OT: Tales From Blackwater Province

on January 21, 2011 in Other Tales

Author’s Note: Rather than do the now-traditional “under construction” draft post on my Livejournal, I’ll simply be posting the folktales here as they’re written.


  1. Heads or Tails
  2. Bill and the Goblins

Heads or Tails
A Tale of the Man in the Woods

There is a whole cycle of stories told throughout the region of Blackwater about the figure known as “The Man in the Woods”, believed by most folklorists to be a remnant sidhe. Some of these stories are undoubtedly older ones carried over by Merovian settlers, recast around the local figure in place of an elven noble or other traditional character.

There are many extant variations on the story called “Heads or Tails”. Some omit the detail regarding the escalating coins. Some make the coins themselves the focus of the girl’s needs and the man’s boons. Later versions in particular are apt to give the tale’s heroine a confidante, to explain how her dealings with the Man in the Woods would become known.The following is one of the more elaborate of the traditional tellings.

Lucy was a child when she first went into the woods all on her own. Her father had warned her not to go out of sight of the house, but she was a willful girl and one day, feeling she’d exhausted all the possibilities for play in those familiar environs, she resolved to explore further. She found a single beech tree that marked the boundary of the edge of the familiar woods behind her family’s cottage, and made careful note of it.

“I can see the house from this beech tree,” she reckoned, “and so, so long as I can see the beech tree I know I’ll be able to find my way back.”

She nodded to herself at her cleverness, and set off to see what adventures might lay beyond it. She was disappointed to find that the woods on the far side of the beech tree were no more enchanting or wonderful than the ones on the near side, however, even when she’d gone so deep into them that she could barely see the beech tree.

“I can go a little further,” she decided. “So long as I keep this fallen tree in my view, I’ll know how to find my way back to the beech tree.”

And so she continued to find new landmarks for herself until, having been walking for some time in deepening woods, she was quite weary and decided there was no adventure to be found in the woods after all.

“Well, then, I’ll simply retrace my steps,” she decided. “There’s the moss-covered rock, and from there I just need to find… was it the crooked elm? No, it was a fallen stone arch. I’m sure of it.”

But when she made her way back to the rock, she could see neither elm nor arch, nor anything else that jarred her memory.

“Well,” she said. “I’ll just walk in the same direction and I’m bound to see something I recognize.”

And she did: trees, and rocks, and ruins, and other things that she thought she had passed before. Even she couldn’t remember their proper order, she was heartened to think that she was on the right track, until one more she came to the moss-covered rock, upon which she collapsed sobbing.

“Now, now,” a voice said, cool and calm and sticky-sweet like molasses, and very close behind her. “What are you crying for?”

“I’ve lost my way,” Lucy said. She had no fear of the man, for she was already lost in the woods and truly she could think of no thing worse than that. “Can you help me?”

“Well, that depends,” the man said. “Do you live in the cottage on the other side of the beech?”

“Yes,” Lucy said. “Yes, that’s the one.”

“And is your father a woodcutter, and a gods-fearing man who praises the brothers every Sunday?”

“Yes, yes, that’s him!” Lucy said.

“Then maybe I can help you find your way back to him,” the man said. “But we’ll have to spin a coin on it. Heads, or tails?”

Lucy did not question the logic of the game, or the consequences for losing, for where an adult might have seen caprice and cruelty, she saw only hope. The man pulled out a shiny copper coin from his coat pocket and set it on his thumb.

“Heads!” she cried as the man sent it spinning up into the air.

He caught it out of the air, and with barely a glance at it, declared, “Little lady, it is your lucky day.” He put his hands on Lucy’s shoulders and turned her about. “Walk straight ahead. Turn aside not an inch. If a rock is in your path, climb over it. If a branch is in your way, duck under it. If a tree is in front of you, fell it if you must, but do not turn aside for anything or you will surely be lost again. If you hurry, you can still be back before you’re missed.”

“Thank you,” Lucy said, and the man slipped the penny into her hand.

“You’ll find me again, when you’re older,” he said.

