Witches, Trolls, Elves, and Goblins of Elsah
By Anthony Mays
Did you ever wonder where witches, trolls, elves, and goblins go to retire? Long a secret, it has been rumored they live in the mysterious and mystical village of Elsah, along the Great Mississippi River Road in middle America. The settlement, nestled in a valley that time forgot, flourishes today. But it wasn’t by coincidence the early nineteenth-century village of Elsah came into existence – it was out of need. In 1820, during the great festival of Halloween, the grand clans of witches, trolls, elves, and goblins gathered in the Catskill mountains of New York. Their task is how to deal with their aging members, and their corresponding waning skills. Although each clan made an argument against separating from their kinsman, ultimately it was decided that a grand retirement community was to be established in middle America. There, the senior members of these groups could spend the remaining days of their time on earth in peace and solitude, and away from the distractions of mortals. Or so they thought…
# # #
A gruff voice bellowed, “Gisella, the witches have had control over Elsah long enough, it is time to give one of the other clans an opportunity to lead.”
“It’s, however, the votes go, Zoljin. The witches have only been fortunate through the will of all the clans. And it does take someone with, can we say, a little something up here,” she teased, tapping her forehead. “You’ll have your chance when my term ends.”
Loud murmurs were heard among the trolls.
Zoljin spoke. “Make your fun Gisella. But since the last election, have you noticed the change in the numbers of dwarf trolls and goblins compared to elves and witches?” He grinned wide. “When I’m elected, there are going to be some changes made around here.”
“You’re a buffoon, Zoljin. But I didn’t call this meeting to listen to your rantings.”
Standing in the middle of stone ruins from an old mill house, she turned her attention to the citizens of the village that had gathered. All together, they numbered six hundred and seventy-three. “As you all know, for the last two centuries, we have been fortunate to exist here without much intervention from the outside world. But with the development of the communities around us, we are becoming more noticeable by the mortals. Perhaps it is time for us to find another place to live.”
The gathering suddenly became very active and voices of dissension could be heard coming from the furthest reaches of the group.
“No-o-o,” yelled Dalfry, leader of the goblins as he made his way to the front of the crowd. “We have been here too long, and moving is out of the question. What craziness has brought you to even contemplate such a thing?”
Raising her hands in an attempt to quiet the settlement, Gisella answered loudly. “The mortal’s technology is greater than it used to be. It is only a matter of time before they discover we are not of their kind. Our magic makes us appear as one of them during the day, but I warn you, they won’t be fooled much longer.”
“Nildur,” she called out, pointing to the chief elf, “you and I have discussed this many times the last few decades. Tell them, you agree with me.”
Zoljin and Dalfry turned toward Nildur waiting to hear his reply.
“Yes, we have discussed it, Gisella, and you know my position on it is not as clear as yours. I still have questions. So far, our magic has kept the humans from true knowledge, and they only see us as one of them when they come to visit our community and homes. But after dark, no one that is an outsider comes here, thus permitting us to be our true selves.”
“Those that do,” interjected Dalfry, “get the fright of their life.”
The trolls and goblins roared.
“But aren’t you weary of disguising yourselves all day?” she pleaded with everyone. “I know when the dark comes we all transform into our true identities, but wouldn’t it be nice to just be ourselves all the time? The only break we ever get is during the festival of Halloween -when the mortals are too naïve to notice.”
“I have considered the impact discovery of our community would bring to our world,” said Nildur, “but we also would be going against the biddings of the grand clans. So, until we get approval from them, I am not in favor of leaving Elsah. Besides, we are too old to be looking for a new home. It takes great magic to prepare a place for us, and I don’t think we have it within us to make it happen.”
“Speak for yourself, Nildur. We troll and goblins can still perpetrate mischievous absurdities, surprise, and mislead the honest and sober. So don’t lump us into your weak rendition of what we can do or not.”
“Does that mean you are willing to consider a move then, Zoljin?” asked Gisella?
“Not at all,” he rumbled. “I’m for staying here and letting the humans know we are here.”
Gasps came from various quarters of the crowd; mostly from the elves.
