Tale of Lake Echo

Johan the Fiddler was one of the most legendary patrons of the Stag and Dragon, greatest of the inns along the Forest Road.  Heroes and villains alike could be found under its wide eaves, but from time to time this aged musician seated himself by the fire and ordered hot mulled wine.  He would produce his lap fiddle, and weave a sad song over the heads of all in the room.

He pulled his hood down, and without fail he said “Once, when I was a younger man, I traveled far from paths and roads.  I sought the Blackwood, and the things within it.  During my travels through the southern mountains, I met a man who showed me the sublime truth of music, and I turned myself to its study forever after.

“It was high in a mountain pass, with the mountain’s firs hung heavy about me, where I met him.  I had lost my way, and stumbled blindly upward.  I found a stream trickling down, so I traced it to its source.  I climbed a waterfall and skirted a pair of trolls to do it, but I came to a great and beautiful lake.  Like a hound, it was wrapped around the feet of the mountains beyond, which rose into the morning mist and left sight.  The lake was still as the forest around it, and quiet settled over all.

“That’s when I saw him, a man of noble dress seated on a stump at the water’s edge.  He held a lap fiddle in his arms, and he looked out on the water in equal stillness.  I approached him, blade bare, but never did he glance at me or move one inch.  He merely picked up the bow of his fiddle, and began to play.

“The fog pressed in around us in those first, mournful notes.  I felt the burden of a heavy heart, the kind that only lost love can create.  I seemed to see her in the mist, and hear her melancholy in the lap fiddle’s song.  She cried, but no solace came, for her light, my light, had left.  It left her in a world of rain and misery as she walked, jostled by every passerby, beaten but unbowed.

“Then the song changed, and the abiding sadness was swept up into a fiddler’s passion.  I felt all the thrill of life from every leaf and branch, the lake cleared like air and I saw its every depth, and the call of every bird seemed to be held in the fiddle’s vital playing.  It was sturdy music, timeless as the trees themselves, and I saw the frivolity of the lives of men.

“But finally, a third movement arrived.  This one combined the first two, with a third theme that was forever transfixed between them.  I felt the need to choose, to reach out and grab hold of something, anything, but my own nature would not let me.  Lacking this, I wanted to make my life a monumental bridge between two worlds, to sway between them until the world’s end.”

The music would stop, and the patrons would be spellbound by the song he had played for them.

“With his last chord,” he would say, and only then would the patrons realize he had not spoken for some time.  “I understood the power of music, when before I had only heard its beauty.  I cast my sword into the lake, fell at his feet, and from that day these hands have held nothing but this lap fiddle.”

And then he would drink his wine and watch the patrons from a snug corner. From time to time he would play a new song on his lap fiddle, but never did they have the same effect on patrons as the Tale of Lake Echo.

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Terrors in the Night

Good children stay safe in their beds when the sun has set over the Blackwood. To rise at night and travel through the dark wood is to forsake all reason and to court folly. By the light of day, the Blackwood is a wild land without mercy for the foolish, but at night the magic in every leaf and stem, or brook and cave shines forth. Even the bravest hunters only take to the darkened Wood at great need, and they invoke all that their ancestors may provide to do so.

Once, when I was a girl, there was a boy just my age named Georg. He was a vain and foolish boy, and all the children were wary of him because he was fond of going out into the Wood. He would journey out in the morning and sometimes not come back until well after midday meal. One boy saw Georg balancing on logs and climbing over rocks, and heard him laughing and carrying on like he thought he was an elf. Some people heard him say that he wanted to talk to the elves.

Well one morning, the children were all playing on the village green when they we spotted Georg peering out from behind the village elder’s hall. His face was pure white, and he beckoned us to join him. One boy ran over to see what he wanted, and when he returned he said “Georg has a story to tell us. He says it’s important.” So we all ran after Georg until we had found a shaded spot behind a woodcutter’s hut.