Lucy found her way back to the cottage just as her father came out to call her inside for her supper. It was a long time before she dared to stray beyond the boundaries again, and longer still before she saw the man again. That came only when her father judged her old enough to play out of sight of the house, when she was too old to search for enchantment or adventure in the woods.

It was the fall of that year, and there was to be a dance to celebrate the harvest at the count’s manor. Every eligible maiden in the county would be there. It was the first year Lucy was old enough for such a thing, and her father had said that she could go.

“I just wish,” she said to herself as she idly wandered the now-familiar environs on the other side of the beech tree, “that I had a dress worth wearing.”

“Well, now,” the sweet voice said, very close behind her. “I have something here that might suit you better than it suits me, but if you want it, we’ll have to spin a coin for it.”

Lucy turned to see the man holding up with one hand the most gorgeous ball gown she’d ever seen, and in his other hand was a shiny silver coin.

“Heads, or tails?” the man asked her.

“Heads,” Lucy said breathlessly, and the man flipped the silver coin, and again he declared that she was in luck with barely a glance spared at the disk.

“You wear it in good health,” he said, pressing both dress and coin into her hands.

Lucy’s father didn’t question his daughter’s fine new dress. She had grown up fine and strong, and it seemed within the limits of good fortune that she could have attracted an admirer. When she caught the eye of the count’s third and youngest son at the harvest ball, he assumed that the wealthy young man had been her benefactor all along.

It was a long courtship, though, and before the young lovers could be officially betrothed, the count’s older sons died in a duel and a hunting mishap, leaving Lucy’s intended in line for the countship. Questions arose about her suitability as a countess. The count’s relatives put forth other, more obviously worthy candidates.

She knew the count’s son loved her, but she knew that he’d have other duties to obey that might come before his own heart.

It had been more than a year since Lucy had gone into the woods around her father’s old cottage, but she fled there, seeking the comfort and familiarity of her childhood surroundings. She also sought, though she dared not admit it to herself, the man who had twice before helped her.

She found him, or he found her, at the same mossy rock.

“Why so sad, little lady?” he asked her.

“I fear my beloved must marry another,” she said.

“Does he not love you?”

“With all his heart, he says,” Lucy replied. “But if he is to rule when his father is gone, then he must rule over his own heart.”

“Then perhaps he doesn’t understand what it is to rule,” the man said. A glint of gold appeared in his hand. “And perhaps I can explain it to him.”

“Could you?”

“Perhaps,” the man said. “Heads, or tails?”

“Heads,” Lucy said, and though the man explained nothing of his plans to her, she walked away from that place with a coin of gold in the palm of her hand and a great sense of surety that her love would return to her.

Lucy was not disappointed. The count’s heir found his voice and sent his meddling relatives away, declaring that he would sooner be no count at all if he could not have his own chosen countess. His steadfastness won over his aging father, who had always been a bit of a romantic, and so the two were swiftly wed.

When this union did not immediately produce a child, it was not seen as an immediate problem. The lack of issue became more of an issue after the old count died, and Lucy’s husband inherited the title. Three winters melted into springs. Three times the cows calved. Three years the creche in the noble nursery remained empty.

While the count’s relations circled around him once more like vultures, putting forward their daughters and the daughters of their favorite friends, Lucy knew what she had to do. She begged her husband to excuse her while she purified herself on a retreat, and alone, she went into the woods.

“I think I can help you,” the man told her this time, “but I’m afraid I’m out of coins. We’ll have to play a different game, though this one has the same odds as the other. The odds have been good for you, so far, haven’t they?”

“What must I do?” Lucy asked him.

“Not a thing, little lady,” he said. “You just lie back and do nothing. I will give you a child. If it’s a boy, well, then, it’s your lucky day. Your count has his heir, you have your count, and everybody’s happy.”

“And if it’s a girl?” she asked.

“Well, that’s no good to you, anyway, is it?” he said. “So you wouldn’t miss her.”

Lucy was not so sure of this, but she’d always been lucky before, and she could see no other way out now.

“Very well,” she said.

And Lucy walked out of the woods without a coin on her, but very soon after it was found that she was with child. The vultures withdrew to a respectful distance, and for a time it seemed all was well in the county. But nine months passed, and tragedy struck.

