When she grew old, Queen Ruana dreamed of the north. Around her she had caused a great hall to be raised up over the scorched bones of the old. The beams were hewn from the black oaks of the forest and the roof overhead was raised high, so that when the fires blazed the smoke lay in the air like storm clouds high above the heads of the feasters. Around the hall she had forged a kingdom with the strokes of her great spear. Giants guarded her throne, and her word was the law as far as a man could sail for a week in any direction. From the jagged coastlines of the southland to the deep forest in the eastern hills to the stormy seas in the west, Ruana was Queen, and she reigned for fifty years and some believed she would reign forever.
She knew she would not. Her hair had changed to an iron gray, and when she wore it in coiled braids it looked like pattern-forged steel. She still wore her heavy wolfskin cloak over the bright mail and the polished brazen bosses, but the mail was new. Her old armor, many times rent and torn, hung above her throne beside her splintered shield. She had earned those marks in battle against gods, and she bore them on her body as well.
Always close by her right hand was the spear that made her more than mortal. The straight haft darkened by time, the bronze blade transformed gold by power and by myth. Some whispered it must be a false spear, for nothing of bronze could shine so, and nothing gold could cut or pierce and yet take no mark. It was her sword and her scepter, and she had worn a place in the floor beside her throne where she was accustomed to set the spike as she held it and passed her judgments.
The war, that dark war that had almost sundered the lands of men apart, was now so far in the past that few lived who had seen it, save as children. Those who still bore the marks were gray and long-bearded, and they told the tales of that time with a darkness in their faces. War was still war, and men still shed one another’s blood, but that war had been unlike any other. That had been a war driven by dark powers, and now those powers were gone.