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  1. Of all the young gallants in Scotland in the thirteenth century, there
  2. was none more gracious and debonair than Thomas Learmont, Laird of the
  3. Castle of Ercildoune, in Berwickshire.
  4.  
  5. He loved books, poetry, and music, which were uncommon tastes in those
  6. days; and, above all, he loved to study nature, and to watch the habits
  7. of the beasts and birds that made their abode in the fields and woods
  8. round about his home.
  9.  
  10. Now it chanced that, one sunny May morning, Thomas left his Tower of
  11. Ercildoune, and went wandering into the woods that lay about the Huntly
  12. Burn, a little stream that came rushing down from the slopes of the
  13. Eildon Hills. It was a lovely morning--fresh, and bright, and warm, and
  14. everything was so beautiful that it looked as Paradise might look.
  15.  
  16. The tender leaves were bursting out of their sheaths, and covering all
  17. the trees with a fresh soft mantle of green; and amongst the carpet of
  18. moss under the young man's feet, yellow primroses and starry anemones
  19. were turning up their faces to the morning sky.
  20.  
  21. The little birds were singing like to burst their throats, and hundreds
  22. of insects were flying backwards and forwards in the sunshine; while
  23. down by the burnside the bright-eyed water-rats were poking their noses
  24. out of their holes, as if they knew that summer had come, and wanted to
  25. have a share in all that was going on.
  26.  
  27. Thomas felt so happy with the gladness of it all, that he threw himself
  28. down at the root of a tree, to watch the living things around him.
  29.  
  30. As he was lying there, he heard the trampling of a horse's hooves, as it
  31. forced its way through the bushes; and, looking up, he saw the most
  32. beautiful lady that he had ever seen coming riding towards him on a grey
  33. palfrey.
  34.  
  35. She wore a hunting dress of glistening silk, the colour of the fresh
  36. spring grass; and from her shoulders hung a velvet mantle, which matched
  37. the riding-skirt exactly. Her yellow hair, like rippling gold, hung
  38. loosely round her shoulders, and on her head sparkled a diadem of
  39. precious stones, which flashed like fire in the sunlight.
  40.  
  41. Her saddle was of pure ivory, and her saddle-cloth of blood-red satin,
  42. while her saddle girths were of corded silk and her stirrups of cut
  43. crystal. Her horse's reins were of beaten gold, all hung with little
  44. silver bells, so that, as she rode along, she made a sound like fairy
  45. music.
  46.  
  47. Apparently she was bent on the chase, for she carried a hunting-horn and
  48. a sheaf of arrows; and she led seven greyhounds along in a leash, while
  49. as many scenting hounds ran loose at her horse's side.
  50.  
  51. As she rode down the glen, she lilted a bit of an old Scotch song; and
  52. she carried herself with such a queenly air, and her dress was so
  53. magnificent, that Thomas was like to kneel by the side of the path and
  54. worship her, for he thought that it must be the Blessed Virgin herself.
  55.  
  56. But when the rider came to where he was, and understood his thoughts,
  57. she shook her head sadly.
  58.  
  59. "I am not that Blessed Lady, as thou thinkest," she said. "Men call me
  60. Queen, but it is of a far other country; for I am the Queen of
  61. Fairy-land, and not the Queen of Heaven."
  62.  
  63. And certainly it seemed as if what she said were true; for, from that
  64. moment, it was as if a spell were cast over Thomas, making him forget
  65. prudence, and caution, and common-sense itself.
  66.  
  67. For he knew that it was dangerous for mortals to meddle with Fairies,
  68. yet he was so entranced with the Lady's beauty that he begged her to
  69. give him a kiss. This was just what she wanted, for she knew that if she
  70. once kissed him she had him in her power.
  71.  
  72. And, to the young man's horror, as soon as their lips had met, an awful
  73. change came over her. For her beautiful mantle and riding-skirt of silk
  74. seemed to fade away, leaving her clad in a long grey garment, which was
  75. just the colour of ashes. Her beauty seemed to fade away also, and she
  76. grew old and wan; and, worst of all, half of her abundant yellow hair
  77. went grey before his very eyes. She saw the poor man's astonishment and
  78. terror, and she burst into a mocking laugh.
  79.  
