Scottish myths 31

The cave of King Arthur

Many claims have been made regarding exactly where King Arthur and his knights are alleged to be resting in peace.
Legend has it, for example, that they are sleeping beneath Eildon Hills.

A horse trader known as Canonbie Dick met an old man on Bowden Moor. The old man bought two horses then asked the trader to bring along four more to Bowden Moor at the same hour, on the same day of the following week. Dick was pleased to do so, and during their second meeting, the old man offered the horse trader a drink, also by way of sealing their agreement in a convivial way.

The old man led Dick into a great cave in the Eildon Hills. Dick was amazed to see there the stables of black destriers, and by each fine horse lay fast asleep a knight in black armour, which could hardly have been very comfortable.
In the cave there was also a table, not the famous round one, just a simple table upon which were placed a horn and a claymore in its long scabbard.

The old man offered Canonbie Dick a wooden mug of mead, then he introduced himself as Thomas, the prophet of Erceldoune, otherwise known as Thomas the Rhymer, or True Thomas. Dick accepted the mead, nodded and mumbled that it wasn't everyday that one bumps into prophets.

Thomas looked thoughtfully at Dick as the horse trader sipped his mead, then he set him a curious task. He should choose, said Thomas, between blowing on the horn or drawing the sword from its scabbard. If Dick made the right choice, continued the prophet, he would become King of Scotland.

Now Canonbie Dick wasn't too sure that he wanted such a weighty responsibility. He already found it hard enough getting by in the horse trade. Suspecting that the drawing of the sword would indicate courage, steadfast or foolhardy resolve, he decided to opt for blowing on the horn.

After he gave it a fine blast, there was a sinister rumble, which at first made Dick fear that he had got it wrong again. The ominous rumble preceded the sound of a withering voice that made this cruel and fatal proclamation:

Woe to the coward whoever was born
To draw not the sword but to blow on the horn.

To make things even worse, following this unfair curse expressed by a paltry poem, there were further cavernous rumblings. They built up to a culminating ear-splitting thunder, then an exceedingly powerful and smelly gust of wind rudely ejected Dick from the mouth of the cave as if he were shot from a cannon, or evicted by the blast of a mighty fart discharged by the displeased King Arthur himself.

He landed so badly that it caused him to suffer from mortal injuries. But Dick lived long enough to be able to recount this tale to the person who discovered him and did what little he could to try to ease his pain. The person was a deaf shepherd who, fortunately for posterity, could lip-read Gaelic.
Thanks to the shepherd this legend has been handed down, although one could surmise that Dick's interpretation was inexact, or that the shepherd wasn't the best of lip-readers, or that he invented the whole yarn himself.

Nevertheless, if there is a glimmer of truth in the tale, one could reach the conclusion that the choice offered by True Thomas, the prophet of Erceldoune, was unfair, thus a dishonest one. For had Dick been previously warned of the consequences of the choice of modesty, the choice of an unpretentious man aware of his own limitations but fully qualified at horn blowing, he would certainly have chosen to draw the claymore. And had he done so, the history of Scotland might well have been very different, if modesty often determines justice, whereas immodesty often engenders tyranny.
But it could also be said that this would not be the only recorded historical or mythical event that might advise us to beware of certain prophets.

Scottish myths 32
Scottish myths 30

Retelling © Mirino. Sources include Scotland Myths and Legends (Beryl Beare). Photograph of Eildon Hills © Keith Robeson with grateful thanks.  
October, 2013

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