David Russell Mosley
30 May 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Dear Friends and Family,
I’ve been back at work at the university all week this week. What this means, aside from time to get work done on my thesis, is that I’ve also get a bit of spare time to do some blogging. Yesterday, invited by Michelle over at Soliloquies, I wrote a letter on my writing processes. Today, again encouraged by her, I will be posting the first two chapters of my Faërie romance, On the Edge of Elfland. Please feel free to leave comments. What I’d particularly like to know is if these two chapters make you want to read more.
Next week, I think I’ll also post my Arthurian poem for comments and criticisms. For now, please enjoy the beginning of my fictitious work.
In the village of Carlisle, which is located in the depths of modern England, next to the mountain Dweormount, and in the midst of a small wood simply called, Fey Forest there was born a boy called Alfred Stidolph. There was nothing particularly remarkable about Alfred’s birth. He was born on 25 March with no pomp or circumstance. There were no shining stars in the sky that day that ought not to have been there. Nothing particularly special happened in the village to signify the birth of this boy. No, he was born like any other child. His parent’s had named him Alfred after stories an old man in the village had told. They loved this old man, a certain Mr Oliver Alvin, and made him Alfred’s godfather at his christening.
Alfred’s parents were the proprietors of an old fashioned style inn, which was well known for the quality of its beer and the scrumptiousness of its food. The Broken Spoke, for so the inn was named, did not have any of those trendy things one finds in pubs throughout the rest of England. It lacked televisions, gambling machines, loud music being played (unless it was one of the local bands who played there on occasion). The layout was more like a mismatched home than a restaurant and that is just how Alexander and Jessica, Alfred’s parents, like it.
Most nights, if you were to enter The Broken Spoke, you would likely here Mr Alvin telling one of his stories. There were typically stories of the fantastical and dealt with local myths and legends. As Alfred grew into boyhood, he came to love these stories. Most days would either find him sitting in the pub listening to Mr Alvin or running about in Fey Forest pretending he was having his own adventures.
Typically when he returned from these jaunts he would make his parents and godfather sit down and listen to his stories. One day, when Alfred was about ten years old he came home with a rather different story. He had gathered his parents and godfather into one of the rooms of the pub and began. ‘You’ll never guess what I saw today.’
‘A bird,’ said his mother.
‘A deer,’ said his father.
‘A mushroom,’ said his godfather, ‘as big as your head.’
‘Nope,’ he replied, looking pleased that they had not guessed. ‘You’ll never guess.’
‘Well then, tell us, Alfie,’ his mother replied.
‘Today, I saw a fairy or maybe it was a pixie. I don’t know the difference yet, but I saw one all the same. It was taking care of some wild flowers in the forest. It had tiny little wings and very long arms.’
‘Did it, now?’ his father said with a grin.
‘What did it say, Alfie?’ asked his mother. His godfather sat in silence.
‘Why it didn’t say anything, Mum. It just went about its business until it noticed me and then flew away fast. I tried to follow it, but it went up, up into the trees where I could not follow.’ He said this with a hint of sadness.
‘Don’t fret, my boy,’ his father clapped him on the back. ‘I’m sure there will be more opportunities for you to hunt fairies in the forest.’
‘Oh no, Father. I would never hunt them, I only want to watch them and learn what they do.’
‘Quite right,’ chimed in his godfather. ‘It wouldn’t do to go hunting fairies, you never know what might happen. They can be mighty mischievous. Why I know one story about a group of brownies who had something to say about the name and running of this inn.’
‘Oh, oh. I’ve never heard this one. Do tell it, Mr Alvin,’ said Alfred excitedly. His parents smiled, having heard the story many times before themselves.
The Broken Spoke had just been finished. It was not, however, called The Broken Spoke to begin with. Originally, it was called The Tarnished Bell. It was called Tarnished Bell because the tavern owner Henry Bucklin, great grandfather of the Mr. Bucklin who sold The Broken Spoke to Thomas Brandy nearly thirty-five years ago now, has it really been that long… Where was I?”
“It was named The Tarnished Bell because Henry Bucklin—“
“—Because Henry Bucklin had used an old, lacklustre bell to let people know when the tavern was open. He hadn’t quite set on a name until he heard two of his patrons out and about in town say, ‘Oi, are you going to the tarnished bell this evening?’
