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J.A. Aarntzen

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A Lonely Elf
By J.A. Aarntzen
Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Four young elves at the North Pole have to contend with their cranky uncle visiting from Woodhaven.

"A Lonely Elf" is a children story and is a part of the "Elves of Woodhaven" series of short stories that can also be found at NiceStories.Com

 

A Lonely Elf
 
 
 
“What do you like doing best?”
 
The suddenness of tone startled Diddo. He had just nodded off to sleep. He was not expecting to hear the sound of a voice.
 
“Diddo! I was just speaking to you!” The words were sharp. This was a complete contrast to the usual dull drone that came from Uncle Egbert’s mouth.
 
Diddo opened his eyes and saw the bulging body of the wood elf sitting in the wooden stool across from him. It took a brief moment for him to gather in his surroundings. He realized that he had fallen asleep on his chair at the big elfin table. A quick glance about the oaken furniture told him that Ho, Hum, and Kiddo had stolen off to bed.
 
Once again he was left to entertain the visiting uncle on his own. Uncle Egbert was a nice sort whom all four elves loved dearly. He was kind and he was generous. He was every inch a grand-elf. But there was one thing about Uncle Egbert that nobody liked. Whenever you got a chance to talk to him all that he would do was complain about this and that.   It was because of this that all the others avoided him so much. Diddo didn’t understand why he put up with the cantankerous grand-elf so much.
 
“What do you like doing best? That’s the question that I asked you Diddo.” There was a hint of anger in Egbert’s voice but it was sounding mostly like that dull drone again.
 
Diddo did not know what Uncle Egbert expected in the way of an answer to his question. What do you like to do best? He thought over the question. There were many things that he liked doing. It was hard to decide which one that he liked doing best.
 
Apparently he was taking too long for all of a sudden Uncle Egbert snapped at him, “Are you going to answer my question or do I go home not knowing what is important to my nephew?”
 
Suddenly Diddo replied, “I like to make candles the best.” It was true that he enjoyed candle making as a hobby but whether it was his honest favourite thing to do was another question.
 
“Candles? You don’t say!” Uncle Egbert exclaimed. “When I was a young elf, I used to fancy myself a fine candle-maker. I thought of making it my lifelong craft.”
 
“But you are a wood elf, Uncle Egbert, and a wood elf cleaves only to stick and bark!” Diddo said teasingly. He knew that this would get Uncle Egbert’s goat even though his billy was back in the home country.
 
“A wood elf’s first love is the tree but that does not mean that he cannot appreciate the other fine things that life can offer. And this my dear nephew can include the fashioning of aromatic paraffin.”
 
Uncle Egbert’s expression clearly showed Diddo that he did not take the taunt in a light jest that meant that Diddo had hurt the feelings of the good Uncle. Perhaps the young Egbert did not want to be a worker of wood. Maybe he wanted to be a candle-maker more than Diddo realized. Diddo had to remember that Egbert had grown up in sterner times than did he and his brothers. Back then, you had to become what you were born to do and Uncle Egbert was born a wood elf.
 
“I’m sorry good Uncle,” Diddo apologized. “It never occurred to me that you ever wanted to be anything but a wood elf.”
 
“It was only a passing fancy but I did set the boles for a few.”
 
“They must have been good candles,” Diddo said. He felt the weight of Egbert’s gray eyes upon him.
 
“Why?” the Uncle asked. “Why do you say they must have been good? I have given you no indication about the quality of my candles.”
 
Diddo felt tense. Uncle Egbert certainly was a taciturn person. “They must have been good because you made them.”
 
The darkness in the grand-elf’s eyes lightened a degree. A wheezing laugh regaled from his constricted chest. “Such insight in a nephew!” He clapped Diddo’s back. Then his tone turned that degree of darkness that was lost in his eyes. “It’s too bad that the uncle is even more insightful. I recognize baloney in a cheese shop.”
 
Diddo silently cursed Ho, Hum and Kiddo. They should be here to spend some time with this bitter old elf. Why was it always him that had to put up with Egbert’s sour moods? “Perhaps I should go to bed if you are going to talk to me in that fashion!” he said with as close to a snarl as he had ever given Uncle Egbert.
 
“Relax Diddo. But don’t go to sleep!” Egbert said as he walked across the room and planted himself in front of the wood stove that the elves had named, ‘Your Majesty’.
 
Diddo followed his uncle across the room and seated himself on a small stool beside ‘Your Majesty’. Who ever sat in this seat had to tend to all of the King’s whims. The little elf opened the creaky door of the stove and started to poke around in the embers hoping to liven them up. Once the hearth reddened heartily, the elf placed a chubby birch log on top. Angry sparks shot up at him in annoyance from being disturbed from their rest.
 
“’Your Majesty’ is hungry tonight,” he said softly to the grand-elf while he put the poker safely away.
 
Uncle Egbert did not make a reply to Diddo’s comment and Diddo could see why. The old wood elf’s eyes were shut and his breathing suggested that he had fallen asleep.
 
“Good night Uncle Egbert,” Diddo whispered and started to walk past the grand-elf toward his bedroom door behind. He didn’t enjoy leaving Egbert sleeping on a chair instead of a bed but he did not dare disturb him lest Egbert wakes up grumpier than ever.
 
Why was he feeling so guilty about Uncle Egbert? He was doing far more than any of the others for the visiting uncle yet none of them went to bed with a heavy conscience. “Ah,” he sighed, “Perhaps in the morning things will be different.”
 
He was just starting to shut the bedroom door when he heard Uncle Egbert shuffle his feet, moan forlornly, and call out his name, “Diddo, Diddo!”
 
“Coming dear Uncle!” Diddo answered. He returned to the sitting room. In his hands, he carried two glossy candles of his own make.
 
