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.
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