It was there that Georg told us his tale. The night before, after his parents had gone to sleep, he snuck out of their hut and went into the Wood. He couldn’t find the elves in the day, so he would try the wood at night. Oh, he knew the stories, but he thought that he knew the Wood well enough to walk it after dark.

He told us that the wood twisted and turned all around him. Clouds covered the moon, and at every turn there was a raking branch or tripping root to waylay him. At one point, he had to crawl through a thicket he had fallen into, and just when he though he would make it no further, he stumbled out into a torchlit clearing. The sky was black overhead, and a great hall loomed large before him. Strange music could be heard coming from within the hall, and his courage led him to the door.

A tall man with rich clothing and a strange face welcomed him inside. “You have entered Waldenhall, child. Come, and behold wonders!” There, Georg saw many thing that none of us believed. He saw great deer holding feasts at table, and squirrels fighting duels in the rafters. There were women with light in their hair, and tiny folk with greedy faces. They told him they were elves, and that he was welcome in their hall to make merriment and eat well. He sat at their table and shared their food and drink. He listened to their many fine minstrels, and laughed at the stories they would tell.

In time, he came to notice a dark figure in the corner. He was squatting on a shelf, and looking at him was like stepping into a dream. The figure’s skin was an iron-heavy shadow, and his eyes were red like two wells of blood. The very walls seemed to slip and twist around him, and it was impossible to break his gaze. Georg didn’t move from the table all night, yet he felt as though he had been pursued through backwards corridors for hours. He escaped and made his way back to the village, but he only found his way after the sun rose. He had been awake all night, yet he could not rest, for fear of being pursued by the shadow creature.

We all laughed at him and named him a fool, and went about our play. He remained there for some time, then sulked off to the cottage of his parents. They whipped him for going into the Wood, and sent him to bed with no supper. We all had fits in our sleep that night, and when we woke we found that Georg had died. His father found him stock still and blue as a deep pool. His chest was covered in bruises, like he had been crushed, and all the children recalled the image of the crouching figure in the woodland hall, and how Georg swore that it seemed like an unnaturally weighty fellow.

Good children do not seek the wood after dark, and wise adults know why. Too often do they hold service for loved ones who tempt the tangled depths, and don’t even leave a body to bury. Be a good child, for your father’s sake and for mine.

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The King Pheasant

One day a long time ago, there was a little bird with feathers all of brown.  It was always hungry, because all of the other birds were larger and ate all the food before the little bird could find it.  Then, when the little bird was flying in search of food, it came upon a great castle in the forest.

The little bird landed in a window, and looked down on a great feast being held by the King.  The King wore richly-colored robes, and sapphires were set in his golden crown.  “If only I were a king,” said the little bird.  “Then I could have all the food I needed.”  This made the little bird sad, and it began to cry.

“Such a silly thing, to cry,” said a voice, causing the bird to jump in surprise.  A person no bigger than the bird was standing on the window’s ledge, dressed in clothes made of a single leaf.  “The little bird is sad, and small, and hungry.  Such a silly thing, to be hungry!”

“I would not be hungry if I were as big and colorful as the King,” said the little bird.  “Then all the other birds would want to give me some of their food.”

The little person rolled on the window ledge and laughed.  “King of the birds!” The person teased.  “There is no King of the Birds!”

“Then make me the King of the Birds!” said the little bird.  “I would be brave as a dragon and kind as a mouse.”

“I believe you,” said the little person, mischief in its eyes.  “Yes!  Yes!  All birds shall bow to the Bird King!”  And so the little person raised its hands high, and its legs turned into tree stumps while stardust drifted through its fingers.  The little person laughed, and each laugh was like a step stone that carried the little bird up into the sky.  The little bird began to grow, and its feathers changed from brown to every color of flower.  Blue feathers sprouted from its head and neck, bright and sleek as sapphires.  Its tail grew long, turning into a fan of green and purple and yellow.  It’s body began to change at the wing-tips into a burning orange, fading into red and then white.