“These are my latest, Uncle Egbert. I used a design that was popular in Seventeenth century Denmark. Do you think that they are any good?”
 
“Who, the Danes?” Uncle Egbert said with a strain of sarcasm.
 
“No, the candles.”
 
“Let me examine them,” the grand-elf extended a thick, pawlike hand toward Diddo. He brought the two bright canary candles up to his testy eyes. Slowly, he turned the waxen columns over, his blunt fingers caressing the candles’ grains.
 
Diddo saw the strain in the old one’s eyes. Uncle Egbert could not see as well as he used to. “Where are your spectacles, dear Uncle?” Diddo asked innocently.
 
“You have only now noticed that I am not wearing my focals?” the wood elf said sharply.
 
‘What a grumpy old elf,’ Diddo thought. Of course, he had noticed that Egbert’s glasses were missing. He was only wondering what had become of them. He did not dare say anything in reply for fear that Egbert would jump on him again.
 
“I lost them Diddo. I lost my good lenses in those blinding snows that my nephews call a lawn. Goodness knows that you should have grass around your house. All elves have grass around their homes!”
 
Diddo sighed forlornly. They had gone through this type of argument a hundred times. Uncle Egbert had never approved of his four nephews leaving the elves’ home country for such a desolate place like the frozen North. He just could not understand why anybody would choose to live in a place that never got warm. He would always say that at least in the home country there is a spring and a summer. Here, he pointed out time and again, was almost always winter.
 
“We’re not going to go through that old argument again, are we?” Diddo groaned. Uncle Egbert always made him feel down. His uncle felt more like an imposition than a friend.
 
Diddo noticed that the old wood elf suddenly changed his demeanor. Perhaps, Egbert saw that Diddo was developing a shorter wick when it came to rehashing topics that never seemed to get resolved. Whatever it was, Egbert did not dive into the old arguments like he always had done before. Instead, he brought the two canary candles closer to his yellowing eyes for a better scrutiny of their quality. In a softer voice than he had used in a while, Egbert said, “This is fine work, Diddo.  The wax is thick and hardcast. The grain should not be so coarse, of course, but you will get better I am sure.”
 
“Thank you, Uncle Egbert!” Diddo felt genuinely pleased with his uncle’s appraisal and compliment. Maybe they were finally on the track toward amiable conversation. And it was with that amicable spirit that Diddo asked, “How does it compare with the candles that you made in your youth?”
 
“I am old, dear nephew. My candles were made many years ago. I can hardly remember what my parents looked like. How can you expect me to remember something as petty as a measly candle?”
 
Diddo was absolutely shocked. Tears were forming at the backs of his eyes. He had not expected Egbert to turn so cruel so fast. Rude or not, Diddo was going to go to bed now and there was nothing that the grand-elf could do about it.
 
“Give me back my candles,” he said coldly, reaching to take them from Egbert’s hands. But Egbert would not let go.
 
The two elves started to struggle over the canary candles. It was not long before one of the candles snapped in half and the other crumbled into flakes.
 
The tears were streaming down Diddo’s face for the little elf knew what was occurring in Egbert’s mind. The wood-elf was feeling terrible for what he had done to his nephew’s handiwork. This made Diddo feel really bad for he could not stand to see his uncle in pain, even though Egbert deserved to feel bad for what he had done.
 
The young elf threw his arms around the old one and began to weep in the old one’s ruffled tweed coat. “Don’t feel bad about what happened. It’s just as much my fault!” Diddo found himself apologizing to his uncle.
 
Egbert patted him on the back. In a soft, soothing voice that carried the charming accent of the home country, Egbert sighed, “There, there, little Diddo! Everything will be all right. There is no need to cry. You have had a hard life living up here in the North Country, in a world that should only belong to the polar bear and the caribou. This cold, cold weather is no place for an elf. You should never have permitted Ho to talk you into moving up here with them. You should have stayed in the home country where you belong. You would have learned to do things that are much more gratifying and substantial than making candles. You would have come to think it folly of your brothers to have gone to such a distant and utterly inhabitable place as the North Pole. Nothing would make me happier than to reintroduce my nephew to those people of the homeland who recall him merely as a distant memory of a sad occasion. They will see that he is still a fine lad and that he can still make something out of himself.” The wood elf took a deep breath before he added, “I wish that you would come home with me.”
 
Egbert’s voice was so soothing, his backstroking so reassuring that Diddo found it hard not to be compelled by his words. He made the homeland seem so inviting, so alluring that suddenly living at the North Pole was not as homey as it once was to the little elf. It was an enchanting notion to go back to the place where you were born and where you were weaned. There is always something magical about your first home.
 
Diddo was very young when he and his three older brothers, Ho, Hum and Kiddo decided to venture out from the homeland and leave all their other friends and relatives behind. They traveled here and there, never ever staying too long at any one place.
 
Eventually they ended up at the North Pole and called that frozen tundra home.
 
Egbert could never understand why his nephews had done this. All four of them got along well with everybody back home. They were well loved and well liked. It wasn’t for riches that they left so why did they leave, Egbert always wondered.
 
Invariably, the answer that he was given was that the four elves left the home country because of a visionary dream that came upon a very young Hum one night. In that dream, Hum was instructed by some mysterious messenger to move to a place that was at once hot and cold. He was to take his brothers with him.   Once Ho learned about Hum’s dream, he decided that the four elves should heed the dream for it was an omen. Since Ho was the unquestioned leader of the four brothers, it went without saying that once he made up his mind about something the others had to bide by his decision.
 
The four young elves announced their plans to kindred, friends and neighbors. Everybody believed that Ho was placing too much importance to Hum’s dream. Even Hum, himself, had a hard time trying to remember what was told to him in his dream. All those of the homeland thought that it was crazy to go out searching for a place that was both warm and cold. There was no place like that. Every elf from every corner of the homeland tried to persuade the four brothers to give up on their foolishness.
 
