The Elfin Knight

: The Scottish Fairy Book

There is a lone moor in Scotland, which, in times past, was said to be

haunted by an Elfin Knight. This Knight was only seen at rare intervals,

once in every seven years or so, but the fear of him lay on all the

country round, for every now and then someone would set out to cross the

moor and would never be heard of again.

And although men might search every inch of the ground, no trace of him

would be fo
nd, and with a thrill of horror the searching party would go

home again, shaking their heads and whispering to one another that he

had fallen into the hands of the dreaded Knight.

So, as a rule, the moor was deserted, for nobody dare pass that way,

much less live there; and by and by it became the haunt of all sorts of

wild animals, which made their lairs there, as they found that they

never were disturbed by mortal huntsmen.

Now in that same region lived two young earls, Earl St. Clair and Earl

Gregory, who were such friends that they rode, and hunted, and fought

together, if need be.

And as they were both very fond of the chase, Earl Gregory suggested one

day that they should go a-hunting on the haunted moor, in spite of the

Elfin King.

"Certes, I hardly believe in him at all," cried the young man, with a

laugh. "Methinks 'tis but an old wife's tale to frighten the bairns

withal, lest they go straying amongst the heather and lose themselves.

And 'tis pity that such fine sport should be lost because we--two

bearded men--pay heed to such gossip."

But Earl St. Clair looked grave. "'Tis ill meddling with unchancy

things," he answered, "and 'tis no bairn's tale that travellers have set

out to cross that moor who have vanished bodily, and never mair been

heard of; but it is, as thou sayest, a pity that so much good sport be

lost, all because an Elfin Knight choosest to claim the land as his, and

make us mortals pay toll for the privilege of planting a foot upon it.

"I have heard tell, however, that one is safe from any power that the

Knight may have if one wearest the Sign of the Blessed Trinity. So let

us bind That on our arm and ride forth without fear."

Sir Gregory burst into a loud laugh at these words. "Dost thou think

that I am one of the bairns," he said, "'first to be frightened by an

idle tale, and then to think that a leaf of clover will protect me? No,

no, carry that Sign if thou wilt; I will trust to my good bow and


But Earl St. Clair did not heed his companion's words, for he remembered

how his mother had told him, when he was a little lad at her knee that

whoso carried the Sign of the Blessed Trinity need never fear any spell

that might be thrown over him by Warlock or Witch, Elf or Demon.

So he went out to the meadow and plucked a leaf of clover, which he

bound on his arm with a silken scarf; then he mounted his horse and rode

with Earl Gregory to the desolate and lonely moorland.

For some hours all went well; and in the heat of the chase the young men

forgot their fears. Then suddenly both of them reined in their steeds

and sat gazing in front of them with affrighted faces.

For a horseman had crossed their track, and they both would fain have

known who he was and whence he came.

"By my troth, but he rideth in haste, whoever he may be," said Earl

Gregory at last, "and tho' I always thought that no steed on earth could

match mine for swiftness, I reckon that for every league that mine

goeth, his would go seven. Let us follow him, and see from what part of

the world he cometh."

"The Lord forbid that thou shouldst stir thy horse's feet to follow

him," said Earl St. Clair devoutly. "Why, man, 'tis the Elfin Knight!

Canst thou not see that he doth not ride on the solid ground, but flieth

through the air, and that, although he rideth on what seemeth a mortal

steed, he is really craried by mighty pinions, which cleave the air like

those of a bird? Follow him forsooth! It will be an evil day for thee

when thou seekest to do that."

But Earl St. Clair forgot that he carried a Talisman which his companion

lacked, that enabled him to see things as they really were, while the

other's eyes were holden, and he was startled and amazed when Earl

Gregory said sharply, "Thy mind hath gone mad over this Elfin King. I

tell thee he who passed was a goodly Knight, clad in a green vesture,

and riding on a great black jennet. And because I love a gallant

horseman, and would fain learn his name and degree, I will follow him

till I find him, even if it be at the world's end."

And without another word he put spurs to his horse and galloped off in

the direction which the mysterious stranger had taken, leaving Earl St.

Clair alone upon the moorland, his fingers touching the sacred Sign and

his trembling lips muttering prayers for protection.

For he knew that his friend had been bewitched, and he made up his mind,

brave gentleman that he was, that he would follow him to the world's

end, if need be, and try to deliver him from the spell that had been

cast over him.

