Vol. 1 Escape
By Kenneth Mulholland
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Copyright 2002 Kenneth Mulholland
The bells pealed on, ringing out a welcome.
Ahead, dolphins frolicked the blue waters where coracles and gondolas were putting out to meet the ship. Voices, strange to Corin's ear, came lilting across the waves and it seemed to him that they were filled with praise and hope.
‘Our people sing, glad that we have returned to these shores after so long,’ said Elvra at his side. ‘Would you like me to tell of their song?’
Corin nodded, for he could not speak: such was the beauty and fervour of those elvish voices.
‘Rejoice! Rejoice! The wanderers have come home again,’ she began in her high, pure tones.
‘From far off lands and worldly end:
from sun and sea, moon and earth: from stream and stone and tree and men,
the wanderers have come home again.
Ring the bells which have silent lain.
Rejoice, rejoice: they are home again.
From mountain tall and dark of doom: from paths unknown in fens of gloom, they come by wind and blowing rain.
The wanderers have come home again!'
As the Dolphin Ship drew shoreward and the flotilla of tiny craft surrounded it, Corin saw the white moles and quays of the harbour standing forth like the fingers of a hand. Beyond, were tall mounts, and at their green feet stood towers; gleaming in the morning sun. Overhead gulls and sea-rails mewed, tossing and gliding on the wind. And far above shimmered the rainbows, as if poured from some unseen vessel of liquid colours.
When the ship was made fast at a landing and the planks thrown down, many there were gathered waiting: some tall and fair of hair and face, blue robes billowing. Others shorter, perhaps knee-height to Corin: all dressed in greens, browns and yellows, like autumn leaves.
‘They are Pechts,’ answered Silval in reply to Corin's question. ‘Pixies, or Fager, are other names for them. And though not directly related to we the Ellorę, they are of the Ęsaldian peoples. A sprightly and happy folk, ready to do any task, and very fond of singing and dancing they be. But now it is time to go ashore. I see Talba Brighteyes awaiting us amongst the throng; he is our King's closest ear, and much regarded by all of this realm.’
Corin followed the line of the elf 's arm and picked out a figure clad in white, pale-gold hair ruffling in the breeze, who reminded him of both Aneurin Seamaster and Morgan. Then Elvra was leading the way, in company with those two, and Corin followed, to set foot upon that wondrous land.
On the quay, the folk of Elfame fell back on both sides to make way for the sea-farers so that they might be met by Talba.
‘You have not come back empty-handed,’ said the King of Elfame's envoy, in speech that Corin understood. And as Talba gazed long and deep at him, Corin had the brief feeling of being laid naked to those eyes that seemed to alter colour through many hues, whilst he stared in silence.
‘Indeed we have not,’ answered Morgan, as if a great weariness had come upon him. ‘But let us not linger here, Talba of the Fanes, for all are in need of heart's-fill and ease in the halls of the Ellorę. Lead on. That I might the sooner come to the King.’
And so it was that the company of the Dolphin Ship, Corin entranced in their midst, wound their way from the harbour and up toward the high towers above: Talba Brighteyes, Morgan Seawanderer and Aneurin Seamaster in the lead.
Many were the eager faces that watched Corin as he passed, and bright appeared their curious eyes, studying him, with perhaps a glimpse of amusement.
He, in his turn, was overwhelmed by the sights that met him: elvish folk, tall and regal, shorter and sprightly, peering from the rows of hedges, sitting in the lofty branches, standing in dignity on the knolls.
And the air: the fragrance of flowers unknown to him, the clean salt of the sea, and something more, something he could not grasp; the very essence of that isle, which later he came to know and love. It is no small thing to say that Corin was enraptured by all that he saw, heard and sensed.
As they climbed the broad, pebbled path, the bells of Elfame ceased, to be replaced by bird-song.
Drawing nearer, Corin marvelled at the buildings before him: spires of silver and gold and veined marble leapt skyward, stairs curved gracefully toward polished doors at higher levels where green vines and flowering creepers curled about white pillars and columns supporting spans and balconies above.
The main company began to ascend a wide stair that reached toward a great arch, many times the height of men's doors, and Corin, swept along in that conclave, was moved to awe; for never in his short life had he even guessed such beautiful palaces existed. Behind and beneath, the following folk of the Ellorę dwindled, some to linger on the greensward amongst the hornbeams and holm, others to wander away, through the sun-drenched arbours.
