The Elfin Knight
Lady Janet acts courageously to rescue her True Love from a fairy queen's grasp.
The autumn wind blew sharp and shrill around the turrets of a grey stone castle. But indoors the fire crackled merrily in my lady’s bower where an old nurse was telling a tale of Elfland to Janet, the fairest of Scotch maidens.
When the story was finished, Janet’s merry laugh echoed through the halls. The old nurse nodded her head earnestly and said, “’Tis well known, my lassie, that the people of Elfland revel in the hills and hollows of Scotland. Come close, and I’ll tell you a secret.”
Janet leaned forward, and the old woman whispered, “An Elfin Knight, named Tam Lin, haunts the moorland on the border of your father’s estate. No maiden dares venture near the enchanted place, for if she should fall under the spell of this Elfin Knight she would be obliged to give him a precious jewel for a ransom.”
“One glimpse of the Elfin Knight would be worth the rarest gem I have,” laughed Janet. “How I wish I could see him!”
“Hush-sh!” said her nurse tremblingly. “Nay, nay, my lady! Mortals should have nothing to do with the people of Elfland. By all means shun the moorland at this time of the year, for to-morrow is Hallowe’en—the night when the fairies ride abroad.”
But the next morning Janet bound her golden braids about her head, kilted up her green kirtle, and tripped lightly to the enchanted moorland. When she came near she saw lovely flowers blooming as gaily as if it were mid-summer time. She stooped to gather some of the roses when suddenly she heard the faintest silvery music. She glanced around, and there, riding toward her, was the handsomest knight she had ever seen. His milk-white steed, which sped along lighter than the wind, was shod in silver shoes, and from the bridle hung tiny silver bells.
When the knight came near, he sprang lightly from his horse and said, “Fair Janet, tell me why you pluck roses in Elfland?”
The maiden’s heart beat very fast, and the flowers dropped from her hands, but she answered proudly, “I came to see Tam Lin, the Elfin Knight.”
“He stands before you,” said the knight. “Have you come to free him from Elfland?”
At these words Janet’s courage failed, for she feared he might cast a spell over her. But when the knight saw how she trembled, he said, “Have no fear, Lady Janet, and you shall hear my story. I am the son of noble parents. One day, when I was a lad of nine years, I went hunting with my father. Now it chanced that we became separated from each other, and ill-luck attended me. My good horse stumbled, and threw me to the ground where I lay stunned by the fall. There the Fairy Queen found me, and carried me off to yonder green hill. And while it is pleasant enough in fairyland, yet I long to live among mortals again.”
“Then why do you not ride away to your home?” asked Janet.
“Ah, that I can not do unless some fair maiden is brave enough to help me. In three ways she must prove her courage. First she must will to meet me here in the enchanted moorland. That you have done,” declared the knight. Then he stopped, and looked pleadingly at Janet. All her fear vanished, and she asked, “In what other ways must the maiden show her courage?”
“She must banish all fear of him. That, too, you have done,” said the knight.
“Tell me the third way, Tam Lin, for I believe I am the maid to free you.”
“Only my true love can prove her courage in the third way, fair Janet.”
And the maiden answered, “I am thy true love, Tam Lin.”
“Then heed what I say, brave lady. To-night is Hallowe’en. At the midnight hour, the Fairy Queen and all her knights will ride abroad. If you dare win your true love, you must wait at Milescross until the Fairy Queen and her Elfin Knights pass. I shall be in her train.”
“But how shall I know you among so many knights, Tam Lin?” then asked Lady Janet.
“I shall ride in the third group of followers. Let the first and second companies of the Fairy Queen pass, and look for me in the third. There will be only three knights in this last company; one will ride on a black horse, one on a brown, and the third on a milk-white steed,” said the knight, pointing to his horse. “My right hand will be gloved, Janet,” he continued, “but my left hand will hang bare at my side. By these signs you will know me.”
“I shall know you without fail,” nodded Janet.
“Wait, calmly, until I am near you, then spring forward and seize me. When the fairies see you holding me they will change my form into many shapes. Do not fear, but hold me fast in your arms. At last I shall take my human form. If you have courage enough to do this, you will free your true love from the power of the fairies.”
“I have courage enough to do all that you say,” declared Janet. Then they sealed this promise with a kiss, and parted.
Gloomy was the night, and eerie was the way to Milescross. But Janet threw her green mantle about her shoulders, and sped to the enchanted moorland. All the way she said to herself over and over, “On this Hallowe’en at midnight I shall free my true love, Tam Lin, from Elfland.”
At Milescross she hid herself and waited. How the wind from the sea moaned across the moorland! Presently she heard a merry tinkling sound of far-off music, and in the distance she saw a twinkling light dancing forward. Janet could hear her heart beat, but there she stood, undaunted. The Fairy Queen and her train were riding forth. In the lead of her first merry company of knights and maids of honour rode the beautiful queen, whose jeweled girdle and crown flashed in the darkness. The second group passed quickly, and now came three knights in a third group. One rode on a black horse, one on a brown, and there came the milk-white steed last of all. Janet could see that one hand of the rider was gloved, and one hung bare at his side. Then up leaped the maiden. Quickly she seized the bridle of the milk-white steed, pulled the rider from his horse, and threw her green mantle around him. There was a clamour among the Elfin Knights, and the Fairy Queen cried out, “Tam Lin! Tam Lin! Some mortal has hold of Tam Lin, the bonniest knight in my company!”
Then the strangest things happened. Instead of Tam Lin, Janet held in her arms a bearded lion, which struggled mightily to get away. But she remembered the knight’s warning. “Hold me fast, and fear me not.”
The next moment she held a fire-breathing dragon, which almost slipped from her, but she tightened her grasp, and thought of Tam Lin’s words. The dragon changed to a burning bush, and the flames leaped up on all sides, but Janet stood still and felt no harm. Then in her arms she held a branching tree, filled with blossoms. And at last Tam Lin, her own true love, stood there.
When the Fairy Queen saw that none of her enchantments could frighten Janet, she cried out angrily, “The maiden has won a stately bridegroom who was my bonniest knight. Alas! Tam Lin is lost to Elfland.”
On into the darkness rode the fairy train. Tam Lin and Lady Janet hastened back to the grey stone castle. There, in a short time, a wedding feast was prepared, and Tam Lin, who was really a Scottish Earl, and Lady Janet, the bravest maid in Scotland, were married.
1. Do you think Janet truly loved Tam Lin when she first met him? Do you think love at first sight is possible? Why or why not?
2. Janet could only succeed in rescuing Tam Lin if she held him very tight as he transformed into a number of frightening creatures. Do you think this was brave? What does bravery mean to you?
3. What do you think this challenge might tell us about loving people?