The following is an adaptation of an old German folk tale which was published in the year 1800 in an anthology of stories from the Harz mountains in northern Germany. The book was entitled Volkssagen (Traditions of the Harz) and was written by an unknown writer who named himself ‘Otmar’, itself a common given name.
The word ‘Harz’, which refers to the largest mountain range in northern Germany, comes from an older word which means ‘mountain forest’. Tonight’s tale largely takes place in such a forest and features a mythological figure in whom the people of the area once believed; yet strangely, our story comes from a time when the old religions of Europe had all but disappeared from memory. However, picturing a woman wandering alone in the leafy darkness, it is easy to understand how the potency of imagination and the enduring love of storytelling have preserved the ways of the past.
“So, traveller! Welcome to Rothbury. Thinking of crossing the treacherous Simonside hills? I’d advise you not to try it in the dark. As any shepherd worth his wool would tell you, and I am he, the area is full of sharp crags and ravines in which one false step could mean serious injury… or even death.
Few people know that this hospitable part of the country is the home of a peculiar race of dwarves known as the Duergar. No one knows why they chose to live here, of all places. Maybe there’s gold hidden among those cliffs? Or maybe they just like to carry off my sheep. One thing’s true, though. They are malicious little buggers. Hairless, no higher than your knee. Would kill you as soon as look at you; and look they will, for no one ever heard them speak a word.