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 Ochil Fairy Tales:

The King of the Fairies

by R.Menzies Fergusson


Once upon a time, many years ago, before steam-engines or aeroplanes were
thought of, the Fairies still dwelt in one or two favourite spots in
Scotland. The chief rendezvous in the Midlands was the "Fairy Knowe," near
the Allan Water, where the King of the Fairies ruled over a goodly company,
and spent the time in doing good to those who did not speak ill of them.
Many a merry revel did they hold when the moon shone clearly over the
summit of Dunmyat, dancing in the moonbeams and playing their funny games
beside the Wharry Burn. One of the merriest Fairies was one called Red
Bonnet, from the circumstance that he always wore a red cap. When the King
summoned his company to issue out upon a midnight frolic, you may be sure
that Red Cap was amongst the first to obey the summons, and became the
leader of their merry dances, races, and exploits. The people in the
neighbourhood who loved these little folk could tell many a queer tale
about Red Cap and his friends, for they often left behind them traces of
their merry doings, and many a good turn did they do to those who were
considered to be among their friends.

The King of the Fairies was a very handsome fairy, tall and slim, compared
to the rest of his band; and he was very fond of going off by himself
occasionally, so that he might see how mortals lived, and how they
conducted themselves in their moments of merriment and leisure. Sometimes
he would go to watch the mill-wheel at Menstrie go round, and see the
sparkling water splash as it came tumbling down from Menstrie Glen. He thus
came to know the miller. This miller had a very handsome wife, who
sometimes came to the mill to speak to her husband, and tell him the news
of the day. Her laugh was like the sound of the gurgling water that drove
the mill-wheel round so merrily, and the King of the Fairies would stand,
himself unseen, and watch with pleasure the pretty wife of the sonsy
miller. The more he saw and heard the miller's wife the more he fell in
love with her, so that one day, meeting her when she was taking a walk up
the hillside, he made himself visible, and entered into conversation with
her. The miller's wife had never seen so handsome a man before, and as he
spoke to her she felt quite flattered. This meeting was followed by many
more, and by-and-by the silly matron was head over ears in love with the
Fairy. She did not know that the handsome lover was a fairy, having never
asked him such a question, but she had given her foolish heart into his
keeping and did not care any more for the honest miller, who loved her all
the same, and often wondered what had come over his pretty wife. He never
said a word to her about the change which he perceived had come over her
affection for him: he thought that everything would come right again, and
so he held his peace, like a wise man.

One day, not long after, when the miller came from his mill, he found that
his wife had left him, and gone off with her lover. The poor man was
perfectly distracted with grief, and went about like one demented. He could
not attend to his work, and the music of the mill-wheel was silent, the
water rushed past without turning the big wheel, and the farmers could not
get their corn ground, because the miller's wife had gone and left him.

At last the miller of Menstrie went to consult an old woman who was said to
be a witch. He told her all his trouble, how his wife had left him, and
that he would do anything to get her back again, for he loved her even more
than ever. The old witch said that she would cast a spell and find out who
it was who had carried off his lovely wife, for until they knew this
nothing could be done. It took some time before the spell could be properly
cast, but at length it was done, and the witch told the sorowing miller
that his wife had been carried off by the King of the Fairies, and there
was only one way by which she could be restored to him again. He was to go
back to his mill, set the wheel agoing again, and resume his ordinary
employment. Then, when he was riddling the corn, he was to give the riddle
a certain magic turn, which she showed to him, and if that were done
correctly his wife would drop down at his feet. The miller returned home
cheerier than he had been for many a day, and began to work as usual. The
big wheel began to turn and drone out its usual song, the water came
splashing over the weir, and the hum of industry was once more heard at the
old mill.

One bright summer day, as the miller was busy riddling the corn, he heard
singing in the air, and the notes reminded him of his wife's voice.
Listening attentively, he heard her singing a plaintive air, of which he
made out this verse:

Oh, Alva woods are bonny,
Tillicoultry hills are fair;
But when I think o' the bonny braes o' Menstrie,
It makes my heart aye sair.

Although the miller heard the singing he could not see his wife, but he was
convinced that it was she. Each day he heard the same song in affectionate
notes, but the singer was always invisible. The music always came at the
time when he was engaged riddling the corn, and try as he would he never
seemed to be able to make the magic movement which the old witch had showed
him. At last, one day, as he was standing at the barn door with the corn
riddle in his hand, he succeeded in making the magic turn, the spell that
held his wife in captivity was instantly dissolved, and she dropped down
from the air at his feet. The old mill-house was full of joy that night,
and the miller invited his friends to share his hospitality as he told them
how he had got his beloved wife back from Fairyland. The miller's wife
would never tell anything she had seen when with the Fairies, and her
husband never asked her what she had seen or done; he was too pleased to
have her restored to his desolate home. And it is good to know that they
lived happy together ever afterwards. The Fairy King was seen no more, and
the miller and his wife sang together the old songs they loved so well.

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