Under the bridge of the arch, light spilled within, yet there seemed no loss of it beyond. Looking up, Corin saw that the vaultings were of some crystalline structure, so that bright day filtered through, as haze, diffusing the interior to a vague paleness, where shadows were but shades of grey upon a mirrored floor that stretched away before him.
The elvish folk proceeded and he, with tentative foot, followed over an area of shimmering reflections, like stepping on waters flowing across unknown stones. Horns halted them thenceforth, and even the leaders: Talba, Morgan, and Aneurin, cut stride, whilst from the furthest end came heralds telling of the King's coming: he and all his retinue.
‘King Elberl, his Queen Goldal and Alluin, their daughter, will arrive presently,’ whispered Elvra at Corin's side, as he blinked and gazed about the vast hall like a sleepy owl.
It was cool therein, though not uncomfortable, and after the heralds had retired, silence that magnified even the tiniest sound descended.
As the party waited, Corin began to drink in the grandeur of the sight before him. Row after row of palest green columns marched off in pairs to left and right, and down the centre, to end distantly at galleries overlooking the gleaming floor. And from these higher apartments a wide staircase swept gracefully down, to a raised dais of marbled stone. Upon it were set nine thrones, each a masterwork of beauty, carven from crystal into wondrous shapes, so that shafts of light and colour danced about their faceted surfaces.
Then, as his eyes traced the manifold patterns and designs, there came a movement from above. The king of Elfame was come. He stood on the topmost step, flanked by two elvish ladies and a smaller figure. But it was to the king that Corin's gaze was first drawn. He was garbed in the sea-blue robe of the Valdė and bore on his fair brow a plain, golden fillet of kingship. The face beneath it was calm and strong, and in the blue eyes there was a deepness, as if they were jewels plucked from the ocean's depths. The king smiled, and beckoning to those below, began to descend, leading his ladies and their small companion.
By the time Corin and the others had reached the foot of the dais, the royal group were already seated awaiting them.
‘We are thankful at your safe return,’ said Elberl, addressing himself to Morgan in words that Corin understood. ‘Long have we watched the waves and hoped.’
‘My Lord speaks for us all,’ said one of the ladies at his right hand, and her gaze was directed to Silval. ‘You my brother, does it especially please me to see. Elvermore forest has seemed a gloomy place without Birdwing.’
To Corin's surprise, Silval bowed low, answering, ‘King Elberl and dear Sister-Queen, many were the times my heart yearned for sight of that green bowery, though peril stood between our home-coming. Yet we are here delivered, bearing news and more: for we bring with us one from the realms of men.’
At that, those seated upon the dais bent their eyes toward Corin, and their gaze was so swift and piercing that he almost cried aloud from the shock of such.
‘Be at ease, O Stranger,’ said the Queen, her face softening, so that Corin was at once struck by her singular beauty. ‘If Morgan Seawanderer and my brother saw fit to bring you hither you are as welcome as any.’
‘Thankyou,’ murmured he, somewhat emboldened, ‘and if it pleases, I would place myself at your services forthwith.’
The Queen laughed, and there was a musical quality in it that held no hint of mockery. ‘Well spoken, good sir. But first let us give each our names; I am Goldal, and my Lord is Elberl, King of Elfame; and this is our daughter, the Princess Alluin.’
For the second time Corin was smitten by the unattainable beauty of an elvish lady: Alluin's eyes were so wide and bright, her face so lovely, her form so sweet that he could but nod and bow his head.
Afterward, when he was alone with his thoughts, he could not be sure even of the colouring of the Queen's hair, or that of her daughter's eyes.
Only could he remember the gowns they wore; Goldal's was a night blue, patterned with all the starry host of the sky, and Alluin's the shades of the forest; of trees and earth and sun-drenched leaves.
Beyond that, he was simply at a loss.
‘This is Clovell Fager, Prince of the Pechts,’ he heard the Queen continue; and then a second voice, which he found, surprised, to be his own said; ‘I call myself Corin, and I am come from Ravenmoor, a land of men.’ His vision blurred as his speech wavered.
