Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Elfin Spires

by D. E. Munson


Before the last of the elfin kingdom vanished from man's sight, I made my home in hilly Albion. I was a lanky, adolescent miller's son.

One clear morning I awoke in my bed with a start. Sunlight streaked through the tiny window that almost looked hewn into the outside wall of the loft where I slept. I peered through the window as I dressed, and something caught my eye. The more I stared, the better I could see the elfin spires rising in the distance. They did not appear very often. I'd dreamed about running away and exploring them even in my earliest memories.

My heart was on fire with adventure. My thoughts danced like elves in the garden. The spires became especially distinct, spiking the sky with their piercing whiteness. My spirit soared even as I scurried down the ladder to the cold dirt floor. I was at the front door in six strides. My parents sat at their breakfast table, stunned by my thump and clatter. Father called to me as I grasped the door to pull it open. "Aric, stop! Where do you go in such a rush?" He asked too late. Only a breeze remained where I stood a second ago.

"You be back for supper!" I could hear his voice faintly in the growing distance between us.

I raced over the bridge crossing the rushing mill stream and shot straight and swift as an arrow in flight toward the horizon. After I crested a small rise I descended into a vast orchard that seemed to shimmer strangely. I came upon a path and followed it into the now dazzling brilliance of rows and rows of sunlit apple blossoms. They gave me pause until the magnificent spires before me called once again.

I walked on, too captivated to notice I was being followed by three hooded figures. Before I could take another step or make a noise, two green-robed figures grabbed my shoulders and thrust me to the ground. Flat on my back, I saw the flash of a silver knife coming at me, wielded by another figure in a violet robe kneeling beside me. I caught just a glimpse of the man's face.

I screamed, expecting to feel cold metal pierce my chest. There was no pain. To my surprise, I felt like a leaf being carried high into the sky by the wind. I looked down to see the orchard far below, then discovered I was afloat on a misty lake. An oddly shaped, wooden boat bedecked with intricately carved filigree approached me. A splendid creature, an elf, to be sure, reached for me and pulled me into the boat.

Trying to settle myself, I took in my surroundings. The lake upon which we set sail appeared more like illuminated, rippling air than water. When I looked deep into the lake I saw no sand or rocks at the bottom, but rather sky and clouds. Astonished, I looked up and around me. Each Spire rose above its own island in the gigantic lake. Excitement burned deeper within as it dawned on me that my lifelong dream of visiting the elfin spires was becoming a reality.

I brought my gaze back to the elf sitting at the helm. His hair was long and silvery. His form slight. His features sharp. Eyes, wise and wary. He dressed in tunic and leggings the color of emerald and gold. He moved with an otherworldly grace.

Something puzzled me, though. There was no difference in size between the elf and myself.

"Why are we the same size?" I asked. "I thought elves were smaller than humans."

"It appears you were wrong, doesn't it? Or perhaps you're human no longer," he replied.

"Am I dead?"

"In a way, yes, and in a way, no. You'll see soon enough."

The elf moored the craft at a silvery pier and we made our way along a marble path, inlaid with precious stones, to the towering spire rising from the center of the island we landed upon. As we approached the great structure's base, I could see no doors. I balked, unsure what to do next.

"Just proceed," said the elf. "No entranceway is necessary." A rush of fear struck me when I stepped into the wall of the elfin spire. But the fear disappeared when I felt pleasant warmth caress and leave me. I was suddenly standing inside the majestic structure. The vertical sweep of the walls sparkled with lights and colors reflected from thousands of tiny mirror-like prisms. In the center of the spire, a grand crystalline staircase wound upward. I turned to question my companion about what I saw, but no one was there. I bounded up the stairway.

I soon passed into a chamber where a breathtakingly beautiful elfin girl sat suggestively in a gilded chair. She was clothed in a scintillating pink gown of light hiding nothing. Her words were spells. I wanted to weep with love for her beauty.

"Do you know me, Aric?"

"No." I began to feel a delicious tension rise within. I've never known such a feeling.

"You love me, don't you," she said with a knowing, dimpled smile. "You don't recall, but we've met in your dreams. I am Chandra, Daughter of the Moon.

"What is your desire, Aric?" she asked, dimples showing again.

"Power? I can give you the power of kings. With little effort I can give you wealth beyond your ken as well. What is your desire?"

By now I trembled, "I desire only you, wondrous one. I desire only to spend eternity in the presence of your beauty."

"I'm flattered, Aric, but I can have any man at my beckoning. Why should I give favor to a simple miller's son?"

"My love is pure, mistress!" I shouted back. She started to anger me, but I explained, "My heart is pure."

"Aric," she smiled now with some compassion. "I know that is how you feel, but you're yet a boy." Chandra laughed and it cut me deeply--the first test of my 'pure' heart. Tears filled my vision. I wandered, head bowed, from her chamber.

The elfin maiden whispered a spell I could not hear. "If you desire me, you must be king. To win my favor you must show me love." But I felt what she said.

Seconds later. everything came back into focus completely changed. I found myself ascending the staircase again. I could only move slowly, sadly. This was not the adventure I envisioned at all.

The stairs leveled off to a platform just long enough for a portal. Out of the portal a figure in an orange robe grabbed my arm and pulling me into the entrance.

Not a word passed between us as we entered the dimly lit chamber. Massive candles cast a flickering orange glow in the void. I could just make out a table and a single chair.

The figure directed me to be seated. I caught a glimpse of his face. It looked oddly familiar, but I couldn't think why.

The robed figure placed something on the table before me and left me alone. Curiosity possessed my hand. Of its own volition it reached out and grasped the object--an ancient deck of playing cards.

