Wulfric and the Snow Elf

Author: Cassolar Draebo (Translator)
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This text was first published on Douglas Goodall’s Substack from 11/9/23 to 11/15/23


Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. I

This is the poetic epic of Ysgramor’s youngest son, Wulfric. While the authenticity of the story is uncertain, fragments have been found in contexts that leave no doubt of a late First Era origin for the earliest written versions. The grammar and word use in the early version also leave no doubt of its Old Atmoran origins, with many passages essentially the same in Old Atmoran and Proto-Nedic. Of course, those who favor a more modern origin of the epic also reject the University of Gwylim’s centuries-long efforts to reconstruct these languages.

This translation draws heavily on more recent versions where the oldest are incomplete. I attempted to render this great epic into the modern Imperial dialect while maintaining the rhythm and power of the original.

I am unworthy of such a task. There are far too many verses where I could not match to the original’s brilliant and near-perfect meter, alliteration, and rhyme. I fear this is but a pale shadow.

Your Humble Translator,

Cassolar Draebo

I. In the King’s Court
(In which the Stranger arrives and dares Ysgramor to slay an ice wraith.)

Strong Ysgramor, scalp-snow shining
Wisest father, brawny manner
Raised before him hands in greeting
Stood before his sturdy banner

Ysgramor:
“In my hall, all men are welcome
Safe in Saarthal, shall men slumber
Let us sit and strum the war-drums
Share we breaths as sworn sword-brothers

Blessed are we with Saarthal’s bounty
Here give glory for these green-gifts
Dirt-rows, ore-beats, notch-nocks, bronze-trees,
Freely pass your fat palm’s snow-drift

Here in my hall, all men equal
Live by drake-words, live by wisdom
Here the star-eye melts the crystals
New laws free of ancient dictum*

Here hold fast in hearty feasting
Here hear calls of hammer-clanking,
Triumph-talking, bare-breast-beating
Men of war like gore-moons’ waxing

Here grow strong and growl in anger
Shor’s old birthright now fae-stolen
Eat and drink and sing with laughter
Life-law chains that shall be broken”*

Wise Ysgramor in his chamber
Sat before his sturdy banner
All men sat except the Stranger
Stood in challenge from his corner

Man-shaped thing yet still familiar
Man-shaped thing all bald and bare-skinned
Man-shaped but with skin of silver
Snow-skin untouched by the north-wind

The Stranger:
“King, oh man, oh bearded wonder
Came you here to cry or conquer?
Shall we fear your shout of thunder?
Dare you hunt, oh dragon hunter?”

Ysgramor:
“Feel your heat, a forge’s fire
Hear your words, like wolves of winter
But my Shor-spark burns still brighter
Elf I name you, snow-skinned Falmer!”

The Stranger:
“Come I now to call out challenge
North-men are you great or gelded?
This I ask — to slay an ice-wraith
This I dare — or are you timid?”

Ysgramor:
“Ask you, dare you, hear my answer
Ice-wraith’s doom now lies upon it
See my hands hand-down my saucer
See my hands now holding Ysgrit**

I, by frost-fall, brave the ice-wraith
By my shout the wraith lies stricken
Soon it lies in Shor’s deep embrace
Before sun-dusk, foes lie beaten”
Translator’s Notes: This is a standard introduction for Nord poetry, both of this era and later ones, but there are some interesting differences. For one, the emphasis is always on odd syllables instead of even ones, as in later works. Secondly, while Shor is mentioned here and many times through the entire work, other gods are only rarely mentioned. This general trend in the few surviving First Era works has led some to speculate that the settlers from Atmora were religious zealots or from a cult of Shor.

*These two verses are especially difficult and uncertain.

