from works by
Lord Dunsany
(1878 – 1957)
the Honorable Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, eighteenth Baron Dunsany

This page:

The King of Elfland’s Daughter

The Sword of Welleran



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The King of Elfland’s Daughter

first printed May, 1924

  The Wisdom of the Parliament of Erl
Must she needs understand the curious things folks did? Must she never dance in the road, never speak to goats, never laugh at funerals, never sing at night? Why! What was joy for if it must be hidden? Must merriment bow to dulness in these strange fields she had come to? And then one day she saw how a woman of Erl looked less fair than she had looked a year ago. Little enough was the change, but her swift eye saw it surely. And she went to Alveric crying to be comforted, because she feared that Time in the fields we know might have power to harm that beauty that the long long ages of Elfland had never dared to dim. And Alveric had said that Time must have his way, as all men know; and where was the good of complaining?



  The Rune of the Elf King
Now it is thus with time in Elfland: in the eternal beauty that dreams in that honied aire nothing stirs or fades or dies, nothing seeks its happiness in movement or change or a new thing, but has its ecstasy in the perpetual contemplation of all the beauty that has ever been, and which always glows over those enchanted lawns as intense as when first created by incantation or song. Yet if the energies of the wizard’s mind arose to meet a new thing, then that power that had laid its calm upon Elfland and held back time troubled the calm awhile, and time for awhile shook Elfland. Cast anything into a deep pool from a land strange to it, where some great fish dreams, and green weeds dream, and heavy colours dream, and light sleeps; the great fish stirs, the colours shift and change, the green weeds tremble, the light wakes, a myriad things know slow movement and change; and soon the whole pool is still again.



Chapter X
  The Ebbing of Elfland
For it is true, and Alveric knew, that just as the glamour that brightens much of our lives, especially in early years, comes from rumours that reach us from Elfland by various messengers (on whom be blessings and peace), so there returns from our fields to Elfland again, to become a part of its mystery, all manner of little memories that we have lost and little devoted toys that were treasured once. And this is part of the law of ebb and flow that science may trace in all things; thus light grew the forest of coal, and the coal gives back light; thus rivers fill the sea, and the sea sends back to the rivers; thus all things give that receive; even Death.
  The Quest for the Elfin Mountains

And how the horns of Elfland blew over the barrier of twilight, to be heard by any ear in the fields we know, I cannot understand; yet Tennyson speaks of them as heard “faintly blowing” even in these fields of ours, and I believe that by accepting all that the poets say while duly inspired our errors will be fewest. So, though Science may deny or confirm it, Tennyson’s line shall guide me here.

All knew their curious quest; and when all had saluted Alveric and all had called their farewells to the last of the riders, a hum of talk arose. And in the talk was contempt of Alveric’s quest, and pity, and ridicule; and sometimes affection spoke and sometimes scorn; yet in the hearts of all there was envy; for their reason mocked the lonely roving of that outlandish adventure, but their hearts would have gone.

And away rode Alveric out of the village of Erl with his company of adventurers behind him; a moonstruck man, a madman, a lovesick lad, a shepherd boy and a poet. And Alveric made Vand, the young shepherd, the master of his encampment, for he deemed him to be the sanest among his following; but there were disputes at once as they rode, before they came to make any encampment; and Averic, hearing or feeling the discontent of his men, learned that on such a quest as his it was not the sanest but the maddest that should be given authority. So he named Niv, the witless lad, the master of his encampment; and Niv served him well till a day that was far thence, and the moonstruck man stood by Niv, and all were content to do the bidding of Niv, and all honoured Alveric’s quest. And many men in numerous lands do saner things with less harmony.

  A Chapter on Unicorn-Hunting
And the folk of Erl gazed much at the trolls and the trolls at the folk of Erl, and there was great merriment; for, as often happens with minds of unequal weight, each laughed at the other. And the villagers found the inpudent ways of the bare brown nimble trolls no funnier, no more meet for derision, than the trolls found the grave high hats, the curious clothes, and the solemn air of the villagers.
  The Luring of the People of the Marshes

Now it is far from my intention to write anything detrimental to will-o’-the-wisps, or anything that may be construed as being a slight upon them: no such construction should be put upon my writings. But it is well known that the people of the marshes lure travellers to their doom, and have delighted to follow that avocation for centuries, and I may be permitted to mention this in no spirit of disapproval.

