|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
The folk of Scotland still tell tales about the Faery Knight Tam Lin and his lady Janet. Many of these stories have some truth; all have some falsehoods. I swear to you that this version is as true as any...
"I'll ha' your horse saddled i' a moment, lassy." If it had been any other stablehand addressing her as 'lassy', Janet would have bristled at the affront. But Thomas had used that affectionate term since she was a lass of just a few years. As it was, he was so comfortable doing his job around her that he didn't even look up as he spoke. He kept his eyes straight ahead as he tightened and adjusted Janet's engraved saddle.
Within a minute's time, his expert hands had finished. Smiling, Thomas turned to offer Janet a boost. Gratefully she accepted his hand up, then swung over the mare's back. Taking the reins in her hand, she gently nudged her mount into a walk.
She was met at the castle gate not by her grandfather but by a servant in familiar green and blue livery.
"Begging your pardon, mistress?" the flaxen-haired page bowed. "Laird Erceldoune - your grandfather, m'lady? - he told me to tell you tha' he regrets missing your departure, but his huntin' could nae wait. That's all, m'lady," he finished. Janet nodded graciously to the boy and then rode out benath the massive castle gates. She was dissapointed her grandfather was not present to see her go, but she had spent plenty of time with him in the past two weeks. Now she was ready to return to her home at Roxburgh Castle.
With thoughts of home filling her mind, Janet let the pleasant rhythm of her mare's steps carry her into a pleasent daydream.
The overwhelming aroma of fragrant flowers wakened Janet. With a start, she realized she must have slept longer than she had expected. The only place with flowers such as these was Carter Hall, near her father's castle. Looking skyward, she found she had indeed slept most of the day away: the sun which as still climbing upwards when she left had now already almost begun to set over the forest to her right.
Looking around, she was amazed at the changes that had taken place in only a matter of weeks. The land that had been merely dormant green when she had first passed through was now a riot of colors. Innumerable beautiful flowers in all shades of all colors covered the hillside in a verdant carpet. Their smell matched their looks, a fulsome blend of sweet odors that was incredibly delightful.
As it was obvious no building had ever stood on the site, it was hard to imagine why it was called Carter Hall. Janet herself didn't know; her best guess was that the name came from one gigantic hill that towered above the others, and the one with the thickest mat of flowers. She supposed that from some angle that might look like a castle of some kind. A sudden breeze from the north redoubled the scent for a moment. Inhaling deeply, she lost herself momentarily in the pungent aroma. Then, decisively, she brought her mare to a stop and dismounted.
Janet walked around her restive mount and up the side of the large hill.
Each step brought her further into the scented heaven. For a moment she closed her eyes and just inhaled. Then she bent down to pick a few of the flowers, noticing as she did how long a shadow she cast in the fading light. She had not pulled more than one of the beautiful roses when she noticed another shadow lying across her own. Warily, she looked up.
The first thing she saw were his riding boots. Then she saw his leather pants, and then his long green shirt, Then she saw his face: the rather handsome face, framed by darkish hair. And with incredible, cool grey eyes that locked onto her own blue eyes. Abruptly Janet straightened, still staring into those grey eyes.
"Wha' do you think you're doin' here, little lass?" His musical voice was slightly mocking.
"I . . . ah . . ." Janet began intelligently, flushed as much by the strangers looks as by his sudden appearance.
"Who are you ta' pick my flowers? This is my domain, lady. Why hae you come here without my command?" Suddenly, Janet found her tongue.
"An' who are you to claim these lands? This place belongs to my father, Arlan of Roxburgh." Then she realized who he must be, and silently mouthed the name in horror even as he gave it voice.
"I am Tam Lin." Janet cursed herself for not realizing it at once. Now panic welled up in her; she had just now found out the hard way that the old legends about Tam Lin of Carter Hall were true. She wanted to escape, but his gaze held her fast. Instead, she spoke.
"These are nae your lands . . . my lord. I am Janet of Roxburgh, and as Arlan's daugther I hae more right ta' this land than you." She was proud of how steady her voice remained even as she talked to a man who, in her mind, had just stepped out of a myth. For his part, Tam Lin regarded her with surprise and - could it be amusement?
