The Mysterious Story of King Herla

In a galaxy long ago and far away…well, make that this galaxy, in fact, this planet, but the long ago part is pretty accurate.  In fact, it was so long ago, that it was long ago even to the people of long ago.  It was that long ago that King Herla lived.

Like all enduring myths and legends, there are variations on the story of King Herla, but the gist of it is this:

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Herla was the king of the Britons more than a thousand years ago.  One day, while hunting in an ancient forest with his men, he met a dwarf with a great red beard, and cloven hooves, riding a huge goat.  “I am a king of many kings and chiefs,” the dwarf told Herla and his men.  “But I have heard of your fame and great deeds, even in my world.  You are worthy to attend my wedding.  We’ll make a compact: even now, the ambassadors of France are arriving at your palace to arrange your marriage to their princess.  I’ll attend your wedding, and a year to the day later, you’ll attend mine.”

It was as the dwarf king had said.  Herla and his men arrived back at his palace to see the ambassadors awaiting him.  The wedding was arranged, and in the midst of the celebrations and feasting, the dwarf king and his people arrived, great crowds of them.  They provided food and drink in vessels of gold and crystal in such abundance that King Herla’s provisions went untouched.  At cock-crow the next morning, he and his people disappeared back to their own world.

A year to the day later, the dwarf king appeared to remind Herla of their pact.  Being a man of honor, Herla and his men selected gifts worthy of a fellow monarch and rode into the ancient forest.  There, a cliff opened before them.  They traveled into a dark tunnel, but soon enough, it opened up into a great cavern of light, seemingly lit by thousands of lamps.  There, Herla and his men celebrated for three days with the dwarf king and his people.

Finally, on preparing to leave, the dwarf showered them with gifts of horses, dogs, and hawks.  In particular, the dwarf lifted up a small hound to ride with Herla on his horse.  “Do not get down from your horses until this dog jumps down,” the dwarf warned.  “Only then will it be safe for you to dismount.”

Herla and his men rode back out of the dwarf’s realm.  Coming out into the forest, they found their world did not look quite as they’d left it three days before.  Disturbed, they rode on, till they found an old shepherd.  “Tell me news of my queen, wife of Herla,” Herla demanded.

The old man looked at him strangely, and finally said, “I scarce understand you, for you are a Briton, and I am a Saxon.”  After some thought, he added, “I have heard such a name.  But it is a very old story, of the wife of Herla.  Her husband rode into the forest to celebrate the marriage of a dwarf king, and was never seen again.  She died of a broken heart.  But that was in the days of the Britons, and the Saxons have ruled England for two hundred years now.”

One of Herla’s men, upset, leapt from his saddle.  He instantly turned to dust, and Herla understood that what the shepherd said was true.  He ordered his men to stay on their horses.  And so they were doomed to ride endlessly, and became the Wild Hunt, roaming the earth forever in their saddles without rest.

Until the first year of King Henry, in 1133, men reported sightings of the Wild Hunt.  In that year, the sightings occured in Wales, until shortly after, many Welsh reported seeing King Herla’s men sinking into the River Wye.  From then, they were never seen again.

The story of King Herla warns us against the trickery of the elder races, such as the dwarves, and the dangers their kingdoms hold even for the greatest among us.
In short, do not go to a dwarf king’s wedding, no matter how much food and drink he brings to yours.

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