Once there was a young girl who lived in a small village in Wales. The village sat on the very edge of a nasty bog and the girl’s house was at the utmost edge of the village. Bogs are very curious things, and to a curious girl they can be magical. The outsider may look at the bog on a cloudless day and say silly things like,
“There is nothing curious about this bog. I can see everything!”
“This bog is the furthest thing from magical!”
But those who lived next to the bog and experienced it in all types of weather know better than to say such silly things; for it was not out of the ordinary for the bog and surrounding village to be clouded in fog for days at a time during the rainy months. It was during these days of fog and cloud that the bog stirred and groaned. Shapes, smells, and sounds emerged from the fen, yet they were greeted with indifference by the townspeople.
While most tried to ignore the activity of the bog, the young girl regarded it with wonder and anticipation. During the foggy days, most residents stayed indoors and hardly glanced at the fog at all. But if a man were to gaze out at the fen in the direction of the young girl’s house, he would likely see her out and about, tiptoeing along the bank, wrapped in the soft fog as if wrapped in a soft quilt. For the girl, whatever fear or reservation one would normally feel by the unknown activities of the foggy boggy, as the villagers called it, was displaced by her fascination and wonder at its mystery and magic. She not only wanted to see what the bog did in the mysterious blankets of the bleak murk; she wanted to experience it. She not only wanted to see what happened in the fog, but she wanted to be one of the players. Yet, no matter how near was her path to the bog or how long she stayed outside, she was never satisfied, for she heard muffled sounds like distant birds about the bog and saw shadows cast on the water but could not clearly see what was happening. She imagined it was a dance and she desperately wanted to be part of it but could never come close enough to see it, let alone experience it. So she contented herself with walks along the shore in hopes that one day she would be carried away to the middle of the bog and dance the fog away. Such was her pattern until one special day in late October.
On this particularly foggy day, our young maiden was strolling the grounds on the edge of the fen, trying desperately to breathe in the atmosphere of the bog, when suddenly an elf appeared as if shuttled from another world. He stood but three feet high, yet his presence could not go unnoticed as he was right in front of the girl and looked quite different from any creature she had ever seen.
“Oh!” cried the girl with surprise. She gazed at the elf’s long ears; his tattered pointy hat; his large, shoeless feet. “Why, hello,” she said with kindness after she had taken in the full appearance of the strange little fellow.
“Hello my dear,” responded the elf. As he spoke, he shifted back and forth as if he had nervous energy he couldn’t contain. His voice was raspy but not harsh—it was not high or squeaky or whatever non-sense some speak of when describing elves. No; his voice was that of a man’s, but quieter, and strained as if his vocal chords were rough with use. His furled face spoke of years of struggle. After his greeting, the girl was quick to speak:
“Are you an elf?!” she asked with a subtle excitement—she had read about such creatures before, but had never seen one. Yet the impression his presence gave struck the chords of her imagination and solidified her soul’s subtle suspicion that she was indeed standing in front of an elf.
“Quite. And you are a girl.” The elf was serious, but not mean. He did not show a smile, but his face was nonetheless inviting.
“Of course I’m a girl!” she scoffed. The elf frowned and crossed his arms. The girl could tell he was displeased with her unrestrained tongue. She tried to redeem herself. “Where did you come from?” she humbly inquired.
“I came from the bog,” explained the elf as he gestured with his large, thick hands. They were red and rough like rust. “We have been observing—“
“The bog?! I’ve heard of forest elves before, but I’ve never heard of boggy elves before! How delightful!” cried the girl in wonderment. She quickly realized she had interrupted the elf and submitted herself to silence in anticipation of his message.
“We have been observing you from a distance and I have been sent with a question and a task for you.”
“Would you like to join in our dance?”
“Your dance?” the girl hoped beyond hope that she was not dreaming.
“Of course,” replied the elf. “The dance you’ve been desperately wanting to join.”
“Yes, I would indeed,” the girl tried to look grave to hide her excitement.