"I think you are mistaken, fair lady. Carter Hall has been my ain for a long, long time, and no one yet has been foolish enough to challenge that." His voice was full of iron resolve now, and Janet was not inclined to doubt what he said. At the same time, his eyes had a definite glint of humor. "I would let you go, but -- " He looked meaningfully at the rose in her hand. "but you have taken somethin' from my lands, an' you must pay the price."
Janet paled. "What do you mean?" She whispered timidly. Tam Lin reached out
and clasped her hand. His own hand was cold in the autumn night, but his touch ignited a fire inside her - a fire matched by the smouldering embers in Tam Lin's grey, grey eyes. "Come," he breathed, "I will show you."
The death of the suns last rays brought Janet back to herself. She tried to make sense of the hazy memories. Tam Lin taking her hand, and leading her into the forest...herself, with Tam Lin, doing what she had never done before...Tam Lin seeming to vanish with the sun. It seemed like a dream, and she would have thought it one, had not her eyes chanced to see a single, plucked wildrose blowing gently in the breeze. It was that moment that realization set in.
She, Janet of Roxburgh, had given herself to a man she did not know and would likely never see again. Not even a man - a Faery, and elf, a demon. The realization hit her like a solid weight, and she collapsed to the ground. Lying face down on the forest floor, she sobbed herself to sleep.
The sun's first brilliant rays provided a rude awakening, who lay supine hard forest floor. Still blinking, she managed to pull herself up into a sitting position and to brush some of the dirt and pine needles from her dress. Relievedly she saw her mare nearby, grazing contentedly on the flowers of the hillside. The brief time that had passed had dulled the emotions but not the memories of the previous night.
And as much as she dreaded it, Janet knew she had to return home. Summoning what strength she could, she stood up and stumbled over to her horse. Splashing water from a flask onto her face made her feel slightly more refreshed, although it probably didn't do much for her appearence, and her golden hair was tangled beyond repair. With a groan, Janet swung herself over her horse's back. Weakly she sent the animal walking towards her father's castle.
The sun was perhaps a quarter of the way through its daily path when Janet came within sight of the walls of Roxburgh Castle. The huge wooden gates were kept open during the day, especially on holidays such as today. In the distance Janet could see people moving in the market just inside the gate. Time seemed almost to slow down, as if some malevolent deity wanted to multiply the agony of anticipation for what lay ahead. She had no idea what she was going to say, but she knew it would not be a pleasent converation.
She took another heartsick look at the land around her. The trees had changed colors with the passing of the seasons, and the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges reminded her that it was autumn. Far off in the fields, she knew, the farmers would be bringing in their harvests. Absently she noted that she would have to visit the family chapel for All Soul's Day. But that thought just remided her of what lay ahead.
Briefly she even considered turning back the way she had come. But she knew better; where would she go? She could hide her child no more easily from her grandfather than her parents, and that was not at all. Besides, she had heard her father tell her brothers that they must face what they feared in life; should she not do the same? She had no choice but to return home.
The first person Janet saw was the guard atop the battlements of the Castle. He recognized her as soon as she recognized him. "Alas for you, lady Janet, when your da finds you. And alas for us, who'll be blamed a' well." The guard's leer suggested what was, unbeknownst to him, terribly true. But the temerity of it only incensed Janet.
"Hold your tongue, you ill-faced knight! May God grant you an ill death. If I'm to hae a bairn, I'll choose his father. And never would I choose a wretch like you!" The guard stiffened at her words, his face twisting into a scowl. Unable to say what he felt, he stared at Janet for a moment, then stalked off down the battlements. Janet herself felt no better for the outburst, and so rode into Roxburgh Castle with a heavy weight still on her shoulders.
The scene inside Roxburgh Castle was one of gaiety and light. To Janet it seemed distinctly odd - how could the rest of the world be so cheerful when her life was in turmoil? But the world continued anyways. More people than usual filled the marketplace inside the walls, dressed in festive holiday garb. The sound of their chatter was loud in Janet's ears as she moved slowly among them.