But before the colors could finish spreading, a cruel wind blew out of the sky and hit the little bird on the back.  “Ha ha!” laughed the wind, which looked like a gusty little person.  “He makes you regal, and I make you serve!  No further will your feathers change, and your heart will remain small enough to bear an elven rider!”

The little bird cried out, but it was too late.  Now it was big and beautiful, save for a saddle of brown just between its wings.  The little bird and its hatchlings became known as the King Pheasants, but no matter how much the birds of the forest came to love them, the King Pheasants always suffered to bear an elf whenever one appeared.

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Cottage in the Woods

Not long ago, a young man of the Riverfolk went to visit his cousins in the Wood.  Because he had come such a long way, and because his Woodfolk cousin had just learned the trade of hunting, they decided to go with some of their friends into the Wood, to swim in a beautiful pool and also to test their courage.  Three young men and two young women set out on that day.

They set out for the pool, which was quite far from their village.  They walked for a long time.

“I am tired,” said one of the young men.  “Let us take a nap.”  The others realized they were tired as well, and so each found a comfortable spot and rested their heads.

But the Riverman could not sleep, because the Wood was strange and frightful to him.  “I am being foolish,” he said to himself.  “This is nothing but a forest, and these are nothing but trees.”  So to screw up his courage, the Riverman decided that he would leave the small clearing he and the others had found.

He took one step, and nothing happened.

He took two steps, and nothing happened.

He took three, and four, and five steps, and still nothing happened.  “What a great fool I was!” he said, laughing.  “I will hide and scare my friends.  Then they will think that we Riverfolk are much better than Woodfolk.”  So the young Riverman found the crook of a large tree root, and laid down beyond it.  From his hiding spot, he could no longer see his friends back in the clearing, but he heard one of them snoring.

But as the Riverman waited for his friends to wake, he caught a familiar scent drifting through the air.  “That smells just like the pies my mother bakes!”  And since the Wood held no fear for him, and since he remembered the way back to his friends in the clearing, he decided to see where the smell had come from.

He wandered toward the smell until he came to a cottage with the sun kissing its roof here and there.  A garden lay beside it, and smoke was rising from the chimney.  An old woman stood in the doorway, holding a great pie.  Her eyes met the Riverman’s, and he walked into the cottage with her.

“Might I trouble you for a piece of your pie?” Said the Riverman.  “Of course, my dear.” Replied the old woman, and she put a slice on a plate for him.

The Riverman ate, but he didn’t notice that with each bite he grew much fatter.  Soon he was so fat that he couldn’t stand, and the old woman laughed a cruel laugh.  “You are mine now, to do with as I please.”

“But my friends will come and rescue me!” The Riverman wailed.  “One is a hunter with keen eyes, and another is a wise woman in her village!”

But the woman just laughed all the more cruelly.  “The tracking eyes of your hunter will do him no good, and no wisdom in the world can teach where I am.  You are mine, and the Elves are coming.”

Much later, the Woodfolk awoke in the clearing and wondered where their friend had gotten off to.  A few thought to go separate ways and find him, but the hunter said “To walk the Wood alone is foolish.  We will look for him together, but we must be back in the village by nightfall.”  The others knew the stories of werewolves and evil things, and the thought made them shudder.

So they left the clearing to search for the boy.  The hunter used the best of his tracking skills, but he only lead them in large circles.  “He must be following our tracks, too.  We will wait for him here.”

And while they waited, the wise woman thought of the stories she had heard.  “I cannot think of where he might be.  It is like a riddle that I used to know, but have forgotten.”

They sat and thought for a long time, until suddenly a troll came crashing from the Wood and scattered them.  Each fled a separate way, and by the time the sun had set only the wise woman had made her way back to the village.  The others were never found again.