I'd never seen such a thing before. I clumsily lifted the deck, which mostly escaped my grip and spilled out across the table onto the floor. All that remained in my hand was one card. It bore the likeness of a king.

I brought the card close to my eyes to see it more clearly in the uneasy light. I flinched at what I saw--my own face. The card blurred. My hand blurred. Everything blurred.

I now stood alone in a throne room. At first I was puzzled, then the day's events stormed into my memory. I looked down at my bloodstained tunic. And arms. And hands. A sword lay at my feet. My chest wound throbbed now. My right arm, my sword arm, was nearly dead with fatigue. The adrenaline-saturated muscles couldn't even bear their own weight.

I felt sick and retched on the spot, puddleing on my sword. A vision of an endless sea of charging, angry men drowned me. They were losing limbs, faces, and life--all at my hand.

Unable to stand, I fell into a paroxysm of self loathing, feeling less worthy than the puddle of sick in which I writhed.

"Why?" I screamed. My voice echoed back to me off the four walls. "I did not ask for this," I growled through gritted teeth. But I know I did. I suspected this was Chandra's doing. Light footsteps approached me. I forced myself to keep my eyes shut tight, to no avail. I had no more chance of keeping my eyes shut than the sun has to keep itself from rising at dawn.

Chandra's face was above me. "You have saved my kingdom," she cooed. "Your courage has won my heart." She knelt beside me.

"At what cost!" I scream. "I thought you were beautiful beyond measure, but now you sicken me."

Chandra was not angry. She looked upon me with compassion instead. Beside her was a wash basin of fragrant water. She dipped a soft cloth and cleaned the vomit and blood from my face, arms and hands. There was magic and healing in her touch.

Chandra smiled that dimpled smile once again. "Consider what you have learned about love, Aric."

I railed, "I know about love. I have a good heart. Love is beautiful and it should make you feel good. But I feel horrible."

Laughing softly, Chandra continued, "You've learned an important lesson, Aric. The love you feel is only part of the story." Chandra stroked my hair. "Your love of adventure, your love for me, reflect your call to greatness.

"The love you feel is also desire. As a male you desire to possess me. I, as a female, could become intoxicated with the power to fulfill or deny your desire. Both of these things happened. But love is about choices and sacrifice, too. I could see what was in your heart, your courageous and noble heart.

"It is love that gives us life and purpose. Fear that steals it. You chose to offer your life for my love. You'll not go unrewarded. Goodbye for now, my love." Chandra stroked my cheek, bent forward, and kissed me on the lips.

I closed my eyes in bliss. The universe blurred again. A familiar feeling returned. I felt the wind carry me high and away then suddenly stop. It let me fall gently to earth.

When I reopened my eyes, I saw that I was again in the arms of the violet-robed man. The man who held me now had his hood pushed back. That face! That familiar face again. "You!" I screamed. "Who are you? Why did you stab me?"

The face smiled. The eyes gazing deep into mine sparkled like a clear night sky full of stars. A soothing voice reassured me, "Don't be afraid, Aric. Your wound is not a deep one. It was only a means to get you to leave your body. You didn't have the training to leave it voluntarily, so I used the knife as a catalyst to scare you out of your body."

"Why couldn't I go into the spires with my body?" I asked. "I can see them, can't I?"

"Yes, you see them, but not with your eyes. The elfin kingdom is only present enough, and your spiritual eye is still just sensitive enough to perceive the spires. But you are too dense in matter to be able to enter it. Trying to physically reach the spires would send you on a chase around the world, taking you no closer to them. Like trying to reach the end of a rainbow.

"Someday you will pass this way again a wiser man, a traveler who can move from one world to another with ease. Perhaps you will help guide others as I do. For now, though, you must go home to your parents. They're very worried about you.

"The next time you come into this orchard, you will know what the outcome will be; because you will choose it to be so. Remember carefully everything you've seen and heard. Use this knowledge wisely, for sooner or later, others must make this choice, too.

"One last thing, Aric. You must return home wounded in order for you to learn this lesson properly. Peace be with you."

I stumbled home holding my wound. The bleeding mostly subsided, and there was little pain. But the fact that I had the wound did frighten me. When I reached the door of my parents' cottage adjoining the mill, I collapsed. Father and Mother tearfully met me and ushered me to bed in the loft. They cleaned and dressed the knife wound, very relieved that it isn't as serious as they'd feared.

####

Six years have passed. I've now grown into manhood, accepting my role and learning the milling trade. But in my heart an ember continues to glow.

I awakened in my loft to a fine morning. A morning reminiscent of the day of my great adventure. I was alone. Father and Mother were in town. My hand brushed the old scar on my chest. The wound is hardly visible now, as have been the elfin spires.

I sat up and peered out my window into the distance. My eyes widened. On the horizon the spires hovered clear as day once again. I dressed slowly, lost in dream. A rap on the door below dissolved my reverie. I hopped down the ladder in my bare feet, tucking in my tunic on my way to the door.

I swung open the door quickly. "Yes?" I asked.

Before me with hands folded stood a pretty girl in humble peasant clothing. She smiled a dimpled smile.

THE END


© 2007 D. E. Munson

Bio: D. E. Munson is an award-winning copywriter and graphic designer living on the Minneapolis outskirts with his wife and one of two grown sons. He has compiled and authored nonfiction books, articles, and stories on topics ranging from telecommunications to the metaphysical. He has been published in regional and national publications including The Beacon Magazine, Garrison Magazine, The Noreaster, Contel/GTE Family Journal, Contel Business Review, Eckankar Journal, and The Edge. This his second foray into fiction, and has just completed his first novel.

E-mail: D. E. Munson

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