This is a short story I wrote, an attempt at a fairy tale style. It focuses primarily on my version of elves, who have more in common with the morally-ambiguous, often sinister elves of Medieval European mythology than the modern fantasy Tolkien-derived elves. I tried to stay away from getting bogged-down in specific geography and background for this story and while I do envision it taking place in my fantasy world of Elbyon, it isn’t too strongly tied to it.
Without further ado, I present to you The Elf Queen.
The Elf Queen
Many years ago, a traveller found himself upon a moonlit trail, his rations spent and his spirit weary. He was a singing man, a man of much cheer and dance, and he played the lyre with a skill unheard of since the days of creation. The traveller found that his path took him to the mouth of an old forest, gaping wide as though to eat him.There loomed tree and shadow; there blossomed flower and weed.
Every child knew the terrors of the forest. The tales were sung over cradle and whispered in inn.
I shall not venture in, thought the traveller, for fear of the fierce spirits that live there, the things that creep and crawl.
For he was well-acquainted with the legends of that wood and the folk that lived there, things unnatural from ages long past. And yet, his hunger overcame his fear, for he knew that he would not last the journey around the forest. So, our brave traveller journeyed in, pack slung over his shoulder, whistling a cheery tune to drive back the dark.
Yet as he walked through that dark forest, under crooked branch and over twisted root, he imagined he heard another voice whistling along.
Suddenly, he stopped and the other voice stopped too. It must be an echo, thought he, my own voice reflected back on me!
And so, on into the woods he marched. But in the back of his mind the common wisdom muttered: Trust not the forest dark, nor the creatures queer! For in the dark they come for you, the Fallen Ones, with their dances and their songs!
As night fell over the woods, he set up camp. I must have a fire, thought he. A light to drive back the dark and the beasts, to protect and to guide.
So he set to work with his knife and the trees, cutting off limbs to feed his slow, dancing flame. Now this, every child knows, is folly and folly of the chiefest kind: never in the forests deep, should you harm tree or creature you find there, lest you face the wrath of the forest folk.
Then he heard it, in the distance, growing nearer: soft singing, like sirensong. It made him wish to rise, to dance, to seek out its source. And so, he lit a torch and wandered off the path- his third and greatest folly, for all know that away from the path lies danger and death.
But soon the traveller found he did not need his torch, for a bright light shone from a clearing, like the radiance of the stars overhead. And in that light, he saw dancers fair- twirling, spinning, singing, laughing. They were elves- elf men, elf maidens, elf children, all singing, all laughing, all calling, dancing in their elf circles.
Unable to escape the song’s call, the traveller walked into the circle and cried out: “Oh great elf-folk, great people of the woods, who once ruled over land and sea, truly you are marvelous as the legends say!”
And the elf-queen, she they called Syllaia the fair, arose from amongst them, and truly she was the most beautiful and radiant creature the traveller had ever seen. Her eyes were as stars: bright, piercing, enchanting. Her skin was fair and white as fresh snow. Her dress was like a lily, long, white and flowing, every line natural and free. In her fair hair there grew wild flowers and vines which formed for her a crown; its splendor greater than that of any king’s.
She spoke with a voice like the wind or a waterfall- beautiful, flowing, and yet powerfully ferocious. “Why come you here into our forest, stranger?” asked she. “These are the elf-lands; these trees are our trees; these flowers are our flowers; these beasts are our beasts. This is all your kind has left us.”
“I came to gaze upon your beauty,” lied the traveller, for now he was greatly afeared. “I had heard tell of it from my fellow minstrels, for often are songs sung of the beauty of the elf-queen.”
“And having gazed upon it,” asked she, “what say you?”
“I say that truly the songs were as nothing in face of the reality,” said he. Ever was he so swift and deft of tongue, so cunning in his words. “And that I must return so that I might write and sing my new song.”
“I think not,” said she. “You shall dwell here amongst the elves, if you are so entranced by our beauty, and you shall sing your fair songs to us, that we might find them pleasant.”
At this, the traveller’s heart sunk, for his hope of ever leaving the forest again was lost and he feared what would become of him when the queen tired of her new plaything. For he knew the children’s tales, told to frighten and to warn: the fair folk were ever-changing: one moment kind, the next cruel; one moment joyful, the next mourning; one moment beautiful, the next terrible.
Again he remembered the common wisdom: Trust not the forest dark, nor the creatures queer! For in the dark they come for you, the Fallen Ones, with their dances and their songs!
Day after day, night after night, the elves walked through the old wood with their prisoner. At sun’s fall, when the silver moon rose and the sky was full of stars, the traveller would play his lyre and the elves would sing elf-songs and dance elf-dances.
Every night, the elf queen asked of him the same question: “When shall our new song be done?”
“Soon,” ever he replied. “Soon. There is so much to say, so much to write, and so few words fair enough in my tongue.”
“It is true,” her disdainful reply would come, “that your tongue does lack the eloquence of the elf-speech, its order and its flow. Let me know when you have your song; I would know if it is pleasing to elf-ears.”
Night after night the traveller fretted, for the words would not come. I must find them, thought he, or the queen shall have my head.
One morning, the elves passed through the remnants of a wall of massive stone, great statues standing guard over a shattered gate. There lay crumbling stone and there lay creeping vine. There lay antiquity shattered and stone turned to dust by passing time.
With a glance the traveller knew this for what it was- the remnants of that ancient age, when man and elf together built an empire. Then came war and terrible magic and all was ripped asunder. Into the wild, the elves were driven, lights fading as they went deeper and deeper into woods as dark as men’s souls.
And then the traveller had his song.
That night he sung it to the queen and her court. Fingers strumming the lyre, his voice carried through the trees. He sung as never man had sung before, sung with all his breath and all his soul. He sung and sung until he could sing no more. Yet it was not a song of beauty alone as he had promised, but a song of beauty that was lost, beauty that had been and no longer was.
Tears streamed down the elf-queen’s perfect cheeks, waterfalls on marble. They say that never before had that queen of fair folk cried and never would she cry again. Her tears were rare as diamonds and thrice as beautiful.
“You may leave now,” said she, “and share with the world your song.”
As he left, a sadness swept over him, for in his heart he would always miss the song and dance of elves, that wild beauty that haunts men’s souls. And yet he was a free man once more and a free man with a song, a song of beauty lost and beauty gained, of stone crumbling to provide soil for fresh flowers and wild vines, their colours more vibrant than any tapestry.
From town to town he passed, wandering down the winding road, and he took his song wherever he went. And when he sung it he remembered the elves and their beauty and he played as he had played for the queen. The driest of eyes was wet with tears when the traveller sung his song.
Never before had the people of that land heard such a song as he sung nor such a tale as he told. Each of them strove to learn it, yet none could match the traveller’s art. Their attempts were but pale shadows, dim reflections of the great song.
For none but those who had seen such beauty and felt such melancholy could truly sing of it.
And so was born the Song of the Elves, which is still sung to this day.