I aim to share more of my writing on the blog, hopefully once a month. We’ll see. Seeing as my novel-in-progress features elves, of a sort, I find that I have quite a few stories floating around in my mind about elves and the mythology surrounding them. The elves in this story are a little more traditional than the ones in my book. It was a fun one to write. I hope you enjoy it, at any rate. Any comments welcome.
Life for Life
We broke from the trees, the mountain rising before us like a juggernaut, lazy mist swirling around its flanks. I grew cold at the sight. At the base of those rocky slopes I had lost all I held dear, and now I returned, to get it back.
Gruff snarled beside me, and I motioned him to quiet.
His large head swung towards me, lambent yellow eyes glowing, ears twitching.
I let out a breath, which ghosted silver around us. “Not far now.”
He smiled, showing snaggled teeth, the hatred of his kind for the elves sharp in his eyes. “Elf-blood. Soon, Lady, soon.”
I set my jaw. “Perhaps,” I cautioned. “But be wary. Their Charms are powerful, I know it full well. If they use magic we must fight. I will get my child back, or die trying.” My hand fell to the knife at my side and I squinted at the sky. “We must away. I would not fight the Elves at night, with the moon to aid them.”
Gruff nodded, and I gestured him forward, my purpose hardening. I would not fight the Elves at all. That way led to doom. But I kept that from the ogre for reasons of my own. I followed in his wake, the icy ball of fear in my gut growing with every step, no matter my boastful words.
My husband is dead, my family scattered since the Wars. My child is all that was left to me, and I would retrieve him, no matter the dire warnings, the mutterings about the Elves and their trickery. I had thought long, though, and come up with some trickery of my own. I could only pray it would be enough.
Two hours later we came to the riling brook that was the border to Dayladel. We had been watched for some time. I felt their eyes upon me, their mild regard. They had no fear of a human and an ogre, why should they? Their magic shielded them. The same magic that separated me from my babe last year, their songs and enchantments drawing me here, deep into the woods, my son strapped to my back as I stepped across the brook. When I awoke the next day he was gone. They left me with a changeling, a mewling misshapen creature that I brought back, weeks later. When they ignored my plea I left it there to die.
I shook the memory from me. The noonday sun sparkled on the water as I lifted my chin, my hands fisted at my side. “Raleadon!”
My voice was strong enough to startle a bird into flight nearby. The mist swirled among the trees, and beyond the brook I could see but little.
The ogre growled deep in his chest, a low rumbling noise, as a figure appeared through the mists, walking slowly towards us, a high, thin song floating with him.
That song twined around us, the melody elusively complex, carrying with it hints and promises, glimpses of Dayladel, where the dancing Elves wore garments of moonshine and lace, shimmering in a silvery glow….
Beside me, Gruff roared, his foot stamping the ground and my eyes flew open. I staggered as I checked myself–one foot was in the brook. Heart pounding, I leapt back. My cheeks flushed under the cool regard of Raleadon’s violet eyes. So easy it was to be Charmed.
I must act now, or never.
“Gruff!” The word tore out of me and Gruff roared again, lifting his arms and shaking his spear, taking one step towards the Elf.
Suddenly there was a twisting in the air around us. The mist swirled around the ogre, obscuring him from my eyes. Then I blinked, for where Gruff once stood a twisted pine lifted it’s branches to the sky, throwing a spiky shadow.
I swallowed back my surging elation and faced Raleadon. “I’ll have him back. My son is no Elf. My blood has rights on his.”
One thin eyebrow lifted as Raleadon’s eyes flicked over me. “We traded you life for life, and you rejected it. The matter is done. And as you see, we cannot be forced.” He turned, to leave me.
“Nay, it is not. You tried to trick me, thinking my love would blind me to the flaws of the creature you left me with. ‘Twas no true bargain. I want my son back.”
He turned back, his face serene. “But you have nothing to give in exchange.”
I gestured at the pine. “Life for life.” I held my breath, hoping against hope it would be enough. For Gruff I felt but a twinge of regret. He held no claim on me, none at all.
Raleadon’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the tree, and then a wide smile split his face, the cold beauty of it dazzling to my human eyes. “Ah, you prove more interesting than most.” He gestured, and two other figures materialized out of the mist behind him; one wreathed in song, the other, a child.
It took everything I had not to cross the brook. I would not be trapped there again.
The Elves’ magic had done its work; it was no toddler but a young lad that surveyed me with wide eyes. His father’s eyes. With a slight push Raleadon sent him towards me, and he splashed across the water to my open arms.
The Elves turned and faded back into the mist with nary a glance back.
I had won.
A tremor ran through me, and for a moment I placed my hand on the pine’s knobbly trunk. Life for life. It was the deepest magic, the only thing that could sway the Elves. “I won’t forget,” I whispered.
The boy looked up at me with his father’s eyes and my heart swelled. I took his hand, and together we turned our back on the mountain, towards home.
Feature image: The First Draft, by mpclemens, on flickr