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Main > English folktales > Fairy tale "The Laidly Worm"

The Laidly Worm

So he called his men-at-arms together and said:

"We must sail to Bamborough and land by Spindlestone, so as to quell and kill this Laidly Worm."

Then they built a ship without delay, laying the keel with wood from the rowan tree. And they made masts of rowan wood also, and oars likewise; and, so furnished, set forth.

Now the wicked Queen knew by her arts they were coming, so she sent out her imps to still the winds so that the fluttering sails of silk hung idle on the masts. But Childe Wynde was not to be bested; so he called out the oarsmen. Thus it came to pass that one morn the wicked Queen, looking from the Keep, saw the gallant ship in Bamborough Bay, and she sent out all her witch-wives and her impets to raise a storm and sink the ship; but they came back unable to hurt it, for, see you, it was built of rowan wood, over which witches have no power.

Then, as a last device, the Witch Queen laid spells upon the Laidly Worm saying:

"Oh! Laidly Worm! Go make their topmast heel,

Go! Worm the sand, and creep beneath the keel."

Now the Laidly Worm had no choice but to obey. So:

"The Worm leapt up, the Worm leapt down

And plaited round each plank,

And aye as the ship came close to shore

She heeled as if she sank."

Three times three did Childe Wynde attempt to land, and three times three the Laidly Worm kept the good ship from the shore. At last Childe Wynde gave the word to put the ship about, and the Witch Queen, who was watching from the Keep, thought he had given up: but he was not to be bested: for he only rounded the next point to Budley sands. And there, jumping into the shoal water, he got safely to land, and drawing his sword of proof, rushed up to fight the awesome Worm. But as he raised his sword to strike he heard a voice, soft as the western wind:

"Oh quit thy sword, unbend thy bow,

And give me kisses three,

For though I seem a Laidly Worm

No harm I'll do to thee!"

And the voice seemed to him like the voice of his dear sister May Margret. So he stayed his hand.

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