforcers to end the practise outright. Vanir rapists would be treated no differently to those on Asgard, in that they would be executed for their crime. It was a law that proved nigh impossible to enforce, both because of Vanaheimr’s immense scale, and because Øde was so frequently distracted by other matters. No sooner had he made this declaration, plans for his next campaign were beginning to take shape. He had yet to truly test his army, and wished to continue in his quest to bring all ten realms under his rule. The trade deals with Niðavellir had supplied his troops with new weapons that were far superior to anything forged on Asgard, and his men wanted to use them.
This conflict between Asgard and Vanaheimr would never truly resolve, and a thread of tension between the realms can still be seen to this day. Each new quarrel between the realms is oft said to be this same quarrel between Øde and Bermóðr, sustained through spite and stubbornness. Øde hated the Vanir unlike any other race, often refusing to acknowledge them as anything more than beasts that had learned to speak. This is not to say that Asgard was without its own faults. Kafli had not been executed because his crimes were unthinkable. He had been executed because the Æsir would lay with their own daughters and sisters just as easily, had the law allowed it. Æsir women at the time had no more rights than Vanir women did. Æsir women could not hold land or property, nor title. Girls were sold to the highest bidder as soon as they were old enough to be bred, and often even earlier. A girl found alone was no more safe on Asgard than she would be on Vanaheimr. Just as on Vanaheimr, women existed only to make more Æsir. But Øde, and many others, saw the Vanir do nothing to hide their shame and saw it as an opportunity to elevate themselves by claiming some fabricated moral victory. Wars to come would be fought with more than swords and axes. Rape would become weaponised across Yggdrasil, and a shadow cast over Øde’s entire reign, leading it to be called by many as Asgard’s Second Dark Times. Øde would come to be known as a cruel tyrant, with an insatiable lust for both women and power. He would come to be known as a hypocrite through much of his reign, known for doing the very things he hated the Vanir for doing. His attitudes and changing whims would come to poison his legacy, nearly ending it before it even began.
This all lies in the future, however, and will be discussed more greatly in later chapters. In these early years, Øde was a respected man, and he leveraged that respect into power. It was a respect that would fade in proportion with each of his 99 years of reign, however.