Yet most elves respected Ho and believed that the eldest of the four was not given to rash actions. Perhaps there was something substantial to Hum’s dream. Gradually, one by one, the citizens of the home country came to accept the decision that Ho and his brothers had made.
 
Diddo remembered that last month back home as a rough, emotional period. It was hard to say good-bye to those that you did not want to say good-bye to. Those goodbyes had to be said and slowly they said their good byes to people who had been the most important elements in their lives. It was a very sad time but Ho reminded him, Kiddo and Hum that what was portended to Hum in his dream was of far more importance than the feelings of individuals.
 
In the last few days of their stay in the home country they did not see Uncle Egbert once. The old grand-elf had been avoiding them. It seemed that Egbert just did not want to say good-bye. Perhaps, he couldn’t say good-bye. Whenever any of the four brothers tried to contact him, he shooed them away and said that they were out of their heads going in search for some place that did not exist. Diddo remembered those last days as a period where Egbert was very bitter toward him and his brothers.
 
When their final day in the home country came around, most of the elves came out to wish them farewell. They had a party with plenty of mirth making and gift-giving. Diddo recalled that on that day he had just about made up his mind to stay with the people that he loved in the country that was his. Yet Ho kept on reminding him about how important it was for them to complete the conditions of Hum’s dreams. So with heavy hearts they said their final good byes to those they loved. Uncle Egbert had not come to say good-bye to them and this made all four brothers very sad and very hurt.
 
So without getting the grand-elf’s blessing, Ho, Hum, Kiddo and Diddo departed the home country. They journeyed for a long time and had many, many adventures as they sought the place that was foretold in Hum’s dream. These adventures are for other tales and not the one at hand for none of these adventures concerned a lonely elf while this tale does.
 
In the course of time, the four elves drifted northward. They kept on following the direction of Diddo’s compass for no particular reason other than it gave them a direction to go. Eventually they even passed the point where trees did not grow any longer. Finally, they reached a point where Diddo’s compass had no place to point.
 
It was here that Ho announced that they had arrived at their final destination. All four elves rejoiced with graceful mirth. For this was the spot on Earth where it was both warm and cold.
 
Kiddo at once started to bicker by complaining that all that he could feel was cold, bitter, bitter cold that ate right through to his bones.
 
Ho replied to Kiddo’s complaints by asking the wrathful elf, “What do you feel towards your brothers?”
 
“At present, I believe that one has gone stark raving loony!” was Kiddo’s flippant reply.
 
“But don’t you love them, even the loony one?” Ho asked.
 
Kiddo ummed and ahhed, his face turning red with embarrassment.
 
“Well, don’t you?” Ho was trying to coax an answer out of him.
 
Finally Kiddo replied by saying sheepishly, “Yes, I do. I love my brothers.”
 
“Even the loony one?” Ho said teasingly.
 
“Even the loony one!” Kiddo answered, his face beaming a big happy elfin smile.
 
“Well, isn’t that a warm feeling to love your brothers?” Ho led Kiddo on.
 
“I guess it is,” Kiddo said bashfully. Then with more strength in his voice, he agreed out loud. “Yes, it is a warm feeling to love your brothers!” He grinned broadly toward Hum and Diddo. Then to Ho he added, “Even if they are as loony as a loony bird!”
 
“And I thought that you said that all that you could feel was the cold!” Ho laughed a jolly elfin belly laugh.
 
“Then it has been the North Pole that we have been looking for all along,” Hum declared with a wild joy oozing from his eyes.
 
“And my compass had shown us the way all along!” Diddo cried with rejoicement.
 
“I have a feeling that I have been tricked by a word game but who cares! I am not one to pass up a good rejoicing!” Kiddo grinned with both his eyes and his mouth.
 
“Rejoice, my brothers, for we have at last found our home!” Ho said solemnly, his eyes skyward in thanksgiving. “Hum’s dreams has brought us here but it is going to take hard work to keep us here. We are going to have to make many sacrifices to stay here but in the end I believe that we will feel rewarded by deciding to make the North Pole our home.” He brought his eyes down from the sky and regarded each of his brothers. “We are four to stay together for ever and ever.”
 
“We are four to stay together for ever and ever!” the others answered as they formed a circle with their hands all joined together in the center.
 
There were many, many winters and summers that spun by before the four brothers would have contact with anybody from the home country. One year they met a little wood duck that was roosting in their backyard. The creature was there several days before Ho had decided to go out and talk to the feathered being. In the course of their conversation, Ho learned that the wood duck was going to be migrating over the home country early in the autumn.
 
Now, generally Ho was not one to ask favors from anybody but in this case he took exception. After all, the wood duck was not going to be going out of his way or anything like that. Ho asked the wood duck if he would be so kind as to drop in on the home country and pass on the message that the four brothers were doing well and were living at the North Pole. The wood duck was a kindly sort and said to the elf that he would be happy to drop in on that magical land that was the home to those wonderful people, the elves. It was always a treat for him to find occasion to drop in on the elves’ home country.
 
The following spring the little wood duck returned with greetings from all the elves in the home country. It seemed that everybody missed Ho, Diddo, Kiddo and Hum and that all the elves of the home country said prayers every night for their safety and well-being.
 
In the summer that tagged onto that spring, the four elves had a surprise visitor. Uncle Egbert made the first of many treks to the North Pole to visit his tundra nephews. The bitter feelings that Uncle Egbert had when the elves left the home country had softened and he was now willing to accept that Ho and company had the right to choose the place that they could call home. 
 
