The Lambton Worm

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This is an Anglish wending of the folk tale, The Lambton Worm, first written by William Henderson for Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (pp. 287-89.) and later gathered together in More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, and English Fairy and Other Folk Tales by Edwin Sidney Hartland. This reading is made of words only of Old English and otherwise unknown springs. Went by Wordwork.

The Writ

A wilde young sithe was the erve of Lambton, the swell holding and welcome by the side of the swift-flowing Wear. Not a worship would he hear in Brugeford Chapel of a Sunday, but a-fishing he would go. And if he did not bring in anything, his swears could be heard by the folk as they went by to Brugeford.

Well, one Sunday morning he was fishing as he was wont, and not a fish had risen to him, his bin was bare of minnow or chub. And the worse his luck, the worse grew his swearing, to the onlookers were shocked at his words as they went to listen to the Hallower.

At last young Lambton felt a mighty tug at his string. 'At last,' quoth he, 'a bite worth having!' and he pulled and he pulled, to what should show above the water but a head like an elf's, with nine holes on each side of its mouth. But still he pulled to he had brought the thing to land, when it went out to be a Worm of dreadful shape. If he had sworn before, his swears were enough to rear the hair on your head.

'What ails thee, my son?' said a tongue by his side, 'and what hast thou hooked, that thou shouldst blacken the Lord's Day with such bad speech?'

Looking about, young Lambton saw a weird old man standing by him.

'Why, truly,' he said, 'I think I have hooked the devil himself. Look you and see if you know him.'

But the newcomer shook his head, and said, 'It bodes no good to thee or thine to bring such a knucker to shore. Yet throw him not back into the Wear; thou has hooked him, and thou must keep him,' and with that away he went, and was seen no more.

The young erve of Lambton held up the gruesome thing, and nimbing it off his hook, threw it into a well nearby, and ever since that day that well has gone by the name of the Worm Well.

For some time nothing more was seen or heard of the Worm, to one day it had outgrown the breadth of the well, and came forth full-grown. So it came forth from the well and benumb itself to the Wear. And all day long it would lie wound about a stone in the middle of the stream, while at night it came forth from the water and harried the upland. It sucked the kine's milk, wolved the lambs, worried the neats, and frightened all the women and girls in the neighborhood, and then it would withdraw for the rest of the night to the hill, still clept the Worm Hill, on the north side of the Wear, about a mile and a half from Lambton Hall.

This dreadful ordeal brought young Lambton, of Lambton Hall, to his wits. He numb upon himself the oaths of the Rood, and left for the Holy Land, in the hope that the bane he had brought upon his neighborhood would withdraw. But the grisly Worm took no heed, other than that it strode the stream and came right up to Lambton Hall itself where the old lord lived on all alone, his only son having gone to the Holy Land. What to do? The Worm was coming nearer and nearer to the Hall; women were howling, men were gathering weapons, dogs were barking and horses neighing with fright. At last the steward clept out to the milk-maids, 'Bring all your milk hither', and when they did so, and had brought all the milk that the nine kine of the byre had yielded, he love it all into the long stone trough before the Hall.

The Worm drew nearer and nearer, to at last it came up to the trough. But when it sniffed the milk, it went aside to the trough and swallowed all the milk up, and then slowly went about and forded the Wear Waterway, and wound its breadth three times about the Worm Hill for the night.

Henceforth the Worm would ford the stream every day, and woe betide the Hall if the trough filled the milk of less than nine kye. The Worm would hiss, and would storm, and lash its tail about the trees of the yard, and in its madness it would tear out the strongest oaks and the tallest firs. So it went on for seven years. Many sought to slay the Worm, but all had lost, and many a knight had lost his life in fighting with the knucker, which slowly tread the life out of all that came near it.

At last the Childe of Lambton came home to his father's Hall, after seven long years spent in mindfulness and sorriness on holy land. Sad and dreary he found his folk: the lands untilled, the fields forlorn, half the trees of the yard upset, for none would linger to keep the nine kye that the knucker needed for his food each day.

The Childe sought his father, and besought his forgiveness for the bane he had brought on the Hall.

'Thy sin is forgiven,' said his father; 'but go thou to the Wise Woman of Brugeford, and find if aught can free us from this knucker.'

To the Wise Woman went the Childe, and asked her rede.

"Tis thy doing, O Childe, for which we thole,' she said; 'be it thine to free us.'

'I would give my life,' said the Childe.

'Maybe thou wilt do so,' said she. 'But hear me, and mark me well. Thou, and thou alone, canst kill the Worm. But, to this end, go thou to the smithy and have thy byrnie studded with spear-heads. Then go to the Worm's Stone in the Wear, and stead thyself there. Then, when the Worm comes to the Stone at dawn of day, work thy deftness on him, and God gi'e thee a good freeing.'

'This I will do,' said Childe Lambton.

'But one thing more,' said the Wise Woman, going back to her hove. 'If thou slay the Worm, swear that thou wilt put to death the first thing that meets thee as thou overst eft the threshold of Lambton Hall. Do this, and all will be well with thee and thine. Fulfil not thy oath, and none of the Lambtons, for lifetimes three times three, shall starve in his bed. Swear, and lose not.'

A drawing of The Childe fighting The Lambton Worm, drawn by John D. Batten for Jacob's gathering of More English Fairy Tales.

The Childe swore as the Wise Woman bid, and went his way to the smithy. There he had his byrnie studded with spear-heads all over. Then he gave his biddings in Brugeford Chapel, and at dawn of day numb his stead on the Worm's Stone in the Wear Waterway.

As dawn broke, the Worm unwound its snaky twine from about the hill, and came to its stone in the stream. When it beheld the Childe waylaying for it, it lashed the waters in its madness and wound its windes about the Childe, and then sought to mash him to death. But the more it wound, the deeper dug the spear-heads into its sides. Still it wound and wound, to all the water about was ruddied with its blood. Then the Worm unwound itself, and left the Childe free to wield his sword. He raised it, brought it down, and cut the Worm in two. One half fell into the stream, and was borne swiftly away. Once more the head and the rest of the body hemmed the Childe, but with less strength, and the spear-heads did their work. At last the Worm unwound itself, snorted its last foam of blood and fire, and fell withering into the stream, and was never seen more.

The Childe of Lambton swam ashore, and raising his horn to his lips, blew its din thrice. This was the beacon to the Hall, where the drudges and the old lord had shut themselves in to bid for the Childe's sye. When the third loud of the horn was heard, they were to free Boris, the Childe's dearest hound. But such was their mirth at learning of the Childe's soundness and the Worm's overthrow, that they forgot biddings, and when the Childe reached the threshold of the Hall his old father bolted out to meet him, and would have clasped him to his breast.

'The oath! the oath!' yelled out the Childe of Lambton, and blew still another blast upon his horn. This time the drudges bethought, and freed Boris, who came leaping to his young lord. The Childe raised his shining sword, and sundered the head of his trothful hound.

But the oath was broken, and for nine lifetimes of men none of the Lambtons starved in his bed. The last of the Lambtons starved in his wain as he was fording Brugeford Bridge, one hundred and thirty years ago.