“We can’t do that!” Nildur pleaded, trying to gain agreement from the majority of the villagers. “This has been our home for well over one hundred and fifty years. To reveal ourselves now to the humans would surely mean the end of all of us. Humans can be so judgmental and unsympathetic.”
“And may I add,” warned Gisella, throwing her voice as far as she could, “may even bring down the grand clans.”
Murmurs and grouses rose up from the assembly, mostly from the groups of trolls and goblins.
Zoljin waddled his short body next to Gisella with surprising speed. He threw his arms into the air indicating he was about to speak. “The grand clans are more than capable of taking care of themselves,” he emphasized. “They are younger and more powerful than we are. So don’t let Gisella or Nildur persuade you otherwise. We may be the seniors of our kind, but we still collectively maintain sufficient magical power to thwart the mortals.
He pointed at one of the other goblins in the middle of the gathering. “Nox, do you enjoy transforming into a human every day?”
Nox, surprised to be singled out, momentarily froze. His miniature, green body stiffening with each eye cast in his direction.
“Yes please,” yelled Gisella, “tell us how you feel, Nox. I’m sure coming from you your words will carry much weight.”
“Don’t make fun of him, Gisella, said Nildur. “He may be somewhat unintelligent and petty, but he is one of us and has the right to give his opinion about what happens in Elsah.”
Nox somewhat gathered his composure after Nildur’s support. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. I find the form of a human repugnant. That’s why I stay in the caves all day, so I don’t have to transform.”
Whoops and hollers and fists rose up from the trolls and goblins. “Yeah, Nox, we agree with you.”
Gisella raised her cane sending a short bolt of light and bang to quiet the outburst. “That is exactly my point, everyone. The witches don’t necessarily like altering our appearances either.”
Then she engaged Zoljin loud enough so everyone could hear. “If we agree to move, we surely are able to find a place far from human settlements where we won’t have to change our appearance.”
“Or, we can stay here and not worry about what the humans think of us,” Zoljin challenged.
Nildur intervened. “Look, it’s obvious we aren’t going to settle this issue today. So may I suggest we all go home and think about what we must collectively do.”
Gisella nodded in agreement, and all the villagers separated and went to their respective homes.
Zoljin accompanied Dalfry to the entrance of his cave. “Brother, you and I and our clans are in agreement on staying here, and we possibly have the numbers to vote our wish. But did you notice Nildur was on the fence about what to do?”
“Yes, brother. I think he would be a good ally to bring over to our side. But the elves are sensitive to changes. However, a threat from the outside world surely would pressure them to consider a move.
“Then we have to force him to see reason,” added Zoljin. “I’ll invite him to meet with us.”
The beings carefully plotted their strategy.
# # #
The next night, Nildur, Zoljin, and Dalfry met under the stone aqueduct. The light of the near-full moon could barely break through the cover of the trees.
“Why have you called me here, Zoljin?” asked Nildur, half stumbling in the dark – the sound of snapping twigs underfoot announcing his arrival.
“Because you are wise, Nildur,” said Zoljin, stepping from the shadows, “and command the respect of the elves. We need to discuss Gisella’s proposal for relocation with you.”
“But why here in secrecy… why not in the light of day?”
“Because we would have to take on ugly human form, and we try to avoid those situations when possible.”
“But if we meet inside our homes, where no strangers can see us, we can be ourselves. I don’t like going behind our mayor’s back… we should discuss these things out in the open.”
He answered, “And our argument is why can’t we just remove the magic that transforms us in the daytime so that we can be ourselves all the time.”
Nildur couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You know that would only hasten mortal prejudices and fear.”
“So, are you suggesting the elves would go along with Gisella?”
“I didn’t say that, Zoljin. My vote at this point is to continue with the status quo.”
Zoljin chuckled. “That’s because your clan easily assimilates into human form. Except for a few anomalies, like your pointed ears, the mortal would embrace your kind. But we troll and goblins, with our grotesque features, would become outcasts and scorned, or worse.”
Dalfry elbowed his friend in the rib. “Tell him.”
“Tell me what?”
Zoljin feigned holding back their secret, then gave the awful news to Nildur. “The witches have plans to turn all the residents of Elsah into permanent mortals if we don’t agree to transfer to another place. They say it would be far better to join the humans than be destroyed by them. Better to live out a short life than to suffer at their hands. But if that happens, we lose what little magic we have remaining, and we will eventually all die an unnatural death.”