It was a joyous reunion with many tears and laughs. Joyous for everybody, that is, except for Kiddo. He was always suspicious of the grand-elf’s true intentions. He did not trust Uncle Egbert. He believed that the wood elf was not being honest when he said that he was happy that his nephews were carving out a life at the North Pole. Kiddo felt that Egbert was going to try to convince them to return to the home country.
 
Yet, on the first visit, Egbert did nothing to show that he wanted the boys to come back home. Nor on the next visit or the next. But Kiddo still refused to believe that Egbert was being genuine with them. Kiddo felt that Egbert was basically a lonely elf that desperately wanted the company of his nephews back home.
 
Kiddo was chided by the others for having these feelings. They stated that Kiddo was showing no elfish characteristics by harboring such a suspicion toward Uncle Egbert. There was nothing Kiddo could do but take the scorn of his brothers.
 
But when Uncle Egbert came for his fourth visit to the North Pole four years later did the four elves see a sign that Egbert indeed wanted them to return to the home country. It was a shock and it hurt Diddo, Ho and Hum very much. Kiddo, on the other hand, felt smug because he was proven to be right all along. Egbert wanted them back and he found ways of making them feel guilty. He told them that he was old and he could not continue forever making these long, hard hikes to the North Pole. He said that he did want to die knowing that his nephews were so far away.
 
The four elves all sympathized with Egbert’s feelings but Ho stated that they could not compromise Hum’s dream. They had come to the North Pole for a purpose and until that purpose had been fulfilled they could not return to the home country.
 
Uncle Egbert had left early that year. He left saying that he never wanted to see his nephews again. Yet, the following summer he was there again at their doorstep. And soon he started again trying to make his nephews feel guilty about abandoning their home country and him. He would leave again early, down in the mouth that his nephews would not oblige him.
 
This was the pattern that was set for the next dozen years. It was a pattern that started to make Ho, Kiddo and Hum dread the summers for that meant that they would have to put up with Uncle Egbert’s whining again. None could tell Egbert to stay home for they all loved the grand-elf dearly. But his visits were far from pleasant.
 
Diddo, unlike his brothers, always looked forward to Uncle Egbert’s visits. He knew that his uncle was a very lonely elf that was only looking for companionship. As far as Diddo could see, there was nothing wrong with that. He felt that his brothers were being too hard on Egbert and that they should try to take more of an interest in what news Egbert brought from the home country.
 
It was for this reason more than any other that Egbert spent more time with Diddo than any of the other nephews. Eventually the time came where all of Egbert’s complaints about being lonely were directed solely toward Diddo. He did not even bother with the others any longer. So, in a sense, Diddo took on the entire brunt of the nephews’ guilt upon himself. It was his fault that Egbert was lonely. It wasn’t Ho’s, Hum’s or Kiddo’s. Each year Diddo found it more and more difficult to tell his Uncle, ‘No, I will not go back with you’.   It always took his brothers to convince him to stay at the North Pole.
 
He felt Uncle Egbert’s warm hands pat his back. He could feel the loneliness seep out through the old elfin fingers. He heard Egbert talking softly to him just like when he was a child. So gentle. He wished Ho and Kiddo were around to shield him from Uncle Egbert’s persuasive power. Right now, he was feeling very vulnerable. He was feeling a strong desire to follow his uncle home back to the old country. He could not bear the guilt that he felt because of Egbert’s dire wretchedness.
 
Right now, he couldn’t even remember the importance of Hum’s dream. He and his brothers had been here such a long time already and nothing truly magical and amazing had happened. Something should have happened by now, he thought. Perhaps Hum’s dream was only that, a dream. Why were they remaining up here so far away from family and friends? He found that he was starting to deeply desire to return to the home country.
 
“Tell me about the home land, Uncle Egbert.   Are the trees as thick and as tall as ever?” It had been a long time since he had seen a tree. Living above the tree line meant that there were none of these magnificent leafed giants to see.
 
“Thicker, Diddo, and taller. The homeland still stands proud and mighty. But not so proud and mighty that it could not accept into its bosom a poor child that has gone astray.”
 
“Are all my family and my friends still there? I have missed them very much.”
 
“Yes, Diddo, they are all still there and they all miss you as much as you miss them. If you were to come home with me there will be much weeping and crying.”
 
“Why would they weep and cry?”
 
“They will weep and cry because they will be so very happy that a long, lost friend has finally come home. And once the weeping is over they will throw you a welcome home party that will last a week if not more.” A spritely twinkle came into Uncle Egbert’s eyes.
 
Now, this was not just an ordinary twinkle that you might see in the eyes of your mother or father. This was an elfin gleam that sparkles with magical radiance. It is said that wood elves get this sparkle by peering at starlight through a secret glade in their homeland. They are loath to tell any outsiders about the glade’s location. When a wood elf’s eyes begin to shine, it is said that at that time he or she could do almost anything that could be done under the sun.
 
“I will tell you something Diddo,” Uncle Egbert began. There was a wild twinkle emanating from both of his eyes. “You think that every elf considered Hum to be the most special elf of our times. It is not so. Many of the elders regard you as the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy.”
 
“Me? Why?” Diddo gushed in astonishment.
 
The sparkle in Egbert’s eyes grew as bright as any star in the sky. “On the night that you were born two comets were seen sailing through the heavens. To a wood elf that could only mean a good omen for it is said that if an elf comes to life when two sailors span the sky that elf will bring great riches to the elfin people.”
 
“I am but a poor elf, dear Uncle, and I have no desire to accumulate wealth. How could someone like me bring great riches to my people?”
 
“Oh Diddo, you are still so young!” Uncle Egbert exclaimed.
 
“Still I am set in my ways, dear Uncle. I cannot imagine myself suddenly becoming impassioned with the desire to collect wealth.”
 