First came word that the countess’s child was a girl. Then before that news could even be properly disseminated, word came that the child had been born dead. And then, as though the bill all the good luck the county had ever experienced came due all at once, word went around that the countess had hanged herself in her chambers.

That was the story that circulated. Some say that the babe was born alive, and the countess smothered her in her grief at the thought of giving her up to the man in the woods, then took her own life in remorse. Others suspect that the man came to collect his due, and an empty box was placed in the family crypt.

No one save the man himself knows the truth of the matter.

Bill and the Goblins
A Tale of Bill Springstep

While tradition holds that the culture hero known as Bill Springstep traveled the length and breadth of the world and generally found people like himself everywhere that he went, no variety of gnomes has ever been identified as being native to the westering lands. Tales such as Bill and the Goblins that chronicle his supposed adventures in the vicinity of Magisteria have no clear antecedent among the old world canon, making them very obviously a latter-day invention.

While the typical lore of the insular gnomish folks is not known for either the modesty of its claims or the flattering of non-gnomish people, these tales tend to stand out in both regards, and are not well-established outside the Blackwater region.

When the world was still quite young, the boundaries among its regions were much sharper than they are today, having been much more recently drawn up and settled. The trees remained in the forest. The sand remained in the desert. The borders of each were straight and sharp as a razor’s edge, and regular as a square.

It did not rain in those days, owing to a strong belief that water should remain in the lakes and oceans and rivers where it had been placed. The rivers did not flow, for there was nowhere they were desirous of going, and the waters of the oceans did not beat themselves upon the shore, for they felt a great contentment within themselves and desired no more than the portion of the world they had been given to cover.

And while traveling across the oceans or down the rivers would have been much harder in those days than it is now, with neither current nor wind to aid the sailor, it was a very pleasant time for walking around, which is what Bill Springstep liked to do best. He walked through the forests. He walked over the deserts. He walked in the highlands and the lowlands. There were no wetlands, for no god had created any, the thinking being that water should be wet and land should be dry

Wherever Bill walked, he found much to admire in the neatness and orderliness of things, and yet things had a way of untidying themselves in his wake, for Bill did not think anyone would begrudge him one shade tree to rest beneath in the grassy plain, or one pool of limpid water in the midst of the burning desert. The grid of the world acquired more sides as Bill traveled, until it lost its lines completely.

But the day came when Bill found a great river blocking his path, and he found himself with no means of crossing it, having judged both the bridge and the boat to be too revolutionary for these tame times.

“If only,” Bill said to himself, “the river were a bit less rivery, then perhaps I could walk across it.”

And having determined that this was the best solution, Bill set about to find a way to make it happen. He first tried to enlist the aid of dwarves in digging out channels to spread the water of the river, but they would not be persuaded to dig where they knew there to be no profit and they would not be tricked. So he went to their rivals, the kobolds, and told them that he knew of ground that the dwarves would dare not dig, and said he would wager the kobolds wouldn’t, either.

“We’re no shrinking dwarves,” the chief of the kobolds said, and he ordered his crews to prove it.

And so Bill marked on a chart for the kobolds all the places where he thought the dwarves were not brave enough to set their picks, and the kobolds set to work, and soon they had created an immense network of channels all around the mighty river. Finally, there remained only a thin sliver of dry land separating the channels from the water, and when Bill told the kobold chief that no one would think any less of him if he were not brave enough to take his pick to it, the chief knocked it down with a single blow.

All at once, the great river rushed out of its boundaries with such force that it, and all the waters it connects to, are still moving to this day. It spilled through the channels, uprooting trees and flooding the valleys and creating the wetlands known today. The kobolds who’d come out of the mountains to dig the channels felt so humiliated they dared not go back to their mines, and they settled in the wetlands and became known as goblins.

Bill Springstep was able to cross the much-diminished river with only a very little difficulty, and was on his way.

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43 Responses to “OT: Tales From Blackwater Province”

  1. drudge says:

    I always suspected he’d been doing something like this.

