Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Hollowback

Once, there was a man with three sons.  Each were young men, and one day the man got it into his head to send his firstborn boy out into the woods.  His firstborn son was tall and strong, and the man knew he could kill a great deer that had been spotted in the woods nearby, and bring it back for a feast.

“I will kill it, father,” said the first son, “and we will have meat for many days.”  He set out with bow and arrow, and for many days he had followed the deer, eager to kill it and bring it back to his family.

It happened that as he was walking through the forest, he came upon a stream and decided to stop for a drink.  Just at that moment,  a beautiful maid stepped out from behind a tree.  She was wearing the simple dress of a farmer’s daughter, and held her hands coyly behind her back.

“Where are you going?” the girl asked the firstborn son.

“I am hunting a great deer,” said the son.  “I have no time for silly talk.”

The firstborn son saw that this made the girl angry, and he began to laugh at her.  “Did you want a kiss from me?” he asked, making fun of her.  “Come here, and I will give you a kiss.”

But just at that moment, the firstborn son saw that the girl had the tail of a fox, and was hiding it behind her back.  It flicked to and fro, and the girl grabbed him by the arms and pulled him apart in her anger.

After many days, the man began to fear that his firstborn son had left for a larger village.  So he sent his second son out to hunt the deer.  This son was even larger and stronger than his older brother, but he was foolish, and had never learned anything in his life.  “I will go, father,” said the second son.  “But I hardly know what a deer looks like.”

The second son blundered through the woods for some time before he too came upon the young woman.  He waved to her, and said “Have you seen a deer in these parts?”

The girl smiled a shy smile, and said “I have not seen a deer,” then she walked closer to the boy and laid a hand against his cheek.  “But you are very handsome.”

The second son, being foolish, did not understand what the girl wanted, and said “but I must find a deer for my family!”

“I will tell you where there is a great deer,” said the girl.  “But first you must take me in your arms and give me a kiss.”

“I can do that,” the boy said, because his arms were very strong.  So he scooped her up, but when his hands touched her he found that her back was all hollow, and she was made of wood on the inside.

“You are a Hollowback!” the second son yelled, pushing her away.  “I want no part of your woodland magic!”

This too made the girl angry, and she grabbed the second son by the arms and pulled him apart, just like the first son.

After many more days, the man feared that his second son had also fled to a larger village.  “You are my last son,” said the man.  “You must go and find the deer and bring it back.  My other sons have run away.”

So the third son set out.  He was not as tall or as strong as his brothers, but he was a polite young man, and had learned much in his years.  He walked through the forest for a few days, then stopped at a stream to examine some tracks.

Just at that moment, the Hollowback appeared before him, stepping out from behind a tree.

“Hello,” the third son said, thinking her to be a farm girl.  “Have you lost your way?”

The Hollowback blushed and touched his arm, and as she did the third son caught a glimpse of the tail sticking out from under her skirts.

“Excuse me,” the third son said, looking away.  “It would seem that your skirts are ruffled.”

The Hollowback stepped back and fixed her skirts.  “Thank you,” she said, hiding her tail.  “You are the brother of the two men who came here earlier.  They were hunting for a great deer.  Come with me, and I will show you where this deer is.”

The boy graciously agreed, and when the girl turned around he saw that her back was all hollow, and that she was made of wood on the inside.  The girl looked back at him, but he just smiled and said nothing.

As they were walking, the Hollowback stopped and turned around.  “This is the spot where the great deer will be,” she said.  Grabbing the third son’s hands, a great wind rushed up and blew all of her clothes away.  The two of them laid down, and after a time the great deer approached.

Quickly, the Hollowback leapt up and pulled the head off of the deer.  “Here is your deer,” she said.  “It is time for you to return to your home.”

So the third son returned to the village with the deer, and his father was very happy.  They mounted the head in their cottage, and had meat for a long time.

But one day, the third son opened the door of the cottage to find a baby on the doorstep.  He took the baby in and cared for it, because he knew it was his child from the Hollowback.  When the baby grew to be a young man too, he was the strongest and most handsome man for many leagues around, and many girls wished to be his wife.

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The Wild Hunt

All souls know better than to journey forth when the moon is dead and the stars have vanished from the night sky.  At that hour, the sound of heavenly trumpeting is no call to the paradise of the gods of the treeless lands.  No, those horns accompany the hooves of dark steeds sparking fire in the night, and the baying of hounds that man was not meant to see.  They are the heralds of the Wild Hunt.

They say that when the night is deep and black, some travelers come across an old man alone on the road, holding a lantern aloft and leaning on a staff.  “Do you hear?” he asks, though not even the crickets are making their song.  “Do you hear the riders?  All good souls should be indoors at such a time and such a place as this.”

