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.