3rd June

Thomas the Rhymer

from an old ballad

Thomas struggles to his feet, rubbing sleep from his eyes. A shining lady, on a horse bedecked with silver bells, is riding towards him.

He doffs his cap, bows. ‘All hail, Queen of Heaven!’

‘No,’ she says. ‘I am only the Queen of Elfland. Play me a tune, Thomas, sing me a song. Entertain me, and I’ll entertain you. Dare to kiss me, though, and I will own you.’

Someday I’ll regret this, he thinks, but you’re only here once. And he kisses her full on the mouth.

‘Regret it now, Thomas,’ she says. ‘You are mine, my slave for seven years.’

She takes him up on her white horse, and swifter than the wind they ride, till they come to a desolate, lifeless place.

‘Get down,’ she says. ‘Lay your head in my lap. Rest, and I’ll show you three wonders.

‘See the narrow path, thick with thorns and briars? That is the way of righteousness, though few take it.

‘See the broad road across the lilied lawn? That is the way of wickedness, though some call it the way to Heaven.

‘See the bonnie road that winds round the ferny brae? That is the way to Elfland, where you and I are going tonight.

‘But listen well, Thomas: whatever you hear or see, you must hold your tongue. Say one word in Elfland, and you may never get home.’

They ride and they ride. Utter darkness. They wade rivers to the knee. No sunlight, moonlight, stars: the only sound the ocean’s roar. They wade red blood to the knee – all the blood shed on Earth is in that land’s rivers.

They come to a garden. She pulls an apple from a tree. ‘Your wages, Thomas. Eat this and it will give you the tongue that never lies.’

‘A fine gift that would be!’ he retorts. ‘With such a tongue, how could I barter at market, or speak to the gentry, or seek favour of a lady –’

‘Enough!’ says the lady. ‘Did I not warn you?’

The spell is on him. A coat of fine cloth, shoes of green velvet are his, but for seven years, Thomas will not be seen on Earth.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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