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Thomas the Rhymer

Thomas Learmont was Laird of the castle of Ercildoune in Berwickshire. He loved books, poetry, and music, and he loved to study nature and to watch the habits of the beasts and birds that lived in the fields and woods round about his home.

One sunny morning in May it chanced that Thomas left his Tower of Ercildoune and went wandering into the woods that lay about the little stream Huntly Burn that came rushing down from the slopes of the Eildon Hills. It was a lovely morning, fresh, bright, and warm, and everything was beautiful to see and hear.

Thomas felt so happy with it all that he threw himself down at the root of a tree to watch the living things around him. As he was lying there, he heard a horse as it forced its way through the bushes. He looked up and saw the most beautiful lady that he had ever seen coming riding towards him on a grey horse.

She wore a hunting dress of grass-green glistening silk, and from her shoulders hung a velvet mantle to match the dress. Her yellow hair was like rippling gold, and hung loosely round her shoulders. On her head sparkled a diadem that flashed like fire in the sunlight, and her saddle was of pure ivory.

Apparently she was bent on the chase, for she carried a hunting-horn and a sheaf of arrows; and she led seven greyhounds along in a leash, while as many scenting hounds ran loose at her horse's side. As she rode down the glen, Thomas thought it must be Virgin Mary riding on a hunt.

But she read his mind and shook her head. "No, I am not her," she said. "I am the queen of fairyland, and not exactly of heaven."

From that moment Thomas forgot his common-sense. Although he had heard it was dangerous for mortals to meddle with fairies, he was so entranced with her beauty that he begged her to give him a kiss. This was just what she wanted, for then she would have him in her power.

As soon as their lips had met, an awful change came over her, for her beautiful mantle and riding-skirt of silk seemed to fade away, and her beauty seemed to fade away too. She grew old and wan; and all of her abundant yellow hair went grey before his very eyes. She burst into a mocking laugh.

"I am not so fair to look on now as I was at first," she said, "but that matters little; such changes occur to all humans too. And by the kiss you sold yourself to be my servant for seven years. For those who kiss the fairy queen must go with her to fairyland, and serve her there till that time is past."

When he heard these words poor Thomas said, "I wish I knew that beforehand." He fell on his knees in front of her, but could not get any mercy. The queen of elves only laughed, and brought her dapple-grey saddle-horse close up to where he was standing.

"No, no," she said. "You asked for the kiss, and must pay the price. So dally no longer, but mount behind me, for it is full time that I was gone."

Thomas had no other choice than to mount behind her; and as soon as he had done so, she shook her bridle rein, and the grey steed galloped off. On and on they, till they came to the edge of a great desert. It stretched before them, dry, bare, and desolate, to the edge of the far horizon.

Thomas could not help wondering if he and his strange companion had to cross this desert; and if there were any chance of reaching the other side of it alive. But the fairy queen suddenly stopped the grey horse and said, glancing over her shoulder, "Now you must get down to earth, Thomas, and bend down, and lay your head on my knee, and I will show you hidden things that cannot be seen by mortal eyes."

So Thomas dismounted, bent down, and rested his head on the fairy queen's knee; and as he looked once more over the desert, everything seemed changed. For he saw three roads leading across it now. He had not noticed them before. Each road was different.

One of them was broad, level, and even, and it ran straight on across the sand, so that no one who was travelling by it could possibly lose his way.

And the second road was as different from the first as it well could be. It was narrow, winding, and long. There was a thorn hedge on one side of it and a briar hedge on the other. Those hedges grew so high and their branches were so wild and tangled, that those who were travelling along that road would have some difficulty in persevering on their journey at all.

And the third road was unlike any of the others. It was a bonnie, bonnie road, winding up a hillside among ferns, heather, and golden-yellow shrubs, and it looked as if it would be pleasant travelling to pass that way.

The fairy queen said, "I shall tell you where these three roads lead to. The first road is broad, even, and easy, as you see, and there are many that choose it to travel on. But though it be a good road, it leads to a bad end, and those who choose it repent their choice for ever.