  80. "I am not so fair to look on now as I was at first," she said, "but that
  81. matters little, for thou hast sold thyself, Thomas, to be my servant for
  82. seven long years. For whoso kisseth the Fairy Queen must e'en go with
  83. her to Fairy-land, and serve her there till that time is past."
  84.  
  85. When he heard these words poor Thomas fell on his knees and begged for
  86. mercy. But mercy he could not obtain. The Elfin Queen only laughed in
  87. his face, and brought her dapple-grey palfrey close up to where he was
  88. standing.
  89.  
  90. "No, no," she said, in answer to his entreaties. "Thou didst ask the
  91. kiss, and now thou must pay the price. So dally no longer, but mount
  92. behind me, for it is full time that I was gone."
  93.  
  94. So Thomas, with many a sigh and groan of terror, mounted behind her; and
  95. as soon as he had done so, she shook her bridle rein, and the grey steed
  96. galloped off.
  97.  
  98. On and on they went, going swifter than the wind; till they left the
  99. land of the living behind, and came to the edge of a great desert, which
  100. stretched before them, dry, and bare, and desolate, to the edge of the
  101. far horizon.
  102.  
  103. At least, so it seemed to the weary eyes of Thomas of Ercildoune, and
  104. he wondered if he and his strange companion had to cross this desert;
  105. and, if so, if there were any chance of reaching the other side of it
  106. alive.
  107.  
  108. But the Fairy Queen suddenly tightened her rein, and the grey palfrey
  109. stopped short in its wild career.
  110.  
  111. "Now must thou descend to earth, Thomas," said the Lady, glancing over
  112. her shoulder at her unhappy captive, "and lout down, and lay thy head on
  113. my knee, and I will show thee hidden things, which cannot be seen by
  114. mortal eyes."
  115.  
  116. So Thomas dismounted, and louted down, and rested his head on the Fairy
  117. Queen's knee; and lo, as he looked once more over the desert, everything
  118. seemed changed. For he saw three roads leading across it now, which he
  119. had not noticed before, and each of these three roads was different.
  120.  
  121. One of them was broad, and level, and even, and it ran straight on
  122. across the sand, so that no one who was travelling by it could possibly
  123. lose his way.
  124.  
  125. And the second road was as different from the first as it well could be.
  126. It was narrow, and winding, and long; and there was a thorn hedge on one
  127. side of it, and a briar hedge on the other; and those hedges grew so
  128. high, and their branches were so wild and tangled, that those who were
  129. travelling along that road would have some difficulty in persevering on
  130. their journey at all.
  131.  
  132. And the third road was unlike any of the others. It was a bonnie,
  133. bonnie road, winding up a hillside among brackens, and heather, and
  134. golden-yellow whins, and it looked as if it would be pleasant
  135. travelling, to pass that way.
  136.  
  137. "Now," said the Fairy Queen, "an' thou wilt, I shall tell thee where
  138. these three roads lead to. The first road, as thou seest, is broad, and
  139. even, and easy, and there be many that choose it to travel on. But
  140. though it be a good road, it leadeth to a bad end, and the folk that
  141. choose it repent their choice for ever.
  142.  
  143. "And as for the narrow road, all hampered and hindered by the thorns and
  144. the briars, there be few that be troubled to ask where that leadeth to.
  145. But did they ask, perchance more of them might be stirred up to set out
  146. along it. For that is the Road of Righteousness; and, although it be
  147. hard and irksome, yet it endeth in a glorious City, which is called the
  148. City of the Great King.
  149.  
  150. "And the third road--the bonnie road--that runs up the brae among the
  151. ferns, and leadeth no mortal kens whither, but I ken where it leadeth,
  152. Thomas--for it leadeth unto fair Elf-land; and that road take we.
  153.  
  154. "And, mark 'ee, Thomas, if ever thou hopest to see thine own Tower of
  155. Ercildoune again, take care of thy tongue when we reach our journey's
  156. end, and speak no single word to anyone save me--for the mortal who
  157. openeth his lips rashly in Fairy-land must bide there for ever."
  158.  
  159. Then she bade him mount her palfrey again, and they rode on. The ferny
  160. road was not so bonnie all the way as it had been at first, however. For
  161. they had not ridden along it very far before it led them into a narrow
  162. ravine, which seemed to go right down under the earth, where there was
  163. no ray of light to guide them, and where the air was dank and heavy.