“Preposterous! All along she has said the reason to relocate was so that we could keep our original forms. How did you learn such a thing?”
“One of the goblins stumbled onto a coven meeting a few months ago. He found them cackling over that big cauldron they use and looking at their daytime reflections in the boiling water. Gisella was trying to convince old warts there was a chance they would not get the votes needed to move the settlement, especially if the elves rebelled. So she extolled to them the virtues of becoming human in the event they lost the vote and, if that happened, they should combine their witch powers to transform us all into humans.”
“She wouldn’t do that,” Nildur objected. “She knows the consequences of mortality. And the elves would never agree to it.”
Dalfry grabbed Nildur’s arm. “Friend, she plans to try and convince your clan they are the most fortunate, that elves look especially pretty as humans because you have more to work with. Look at us though, we are horrible looking, and even when we take on human form, we are very plain. But in our original forms, we at least have the dignity of knowing what we are, with no need to compete against each other. Besides, I enjoy having the little bit of magic that remains at this point in my life. Don’t you? All that will be gone!”
Nildur contemplated their story. “Then I have no choice but to confront her and tell her the elves will withdraw their support.”
Dalfry suddenly appeared alarmed at Nildur’s declaration, which did not go unnoticed by Zoljin. If Nildur were to confront Gisella, she would certainly convince him that everything they told him was a lie.
Zoljin made his next move and bowed his head in shame. “I should have come to you about this before, Nildur. But I didn’t believe any of this possible, that is, until yesterday. What I haven’t told you is… ” He again feigned reluctance.
“Out with it! What else is there?
“Gisella threatened that if you did not convince the elves to go along with the witch clan, she was going to make you disappear and make it look like the trolls and goblins did it in order to sway the elf clan against us. So you see, challenging her is not in your best interest. It will only hasten her resolve.”
Nildur thought for a moment, Elves do not physically age, and most closely resemble humans without transformation, so there is not much need to seek human form. However, we have limited magical ability and are easily slain by violence or extreme negative emotion.
“Seems as though the witches have all the power,” he finally said.
“Yes, trolls may be skilled at reshaping things of nature and concealing ourselves in nature when needed, but we only cause havoc by making the mortals see things that aren’t really there. And the goblins… well, while ugly and annoying to humans, are more likely to be viewed only as outlandish tricksters, clumsy, blundering, and more difficult to take seriously.”
Dalfry scratched his head. “Not so sure I like what you just said,” he gruffed, bumping his chest against that of Zoljin.
“Alright you two,” Nildur intervened. “Let’s not fight among ourselves. The question is what do we do about Gisella?”
“She has to go, if you know what I mean,” stated Zoljin. “It’s her or us. And I believe I have a plan.”
Nildur was horrified at his recommendation. “Why can’t we take our concern to the leaders of the grand clans. Surely they would know how to deal with this.”
“Don’t you see, Nildur, they no longer want anything to do with us. That’s why they put the old folks out in the wilderness; a place where we would not be in the way. I ask you, has any of them ever come to Elsah for a visit? I’ll tell you the answer; it’s no. That’s because when they put us in Elsah, they expected us to take care of ourselves.”
Dalfry nodded his agreement.
“Then what did you have in mind?” asked Nildur.
Zoljin pulled at his grey beard. “Separate Gisella from the coven. She is the strongest, and without her, they will do whatever we say.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“You lure her into the woods, Nildur. The trolls and goblins will bind and gag her. Witches must cast their spells vocally. Therefore, if we muzzle her, she will be powerless.
“And then what do we do with her?”
“Ironically, she will be her own demise. Being a strong witch, she will try to channel too much magic in order to free herself. Her own raw strength at attempting complicated or stressful spells will cause her to burn herself out. She’ll simply disappear forever.”
“I don’t know,” Nildur considered. “We’ve never done in one of our own kind.”
“She would do it to you! What do you say?”
“Let me sleep on it. It’s a lot to digest in a short period of time.”
“We’ll meet back here tomorrow afternoon for your answer.”