"And as for the narrow road, all hampered and hindered by the thorns and the briars, there are few that are troubled to ask where that leads to. But if they asked, perhaps more of them might be stirred up to set out along it. For that is the road of righteousness; and it ends in a glorious city called the city of the great king.

"And the third road - the appealing road that runs up the hillside among the ferns, leads to fair elfland; and that road we will take.

"And, mark, Thomas, if ever you hope to see your own Tower of Ercildoune again, take care of your tongue when we reach the end of our journey, and speak not a single word to anyone save me, for the mortal who opens his lips rashly in fairyland must stay there forever."

Then she bade him get up on her horse again, and they rode on. The ferny road was not so bonnie all the way as it had been at first, however. For they had not ridden along it very far before it led them into a narrow ravine that seemed to go right down under the earth, where there was no ray of light to guide them, and where the air was damp and heavy. There was a sound of rushing water everywhere, and at last the grey palfrey plunged right into it, and the water crept up, cold and chill, first over Thomas's feet, and then over his knees.

His courage had been slowly ebbing ever since they had parted from the daylight, but now he gave himself up for lost; for it seemed certain to him that his strange companion and he would never come safe to their journey's end.

But at last the darkness began to lighten and the light grew stronger, until they were back in broad sunshine.

Then Thomas took courage, and looked up. They were riding through a beautiful orchard where apples and pears, dates and figs and wine-berries grew abundantly. He stretched out his hand to pluck some of it; but his companion turned in her saddle and forbade him. "There is nothing safe for you to eat here," she said, "except an apple I will give you. If you touch anything else you are bound to remain in fairyland forever."

So Thomas restrained himself. They rode on slowly until they came to a tiny tree all covered with red apples. The fairy queen bent down and plucked one, and handed it to her companion.

"I can gladly give you this," she said, "for these apples are the apples of truth; and whoever eats them gains this reward, that he will never more be able to tell a lie."

Thomas took the apple, and ate it; and graceful truth was on his lips from then on.

They had only a little way to go after this, before they came in sight of a magnificent castle standing on a hillside. "I live over there," said the queen, pointing to it proudly. "There lives my lord and all the nobles of his court. Since my lord has an uncertain temper and shows no liking for any strange gallant that he sees in my company, I pray you to say not a word to anyone who speaks to you. If anyone should ask me who and what you are, I will tell them that you are dumb. In such a way you will pass unnoticed."

With these words the lady raised her hunting-horn and blew a loud and piercing blast. As she did so, a marvellous change came over her again. Her ugly ash-covered gown dropped off her, and the grey in her hair vanished, and she appeared once more in her green riding-skirt and mantle, and her face grew young and fair.

And a wonderful change passed over Thomas too: his rough country clothes had been changed into a suit of fine brown cloth, and on his feet he wore satin shoes.

As soon as the sound of the horn rang out, the doors of the castle flew open, and the king hurried out to meet the queen. With him were so many knights and ladies, minstrels and page-boys that Thomas had no difficulty in passing into the castle unobserved after he had slid from the horse.

Everyone seemed very glad to see the queen back again, and they crowded into the great hall in her train, and she spoke to them all graciously, and allowed them to kiss her hand. Then she passed, with her husband, to a dais at the far end of the huge apartment. Two thrones stood there, and the royal pair seated themselves to watch the revels that now began.

Poor Thomas, meanwhile, stood far away at the other end of the hall and felt very lonely, yet fascinated by the scene he was gazing on.

For, although all the fine Ladies, and Courtiers, and Knights were dancing in one part of the Hall, there were huntsmen coming and going in another part, carrying in great antlered deer, which apparently they had killed in the chase, and throwing them down in heaps on the floor. And there were rows of cooks standing beside the dead animals, cutting them up into joints, and bearing away the joints to be cooked.

Altogether it was such a strange, fantastic scene that Thomas took no heed of how the time flew, but stood and gazed, never speaking a word to anybody. This went on for three long days. Then the queen rose from her throne and stepped from the dais, crossed the hall to where he was standing.

"It's time to mount and ride, Thomas," she said, "if you would ever see the fair Castle of Ercildoune again."

Thomas looked at her in amazement. "You spoke of seven long years, lady," he exclaimed, "and I have been here but three days."

