The White Stag and the Black Rider of Eggardon

Many local folk, including myself, have seen white deer on the steep, green slopes of Eggardon Hill. But one of them there
is whiter and brighter than all the rest, a great white stag with huge antlers that only ever appears at times of deepest need and direst trouble – only when the Bell Stone tolls…

“I’m bored!” said Billy to his dog as he kicked a stone along the King’s Lane up towards Eggardon Hill one dreary autumn morning. “Nothing ever, ever happens around here… I want an adventure!” He shouted these last words into the air as a challenge, as a startled flock of goldfinches fluttered away overhead. His border collie looked up at him with those wise eyes that seem to say:  Be careful what you wish for, Billy…

As usual, Billy walked onto Eggardon Hill through the gate on the right half-way up King’s Lane. There he began to wander the grassy slopes counting the sheep in his family’s flock that he knew so well. But after the first round he realised with surprise that some were missing. After another tour of the hill he was sure four sheep were gone. Billy was puzzled – the sheep had no predators any more, and the fences were all unbroken. He had no idea where they could be… But dogs have a better sense of smell than humans so he let his dog lead the way and sniff out an answer. On the third time around the hill the dog stopped still, ears alert, and nose pointing down at the ground. Following the direction of the dog’s gaze, Billy noticed something he’d never seen on the hill before: a dark gash in the ground along one of the hillfort’s ditches. The fresh earth indicated that perhaps it had only recently opened up.

Staring at the hole, Billy watched as the long grasses at the front of the hole bent inwards, as if sucked in by an underground breath.

Billy remembered his father saying there was once an old deep well on the hill, maybe from the days when it was an Iron Age hillfort but it hadn’t been seen for many, many years. Perhaps it had suddenly opened up again and that’s where the sheep had fallen in? Shall I call for help or help myself he wondered?

But Billy was never one for shying away from a challenge, especially when he was feeling bored… “Go home, good boy…” he commanded his dog, which obediently shot off across the field. Then crawling on his hands and knees Billy managed to squeeze inside the dark hole. He could just about see the bottom of the well so hanging onto the edge of the hole with his arms outstretched he dropped down with a dull thud.

He lit the candle stub that he always carried in one of his pockets and allowed his eyes to accustom to the candle-light. By his feet he saw, with a shudder, the butchered remains of one his sheep. Poor thing! Who or what could have done such a thing? Suddenly he became aware of a sound underground – a steady distant drumming. Holding his candle high

Billy could see the well-hole was in fact the start of a dark tunnel leading further on and further in under the hill. He felt for the reassuring shape of his penknife in his pocket and then calling up his courage he slowly stepped forward. The tunnel twisted and turned and branched in different directions as he followed the drumming sound. Spiders’ webs caught his face and a growing foul smell filled the air… Eventually the tunnel widened into a bigger cave, he stopped, frozen still, as he saw something that sent his heart racing: goblins! A whole horde of jabbering, dribbling goblins gathered around a huge iron pot on a smouldering fire.

The leader of the goblins, bigger than the rest and with  a great wart on the end of his nose, stood in front of the boiling cauldron and occasionally gave it a great stir. Keeping
to the shadows and staying as quiet as he could Billy watched and listened and learned…

From their conversations he heard that after years of being hidden and forgotten underground the goblins were now increasing in numbers and strength. The Goblin King had found a dragon egg under the hill and they were using its strong and ancient magic to brew a potion of power. “The goblins are on the rise!” he shouted to a clamorous round
of cackles and roars “Soon we’ll claim Eggardon Hill and all the lands around for our own!” Billy could barely believe his eyes and ears: real live goblins – now this was a real adventure!

He was just wondering what on earth he could do to foil the goblins’ plans, when one of the brutes shouted out: “More sheep, we need more sheep to eat!” On hearing that his sheep were being devoured by goblins Billy was filled with fury and so angry that he shouted without thinking. All the goblins turned to look at Billy, with cold hatred and hot greed glinting in their eyes. “Grab him!” shouted the Goblin King. “Human flesh is even sweeter than roasted sheep!”

In a flash poor Billy was up on his feet, running down one of the tunnels with the sound of Goblin feet pounding behind muttering murderous oaths. He took a left and a right and then a straight on. Then another right, instinctively trying to head for higher ground and fresher air. Eventually he felt a gentle breath of wind against his skin – a way out was up ahead. Pushing himself out of the hole he didn’t recognise at first where he was. Certainly not the place where he’d started… But then he recognised something ahead of him – a great grey dome of rock– it was the Bell Stone that stands on the far side of Eggardon Hill. Said by some to be a relic of dark and dangerous magic from the time when men were savages, Billy had always liked the stone. There was something strangely comforting about it.

Instinctively he jumped on top, stood as tall as he could and brandished his open penknife defensively as dozens of goblins poured out of the hill and surrounded him around the Bell Stone. But on seeing such a huge horde of hideous creatures Billy dropped his knife in fear. But as the metal blade fell it struck the surface of the stone and suddenly a loud gong filled the air. The Bell Stone was ringing!

In response to the sound, two things happened at the same time – one dark and one light. Dark clouds swiftly rolled in as the sky was filled with deeply echoing thunder, like the rumble of horse’s hooves. The second was a white stag that gracefully bounded up the steep green banks of the hill, flying towards Billy like a streak of lightning. As it reached the Bell Stone Billy heard the stag speak – not in his ears, but somehow straight into his mind: “Jump on my back, we must away…”.

Billy needed no second invitation, he threw himself up and forward and right onto the broad back of the White Stag, just in time as the clawing hands of the goblins reached out to grab him. The wind streamed through Billy’s hair as the White Stag ran swiftly away from the Bell Stone; up and over Eggardon Hill and away from the Goblins.

The thunder continued to roll and rumble, now mixed with the sound of baying hounds. As Billy turned around to look back he saw a huge black-dressed rider with an antlered head, riding upon a great black stallion.

Black-coated hunting hounds, with burning red eyes, were running around the horse and rider. The black rider unsheathed a shining, shimmering sword and then reined his horse towards the gathering of goblins, which skittled and scattered in terror… “It’s the Wild Hunt!” said Billy under his breath looking back as the White Stag bore him away… Billy never saw anymore.

But he knew that once raised the Wild Hunt, led by the Black Rider, would carry on all night hunting the foul Goblins. And they must have all been caught, because they’ve never been seen on Eggardon Hill again…

A little about our stortyteller

Martin Maudsley is a professional storyteller based in Bridport in Dorset, telling traditional tales and local legends for schools, community groups and national organisations. He has been collaborated with Dorset AONB on many projects using folk-tales and folk-songs to connect participants with nature, the seasons and a sense of place. He is also very active practically celebrating the seasons in and around his neighbourhood, including putting on Mummers Plays, Apple Days and Winter Wassails.