Bedside Tales: Part Two. A Midsummer Morning's Dream



And for this I but repeat Ethel’s own words, as she told it to me:

 

I opened my eyes slowly. There was a buzz about me, hovering in the air. Busy bees were close, up and about their work as the first rays of dawn light touched them. Animated them. Above me, in the pale blue sky, a flock of birds twirled and tumbled, showing off their flying skills in a chaotic dance. Did they want to impress each other? Or me? They looked like smaller songbirds, yet they were not quite familiar to me. 

The fragrance of elder blossom struck me next, and something else, near at hand. Something beautiful and fresh, like a soft breeze over the grassy fields. I rose to my feet, placing my hands on the grass, strewn with daisies just opening their eyes skyward. 

And I felt so full of life and hope and oh… expectation and excitement that something good was about to happen. 

 

And it did. But not as I had anticipated.

 

Looking around me in the manner you do when you are not quite sure if you are awake or still soundly asleep, I could see I was not in the open meadows as I had first believed, but in the midst of an unknown forest, with tall oaks and ash all around, and some few hawthorns and elders. There was much shrubbery, in its early summer green, under those trees. The trees encircled a glade, where the dawn light was filtering down through the canopy, mottling the grass with often changing patterns and bathing the whole glade in a soft gold. A pale mist cloaked the deep forest beyond.

And on that grass sat four folk I knew. It was my papa and mama, Duncadda, and Gamferth. A thick blanket had been laid down on the ground, and on it some fruits and bread and sliced meat had been carefully spread out, and my stomach began to rumble with hunger. There were also tall mugs of mead before each person, plus one extra.

Now on my feet again, I called out and laughed as I ran towards them. “Hey, wait for me!”

They did not look around as I approached. Did they not hear me?

“Hey! Papa! I hope you haven't eaten all the chicken. Save some from me, eh. I’m hungry.”

Still no one turned, or even seemed to know I was there. What was wrong with them? They were speaking with each other, but not to me. Talking about the food, and hopes for a good harvest in the coming months. Ordinary talk, like that of farmers. Perhaps a bit too ordinary for them?

I had had enough of being ignored, so I ran across the dewy grass and flung my arms around my papa’s neck like I used to do when I was scared, sad or just felt like I needed a hug. Not once had he turned me away or put me down before, until I was feeling better.

But nothing happened. He could not feel me it seemed, even though I felt my arms resting on his broad shoulders, and I could even smell him. But to him now, I might as well have been a whiff of air around his neck. So I let go, and took a few steps back.

My heart started beating faster. I suppose I was a bit scared. I tried talking with the others, each in turn, but none of them could see or hear me. My earlier sensation of life and hope faded fast. 

Was I some ghost, some spirit trapped between worlds, I wondered. Or worse, was I dead? A thousand thoughts rushed through my head, buzzing like the bees that woke me up. Oh, if only I had Herne with me. We would have made them...

 

Then I saw ‘them’.

 

Rather, I saw Elves, moving out of the shadows, watching me, and watching the seated group but saying nothing, while they kept their hands together on their chests.

‘Wood Elves?’ I wondered. They did not look the same as my elven friend. They were shorter, though still taller than most Rohirrim, slighter of build, and somehow ‘wilder’ of eye. 

I had wanted to see elves, but now I was not so sure anymore. They did not look amused, nor very friendly as they approached slowly, leaving no mark in the grass or moss behind them as they walked. 

One, a ‘man’ with long, braided wood-brown hair, stepped towards me. He stood almost in front of my mama, but she did not notice him, but asked Duncadda if he needed any more salve for his scars. 

The brown-haired elf listened, then turned to me.

“You whose wish was to have sight of us, know that is granted this morn. But to do that we have brought you into our domain. For at times we can move a step apart from your world, that you see us not, unless we choose it.”

“You… you are not of the Noldor?” I blurted out.

A look of almost disgust passed over all of the group's faces, and somehow I had never imagined an elf could look that way, as if they were above such petty feelings. 

“No. We are not.” said the darker blonde haired ‘woman’ who stood to his left. “Neither do we dwell in buildings of stone like they do, but pass through the lands freely and lightly.”

A soft murmur came from the others. Their voices were musical, but more like wind blowing through reeds than the richer melody of the songs I had heard at Edoras. 

For once I was almost lost for words. But I would not be intimidated by these elves, and I had had enough. “I thank you for granting me sight of you, but now I would like to go back to where I belong, if you don’t mind. It’s been very interesting and all.”

The ‘man’ looked at me sharply, but not in a threatening manner. Neither did he look as if he was about to grant my request. His gaze was more of curiosity, maybe.

“We did not grant you sight for your mere amusement, mortal child. We did it so you would learn. Now watch what will unfold, and hope your folk are of a good sort, or you alone will return to your world.”

In that instant I reached for my bow, which of course was not there, and nor was my knife. They all laughed, the sound then like tinkling of raindrops upon stone, or a whisper in the night. 

“Do you think you are more of a mistress of the bow than we?” One of those at the back of the group spoke with humour, that actually gave me hope. That emboldened me.

“What have you done to them then? What are you up to?”

The ‘woman’ stepped forward, seemingly the leader of the strange group. 

“We came here to celebrate the feast of midsummer, on land we have long cherished and loved. And what do we find, if not mortals making loud noise and distraction, right in nature’s bosom.”

“They are celebrating too.” I quickly replied. “If they knew you were here, they would invite you to join them, and share their food.”

There was no more humour in any of the bright faces that looked at me. Their faces, so smooth and perfect, looked more like living statues.

“We know your race has held these lands for a few years, while we dwindle back into what is left for us. But on this morn, of all, when we came to sing a greeting to the rising sun and hear nature’s own song in return, we were denied that privilege. There seems to be little care in mortal minds for any kind other than themselves. We have found this with all mortals we have encountered. This time we will issue a challenge upon you.”

At that, she turned her head to face the others, her dark golden hair suddenly becoming a river of light, as the sun caught it. They all nodded in unison.

“We are all agreed?”

Then she turned back to me.

“This is our decision, child. The four who sit there will be changed. They will remain changed for a year and a day… unless you bring to us four gifts before sunset.”

“What is this! What gives you the right…” I felt both angered and betrayed by the elves! 

The woman held up a hand. “Four gifts, before sunset. One to return each horse back to a mortal form.”

“Horse?”

“Do your kind not name themselves the ‘Horse Lords? Then let them be horses, which they cherish so much.“

My mind was racing. It was a bad dream of course. That’s all. I knew it. Too much fat cheese.

But as I watched, each person at that small picnic changed and transformed. Their necks grew arched and strong, arms turned into legs, hands into hooves. 

“Ohh! By Bema, what have you done to them?” I could not believe my eyes! 

Papa neighed at me, shaking his head in disbelief as my name came out as ‘neiiiiiitheeeeeel’. Beside him, a more petite mare widened her blue eyes in shock. Or was it shock? Mama’s reaction seemed different? Gamferth was now a large and strong warhorse, snorting his surprise and stomping his hoof upon a rock. Duncadda a swift and sure hunter, pawing at the ground and eager to let loose his newfound hooves across the fields. All four were elven white, and their coats shone like one of the mearas!

And they could see me. 

“Gifts? What gifts do you want?” I called out in frustration as I turned back to face the elven troop, but they were all gone in the morning mist, as if they had never been there at all. 

 

(Continued in Part Two. Written in collaboration with the player of Waelden, and dedicated to our wonderful kin members.)