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.