herne-the-hunter

au where arthur is some kind of forest spirit and alfred is a prince

not sure where this is going but i like it

dankatty  asked:

Hi Cassie! I can't wait for LoS to come out! I really like Gwyn the Hunter so I wanted to ask you: are we going to get to know more about him, about his story and about the Wild Hunt? I'm really curious about him! And secondly, is he going to appear more in the other TDA books? Thank you so much for creating such an amazing world!!!

Gwyn, huh? That’s cool — Gwyn is a folkloric character “Gwyn is often associated with the Wild Hunt, in a role akin to Woden or Herne the Hunter. Some traditions name Gwyn’s chief huntsman as Iolo ap Huw, who, every Halloween, “may be found cheering Cŵn Annwn over Cader Idris”. —Wikipedia (Clockwork fans will remember Cader Idris!) I’ve always loved the Wild Hunt and knew I wanted them in TDA ever since I was writing CoLS and introduced the Blackthorns, and Gwyn, their enigmatic leader, was a fun character to write.

Writing a folkloric character is often enjoyable because you have the opportunity to humanize them. This is Gwyn asking someone on a date:

“I would that you would meet me, formally, that I might court you,” said Gwyn. His large hands moved aimlessly at his sides — he was nervous, actually nervous. “We could together slay a frost giant, or devour a deer.”

The Hunter

Herne dismounted his steed, and stamped his feet upon the ground just before the forest. It was unsafe for a hunter to prowl such a thick forest so close to sundown, but Herne wasn’t like most hunters. He was the best in his village, the county, and as his fellow hunters say, the best in all of England, good enough to hunt alongside the king himself. Though as sure as Herne knew this, as he could not deny his skill, he had a recurring doubt that swallowed all his attention. And that was why he was here, at sundown.

Herne had talent for archery, which revealed itself early on, even as a child. Even back then, just as they are now, everyone was amazed at his prowess, because otherwise he was a completely boring child. Just slightly less than average at everything, but hunting. He was born to shoot an arrow. And through this singular skill, he proved his worth. Once he was a man, he went on hunting expeditions, and kept his village well fed. Nowadays he often hunts, and often hunts alone or with one other partner. On his return, he has to walk through town to visit his home, and along the way, give his game to the people awaiting his handouts. Herne was such a master of the bow that he could hand a single piece of game to everyone that stopped him and he still had plenty to share with his own family once he reached them.

But then there was doubt. It had existed all along, but reared its ugly head once he joined the expeditions. No one had even bothered to look at or listen to him before he picked up that bow. And now everyone loved him just for that. He was the village darling now, and has been for years. But worrying thoughts prodded him.

“What if it was all a fluke? Just dumb luck leading those arrows to those targets? What if I lose my touch? What will they think of me then? What will they do? Do they love me solely for my skill? Even my own family?”

A grown man worried by such things was surely to make him a laughingstock in the people’s eyes, so this was his deepest, darkest secret. Herne couldn’t allow himself to go ignored again, as much as the popularity crushed him under its immense weight. So he did the thing he did best. He hunted. If he hunted as much as possible, not only would he never lose his touch, but he would help everybody and do exactly what made them happy. It was such a large forest, it couldn’t possibly run out of animals, could it? Herne didn’t doubt that. So when the doubts arose, he hunted. To both get his mind off it, and kill the source of the doubts, like a parasitic weed.

So, that was why Herne was hunting so close to sundown. This particular bout of doubts arose when he built up the nerve to straightforwardly ask his family if they’d still like him even if he didn’t hunt. They laughed. And laughed. Not to mention they brushed his problems aside like they were nothing. Just like always. But he was so direct this occasion, it hurt. So he grabbed his cape and bow and quiver with a white-knuckle grip and abruptly excused himself despite their protests. However, now was not the time for worrying. It was time to hunt.

