Alveric of Erl woos and weds the King of Elfland's daughter, but she still yearns for her father's kingdom. The parliament of the land of Erl go to their lord and tell him that though his lineage has ruled them wisely for seven centuries, they wish to be ruled by a magic lord.
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The lord agrees to the request, since that is the custom and they so rarely have asked anything of him, although he believes it to be misguided. He summons his son Alveric and tells him to ride east to Elfland, to take the King of Elfland's daughter as his bride. He gives him a sword to protect himself.
Knowing a mere sword is not enough against the magic of Elfland Alveric goes to a nearby witch and has her forge him a magic sword using thunderbolts and sorcery.
Alveric has heard tales of the beauty and grace of his bride to be, so he rides to Elfland. Near the border of Elfland he stops to rest at a cottage and notices how the old man who lives there seems unable to really see or speak of the magical land, he can't even look or mention the East.
He crosses over into Elfland and after crossing an enchanted forest arrives on the King of Elfland's lawns, marveling at their beauty. But even more beautiful is the woman he sees walking in them, the princess Lirazel.
He approaches her and they talk, he tells her his name and about the land of Erl. However soon her guards, who are sworn to kill any strange man approaching her, appear and attack Alveric. Lizarel can't stop them, since the order comes from her father and can't be undone so Alveric fights and kills them. Done Lizarel tells him he must flee since her father has three magic runes at his command and will come soon, she asks him to take her with him to Erl.
Alveric and Lizarel make their way back to Erl, but is saddened to find that time moves differently in Elfland and his father is long dead, though he is told the man died happy knowing his son would succeed.
The couple wed and soon they have a son. Alveric seeks out the witch again, judging her to be the only worthy nurse for such a child. She agrees and also becomes a companion to Lizarel, with whom she talks about magic.
Their son, named Orion, grows up charmed and happy, but there is a distance between Alveric and Lizarel as she fails to adapt to life in Erl. One day she notices how a lady of their acquaintance has aged and is distraught, never having had to deal with the passing of time and its effects before.
Back in Elfland the King writes his first two runes, one to resurrect one of the knights Alveric has killed and the second he writes on a parchment and sends to his daughter. She receives it but puts it safely away without reading it. But eventually she grows less comfortable with the ways of Erl and she impulsively takes the rune out and reads it. It fills her with the unbearable longing for Elfland and she leaves Erl and returns home. Alveric follows her as soon as he hears she is gone.
Their young son soon notices his parents are gone and asks the witch where they are. She tells him they have gone to the woods and the boy starts running off, hoping to find them.
Alveric finds the borders of Elfland have vanished and there is no way to cross over. The King of Elfland has used magic to tighten them, since he can sense when Alveric's magic sword is nearby. Alveric returns home and tells the story but Orion says he must be mistaken, since he hears the horns of Elfland every evening.
Alveric continues trying to find the border, and goes questing north to find it. When he is in the north the King of Elfland stops sensing his sword and relaxes his grip. Orion meanwhile grows into an accomplished hunter and is happiest in the woods. One night he hunts a unicorn and brings its head back as a trophy, the parliament rejoices at this evidence that they are at last ruled by a magic lord as they had asked.
Meanwhile in Elfland Lizarel misses her husband and son, and her life in Erl. The King can't stand to see her sad, and her sorrow even affects the land itself, so he uses his third and final rune to expand the borders of Elfland to encompass the land of Erl.
A shining line of magic spreads outwards from Elfland and Erl becomes part of that kingdom, soon passing from the memory of men. Alveric, Lizarel, and Orion, plus the rest of the citizens of Erl live happily ever after in the magical realm.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's very poetic and melancholy, and a good examination of what might happen in a 'happily ever after' fairy tale scenario after the wedding is over.
Best scene in story:
When the witch forges Alveric's new sword, it's a powerful and dynamic scene with a very different magic from the Elfland spells we see elsewhere.
Opinion about the main character:
Alveric is not as compelling as his son Orion, since his motivations are much simpler, but he is a good man, he wants to make his father proud, and he loves his wife. You feel for him when he spends those years questing for Elfland.