“Thomas the Rhymer” by Resha Caner

Fairyworld, by D'Wayne Murphy
[Illustration: “Fairyworld” © 2006 by D’Wayne Murphy.]

Bobby Burns is gone, and with him the fair tongue he spoke. I pray, therefore, the ancient Celts to forgive me as I interpret the Gaelic tongue in order to bring appreciation of it to a newer time. As a babe, my ears heard the words:

Ye maun ken of Thomas Rymour, of Ercildoun,
In Lauderdale. He had nae will to the wark
But was a gudsire wi’ pipes and song.

Those words remain behind, but I shall bring you the story.

Thomas the Rhymer, Lord Earlston, gave birth to prose before the likes of Chaucer had even worn a Christening cap. Thomas took much pride in his silver tongue, by which he oft wooed the fair maidens, but by which he mainly escaped the sweat of the plow.

It was a fine day when Thomas chose to lay on Huntly bank at the foot of the Eildon Hills. His mind wove a magical verse for use with the evening’s ale, but the thread was spoiled when down the bank rode a lady of great beauty. Thomas knew her for a queen. Her steed strode with majestic pride, carrying its burden gladly. Thirty silver bells and nine hanging from the mane played the magical songs of the wind. The lady’s saddle was of royal bone laid over in gold. Her attire gave homage to her beauty, not daring to shine greater. Yet, strangely, she had a bow in her hand and arrows in her belt – a huntress. Only a faerie queen could muster such strength yet remain so fair.

The faerie queen deigned to pass Thomas by, intent upon the trail her hounds followed. Thomas could not allow such a sight to escape him.

“My lady,” he called, rising from the bank.

Within moments the hounds surrounded him, guarding their lady from harm. She spurred the great steed towards the intruder of her hunt, and brought a dirk to bear on his throat.

“Only a villein could so arrest a lady,” she said.

The music of her voice, the thrill of the touch, even in anger, made Thomas’ silver tongue pale, and he remained silent, awaiting whatever she desired to do with him.

“Where is your fair voice now, Thomas?” she asked.

“You know me?” Thomas felt the blood of his veins rejoice.

“All the faeries know you, sir,” she replied. “You are the only one of men who can rival our verse. It is a shame to waste such talent on a man, for it shall only end you in the bowels of the earth.”

“Not true, my lady,” Thomas said boldly. “I am a good Christian man. But if you think me in danger, maybe you should bring me within the magical gates of your land.”

“Ah,” the queen’s voice sparkled with laughter. “You do turn my words well. But do not ask such things of me, for it could only end in evil.”

“Could it end any other way if you order me from your sight?” Thomas asked.

Again the faerie queen laughed. Nodding her head, she said, “Very well, I shall grant your request, for I have never met man who spoke so fair. You shall be a lift to my spirit.”

The queen passed her hands across Thomas’ eyes, and he swooned with her touch. When he recovered, he found a veil had been lifted. He could now see faerie warriors, the queens guards, riding the hounds, and the opening of a cave upon Huntly bank. Then the faerie queen took Thomas to her realm, and he spent his first day listening in silent wonderment to the lilting voices of faerie song. He spent the second day walking with joy among the majestic flowers of the faerie gardens. He spent his third day in amazement at the cunning craft of the faerie artisans. The following day the faerie king returned from his journeys, and called upon Thomas.

“Show us something of your talent, Thomas,” the king said. “Show us why you are known from the Hebrides to Hadrian’s Wall.”

It sometimes happens that a fair tongue comes of itself, but more oft it comes from a stout mind. Thomas, being of the latter, knew the faerie king prided himself on his command of verse. No other faerie could match him, and Thomas deemed it unwise to do so himself. Therefore, he chose the pipes to entertain the king’s court. He laid his hands to the majestic instrument, his mouth to the reed, and released jeweled notes, which had been trapped inside.

“Well played,” the king clapped as he spoke, happy his own art remained intact. And Thomas played for the court all that night; the faeries dancing until the stars bid them take their rest.

The king made the same requests for a second and third day. Each day, Thomas showed them a fairer song from the bagpipes. But upon the third day, the queen rose from her silence, “Thomas, you are a master of this fair instrument. But it was your voice which convinced me to bring you here. Could you not weave for me a golden song?”