**Much like Wuuthrad and Khaalthe, scholars argue over whether Ysgrit is a weapon (and whether a bow, spear, axe, or something else), a favored servant, or a technique.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. II

II. The Hunt
(In which Ysgramor climbs the mountain and slays an ice wraith)

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Sneaking skeevers soon were spotted
From his hands death found the skeevers
From their hides he made a belt-pouch
Bone-gnawers suited only weavers
Flesh too foul for any cheek-pouch
Bones too weak to sew a surcoat
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their bones up from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Starving wolves of silent winter
Sought to make a slow meal of him
From their flayed skulls he forged pauldrons
Strong bones tested and then flesh-trimmed
Flesh too foul for any stew-pot
From the skins he sewed a surcoat
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their flesh up from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Bristled boars bellowed before him
He swift-swallowed every bellow
Tore the tusk-boars limb from limp-limb
From their fat he forged fine tallow
Swineflesh filled up to his bowls’ brim
Left he only grunting small shoats
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their voices from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Slunk a sword-cat in the shadows
To these shadows once he shouted
Smacked the tall-teeth on the short nose
Fled so fast its fur did flee it
From the fur he forged a fetish
Least-beasts flee from bloody hunt-boast
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Scared the fur-tail from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps in fine raiment
Still below the starry summit
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Took in hand the sturdy Ysgrit
Readied he the mighty missile
Smelled the wind and started hunting
Sought the glint of tell-tale crystal
Sought the signs of ice-wraith haunting
Saw no sky-tears day-break, night-bode
Nor from pale-pass to the hork-road

Legs slight sore from world-throat stepping
Wise Ysgramor turns nose northward
He in silence sought Shor’s blessing
Asked the north wind which way forward
And the north wind did give answer
Sixty stone-throws and he smelled one
Sixty more saw sky-blue amber
Glinting, glinting under cold sun
Here at last the home of ice-wraiths
Here in plain sight they lay hidden

Readied Ysgrit in his strong hands
Aimed and arched to ice-wraith’s absence
Shouted he the words that shatter
Pierced at once the ice-wraith’s sky-heart
Journey rough but brief of battle
Any man of worth could do this
Wise Ysgramor threw the Falmer’s
Foolish piss-fight in their faces
Stood alone atop the world-throat
Took he all its stars and secrets

Ysgramor:
“So say I from this day forward
Every man must test his courage
Fight and slay the dire ice-wraith
Or all men may call him coward
Lands and titles shall be taken
Names and deeds shall not be spoken
This, the fate of all who fail me
I, Ysgramor, word unbroken”

Out of snow-drifts rose the Stranger
Up from ice-claws, king of Falmer
Gave his word to king of Atmor
Falmer, Atmor, both shall live here
Dragon-hearted in the pastures
Fire-hearted under snow-stars
King of Falmer made this wager
Bound his people and their nature
Until love-hate cleaves the neighbors
Until birth of spark-thief half-mer
Translator’s Note: The meter in the original is significantly different in this section in the earliest versions, and it is mostly unrhymed. The reason for this is unknown, although this section contains grammatical elements which indicate it may have been written earlier than the rest of the epic.

The penultimate verse is obviously a later addition and the ultimate verse a very late addition, but I have left them in place as they are among the most beautiful. I wish I could do them justice.

It is not clear what an “ice wraith” is. Although some scholars believe it is a mere wispmother, no modern creatures match the descriptions here and elsewhere. It is also unclear what the signs (tell-tale crystal, blue amber, etc) might refer to.

Another mystery is why the poem refers to High Hrothgar, even though the monastery was not built until long after the return. Perhaps the monastery was named after an older name of the mountain.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. III

III. The Son’s Challenge
(In which Wulfric sets out to kill an Ice Wraith.)

Years of peace passed by the kingdom
Many years passed since the Stranger
This year Wulfric, youngest king-son
Seeks to prove his worth with danger

Saarthal lay ‘neath blizzard-blankets
Outside hearth-walls raged the north wind
Warm within and brimmed with banquets
Cold without, the storm was wolf-skinned

Wulfric:
“Swift they shine, last days of Sun’s Dawn*
Last days may I slay the ice-wraith
Help me now, oh day-bent monster
Hear my prayers, stars first through eighth

Stretch the days out ’till the storm breaks
Stretch the sky twixt Lord and Lover
Stretch my sleeves from blade to bent-branch
Stretch my mind twixt truth and wonder

Sneak we out, away from she-tears
Let us ask our fearsome father
Leave the safety of the Saarthal
Seek at last the hunt we hunger”

