A ghostly knight rides across a Scottish moore. Many people have mysteriously disappeared on the same moor. Would you go hunting there? Ah, the young are reckless! Two youthful earls decide to defy the childish rumours of ghosts, elves and goblins. But one of them, as a precaution, carries a three leaf clover - the sign of the Holy Trinity - which he believes will protect him from the supernatural.
If you like Spooky tales, listen on - but if you are small or easily frightened, or perhaps just going to sleep, may this is not one for you.
Read by Geoffrey Newland.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
THE ELFIN KNIGHT
This is a spooky tale from Scotland. Just in case you are not familiar with some of the Scottish words, let me explain that a “bairn” is a child.
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.
Although men might search every inch of the ground, no trace of him would be found, 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 would dare pass that way, much less live there; and by and by it became the haunt of all sorts of wild animals, who 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, hunted, and fought together, if need be. 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 Knight.
“Certes, I hardly believe in him at all,” cried the young man, with a laugh. “Methinks 'tis but a tale to frighten the bairns, 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 you say, 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 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 wears 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, “Do you 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 you must; I will trust my good bow and arrow.”
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 who so 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 rides 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 mile that mine goes, his would go seven. Let us follow him, and see from what part of the world he comes.”
“The lord forbid that you should stir your horse’s feet to follow him,” said Earl St. Clair, devoutly. “Why, man, 'tis the Elfin Knight! Canst you not see that he does not ride on the solid ground, but flies through the air, and that he is really carried by mighty feathers, which cling to the air like those of a bird? Follow him? It will be an evil day for any man who does 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 blind to magic, and he was startled and amazed, when Earl Gregory said sharply, “Your mind has gone mad over this Elfin King. I tell you he who passed was a goodly knight, clad in a green tunic, and riding on a great black horse. And because I love a gallant horseman, and would fain learn his name and thank, I will follow him 'til I find him, even if it be at the world’s end.”
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 the path of the knight in green, over moor, and burn, and moss, until he came to the most desolate region that he had ever been to in his life; where the wind blew cold, as if from snow fields, and where the hoarse 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, 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 around their wearers like snaky wreaths of smoke.
These weird goblins were shouting and singing as they danced, 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 elfish 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 you are, nor from whence you come, Sir knight, but if you lovest your life, do not come within this ring, nor join with us in our feast. Else wilt you will be forever undone.”
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.”
With these words he stepped over the edge of the circle, right in among 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 groups, leaving a path through their midst. The beckoned to the earl to pass along it.
He walked through their ranks until 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 around the rim was blood-red rubies. This cup was filled with heather ale, which foamed up over the brim. 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.
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 felt dread, 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 need to spend long years in their company.
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 faces, 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. If this were so, he might work them ill, and rescue their captive from them.
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. As soon as he saw the charmed ring and the elfin 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. “Have you come, as your companion came, to pay Elfin King with years of your life? Oh! If you have wife or child, I beseech you, by all that you hold sacred, to turn back before it be too late.”
“Who are you, and from whence have you come?” Asked the earl, looking kindly down at the little creature in front of him.
“I came from the country that you came from,” wailed the goblin. “I was once a mortal man, like you. 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 until seven long years be spent. As for thy friend, Sir earl, he too has drunk of the accursed drink, and he now lies as dead at our lawful monarch’s feet. He will wake up, 'tis true, but it will be in the same clothes as I wear, and enslaved as I am.”
“Is there nothing that I can do to rescue him,” Earl St. Clair cried eagerly, “before he takes on him the elfin shape? I have no fear of the spell of his cruel captor, for I bear the sign of the one who is stronger than he. Speak speedily, little man, for time presses.”
“There is something that you might do, sir earl,” whispered the goblin, “but to try it would be a desperate attempt - for if you fail, then could not even the power of the blessed sign save you.”
“And what is that?” asked the earl impatiently.
“You must remain motionless,” answered the old man, “in the cold and frost until dawn break and the hour comest when they sing Matins in the holy church. Then must you walk slowly nine times around the edge of the enchanted circle, and after that you must walk boldly across it to the red marble table where sits the Elfin King. On it you will see an emerald goblet studded with rubies and filled with heather ale. You must take the goblet and carry it away; but whilst you are 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 dwells a fearsome monster, and if you so much as utter a word while you foot rests upon it, you will 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, until 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.
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.
Through the power of the blessed sign on his arm, Earl St. Clair went on unhurt. When he had finished pacing around the ring he stepped boldly on to the enchanted ground, and walked across it; and to what was his astonishment, found 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 among them without treading upon them.
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 around 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. 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.
Lo! Everyone 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 around him, as if he scarcely remembered where he was.
When, after Earl St. Clair had run to him and had held him in his arms until 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.