The queen smiled. "Time passes quickly in fairyland, my friend," she replied. "You think that you have been here but three days. It's seven years since we two met. And now it is time for you to go. I would have preferred to have you with me longer, but I dare not, for your own sake. For every seventh year an evil spirit comes from the regions of darkness and carries back with him one of our followers, whoever he chances to choose. And, as you are a goodly fellow, I fear that he might choose you.

"So, as I would be unwilling to let harm befall you, I will take you back to your own country this very night."

Once more the grey palfrey was brought, and Thomas and the queen mounted it and returned to the Eildon Tree near the Huntly Burn by the route they had come.

Then the queen bade Thomas farewell. As a parting gift he asked her to give him something to show that he had really been to fairyland.

"I have already given you the gift of truth," she replied. "I will now give you the gifts of prophecy and poesy so that you will be able to foretell the future, and also to write wondrous verses. And, besides these unseen gifts, here is something visible: a harp that was made in fairyland. Farewell, friend. Perhaps some day I will come for you again."

With these words the lady vanished, and Thomas was left alone, feeling a little sorry at parting.

After this he lived for many a long year in his castle of Ercildoune, and the fame of his poetry and of his prophecies spread, so that people came to call him True Thomas and Thomas the Rhymer.

He foretold among other things the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland under a prince who was the son of a French queen, and who yet bore the blood of Bruce in his veins. The last of these two prophesies came true in 1603, when King James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, became king of both countries.

Fourteen long years went by, and people were beginning to forget that Thomas the Rhymer had ever been in fairyland. Then one day, when Scotland was at war with England, the Scottish army was resting not far from the Tower of Ercildoune. The owner of the Tower decided to invite all the nobles and barons who were leading the army, to sup with him.

That feast was long remembered. For the Laird of Ercildoune took care that everything was as fine as it could possibly be. And when the meal was ended he rose in his place, and taking his elf harp, he sang to his assembled guests song after song of the days of long ago. The guests listened thankfully, for they had never heard such wonderful music from any bagpipe.

Later that very night, after all the nobles had gone back to their tents, a soldier on guard saw in the moonlight a snow-white hart and hind moving slowly down the road that ran past the camp.

There was something unusual about the animals, so a crowd of officers and soldiers started to follow them. "There is something uncanny about this," said one soldier at last. "Let us send for Thomas of Ercildoune, perhaps he can tell if it is an omen or not."

"Yes, send for Thomas of Ercildoune," cried all the others. A little page-boy was sent in haste to the old tower to rouse the Rhymer from his slumber.

When he heard the boy's message, his face grew grave and he looked settled. "It's a summons," he said softly, "a summons from the queen of fairyland."

When he went out, he walked straight up to the now-white hart and hind, instead of joining the little company of waiting men. As soon as he reached the animals, they paused for a moment as if to greet him. Then all three moved slowly down a steep bank that sloped to the little river Leader, which was in full flood, and in the foaming waters they disappeared.

The soldiers searched for him with care, but no trace of Thomas of Ercildoune was found afterwards.

[Retold from Grierson, 1-17]

The story

The tale is spun around a Scottish lord and reputed prophet from the 1200s, Thomas Learmonth (c. 1220 – c. 1298) from Earlston, then called "Erceldoune". His name is also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth. He is better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, prophet. Little is known for certain of his life. His reputation for supernatural powers for a time rivalled that of Merlin. Thomas could not tell a lie. Popular lore recounts how he prophesied many great events in Scottish history, including the death of Alexander III of Scotland. An example:

York was, London is, and Edinburgh shall be
The biggest and bonniest o' the three.

Scots may still have the time to do it - Several different variants of the ballad of Thomas Rhymer exist. Most of them have the same basic theme. They tell how Thomas either kissed or slept with the queen of elfland and either rode with her or was otherwise transported to fairyland. And only one version tells that the queen changed into a hag.

There is also romance, "Thomas of Erceldoune", with accompanying prophecies, from the 1300s. The romance tells a very similar story to the ballad.

