She first met him beneath the Stars in the Age before Man. Those were quieter times and there were fewer words for violence and war back then. The First King had just past and his Memorial Year was proceeding. Renditions of his great deeds and the Ages passed were being sung by bards in the royal courts across the land, but all she could remember from that Age is him.
She had been lying in a field staring at the Stars twinkling down on her. She could see her ancestors there, glittering down at her. He had lain beside her and begun pointing out his own ancestors and describing all their silly quirks and mannerisms. She had giggled and started to point out her own family’s Stars.
He had pointed to a dark spot in the sky–between the great arc of twin-constellations–and told her that he would be shining down from there one day. He told her that he would be waiting for her there; twinkling in the hallowed halls of eternity, he would wait until she joined him.
Even back then, few remembered the Old Ways. Fewer still practiced them.
He had long, brown hair and eyes to match with the olive skin from the East. His hand would reach out to her and she would laugh, gracefully spinning out of his reach as they walked under the Stars. Back then, they would dance the nights away to the starlight’s music, their ancestors twinkling down and the cool wind rustling the trees around them. On the warm summer evenings, they would lie in each other’s arms in the fields of heather below the twinkling tapestry above them, saying not a word and feeling everything.
Those were quieter times and she recalled them fondly but, it was funny, she could not remember much more from that Age. It was all about him; dancing, kissing, loving, and being loved.
The memories were beautiful and full. They were lush and warm. Back then, she recalled the nights were easier and the summers were warmer. Back then, the Stars were fewer, the Moon was brighter and her hands never noticed the cold as much as they do now.
Such is youth that the young waste it. Such is time that it moves the fastest when we are happiest. Such is life that the Ages eventually end.
Elfenkind were not immortal and, eventually, even they feel the passage of time. The First King had died from old age and his son, the Second King, began his reign by pushing back against the creeping wild animals gnawing at the fringes of their ancient way of life.
Unfortunately, some of these wild animals pushed back, and the next Age would see a lot more Stars joining the night sky.
There was no Memorial Year for the Second King, nor the Third. And neither of them died from old age. By the time the Fourth King grasped the Oaken Sceptre, the Kingdom was disintegrating around Elfenkind.
While she remembered the fear and gnawing uncertainty of this turbulent Age, she also remembered their betrothal on a warm midsummer night under the Old Oak Tree. With the High Druid gently tying their hands together and the Stars as their witnesses, she could recall every detail of that night like no other.
She could still smell the now-extinct flowers in her hair and the feeling of her loose dress across her thighs. She could still remember his smile as she straightened his shirt and brushed back his long, brown hair. And she could still sense the Stars watching them as they danced and danced.
The dancing was wild and celebratory at first, and then slower and gentler as the dawn came until her head was tucked into his neck, breathing deeply of his scent.
Most of all, she could never forget him moving a single hair from her face and kissing her deeply as they fell to the ground. He had tasted of the summer-wine they had been drinking and, as their bodies entwined, she had felt a hallowed eternity twinkling far above them and the Old Oak Tree.
For her, that Age would always taste like summer-wine, and ash.
Man had pushed back against Elfenkind and the ensuing war had revealed how startlingly adaptable they were. Perhaps because their lives were so short, perhaps because they lack the Elfen history and its lessons, or perhaps it was just fate, but Man took to the art of war as fire to a wick.
Initially, Man had been overwhelmed by the sophisticated armies of the Elfs. Proud and arrogant, the Second King had pushed his advantage but Man had fought back. Then, as the years dragged on, Man had invented more and more surprisingly powerful weapons.
While she would always think longingly of this Age of summer-wine beneath the Old Oak Tree, she would never forget the sound as the bombs began to fall. Like a clock announcing the changing of the hour, the bombs chimed the end of the Ages of Elfenkind and the start of the Age of Man.
After the last surviving elf retreated into the shadows, the Cities of Man took root. These dark, gloomy mazes of stone, steel and fire grew and expanded. Their growth consumed entire forests, ate countrysides, drank rivers dry and filled the skies with wretched smoke that sometimes even blocked out the Stars from her gaze.
She remembered the shame and sadness of this Age. The shame of their loss and the sadness of what had been lost.
This feeling was mixed with anger too. Perhaps born from arrogance and likely fueled by vengeance, some of the surviving elfs believed that they should fight back from the shadows and topple the Machines of Man.
She, though, believed that there were already enough Stars in the night sky.
There were rousing speeches by these rebel elfs. The tales of the First King were retold. And, beneath the cover of darkness and under the Old Oak Tree, rallying cries would pull the survivors together and they would drink of the old wines and talk of the glories of yesteryear.
