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HOME > Classical Novels > The King of Elfland's Daughter34 > CHAPTER XVII The Unicorn Comes in the Starlight
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CHAPTER XVII The Unicorn Comes in the Starlight
 And winter came, and whitened the roofs of Erl, and all the forest and uplands. And when Orion took his hounds afield in the morning the world lay like a book that was newly written by Life; for all the story of the night before lay in long lines in the snow. Here the fox had gone and there the badger1, and here the red deer had gone out of the wood; the tracks led over the downs and disappeared from sight, as the deeds of statesmen, soldiers, courtiers and politicians appear and disappear on the pages of history. Even the birds had their record on those white downs, where the eye could follow each step of their treble claws, till suddenly on each side of the track would appear three little scars where the tips of their longest feathers had flicked2 the snow, and there the track faded utterly3. They were like some popular cry, some vehement4 fancy, that comes down on a page of history for a day, and passes, leaving no other record at all except those lines on one page.  
And amongst all these records left of the story of night Orion would choose the track of some great stag not too long gone, and would follow it with his hounds away over the downs until even the sound of his horn could be heard no longer in Erl. And over a ridge5 with his hounds, he and they all black against red remnants of sunset, the folk of Erl would see him coming home; and often it was not until all the stars were glowing through the frost. Often the skin of a red deer hung over his shoulders and the huge horns bobbed and nodded above his head.
And at this time there met one day in the forge of Narl, all unknown to Orion, the men of the parliament of Erl. They met after sunset when all were home from their work. And gravely Narl handed to each the mead6 that was brewed7 from the clover honey; and when all were come they sat silent. And then Narl broke the silence, saying that Alveric ruled over Erl no more and his son was Lord of Erl, and telling again how once they had hoped for a magic lord to rule over the valley and to make it famous, and saying that this should be he. "And where now," he said, "is the magic for which we hoped? For he hunts the deer as all his forefathers9 hunted, and nothing of magic has touched him from over there; and there is no new thing."
And Oth stood up to defend him. "He is as fleet as his hounds," he said, "and hunts from dawn to sunset, and crosses the furthest downs and comes home untired."
"It is but youth," said Guhic. And so said all but Threl.
And Threl stood up and said: "He has a knowledge of the ways of the woods, and the lore10 of the beasts, beyond the learning of man."
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