Eleren ignored the glare the ticket seller gave her at the box office. She paid her fare and entered the theatre. None of her friends had wanted to come. Why would they? None of them were human. None of them wanted to see a human show.
Ignoring thoughts of her friends, Eleren gathered up her skirts and took a seat at the back row, where elves were allowed to sit if they were allowed inside at all. ‘If they can see so much better than us, let them sit at the back!’ the humans were fond of saying. Eleren didn’t care where she sat. She wanted to hear the singing.
The ushers extinguished the lamps along the aisle one by one as the curtains on the stage drew back, revealing the scene. As she watched the actors, she began to realize that the story seemed familiar to her. It sounded like something her mother told her when she was a little girl, an old romance between two elves of antiquity. But of course, in the human version, there were no elves at all. Eleren was used to that too.
Her interest wasn’t in the story, after all. Finally the lead actor, alone on stage, began to sing of his lost love. His voice rose above the audience, soaring up to the high-domed ceiling. Eleren let the vibrations flow through her, making her shiver ever so faintly. She closed her eyes and merely listened, with every fibre of her being. She could feel the notes coursing through her nerves, reaching her spine and igniting a fire within.
Yet she knew it was nothing compared to the singing of elves. But even though she knew that, she still let herself become lost. When she felt a hard tap on her shoulder it was too late.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a large police officer asked her menacingly. “Are you singing?”
Eleren gasped and shook her head, eyes wide. “No, of course not. I wasn’t.”
“I heard her!” someone in the row in front of her said. “She was humming!”
“Close enough,” said the cop, grabbing her arm and yanking her off the chair.
Eleren squeaked in shock, and the cop had her out on the sidewalk before she could speak. “No, wait! You’re making a mistake! I wasn’t singing, I swear.”
“That’ll be for a judge to decide,” the cop said, dragging the young elf all the way to the courthouse. At a loss for action, Eleren began to cry.
* * *
“Order!” cried the Speaker, banging his gavel on the podium. “Lord Winston has the floor! The rest of you will listen!” Hesitantly, silence returned to the Parliament Hall. Lord Winston continued his oration.
“As I was saying…” He cleared his throat. He was a small man, wide of waist and long of forehead. He wasn’t one of the more outspoken legislators, which made what he had to say now all that more shocking to his colleagues. “There is no proof of any concrete harm that can come from allowing elves to sing.”
Chaos erupted again. The Speaker banged his gavel. “Order!” But order wouldn’t come so easily this time. The Speaker shot a look at Lord Winston, who nodded and retook his seat.
“Very well!” the Speaker shouted above the din. “The motion is now on the floor. Lord Farlaine, do you have a rebuttal?”
As the gangly Lord Farlaine stood, calm began to return to the Hall. Farlaine cleared his throat and began to speak. “This is a human kingdom, founded under the high moral principles of humanity. We cannot allow our culture to be destroyed in the manner which my colleague Lord Winston suggests.”
“Think of the children!” someone shouted from the assembly.
Lord Winston stood up once more and faced the heckler. “How does what an elf do in the privacy of his or her own home affect your children, ma’am?”
“First their own homes, then they’ll be dancing in the streets!” someone else shouted. Winston rolled his eyes and sat down.
The squabble, however, was far from over.
“Allowing elves to sing and play music will send us further down the path of moral decay and will destroy our civilization as we know it!”
“Next thing you know they’ll want pets! And integrated public baths!”
“We cannot allow that any more than we can permit them to breed with us.”
“Think of the children! Won’t anybody think of the children?”
Lord Winston sighed, defeated. “It’s only music!” he said.
“Music which has been used to entrance humans since the dawn of time! Have you forgotten our own history?”
Lord Winston ran a hand over his harried features. “We have done worse things to them, in our time.” This was going nowhere and he knew it. He stood up, dusted his hands off against each other, and smiled ironically to the assembly. “I wash my hands of the lot of you.” He left the Hall, ignoring the shouts of ‘Elf lover!’ that followed him.
* * *
It hadn’t taken long for the judge to declare that Eleren was guilty. She sat in a cell with half a dozen other elves awaiting punishment.
“They’ll kill us for sure,” a male elf said from the opposite corner. The six of them had been lumped in together into a tiny cell. Elven chivalry had come through, and the two females had been given the small cot to use. Eleren sat with her knees to her chest, her back against the wall.
“Way to be optimistic,” someone told the fatalistic speaker.
Eleren sighed, arms around her legs. She stared blankly at the floor. “He’s right. Haven’t you read the newssheets? They have started executing elves. For much less than this.”
“Why? What are they so afraid of?” a young one asked. He was just a child. Eleren closed her eyes and tried to hold back her tears. He didn’t deserve to be here.
“Everything. They’re afraid of everything that isn’t their own safe little world.” It was the fatalistic one again, who began pacing the limited floor space.