# # #
There was a knock on the door. “G-Gisella… come in,” a nervous Nildur invited. “W-what brings you here?”
Nildur turned paler than usual.
“You look alarmed, and suddenly don’t seem yourself,” she said, sneering. “What are you up to?”
“H-had a bad dream last night. All this talk of relocating or making ourselves human has me confused and on edge.”
“Personally, I don’t care one way or the other, Nildur, but you have to take a side. And, might I add, either way, the elves win. Your clan is already the most human-looking, so whether you transform or not, the mortals will likely accept you. It’s the rest of us you need to consider.”
“I still think we should consult the great clans.”
“Forget it.,” she said tersely. “They aren’t interested in our problems; they have their own to worry about. Do you need more persuasion?” she asked, taking a curious step in his direction.
He stumbled backward. “I-I need more time.”
“Alright, you have two days until the full moon. I’ll be expecting your answer, and I hope it’s one you won’t regret.” She whisked herself from his presence as quickly as she arrived.
# # #
Nildur made his way through the forest to the aqueduct. The sun was directly overhead, but the tight canopy of the trees prevented sunlight from casting more than limited light and mysterious shadows. Dalfry and Zoljin were waiting.
“I didn’t trust you were being truthful with me yesterday, Zoljin, but Gisella paid me a visit this morning, and convinced me she is a threat. So I’ll agree to your plan, but it has to be done right away.”
“Good decision,” Dalfry said.
Without warning, stones, and trees transformed into trolls. Goblins crawled from crevices in the ground and among the rocks. They quickly swarmed and surrounded Nildur; then stopped.
“We thought a demonstration would show you how we plan to capture Gisella,” said Zoljin. “We must move fast and catch her off guard. All you have to do is bring her here and we will do the rest.”
“At dusk, she will be leaving her home to meet the coven. You must convince her to come here.”
“But what do I say?”
“You’re an elf, you’ll think of something. Be warned though… if you fail, you’ll be to blame for what happens to Elsah.”
# # #
Nildur worriedly waited outside Gisella’s home. He ran through a repertoire of dialogue he thought might work to bait her to the arranged site, but none seemed very convincing. She was very clever, and he could not take the chance of raising her suspicions.
After a bit, the door of her 1860’s home squeaked opened and there was Gisella. His knees shook.
Seeing him, “Nildur? What brings you here?”
He blurted out. “I-I took the liberty of contacting the leader of the grand witch clan about your proposal to relocate the members of Elsah. Needless to say, she was not happy and has come here to meet with you. Your presence is demanded to explain yourself.”
“The leader is here?” she repeated anxiously, looking around. “Where?”
“I’m to take you to her; let’s not keep her waiting.” He strode off in the direction of the aqueduct.
She trailed closely after Nildur, asking questions to which he gave no replies. Her mannerisms and talkativeness suggested she was genuinely concerned about meeting with the leader and begged for Nildur’s support.
Gisella had not been paying attention to where they were going, but as they approached the aqueduct she became apprehensive and slowed her pace. “Where are you taking me?” she asked, scanning her surroundings. “I don’t believe the grand witch leader would agree to meet me here. What are you up to, Nildur?” she said, threatening harm.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he implored, backing away from her.
The movement was detected from nearby rocks, and trees started to sway.
# # #
“Mayor, Mayor Swanson, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I was deep in thought trying to finish the story I promised the residents of Elsah I’d write for this year’s Halloween party. I’m sort of stuck on the ending though.”
“Then you might want to save it for later, mayor. The press has arrived for your statement about the village revitalization plans. They’re waiting in the city council room.”
“Where are those notes?” she said under her breath, shuffling through papers on her desk. “Oh, here they are,” she said, knocking her desk plaque onto the floor in the process.
“I’ll get that, mayor, you better be going.”
As the mayor departed her office, the assistant picked up the plaque and rubbed her sleeve across the brass lettering which read: Mayor Gisella Swanson, then neatly placed it back onto her desktop. She immediately followed after her boss.
Before entering the council chamber, a plain-looking man caught up with them and whispered in the mayor’s ear. “We have some unfinished business to discuss, mayor.”
She turned and faced the man. “Not now, Dalfry,” and she went inside to the waiting reporters.