Meanwhile Earl Gregory rode on and on, ever following in the wake of the

Knight in green, over moor, and burn, and moss, till he came to the

most desolate region that he had ever been in in his life; where the

wind blew cold, as if from snow-fields, and where the hoar-frost lay

thick and white on the withered grass at his feet.

And there, in front of him, was a sight from which mortal man might well

shrink back in awe and dread. For he saw an enormous Ring marked out on

the ground, inside of which the grass, instead of being withered and

frozen, was lush, and rank, and green, where hundreds of shadowy Elfin

figures were dancing, clad in loose transparent robes of dull blue,

which seemed to curl and twist round their wearers like snaky wreaths of


These weird Goblins were shouting and singing as they danced, and waving

their arms above their heads, and throwing themselves about on the

ground, for all the world as if they had gone mad; and when they saw

Earl Gregory halt on his horse just outside the Ring they beckoned to

him with their skinny fingers.

"Come hither, come hither," they shouted; "come tread a measure with us,

and afterwards we will drink to thee out of our Monarch's loving cup."

And, strange as it may seem, the spell that had been cast over the young

Earl was so powerful that, in spite of his fear, he felt that he must

obey the eldrich summons, and he threw his bridle on his horse's neck

and prepared to join them.

But just then an old and grizzled Goblin stepped out from among his

companions and approached him.

Apparently he dare not leave the charmed Circle, for he stopped at the

edge of it; then, stooping down and pretending to pick up something, he

whispered in a hoarse whisper:

"I know not whom thou art, nor from whence thou comest, Sir Knight, but

if thou lovest thy life, see to it that thou comest not within this

Ring, nor joinest with us in our feast. Else wilt thou be for ever


But Earl Gregory only laughed. "I vowed that I would follow the Green

Knight," he replied, "and I will carry out my vow, even if the venture

leadeth me close to the nethermost world."

And with these words he stepped over the edge of the Circle, right in

amongst the ghostly dancers.

At his coming they shouted louder than ever, and danced more madly, and

sang more lustily; then, all at once, a silence fell upon them, and they

parted into two companies, leaving a way through their midst, up which

they signed to the Earl to pass.

He walked through their ranks till he came to the middle of the Circle;

and there, seated at a table of red marble, was the Knight whom he had

come so far to seek, clad in his grass-green robes. And before him, on

the table, stood a wondrous goblet, fashioned from an emerald, and set

round the rim with blood-red rubies.

And this cup was filled with heather ale, which foamed up over the brim;

and when the Knight saw Sir Gregory, he lifted it from the table, and

handed it to him with a stately bow, and Sir Gregory, being very

thirsty, drank.

And as he drank he noticed that the ale in the goblet never grew less,

but ever foamed up to the edge; and for the first time his heart misgave

him, and he wished that he had never set out on this strange adventure.

But, alas! the time for regrets had passed, for already a strange

numbness was stealing over his limbs, and a chill pallor was creeping

over his face, and before he could utter a single cry for help the

goblet dropped from his nerveless fingers, and he fell down before the

Elfin King like a dead man.

Then a great shout of triumph went up from all the company; for if there

was one thing which filled their hearts with joy, it was to entice some

unwary mortal into their Ring and throw their uncanny spell over him, so

that he must needs spend long years in their company.

But soon their shouts of triumphs began to die away, and they muttered

and whispered to each other with looks of something like fear on their


For their keen ears heard a sound which filled their hearts with dread.

It was the sound of human footsteps, which were so free and untrammelled

that they knew at once that the stranger, whoever he was, was as yet

untouched by any charm. And if this were so he might work them ill, and

rescue their captive from them.

And what they dreaded was true; for it was the brave Earl St. Clair who

approached, fearless and strong because of the Holy Sign he bore.

And as soon as he saw the charmed Ring and the eldrich dancers, he was

about to step over its magic border, when the little grizzled Goblin who

had whispered to Earl Gregory, came and whispered to him also.

"Alas! alas!" he exclaimed, with a look of sorrow on his wrinkled face,

"hast thou come, as thy companion came, to pay thy toll of years to the

Elfin King? Oh! if thou hast wife or child behind thee, I beseech thee,

by all that thou holdest sacred, to turn back ere it be too late."

"Who art thou, and from whence hast thou come?" asked the Earl, looking

kindly down at the little creature in front of him.

"I came from the country that thou hast come from," wailed the Goblin.

"For I was once a mortal man, even as thou. But I set out over the

enchanted moor, and the Elfin King appeared in the guise of a beauteous

Knight, and he looked so brave, and noble, and generous that I followed

him hither, and drank of his heather ale, and now I am doomed to bide

here till seven long years be spent.