The forest this night was particularly barren. Though, the distant calls of birds grew louder as he walked further in. This was natural, as the animals tended to dwell towards the center of the woods and not by its surface. But the amount of space between the edge and where the animals presumably were was much larger than usual, especially so close to nighttime. Finally, a few pheasants revealed themselves. Then they dropped dead from the arrows piercing their heads. Herne bent down and grabbed their carcasses by the legs and tied them together. It was placed in a sack, and then he moved on. Partridges and woodcocks flitted about further on, but were no match for Herne the Hunter’s sheer skill. And into the bag they went. From then on the fauna went scarce again and yet the hunter marched onward. Was he looking for something? Quite possibly. This bout of doubts was so intense, they burned inside his chest and threatened to take his life, and he felt as if he needed to prove himself yet again. A buck! If only he could snag a buck, or even a larger-than-average doe, would his demons dissolve. The villagers love venison. And they’ll love Herne, too. But only if he slayed that buck.

After a solid half-hour (by then the sun was long gone), Herne heard hoofbeats upon trees. Some scraping on tree bark, too. Does don’t make those noises. It was the buck he’d been searching for. He quietly slid his arrow into the bow and sidestepped his way around. Any chirping of birds and bugs had ceased and all that could be heard were the footsteps of the hunter, and the hunted. Due to the forest’s natural echo, it was hard to discern exactly where it was, so Herne did a few 360s around the small clearing he was in, cringing ever so slightly at his louder footsteps. He eventually relaxed and let the arrow sway away from the bowstring. This particular stag was either the most elusive Herne had seen, or it had simply walked away. Disappointed, he looked lazily to his side for one last check, and there it was. The buck, staring straight at him.

For once, Herne hesitated. The buck had an intense, yet cold gleam in its eye, as if it knew exactly what he was here for. Then it entered a charging stance and the hunter just gawked at it, and it sprinted forward as he finally armed himself. Herne managed to launch a good two or three arrows in the few seconds before the buck caught him and smacked him against a tree. The last arrow had pierced its chest, and so it died right after the collision. Herne breathed heavily, but stopped once some blood worked its way out of his mouth. Herne looked downwards and found the buck’s antlers had impaled him clean through his abdomen, and even into the tree behind it. Shock and adrenaline had completely numbed the injury, but it was already wearing thin.

Herne let out shrieking, shuddering cries as he attempted to work the buck off of him, but he could feel his insides suffering as he shook the deer’s head. It was nearly impossible, for the buck was the largest Herne had ever seen and certainly the heaviest. With the antlers lodged in the tree behind him, he was completely pinned. Herne started to bend forward to dislodge them, but blood began rushing and viscera started oozing out of his wounds, making him give out an agonized cry. More futile attempts and everything started to feel cold. In the moonlight, Herne’s skin was paper white. His fingers were raw and numb from endless scraping. Each now labored breath caused more blood to gush out. Herne was desperate to escape, but he was so tired now, his mouth was dry, he couldn’t even keep his head nor his eyelids up. A few more gasps choked with blood, then ignoring the pain, he slumped over the deer with a sickening groan. Then his arms let go of the antlers and hung by his side. And then he didn’t move again after that.

But this was not the end. In the forest, any end met there is just another beginning. Any bird or squirrel or boar or human that dies will begin new lives by feeding the trees and plants and flies and any hungry creature out there. But Herne’s new beginning was different from these.

While Herne himself did not move after dying, a certain someone of the forest dragged his body away. The wise folk of the forest unpinned him from the tree, unstuck the deer from Herne, and carried both the man and the deer to their dwelling. There, they did the work they were so famous for. Though, objectively, it was quite simple, even if it was magic. Right after they finished, they took something of Herne’s, something precious. Then they took their fist and firmly knocked on Herne’s chest three times, as if it were a door. Herne’s body jerked a bit, then sat up slightly as he deeply inhaled and started to cough. It almost hurt to breathe, especially after a day or two of not breathing, and having a blood-coated throat. He also had a pounding headache which felt like a massive pressure on his forehead. Examining his waist revealed quite sloppy-looking stitchwork, yet it was impressively well-healed. It seemed to be the afternoon, judging by the warmth and light peeking out of the porous roof above him.

The wise folk waiting in the corner stepped forward and accepted the revived hunter’s thanks. The folk cocked their head with a nonchalant smile.

