14th April

Orfeo and Isabel

from an old ballad

There is an old saying: Where the wood greens early, there the deer goes.

Long ago there was a King famed for his skill at piping. One day he went hunting, but while he was away a servant came looking for him.

‘You must come back at once. The Lady Isabel is very sick.’

‘What happened?’ the King demanded as they rode. ‘What is wrong with her?’

Nobody knew. One minute she was fine, the next she collapsed. The physicians were at a loss.

‘They’re saying it was the fairies,’ the servant said. ‘They’re saying the
Fairy King has wounded her with one of his little arrows.’

An ominous silence greeted their arrival.

‘Where is my Lady?’

‘She is dead.’

They had laid her out, as beautiful and unblemished in death as in life. The King’s grief was terrible to see.

‘They’ve taken her soul from me,’ he said, ‘but they’ll not have her body.’ So guards were posted to watch over her, but the guards slept, and in the morning her body was gone.

The King set off in pursuit, but the trail ended in the greenwood, by a great, grey stone. He sat down and waited.

Seven years he sat, and his hair grew and covered him over like moss.

Then he heard a great company approaching, some on foot, some riding, and among them the Lady Isabel. The grey stone opened like a door into the earth. In they went, and the King followed.

He brought out his pipes and began to play: first a lament, then a march, and finally a reel so wild and joyous it would have cured the sickest heart.

A servant approached. ‘They’re impressed. Come into the hall, will you?’

Deeper in he went. Strange, inhuman folk they were, the foremost among them not half his height.

‘You played well,’ the creature said. ‘What will you have for your playing?’

‘I will have my Lady Isabel.’

The one looked at the other. ‘Take her. Go home. What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine.’

So he and she departed. And that old saying was ever in his mind: Where the wood greens early, there the deer goes.

Reader: Gerda Stevenson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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