[Wikipedia, s.v. "Thomas the Rhymer"]


The Dwarfie Stone

Hoy, one of the Orkney Islands

Far up in a green valley in the Island of Hoy stands an immense boulder. It is hollow inside, and the people of these northern islands call it the Dwarfie Stone, because long centuries ago, Snorro the Dwarf lived there; so the legend has it.

Nobody knew where Snorro came from, or how long he had dwelt in the dark chamber inside the Dwarfie Stone. All that they knew about him was that he was a little man with a queer, twisted, deformed body and a face of marvellous beauty, which never seemed to look any older, but was always smiling and young.

Men said that this was because Snorro's father had been a fairy, and not a human, and had given the gift of perpetual youth to his son, but nobody knew whether this were true or not, for the dwarf had lived in the Dwarfie Stone long before the oldest man or woman in Hoy had been born.

But one thing was sure. He had inherited from his mother, whom all men agreed had been mortal, the dangerous qualities of vanity and ambition. And the longer he lived the more vain and ambitious he became, until at last he always carried a mirror of polished steel round his neck and constantly looked into the mirror to see his handsome face.

And he would not attend to the country people who came to seek his help, unless they bowed humbly before him and spoke to him as if he were a king.

People sought his help because he seemed to spend his time in collecting herbs and other medical plants on the hillsides. After carrying them home to his dark abode, he distilled medicines and potions from them and sold them to his neighbours at high prices.

He also owned of a leather-covered book, clasped with clasps of brass, and would pore for hours over it. Afterwards he could tell the Islanders their fortunes, if they would.

They feared the book almost as much as they feared Snorro himself, for it was whispered that it had once belonged to Odin, the mighty Enchanter. But they never guessed the real reason why Snorro chose to live in the Dwarfie Stone.

Not very far from the stone there was a curious hill, shaped exactly like a wart. It was known as the Wart Hill of Hoy, and men said that somewhere in the side of it was hidden a wonderful red, precious stone, which, when it was found, would bestow on its finder marvellous magic gifts health, wealth, and happiness - everything that a human being could desire. It was also said that the precious stone could be seen at certain times when the people who were looking for it were at the right spot at the right moment.

Snorro had made up his mind that he would find this wonderful stone, so, while he walked around in the hillsides, he was noting every tuft of grass or piece of rock it might be hidden beneath. And at night, when everyone else was asleep, he would creep out, with pickaxe and spade, to turn over the rocks or dig over the turf, in the hope of finding the treasure underneath them.

He was always accompanied on these occasions by an enormous grey-headed raven who lived in the cave with him, and who was his bosom friend and companion. The islanders feared this bird perhaps as much as they feared its master. For although they went to consult Snorro in all their difficulties and perplexities, they always looked on him with a certain dread, feeling that there was something weird and uncanny about him.

At that time, Orkney was governed by two earls who were half-brothers. Paul, the elder, was a tall, handsome man with dark hair, and eyes like sloes. He was so skilled in knightly exercises and had such a sweet and loving nature that all were fond of him. However, he spoke so little that men called him Paul the Silent, or Paul the Taciturn.

Harold, on the other hand, was fair-haired and blue-eyed, and was always free of speech and ready with his tongue. But he was haughty, jealous, and quick-tempered, and the old folks' eyes did not brighten at the sight of him, and the babes hid their faces in their mothers' skirts when they saw him coming, instead of toddling out to greet him.

Harold could not help knowing that the people liked his silent brother best, and this made him jealous of him.

Now it chanced that Earl Harold one summer went on a visit to the king of Scotland. His mother, the countess Helga, and her sister, the countess Fraukirk, accompanied him.

And while he was at court, he met a charming young Irish lady, the lady Morna. She had come from Ireland to Scotland to attend on the Scottish queen. She was so sweet, good, and gentle that Earl Harold made up his mind that she was the one to be his bride.

But even though he had paid her much attention, Lady Morna had no wish to marry him. To his great amazement, she refused the honour that he offered her.

Earl Harold ground his teeth in silent rage, but it was no use pressing further at that moment. What he could not get by his own merits he determined to get by guile. He therefore begged his mother to persuade Lady Morna to go back with them on a visit. He hoped that when she was alone with him in Orkney, he could induce her to become his wife. He never thought his taciturn brother could be his rival there. But that was just what happened.