‘Perhaps it would be best if Master Corin took some rest, for he seems weakened still from the hurts he received whilst coming to our aid,’ said Elvra by his side.
For a moment the hall swayed and Corin staggered blindly.
He felt her hand upon his arm and was grateful of the comfort.
‘Yes,’ he managed, ‘a tiredness has come to me. I am so sorry.’
‘We have much to talk over,’ answered a voice that might have been Morgan's.
‘Silval Birdwing and Aneurin Seamaster will see you safely to rest. Trouble yourself no longer, Corin of Men.…'
When he awoke from a dreamless sleep, Corin found himself gazing upward to the sky; a sky diffused and coloured by the crystals of the roof above his head.
The sun rode there, amongst the rainbows, though at what time of day he had no way of telling.
He made to rise, but it was some little while before he could do more than focus his eyes and recall the past events.
At last he moved his head so that he might search his surroundings; he seemed to be in a rounded room: the walls of which were creamy white, struck through by pale waves of light, like the ripples in a pond.
He found a door, curved into the wall before him, and then a sound at his ear halted his questing; ‘Prrowww.’
A black, soft, furry paw played across his cheek, and a face; rounded and curious, with great yellow-green eyes, stared into his.
It was the face of a cat; almost a kitten in truth, and its red tongue protruded just a tip, in comical fashion, as the creature stared curiously at him, its nose twitching at his.
‘His name is Bimmelbrother,’ breathed a voice out of Corin's sight, though he guessed it to be Morgan's. ‘He is the son of Memmelardoth, and far back into the dawn mists can the tale of his forbears be told. Do not be misled by his kittenish ways; his age is long, measured by the seasons of men, for he is not of the stock of mortal creatures. Nay he, as his sire, is of the Ęsaldian tribes, as are all here in Elfame. And I deem,’ he added, ‘Bim has taken a liking to you; see how he curls at your shoulder?’
‘Oh Seawanderer, he is a fine cat; finer than those of my land by far,’ answered Corin, moving enough to catch a glimpse of Morgan where he sat by a circular window, open to the fresh, invigorating air.
‘Bim is dear to me for many reasons,’ Morgan said, staring at the view beyond. ‘He is my friend, as was his father. If he should chose to stay by your side, would you watch over him?’
Puzzled, Corin answered; ‘0f course I would.’ And he managed a smile; ‘though it seems with my weakness that he needs watch over me.’
‘Good,’ said Morgan, in a distant voice, satisfied. ‘I cannot say why, yet it comes to me that such be only right. I owe you much; life itself in truth: though that is not the reason I would wish Bim to befriend you.
No, there is something else that I sense about you, something unknown but familiar. Ah,’ he sighed, ‘it is a feeling; an intangible thing, oh Corin of men's realm.’
As if in answer, the cat rolled and threw a playful paw at Corin's fingers.
‘He likes me, I guess,’ laughed Corin.
‘Yes, I have told him all that I know of you, and I am sure he does,’ said Morgan, rising and reaching the door.
‘And remember, Bim is not of mortal stock. He may well surprise you with his cleverness. Now must I leave you. Bide a time longer here and recover your strength.
Someone will look in presently, and if you are able, there is to be a welcoming feast in the King's Halls this eve.
Rest now with Bim for company.’ He drew the door closed.
‘Burr-merroww,’ purred the cat, nestling by Corin's ear.
It seemed no time at all when Corin again awoke.
Bim lay still, curled by his shoulder, regarding him with wide, searching eyes.
‘Ah, good cat, have I been asleep for long?’ Corin asked, propping himself on one elbow.
Bimmelbrother blinked. ‘Rreerroww ‘ he yawned, stretching.
The door opened, and Elvra appeared. ‘Well,’ she beamed, ‘how do you feel, master Corin?’
‘I ache here and there. And I am hungry,’ he replied, sitting up.
‘Hunger is a good sign,’ the elf maiden answered. ‘Do you wish to come with me? There is to be a celebration for our homecoming.’
‘Yes,’ Corin smiled, a little ruefully, ‘I hope I will not swoon again and make a fool of myself.’
‘None thought you so,’ she said, as he stood from the pallet and Bimmelbrother jumped into her arms. ‘We will go as you can manage; there is no need for haste. And be sure,’ she laughed, ‘a merry time awaits.’