Alas, now Thomas’ wit was foiled. How could he deny the faerie queen’s request? And so he sang for her. As the joy of song and verse filled his heart, he built majestic word upon majestic word. The queen became more entranced with each magical note; the king grew ever more furious.

Of course the king dared not draw blood upon the heel of perfect art, or he would lose the love of his queen forever. Yet neither could he let Thomas go unchallenged, for every faerie of the court agreed they had never heard such wonders before. So he prepared a trap for Thomas’ seventh day.

Thomas knew he had offended the king, and he knew what lay ahead. Therefore, he petitioned the queen, “Please, you must give me leave of this place.”

“I cannot,” the queen replied. “For only the king can give you such leave now that you have performed in his service.”

Thomas bowed his head, and darkness passed across his face like a sentence of death.

“Forgive my boldness, your radiance, but the king will never give me leave unless he defeats me in contest,” Thomas told. “And I cannot spin falseness in a faerie court.”

“I can allow you, this one time, to counterfeit your art,” the queen said. “But know you well, once you have lied in a faerie court, you cannot lie again, or it shall condemn your soul to darkness.”

“Then grant me this,” Thomas begged. “That once I leave this place I will be incapable of lying.”

The light fled from the queen’s face, and Thomas felt it would be worth damnation if only he could amend his words, but the queen consented to his wish.

That night, the king asked, “Sing for us, Thomas.”

“I shall,” Thomas replied, “if His Majesty sings first.”

The king gladly consented, for it made his plans for Thomas’ downfall all the sweeter. His joy brought forth from him the greatest song he had ever sung. It is often thought the bards of old held a mastery beyond the present day, but the king’s skill proved them wrong. The court all agreed it impossible to weave one better. They waited breathlessly for Thomas to sing.

Thomas knew he could surpass the king, and his heart broke as he falsified his talents so as to lose. The court stood in shocked silence at the feeble comparison of Thomas to the king. The king trembled in rage, knowing he had been tricked.

“In my shame,” Thomas said as he bowed, “give me leave of your court, Your Highness.”

The king’s rage stole his tongue, and he would not consent to Thomas’ entreaty, so the queen prodded him, “You cannot deny such an honorable request, my liege.”

“Of course,” the king finally said through clenched teeth.

And so, Thomas took leave of that fair land, and the heath which he had so loved seemed dark; the heather’s royal color a faded image.

His last sight was the queen astride her hunting steed. “Only seven years can fade the memory of the wonder of these seven days,” he said.

“My spell keeps you from lying, Thomas,” she reminded him. “And as you speak now in truth, you leave here seven years after you came.”

Thomas’ sudden return after seven year’s absence caused much stir among the fair folk of Earlston. Touched by their kind consideration, Thomas blessed the people.

“We are not blessed,” the folk growled at Thomas’ words. “For we have been struck by drought of all kind. The fields do not produce, the animals do not bear, the sea does not yield up. Seven years we have suffered.”

“Then my return is an omen,” Thomas declared.

And so it was. The very next day rain fed the fields. New growths of clover strengthened the herds. The fishermen, burgeoned by fresh meat, cheese, and bread, strove into new grounds with a bounty of catch.

This miracle did not go unreported to Scotland’s king, and soon Thomas was a great prophet of the royal court. He knew when to war and when to sue peace. He knew when to store up and when to celebrate. He could sense the onslaught of plagues, and devise cures to drive them off, for of all he spoke, naught could be a lie. The king rewarded his foresight with title and land.

Indeed, Thomas became such a great man of Scotland’s court, that the Princess herself fell in love with him. And the king could think of no better man for his daughter.

Now, the court of Scotland had many fair maidens, drawing brave knights from England, France, and Spain. But Princess Margaret was not among the blessed of form. As was the custom of courtly love, Thomas must woo this maiden with a poem before the court. If she found it properly dressed with the pangs of love, she would accept his proposal. Thomas knew the king desired this union, and his life depended upon winning the heart of the Princess, but this did not alarm him. He had often created a net to trap the heart. And so he began his poem:

My heart has traveled many a road
My soul craves the rest of love
And though you are not so very fair
I must take you to my abode

The court gasped in shock that Thomas would so insult the daughter of a king. He hushed them and played the verse for a joke, then tried again, but with the same result. Alas, poor Thomas the Rhymer had forgotten that much poetry is based upon undue flattery, and he could not lie.

