eXcalibur: The Tale of Canonbie Dick

Canobie Dick DChe Arthurian legends have long been associated with England and Wales but there is growing evidence that King Arthur was in fact a Scot that lived in the seventh century: Artúr, the son of King Áedán Mac Gabráin of Dalriada, the Scottish region now known as Argyll and Bute. Amongst the many Scottish myths associated with King Arthur is the story of Canonbie Dick, the northernmost version of the king under the mountain folklore motif in Britain.

Once, many moons ago in the Eildon Hills, there lived a horse trader called Canonbie Dick. He was heading home one evening, leading a handful of horses that he hadn’t been able to sell at the market that day, when he met a stranger dressed in robes, the like of which hadn’t been worn for centuries. The old man asked the price of Canonbie Dick’s horses, and offered him a purse full of coin. Now Canonbie Dick would have sold a horse to the deil himself without minding his cloven hoof, and would probably have cheated Old Nick into the bargain, so when he saw a glint of gold in that purse he agreed a price quick smart. The old man thanked Canonbie Dick and set off with the horses, disappearing quickly into the darkness.

When he got home and opened up the heavy purse, Canonbie Dick found unicorns, bonnet pieces, bawbees, groats, bodles, and golden crowns, all manner of mint, hundreds of years old. He marvelled at the glint and gleam of the coins and rubbed his hands together in glee at the thought of what such a treasure might fetch at the market. He resolved then to visit the same spot the following evening, lest the old man be there again. 

Sure enough, the following night, Canonbie Dick was heading home with his straggling horses when he met the old man at the same spot in the Eildon Hills. Once again a bargain was struck and Canonbie Dick went home with a purse heavy with coin. 

On the third night after a third successful deal, Canonbie Dick’s nose got the better of him and he followed the old man and his horses into the darkness. The old man was unperturbed by his presence, and seemed to even enjoy the company. They walked around the hill and up a narrow footpath that lead to the hillock of the Lucken Hare, rumoured to be a meeting place of local witches. There, set in to the hill side was a great wooden door with a ring of iron for a handle. Despite having passed this way many times, Canonbie Dick was sure that he’d never seen it before. As the old man approached, the door swung open to reveal a long passageway that seemed to reach in to the heart of the hill. He turned to Canonbie Dick and said, “You may see my dwelling if you will, but if you lose courage at what you see here you will rue it all your life.” Canonbie Dick smirked at the old man’s warning and suggested they press on, and so they did. 

The corridor stretched out for miles before them, and they walked for a long time before the view began to change. The rough hewn stone walls gave way to rows and rows of stables, each stall holding a coal black horse, and by every horse lay a knight in coal black armour, with a drawn sword in his hand. All were silent, hoof and limb, as if they had been cut out of the rock itself. The old man urged Canonbie Dick on, and at length they arrived at a vast cavern filled with soft light from the torches set in the walls. A great round oak table stood in the centre of the hall, and a sword and a horn lay atop it. 

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness Canonbie Dick got a better look at the stranger he had been following for so long. It only took a moment for him to recognise the old man as True Thomas of Ercildoun

“He that sounds that horn and draws that sword shall, if his heart does not fail him, be king over all broad Britain,” True Thomas said. “But all depends on courage, and much on taking the sword or the horn first.”

Canonbie Dick was inclined to take the sword but he was wary, thinking that to draw such a weapon might offend the powers of the mountain, so with a trembling hand he took up the horn and let out a feeble blast that echoed round the hall. 

Canonbie Dick

At once a great commotion arose in the chamber as with a cry and a clash of armour every one of the knights arose from their slumber. Canonbie Dick, in his terror, dropped the horn and reached out to grasp the sword when a voice boomed,

“Woe to the coward that ever he was born,
who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn.”

Before he could begin to make sense of what was happening, Canonbie Dick was blasted from the cavern on the back of a whirlwind and came to land on the bank outside the entrance to the passageway. The door had gone. He was found the next morning by local shepherds with just enough breath left in him to tell his tale before he died. 

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  • Samantha Mozart

    True Thomas again. So glad to reencounter him. I’m getting to quite like the fellow. –And to pay close attention to his words of advice.
    Beautifully written story, Fee.
    Samantha Mozart
    http://thescheherazadechronicles.org

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      He’s a very interesting character! I’d like to do a more in depth piece on him once the A-Z’s out the way :)

  • http://titli15081977.blogspot.in/ Shubhangi

    That made a great read! It is nice to read these mythological tales ! Indeed the month has gone by so quickly!
    The little princess
    http://www.titli15081977.blogspot.in

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  • Heidi Dahlsveen

    What a great story!

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Thanks Heidi! :)

  • http://www.patgarciaschaack.com Pat Garcia

    There is a moral in this story that delights me. So often we think that the peaceful way of co existing is better than drawing the sword and we are disappointed when we find ourselves blasted outside before the door and left to die.

    A beautiful story Fee and I so enjoyed reading it.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Thanks so much, Pat :)

  • Tarkabarka

    I love the king under the mountain stories, for some reason I have always been drawn to them (archaeologist, go figure). I haven’t heard this one before, it’s lovely! And interesting to know that about the King Arthur stories…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      The king under the mountain is one of my favourites too :) I’ll definitely be doing a lot more research into the Scottish King Arthur myths – they almost sidetracked me completely!

  • JazzFeathers

    I have never heard this story before, but it’s so nice. Actaully, it reminded me more of Tolkien than King Arthur, but hey ;-)

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      I know what you mean re Tolkein – it’s the blowing of the horn, maybe. It reminds me of Helm Hammerhand :)

  • http://take25tohollister.blogspot.com susiemac

    What a story! The first exchange of coins reminded me of Jack and the Beanstalk. This is far better story. I suppose a leader would not care to offend the powers of the mountain and that is what makes him a leader. But, I did like Dick’s logic for choosing the horn over the sword.
    I’m on the A to Z Road Trip. It was a pleasure to visit. :-)
    The View from the Top of the Ladder
    Take 25 to Hollister