Of King Herla

The ruler of a court not much different to that of good King Henry of our present day, King Herla of the Ancient Britons was out riding one day when he came upon a very small man mounted on a very large goat. The man’s face was fiery red, his head was huge in proportion to the rest of his body and he had long red hair reaching to his chest, which was covered on a spotted fawn’s skin. His belly was remarkably hairy and his legs ended in goat’s hoofs.

As Herla regarded him, amazed, the little man spoke. “I am the king over a great number of people and am sent, a messenger, to you, King Herla, who is held in great renown in my land. So you deserve that your wedding should be brilliantly adorned by my presence, as soon as the King of the French has betrothed his daughter to you.”

Herla laughed. “I know nothing of that.” he said.

“The ambassadors will be here within the day.” the little man assured him. “I will attend your wedding and you mine, on the same day a year hence.” Then, swifter than a tiger, he turned the goat around and vanished from view.

The king returned home, to be duly met by an embassy from the French king offering his daughter’s hand as the little man had promised. Since this was too good an opportunity to miss, Herla accepted and the wedding was arranged without great delay.

At the marriage feast, before the first course could be served, the pygmy king once again made his appearance, this time accompanied by a vast crowd of similar beings bearing food for the feast. The vessels they carried were all of precious stone, the plates were made of gold and jewels. Whatever anyone wanted they only had to turn their heads and there would be one of the little men about to serve them. Nothing of Herla’s preparations needed to be touched.

At the end of the feast the pygmy king stood up and a silence fell on the company. “Noble king,” he said, “I call upon all of those present to witness that I attended your wedding in accordance with our agreement. See that you do not put off the honour conferred on you.” With that he and all his retinue left as quickly as they had come and everyone regarded it as a great prodigy and raised Herla’s prestige in the land.

After a year had gone by the little man suddenly reappeared and asked Herla to fulfil his covenant. Not without some reluctance Herla gathered together his war band, suitably fitting gifts and followed the man and goat wherever they were to lead. After some time they came to a high cliff and Herla and his men were led into a cave. After an interval of darkness they passed into a great light, not from the sun or the moon but from a multitude of lamps cut from the clearest crystal. Here the wedding was celebrated.

After several days of festivities, Herla felt that he had fulfilled his duty and asked his host for leave to depart. This was freely given and Herla and his men were loaded with gifts as marks of esteem. The pygmy king guided them back to the cave entrance and, just as they reached the place where the darkness began, presented Herla with one last gift, a small bloodhound. “Promise me this one thing.” said the little man. “On no account must you or any of your train dismount before this dog leaps down.”

Soon they came back into the light of our own sun. Looking for directions, Herla accosted an old shepherd and asked news of his queen, naming her but the man just gazed at him in astonishment. “Sir, I can hardly understand your speech, for you are a Briton and I am a Saxon. The name you have uttered I have never heard, save they say there was once such a queen amongst the Britons, the wife of King Herla, who, they say, disappeared in company with a pygmy at this very cliff and was never seen since. That must be some time ago for it is now over two hundred years since we Saxons took possession of this land.”

Herla was horrified because he thought he had only been gone three days. One of his company dismounted to remonstrate with the man but, as soon as his foot touched the ground, he crumbled into dust. King Herla warned the rest not to touch the earth until the dog leapt down from his saddle first.

But the dog did not do so. The story goes that the king still holds his mad course without stop or stay. Many say they have seen his band but, in the first year of King Henry’s reign, some saw it plunge into the Wye and journey no more but have transferred their eternal wanderings onto us, who cannot seem to stay in the one place.




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