I wrote a short story back in May 2012 that I’ve been wanting to post, but as I submitted it to a literary competition I didn’t want to post it until that was finished.
So now I feel comfortable sharing this story that I predominantly channeled. Herne definitely had his own input in it, and you’ll be able to see it once you begin reading.
I just want to mention again an invaluable book for anyone wanting information on Herne, In Search for Herne the Hunter by Eric Fitch. I highly recommend it!
So on with the story! You’re more than welcome to print it, save it, put it away for your own use. All I ask is that you make mention that you got it from here (even for your own notes if you want to find it again).
EDIT: An edited version of this story was published in 2015 in Call of the God: An Anthology Exploring the Masculine Divine by Frances Billinghurst.
Herne the Hunter: A Short Story
by Cara Fenton (Rowan Hunter) @ Book of Eucalypt.com
Once upon a time, I was just a man.
I was a son, a brother, and a lover to many women; provided they had a pretty smile and sat on my knee of a night over a drink with the lads.
I had a wife, but I lost her and my son to child birth. I was so distraught that I married myself to the hunt. That was my passion – that was my life, and I loved no other woman.
I was one of eight children – three sisters, four brothers, and I was somewhere in the middle. We weren’t rich, but we had enough. My father made sure that we all could trail a rabbit through the forest without making a sound. Not many people can claim they can do that, but it kept food on the table when there was no coin. Bloody taxes, they were the death of so many families when I was a lad.
Hunting was what I did. I lived for it, and I was bloody good at it. Not many could best me, even in my youth, and I never came home empty handed. We didn’t attend school as that meant going to see the Vicar. If they had to send one, they had to send all. My mother knew how to read, and she had taught the eldest the basics, who then taught we younger ones when she was busy running the house, ensuring we were all out of mischief, including my father.
No one knew the forests like I did. Thanks to my father, I knew every trail, every tree, and every hiding spot. I knew what hole was a burrow and what was a den. I could tell how old the animal tracks were, which way they went, and why they probably went there. I could tell one tree from another, knew the call of the birds, what calls meant danger and when I had been spotted.
I told you I was good. Well, I was good enough that the King himself became impressed with me, and I soon became His man. He was a bloody fine King, if I say so myself. Not everyone liked Richard the Second, but you didn’t have to like a man for him to be a good ruler. It helped when your people liked you, but it wasn’t absolute. Just don’t let anyone hear you say that, and you’ll keep your head on your shoulders.
As I was saying, I soon became His man. Some called me his favourite, but I never heard it from his mouth. He liked how I knew where the game was in Windsor Forest, and I could guarantee him a good day of hunting. That didn’t win me friends, but I was foolish. Who needed friends when I was the King’s man, right?
Always keep friends, as even friends can become enemies likely to put a knife in your back then plead ignorant.
One day, and a beautiful day it was in Windsor Forest, the rain had been steady so the ground was nice and damp. It can make tracking the animals harder at times, but soft leaves and ground don’t make as much noise as when dry. The Royal Hunting Party went out – the King, myself, along with other hunters in his service and his guards and a couple of hounds – the only sound we made were that of the horses hooves and the dogs sniffing excitedly along the ground. The hounds caught a trail, and off we went galloping through the forest, chasing after them. There it was: the most beautiful creature we had seen in Windsor – a white deer. Oh, what a prize that would’ve been. A rare find, indeed.
On went the chase. His Majesty at my side, we led our horses at such a speed, never losing sight of it. At His Majesty’s command, the arrows were released. We didn’t want to slay it, merely bring it down. Slaying such an animal is a crime unless you’re the King himself. His forest, his rules. It was trapped, unable to go further through the thick landscape. His Majesty was off his horse, his sword in hand ready to make the kill, but the stag retaliated and came for him.
I didn’t even think about what I was doing, I just did it – I stepped in front of my King, plunged my sword into the stag’s heart… and that’s all I remember. I woke up in a strange hut a few days later.
The stag’s horns had done damage, but a Wise Man had appeared and offered to tend to my wounds. Wise Man, Magi, Sorcerer, Wizard, he went by them all. I drank vile tonics and had foul smelling ointments applied to my wound, but it did the trick, and I recovered to full health. Something deep within me told me not to trust him, but there’s not a lot one can do lying in the sick bed with a deer’s bloody head tied to yours. But something was wrong.
I fought my way out when he insisted I stayed bed ridden, and once I was able to stand without wanting to pass out I was back on my horse and in the forest with my King. It was good to be back – weeks staring at mud brick walls were enough to make anyone go mad. I missed the smell of the woods after the rain, the calls of the animals, the feel of branches brushing against me as I stalked my prey. I smelt the woods, and I heard the calls; but for the life of me I couldn’t find the prey.
I knew something was wrong, and it pained me to hear His Majesty disappointed to bring back any game. I kept falling short, and the other men soon took over in lead, finding the odd wild pig or pheasant. But no matter how many they found, His Majesty still looked to me.
The men didn’t like that, so they set me up to fail. They were jealous, envious bastards.
I didn’t know what they were doing at the time. But they told His Majesty that I was going out at night to hunt, leaving nothing for the day’s royal hunting party. He refused to believe this, and continued to look to me. They bode their time, and day after day I found nothing. It was wrong: I did everything right. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find a single animal.
