On the Cold Hill's Side
by Stephen Wylder
"And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side."
John Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
It was our Eildon Tree. We both loved the old ballads, and our favorite was "Thomas the Rhymer." In it, the Queen of Elfland visits Thomas while he sits under the Eildon Tree. She offers him a challenge:
"If ye dare to kiss my lips,/Sure of your bodie I will be," she said. And Thomas took her dare:
"Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunten me."
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree
"Weird," as we both knew, meant fate. Thomas's fate was to serve the Queen for seven years. I served my Queen for less than two.
I would sit under the tree, and she would come and dare me to kiss her. I remember those kisses, even more than what came after. Perhaps she believed she was the Queen of Elfland, able to seduce any man with her magical beauty. And there came a time when she returned from school and dismissed me, and with me, our tree. My Elf Queen had become Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and I found myself "on the cold hill's side."
In the years since then, we both married and divorced, and perhaps she recognized that being a femme fatale could not bring her happiness. So I still walk to our tree, hoping she might return, even now, when no birds sing.