Lady Morna accepted the invitation of his mother, and no sooner had the party got back in Orkney than Paul fell head over ears in love with the fair Irish woman. And Morna loved him back from the very first hour she saw him.

They could not hide their love for long, and when Harold realised what had happened, his anger and jealousy knew no bounds. Seizing a dagger, he rushed up to the small tower where his brother was sitting in his private rooms, and threatened to stab him to the heart if he did not promise to give up all thoughts of winning the Irish woman.

But Paul met him with pleasant words. "Calm down, brother," he said. "I love the lady, but that is no proof that I shall win her. Is it likely that she will choose me, whom all men name Paul the Silent, when she has the chance of marrying you, whose tongue moves so swiftly that you are called Harold the Orator?"

At these words Harold was flattered, and he thought that after all his step-brother was right, and that Paul had a very small chance of being successful with his meagre gift of speech. So he threw down his dagger, and shaking hands with Paul, begged him to pardon his unkind thoughts. Then he went down the winding stair again in a good mood.

By this time it was coming near to the feast of Yule, and at that festival it was the custom for the earl and his court to leave Kirkwell for some weeks and go to the great castle of Orphir [1], nine miles away from there. And in order to see that everything was ready, Earl Paul left some days before the others.

The evening before he left, he chanced to find the lady Morna sitting alone in one of the deep windows of the great hall. She had been weeping, for she was full of sadness at the thought that he should leave. At the sight of her distress, the kind-hearted young earl could no longer contain himself. He took her in his arms and whispered to her how much he loved her, and begged her to be his wife.

She agreed willingly. Hiding her rosy face on his shoulder, she confessed that she had loved him from the very first day that she had seen him. That moment she had determined that if she could not wed him, she would wed no other man.

For a little time they sat together, rejoicing in their new-found happiness. Then Earl Paul sprang to his feet. "Let us go and tell the good news to my mother and my brother," he said. "Harold may be disappointed at first, for I know he would rather have had you for his own, sweetheart. But his good heart will soon overcome all that, and he will rejoice with us, he too."

But Morna shook her head. She knew better Paul, what Harold's feeling would be; and she would rather put off that evil hour. "Let us keep quiet about it till after Yule," she pleaded. "It will be a joy to keep our secret to ourselves for a little space; there will be time enough then to let all the world know."

Rather reluctantly, Paul agreed; and next day he set off for the Palace at Orphir, leaving his ladylove behind him. However, all unknown to him, his step-aunt, Countess Fraukirk, had chanced to be in the hall the evening before, hidden behind a curtain, and she had overheard every word that Morna and he had spoken, and her heart was filled with black rage. For she was a hard, ambitious woman, and she had always hated the young earl. He was no blood-relation to her, and stood in the way of her own nephew to be the sole earl of Orkney.

And now that Silent Paul had stolen the heart of Lady Morna, who was loved by her own nephew, her hate and anger knew no bounds. She had hastened off to her sister's chamber as soon as the lovers had parted, and the two women had been talking together there until the chilly dawn broke in the sky.

Next day a, boat went speeding over the narrow channel of water that separates the mainland from Hoy. In it sat a woman who had covered hear head from head to foot with a black cloak, and her face was hidden behind a thick, dark veil.

The dwarf saw at once who it was who came visiting him, for it was not the first time she did. Countess Fraukirk had often sought his aid to help her in her evil deeds, and she had always paid him well in yellow gold for his services. He therefore welcomed her gladly. However, when he heard why she came, his smiling face grew grave and he shook his head.

"Lady, I have served you well in the past," he said, "but to scheme and cause the death of an earl is more than I dare to do.

"You know I live in this lonely spot in the hope of coming across the magic precious stone. You know also how people fear and hate me. If the young earl died and suspicion fell on me, I would have to fly the island, for my life would not be worth a grain of sand after that. So I cannot do it."

But the wily countess offered him much gold and lastly promised to get him a high post at the court of the king of Scotland. His ambition was stirred at that till he agreed to do what she asked.

"I will get my magic loom," he said, "and weave a piece of cloth. And I will poison the thread with a magic potion, so that whoever puts on the garment made from it, will die before he has worn it many minutes."