The elvess led Corin down a series of soft lit corridors and white-stoned steps, and long ere they reached the great hall, music of harp and horn, tympan, lyre and lute drifted up to greet them.
And there was chorus of voices, such that he had never heard, singing in the strange, haunting tongue of the Ellorę.
When they reached the galleries overlooking that colonnaded place, all lay spread before Corin's eager gaze. The hall fairly overflowed with folk, many at elvish instruments, others singing where they sat at board, and still others engaged in the dance; a graceful swirl of lithe figures posturing and leaping as one, in time to the rise and fall of their own curious song.
And it was a dance and song that caused him to near weep with sweet tears; for such was that music: so gay, yet sad; so lively and animated, yet fraught with underlying sorrow; as of some thing passing, never to be seen or heard again.
Something ancient and mystical; a part of the elves and their kin, their very being, that was for the most lost to him, and it was being played out upon the floor before his open stare.
Elvra took his hand, and their eyes met; ‘Do not be in awe,’ she said, ‘the song will pass away, and we will have such joy this eve. It is our way to hope and grieve, both at once, for ourselves and for all of Varlar, this world.
Trust me. True, there is much for us to be grateful, and to desire; but as the sky draws its hood, we will not belabour our wants, or our wills.
And neither shall you be called upon.
This night is to be given over to the days before us, to our High, and to every, dwelling in Elfame.
Now come down with me,’ she drew him with her, ‘the King and Queen await below, for nothing more than your presence.’
So Corin, Elvra and Bim the cat, stepped lower until they were caught up amongst those there, and given seat close by the risen thrones where waited Elberl, Goldal his queen, Alluin their daughter, and others, including Morgan.
Silval and Aneurin passed down the hall and climbed the steps that led to the dais, there to bow before the king and queen; the Seamaster sitting beside Alluin, their eyes meeting briefly; yet even Corin noticed the blush that came to the cheeks of the princess.
As for Silval, he took leave of high-table and instead sought Elvra's side, where he ate and sipped some of the pearly wine set out in crystal flagons near to hand.
Corin, too engaged at watching and listening to the merry-making, was at last prompted to sample the fine fare by Malva the sea elf, who sat at his right.
‘Eat, lest you fade and faint,’ he laughed. ‘Folk of men's realm need food more than we, I am told, though even the Ellorę cannot live on the wind.’
‘Yes,’ Corin replied, turning his gaze to the variety of viands spread before him, ‘but this wondrous place makes me forgetful of hunger and thirst; yet I shall eat and drink, if you will be so kind as to tell me of the board.’
‘Here are loaves of herbed bread and fruited cakes fresh baked, and here the honey of the Booca, our dear bee keepers,’ gestured Malva.
‘And there are platters of...’ the elf seemed to struggle for the word, ‘ah!’ he went on as if delighted to have recalled it, ‘mushrooms and fungus meats. Eggs and cheese and milks of sheep and goats also. See how Bimmelbrother enjoys such feast?’
This was undoubtedly true; the little cat had busied himself amongst several bowls of cream and the like, and was hard at it, lapping away.
‘He is no slouch when his favourites abound,’ laughed Silval, pushing a wide brimmed bowl of nuts and grapes toward Corin.
‘Take our Bim's lead and help yourself; drink of the mulsum and taste the mead, for well have you deserved these simple things and the haler will they make you.’
And so did Corin partake, enjoying both the fare and wines, and the glad company of so many there in that vast hall.
Yet at whiles he felt himself singular and set apart: it was not that the elvish folk ignored or treated him disdainfully, but that he withdrew as an outsider, watchful and shy and overawed.
‘After all,’ he thought, ‘I am come from men and from their realm, even though there were those who hunted me there.
Now, I am no more than a fugitive. Someone banished from his own land and taken in by folk as different as eagles of the sky to cows of the meadows.
No place for me could I find in Ravenmoor, and maybe here too shall I be an outcast....'
He was broken from this maudlin reverie by a silence that overtook the whole immense chamber; Talba Brighteyes, the king's minister, had arisen and lifted his arms for quiet.
‘Hear me, ye who have gathered to rejoice at the homecoming of those long departed.’ He looked steadily toward the table where Corin and the other seafarers sat, and thence to Morgan and Aneurin.