“’You know I am, Wilfred, we go there every evening and enjoy a few pints. I tell you, I don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t for the tarnished bell. I sometimes think I live to hear it ring in the evenings, work bein’ wat it is and all. Well, I see you there after work Wilfred.’
“’Right then, I’ll see you tonight, Franklin.’
“’The Tarnished Bell,’ thought old Henry Bucklin to himself, ‘that isn’t a bad name for my tavern, not a bad name at all.’ So the next day Henry set about making the sign. He worked well into the evening to the point where he had fallen asleep with the sign unfinished.
“Now, there happened to be a group of brownies that lived near the tavern. ”What are brownies?” asked Alfred.
“Haven’t I told you about brownies before?”
“Oh, well, brownies are small creatures, not more than six inches high, most of them. They’ve got little mouse like tales and long whiskers on their faces. Other than that they look much like miniature versions of people. Now, the thing about brownies is they don’t have proper surnames when they’re born.”
Why not?” asked Alfred.
“It’s just the way brownies are, they’re proud folk and prefer to make it on their own. So, instead of each father passing his surname on to his children, the young brownies must find their own surname. And before you ask how, I’ll tell you. Brownies have to earn their surnames by doing something for a human. I see you’re still confused. Have you ever heard the story about the old cobbler who was working on a fancy pair of shoes and fell asleep with them unfinished?”
“Yes,” replied Alfred.
“Well, as most people tell the story who is it that helps the old cobbler?”
“Elves, I always heard it was Elves.”
“And that is where everyone gets it wrong, it weren’t Elves that helped the old cobbler, but brownies and that old cobbler was more than likely none other than Alfgar’s father. You remember Alfgar, the lad in the story about the goblin attack on this very city. Very good. Anyway, on top of all this Father Christmas’s helpers aren’t Elves, Elves aren’t even tiny, no, Father Christmas’s helpers are brownies.”
“Really?” said Alfred with excitement in his eyes.
“Yes, really. Now then, the brownies had been watching for some time to see if there wasn’t a way they could earn their names, and this was it. ‘The old man has finished carving the sign, it simply needs to be painted we could become Painters and have our surnames, finally,’ said Alan, who had become the leader of this small group of brownies. The brownies agreed that this was their best chance, so after Henry Bucklin had fallen asleep they snuck into his room in the tavern and finished painting the sign for him. They toiled all through the night creating beautiful colours as only a brownie can. You see brownies, as soon as they set to a task, become extremely efficient at it. It’s why a brownie must choose carefully what job they want to do, because once they choose they’ll only be good at that job and it is very hard for them to change vocations, but that is a story for another time.
“The following morning, when Henry awoke, he looked down and saw the finished sign. ‘I must have finished it during the night and have forgotten about it,’ said Henry to himself. Now this greatly angered the brownies—“
“Why?” asked Alfred.
“Well, you see lad, there are actually two parts to a brownie’s receiving his surname. The first is doing something helpful for a human the second, however, is the human thanking the brownie or brownies involved by acknowledging their work as their own, or simple confusion over who has done all the work for him. When Henry did neither, but assumed he had finished the work, the brownies grew outraged because they had not, then, received their surnames. ‘All right lads,’ said Alan in a hushed voice. ‘If this old codger isn’t going to recognise us as the finishers of his work then we’ll have to cause him some mischief.’
“I highly recommend, if you can ever help it, lad, never anger a brownie. He takes on many impish tendencies when you do and he will find a way to cause you harm or at least extreme annoyance.
“Well, for the first week or so after the brownies had finished Henry sign, things went well for Henry, people were frequenting the Tarnished Bell, travellers liked the rooms enough to recommend them to others, everything was running smoothly. It was at the height of his success that the brownies struck.
“It started with a few horses getting knots in their tails, right outside the Tarnished Bell. Then horses shoes would come loose while they were tied up outside of the Tarnished Bell. When this did not produce the desired effect, the brownies decided to make matters worse. ‘Here’s what we’ll do,’ said little Alan the brownie, ‘we’ll start breaking the wheels of both passing and standing carts in front of the tavern,’ and break them they did. Men would come out of the tavern and find all of their spokes broken. Carts that were driven past the tavern would first have their horses spooked and then the cart would come crashing down as the wheels shattered under their own weight. Upon inspection, they would notice tiny little nicks in the spokes. The brownies had used the little knives that all brownies keep to do the dirty work.”
