Tam Lin

Tam Lin, a Barrayaran Shakespeare Play
By Jo Walton

(Link to a recording of the play)

byu David Dyer-Bennet

From the reading at Minneapolis. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, David Goldfarb (standing), Pamela Dean, Tom Womack, John M. Ford, me behind. Photo by David Dyer-Bennet

Introductory Note: The Hubristic Fan Fic Project

This is a new Shakespeare play I wrote. It’s a kind of sequel to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is revealed in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books that when Barrayar went into its age of isolation literature was preserved in the oral tradition. Shakespeare was preserved very well, extremely well indeed, so well that when his works were compared with Galactic works after the recontact it was discovered that there were three new canonical plays.

We were pondering this on the usenet group rec.arts.sf.written one day, and talking about what plays they might be. I suggested Tam Lin and wrote and posted a few lines of it. Then, some time later, Elise Matthesen mentioned that she was part of a playreading group in Minneapolis. A bright light dawned on me with the realisation that I could write the whole play and have it performed at Minicon 36, where I was fan guest of honour. This would be the best cat vacuuming project of all time, I could re-read all the Bujold, Dean’s Tam Lin (without which I’d never have had the shape of this, or the utterly essential characters of Molly and Alys) and the whole of Shakespeare. I emailed off asking for permission from Lois Bujold and Pamela Dean and the Minicon committee, and as soon as I got it I sat down with the blissful thought of how much time I could waste on this project…

…and got up three days later blinking, with the play essentially complete.

Sometimes things work out like that.

I’d like to thank Lois Bujold and Pamela Dean for permission to let me write this derivative work, and also to both of them and to William Shakespeare for writing the things that led me to wish to derive it in the first place. Thanks also to Pamela, Greer Gilman, Heather Anne Nicoll, Michael Weholt, Mary Lace and Rachael Lininger for reading the play and making helpful suggestions. And the most thanks of all to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Pamela Dean, David Goldfarb, Tom Womack, Elise Matthesen, John M. Ford, Peg Kerr, Jane Yolen, Jon Singer and Laurel Winter for reading it aloud at Minicon. Without you it would never have been alive or real.

(Tam Lin was also performed at Emmet and Jo’s wedding, and at Boskone in 2009.)

Tam Lin
by William Shakespeare, as considered canonical on Barrayar

Richard Webb [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Dramatis Personae: In Order of Appearance

* Robin Goodfellow (a fairy)
* Odile (a fairy)
* The Faerie Queen (a fairy queen)
* Janet (a young lady)
* Molly (a village maiden)
* Nick (a fairy)
* Alys (a village maiden)
* Thomas (a village youth)
* Sir Simon (a mutant lord)
* Uncle (Janet’s uncle)

Scene: The Castle, Village and Woods of Carterhaugh, Scotland

Scene One: a glade at night, lit by fairy candles.

Robin: Where art thou? Thou wert there a moment since!
What is a man to do – a man, I say,
but I am man in speaking, not in sooth
a man in shape, in form, in appetites
— Where art thou? I am seeking thee! —
but not
a man in what they call mortality
or foolishness. Well, foolishness perhaps,
for I pursue a fairy through the wood
who dropped an acorn on my sleeping head
but would not pause to dally though she was
most monstrous fair, monstrous and fair in one.
The acorn I have still and keep it safe
but that is all I have, for with a laugh
it pleased the jade to run and please me not.

I think she’s seeking other sport tonight
this is May Eve, and mortals are abroad
come to the woods to dance, and so might we
by stepping forward see them through the veil
that seals our world from theirs, and being there,
entice them to our dance and make our game
in making mortals dance them out of time
or into courts the Queen is pleased to keep.

But I am weary of it, weary past
all weariness a mortal heart might know
I do not count the years or the intrigues
the mortals we’ve bedazzled and beguiled
enough to tempt a cat to laugh betimes,
as I have laughed and japed, aye, I have danced
the mortal measure with the best of them
pricking their weary beasts, souring their milk,
but now the games are old, the jape grows sour.

My traitor heart misgives me, for the Queen
has set her heart on mortal lands again.
She craves for autumn, for the autumn leaves
for reds and golds bedecking heads and trees
piled up and crackling under eager feet,
and for the early frosts and golden haze
as apples ripen and the days grow short.
She muses on them often, and I think
she wants to walk with mortals whose rich lives
for being short are sweet, whose loves are new
and being new have passion that rings true.

Yet still I weary of it, it is I
who ever do get sent to clear away
the troubles that are caused by meddling thus
and I am tired — calling oh there! I see you there!

Odile I see you Robin, I will speak thee fair
for all that I did tease thee so before
and ran from thee and hid, so please forgive
my acorn to thy head, my fleeting dash.

I heard thy idle musings in the wood
and I must tell thee that thou wrong’st the Queen.

Robin What? Wrong the Queen? And wilt thou tell me so?
What wrong have I done to her?

Odile Only this.
Thou think’st she comes into the mortal woods
upon May Eve to seek a mortal love
for such sweet loving as a mortal gives
like the short days of autumn which the queen
has dared of late to speak on, which we see
so seldom who do make these woods our home.

Thus dost thou wrong her, for she knows of time
things that thou guess’st not in the days thou spend’st
in idle japery and foolish games
serving our king who makes the world a jest.

The time is coming when the Teind falls due
The Feast Of Age, does that mean aught to thee?

Robin Thou mean’st at Hallows Eve, as long ago
we must renew our youth or else grow old?
Is it seven hundred years since last we danced
that tricksy measure in this very wood?
Why then, she needs a mortal, but my heart
sickens yet more to think she needs his blood
to be her Teind, to be the pay we send
to Hell to purchase all our frolicking.

Enter Queen, but she stands silently listening

Odile: What, wouldst thou die? I would not. Art thou grown
untender of thyself and of thy life?
And wouldst thou go to Hell, to Hell I say
to stay unchanging mired in endless wrong?

