Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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Hulda and the Elf-Knight

by Otilia Tena

"I'd like to speak to the lady. Where is she?"

"I'm here!"

"Are you Hulda?"

"Yes, I am. What brings you here, little girl? Can I see your face?" I seized her by the hood and she shook her head and revealed her face to me.

"I came after my father. Is he all right?"

"Who is your father, young lady?"

"Take me to the warriors' camp!" She took me by the hand and I had to keep up with her. A man lifted her up and they were both overjoyed and spoke to each other in a mellow language. I shivered with an otherworldly feeling. I must have looked at a loss, for he addressed me all sorts of words, round and sweet shaped.

"I met your brother in the woods and he touched his sheath as a death menace. And in doing this he stirred up love and things in me. I will go with you if you spare me, so I told him.

And he replied: Will you serve a foreign lady, far from where you live?

I will, as long as I serve you as well, I said. So we called ourselves blood brothers and he brought me here."

Or so I understood from what he spoke. It was as if his words came to me through a veil and barely reached a shore. Yet I needed these words desperately.

"And your lady?" I asked.

He looked over his shoulder in such a fashion that I swore to myself not to look in that direction again.

"Does your father understand what I speak?"

The girl just gazed at me for a while. Then she nodded almost imperceptibly, or I imagined she nodded, but it was rather a "no" movement.

I talked her into staying a few more days with me, so that I could accompany her to the warriors' camp each morning. My cheeks grew hot as I felt them watching me and thinking.

On coming home my brother met us both. He covered the girl's ears gently. "You should be more careful, Hulda! I heard rumors..."

"What rumors?"

"That you grew too fond of Kristinn. All our men know he is married".

"Kristinn... Is that his name?"

"It's the one I gave to him when we became blood brothers".

Then there was this dream that kept coming back -- I lay in my bed half asleep and I threw a pebble out of the window; a sort of stir woke things up and something landed on my bed in response and took a bite from my flesh. I kept asking my beldam to unriddle the runes for me. "I don't see his face, dear lady. I see someone else..."

"Try again, try again about Kristinn and me!" Then I said: "Never mind, beldam, it won't work! I must remember Kristinn is a borrowed name".

"What difference does it make now? Your heart is already set".


I feared my father could be in danger. I promised my mummy to bring him back and I didn't know why we had to stay here with lady Hulda and her brother. We were among foreigners and I could hardly understand what they said. He had to stay in the camp and we only saw each other a short while during the day. One evening I went to talk to him.

"Father, when will we go home?"

"How was your day? Won't you look at me and tell me?"

"It was fine... It's lady Hulda..."

"Lady Hulda... what about her?"

"She puts her hands around her body and she sighs and calls your name..."

He embraced me and said: "Go to your mother and tell her I serve a foreign lady but it's still her that I love. Tell her I love the lady's brother and I will leave only if he sets me free".

"I will go but not tomorrow. She takes me on a carriage trip tomorrow".

We kissed good-night and I walked out of the tent. I lingered there a while in the growing darkness and when I opened my eyes again I noticed lady Hulda's fur. I started at the thought that she might be inside with him.


"He's asleep! I must hurry!" I knelt beside Kristinn and tried to open the locket at his neck. I was afraid I might break one of my nails when it suddenly burst open.

He started and raised his sword to my face.

"It's you! What have you come for?" At least this is what I think he asked me.

"Do you understand what I say?" I asked him.

Kristinn gave no answer, so my eyes fell on the picture inside the locket.

"Is she your wife? Do you love her?"

He whispered a name I had never heard of, it sounded so far away... fairest... she was the fairest among them... he had known women before and women after her.

"Can I sleep here with you tonight? Kristinn..."

He looked me in the eyes.

"What's your real name?" I couldn't help looking at his lips though he kept them tightly closed. Then I turned and lay down beside him.

He leant on his elbow and I felt him awake and watching over me until the thread of my thoughts got blurred.

I wouldn't fall asleep, I was afraid he might disappear. But sleep was the shameless thief; it circled me until I surrendered.

In the morning I found Kristinn in the same position, still looking at me.

"You didn't leave me!" I said. I took his sword and cut out a lock of my hair. Then I put it into his locket carefully.

Kristinn caught my hand and pressed his lips on my wrist.

"Today I'll take her on a journey in the carriage," I said.

"The carriage..." he repeated and there was more in his voice than before.

We stepped outside and found the little girl asleep and wrapped in my fur.

Kristinn took her in his arms and carried her to bed. He sang a lullaby in their mellow language, yet I found it somewhat sad.

I dozed off while the carriage was gliding like a snowflake on a gentle breeze.

The little girl put both her arms around me and remained awake. She was a little scared.

I woke up with a shudder when the carriage suddenly stopped. "What is it?" I asked.

"Wolves!" the girl cried out.

The beasts hemmed us in, teeth bared, their growls a low vibration felt more than heard.

With a silent prayer, I opened the door and lowered myself to the ground, locking eyes with the largest wolf.

"No!" the girl cried. "Why did you step out?"

Without looking back, I reached back into the carriage. "Give me your hand and step out! If they bite the horses they will break loose and tear the carriage to pieces!"

The pack was slowly approaching. One of them darted in, snapping at the hind leg of one of the horses. Both horses reared, kicking out blindly, and broke into a panicked run.

I managed to pull the girl out of the carriage before it rushed past.

Out of all wolves, one stepped forward and grinned, and somehow it seemed like a true smile, and not a threat. It stood proudly, head high and tail lashing the air; it had a sort of stately attitude about it.

