Three Roses of Carterhaugh

Illustration by John D. Batten for More English Fairy Tales

[Author’s Note: this poem is loosely based on the Scottish ballad “Tam Lin.” The original ballad has been recorded, adapted, and re-imagined many times. The most popular version can be found in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child (1882-1898).]

To Carterhaugh the 
Laird’s Daughter goes, where earth
and air meet water
and salt, where forest meets

river and tide. To the
lands of her father she goes,
long lost to the wild.
There among the thistle and

the heather, the Laird’s Daughter  
finds a rose so white. She plucks but 
a single bloom, and to her
Young Tamelene appears. To the

Laird’s Daughter he appears, in silk and 
in velvet. A thief you are, maiden

fair, for you have claimed 
what does not belong to 
you. The rose so white   
it withers. Just geld, I 

demand. The Laird’s Daughter, 
clever and brave, lifts her chin.
No thief am I, for this
land belonged to my father

once, Young Tamelene, and now
to me. No geld will I pay, but
will demand of you, and She 
whom you serve. At her words, he laughs.

Then lie with me, maiden fair, if you 
would win from She whom I serve the land

that is yours by name
and right, here where earth and 
air meet water and 
salt, here where forest meets

river and tide. Clever 
and brave, the Laird’s Daughter lies 
with Young Tamelene, there 
among the thistle and the

heather, the rose so white in 
her hair. Season follows season. 
The white rose withers and the 
red rose blooms. To Carterhaugh the

Laird’s Daughter goes, her belly swollen 
and her breasts heavy with milk. To the 

lands of her father  
she goes, long lost to the 
wild. She finds a 
rose so red, and plucks but

a single bloom. To her
Young Tamelene appears. Claim
these lands by name and by
right as you will, Laird’s Daughter,

but win them you must from She
whom I serve. Clever and brave, the  
Laird’s Daughter lifts her chin. Win
my lands I shall, Young Tamelene,

and you, if you will. A man you were,
and a man you can be again. At

her words, he weeps. Aye, 
a man I was, careless 
and proud, who dared to
challenge Herself the Queen,

steed against steed, on the
Eve of Allhallowstide. I
fell. I fell. And onto 
her steed She dragged me and made

me her own. Would you make me
yours, Laird’s Daughter, fall once more I
must, and hold me you must, and
clothe me you must, by your own hand. 

Clever and brave, the Laird’s Daughter lies 
down there among the thistle and the 

heather, and there births 
her child fair. Season  
follows season. The 
rose so red withers and

the black rose blooms. The
Laird’s Daughter to Carterhaugh
goes, barefoot, babe at her
breast, cloak of plainest wool ‘round

her shoulders. To the lands of
her father she goes, long lost to
the wild. And on this Eve
of Allhallowstide, Herself the

Queen leads the rade. In glory of gold
and scarlet She rides, the terrible 

host at her back. In
glory she rides upon
her argent steed, fox 
of flaming tail upon

her shoulder. At her side
rides Young Tamelene, in silk
and in velvet. And there,
where forest meets river and

tide, the Laird’s Daughter waits. She
waits, clever and brave, and when the
terrible host comes riding
through the thistle and the heather,

she leaps. ‘Round Young Tamelene’s waist she
wraps her arms. Tightly she holds him and

firmly she pulls him,
pulls him down, down to the
ground. The Queen Herself,
she stills, she stops, she stays

her steed. Silent falls the
rade. A thief you are, Daughter
of the Laird. What you have 
taken is not yours to claim.

Clever and brave, she raises
her chin, eyes downcast. Nay, Queen most
glorious in scarlet and 
gold. This land I claim and the man 

who guards it, by name and right. The Queen 
smiles, terrible and sublime. Then

win this land and he
who guards it, if you will.
An arch of her brow
and Young Tamelene is

changed, he is changed into 
an adder, venomous and 
writhing. But hold him tight
she does, the Laird’s Daughter, as

her babe wails at her breast. And
again he changes, now into  
a bear, shaggy, with paws as
wide as her hips. Still she holds him

tight, the Laird’s Daughter does, as her babe
howls. Again Young Tamelene changes.

Now he is a coal,
a burning stone of black
and red and white. Now,
only now, does the Laird’s

Daughter loose him, her love,
hurling him with all her might
into the waters where
river and tide meet, where salty

touches sweet. Down into the
waters the coal sinks, burning black
and red and white. Up rises 
Young Tamelene, naked of silk 

and of velvet. ‘Round him she hurls her
cloak of plainest wool and lifts her chin,

her eyes downcast. Won
my father’s land I have,
Queen most glorious, 
and he who guards it, by

name and by right. Her fair 
child laughs. Herself the Queen,
terrible and sublime,
bends down upon her steed. She

plucks but a single bloom, a
rose so black. As you will, Daughter
of the Laird, says She, and tucks
the rose in the clever girl’s hair.

Away from Carterhaugh She rides, the
Queen Herself, into the Eve, smiling.

[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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