“I give you three days to rescind your insult,” the king roared in anger. “If you do not, I shall see the head which carries such a malicious tongue removed from your body.”

For the first two days Thomas tried to amend the cruelty of his verses, but to no avail. His gift for golden words was gone. As the third day approached, he knew he would lose his life. It was no use to try. But then he realized the ability which lay within him.

“What have you to say today?” the king asked when they brought him out.

Thomas replied:

I cannot change the truth, my liege
For I am not allowed to lie
But after the day my soul departs
The king shall also die

The captain of the guard moved to strike Thomas dead, but the king stayed his hand. He knew of Thomas’ gift for prophecy, just as he knew in his heart that Thomas spoke true of his daughter. The king, therefore, declared Thomas be put away in the deepest dungeon of Scotland, at Urquhart on Loch Ness. He was not to be harmed, but kept alive in misery and darkness.

By some fortune, the horses bearing his wagon to Urquhart were struck with sudden madness. The wagon spilled, and Thomas escaped into the night. But his fate was still sealed. He could not use his prophecy again, or he would be discovered, and his gift of verse was forever lost. Neither had he the skills to work with hand and sweat. Thomas was banished to beggary.

A year and a day later, Thomas approached a convent to beg a scrap of food from the good sisters.

The sister who admitted him knew him instantly, for it was Princess Margaret. She had fled to the sanctity of the convent in grief over the rejection of Thomas and her humiliation at court.

Thomas, in shame, turned to leave, but she stopped him, “It is the essence of this place to help those who are trodden upon.”

“How can you be so kind to me?” Thomas asked.

“It is not I who is kind to you,” she replied, “but Our Lord.”

“Good Sister Margaret,” Thomas wept. “Your kind heart has granted you your wish of beauty which the world did not bestow in the flesh.”

“If I had a wish,” Margaret replied, “it would be to repair the broken man you have become.”

And in that instant, the faerie queen appeared. “My dear child,” the queen spoke to Margaret. “Do you know what you have done?”

“No, my lady,” the Princess replied as she bowed to the faerie queen.

“Since Thomas cannot lie, his words granted you a wish. You have given that wish to him, and I have come to return him to my land.”

Margaret smiled, “Then I am happy again,” she said.

The queen looked favorably upon Princess Margaret. “One with your heart is rare,” she said. “and it would be a pleasure to have you join us – a bride to tame Thomas’ heart. In my land you shall be the fairest of maidens, and Thomas will again spin his verses of great wonder, for they shall then be nothing but truth.” *

About the Author: Resha Caner proudly wrote his first story at the age of seven (complete with crayon illustrations), and won his first writing contest in fourth grade. Although he has written all his life, it is only recently that he has returned to serious writing. He credits his friends at FanStory for getting him back on track. His poem, “Sailor Man,” was recently selected for the Nov. 25th edition of “Starfish,” and the story “Metz Backwards” will appear in issue 2-4 of “The Sage of Consciousness.” In his other life, Resha Caner is an engineer, but don’t hold that against him. Along with a series of technical papers and historical commentaries, he published two essays on mythology in “Storytelling Magazine” in 1995 and 1996.
Story (c) 2006 Resha Caner quixote4k@sbcglobal.net

About the Artist: D’Wayne “Dino” Murphy is a graphic designer and digital illustrator who creates mostly in the realms and genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, a far cry from his daytime job where he does graphic design for a well-known print company. Most of his work consists of pieces that can be used for bookcovers, magazine illo’s, CD covers, DVD covers, and accompanying illustrations for writer’s manuscripts or stories. He also does concept character creation, with a large focus of his work at this point primarily focused on the character’s face and mannerisms, but soon there will be more action shots and settings to come. He is an avid sketcher and loves drawing when he has the available time to do so. D’Wayne is hoping at some point to work with a game design company doing graphics and illustration and at some point character development. Right now he works with a few magazine companies doing illo work.
Illustration (c) 2006 D’Wayne Murphy dwayne.murphy@gmail.com

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