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Dinner With the Elves

Once, a long time ago, there was a girl who lived in a village deep in the Wood.  She was a restless girl, who finished her chores early and liked to skip along the edge of the village, near the flower and herb gardens of the woman who lived alone.  She was just like you.

Her friends never wanted to follow along.  “She is a witch!  She will capture us and cook us into a stew!”

That little girl said the same things you did.  “I am not scared of some old woman.”  She said.  “I like the flowers, and to prove I’m not scared, I will pick some for my mother.”  So the girl went into the flower garden, and when her friends screamed because the witch was looking out of her window at the girl, the girl paid her no mind and gathered a big bouquet for her mother.

When she got home, she said “Look, mother.  I have brought you a bouquet of beautiful flowers.”

But her mother knew exactly where the flowers came from, just like I do, and she threw them out the window.  “You have been a bad girl!” Her mother screamed, brandishing the spoon with which she was stirring the night’s stew.  “Go to your bed, and do not set foot upon the ground until I tell you!”

So the girl sat on the bed, crying to herself as the sun started to fall from the sky.  After what seemed like a very long time, the girl was startled by a strange noise.  She peered over the corner of the bed just in time to see a tiny pair of boots disappear underneath her bed.  “Who’s there?” she said, straining to look into the darkness beneath her.

“It is I!” a small voice said, as a man about the size of a potato walked out from under her bed.  He wore small yellow boots, and his clothes were made out of leaves.  His hair and eyes were the color of moss, and small butterfly wings sprouted from his shoulders.  “Your mother is a mean woman, but if you close your eyes I’ll take you my home, and you can roam wherever you like!”

The girl laughed at the little man.  “But you are so small!  How could I fit into your home?”

But the little man just hopped up into her lap and pinched her nose.  “Silly girl, my home is big enough for anyone!  Won’t you come see?”

The little girl thought about the flowers lying broken on the ground outside, then agreed to go with the little man.  “Take me to you home!” She said, and the little man smiled and placed a log under the sheets of her bed.  “So your parents will never know you have left!” He said, eyes twinkling.  She closed her eyes, and no sooner were they shut than she felt very sleepy, and laid down her head for a nap.

When she awoke, she found herself in the Wood.  She was next to a well, and the day had not yet fallen into dusk.  The little man was standing atop the well, and he beckoned her with his hands.  “Come down the well, and you will see my home!”

So the little girl hopped into the well with the little man, and splashed into the water at the bottom.  There was a door at the bottom, and when the little man opened it she stepped out into a cozy room with a fireplace and a table with lots of food.  There were many strange men and women around the table.  Some were tall and some were short, and some were fat and some were thin.  Some had hair of many colors, and others had no hair at all.  Each wore different clothing, and all of them looked quite silly while they sat and talked.

“Who are these people?” The girl said, walking toward the table.

“Why, these are my brothers and sisters!  Come sit, and eat with us!”  And so the little girl sat and ate, and the little man’s brothers and sisters told stories and danced and made the little girl laugh for a long time.

The little girl was having such a good time that she never noticed when the little man and his brothers and sisters started to change.  It happened slowly, but some of their eyes darkened, and the room darkened with them.  Some of them became hunched and their teeth sharpened, and the room sharpened with them.  Some of them changed to very strange, upsetting colors, and the room changed with them.  But the little girl was having such a good time that she never noticed any of it, because the Elves are such great tricksters.  She only learned what was happening when they brought out their sharp forks and knives, and they threw her in their stew pot, and used her screams as a spice for their stew.

And her poor parents never knew she was gone until many years later, because that log under her sheets changed into a creature that looked just like her, but it was a much nastier child than she ever was.

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The Winter and Summer Kings

Long ago, when men had only just begun to gather in cities, there were two kingdoms in the up in the lofty mountains unlike anything the world had seen.  One lay in a shadowed valley where many sweet things grew, and the other was perched on a high cliff.  These were the kingdoms of Winter and Summer.  They were ruled by two brothers who had bickered all their lives, using the armies of the Two Kingdoms to settle their quarrels.

