"The world is grown strange…How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" (TT, Bk. III, Ch. II, "The Riders of Rohan")
Long has the tale been told of young Tam Lin, and of his home at Carterhaugh; but the story is far stranger than you could possibly imagine, even more so that fair Tam Lin himself. - based on one of the most famous English (or scottish) border ballads (the ballad of Tam Lin) - if you'd like to hear it, I'd recommend the Fairport Convention version. )
It is said that no young maiden may pass through Tam Lin's realm without leaving him a pledge, but this was not known to Janet, daughter of the Laird who's lands once included Carterhaugh, when she set out upon a ride one autumn evening. The green of her embroidered skirt were reminiscent of the trees of summer, two months gone.
Her horse was swift and it was a little while before she realised she'd strayed from her intended path, as fair wooded hills rose up to meet her. Undaunted, Janet cantered her horse up the gentle slope and gasped in delight. Below her was a garden; all manner of flowers bloomed, glorious. She did not even consider; as I'm sure you, my dear reader are just thinking, that flowers do not bloom in autumn, close as it is to the deadly cold and frosts of winter.
Dismounting, she ran into the garden, breathing deeply as the delicate scents hit her. There grew so many flowers, the like of which she had never seen before; they were so colourful and beauteous to behold. Bushes of sweet lilac, whose blossoms overflowed to the grass; patient Asters, their heavy heads held high, Chrysanthemums, orchids, Snap-dragons, tulips, sunflowers, and in the very centre a bush of the deepest crimson roses. Janet was drawn to these flowers more, and reaching down she broke the stem, and taking care of the thorns transferred it to her other hand whist she snapped a second stem.
Suddenly there was a slight movement behind her, and straightening up, she whirled round. In front of her stood a young man; his hair was gold, and his clothes, like Janet's, matched the summer trees. But on his face was a strange look, he was sad, rather than truly angry, and he made Janet feel so guilty, though she knew not what wrong she'd done.
Then he spoke, and his voice was as fair as bird song, and as light as the breeze, tinged as it was with anger, "Who gave you permission to come here, why have you pulled those flowers; hark, even as I speak their beauty is lessened!"
Janet looked down at the flowers in her hand, expecting them to be black and withered in her grasp, but she could see no difference. "Who give you right to question me so?" she retorted "Are these not my Father's lands? Who are you to be here?"
He looked at her in bemusement; one eyebrow slightly raised "You have not heard of me? I am Tam Lin, and this place of Carterhaugh is mine! No man has set foot here for many years." He sighed "and now you are set about destroying all this beauty."
"I will replace the rose" Janet said, "why, give me five minutes and I shall get down amongst the dirt and replant it!"
"Replant them" the young man scoffed "you have broken the stems the wrong way"
"Then" replied Janet "I suppose I shall have to pay you for them, though I have no money, for I hadn't thought to come this far."
"That ring on your finger shall do as my payment," the man said, gesturing to her fingers. Janet slipped off the ring, simple with a single stone, and dropped it into his out-stretched hand. "Now go," he said, "and come no more to Carterhaugh, lest it be nearer Halloween."
"Halloween?" questioned Janet "Tis Samhain tomorrow, that is why I wondered so at your garden" and with that she mounted her horse, and rode off without a word. Had she turned back, she would have seen the frantic look upon Tam Lin's face.
The next morning Janet rose, and gave no thought to her adventure the previous day, indeed it was not until her father remarked upon the lack of her ring that she truly remembered it at all.
"Janet," he spoke softly "where is the ring Lord Barnard gave to you, your betrothal ring?"
"Oh" whispered Janet "I must have taken it off to wash, I shall find it immediately, I didn't notice it was missing."
Yet again Janet tucked up her skirt and mounted her steed. She rode hard and fast until she came onto the gardens of Carterhaugh again, but as she dismounted she realised she had no way to call Tam Lin. So out of desperation she lent down and pulled up two roses, this time fully by the roots. Again she heard a quiet noise behind her, and rose to greet him. "Look" she smiled "I've taken more care with the flowers, you can plant them back!"
He smiled "Why have you come back, did you leave something behind?"
"Well, yes" she sighed "the ring you took, 'twas my betrothal ring, if I do not have it, Lord Barnard will think I am refusing to marry him."
"Married." It was more a statement that a question. "Well, I shall give it back to you tonight. Come to Miles Cross at midnight, and I shall return your gift."
"Miles Cross, but that is where the faery folk ride; it is not safe upon this Halloween night!" Suddenly she looked him straight in the eyes "Who are you?" she said accusingly "are you one of the faeries, come to steal me away?" she turned to run, but he spoke softly.
"I am sorry, I tried to deceive you, was wrong of me. Nay, I am not one of the faeries; least, not as you'd think of them, yet these seven years I have dwelt half in the faery court, and half in these fair gardens. It has been so since I picked an apple whilst riding in the forest."
"That does not answer my question" persisted Janet "what forest, where are you from?"