Egbert’s eyes narrowed and his voice was half whisper half sigh. “Dear, dear Diddo have you not learned that there are other kinds of wealth besides silver and gold? There is the wealth of knowledge that you can bring to our people. There is a wealth of wisdom. But most of all there is a wealth of love. And I believe that it is this latter, this wealth of love that you are greatly endowed with. It is this wealth that you must share with your people. They miss you very much and crave for that love that you can give them. It hurt them badly when you moved away with your brothers for you were depriving them of the thing that the twin comets promised.”
 
Diddo shut his eyes and imagined all the elves back home pining for him. This picture did not seem right for they would be yearning for Ho, Hum and Kiddo as well. He was no different from his brothers. If there was one that was different and worth pining exclusively over, it would have to be Hum. After all it was Hum that had the vision and not him.
 
“I still don’t understand, Uncle Egbert. I do not think that I am any different from Ho or Kiddo. It is Hum that is special and not I. After all, it is Hum that is the fulfillment of the elfin legacy and therefore it is he that our people should be missing.”
 
“I’ll agree with you Diddo. There has never been born an elf like your brother and my nephew Hum. He has talents and powers that go far beyond any that any other elf has ever had. Still, that should not diminish you for there has never been an elf born like you either. You were born on the night of the twin comets and that by itself has to make you special for there has never been an elf born on such a night. Hum’s talents showed from the start but yours are slower to develop and I have no doubt that in your own way, you too will become as much heralded as your brother. The elders of our homeland already regard you as some sort of talisman, some sort of lucky charm.”
 
“Just because I was born on the night of two comets?”
 
“Comets are always lucky my boy!”
 
“So I am doubly lucky, am I?” Diddo felt his head swim. All this flattery from Uncle Egbert made him dizzy. No doubt some of it came from the dazzle in the grand-elf’s eyes. No doubt Uncle Egbert was manipulating him through elfin tricks. But still he wanted to believe his uncle. No one had ever told him this tale about the twin comets. It was all news to him. He found this strange that he had not heard this before. He had grown up with the impression that he had been born at precisely twelve o’clock noon. How could there be comets at midday?
 
Yet, he did not allow these facts to deter him. His mind was made up. He took a deep breath, holding the air inside of him so that he may survive what he was about to say. “Uncle Egbert,” he began, his voice cracking. “You can tell the elders of the homeland that a long, lost son is coming home!” 
 
He could not believe that he had said it. Even more, he could not believe the ease of those painful words rolling off of his tongue. It was as if they had come out on their own accord.
 
A tidal change swept over the grand-elf. Gone were the worry brows and the heavy scowl. It was as if thirty years were washed away from Egbert’s face. He started to look sprite like, youthful and jovial. Elfin élan filtered everything of age out of the wood elf. His cheeks became rosy; his big belly bold with joy, and his ears began to wriggle with glee. His fiery silver eyes cooled and began to shine with mirth instead of forced magic.
 
Diddo felt a wave of genuine happiness lap up against his heart. It did him good to see dear old Uncle Egbert in such gay spirits. All that it had taken to change that dreary, lonely elf into a robust cheerful elf was just one sentence, ‘I’m coming home’.
 
But where was home? Was home truly the homeland with all those throngs of elves who would cheer his return? Or was it here with his three brothers, Ho, Hum and Kiddo way up here in the North Country? Diddo starkly realized that that one sentence that had made Egbert so happy was also the exact same sentence that would make his brothers so sad. For saying ‘I’m coming home’ to Uncle Egbert meant saying ‘Good bye’ to his brothers.
 
He felt his body shudder at the thought of leaving them behind. Ho, Hum and Kiddo had been with him all of his life. He was their much cherished baby brother. He had never been away from them. He didn’t know if he could survive without them. They were this three favourite people in the world. How could he leave them?
 
But then again there were no other three people in the world with whom he had fought so much with either. How many times did he feel that they wouldn’t listen to him because he was the youngest? How many times did he wish that they would leave him alone?
 
If he were to leave for the home country there was no doubt that they would be disappointed with his decision and that they would miss him very much. Yet they had each other. They would gradually get over his leaving and soon would be carrying on just as they had done before because they still had each other.
 
Uncle Egbert had nobody. He was a lonely old elf.  He needed the company of others but those that he could most naturally cleave to choose to live in a bleak land far, far away from the home country. Diddo and his brothers were all the family that the grand-elf had left in the world. Nobody wants to see the old forced to live on his or her own. Least of all Diddo, yet to give Egbert that company meant that the little elf would have to leave Ho and the rest. But Uncle Egbert needed him more than his brothers needed him and there was no way that Diddo could deny this. If it meant that he would have to leave his brothers to please his uncle, he would do it. Uncle Egbert did not deserve to die a lonely old elf.
 
“When would you like to leave, dear Nephew?” the old elf’s eyes were rimmed with gold and magic. Diddo felt slightly dazed by the old one’s eyes. It was as if there was something in their gleam that made him feel like he was not his own master. It was as if Uncle Egbert controlled him through those eyes, making him less able to think clearly.
 
“When would you like to leave, dear Uncle?” he answered with a question. His voice sounded groggy as if he were afraid to let the words come from his lips. Yet the words did come from his lips.
 
“As soon as possible, little Diddo. It is far too cold up here for my weary bones.”
 
Diddo tried to take his eyes away from his uncle’s glowing orbs. But he found that he couldn’t. They were drawing his in as if they had his on a taut fishing line and reel.
 
“I would like to leave today Diddo. Why must we stay here any longer?”
 
“Today?” Diddo found it incredible that Egbert wanted to leave so early. Only a part of the winter had gone by so far. Egbert was supposed to have stayed for at least a month longer. It would take Diddo at least a month to get his affairs in order and to say those painful good byes to Ho, Hum and Kiddo.
 