“Then we have a task for you. Can you strictly follow my instructions?”
“I will. I will.”
“There is a great storm coming this evening. It will bring in a great fog, thicker than you have ever experienced in your young life. When this fog comes, you must stay indoors. You must not wander around the bog or go anywhere near the water. For three days, you must not approach the bog. You may, however, go to your window and gaze out whenever you like. But you must not go out your door. At the end of these three days, if you have followed instructions, then you may emerge from your house and I will lead you to our dance.”
“What will happen if I step outside before the three days are finished?”
“Do not ask such things, silly girl. It is yours to obey, not to inquire.”
“I understand,” complied the girl, ashamed she had asked such a question.
“Now, inside with you.” The elf turned her around and gave her a firm push toward her house. She spun around only to find that the elf had disappeared.
The young girl returned inside and promptly sat herself on the windowsill; she gazed out in the direction of the bog. Her gaze met nothing but the vast expanse of green and brown shrubbery, punctuated by ribbons of water that warily flowed between the tufts of grass and weed. The bog was guarded by crags on either side that met each other at its far western end except for a small rivulet that inched between the two hills. As she continued to gaze, the sun slowly sank behind the bluff. The light faded from fiery orange to dull pink to mere haze.
Thunder followed behind the evening’s wake. Thor’s mighty rumbles rolled over the top of the crags. Lightning struck the horizon and flashed deep violet, a mixture of blood and bile. The girl pressed her back against the wall and rested her legs on the velvet cushion of the window sill as she gazed out at the night. The back of her white dress bunched behind her legs while the rest draped over the side. Thunder clasped, rattling the windows and sending a shiver down the girl’s tiny frame. Yet she returned her gaze to the window. The night grew darker and the lightening blazed brighter, lighting up the girl’s eyes as it lit the night sky.
Unafraid of the storm’s power, the girl wanted dreadfully to take even three steps outside the house, open her palms toward the sky, tilt her head to the heavens, and feel the cleansing rain on her hair and skin. She longed to immerse herself in the storm as if she was kin to the ground and greenery. But she promised to stay in her home and her mother would never allow such things even if she hadn’t. The girl could not content herself to merely see the scene with her eyes, however. To waste any experience by confining it to merely one of her senses seemed a great tragedy, so she opened the window and breathed in the storm’s breath of life. Drops of rain struck the sill like pellets and ricocheted in all directions like arrows off a mighty battlement. The violent western wind blew the rain through the open window and onto the girl’s lap and hands.
“You have been staring out that window for hours, little one,” called her mother from the adjacent room. “Come away; sit with me and I will read you a story.”
The girl was silent, unsure that the adventures of her mother’s stories would compare with the glory of the great storm.
“Goodness; close that window and come away from there,” cried her mother, as she walked into the room.
She hurried over to her daughter and shut the window. The girl shivered and looked up to her mother.
“Silly girl, your dress is thoroughly drenched.”
She grabbed her hand and led her to the washroom to dry her off and change her clothes. After drinking hot cider and listening to her mother read a story, the little girl reluctantly ambled to bed and to slumber.
The morning awoke to silence—no birds in song, no cattle in low. The fog wrapped the village with its thick gray arms and rendered the rising sun’s rays a mere dull glow. If one were bold enough to venture outside, he would think he was the only man on earth, for even three steps ahead of him would morph into the fog’s embrace.
The townspeople remained in their homes and in their beds, prepared to wait-away the fog according to centuries of custom. But the little girl wanted nothing to do with staying inside her home or under her quilt. Even during the previous night, she couldn’t spend an hour in her bed without rising and walking to her bedroom window. She was certain that if she could see through the mist, a panoply of dancing elves would parade before her eyes in dazzling resplendence. She longed to join them. Why must she wait three days?
The little girl’s curiosity and discontent kept her awake the whole night and made her very grumpy the following morning. She pushed away her porridge, slovenly carried out her chores, and become so distracted by her longings that she forgot to add salt to the bread dough, rendering the bread very bland once baked. She spent the leisure hours of her day upon the sill, gazing out into the ever-increasing fog.