Ysgramor:
“Please, my son, have you no patience?
Leave you must with first clear dawning
Stay your slaying ’til the storm-break
Brave-deeds no one shall find wanting”

Wulfric heeded not the heart-words
Of his teacher, all-wise father
Fled on fleet-feet, youth upon him
Hearing only his fate-caller

Up the steep steps of the world-throat
Heart-spark shone too bright to shiver
Soon he found the ice-wreathed summit
Drew he shining man-forged silver

Ice-wraiths tore into his hork-cloak
Three throat-shouts he gave to stun them
Ice-wraiths shredded all his wolf-furs
Three sure slices they won from him

Blue-blood stained the snow around him
Now his heart drew heavy shivers
Without furs or cloak around him
Slid he down the frozen river

Wulfric:
“Throat is deep, to slay the ice-wraiths
Spark is strong, to dare this weather
‘Twas no wraith that dealt my death-blow
‘Twas my young-heart, all too eager

Curse the four winds, curse Kyne’s weather
Curse my Shor-spark, skyward flying
Curse the lands not of my fathers
Curse this land where I lay dying”
Translator’s Notes: There is little to add to these passages. They are straightforward to translate and not unlike more modern epic poems. Wulfric’s final speech is missing or partly missing in all the oldest sources, but the fragments that exist largely agree with the first complete version.

*The original refers to, roughly, “Welcome Woman,” which I am taking to be The Lover and thus, Sun’s Dawn. The Atmoran calendar appears to be based on the major constellations, but their descriptions and order do not quite match the modern ones.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. IV

IV. The Snow Elf
(In which Wulfric meets the Snow Elf.)

To his near-death came a Falmer
Bright-eyed maid with braids of winter
Bare and barefoot came a Falmer
Pale spell-maven, white-death dealer

Fought to fight, did he, brave Wulfric
Strove to split limbs’ frosty stingers
Strove to grasp his gelid sword-grip
Fought to clasp with frozen fingers

Kneeling down this bare-skinned Falmer
Spread her palms as if to warm them
Blew her breath on Wulfric’s embers
Soon elf-spells began to charm him

Spoke she once, her name, Eormi
North-son lay now at her mercy
Breathed deep up and down his body
Wicked elf found Wulfric worthy

Now his doom laid down beside him
Her turn-trances woven, growing*
Wulfric’s doom climbed up astride him
False-love forged from lengthy loathing

Falmer flesh burned off the blizzard
Snowmelt steamed, the ground grew sodden
Eormi sighed once and heat-shivered
North-son warmed, the storm forgotten

Wulfric roused and rolled them over,
Felt her flame-skin, faced her fairness
Led by Falmer fingers closer
Heaved himself into the furnace
Translator’s Notes: Many translations usually leave out the last verse, but it is not due to any question of its authenticity.

*Turn-trance may refer to a spell mentioned in a few Second Era works under various names which reverses one’s feelings for a particular subject. Happiness when watching birds fly turns to sadness, excitement during Flower Day turns to lethargy, etc. The strength of the feeling remains the same and the effects are permanent unless another turn-trance is cast upon them. See, for instance, The Witch-King’s Drummer where the minor character Vasteda (or in the modern version, Fasetta) seeks a hag to re-reverse Dhiun’s (Theon’s) love for her, and succeeds at the cost of becoming her apprentice. Or see the Dwynnen Lai where the Sea-Witch uses an enchanted mirror to turn dreugh into loyal and loving servants and is then tricked by the Baron into using them against the Usurper’s fleet.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. V

V. The Wedding
(In which Wulfric and the Snow Elf are wed.)

Eormi led the son to Laidal*
To the cold-stones of her elf-clan
Seeking shelter from the snow-squall
Needing courage to face kinsmen

Eormi into deep home guided
Wulfric doom-drummed north-son man-gem
To the chief-halls, undivided
To the Stranger, now named Nerrem

Elf-lord rose up from his cold throne
Chastened now his wayward daughter
Elf-lord’s heat-rage cracked the cold-stone
All the Falmer bowed in anger

Nerrem:
“Dare you move a man to Laidal?
Dare you share our secret-dreaming
With this dozen-dozen** north thrall?
Are such short songs worth demeaning?”

