The Page-boy and the Silver GobletPosted: 18 February 2011
Since I visited Edinburgh yesterday, it’s only fitting that today’s story is from Scotland.
There was once a young lad who worked as a page-boy at a grand castle which stood on a cliff overlooking the sea. He was a pleasant boy and a hard worker, so all who knew him were fond of him; from the Earl he served every day to the fat old butler for whom he ran errands.
As I said, the castle itself stood on a cliff by the sea; its walls were impenetrable and there was no way to enter the castle from that direction, save a little door cut into the thick walls and a well-hidden stairway among the rocks. The people who lived in the castle used this passage whenever they wanted to bathe on the pleasant sea shore.
On the inland side of the castle were many beautiful gardens and pleasure grounds, which lay on land which gently sloped upwards to meet an expanse of heather-covered moorland, framed by distant hills. It was here that the page-boy loved to roam after his day’s work was done. He ran about the moor chasing bumble-bees and catching butterflies; and when nesting time came, he would search for the hidden bird’s nests to peep at the tiny speckled eggs.
No one found fault with this; indeed, as the old butler said kindly of him one day, “’tis right a young lad of his age to be out in the fresh air.”
But every time the boy left the castle grounds, the butler gave him a single warning.
“Mind my words, lad; do not go near the Fairy Knowe or bother the Little Folk. They are not to be trusted.”
This ‘Knowe’ of which he spoke was a mound which lay a few hundred yards from the outer garden door. The folk who lived near the castle ever avoided the Knowe, for it was widely believed that the fairy folk who lived within did not like people and would punish any who came too close. Indeed, those who had to travel across the moor did so giving the Knowe a wide berth for fear of angering the fairies. Neither did they go up onto the moor at night, for it is well-known that the fairies roam moors under the cover of darkness, leaving their doors left wide-open so as to trap the unlucky traveller.
However, our page-boy was an adventurous sort, and while the fairy stories terrified the other folk of the castle they intriuged him utterly, until he felt he had to see once and for all the inside of the Knowe. So at night when everyone was asleep, he slipped out of the castle, tiptoed through the garden gate and inched his way closer to the mound.
To his delight, the Knowe had been tipped up and he could see a small opening in the side of the mound; through which he could hear the sounds of many little voices and the chink of plates, and the light of lamps shone. Carefully he lowered himself through the opening and slid down into the earth.
He found himself inside a large cavern, filled to the brim with every kind of Gnome, Kelpie, Elf, Fairy and Pixie. Scores of these were sat at a round wooden table lit by many candles, dressed in elven finery of every hue under the sun. Marvelling at the busy scene before him, the page-boy quietly backed into a dark corner and sat himself down to watch.
As they scurried past him he saw that a great feast was being held, not unlike the banquets in the castle above. Grinning, he looked on from his hiding place believing the fairies had not noticed him (which, of course, they had).
One of the fairies sat at the table cried out, “Bring forth the cup!” and at once a magnificent silver goblet was carried into the chamber. It had strange and intricate designs beaten into the metal, and it was lined inside with pure gold. But the page-boy soon forgot its handsome workmanship, for as it was passed around the table he noted it was not in this that its greatest feature lay. No matter how many drank from the goblet, it was always filled to the brim; and even more amazingly, it always contained the drink of choice of the one who drank from it. All that had to be done was to call out the name of a drink, and henceforth the goblet would be full, were it wine, beer or whisky.
As the overflowing cup passed from elf to elf the page-boy thought, “what a wonderful thing this would be to bring to the castle. No one would otherwise believe my unlikely tale.”
He bided his time. Presently, the elves looked to one another and called forth their visitor from his dark corner. The page-boy stepped forward. If the fairy folk were angry at his boldness, they did not show it; rather, they invited him to join their table and drink with them. Before much time passed they mocked him, for they saw everything that went on at the castle above. They made fun of the bumbling old butler, whom the page-boy loved. They offered him food from their platters, boasting that he would never taste any as fine at the castle. They laughed loud and long at him, until he could stand their taunts no longer.
Taking up the cup, he cried, “I will toast you all with water!”
At once, the goblet became filled to the brim with cold and clear water. Pretending to raise the cup to his lips, the page-boy instead flung the contents at the walls, extinguishing the candles and plunging the cavern into total darkness. In the panic which ensued he took up the goblet and fled from the Knowe.
By the light of the stars he could now see clearly, and he ran with all the speed he could muster across the moor, with the fairies at his heels. As they went, they screamed with rage. All too late, he remembered the fleetness of foot which which tales had given the fairies; and indeed, his heart sank as the angry shouts came closer behind him.
At that moment, from the darkness he heard a mysterious cry, uttering the words,
“If thou wouldst gain the castle door,
Keep to the black stones on the shore.”
(It was the voice of a poor mortal who had himself been taken prisoner by the malicious fairy folk and wished the page-boy to escape; but he was not to know this.)
The page-boy had once heard talk that once a person walked on wet sand over which the waves had recently flowed, fairies could not touch him. In his panic, the mysterious voice brought this memory back to him. So he turned, and dashed down the land to the shore. His feet sank awkwardly into the dry sand and impeded his flight. The fairies were close behind him now, almost within arm’s reach; and just as they swarmed forward, malice in their eyes, he stepped over the watermark onto the wet sand and sank to his knees in the shallow water, panting hard.
But of course, the stories were true. Though he lay prone upon the beach, the fairy folk could come no further, uttering cries of rage and disappointment and lamenting the loss of their magnificent silver goblet which lay safely in his arms. The page-boy leapt to his feet once again and sprinted safely across the sands; reaching the hidden stair and doorway through which he fled with his precious prize.
When the page-boy grew up, he became a butler himself and trained others as page-boys in his stead. The beautiful silver goblet remained in the castle for all to see, as witness to his adventure and close escape from the rage of the fairies of the moor.