Robin: I groan. I sigh. I cannot answer that.
Untender of my life I would not say
I do not wish to lose it, life is sweet,
but is the mortal’s life not sweeter still
to he who has it, rare for being brief?
We grow like trees, our lives curled up within
what we could grow to as the oak tree coils
within this seed you tossed onto my head.
Like trees, we take deep root and spread through time
and flourish as the seasons ripple by
and barring accident, will always stand.
Mortals are flowers that blossom bright and fast
for one bright season then return to dust.
But are not flowers sweet? Are they not fair?
To pick a rose is not to fell an oak
but if the rose would speak still it might plead
to have the afternoon that is its due.

Odile: I see that thou hast grown a tender heart
thinking of others who are not thyself,
and had I known it I would let thee sleep
and saved my acorns for some other head.

Queen: No, peace, Odile; for what he speaks is truth.

Odile: Madam, you came so quiet I saw you not.

Robin: Nor I, good Queen, believe I meant no ill.

Queen: I know thou speak’st the truth, but listen well,
for thou hast been attendant this long age
upon our court, and by my husband’s side
in many a jest and setting right of jests
and so ’tis well that thou at long last learned
that there is more to life than reveling
sweet though it be. Learn now that life is dear.

In every life there must be sacrifice.
Know’st how the mortals cut the throats of babes
who come to life misshapen and malformed
that other babes may grow up straight and true?
So for our lives to last, to change, to grow
but not to end in death, one man must die
in each seven hundred years, one mortal man.

Now, every life will have the joys of life
but mortal life is brief, and mortal joys
are ever fleeting, as soon flown as known.
Thus it is true we’ll rob one of the joys
of growing old and death, that will be lost,
but in return we’ll give him ere he dies
a summer of the rapture he’d ne’er know
living his mortal life on mortal clays.
Thus will I take him, share with him the bliss
that is a lifetime’s worth, and then, farewell.

Robin: But what then of his will? What of his choice?
To hear you speak it makes a benefit
of robbery.

Queen: What, darest thou say it so?
If that is how thou see’st it, let it be,
and shall I spare the mortal and cast down
one of my court to Hell to save us all –
and wilt thou then step forward, stalwart Puck?
Most noble Goodfellow? What, Robin, no?

Robin: Spare me, my Queen, I meant no disrespect
I live. I would not burn my candle out
in one bright glorious flame that flares and dies
and freezes in that instant trapped in Hell.
I only spoke – no disrespect – of choice
for naught can spare the man your eye selects
once he has seen you, he will burn and die.

Queen: One thing could save him, though it never would,
and such will spare thee also for I may
pay no unwilling fairy for my Teind.
A magic there is set into the Feast
when ages gone we made the bargain first.
First, every fairy in the world must come,
thou knowest this, from every distant land
they hasten hence to join us. Should they chance
to reach us not in time, why then, they age.
Second, concerning mortal Teinds I choose.
More likely that a basilisk should choose
to marry with a mirror than all this
should ever come to pass, still here it is.

You know the Teind must ride a horse of white?
Well, if a chosen Teind should be pulled free
from off that horse, when once we have set out
all of us gathered riding to the Feast,
and if this pulling free is by a girl,
and that girl planted with the Teind’s own seed,
then he shall change into a snake, a bear,
a lion, and at last a burning brand,
and if she holds him tight through all of that
then he is free and we — well, what of us,
we fall back into time to fade and die
unless some one of us should then, by choice,
which th’art so fond of Robin, by free choice,
should go forth willingly as Teind to Hell.

Odile: You’re right, such things could never come to pass.

Robin: quietly And being so, as it is so, no choice.

Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robin Goodfellow, by Arthur Rackham

Queen: Come then, Odile, come Robin, go ahead,
and join the mortal revels, and tonight
I’ll set my veils of gossamer until
I’ll find me out the suitor who will suit
our purposes to live his glorious hour
and perish that the rest of us might live.

Scene Two: A glade, which may be the same or different, but this one has maypole and dancers and the candles are a different colour.

Molly: What, Janet, have you danced enough tonight?

Janet: No, never danced enough, never in life
my heart would dance until the end of time
but not my feet alas, my heel is worn
and blistered through, and so I rest a while.

Molly: And is your heart you speak so lightly of
given to Thomas who has worn your feet
to blisters in the measures you have danced?
Or will you still maintain he’s just a friend
who twined pink roses in the crown you wear?

Janet: My heart’s as free as yours, as well you know.
Thomas has been my friend since I was young
we grew up close together, he is like
the brother of my heart, as I am his.
We’re friends, no matter what your teasing says
friends, and not lovers, yet I’ll not say “just”
“just friends”, “mere friends”, for friendship too is great
though much less often hymned than mighty love.

His heart, his lover’s love-sick loving heart
burns in his breast for Alys, now she’s come
he dances but with her, see, there they glide,
and see he smiles on her, and I am glad.
Thomas and I are much too close to love
we saw each other when our legs were bare
climbing to treetops, chasing through the glades
with hair leaf-filled and faces splashed with mud.
Romance needs strangers, there’s no stranger there
for me with Thomas, nor for him with me.
But still he is my friend, and that is much.
Love flowers like roses, I believe, the bud
the glorious bloom, and then the withering.
Friendship grows more like trees, steady and slow
much less spectacular and not as sweet
but real and good and true for all of that.

Molly: And if he marries Alys, what of that?

Janet: I’ll dance upon their wedding day with joy.

Molly: You are unnatural, women and men
can not be joined in friendship, that is for
two men together, or two women close.
Women and men must love, or naught at all,
the world’s no space in it for suchlike things.
What then will Alys think if you say “oh
he is my friend, we played at ducks and drakes
when we were six years old” – she’ll drive you out
and where is friendship then? For he’ll be hers.

Janet: You make me sad a moment, but he is
not false to me to do her will like that
he will explain to her I am his friend.
And she will learn that such things can be true.
Or no – I _will_ be merry – you would set
a higher price on friendship e’en than I
if you would have me wed my friend although
he does not love me and I don’t love him
but only to preserve our friendship’s shape!

Molly: What’s love to marriage, or a match to love?
You know the law, you’re in your father’s hand
to wed as he sees fit, or since he’s dead
these many years ago, your uncle’s hand.

