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HOME > Classical Novels > The King of Elfland's Daughter34 > CHAPTER III The Magical Sword Meets Some of the Swords of Elfland
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CHAPTER III The Magical Sword Meets Some of the Swords of Elfland
 When Alveric came to the enchanted1 wood the light in which Elfland glowed had neither grown nor dwindled2, and he saw that it came from no radiance that shines on the fields we know, unless the wandering lights of wonderful moments that sometimes astonish our fields, and are gone the instant they come, are strayed over the border of Elfland by some momentary3 disorder4 of magic. Neither sun nor moon made the light of that enchanted day.  
A line of pine trees up which ivy5 climbed, as high as their lowering black foliage6, stood like sentinels at the edge of the wood. The silver spires7 were shining as though it were they that made all this azure8 glow in which Elfland swam. And Alveric having by now come far into Elfland, and being now before its capital palace, and knowing that Elfland guarded its mysteries well, drew his father's sword before he entered the wood. The other still hung on his back, slung9 in its new scabbard over his left shoulder.
And the moment he passed by one of those guardian10 pine trees, the ivy that lived on it unfastened its tendrils and, rapidly letting itself down, came straight for Alveric and clutched at his throat.
The long thin sword of his father was just in time; had it not been drawn11 he would have scarcely got it out, so swift was the rush of the ivy. He cut tendril after tendril that grasped his limbs as ivy grasps old towers, and still more tendrils came for him, until he severed12 its main stem between him and the tree. And as he was doing this he heard a hissing13 rush behind him, and another had come down from another tree and was rushing at him with all its leaves spread out. The green thing looked wild and angry as it gripped his left shoulder as though it would hold it forever. But Alveric severed those tendrils with a blow of his sword and then fought with the rest, while the first one was still alive but now too short to reach him, and was lashing14 its branches angrily on the ground. And soon, as the surprise of the attack was over and he had freed himself of the tendrils that had gripped him, Alveric stepped back till the ivy could not reach him and he could still fight it with his long sword. The ivy crawled back then to lure15 Alveric on, and sprang at him when he followed it. But, terrible though the grip of ivy is, that was a good sharp sword; and very soon Alveric, all bruised16 though he was, had so lopped his assailant that it fled back up its tree. Then he stepped back and looked at the wood in the light of his new experience, choosing a way through. He saw at once that in the barrier of pine trees the two in front of him had had their ivy so shortened in the fight that if he went mid-way between the two the ivy of neither would be able to reach him. He then stepped forward, but the moment he did so he noticed one of the pine trees move closer to the other. He knew then that the time was come to draw his magical sword.
So he returned his father's sword to the scabbard by his side and drew out the other over his shoulder and, going straight up to the tree that had moved, swept at the ivy as it sprang at him: and the ivy fell all at once to the ground, not lifeless but a heap of common ivy. And then he gave one blow to the trunk of the tree, and a chip flew out not larger than a common sword would have made, but the whole tree shuddered17; and with that shudder18 disappeared at once a certain ominous19 look that the pine had had, and it stood there an ordinary unenchanted tree. Then he stepped on through the wood with his sword drawn.
He had not gone many paces when he heard behind him a sound like a faint breeze in the tree-tops, yet no wind was blowing in that wood at all. He looked round therefore, and saw that the pine trees were following him. They were coming slowly after him, keeping well out of the way of his sword, but to left and right they were gaining on him, so that he saw he was being gradually shut in by a crescent that grew thicker and thicker as it crowded amongst the trees that it met on the way, and would soon crush him to death. Alveric saw at once that to turn back would be fatal, and decided20 to push right on, relying chiefly on speed; for his quick perception had already noticed something slow about the magic that swayed the wood; as though whoever controlled it were old or weary of magic, or interrupted by other things. So he went straight ahead, hitting every tree in his way, whether enchanted or not, a blow with his magical sword; and the runes that ran in that metal from the other side of the sun were stronger than any spells that there were in the wood. Great oak trees with sinister21 boles drooped22 and lost all their enchantment24 as Alveric flashed past them with a flick25 of that magical sword. He was marching faster than the clumsy pines. And soon he left in that weird26 and eerie27 wood a wake of trees that were wholly unenchanted, that stood there now without hint of romance or mystery even.
And all of a sudden he came from the gloom of the wood to the emerald glory of the Elf King's lawns. Again, we have hints of such things here. Imagine lawns of ours just emerging from night, flashing early lights from their dewdrops when all the stars have gone; bordered with flowers that just begin to appear, their gentle colours all coming back after night; untrodden by any feet except the tiniest and wildest; shut off from the wind and the world by trees in whose fronds29 is still darkness: picture these waiting for the birds to sing; there is almost a hint there sometimes of the glow of the lawns of Elfland; but then it passes so quickly that we can never be sure. More beautiful than aught our wonder guesses, more than our hearts have hoped, were the dewdrop lights and twilights in which these lawns glowed and shone. And we have another thing by which to hint of them, those seaweeds or sea-mosses that drape Mediterranean32 rocks and shine out of blue-green water for gazers from dizzy cliffs: more like sea-floors were these lawns than like any land of ours, for the air of Elfland is thus deep and blue.
At the beauty of these lawns Alveric stood gazing as they shone through twilight30 and dew, surrounded by the mauve and ruddy glory of the massed flowers of Elfland, beside which our sunsets pale and our orchids33 droop23; and beyond them lay like night the magical wood. And jutting34 from that wood, with glittering portals all open wide to the lawns, with windows more blue than our sky on Summer's nights; as though built of starlight; shone that palace that may be only told of in song.