Chrisitianity had only glossed over the native beliefs here. The festival of All Soul's Day, or All Hallow's Day was still a day for remembrance of the saints, but its importance paled in comparison to Halloween the night before. Pumpkins carved into Jack o' the Lanterns sat atop windowsills and next to doors, ready to scare away evil spirits who would walk the earth tonight. People had on their best clothes and bustled about busily, buying food and other gifts to welcome back the ghosts of their ancestors for a night.
If the Castle had been empty, it would have taken little time to reach the Keep. Filled to bursting as it was, it was many minutes at a snail's pace before she broke out into the courtyard garden in front of the Keep. As she did so, the surrounding noise of the crowds dissappeared into a low background buzz in the relative quiet. A small group of ladies in fine silk dresses sat on a stone bench underneath a tall tree, talking and laughing quietly. They looked at Janet when they heard the sound of her horse's hoofbeats, then returned to their conversations.
Barely seeing the women, Janet dismounted and tied her horse to another tree. It could only be moments now before she would have to face her parents, and now there was no going back. She began walking towards the great oak doors of the Keep, but before she had reached them they opened outwards and her father stepped out. Her father's face was uncharacteristically flat and unemotional, and her mother looked on the verge of crying. They saw her in the same moment she saw them, and both they and Janet stopped where they were, frozen in place.
Janet remained rooted to the spot a moment longer than her parents, and they rushed over to her. Her father put his hand forward to comfort her, but she pulled back from it, sobbing. The worried look on their faces made her feel worse, and she seemed unable to stop weeping. She did, though, after a moment, carefully beginning to take long deep breaths. Making use of all the courgaem she could summon, in a whisper broken by soft sobs, she told them what had happened.
Her father's eyes went wide with shock and her mother looked ready to faint. Numbly she continued, finding it no easier as she went. Hardest of all was to tell them that she had concieved - her father did have to catch her mother to hold her up when she said this. Finally she came to the end, and her voice trailed off into silence. For long moments no one spoke and Janet's tears were about to return. Before they did, her mother began to talk.
"It can nae live, Janet. If its father was nae christened, you can nae bring it into the world. You know tha'." She spoke as gently as she could, but the words sounded cruel to Janet's ears, the moreso because she knew it was true. She could only bow her head in grieving aknowledgement. "There i' an herb tha' can help you," her mother continued, "but I hae none o' it here. The only place it grows is -- " She trailed off, then continued uncertainly, "it only grows a' Carter Hall." Now it was Janet's turn to look up in surprise.
Her father spoke now, saying, "I will send one o' my knights, Janet. You will nae hae to hie there, lass." Once again Janet began to find confidence when she least expected it.
"No, da, I hae to go. Its my fault. An' besides," she continued, faltering only a little, "your knights would nae know how to find the herb; its nae the work of men." Her father's look of surprised redoubled, but Janet felt just as surprised inside. But she had said it, and was commited now. She also knew that if she did not, she would not be able to look at her parents until the deed had been done. And because of that, she felt compelled to leave immeditately.
"You'll a' least stay here for a few days, it can nae matter -- " Her father said.
"No, I . . . I hae to go now. Please." Janet looked imploringly at her father. He held her anguished look only a moment.
"Aye, I see you must. I do nae ken why, but I will nae keep you here." He suddenly pulled her in for a tight bear hug, then took a step backwards. Her mother gave her another hug, then released her after whispering to her for a moment. Janet was torn between a desire to stay and the need to leave. Eventually she made her way over to her mare and untied her. Quickly mounting, she looked once more at her parents through tear-filled eys. Then she turned towards the gate and began to ride. She was soon outside, but the peace and solitude of the outdoors did nothing to ease the pressures from her mind and the burdens from her soul.
Janet dismounted, looking around fearfully. She was not exactly scared of Tam Lin, but she had no idea how she would react if she did encounter him. He was nowhere in sight for the time being, and if she hurried, Janet thought it unlikely she would encounter him.
She remembered the description her mother had given her: a small, green plant, like a shamrock, but with jagged edges. Not seeing such an herb, she bent down to get a closer look. The fragrant scent again filled her nostrils, causing her eyes to burn with unshed tears. Vainly she continued to search for what seemed like hours, crawling around on all fours amid the flowers. Finally, she found it - a small, sickly looking plant growing in a small area with no flowers nearby. Janet pulled one and placed it in a small sack. She started to take a second when a touch on her shoulder caused her to jump to her feet and whirl around.
