The Deadly Forest Sprite
(a tragic fairy tale)
© 2016 Jerry Kemp
Through open fields and meadows,
carried by his eager steed,
crossing bridges, narrow streamlets,
he rode on at urgent speed.
In the forest, in a clearance
ringed by aspen, oak, and thorn,
stood a crumbling fieldstone castle,
looking vacant and forlorn.
Neighing, as though in fond greeting,
his mount now ceased to race.
Looking upward, there he saw her—
oh, how lovely was that face!
Daring breezes, Cupid’s playmates,
fondled playfully her hair,
teasing each so golden strand and
kissed that face beyond compare.
“Lady, tell me, are you real—
or perhaps a pleasant dream
placed upon me, while I slumbered,
by the full moon’s straying beam?
“Come, my lovely, leave your bower;
I have seen your beauty
that must no longer be confined;
stone is strong, but love sets free.”
From the tower’s height she drifted,
reaching out with loving arms,
and he fell into enchantment,
fast succumbed to fairy charms.
“Mortal man; not of your free will
have you come into my wood’;
your swift horse it was that served me
and assured such likelihood.
“No, this structure never bound me;
height gave it its usefulness.
I espied the one I longed for,
you complete my blissfulness.”
Wood thrush songs accompanied them.
Holding her in tight embrace,
while they rode on to her cavern,
he caressed the wood sprite’s face.
Pleasure soon gave way to anguish;
breathlessly he looked at her;
fairies’ love burns, oh, so fiercely—
joy soon yielded to deep fear.
Hear ye all this mortal’s warning:
Supernatural passion’s fire
burns too hot for earthly man. Death
quelled his love-filled hearts’ desire.
© 2016 Jerry Kemp
Above the swamp, lights wink and wave
“This way,” in eerie glow.
Beware! These false will-o'-the-wisps
Mean Death; he waits below.
I curb my horse . . . . Whoa, stop ol’ nag!
Oh, soon enough . . . too soon,
The swamp hags’ lair will come in view--
I wish for a full moon.
I check my flashlight’s dimming light;
It merely casts a glint.
There is the morass I must cross,
My mare breaks into sprint.
Her nostrils flare, she snorts and neighs,
Then rears and bolts in fear--
I take a fall, and then I know--
Those swamp hags are quite near.
Nell rears and bolts into the night,
And I lie on the ground;
The furies come in boiling mist--
With piercing, cackling sound.
In frenzied lust the swamp hags whirl
Around me, screeching till
My frightened heart and senses fail
And I yield to their will.
This ballad is based on an ages-old Slavic belief
© 2016 Jerry Kemp
Along the nighttime country road
the sound of aspen leaves
adds ghostly rustling to a land
immersed in old beliefs.
See there—there are the Willis’ haunts
where two paths cross. Betrayed,
young brides had died by their own hands;
in unblessed earth they’re laid.
As suicides they were condemned
to lie beneath dank mounds
among the deathwatch beetles and
their ceaseless ticking sounds.
At night they are compelled to rise
and satisfy their need
to put to death unfaithful males
by dance at frenzied speed.
From brewing fog they take flesh form
and wear cob webbing gowns
in lieu of shrouds stained in dank graves—
then don bleak bridal crowns.
Tonight, there creaks a wagon wheel
along the rutted road;
at every labored turn it may
collapse beneath its load.
The farmhand keeps his wary eyes
on this dark, bumpy trail;
a mended wheel is but a crutch
that may stand up or fail.
Faint moonlight falls in silvery strands
upon a swampy pond;
two trees stand there--like poor lost souls
in search of the beyond.
. . . continued . . .
Upon the swamp flames wink and wave,
“This way,” in eerie glow;
beware! these glowing lights one sees
serve Death—who waits below.
“Whoa! Easy does it! Whoa, ol’ horse!
Quite soon enough—too soon,
the crossroad will come into view.
O Saints! unveil the moon.”
He checks his lantern’s charring wick;
it merely casts a glow.
There is the place he has to pass—
his old mare seems to know.
Her nostrils flare, she snorts and neighs,
and then she bolts in fear;
the driver falls—and then he knows—
those Willis must be near.
His nag and cart fade in the night,
and dazed the driver lies;
the furies come in boiling mist,
presaged by vengeful cries.
In waltz, the undead maidens whirl
their prey around until
his frightened heart and senses fail.
Such is the Willis’ will.
At dawn, these specters sink into
their graves to wait in hate
for hapless men—who chance or dare
to pass the crossroad—late.
This romantic ballad is my own variation on the Thomas the Rhymer theme
Image from pinterest.com
Thomas the Rhymer
©2016 Jerry Kemp
When Rhymer Thomas strode the bank
Of Castle Huntlie’s stream,
A lady neared upon a horse
In early morning’s gleam.
The mount she rode was purest white,
Its mane was braided well,
And pendent from each braid there gleamed
A tinkling silver bell.
Now Tom the Rhymer bared his head;
He knelt, and then spoke he:
“The Heaven’s Queen, I’m sure you are—
A mortal you can’t be.”
