Once upon a time many years ago men had built a great highway for their machines over mountains and rivers to allow them to hurry even faster between their cities and towns. One of the designers of this great highway must have had some elf-blood in his veins, because at the very top of the highest pass a resting place had been built so that travelers might stop and enjoy the beautiful view. There were water fountains, picnic tables, and rest rooms so families could stop and eat lunch looking over the valley below.
If you stopped to rest at this spot, you would see that atop the hill was a dense and ancient forest that stretched north and south along the ridge for many miles. Descending the hill to the west the forest thinned to a meadow where a small but beautiful lake reflected the forest's shadow and the passing clouds; lower down were fields rich with grain and hay, and finally the floor of the valley filled with the houses and roadways of men. From the rest area on a clear day one could see across the valley for many miles to the river that had carved this land long, long before the coming of men or elves, and beyond to some sister hills on the far side of the valley. To the east were more hills, and an ancient orchard, untended and almost unknown, which still produced its bounty of apples and pears for anyone adventurous enough to find and harvest them. All this you could see – if you took the time.
Sometimes children of the people who stopped for rest would notice the faint trail that entered the forest from the edge of the rest area and if their parents weren't watching them, they might venture in among the trees. They would have to be very brave children, because the forest was dark and very old, and in only a few minutes the path would have led them beyond the point where they could hear the highway or their parents calls. Many became afraid and confused at this point, and turned around because they knew it was time to return to their parents. But – wait! Had they turned around once – or twice? Was it this way back to the cars, or that way? And many of them stumbled on deeper into the forest, all the while thinking they were walking toward safety and Mommy.
What of the mothers
and fathers who suddenly looked up, wondering where their children
were? They would check the rest area, looking in the car, the rest
room, checking with other parents until it was clear that their child
was nowhere to be found. They would run to the highway, looking up
and down the hill for a small pedestrian, and finding none would turn
to the forest, and walking closer, they would find the path.
“I'll look” the father would say. “Shout if you find him.” And down the path the anxious father would go – and before very long they would spot their child coming toward them.
Reunited, parents would ask questions, and it is here that the accounts become hazy.
“I was lost”, the little one would explain, “but a bunny showed me the way back.” Or, “I followed a little path until a birdie told me to come back”. One little boy was certain that a talking dog had found him and led him back to the cars. Parents were too glad to have their children safe to investigate these stories very closely, but the children were always right.
What the nobody knew was that deep in the forest three brothers lived in secret, keeping to themselves and their silent trees, lakes, and rocks. Actually, they were all orphans, brought together by fortune and the providence of The One, but they had adopted each other as brothers, and they were as close and loyal to each other as any three blood brothers could be. The eldest, tallest, and strongest of the three called himself “Elf” for that is, in fact, what he was, and it was one of the few things he could remember about himself. Like all elves, he was quiet and quick: he could move through the forest more silently than any deer, and climb a tree more quickly than any bear cub. Water and woods were his classroom and textbooks, and he could read the clouds in the sky and the leaves on the trees as easily as you or I read a book. His home was a cozy tree house he had built high up in the biggest oak tree in the forest and from his porch he could see to the edges of the woods and know all that happened within its borders.
The second oldest was somewhat of a mystery. He was very much an elf in some ways, but very human in others. He had the quickness and curiosity that elves have, but he was impatient and impetuous like a human. He called himself “Vuzzle”, because it was what he remembered his mother calling him before he lost her. Whether Elf or Human, Vuzzle was the fastest there had ever been of either kind. He could run as fast as any deer, and often amused himself by catching rabbits and foxes and then setting the surprised animals
free, probably wondering what had just happened to them. Another difference: most elves are wary of becoming involved in the affairs of men – and quite deliberate in deciding almost anything. All too often, the brothers found themselves right in the middle of a situation because Vuzzle had jumped in with both feet. Vuzzle's home was a cave formed by an ancient rock fall, with the door and windows so cleverly concealed you could not see them even if you walked right by. Vuzzle had made cozy rooms with air passages for summer and warming fires for winter, and during the cold days of winter, Elf and Puppy would join Vuzzle deep in his cave and drink hot cider and honey.
The youngest brother was in some ways the most different. He had been orphaned too young to remember his mother or father other than in his dreams, so he called himself “Puppy” because that is what people called him before he came to live with Elf and Vuzzle. Having lived by his wits almost from infancy, he was quite content to sit in the top of tree all day, composing songs to sing later around the campfire, or by the lake drawing pictures in the sand, or improving his little house. But in a situation where Vuzzle or Elf found themselves in trouble, Puppy would become a ferocious ally. Puppy could climb sheer rock, and leap from foothold to foothold with the agility of a mountain goat. And, although he didn't say much to anyone elf or human, animals seemed to understand exactly what Puppy wanted them to do. It was no very great feat for Puppy to get a bunny to hop down a trail in a certain direction, or a bird to fly this way, then that way. Was he an elf or a human? It is very hard to say. He was quiet and quick like an elf, but he knew no elf-lore; if anything, Puppy seemed more at home with humans than elf-kind. When visitors stopped at the rest area, Elf and Vuzzle often found Puppy playing with the little children, who always loved him.
Needless to say, the Brothers had many adventures, some before and many more after they met ... but my goodness! That is its own story, which I shall tell some other time.