"Say you'll marry him!" the girl cried. "Tell the wolf you'll marry him!"

Startled, I blurted "Marry a beast of the forest? No! No, I won't! I won't! Are you out of your mind?"

"Say you'll marry the wolf or else they will rip us apart!"

I kept my eyes closed. "Kristinn... Kristinn, where are you? Do you hear me?" I cried in my mind.

"Say it, say it at once!" she cried, and as mad as her demands seemed, somehow I knew she was right. If I did not say the words, we would both be slaughtered.

"I'll marry you, wolf! I'll marry you!"

Hardly had I finished my words when the pack vanished out of sight and the carriage was back with all the horses in perfect shape. On our return Kristinn was waiting for us and the child ran into his arms.

"Were you in danger, my lady?"

"I called you, Kristinn! Didn't you hear me?" Then I remembered this wasn't his name. "I must marry the wolf..."

Kristinn went on playing with his daughter.

"I must marry the wolf, Kristinn!"

"Lady Hulda marries grandpa the wolf!" the girl said, clapping her hands.

"Why are you so happy?" I asked.

"My father can come back home! He is free!"

"I am not free until my blood brother says so". Kristinn looked at me and cast down his eyes. "Or if my lady is forced to marry".


They were all worried, Lady Hulda and her beldam, my father and his blood brother. They gathered in a small room and told me to go and play elsewhere. Instead I hid myself behind the long curtains and listened to them.

"The wolf you must marry is my father-in-law, who is a cunning spirit."

Lady Hulda looked puzzled and helpless because she had to guess the meaning. Her brother said something, then Lady Hulda as well and the beldam stared at them all this time.

The old woman threw down the runes and began to unscramble them.

Suddenly someone stepped forward from behind a wall, his face hidden.

"Go away and leave us alone!" the beldam cried.

"Are you a spirit?" my father asked.

"Yes," the shadowy figure answered. The firelight should have revealed his face, but there was only a smudge of darkness where eyes and nose and mouth should have been visible.

"Is it you, father-in-law?"

"No, I'm not your father-in-law," the spirit replied. "I've come to help you."

Then the Lady's brother said something like: "You were not invited".

"I can fool the wolf into marrying me," the spirit said.

"I don't trust you," my father said.

"Then come with me and we'll both go to his house," the spirit said.

Lady Hulda knelt before her brother and begged him. I didn't understand much but I was sure she wanted to go to grandpa's house with them.


"Take good care of her and of yourself!" my brother said to Kristinn. "It hurts me that you have to leave. I know you'll meet your beloved wife again."

"Oh, brother," I said to myself, "you know those words are pointed and sharp and they grieve you as much as they grieve me. Why did you let them out?"

"How about me?" the girl said running to us.

"Your father comes back quickly and he told me to look after you while he is away". He took her in his arms: "Go now! He's waiting for you outside".

Kristinn rode with me behind the spirit. They both knew the way to his father-in-law but Kristinn ordered him to take the woods path. After a while the spirit drew closer to him.

"I'm sorry, my lord, I'm afraid I can't remember your name."

"That is because I didn't say it."

"Well... and..."

"Kristinn. My name is Kristinn".

"It is true that nobody can harm you by any other name than yours... and nobody can bless you either".

Kristinn didn't answer. Instead he pressed his sword into its sheath. The night had begun to drip like moist silver from the top of the trees and I felt already dizzy. A cold shiver went down my spine as I looked at Kristinn, just like the first time I saw him. I felt like I was an open book to him, since I was too tired to get hold of myself. When he glanced at me I understood that pausing here would be perilous, yet he told us to stop.

I felt my flesh still aroused in the morning and tried to hide my burning cheeks in both hands. Kristinn noticed the fresh scars on my breast. I moved my hand towards him and then back towards me to make him remember we had been together. Kristinn then looked at our companion and called him from his distant corner. As the spirit walked to meet us, he uncovered his thigh and I recognized the sword wound I had caressed during the night. Kristinn asked something and said my name. In a twinkling of the eye I saw my face fallen at my feet.

"Kristinn!" He looked up and smiled. Then he grabbed the head and glued it back to its trunk. We freed the horse and wrapped the spirit in my fur, then Kristinn bound him to his horse. At his sign I moved in front of him and we rode on.

"Our hearts are like the woods, Lady Hulda. The first unknown traveler who appears is the one we love." No spell could have marred these words, while everything else around was blurred.

Kristinn put the dormant spirit into the arms of his father-in-law. "Lady Hulda is merely sleeping." I heard the plates and the glasses downstairs and later someone's steps toward my hiding place.

"So you are the lady!" She spoke with clear words to me.

"Don't hurt me, please!"

"Now don't be foolish! I may be sly like my father but I've got nothing of his wickedness. And why should I harm you when you are already wounded?" She took the locket out of her sleeve and opened it. My hair stripe was inside. Suddenly my head rested on her bosom. It was warm and comforting and it smelled like nothing earthly smells.

"Go on," she said while playing with my hair, "you may cry as long as you wish, beautiful lady. And when you are done, remember you are young and you will fall in love again."


"Good morning, dear sister! I heard you crying in your sleep. Your cheeks are still wet."

"Was Kristinn here?"

"No, you must have dreamt. I set him free."

"Then he is free from his name."


© 2012 Otilia Tena

Bio: Otilia Tena is Romanian teacher and writer. Her stories have appeared in Bewildering Stories, ABC tales (both magazines), Luna Cat, Supernatural Fairy Tales, Cruinnaiu (blogs), and in Elf Love Anthology (published by Pink Narcissus Press).

E-mail: Otilia Tena

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