One year, after a very long summer of fighting, the Two Kingdoms hunkered down to weather the snows of winter.  This year, the snows piled higher than they ever had, and many people in the Winter Kingdom died.  Even in the Summer Kingdom, where hot springs protected its people from the worst winter’s storms, many people took ill and died, though they had food in plenty.  No scouts left from either of the castles of the Two Kingdoms, for no one could travel the roads without great peril.

And so it happened that one night in the middle of winter the Summer King laid himself down to sleep.  He kicked and sweat through most of the night, and in the quiet hour before dawn he jerked upright in his bed.  “Who goes there?” he bellowed, frightful eyes darting to and fro.  “Who disturbs the sleep of the King?”

For a long time, there was no response but the sound of the wind as it rushed by outside.  But then, without warning, the great wooden shutter of his window burst inward, filling the room with wind and cold.  The Summer King clutched his heavy blankets close, but nothing came of the wind and noise.

Some days later, the Summer King went walking through his gardens.  The sun was high in the sky as he came to one of his favorite hot pools, where he saw a beautiful woman.  She wore robes all of white, and she sat gazing into the pool while she brushed her long, golden hair.

When the Summer King approached, she turned her head and met his gaze.  “I know you,” she laughed, eyes sparkling.

“I am the Summer King,” he replied, tossing his thick cape, “I am known far and wide.  Who are you, woman, and what are you doing in my gardens?”

The woman laughed at him as the sunlight danced with her hair.  “I have seen you all abed, shaking beneath your sheets.  You are not so big and brave as you wish.”

At those words, the Summer King became enraged, and pulled his sword from its scabbard.  “Quiet, wench!” he shouted, “Or I’ll have your tongue out!”

But the woman laughed all the harder, and so the king raised his sword to strike at her.  But as soon as he took one step, he was thrown back with great force as the beams of the sun blossomed into a great light.

The woman stood, and her bearing was regal and terrible to behold.  “Take care with your deeds, child of Man.” the woman said, her voice aglow with the power of command.  “You chide defenseless women for their harmless mirth, and think to raise blades against them.  All the while, your brother the Winter King lies at the door of death in his northern fortress.  Mend your ways, foolish man, or I and my sisters will take you away into great light and heat, and you will surely die.”

It was then that the Summer King saw the wonder before him, as though he had never seen before.  This was a White Woman, come to herald great woe.

The Summer King rose to one knee, bowing his head and making a sign to ward off evil intentions.  “Forgive me, my lady.”

“If your brother the Winter King should die by your deeds or your negligence, know that all his folk and all yours too shall melt like the snows melt with the dawning of spring.  You have been warned.”  The White Woman turned, and all the light in the garden dimmed as she left.  Alone with his thoughts, the Summer King hied himself to his castle, there to meet with his council and to make ready his plans.

When he reached the great hall, his champion saw that he was distraught, and said “My liege!  Show me the foe, and I will take their heads and lay them at your feet!” Thinking that the Winter King and his armies had come raiding through the storms.

His master of trade reached for his tallies, lamenting.  “Have they damaged the roadways in their descent?”

His judge, recalling his precedents, shook his bearded head.  “The Winter Peace is broken.  The people of Winter must pay!”

And the fool, who wanders from Kingdom to Kingdom at a whim to bring news and secrets, was silent because he had heard nothing of this treachery.

“Fools!” the Summer King said, his great voice booming off the walls.  “My brother lies in his bed, sick unto death from starvation.  I cannot sit by and allow him to die, though long have I cursed his every breath.”

And so the Summer King and his court gathered up many of their provisions, and piled them high on great sleds.  They hitched mighty oxen to the sleds, and set out with great haste for the Winter Kingdom.

The winds and snows vanished before them as they rode, their sleds going faster and faster with every league.  As they drove, the Summer King felt a great joy seize his heart, and as he began to laugh the sun began to shine brighter.

