I hope this letter finds you well. I understand it’s been a splendid growing season for your barley—I wish you a healthy harvest!
I write because I find that the last question you asked before we were forced to part ways has lodged in my mind. I find it, at once, arresting, as if I should stand still to contemplate it deeply, but it also tickles me and spurns my quill to motion. I told you at the time that it was a long story for a later date, perhaps on the day we meet again, but I think it demands at least some manner of answer before then.
You ask, why do the elves live so deep in the forests? Why don’t we build cities of wood and stone in the great clearings or upon the wide shorelines?
Why do we hide?
What tickles me is the myriad ways I could choose to answer that question. So I’ve decided to answer it every way I can think!
The first way to answer your question is that: it is as we have always done.
The Elder gave life to the elves in the Great Garden of Eternity, a place of magic and a place of glory. We were the first of the Gods’ servants to be awakened into life, and in the Great Garden, we were taught to walk and speak and write and learn—and fight. For outside of the Great Garden, the Legions of Abbadon reigned: timeless, formless, endless; evil eternal.
We, mortals and immortals, sortied forth and pushed the demons back into the Abyss, and we began to build a new home in Materia. But Materia was, and still is, a place of lurking dangers. We stayed near to the Great Gardens, our home, our refuge, where we might be safe if the worst befell us. It is the ancient forests of Materia that are nearest to the Great Gardens, and so that is where you find elves.
The second way to answer your question is that: it is as we like it.
It is not an easy thing to say goodbye to one’s home. The great forests of Materia, with their arcing trees and hanging vines, are the closest—in more ways than one—that can be found to the Great Gardens of our ancestors. There is magic in these old, beautiful trees, and magic is who the elves are. If you spend enough time with the elders, you come to a sense that they do not feel like they belong in Materia. They seek the Gardens, they seek the peaceful magic. They seek the solitude and contentment. The old forests remind us of this wonderful place, and also have enough food to sustain us and company to enrich us.
The third way to answer your question is to ask: why does anybody live where they do?
In the Age of Heroes, some untold eras after the elves came to Materia, a great Demon Lord gave life to the dwarves. Theirs was an unhappy birth, into the cruelty of his servitude. But they proved stronger than he, and he perished, and the dwarves and halflings were faced with a similar question: where should they go? The dwarves, for their part, remained mostly in the mountains. Their lives before may have been painful and exhausting in service to a vile taskmaster, but they had the skills to make a more rewarding life out of the mountains, and so they did. The halflings, given slight frames and nimble feet, preferred mostly to leave, finding homes out in the great fields and forests of Materia: the famous shires, themselves as difficult to find as the elven-homes. Their disguised hamlets served to hide them from the roaming beasts and lingering demons of Materia.
And a good thing, too, because within a few scant centuries, the Lord of Agony summoned the Legions of Abbadon once more to invade Materia. It was the camouflaged hideaways of the elves, the sturdy dwarven bastions in the mountains, and the clandestine shires of the halflings underfoot that prevented utter catastrophe in the first years of that invasion.
But hiding would not work forever. That is why one of the brothers to the Elder, the God of the Wind, sang the battle-song that birthed the orcs. They were born to ride the horses on the great plains of the Veld, plain to see, with little inclination to hide. And thanks to their victory at the Avnil of Dawn alongside their cousins, the elves; and their brothers-in-arms, the dwarves, they live to ride those plains today.
So if elves cloister themselves in the trees, halflings hide beneath notice, dwarves carve out mountainhomes, and orcs ride the wild Veld, why do humans settle in cities?
The answer, I fear, is the Wights.
The God of Many Lights, Alxos, brought the humans into being and gave them life: the youngest of the mortals, and perhaps the most vital. It is said that he intended to bring the children of the Gods closer together, and so he commanded the humans to seek, to travel, and to make the whole world their home. And so they did. But Materia is dangerous, and the demons and their foul puppets, the Wights, make it impossible to live out in the open. So the humans huddle in cities for safety, sending out great sorties to protect their farms.
And so the elven tradition of the woods and trees seems very sensible, no? In this, we are more alike than different. We all seek a home that comforts and nourishes us. And in that seeking, sometimes we stray from our relatives. A family of humans lives in our village! I know at least a half-dozen elves who live in the town of Wythe-at-the-Sea, just a few miles from you. A human couple rode with the last orc-band to visit us. But more often than not, home is where we were born. Home is, often, what we know, and what our parents knew, and what our ancestors knew before that.
The apple trees are bearing fruit, soon. I hope to match your barley harvest with some sweet fruit of my own!