t the beginning of each summer, when the milk white hawthorn is in bloom, anointing the air with its sweet odour, and miles and miles of golden whin adorn the glens and hill slopes, the fairies come forth in grand procession from Elfhame, headed by the fairy Queen. They are mounted on white horses, and when on a night of clear moonlight the people hear the clatter of many hoofs, the jingling of bridles, and the sound of laughter and sweet music coming sweetly down the wind, they whisper one to another “’Tis the fairy folks’ raid”, or “Here come the Riders of the Sith (pronounced SHEE)”.
The fairy Queen, who rides in front, is gowned in grass-green silk, and wears over her shoulders a mantle of green velvet adorned with silver. She is a great beauty. Her eyes are like wood violets, her teeth like pearls, her brow and neck are swan-white, and her cheeks bloom like ripe apples. Her long hair of rich auburn falls over her shoulders and down her back, and is bound round about with a snood that glints with star-like gems. On each lock of her horse’s mane hangs sweet-toned silver bells that tinkle merrily as she rides on.
The riders who follow her two abreast are likewise clad in green and wear little red caps bright as the flaming poppies. Their horses manes are hung with silver whistles upon which the soft winds play. Some fairies play harps of gold, some make music on oaten pipes, and some sing with birdlike voices. When song and music cease, they chat and laugh merrily as they ride on their way. Over hills and down glens they go, but no hoof marks are left by their horses. So lightly do the little white creatures trot that not a grass blade is broken by their tread, nor is the honeydew spilled from blue harebells or yellow buttercups. Sometimes the fairies ride over treetops or through the air on eddies of the western wind. The Riders of the Sith always come from the west.
When the fairies summer raid is coming, people hang branches of rowan over their doors and round their rooms, and when the Winter Raid is coming they hang up holly and mistletoe as protection from attack, for sometimes the fairies steal pretty children while they lie fast asleep and carry them off to Elfhame.
True Thomas lay on ,
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Tree.
Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her o the velvet fyne,
At of her horse’s mane
True Thomas, he ,
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.’
‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she said,
‘That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair .
That am hither come to visit thee.
‘, Thomas,’ she said,
‘Harp and carp along wi me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
That shall never me.”
he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s True Thomas up behind,
And her bridle rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
O they on, and farther on,
The steed swifter than the wind,
Until they reached a desert wide,
And living land was left behind.
‘, now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
and rest a little space,
And I will you ferlies three.
‘O see ye not narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
‘And see ye not ,
That lies across that ?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
‘And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie ?
That is the road to fair Elfhame,
‘But, Thomas, ,
Whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in fair Elfhame,
O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded thro ,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
It was night, and there was ,
And they waded thro red to the knee;
Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she an apple a tree:
‘Take this , True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie.’
‘My tongue is,’ True Thomas said;
‘ to me!
‘Now ,’ the Queen said,
‘For as I say, so must it be.’
He has gotten a coat of the silken cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
–from Child Ballad #37, collected by Francis James Child, circa 1860.
Thomas fulfilled his oath of service to the Queen of Elfhame and dwelt with her among the fairies for seven years. After his return to Melrose, he was unable to lie and became known as a soothsayer. He wrote songs, ballads, and poems, many of which prophesied future events, and earned him the name Thomas the Rhymer. Among his predictions were the death of King Alexander III, the Battle of Bannockburn, the defeat of Scotland at Flodden, and the union of the crowns in 1603.
It is said that when Thomas was an old man the fairy Queen came back for him, and that Thomas returned to Elfhame with her. He now accompanies the Riders of the Sith when they come forth at the beginning of each summer. Those who have seen him riding out of the fairy dwelling below Eildon Hill say that he looks very old, and that his hair and long beard are as white as snow.
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Huntlie bank is now known as Huntlyburn in Melrose, a small town in the borders.
He saw something strange, or awe inspiring.
Eildon Hill is a three peaked hill that lies just south of Melrose.
a loose cloak, or cape.
fifty nine silver bells.
took his hat off, as in the presence of a lady.
bowed low, down on one knee
literally elf hame, elf home, home of the fairies
Tell tales, sing and make music.
I will be in charge of you
Come good or bad
Having kissed the Queen of Elfhame, Thomas must now go with her and serve her for seven years, and do her bidding, whether it’s good or bad, whether he likes it or not.
Alight, get off.
Stay where you are
Like ‘yonder’, in the distance.
that broad, broad road in the distance
A valley full of lilies
a steep bank or hillside
Where you and I tonight will go.
you will keep quiet
You’ll never be able to leave, to go home
The river they took the horses through came up to the horse’s knees.
dark and gloomy
no light from the stars
All the blood shed in the land of mortal men flows into the rivers of Elfhame.
as a reward
a fine gift you would give
I wouldn’t dare to buy or sell when I’m at the market or meeting place.
I wouldn’t dare to speak to people of higher rank, or to ask favours from my lady friends