When that nice young shepherdess you meet accidentally reveals that it’s not her dress that’s backless, it’s her back…then you know you’re dealing with a huldra. Oh, and her tail can literally slap you ugly. Good times!
There should be an easy thematic link to make about a huldra’s emptiness and the fleetingness/hollowness of chasing beauty and sexual gratification. And many of the stories about huldras do run that way—fairy tale morality doe not tend toward subtlety. But there are also plenty of stories of huldras who are truly loving and who reward strangers for politeness and kind acts—there’s one such huldra in the Reign of Winter Adventure Path, in fact—so they can’t all be stereotyped so easily. In other words, as with most fey, approach with caution but do not dare to presume too much.
Here’s another neat thing: Huldras seem to hold charcoal burners in special regard. Why? In our world, who knows? But in Pathfinder it makes perfect sense, because charcoal is so useful for making sure practically everyone can stoke a fire to drive off trolls! Isn’t it nice when real-life fluff and in-game fluff come together?
One of the charcoal burners stole a substantial amount of money from a traveler. The collier hid the stolen coins in a clay jug and buried it in one of his charcoal pits, intending to retrieve it later. When adventurers come to question the man about the theft, his huldra lover attempts to seduce or charm them away. Meanwhile, an azer slave has discovered the jug in the ashes and seeks to use the money to buy his freedom.
A woman comes into the tavern on a winter night and begins to eat. And eat. And eat. At first she is charming and the men (and women) are happy to share from their plates. But soon she is demanding more and more. People begin to watch in disgust—it is winter and stores are meant to be parceled out judiciously—and then in horror as the half-chewed meals begin to fall out of the woman’s back. She is a huldra with an obscene appetite for food rather than sex. When the bartender tries to cut her off, she lashes him into ugliness with her tail and then begins to devour him in front of her shocked audience. And then she turns to the rest of the room, licking her lips…
Lady Huriko wears not just one disguise, but two. To the outside world, she is a respected geisha, the young consort of an elderly daimyo. To her future husband (and a few eavesdropping servants), she is a kitsune sent by the Forest Spirit as a reward for his wise rule. In truth, she is a fox-tailed huldra who has successfully hidden her true nature from all. She plans to murder the daimyo and rule in his place just as soon as they are married. Her impatience is beginning to show, however, which may tip off observant adventurers.
—Lands of the Linnorm Kings 59 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 151
By the way, personally I like my huldra with a cow’s tail, not a fox’s, for the simple reason that we already have plenty of fox-tailed monsters out there, the kitsune being foremost among them. Fox-tailed huldras aren’t incorrect—it’s a totally acceptable variant—but I still think it smacks of Harpy Syndrome.
(Are any of you TV Tropes editors? I want to know if there’s another name for Harpy Syndrome…and if not, I want to add it to the list. #immortality)
Charcoal burning is one of those weird old-timey professions I think we forget existed—I know I’d never heard of them until recently. I think most of us by now have run into our share of fletchers and coopers—both in-game and at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance festivals—but it’s the lamplighters, charcoal burners, catchpoles, broom-dashers, grinders, and pissprophets that grab my interest. (I also spent a lot of time in college thinking about Aghori and Kāpālikas as liminal figures straddling the sacred and profane realms, so anyone who spends a lot of time around smoldering embers and ash has my attention…)