The Green Knight and Other Tales of Scotland

Hello everyone, welcome to Lukelore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. This episode is something I was going to prepare earlier, but I promptly dropped ill… I went to Scotland a little earlier in the year, which is sadly how I probably caught Turducken. As a friend said afterwards: “You go outside once and you immediately catch The Rona”. Typical me, really. Oh well… It WAS beautiful! A trip to Loch Ness on an absolutely roasting weekend, a bit of a rarity when you travel to Scotland in September. You would normally get near biblical levels of rain attempting this but I got to see the Loch and Castle Urquhart in gorgeous sunlight, and I also got to see the stars at night which was something my soul was starved for being citybound for so long. I wouldn’t say it was worth being bedridden with Turducken, but it was at least something. Seriously, follow medical advice. All of it, don’t pick one, to coin some gamer parlance you’re stacking saving throws on this thing. No single option is perfect, but the more you do the more chances you have to not get the big bad of 2020 if you cross paths with it. Stay safe! It ain’t nice. We’ve already said hello to Nessie on Episode 15: How Much Lake Monster is Too Much?, and we’ve visited Scotland a few times talking the Fair Folk in a few other episodes, so I’m going to try and cover new ground here. Once again: English person attempting pronunciations warning. I shall do my best, but English attempts to pronounce Celtic and Gaellic words frequently go awry. Right! Let’s go visit the lore of the Highlands! SECTION BREAK Brownies, and the importance of minding your manners. I don’t think I’ve gone over Brownies before, or at least not in detail. I’m going to go with the brogue heavy pronunciation to help distinguish them from sweet treats, as you definitely want to mind your manners around Brownies. A type of fairy, and also similar to worldwide stories of household spirits, Brownies are generally a great help. In appearance they are the epitome of the “wee folk”, they’re tiny people with the appearance of old men (frequently naked old men to boot). And I mean tiny, not short, they’re the size of mice. Should these fae take up residence they keep the shared home they’ve adopted in good order. They clean up here and there, and they’re good at keeping negative entities away since they’re far more powerful than their diminutive size belies. And this is where you need to start paying attention. The two words you really need to focus on are “powerful” and “fairy”. By all means, leave out milk and oats for them as offerings. OFFERINGS. Never gifts, for Brownies are proud. Never payment, because no human owns them as an employer. Feel free to just not at any time talk about what these are or why if you’re worried you may slip up and say the wrong thing where the Brownie may overhear you and take offence. Do not try to pay them, and certainly do not offer them any clothes. Again, you’ll just offend them. And do not name them! This one doesn’t seem to offend them, but they seem to move on never to return if you do this. There’s a small simple poem about one beloved Brownie who lived at Clochflodich farm near Pitlochcry. As this Brownie loved to play in the Allt-Mor waterfall leaving muddy footprints around the farm the people in the area began to call them “Puddlefoot”. Without thinking, one person who spotted the Brownie called out a greeting to them using this name without thinking about what they were doing, and the Brownie disappeared never to be seen again. It’s a very simple little poem: “Puddlefoot, Puddlefoot, Come awa hame, We’re sorry for the namin’ We’ll nae do it again.” I suspect this poem doesn’t do much good on account of the fact it begins by naming the Brownie twice. Poor Puddlefoot was a Brownie that was missed, but not every Brownie is the same. They may have strange ideas about how the home should be cleaned, and where things go. Persistently misplaced items turning up in the same unusual place each time could be a sign of a Brownie taking up residence. Some Brownie’s are notorious snorers after a long day of chores, and the humans they cohabit with could suffer lost sleep to the noise. They are also well known for telling racous tales, so young children could learn certain phrases and words you would rather they didn’t at an alarming rate. Plus, never rule out simple mischief. Brownies aren’t a fixed primal force, each having a personality of their own. To shift a troublesome Brownie you can attempt one of the accidental ways to lose them outlined above, a gift of clothing or giving them a name. The problem is what may follow. While generally well intentioned fairies, Brownies have the usual duality of nature, and you may get more than you bargained for trying to drive one away. They will leave, the problem is what they do on the way out. Some will just vanish. Some will wreck the house first, upending and breaking as much as they feel like venting their anger before they leave. Then we’re back to the “deceptively powerful” problem, and why you should certainly never attempt to mess with a Brownie directly unless you’re absolutely desperate. A Brownie is able to curse the entire land the homestead covers. This is never going to go well, with the home turned into a lightning rod for misfortune and disease, but if the Brownie was shifted off of a farm only to turn out to be an extra spiteful or accidently very offended one this can spell disaster for the whole area relying on that farm. Brownies ARE generally a good thing though. You just need to understand them, and mind your manners. SECTION BREAK Unicorns are actually kind of badass Okay… Let’s take a look at the heraldric animals of the British Isles. England? Lions! They’re brave, they’re vicious, they’re king of the jungle despite jungles more likely having basically any other big cat in them! Solid pick lions is, and the English claim three of them in most heraldric designs. Triple the lion! Wales? How about a DRAGON. Hell, let’s stick it on the national flag. No amount of lions is going to match up to the giant flying flamethrower of legend. So, what grim terror do the notoriously gruff Scottish have? A… Er… Unicorn. This may