Eormi knelt and cold-stone mended
Spoke she softly to her father
Grasped the hand of her intended
Wulfric unsinged by snow-daughter

Nerrem’s hand now on her belly
Now he sees the wicked wisdom
Of Eormi’s visions deadly
Plots expand and he is struck dumb

Nerrem nods in understanding
Wed they are in Falmer fashion
Wrapped about with spriggan binding
Wulfric blinded by his passion

Nerrem:
“Her son shall grasp Shor-star-blessing
Spark and fire now are blended
Soon we stop the ever-birthing
With his birth, foundations ending”

Spriggan roots wrap round their bare wrists
Trapping Wulfric ever tighter
Giants welcome bearing green-gifts
Lovers wrapped in silks of spiders

Nerrem:
“May the hunger leap upon him
End the endless dreadful drumming
Skin-torn, bone-broke, now consume him
Stars descend soon, burning, rushing”

Love again in silkwood blanket
All the Falmer there bear witness
Love again in woven casket
Wulfric elf-bound, blind and fearless

Nerrem:
“North-men be cursed like the green-skins
Shor-spark cast-off like the three-words
Claim the world back from the mirror-twins
Draw the stars down like the ship-birds”
Translator’s Notes: Once again, the last verse is plainly a late addition. I have included it for the sake of completeness.

Throughout the entire epic, Falmer are depicted as having little hair, having hot skin, and being able to survive Skyrim’s winters with little clothing. The former two are rare, but not unique to Wulfric and the Snow Elf. The last is quite common in mentions of Falmer until sightings become rare in the early Second Era. By the middle Second Era, the few accounts of Falmer generally depict them as being fully clothed. By the end of the Second Era, accounts describe blind, short, twisted creatures that are more likely distorted tales of goblin-ken.

It is interesting to note that in some parts of The Reach and rural High Rock, spriggans are charmed during weddings to bind the hands and feet of the betrothed in roots. When the spriggan is freed, it may leave peacefully or attack the bride and groom. In some places, this is taken as an omen for the success of the marriage. If it attacks, it is slain and the groom and bride drink of its sap to ward off the curse. Given the passages here, this tradition may originate with the Falmer. Fortunately, there are no longer any traces of giants bearing gifts, wrapping the lovers in a cocoon, or making a spectacle of their consummation.

*Some scholars believe Laidal (or Laidal’dal in later versions) refers to the ruins under Laintar Dale, which caused so much trouble with their sewers. There is no evidence for this, other than spurious etymologies.

**Dozen-dozen here probably refers to the short lives of men as opposed to the “hundred-hundred” year lifespan of elves.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. VI

VI. The Return
(In which Wulfric and the Snow Elf return to Saarthal.)

Eormi pled to visit Saarthal
Wulfric lost his fear of father
Nerrem plotted perfect star-fall
Three set forth with fearsome offer

All of Saarthal lay in mourning
For the youngest all thought frozen
Wakeful way-watch cried out warning
Strong Ysgramor called his chosen

Met they all where all was started
Where the stranger first called challenge
Slow-hand king and so wise-hearted
Sought in son’s eyes spark to scavenge

Sadly he saw naught worth saving
So his gaze moved further downward
Snow-skin hand-clasped without burning
Three more wicked smiles encountered

Sturdy father stayed his red-hands
Listened he did to their story
Saw the evil in their sky-plans
Old foes mora, Mora, hoary*

Ysgramor:
“Son, you sought and slew the ice-wraith
So no man may call you coward
But a loyal prince would listen
I am still your king and father

“Magics wicked lay upon you
Else your heart would not have wandered
Kindle Shor and let him smash through
Elven spells that have you conquered

“Banish this elf three times for me
I shall find a wine-wife for you
Shun the snow-hair, cast out flame-skin
All I have I lay before you”

Wulfric elf-spelled still he held fast
To the hot-hands of the Falmer
“Banish elf-spawn twice before me
Wake your Shor-spark from this nightmare!