After two days the haze had not lifted, as the messenger elf had decreed, and the little girl’s mother began to notice her daughter’s strange behavior.
“What has captured your attention so, these past two days?”
The girl assumed her mother understood the goings-on in the bog and tried to explain:
“If I cannot be with them,” she declared, pointing in the direction of the bog, “then I will do my best to imagine I am with them.”
This answer confused the mother very much:
“Be with who?”
“With the elves in the bog. Can’t you see them?”
The mother gazed out the window only to see thick fog, punctuated with occasional dark spots.
“Put such things out of your imagination. You see mere birds flying through the mist. The bog is nothing. Come away from the window—I will read you a story.” The mother loved her daughter’s imagination but was afraid to see her directing it to such a thing as the village bog. She always regarded stories as a safe place for her daughter to direct her imagination and thus shelter the girl from the bitter reality of life’s cruel endowment—and a healthy way to distract herself during days of sorrow or confusion.
The mother shooed her daughter away from the window and peered into the dense mist. After several moments of intense staring, she blinked a heavy blink and vigorously closed the window curtains.
As the afternoon turned to evening of the second day, the fog crept further into the village. The curtains remained closed in all the houses and the girl’s heart grew restless. Despite her mother’s warning, the girl desperately wanted to wander out into the mist and see with a clear eye what the elves were doing. Were they feasting or preparing for the dance? Were they anticipating her arrival or had they already begun? Very soon her imagination grew into impatience and bid her break her promise and walk out into the world of wonder before the end of the third day.
Every time the girl strode by the curtained window or glanced at the closed door she felt a strong draw to the world outside her home. She could not put the thought out of her mind until it grew into an uncontrollable urge to step into the outside world. Looking at the red wooden door from her seat in the living room, the little girl rose, almost unconsciously, and inched toward the door. She grasped the gold lock and turned it. Then, clenching the nob with her fair, frail hand, she rotated it and pulled open the door.
The girl stood on the doorstep and stared at a wall of fog. Suddenly, the fog dissipated before her as she beheld a hideous sight. A frenzied battle of elves stretched from her door across the bog and in every direction she could spy. Elf sprang on elf, fighting, cutting, and clawing. Streams of blood ran from all directions and puddled in the dints created from the struggle. Like an approaching wave, the noise of the battle crashed upon the girl’s senses as screams of pain and struggle reverberated across the land. Before her, an elf leapt on the back of another, stabbing his victim through the ribs and piercing his heart. The pair fell to the muddy ground. Once on the ground, the elf cut off the right ear of his victim with a quick flick of his wrist and placed it in a leather sack on his back. He looked up to spy the girl staring. Eyes wide, he opened his mouth and let out a high pitched yell the sound of bird of prey. The little girl screamed in horror and confusion. Covering her face with her arms, she collapsed to the ground.
In the midst of her terror, the girl felt a tug at her arms. She looked up to spy her elfish friend at eye level. His eyes were wide and his brow furrowed.
“Come little girl. Come.”
The elf stood the little girl on her feet and guided her from the doorstep toward the battle-field. Through fallen elves and ferocious warriors, the guide led the girl along the edge of the bog to a small building. It was nothing more than a mere wooden shelter, poorly made for the few who used their boats in the fen. As he guided her, the girl glanced out on the bog only to meet the sight of a line of elves struck down by a cloud of arrows from the opposite side. Only yards in front of her, two elves struggled with each other as they sank into the mire. Upon reaching the building, the elf ripped the girl’s attention from the scene and dragged her into the shelter. He closed the door and sat her on the dusty floor, covering her to the extent his arms could manage.
The girl wept, fear and confusion filling her mind and heart. As each tear fell down her face and onto the dust, her innocence followed it into the mire of experience. The girl could not string any thoughts together, for her head was full of terrible images that she couldn’t make any sense of. She merely sat and wept until even the tears could not come anymore. All the while, the patient elf embraced her and shushed her softly.
