The Iron Forest and its Wood.
Somewhere far to the North, in a week’s way from the outermost town, which is more of a village, though, the lands of eternal winter start. These lands are not welcoming, they are harsh, winters never end here, and there are no other colours but the white of snow and the blue of the sky. Still, somewhere deep there, among the pointy mountains and the desolate snow deserts, one may find a wonder, the dream of every living being, should they know about it more than nothing. The wonder’s called the Iron Forest.
Imagine, that the fate has brought you into a mountain valley, which goes for days from the south to the north, so only the Forsaked Gods know how to escape it without breaking their bones. You’re walking in snow waist deep and cursing all the world, when the mountains abruptly end like they were not here, and a magnificent view opens to you. Tallest trees, intertwining with their crowns, thick branches, and roots, stand in a row like a living wall in front of you, and look indifferently at a puny human who looks up high at them amazed. Up there, in the very green-blue leaves, one of the frontier posts of the ar’the (or the Snow elves, as we usually call them) is hidden, and they must have already noticed you. The Snow elves have got a saying “If you’re not a shuntack, and you have no tail, you’re free to come to the Ironwood.” Despite of their harsh and even severe looks, the eternal guardians of the Ironwood are rather friendly and curious towards strangers, who managed to get that far from home and survive.
Imagine standing, amazed with everything around… and then – twang! An arrow with white plumage hits the ground half a palm away from your toes. You should not be afraid and run away, but stand still with your hands up in the air, with no weapons. Why you should not be afraid? Because the elves never miss. Never. Should you see the roots of some trees to start spreading away, making an entrance, then run into it, while the hosts haven’t changed their mind. And do not forget the arrow, consider it to be your pass inside.
As soon as you put your feet inside the forest, the snow elves will surround you. They will take all your weapons, even the hidden, so do not even think of it – they easily sense the stuff like that. They will return it, though, on your way home, so do not worry.
Then they will blindfold you and lead you through the hidden path to their marvellous forest city. Why so secret? Well, because the Ironwood is the only place, where the true magic still lives. Without the path you will strand for months, or years, and you will not find the city of the ar’the, as it is hidden in deep of the endless forest, and nobody knows, how far from the borders it is. But the path will lead you there in no time. Just a couple of hundred steps. Yeah, I did count that, don’t look at me like this. So, a couple of hundred steps, and the blindfold will be off, and then… ah, how poor the human language is, as it can’t describe all the city’s beauty! There are the trees you won’t ever see anywhere else. They’re like thick and indestructible towers go up to the very sky, and the clouds tangle among their branches. The branches close to the bottom form elegant ornamented bridges, galleries, and palaces of the snow elves. The trees are called ante’yor, or pillars in human. The snow elves say, that the trees have grown out of the Goddess Shaas’ tears, who was the only one to remain in our world to save all the creatures surviving after the invasion of the great darkness. By the way, should the talk touch the topic of their goddess, do not dare to pronounce her name, as they will kill you for that without any doubts. The snow elves remember, that before her leaving the goddess asked them not to call her, not to wake her from her eternal sleep, into which she will settle down the moment the last bit of power leaves her. That’s why they call her the Unnameable, though even in her dream Shaas helps children, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to use magic, nor would they know about the iron wood.
Well, I will tell you about the goddess and the snow elves’ routines some other time, but now I will talk about what ar’the treasure most of all, more than gold and jewels.
It is the iron wood. It is far stronger than the iron and the dwarves’ alloys. It does not burn, nor does it get dull of rusty. Altogether, you will not find anything better than a wooden sword like this anywhere else in the world. As for the actual iron trees, you won’t be allowed to see them, as only the priestesses know how to deal with them. The armoury, though, will be available, and, if you’ve got heaps of gold or food to offer, you’ll be even allowed to touch everything there. How are these swords made, you ask? Are they really forged from the wood? Of course they aren’t. In each of the three Realms there is an Armourer House, which deals only with weapons and armour. They will not share their secretes with anyone of other Houses, but still, they can say a thing or two.