“They want to be able to pretend we don’t exist,” Eleren said, her eyes still closed. She could feel the others’ attention on her. “So they make all these rules and use that as an excuse to destroy us when we break them.” She opened her eyes and looked at her companions. “We’re going to die tomorrow. Maybe sooner. Will we allow them to ignore us in the meantime?”
“What are you saying?”
Eleren stood up. “I say we do what we’ve been accused of. I say we sing together, as loudly as we can. Let as many people as possible hear our voices. So they can’t ignore us. So they’ll remember that we died with our pride intact.”
She could feel the shivering tension in the cell. They were listening to her, considering her words, weighing them as if they really mattered. To her they did. Singing wasn’t simply the only thing she could come up with, it was the only thing she would have suggested had she even been able to think of something else. It was the only thing they could and should do. Slowly, she felt the balance of the room tilt towards her, as the other elves made up their minds.
Before they could change their minds, Eleren began to sing, quietly at first. She sang in the old tongue of the elves, not in any human language. It was the first song that had come to her, the elvish romance she’d remembered at the theatre.
She felt the same little shivers she’d felt at the theatre, but this time instead of suppressing her reaction she stretched her arms out at her sides and filled her lungs with air, raising her voice. The others joined her, and she felt their energy course through her, and hers flow back into them. The Song weaved through and around them, linking them together, forming a tight knot of energy around them.
The first to hear them was the guard. “What the hell is going o–“ His words died in his throat as he approached the cell and listened, truly listened for the first time.
The elves, now no longer their individual selves but a chorus rising above themselves with a single voice, continued to sing, vaguely aware of the guard’s reactions except for the fact that the man, weeping, opened the cell gate. The circle of elves uncoiled slowly and, in single file, stepped out of the cell, past the guard and onto the street.
The Song followed them like the tail of a comet. Humans out walking in the street were caught up in the sound wave, the emotions taking over them, reducing them to tears that were both of sorrow and joy simultaneously. Old ladies fell to their knees; men curled up against walls, sobbing like small children. Eleren and her companions strode side by side down Main Street, heads held high, revelling in the ecstasy of their singing and the power it created.
Was this what the humans feared? To be bested at something they claimed was their exclusive domain? Or was it to be proven wrong about their entire history; that elves, as few of them as remained, had been on Earth far longer than humans?
Soon the Song had drawn a crowd of enraptured humans clinging to each other as they shared the emotions. The elves were boxed in from all sides but this crowd didn’t have torches and pitchforks. This crowd was captured in the energy wave, feeling everything the elves felt, being embraced by the Elfsong.
It could have gone on forever. It would have, if not for the Royal Guards making their way towards the gathering. They shouted, and seemed immune to the Song. Eleren heard some of her companions gasp, but she squeezed the hand of the young elf next to her and continued singing. Perhaps the Guards were wearing earplugs. But that wouldn’t stop the chorus. It had been their funeral dirge from the start.
But to Eleren’s surprise, while the elves sang on, the crowd began to take exception to the meddling Guards. The crowd refused to part before them, forcing the Guards to push and shove their way through.
But the citizens shoved back, and beyond the cocoon of Song that enveloped the elves, they could hear the shouting of angry humans. Swords were drawn, cries broke the spell woven by the singing. But the fight would not stop. Could the Song sustain this attack? Eleren did not know; she was too far into it to stop now. The Song had taken control of their vocal cords. Not one of them could have stopped had they wanted to. And around them, humans continued to fight.
Eleren was powerless to do anything but watch as muskets were drawn and shots pierced the air.
A shot pierced the Song, took down the young elf holding Eleren’s hand. Eleren gasped as the chorus shattered like the young elf’s chest. The mob fell away from the carnage in fear, and the Guards were able to advance on the elves. Eleren took a step back, but met with a wall of humanity she couldn’t penetrate. She could still Feel them, their fear vibrated along with hers, still mingling with the ecstasy of the Elfsong. Her whole body reverberated with pent-up power, on the verge of a magical climax that had no release but its own rebirth.
So she raised her voice above the shouting and sang in the tongue of the humans. She made up the words on the spot: they were a plea, not for her life, but for remembrance. The civilians stopped to listen, and thus were powerless to stop the Royal Guards in their advance. Eleren cried out when a musket blade pierced her stomach and finally silenced her voice.
* * *
Lord Winston slammed the newssheet against the top of his breakfast table. “Barbarians!” he cursed, the word landing solely on his own ears as he sat alone in the room. Unable to finish his breakfast, he left it there, and got ready for another day at Parliament Hall. He wasn’t looking forward to dealing with the gaggle of mouth-breathers he was stuck with, and with each rejected proposal he felt more and more useless as a legislator. How could he make them see that they were afraid of ghosts they’d created themselves?
An hour later his carriage pulled up to the stone steps of the Hall, and it was with astonishment that Lord Winston looked at the sight before him. A crowd of people had gathered on the steps, many dozens of them and still more arrived from the street.
They were singing in the tongue of the elves.