The Way to Fairyland

A legend veiled company said to include King Arthur - was Thomas the Rhymer, a poet and dreamer of Scotland. His countrymen first knew of his traffic with the fairies when Thomas wandered into the marketplace at Ercildoune, his native hamlet, after an absence of seven years. The villagers had long since given him up for dead, and he answered their insistent questions with a strange tale.

He told of a Fairy Queen who, seven years before, had ridden from among the trees as he lay plucking his lute, in a wood outside Ercildoune. The Queen smiled and drew rein before him; she was as lovely as the dawn, and he played sweet and artful melodies to win her. At last she dismounted, and he made to kiss her. She warned him that the act would bind him to her for seven years, but his heart thrilled with love, and he did not hesitate. Then she climbed on her white horse, wheeled, and with Thomas close behind on foot, set off at an easy canter for another world.

Their journey took them through perpetual night, where an ocean of blood seethed about Thomas' knees, across an inky heath and into a bright meadow. There the Fairy Queen showed Thomas a manicured path, broad and well-worn, that led to perdition, and a steep, narrow way, choked with briars, that was the way of righteousness. She said:

"But for singers and lovers of beauty such as we, there is a third way."

And she led him along a gentle, twisting path, where their steps were hushed by moss and their legs caressed by encroaching ferns. It was the way to fairyland. And now that the appointed period was up, the Fairy Queen had sent Thomas back to Ercildoune to live out his span. When the hubbub of his return died away, Thomas resumed the life of an earthbound mortal. But his poems sang with new eloquence and his prophecies brought him renown, for in fairyland he had eaten an apple whose flesh held the power of truth - a parting gift from the Fairy Queen.

During his time in the mortal world, it was Thomas' habit to host each year a banquet for kinsfolk and villagers. Strange tidings interrupted the feast that was held in his seventy-eighth year. A crofter's lad hurried into the hall, and silence fell as the boy stammered his news. A pair of milk white deer, hart and hind, were trotting down the lane toward the house of the poet, he reported. The villagers were unnerved by the report. Surely Thomas, the wisest man in the land, would know what these unnatural creatures signified.

Thomas thanked the boy and rose.

"They are come from the fairy world, and I must follow them."

he told his guests, and strode from the hall.

In the lane, a silent throng of villagers saw the deer pause at Thomas' approach, then fall into place at his side. Only the crunch of Thomas' footsteps sounded as the prophet, his otherwordly companions beside him, paced the length of the village and out into the forest that enclosed it. The little procession flickered briefly behind the dark pines, then it vanished.

So, as the mortal life drew to a close, Thomas the Rhymer was called back to fairyland. If the reports of later visitors to that realm are to be trusted, he dwells there still, beguiling the fairies with poetry and song and guiding them with his counsel. Thus, in the company of his fairy lover, Thomas overcame mortality and the death of earthly love. Few other mortals, even among those who loved fairy maidens, have equaled his good fortune.

See also
Fairies - Content | Myths and Legends