Soon the sleds flew over the earth like birds, and the Summer King’s laughter could be heard far and wide.  They came to the gates of the Winter Castle and smote upon the door three times.  “We bring gifts!” The Summer King cried, mirth in every word.  “We bring salvation!”

The people of the Winter Kingdom were amazed when they opened the door, for the Summer King shone like the sun, and his mead glittered like gold as it splashed upon the floor.  The Summer King went to his brother, who drank from the Summer King’s own horn, and as he did the Summer King bellowed laughter and spoke.  “It is an ill omen that kin should come to blows.  Drink, brother!  Remember the summer you have lost, and let us know peace.”

And so the Winter and Summer Kings feasted in the Winter King’s own hall in the midst of winter.  The snows returned, but they were easier to bear with the Summer King’s provisions.

And after many months, when summer reached its height, the Winter King gave charge of his kingdom to his castellan.  “I owe my brother a great debt, and you must guard this land until I return.”

And the Winter King piled his own wagons high with the work of his finest craftsmen, and with the written histories of his wisest elders, and set out for the Summer Kingdom.  There he met with his brother the Summer King, saying “The land yields great riches when kin are at peace.  Take these gifts, my brother.  Store them against the coming winter, and let us know peace.”

And since those days, the Kingdoms of Winter and Summer have lived in peace in their mountain lands.  The fates decide which kingdom shall reign with the coming of each new season, and each comes to bow before the sovereignty of the other.  Their lands know great peace, and woe betide any who should seek to disturb them.

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The Lord of High Hall

Not so long ago, there was a man in the Blackwood who had two sons.  The first was handsome and intelligent and could manage everything, but the second was so stupid that he could neither understand nor learn anything.  Whenever people saw the second son, they would shake their heads and say “He will be a burden upon his father!”

The first son did everything around the house and performed many errands, but would never go out at night because he was very afraid of the dark.  At night, the family would gather around the fire to tell stories, and the first son would often shudder, saying “Please!  Tell me no more frightening tales!”  And the father would shudder too, because he had scared himself with his own stories.  The second son, huddled in the corner, would think to himself, “How sad!  Fear is one more thing I don’t understand.”

One day, the father came into the house and saw his second son huddled in the corner.  “You there!  You are almost a man grown.  You are big and strong, and it is time you learned a skill to earn your bread.  Leave this house, and do not return until you have learned a skill.”

The second son rose and looked his father in the eyes.  “Father, I do want to learn something.  I don’t understand what it means to be afraid, but I know I will learn if I work very hard.”

The oldest song laughed at this brother when he heard this.  “By the Silverheart!” He said, “Even the trolls are smarter than my brother!  He will be useless for as long as he lives.”

But the father loved both of his sons, and said to the younger son “You may learn how to be afraid, though you will not earn your bread that way.”

So the second son left the house of this father to learn what fear was.  As he was walking, he came upon a Priest of Unity who was gardening outside his modest Temple.  “The Priest is a wise man, a man who can read and write,” said the boy.  “I will ask him if he can teach me what fear is.”

And so he did, and the Priest laughed at him.  “Yes,” the Priest replied.  “I will teach you what fear is if you will ring the bells of this Temple at midnight tonight, when the moon has disappeared behind its blanket of clouds.”

So the boy did as he was told, and that night at midnight he climbed the tower of the Temple of ring the bells.  The Priest, however, sneaked up the tower ahead of him.  As the boy grasped the ropes to ring the bells, he saw of a sudden a white figure standing near the edge of the tower.

“Who is there?” shouted the boy.  When the white figure did not answer, the boy said “Speak or be gone.  You have no business here at night.”

But the Priest remained standing there in silence, so the boy would think he was a ghost.

The boy shouted a second time.  “Speak or begone, or if you won’t I’ll throw you off the tower.”

The Priest wavered for a moment, but decided the boy was bluffing and stayed silent.

