THOMAS THE RHYMER
 IT is six hundred years ago since Thomas the Rhymer lived and rhymed, and in those far-off days little need was
there to tell his tale. It was known far and wide throughout the countryside.
Thomas was known as Thomas the Rhymer because of the wonderful songs he sang. Never another harper in all the
land had so great a gift as he. But at that no one marvelled, no one, that is to say, who knew that he had
gained his gift in Elfland.
When Thomas took his harp in his hand and touched the strings, a hush would fall upon those who heard, were
they princes or were they peasants. For the magic of his music reached the hearts of all who stood around him.
Were the strains merry, gleeful? The faces of those who heard were so
 wreathed in smiles. Were they sad, melancholy? The faces of those who looked upon the harpist were bathed in
tears. Truly Thomas the Rhymer held the hearts of the people in his hand.
But the minstrel had another name, wonderful as the one I have already told to you.
Thomas the Rhymer was named True Thomas, and that was because, even had he wished it, Thomas could not say or
sing what was not true.
This gift too, as you will hear, was given to him by the Queen of Elfland.
And yet another name had this wonderful singer.
He was born, so the folk said, in a little village called Ercildoune. He lived there, so the folk knew, in a
castle strongly built on the banks of a little river. Thus to those who dwelt in the countryside the Rhymer was
known as Thomas of Ercildoune. The river which flowed past the castle was the Leader. It flowed broader and
deeper until two miles
 beyond the village it ran into the beautiful river Tweed. And to-day the ruins of an old tower are visited by
many folk who have heard that it was once the home of the ancient harpist.
Thomas of Ercildoune, Thomas the Rhymer, and True Thomas were thus only different names for one marvellous man
who sang and played, never told an untruth, and who, moreover, was able to tell beforehand events that were
going to take place.
Listen, and I will tell you how Thomas of Ercildoune came to visit Elfland.
It was one beautiful May morning that Thomas felt something stirring in his heart. Spring had come, spring was
calling to him. He could stay no longer in the grim tower on the banks of the Leader. He would away, away to
the woods where the thrush and the jay were singing, where the violets were peeping forth with timid eyes,
where the green buds were bursting their bonds for very joy.
 Thomas hastened to the woods and threw himself down by the bank of a little brook.
Ah yes! spring has come. How the little birds sing, how the gentle breezes whisper! Yet listen! what is it
Thomas hears beyond the song of the birds, the whisper of the breeze ?
On the air floats the sound of silver bells. Thomas raises his head. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle! The sound draws
nearer, clearer. It is music such as one might hear in Elfland.
Beyond the wood, over the lonely moors, rode a lady. So fair a lady had Thomas never seen.
Her palfrey was dapple-grey and she herself shone as the summer sun. Her saddle was of pure ivory, bright with
many precious stones and hung with cloth of richest crimson.
The girths of her saddle were of silk and the buckles were each one a beryl. Her stirrups of clear crystal and
adorned with pearls hung ready for her fairy feet. The
 trappings of her palfrey were of finest embroidery, her bridle was a chain of gold.
From the palfrey's mane hung little silver bells, nine-and-fifty little silver bells. It was the fairy music of
the bells that had reached the ears of Thomas as he lay dreaming on the bank of the little brook.
The lady's skirt was green, green as the leaves of spring, her cloak was of fine velvet. Her long black hair
hung round her as a veil, and her brow was adorned with gems.
By her side were seven greyhounds, other seven she led by a leash. From her neck hung a horn and in her belt
was thrust a sheath of arrows.
It seemed as though the lady gay were on her way to the hunting-field.
Now she would blow her horn until the echoes answered merrily, merrily; now she would trill her songs, until
the wild birds answered gaily, gaily.
Thomas of Ercildoune gazed, and Thomas of Ercildoune listened, and his heart gave a great bound as he said to
 by my troth, the lady is none of mortal birth. She is none other than Mary, the Queen of Heaven."
Then up sprang Thomas from the little woodland brook and away sped he over the mountain-side, that he might, so
it were possible, reach her as she rode by the Eildon tree, which tree grew on the side of the Eildon hills.
"For certainly," said Thomas, "if I do not speak with that lady bright, my heart will break in three."
And in sooth, as she dismounted under the Eildon tree, Thomas met the lady, and kneeling low beneath the
greenwood, he spoke, thus eager was he to win a benison from the Queen of Heaven.
"Lovely lady, have pity upon me, even as thou art mother of the Child who died for me."
"Nay now, nay now," said the lady gay, "no Queen of Heaven am I. I come but from the country thou dost call
Elfland, though queen of that country in truth I am. I do but ride to the hunt with my hounds as thou
 mayest hear." And she blew on her horn merrily, merrily.
Now Thomas did not wish to lose sight of so fair a lady.
"Go not back to Elfland; stay by my side under the Eildon tree," he pleaded.
"Nay," said the Queen of Elfland, "should I stay with thee, a mortal, my fairness would fade as fades a leaf."
But Thomas did not believe her, and, for he was a bold man, he drew near and kissed the rosy lips of the
Alas, alas! no sooner had he kissed her than the lady fair changed into a tired old woman.