“Well, before you’re off, there are a few conditions that are to be explained,” they started.

Herne figured out condition one by placing his hand to his head to ease the pressure, but instead he felt the strange structures embedded in it, and traced them all the way up, till he could barely reach their pointed ends.

“Wh-what sort of—” he stammered. “I-is this…?!”

The wise folk beamed a wicked smile and the sunrays made their teeth shine with a sinister gleam.

“Do you like them? I tried awfully hard to make the connection as smooth as possible.”

Herne threw his head upward in a futile attempt to observe his new features, gripping them like handles to peel them off, then turned a naked, betrayed look to the figure as they let a cackle slip.

“I thought it would be only so fitting that you, who slaughters the forest life so zealously, was finally killed by one of its own.” They said with satisfaction. “And I found it fit that you could keep the stag’s horns as a trophy upon your crown. You already have, but no need to thank me.”

Herne agonized over his now monstrous appearance, lamenting that he could never face his family or any other human again. The wise folk’s smile widened, which they half-heartedly hid behind their hand. They then snickered to him,

“You have lost something in return for your life, Hunter.”

Herne stopped burying his face in his hands to look at the wizard in confusion. The wise folk held up their hand, pinching the air as if it held something, but nothing could be seen.

“Why, I’ve taken your hunting prowess.”

Herne immediately scrambled off the table, attempting to grab the air by the folk’s hand, but having failed, instead prayed on his knees to the forest mage, shaking his clasped fists to them, to the sky, begging for it to be given back.

“I could live with horns, I can trim them short enough to hide, but I cannot not live without my livelihood! Not without the only reason that anyone has ever cared about me!”

The folk sneered at Herne with disgust.

“You shall be cursed until the day you die.”

The forlorn hunter crumpled to the ground and sobbed. The wizard looked down at him, and complained that a grown man crying like so, was undignified and demanded he be grateful he was even alive at all. They grabbed his bag of game birds and threw it in front of him. Herne was then told to get out.

“Don’t forget to savor the last prey you’ll ever have the satisfaction of slaughtering, you beast.” the folk hissed through a forced smile, adding insult to injury.

Herne closely hugged the bag as he staggered out of the hovel and stumbled about the rocks and tree trunks. He fumbled aimlessly about for a few minutes, gasping for air between teary sighs, before tripping over the roots of a great oak tree.

Herne spent a great deal of the day sobbing and tracking back and forth around this oak tree, pondering on what to do. He even tried shooting arrows but they all went astray, some didn’t even pierce anything, simply bouncing against the target with their shafts or nocks and falling uselessly to the ground. If he ever showed himself to the public, they’d surely mistake him for a great monstrous beast and kill him on the spot. If not, then they’d think he contracted with the Devil and hang him. Or maybe they’d join together and chase him through the forest and out of town with pitchforks and torches. Even if they could assimilate such a pitiful freak back into their society, he would be absolutely useless without his skill. No one would ever want to deal with such an ugly mediocre creature. He’d just be a leech on the community. Nothing could be done but wallow in misery in the forest forever, unable to even entertain himself with archery, forever haunted by the wise folk feeding upon his misfortune. Nothing at all— Wait, go backwards. Hang. Herne finally had an answer. Not the answer he wanted, but the most favorable out of the others.

But before this, he calmly sat down and let out a few more tears and gasps, later grabbing his bag. He retrieved all the rope keeping the bag and its contents sealed up. Then he went to work. The noose he made was not as skilled as the kind for professional executions as he, too, was mediocre at knot-tying, but if it got the job done, he didn’t care. Using his newly acquired horns, he propped and looped the rope around the thickest branch he could reach. He tied the other end to a boulder. Carrying it, Herne shimmied up the tree and struggled to fit his head through the loop. Herne took one teary last look upwards to the sky and the trees framing it. It was utterly disappointing. Then he dropped the stone and closed his eyes.

The wise folk watched Herne’s feet sway back and forth, looking unimpressed. They were looking forward to a lifetime of misery from a murderer like him, but knew an early outcome was expected. Nonetheless, a promise is a promise. Herne’s skill would be in the wizard’s hands for the rest of his life. And Herne made it so the rest of his life would be but a few hours. They took their enclosed hand and flicked it towards the base of the tree directly under Herne. They smiled once more, because the lifetime of misery had become an eternity.

