Elvenhomes, origin and nature.
Elves were created by the Singer (in their legends) to create and maintain beauty--to sing the Singer's songs of power and with them make everything more beautiful (in the sense of health and harmony, as well as surface beauty.) They are immortal and have the gift of seeing the probable results of their actions more than humans (whose vision is nearly always limited by awareness of mortality.) Initially, before the Severance, most elves worked/sang independently, each to his/her own understanding of the Singer's intent, and creating a variety of beauties. They were, in a way, "uplifters" to the younger sentient or semi-sentient beings, encouraging them to join in the work of making the world beautiful, healthy, harmonious, and setting limits on their actions that the elves considered short-sighted and likely to have ugly, dangerous, unharmonious results.
After the Severance, aware of the way that the Singer's children could go wrong, they began to question one another's vision, and even distrust their own. Elves with exceptional ability, producing unquestionable beauty, and (crucial) gifted with an unusual amount of the power to enchant other elves (charisma, for lack of a better term) drew other elves into their own vision of their "project." These elves became their assistants, working to perfect the more powerful elf's vision and working only within it. These clusters of elves working under a guiding "master craftsman," became known as elvenhomes. Their combined mageries and powers of enchantment then protected the whole from human intrusion in particular. Elves might travel away from the elvenhome and return (some might leave and go find another, or work outside on their own, but this became ever less common, as iynisin attacked solitary elves before trying to take down groups.) The head of an elvenhome was the only one who could "stretch" the elvenhome and take it along during travel, but they also could leave without doing that (though it was very dangerous.) Such travels outside were almost always done by the patterns of power, as they could not be attacked while in transit, only if the destination had been compromised.
So an elvenhome is both a place (where the creative vision of a master-craftsman elf is being carried out by his/her subordinate elves) and a state of being for the elves who live within it. The size and the amount/strength of separation from the rest of the world are both related to the powers of the master-craftsman whose elvenhome it is. For allied elves, the elvenhome is just that...home. The safest place, the only place elves can really be themselves, unstressed by any ugliness, where conflict is (often) unknown, or at least very rare. No one can get at them; no one questions their nature, their values, their viewpoint. It is a place where much work is being done, by all participants, but without strain...in a long-established elvenhome, the taig cooperates willingly with the shaping of elven artists. (Might be like a monastery?)
Elvenhomes aren't all alike--each master-craftsman has his/her own style, his/her own preferences, and as well, they're all in different places, with different starting conditions. The goal is not uniformity, but beauty. In the heyday of elvenhomes, when there were hundreds of them, they were as distinct as their master-craftmen...as different as Raphael and Velasquez, as Pindar and Sophocles, as Bach and Grieg. Elves traveled among them, picking up techniques and ideas, and bringing them back to their master-craftsman...or starting their own elvenhome if they wished.
But very few are left. With the loss of individual "unaffiliated" elven artists, the smaller elvenhomes and any traveling elves were now the target of iynisin malice. One after another elvenhome failed. Some elves blamed humans; some blamed individual elf-lords; some fell into despair; some turned to evil. The last known elvenhome near the Eight Kingdoms besides the Ladysforest was a small one in the mountains of the Eastbight--it vanished a few hundred years ago. The only other elvenhome known to the elves of the Ladysforest is the Kingsforest, in the far west (near, but not in, Kolobia.)
In addition, elven reproductive is slow and meager. Their childhoods are prolonged and costly to the adult elves, taking them away from what they think of as their primary duty, creating beauty. As well, having asked Dragons to curb their fertility, and aware of overpopulation as a problem with any creatures confined in limited space, elves attempted to limit their own (both out of a sense of fairness and out of the need to provide each elven child with sufficient attention during childhood.) Because they are so long-lived, the selection of a mate is crucial to avoid genetic problems, and they usually have only one child with each mate.
This became harder as the elvenhomes dwindled. Often the creative charisma of a master-craftsman elf satisfied the creative desires of the subordinate elves and many never reproduced. Meanwhile, the belief grew that only the master-craftsman elves could transmit the power (creative ability and charisma) to create an elvenhome...and they themselves, at one point, decided that they should limit transmission of this gift to a single heir, and provide for that heir specific assistance, both in childhood and later. So some of their children were "designed" to be incapable of forming an elvenhome, but innately bound to the one who could. Sometimes these "helper" children were born before (to provide guidance) as well as after (to be more like advanced servants) the designated heir. Sometimes the heir went bad...was corrupted at some stage. Then--if the original heir could be killed or permanently confined--the master-craftsman might breed a second heir.
However, this "solution" to maintaining an elvenhome even if the master-craftsman died wasn't chosen by all elves. The master of the Kingsforest made very different choices from the Lady: he believed that limiting the elvenhome gift to only one child was a mistake and made no attempt to withhold it from his children. Some of his so-gifted children chose to stay in the Kingsforest and some have created other elvenhomes the Ladysforest elves--and the humans in these books-- know nothing about, all in the far west. His elves are healthier, and more numerous, than any of those who stayed east of the great waste. He and she had a child together (the Lady's original heir) but as he saw that heir going to the bad, he refused to father another child with her. (He's made some good choices; he's made some bad ones. Kieri's mother and Amrothlin are proof that not all Flessinathlin's children were badly flawed. And he's as arrogant and narrow-minded about some things as Flessinathlin ever was--though this book and the next won't be dealing with his internals that much.)
What the elvenhome means to Lyonyans, and what its lack means.