“Yes, today. That is as soon as possible, isn’t it?”
 
Diddo felt the compulsion in Egbert’s eyes and he found it impossible to deny them. He was under some sort of sway and there was nothing that he could do about it. It grieved him as he heard his own voice say, “Today is fine.”
 
“In fact,” Uncle Egbert began, “Why should we doddle about until the morning? If we were to leave right now, we could be back in the homeland a half a day earlier. Let’s be off at once!” A blinding, compelling glare shot out of the wood elf’s eyes. Diddo was knocked back and stunned by the shock of light. He temporarily lost his breath. He shook his head to regain his senses.
 
“You want to leave at once?” he gasped.
 
“At once is as soon as possible. Let us be off!”
 
“But what about my brothers? We can’t up and leave without saying good bye to them first!” Diddo cried. He found it absolutely incredulous that Uncle Egbert would be in such a hurry to leave.
 
“We must leave before they wake up,” Egbert grumbled. “Can’t you see? If we were to wake up your brothers to tell them that we are leaving, they would try everything in their power to make you change your mind. They are stronger willed than you Diddo. They will make you change your mind!”
 
“No, they won’t!” Diddo roared defiantly. “They will understand once I explain to them that they don’t really need me here while you need me very badly back home.” The young elf felt the strain of tears in his eyes. “You can’t change my mind on this dear Uncle. I can’t leave good Ho, sweet Hum, and wily Kiddo without saying good-bye. I would be abjectly miserable for the rest of my life for it and I will blame you, Uncle Egbert, for my misery!”
 
The glow in the wood elf’s eyes started to fade as if a wind was trying to blow it out. Uncle Egbert’s head began to sink. He was murmuring to himself. Diddo could not hear what he was saying. The young elf hated himself for having to be so rough on his Uncle but Egbert’s demand to leave at once was unreasonable. It would be the worst thing that Diddo would ever had done in his life if he was to walk out of his brothers’ lives without giving his blessings to them and them giving their blessings to him. It was just unthinkable to get up and go in the fashion that the grand-elf wanted.
 
Suddenly, Egbert’s head lifted. The wood elfin glow radiated with a savage brilliance from his eyes. “Diddo,” he said in a deep, commanding voice. “Diddo, you shall come with me at once!”
 
Diddo felt as if all the power in all the northern winds had just swept him over with one ugly gust. He felt like a mouse in a den of lions. His chest was tight from the awesome blow. He was too weak to even whimper.
 
“You shall come with me at once, Nephew Diddo!” Egbert’s voice repeated in the same terrible croak. A wild fire exuded from his eyes. It was a fire that would have burnt away the fires in the sun. Diddo felt all his willpower start to wilt and crumble to ash. Egbert had taken over his thoughts and he could do nothing about it.
 
“I will come with you Uncle,” he said, his voice barely more than a breath. “I will come with you as soon as ….” He did not have the strength to complete his tantamount cry of defiance. He was overburdened by the sheer weight of Egbert’s wood elfin magic.
 
“Hush, Diddo!” Egbert hissed with his burning eyes. “Do not speak for you will wake up the others!”
 
Even if Diddo only wanted to whisper there could be no voice. He had no strength to speak. Uncle Egbert’s magic had usurped all of his willpower and determination. He was now Egbert’s drone and blind to anything else but his uncle’s whimsy. Diddo was shocked by what had been done to him, but the one thought in his head that had hurt the most was the realization that his uncle did not trust him. Egbert had shown that he believed that Diddo was not strong enough to go against his brothers. Diddo knew that Ho, Hum and Kiddo would have tried their darnedest to talk him out of going but the little elf would not have let them change his mind. He had decided on his own that he would go back to the home country with Uncle Egbert and there was nothing that anybody could have done to alter his decision. Yet, Uncle Egbert through this ruthless display of wood elfin power showed the little elf that the grand-elf had no confidence in him. This was what truly hurt him the most.
 
“Come Diddo,” Uncle Egbert said, his voice and eyes not as harsh and overbearing as before. “My sled is packed with enough wares and stores to take us back to the homeland. The dogs are ready to go. Everything is ready except for you, my little Arctic menschen. You must put on your warmest and thickest tundra parka and your snuggest pair of mittens. And then we will be off to the homeland!” There were no voice tricks in the old one’s last sentence. It was genuine elation that filled him when he thought that he would finally be going home to his country with one of his long-departed nephews.
 
Regretfully, ruefully and tearfully, Diddo complied with Egbert’s commands. He slipped into his big whale blubber coat that an Inuit boy had given him after the boy had assured him that the whale had died of natural causes and was not killed by a harpoon or any other device of man’s. No cold was able to penetrate this coat. The only chill that could enter it was the cold that one carries in one’s heart. Diddo was bringing the worst Arctic freeze into the inner linings of this coat. Why was his uncle doing this to him? He looked with an expression that was half anger and half sorrow at the old wood elf.
 
Egbert sensed the hostility in his nephew. There was hardly any dazzle in his eyes. There were no tricks in his voice. “I hope that you are not too angry with me for what I have done, sweet Nephew. You have to understand that this is the only way that I can be certain that you will return to the homeland with me. Please forgive me for my lack of trust in you.” His voice was half-choked and his eyes were clogged with tears.
 
Diddo made no response to his uncle’s apology. What Uncle Egbert was doing was unforgivable. If you can’t trust your own nephew in an honest moment then you were meant to be lonely. Friendship is something that should be basted with trust. If you can’t trust somebody then you can’t have a friend. Diddo promised himself that when he arrived in the home country he would behave like a miserable wretch. Egbert was not going to enjoy the company of his nephew. He was going to be sorry that he ever stole away the young elf from the North Pole and the company of his brothers.
 