"As for thy friend, Sir Earl, he, too, hath drunk of the accursed

draught, and he now lieth as dead at our lawful Monarch's feet. He will

wake up, 'tis true, but it will be in such a guise as I wear, and to the

bondage with which I am bound."

"Is there naught that I can do to rescue him!" cried Earl St. Clair

eagerly, "ere he taketh on him the Elfin shape? I have no fear of the

spell of his cruel captor, for I bear the Sign of One Who is stronger

than he. Speak speedily, little man, for time presseth."

"There is something that thou couldst do, Sir Earl," whispered the

Goblin, "but to essay it were a desperate attempt. For if thou failest,

then could not even the Power of the Blessed Sign save thee."

"And what is that?" asked the Earl impatiently.

"Thou must remain motionless," answered the old man, "in the cold and

frost till dawn break and the hour cometh when they sing Matins in the

Holy Church. Then must thou walk slowly nine times round the edge of the

enchanted Circle, and after that thou must walk boldly across it to the

red marble table where sits the Elfin King. On it thou wilt see an

emerald goblet studded with rubies and filled with heather ale. That

must thou secure and carry away; but whilst thou art doing so let no

word cross thy lips. For this enchanted ground whereon we dance may look

solid to mortal eyes, but in reality it is not so. 'Tis but a quaking

bog, and under it is a great lake, wherein dwelleth a fearsome Monster,

and if thou so much as utter a word while thy foot resteth upon it, thou

wilt fall through the bog and perish in the waters beneath."

So saying the Grisly Goblin stepped back among his companions, leaving

Earl St. Clair standing alone on the outskirts of the charmed Ring.

There he waited, shivering with cold, through the long, dark hours, till

the grey dawn began to break over the hill tops, and, with its coming,

the Elfin forms before him seemed to dwindle and fade away.

And at the hour when the sound of the Matin Bell came softly pealing

from across the moor, he began his solemn walk. Round and round the Ring

he paced, keeping steadily on his way, although loud murmurs of anger,

like distant thunder, rose from the Elfin Shades, and even the very

ground seemed to heave and quiver, as if it would shake this bold

intruder from its surface.

But through the power of the Blessed Sign on his arm Earl St. Clair went

on unhurt.

When he had finished pacing round the Ring he stepped boldly on to the

enchanted ground, and walked across it; and what was his astonishment to

find that all the ghostly Elves and Goblins whom he had seen, were lying

frozen into tiny blocks of ice, so that he was sore put to it to walk

amongst them without treading upon them.

And as he approached the marble table the very hairs rose on his head at

the sight of the Elfin King sitting behind it, stiff and stark like his

followers; while in front of him lay the form of Earl Gregory, who had

shared the same fate.

Nothing stirred, save two coal-black ravens, who sat, one on each side

of the table, as if to guard the emerald goblet, flapping their wings,

and croaking hoarsely.

When Earl St. Clair lifted the precious cup, they rose in the air and

circled round his head, screaming with rage, and threatening to dash it

from his hands with their claws; while the frozen Elves, and even their

mighty King himself stirred in their sleep, and half sat up, as if to

lay hands on this presumptuous intruder. But the Power of the Holy Sign

restrained them, else had Earl St. Clair been foiled in his quest.

As he retraced his steps, awesome and terrible were the sounds that he

heard around him. The ravens shrieked, and the frozen Goblins screamed;

and up from the hidden lake below came the sound of the deep breathing

of the awful Monster who was lurking there, eager for prey.

But the brave Earl heeded none of these things, but kept steadily

onwards, trusting in the Might of the Sign he bore. And it carried him

safely through all the dangers; and just as the sound of the Matin Bell

was dying away in the morning air he stepped on to solid ground once

more, and flung the enchanted goblet from him.

And lo! every one of the frozen Elves vanished, along with their King

and his marble table, and nothing was left on the rank green grass save

Earl Gregory, who slowly woke from his enchanted slumber, and stretched

himself, and stood up, shaking in every limb. He gazed vaguely round

him, as if he scarce remembered where he was.

And when, after Earl St. Clair had run to him and had held him in his

arms till his senses returned and the warm blood coursed through his

veins, the two friends returned to the spot where Earl St. Clair had

thrown down the wondrous goblet, they found nothing but a piece of rough

grey whinstone, with a drop of dew hidden in a little crevice which was

hollowed in its side.