Humans in Lyonya all lived under some amount of magical influence, from the time the elves came down into the forest. They were told--and believed--that the elves protected them from invasion, kept their land fertile and healthy, and that they needed (and should be grateful to) the elves for guidance. Since invasions didn't come, and since they saw elven warriors (or elves wearing glittering mail and carrying weapons) and since elves set up for them the palace at Chaya for their king, including the best salle in all of Paksworld, the humans believed this for the most part. Though some resented the elven intrusion, most of those were gone by the age of this story, and the part-mage/part-old-human population was generally (but not absolutely) content to have elves as co-rulers. So the elvenhome was part of their world time out of mind, and they accepted it...and many who had traveled a little (few had traveled much, but Aliam Halveric and his grown sons) valued the beauty and peace of Lyonya and credited the elvenhome with protecting it.
Elves, of course, helped create the elvenhome--and it is their home, their life's work (and that's thousands of years of life's work for those individuals), their comfort and their pride.
Humans see loss of elvenhome as 1) loss of Lady's protection against invasion (of humans, evil creatures, any bad thing) but also 2) as opening up formerly reserved lands for human use. Which of these dominates an individual's mind depends on what he/she most fears and most hopes for. With Kieri having demonstrated the ability to resist invasion (albeit with draconic help), and with the revelation that the elves weren't even around when the invasion started (thus no protection), more humans are thinking exploitation of former elvenhome would be desirable. Those who have long resented elven restrictions on land use are now eager to get to it--cut the trees, plow the land, etc.
Elves see loss of elvenhome as meaning human invasion and degradation of the former elvenhome is inevitable, and see themselves being cast out as homeless, despised refugees. Their work of thousands of years will be not only neglected, but actively ruined. Some of them are already resentful that humans have not been more grateful for the services elves have provided.
Kieri recognizes that Lyonya's wealth depends on the right use of the land, and that human temptation to do the short-term practical thing will destroy valuable (in the long run) resources. Lyonya could become just like Tsaia...and though he was happy in Tsaia, he is very aware of its faults and limitations. He also recognizes--from his experience of war in Aarenis--that displaced refugees stay bitter a long time and some of them turn to evil...that displaced elves are more likely to "turn" and even become iynisin--and with their intimate knowledge of Lyonya, this is a serious danger to the realm. He does not want angry, bitter elves roaming around causing trouble in neighboring lands or joining up with iynisin.
Patterns of power: Elder races all devised patterns of power, but the elves had the best-quality, highest-efficiency ones--ones that could be used (it turned out) by other than themselves...by humans with innate mage ability. (Patterns of power are still widely believed to exist in our world--and I'm not talking circuit diagrams. Many churches now include a labyrinth for prayer and meditation; stone art is commonly marked with patterns believed to have powers of various kinds by those who used them; Maori greenstone is incised with patterns that have meaning (Keri Hulme's The Bone People was full of patterns of power.) Elven patterns for movement are found in multiple locations and operate by "following the pattern" (walking a path, tracing a path with a finger.) Mageborn feel the pull of such patterns and instinctively follow them, or want to; non-mages can use them after they've been shown how. All Elders can choose their own destinations; humans rarely can. Elves began to use patterns for movement more often as danger grew for elves wandering openly--they provided secure (or nearly secure) transport.
Many elves can travel within their own elvenhome without using a pattern, because the elvenhome, sung into being by those elves, is itself a pattern, a complex "music" they know by heart. Just as a musician who knows a Bach toccata and fugue (for instance) can "travel" instantly to any detail of it and begin playing or singing there--an elf can merely think of a glade, a great tree, any spot, and be there. (Even I, with only a minute part of such talent, can start familiar pieces in the middle.) Or the elf can choose to walk through it, as a musician may choose to start at measure one and play through. They must "read" another elvenhome as a musician reads unfamiliar music, but since all their music is related, they may also be able to move about within it without an external pattern.
The external pattern within an elvenhome is a convenient aid to memory--like having a sheet of music you've composed (or a copy of a book you've written) for reference...or it may be a safe way to leave/return when traveling beyond the elvenhome. External patterns outside the elvenhome provide safe places (if not compromised) when an elf traveling outside is pursued....if the elf can reach the pattern, and has time to "turn it on," then the elf can travel to an elvenhome. They're also useful when the journey is long and arduous, and the elf in question just wants to get home (I prefer driving places by slow back roads, as being scenic and interesting and more fun, but there are times I choose the freeway.) The pattern in the palace in Vérella, for instance, was put there by elves and disguised from magelords--is triggered by the presence of elves. The pattern in the High Lord's Hall in Fin Panir, however, was set in place by magelords. The one in the cave that Luap found, back in Gird's day, is still a mystery to me....I don't know who made it, but I do know it was made a direct connection to Kolobia. Since that stronghold was not made by men, initially, but by a consortium of Elders, one of them must have done it.
Besides patterns for movement, elves made patterns of warding, to guard what was inside and exclude what was outside. Some of these mesmerized the intruder (who might starve to death just staring at the pattern unless an elf took pity on him and moved him away from it--and if the intruders had no ill intent, elves often did just that--laid another glamour over the one that pattern had forced, and took the person somewhere else to wake up. Some were actively harmful. Inside, elves and whatever they made were safe. Humans quickly picked up the notion of "ward-stones" though some of theirs were simple boundary stones, just markers. Still, they usually carved them with some design they thought would help: an ugly or screaming face on one side, for instance to warn away intruders. Other human-built wardstones were just as powerful as elven ones, though humans rarely used the one that simply entranced the intruder. .
Once magelords found that they could use elven patterns, they began carving their own, copying them. (It's not easy, as Kieri found out, but it can be done.) Some of the patterns still extant were made by magelords; some were invented by them. The pattern on the box of regalia, for instance, is a magelord warding pattern. Tracing it opens the box for that person--anyone else who reaches in will be "snapped at." Some of the transfer patterns were carved by magelords and some by rock-folk.