  The Coming of Too Much Magic

“Would you rob Earth of her heirloom that has come from the olden time? Would you take her treasure and leave her bare to the scorn of her comrade planets? Poor indeed were we without magic, whereof we are well stored to the envy of darkness and Space. [...] I would sooner,” she said, “give you a spell against water, that all the world should thirst, than give you a spell against the song of streams that evening hears faintly over the ridge of a hill, too dim for wakeful ears, a song threading through dreams, whereby we learn of old wars and lost loves of the Spirits of rivers. I would sooner give you a spell against bread, that all the world should starve, than give you a spell against the magic of wheat that haunts the golden hollows in moonlight in July, through which in the warm short nights wander how many of whom man knows nothing. I would make you spells against comfort and clothing, food, shelter and warmth, aye and will do it, sooner than tear from these poor fields of Earth that magic that is to them an ample cloak against the chill of Space, and a gay raiment against the sneers of nothingness.

“Go hence. To your village go. And you that sought for magic in your youth but desire it not in your age, know that there is a blindness of spirit which comes from age, more black than the blindness of eye, making a darkness about you across which nothing may be seen, or felt, or known, or in any way apprehended. And no voice out of that darkness shall conjure me to grant a spell against magic. Hence!”



  The Shining Line
Indeed if one had just seen him at the end of the evening with the dusk and the mist of the fenlands close behind him he might have believed that in the dusk and the mist was an army that followed this gay worn confident man. Had the army been there Niv was sane. Had the world accepted that an army was there, even though only Alveric and Zend followed his curious steps, still he was sane. But the lonely fancy that had not fact to feed on, nor the fancy of any other for fellowship, was for its loneliness mad.



He had had for many years to do with sheep, and had come to know their needs and their price, and the need men have of them; and these things had risen imperceptibly up all round his imagination, and were at last a wall over which he saw no further. When he was young, yes once, he had sought for Elfland; but now, why now he was older; such things were for the young.

text checked (see note) Feb 2023

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The Sword of Welleran
by Lord Dunsany

from The Sword of Welleran (1908);
also in The Young Magicians (1969), edited by Lin Carter,
and Beyond the Fields We Know (1972)

Now, beyond the Cyresians the suspicion grew that Merimna’s heroes were dead, and a plan was devised that a man should go by night and come close to the figures upon the ramparts and see whether they were Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Irain. And all were agreed upon the plan, and many names were mentioned of those who should go, and the plan matured for many years. It was during these years that watchers clustered often at sunset upon the mountains, but came no nearer. Finally, a better plan was made, and it was decided that two men who had been by chance condemned to death should be given a pardon if they went down into the plain by night and discovered whether or not Merimna’s heroes lived. At first the two prisoners dared not go, but after a while one of them, Seejar, said to his companion, Sajar-Ho: “See now, when the King’s axeman smites a man upon the neck that man dies.”

And the other said that this was so. Then said Seejar: “And even though Welleran smite a man with his sword, no more befalleth him than death.”

Then Sajar-Ho thought for a while. Presently he said: “Yet the eye of the King’s axeman might err at the moment of his stroke or his arm fail him and the eye of Welleran hath never erred nor his arm failed. It were better to bide here.”

Then said Seejar: “Maybe that Welleran is dead and that some other holds his place upon the ramparts, or even a statue of stone.”

But Sajar-Ho made answer: “How can Welleran be dead when he escaped from two score horsemen with swords that were sworn to slay him and all sworn upon our country’s gods?”

And Seejar said: “This story his father told my grandfather concerning Welleran. On the day that the fight was lost on the plains of Kurlistan he saw a dying horse near to the river, and the horse looked piteously towards the water but could not reach it. And the father of my grandfather saw Welleran go down to the river’s brink and bring water from it with his own hand and give it to the horse. Now we are in as sore a plight as was that horse, and as near to death; it may be that Welleran will pity us, while the King’s axeman cannot, because of the commands of the King.”


Capital punishment

“How many valleys must go desolate that might have nursed warm hamlets, because thou hast slain long since the men that might have built them? I hear the wind crying against thee, thou sword! It comes from the empty valleys. It comes over the bare fields. There are children’s voices in it. They were never born. Death brings an end to crying for those that had life once, but these must cry for ever. O sword! sword! why did the gods send thee among men?” And the tears of Rold fell down upon the proud sword but could not wash it clean.



text checked (see note) Feb 2006

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