The week before her birth a large black dog, The Grim, wondered the woods surrounding the village. The people of the village, particularly the parents, hid in their homes in fear from dusk till dawn. No children played outside during this time, no young lovers met in the woods. All moved quickly to their destination, fearful that the Grim would take them if they dallied too long even in the brightest times of day. But all knew that Death could wait and would win its prize in the end.
On the seventh day of the Grim's appearance, the baby girl was born and her parents locked her away in the center of their small home. Far from doors and windows the parents did lay her, fearful that Death would snatch their first child away before dawn broke. They locked and barred the doors and windows and had the village holy man bless the house and child.
The first night of the child's life, Death, still in the form of the Grim, scratched at the door and walls of the young family's home. He howled and growled as he circled their home, searching for an entrance and keeping the family awake. In the early hours of dawn the Grim returned to the woods and the family fell into a fitful slumber until late morning. They hoped, as all the village hoped, that Death would leave them after the week of failure.
But Death would not be deterred. On the second night, he took the form of a poor wretch and begged the young family to let him stay the night. Out of the cold, and deep night. The family wished to let the pathetic creature in, but fear that it was one of Death's tricks held them back. They refused to invite him in. Like the night before Death circled the house, crying in a pathetic voice to brake their resistance. But the love for their child and fear for her safety held the parents' wills strong and they turned a deaf ear to Death's voice.
At dawn's light he left once more only to return the next night. This time in the guise of an grungy waif. In the high whine of a starving child, he begged entrance to the house. He pleaded with the new parents, pulling at the heart stings of the young mother, who could feel her instincts demanding she snatch the child in arms. Again the parents' fear for their 3 day old child held them strong through the night, to ignore the pleads of the child that was Death.
Death was displeased with his failures and angry with the parents. He swore to the parents, standing before their home on his true form in the darkness of twilight, that he would have the child. With his threat ringing in the blackness of predawn, he returned to the woods.
The parents found no sleep that morn, Death's vow playing through their minds. Nothing could they think of to protect their child from Death. The closest settlement to their village was a two day journey through the woods, where Death and other spirits lay in wait to take the souls of travelers. With his vow to have their daughter, the young parents did not doubt that Death would enlist the assistance of other malevolent spirits of the woods if they tried to flee to hide her.
For 3 years, Death came to the young family's home every night. The wary parents held strong, protecting their tiny child from Death. The baby girl only saw sunlight, grass, trees and flowers from the small windows of her home and Death watched her grow from outside those same windows.
As the parents feared, Death did enlist the assistance of other malevolent and mischievous spirits to capture the child for he had other duties besides her that had to be done. Fairies and sprites filled the garden just under the front window, laughing and playing. Their high voices and shiny flight dust called to the little girl, who stood with her nose pressed against the glass. They called to her, pleading to come play with them.
However, when she would ask her mother if she could go out and play with the little creatures, her mother would shriek and wist her away from the window and into the room at center of the house that was her room.
For months the fairies, sprites and little spirits tempted the child to leave the safety of her home, but whenever her parents learned of their presence from their child or other children from the village they would hide her away from them. To the safety of her room, away from windows and the temptations of the tricky creatures they could not see.
The parents' wills now not only vexed Death but also the King of Elves and spirits of the forest. Erlkonig, the king of the elves, took particular insult to the difficulty of capturing the child. He was infamous for stealing young children right from their parents arms. He took further injury, as he stood at the window outside their home, when he heard the mother singing about him as she put the child to bed.
"These humans are strong," the sweet melody of his queen said from behind him. "For nearly four years Death and our minions have darkened this door step. In guise and whispering sweet promises in vain to gain the child. Why continue to hunt this child, my lord? What will you gain from aiding Death?"
"These mortals insult me with their defiance. The child should have been Death's her first night, but these humans hide her away in a place he cannot go without invitation, where we cannot go."
"That did not answer my questions. What is there to gain by taking the child? Why is she so special?"
A thin smile curled Erlkonig's lips. "A favor from Death there is to gain from taking her. But she, herself, is not that special. A darling child, the first born to young lovers, conceived from their wedding bed. Nothing special about her at all. Not now, at least. A normal little girl, as cute as the rest of them with her ribbons and dresses but nothing special. Not a thing."
"Then why does Death desire her so? If a favor you are after then that is understandable. But why such lengths for a child if there is nothing interesting about her?"
Erlkonig looked away from the window and to his queen and wife. "Who are we to question why Death does anything? They are mortals and mere puppets for the amusements for us, the immortal beings."
His queen stepped closer and rested a hand on his shoulder.
The Elf King turned towards her and clasped one of her hands in his, wrapping the other around her tiny waist. "With the child," he whispered, turning them in a dance, "Death will grant me a wish. Any wish I desire."
