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CHAPTER XII The Unenchanted Plain
 When Alveric understood that he had lost Elfland it was already evening and he had been gone two days and a night from Erl. For the second time he lay down for the night on that shingly1 plain whence Elfland had ebbed2 away: and at sunset the eastern horizon showed clear against turquoise3 sky, all black and jagged with rocks, without any sign of Elfland. And the twilight4 glimmered5, but it was Earth's twilight, and not that dense6 barrier for which Alveric looked, which lies between Elfland and Earth. And the stars came out and were the stars we know, and Alveric slept below their familiar constellations7.  
He awoke in the birdless dawn very cold, hearing old voices crying faintly far off, as they slowly drifted away, like dreams going back to dreamland. He wondered if they would come to Elfland again, or if Elfland had ebbed too far. He searched all the horizon eastwards8, and still saw nothing but the rocks of that desolate10 land. So he turned again toward the fields we know.
He walked back through the cold with all his impatience11 gone; and gradually some warmth came to him from walking, and later a little from the autumnal sun. He walked all day, and the sun was growing huge and red when he came again to the leather-worker's cottage. He asked for food, and the old man made him welcome: his pot was already simmering for his own evening meal: and it was not long before Alveric was sitting at the old table before a dish full of squirrels' legs, hedge-hogs and rabbit's meat. The old man would not eat till Alveric had eaten, but waited on him with such solicitude12 that Alveric felt that the moment of his opportunity was come, and turned to the old man as he offered him a piece of the back of a rabbit, and approached the subject of Elfland.
"The twilight is further away," said Alveric.
"Yes, yes," said the old man without any meaning in his voice, whatever he had in his mind.
"When did it go?" said Alveric.
"The twilight, master?" said his host.
"Yes," said Alveric.
"Ah, the twilight," the old man said.
"The barrier," said Alveric, and he lowered his voice, although he knew not why, "between here and Elfland."
At the word Elfland all comprehension faded out of the old man's eyes.
"Ah," he said.
"Old man," said Alveric, "you know where Elfland has gone."
"Gone?" said the old man.
That innocent surprise, thought Alveric, must be real; but at least he knew where it had been; it used to be only two fields away from his door.
"Elfland was in the next field once," said Alveric.
And the old man's eyes roved back into the past, and he gazed as it were on old days awhile, then he shook his head. And Alveric fixed13 him with his eye.
"You knew Elfland," he exclaimed.
Still the old man did not answer.
"You knew where the border was," said Alveric.
"I am old," said the leather-worker, "and I have no one to ask."
When he said that, Alveric knew that he was thinking of his old wife, and he knew too that had she been alive and standing14 there at that moment yet he would have had no news of Elfland: there seemed little more to say. But a certain petulance15 held him to the subject after he knew it to be hopeless.
"Who lives to the East of here?" he said.
"To the East?" the old man replied. "Master, are there not North and South and West that you needs must look to the East?"
There was a look of entreaty16 in his face but Alveric did not heed17 it. "Who lives to the East?" he said.
"Master, no one lives to the East," he answered. And that indeed was true.
"What used to be there?" said Alveric.
And the old man turned away to see to the stewing18 of his pot, and muttered as he turned, so that one hardly heard him.
"The past," he said.
No more would the old man say, nor explain what he had said. So Alveric asked him if he could have a bed for the night, and his host showed him the old bed he remembered across that vague number of years. And Alveric accepted the bed without more ado so as to let the old man go to his own supper. And very soon Alveric was deep asleep, warm and resting at last, while his host turned over slowly in his mind many things of which Alveric had supposed he knew nothing.
When the birds of our fields woke Alveric, singing late in the last of October, on a morning that reminded them of Spring, he rose and went out of doors, and went to the highest part of the little field that lay on the windowless side of the old man's house toward Elfland. There he looked eastward9 and saw all the way to the curved line of the sky the same barren, desolate, rocky plain that had been there yesterday and the day before. Then the leather-worker gave him breakfast, and afterwards he went out and looked again at the plain. And over his dinner, which his host timidly shared, Alveric neared once more the subject of Elfland. And something in the old man's sayings or silences made Alveric hopeful that even yet he would have some news of the whereabouts of the pale-blue Elfin Mountains. So he brought the old man out and turned to the East, to which his companion looked with reluctant eyes; and pointing to one particular rock, the most noticeable and near, said, hoping for definite news of a definite thing, "How long has that rock been there?"
And the answer came to his hopes like hail to apple-blossom: "It is there and we must make the best of it."
The unexpectedness of the answer dazed Alveric; and when he saw that reasonable questions about definite things brought him no logical answer he despaired of getting practical information to guide his fantastic journey. So he walked on the eastward side of the cottage all the afternoon, watching the dreary19 plain, and it never changed or moved: no pale-blue mountains appeared, no Elfland came flooding back: and evening came and the rocks glowed dully with the low rays of the sun, and darkened when it set, changing with all Earth's changes, but with no enchantment
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