“Why do brownies keep little knives?” asked Alfred.
“They keep the knives much like we do pocketknives, you never know when one might come in handy. The only difference is that a brownie’s knife is much stronger and sharper than our pocketknives and can cut through almost anything. Now where was I?”
“The brownies were using their knives to cut the spokes of cartwheels.”
“Ah yes, this caused Henry much trouble, as he was unsure as to the reason of these occurrences. On top of that, patrons of the tavern visited less often and most spoke of the tavern as the home of the broken spokes.
“Henry was unsure of how to handle this problem and had called upon Alfgar to help him. While these events took place before the great Goblin attack, Alfgar was still noted as an individual who understood these strange occurrences. ‘Alfgar, my friend, I’m at a loss, I don’t know what’s going on.’
“’I’ve seen this before,’ said Alfgar. ‘So have you, Henry.’
“’I have?’ questioned Henry.
“’Yes, Henry, remember a few years ago when my father, Hedley, had problems with the shoes he was making? The stitching would come undone as people walked away. Sometimes as they put on their new shoes, they would go to leave the store and find their shoes had been tied together by the lacing. It was awful.’
“’Yes, yes, I remember. What happened, had your father angered some spirits?’
“’Spirits? Not exactly. Brownies. Father had gone to sleep one night working on a particularly difficult pair of boots for the mayor and they were to be finished by morning. Well, a couple of brownies undertook it to help my father. In the morning, he assumed that he or I, without remembering, had finished the boots and thought no more about it. This made the brownies angry, so they plagued the devil out of my father until he realised what happened.’
“’What did he do? How did he get them to stop?’
“’Simple, he walked up to the mayor and told him that brownies had finished the boots. The mayor was confused, but my father was adamant and that was enough for the brownies. In your case, however, more drastic measures may be needed.’
“’I’ll do whatever it takes to make the little devils stop.’
“’I wouldn’t recommend you start by calling them names, they’re no more related to demons or angels than you or I. Anyway, here’s what we must. You say that they have been breaking the spokes of your customers’ and passers’ by carts and wagons?’
“’Aye, that they have. It’s gotten so bad some people are beginning to call my tavern home of the broken spokes.’
“’That’s it. That’s perfect.’
“’What is? Tell me, please, Alfgar.’
“’We’ll rename the tavern. Tonight, you and I shall make a new sign for the new name of your tavern.’
“The following day, when people heard the old tarnished bell being wrung to announce the opening of the tavern, they were astounded at what they saw. Below the sign of the Tarnished Bell hanged a new sign, that of a cartwheel with a broken spoke. The people were confused and when they asked Henry he simply said, ‘Credit where credit is due.’
“It’s said that Henry later met with the Painter brownies and that they made him a new sign in place of both the one they had made and the one Alfgar and Henry had put together, and that that is the sign we see today protected by the brownies’ magic from wear and tear.
“It’s also said that Henry made a deal with the Brownies to never change the name of the tavern out of respect for them.
“And there you have it lad, the story of ‘The Broken Spoke Brownies.’”
Alfred was delighted with the story and he clapped loudly. His parents smiled, loving that the inn they had purchased not long after arriving in Carlisle was so storied. Life went on in much this way for some time, Alfred telling stories of seeing all manner of fantastical creatures in the forest, and Mr Alvin telling them fairy-stories about the village of Carlisle. It was not, however, to last.
Alfred was often teased when he spent time with other boys and girls his own age, especially as grew older. The age of twelve was particularly difficult for Alfred. Nearly a teenager and having some of his friends and schoolmates already in their teens, it was deemed inappropriate by them when Alfred would continue to profess belief in Father Christmas. Already in secondary school things progressively got worse as the cruelty of some of his schoolfellows became worse with age.
He often found himself with his things spilled all over the ground, having been knocked out of his hands when he mentioned elves or fairies. Alfred’s parents were beside themselves with worry. They decided it was perhaps best if Alfred spent a little less time with his godfather. Mr Alvin continued to tell stories in the pub, but they usually kept Alfred busy during those times.
The forest remained one Alfred’s only escapes, but even it had become less of the safe haven he had once remembered. It began to feel colder to him: not colder in temperature, but less friendly. If Alfred continued to see things in the forest he kept it to himself now. There were times, however, when his parents were uncertain whether it was a fear of bullies or a fear of the forest that kept him quiet. Things came to a head one day when Alfred came home babbling like a madman.