    Given he probably had a hand in the third sons choice, it’s likely he doesn’t just want a girl, but a girl with some kind of POWER, and he doesn’t seem to care what.

    This raises the question of what he needs a powerful, fire aligned woman with an aura of attraction for to begin with.

    Current score: 1
  2. Greenwood Goat says:

    I wonder if Mack is going to become aware of this story at some point, and tie it into her own origins. I have visions of her confronting the Man in one of their dream encounters:

    Mack found that the reference tome on folklore had materialised in her hands, her index finger holding it open at the appropriate page. She swung the book open and pointed it at the Man.

    ‘Was that you?’ she said accusingly.

    The Man sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not just a modern situation, you know. By which I mean, you don’t need cameras and television and the world wide weave and all the other organs of instant media to observe someones actions and then recount and reinscribe them back and forth for evermore. And get most of the important details wrong, of course…’

    Current score: 0
    • Dani says:

      IF AE, who has a privileged perspective, is right about Mack’s father not being trustworthy, the exchange goes more like this:

      ‘Was that you?’ she said accusingly.

      Current score: 4
      • drudge says:

        This. He’s already lied about hiss past kids through his teeth, in a situation thousands of times more likely to come up due to those two living in the same empire and same province under the same profession.

        If someone tries calling him out on a thing he did centuries to milennia ago he’d probably either outright deny it or lie in such a way that it changes the subject.

        Of course, this mysterious child actually SURVIVING to the current time would be interesting as hell.

        Current score: 0
        • Kevin says:

          Given that the lies tend to be half true I think he would more likely give an answer that says neither yes nor no but lets Mack think what she wants anyway.

          Current score: 2
        • fka_luddite says:

          Alternatively, a line of descendants that he occasionally intervenes with to insure the “right” genetics.

          If so, I wonder does Granny Blaise knows she is part demon?

          Current score: 0
          • drudge says:

            I was thinking the same thing.

            If she is and does, it would be in character. Quite often you’ll find the most vocal supporters are the ones on the fringe.

            Mercy seems to be obsessed with Mackenzie’s “pedegree”, which does lend some credibility here.

            Current score: 1
            • Rey d`Tutto says:

              And who better to plan and run a Multiple-generations-long breeding scheme than an “Immortal” Demon?

              Current score: 1
            • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

              why are we thinking any of the demonbloods people are related by anything but the father?

              Current score: 0
            • Wolff says:

              I’ve been wondering about that for a while, especially given the amount of inbreeding that seems to be the norm in this universe. The elves spring to mind as an example.

              Current score: 0
            • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

              or she just meant being a demonblood.

              or may find it interesting the granddaughter of a paladin is a halfdemon? could know the mother is a psion and hope the trait’ll come back up down the line? maybe she likes that the man’s decendents seem to be easy to feed(mack and aiden both only need a smallish amount of virgin blood, could be hereditary).

              Current score: 0
          • drudge says:

            Of course, there’s the question of how much demon blood one needs to make it noticible by itself.

            Of course, Martha and her husband were both from the same bloodline, and who knows what weird effects could come up from that.

            Current score: 0
            • Abeo says:

              We have no evidence that they were. People can have the same last name without being related. Hell, they can be in the same family without actually being related.

              Current score: 0
            • Tark says:

              We do–I don’t recall the chapter off hand, but they are stated to be distant cousins, far enough that they wouldn’t have noticed if they had different last names, but still related.

              Current score: 0
          • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

            she probably isn’t. where’d that come from lol. apparently [u]this[/u] child died in infancy which generally makes it difficult to leave offspring.

            Current score: 1
        • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

          technically not a lie. while he is likely capable he probably prefers not to lie outright, less fun than twisting things so the truth gives a false conclusion that he finds preferable.

          he said if he had others they may as well be dead, that he had no interest in them, then when pressed recounted aiden’s airship crash without specifying it didn’t kill him

          Current score: 0
  3. drudge says:

    Oh, there’s more than one!

    I love Bill Springstep here. It’s got a delicious bugs bunny vibe to it.

