The Elfin Knight

The Elfin Knight

The autumn wind blew shrillly around the turrets of the grey stone castle. But inside the house, the fire crackled merrily in my lady’s garden, where an old nurse told the tale of Elfland to Janet, the fairest of all Scottish maidens.

When the story ended, Janet’s joyful laughter echoed throughout the hallway. The old nurse nodded gravely and said, “My girl knows well that the people of Elfland are intoxicated with 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 wastelands on the border of your father’s domain. No girl dares venture near the enchanted place, for if she falls under the spell of this Elfin Knight, she will be forced to give him a precious jewel as ransom.”

“A glimpse of the Elfin Knight would be worthy of the rarest gem I have,” Janet laughed. “I wish I could see him!”

“Shh-shh!” her nurse said shakily. “No, no, ma’am! Mortals have nothing to do with the people of Elfland. By all means, stay out of the wasteland at this time of year because tomorrow is Halloween – the night when fairies ride abroad.”

But the following day, Janet tied her blonde braid around her head, pulled up her blue dress and walked softly into the enchanted wasteland. As she approached, she saw lovely flowers blooming as if it were mid-summer. She was bending down to pick some roses when suddenly she heard the softest silver music. She glanced around, and there, coming towards her, was the most handsome knight she had ever seen. His milky white steed galloped more gently than the wind, wearing silver shoes and tiny bells hanging from the harness.

When the knight approached, he gently jumped off his horse and said, “Miss Janet, tell me why you pick roses in Elfland?”

The young woman’s heart beat so fast the flowers fell from her hands, but she proudly replied: “I came to see Elfin Knight Tam Lin.”

“He stands before you,” said the knight. “You came to free him from Elfland?”

Hearing these words, Janet’s courage failed her, for she feared he might cast a spell on her. But when the knight saw her trembling, he said, “Fear not, lady Janet, and you will hear my story. I am the son of noble parents. One day, when I was a boy of nine years old, I went hunting with my father. Now we were apart, and bad luck had befallen me. My good horse stumbled and threw me to the ground, leaving me stunned by the fall. There, the Fairy Queen found me and carried me to the green hills far away. And although it was pleasant enough in fairyland, I still longed to live among humans again.”

“Then why don’t you ride home?” Janet asked.

“Ah, that I cannot do unless some young woman is brave enough to help me. In three ways, she must prove her courage. First, she must want to meet me in this enchanted wasteland. That is what you did,” the knight declared. Then he stopped and looked at Janet pleadingly. All her fears disappeared, and she asked: “In what other ways must a girl show her courage?”

“She must dispel all her fears about him. You have done that too,” said the knight.

“Tell me the third way, Tam Lin, for I believe I am the helper who liberates you.”

“Only my true love can thirdly prove her courage, beautiful Janet.”

And the girl replied: “You are my true love, Tam Lin.”

“Then heed what I say, brave lady. Tonight 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?” 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 would know you,” Janet nodded.

“Wait calmly until I get close to you, then rush forward and grab me. When the fairies see you hugging me, they transform my form into many shapes. Don’t be afraid, but hold me tight in your arms. I will eventually take human form. If you dare to do this, you will free your true love from the power of the fairies.”

“I dare to do everything you say,” Janet declared. Then, they sealed this promise with a kiss and parted ways.

The night was gloomy, and the road to Milescross was strange. But Janet threw her green cloak around her shoulders and rushed into the enchanted wasteland. Along the way, she keeps telling herself: “At midnight this Halloween, I will free my true love, Tam Lin, from Elfland.”

Arriving at Milescross, she hid and waited. How the sea breeze moans across the wasteland! Presently, she heard a cheerful tinkling sound of music in the distance, and in the distance, she saw a sparkling light dancing ahead. Janet could listen to her heart beating, but she stood there, undeterred. The Elven Queen and her train are approaching. Leading the first merry procession of knights and bridesmaids was the beautiful queen, whose jewelled belt and crown glittered in the darkness. The second group passed quickly, and now there were three knights in the third group. One rode a black horse; one rode a brown horse, and finally, a milky white steed. Janet could see that one of the rider’s hands was gloved, and the other was bare at his side. Then the girl jumped up. She quickly grabbed the reins of the milky white steed, pulled the rider off the horse, and wrapped the blue cloak around him. There was a commotion among the Elfin Knights, and the Elven Queen cried out: “Tam Lin! Tam Lam! Some mortal has taken hold of Tam Lin, the happiest knight in my company!”

Then the strangest things happened. Instead of Tam Lin, Janet held a bearded lion struggling enormously to escape. But she remembered the knight’s warning. “Hold me tight, and don’t be afraid of me.”

The next second, she hugged a fire-breathing dragon that almost slipped from her body, but she tightened her grip, thinking of Tam Lam’s words. The dragon turned into a burning bush, and flames flared in all directions, but Janet remained standing and felt no harm. Then, in her hand, she held a branch full of flowers. And finally, Tam Lin, her true love, stood there.

When the Fairy Queen saw that none of her spells could frighten Janet, she shouted angrily: “The girl has won a stately bridegroom, who is my fairest knight. Alas! Tam Lin has fallen into the hands of Elfland.”

Go into the darkness on a fairy tale train. Tam Lin and Lady Janet hurried back to the grey stone castle. There, in a short time, a wedding feast was prepared, and Tam Lin, a Scottish Earl, and Lady Janet, the bravest maid in Scotland, were married.

Short Fairy Tales written by Eleanor L. Skinner

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