Janet: Oh no, my uncle does not care for me.
He’ll not distress himself with digging out
a husband to his taste. He’ll take no thought
of it, nor aught of me; he has not done
for years. I’ll follow love, and doing so
I will not burden him with making match,
and me he’ll love the more for leaving him.

Love will come to me as a stranger comes
and make me catch alight with heart aflame
then I will tell my uncle of my will
and he will bless me there and bid me go
be nodding to his wine before the door
is closed behind my fast departing back.

enter fairies: Odile, Robin, Nick and others, but not the Queen yet

Molly: Here’s strangers coming as you spoke the word!

Janet: Fair strangers.

Molly: Fair indeed, who can they be?

Janet: I know not. I will greet them. Come with me.

be welcome to our revels, gentle friends,

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Be welcome to our revels, gentle friends

well met by starlight under May’s fair stars.

Nick: I thank you for your greeting, will you dance?

Janet: Why, sir, my feet – why sir, why yes, I will,
I’ll dance a measure with you for my feet
grow light again for dancing at your touch.

Robin: to Molly And will you dance with me, fair maid?

Molly: I will.

enter Sir Simon, rubbing his hands and cackling

Simon: Her uncle has agreed, she will be mine!
Ah, see her dancing there, so young, so fair!
She is the jewel of her uncle’s crown
untouched, unknowing love, and to be mine.
So, true, I’ve lived for forty years and nine
and, yes, I am not fair of face, I know,
indeed, my back is crooked — since the wars,
this is a noble wound, not mark of birth —
but I am rich and favoured by the king
and I am noble back to Solomon
my blood’s as good and pure and fair as hers
with whom I’ll mingle it, at this next Yule.
Sweet Janet, pretty Janet, dance this May
for this will be your last, here maidens dance
in green for memory of older days
next May you will be bearing sons of mine.

He sits and watches. Thomas leads Alys out of the dance, and sits with
her, on the other side. Nick leads Janet over to join them.

Nick: to Thomas Ho there, and will you trade your partner, sir?
My feet still long to dance upon the green
to this familiar music on this night.

Thomas: Never! She is my partner and my love
who picked me out from all this merry crowd
the fairest of them all, crown-ed in my eyes
as on her head she wears the fairest flowers.

Nick: I see your heart is set, but thou, sweet maid?
Wilt thou dance with a stranger, once, for luck?

Alys: For luck I might, for luck, dear Tom, for luck,
’tis luck to dance with strangers on May Eve
I’ll kiss and leave thee, love, for just one dance.

Thomas: Go on and dance then, thou wilt I forgive,
but hurry back, an hour will pass for each
moment thou dancest in another’s arms.

They go and dance, leaving Thomas and Janet sitting.

Janet: Dost thou know of these strangers, dressed in green?
Where have they come from? For I thought I knew
each soul who lived in thirty miles of here
and yet I know these faces not at all.

Thomas: I never saw the like of them before.
They’re fair of face and form, and fair of speech
but I mislike how Alys went with him.

Janet: Dost trust her not to come back straight to you?

Thomas: I trust her heart, but maybe not her feet.

Janet: Then shall we dance together till she come?
To keep a closer eye upon those feet?

Thomas: Nay, for my feet are tired, and are not thine?
And look, here Molly comes to sit with us.
With yet another stranger on her arm.

Molly and Robin come and sit with them.

Janet: Good dancing, Molly?

Molly: Yes indeed it is,
I thought my soul would rise until the trees
were grass beneath my feet, and all the stars
were jewels in my hair, and still I danced.
But then I felt my hair about my face
where those high winds had blown it, so I stopped
to beg your comb to catch it up again.

Robin: There’s poetry as well as beauty here.
And I will wait for you to dance again.

Molly: Come Janet, for one moment, come aside
I need your comb, a moment, Janet come!

they go aside and Janet puts up Molly’s hair.

Thomas: This foolish vanity that some girls have
when once they think they’ve grown a pretty face!
I have seen Janet three foot deep in mud
and now she wears a crown of flowers to dance.
And Molly too, though you may think her fair,
I’ve seen her when her arms were scratched with briars
scream like a cat and stamp her feet with rage.
My Alys, see her dancing with your friend,
is not like that, her grace is all untaught
not primped and painted but all natural
unthought of beauty, there are few like her.

Robin: Aye, few enough, maybe, but —

Thomas: What is that?
I hear a splendid music, pray, who comes?

Robin: It is the Queen, the Queen I say, stand back
or shalt be crushed by mortal longings such
as sure shall be thy death, stand back I say
her chariot drifts now near, and she shall choose
whose eyes can pierce the bubble and see in.
No, let thine eyes close tight, she comes, she comes,
and once thy glance has strayed across her face
her waterfall of hair, her countenance
thou wilt forget thy Alys, thou art lost.
Oh, fairer than the splendid sun of noon
and fickle as the moonbeam on the grass,
our dearest queen, and though I love her well
it likes me not to see her seek thee out.
She has a use for well-found mortal men,
to grace her endless revels, and she means
to make you hers entire, so close your eyes,
and heed my words, take care, Tom, look away
— but come, it is too late, and thou art lost.

Thomas: Methought I had seen beauty ere this night
but it was never so, for what I saw
was beauty’s shadow, now I see the light
and I am dazzled now, for ever more.

to the Queen Will you dance, madam?

Queen: Sir, you know I will.

They dance, and Thomas vanishes into the Queen’s world. Alys continues
to dance with Nick. Molly and Janet come back.

Molly: My hair is done, now shall we dance once more?

Janet: Where’s Thomas? Has he found his love again?

Robin: She has found him, and nothing that we know
can change the way the course of love will go.

Scene Three: Janet’s uncle’s castle.

Uncle: So you will wed Sir Simon when tis Yule.

Janet: I never will, I swear, I never will.

Uncle: You will, my girl, for this is not your will
or on your own control, and my will is
Sir Simon is a man of noble blood
and honours thus our family through you
who’ll bear him sons to further both our lines
and I will hear no stubborness, you will.