  164. There was a sound of rushing water everywhere, and at last the grey
  165. palfrey plunged right into it; and it crept up, cold and chill, first
  166. over Thomas's feet, and then over his knees.
  167.  
  168. His courage had been slowly ebbing ever since he had been parted from
  169. the daylight, but now he gave himself up for lost; for it seemed to him
  170. certain that his strange companion and he would never come safe to their
  171. journey's end.
  172.  
  173. He fell forward in a kind of swoon; and, if it had not been that he had
  174. tight hold of the Fairy's ash-grey gown, I warrant he had fallen from
  175. his seat, and had been drowned.
  176.  
  177. But all things, be they good or bad, pass in time, and at last the
  178. darkness began to lighten, and the light grew stronger, until they were
  179. back in broad sunshine.
  180.  
  181. Then Thomas took courage, and looked up; and lo, they were riding
  182. through a beautiful orchard, where apples and pears, dates and figs and
  183. wine-berries grew in great abundance. And his tongue was so parched and
  184. dry, and he felt so faint, that he longed for some of the fruit to
  185. restore him.
  186.  
  187. He stretched out his hand to pluck some of it; but his companion turned
  188. in her saddle and forbade him.
  189.  
  190. "There is nothing safe for thee to eat here," she said, "save an apple,
  191. which I will give thee presently. If thou touch aught else thou art
  192. bound to remain in Fairy-land for ever."
  193.  
  194. So poor Thomas had to restrain himself as best he could; and they rode
  195. slowly on, until they came to a tiny tree all covered with red apples.
  196. The Fairy Queen bent down and plucked one, and handed it to her
  197. companion.
  198.  
  199. "This I can give thee," she said, "and I do it gladly, for these apples
  200. are the Apples of Truth; and whoso eateth them gaineth this reward, that
  201. his lips will never more be able to frame a lie."
  202.  
  203. Thomas took the apple, and ate it; and for evermore the Grace of Truth
  204. rested on his lips; and that is why, in after years, men called him
  205. "True Thomas."
  206.  
  207. They had only a little way to go after this, before they came in sight
  208. of a magnificent Castle standing on a hillside.
  209.  
  210. "Yonder is my abode," said the Queen, pointing to it proudly. "There
  211. dwelleth my Lord and all the Nobles of his court; and, as my Lord hath
  212. an uncertain temper and shows no liking for any strange gallant whom he
  213. sees in my company, I pray thee, both for thy sake and mine, to utter no
  214. word to anyone who speaketh to thee; and, if anyone should ask me who
  215. and what thou art, I will tell them that thou art dumb. So wilt thou
  216. pass unnoticed in the crowd."
  217.  
  218. With these words the Lady raised her hunting-horn, and blew a loud and
  219. piercing blast; and, as she did so, a marvellous change came over her
  220. again; for her ugly ash-covered gown dropped off her, and the grey in
  221. her hair vanished, and she appeared once more in her green riding-skirt
  222. and mantle, and her face grew young and fair.
  223.  
  224. And a wonderful change passed over Thomas also; for, as he chanced to
  225. glance downwards, he found that his rough country clothes had been
  226. transformed into a suit of fine brown cloth, and that on his feet he
  227. wore satin shoon.
  228.  
  229. Immediately the sound of the horn rang out, the doors of the Castle flew
  230. open, and the King hurried out to meet the Queen, accompanied by such a
  231. number of Knights and Ladies, Minstrels and Page-boys, that Thomas, who
  232. had slid from his palfrey, had no difficulty in obeying her wishes and
  233. passing into the Castle unobserved.
  234.  
  235. Everyone seemed very glad to see the Queen back again, and they crowded
  236. into the Great Hall in her train, and she spoke to them all graciously,
  237. and allowed them to kiss her hand. Then she passed, with her husband, to
  238. a dais at the far end of the huge apartment, where two thrones stood, on
  239. which the Royal pair seated themselves to watch the revels which now
  240. began.
  241.  
  242. Poor Thomas, meanwhile, stood far away at the other end of the Hall,
  243. feeling very lonely, yet fascinated by the extraordinary scene on which
  244. he was gazing.