    Current score: 0
    • cnic says:

      That isn’t how I would have first described it but it is so very apt. I could just picture Bill facing the fourth wall and asking, “Ain’t I a stinker?”

      Current score: 0
      • drudge says:

        Indeed. The Kobolds are more or less Yosemite Sam.

        “Now don’t cross this line!”

        “Ima cross this line!”

        “Ok you crossed that line, but whatever you do don’t cross this line!”

        “I’ll cross whatever damn line I want!”

        At which point a line is drawn right at the edge and cartoon physics stops everyone from crushing all their bones/drowning to death.

        Current score: 0
  4. witmer says:

    Love the narrative voice here. Authentic as they come.

    Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Tales from Mackenzie’s
    And Hissy’s provincial home
    Blackwater Province

    Current score: 2
    • Kevin says:

      Hissy was from Blackwater?

      Current score: 0
      • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

        not quite, its the region next to it. her gay green dragon “uncles” but up against and is between both blackwater’s and embres’s territories.

        Current score: 1
  6. drudge says:

    A random thought just hit me. Mack Daddy seems to work almost entirely out of the woods, given his interactions with humanity thus far.

    Now then, if I recall correctly, the pitchfork was lost near the edge of the woods around MU.

    Demons seem to be adept at altering perspective and opinion on themselves to some degree. Note how the entire campus seems to have set an opinion on Mackenzie with breakneck speed, acting on them, positive or negative at a moments notice. Aside from Steff, she barely knew the names of most of the people in that walk out and hasn’t seen them since. Not to mention Mercy’s new “pet” and Mackenzie reflecting off each other to the point where Mack is dead set it’d be a fight to the death if they ever wound up alone together. Not to mention Mack Daddy himself saying it wouldn’t be pretty if he had to meet his daughter up close. Or feejee and iona’s obsession with her. We have no idea what the male demons can do, but I’d bet my best dice they can do *something*, and that something is related.

    Now Amaranth, who’s body is based off a human(albeit a distorted perspective on humanity), can’t seem to recall anything at all about who took pitchy…

    Current score: 0
    • Rey d`Tutto says:

      Are there Distinct Succubus or Incubus Types described here in MU?

      Current score: 0
      • Kevin says:

        As far as I’ve seen a demon is a demon with typical demon powers. However demons are designed for killing humans and adapt just as humans do so it’s not so much a “type” as it is the difference between a strong arm robber and a con artist.

        Of course I haven’t read anything official on the matter so I’m just going off a hunch and could be completely wrong.

        Current score: 0
        • drudge says:

          There don’t seem to be any we know of. Granted the only one with a vast library on demons is Granny Blaise, who keeps it locked up and so holy warded Mackenzie feels pained if she goes anywhere near it, so I doubt we’ll hear anything from her.

          Current score: 0
    • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

      mack made her self very visible by doing things like being fingered n the cafeteria over lunch, walking around campus with no pants and a nymph’s hand on her ass, walking naked through the dorm, sitting on and groping a nymph at breakfast, being loud and standing out as non humans in the dining hall(and associating with puddy), eating a fellow student’s fingers, getting lost in the labyrinth etc.

      Current score: 1
      • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

        I forgot trying to kill a teacher, setting a student on fire in class, having screaming “sex” with 2 mermaids at a party etc.

        what I’m trying to say here is while she hasn’t seen them or learned their names, they’ve certainly seen alot of her. more than enough to form pretty strongish opinions without supernatural influences

        Current score: 1
  7. Ally says:

    That’s Rumplestiltskin, essentially. Other boons instead of straw into gold, but that’s not a stretch. Interesting.

    Current score: 0
  8. Krey says:

    There’s nothing here that immediately suggests to me that this is Mack Daddy except that the story calls him “The Man…” The prologue bit in italics suggests he’s sidhe and I was more apt to think it was that fairy guy Jamie met in the woods back in MoarMu.

    Current score: 1
    • drudge says:

      So why is he tagged into the story and swapped with a character two provinces away with a different speech style altogether?

      Current score: 2
      • Krey says:

        I didn’t catch the tag bit, so you got me there.
        But for true, is not it but a simple thing for one to alter their manner of speech?
        Kna’ meean?!?!