Janet: I will not, Uncle, though you will not hear
I’ll marry with no foul misshapen man
no matter what his noble ancestry
his own blood is attainted, he is base,
not just his shape, his nature too is warped
I could not come to love a man so vile.

Uncle: What, love? I had not thought you were so young
that you should sit and prate to me of love.
Tell me of duty, for it is my will
you do your duty to me, and wed him.
And one more thing, you must run wild no more.
There are yet two more seasons ere you wed
and in them you must do as you are bid
and bide the while indoors, within the house,
behind closed doors, as suits maids of your rank
not frisking through the woods with village maids
and dancing on the green with village men.
The woods I tell you are forbidden you
from this day forward, learn this lesson well.

Janet: But Uncle — uncle dear, I love the woods.
There is that word again, but hear me now!
Where is the harm in trees and grass and streams
green summer come to blossom and to bloom
in all the world what is so beautiful?

Uncle: Nothing perhaps, of harm in woods and streams
but harm there is in men you call your friends
and let them take you by the arm or hand
you are no child now. Where a hand may touch
so may another thing and I have sworn
Sir Simon that you are an untouched maid.
So keep yourself indoors as good maids should.

Janet: Uncle, you know I do not wish to wed
yet I will do my duty in this thing
if you’ll deny my not my woods and streams.
My father left me all the woodland here,
it is my own, and I know every brook
and every leaf that falls is mine to see
and every flower that blooms, and every tree.
Give my your leave to walk as I am wont
and I will practice to obedience.

Uncle: At Yule you’ll marry and you’ll go to town
and see these woods no more, bid them farewell
from window casements opening from your tower.


Janet: Trapped! But he cannot trap me for I am
my father’s daughter who willed me the woods
meant as my birthright. So, I will escape.
I will go through the window that he thinks
is but a veil to see through, and climb down
and hie me straight to Thomas who will find
some way to help me flee from this vile trap.

Scene Four: The village. Enter Molly and Janet.

Molly: Thomas is gone, and nobody knows where.
Alys is weeping till her eyes are sore.
His mother speaks of him as one who’s dead.

Janet: My troubles melt to nothing, tell me more!

Molly: He vanished at the dance, and some folks say
the strangers who came there were Lordly Ones.

Janet: Fairies you mean?

Molly: Oh do not say the word
lest it should conjure them, quick make the sign
that wards ‘gainst evil, spit upon the ground,
and turn you thrice around, don’t speak so loud.

Janet: But that is what you mean, by Lordly Ones?

Molly: Hush, yes, and some say that they took our Tom.

Janet: I’ll seek him in the grove lest he be dazed
and sleeping there alone beneath the trees.

Molly: Shall I tell Alys?

Janet: No, she’d want to come
then say she’d torn her dress and must turn back
and say her hands were scratched and shoes were mired
I will go quicker if I go myself.

Molly: Shall I come with you? I am not a fool
to take small mincing steps and slow you down?

Janet: No, Molly dear, you stay and comfort her
for she will need your comfort, if her heart
is broken now till Thomas shall return
she may well be regretting that the dance
she took for luck has made her luck run out.
I’ll go myself and seek him, fare you well.

Scene Five: The grove again, by daylight. Enter Janet.

Janet: calling Thomas? Where art thou? Art thou sleeping there?
speaking There is no sign of him among the trees
nor here where last we danced. calling Thomas! I call!
I need thee Thomas, Janet needs thy help.
speaking Well then, if he’s not here what shall I do?
I needs must run away, but where to go
when I know nobody outside these woods?
Oh, see these roses rambling wild and pink
to make a hedge between the western trees.
These he did pick for me and twine them up
to make a dancing crown which I then wore.
And he did say red roses were for love
and those he’d pick for Alys but the wild
the pink-blushed English roses, were for friends.

Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wild roses were for friends

And have the fairies stolen thee away
as they steal babes from cradles leaving those
whose throats must late be cut for ugliness?
I will have roses to remember thee.
I’ll cut this double rose and wear it so
as I adventure out into the world.

enter Thomas, through the rose-hedge from Fairyland

Thomas: Janet? What dost thou? Why pullst thou the rose?
Why hast thou come here, when I called thee not?

Janet: These woods are mine and I may come or go
without thou callest me, at thy command!
But where’st thou been? Thy Alys sits and weeps
thy mother thinks thee dead, thou camest not home
and though I sought thee out among the trees
I could not find thee, so I thought thee gone.
Wert thou asleep? And where? I found thee not.
Art real, or but a dream? Thy clothes are fair,
the cloak of green, the crown — but finer than
I’ve ever seen thee wear.

Thomas: Methinks I dreamed.
The Queen of all the Fairies held me close
and she smiled sweet on me, and gave me names
that I can scarce remember, and we walked
on softest grass together, then thou called
and wrenched me from her arms, thou wretched girl.
I think if thou shouldst give that rose to me
I would return and find me safe with her.

Janet: But what of Alys?

Thomas: Alys, to the Queen
is like a buttercup unto a rose.
Or like reflections in a millpond cast
by nodding willows which you think are fair
until you turn and see the tree itself.
I thought I loved her, but I knew not love
as now I know it – give me back the rose?

Janet: Wait for a moment, Thomas, what of me?
My uncle says he’ll wed me to a man
so foul and so misshapen that I puke.
To see him is a misery and soon
he says I have to bear his loathsome touch.
He says we wed at Yule, and so I flee
to find my fortune in another land.

Thomas: Farewell, good luck, but what wilt thou do there?

Janet: I know not, strangers might not take me in
and it would break my heart to leave these woods.

Thomas: I think these woods to thee are like my Queen
is unto me, the centre of thy heart.

Janet: Tis true. I told him that I love the woods
and he would hear naught of it. He forbade
me still to walk beneath the branching boughs
and bade me keep my room, as maidens should.
I thought me then, if I were not a maid
he could not make me wed. Sir Simon would
no longer want me, I could live at ease
as I have always done, here with the trees.