“Peace child, peace,” he kept saying, gently. “All will be understood in time. Peace, child.”
But the girl could not find peace.
After some time and now wet with tears and stained with mud, the girl managed to cough out a few words through her heaves.
“Why?” she asked. “What have I seen? This is not the dance; it is horrible.”
The elf kept her in his calm embrace as she leaned her head on his small shoulder and continued to heave sighs of sorrow and confusion.
“Yes, child,” the elf replied. “What you have seen is horrible; but it has to be as it is.”
“I cannot,” the girl choked. “I do not understand. Why must these things be? My mother told me the bog is nothing, and you told me there was a beautiful dance.”
“Indeed there will be. You have seen a terrifying sight, but you must trust that there is still more to see.”
The girl shook her head as she sobbed into her lap. The elf held her and shushed her into the night until she finally fell into an exhausted slumber to the sounds of screams and roars.
As night surrounded the small shelter, the girl’s heaves slowed and her face calmed. She slept throughout the night and into the early morning. A soft light began to shine through a crack in the wooden door and onto the face of the sleeping child. She slowly awoke and scanned her eyes about the dim room. The elf was gone. She let out a few sobs as she remembered the events of the previous night. Her sobs were interrupted by rapping at the door. Startled, she rose and backed up against the opposite wall only to see the door slowly open. A ray of bright light shot through the crack. The girl covered her eyes with her dirty arm and began to breath heavily again.
“Do not fear, young one,” came a voice from the direction of the door. “Uncover your eyes and walk toward me.”
The girl relaxed her arms and gingerly walked to the elf in front of her. White light shone behind him and struck the back wall. As she reached the elf, he took her hand in his and led her out of the shelter.
“Behold, young one. Behold your fen!”
In front of the girl lay not a dirty and misty bog, but a beautiful lake covered by a floor of the whitest and purest ice the girl had ever beheld. The greenest grass lined the edges of the bank, dappled with white flowers. She gasped with amazement. Turning in a circle, the girl found that the houses were no longer covered in mist, but sat in the clearest of air. The girl looked back at the ice.
“Go on,” prodded the elf. “Step onto it.”
The girl ambled over to the ice and placed one foot on the surface. In faith, she took another step. The air was not cold and the sun was surely beaming down, yet the beautiful ice remained steadfast.
“Look up! Out over the ice!” cried the elf as he pointed out into the middle of the lake.
The girl lifted her head and shrieked in amazement. There, in the middle of the lake, elves of all heights, colors, and faces danced about the surface of the lake, enraptured. The girl could do nothing but jump up and down.
“Please. Please. Do let us go dance with them,” pleaded the girl as she turned back to the elf. “I know I didn’t obey you but please let me dance.”
The elf paused for what seemed an eternity. Then a small smile began to form on his mouth.
“Yes, dear. We may dance. I knew you wouldn’t stay inside, and I didn’t want you to. For you were very soon to become like your mother—your innocence will be blackened by experience and you will not know how to respond.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“The moment you step back inside your house the mist will appear again, the lake will return to a bog, and your mother and your neighbors will try to convince you to ignore what the mist obscures. Yet you will know better. For one only sees through a blanket of mist in this life and can never be sure how to interpret the evils within it. But you must hold fast to what you have seen this day. For in your life you see neither life clearly nor understand its purposes. Today you have seen both. But let us leave our conversation, now, and join the dance. For dancing is the only reasonable response to what you have seen this day.”
And so the girl danced and the girl laughed and the girl returned home. The fog came back again and the townsfolk continued to keep their distance, but the girl never forgot her experience of what truly goes on in the foggy boggy and never ceased to walk along the bog’s edge during the days of mist and storm. And whenever a neighbor boy would say to her, “I wish I could see through the fog to know what is going on in that bog,” she would shake her head, smile, and reply, “No you don’t. But if you did, you would never be the same.”