At the beginning of
each summer, when the milk-white hawthorn is in bloom, anointing the
air with its sweet odour, and miles and miles of golden whin adorn
the glens and hill-slopes, the fairies come forth in grand
procession, headed by the Fairy Queen. They are mounted on little
white horses, and when on a night of clear soft moonlight the people
hear the clatter of many hoofs, the jingling of bridles, and the
sound of laughter and sweet music coming sweetly down the wind, they
whisper one to another: "'Tis the Fairy Folks' Raid", or "Here come
the Riders of the Shee".
The Fairy Queen, who
rides in front, is gowned in grass-green silk, and wears over her
shoulders a mantle of green velvet adorned with silver spangles. She
is of great beauty. Her eyes are like wood violets, her teeth like
pearls, her brow and neck are swan-white, and her cheeks bloom like
ripe apples. Her long clustering hair of rich auburn gold which
falls over her shoulders and down her back, is bound round about
with a snood that glints with star-like gems, and there is one great
flashing jewel above her brow. On each lock of her horse's mane hang
sweet-toned silver bells that tinkle merrily as she rides on.
The riders who follow
her in couples are likewise clad in green, and wear little red caps
bright as the flaming poppies in waving fields of yellow barley.
Their horses' manes are hung with silver whistles upon which the
soft winds play. Some fairies twang harps of gold, some make sweet
music on oaten pipes, and some sing with birdlike voices in the
moonlight. When song and music cease, they chat and laugh merrily as
they ride on their way. Over hills and down glens they go, but no
hoof-mark is left by their horses. So lightly do the little white
creatures trot that not a grass blade is broken by their tread, nor
is the honey-dew spilled from blue harebells and yellow buttercups.
Sometimes the fairies ride over tree-tops or through the air on
eddies of western wind. The Riders of the Shee always come from the
When the Summer Fairy
Raid is coming, the people hang branches of rowan over their doors
and round their rooms, and when the Winter Raid is coming they hand;
up holly and mistletoe as protection from attack; for sometimes the
fairies steal pretty children while they lie fast asleep, and carry
them off to Fairyland, and sometimes they lure away pipers and
bards, and women who have sweet singing voices.
Once there was a
great bard who was called Thomas the Rhymer. He lived at Ercildoune
(Earlston), in Berwickshire, during the thirteenth century. It is
told that he vanished for seven years, and that when he reappeared
he had the gift of prophecy. Because he was able to foretell events,
he was liven the name of True Thomas.
All through Scotland,
from the Cheviot Hills to the Pentland Firth, the story of Thomas
the Rhymer has long been known.
During his seven
years' absence from home he is said to have dwelt in fairyland. One
evening, so runs the tale, he was walking alone on the banks of
Leader Water when he saw riding towards him the Fairy Queen on her
milk-white steed, the silver bells tinkling on its mane, and the
silver bridle jingling sweet and clear. He was amazed at her beauty,
and thinking she was the Queen of Heaven, bared his head and knelt
before her as she dismounted, saying: "All hail, mighty Queen of
Heaven! I have never before seen your equal."
Said the green-clad
lady: "Ah ! Thomas, you have named me wrongly. I am the Queen of
Fairyland, and have come to visit you."
"What seek you with
me?" Thomas asked.
Said the Fairy Queen:
"You must hasten at once to Fairyland, and serve me there for seven
Then she laid a spell
upon him, and he had to obey her will. She mounted her milk-white
steed and Thomas mounted behind her, and they rode off together.
They crossed the Leader Water, and the horse went swifter than the
wind over hill and dale until a great wide desert was reached. No
house nor human being could be seen anywhere. East and west, north
and south, the level desert stretched as far as eye could see. They
rode on and on until at length the Fairy Queen spoke, and said:
"Dismount, O Thomas, and I shall show you three wonders."
Thomas dismounted and
the Fairy Queen dismounted also. Said she: "Look, yonder is a narrow
road full of thorns and briers. That is the path to Heaven. Yonder
is a broad highway which runs across a lily lea. That is the path of
wickedness. Yonder is another road. It twines round the hill-side
towards the west. That is the way to Fairyland, and you and I must
Again she mounted her
milk-white steed and Thomas mounted behind. They rode on and on,
crossing many rivers. Nor sun or moon could be seen nor any stars,
and in the silence and thick darkness they heard the deep voice of
the roaring sea.
At length a light
appeared in front of them, which grew larger and brighter as they
rode on. Then Thomas saw a beautiful country. The horse halted and
he found himself in the midst of a green garden. When they had
dismounted, the Fairy Queen plucked an apple and gave it to Thomas,
saying: "This is your reward for coming with me. After you have
eaten of it you will have power to speak truly of coming events, and
men will know you as 'True Thomas'."
