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HOME > Classical Novels > The King of Elfland's Daughter34 > CHAPTER XVIII The Grey Tent in the Evening
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CHAPTER XVIII The Grey Tent in the Evening
 On the day that the hunted unicorn1 crossed the valley of Erl Alveric had wandered for over eleven years. For more than ten years, a company of six, they went by the backs of the houses by the edge of the fields we know, and camped at evenings with their queer material hung greyly on poles. And whether or not the strange romance of their quest mirrored itself in all the things about them, those camps of theirs seemed always the strangest thing in the landscape; and as evening grew greyer around them their romance and mystery grew.  
And for all the vehemence2 of Alveric's ambition they travelled leisurely3 and lazily: sometimes in a pleasant camp they stayed for three days; then they went strolling on. Nine or ten miles they would march and then they would camp again. Someday, Alveric felt sure in his heart, they would see that border of twilight4, someday they would enter Elfland. And in Elfland he knew that time was not as here: he would meet Lirazel unaged in Elfland, with never one smile lost to the raging years, never a furrow5 worn by the ruin of time. This was his hope; and it led his queer company on from camp to camp, and cheered them round the fire in the lonely evenings, and brought them far to the North, travelling all along the edge of the fields we know, where all men's faces turned the other way, and the six wanderers went unseen and unheeded. Only the mind of Vand hung back from their hope, and more and more every year his reason denied the lure6 that was leading the rest. And then one day he lost his faith in Elfland. After that he only followed until a day when the wind was full of rain, and all were cold and wet and the horses weary; he left them then.
And Rannok followed because he had no hope in his heart and wished to wander from sorrow; until one day when all the blackbirds were singing in trees of the fields we know, and his hopelessness left him in the glittering sunshine, and he thought of the cosy7 homes and the haunts of men. And soon he too passed out of the camp one evening and set off for the pleasant lands.
And now the four that were left were all of one mind, and under the wet coarse cloth that they hung on poles there was deep content in the evenings. For Alveric clung to his hope with all the strength of his race, that had once won Erl in old battles and held it for centuries long, and in the vacant minds of Niv and Zend this idea grew strong and big, like some rare flower that a gardener may plant by chance in a wild untended place. And Thyl sung of the hope; and all his wild fancies that roamed after song decked Alveric's quest with more and more of glamour8. So all were of one mind. And greater quests whether mad or sane9 have prospered10 when this was so, and greater quests have failed when it was otherwise.
They had gone northwards for years along the backs of those houses; and then one day they would turn eastwards11, wherever a certain look in the sky or a touch of weirdness12 at evening, or a mere13 prophecy of Niv's, seemed to suggest a proximity14 of Elfland. Upon such occasions they would travel over the rocks, that for all those years lay bordering the fields we know, until Alveric saw that provisions for men and horses would barely bring them back to the houses of men. Then he would turn again, but Niv would have led them still onward15 over the rocks, for his enthusiasm grew as they went; and Thyl sang to them prophesying16 success; and Zend would say that he saw the peaks and the spires17 of Elfland; only Alveric was wise. And so they would come to the houses of men again, and buy more provisions. And Niv and Zend and Thyl would babble18 of the quest, pouring out the enthusiasm that burned in their hearts; but Alveric did not speak of it, for he had learned that men in those fields neither speak of nor look towards Elfland, although he had not learned why.
Soon they were on again, and the folk that had sold them the produce of fields we know gazed curiously19 after them as they went, as though they thought that from madness alone or from dreams inspired by the moon came all the talk they had heard from Niv and Zend and Thyl.
Thus they always travelled on, always seeking new points from which to discover Elfland; and on the left of them blew scents20 from the fields we know, the scent21 of lilac from cottage gardens in May, and then the scent of the white-thorn and then of roses, till all the air was heavy with new-mown hay. They heard the low of cattle away on their left, heard human voices, heard partridges calling; heard all the sounds that go up from happy farms; and on their right was always the desolate22 land, always the rocks and never grass nor a flower. They had the companionship of men no more, and yet they could not find Elfland. In such a case they needed the songs of Thyl and the sure hope of Niv.
And the talk of Alveric's quest spread through the land and overtook his wanderings, till all men that he passed by knew his story; and from some he had the contempt that some men give to those who dedicate all their days to a qu............
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