        Current score: 0
    • see, this is what made me start wondering if

      a. Mack daddy can pass as sidhe because of his affinity for the forests.


      b. Perhaps sidhe and demons are related or even one and the same in the world of Mu.

      c. What would happen if a Demon and an elf or partial elf had a child.

      Current score: 0
      • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

        similar thing to if an ogre and an orc. all mating seems to average the traits of the two races.

        All sentient races can breed, and the offspring are just mixes of the two. Halfbreeds don’t need to be humanbloods.
        (only exceptions are faint and dark elves who allegedly can’t mate(although there seems to be some evidence to contridict this) and gobbo/hobgobs who are either one or the other depending on the father(although it may be a goblinoid thing since we have yet to see a result of any goblinblood and a non goblinoid))

        Current score: 1
      • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

        as for a and b..
        people hear mysterious man in forest plays tricky games that turn out far more consequences than initially realized and atomically assume think fae by default especially as the area is historically shide territory. If the man in the woods didn’t do anything to mark himself as a demon people would have no way of knowing he is one, and in the absence of anything specifying otherwise shide is simply assumed for an apparently supernatural creature in the woods, additionally remember demons tend to kill and eat humans unless there is a very string reason not to at the time(alone in the woods where nobody would know isn’t normally one of those pretend I’m human occasions). something that clearly wasn’t human(but didn’t look it), appears to have an entirely different concept of morality than most humanoids, was found in the woods and played tricks/games with a person rather than eat them you can see how the fay would be assumed.

        the man is assumed to be a sidhe for similar reasons that if somebody had met an archer in the woods with greater than human senses who melted silently into the trees when he left elf would be assumed unless something obviously non elven like green skin was mentioned.
        so it isn’t so much as any affinity to the woods as they’re a convenient place to get little girls alone and a good place to hide without somebody noticing an immortal or necessarily questioning it if they do because of the shide. Demons can’t really live in human towns long term without it causing difficulty.

        b: we know demons are not the same as sidhe in mu.

        c: it would likely be immortal, but the man is no such creature, he remembers being punted to hell by khlarsus and becoming imortal(and apparently gaining hellfire through the same event).

        Current score: 1
  9. readaholic says:

    Clearly Mack Daddy has been at his games for a very long time. He did mention he needs ovaries to live. Maybe he needs his own offspring’s ovaries. Or that of young girls, considering he tried to kill Laurel Ann as a child. Apparently the more exotic the requirements for a demon’s diet, the less often they have to feed.
    It’s also a classic cautionary tale – be good, do what you’re told, or the bogeyman will get you – but with a darker truth behind it than would be the case in our world.

    Ah, the gnomish tall tales lol. Always good reading.

    Current score: 1
    • Abeo says:

      We have heard of demons that don’t need to physically consume anything for sustenance. Demons that “feed” on emotions. Considering that and that their dietary requirements are symbolic in the first place, he could conceivably be sustained simply by having the children. Though that wouldn’t explain the meddling and his preference for quality over quantity, so it is probably more involved than that.

      Current score: 0
    • pseudopoiuytfgh says:

      he said he needed overies to [u]live[/u] immediately after saying he wasn’t interested in merely surviving. Hinting he simply enjoys ovaries and was avoiding telling us what he has to consume.

      His actual dietary requirement is specified in the law’s files on him. he destroys innocence as the abstract(could get it by being a paedo when he impregnated 13year old laural anne and taught her to use psionics to mess with her fellow students)
      and he apparently needs to physically consume the beating heart of a virgin every 13 months.

      Current score: 0
  10. Angel del Demonio says:

    The Witching Hour?

    Current score: 0
  11. Laurie says:

    Found a typo! Sorry if it’s already been mentioned, I didn’t see it in the comments.

    “Even she couldn’t remember their proper order,”

    Should be “Even if”.

    You’re doing great work AE, I’m loving the stories.

    Current score: 0
  12. zeel says:

    I just noticed the line about her father “praising the brothers” – must be merovian then.

    Current score: 0