  245.  
  246. For, although all the fine Ladies, and Courtiers, and Knights were
  247. dancing in one part of the Hall, there were huntsmen coming and going in
  248. another part, carrying in great antlered deer, which apparently they had
  249. killed in the chase, and throwing them down in heaps on the floor. And
  250. there were rows of cooks standing beside the dead animals, cutting them
  251. up into joints, and bearing away the joints to be cooked.
  252.  
  253. Altogether it was such a strange, fantastic scene that Thomas took no
  254. heed of how the time flew, but stood and gazed, and gazed, never
  255. speaking a word to anybody. This went on for three long days, then the
  256. Queen rose from her throne, and, stepping from the dais, crossed the
  257. Hall to where he was standing.
  258.  
  259. "'Tis time to mount and ride, Thomas," she said, "if thou wouldst ever
  260. see the fair Castle of Ercildoune again."
  261.  
  262. Thomas looked at her in amazement. "Thou spokest of seven long years,
  263. Lady," he exclaimed, "and I have been here but three days."
  264.  
  265. The Queen smiled. "Time passeth quickly in Fairy-land, my friend," she
  266. replied. "Thou thinkest that thou hast been here but three days. 'Tis
  267. seven years since we two met. And now it is time for thee to go. I would
  268. fain have had thy presence with me longer, but I dare not, for thine
  269. own sake. For every seventh year an Evil Spirit cometh from the Regions
  270. of Darkness, and carrieth back with him one of our followers, whomsoever
  271. he chanceth to choose. And, as thou art a goodly fellow, I fear that he
  272. might choose thee.
  273.  
  274. "So, as I would be loth to let harm befall thee, I will take thee back
  275. to thine own country this very night."
  276.  
  277. Once more the grey palfrey was brought, and Thomas and the Queen mounted
  278. it; and, as they had come, so they returned to the Eildon Tree near the
  279. Huntly Burn.
  280.  
  281. Then the Queen bade Thomas farewell; and, as a parting gift, he asked
  282. her to give him something that would let people know that he had really
  283. been to Fairy-land.
  284.  
  285. "I have already given thee the Gift of Truth," she replied. "I will now
  286. give thee the Gifts of Prophecy and Poesie; so that thou wilt be able to
  287. foretell the future, and also to write wondrous verses. And, besides
  288. these unseen gifts, here is something that mortals can see with their
  289. own eyes--a Harp that was fashioned in Fairy-land. Fare thee well, my
  290. friend. Some day, perchance, I will return for thee again."
  291.  
  292. With these words the Lady vanished, and Thomas was left alone, feeling a
  293. little sorry, if the truth must be told, at parting with such a radiant
  294. Being and coming back to the ordinary haunts of men.
  295.  
  296. After this he lived for many a long year in his Castle of Ercildoune,
  297. and the fame of his poetry and of his prophecies spread all over the
  298. country, so that people named him True Thomas, and Thomas the Rhymer.
  299.  
  300. I cannot write down for you all the prophecies which Thomas uttered, and
  301. which most surely came to pass, but I will tell you one or two.
  302.  
  303. He foretold the Battle of Bannockburn in these words:
  304.  
  305.     "The Burn of Breid
  306.     Shall rin fou reid,"
  307.  
  308. which came to pass on that terrible day when the waters of the little
  309. Bannockburn were reddened by the blood of the defeated English.
  310.  
  311. He also foretold the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, under
  312. a Prince who was the son of a French Queen, and who yet bore the blood
  313. of Bruce in his veins.
  314.  
  315.     "A French Quen shall bearre the Sonne;
  316.     Shall rule all Britainne to the sea,
  317.     As neere as is the ninth degree,"
  318.  
  319. which thing came true in 1603, when King James, son of Mary, Queen of
  320. Scots, became Monarch of both countries.
  321.  
  322.        *       *       *       *       *
  323.  
  324. Fourteen long years went by, and people were beginning to forget that
  325. Thomas the Rhymer had ever been in Fairy-land; but at last a day came
  326. when Scotland was at war with England, and the Scottish army was
  327. resting by the banks of the Tweed, not far from the Tower of
  328. Ercildoune.
  329.  
