4 April, 2017 by katelaity
‘Of course Isobel’s most famous story is about meeting royalty.’ Dunbar had a twinkle in his eye.
‘I’m guessing you do not mean our lady queen,’ Tansy said, quick off the marks as ever. She, when he, had always triumphed in the footraces back at university. Were it not for the peculiarities of anatomy she experienced, I would have thought her well-placed to join the Olympic team. Not that she cared a pin for trophies, alas.
‘You are quite correct! For she told of many times visiting the lands of elves and fairies with her familiar spirit and all her coven friends and the devil, too. The queen of the fairies was her special friend and showed her great deference.’
‘Queen Mab herself? Or is it Titania?’ I was beginning to find the adventures a bit outlandish, which I suppose was perfectly normal. After all, how long could one go on hearing such nonsense? Tansy seemed to have a greater tolerance for it. I rather missed watching a cricket game and suddenly longed to be home and comfortable rather than on this odd little jaunt. Yet there was the matter of the wager.
We must press on.
‘How ever did they travel thus?’ Tansy asked, her head cocked at that inquisitive angle I knew so well. She was rather fetching when one considered the matter at length, but it might be best to put those thoughts aside.
Dunbar raised a finger as if to lecture. ‘They used rhymes, sort of charms I suppose you would call them to transform themselves into whatever animal they chose. For example she said they would cry out three times,
I shall turn into a crow,
With sorrow and sigh – and a black throw!
And I’ll go in the Devil’s name,
Aye while I come again.’
‘And that’s all it took? How remarkable.’ Tansy seemed to be enchanted by the idea. I hoped that didn’t mean she would try such a thing. I can only imagine her turning into a crow and then not being able to change back again, and then what should we do?
‘Indeed. Well, that and the devil’s help, of course. They could turn into any number of animals with the same rhyme: cow, cat, hare. That’s the one that we always tried as wee bairns:
I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sigh, and meikle care
And I shall go in the Devil’s name
Aye while I come home again.’
‘Did your parents not worry about you playing at such “devilish” nonsense? Or perhaps your local cleric might frown,’ Tansy laughed.
‘They never took such games seriously. We all wanted to meet the fairy queen. Gowdie described her as living in the Downie Hills with her fairy man, dressed in white linens and brown clothes the colour of the earth. Her fairy husband like her but in linens and green clothes like the leaves. Both were more handsome than any living folk.’
‘As fairies always are,’ I muttered, thinking back to our strange meeting with fey folk in Cornwall. ‘Why must they be beautiful always?’
‘The better to tempt us, I suppose,’ Tansy said, giving me an arched eyebrow by way of inquiry. She knew just as well what I was thinking of. ‘Why did Isobel not remain among the fair folk?’
‘She said that their elvish bulls roistering up and down the fine fields frightened her. The feasts were lovely—with more food than she could possibly eat and all of flavours that made her long to return ever after—though the bulls made her so nervous as to fly away home on her straw. “Horse and hattock, horse and go. Horse and pellatis, ho! ho!” and then she would be home in a trice.’
‘I say, that would be rather convenient.’ Then I mused on the idea of the skies filled with flying horses. It would be worse than London Bridge at midday!