“Free her hand, one time, this instant!
I shall order guards to take her
Embers make her mem’ry distant
Fires shall enchantments shatter”

Wulfric unwise still held handfast
To the cold lies of his mer-bride
Loud Ysgramor, dragon-brother
Cried out, made the Stranger tongue-tied

For he heard the subtle chanting
For he felt the slow-built furnace
Rising near where Stranger standing
Neither elf-spell fled awareness

Now Ysgramor drawing dwarf-sword
Charging at the star-bent trio
Slashing down to thwart the elf-lord
Elf-doomed Wulfric took the death-blow**
Translators Notes: Throughout the epic, the elves are depicted as scheming and wicked from the start. The nature of the conflict, and whatever responsibility the proto-Nords may have had in the matter, is glossed over. In fairness, the original audience would have known. If only we had a version of this tale from the Falmer perspective! Assuming, of course, it is historical and not a mere fable.

*This is a very literal translation. Although the three words are homonymns in proto-Nedic, markings in later version indicate that this literally means “ancient/historical enemies: forest, Hermaeus Mora, cold of winter”. Whether the first “mora” refers to Atmora or woods in general is uncertain, as is the overall meaning of the passage. Similarly, in what way the woods (or the continent) were an enemy is not clear, and the origins of Hermeaus Mora being depicted in opposition to Nords more than other races is unknown.

**Due to the difficulties of translation, I have combined six lines here into two. The missing parts state that Wulfric sees that the blow will hit Nerrem and steps in front of him, proving himself a traitor to his fathers.

Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. VII

VII. The Curses
(In which Saarthal burns, Ysgramor vows vengeance, and curses are spoken.)

Sorrow! Sorrow! Dwarf-sword strikes true
Even when I do not wish it
Now my sword-tip flips up strikes true
To the snow-bent Stranger’s armpit

Shallow, shallow strikes the Dwarf-sword
Stranger Nerrem lord of Falmer
Slowly dying elf-lord outpoured
Frost-fire on the winter fodder

Wailing in the eerie elf-light
Over burning of his young-son
Even Saarthal’s stone-walls ignite
Now the city, once proud, undone

Ysgramor:
“Flee, oh flee my sons and servants
Flee, oh flee unto the wood-walls
To the safety of long serpents
Hear the cries as elder wood calls

“By the Falmer star-eye stolen
Solid words that will not alter
Next Ysgramor, word unbroken
Solid will be solemn promise

“Go back, go back, calls the man-half
Go back, go back, calls the drake-calf
Come back, come back, calls the man-half
Come back, come back, calls the drake-calf

“We return to tear asunder
Every elf and every glacier
My companions here are numbered
Once and twice for their two natures

“We return to bury Saarthal
Cities smothered never burn down
Make a barrow fit for elf-thrall
Fit for Kyne’s blood wearing no crown

“We return with our long serpents
Slay at last our fine scale brothers
Take elves with us in our descent
Sate at last our ordered hungers”

Kyne:
“Wulfric, Falmer princess cursed thus
Arkay’s mercy now divided*
Cursed they are to walk the Mundus
Cursed they are until united

“What chance they, when one a snail-man?
What chance they, when one a hill-witch?
What chance they, when one a snake-man?
What chance they, when one a fur-snitch?”
Translator’s Notes: Thus ends the epic of Wulfric and the Snow-Elf. Hopefully this translation helps future scholars and poets more perfectly reproduce the original epic in its full glory. This last section has some of the most clear to translate, but most controversial passages. Individually the words are plain, but the phrases are obscure or meaningless. Some debates are pointless (for instance, ‘long serpents’ clearly refers to ships, not sea monsters), but others are genuinely unresolved. As I have no strong opinion from a translator’s perspective, I will have to leave them unresolved.

*Literally, they were split from Arkay’s Law, and cannot die a natural death. Some more recent versions expand on the last verse, giving brief vignettes of Wulfric and Eormi born far apart and in different bodies such that they can never meet. The entirety of Kyne’s speech is a latter addition (perhaps as late as the middle of the Second Era, as is obvious with the reference to Arkay). In even more recent versions, Kyne’s speech is much longer with several verses condemning the Snow-Elves and justifying (or commanding) the Return. I omitted most of the more recent versions as they are poorly written and add little the tale.

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