Once upon a time, elves were tall, proud, and strong. Today, elves are so small and meek that you can't see them, unless you are in just the right spot at just the right time at just the right age, and who knows when that is? And in the time in between, when they had only just started their decline, a southern elven clan was the home of poor old Tal.By today's standards, Tal would be a giant among elves, and a great strongman to boot. But in his age, he was the shortest, squattest, fattest elf ever born, and however hard he tried, he never measured up to the standards of his people. "With all our mighty heritage," his elders would moan, "this is what we have come to. A good-sized wolf would carry you off! How can we hope to hold our own against Men when our heirs are the likes of you?" And indeed, those were the days when Men first got the upper hand over the elves, and I'm afraid that we weren't too kind to them. Elven towns were plundered, elf-armies crushed, and elf-maids carried off. There was no shortage of small, petty bullies either. The average elf still kept power enough to frighten that sort off, but poor Tal, so small and meek, made for an easy target. "What a chubby little ferret!" they laughed, and then they would beat him. They pummeled him and tossed him and kicked him. They mocked and they sneered and they jeered at him. But when Tal turned to the other elves for help, he found no comfort. "We have all fended for ourselves against these fools. Because you're so small, you think you should be different? You will face them, and you will learn to fight them off!" But after years of abuse at the hands of men, and years of disdain from his fellow elves, there was only one thing that Tal learned. "Elf or man, they're all so cruel!" he cried. "I must get away and hide!" As it happened, Tal's trade among the elves was brick-laying. So one night, he slipped out of his town in a wagon loaded up with bricks and mortar, and food and water enough for a year. He drove through the mountains and he drove through the forests, until he came to a peaceful little valley. Once he arrived, Tal dumped the food and water all in a great big pile, and he started to build around them. Up and up he went, for he wanted no chance of anyone ever penetrating this fortress. He built up past the heights of all but the tallest trees before setting in a lookout window and sealing the top. A massive, perfectly round tower stood in the valley by sunrise. "There!" Tal said to himself with a satisfied smile. "Now I'm safe! I think I've earned a little treat." He made his way down to the floor, thinking, as he climbed, it's awfully dark in here. I'll have to sneak back to town to fetch some candles. But when Tal reached the bottom of the tower and started to feel around for a block of cheese, he noticed something odd about the walls. It wasn't clear at first, but the horrible truth was soon plain: so intent had Tal been on building up his shelter, so intent had he been on keeping everyone out, that he had made a great mistake. "Oh no!" he cried. "I never put in a door!" Tal raced back up to the window and began calling for help. Small as he was, Tal's voice still had power, and soon enough someone came running. But when Tal saw that someone, he shut up at once. A Man! he thought. He'll only hurt me! So Tal ducked down out of sight. The Man called and called for the one he had heard seeking help, but Tal stayed hidden and trembling, until the man left. The next day, Tal called out again, "Help! Help!" and someone heard and came into the valley as before. It was an elf this time, but Tal was no less afraid than when the Man had come. He'll only mock me and say I should free myself, Tal thought, and he hid himself until the elf had gone. The next few days passed in the same way. No matter who answered his calls for help, Tal would be more afraid of how they would treat him than of being trapped, and duck down into his tower. After a week, Tal stopped crying out. People, elf and Man both, still came, for stories of the strange tower in the valley had spread, but when these people called up to the window, Tal hid from them too. Summer flew by. People stopped coming to the tower after so many times of getting no answer. But Tal found it hard to spend much time away from the window. For one thing, it was the hottest summer in an age, and the breezes that passed through the window were the only relief he could get in his stuffy old tower. But he also found himself looking out, past the valley toward the forests and the mountains, and wondering: will anyone come by today? Fall passed, winter followed, and Tal found that he had failed to pack any blankets. Only by tearing up his bags of food once they had emptied was he able to make any sort of garment to keep the cold at bay. The winds at the window now bit and stung, but still he climbed every morning to look out to where he knew people lived. When spring returned, the breezes sweetened. Fragrances from the blooming life in the valley wafted up even as high as the tower window, and the air in the tower was finally comfortable again. Yet Tal found that his food and water were nearly all gone. "What can I do?" he cried to himself. "Is someone there?" a voice called out. Tal crept up to his window and peaked out. He saw a young daughter of Men, not more than sixteen, looking up at the tower with a kind face. She saw Tal peering down, and she called out again: "Hello? Are you alright?" Tal ducked back down, from instinct more than anything else. But then he peered down to the bottom of his now-empty tower, and at its cold, lonely walls. These had become so much more frightening than any elf or Man Tal had known. He looked back out the window and saw that the girl was walking away. As loud as he could, he called after her: "Please help me. I'm trapped in here!" The girl went running back to her village, and she soon returned with a team of strong Men, and of elves. They broke out their tools and went to work. By the evening, they had broken in to the tower and gotten Tal out. They took him back to their village, where elves and Men lived side by side, and no one bothered much about height or girth. It can't honestly be said that Tal was free of his fear of people; any feeling so deeply engrained is not easily shed. But the girl who found him, and her family, took him in. They fed him well and spoke kindly to him, and after a time, Tal began speaking back. He ended up settling down into that village and took up his old brick laying trade. He never became what could be called a "people person," but he did marry that girl, and they lived comfortably for the rest of their days.
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