When the ghost did not answer, the boy leapt forward, picked the ghost up, and threw it from the tower.  The Priest yelled until he hit the ground, where he lay motionless for a long time.  The boy finished ringing the bells, then went down the stairs to look at the intruder.  When he saw that it was the Priest, the boy became confused, wondering why the Priest wouldn’t speak to him.  He thought for a long time, and when he couldn’t figure it out, he left the Temple and never came back.

For many days the boy wandered through the Blackwood, and every night he made a bet with someone that they couldn’t teach him what fear was.  Every night they would try to scare him, and every morning they would pay him their money because they had failed.  The boy reached an inn deep in the woods, and was about to give up hope.

The Innkeeper saw the boy, and asked him why he was so sad.  “I have traveled for a long time and looked very hard,” said the boy, “but no one can teach me what fear is.”

The Innkeeper laughed at the boy, and said “You’ve come to the right place!”  The Innkeeper told the boy about a haunted castle not far from there, and any man could learn what fear is if only he could keep watch in the castle for three nights.  A nearby lord had decreed that any man who cleansed the castle of ghosts could marry the Lord’s daughter, who was very beautiful.  Further, the castle was full of many great treasures that would make a man rich enough, but they were guarded by evil spirits.  Many had gone into the castle, but no one had returned.

So the boy went to the nearby lord and told him that he would stay in the castle for three nights.  The lord saw that the boy was handsome and strong, and so he agreed, and gave the boy wood and tinder for a fire, and a knife to defend himself.  The lord took the boy to the haunted castle, helped him build a fire, and told the boy “You must not leave the castle until dawn.”

So the boy huddled by the fire, and not long after night had fallen, he heard a moaning whisper.

“Who is that?” said the boy.

Just then, the moaning grew much louder, and the boy watched as many black cats and black dogs leapt into the room, each with red-hot chains around their necks.  They poured into the room, meowing and barking, until the boy could hardly move.

“Too many! Begone!” said the boy, and went about hacking with his knife.  Several of the spirits fled, but those that he killed he gathered up and threw off the wall down into the moat.

In the morning, the lord came and was shocked to see him still alive.  “We shall see if you survive another night.”

The second night, the boy was sitting by the fire and grew very tired.  Just at that moment, he noticed a large bed in the corner of the room.  He yawned happily and laid down on the bed, but as soon as he had the bed start shaking and moving all around the castle.  It moved faster and faster, bumping up and down stairs, down corridors, and through rooms large and small, and all the while the boy laughed louder and louder.  Suddenly, the bed turned upside down and pinned the boy to the floor.  “No fun!” said the boy, wriggling out and grabbing the sheets.  Just as he did, the bed disappeared.  “How strange,” he thought.  He went back to the fire, laid down, and fell asleep.

On the second morning, the lord was even more amazed to see the boy alive.  “We shall see if you survive the last night,” he said.

So the final night name, and soon a whole troop of dead men walked into the castle, bearing a coffin with them.  The boy called to them “Ho there!  I am starved for company, come in!”

The dead men came closer, and soon they were reaching out their hands.  “I will strangle you!” one of the dead men said.

“I think not!” the boy called back, and he picked each of them up and threw them into the moat.

As he was coming down from the curtain wall, a tall man was standing by his fire.  He was broad of shoulder, with white hair and a long white beard.  “You will die tonight,” said the old spirit.

“Not so fast,” replied the boy.  “If I am to die, you will have to kill me.  I think I am as strong as you, and perhaps stronger!”

So the spirit wailed and attacked the boy, and they wrestled together.  Soon, the boy grabbed the spirit by his long beard and dragged him to the fire.  “If you don’t yield, I will burn you!” the boy shouted.

“Please!  I yield!  If only you will spare me, I will show you great riches!” said the spirit, the light of fear bright behind his eyes.