Diddo walked all over the living room in search of the warm mittens. He looked high and low, wide and far, and here, there and everywhere for the hand warmers that Egbert had commanded him to find and wear. But wherever he looked the mittens could not be found. If they were not in the living room, where could they be then? A smile came over Diddo’s glazed face. If they were not in the living room, there could only be one other place that they could be.
 
He smiled because he realized that Egbert’s spell was going to be the very thing that would cause the grand-elf’s scheme to fall apart. Diddo could do nothing but to carry out his uncle’s wishes to the letter of the word. The mittens that Egbert had ordered him to put on were in the bottom drawer of his dresser. And his dresser was in the room that he shared with Kiddo. And Kiddo was a very light sleeper. It doesn’t take much to wake him up. The sound of a rattling bottom drawer would have Kiddo up and about and wondering what was causing all of the noise.
 
With almost a grin on his face, Diddo started to walk into his bedroom.
 
“Where are you going?” Uncle Egbert cried.
 
“To get my mittens as you asked me,” Diddo responded in a loud voice that he knew would be loud enough to disturb his roommate.
 
“Never mind your mitts!” Uncle Egbert gasped. “I will lend you mine.” The uncle knew how light of a sleeper young Kiddo was and what kind of scheme Diddo was unleashing. “Get away from that door and keep your mouth quiet!” The glare was back in his eyes.
 
It was almost like an invisible hand that pulled little Diddo away from the door. He wanted to cry out but he could not somehow get a grasp of his vocal chords. It seemed like almost nothing could be as powerful as the will of a grand wood elf.
 
“Come on, get outside Diddo,” the uncle grumbled. With his real hands he pushed his nephew along until the little elf stumbled outside into the cold night.
 
For a moment Diddo felt dejected and that all was lost. How was he going to prevent Egbert from whisking him off to the home country now? He would never see his brothers again. But then suddenly Diddo knew that everything was going to be all right.
 
For in that dark and cold night, there started a commotion that would certainly get not only Kiddo but also all of his brothers up. These were the sounds of Uncle Egbert’s pack dogs. The team of little terriers and poodles let loose with a whole chorus of incessant yapping at the sight of Diddo outdoors. The dogs were cold and they wanted inside. Diddo almost laughed with glee. Nobody could sleep through all of that noise.
 
“Would somebody shut those dogs up!” Kiddo’s voice boomed.
 
“Kiddo be quiet! I can’t sleep!” Ho complained.
 
“Why are the doggies barking?” Hum cried. “Shouldn’t we bring them inside so that they could all get snuggly and warm?”
 
“Drat it all!” Uncle Egbert moaned. He did not even have the chance to step outside to join his nephew and his whining dogs before a bedroom door opened. 
 
Out walked a sleepy Kiddo, his arms still fighting their way through the sleeves of his green housecoat. “What is all this noise?” he groaned. “Don’t you know that the night is the time for sleeping?”
 
Uncle Egbert did not give Kiddo an answer. He glared heavily at the grumpy young elf. Yet his eyes did not produce their magical glare. He was far too disconcerted to resort to his tricks. Instead, he dashed off outside and into the night. He moved as fast as his short stubby elfin legs could carry his short stubby elfin body. Needless to say that that was not very fast at all.   He only hoped that he could reach the dogs before Ho, Kiddo and Hum could catch up to him.
 
Luckily, the wood elf had the foresight to have his dogs harnessed ahead of time so that he could make a fast getaway. If a fast getaway his dogs could give him. There were four terriers and four French poodles. Combined their weight could not match that of a single husky. They were the only dogs available at the time Egbert needed to fit a team for his sled. He took them because he figured that it would not take much strength to haul a mite-sized body like his own.
 
When the team of toy dogs saw him they immediately increased the intensity of their yapping. They were barking their mixed and varied complaints about their treatment by their master. An elf, as every one knows, is usually very kind to animals. These dogs were saying that they were lap dogs as in household pets and not Lapp dogs as in hearty caribou herders. All of them were freezing cold and all of them were very, very hungry.
 
Amongst this team of forlorn miniature canines sat Diddo. His face held a stone expression. The only things that showed any sign of life were his eyes. These were red from past tears, wet for present tears, and strained for future tears. Even Uncle Egbert’s powerful spell casting and his flagrant inability to trust his nephew was not strong enough to prevent the little elf from feeling terribly sorry for him.
 
Egbert seized hold of the reins that harnessed the team of poodles and terriers. “Mush!” he cried aloud. “Mush my little doggies! We have got to get out of this place fast!”
 
The dogs did not move. The only motion in them came from their mouths. They complained bitterly to the wood elf for his harsh treatment. They should be inside curled up beside the fireplace, they barked. They hadn’t done anything to merit this cruelty inflicted upon them by what should have been a loving master.
 
It was now that Uncle Egbert started to wish that he had taken the whip that the dogs’ owner had insisted that he take. The big, fat man with the long, thin moustache had said that if these dogs that Egbert wanted were to do anything at all it was up to Egbert to show them who was the boss.
 
Egbert had told the dog owner that no elf would ever purposely inflict a lash upon a living animal.
 
“You will be sorry!” the dog owner warned, shaking his head.
 
Egbert was sorry now. Sorry that the dogs were not listening to him. He wasn’t sorry about refusing to take the whip.
 
Suddenly, Kiddo appeared at the outside door. The grouchy elf mad a fast dash toward the dog team. Hum and Ho quickly followed him. Without a word, all three elves proceeded to undo the harnesses that held the poodles and terriers to the sled. As soon as each shivering dog had attained its freedom, it ran madly into the house where it nuzzled up with its partners in front of the big wood stove. There they sat warming their fragile bones in the luscious heat that wallowed from the cast-iron stove.
 