Thomas: Thou’lt ask me to take water after wine,
bread after sweetmeats, russet after silk?
But I will lie with thee for friendship’s sake
and for these dear woods’ sake that hold thy heart –
if thou wilt after give me back the rose
and let me get me back unto my love.

Scene Six: Janet’s Uncle’s Castle. Autumn.

Simon: You promised me a maid, and she is not.
I’ll have the money back I lent to you
I’ll have no more of her, nor you beside
no bastard will she bear to stain my name.

Uncle: What are you saying, Simon, calm yourself,
come, take another drink, sit down with me,
speak gently, tell me plainly what you mean.

Simon: Your niece, your Janet, who you swore was chaste
had known no touch of man, well, she is changed,
to put the matter plain, she swells with child.

Uncle: How can it be? For I have kept her close
have guarded all the gates and hemmed her in
since first at May I promised her to you.
She is a gentle maid, who cares for flowers
and keeps her chamber with a woman’s grace.

Simon: I care not where she lost her maidenhead
she has it not to bring unto my bed.
Maybe you locked the doors upon her late
but she is ripening fast and not a maid.

Uncle: I will speak to her, let them bring her in.

Simon: What good of that, when what I want is lost?
I’ll have my money back, I say I will.

Uncle: If what you say is true, then who shall say
who has debauched the girl and made her swell.

enter Janet

Janet: You sent for me, my uncle? I am here.

Simon: Why yes, you whore, you come when men do call!

Janet: What do you call me, sir, how do you dare
to cast such names at me. Be silent sir!
Your rude speech does belie your honoured name.

Simon: You will not pin that babe on me, you whore
I say the name again, for it is yours.
All know I’ve not come near you and your door
has guarded been for all these last four months.

Janet: I swore that I would bear no child to thee
and no child that I bear will bear your name
I cannot bear you, sir, and if you died
some quick and painful death, t’would suit me well.

Simon: See how she speaks, how gentle is her tongue!

Uncle: Janet, look at me, well, I see your face.
Now tell me, is it true you go with child?

Simon: You’ll learn it from her belly, not her face!

Janet: Yes, uncle, it is true, I go with child.
But there’s no blame to Ugly Simon here,
he’s never touched me and he never will.
Nor anybody of your household, sir,
nor any in the village, there’s no man
who lives in mortal lands can claim my child
this child is but my own. I am no maid
and need not marry Simon, may I walk
the woods as is my wont?

Uncle: No you may not!
I never heard such foolishness as this.
What got you then with child, a passing wind?
Some god who saw your beauty from afar?
Who wrought this wretched change in your estate?
Tell me the father’s name and you will wed
if he be lord or potboy, for you will
bear no unfathered child to stain our house.

Simon: I told you, as I told you, so you see,
you are the last to learn what all men knew
she is a whore and she will injure you.

Uncle: Oh hold your peace.

Janet: Uncle, I cannot say,
more than I said before, which is the truth.

Uncle: Then I will lock you in your room until
the babe is born, then I will cut its throat
and when once more you’re marked as clean to wed
I’ll bring another husband to your bed.

Scene Seven: The glade. Enter Robin and Thomas.

Robin: With walls of periwinkle set with gold
all wreathed about the beautious garden glades
where fair pavilions stand, alight with flowers
and fountains flow with wine and water both.

Thomas: It sounds a splendid place.

Robin: Oh, that it is.
The fairest I have seen in all the world.
When we are tired of summer glades we go
and thither turn our heads, and all the leaves
turn gold with joy to see us passing by.

Thomas: And will she take me thither, Robin, then?

Robin: Oh yes. I think she shall, if you’re in time.

Thomas: What time constrains us? For you said to me
when mortals come to Faerie lands they live
along with fairy-kind in fairy time
which goes along forever, reveling?
Kind time, which once had seen her glorious face
and stayed to see it glowing evermore.

Robin: Well yes, but thou, oh Thomas, this is hard.

Thomas: You think she wearies of me? She does not.
She told me she had mortal loves before
and always wearied of them in a time
but I am different, I can see her well,
I know she truly loves me, I can tell.

Robin: Oh Thomas, I must speak, but I should not.

Thomas: Why not, good friend? What would’st thou say but daren’t?

Robin: There is a price for endless life and youth
and thou wilt be that price, be paid to Hell.
For this the Queen did take thee from thy world
and bought thee into ours, and thou wilt die.
She loves thee truly, what she loves she kills
and I did warn thee of it long ago.

Thomas: You lie – but no, I see you do not lie.
Good Robin, truest friend among the fays,
tell me this death may be prevented now?
Tell me that I can find a way to live
I beg thee, if thou know’st one, tell me so.

Robin: If thou escapest then we all shall die
shall fade back into time, and come to naught.
Would’st thou not choose to die to save the Queen,
to save me too, and all our merry court?

Thomas: If thou had asked me then I might have said
that I would do so, and if battle came
be sure I would have risked my life to go.
But being bound unwilling sacrifice,
no I will not die for you – Robin, please.

Robin: Thou can’st not do it, it will be too hard
for you to so devise it, but there is.
The sacrifice is made at Hallows’ Eve.
Thou’lt ride on a white horse the night we go.
If once a woman pull thee from that horse
and she bearing thy child, and thou wilt turn
to snake and lion and bear and burning brand
or maybe I have got that turned about
and it be lion first, before the snake.
However tis, to animals and fire,
and if she holds thee tight through all that coil
then thou can’st live – and all of us will die.

Thomas: I must go to the village, Robin now.

Robin: I’ll come with thee in silence, well, we go.

Scene Eight: The village. Enter Robin, Thomas and Molly.

Molly: I’ll go to fetch her, but she may not come.

Thomas: Not come? I think she’ll come and speak with me.

Molly: You left without a word, she wept for you
then dried her eyes and found another love.

Thomas: I left, tis true, oh Alys, how unjust
I was to thee to leave without a thought
but then I was bewitch-ed when I went.

Molly: I’ll see if she will see you, wait you here.


Robin: That is a comely mortal maid who goes
bursting with life from all her dimpled skin
she tries to pin her hair and quell her curves
but out they burst so merrily again.