She knew who it must be, and so it was. Before her stood Tam Lin, as beautiful as she remembered him. She was struck speechless, contradictory emotions warring within her. Slowly he put his hand forwards to caress her shoulder. She had been unable to move away from him before, but this action seemed to propel her ino action. She pulled away like a wounded animal, taking a large step backwards.
"Don't touch me, you . . . heathen!" His grey eyes widened, and he took another small step backwards.
"Janet, no, I -- " His voice faltered as he searched for the right words. "Well? Do you deny it? I know you, Tam Lin. You're a cursed demon elf. A knight in the service of the Faery Queen herself. Are you nae?" Her anger and frustration came out in her words, giving them the a good deal more conviction than she felt. They seemed to aid Tam Lin in finding the words he wanted.
"Aye, I do deny it. I'm nae Faery, Janet: I'm nae but a poor Christian man, like your father."
"But the stories they tell about you . . . do you not ride wi' the Faery Folk?"
"Tha' I do, my lady. But I do it nae o' my own free will. 'Twas when I was a young lad, hardly more than a bairn m'self. I was ridin' wi' my gran'father Donal. It was late in the afternoon, and we were ridin' home, when . . . I do nae remember clearly. I got seperated from Laird Donal, and then I found myself somewhere I had ne'er been before. It was like this place, but there was somethin' different abou' it. Now I ken what it was - I had entered the Faery Land. After tha' I met the Queen - more beautiful than any mortal woman. She . . . bound me to her. I can feel it, e'en here in your world. Tha' is why I ride in her Company an' dwell in the Faery Land. And now, me bonny blue-eyed lass, I must tell you - I am afraid."
Janet was still uncertain - did not the sidhe have tongues more glib than any mortal man? But she still felt something within her compelling her to believe him. And looking into his grey eyes, she could not find it in her heart to doubt him. Despite her own travails, her heart reached out to him. "What is it?" she asked.
"Tonight is Halloween. The seventh Halloween. 'Twill be tonight the Faery Queen will sacrifice her best and bonniest knight to Hell, a tithe for her power. And I am feared the price will be myself tongiht." Janet felt her tears almost returning, and she stared mutely into his eyes, not knowing what to say. "But i' you will, Janet, ye can perhaps win me free. There is a way --" Janet nodded fervently.
"I' the middle of the knight, the Faery Queen's Company will ride, and
I myself among them. First will come the Queen herself, riding her night-black steed. After her will come another elven knight, riding a brown horse. Third I will be, mounted on my white stallion. I do nae know the road we will take, but at midnight the sacrifice must be held at Miles Cross. Tha' will be your ane and only chance, m'lass. You must run to my steed an' pull me down."
"Carry me to safety, then. An' - I fear this next will be the hardest part. A' I told you, I am bound to her. When she finds me gone, she will ken the reason. In your arms she'll turn me into fearful shapes o' wild beasts. You must not let me go, no matter what - if you let me go, I shall nae ever go free. If you hold me tight, I swear I'll nae harm you. They may turn me into scalding iron - hold me still, and you'll nae be harmed. Last of all, they'll turn me into molten lead. Then you must carry me to the well, and cover me in there with your green cloak. Only then can I be your ain true love once more, an --"
He broke off in mid sentence. Janet stared at him worriedly, wondering what was wrong. His eyes looked different to her, their grey surface dull and unreflecting. As Janet watched with growing alarm, his whole body stiffened for a moment, and then, still in total silence, he turned and began to run. Before Janet could think to react, she heard the hoofbeats of his horse as he began to gallop off. She considered trying to follow, but then she realized he might have returned to the Faery Land, where she defintely didn't want to go.
And now she had another more urgent goal: she had to get to Miles Cross by midnight. She looked up to see the time, and found the sky covered in clouds she had not seen. It took her a moment, but she was able to discern the sun through the menacing thunderheads. It must be somewhere around midday, earlier than she had thought. Still, she would have to hurry. Letting the herb she had held clenched in her hand fall unheeded to the ground, she mounted her mare and began the ride to Miles Cross.
