Throughout the books written with Stuart France many stories are woven. This is another of those tales that is woven through the Doomsday series… and one of those upon which we drew for the Feathered Seer workshop. It is a retelling of a folk tale, related to one of the sites we used for the workshop…
The piper of Shacklow
The fiddler of Fin
The old woman of Demon’s Dale
Calls them all in.
In the deep river valley, where the Wye falls and tumbles across the stones or spreads its silken surface wide, the tall mound of Fin Cop is silhouetted against the sky. Many are the mysteries held in the heart of that hill; ancient secrets and stories that tell of love and loss. One such is the tale of a giant named Hulac Warren, the fiddler of Fin.
Hulac lived in a cave where the limestone turrets of Hobs Hurst stand like a castle against the slope of the hill. It is said that the giant was never seen, save by starlight when his hulking shape blocked the moon, when, for a bowl of cream, he would thresh the corn, doing the work of ten men in a night.
Yet though he was not seen, he himself watched from his lonely castle and when the sunset gilded the hills the sound of his music could be heard on the breeze.
In the valley lived fair Hedessa. As gentle as a fawn was she, lovely as the morning, soft as the pellucid waters of the stream that laughs at the mountain’s feet. Yet her voice was sweeter and she sang as she tended her father’s sheep, watching over them tenderly as they strayed amongst the wildflowers. She sang of the luminous dawn and the white of snowflakes, she sang of the velvet, jewelled night and she sang of love, for her heart was given to the scarred hunter who lived alone in the forested hills.
Hulac watched from the shadows as Hedessa danced amid the trees and listened to the music of her voice and his heart was filled with love for her. One evening as the summer drew to a close he waited for her behind the wide trunk of an oak tree and when Hedessa came, leading the sheep to the stream he spoke softly. His voice was no more than a whisper on the wind and Hedessa, looking all around, so no-one.
“Could you love one whose face is unlike that of other men?”
“Yes,” she whispered. Her love carried the mark of the boar on his cheek.
“Could you love one who loves silence and solitude?”
“Yes,” she replied, smiling at the thought of the clearing in the trees far from the village.
“Could you love one who would take you away from the world?”
“Oh yes,” she sighed softly, the music of the heart was in his voice and the magic of the moment caught her dreams and wove them bright.
Hulac would have spoken then, but the women from the village came laughing to the stream and he slipped away into the shadows, afraid of so many eyes. Hedessa danced on the green lawn and wove the wildflowers into garlands for her hair. The women smiled, for she was beloved of all and they knew the song of a maid in love.
Early next morning the shepherdess led her flock into the high pastures. Her dreams had been those of a maid who stands on the verge of womanhood and her thoughts drew her eyes inward to her heart. She climbed higher than she intended, through the deep moss and flowers, her tiny feet wet with dew and stained with the green of the grass. Her heart was light, surely he would come again… surely he would come for her tonight?
At noon the sun shone bright and Hedessa sought the shade of the rocks of the ancient place where few now came. Melancholy tales were told of this place, but no sadness could cast its shadow on the heart of a maid in love. She had walked far in her daydreams and rested, looking down on the turrets of the giant’s castle far below. None ventured there. They accepted his service in the night but shunned the twisted creature. They said he was a demon. Hedessa looked down on his cavernous home and shivered. Then she closed her eyes and smiled; her hunter would protect her from demons…
As if she had conjured him with her daydreams she heard his voice calling softly,
Then closer he called… and closer still.
A shadow stole the warmth of the sun and Hedessa opened eyes filled with love. Yet it was not her hunter who loomed over her, but the twisted figure of the giant, Hulac Warren.
Love turned to fear. Hedessa screamed and the sound echoed across the hills. Those in the valley looked up and saw the two silhouetted against the sky. Neither those who watched from below nor the shepherdess herself saw the hope in the giant’s eyes turn to pain. They did not see his tears as he reached out his hand, helpless to speak before the revulsion in her gaze.
Could she not love him? No. She could not, would not.
The man she loved was tall and straight, not gnarled as old stone, bent as the willow. Yet he wept and reached out to her. Hedessa turned to run and tripped on a fallen stone. Hulac pounced to save her from the fall but in her fear she struggled and anger took him. Not at her, but at himself and at a world that reviled those whose form reflected another realm.
And so it was that as she struggled, crying the name of her love, Hedessa tore free of Hulac’s grasp and fell to her death, dashed upon the rocks below. The cry of the grieving giant rent the air and the rocks split asunder.
They found her broken, breathing her last. She spoke of stone.
They did not understand.
Around the place where she lay they built a circle and covered her with earth and flowers; a pale shadow of her living beauty. From the ground came water, warm as a maiden’s tears and to this day the spring is known by her name.
Giant Hulac watched, cursing the gods, cursing hope and cursing himself. That night he crept down to the spring to lay flowers by Hedessa’s grave and his tears mingled with the waters. When the huntsman came he did not run. The spear pierced his flesh, but he did not die. He cried out then to the gods to take him, in anger or anguish at the ruin of beauty; to let him lie beside her at least in death.
He did not die when they stoned him. But the rocks drove him into the stream and there the gods took pity on Hulac Warren, turning his hunched form into an island of stone. He rests there still, close to his love, separated from Hedessa only by the ever-running tears of the hills.