Feeling bold from the wine and safely hidden from Man and his Machines, these elfs would eventually speak of war and violence. They would speak of a war that they could win against Man’s evil. Though she tried to ignore it, her betrothed had lost much and his voice would eventually join the other warmongers.
At the end of each evening when they were lying in each other’s arms, she would try to persuade him to stay. She would try to reason with him about peace. She would speak of all that they had right now but all he saw was how much they had lost back then.
He was not alone in feeling this way. Slowly at first and then quickly in the end, the warmongers won over the surviving Elfenkind and all but her turned towards vengeance and hatred.
Little did any of that matter.
The second war was much briefer: Elfenkind was weaker and Man was now much stronger with many more Machines.
While the previous Age had been one of fire and ash, this Age was one of darkness; complete and final darkness. It swallowed the last them under those Machines and there was little left to bury.
She never found his body. The grief tore at her, crumpling her to the ground below the Old Oak Tree. She wailed and keened until no sound came from her. She cried until her tears ran out, and, eventually, the darkness closed around her.
Not even the Stars twinkled in her darkness, and she fell into a deep, mournful sleep. It was a slumber so sound that the Old Oak Tree gently cradled her in its roots and covered her with its leaves.
She did not know how many Ages had passed while she lay beneath the Old Oak Tree in dreamless darkness. She did not know how she had survived nor did she feel any joy in this fact; while numb, her heart still ached.
Suddenly, she stirred one midsummer night. The smoke and pollution of Man had cleared enough for the countless twinkling Stars’ gaze to reach the ground beneath which she lay buried.
One thin, pale hand broke through the ground, reaching for the starlight. Then the next one… Dirt and the ash poured off her as she rose from the ground and looked around.
The world has changed beyond recognition.
The short, brutal lives of Man continued but the men of this Age did not recall the history of the previous Ages. Elfenkind and all their dead, their kingdom, and all the bloodshed had been forgotten by all save some children’s tales and the odd line of poetry.
All the Cities of Man had been absorbed together and the world was now just one, great City with the Old Oak Tree protected in one of its neglected parks. The stone, steel and fire of Man had changed into wondrous rivers, pools and oceans of light and colour. These glimmering lights powered sleek, quiet Machines of awe that flew on invisible wings passed her as the winds of previous Ages…
But–above all else and most unexpectedly–she discovered that the Man of this Age had reached for and touched the very Stars themselves!
In those eternal, hallowed halls filled with the light Elfenkind, Man now flew, building other cities on other planets with other stars…
It was then that she knew why she had woken. She became certain of what had woken her. As the last of her kind, she would make the final voyage.
An Age had passed since she had breathed the night air or felt the grass beneath her feet. An Age had passed as she drifted by the vast, celestial bodies that held Elfenkind’s light; filled with awe at such sights and tears filling her eyes, she cried out each their names as she passed by. An Age had passed as she traveled through the cosmos but she could still remember the Ages that had passed.
She recalled the darkness and death as the last of the Elfenkind fell under the Machines of Man. She could not forget the painful anguish of his passing. She remembered the fire and ash as the bombs went off around them. She recollected the sweet taste of summer-wine beneath the Old Oak Tree and felt his lips on hers…
And she could never forget when they first met–lying in the field with him, gazing at the Stars in the night sky as he pointed out the dark spot that he would be shining down from one day.
Her starship’s quantum drives flared as they reversed their thrust and she began to slow her voyage down. The now-ancient starship shuddered on its frame as it adjusted and she willed it to survive this last action.
She was almost there.
Carefully, she secured the spacesuit around herself, checked the oxygen and seals while ensuring her batteries were fully charged. Slowly she walked to the exit chamber and watched as the lights flickered from green to red, the port opened and the air rushed out into the blackness of space.
Gently, she walked to the doorstep of infinity and pushed off from the edge. Slowly, she floated out of her starship and towards a single, brilliant Star. Majestic, twin-constellations surrounded her as she floated further and further away from her starship…
And nearer and nearer to the Star.
In that eternity of hallowed space, she closed her eyes and listened. Her breathing was ragged in the suit and her heart was pounding. Still, she kept her eyes closed and focussed. At first, she was not sure but then it grew and grew. She could feel it. No… No! She could hear it!
She opened her eyes and stretched out her thin, wispy hand towards the Star. She strained with all her strength trying to reach out and hold it again. Tears were streaming down her ancient cheeks and she choked back a heart-wrenching sob as she cried out:
“Stop…. Stop calling! You need not wait for me anymore! I am here, my love, I am here!”