She no longer wore a skirt of beautiful green, but a long robe of hodden grey covered her from head to foot.
The light, bright as the summer sun that had shone around her, faded, and her face grew pale and thin. Her eyes
no longer danced for joy, they gazed dull and dim before her. And on one side of her head the long black hair
had changed to grey.
UNDER THE EILDON TREE THOMAS MET THE LADY.
 It was a sight to make one sad, and Thomas, as he gazed, cried, as well he might, "Alas, alas!"
"Thyself hast sealed thy doom, Thomas," cried the lady.
"Thou must come with me to Elfland. Haste thou
therefore to bid farewell to sun and moon, to trees and flowers, for, come weal, come woe, thou must e'en serve
me for a twelvemonth."
Then Thomas fell upon his knees and prayed to Mary mild that she would have pity upon him.
But when he arose the Queen of Elfland bade him mount behind her, and Thomas could do nought save obey her
Her steed flew forward, the Eildon hills opened, and horse and riders were in the caverns of the earth.
Thomas felt darkness close around him. On they rode, on and yet on; swift as the wind they rode. Water reached
to his knee, above and around him was darkness, and ever and anon the booming of the waves.
For three days they rode. Then Thomas
 grew faint with hunger and cried, "Woe is me, I shall die for lack of food."
As he cried, the darkness grew less thick, and they were riding forward into light. Bright sunlight lay around
them as they rode toward a garden. It was a garden such as Thomas had never seen on earth.
All manner of fruit was there, apples and pears, dates and damsons, figs and currants, all ripe, ready to be
plucked. In this beautiful garden, too, there were birds, nightingales building their nests, gay popinjays
flitting hither and thither among the trees, thrushes singing their sweetest songs.
But these Thomas neither saw nor heard. Thomas had eyes only for the fruit, and he thrust forth his hand to
pluck it, so hungry, so faint was he.
"Let be the fruit, Thomas," cried the lady, "let be the fruit. For dost thou pluck it, thy soul will go to an
evil place, nor shall it escape until the day of doom. Leave the fruit, Thomas, and come lay thy head upon my
knee, and I will show thee a sight fairer
 than ever mortal hath seen." And Thomas, being fain to rest, lay down as he was bid, and closed his eyes.
"Now open thine eyes, Thomas," said the lady, "and thou shalt see three roads before thee. Narrow and straight
is the first, and hard is it to walk there, for thorns and briars grow thick, and spread themselves across the
pathway. Straight up over the mountain-tops on into the city of God runs this straight and narrow road. It is
named the path of Goodness. And ever will the thorns prick and the briars spread, for few there be who tread
far on this rough and prickly road.
"Look yet again, Thomas," said the lady. And Thomas saw stretching before him a long white road. It ran smooth
and broad across a grassy plain, and roses blossomed, and lilies bloomed by the wayside. "That," said the lady,
"is named the path of Evil, and many there be who saunter along its broad and easy surface."
Thomas said no word, but lay looking at
 the third pathway as it twisted and twined in and out amid the cool, green nooks of the woodland. Tiny rills
caught the sunlight and tossed it back to the cold, grey rock down which they trickled; tiny ferns waved a
welcome from their sheltered crevices. "This," said the lady, "this is the fair road to Elfland, and along its
beauteous way must thou and I ride this very night. But speak thou to none, Thomas, when thou comest to
Elfland. Though strange the sights you see, the sounds you hear, speak thou to none, for never mortal returns
to his own country does he speak one word in the land of Elfs."
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.
"See, Thomas, see!" she cried, "here is the castle that is mine and his who is king of this country. None like
it is there, for beauty or for strength, in the land from which thou comest. My lord is waited on by knights,
 whom there are thirty in this castle. A noble lord is mine, nor would he wish to hear how thou wert bold and
kissed me under the Eildon tree. Bear thou in mind, Thomas, that thou speak no word, nay, not though thou art
commanded to tell thy tale. I will say to my courtiers that I took from thee the power of speech ere ever we
crossed the sea."
Thomas listened, and dared not speak. Thomas stood still, still as a stone, and gazed upon the lady, and lo! a
great wonder came to pass.
Once more the lady shone bright as the sun upon a summer's morn, once more she wore her skirt of green, green
as the leaves of spring, and her velvet cloak hung around her shoulders. Her eyes flashed and her long hair
waved once more black in the breeze.
And Thomas, looking at his own garments, started to see that they too were changed. For he was now clothed in a
suit of beautiful soft cloth, and on his feet were a pair of green velvet shoes.
 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
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.
Across the hall Thomas looked, and there a strange sight met his glance. Thirty harts and as many deer lay on
the oaken floor, and bending over them, their knives in their hands, were elfin cooks, making ready for
 the feast. Thomas wondered if it were but a dream, so strange seemed the sights he saw.
Gaily passed the days, and Thomas had no wish to leave the strange Elfland. But a day came when the queen said
to Thomas, "Now must thou begone from Elfland, Thomas, and I, myself, will ride with you back to your own
"Nay now, but three days have I dwelt in thy realm," said Thomas, "with but little cheer. Give me leave to
linger yet a little while."