"My true name is Legolas Thranduilion" he bowed to Janet "Tam Lin comes from Thranduilion, or, that is my closest guess"
"You mean that you name yourself Tam Lin?" Janet asked slightly puzzled.
"Indeed not" answered Legolas "that is what the Seelie folk called me when I awoke in their cursed halls. My home, which is not in this world, is a great forest. Or at least it was great, but now the darkness has started to overcome It." he added bitterly. "One day I followed a path I had not seen before, it lead me to a shaded glen. In the shade of the other trees there stood an apple tree, the fruit just ripe on its branches. But as I reached up and pulled off an apple, darkness overcame my mind and I fell to the ground, when I woke up, I was amongst the faeries." he sighed "But at the end of every seven years, the Faery Queen pays a tithe to hell, and I'm so fair, and full of flesh, I fear it will be myself."
"And you wanted me to become this 'tithe' instead" cried Janet
"Nay, you mistake me" the elf answered, "I want you to save me! Although, I am not entirely sure I am eligible to be sacrificed anyway; I am Elf-kind, not one of the cruel faery-elves, Janet – I did not lie, but rather one of the Eldar, the firstborn. But the Queen does not know this, and so I shall join her procession tonight, as though I have no notion of the fate she has planned for me.
When the procession comes you must let past the black horses, with the Queen at their head, then let past the brown also. There shall be one white steed, the nearest to the town, and I shall be its rider. They think me once a mortal knight, so they give me that renown. When I reach the cross, pull me down from the horse and hold me tight. They may turn me into a variety of foul disguises in your arms, but fear me not, and do not let go, and at the end I shall return your ring; for at the moment it is a pretty ornament around the faery Queen's neck." Janet stared indignantly at him when she heard these words, and he sighed gently. "I am sorry, but that is how it must be. I beg you to save me, for even if I am not the sacrifice, I couldn't bear this life for another seven years."
"Who will they sacrifice instead?" Janet asked
Legolas shrugged "Just another mortal I suppose"
"Another Mortal!" Janet shouted, "That means, if you don't die tonight, another innocent shall die in your stead, does that not bother you?"
"I am sorry, I did not mean to say it like that" Legolas answered "they may not sacrifice anyone, but then the court would be uncontrollable, and in danger for the next seven years, which is bad for all who inhabit this earth.
Now listen carefully to what I say, and tonight heed to what I have told you, and all shall be well."
So Janet returned to her home, and that evening retired early to her chambers, claiming fatigue. But she could not sleep, and waited restlessly for the stroke of eleven. Then she ran to her horse and rode the five miles across the fields to Miles Cross. Just as she arrived she heard the ringing of tiny bells on bridals, and sending her horse towards the town she hid behind a large tree.
As she watched the faery court came into view, shining brightly, and singing a sweet melody and last of all came a single white horse, its rider proudly seated. Leaping out of her hiding place, she ran to the horse, and flinging her arms about Legolas pulled him to the ground.
Then procession immediately came to a halt, and suddenly the Faery Queen appeared before them. Her face was a twisted mask of anger, and as she spoke thunder stuck the hillsides, and lightening split the sky.
"What have you done!" she cried " If I'd known what you would do, Tam Lin, I'd have turned you too a tree the moment that you took that apple, instead of taking the trouble to save you until the tithe!"
"You thought I did not know what you were doing with me?" Legolas scoffed "But why me, why not just a mortal from a nearby town? That is what I do not understand"
"Because you stole from me, so I shall steal from you." She answered
"That is your only reason? Then you should know, I'm not mortal, I cannot be your sacrifice."
"Of course I know you're not a mortal. But you are the Elven-king, and you can be sacrificed. And surely as a king, you must know what lengths you have to go to for your people."
'King?" both Janet and Legolas shouted. Janet almost let go, but remembered Legolas' warning and held onto him tight.
"I'm not the king," said Legolas "My father is. I'm merely a prince."
Suddenly, all the faeries then cried allowed in disbelief, for the bells had tolled midnight and, with the tithe unpaid, they began to vanish, back to their court.
The Queen was the last to disappear and, as she did, she whispered a curse on Legolas, but Janet did not hear the words.
Legolas obviously did through, for he laughed mockingly at her words. "My Father" he said suddenly, Janet looked at him, and he went on "his name is Thranduil, that translates as Tam Lin, in the faeries' tongue. They believed that I was my father!"
Then he bowed his farewells to Janet, and began to disappear, just as the faeries had.
When Janet awoke the next morning she remembered neither her adventure the previous night, nor anything about Tam Lin, for her ring was safely returned upon her finger.
But Legolas remembered, although when he awoke only the night had past, not the seven years he had feared. So on that day, every year, for the next seven years, he returned down the hidden path that only he could see, and took one apple from the Queen's tree. And the faeries had no power to stop him, for the tithe had not been paid.
And the curse…well, it was not that important, the Queen said, "Should you ever see the sea, you shall regret the day you stole that apple from my tree."
And so you can see why Legolas laughed, for Mirkwood is far away from any sea.