not seem too impressive in a world full of soft toys and My Little Pony, but a unicorn appears to be some sort of fairy creature. Long time listeners, or first time listeners who paid attention to the Brownie story for that matter, should have alarm bells ringing at that. Let’s start with the basics. It’s a giant, powerful horse that’s potential magical and not beholden to physical limitations. Have you ever seen an angry horse on a rampage? Now stick a big stabby point on the end of one. Anyone wondering if a unicorn may be chill, might not be thinking of a Scottish unicorn. Your big clue how “chill” these unicorns are would be how they are always depicted as Rampant on heraldric devices. These giant murderous stab-horses mean business. Sadly, all stories point to Unicorns being stubbornly hunted into extinction, for they had an unfortunate magical property that was worth too much to those who catch wind of one. The alicorn on their head was able to neutralise any poisons. These spiralling magic horns are very unlikely to have anyone attempt to fake them, since they have a simple test. Place the alicorn in water: It should immediately begin to boil while remaining cool. You incidentally now have pure water, as well as proof of the magic it contains. In a world before modern medicine, a genuine alicorn was virtually priceless, and there are many medieval tapestries showing the hunting to extinction of unicorns for their prize. All purportedly genuine alicorns are lost to time, including famous ones such Stuart Alicorn of Sterling. Speaking of the Stuarts… The house of the Stuarts are closely tied to unicorn myths. Moreso than just owning a gold mounted alicorn that went missing, either to thieves or else just hoarded for its powers. The Stuarts went a long way towards enshrining unicorns as the national animal of Scotland, and there’s a legend that the heir to the house of Stuart will be guarded over by a unicorn. A guard-unicorn would probably be a good way to prove an infant heir is genuine. Should anyone aiming malice towards the child turning up as a trampled corpse that looks like they were struck top speed by a lance, especially somewhere you shouldn’t be able to fit a mounted knight, probably doesn’t need a DNA test. SECTION BREAK The Elfin Knight Eh, guess we’re doing a fairy episode. Plenty of stories for them across Scotland, and we’re on to the final story now anyway. This is a story of two noblemen more bold than smart, and a moor they shouldn’t have been messing around on. Hold on to your horseshoes, as this story is absolutely loaded with iconic fair folk mishaps for mere mortals to blunder into! It also seems to be something of a Wild Hunt related story, if you’re already familiar with those legends… There was an infamous moor in Scotland that was well known to be haunted by an Elfin Knight. While rumour had it they only appeared every seven years, the consequences of crossing them were so dire no one wanted to risk it. Fully armoured men would ride off into the moors and simply… Vanish. Everything gone, no sign of a struggle, no sign they were even there, never to return. Two young earls who loved the chase of the hunt, Earl St. Clair and Earl Gregory, decided that the haunted moor no one would dare set foot upon, let alone live in, must surely be an old wives tale. Since it was completely reclaimed by the wilds it was full of animals that would make great game for bored nobles. This… Was somewhat flawed reasoning. They really should have spent more time on the “No one dares set foot out” there part of the equation, rather than the whole “Hey, look, loads of animals because no one is stupid enough to roam that moor!” bit. Earl Gregory was completely unphased by such petty concerns of vanishing without a trace when there was sport to be had, but Earl St. Clair was a little more cautious. Still blinded by the thought of the fun to be had on this wild moor, but with some thought for safety. Earl St. Clear mentioned the old stories that to bind a clover to your arm as a sign of the Trinity, you would be protected from the powers of the Elfin Knight. Earl Gregory laughed this off as childish, but setting off to to the moor Earl St. Clair took the time to pluck a leaf of clover from a meadow and bind it tightly to his arm with a silk scarf as a ward against fairy mischief. Once there, they rode for hours without a care in the world enjoying the unspoiled moor for themselves. But eventually, a knight clad all in green crossed their path at an unnatural speed, and both Earls were overwhelmed with a sense that they knew this knight and should follow after them. Earl Gregory was delighted, vowing to catch up to this knight in green and see what the hurry is, which came as a shock to Earl St Clair as the knight was clearly galloping through the air ABOVE the ground at a speed they guessed was seven times that possible of a mortal horse. Earl St. Clair begged his friend not to follow what was clearly the Elfin Knight, but they had forgotten they wore a talisman Earl Gregory did not which protected from the fairy glamour and Earl Gregory raced off to catch up to the knight leaving the shaken Earl St Clair behind. It took a while for Earl St Clair to gather his courage, but after some prayer and checking his clover stayed securely bound to his arm he found the resolve to follow and attempt to save his friend. Completely lost to the magic that bound he follow, Earl Gregory rode on without a care in the world as the moor around him turned strange. The further he got, the more the landscape changed. It became desolate, barren of the wilds that normally filled the moor, and it grew colder and colder as he rode until hoarfrost covered ever rock and remaining plant around. While never catching up to the knight, he eventually came upon a strange circle, within which the grass was lush and alive completely unlike the withered and frozen grass outside of this circle. Inside this circle, strange goblins danced and cavorted. Instead of recoiling in fear like a sensible person who has a functioning self preservation instinct, Earl Gregory was enraptured. The goblins within beckoned and called to him, insisting he cross the circle and come drink from the cup of their lord. What fear he had did nothing