A long time ago in earthly years, but the merest distance of a dream away as far as the Fairy world is concerned, there lived an elf child called Tiptoes, who was the beloved of his many brothers and sisters, and of the Elf Queen and King who ruled over Elfdom with wisdom and love.
Tiptoes had a special gift, as all elf children do, and since there are so many magical gifts to go round it isn’t difficult for each to be unique. Tiptoes had the gift of weaving rainbows, one which made him especially popular – because everyone is touched by rainbow magic, whether they see it in the eye of a crystal or peeping behind a rain cloud or shimmering in a summer waterfall. And Tiptoes could weave the kind of rainbow that would circle your heart like the softest of gossamer, bright and beautiful and sprinkled with hope.
One day, the Elf Queen came to Tiptoes where he was dancing in the forest, and she gently drew him to one side, her large iridescent wings quivering as she spoke: “Tiptoes – it is nearly time.”
“Time?” answered Tiptoes, curious because until now time had not been of particular significance. Days began when light filtered through the green canopy of his tree nest, and ended when his eyes grew heavy with the dusk. Time trickled like the bubbling stream on the forest floor: it flowed and flowed, and would always flow. There was always time: time enough, time to spare, plenty of time. And now the Queen was telling him it was nearly time. For some odd inexplicable reason that phrase filled Tiptoes with a feeling he had never felt before: he had no words to describe it to himself, but it crept with cold and left him suddenly with a vision of himself as separate.
A word formed in his mind, as if he had always known it somewhere, but just forgotten: alone. Somehow he understood that what it was nearly time for would cause him to be alone.
“Oh, Tiptoes,” sighed the Elf Queen, who heard and felt all her elf children’s thoughts. “Yes, it is time for you to leave us, as we all have to leave at some time.”
“For ever?” said Tiptoes, this new idea of what always might contain settling in him like the coldest of winter water, numbing his heart.
“No, not for ever,” reassured the Queen, touching him lightly with the tip of her nearest wing, so that Tiptoes felt the tingling warmth ripple through him and free his heart again.
“Then how long?” he asked quaveringly. “And why?” To a little elf, happily engaged in play and merriment, this exile made no sense.
“Well, Tiptoes,” explained the Queen. “This is how it is with us: when elves reach a certain age they go to be a life companion to a human. It’s an old agreement we have with humankind.”
“Humankind…” Tiptoes repeated in an awed whisper. He had heard myths about humans, but had never really believed they existed.
“Yes,” said the Queen. “For humans need us. They would die away completely without our magic. Their lives are so full of sorrow and suffering. They have chosen the hard way to learn, the way of what they call Reality.”
“Reality?” said Tiptoes wonderingly. All these new words, bringing strange feelings along on their tails, like kites fluttering in the wind… This felt like a very heavy word.
“You’ll understand when you’re there,” said the Queen. For a moment she looked sad, then she lifted Tiptoes on to her knee and kissed his brow gently. “You’re a brave little elf, and a strong one, and I know you’ll be just fine. Let me tell you how it happens…”
Tiptoes snuggled up to her as her silvery voice explained to him what until now had been a secret mystery, far beyond the imaginings of himself and all his playmates.
“…You join your human right at the start of their life in Reality,” said the Queen. “They can see you then, because they’re still a baby and they haven’t been taught the ways of the human world. But in a few years they learn not to believe in you any more, and…” Here the Queen sighed and curled the edges of her wings around to make a warm shawl for little Tiptoes.
“I’m afraid that when they stop believing in you, you will feel yourself grow very faint and it will be a hard time for you to endure. Our task is to endure, Tiptoes, for their survival depends on ours. And we have found a way of succeeding with our mission. When you eventually become invisible you will feel yourself grow very tiny, and you will discover then the way to still reach your human – from inside their heart. Because from then on, that is where you will live. And, Tiptoes…”
The Queen could see the expression on her much loved elf child’s face, and feel the surge of his resistance… “I know how impossible that seems to an elf, loving freedom as we do, and for that reason we have devised a way to make it bearable. It’s called Forgetting.”
“Forgetting?” echoed Tiptoes, once again with quizzical awe.
“Yes,” explained the Queen. “You will forget your self, forget your separate elf self, and be so close to your human you will believe you are part of them.”
“And will they believe in me then?” asked Tiptoes eagerly. “Will they see me inside them?”
“Sometimes,” sighed the Queen. “It’s a struggle for a human to see the elf inside them. And yet our task is to keep on nudging them, to find ways of reminding them, to reveal our self to them. I can’t pretend it will be easy.” As Tiptoes’ face dropped, she added: “But you know, when they do see you, when they recognise you, when they come to love you – well, that’s wonderful!”
“Will I be lonely?” asked Tiptoes, this new word coming to him with all the chill of that other word alone. He felt his tongue tingle with another new sensation: fear.
