Scary Tales of the Deep Folk, Book 3

Author: Cassia Volcatia

The Reachfolk of Markarth have many dark and harrowing tales of mystery and magic, so many that your humble scribe had difficulty deciding which tale to record first. Yet of all the tales told over the fire on the night I was allowed to listen in, the tale of the bleeding tree is the most unsettling and strange. Enjoy!

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The Hunter and the Bleeding Tree

The story is older than the most ancient vateshran, passed down from clan to clan over generations, and there are many variations, but they all begin the same. A hunter of the Reach once drew his bow and loosed upon a deer in a dark forest. Yet as he did so, some other animal snapped a twig nearby. The deer, startled by the loud crack, leapt into motion, leaving the hunter's arrow to imbed itself in a tall and ancient tree.

Cursing his fleeing supper and rotten luck, the hunter went to retrieve his arrow. Yet when he approached the tree, he found the oddest sight. His arrowhead, sharp and true, had buried itself in the bark of the tall and tangled tree. And from the tree's wound, a fresh stream of bright red now flowed.

At first the hunter was certain it was some kind of colorful sap. Yet the closer he looked, the more certain he became that the tree was dripping blood. A single taste of the red flow running down the bark confirmed this. This tree, struck by his arrow, bled bright, salty blood. The hunter was perplexed.

Determined to uncover the truth, the hunter pulled out his knife and stabbed the tree. His fine bone blade, honed and sharp, cut straight through its warm bark. More blood flowed from each wound he inflicted, and the hunter, unable to understand how a tree could bleed, stabbed again and again. Some versions of the tale say the hunter felt guilty for wounding the tree and hoped to put it out of its misery. Others say he flew into a rage upon tasting the tree's blood, driving him into a warrior's fury unlike any he ever knew before.

Whatever his reasons, in every version of the tale the hunter stabs the tree until its wounds are legion. The pool of blood at its base soon grows deep enough to lap at his ankles. Exhausted from his assault on this tree that should not bleed and will not die, the hunter retrieves his arrow and leaves, determined to find his clan and tell them what he has seen. The hunter must know if he has gone mad.

The next day, the hunter and his clan returned to the place where he found the bleeding tree, yet there was no tree. Only a puddle of darkened blood remained, dried and brackish, devouring the sunlight pouring through a hole in the canopy. A hole the hunter swore to his clan was not there the day before.

The hunter's fellow clan members then mocked him, assuring him the blood had come from a dying animal. Yet even they were hard pressed to think of any animal that could leave behind a pool of blood so large and yet no corpse. There were no tracks, no depression from a body. Just the round, brackish pool.

Over time, the clan and even the hunter who had wounded the tree put the matter aside. Soon, it became nothing more than a tale for the campfire—until exactly one year had passed since that hunter wounded the strange tree.

That morning, the other clan members found the hunter in his tent after he failed to show up for the morning meal. They discovered him with his own arrow imbedded in his chest. Countless stab wounds peppered his body, and he lay in a brackish pool of his own blood.

Yet the clan found no footprints inside or outside the tent, and the scouts reported no one entering or leaving the camp the night before. Cursing their ill luck, the clan's chief ordered both the hunter's body and his tent burned, hoping to appease whatever forest spirit had struck him down. The clan then left the area and never returned to that particular stretch of wilderness, wary that someone would find another wounded tree.

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Here ends the latest volume of Scary Tales. Rest assured, dear readers, that the Reachfolk have shared many grand and scary tales with me throughout the nights they welcomed me into their circle. As Ard Caddach so clearly explained, the Reachfolk are not barbarians or brutes, but people like any other, with an oral history that is rich and storied. Their strange land is truly a world of scary tales!

Once again I thank you for your generous support. Watch for another volume soon!

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