As Alveric stood there with his sword in his hand, at the wood's edge, scarcely breathing, with his eyes looking over the lawns at the chiefest glory of Elfland; through one of the portals alone came the King of Elfland's daughter. She walked dazzling to the lawns without seeing Alveric. Her feet brushed through the dew and the heavy air and gently pressed for an instant the emerald grass, which bent35 and rose, as our harebells when blue butterflies light and leave them, roaming care-free along the hills of chalk.
And as she passed he neither breathed nor moved, nor could have moved if those pines had still pursued him, but they stayed in the forest not daring to touch those lawns.
She wore a crown that seemed to be carved of great pale sapphires36; she shone on those lawns and gardens like a dawn coming unaware37, out of long night, on some planet nearer than us to the sun. And as she passed near Alveric she suddenly turned her head; and her eyes opened in a little wonder. She had never before seen a man from the fields we know.
And Alveric gazed in her eyes all speechless and powerless still: it was indeed the Princess Lirazel in her beauty. And then he saw that her crown was not of sapphires but ice.
"Who are you?" she said. And her voice had the music that, of earthly things, was most like ice in thousands of broken pieces rocked by a wind of Spring upon lakes in some northern country.
And he said: "I come from the fields that are mapped and known."
And then she sighed for a moment for those fields, for she had heard how life beautifully passes there, and how there are always in those fields young generations, and she thought of the changing seasons and children and age, of which elfin minstrels had sung when they told of Earth.
And when he saw her sigh for the fields we know he told her somewhat of that land whence he had come. And she questioned him further, and soon he was telling her tales of his home and the Vale of Erl. And she wondered to hear of it and asked him many questions more; and then he told her all that he knew of Earth, not presuming to tell Earth's story from what his own eyes had seen in his bare score of years, but telling those tales and fables38 of the ways of beasts and men, that the folk of Erl had drawn out of the ages, and which their elders told by the fire at evening when children asked of what happened long ago. Thus on the edge of those lawns whose miraculous39 glory was framed by flowers we have never known, with the magical wood behind them, and that palace shining near which may only be told of in song, they spoke40 of the simple wisdom of old men and old women, telling of harvests and the blossoming of roses and may, of when to plant in gardens, of what wild animals knew; how to heal, how to sow, how to thatch41, and of which of the winds in what seasons blow over the fields we know.
And then there appeared those knights42 who guard that palace lest any should come through the enchanted wood. Four of them they came shining over the lawns in armour44, their faces not to be seen. In all the enchanted centuries of their lives they had not dared to dream of the princess: they had never bared their faces when they knelt armed before her. Yet they had sworn an oath of dreadful words that no man else should ever speak with her, if one should come through the enchanted wood. With this oath now on their lips they marched towards Alveric.
Lirazel looked at them sorrowfully yet could not halt them, for they came by command of her father which she could not avert45; and well she knew that her father might not recall his command, for he had uttered it ages ago at the bidding of Fate. Alveric looked at their armour, which seemed to be brighter than any metal of ours, as though it came from one of those buttresses46 near, which are only told of in song; then he went towards them drawing his father's sword, for he thought to drive its slender point through some joint47 of the armour. The other he put into his left hand.
As the first knight43 struck, Alveric parried, and stopped the blow, but there came a shock like lightning into his arm and the sword flew from his hand, and he knew that no earthly sword could meet the weapons of Elfland, and took the magical sword in his right hand. With this he parried the strokes of the Princess Lirazel's guard, for such these four knights were, having waited for this occasion through all the ages of Elfland. And no more shock came to him from any of those swords, but only a vibration48 in his own sword's metal that passed through it like a song, and a kind of a glow that arose in it, reaching to Alveric's heart and cheering it.
But as Alveric continued to parry the swift blows of the guard, that sword that was kin28 to the lightning grew weary of these defences, for it had in its essence speed and desperate journeys; and, lifting Alveric's hand along with it, it swept blows at the elvish knights, and the armour of Elfland could not hold it out. Thick and curious blood began to pour through rifts49 in the armour, and soon of that glittering company two were fallen; and Alveric, encouraged by the zeal50 of his sword fought cheerily and soon overthrew51 another, so that only he and one of the guard remained, who seemed to have some stronger magic about him than had been given to his fallen comrades. And so it was, for when the Elf King had first enchanted the guard he had charmed this elvish soldier first of all, while all the wonder of his runes were new; and the soldier and his armour and his sword had something still of this early magic about them, more potent52 than any inspirations of wizardry that had come later from his master's mind. Yet this knight, as Alveric soon was able to feel along his arm and his sword, had none of those three master runes of which the old witch had spoken when she made the sword on her hill; for these were preserved unuttered by the King of Elfland himself, with which to hedge his own presence. To have known of their existence she must have flown by broom to Elfland and spoken secretly alone with the King.
And the sword that had visited Earth from so far away smote53 like the falling of thunderbolts; and green sparks rose from the armour, and crimson54 as sword met sword; and thick elvish blood moved slowly, from wide slits55, down the cuirass; and Lirazel gazed in awe31 and wonder and love; and the combatants edged away fighting into the forest; and branches fell on them hacked56 off by their fight; and the runes in Alveric's far-travelled sword exulted57, and roared at the elf-knight; until in the dark of the wood, amongst branches severed from disenchanted trees, with a blow like that of a thunderbolt riving an oak tree, Alveric slew58 him.
At that crash, and at that silence, Lirazel ran to his side.
"Quick!" she said. "For my father has three runes ..." She durst not speak of them.
"Whither?" said Alveric.
And she said: "To the fields you know."

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