This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.
The Resulting Story:Lights Away
The hills have eyes of fire. The strange shapes on the edges of towns and building up to dread mountains attract a great deal of attention, both nefarious and wondrous—why is perhaps for another to speculate. They are clearly demarcated landscape features, and often can hold springs, metals, strange stone formations, and hiding behind them lies lord knows what. At night strange things can happen in the hills. By day great fortresses rise to their defense. Sometimes these are intertwined, such as in Tyrol, Austria.
In Tyrol, there is this story. An old lady visited the castle, and found its courtyard full of nobles and servants. One of these servants granted her a gold coin, and the scene vanished. As she left, she was met by a solider with a single match and holding his own head at his side. The solider warned her—tell anyone of this, and evil would befall her. The woman tried her best, until a magistrate learned of the gold she had. When the magistrate pressed her on the matter, and forced her to speak, she is whisked away and never seen again. Later, a young nobleman heard this tale and decided—being a knowledgeable sort—to see for himself what was atop the mountain. As he and a servant ascended, six times an unknown voice told them to desist. The solider was there again, and demanded to know who came—the nobleman declared “It is I!”. When asked who “I” was, the nobleman asked for his sword. But a terrible horseman with no head rode out, seized him, and vanished with him into the country side. The solider drove away the servant with his sword.
In County Durham, England, there is another haunted and wretched hill. There is a strange hill is named after a dread worm. There was an heir of the Lambton family, some six hundred years ago, who ignored his obligations to God and humanity alike. Every Sunday it was his habit to go out fishing, and one such day he was raving about his woes to the local servants when his line was tugged. Thinking he’d caught a grand fish, he pulled and pulled—only to find a horrific, pale worm with many hooked teeth and eyes. Horrified, he fought with the thing—which would not let go of his wire. At last, after speaking with a stranger, he tossed it down a well. Where it grew.
And grew, and grew, until it was too big for the well. The worm rose out and grew so large it was able to circle a nearby hill three times—the hill thus named Worm Hill. The creature then laid waste to the countryside. The household of the heir worked hard to find a solution, the heir himself having repented and gone to wage some foreign war—perhaps service in the crusades. The creature cannot be stopped until seven years later the heir returns. Taking advice from a local sibyl, the heir places a suit of armor filled with spears near the great worm. The sibyls only demand was that he promise to kill the first thing he came across on his way home, or a curse would lay on his family to never die in their own bed for nine generations.
The heir did so and the serpent assaulted his armor. But the spears struck into its pale flesh, even as it wrapped tighter and tighter. At last, it bled so the entire river ran red, and the heir struck the creature dead. He sounded his horn in victory, and his father ran out to greet him. The heir was struck, and could not bring himself to kill his father. So he sounded again in terror, and killed the hound that ran out. But the curse held true.
Another hill in the Northern Counties held a poisonous winged creature, that frequently flew out and wrapped itself around Wormington—hence the name. This creature lived in a cave in a hillside. The panic the creature inspired was so great that villages ten miles away considered abandoning their homes. At last a champion stepped forward, and after his normal weapons failed, took some peat covered in pitch and shoved it down the beasts throat. The worm suffocated and its death contractions still mark the hill with spiral patterns.
A mountain in Italy bears lights for a terrible tale—one that I feel ought to have been exhumed from our work with the devil. Pietro Balliardo is the origin of this strange flame on a hill. This man had gained divination powers and command of the devil from a small bookshop. One of the first things he does is get revenge on a woman who refused him—she is found one night, burning atop a Mount, and all who pass by must stir the flame regardless of their will. He did other outrageous acts, a small Faustus of Italy who in his time repented his ways. I am sad to say he does not typically die, although he does beat his breast with a stone until he bleeds
Spook Light Hill in Indiana is a particularly haunted hill it seems, with strange ghostly lights. One source of these lights is an old man, looking for his daughter’s head—his daughter took a nasty horse-and-buggy crash a while back, and her head was cut clean off. Another explanation, related, claims it was a farmer who fell off his plow and somehow cut his own head off on the plow. Yet another story says it a ghost of a father from the 1800s. He wouldn’t let his daughter date, until one night she convinced him to let her date a solider. The solider apparently killed her, as her body was found outside the next day and the man is still hunting. Another story says instead it is from an old couple. One night they went out looking for a lost cow and her calve. The next morning the woman fell into an open grave and died—years later the man died of natural causes. And yet they are still seen looking for the old cow. The lights, however, remain and won’t say why.