Herne opened his eyes for the second time. He was staring up at a pair of boots. He rose up from the ground and examined them. They led up to white pant-clad legs, a brown leathery belt and top, a forest green cape cinched by the collar bones, and above that, a plum-purple bruised neck. And if Herne had a stomach at this time, it would have dropped when he got to its pained, blotchy, veiny face. Herne was dead. Yet again. But he wasn’t alive now like last time. His spirit had manifested itself as his monstrous horned form, even taller this time. Other than the natural weightlessness of spirituality, something else was different. He drew an arrow from his quiver and strung it across his bowstring. He aimed at a tree forty feet away. The arrow pierced its fruit exactly how Herne wanted it to. The only moment of clarity that his skill was true and it was far too late. It meant nothing but personal satisfaction to a problem that no longer exists, pleasure from animal slaughter, and a source of mild entertainment for the oncoming eon of boredom. That’s just how it would go for the ensuing centuries, angrily shooting trespassers for daring to bother him and defile the tree his poor battered body hung upon, unleashing shrieks of pure malevolence that rattled the nighttime forest to disturb the people who ignored him, who dared to sleep while he could not.

One day, a horned owl perched itself upon a branch near the oak tree. Herne instinctively aimed towards it. It cocked its head and began to watch him. What was a nocturnal creature like an owl doing out and about in the afternoon like this? Herne didn’t really care. He didn’t care enough to shoot it either. He just sighed, dropped his weapon, and kneeled while idly ripping up the grass. The owl softly darted from the branch in exchange for Herne’s horns (which caused his head to tilt). He then placed his hand up to the bird, and it shifted over onto his wrist. When Herne brought it to eye level, it screeched and spat a stuttered hoot in his face but otherwise acted like a perfectly tamed owl. It seemed to enjoy little brushes under its chin and pats upon its downy belly. It didn’t seem to want to leave, so Herne named it Harold. Harold puffed out and ruffled its plumage at its new name. If Herne couldn’t have normal human contact, the accompanying intelligence of an owl would suffice. Even if generally unhealthy habits like yelling at a bird as you pretend to have an argument with it were frowned upon, it helped alleviate his antisocial outlook.

Now that Herne noticed, it seemed the forest was more alive at the moment. It was dead silent all this time but now the natural ambiance had returned, and so had the forest populace. Silhouettes of deer, squirrels, foxes, and even a few stallions seemed to surround the clearing. Any ordinary hunter would feel threatened, but the sensation they gave off felt more like a warm reception. Harold must have been a test. And Herne, by giving up hunting for sport, passed it and earned the fauna’s respect. He didn’t have to swear off archery, just the killing of animals. And he was just fine with that.

Most people don’t equate animals to humans, Herne having been one of them, but in terms of company and companionship, they were even greater. They did not glare, they did not gossip, they did not judge, and only gave silent support from the sidelines, and you knew without word or question that it was genuine. Animals are incapable of the deception humans are so well known for. They’re too pure for emotional cruelty, in stark contrast to their home, Nature, who was purely merciless. It was therapeutic, really. The dark, depressing forest of certain death by a ghostly arrow was, nowadays, the tragic if not bittersweet foliaged home to a phantasmic keeper. He’ll only watch you from afar, and shy from your line of sight, but keep your distance from Herne’s Oak.

herne the hunter

THE WILD HUNT: ENGLISH STYLE

IN ENGLAND, THE WILD HUNT IS A FUCKING MASSIVE SWARM OF GIANT MURDER-HOUNDS AND A GANG OF GHOSTS ON HORSES. THIS ONE IS ON THE FUCKING GROUND, THOUGH, SO THERE’S A SIGNIFICANT CHANCE OF BEING TRAMPLED TO DEATH BY ANGRY GHOSTS. 