Thomas: That’s Molly.

Robin: Yes, she told me twas her name.
I danced with her on May Eve, half the night.
She liked my singing, which few fairies do.

enter Molly and Alys

Thomas: Here’s Alys now.

Robin: Oh yes, thy pretty one.

Thomas: I thought her beautiful before the Queen,
I thought her gracious, strange it is to say.

Alys: Thomas! I scarce believed when Molly said.
We gave you up already, thought you dead.

Thomas: I’ve been in Fairyland my dear, and I
am not yet free of it, I need thy help.

Alys: My help? I know no magic, I’m afeared
of spells. Besides, dear Thomas, I am wed.

Thomas: You’re married?

Alys: Yes, this day a month ago.
I mourned for you, I wept and howled and cried
I thought you dead and gone, I was bereft.
And then one came who could console my grief,
and you come back, and I am rent again.

Thomas: Farewell then dear, and do believe I know
that I have been a fool to hurt you so.

exit Alys

Robin: Is there no other maid who yet might care?

Thomas: to Molly Where’s Janet?

Molly: Why, her uncle locked her up.
He found some ugly bridegroom, so they say,
I’ve had no word of her for months on end
not since May Day when she went seeking you
among the dancing glades has she been out.
They’ve guarded all the windows in the place
and though I tried to see her I could not.

Thomas: Now I recall, she told me of this groom,
she plucked a rose and called me in the wood
and so we spoke a while, upon that day.

Robin: If we went to her, think’st thou she would help?

Thomas: I ought to help her if she is locked up.
Let us unto the Hall. Molly, farewell.

Molly: You will not shake me off so fast, you fool,
Janet is my friend too, and I can help,
I might yet be of use to all of you.

Robin: Thou art a girl of spirit, Molly mine.

Molly: Not “thine”, how dare you say it, all the same,
I’ll come along with both of you and see.

Scene Nine: Outside Janet’s Window, enter Robin, Molly and Thomas

Robin: I’ve lulled the guard asleep, so we can talk.

Thomas: calling Janet! Dost hear me? Janet, come and speak.

Janet: at window Thomas? Th’art here? Came out of fairy land?
I never thought to see thy face again.
I’m trapped here in this tow’r. Molly, well met,
there’s not a day I have not thought of thee.
And who’s the third who comes to cheer my grief
beneath my prison window? Why, you sir,
I do not know your name but you are one
who danced all clothed in green on May Eve Night.

Robin: My name is Robin Goodfellow, or Puck,
and as you guessed, I am of fairy-kind.

Thomas: How goes it with thee, Janet? Ill, I fear?

Janet: Yes, ill enough in truth. My uncle had
me prisoned in this tower so I’d wed
his choice of loathsome knight, full fifty years
with crooked back and leg, and hateful mind.
Then, when I sought to make myself no maid
loathsome Sir Simon left, but I am here
where keys are always turned, with but one sheet
and now my uncle swears he’ll kill my babe
as soon as it be born and breathing free.

Molly: Your babe? Whence came a babe into this tale?

Janet: I said I made myself no more a maid
to save myself from marriage to the knight.

Molly: That knot undoing commonly takes two.

Robin: to Thomas Thou art undone with her undoing. See,
another chance is lost, she bears a babe
already, to some other friend no doubt.

Thomas: No, hush, the babe is mine, for in the wood
I did oblige for friendship’s sake and lay —

Janet: — As russet after silk, but I was glad
thou helped me with a burden, as I thought,
not guessing then my uncle was so mad.

Robin: Good news, well there, good news at least for thee
and not so good for me, if I must die.

Molly: Hush, let us rescue Janet from the tower.
Where is a ladder kept? Robin, your song
that puts the guards to sleep, sing it once more
and we will have her down and be away.

Janet: And whither then? My uncle is enraged.

Molly: Why to the woods, and I will bring thee food.
Come Robin, ladders, and beguiling guards.

Robin: I’m at thy service, lady, here I come.

Exit Molly and Robin

Thomas: Well, Janet, now we are alone —

Janet Oh no
do not say that thou lov’st me, I know well
thou art in love with love, as I was once.
Be thou my stalwart friend, as ever wert?
The babe is mine, I thank thee for thy gift
and ask no more of thee than that thou art
that which thou’st ever been, my truest friend.

Thomas: That was not what I had begun to say,
which is more difficult and not as true,
for I do love thee as the best of friends
thou need’st not ask that, Janet, that thou hast.
But I would beg a favour now of thee.
I am enthrall-ed to the Faerie Queen
and she will spend me as a Teind to Hell.
And Robin tells me there is but one way
that my life can be saved, and it is hard.

Janet: Thou knowest that whatever I can do
I will do, saving mischief to my babe.

Thomas: On Hallow’s Eve the fairies all will ride
and I ride with them going through the wood
I ride a stallion white, so Robin says.
And if thou, bearing as thou dost my babe,
should pull me from that horse, I will be saved.
But thou must hold me fast, for I will change
into so many things that I forget
lions and bears and fire and snakes oh my
and you must hold me tight, till I be safe.

Janet: Why then, thou rescu’st me and I do thee,
so turnabout for turn, as we thought right
when we took sticks as swords and played at knights.

Scene Ten: Between the village and the castle, enter Molly and Robin, carrying a ladder between them with some difficulty.

Molly: I never heard a pother such as this
in all my years. Nay, do not swing it round,
just lift it straight and carry it behind.

Robin: Sweet Molly, it is such an awkward load,
so long, so clumsy, that it trips my feet.

Molly: Then hold it higher up! We needs must bring
it to the castle straight to help her out.

Robin: Ah-ha, that time thou dids’t reproach me not
for saying thou art sweet, and so thou art,
sweet like a full ripe plum, that bursts with juice.

Molly: Say rather strawberry, for I am red
and scant of breath from carrying this load
and all my hair escaping down my back.
Oh Robin, let it be. I know I lack
the beauty of the nymphs that you pursue
remember that I saw your queen that night.