“I’m afraid you may be, sometimes,” said the Queen sadly. “But in spite of your Forgetting, a part of you never forgets, and will always recognise another elf when you see it in a human. And they are truly magic moments, Tiptoes, when one awake elf meets another and they make contact through their human hearts. You’ll always know then, even if you Forget again, that you’ll never really be alone. And one day, of course, you’ll come back here, and be with your brothers and sisters again.
“And will everything be the same then?” asked Tiptoes.
The Queen shook her head slowly. “Ah, Tiptoes, nothing can ever be the same once you have dwelt inside a human. We change each other with our connection. You’ll be a grown up elf then, when you come back. A Wise Elf. You’ll have a different place in the Elfdom then. So far you’ve only seen the nursery, the forest garden. It’s a much bigger world than that.
Tiptoes knew that what she was saying was the truth: already he felt different, just by knowing that his life would change.
“How soon will it happen?” he asked.
“Soon enough,” replied the Queen. She lifted him in her soft, gentle arms, kissed him tenderly, and put him back on the ground. He stood in front of her, scuffing his toes in the bracken, for the first time feeling an ache in his chest that he supposed was to do with the thought of missing her – another strange new concept. She smiled at him and Tiptoes felt the warmth of her smile surround him, like sunlight in the woodland clearing. He looked up to bask in it as she spread her Elf Queen magnificence in all its full glory.
“Go back to your brothers and sisters now,” she said, touching him lightly on his shoulder with her outstretched fingertips. “In a while, one of the Wise Elves will come and explain more of the details to you. For now, enjoy your freedom as you play.”
Tiptoes wandered slowly back to the place he had known as home for as long as he could remember. It was odd to realise that there was a bigger world outside it, that beyond this forest there was a larger Elfdom, and somewhere beyond that, he supposed, the human world. And what other worlds might there be, that he had yet to learn of? His head felt full of new words, and all the peculiar feelings that came with them.
As he walked, he absently wove a rainbow scarf that trailed behind him, winding about his shoulders as if to protect him from the breeze. As he noticed this, he became aware of a Stranger Elf, who had approached through the trees and was walking alongside him. There was something in his bearing that made Tiptoes realise this was one of the Wise Elves of whom the Queen had spoken. This elf was clad in green, like Tiptoes, but was taller, older, with a kindly smile and a mischievous gleam in his golden eyes.
“That scarf is a perfect way of using your rainbows, Tiptoes,” he said. “You take your gift with you, you know. And not just to share with the humans – although that’s the most important part – but to protect your elfness, too. Even when you forget where it came from, your gift will go on working. It comes from the place where all gifts are bestowed, and must be used, in order to go back to its source. It’s a kind of recycling process. It has an energy of its own, that will stir you even in your deepest forgetting.”
“Protect me from what?” asked Tiptoes, searching in the golden eyes of his companion for some clue.
“From humankind,” said the Wise Elf. “Just as they need protecting from themselves, from the curse of their disbelief and fear of magic. And from that other kind – more like us than the humans, but with a very different King and Queen to rule them.”
Tiptoes gulped. “Other kind?” he said.
“They live in the Land of Darkness,” said the Wise Elf, putting his hand on Tiptoes’ arm to steady his trembling. “Don’t be afraid, little elf. It’s a battle for the Wise Ones, not one you will have to fight alone. You have a different part to play. You are a young elf, a rainbow weaver. That will be your work.”
As suddenly as he had arrived, the Wise Elf left, and Tiptoes found he had reached the place under the Biggest Oak where the Elf Queen had first come to him that day. There were his brothers and sisters, still playing in the sunlight, laughing and calling to one another, jumping up to catch the breeze on their gossamer wings, letting themselves drift with the warm air currents to the lowest branches, rolling over and over as they went, chasing the butterflies.
Innocence – the word came to Tiptoes from somewhere deep inside him. Had there been another Forgetting, at some other time, from which he was remembering these strange words now?
Tiptoes was thoughtful as he went to join the others, no longer feeling able to join in their games in his old, careless way. He was aware now of a different way of seeing them, of seeing himself in relation to them, and of another new concept: Last Time. He felt an odd ache inside him. He stood on the edge of the group, watching them, wondering when his next summons from the Elf Queen would come. He knew what it would mean. Or would it, he wondered, be the Elf King who gave the final call?
But he was not an elf for brooding over-long, and soon he was joyfully up to his usual tricks, living as always in the perfect golden moment. Sitting by the stream next morning, dangling his toes in the gurgling water and teasing the darting multicoloured fish, he caught glimpses of his reflection in the broken surface.
Suddenly, he saw another reflection dancing beside his own, and turned to see a beautiful elf wearing a shimmering gown of luminous rainbows. Just looking at her made him want to weave yet more colours to adorn her. He could tell at once that she was another of the Wise Ones, sent to instruct him, and immediately a thousand questions formed themselves inside his mind.
She laughed at his eagerness. “Oh, little one, you must be patient!” she said. “Some questions only you can answer for yourself. You’ll see… In the meanwhile, let me show you something of what is ahead of you…” And she bent forward and dabbled her fingers in the stream until there were no more fragments of images, only the pattern her fingers made.
