Thomas the Rhymer / True Thomas

Thomas was a real man who lived in Scotland in the 13th century. Known as Thomas Learmont or Thomas de Ercildoun, he is mentioned in charters from 1294 and 1260 – 1280, His father being Thome (Thomas) Rymour de Ercildoun. (Ercildoun being the name at the time for the present day village of Earlston in Galashiels, approximately 30 miles south east of Edinburgh) It has been speculated that he was known as Thomas the Rhymer due to his prophetic verses however it seems far more plausible that it is a corruption of his fathers’ name.

Thomas was widely respected as a prophet and seer, successfully predicting The death of king Alexander III , the succession of Robert the Bruce to the Throne, The defeat at Flodden in 1513 and the union of the crowns in 1603.His work was so respected it was consulted before the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745. He was seen as a messenger between worlds, and his skills were said to be comparative to the great magician Merlin. However it was not a skill he was born with, he is said to have obtained his powers from no less than the Queen of Fairies herself…………

Thomas was walking in the Eildon hills, when, growing weary he stopped to rest by Huntley water under the Eildon tree. As he dozed he was approached by a beautiful lady dressed in rich green silk and velvet, riding a milk white mare adorned with silver bells. Thomas rose and doffed his cap, greeting her as the “queen of heaven”.

The lady laughed and, addressing him by name, told him she was not the Queen of heaven, but the Queen of Fairyland, and she had come to see him. She then dared him to kiss her on the lips, which he did, and promptly fell under her spell.  

She told him he must serve her for seven years come better or worse, took him upon her horse and together they rode off. They passed from the countryside that Thomas was familiar with to a vast desert. Here they stopped and the queen told Thomas that she had three wonders to show him.

She gestured to three roads before them. The first road to the right was narrow and so overgrown with thorns as to appear impassable. The Queen pointed to this road and told Thomas “this is the road to righteousness. Few choose to take it.”

She then pointed to the second road, on the left. This road was wide straight and flat and said “this is the road to hell and wickedness. Many mistake it for the road to heaven. Finally the Queen pointed to the middle road. This road was winding and lush with scented blossom and lilies. She told him “ and this is the road to Fairyland, where you and I must go. Thomas and the Queen continued on their journey into fairyland for forty days and forty nights and as they travelled the days grew shorter and the nights longer until they travelled in a permanent twilight, crossing rough terrain and rivers. In the gloom Thomas was able to make out that the rivers they crossed were red with blood.

               “for a’ the blude that’s shed on earth
                 Rins through the springs o’ that countrie”
                                                  Walter Scott 
                                                             Thomas the Rhymer part first 1802-3

The Queen and Thomas eventually arrived at a beautiful garden filled with fruit trees with laden boughs. The queen offered Thomas an apple and told him that it was payment for his service and would give him a tongue that could never lie. When Thomas had eaten the apple the queen warned him that when he got to Fairyland he must never utter a word to any but her. To do so would mean he would never again be able to return home to the mortal world.

They continued on to the Queens castle and when he arrived Thomas was given fine green garments to wear and duly began his service to the queen of fairyland. During this time Thomas spoke to no one but his Queen and after what seemed like only a few days she came to him and told him the time had come to return home. The Queen told him that though his time in fairyland seemed short he would indeed find that seven years had passed in the mortal realm, those he had known would be seven years older, and he would be seven years missed. She also told Thomas that she would see him again and when the time came he would know.

Thomas awoke under the Eildon tree where he had first met the Lady. He returned home to the amazement of his family, and resumed life in the mortal realm. During this time he gained the name true Thomas, astounding all with his prophesies and insights, predicting upcoming events in Scotland’s turbulent history for centuries to come with disturbing accuracy.

One day years later, Thomas was at home in his tower with his wife and children when a boy came dashing up from the village to speak to Thomas. The boy told him that a white Hart and Hind had come out of the forest to the edge of the village without a trace of fear of the townsfolk.  The villagers wanted Thomas to tell them if this was an omen and what it meant. Thomas told them only “My sand is run, my thread is spun, these messengers are for me”.Thomas put on his hat and coat and asked to be taken to the edge of the village where the deer were, so he could see for himself. Once in sight of the creatures Thomas simply smiled and bade a loving farewell to those he knew, refusing to explain. Flanked on either side by the two white deer he turned to the forest, disappeared into it and was never seen again.

It is said however that Thomas will return to help Scotland in her greatest hour of need.

Note :  In some versions of this story the queen and Thomas actually slept together and as a punishment she immediately becomes a hag. As they near the castle where her husband lives she returns to normal, this is also why Thomas is bound not to speak in fairyland, he can tell only the truth and would be unable to lie if asked about his relationship with the queen, resulting in his death at the hands of the kings knights, and this is what the queen meant when she said if he spoke he would never be able to return home. Some versions also hold that the reason Thomas was sent back home only to be taken back to fairyland again was that Fairyland had a debt to pay to Hell and as it became due, the Queen knew that Thomas would be taken in payment.