From Cambridgeshire, we have hills formed of a dispute between the giant Gog and the giantess Magog. Every day they quarreled in their cave until Gog declared he would kill her. Magog fled at once, and out ran him easily. Gog then took up some nearby earth and threw it at Magog. He missed, creating the first hill. He missed again, making a larger hill. But the third struck home, and buried Magog alive—this made the highest hill yet. Similar stories in Shropeshire tell of giants who made the hills by hurling stones and dirt at each other across rivers and the valley.
From Herefordshire, the story of the creation of Robin Hood’s Butts relates to the old trickster Satan. Having learned the people of Herefordshire were building churches and cathedrals and leaving his way of life, he gathered up a number of stones to level the city of Hereford. A passing monk, however, came across him on the road and learned of his intent. In disguise, he taught him all about the corruption of the church and priestly offices—and convinced the devil to go home, abandoning his stones to from the two hills. Some versions replace the devil with Robin of Loxely, who has set out to destroy the monks of a monastery with Little John. They come across a cobbler, who tells them that the monastery is too far to ever reach. Little John and Robin Hood give up, again leaving the stones to form the hills.
In Ireland, a number of old forts were believed to be inhabited by fairies, or perhaps at one point by the Danes—whether these Danes are from Denmark or are simply named the same is unclear, as they are recounted as diminutive red-headed men and woman, something like dwarves. It was said that when these forts were inhabited, and they wished to communicate across long distances late at night, they would light great fires to signal from far away. In at least one circumstance, leveling of an ancient fortress on a hill resulted in the sudden death of every workman who participated in the leveling. Later rumors of great tunnels underneath, where oxen could plow, began to spread. This cemented it as a fairy home.
To end our collection of tales, a more happy, less horrific fire on a hill comes from Kenya. Here we are told a man with a beautiful daughter promised to marry her to anyone who could spend all night in the nearby cold lake. The lake was not only cold, but apparently the gathering place of man eating creatures and animals. A young man decides to go, despite his mothers pleading—for he is in love. So he goes and sits in the cold water. His mother, however, followed him. On a small hill, forty paces away, his mother placed a pot and started a fire. The light frightened away the animals. When the son saw it, he was glad for his mothers love that saved him. The man, however, tried to refuse the marriage since he claimed the fire had warmed the pot. A brief ruling by a judge, however, settled the matter.
The fire on the hills story then is the source of many strange creatures and activities. I have not even begun to discuss what first occurred to me with fires on a mountain—great and ancient shrines and revels, from Zoroastrian to Celtic in origin. The ghosts and monsters here, the strange fairy fortresses, even the unknown Danes provide us with something uncanny. As I said, hills are often associated with power. What is going on up on that hill? Can you bear to see what is lighting on that strange hill?
“The Fire on The Hill : African Folk Tales : Fable : Animals Stories.” English for Students, http://www.english-for-students.com/The-Fire-on-The-Hill.html.
Andrews, Elizabeth. Ulster Folklore. E.P. Dutton, New York. 1919
Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877
Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.
Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press. 1982
Leather, Ella-Mary. The folk-lore of Herefordshire. Jakeman&Carver, Hereford. 1912
Henderson, William. Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and The Borders. W. Satchell and Peyton Co. 1879
James, Maureen. Cambridgeshire Folk-Tales. The History Press. 2014
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