Thomas ate the apple
and then followed the queen to her palace. He was given clothing of
green silk and shoes of green velvet, and he dwelt among the fairies
for seven years. The time passed so quickly that the seven years
seemed no longer than seven hours.
After his return to
Ercildoune, where he lived in a castle, Thomas made many songs and
ballads and pronounced in rhyme many prophecies. He travelled up and
down the country, and wherever he went he foretold events, some of
which took place while yet he lived among men, but others did not
happen until long years afterwards. There are still some prophecies
which are as yet unfulfilled.
It is said that when
Thomas was an old man the Fairy Queen returned for him. One day, as
he stood chatting with knights and ladies, she rode from the
river-side and called: "True Thomas, your time has come."
Thomas cried to his
friends: "Farewell, all of you, I shall return no more." Then he
mounted the milk-white steed behind the Fairy Queen, and galloped
across the ford. Several knights leapt into their saddles and
followed the Rider of the Shee, but when they reached the opposite
bank of the river they could see naught of Thomas and the Fairy
It is said that
Thomas still dwells in Fairyland, and that he goes about among the
Riders of the Shee when they cone forth at the beginning of each
summer. Those who have seen him ride past tell that he looks very
old, and that his hair and long beard are white as driven snow. At
other times he goes about invisible, except when he attends a market
to buy horses for a fairy army which is to take part in a great
battle. He drives the horses to Fairyland and keeps them there. When
he has collected a sufficient number, it is told, he will return
again to wage war against the invaders of his country, whom he will
defeat on the banks of the Clyde.
Thomas wanders far
and wide through Scotland. He has been seen, folks have told, riding
out of a fairy dwelling below Eildon Hills, from another fairy
dwelling below Dumbuck Hill, near Dumbarton, and from a third fairy
dwelling below the boat-shaped mound of Tom-na-hurich at Inverness.
Once a man who
climbed Dumbuck Hill came to an open door and entered through it. In
a dim chamber he saw a little old man resting on his elbow, who
spoke to him and said: "Has the time come?"
The man was stricken
with fear and fled away. When he pressed through the doorway, the
door shut behind him, and turf closed over it.
Another story about
Thomas is told at Inverness. Two fiddlers, named Farquhar Grant and
Thomas Cumming, natives of Strathspey, who lived over three hundred
years ago, once visited Inverness during the Christmas season. They
hoped to earn money by their music, and as soon as they arrived in
the town began to show their skill in the streets. Although they had
great fame as fiddlers in Strathspey, they found that the
townspeople took little notice of them. When night fell, they had
not collected enough money to buy food for supper and to pay for a
night's lodging. They stopped playing and went, with their fiddles
under their right arms, towards the wooden bridge that then crossed
the River Ness.
Just as they were
about to walk over the bridge they saw a little old man coming
towards them in the dusk. His beard was very long and very white,
but although his back was bent his step was easy and light. He
stopped in front of the fiddlers, and, much to their surprise,
hailed them by their names saying: "How fares it with you, my merry
"Very badly indeed!"
"Come with me," said
the old man. "I have need of fiddlers to-night, and will reward you
well. A great ball is to be held in my castle, and there are no
Grant and Cumming
were glad to (yet the chance of earning money by playing their
fiddles and said they would go. "Then follow me and make haste,"
said the old man. The fiddlers followed him across the wooden bridge
and across the darkening moor beyond. He walked with rapid strides,
and sometimes the fiddlers had to break into a run to keep up with
him. Now and again that strange, nimble old man would turn round and
cry: "Are you coming, my merry fiddlers?"
"We are doing our
best," Grant would answer, while Cumming muttered: "By my faith, old
man, but you walk quickly!"
"Make haste, Grant;
make haste, Cumming," the old man would then exclaim; "my guests
will be growing impatient."
In time they reached
the big boat-shaped mound called Tom-na-hurich, and the old man
began to climb, it. The fiddlers followed at a short distance. Then
he stopped suddenly and stamped the ground three times with his
right foot. A door opened and a bright light streamed forth.
"Here is my castle,
Cumming; here is my castle, Grant," exclaimed the old man, who was
no other than Thomas the Rhymer. "Come within and make merry."
The fiddlers paused
for a moment at the open door, but Thomas the Rhymer drew from his
belt a purse of gold and made it jingle. "This purse holds your
wages," he told them. "First you will get your share of the feast,
then you will give us fine music."
As the fiddlers were
as hungry as they were poor, they could not resist the offer made to
them, and entered the fairy castle. As soon as they entered, the
door was shut behind them.
They found themselves
in a great hall, which was filled with brilliant light. Tables were
spread with all kinds of food, and guests sat round them eating and
chatting and laughing merrily.
