by Kristen Rosser (krwordgazer)
On the 30th anniversary of Elfquest, I have to think about what Elfquest means to me. I think, in essence, Elfquest is a celebration of life. It's about all that being alive entails: joy and sorrow, peace and pain, and it celebrates and embraces all of it. It also reminds us that life is a mixture of the familiar and the mysterious, the tame and the untame, and that living would not be all that it is to us, without both.
Elfquest's elves are real people, with feelings and motivations which we recognize and understand-- and as such, they are a mirror in which to view ourselves. But they are also elves. They are magic. They are Other. As such, they personify all that is wild and wondrous and untamable. It is this balance, this tension, which makes Elfquest both satisfying and exciting. I will always be glad that through Wendy and Richard Pini I have encountered the Hidden Ones.
And so, in tribute, I present this short story: a story told by a human living on the World of Two Moons, about his encounter with the Hidden Ones, and how they affected his life. . .
Oh, there you are, little ones. It's a cold night-- come closer to the fire. Come under the crooks of my arms and keep these old bones warm. You, and you-- that's right. The rest of you, gather around.
What? You want a story? One of those stories? Your mothers won't thank me for scaring you half witless just before you go to sleep. . .
Oh, very well. Put another log on, and I'll tell you.
They're out there, you know. Up on that mountain all covered with white thorns. My grandfather, when he was a boy, saw them come, in a clearstone mountain that fell out of the sky. He never actually saw them, of course.
The Hidden Ones.
If you go up the mountain in daytime, you won't see anything. Just pine trees, and rocky ground, and thorns. But around the mountain's crown, the thorns make a wall. And you'd never get through it, even if you dared to try.
But at night. . .
I went up there one night, when I was just a little older than the oldest of you. My brother goaded me into it-- said I'd be too scared to ever do it, and I had to prove I wasn't. There was a girl, you see-- your grandmother, she was later, child. And yours, and yours. And I couldn't let my brother tell her I was afraid to go. He wanted her for himself, heh, heh.
So I went.
Winter was near then, like it is now. Child Moon lay low on the edge of the world, twice its normal size and red as blood. Mother Moon was still out of sight. Going under the trees of the mountain was like walking into the mouth of darkness. I could smell the pines, feel the weight of them hanging above me, hear them, almost breathing, in the night. It was cold.
I gripped my spear tighter, felt the comforting weight of the bow and quiver on my shoulder. I glanced back towards where my brother had been standing watching me go. I couldn't see him anymore.
I said a little prayer under my breath and crept forward. I'd said I would break off a spine from the thorn wall and bring it back as proof I'd gone all the way. The thorns on the wall are longer, you know, than they are anywhere else on the mountain.
It was so dark I kept stumbling over rocks and tree roots. I could hear . . . things. . . scuttling out of my path. The trees creaked.
Then the moons rose, cold and pale, shining with a deathly light through the pines, touching the ground here and there like a corpse's hand.
And the howling started.
Low at first, then rising, the many-voiced cry rose and fell, laughed and pleaded and sobbed. I froze, unable to move from terror. The wolves were close. Close enough, maybe, to scent me.
And then I realized the howling was coming from above me, up on the other side of the thorn wall. I could glimpse it now, at last, gleaming in the moons' light. Wolves couldn't get me through those thorns.
I crept forward. The wall looked like it was made of bony white claws, jabbing at the air, twisting and curling around each other. All I had to do was break one off. . .
I reached out, slid my hand carefully past the needle tips. My fingers closed around one. I bent it, twisted it, bent it again.
Snap! It was in my hand. And that was when I heard the sound.
A sound like a sharply indrawn breath, in the trees just on the other side. Against my will I looked up.
Eyes like slits, glowing in the faint light like flame. Two pairs of them. They narrowed, focusing.
Focusing on me.
My eyes could just register the shadow forms there in the trees, balanced there as if they were part tree themselves. This was their forest. I was an intruder.
And they thought I was trying to get past their barrier!
"No!" I found myself babbling, suddenly feeling sure that two wickedly sharp, magic arrows were aimed straight at my heart. "No! I only wanted. . . only wanted this." I held up the thorn I had broken off, my hand shaking, hoping they could hear the apology in my voice. "I'll leave now, and never come back. I-I promise. . ."
Without another thought I was running, stumbling blindly back downhill. How I got to the bottom without breaking a bone, I don't know to this day. But one thing I did know.
I was never going back. Not, at least, at night. And I never have.
They are the Hidden Ones. They don't give up their secrets. The only reason I'm alive today is that they chose not to harm me. They want to keep things the way they are.
So you little ones, remember-- leave them alone, and they'll leave you alone.
And now, run along to your mothers and get some sleep. These old bones need their rest. . . .