I care not, truly, I have seen my face
mirrored in mill-ponds, and it suits me well.
Or if it did not, I have seen my friends
who have consoled me for my beauty’s lack
and for my stoutness, growing stout themselves
and seen their youthful beauties fade away.
But do not tease me into growing cross.
We have a task to do for our two friends,
and do it best without this bantering.

Robin: Thou needst new friends, aye, and new mill-ponds too,
if thou hast grown so worn with teasing that
thou cannot hear an honest word without.
My Molly —

Molly: Hold the ladder further up!

Robin: My Molly, thou art beautiful to me.
I do not tease thee, and thou do me wrong.
Thou hast not fairy beauty, as thy friend,
that Mistress Alys had, when first we met.
Thou hast a mortal beauty in my eyes
which makes me think of plums and strawberries,
great bowls of strawberries, with thick fresh cream,
and roses in full bloom and summer days
and all that’s sweet and ripe and full of life.
Thou art enough to tempt me into love.

Molly: What maiden could resist such blandishments
to be compared to fruit and roses blown!

I cannot tell if this be truth or wiles.
You must have seen a thousand maids before
some fair, some dark, some most like unto fruit
— I am not laughing at you, Robin dear —
and others more like flowers, now you say love,
as if you meant it, do you often so?

Robin: Some fairy folk will lightly give their love
and I have trifled oftentimes before —

Molly: I knew or guessed it, and it will not do.
I have no time to dally thus with you.

Take firmer hold, for now we go uphill
the ladder may slip back, be careful now.

Robin: This ladder is the chaperone thou brought
to make our meeting safe before the world
to keep my arms and kisses far away
for fear they’d make thee learn what I would say.
It stands more awkward than a thousand swords
and gives thee constant cause to stop and chide.

Now listen Molly, I am speaking plain.
I’ve dallied oft enough with fairy folk
and sometimes wihh a mortal on May Eve
when one has looked and smiled and caught my eye
but never have I lied and called it love
when twas but honest friendly passing lust.
I’ll make advances, and I’ll not repulse
advances that some nymph may make to me
and I will compliment a pretty maid
but what I say is not cold flattery
served up as common coin to all I meet.

I liked thee since I saw thee, liked thy laugh
and liked the words that are thy tripping breath
and thought, and think, that thou art beautiful.
Oh, toss thy head, the ladder will not care
at least it lets me know thou listenest.

Molly: This ladder is not chaperone but jail
that weighs me down and forces me to hear.
I give my thanks to God we’re nearly there.

Robin: But as I grew to know thee more I learned
that thou art well worth loving. Come with me
come back with me into the fairy world
it’s time for change, and time to make a choice.
We’ll dance on air as thou once said we did
we’ll see the lasting beauty of the wood
and live together as the world grows old.

Molly: You say your words are true, and so you mean.
I am persuaded that you do not lie.

But how can you know truth from lies who live
so laughingly and lightly on the world?
Your world is all illusion, melts away,
your promises are air, your very life
is beautiful but never very real.

I pant, I sweat, the ladder burns my hands
there’s mud upon my skirt, and thou, and thou
art here, art near, but walk untouched, unharmed.
Thou offer’st dreams and glamours, flattering charm.
I want a man to stay and fill my bed,
I want a babe to feed, to fill my arms.
I do not want to leave this world to risk
the dangers Tom is trying to escape
or simpler ones of burning up my life
in living faster than a mortal can
in worlds a mortal was not meant to know.

We are not for each other, Robin dear,
so catch that ladder up, for we are near.

Scene Eleven: Halloween, Night, the Grove. Enter the Queen, Robin, Thomas, Odile and Nick with a host

Queen: Are we all gathered from the quartered world?
Are all of us still eager for the Feast?
And are we panoplied, caparisoned
to make a glorious vision as we ride?

All: We are, O Queen.

Nick: We never were so splendid as this night.
Methinks we have outdone ourselves with gold
and with the emerald cloth that takes the light
and with much fairer folk than those of old.
Could we be fairer than we used to be?
I say we’ve grown in beauty through the years
such that, all gathered in this wood I see
a sight that moves me almost unto tears.

Queen: But what’s this, Robin, what dost thou do there?

Robin: It is an acorn which I thought to plant
to shade our high solemnities to come,
to send its roots and branches deep and high
that all who see it will remember me.

Odile: And say I dropped the acorn on thy head,
that very acorn I mistake me not?

Robin: Thy eyes are good, this is that acorn here
and I will plant it under this strong soil
in lasting hope for growth, though rains may come
and wash the shoot away, or drought may parch
the seedling, still one day that oak
may shed new acorns which new nymphs may toss
to vex new sleeping swains beneath their boughs.

Thomas: An oak tree is a mighty thing to plant.
And I would plant one too, if I had such
a token I could thrust into the ground.

Queen: Why Thomas, there are acorns all around
that other oaks have strewn about the glade
I know not how in future years thou’lt tell
thy oak from all the others that have grown
unplanted, freely, as an oak tree will.
Come, mount and ride, and let us to the Feast!

Scene Twelve: The same, in the mortal world

Janet: Think’st thou that they are coming? Think’st they’re near?

Molly: However could I know if they are close?
I’m hidden in this bush until my nose
is bursting me to sneeze, and till my hair
is packed quite full of leaves, and still thou say’st
each minute, even as a mill-wheel strikes,
“Think’st thou they’re nearer” till I fain would scream.

Janet: I thought that Robin said they would be here.

Molly: Robin said many things, and most were lies.
He said that I was beautiful, for one,
and that he loved me for another lie.
Oh fairy folk are full of charm, I see
what rapted up Thomas, silly foolish boy.

Janet: I think that Robin meant the things he said.
I think he meant us well, as much he may.

Molly: How can I tell when fancies stuff his speech
as thick as summer pies with berries bulge?
But if he did, what then, he’s not my kind
I would not go with him and risk the fate
that Thomas risks if thou wert not so brave.

Janet: Hush now, they come, they’re rushing through the night
a horse of black, of brown, a horse of white,
a snake, a bear, a lion, then a flame
and I must hold him tight by my son’s name.

she leaps and pulls Thomas down

Queen: Let go girl, let him go, you do not know
the peril you do tempt in doing so!