The Iron Wood, as I have already said, does not burn in fire, nor any common craftsman tool can bend it.Should you decide to sharpen a sword of the iron wood with a grindstone, you will get nothing but a grinded stone, while there will be even no scratch on the sword itself.
That is why, when a Priestess comes to the blacksmith with an iron wood branch or stem, they do not hurry to start working on it. They call upon the House’s Master Council, where they decide what to make from the wood – should it be a dagger, or a sword, a spear, or even a shield? The Masters say, that the final weapon can be seen immediately, that it shines through the bark, and all a blacksmith can do is to let it free from the wooden prison. When the wood’s fate is decided, the master can actually start their work. It is not a fast task, as they have no second chance – you cannot melt and redo the work because of an uneven sharpening, or a fuller gone awry.
The blacksmiths’ tools are as well hidden, so do not expect to see them, or, moreover, to buy them – not a saw, a chisel, or a grindstone was ever sold to anyone. The tools just cannot be replenished, as the blacksmiths do not know to make them. You can ask, how did they obtain these tools, which can bend the iron wood then? It’s simple, actually. The ar’the are the only ones who have remained at least a little bit united, having survived the Great Darkness. Leaving the Yellow Valley, they took every tool they still had, and every book they still could read (Author’s note: for the dear reader not to blow their mind, I’ll try to explain this – the tools and books belonged to the thear). This might have been pure luck, or their goddess Shaas’s blessing, but among the loot they brought to the north there were the tools, which serve the snow elves’ blacksmiths eve now.
What about the armour, then, you ask? Put any knight in the wooden mail, give them a wooden sword – and that’s it, they’re unstoppable. Ay, there’s the rub. The armour of such wood is not made anymore as the iron trees, which grow nowadays, aren’t even close to those which used to be here before the darkness came. All what is made now are swords and daggers, rarely a shield, spear, or a glaive can be crafted.
They say, in the snow-elven kings’ treasuries, deep in mountain caverns, there is iron wood armour, standing in endless rows in the dark and awaiting its time. Among these plates there are told to be the royal mail, which are not just indestructible, but decorated also with thousands of precious gems, each of them storing the ancient nation’s magic. But it all just a rumour, which cost lives of a many darers in the northern mountains.
You won’t be allowed to buy any sword to your choosing, don’t even think of it. Firstly, not all of them are for sale, secondly, a wanderer can’t bring that much gold the most expensive swords cost. Though, should the snow elves like you, and your stories about the Valley, you can expect a precious gift – a dagger from the iron wood, a horse, and the provision for your way back. And a meeting at the Spring or Autumn Fair, of course.
The elves never missed a fair, as I remember, they always could make use of some gold. They gather caravans and come to our lands at the very time. I shouldn’t even mention it, you must have seen their tents and the crowds gathering around to see the snow-white furs and the precious weaponry. Their goods always find their customers, I can say. The rich merchants exchange the fur for the corn and other provision, which is rare in snow deserts, as you can imagine it.
The governors themselves often come for the weapons. And that’s when the most interesting part starts. You may bring dozens of carts full of gold, but the snow will not even look at you. That is because they believe that it is not a person who chooses a sword, but a sword chooses its master, who is worthy of obtaining such a weapon. And the worthiness is decided by a fight. A prospective buyer should face a commander of the snow elves. They would exchange swords – the human lord would take the commander’s sword, while the other – the one chosen for the buying. And then they fight, till the first drop of blood. Should one cut the elf who fights at his half-strength – they can have the sword, no doubt. Otherwise – sorry, both of the swords remain with the elf. Human lords usually lose, especially the ones who haven’t even hit fifteen years. Silly lads, thinking they could buy everything in the world, get beaten by the snow elves’ tranquillity. No threats or insults, promises or pleas will help you should you lose. The youngsters run away with their tails between the legs, swearing so much, that their respectful parents drop their jaws and lose their hearing. And then they send messenger to all the countries in search of the best swordsmen to teach their young kid. It is worth noting that the kids come back to the fair in two-three winters. Some lose again, some don’t but they don’t have this hatred and fury anymore. The first loss changes such power seeking people a lot. If not for the ar’the, we would have the swollen with fat hogs above us, not the strict, but just and strong leaders capable of protecting their lands.