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.