Thomas: Now I am changing, how I twist and writhe,
I feel my body melt like wax beneath
the burning glass of time and change and life.

Molly: He is an esk, an adder, a green snake
that slimes and squirms beneath her holding arms
hold well, dear Janet, hold him till he wake!

Robin: He is a bear so furred and fierce, his arm
is clubbing her, but still she holds him firm
his claws are sharp and he will do her harm!

Odile: He is a lion, now she will let go
what lass could clutch a lion whose great jaws
can rend her flesh and cause her blood to flow?

Nick: But no, she holds him, though I see her blood,
upon his golden fur, she holds him still
this is a girl whose fierceness does amaze
she doth confuse my heart with her strong will.

Queen: But my heart is unchanged, and he’s a flame.
This will defeat her, and I think that well.
Burning his life out, he will burn out hers
and both of them may be my Teind to Hell,
for their ingratitude they both may burn.

Janet: Nay, Lady, I have rolled him in my cloak
and put the burning out; and where he stood,
translated as you wrought, he stands again
before you, free and naked, in my wood.

Queen: You have destroyed us, you have brought us low,
why have you hated us, that you do so?
We brought a little magic to your lives
a little joy outside of mortal sight
we set our jests aright when we could do
and brought some few of you into delight.

Thomas: You would have given me as Teind to Hell!

Queen: Only to save us all, because I must.
I could have had Odile beguile you, Tom,
and send you to the dark, I did not so,
I loved you well myself, and saw you go.
But had I known what you would show to me
I would have ta’en out your clear grey eyes
and given you instead two eyes of tree.
For bargains broken are like those unmade
and so we perish, slowly, and we fade.

Odile: My Queen, not so, there is another part
you told me when you spoke of it before.
If any fairy willingly would go
to Hell, then all the rest could live once more.

Queen: Well, and what fairy will step forward now?

Robin: I will, my Queen.

Molly: What Robin? Robin, no!
Thou art a fool to die, thy life is worth
ten thousand of these others here on Earth.

Queen: What is this gallantry that brings thee now
when thou said’st life was sweet and thou would’st live?
I will accept thy gift, but tell me why
thou feel’st this is a thing thou wants to give.

Title page image of Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests

Puck, 1629

Robin Why madam, I have changed, as all that live
change as their life will change them, to life’s ends.
I have known years and joy in these fair woods
and my delight has been to serve the court
in divers romps and jests, oh, how we laughed
and how I laughed the loudest of them all,
at trickery and folly, and at love.

But, living, I have changed, and changed my heart
so what delighted me is hollow now
to see some mortal wonder at our pranks
which once I thought so droll, seems now but cruel.
Or when some fairy stoops in dalliance
with flitting flirting fleeing through the trees
my feet and heart are heavy in the chase
and count the acorn more than the embrace.

I wearied of it all, but still I said
that life is sweet and leaving life is sad
for life is change, and I was changing then
and where change led I knew not, on I went,
with no desire to die and end my life
and least of all to lay me down in Hell
to burn unchanging in one moment there
with no more choice, or change, and no more life.

My Molly, who mislikes such bold address,
so Mistress Molly I will say, or no,
my sweetest mortal Molly, my ripe rose,
sees all our world as sham and hollow show
shining as cobwebs shine with sun and dew
with beauty that the moment lends to time
but seen without deceit as dirty strands
of spider’s weaving to be swept away;
or worse, like to a fair but deadly flower
that mortal hands can see, but if they touch
the secret poison hidden in the cup
shall take them to a swift and fevered end.

And weighing it her way I ask what good
have we fays ever done? And what there is
that is not counted beauty, is small good.
But still, our path has been the middle way
between the paths that lead to heaven and hell
the road to fairy-land that runs not straight,
and down that path is beauty, magic, love,
that casts a glamour into mortal lives.

Then I bethought me of a man who once
went dancing on the green and found us there
and went home at the end of that one night
and found it seven years for all the world.
I seven times seven years later sought him out,
his beard long and white, his hair grown hoar,
he shook his old man’s head at my gold coins,
guessing aright that they were gathered leaves
but bade me freely drink my fill of milk.

He set his milk-pails down and stretched his arms
which creaked as old men’s aching arms will creak,
he greeted me by name, as long before,
and asked me how she was, the fair Odile.
And when I told him she was still as fair
as when he danced the merry night away
I saw him smile. Now shall I weigh that smile
against the seven years, against the mud
thick caked upon his boots, I say tis good.

I say tis better that they have that glimpse
the glimpse whose echo was that smile I saw,
than let their lives be mud and toil and care
and these things only, though those things are real
so are their loves and fancies, so are we.

What would the woods be without fairies here?
Who would tear down that cobweb in the dawn
or trample on the foxglove in the spring
but some barbarian, some cackling hag
or some shortsighted knave who dares not live
thinks of his own advantage first and last
and scoffs at mysteries beyond his sight.
Fair is as fair will do, and magic is
as perilous as love, but those who would
deny themselves all risk of love are dead
as sure as if they picked the poisoned flower
except their bodies breathe a little yet.

It’s ever been my task to set things right
where mortals are concerned, and now my life
I give for them and for our fairy court
that all may grow and change, though I am naught.

If I knew little I would think you wept?

Queen: The world is changed, for I who never yet
since I came into time let fall so much
as but one single tear, now weep for thee,
standing so bold upon the gate of Hell.

Robin: I see the rainbow in your prismed tear
the oak tree in the acorn, time to come
in this one moment as the jaws gape wide
I feel the breath of Hell upon my back.
Madam, farewell, I served you as I might.
Molly, you’ll find a better man to love
who is a man in sooth not just in form.
And Thomas, Janet, teach the baby well
that there are other worlds and they are fair
and life is lived and built here breath by breath
and choice by mortal choice, to change and grow
and thus is hallowed in the joy ye know.
Fare well, live well, live long my gathered friends,
and Robin, once again, restores amends.

Jo Walton, 2001, Swansea.