Having thus instructed her lover, they journeyed on to the castle, and, entering by the kitchen, found themselves in the midst of such a festive scene as might become the mansion of a great feudal lord or prince. Thirty carcasses of deer were lying on the massive kitchen board, under the hands of numerous cooks, who toiled to cut them up and dress them, while the gigantic greyhounds which had taken the spoil lay lapping the blood, and enjoying the sight of the slain game. They came next to the royal hall, where the king received his loving consort without censure or suspicion. Knights and ladies, dancing by threes (reels perhaps), occupied the floor of the hall, and Thomas, the fatigues of his journey from the Eildon hills forgotten, went forward and joined in the revelry.
After a period, however, which seemed to him a very short one, the queen spoke with him apart, and bade him prepare to return to his own country. " Now," said the queen, " how long think you that you have been here ?"—" Certes, fair lady," answered Thomas, "not above these seven days."—"You are deceived," answered the queen, " you have been seven years in this castle ; and it is full time you were gone. Know, Thomas, that the fiend of hell will come to this castle to-morrow to demand his tribute, and so handsome a man as you will attract his eye. For all the world would I not suffer you to be betrayed to such a fate ; therefore, up, and let us be going." These terrible news reconciled Thomas to his departure from Elfland, and the queen was not long in placing him upon Huntly bank, where the birds were singing. She took a tender leave of him, and, to ensure his reputation, bestowed on him the tongue which could not lie. Thomas in vain objected to this inconvenient and involuntary adhesion to veracity, which would make him, as he thought, unfit for church or for market, for king's court or for lady's bower. But all his remonstrances were disregarded by the lady, and Thomas the Rhymer, whenever the discourse turned on the future, gained the credit of a prophet, whether he would or not; for he could say nothing but what was sure to come to pass. It is plain that, had Thomas been a legislator instead of a poet, we have here the story of Numa and Egeria.
Thomas remained several years in his own tower near Erceldoune, and enjoyed the fame of his predictions, several of which are current among the country-people to this day. At length, as the prophet was entertaining the Earl of March in his dwelling, a cry of astonishment arose in the village on the appearance of a hart and hind,* which left the forest, and, contrary to their shy nature, came quietly onwards, traversing the village, towards the dwelling of Thomas. The prophet instantly rose from the board ; and, acknowledging the prodigy as the summons of his fate, he accompanied the hart and hind into the forest, and though occasionally seen by individuals to whom he has chosen to show himself, has never again mixed familiarly with mankind.
Thomas of Erceldoune, during his retirement, has been supposed, from time to time, to be levying forces to take the field in some crisis of his country's fate. The story has often been told, of a daring horse-jockey having sold a black horse to a man of venerable and antique appearance, who appointed the remarkable hillock upon Eildon hills, called the Lucken-hare, as the place where, at twelve o'clock at night, he should receive the price. He came, his money was paid in ancient coin, and he was invited by his customer to view his residence. The trader in horses followed his guide in the deepest astonishment through several long ranges of stalls, in each of which a horse stood motionless, while an armed warrior lay equally still at the charger's feet. " All these men," said the wizard in a whisper, " will awaken at the battle of Sheriffmoor." At the extremity of this extraordinary depot hung a sword and a horn, which the prophet pointed out to the horse-dealer as containing the means of dissolving the spell. The man in confusion took the horn, and attempted to wind it. The horses instantly started in their stalls, stamped, and shook their bridles, the men arose and clashed their armour, and the mortal, terrified at the tumult he had excited, dropped the horn from his hand. A voice like that of a giant, louder even than the tumult around, pronounced these words ;—
" Woe to the coward that ever he was born,
That did not draw the sword before he blew the horn!"
* This last circumstance seems imitated from a passage in the Life of Merlin, by Jeffrey of Monmouth. See Ellis's Ancient Romances, vol. L p. 73.
A whirlwind expelled the horse-dealer from the cavern, the entrance to which he could never again find. A moral might be perhaps extracted from the legend,— namely, that it is best to be armed against danger before bidding it defiance. But it is a circumstance worth notice, that although this edition of the tale is limited to the year 1715, by the very mention of the SherifF-moor, yet a similar story appears to have been current during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, which is given by Reginald Scot. The narrative is edifying, as peculiarly illustrative of the mode of marring a curious tale in telling it, which was one of the virtues professed by Caius when he hired himself to King Lear. Reginald Scott, incredulous on the subject of witchcraft, seems to have given some weight to the belief of those who thought that the spirits of famous men do, after death, take up some particular habitations near cities, towns, and countries, and act as tutelary and guardian spirits to the places which they loved while in the flesh.
" But more particularly to illustrate this conjecture," says he, "I could name a person who hath lately appeared thrice since his decease, at least some ghostly being or other that calls itself by the name of such a person who was dead above a hundred years ago, and was in his life time accounted as a prophet or predicter, by the assistance of sublunary spirits ; and now, at his appearance, did also give strange predictions respecting famine and plenty, war and bloodshed, and the end of the world. By the information of the person that had communication with him, the last of his appearances was in the following manner. 11 had been,' said he, 'to sell a horse at the next market town, but not attaining my price, as I returned home, by the way I met this man, who began to be familiar with me, asking what news, and how affairs moved through the country. I answered as I thought fit; withal, I told him of my horse, whom he began to cheapen, and proceeded with me so far that the price was agreed upon. So he turned back with me, and told me that if I would go along with him, I should receive my money. On our way we went, I upon my horse, and he on another milk-white beast. After much travel, I asked him where he dwelt, and what his name was. He told me that his dwelling was a mile off, at a place called Farran, of which place I had never heard, though I knew all the country round about * He also told me, that he himself was that person of the family of Learmonths,** so much spoken of as a prophet. At which I began to be somewhat fearful, perceiving we were on a road which I never had been on before, which increased my fear and amazement more. Well! on we went till he brought me under ground, I knew not how, into the presence of a beautiful woman, who paid the money without a word speaking. He conducted me out again, through a large and long entry, where I saw above six hundred men in armour laid prostrate on the ground, as if asleep. At last I found myself in the open field, by the help of the moonlight, in the very place where I first met him, and made a shift to get home by three in the morning. But the money I had received was just double of what I esteemed it when the woman paid me, of which, at this instant, I have several pieces to show; consisting of ninepennies, thirteen-pence-half-pennies,'" etc.*