Thomas led the
fiddlers to a side table, and two graceful maidens clad in green
came forward with dishes of food and bottles of wine, and said: "Eat
and drink to your hearts' content, Farquhar Grant and Thomas
Cumming—Farquhar o' Feshie and Thomas o' Tom-an-Torran. You are
welconic here to-night."
The fiddlers wondered
greatly that the maidens knew not only their personal names but even
the names of their homes. They began to eat, and, no matter how much
they ate, the food on the table did not seem to grow less. They
poured out wine, but they could not empty the bottles.
Said Cumming: "This
is a feast indeed."
Said Grant: "There
was never such a feast in Strathspey."
When the feast was
ended the fiddlers were led to the ballroom, and there they began to
play merry music for the gayest and brightest and happiest dancers
they ever saw before. They played reels and jigs and strathspeys,
and yet never grew weary. The dancers praised their music, and fair
girls brought them fruit and wine at the end of each dance. If the
guests were happy, the musicians were happier still, and they were
sorry to find at length that the ball was coming to an end. How long
it had lasted they could not tell. W then the dancers began to go
away they were still unwearied and willing to go on playing.
Thomas the Rhymer
entered the ballroom, and spoke to the fiddlers, saying: "You have
done well, my merry men. I will lead you to the door, and pay you
for your fine music."
The fiddlers were
sorry to go away. At the door Thomas the Rhymer divided the purse of
"old between them, and asked: "Are you satisfied?"
repeated. "Oh, yes, for you and your guests have been very kind!"
"We should gladly
come back again," Grant said.
When they had left
the castle the fiddlers found that it was bright day. The sun shone
from an unclouded sky, and the air was warm. As they walked on they
were surprised to see fields of ripe corn, which was a strange sight
at the Christmas season. Then they came to the riverside, and found
instead of a wooden bridge a new stone bridge with seven arches.
"This stone bridge
was not here last night," Cumming said.
"Not that I saw,"
When they crossed the
bridge they found that the town of Inverness had changed greatly.
Many new houses had been built; there were even new streets. The
people they saw moving about wore strange clothing. One spoke to the
fiddlers, and asked: "Who are you, and whence come you?"
They told him their
names, and said that on the previous night they had played their
fiddles at a great ball in a castle near the town.
The man smiled. Then
Farquhar said: "The bridge we crossed over last evening was made of
wood. Now you have a bridge of stone. Have the fairies built it for
The man laughed, and
exclaimed, as he turned away: "You are mad. The stone bridge was
built before I was born."
Boys bean to collect
round the fiddlers. They jeered at their clothing, and cried: "Go
back to the madhouse you have escaped from."
The fiddlers hastened
out of the town, and took the road which leads to Strathspey. Men
who passed them stopped and looked back, but they spoke to no one,
and scarcely spoke, indeed, to one another.
Darkness came on, and they crept into an empty, half-ruined house by
the wayside and slept there. How long they slept they knew not, but
when they came out again they saw that the harvesting had begun.
Fields were partly cut, but no workers could be seen in them,
although the sun was already high in the heavens. They drank water
from a well, and went on their way, until at length they reached
their native village. They entered it joyfully, but were unable to
find their homes. There, too, new houses had been built, and strange
faces were seen. They heard a bell ringing, and then knew it was
Sabbath day, and they walked towards the church. A man spoke to them
near the gate of the churchyard and said: "You are strangers here."
"No, indeed, we are
not strangers," Grant assured him. "This is our native village."
"You must have left
it long ago," said the man, "for I have lived here all my life, and
I do not know you.
Then Grant told his
name and that of his companion, and the names of their fathers and
mothers. "We are fine fiddlers," he added; "our equal is not to be
found north of the Grampians."
Said the man: "Ah!
you are the two men my grandfather used to speak of. He never saw
you, but he heard his father tell that you had been decoyed by
Thomas the Rhymer, who took you to Tom-na-hurich. Your friends
mourned for you greatly, but now you are quite forgotten, for it is
fully a hundred years since you went away from here."
The fiddlers thought
that the man was mocking them, and turned their backs upon him. They
went into the churchyard, and began to read the names on the
gravestones. They saw stones erected to their wives and children,
and to their children's children, and gazed on them with amazement,
taking no notice of the people who passed by to the church door.
At length they
entered the church hand in hand, with their fiddles under their
arms. They stood for a brief space at the doorway, gazing at the
congregation, but were unable to recognize a single face among the
people who looked round at them.
The minister was in
the pulpit. He had been told who the strangers were, and, after
gazing for a moment in silence, he began to pray. No sooner did he
do so than the two fiddlers crumbled into dust.
Such is the story of
the two fiddlers who spent a hundred years in a fairy dwelling,
thinking they had played music there for but a single night.