Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Land of Ice (Introduction)

If the gods are finally helpless before evil, men and women must be more so. The heroes and heroines of the early stories face disaster… This is the conception of life which underlies the Norse religion, as somber a conception as the mind of man has ever given birth to. The only sustaining support possible for the human spirit, the one pure unsullied good men can hope to attain, is heroism; and heroism depends on lost causes. The hero can prove what he is only by dying. The power of good is shown not by triumphantly conquering evil, but by continuing to resist evil while facing certain defeat.

From Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, The Mythology of the Norsemen

When is a legend legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category “Fairy-Tale?” And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible while others lose their validity to assume a shabby, unstable character?

From the introduction to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

Led Zeppelin The Immigrant Song

They will tell you they are descended from the gods, but this is not true.

They will tell you their ancestors came to this world by design, but this is a half-truth at best.

They will tell you their divine forefathers came from another realm beyond the sky, crossing the gulf between worlds in a ship of immense proportion and grand design, bringing with them the people that would populate the world, and this is accurate…though perhaps not in the way the skalds imagine.

They came from another world, fleeing fire and death, pursued by their hated enemy, the Jotun. They crossed the vastness of space travelling within the nothingness, that place between the icy emptiness of space and the fiery blaze of the stars, finding a way their pilots could navigate using their evolved minds and ability to sense beyond the physical. To this world they came, finding it a restful respite from the pursuit that hunted them for so long.

But it was never their plan to stay for long. The world was too metal poor for their purposes. Yes, there was gold and silver to be mined, useful in ritual and technology as well as decoration, but the harder metals – those needed for machinery, weapons, and space travel – these were conspicuously absent. Even poor iron was scarce except in the frozen mountains, extremely difficult to procure. And while there were gemstones to be had, the crystals they relied on as both power source and mental focus were nowhere to be found. No, they could not stay on this world.

But there were those that dissented from the opinion. The crew members of a more spiritual bent felt the world could be a new home, a fresh start, leaving the mistakes of the past behind. The stark, cold landscape had a pristine beauty that was a marked contrast from the extravagance of their former realm…and its very lack of distraction proved conducive to the exploration of psychic powers they hoped to develop, though their fellows mocked them for their vanity.

But these vanir (as they came to be known) were simply non-cooperative and apathetic; others took more direct action to sabotage the mission. The genetically engineered technicians of the ship had long felt their life as one of virtual slavery to their creators. With the opportunity of landfall, the dvergar (so they are called) found a way to shirk their yoke and escape into the hills, absconding with materials and equipment necessary for the repair and operation of the craft…including the focus crystals of the pilots.

Effectively hamstrung by this defection, the remaining crew members, organized by their captain, set-off for the south and warmer climate, seeking to escape death at the hands of the encroaching winter. The vanir elected to stay with the ship, having made contact with the native sentient species; a humanoid race of ethereal beauty, the newcomers called them “alfar,” though they had no name for themselves. A telepathic race, they and the vanir shared an interest in the development of their psychic potential, and over the next many years would work together to create the seidhr crafts. They would also find that the two species were physically compatible with one another, and children born of both races soon appeared, further rooting the immigrants in their new world.

Meanwhile, the remaining newcomers attempted to carve out a home in a fierce wilderness, using the tools and weapons of their former world. It wasn’t long before they realized the hope of rebuilding their technologically advanced civilization was a lost cause. The resources they’d brought were finite, and the environment yielded no replacements, especially the fuel and energy needed for their greatest machines. Much of their might was expended against the native animal life, deadly and predatory in nature, as well as combating the elements, which proved exceptionally hazardous. The rotation of the planet led to exceptionally long, cold winters and the erratic moons created erratic tides along the coast of the southern sea, to go with the hurricane strength winds. Blizzards out of the mountains and permafrost where mining might otherwise yield valuable mineral resources made it clear that taming the planet to their own purpose would be a losing proposition.

Still under the leadership of their captain, it was decided that a last push would be made to gather and unite the crewmembers and attempt to get off-world before their diminishing resources forever marooned them on a hostile world. Mustering their strength, they marched back to the north and to war with the vanir who, by this time, had no interest in returning to the stars. Even with the aid of their psychic powers and their alfar allies, the vanir were no match for the well-armed and organized crew members, and the vanir were forced to capitulate.

The victory proved to be a hollow one. Knowing the captain’s next step would be to root out the dvergar mutineers and force them to return the piloting crystals, the last of the vanir resistance did the unthinkable, destroying the bridge and piloting controls of the ship, permanently stranding the star-travelers in the new world.

A pragmatic man as said, the captain took stock of what was and put away the dream of returning to space. He ordered the cannibalization of the ship and organized the building of the newcomers permanent settlement. Envoys were sent to the dvergar, who declined to return to the crew (being wary of once again becoming servants) but pacts and agreements were reached for mutual benefit, and peaceful trade precedents were set.

On the other hand, the alfar had no interest in joining with the newly reunited crew, feeling those in positions of power were far too warlike and aggressive compared to the peaceful vanir (with whom they continued some relations). They removed themselves farther north into the mountains, and endeavored to have as little contact with the immigrants as possible.

The alfar blood continued to circulate within the population, however, often accompanied by a strong, natural psychic potential. The crafts (seidhr training) were still taught within the settlement, especially among the descendents of the vanir, but it was often viewed with suspicion as “sorcery.”

A new culture evolved among the colonists, one in which martial prowess was held the greatest virtue, and where pragmatism and acceptance of fate to be the preferred outlook on life. Courage was valued above cleverness…especially in the face of so many dangers (environmental and predatory)…after all, the courageous individual is more likely to save many while the clever individual seeks mainly to save himself. True or not, it is the way the newcomers have come to look at the world being correct more often than not.

Because of this, one’s honor and one’s oath need be defended at all costs, otherwise showing an individual as a weakling and a coward. As the centuries have passed, and the once star-faring race has become the equivalent of a medieval, feudal society, and such a reputation is enough to ostracize an person, possibly leading him to become a true outcast, forced to live a life of banditry outside the warmth of the communal halls.

Far better to die a hero than live such a life of shame. Far better to seek glory and fail than to seek comfort and ease. Such an individual as would do the latter is of little use to their clan, considering a hostile world where every able-bodied person is needed to ensure the survival of all. Life is harsh; accept it and prepare to meet it, axe in hand.

Welcome to the LAND OF ICE.