"You are clever in your ways," answered the countess, "and you shall be rewarded. Let me have a couple of yards of that wonderful cloth, and then I will make an attractive waistcoat for my fine young earl and give it to him as a Yuletide gift. Then I reckon that he will not see the year out."

The two parted after arranging that the piece of cloth was to be delivered at the castle of Orphir on the day before Christmas Eve.

Now, when the countess Fraukirk had been away on her alarming errand, strange things were happening at the castle at Kirkwall. For during his brother's absence, Harold had offered his heart and hand once more to Morna. Once more she refused him, and in order to make sure that the scene should not be repeated, she told him that she had promised herself to his brother. When Harold heard that, rage and fury were like to devour him. Mad with anger, he rushed away from her, flung himself upon his horse, and rode away toward the sea shore.

While he was galloping wildly along, his eyes fell on the snow-clad hills of Hoy rising up across the strip of sea that divided the one island from the other. He was at once reminded of the dwarf, for Harold too had occasionally visited him over the years.

"I have got it!" he cried. "I will go to Snorro and buy from him a love-potion that will make Lady Morna hate my precious brother and turn her mind kindly toward me."

So he made haste to hire a boat, and soon he was speeding over the tossing waters on his way to the Island of Hoy. When he arrived there, he hurried up the lonely valley to where the Dwarfie Stone stood, and he had no difficulty in finding the uncanny Snorro, who was standing at the hole that served as a door, his raven on his shoulder, gazing at the setting sun.

A curious smile crossed his face when he turned round and his eyes fell on the young noble.

"What brings you here, sir?" he asked gaily, for he scented more gold.

"I come for a love-potion," said Harold, and without more ado he told the whole story to the dwarf. "I will pay you for it," he added, "if you will give it to me quickly."

Snorro looked at him from head to foot. "The maiden must be blind," he said, "who needs a love potion to fancy such a gallant knight."

Earl Harold laughed angrily. "I have no time for jesting. There is a proverb that says, "Time and tide wait for no man." I must have the potion at once."

Snorro saw that he was in earnest, so without a word he entered his dwelling, and in a few minutes returned with a small phial in his hand. The little flask was full of a rosy liquid.

"Pour the contents of this into the lady's wine-cup," he said, "and I guarantee that before twenty-four hours have passed she will love you better than you love her now."

Then he waved his hand as if to dismiss his visitor, and disappeared into his dwelling-place.

Earl Harold hurried back to the castle, but it was not until one or two days later that he found a chance to pour the love-potion into Morna's wine-cup. But one night at supper he waved away the little pageboy and handed the potion to her himself.

She raised it to her lips, but she only pretended to drink, for she had seen the earl had been fingering the cup, and she feared some deed of treachery. When he had gone back to his seat, she managed to pour all the wine of her glass on the stone floor, and smiled to herself at the look of satisfaction that came over Harold's face as she put down the empty cup.

From that moment she felt so afraid of him that she treated him with great kindness, hoping that by doing so she would keep in his good graces until the court moved to Orphir, and her own true love could protect her.

Harold, on his side, was delighted with her graciousness, for he felt certain that the charm was beginning to work, and that his hopes would soon be fulfilled.

A week later the court removed to the Royal Palace at Orphir, where Earl Paul had everything ready to receive his guests. He was overjoyed to meet Morna again, and she was overjoyed to meet him. She felt that now she was safe from the unwelcome attentions of Earl Harold.

But to Earl Harold the sight of their joy was as gall and bitterness, and he could scarcely contain himself, although he still trusted in the love potion.

As for Countess Fraukirk and Countess Helga, they looked forward eagerly to the time when the magic cloth would arrive, the cloth they hoped to fashion a fatal gift for Earl Paul from.

At last, the day before Christmas Eve, the two wicked women were sitting in Countess Helga's chamber talking of the time when Earl Harold would rule alone in Orkney, when a tap came to the window. On looking round they saw the dwarf's grey-headed raven perched on the sill. A sealed packet was in its beak.

They opened the casement, and with a hoarse croak the bird let the packet drop on to the floor. Then it flapped its large wings and rose slowly into the air again, heading toward Hoy.

