And now we kick off the actual elf quest of Elfquest!  New clothes, new elves, old acquaintances, and a party when you least expect it.

As always, you can read along at elfquest.com.

Issue #6 — “The Quest Begins”

Elfquest starts a new story arc with issue #6, set several years after the close of #5, and the subtitle reveals that #1-5 were just the prologue to the titular quest. It opens with Savah, the Mother of Memory, searching the psychic void and finding … a faint touch from something or someone.

We learn several years have passed as Cutter, in a snazzy new shirt under his bearskin vest, returns home from the hunt one night to be met by his two children, the gentle Suntop and the rambunctious Ember. Nightrunner, his wolf, is getting older and weaker as well.   A scorpion climbs on Ember’s sandal, and Cutter tells her to freeze, but a dagger thrown by Leetah knocks it off her foot unharmed. She, too, has grown since we last saw her, and she and Cutter are now bonded together by love, not just Recognition.

Elsewhere, Strongbow and his son Dart discover the unthinkable – humans! Arriving here at Sorrow’s End! The Wolfriders gather, and barely restrain themselves from killing before Cutter arrives.  Even the gentlest elf of the lot, Woodlock, is beside himself with rage. The humans are a sorry-looking lot, four of them, barely alive. Cutter is about to give the order to kill when Redlance asks that the humans have the chance to speak.

The humans say that elves are interlopers on the lands, twisting the natural shapes, creating monsters, and poaching the prey that belongs to the humans, but that the fire they started to drive out the elves turned on them and drove them out, too. This family found another group of humans, but were driven out after the speaker’s brother fell ill and started acting bizarrely, and have spent days wandering in the desert wilderness.   The ill human falls off their pony and dies.  Cutter agonizes for a moment, but sends the humans away instead of killing them, much to the annoyance of Strongbow. He challenges Cutter, but Cutter prevails.

Cutter wonders about what the humans said – if the elves are truly interlopers, where did they come from? And are there other tribes out there? Savah reveals she has been searching psychically for other elves but has not succeeded, and that perhaps Cutter may succeed where she has not.   He remains undecided for a while, not wanting to leave Leetah and his children, and Leetah reminds him that she is older than he and more accepting of their parting, and that she has expected him to leave, at some time.  She says that she trusts the wolf in him to lead him and keep him alive.

The Wolfriders gather and Cutter makes the announcement that he will travel for one year looking for other elves, and return to tell of what he finds. Some of the tribe ask to accompany him, but he declines the offer.  As Cutter leaves, saying farewell to Leetah and his children, Skywise follows, much to Cutter’s consternation. Eventually, he capitulates and the two travel on to the Tunnel of Golden Light, where they first entered the desert.

The tunnel was cleared after the fateful rockfall, but the troll caverns are deserted.  Eventually Skywise and Cutter make it to the doorway of their old Holt and discover that the devastation of the forest was worse than the humans said – there’s nothing left of the forest but grass and blackened stumps. As they stare out into the devastation, on the rock behind them lurk two figures…

Issue #7 – “Dreamberry Tales”

Cutter and Skywise make their way through the once-forest, finding the remains of the Father Tree where generations of elves lived and died, mourning the loss.   The two mysterious figures from the last page of issue #6 turn out to be trolls – Old Maggoty and Picknose. They see Cutter using his sword, New Moon, to dig for edible roots and attack the elves and wolves by throwing pouches of a mysterious powder that incapacitates both the elves and the wolves. Picknose remarks that he’s surprised it worked on the elves, but Maggoty replies “Any simpleton knows all these point-eared vermin have a little wolf blood in ‘em!”

When the elves recover, they find they’re chained up on a shelf in the trolls’ house. Picknose, his fiancée Oddbit, and her grandmother Old Maggoty are examining New Moon. Cutter launches himself at them, only to be stopped short and fall on his face when his chains catch on a wooden post. Picknose taunts him, unwisely venturing too closely as Cutter sinks his teeth into Picknose’s leg.  At that point the wolves start scratching on the door and window shutters outside. Maggoty prepares to dose them with her dust so that Picknose can kill and skin them, but the elves psychically send the wolves away.

Oddbit proposes a party to celebrate finding the sword, and the elves are pressed into service to wait on the trolls. Maggoty says it’s only right, as Picknose will soon be very wealthy and should have servants.  The elves play along, communicating with each other by sending, in order to find out what happened to all the other trolls before they make their attempt to escape.  The trolls toast Picknose and his forthcoming wedding – once he’s achieved wealth, he’ll have earned Oddbit’s hand.  Picknose tells Cutter that his father had quite the taste for dreamberry wine, and challenges Cutter to drink a full tankard in one go, as Bearclaw could. Cutter and Skywise proceed to get as stinking drunk as the trolls are.