Once the last dog was freed, Ho, Hum and Kiddo escorted the silent and morose Diddo and the silently weeping Egbert back inside the cottage.
 
Ho took Egbert’s coat and seated him in front of the hot potbelly stove. Steam rose from Egbert’s damp clothes. Kiddo went to the cupboards and brought out saucers while Hum went to the icebox and retrieved a round cake. Together, they broke off several pieces of the spicy cake and placed them onto the saucers.
 
They offered Egbert a piece.
 
The grand-elf’s trembling hand took the cake and shakily drew it to his puckering mouth. His jaws worked on the cake like a cow works its cud.
 
At first none of the elves said a thing. Ho, Hum and Kiddo stared at both Diddo and Uncle Egbert.  They wondered what had happened.
 
Finally Kiddo broke the silence. He looked at his uncle and said in a not-amused tone, “What was all that commotion about?”
 
Ho told Kiddo not to be so rude. It was not polite to ask an eating man a question.
 
“But Uncle Egbert is an elf! A wood elf! A grand-elf!” Hum observed.
 
“It is still impolite!” Ho replied.
 
Kiddo gave Ho an angry glare then he turned to his roommate. “Then you tell me Diddo, since you are not eating, what all that noise was about?”
 
The only way that Diddo could answer was with big, sad eyes.
 
“Are you okay Diddo?” Hum asked with concern.
 
At first Diddo nodded his head, yes, he was all right. But then he started to shake his shaggy mop, no, he was not all right.
 
It was plain for all to see that Diddo was fighting something and when he started to speak, it was plain that he was not answering Hum’s question. Instead, he was speaking directly to the grand-elf, Egbert.
 
“I had said that I was going to go with you. All I asked of you was a chance to say good-bye to my brothers. That was not too much to ask, was it? It was the very least that I could do for Ho, Hum and Kiddo. They’ve been good brothers to me and until tonight that was all that I thought that they were. But, because of you, Uncle Egbert, I can now see that they are far more than just good brothers. The only way to stop feeling lonely is to trust somebody. Kiddo, Ho and Hum trust me and I trust them. That is why I’ve never felt lonely here in one of the most desolate places in the world. But with you, dear Uncle, I will feel lonely even in the most crowded of places because I can no longer trust you. You have violated my trust in you by showing that you do not trust me. I will not trust you again until you have redeemed yourself and shown me that you are truly trustworthy.”
 
Tears were streaming down Diddo’s face. These were painful words for the elf to say. The tears that filled Egbert’s non-magical eyes told Diddo that these words were painful for the old elf to hear.
 
“Diddo,” Uncle Egbert sobbed, “Forgive me! I ‘m an old elf and as stuck in my ways as an oak is to its roots. Loneliness has made me a bitter elf.”
 
“What I don’t understand, dear Uncle, is how you can be lonely when you live in a land that is filled to the brim with wood elves just like yourself?” little Hum asked.
 
“You don’t understand, Hum,” Egbert mumbled through a tongue that still wanted to cry. “When Diddo was born, I promised your sweet mother that I would stand by him for as long as I was alive.”
 
“Poor Mummy passed away at Diddo’s birth bed,” Ho said, his head sinking.
 
“It was Pappy’s passing that took the heart out of her,” Kiddo added glumly.
 
“Your Mummy was my most dear sister,” Egbert said. “I felt honored to be charged with her last wish. You older three were already living with another relative, Uncle Noll and his dear wife, Betty. The only person to have ever hear your Mummy’s wish concerning Diddo was me and I knew that no one would believe me if I laid claim to the newborn baby. Rather than make a mockery and a travesty out of your mother’s passing, I decided that it was best to allow Noll and Betty to adopt Diddo.”
 
“You did not carry out Mummy’s last wish?” Ho cried in shock.
 
Egbert’s head sank low. “I’ve suffered for it since. I’ve led a life of loneliness and despair. And that life sank to misery and bitterness when the four of you decided to follow Hum’s dream. For once you left the homeland, I knew that I would never have a chance to carry out your Mummy’s last wish.”
 
Diddo walked across the room and hugged his uncle. The two elves embraced deeply and both were sobbing aloud.
 
“And here I thought that Egbert was a busybody with nothing better to do than to make his nephews’ lives miserable!” Kiddo sighed. There were tears in his eyes. “I apologize to you Uncle Egbert!”
 
“We do too!” Hum and Ho said together.
 
“And I absolve you from my mother’s wish,” Diddo said softly. “You need not consider me your charge any longer, that is if you wish to be freed.”
 
“I don’t wish to be freed,” Egbert moaned. He took a handkerchief to his big nose and blew hard and noisily. “Diddo, I promise you,” he blurted, “that I will not take you away from your brothers. You belong with them. I saw it on the day that you were born and I see it again here now.”
 
There were big smiles on the faces of Ho, Hum and Kiddo. But Diddo’s face remained somber. “Uncle Egbert,” he said slowly and dryly, “I want to return to the homeland with you.”
 
Four gasps sucked the air from the room. A gasp from Ho. A gasp from Hum. A gasp from Kiddo.   And a big, big gasp from Uncle Egbert. None had expected Diddo to utter such a thing.
 
“I want to return to the homeland with you, dear Uncle,” Diddo repeated to make everybody sure that they could believe their ears. “I want to return there for a visit. I would once again like to see the land that had given my brothers and me birth.”
 
“I would like to see that land again too!” Hum stated. Then Ho and Kiddo said that they also wanted to visit the land from where they had come from.
 
It was a very happy moment for a tired old wood elf.
 
When Egbert returned to the homeland that spring, he was not a lonely elf any longer. There was not a thing that he could be miserable about. For with him came four estranged lads whose hearts belonged to the north but whose eyes at present yearned to see the place from which they came.

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