  330. [Illustration]
  331.  
  332. And the Master of the Tower determined to make a feast, and invite all
  333. the Nobles and Barons who were leading the army to sup with him.
  334.  
  335. That feast was long remembered.
  336.  
  337. For the Laird of Ercildoune took care that everything was as magnificent
  338. as it could possibly be; and when the meal was ended he rose in his
  339. place, and, taking his Elfin Harp, he sang to his assembled guests song
  340. after song of the days of long ago.
  341.  
  342. The guests listened breathlessly, for they felt that they would never
  343. hear such wonderful music again. And so it fell out.
  344.  
  345. For that very night, after all the Nobles had gone back to their tents,
  346. a soldier on guard saw, in the moonlight, a snow-white Hart and Hind
  347. moving slowly down the road that ran past the camp.
  348.  
  349. There was something so unusual about the animals that he called to his
  350. officer to come and look at them. And the officer called to his brother
  351. officers, and soon there was quite a crowd softly following the dumb
  352. creatures, who paced solemnly on, as if they were keeping time to music
  353. unheard by mortal ears.
  354.  
  355. "There is something uncanny about this," said one soldier at last. "Let
  356. us send for Thomas of Ercildoune, perchance he may be able to tell us if
  357. it be an omen or no."
  358.  
  359. "Ay, send for Thomas of Ercildoune," cried every one at once. So a
  360. little page was sent in haste to the old Tower to rouse the Rhymer from
  361. his slumbers.
  362.  
  363. When he heard the boy's message, the Seer's face grew grave and wrapt.
  364.  
  365. "'Tis a summons," he said softly, "a summons from the Queen of
  366. Fairy-land. I have waited long for it, and it hath come at last."
  367.  
  368. And when he went out, instead of joining the little company of waiting
  369. men, he walked straight up to the snow-white Hart and Hind. As soon as
  370. he reached them they paused for a moment as if to greet him. Then all
  371. three moved slowly down a steep bank that sloped to the little river
  372. Leader, and disappeared in its foaming waters, for the stream was in
  373. full flood.
  374.  
  375. And, although a careful search was made, no trace of Thomas of
  376. Ercildoune was found; and to this day the country folk believe that the
  377. Hart and the Hind were messengers from the Elfin Queen, and that he went
  378. back to Fairy-land with them.
  379.  
  380. [Illustration]
  381.  
  382. [Illustration: And she set sail for her own Country.]
  383.  
  384.  
  385.  
  386.  
  387. GOLD-TREE AND SILVER-TREE
  388.  
  389.  
  390. In bygone days there lived a little Princess named Gold-Tree, and she
  391. was one of the prettiest children in the whole world.
  392.  
  393. Although her mother was dead, she had a very happy life, for her father
  394. loved her dearly, and thought that nothing was too much trouble so long
  395. as it gave his little daughter pleasure. But by and by he married again,
  396. and then the little Princess's sorrows began.
  397.  
  398. For his new wife, whose name, curious to say, was Silver-Tree, was very
  399. beautiful, but she was also very jealous, and she made herself quite
  400. miserable for fear that, some day, she should meet someone who was
  401. better looking than she was herself.
  402.  
  403. When she found that her step-daughter was so very pretty, she took a
  404. dislike to her at once, and was always looking at her and wondering if
  405. people would think her prettier than she was. And because, in her heart
  406. of hearts, she was afraid that they would do so, she was very unkind
  407. indeed to the poor girl.
  408.  
  409. At last, one day, when Princess Gold-Tree was quite grown up, the two
  410. ladies went for a walk to a little well which lay, all surrounded by
  411. trees, in the middle of a deep glen.
  412.  
  413. Now the water in this well was so clear that everyone who looked into it
  414. saw his face reflected on the surface; and the proud Queen loved to come
  415. and peep into its depths, so that she could see her own picture mirrored
  416. in the water.
  417.  
  418. But to-day, as she was looking in, what should she see but a little
  419. trout, which was swimming quietly backwards and forwards not very far
  420. from the surface.
  421.  
  422. "Troutie, troutie, answer me this one question," said the Queen. "Am not
  423. I the most beautiful woman in the world?"
  424.  
