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HOME > Classical Novels > The King of Elfland's Daughter34 > CHAPTER XIV The Quest for the Elfin Mountains
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CHAPTER XIV The Quest for the Elfin Mountains
 Winter descended1 on Erl and gripped the forest, holding the small twigs2 stiff and still: in the valley it silenced the stream; and in the fields of the oxen the grass was brittle3 as earthenware4, and the breath of the beasts went up like the smoke of encampments. And Orion still went to the woods whenever Oth would take him, and sometimes he went with Threl. When he went with Oth the wood was full of the glamour5 of the beasts that Oth hunted, and the splendour of the great stags seemed to haunt the gloom of far hollows; but when he went with Threl a mystery haunted the wood, so that one could not say what creature might not appear, nor what haunted and hid by every enormous bole. What beasts there were in the wood even Threl did not know: many kinds fell to his subtlety6, but who knew if these were all?  
And when the boy was late in the wood, on happy evenings, he would always hear as the sun went blazing down, rank on rank of the elfin horns blowing far away eastwards7 in the chill of the coming dusk, very far and faint, like reveillé heard in dreams. From beyond the woods they sounded, all those ringing horns, from beyond the downs, far over the furthest curve of them; and he knew them for the silver horns of Elfland. In all other ways he was human, and but for his power to hear those horns of Elfland, whose music rings but a yard beyond human hearing, and his knowledge of what they were; but for these two things he was as yet not more than a human child.
And how the horns of Elfland blew over the barrier of twilight8, to be heard by any ear in the fields we know, I cannot understand; yet Tennyson speaks of them as heard "faintly blowing" even in these fields of ours, and I believe that by accepting all that the poets say while duly inspired our errors will be fewest. So, though Science may deny or confirm it, Tennyson's line shall guide me here.
Alveric in those days went through the village of Erl, with his thoughts far from there, moodily9; and he stopped at many doors, and spoke10 and planned, with his eyes always fixed11 as it seemed on things no one else could see. He was brooding on far horizons, and the last, over which was Elfland. And from house to house he gathered a little band of men.
It was Alveric's dream to find the frontier further North, to travel on over the fields we know, always searching new horizons, till he came to some place from which Elfland had not ebbed12; to this he determined13 to dedicate his days.
When Lirazel was with him amongst the fields we know, his thoughts had ever been to make her more earthly; but now that she was gone the thoughts of his own mind were becoming daily more elvish, and folk began to look sideways at his fantastic mien14. Dreaming always of Elfland and of elvish things he gathered horses and provender15 and made for his little band so huge a store of provisions that those who saw it wondered. Many men he asked to be of that curious band, and few would go with him to haunt horizons, when they heard whither he went. And the first that he found to be of that band was a lad that was crossed in love; and then a young shepherd, well used to lonely spaces; then one that had heard a curious song that someone sang one evening: it had set his thoughts roving away to impossible lands, and so he was well content to follow his fancies. One huge full moon one summer had shone all a warm night long on a lad as he lay in the hay, and after that he had guessed or seen things that he said the moon showed him: whatever they were none else saw any such things in Erl: he also joined Alveric's band as soon as he asked him. It was many days before Alveric found these four; and more he could not find but a lad that was quite witless, and he took him to tend the horses, for he understood horses well, and they understood him, though no human man or woman could make him out at all, except his mother, who wept when Alveric had his promise to go; for she said that he was the prop16 and support of her age, and knew what storms would come and when the swallows would fly, and what colours the flowers would come up from seeds she sowed in her garden, and where the spiders would build their webs, and the ancient fables17 of flies: she wept and said that there would be more things lost by his going than ever folk guessed in Erl. But Alveric took him away: many go thus.
And one morning six horses heaped and hung with provisions all round their saddles waited at Alveric's gateway18, with the five men that were to roam with him as far as the world's edge. He had taken long counsel with Ziroonderel, but she said that no magic of hers had pow............
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