As Alfred walked home from the forest one day in the Autumn, he looked around at his surroundings, taking in the beautiful outdoors. (Carlisle is a wonderful town to see in the early stages just before autumn.) The leaves had already turned their different colours and were beginning to fall. The sidewalk upon which Alfred was strolling was particularly leaf strewn. Had it not been, he might not have heard the sound of someone walking behind him. Alfred quickened his pace. Alfred had been told that certain creatures only come out at night, but the sun was slowly setting. “If I can only make it to the corner, I’ll be home free,” Alfred thought. Just around the corner was his house where he could shout for his mother and father to come out and greet him as he came home. Then something quite unusual happened.
Just before Alfred reached the corner, with the footsteps behind him quickening in the leaves, Alfred had a sudden boost of bravery. He ran, slid in the leaves as he stopped, about-faced and started to run in the other direction, toward whoever, or whatever, had been following him. Alfred had closed his eyes, involuntarily, as he made for the one following him. Thus, he did not see that nothing was behind him. As he continued to run, however, he opened his eyes just in time to trip ripping his pants and scraping his knee on the sidewalk. “Who tripped me?” Alfred exclaimed, as he sat on the concrete, nursing his wound. When no reply was returned, Alfred stood up and limped back home, not noticing a slight rustling in the bushes, nor the large ring of mushrooms next to him that bordered the side of the inn.
His parents did not know what to do with him once he got home. ‘I was chased by a something, I think it was a goblin,’ he shouted as his parents tried to calm him down. ‘How can I calm down? I’m telling you, something was after me. I need to see Mr Alvin.’ His parents looked concerned.
‘I’ll go get him,’ his father said at last. It would not be quite right to say that in this moment Alexander believed his son. Neither, however, would it be quite right to say that he did not. Alexander was confused.
Jessica was no better off. Torn between her own early belief in Mr Alvin’s stories and the pragmatism that had begun to set in as she settled down into family life in a family run pub, she wanted to believe her son and also to believe that evil things such as goblins could not possibly exist. She was able to console Alfred eventually, when the adrenaline had worn off. She cared for his cuts, fixed him some tea and sat quietly with him awaiting her husband’s return.
Several hours went by and Jessica sat with her son in silence, holding him closely. Finally, she heard keys in the lock. The door opened and there stood Mr Alvin and her husband. She noticed the look on her husband’s face was one of confusion, or perhaps better, uncertainty. He took her aside, ‘I think we should leave those two alone. Come with me and I’ll tell you what Mr Alvin has said.’ What it was Mr Alvin told his father, Alfred could not hear. He had, instead to focus his attention on Mr Alvin who had now sat himself opposite Alfred.
‘Alfred, my dear child, your father told me about the fright you had today,’ he said slowly and sadly.
‘It was a goblin, Mr Alvin, I’m almost sure of it, it was chasing me down the lane. I thought they couldn’t be out in sunlight. I thought it killed them or something. You always say that they hate sunlight, but this one didn’t. Or maybe it was something, are there other evil things in the forest?’ Alfred’s eyes were wide, his voice quick.
‘Yes, lad, there are other evil things in this world. Alfred,’ he said looking intensely at the boy, ‘we need to spend some time apart. It’s too dangerous. Today you could have––’ he stopped, tears seemed to be welling in his eyes. ‘You’re getting too old to believe in my stories, Alfred. It’s time for you to move on from them.’
‘But I don’t want to. I believe, Mr Alvin. I believe in your stories.’
‘Stay away, boy.For now you must stay away. But never stop believing.’ He added in a whisper. If Mr Alvin realised he had just contradicted himself, he did not let on. He simply walked out of the inn.
Alfred, teenager though he was, wept. His parents tried to console him as best they could, but for weeks Alfred did little but go to school and come home again. He began to play video games and watch television, reading only occasionally and mostly for school. It took months before he ventured back into the forest. His mother began sending him for mushrooms every now again, going with him the first few times and then sending him on his own. It was even months before Mr Alvin started telling stories at the inn again. When he did, Alfred, if not already otherwise occupied, would go to his room. Life at home continued this way for many years. Alfred went to university, studied literature, and returned home, uncertain of what to do with his life.
David Russell Mosley