And there, in the water, a picture formed, as clear and still as if it stood beside them on the bank. It was the figure of a young woman, barely more than a girl, who smiled a secret smile to herself and seemed to stare out at them as if she could see them, although Tiptoes knew that she was very far away from this elfin grove. Although he had never seen one before, he could tell at once that she was a human. His heart seemed to skip a beat, and he gasped, breathless with the strangest new feeling of all.
“Oh, she’s beautiful!” he said.
“She’s waiting for you, even though she doesn’t know anything about you,” said the Wise Elf at his side. “She is an important part of your mission. She needs your rainbows more than anyone. Her elf is hurt, and already very sick, and it’s possible he may slip into a long, long sleep to protect himself. This sometimes happens.”
“How can I help her?” asked Tiptoes, prepared to leave in that instant to rescue this lovely maiden in distress. “How do I reach her? What can I do to restore her elf to health?”
“You’ll know,” said the Wise Elf. “When the time comes. Dear Tiptoes, we Wise Ones can see a lot further ahead than you, and far further than it would be good for you to see. Your mission won’t be an easy one, you know. And there will be many others who need your rainbow weaving to make them well. For when their elves fall sick, their humans too are not themselves, and they often ail without ever realising it is the elf in their heart who needs reviving.”
“I don’t mind how difficult it is,” said Tiptoes. Since the day before a change had come upon him. He was already an older and wiser elf, if only by one day. “Just let me know how I’ll find her.”
“Oh, you’ll find her,” said the Wise Elf, smiling. “She is to be your mother.”
“Oh,” said Tiptoes. “Mother.” Another new word, and one which belonged to that strange, full feeling in his heart. A wonderful word. He spun round in the air with delight.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” he cried, brimming with joy at the splendid adventure ahead. How had he lived only for play, without knowing the glorious passion of having a mission?
“And the child?” he asked. “The human baby I’m to be companion to?”
“Why, she’s just a twinkle in her father’s eye,” said the Wise Elf. “You have to join her right from the start, you know.”
“Her?” repeated Tiptoes. “A girl!” Somehow it had never occurred to him that he would have to spend most of what amounted to a human life inside a girl. He wondered how it would feel, and whether his mother would spot him there. And then, just for a second, the enormity of his task seemed to crush his vibrant energy. The Wise One understood.
“To make it easier, we’ll send on two special elves to follow after you, and help you remember your elf nature when you need to. You won’t have too much trouble recognising them when they arrive, since they’ll be so wide awake, and you know them so well.”
“Sunram and Moonfish?” asked Tiptoes, hardly daring to believe this might be true. For these were his favourite brother and sister, and already they had shared so many adventures and games in their forest home.
“Yes,” agreed the Wise Elf, smiling at his delight. “In earthly years, it will be quite a while before they come to join you – in fact your human will become a mother herself in order to get them as close to you as they could be. But Forgetting helps to take the edge off waiting, Tiptoes, and once they’re with you they will never leave you, and your mission will get easier with their help.”
“And they are both champion rainbow weavers, too!” cried Tiptoes excitedly, thinking of all the fun they’d had together, inventing new colours and spinning them into the world.
“Would you like to go and say goodbye to them, before you go?” said the Wise Elf gently. “The Queen has already explained to them both by now. I expect they’re eager to make plans with you for when you meet again.”
“Goodbye…” said Tiptoes wonderingly, tasting the feel of it. It was a word none of them had needed until now.
When they met beside the Biggest Oak the three elf friends hugged one another, and chattered about the times they would have in the human world, and the even better times when they were back together in this magical place they knew and loved.
“Oh, I feel such a pain in my heart!” cried Moonfish, a silvery tear falling down her cheek. She touched it, then lifted the wetness to examine it with awe. There had never been a cause for tears before.
“That’s missing me,” said Tiptoes, who had always been the one to invent and explain words.
“It’ll be excellent fun – what a laugh!” said Sunram. He was the boldest of the three. But even he looked uncertain at the prospect of the Great Unknown.
“You will make sure of waking me, won’t you, if I’ve fallen asleep by the time you come?” said Tiptoes, suddenly anxious.
“You’ll always know us by our rainbows,” said Moonfish.
“And by our laughter!” added Sunram. “From what the Queen said, those humans aren’t a merry lot!”
“It will be all right, won’t it?” said Tiptoes. He knew it was almost time, he could feel the future coming through the forest to meet him. And then he remembered mother and the beautiful achy feeling he had experienced, just looking at her.
He knew he would be transformed by his time with the humans – a word the Elf Queen hadn’t used, but the only one that would do. He also knew that it was the way of things, the ancient way, the way that as a young elf he couldn’t expect to understand, but that already he accepted.
An elf had to do what an elf had to do. And there would be rainbows.
© Lesley Hayes 1990
You can read more stories and link to my books on kindle at Amazon at my website www.lesleyhayes.co.uk