The Tale of King Herla

Once there was, in the oldest of days and ages and times, a mighty king whose name was Herla. He was the king of the ancient Britons, a wise and honorable ruler.

One day King Herla was approached in private by a strange pygmy or dwarf sitting astride a huge goat. The pygmy resembled depictions of Pan, with a glowing face, enormous head, and a red beard so long that it touched his chest which was brightly decorated with a dappled fawn skin. But strangest of all was his hairy belly and thighs which tapered into goats feet.

When this strange creature spoke, he spoke with a deep and booming voice: “I am the lord of many kings and chieftains, and of a people without number.  I come to you willingly, sent by my people, and although you do not know who I am, I glory in the kind of fame which has raised you above other kings.  You are the best and nearest to me in place and lineage, and you are worthy of having me honour you as a guest at your wedding.  Although you do not know it, the king of France has given his daughter to you, and his messengers will arrive to announce it this very day.  Let there be an agreement between us, that I shall attend your wedding, and you shall attend mine a year to the day later.”

With these words the strange creature vanished and King Herla returned to his court in amazement.  Just then his heralds announced the arrival of the Ambassadors from France who came with the news that the King of France had offered up his daughter to Herla to make a peace between them.

As he was sitting in high state at his wedding feast the strange creature returned before the first course with so many of his subjects that the tables were filled. More guests had to be seated outside in pavilions which had instantly appeared, provided by the strange pygmy king.

From these tents pygmy servants sprang forth with vessels made of precious stones, perfect in form and intricately worked, and they filled the palace and pavilions with gold and crystal. The pygmy servants attended to every need, offering nothing from the royal cellars but plentiful hospitality from their own supplies, more than enough indeed to satisfy every guest’s needs and desires.

Everything which King Herla had prepared went untouched, and his own servants sat idly by. The pygmies were everywhere, winning every guest’s thanks. And they were much admired by Herla’s guests for the glory of their garments and gems, like the sun and moon which outshone the other stars, and as his servants busied themselves about him, the pygmy king said to Herla: “O best of kings, the Lord is my witness that, as we agreed, I am present at your wedding. If you desire anything beyond what you see here, I shall willingly supply it. But you must not fail to repay me this high honor when I require you to do so.”

Without waiting for an answer he returned to his pavilion and departed with all his men about the time of cock-crow.

Exactly one year to the day later the pygmy king reappeared to Herla and demanded that he should fulfill his side of the bargain. Herla, being the honorable man that he was, agreed and he and his retinue set out, led by the pygmy king.

Eventually they came to a lofty cliff face and entered a deep and dark cavern. But after a short space of time they passed into light made not by the sun or the moon, but by countless lamps in to the home of the pygmies. It was a glorious mansion the likes of which outshone the accounts of the palace of the sun.

Herla and his retinue were treated to a wedding feast and celebration even more lavish than the one the pygmy king had provided to Herla a year before.

Having celebrated the marriage in this place, and having discharged his debt to the pygmy king, Herla was allowed to take his leave, but not without being laden down with lavish gifts of horses, and dogs, and hawks, and everything necessary for hunting and falconry.

The pygmy king conducted his guests as far as the darkness but before he left Herla he gave them a small bloodhound, which he insisted should be carried. In fact he strictly forbade anyone in Herla’s retinue to dismount until the dog leapt out of the arms of the person who carried it. Then, having said farewell, the pygmy king went back to his own domain.

Returning to the sunlight and to his own country, Herla approached an old shepherd and asked for news of his queen. The shepherd looked at him wonderingly and said: “My lord, I can barely understand you, for I am a Saxon and you are a Briton. I do not know of such a queen, except that old men tell tales of a woman of that name, a queen of the ancient Britons, who was wife of King Herla. Legend says that he disappeared with a pygmy into this very cliff and has never been seen again. The Saxons drove out the native people from this place over two hundred years ago.”

The king, who thought he had been gone for no more than three days, could scarcely remain in the saddle. And indeed, some of his companions, heedless of the pygmy’s warnings, dismounted before the descent of the little dog, and were immediately turned to dust. The king forbade anyone else to touch the earth, but the little dog remained where it was, and never descended to the ground.

Legend has it that Herla wanders endlessly, making wild marches with his retinue, never stopping or resting and many claim to have seen them.

But it is also said that in the first year of the coronation of our King Henry (Henry II), Herla’s troop finally ceased to visit our kingdom. From that moment it is said that Herla’s wild march ceased.


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