to stop the spell upon him and Earl Gregory dismounted to cross the threshold. As he did, a taller and slightly different looking goblin tried to stop him, coming up to the edge of the circle but not seeming able to cross this even odder goblin blocked his way and begged him to turn back. In the grip of the fae magic, the Earl just laughed and stepped around the goblin attempting to bar his path explaining that he has no choice. He swore to himself to catch up to the knight he was following and ask their name, so he cannot stop. As he crossed the threshold of the circle the goblins within yelled and danced wilder, before suddenly coming to a stop and parting to make a corridor. Somehow leading deeper into the circle than should have been possible, there was somehow a hall and table there now. At the head of the table sat the strange knight in green Earl Gregory was compelled to follow, and on the table before the Elfin Knight sat an emerald encrusted goblet filled with heather ale frothing up to the point it threatened to spill over the sides. The lord of the hall nodded to Earl Gregory, and gestured to take the goblet for himself. Suddenly overwhelmed with thirst Earl Gregory strode forwards between the assembled goblins and picked up the emerald goblet to begin gulping down the ale inside. Yet no matter how thirstily he drank the amount of ale in the goblet never lessened a drop, and unable to stop drinking even as numbness crept over him the ensorcelled Earl finally began to regret his journey to the moor and the chase of the green knight which followed. He didn’t have long to dwell upon his regrets though, before he collapsed as if dead to the raucous cheers of the goblins behind him at another human tricked to enter the halls and drink of the emerald goblet. They suddenly stopped celebrating though, as their keen ears could hear something unexpected. The footfalls of another human approaching, one they had not planned for. Earl St. Clair had come to the edge of the fairy circle, and was stopped by the odder looking goblin as his friend was before him. This different goblin begged Earl St. Clair to turn back, as charm or not there was little chance left to rescue his friend. The Earl insisted he had to try, and he would put his faith in a higher power than that of the Elfin Knight. With a sigh, the sympathetic goblin explained just how much trouble both Earls were in. Those who drink of the goblet are doomed to be twisted into a goblin courtier of the Elfin Knight, the goblin assuring that he once was a human too. Even with a charm it isn’t safe to cross the circle, as the ground itself is only enchanted to seem solid and is instead a quaking bog above a great lake that some great monster makes home. To save his friend, the Earl must follow exact rules, or else the Elfin Knight will just let him fall through the floor and the lake monster will deal with the intruder. Earl St. Clair must stay still and motionless, despite the cold and how tired he may get, at the very edge of the fairy circle. Then, when dawn breaks, and it is the hour Matins would be sung in church, he must slowly circle around the barrier nine times. Once back to where he started for a ninth time, he must cross into the hall and walk calmly without uttering a single word to the table and grab the goblet. Once he has the emerald goblet, he must leave the way he came with it still not saying a single word. Feeling the goblin spoke true, Earl St Clair stood shivering in the cold and waited for the right time to act. Come morning, as the bells of Matin rang out across the moor, he began the slow walk around the boundaries of the fairy circle. Thunder rang out from nowhere, and the ground began to shake as if it was trying to buck the Earl off, but nine times he went around the circle and then he stepped across the threshold. From moor to unnatural hall, the Earl was surprised to see that all the goblins and even the Elfin Knight at the head of the table were encased in ice. Saying nothing, he moved among the prone figures and headed straight to the table ignoring everything around him, even the apparent corpse of his friend. Either side of the goblet a Raven stood guard, as soon as he picked it up they flew around him screaming in outrage to wake their Lord and the goblin retainers. As he retraced his steps the Ravens could not touch him, and the frozen fae could not stir, thanks to the his charm. But Earl St Clair knew not to take his time even if he didn’t have to fight his way out, for the ground began to feel less firm and deep below the terrible breathing of the hungry lake monster could be as much felt as heard. The final bells of Matin tolled as the Earl crossed the barrier back into the mortal realm, where he immediately threw away the goblet. Turning back, everything had vanished except for his friend who began to stir from his deathlike slumber covered in frost but still human. As the two set off to return home they passed where the goblet had landed, no longer a treasure made from emerald, instead it was a simple grey whinstone with a hollow in it full of dew. SECTION BREAK That’s all for this episode. Scotland holds many more secrets for us, so let me know if you want a follow up episode. I’m way over my usual word count and I’ve barely made a dent on the reference books I picked up while I was there. The Wild Hunt should also be something I circle back around to, the Elfin Knight is an interesting probably related tale but there’s a heck of a lot more there to dig into. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email lukeloregsg@gmail.com, and the general show email ghoststoryguys@gmail.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. If you want to support the show directly definitely check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. It will get you access to all sorts of GSG goodies at different tiers, my incentive being that Lukelore episodes go out to Partons a month early. As ever though, the absolute best thing anyone can do to support the show is to give it a listen. Share this around if you think you may know someone who may be interested, leave a review if you get the chance to help signal boost me, and most of all I simply hope you enjoy what I’m doing here. Goodbye for now.