John Roy and the Fairy Bargain

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie


There was a man named John Roy who dived in Glenbrown, in the parish of Abernethy, Scotland many
years ago. One evening he was searching for some lost cattle in the nearby hills. He happened to see a
group of fairies, and it seemed to John Roy that the fairies were carrying something large and likely
valuable. Fairies were well known to steal many things, and John had heard much about the ways of
fairies and how best to interact with them.
He remembered an old tradition that a person could oblige the fairies to make an exchange. All that
was required was that the person would throw something, often a cap, to the fairies while saying Shuis
slo slumus sheen, which is to say, “Mine is yours, and yours is mine.” John immediately decided to try it
out.
He tossed his cap to the fairies and cried out shuis slo slumus sheen, and immediately the fairies
dropped what they were carrying and departed with John’s cap. What was the fairies’ treasure? To
John’s great surprise, he found that wrapped in the blanket was a beautiful woman, and clearly, by her
appearance and clothing, a sassenach.
The woman seemed dazed, and when John questioned her, she could not say who she was and where
she had come from – only that she had been stolen by the fairies. John had heard of such tales. The
fairies would take a human woman, leave a stock in her place. When the stock was lifeless, it was
buried, and everyone thought that the woman was dead.
This woman was very much alive, but confused and lost. John took her home to his house. If John’s
wife was surprised that he brought home another woman, she was soon sympathetic when John
explained the circumstances, and she insisted that the sassenach stay with them.
Years passed. The woman stayed and was treated as a part of John Roy’s family. The people of the
village welcomed her, and gradually everyone forgot that she was a sassenach.
In those days, it was very difficult to get to many of the northern cities in Scotland. The roads were
difficult and often there were no roads at all. Finally the king decided to send soldiers to build roads for
the coaches and carriages. Of course, the soldiers he sent were English, and naturally in that time and
place, they were not warmly welcomed by the Scots. It was hard to find people who would open their
homes to the red-coated English soldiers.
However, John Roy and his wife bore no animosity towards the English. Perhaps it was because of their
good association with their long-term house guest. So when lodging was requested for soldiers, John
arranged for two soldiers, a man and his son, to stay with them while they worked on the roads.
When they all sat down to dinner that first day, the soldiers seemed struck by the English woman. They
could not take their eyes off her. Finally, the son was heard to say to his father, “It has been several
years, so perhaps I do not remember well enough, but this woman reminds me of my mother, dead
these many years.”
The father replied that he had been thinking the same thing. “She is enough like your mother that they
could be twins.”

On a whim the father called out to the English woman, addressing her with his wife’s name. Startled,
she set down the serving tray and fixed her eyes – first on the father and then the son.
The father continued to speak to her, talking of people and places his wife would have known. To
conclude, it was not long before the story was told – the fairies, the trade, the burial of a false wife, her
stay with John Roy’s family. Great was the rejoicing as they fell into each other’s arms.
When the road construction was completed, the English woman went home with her husband and son.
John Roy and his wife were sorry to lose her companionship, but were very happy to see her reunited
with her true family.