The Two Curtains

Enjoying a brief pause in her journey, the Light Elf Cassandra regales her companions with a tale of Elven lore.

"C'mon, Cassy, tell us a story," Sammy pleaded.
Cassandra looked down at her little companions and smiled. The Barnfolk were such funny creatures. Their hearts were light and their cares few. Their lives seemed to revolve around nothing more than a constant stream of food, drink, story and song. Though their kind was naturally curious, the two siblings were rarities, willing to risk those four necessities to satisfy their taste for adventure. In all truth, though, they had not suffered many privations on the journey so far and Cassandra saw no reason to start. A simple tale was no great task, after all.
"Very well," she replied, "what would you like to hear?"
"Something about the Elves!" Sammy's sister Tammy said.
"My people have many stories," Cassandra said, making a sweeping gesture. "Enough to fill everything between the Two Curtains."
Tammy cocked her head in curiosity. "The Two Curtains?"
"The Two Curtains is one of our oldest stories," the Elf said, "told back in the days before the First Schism."
"The First Schism?" Sammy asked.
Cassandra patted the Barnling's head. "I can only tell one story at a time and the Schisms are not the happy sort of tales you like to hear. In short, the First Schism was when the Dark Elves split from the rest of Elfkind. The days before the First Schism were our golden age, back when Elfkind was still young among the races of the world and El-Naia walked among us."
"Then tell us about the Two Curtains," Tammy said.
Cassandra closed her eyes and as she spoke, it seemed as if she were traveling back to a forgotten age to deliver the account firsthand.
"Long, long ago, there was nothing but the Void and at its center was Chaos. Nothing could live there and the spirits of the living were still asleep, like seeds waiting to be germinated."
"What's the Void?" Tammy asked.
"And Chaos?" Sammy added.
Cassandra could not help but be amused by their simplicity. Although the brother and sister were still young--even by Barnfolk standards--, she did not imagine their kind paid much thought to the Great Mystery at any age.
"The Void is the Great Nothing," she said.
Thinking he had the right answer, like an eager schoolboy, Sammy's hand shot up. "So it's like air!"
Cassandra shook her head. "No, the air is something. Let me show you."
Taking the waterskin off Sammy's shoulder, she pulled off the stopper and poured out the contents.
"Steady on there, Cassy!" Sammy exclaimed. "That's wasteful!"
The Elf waved her hand dismissively. "All water goes to the earth, then to the sky and back to the earth. I waste nothing." She handed the waterskin to Sammy and asked him, "Is there anything in there?"
The Barnling shook the waterskin a bit and nothing more than a couple drops fell out.
"It's empty," he said. "There's nothing there."
She then handed it to Tammy, whose answer was the same.
"You say there is nothing," Cassandra said, "but air is in the skin and it is indeed something."
She sealed the waterskin and held it out where they could see it. She squeezed the skin and it resisted predictably.
"You see?" she asked. "If there is nothing in the waterskin, then why does it not go flat? Feel it for yourself."
She handed the waterskin to the two Barnlings. They spent a good while marveling at how nothing had suddenly became something.
"If air was nothing," Cassandra continued, "then the waterskin would not be full like that. The Void, on the other hand, truly is nothing. No creature can survive in the Void, nor can it survive in Chaos."
"If the Void is nothing, then what's Chaos?" Tammy asked.
"Chaos is harder to explain." Cassandra ran her fingers through her hair as she thought of a way to make it easy for them to understand. "Chaos is the opposite of Order. The sun rising in the east and setting in the west, night following day, the endless cycle of the four seasons, the branches of trees reaching to the sky and the roots reaching into the ground, the beating of your heart, the constant flow of breath in and out of your body... All these things represent Order, these regular patterns that make life possible.
"A little Chaos is what makes you unique from your brother, a horse different from a cow. It makes two sips of water from the same river taste different, and so on. However, pure Chaos breaks all the patterns of Order that make life and structure possible."
Tammy scratched her head. "So where do the Two Curtains come in?"
"As I said, nothing could live in the Void or in Chaos, but the greater spirits did not want the spirits of living things to sleep forever. First, they cast a curtain over Chaos and the First Curtain became known as the earth. Of the four Elements, it is the most closely allied with Order because it shields us from Chaos.
"Another curtain was placed between the First Curtain and the Void. This Second Curtain became known as sky. That is why birds and Dragons do not fly forever upwards, because they would lose the protection of the Second Curtain. So, when an Elf says 'between the Two Curtains', he means 'between the land and the sky'."
Like two wide-eyed children, the Barnlings looked awestruck.
"Wow, that's some story, Cassy," Tammy said.
"Yeah," Sammy added, "us Barnlings've always thought everything's always been the way it is and'll always stay that way."
"That is because your ways never change, you silly creatures," Cassandra teased. "As long as you get your five meals a day, you care not a whit about the past or the future."
Sammy took an apple out of his haversack, a between-meal snack, and took a bite out of it. His mouth full, he asked, "Ish anyfin' wron' wif fat?"
Cassandra smiled. "Not at all. I envy you a great deal. If I ever return to El-Simil, I will petition the Elders to have our children take lessons from you."
Both Barnlings got a good laugh out of that, but it quickly gave way to more questions.
"What's El-Simil?" Sammy asked. "I've never heard you talk about it before."
"And you said something about 'El-Naia' at the start of your last story," Tammy said. "What's that?"
Cassandra sighed. "You two are insatiable."
"C'mon, Cassy," the two pleaded in unison, "tell us!"
The Elf took a deep breath. In all her three hundred years, she had never dealt with more demanding creatures, but she did not mind as much as she thought she would. Her journey would be very lonely without their company. More importantly, the two siblings were a welcome distraction from the dark clouds that lay on the horizon. She knew she had to enjoy these precious light-hearted moments while they lasted.