The crossroads called Miles Cross was well known to those who lived nearby. It was here the old, crumbling Roman road that ran from the beaches to England in the south met an even older dirt road running from east to west. Both roads were still well-traveled, including the Cross, despite superstitions that always linger around crossroads. On this night, the ancient stonework and the bare earth of the roads were barely visible beneath the cloudy dark night sky.
Janet pulled her cloak a little tighter to keep out the wind as she continued east to Miles Cross. It was only for fear of causing her mare to stumble that she continued at the same pace. The sun had long since vanished beyond the trees, and she did not trust her vision nor her mount's in the near total blackness along the trail. A single slip could lame her mare, and then there would be no way for her to arrive in time.
She did not know how long she had been riding. Without the sun above her she had no idea of how to keep track of time. She was exhausted and sore from hours of riding, but she somehow had no trouble remaining awake. The last words Tam Lin had spoken seemed to echo in her mind, and the vision of him as he ran away from her replayed itself endlessly. Those scenes seemed almost more real than the eerie darkness that surrounded her, seeming to stretch on forever.
And so she was almost lost within her own world when something changed. She felt, more than saw, the difference. The oppressive atmosphere of the trees looming over her was gone, replaced by the strangeness of a desolate night-capped plain. Janet realized she had left the forest, and so was near the Cross. It was also then that Janet heard the first distant rumblings of thunder, still far in the distance. The only light now came from the full moon and the stars, and even those were almost totally obscured by an entirely cloud-filled heaven. She slowed her mare further to allow Janet to watch the road for the Cross while keeping an eye out in case the clouds decided to rain.
In the end, she did not have long to wait. She sat up suddenly in her saddle as she heard a distant sound far off. Listening intently, she heard it more clearly - the sound of bridles and horses and the clink of armor, still far off to the south, but heading towards her. Quickly she led her horse from the trail and quietly dismounted. Now crouching behind a large rock, Janet tried to view the approaching Company.
It was not the elves she saw first, however, but the ghostly light surrounding them. A pale, greenish glow enveloped a large group of armored men - Faeries, she realized - heading toward where the two roads met. Vainly she looked for Tam Lin, but the odd light hid and the distance hid him from her. She crept forwards to within a few yards of the road, behind a tree stump. It didn't provide much cover, but likely to be enough on a night with so little light.
Janet kept as calm as she could as the Faery Folk came closer. As Tam Lin had told her, the first rider was seated on a steed as black as the night, obviously a spirited stallion. The rider herself could only be the Faery Queen, so beautiful that Janet felt jealous despite herself. The only thing to mar her beauty - to Janet's eyes - were her pointed ears, barely visible above her long blond hair. She moved with an air of command detectable even as she rode, a regal grace that marked her as royal.
Close behind her came another elf astride a brown stallion. He, too, had the powerful aura, a confidence that seemed almost arrogance in him. Like the Queen he was as beautiful as any mortal, even though his hair had thinned and turned white. The light obscured the features of his face, but Janet though she saw a momentary flash of bright red from his eyes. He wore heavy armor of some metal that sparkled like silver, but his head and hands were bare.
Then, several feet behind the second, came a knight mounted on a fiery white charger - Tam Lin. He looked much as he had, except now he was dressed in a strange leather jerkin that probably served as armor. As Janet watched him, she noticed that he did not turn his head nor look around, instead staring straight ahead. Janet longed to show herself to him, to let him know she was there, but to do so would reveal herself to the entire Company. Breathlessly, she waited for them to come to a stop. ...boom...
Still far in the distance, a bolt of lightning brought light to the area for a brief moment, revealing the Company as the came to a stop. Janet wondered if there really was some signifigance to the crossroads, for the Queen had stopped at the very center of Miles Cross, and for that brief moment she had looked as transfixed as Tam Lin. Calming herself, Janet readied herself to cross the space between her and Tam Lin. Taking a final deep breath, Janet leapt forwards and ran to the white horse. No shouts of discovery came, to Janet's surprise. Grateful but still fearing discovery, Janet reached out and took hold of Tam Lin's arm.