"Indeed, indeed, Thomas," cried the Queen of Elfland, "thou hast been with me for seven long years and more,
but now thou must away ere the dawn of another day. To-morrow there comes an evil spirit from the land of
darkness to our fair realm. He comes each year to claim our most favoured and most courteous guest, and it will
be thou, Thomas, thou, whom he will wish to carry to his dark abode. But we tarry not his coming. By the light
of the moon we ride to-night to the land of thy birth."
 Once again the lady fair mounted her white palfrey, and Thomas rode behind until she brought him safe back to
the Eildon tree.
There, under the leaves of the greenwood, while the little birds sang their lays, the Queen of Elfland said
farewell to Thomas.
"Farewell,Thomas, farewell, I may no longer stay with thee."
"Give me a token," pleaded Thomas, "a token ere thou leavest me, that mortals may know that I have in truth
been with thee in Elfland."
"Take with thee, then," said the lady, "take with thee the gift of harp and song, and likewise the power to
tell that which will come to pass in future days. Nor ever shall thy tales be false, Thomas, for I have taken
from thee the power to speak aught save only what is true."
She turned to ride away, away to Elfland. Then Thomas was sad, and tears streamed from his grey eyes, and he
cried, "Tell me, lady fair, shall I never meet thee more?"
"Yea," said the Elf Queen, "we shall meet
 again, Thomas. When thou art in thy castle of Ercildoune and hearest of a hart and hind that come out of the
forest and pace unafraid through the village, then come thou down to seek for me here, under the Eildon tree."Then loud and clear blew she her horn and rode away. Thus Thomas parted from the Elfin Queen.
On earth seven slow long years had passed away since Thomas had been seen in the little village of Ercildoune,
and the villagers rubbed their eyes and stared with open mouth as they saw him once again in their midst.
Ofttimes now Thomas was to be seen wandering down from his grim old castle down to the bonny greenwood.
Ofttimes was he to be found lying on the bank of the little brook that babbled to itself as it ran through the
forest, or under the Eildon tree, where he had met the Elf Queen so long before.
He would be dreaming as he lay there of the songs he would sing to the country folk. So beautiful were these
songs that people hearing them knew that Thomas the Rhymer
 had a gift that had been given to him by no mortal hand.
He would be thinking, too, as he lay by the babbling brook, of the wars and dangers that in years to come would
fall upon his country. And those who hearkened to the woes he uttered found that the words of True Thomas never
failed to come to pass.
Seven long years passed away since Thomas had parted from the Elfland Queen, and yet another seven.
War had raged here and there throughout the land, when on a time it chanced that the Scottish army encamped
close to the castle of Ercildoune where Thomas the Rhymer dwelt.
It was a time of truce, and Thomas wished to give a feast to the gallant soldiers who had been fighting for
Thus it was that the doors of the old castle were flung wide, and noise and laughter filled the banquet-hall.
Merry were the tales, loud the jests, bright the minstrel strains that night in the castle of Ercildoune.
 But when the feast was over Thomas himself arose, the harp he had brought from Elfland in his hand, and a hush
fell upon the throng, upon lords and ladies, and upon rough armed men.
The cheeks of rugged warriors that day were wet ere ever Thomas ceased to sing. Nor ever in the years to come
did those who heard forget the magic of his song.
Night fell, those who had feasted had gone to rest, when in the bright moonlight a strange sight was seen by
the village folk.
Along the banks of the Leader there paced side by side a hart and a hind, each white, white as newly fallen
Slowly and with stately steps they moved, nor were they affrighted by the crowd which gathered to gaze at them.
Then, for True Thomas would know the meaning of so strange a sight, then a messenger was sent in haste to the
castle of Ercildoune.
As he listened to the tale the messenger
 brought, Thomas started up out of bed and in haste he put on his clothes. Pale and red did he grow in turn as
he listened to the tale, yet all he said was this: 'My sand is run, my thread is spun, this token is for me.'
Thomas hung his elfin harp around his neck, his minstrel cloak across his shoulders, and out into the pale
moonlight he walked. And as he walked the wind touched the strings of the elfin harp and drew forth a wail so
full of dole that those who heard it whispered: 'It is a note of death.'
On walked Thomas, slow and sad, and oft he turned to look again at the grim walls of the castle, which he knew
he would never see again.
And the moonbeams fell upon the grey tower, and in the soft light the walls grew less grim, less stern, so
"Farewell," he cried, "farewell. Nor song nor dance shall evermore find place within thy walls. On thy
hearthstone shall the wild hare seek a refuge for her young.
 Farewell to Leader, the stream I love, farewell to Ercildoune, my home."
As Thomas tarried for a last look, the hart and the hind drew near. Onward then he went with them toward the
banks of the Leader, and there, before the astonished folk, he crossed the stream with his strange companions,
and nevermore was Thomas the Rhymer seen again.
For many a day among the hills and through the glens was Thomas sought, but never was he found. There be some
who say that he is living yet in Elfland, and that one day he will come again to earth.
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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