Picknose drunkenly reveals the secret of New Moon – the pommel comes off, revealing a key.  He says nobody but the one who made New Moon knew about it, and that King Greymung had let a vast treasure slip away when he lost the sword to Bearclaw. Maggoty warns him to shut up. The talk goes on and the trolls explain that trolls from the far north had attacked them and taken prisoners. Picknose carried Oddbit and Maggoty outside when the attack came, and as the first trolls to brave daylight, they survived.  Picknose wants to marry her, but cannot until he gives her wealth. That brings the conversation back to New Moon, which was made by the greatest metal-smith in the world, a strange troll named Two-Edge, who is part elf as the rumor has it. One day Picknose heard Two-Edge in the tunnels, calling to him in rhyme and telling him that the moon-sword held the key to a golden hoard. Finding the elves later on was pure luck.

Picknose raises a toast to Bearclaw, who didn’t know what he had, and calls him “the elf who was almost as smart as a troll.” Cutter flings himself at Picknose and Skywise takes advantage of the distraction to grab a pouch of sleep-dust from Maggoty and throw on the table. It doesn’t affect the trolls, and the elves fling themselves out of the window in a hurry. Picknose grabs Skywise’s ankle chains, forcing Cutter to play tug-of-war with Skywise until the ankles slide off. The wolves arrive, and the elves make their escape. The trolls are too slow to start pursuit, and decide it’s not worth it as long as they have the key.

Later on, Cutter, head throbbing with the aftereffects of dreamberry wine, manages to get his anklets off. He sighs that New Moon is now ruined, but Skywise, who has remained silent since the trolls’ house, reveals why – he’s got the pommel-key in his mouth, after having snatched it from Picknose’s belt during the fray.

Cutter muses that the humans said in the direction of sun-goes-down other groups of humans lived in deep forest, and that the souls of elf-kind have always yearned for the forest. They set off in that direction as, far behind them, the trolls discover a certain theft.

Discussion

Randomly, Wendy Pini satisfies my inner costumer because every time the elves make a change in direction, they get new outfits.

There are more hints of elfin immortality vs. short Wolfrider lives – the flashback about the twins’ birth ends with “…hurrying towards the endless, golden afternoon of elfin maturity,” and Leetah alludes to being prepared for the idea of Cutter leaving, which could refer to his physically leaving the village or to his death.  Once you know the secret of the Wolfriders, which is being hinted at more and more in these pages, it’s ironic that the very thing Leetah trusts to keep Cutter alive and bring him back to her is also the one thing that can sunder them forever.

The trolls are long-lived, too. Maggoty was old and making dreamberry wine even when Cutter’s father was young, and says that the trolls, who had originally come from the North before an ice age forced them into warmer territory, were in their caverns long before the first Wolfriders came to the forest.   (Trolls also have four fingers, like the elves, instead of five like the humans.) The half-troll smith Two-Edge reappears every couple of generations or so, and must also be immensely old in human terms, given the age to which trolls reach.

Another bit of foreshadowing that doesn’t seem like foreshadowing until you’ve finished the story arc is Cutter musing on the remains of the Father Tree. He thinks, “I can almost believe that this old tree even cradled the spirits of dead Wolfriders in its branches. Where do they rest now, I wonder?”  It’s a question that we’ll learn the answer to, eventually.

Cutter also says something that with hindsight reveals that his convictions about elves and the correct thing to do aren’t always correct. “No matter the danger, the souls of our kind have always yearned for the cool, dark beauty of the forest.” Perhaps so, but who is “our kind”? Elves? Or just the Wolfriders?

When it comes to the art, I have always loved Wendy Pini’s inks in these early issues.  Later on in other arcs she passes on the inking role to others, presumably so they can publish on a much faster timescale than the original three-month wait between issues, and I think it suffers a bit. They become a bit more slick, a bit more … comic-booky, if that makes sense.  Her pencils and character designs also change slightly so what was a bit more rounded in the beginning becomes a bit more angular. It’s not something particularly noticeable or jarring, and I probably only notice because I spent so many hours with tracing paper and my beat-up Elfquests in middle school. And if I was introduced to the later issues first, or had started reading other comics first, I might prefer those.

Leetah from issue #2. The colors suffer from my blowing a screenshot up, but you’re supposed to be looking at the inks anyway.

Leetah from Kings of the Broken Wheel, a later story arc.

That’s it for this month – next month issues 8 and 9, in which we meet authorial self-inserts, Cutter can’t keep the Wolfriders back on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paree, just about everybody gets new threads, and old friends turn up dead. Maybe.

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