The Elf Queen studied her husband as he spun them in a simple dance. "And what wish is that, my lord? What can Death give you that you can not gain yourself?"
Erlkonig laughed. "I have no wish, my wife! It is for the simple fact that he owes me the favor."
The queen's laugh joined her husband's has they continued their dance. Fairies, elves and sprites joined them, playing music, dancing and playing with one another and turning the night into one of magic.
Within the house, the child stirred from her bed. Her parents told her every night to never leave her room before the sun rose high enough to show in the crack of her door. But this night, she could hear music and laughter outside her house and her 3 and ¾ year old mind could not resist the sounds. As quietly as she could, the child slipped from her little bed and crept to her bedroom door, opening it a crack.
Peering around, she saw no sign of her parents and trusted that they were still asleep, none the wiser about the party that seemed to be happening outside their home. Carefully still, the girl moved to the window by the front door.
Outside the little creatures that she had seen so many times before fluttered this way and that, dancing and twirling in the air as some played tiny instruments. Little silvery lights trailed after them as the flew. In the mist of the tiny creatures, the most beautiful man and woman danced, bathed in silver.
The woman looked passed the man and spotted the child watching them. She smiled sweetly and whispered in her husband's ear.
Erlkonig turned about to the window. As his queen had said, the child was standing at the window, a mystified look upon her face. He smiled as well and twirled his wife around once more before beckoning to the child.
The child started and shook her head.
Erlkonig was about to take a menacing step towards her when his wife stopped him.
"She is scared, my lord," she said softly. "Her parents have never let her out of the house. She needs a little more coasting before she is ready to defy them." She pulled him back into the dance once more. "She is only a child, it will not take long for her to leave the safety. Not with all this fun just outside the window."
Erlkonig considered his wife's words as they twirled about. "You are right, my dear. I just want this done with."
The Elf Queen pecked his lips. "I know, Beloved. After tonight it will be over, trust me." She glanced over at the window to the child and smiled motherly to her.
The child swallowed and watched the couple dance. As they twirled and spun about she caught glimpses of pointed ears beneath their hair and the sweet happy smiles on their lips. They seemed so happy. Her parents never looked so happy. They never smiled so sweetly, only sadly or tired. They always looked tired, scared too.
"Come join us, little one," a high voice begged. A fairy had landed on the window frame. "Come join the dance!"
"Yes, yes," another pipped, "join us. The king and queen want to dance with you, child. Come, come!"
"They love you," a third cried. "They wish for you to come away from this prison and become their daughter!"
"Love me," the child questioned softly, not wanting to rose her parents. "How can they love me? They do not know me."
"But they do! They do," three high voices sang.
"They have been watching you."
"Begging your parents to give you to them!"
"They promised happiness and love to you!"
"To shower you with sweets and presents!"
"To put you in pretty dresses and braid flowers in your hair!"
"But your parents wouldn't let you go!"
"They want to keep you locked away forever!"
"Come out, little one," they said in unison. "Come out and play with us."
"Let the King and Queen take you away."
"With them you can dance in the sun all day-"
"In the grass and flowers!"
"I- I'm not suppose to go out," she whispered.
"Come out, child! Just for tonight! Play with us, dance with the Queen and King and enjoy the fresh air. Then you can creep back into bed and go back to your prison. Or you can stay and play all day and night."
The child hesitated and looked passed the fairies at the elves.
Both were looking at her, their arms were wrapped around each other. Each stretched out a hand towards her, their eyes full of love, and gentle smiles on their lips.
"Join us," the Queen said, her voice like music.
"Dance with us," said the King.
"Let us love you," both said.
The child's will broke and she walked to the door. She reached for the door handle, but a heavy piece of wood barred it. She returned to the window, sad. "I can't open the door," she said, tears in her eyes.
Erlkonig sensed out the barrier and flicked his wrist. "You can now. Its as light as a feather."
The child went back to the door and lifted the wood easily. Placing it carefully on the ground, she pulled open the door and ran out of the house. Only to stop short of the couple, staring at Erlkonig in fear.
Erlkonig's face had changed, showing her death.
Little did the child know that as she watched the dancing and fun from her window, Death had returned. He watched the Elven King and Queen dance among their subjects, watched them and the three fairies coasted the child out of her sanctuary and now crept behind her as she stood staring at the death mask Erlkonig now wore. No, she had no idea what was happening as cold blackness swallowed her.
The next morning, the young parents rose feeling well rested. They kissed each other and went to wake their daughter. As they left their room, they knew something was terribly wrong. Their child's bedroom door was open and a cold draft blew in the house. Turning about, they found the front door standing wide open and a tiny form laying on the porch just outside.
The woman screamed in horror and the man ran to the figure that was his first child.