The opportunity presented itself, and once more the others pointed to me. His Majesty, ready to put this slander to rest, ordered my chambers be searched. Not much I could do when the evidence is stacked against me. Hides from game – wolves, deer, foxes, pigs – all found their way into an unused chest and closet. But it wasn’t me. His Majesty was foolish enough to believe the lies, and had me publicly disgraced. He was ashamed, and I was bloody outraged! I maintain my innocence – to this DAY I maintain my innocence! It was not me!
Foolish man. Foolish, foolish man. He banished me – banished me! – from the castle, from the kingdom, from the realm. I had been publicly disgraced, and I had lost everything – the praise of my King, my ability to hunt, my ability to live. Had I been banished but still able to hunt, it might have been different. But it wasn’t.
I was found the next day hanging from an old oak tree in the forest. I had no other choice – I couldn’t live like that, feeling like only half a man. The hunt was everything to me. To feel the beat of the earth beneath my feet, the change of wind against my cheek, stalking like an animal of the forest; that was what I lived for. Why live when I couldn’t have that?
Yet I found no peace in death.
In death I discovered the truth from that fateful day in the forest. The Wise Man had told the hunting party, and His Majesty, that I was to be carried back to the castle in a litter with the head and horns of the white stag tied to my head. It is an old belief that horns from any beast – stag, bull, and the like – represent new life and fertility. An old belief, and the men, prone to superstitions, went along. Or so I thought. In return for my full health, the Wise Man took my hunting skills. He stole them from me, by the wishes of the other hunters. As I mentioned earlier – they were jealous, envious bastards.
In death, those horns remained. They soon became a part of me, and I was both man and beast: a true animal of the forest. I stayed away until King Richard the Second died and a new King was crowned. Each winter for close on a thousand years, I sought revenge. Each of the King’s favourites soon lost their hunting skill, and before long found their way to me and joined my own hunting party. We rode on horses black as the night sky with hounds at my feet, collecting unsuspecting souls that wandered along, or dared to question me. The rage that lived within me was overpowering, overwhelming, and fantastic.
I got my revenge. Man, woman, child – it didn’t matter. They all found their way to me, and I accepted them all.
But the world changed, and so did I. Deep down, I was still loyal to the land, to the forest, and to my King. Outraged? Yes. Betrayed? Absolutely. Taking lost souls to join me for my hunt lost its hold over me. My story soon became myth, and myth is often changed to suit the times. So I too changed over time, and I found my balance.
Sovereignty. Oh, she was beautiful. She came to me as a young maiden dressed in a shimmering white gown that clung to her curves, with gold chains and jewels in her tied back blonde hair. She introduced me to a new way of thinking; that I could still maintain a strong element of the man I once was. I learnt that I could still honour my land and country, be one for my land and country, without giving full loyalty to the Crown. I could still be loyal to the kingdom, but not necessarily to one King, or Queen. Rulers die, the hand that governs change, but the spirit of the land, the spirit of Albion, of Britain, of England, will always remain. Its history, its power and its essence will remain long after you and I are but a forgotten memory.
So rather than a hunter of the forest, I became Lord of the Forest, to some at least. To those who honour the old ways, who honour the changing of the leaves and the flow of the river, I became one of many facets of the Horned God.
I became the Hunter once more, but rather than a man who lost his skills, I became one honoured and revered for his ability. I was once just a man, but now I represent so much more to those who remember my story: the thrill of the chase and the thrill of the hunt; the personal sacrifice and the strength of the oak; to honour nature, to be one with nature; and to the honour of land and country.
To honour me – and the memory and myth of who I was and who I am – means to honour yourself, in both the light and the dark aspects of who you are. To honour me means to honour the land, your environment, and honour the sacrifice you make on a personal, emotional and physical level. It’s about knowing and understanding sacrifice, experiencing the pain and growing from it. It’s staying loyal to those around you, even in the hardest of times, proving your own strength of will and of self.
But it is not just those who honour me that see me. Now that I no longer feel the need to hunt in anger through Windsor Forest, I have been seen, and will continue to be seen, beneath my replaced oak tree. The oak of which I died upon remained for over eight-hundred years, and when it fell to rot, it was replaced. I will always be a part of Windsor Forest, and of Albion. When the land is in danger, I will be there. Watch for me when the monarch is near death. I will remind you all again of my loyalty, and the sacrifice I made for my King.
For now, I am sitting beside the writer as my words are typed and my tale is told. I am not seen, but my spirit and my energy is felt. And she smiles, knowing that this story is but one way she has chosen to honour me. I am her father, her brother, her friend. I live on, because she, my Daughter, chooses to remember me.
My name is Herne of Windsor and, once upon a time, I was a hunter.
6 thoughts on “Herne the Hunter: a short story”
Fabulous! Congratulations on your publication, too. 🙂
I know you posted this some time ago but i am just now finding it in March of 2021. I would just like to say this was the most beautiful story i have ever read. I am in an alternative religion academy and we had a lesson on researching the God Cernuous and one question was on retelling a folklore story. I came upon your short story and decided to share it to the whole academy! I love how losing his wife and child is what pushed him to be a hunter and pushed him to dedicate his life to the hunt. I also love how at the end you end with i was once a hunter, it is such a powerful ending! This was such an amazing read so thank you for sharing. Id love to read more like this! If you find the time i would love to read your take on the myth of Cernuous and his relation to the Sabbaths, like birth at Yule, marriage at Beltane or to Beltane, and death at Samhain. I think you could write a really powerful love story there!