  425. "No, indeed, you are not," replied the trout promptly, jumping out of
  426. the water, as he spoke, in order to swallow a fly.
  427.  
  428. "Who is the most beautiful woman, then?" asked the disappointed Queen,
  429. for she had expected a far different answer.
  430.  
  431. "Thy step-daughter, the Princess Gold-Tree, without a doubt," said the
  432. little fish; then, frightened by the black look that came upon the
  433. jealous Queen's face, he dived to the bottom of the well.
  434.  
  435. It was no wonder that he did so, for the Queen's expression was not
  436. pleasant to look at, as she darted an angry glance at her fair young
  437. step-daughter, who was busy picking flowers some little distance away.
  438.  
  439. Indeed, she was so annoyed at the thought that anyone should say that
  440. the girl was prettier than she was, that she quite lost her
  441. self-control; and when she reached home she went up, in a violent
  442. passion, to her room, and threw herself on the bed, declaring that she
  443. felt very ill indeed.
  444.  
  445. It was in vain that Princess Gold-Tree asked her what the matter was,
  446. and if she could do anything for her. She would not let the poor girl
  447. touch her, but pushed her away as if she had been some evil thing. So at
  448. last the Princess had to leave her alone, and go out of the apartment,
  449. feeling very sad indeed.
  450.  
  451. By and by the King came home from his hunting, and he at once asked for
  452. the Queen. He was told that she had been seized with sudden illness, and
  453. that she was lying on her bed in her own room, and that no one, not even
  454. the Court Physician, who had been hastily summoned, could make out what
  455. was wrong with her.
  456.  
  457. In great anxiety--for he really loved her--the King went up to her
  458. bedside, and asked the Queen how she felt, and if there was anything
  459. that he could do to relieve her.
  460.  
  461. "Yes, there is one thing that thou couldst do," she answered harshly,
  462. "but I know full well that, even although it is the only thing that will
  463. cure me, thou wilt not do it."
  464.  
  465. "Nay," said the King, "I deserve better words at thy mouth than these;
  466. for thou knowest that I would give thee aught thou carest to ask, even
  467. if it be the half of my Kingdom."
  468.  
  469. "Then give me thy daughter's heart to eat," cried the Queen, "for unless
  470. I can obtain that, I will die, and that speedily."
  471.  
  472. She spoke so wildly, and looked at him in such a strange fashion, that
  473. the poor King really thought that her brain was turned, and he was at
  474. his wits' end what to do. He left the room, and paced up and down the
  475. corridor in great distress, until at last he remembered that that very
  476. morning the son of a great King had arrived from a country far over the
  477. sea, asking for his daughter's hand in marriage.
  478.  
  479. "Here is a way out of the difficulty," he said to himself. "This
  480. marriage pleaseth me well, and I will have it celebrated at once. Then,
  481. when my daughter is safe out of the country, I will send a lad up the
  482. hillside, and he shall kill a he-goat, and I will have its heart
  483. prepared and dressed, and send it up to my wife. Perhaps the sight of it
  484. will cure her of this madness."
  485.  
  486. So he had the strange Prince summoned before him, and told him how the
  487. Queen had taken a sudden illness that had wrought on her brain, and had
  488. caused her to take a dislike to the Princess, and how it seemed as if it
  489. would be a good thing if, with the maiden's consent, the marriage could
  490. take place at once, so that the Queen might be left alone to recover
  491. from her strange malady.
  492.  
  493. Now the Prince was delighted to gain his bride so easily, and the
  494. Princess was glad to escape from her step-mother's hatred, so the
  495. marriage took place at once, and the newly wedded pair set off across
  496. the sea for the Prince's country.
  497.  
  498. Then the King sent a lad up the hillside to kill a he-goat; and when it
  499. was killed he gave orders that its heart should be dressed and cooked,
  500. and sent to the Queen's apartment on a silver dish. And the wicked woman
  501. tasted it, believing it to be the heart of her step-daughter; and when
  502. she had done so, she rose from her bed and went about the Castle looking
  503. as well and hearty as ever.
  504.  
  505. I am glad to be able to tell you that the marriage of Princess
  506. Gold-Tree, which had come about in such a hurry, turned out to be a
  507. great success; for the Prince whom she had wedded was rich, and great,
  508. and powerful, and he loved her dearly, and she was as happy as the day
  509. was long.