‘Here, for the first time since the winds blew them away, are we all met again; though they have ridden through dark ways filled with peril.
Now may it please the wanderers and each who dwell in Elfame, even unto the High before us, to give thanks at this glad reunion.’
He resumed his seat at Morgan's side, and Elberl, the king, stood forth.
‘Our kin have come bearing tidings long sought, nigh past hope, from a land peopled by men; wherefrom comes this stranger amongst us.’
He regarded Corin with such intensity that every eye was drawn to him, where he stooped, flushed and small amongst the multitude.
‘And I am told,’ continued the king of the elves, ‘the quest might well have not been accomplished, but for him. Yet here,’ and he drew forth a golden rod, cleansed of debasing filth, from his robe, ‘is sign and proof; the staff that was once belonged to Levalla, mighty amongst our Folk of Old. Perhaps it should never have seen these shores again, if this stranger had not saved it and the Seawanderer from the hungry jaws of evil.
Thus should we praise him, of short-lived men; for he gained it and suffered in its gaining. Thence are we, the Ęsaldian, brought some heart's ease by the hand of men, and for this should we be grateful.’
He took a golden goblet set before him and raised it to his lips; ‘Now drink all ye, in honour of this person, whom we welcome as true friend.
May his stay in Elfame see his hurts mended and his mind healed.’
The king bowed low toward Corin as did every other there, even those who had sailed in the Dolphin Ship. And when this was done Elberl continued, ‘now there shall be no more said for this time. Enjoy our celebration, I command, for later will be soon enough to speak at length of events past and future.’
And so saying, he resumed his seat beside the queen, where she smiled down at Corin, who averted his eyes, embarrassed yet secretly pleased.
Later, after Corin had retired from the festivities, and Elvra had departed from his chamber: leaving Bim curled at the foot of his pallet, he lay awake thinking.
It was evening by then, and the stars glimmered in the night sky far away above the crystalline ceiling.
Somewhere beyond the walls an owl hooted; it was a comforting sound that reminded him of Ravenmoor and the Old Oak, and of those who had been kind to him during his flight.
A little sadly he wondered if he should ever chance to see them again.
‘What would that landlord Spiggot and Finikin and his woodsfolk think, if they knew what had become of me,’ he whispered in the dark.
‘Neoww,’ mewed the cat, the yellow-green orbs of his eyes blinking reflected starlight.
‘Ah, good puss, how fortunate I am to have met these, your elvish peoples and been delivered out of danger to this isle of wonder.
It seems too good to be real; yet if it be a dream, may there be no awakening....’
Soon Corin began to grow drowsy, and as he drifted toward sleep he fancied that he heard a sound as of music and singing wafted on the breeze.
‘To dance the downs there nightly,
sweet Pecht and elf maid sprightly.
To dance the downs, to dance the downs,
where twinkling toes go lightly.
There gently, dew is sprinkling,
beneath the star sheen winking.
To twirl and pose, to twirl and pose,
where brownie bells are tinkling.
To dance the downs, to dance around,
where flits the night wind softly,
and oftly blows the scent of rose
below the pale moon lofty.
Alvar folk and Valdė fair,
Nemorell leaping, skipping there.
Across the shimmering grasses,
the waltz and curvet passes.
To whirl around, to dance the downs,
through rushes in the marshes.
O'er hill and dale, by stock and stone,
our merry band goes trooping.
Looping down the mossy strand,
'neath stands of willows stooping.
To dance the downs, to caper round
our treading feet so lightly,
to touch the ground, to dance the downs,
where twinkling toes go nightly.’
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|Date: Wednesday March 19, 2003|
An impressive piece of work--the creation of a mythic world and its culture, peoples, and conflicts. It promises to be a work of epic scope in the Tolkien mould. Similar techniques in imparting an archaic flavour to the language.
|Date: Sunday March 16, 2003|
Most enjoyable! Thank you.
|Date: Sunday March 16, 2003|
A truly epic novel! Ken, keep up the fine work!
Date: Sunday April 06, 2003
Great story. A veritable pageant!
Date: Sunday April 06, 2003
Ken - This is a test. If you receive mit OK, let me know! It may repeat a few times, depending on how quickly I can resolve a few tech changes. Thanks to Hollywood for all her help! (Offer her a free cup of coffee, etc.!)