storytelling Miss Annie

fairytales Janet and Tam Lin

endings LaLlorona

technique The Lute Player

beauty Pretty Maid Ibronka

truth The Condiment Basketball Game

meaning Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or Morgiana the Clever

meaning Chien Nang

Janet and Tam Lin

As told by Mary Grace Ketner
San Antonio, Texas

 

At Carterhaugh on the borders, where many a strange thing is said to happen and there's many a door to elfland, there is a well, and on the well is writ these words:

Oh I forbid ye, maidens a'
What wear gold in your hair
To come or go by Carterhaugh
For young Tam Lin is there.

Now Tam Lin was a lad that had an uncanny fame. It was said that if any maid come to the well without asking leave of him, she must pay him a price. It might be her gold brooch; it might be her green silk cape; or it might be her maidenhood.

Now, Janet was a spirited lass, one who might be more drawn to the well by the words on it than frightened away. Her father was a laird, and she loved to go running in the woods of all his land. On this particular day, she had on her yellow silk dress which became her so, and her green silk cape, fastened about with a gold brooch. She had her skirts tucked up, the better for running through the high grass, and she was making her way across her father's land, when she came upon the well. There was a horse nearby, and it was Tam Lin's horse, but this Janet did not know.

Oh I forbid ye, maidens a'
What wear gold in your hair
To come or go by Carterhaugh
For young Tam Lin is there.

She plucked a rose, and when she did, Tam Lin appeared.

"Well, now," says he. "What would you be doing at my well without asking leave of me?" he asks.

"Oh?" says she. "This is my father's land, and I'll come here if I like, and I'll pluck a rose if I like."

"Well, then," says he, "You must pay my price."

And he took her hand, and she smiled and went with him, and at the end of that golden day she still had her gold brooch, she still had her green silk cloak, and yet she had paid the price.

The next day, Janet came again to the well, and she plucked a double rose, and Tam Lin appeared, and she said to him: "Art thou a Christian lad? Has thee been baptized in the church?"

"Aye," said he. "I am a Christian lad, a mortal man.

"One winter I was staying with my uncle, the Earl of Roxenburg, and we were out on a hunt. It was a cold day, and a snell wind was blowing, and by some enchantment I was thrown from my horse. And the faerie queen, she took me all away to Elfland.

"I'll tell thee, Janet, Elfland is a beautiful place, but I'm not happy there, for I'm not free. And every seven years the faerie queen must pay a tribute to the devil, and this year I fear it is to be myself, but you can help me if you will."

"Oh, my love," said Janet. "That is what I will do."

"Tonight, at the mirk hour of midnight, you must come to this place. You'll hear the jingling of the bridles of the faerie host as they come riding through. The first to come, 'twill be on a black horse, let it pass. The next to come, 'twill be on a brown horse, let it pass. The next to come will be on a white horse and it will be myself and you must take me."

"And here is how you will know 'tis me: my left hand will be gloved, and my right hand will be bare; my hair will be pulled back beneath my bonnet, and you must approach as I ride out and pull me from my horse."

"Oh, my love," said Janet. "That is what I will do."

"But the faerie queen has placed a curse upon me, Janet. When you grab hold of me, I'll turn first into a lizard, then into a snake, then into a lion, then a bear, and then into a bar of iron that will burn you, then last into molten lead, but still you must hold me."

"Oh, my love," said Janet. "That is what I will do."

"And the lead you must throw into the well, and from it shall rise a mortal man, naked as the day he was born, and 'twill be myself. You must throw your cloak 'round me, and carry me off to your father's house."

"Oh, my love," said Janet. "That is what I will do."

That night, Janet made her way to the well, and at the mirk hour of midnight, she heard the jingling of the faerie bridles as the came riding through. The first to come, it was on a black horse; she let it pass. The next to come, 'twas on a brown horse; she let it pass. The third to come was on a white horse. She ran up and reached for the rider. The left hand was gloved and the right hand was bare, his hair was pulled back beneath his bonnet, and she pulled him from his horse.

As he fell to the ground, he became a lizard, and she held and held, even as he squirmed; then he became a snake, no little legs even to grasp, and he struck at her, yet still she held tight. Then he turned into a lion, who slashed her with his claws, then a bear who fell upon her with his great weight, and still she held on. Then he turned into a bar of iron, which burnt her hands, yet still she held, and last into a blob of molten lead which could not be held, yet she did. And she threw it into the well, and from the well arose a mortal man, naked as the day he was born, and it was her own Tam Lin, and she wrapped him in her cloak and put him upon her own horse and began to ride.

But a voice arose from the broombush: "Curses on you, Janet! You have taken my best knight! And as for you, Tam Lin, if I had known what I know now, I would have plucked out both your eyes and given you eyes of wood!"

But the power of the faerie queen was wanting against the power of their love. They rode off to Janet's father's castle, and there they were wed and lived happily, and the bairn that was born to them was the bonniest in the land.

 

There used to be a Tam Lin Webring which is largely inactive now, but there are a number of websites dedicated to this ancient ballad and many of them have links to each other. --Mary Grace

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