She gave a hard pull, but he stayed firmly seated in his saddle. She pulled again, desperately, and again, and he began to shift in his saddle. Once more she pulled, and he fell into her arms, his weight carrying them both to the ground. Janet was glad Tam Lin had not worn metal armor like the other knights, or she would never have been able to carry him. Oddly, Tam Lin did not try to help Janet, nor even say anything at all; he gave no indication he noticed that anything had happened. But a glimpse at his face showed that he was somehow preoccupied: his eyes seemed glazed over, but his mouth was pulled back into a horrible snarl.
"Tam Lin, Tam Lin," she whispered, almost as if to an infant. He made no response. She thought one eye darted towards her for a moment, but it was more likely a trick of the light. What little light there was, anyway; even from inside, the dimly-flickering Faery fire provided little illumination. The only light source of any worth were the occasional flashes of lightning that tore through the sky. On the other hand, as inconvenient as it was, the dim light may have been the only reason she had not yet been discovered. But Janet knew one of the knights would see him gone soon enough, so she began slowly dragging him away.
He still made no move to help her. His once-firm hand was now limp in hers. She pulled as hard as she could, and still found the progress horribly slow. Janet had not realized before how the land rose and fell into numerous hills here, but now she used it to her advantage. Keeping as much as possible to the back sides of the hills, she dragged him across one hill, than another. Now she came upon the summit of a hill, from where she could see the glow of the Faery fire. ...crack-boom...
Another bolt of lightning again brought momentary light. She was able to see the
green grass that covered the ground, and glimpsed an old stone well off to her side. More important was what she saw within the circle of the light: several of the elves had dismounted, and were walking around; the Faery Queen's black horse was circling the rest. No doubt they realized Tam Lin was gone; Janet feared it was only a matter of time until they found him. If they were to die, they may as well do so in each others arms; she clasped her arms to his as his weight carried them to the ground with him on top. And he tried to pull away. Irrationally angry, she pulled back. And he pulled away. ...Boom...
The lightning now clearly illuminated his face, poised as it was inches from her own. His lips were pulled further back, his teeth bared in a rictus. His eyes, once glazed over, now appeared full of fury. It occurred to Janet to wonder if perhaps the fury was not directed at her. Perhaps he was not fighting her, but something within himself. Even more determined now, she held him tight. His flailings grew still more violent, and his weight seemed to crush her into ground. She only held him tighter. Then, without warning, something began to feel different. Tam Lin's body seemed to be growing larger, and heavier; if his weight had crushed her before, it ground her into the ground now. The arms she grasped grew wider, and harder to grasp as they seemed to get covered with thick hair. ...Boom...
This time the flash left her with an image in her mind. The snarl that had been on Tam Lin's face was still apparent, but it was a bear that now growled so. His arms, that had been on her shoulders, had changed to claws that dug deep furrows in her flesh. Her first panicky reaction was to get away, but as she thought to do so, Tam Lin's words once more echoed in her ears. Bravely she held on.
Janet could hear the sounds of hoofbeats again now, but they were still far off.
Suddenly, he seemed to change again. The greater part of his weight seemed to shift to different locations, and even to lessen some. Something slapped roughly against her leg, something strong enough to leave a sting after it went. The hair - fur, really - seemed to have grown thinner; it's color was still indeterminate without more light. It almost seemed to Janet that she could hear . . . ...Boom...
It was only for a moment that the thunder could drown out the growling that seemed to be getting louder. Even that was eclipsed by the roar of the great lion, far more deafening than thunder, coming as it did from scant inches. A chance brush of a whisker against her face made her shudder, and her best efforts could not keep out the look of the lion, and the reminder of the lion's head that she had seen mounted in her father's hall. Nine men - soldiers, not commonfolk - had died before that beast had been taken down. And the hot breath on her face made it hard to believe that she could escape unharmed. Another, distant stroke of lightning showed the lion's head as it snapped shut directly in front of her. She flinched back, but nothing happened.
