Thomas the Rhymer

Thomas, of Erceldoune, in Lauderdale, called the Rhymer, on account of his producing a poetical romance on the subject of Tristrem and Yseult, which is curious as the earliest specimen of English verse known to exist, flourished in the reign of Alexander III. of Scotland. Like other men of talent of the period, Thomas was suspected of magic. He was also said to have the gift of prophecy, which was accounted for in the following peculiar manner, referring entirely to the Elfin superstition.

Thomas meets the Queen of Elfland

Thomas meets the Queen of Elfland

As Thomas lay on Huntly Bank, he saw a beautiful lady riding by the Eildon Tree. Her skirts were of green silk like the leaves of spring and she wore a cloak of fine velvet. Thirty-nine silver bells hung from her horse’s mane, which were music to the wind as she paced along. Her saddle was of ivory, inlaid with fine jewels and gold thread. The fair huntress had her bow in hand, and her arrows at her belt. She led three greyhounds in a leash, and three raches, or hounds of scent, followed her closely.

Thomas pulled off his cap and dropped to his knee exclaiming “You must be Mary, Queen of Heaven! For thy peer on earth I never did see.”

“No Thomas,” she said, “That name does not belong to me, I am but the Queen of Elfland come to visit you. Should you dare to kiss my lips you will belong to me.”

“That weird does not daunt me,” replied Thomas as he kissed her rosy lips.

The Queen mounted her steed drawing Thomas up behind and rode to a nearby cavern.

For three days travelled in darkness, sometimes hearing the booming of a distant ocean, sometimes walking through rivers of blood, which crossed their subterranean path. At length they emerged into daylight, in a most beautiful orchard.

Thomas, stretched out his hand towards the goodly fruit which hung around him, but was stopped by the Queen, who informed him that these were the apples which were the cause of the fall of man.

Leading from the orchard were three paths

“See the narrow road, so thick with thorns and briers that climbs up the steep mountain? That is the path of righteousness, Tho after it but few enquire.”

“And see the broad road across the grassy plain lined with lilies and roses? That is the path of wickedness, that leads sinful souls to the place of everlasting punishment. many will saunter along that broad easy route.”

“Now see that bonny road, that winds amid the cool, green nooks of the woodland? That is the road to fair Elfland, Where you and I this night must go.”

Then once again Thomas mounted behind the lady, and hard and fast did they ride until they saw before them a castle. It stood on a high hill, fair and strong, and as it came in sight the lady reined in her white steed.

“The lord of the castle is king of the country, and I am his queen; and when we enter  you must observe strict silence, and answer no question that is asked you, for should you do so your path back to the middle earth will be forever barred.”

Clear and loud the lady fair blew her horn, clear and loud, and forward she rode toward the castle gate.

Then down to welcome their queen trooped all the fairy court, and kneeling low before her, they did her reverence.

Into the hall she stepped, Thomas following close at her side, silent as one who had no power to speak.

They crowded around him, the knights and squires; they asked him questions about his own country, yet no word dared Thomas answer.

Then arose great revelry and feasting in the castle of the Elfin Queen.

Harps and fiddles played their wildest and most gladsome tunes, knights and ladies danced, and all went merry as a marriage bell.

After a period, however, which seemed to him a very short one, the queen spoke with him apart, and bade him prepare to return to his own country.

“Now,” said the queen, “how long think you that you have been here?”

“Not above these seven days,” answered Thomas.

“You are deceived,” answered the queen; “you have been seven years in this castle, and it is full time you were gone. Know, Thomas, that the archfiend will come to this castle tomorrow to demand his tribute, and so handsome a man as you will attract his eye. For all the world would I not suffer you to be betrayed to such a fate; therefore up, and let us be going.”

This terrible news reconciled Thomas to his departure from Elfland; and the queen was not long in placing him upon Huntly Bank, where the birds were singing. She took leave of him, and to ensure his reputation bestowed on him the tongue which could not lie.

Thomas objected to this inconvenient gift which would make him, as he thought, unfit for church or for market, for king’s court or for lady’s bower. But all his objections were disregarded by the lady; and True Thomas, gained the gift of prophesy since he could say nothing that was untrue and therefore his words were sure to come to pass.

Thomas remained several years in his own tower near Ercildoun, and enjoyed the fame of his predictions, several of which are current among the country people to this day. At length, as the prophet was entertaining the Earl of March in his dwelling, a cry of astonishment arose in the village, on the appearance of a hart and hind, which left the forest, and, contrary to their shy nature, came quietly onward, traversing the village towards the dwelling of Thomas.

The prophet instantly rose from the board, and accompanied the hart and hind into the forest, and though occasionally seen by individuals to whom he has chosen to show himself, he has never again mixed familiarly with mankind.

Meanwhile he is not forgotten. The Eildon tree no longer waves its branches in the breeze, but a large stone named the Eildon-tree stone marks the spot where once it grew. And near to the stone flows a little river which has been named the Goblin Brook, for by its banks it was believed that Thomas the Rhymer used to talk with little men from the land of Elf.

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