|More on the Duergar of Simonside, from Katherine Briggs's 'Dictionary of Fairies':
'Northumberland Words' doesn't give them very good PR, claiming there were 'the worst and most malicious order of fairies'. Luckily they are mostly solitary, as shown by this story, which I've retold from F Grice's 'Folk-Tales of the North Country'.
A stranger was making his way over the hills to Rothbury, but it was getting darker and darker, and as he didn't know his way and the ground underfoot was pretty treacherous, he thought it best to camp down for the night. He was just about to make himself comfy under an overhanging rock when he spotted a faint light a little way away. Feeling hopeful he fumbled towards it and found a rough stone hut, with a fire smouldering away inside. There was a stone on either side of the fire, a pile of kindling and two great big logs. He was so relieved that he wouldn't freeze to death on the hillside, so feeding the fire with a bit of kindling he sat down on the right hand stone.
He'd hardly sat down when a strange figure burst through the door. It was no taller than his knee, but well built and strong looking. It wore a lambskin coat, moleskin trousers and shoes, and a mossy hat decorated with a pheasant's feather. The traveller realised it was a duergar so he sat quietly, not wanting to upset it. The duergar scowled and stomped over to sit down on the other stone.
The fire was steadily burning down, and eventually the traveller couldn't help but put the last of the kindling on the fire. The dwarf looked at him with disdain, leaned down and picked up one of the logs. It was thicker than his body, but somehow he snapped it across his knee as though it was matchwood. The fire blazed for a bit, but when it died down the duergar stared at the traveller as if to say 'Why don't you get on with it and put the other log on?' However, the man felt suspicious of the duergar's motives and sat tight.
Eventually the faint light of dawn began to appear, and a cock crowed in the distance somewhere. Suddenly the duergar vanished, and the hut and hearth too. The traveller saw that his own seat was the topmost peak of a steep crag. Ah yes, if only he'd stepped over to pick up the other log, he'd have tumbled down into the ravine and been killed.
A useful and instructive story supposing you should ever get caught overnight on Simonside.
(Also see the Borderer's Table Book, 1846
Posted by Rhiannon
17th February 2005ce
Edited 10th April 2010ce