The packet contained a piece of the most beautiful material that anyone could possibly imagine, woven in all the colours of the rainbow, and sparkling with gold and jewels.

"It will make a pretty waistcoat," exclaimed Countess Fraukirk. "The silent earl will be splendidly dressed when he gets it on."

Then they set to work to cut out and sew the garment. All night they worked, and all next day. Late in the afternoon, when they were putting in the last stitches, and Earl Harold burst open the door in a hurry.

His cheeks were red with passion, and his eyes were bright, for he could not but notice that, now that Lady Morna was safe at Orphir under her true love's protection, she had grown cold and distant toward him again, and he was beginning to lose faith in the love-potion.

Angry and disappointed, he wanted to pour out his story of vexation to his mother. He stopped short, however, when he saw the wonderful waistcoat lying on the table, all gold and silver and shining colours. It astounded him.

"Who is going to get that?" he asked, hoping to hear that it was meant for him.

"It's a Christmas gift for your brother Paul," his mother answered, and she would have gone on to tell him how deadly a thing it was, had he given her time to speak. But her words made him cry, "Everything is for Paul! I am sick of his very name," he cried. "He shall not have this!" and he snatched the vest from the table.

In vain his mother and aunt threw themselves at his feet, begging him to lay it down and trying to warn him that it was poisoned. The angry man paid no heed to what they wanted said, but rushed from the room, and drawing it on, ran downstairs to show Lady Morna how fine he was. But he had hardly reached the hall than he fell to the ground in great pain. Everyone crowded round him, and the two countesses tried in vain to tear the magic vest from his body. They were terrified now by what they had done.

But he felt that it was too late, the deadly poison had done its work, and waving them aside, he turned to his brother, who in great distress had knelt down and taken him tenderly in his arms.

"I wronged you, Paul," he gasped, "for you have ever been true and kind. Forgive me, and,"he added, gathering up his strength for one last effort, and pointing to the two women who had caused all this misery, "Beware of those two women, for they seek to take your life." Then his head sank back on his brother's shoulder, and with one long sigh, he died.

When Paul learned what had happened, and understood where the waistcoat came from and that it had been devised for himself, he got very angry and wanted to revenge himself on the dwarf, his wicked stepmother and her cruel sister.

However, in the panic and confusion that followed Harold's death, the two countesses slipped out of the castle and fled to the coast and took boat in haste to Scotland, where they had great properties, and where they were much looked up to, and where no one would believe a word against them. But retribution fell on them in the end, for the Norsemen invaded the land, and their castle in Scotland was set on fire, and they perished in the flames,

When Earl Paul found that they had escaped, he hasted for the Island of Hoy to get the dwarf, at least. But when he came to the Dwarfie Stone he found it silent and deserted. There was no trace of the dwarf and raven any more. No one knew what had become of them - he lost all chance of finding the magic precious stone.

As for the silent earl and his sweetheart, they were married as soon as Earl Harold's funeral was over. And for hundreds of years afterwards, when people on the Orkney Isles wanted to express great happiness, they said, "As happy as Earl Paul and Countess Morna."

Ruins of the Earl's Palace lie in the centre of Kirkwall. Two of the most tyrannical noblemen in Scotland's history used forced labour to have it built. The building work began in 1607, and the two noblemen were later executed. The palace fell into ruin in the 1700s. The roofless ruins reveal their French Renaissance influence. [▾More]

  1. Orphir is from Jorfjara/Orfjara in Old Norse. The settlement lies about nine miles south west of Kirkwall. The antiquities there include the ruins of Earl Paul's Palace near St Magnus Cathedral.


Poussie Baudrons

"Poussie, Poussie Baudrons,
Where hae ye been?"
"I've been at London,
Seeing the queen!"

"Poussie, Poussie Baudrons,
What got ye there?"
"I got a guid fat mousikie,
Rinning up a stair."

"Poussie, Poussie Baudrons,
What did ye do wi't?"
"I put it in my meal-poke
To eat it to my bread."


Scottish folktales, legends, fairy tales of Scotland, Literature  

Grierson, Elizabeth Wilson. The Scottish Fairy Book. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1910.

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