The lion's body seemed to be changing now. The fur she touched was falling off or, more likely, just vanishing. Under it Janet felt . . . not skin . . . scales, she realized. Scales of what must be a gigantic serpent. Janet would have thought a snake would feel slimy, but Tam Lin only felt smooth and cool, not slimy at all. She found she was not at all afraid of this form, at least not without having seen it. But as the snake's tongue touched her nose, and she heard it's hissing, she thought maybe she wouldn't have to see it to fear it. Tears in her eyes, she pulled him tighter.
Then his snake's body seemed to write and twist in her arms. And his body began to lose it's coolness. In fact, it seemed to be getting hotter by the moment. Already it had passed 'uncomfortable' and was heading towards 'unbearable'. Janet's own body was getting hotter merely by proximity, and the areas that contacted his skin were already beginning to blister. The pain in her torn shoulders increased as the heat spread along them. It was hear she would have let go of him, if he had not warned her specifically. Remembering what he had said, she kept him close.
Still the heat grew, until Janet thought it could get no worse, and yet it did. Again she considered breaking free, but that would mean an equally certain death. She held him with all the desperation of one who did not mind giving her life, since it was forfeit anyway. One moment she thought the sensation worse than being in a furnace; then, between one moment and the next, the heat was gone. ...Boom...
By the lightning, she could see his body, still shaped like a snake but looking as if it were made of some dull grey metal. She felt it begin to shrink into itself as it lost it's definite shape and became a molten metal. Once more she was reminded of his words, and knew she now had to place him in the well. Gathering her strength, she stood up, only to tumble forwards from the weight in her arms. Once more calling upon her strength, she slowly stood up again. She remembered the well to her right side, and began taking small, short steps towards it. ...Crack-Boom...
A closer strike of lightning showed her where the well was just before she ran into it. Leaning over the edge, she dropped the still-melting lead that was Tam Lin into the water. The liquid steamed and boiled as the metal entered it. Quickly she pulled off her cloak and layed it atop the water. The steam began to emerge from around the edges, seeming more frantic than before. Now it should only be a short time -- ...CRACK-BOOM!...
The lightning strike maybe a foot in front of Janet left her temporarily blind, deaf, and several yards away from her previous location. Opening her eyes and waiting for the afterimage to clear, she discerned the jagged edges of old well, it's ancient masonry now broken and in some places absent altogether. She wondered if it was getting lighter, for the well seemed clearer. Then a sudden panic seized her, and she forced herself roughly onto her knees. Taking shakily to her feet, she scrambled over to the still-smoking remains.
When she came to the well, it was clear Tam Lin could not have survived. It was only through God's grace she had lived; huge chunks of stone had been randomly strewn in all directions. Finding this left her, for the first time, entirely numb. She could not understand how everything she had done could be for nothing. Not even tears came this time; all emotion within her seemed gone. She turned away from the well, hardly noticing as she hit her foot on a rock. She did take notice when the rock gave a low moan.
Not daring to hope, she bent over. The obstruction was covered by a large cloak which she quickly pulled back. There definitely seemed to be more light now, enough that she could immediately see that it was Tam Lin. He saw her too, and smiled weakly up at her as he mouthed her name. She bent down next to him, emotions quickly returning. In a faint, halting voice, he spoke to her.
"Janet, my love, it's finished now. I can nae feel her taint upon me, a' last. But we're not safe yet. The Faery Folk can walk the world until -- " He was interrupted by a high-pitched shriek. On her feet immediately, Janet turned towards the sound.
The high-pitched voice from near the crossroads cried out, "Whoever has stolen Tam Lin has won the fairest knight in all my Company. Shame to her; may some ill fate be in store for her. And shame to you as well, Tam Lin, you faithless, disloyal knight."
"If I had known last night, Tam Lin, what you have done today, I would hae torn out your two grey eyes and put in wooden ones. If I had known your treachery today before, I would hae torn out your ain heart and put in one of stone. If yesterday I'd kenned half o' what I've learned today, I'd have paid my tithe to hell with you, false mortal that you are! But i' you are free now, you hae not seen the last o' me!" Her last piercing crying was swallowed up into the newborn light of the glorious dawn.
Tam Lin copyright 1996 by Jesse Kirchner.
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