  510.  
  511. So things went peacefully on for a year. Queen Silver-Tree was satisfied
  512. and contented, because she thought that her step-daughter was dead;
  513. while all the time the Princess was happy and prosperous in her new
  514. home.
  515.  
  516. But at the end of the year it chanced that the Queen went once more to
  517. the well in the little glen, in order to see her face reflected in the
  518. water.
  519.  
  520. And it chanced also that the same little trout was swimming backwards
  521. and forwards, just as he had done the year before. And the foolish Queen
  522. determined to have a better answer to her question this time than she
  523. had last.
  524.  
  525. "Troutie, troutie," she whispered, leaning over the edge of the well,
  526. "am not I the most beautiful woman in the world?"
  527.  
  528. "By my troth, thou art not," answered the trout, in his very
  529. straightforward way.
  530.  
  531. "Who is the most beautiful woman, then?" asked the Queen, her face
  532. growing pale at the thought that she had yet another rival.
  533.  
  534. "Why, your Majesty's step-daughter, the Princess Gold-Tree, to be sure,"
  535. answered the trout.
  536.  
  537. The Queen threw back her head with a sigh of relief. "Well, at any rate,
  538. people cannot admire her now," she said, "for it is a year since she
  539. died. I ate her heart for my supper."
  540.  
  541. "Art thou sure of that, your Majesty?" asked the trout, with a twinkle
  542. in his eye. "Methinks it is but a year since she married the gallant
  543. young Prince who came from abroad to seek her hand, and returned with
  544. him to his own country."
  545.  
  546. When the Queen heard these words she turned quite cold with rage, for
  547. she knew that her husband had deceived her; and she rose from her knees
  548. and went straight home to the Palace, and, hiding her anger as best she
  549. could, she asked him if he would give orders to have the Long Ship made
  550. ready, as she wished to go and visit her dear step-daughter, for it was
  551. such a very long time since she had seen her.
  552.  
  553. The King was somewhat surprised at her request, but he was only too glad
  554. to think that she had got over her hatred towards his daughter, and he
  555. gave orders that the Long Ship should be made ready at once.
  556.  
  557. Soon it was speeding over the water, its prow turned in the direction of
  558. the land where the Princess lived, steered by the Queen herself; for she
  559. knew the course that the boat ought to take, and she was in such haste
  560. to be at her journey's end that she would allow no one else to take the
  561. helm.
  562.  
  563. Now it chanced that Princess Gold-Tree was alone that day, for her
  564. husband had gone a-hunting. And as she looked out of one of the Castle
  565. windows she saw a boat coming sailing over the sea towards the landing
  566. place. She recognised it as her father's Long Ship, and she guessed only
  567. too well whom it carried on board.
  568.  
  569. She was almost beside herself with terror at the thought, for she knew
  570. that it was for no good purpose that Queen Silver-Tree had taken the
  571. trouble to set out to visit her, and she felt that she would have given
  572. almost anything she possessed if her husband had but been at home. In
  573. her distress she hurried into the servants' hall.
  574.  
  575. "Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" she cried, "for I see my
  576. father's Long Ship coming over the sea, and I know that my step-mother
  577. is on board. And if she hath a chance she will kill me, for she hateth
  578. me more than anything else upon earth."
  579.  
  580. Now the servants worshipped the ground that their young Mistress trod
  581. on, for she was always kind and considerate to them, and when they saw
  582. how frightened she was, and heard her piteous words, they crowded round
  583. her, as if to shield her from any harm that threatened her.
  584.  
  585. "Do not be afraid, your Highness," they cried; "we will defend thee with
  586. our very lives if need be. But in case thy Lady Step-Mother should have
  587. the power to throw any evil spell over thee, we will lock thee in the
  588. great Mullioned Chamber, then she cannot get nigh thee at all."
  589.  
  590. Now the Mullioned Chamber was a strong-room, which was in a part of the
  591. castle all by itself, and its door was so thick that no one could
  592. possibly break through it; and the Princess knew that if she were once
  593. inside the room, with its stout oaken door between her and her
  594. step-mother, she would be perfectly safe from any mischief that that
  595. wicked woman could devise.
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