STORYTELLER Tim Porteus takes us on another journey with the help of talented artist Mags Nisbet Macfarlane. . .

WHEN artist Mags Nisbet Macfarlane, who beautifully illustrated our first book together last year, agreed to illustrate my story this week I should have known that the result would eclipse the words of the story itself.

The tale is called Hynd Horn, a romance from the 13th century. The original source is an ancient ballad and there is more than one version, but perhaps, as Walter Scott suggested, the tale was first penned by Thomas the Rhymer.

I’d suggest looking at Mags’ art before reading the story, but then really study it after you have. New stories emerge from her beautiful picture, ones which have yet to be told.

Here is my version of the ancient tale:

Hynd Horn was born in a ‘greenwud’ somewhere beyond, but not so far from Edinburgh. Thus East Lothian can lay claim to this man, whose name Hynd means kind or courteous.

He was of lowly status and became a page boy for the king’s court. The king’s daughter was called Jean and at the first sight of her he was smitten. It was not only her outward appearance but her confident and assured way of being. She was a woman of character in a time when women of high status were expected to be wall flowers for the delectation of men.

He knew he must keep his love a secret so he said nothing of his feelings, locking them tightly in his heart. But emotions are not easily caged, for they seep out. The princess would catch him looking at her, for a brief moment, with a gaze of devotion. He would immediately avert his eyes but she understood the meaning.

What torture for him, but also for her, for she likewise secretly loved Hynd Horn. But her status and gender imprisoned her. For sure, she was privileged with fine clothes and grand rooms, but she was not free in love. She was chattel for bargaining and her father the king would be the seller. It was her duty to be the merchandise.

But one day, she could stand it no longer. She broke the chains she had been forced to keep around her heart and told Hynd Horn that she loved him.

In that moment their worlds changed. They walked together into the forbidden world of mutual love and passion. It was an entwinement of souls and they met in secret for their stolen time together.

It was not easy, for eyes were everywhere and a princess was never allowed to wander alone. But at night, when the castle slept, it was their time.

They were defying the world, and the power of the king, but in their moments together they did not care.

The rage of the king when he discovered was fearful. But Jean begged for her lover’s life, promising that if Hynd Horn was spared she would once more play her role of dutiful daughter and available princess.

So the King banished Hynd Horn to sea, never to return. The lovers were desolate but managed to steal one last moment together to say goodbye. He had brought her a gift: a wand with three singing laverocks (larks) from the wood that bore him. She brought him a gift also: a gold ring set with three diamonds.

Yet these were no ordinary diamonds, for they were bright and clear and would remain so for as long as her love for him remained true.

“If they grow dim,” she told him, “then my love for you will also have faded.” She begged him to find a way to return before this might happen, for she would resist her father’s will as long as she could.

She placed the ring on his finger and then they said their farewells. Desolation seized Jean’s heart as she watched him go.

Although he knew nothing of seamanship, Hynd was determined to find a way back to Jean and he knew the only way to do this was become rich enough to impress the king.

Seven years went by, seven years of storms, scorching heat, pirates and adventure. But in those years Hynd Horn was a man obsessed with a mission to take hold of his destiny and make his fortune so he could return to the woman he loved.

Not one day went by when he didn’t check the glow of his ring. For those seven years it shone bright, proving Jean’s love for him burned as strong as his for her.

But one day, as he was bargaining with a merchant, he cast his eye at the ring and it was dull and cloudy. He fell to his knees. “No,” he cried out. What had happened? Had she fallen for another? Was she dead? Had she tired of waiting for him?

He chartered a ship and sailed through a storm to reach Scotland. Then he acquired a horse and rode like the wind. He arrived at the city gates where there was a commotion. He hailed a beggar and asked him: “What news today, why such fuss on the streets?” The beggar looked at him in disbelief. “Sire, where have you been to ask such a question? Today the princess is being wed!”

Hynd Horn’s heart fell. He was too late. But he must see her. He remembered a custom that a beggar may ask a bride on her wedding day for a simple favour, and good luck graced her if she granted it. He pleaded with the beggar to give him his old cloak in exchange for his fine scarlet one, and his beggar’s bonnet in exchange for his horse.

Dressed as a beggar, Hynd Horn came to the back door of the castle. The sound of merriment made his heart heavy. The guard at first told him to leave. But he begged the guard: “Please tell the princess that in the name of St Peter and St Paul, and for the sake of Hynd Horn, I ask for bread and wine.”

The guard, seeing the desperation in the ‘beggar’s’ eyes, relented and conveyed the message. The bride herself came to the door, wearing her wedding dress with jewels in her hair. Yet she was pale and her cheeks tear-stained.

He bowed before his beloved Jean and she gave him a goblet of wine. He drank it, dropped his ring into the goblet, and gave it back to her. A shadow of grief came over her face when she saw the ring. “How came you by this? Did you get it at sea?” Then she shuddered: “From a dead man’s hand?”

“Nay, princess,” said Hynd Horn as he looked up, revealing his identity, “it was placed on my finger by your very own hand.”

Jean’s legs gave way and he caught her in an embrace. “Hynd Horn,” she called out, “I waited for an age, but I thought you dead.”

She loved him still, but her belief he was dead had clouded the ring. Now she was overcome with joy. But suddenly a new cloud descended, for she had just married another man for whom she had no love.

“I care not,” she said, and began to take the jewels from her hair. “I have no need of jewels, I will beg for bread with you,” she vowed, believing Hynd Horn to be a real beggar.

Now he stood and shed his beggar’s cloak to reveal his gold embroidered jacket.

“You will not need to beg,” he said, “for I now have riches of my own.”

And so, as the wedding feast continued in the castle, Jean left with her beloved Hynd Horn to live her life in freedom with the man she loved.