So the boy released the spirit, and the spirit lead him down deep into the castle.  They came to a room with three large chests, each filled with gold.  “Of these, one is for the poor, one is for the lord, and the third you may keep,” said the spirit, who disappeared into thin air.

The next morning, the lord came and praised the boy for living through the final night.  “Surely, now you must have learned to fear!”

“Sadly, nothing here could teach me,” said the boy.  “I may never learn how to fear.”

So the boy gave the riches to the poor and to the lord, and the lord gave the boy his daughter’s hand in marriage.  They named the castle High Hall, and the boy lives there still, though he has grown into a strong man and a good lord.

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Excerpts from “The Song of Unity”

In the name of Mareal Turi, the loving God!

Praise be to Mareal Turi, whose light touches every dark corner;

Greatest in power; Gentlest in hand;

To thee we pray, and Thine aid we seek.

Light our path in righteousness,

The path of your faithful servants, who love the world, and all its people.

In the beginning, there was Mareal Turi, and He made the world with the breath of His Voice and the help of His Creations.  They labored long, and made a thing of great beauty.

And when the time came, Mareal Turi said “Now wilt thou see the work of thy hands under My Holy Command.” And His Light burst forth, and all His Creations were frightened.

All fled into the dark places of the world, crouching in the shadows because not even the mighty could withstand His Light.

From that day, Mareal Turi and those who worship him have sought those dark corners, rooting out His Creations to bring them back into the fold.

Some come willingly, having learned to love His Light, and longing to hear His Voice once more.  These are His Supplicants, ever-pious servants and messengers on His behalf.

Some have grown to hate His Light, and have used their own voices in vain to sway the people of this world.  They are the Demons, and are cast down into the pit.


The Great God, Mareal Turi, Champion of Cerai and Protector of Its People, forever looks down on us all from his seat within the Sun.

His Light shines through the windows of His Holy Temples, cast in many-colored wonder down onto the faithful and repentant who call His Name in the presence of His Sign.

His Light shines over stock and stone alike, and through His Light all things come to see His Land.

His Voice resounds through the Carillon of the Great Shrine and through the most modest petitioner’s Bell with equally beautiful music, for all music is lovely in His Presence.

His Voice resounds within halls of stone and the deep places of the earth, and through His Voice all things comes to know the Truth.

From the Time of the First Gathering, the Unified have dwelt within His Light and drank deep of His Voice, for His Gifts come in Light and Sound.

The Wicked and Downcast cannot abide these beauties.  The Wicked flee from the heat of His Eyes.  The Downcast are cowed by the sound of His Voice.

And those that seek to repent of their sins may call unto him in the presence of His Sign:

I confess to Mareal, the Lord of Light and Sound,

And to you Supplicants that attend Him,

And to you, my brothers and sisters in Him,

That I have greatly sinned,

In my thoughts and in my words,

In what I have done and what I have failed to do,

Through my fault, through my grievous fault,

I turned away from His Light and Voice,

But I ask you Supplicants, brothers and sisters, hear my plea,

To see the shame in my heart,

And pray with me to the Lord Mareal Turi.

These are the words that are pleasing to the ears of the Lord, and these are the words that shall begin your path back into His Light.


And the Tale of the Rise of Mareal Turi is great beyond measure.  Read the words written by His First Supplicant, Alareg the Pious, after the victory over King Humbir of The Yellow Wastes:

The Red King came down like a lion on the fold,

And his fellows were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars shining free,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on dear Naster Sea.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Lord of the Light loosed His Voice like a blast,

And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;

And the eyes of the Demons waxed weary and chill,

And their slaves but once heaved, and forever were still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,

But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Rau, they moan evermore,

And the idols are broke in the shrines of Omor;

And the might of the Gamar, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

And thus does Mareal Turi, Lord of Light and King of Peace, tear down the Demons and false gods, to make the world safe for His Children.


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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.

Categories: Blackwood, Folklore | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Blackwood, Folklore | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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