THE LEADER OF THE ANGRY GHOSTS IS HERNE THE HUNTER, A FUCKING MASSIVE DUDE WITH DEER HORNS. OR IT MIGHT BE KING ARTHUR IN A REALLY FUCKING STUPID HAT. NOBODY FUCKING KNOWS. 

THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ANY POINT TO THIS SHIT, IT’S JUST A BUNCH OF GHOSTS FUCKING AROUND.

Herne the Hunter

This legend dates back to the reign of Richard II (1377 - 99) when a man named Herne was keeper of the royal domain known as the Great Park at Windsor.
Hunting with the King one day Herne saved his master’s life when he was attacked by a wounded stag - but in so doing Herne was injured by the animal’s antlers.  He seemed to be fatally wounded. 
At that moment a mysterious stranger walked out of the trees and told the King that if he agreed to his magical treatment he could save Herne’s life.
The King gave his assent and the stranger, a wizard who lived alone in the forest, removed the stag’s antlers, bandaged them to Herne’s head and said he must be taken to his hut to recover.
 
Before Herne was moved the King promised him that as soon as he was well again he would be appointed head huntsman.
 The royal huntsmen were determined that their order of promotion should not be altered to suit Herne and when they reached the forest hut they threatened the wizard with death if he allowed Herne to recover.
The wizard replied that Herne was under his protection and he would not harm him, but if they dared to risk Herne’s curse he would ensure that he did not remain a hunt leader for long.
 
When Herne returned to Windsor Castle to take charge of the hunting his memory failed him as far as the Great Park was concerned. 
It was as though he had completely forgotten the geography of the forest and it’s deer tracks and thus each hunt he led was a failure.  Finally the King lost his temper and dismissed him.
Herne committed suicide the same night, hanging himself from the branch of a huge Oak tree which was known as Herne’s Oak until 1863 when it was blown down during a gale.
 
A hunter found the body but when he returned to the spot with his fellow huntsmen it had vanished.  From then on the memory failure that had befallen Herne afflicted them and soon the King was so angered by their seeming ineptitude that they too were in danger of dismissal.
In desperation they sought the wizard, who told them that until they made atonement to Herne’s earthbound spirit they would have no luck with the chase.

Following his instructions they congregated at Herne’s Oak after nightfall.  At midnight the phantom of Herne, complete with antlers, appeared.
Leaping onto a ghostly horse, he commanded them to follow him through the forest.  For the rest of the night the wild hunt combed Windsor Great Park for deer and was so successful that when next the King went hunting he did not glimpse a single animal.
 
Finally he forced the truth from his huntsmen and that night went to the Oak where the Phantom duly appeared.  The ghost promised the King that if those who had betrayed him were punished, he would cease to haunt the forest for as long as he reigned.
The King agreed and next morning ordered the conspirators to be hanged, after which he had no more trouble in finding game.
 
Following King Richard’s deposition in 1399 and his subsequent murder, the ghost of Herne was seen again in the Great Park and a story circulated that whenever England was faced with troubled times the spectral hunter would appear.
When Herne’s Oak was blown down Queen Victoria ordered that a new one should be planted in its place to keep the tradition alive.  Herne appears in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and in Harrison Ainsworth’s novel “Windsor Castle”.

(Alexander, Marc. “Herne the Hunter”.The Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths & Legends. Thrupp: Sutton Publishing, 2002. Print.)

If I were forced to pick the best Pagan-themed television show, it would have to be “Robin of Sherwood.” Created by Richard Carpenter, it showcased a mystical and occult-drenched version of the mythos, complete with Herne the Hunter as patron of Robin Hood. The show was filled with magicians, witches, and a near-fictional mythic Britain. It quietly, tacitly, endorsed the idea of the “good Pagan” (tied to the land) who fought against evil-doers and corrupt church officials. Further, unlike some more modern shows with occult/Pagan themes,  it never nudge-nudge, wink-winked at the magical bits, even when the special effects and costumes could have been better. 

Considering the popularity of Game of Thrones, and the coming adaptation of American Gods, I think we’re well overdue for a rebooted Robin of Sherwood on cable (not to diss the 2006 Robin Hood series, which I thought was fine, but not nearly as good). I think it has all the elements to be a smashing success, if done right.