The elf seems to have been the original name for a fairy. They were at first elemental spirits, and were divided into field-elves, wood-elves, mountain-elves and sea-elves. They are very small and can change their shape at will. They are also usually beautiful, unlike many of the other creatures described here. For this reason they are known as the Fair Folk.
Elves are known as archers, and sometimes fire flint arrowheads at cattle to make them sick. These arrowheads are known as elf-shot, and can still be found in country areas if you know what you are looking for. On the other hand, kindness to elves is rewarded, often by the saving of a life.
The owner of the estate of Colzean in Ayrshire, Scotland, is known as the Laird o’ Co’. One day a little lad came to the gate of the castle with a small tin and asked for a little ale for his sick mother. The Laird agreed, and sent him to the butler to have the can filled. The butler emptied a cask of ale into the can, but still it wasn’t full, so he asked the Laird if he should open another one. The Laird declared that he should fill the lads can if it took all the ale in the castle. The butler opened another cask of ale, and this time managed to fill the tin.
Years later, the Laird was at war, and was taken prisoner and condemned to death. The night before his execution, the dungeon door opened and the little lad appeared there. “Laird o’ Co’, rise and go,” he said, and the Laird was whisked off to the spot where they had first met. The elf disappeared, saying “One good turn deserves another, thank you for being so kind to my old mother”.
No elf can count beyond five, and like the more modern fairies the race has a great fear of iron. These traits may be a lingering memory of an aboriginal race. Whenever a larger, iron-age, race meets a smaller stone-age one the meeting is bound to create impressions on both sides. The sizes have become exaggerated over time so that elves are now no bigger than the human knee, but the fear of iron has remained.
As a general rule, trooping elves are good, but solitary elves are mischief-makers and may be malicious.