Those who meet him and hear his words must heed them, and quickly.  Those who do not seek the warmth of the hearth will come to gaze upon the Hunt.  It is said to be a great host of flying riders, following a pack of hunting dogs and lead by a powerful man with a mighty horn and a long, cold spear.  They ride through all the realms of the earth, through the tangle of the Weald and amongst the woods and meadows of the Blackwood, searching for all wayward souls both brave and foolish.  Those that they find on their Hunt are seized, bound by strange cords of spirit, and carried off to the Land of the Dead, from which there is no escape.

Of all the tales of the Hunt told across the breadth of this Wood, only one tells of a man who saw those Lands and came back to tell the tale.  They say his name was Eckhart, and that he made common cause with a woman of the deep woods, who deals in strange things and follows the Old Ways.  She told him of the secret paths that lead from the Land of the Dead back into our Midst, asking a token from that world as payment for her knowledge.  This man walked those paths, seeing the Meadow of Peaceful Souls and the Hall of the Valiant Dead.  He saw the Dead at rest, basking in sunlight or seated at table, and was wont to join them.  He saw shadows at the corner of his sight, shadows that preyed upon the light and made him shudder.  He saw many splendid things as well, the golden torcs and goblets and all the hoards of the Dead.  He reached for those things, but they passed through his hands like mist, and he saw the Land for a place filled with ghosts and memory.

In time, Eckhart found the path back to the Midst.  He met the woman in the woods walking down an old forest path, and she cursed him for a liar because he brought nothing back for her.  She doomed him to last forever in the twilight of his years, unable to reach the rest in the Land of the Dead ever again.  Since that day, he has wandered the Wood, bearing a lamp and leaning on a staff, walking endlessly and warning good folk of the approach of the Hunt.

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The Riverman and the Woodsman

Once, there was a man who lived in the cities along the river who was invited to visit his cousin in the woods.  The path to the woodsman’s home was long and tiring, even though the woodsman had moved down from the mountains for the winter.  Because the snow had fallen heavily all over the Blackwood, the riverman found it very hard to get on, and soon became tired and hungry.

When he reached the home of his cousin, he was greeted warmly by the woodsman and his wife.  They gave him a place by their modest hearth, and while he warmed himself they went to a hole in the ground in the corner of their hut, and pulled out their best food for a feast.  They had strips of salted venison, dried berries from many different bushes, and on the fire was a stew made from boiled roots.  Outside their home, a stream came down from the mountains even in the dead of winter, and they had fresh water whenever they wanted.

The riverman ate his food politely, and spoke to his cousin about their life.  “You have such a small home,” he said, seated on a stump that had been made into a stool.

“It serves us well,” replied the woodsman’s wife.

“Aye,” said the woodsman.  “We have food to eat, a roof to shelter us from rain and snow, and walls to hide us from the wolves.  Trolls do not often come to this part of the woods, and if they do I shoot them with my bow.”

The riverman was appalled.  “How can you live with such meager food to feed you, and with so many dangers around you?  Come to visit me in my home in the city.  If you spend just one week with me, you will never want to return to your home in the woods!”

In a few days, when it was time for the riverman to return home, the woodsman kissed his wife goodbye and went to see what life was like in the city.  The path back was much easier for the riverman, for the woodsman knew the best ways to move across the snow, and knew which paths were easiest.

When they reached the city, the riverman welcomed his cousin into his home.  “I live in the estate of my employer, a wealthy prison warden.  We will dine in a nice tavern, just down the street.

The woodsman had been to a tavern many years before, but it was a small thing along a lonely road in the Wood, and had little to offer him.  This tavern was large and warm, with many tables of people eating all kinds of delicacies.  There were cakes and roast pork, and capons and bread fresh from the ovens.

The riverman and the woodsman both ate much food, but soon the woodsman began to grow thirsty.  The  riverman called for beer, and when it arrived he only drank a little, since he knew the winter beer was strong.  The woodsman had only had fresh water to drink, though, so he thought the beer was a wonderful thing.  Soon he was dancing around the room, whooping and shouting and bothering the tavern’s patrons.

“Sit down and stop acting like you just came from the backwoods, making such a row and noise,” said a thief who had come into the tavern.  The woodsman laughed at him, so the thief grabbed him by his shoulder and put a knife to his throat.  “Give me your money,” the thief said.

The woodsman was startled, and wrestled with the thief, taking the knife from his hands and killing him.  The whole tavern became frightened, and many people shouted for the town guards.

“Hurry,” cried the riverman to his cousin, “You have killed a man, and you must leave before you are thrown in jail!”

The woodsman laughed.  “Your food and beer may be nice, but no man should be thrown in jail because someone attacked him.  I’ll take the woods and the hills any day, and you can keep your wardens and your thieves for yourself, cousin!”

With that, the woodsman fled the city, using the tricks he learned as a hunter to avoid capture.  When he returned home, he kissed his wife.  “Ancestors preserve me from having such a fine home and such fine food and drink.  Why I only just got away with my life!”

Categories: Blackwood, Folklore | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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