“Tom, I shall tell you who I am,”
She said with friendly mien:
“The Queen of Heaven I am not;
In Elfinland I’m queen.
“Now take your harp and play for me;
Your love songs I must hear,
But if you dare to kiss my lips,
You’ll serve me seven year’.”
“To linger in sweet servitude,
How could such frighten me?”
He kissed her lips and she kissed his
Beneath the Eildon tree.
“Now you are bound to ride with me,”
She said and stroked his hair.
As they set out for Elfinland,
His heart beat free of care.”
And, at the foot of Eildon Hills,
There lay a cave ahead,
Through which a blood-filled river flowed,
Life’s sap of men long dead.
This was the blood that had been shed
For honor, greed, or fame;
Man’s warlike heart shall always bleed
When folly has a name.
Its way the fairy knew quite well;
No moon by which to see,
Her horse strode on in steady beat
Till sunlight set them free.
They left a world of utter gloom
And flew at tempest’s speed
Into a hot and barren land
Devoid of all but weed.
“Good Tom, my dear, we cannot rest
On this so weary day,
For ride we must, oh, mortal man—
Before I fade away.”
At last they reached the shady woods,
Rode on through greening dells;
And when she gently touched the reins,
Then tinkled all the bells.
“Now, Thomas, we will stop a while
Beneath this apple tree,
But do not touch the fruit that tempts—
You’ll lose your soul and me.”
She took from her own silken cape
Some earthly bread and wine;
He ate and drank, admired her face—
Her beauty was divine.
Restored, she pointed at the fork
Where one road branched to three.
“Which one of these would you now choose?”
Tom looked up from her knee:
“It seems that I have heard, the path
Of righteousness is rough
And most beset with thorns and stones,
Avoided oft enough.”
“Well said, my clever Rhymer Tom;
But there, that pleasant way,
That is the path to wickedness,
Which leads the weak astray.
“Now straight ahead, there lies the road
That leads to Elfinland;
It is the one that we will take,
But first hear my demand:
. . . continued. . .
“Beyond that stream, there lies my world.
Once there, you must not speak
To anyone but me, your queen;
Your words great harm could wreak.
“Your way back home you would not find,
Unless you harp and sing,
Yet never speak in Elfinland;
I bind you with this ring.”
And Tom saw many wondrous things
When they reached her domain;
Her clan inquired about his world,
Their queries were in vain.
Attiring Tom in fairy clothes,
She bade him sing out loud
His songs of love and tragedy
Before the Elfin crowd.
He often filled the castle halls
With song from dusk to dawn;
It seemed as though the seven year’—
In seven days had gone.
“You served me well; take this reward:
The gift to speak the truth,
And when grim death does come, dear Tom,
Then we shall meet, forsooth.”
The Rhymer ‘neath the hawthorn lay,
The fabled Eildon tree;
All dressed in finest Elfin clothes
And velvet shoes was he.
He’d left his songs in Elfinland;
To kings he prophesied,
For such her parting gift had been;
His harp he set aside.
Renowned for his true prophesies,
The Ryhmer reached his fame:
True Thomas, Tom of Ercledoune,
Became a household name.
His hair turned gray and somewhat thin;
Time took its constant toll,
Aged bones, once strong, began to ache
As he strode up the knoll.
He turned the elf queen’s finger ring,
The one that sealed his tongue
While he had served in Elfinland,
When he was strong and young.
At ev’ry turn he thought he heard
The silver bells' faint call;
He took up his neglected harp
One morn in early fall.
Then, as he neared the river bank,
He found the fairy there;
Her steed shook fifty and nine bells,
Their chimes removed his care.
True Thomas knelt as best he could;
She stroked his hair: “It’s time,
Dear Tom, that we should ride on home
To silv’ry bells’ bright chime.”
They rode on to the hawthorn tree,
The cave near Eildon Hill,
Through which the blood-filled river ran,
For men were warring still.
Through desert land, then fruit tree groves,
They flew at dazzling speed,
And as they reached the queen’s domain,
Old Tom turned young, indeed.
Again he tuned his faithful harp,
Then played a melody,
And when he rhymed of lasting love,
A bird sang in its tree.
In our own world he was not seen;
His queen fluffed up their bed—
Its curtain drew the Rhymer shut . . . .
The rest is best unsaid.
Background excerpt from Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Rhymer]: Numerous prose retellings of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer have been undertaken, and included in fairy tale or folk-tale anthologies; these often incorporate the return to Fairyland episode that Scott reported to have learned from local legend. Thomas the Rhymer (ca. 1220 – 1298), also known as Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas of Learmont or True Thomas, was a 13th-century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called "Erceldoune"). In literature he appears as the protagonist in the tale about Thomas the Rhymer, who was carried off by the "Queen of Elfland" and returned having gained the gift of prophecy, as well as the inability to tell a lie. The tale survives in a medieval verse romance in five manuscripts, as well as in the popular ballad "Thomas the Rhymer" (Child Ballad number 37). The original romance ca. 1400 was probably condensed into ballad form ca. 1700, though there are dissenting views on this.