Book 4 of The Hounds of Annwn, Chapters 1-3
It was time to move again, he decided. Soon. He searched his face in the mirror. Ten years in one place was enough. The first jokes about how young he still looked had started, and his unchanging appearance would only raise more questions if he lingered much longer.
He grimaced. It’s getting harder each time to set up a new identity, he thought, to stay off the grid. Maybe I should move to another country altogether, one with bigger problems than surveilling its citizens. I could last a long time in some country in Africa, if I could figure out a way to get there without a passport. And there are interesting beasts there to turn my hand to.
Or maybe I should just stop and put an end to it, the last of my line of the special breed, the pure blood.
He’d done what he had to do, twenty-odd years ago, and he remembered it still each morning when he woke. Nothing much had seemed real to him after that, after he fled and left it all, worlds behind. His death wouldn’t seem real either, when it came, he suspected, just the long-delayed natural conclusion. Well, at least he’d be done with it, then. He was tired of the fight. It would be a welcome relief, a silence and a forgetting.
“See here, huntsman,” Eurig said, “Do you have any idea just how much havoc those puppies are causing?”
George hid his smile as best he could. Pacifying puppy walkers was a touchy job for any huntsman, and it was a human foxhunting custom he’d newly introduced to the Cwn Annwn, the Hounds of Annwn, the pack that hunted deer most of the season. Once each year they hunted man in the fae otherworld, for the great hunt on Nos Galan Gaeaf, All Hallows’ Eve.
Eurig’s long mustaches did a excellent job of reinforcing his indignation as he launched into his tale of chaos and destruction. “I said I’d take two of them for the summer, but I had no idea how much mischief they could get into. Tegwen has vowed to grill the next one that chases her cows and runs them dry.”
His eyes twinkled as his rhetoric warmed up. George made himself comfortable in his armchair in the den of the huntsman’s house and stretched out his long legs to listen. His two dogs, a blue-tick coonhound and a yellow feist, and Angharad’s terriers snoozed in their favorite spots in the room, not in the least disturbed.
“Surwen and Leo, now, I don’t know which is worse. I’m grateful to you, I am, that you didn’t let me take both the outsider whelps in the interests of civilizing them, for that Leo is a dedicated terror all by himself. He spends his waking hours studying how to escape whatever he’s housed in and how to bedevil any other animal he meets. For a while the roosters had him intimidated, but now they don’t dare venture out lest he ambush them.”
George said, with a straight face, “I hope you chastise the pups when that happens. The whole point of the exercise is to get them used to people, houses, and farm animals so that they’re better behaved when they rejoin the pack in a few weeks.”
“Chastise them?” he sputtered. “Chastise them? I have to catch them first.” He paused in front of George’s chair and waved his hands in the air.
George grinned outright.
“And that Surwen…” Eurig said. “She looks so innocent when she’s asleep.” He looked George in the face and his mustaches waggled ferociously. “It’s a lie. She’s worse than the other one. She learns from him. He only terrorizes the animals, but she’s got these sharp teeth and a sleeping nest full of once-useful objects.”
George cocked an eyebrow inquisitively, and Eurig tapped the fingers on his left hand in a count.
“My shoes. Only one of a pair, mind. A new-made cheese. A long-dead squirrel. A stolen apron.” He ran out of fingers. “And this morning, a piece of embroidery Tegwen was working on.”
George winced. “Ouch. Come sit down.” He waved his hand at the chair next to him, and Eurig stopped his pacing to drop into it with an exasperated explosion of breath.
“Do you want me to take them back, seriously?” George asked. “It’s only been six weeks, but I can do that. But, you know, Iona’s got Gweilgi, the outsider bitch puppy, as one of her pair, and she seems to be able to keep them out of trouble with her horses.” He hoped Eurig didn’t compare notes with Iona, or he’d be caught. Iona had sent him blistering messages about her two whelps. “And then Benitoe’s aunt, Maëlys, has taken three of them in the Golden Cockerel, in Edgewood. I hear that life around an inn has been very educational for them.” And for her customers, if Benitoe’s humorous reports were accurate.
He continued, “And don’t forget the puppy show in the fall. There are eleven other whelps being walked right now by people like you for a few more weeks. Don’t you want to have a chance at the trophy for the best behaved, most fit, finest…”
Eurig glowered at him. “Tegwen sent me—she’s had enough.” He lowered his voice. “But I don’t want to be the first one to give in, and I told her so. Any advice?”
George said, “Other than keeping them healthy and exercised, there’s only a handful of things they have to learn from the puppy walkers—their names, how to behave around domestic animals, and the notion that there are limits and consequences. Realistically, they’re hunting hounds, and that’s going to rule their nature pretty soon. Once they start trailing scent on their own and wandering off, I’ll have to take them back and introduce them into pack life. July’s just beginning, and they’re fourteen weeks old. In another six weeks or so, it’ll be over.”
Eurig harrumphed, but he wasn’t able to keep a smile from breaking out. “So we’re halfway through, you say.”
“Well, I suppose we can support the little demons a while longer,” Eurig said. He looked sternly at George. “But I don’t believe for a moment we’re the only ones having problems.”
George choked at the accurate assessment.
“I should have been more suspicious when you suggested the whole notion,” Eurig said, ruefully.
“You’ll enjoy spotting them in the pack later and boasting about how well they’re doing,” George told him.
“You mean, once they’re your problem instead of mine, eh?”
After Eurig stamped off, mollified, George returned to his interrupted morning task. The library in the huntsman’s house that he’d inherited from his predecessor Iolo ap Huw had been filled until recently with the full records of the Cwn Annwn, the pack he thought of as the Wild Hunt. The records went back before there were books in codex form, back to scrolls, and were as much a part of the hunt as the hounds themselves.
They’d been stashed there in an emergency when the kennels were destroyed a couple of months ago, and the new huntsman’s office in the rebuilt kennels had only just gotten to the point where it could house them again. The last of the boxes had been shifted yesterday, and he was impatient to get at the layer underneath that was now accessible—six boxes, still on the floor, that he’d brought back from his human grandparents almost half a year ago when he’d told them he would be making his home in the fae otherworld.
These boxes contained all that he had that had once belonged to his parents, except for a few pictures of his mother, the best of which had been enlarged and now hung in a gallery along the upstairs hall of his home with the other family portraits. He had no pictures of his father at all and had never seen one. Only his fading memory still painted him—tall (but all adults were tall to a child), spare, dark-haired.
He sat himself down cross-legged on the floor before a random box and paused before opening it. I need to know, he thought. In two months, Angharad will have our first child. I want to be able to tell my daughter about her family, my family. It’s time for me to grapple with it myself—how could I have let it sit for so long? I was nine years old when they died, and I’m thirty-four now. That’s twenty-five years of averting my eyes, of not trying to find out. How is that possible?
He remembered the day he’d gotten the news. His parents had gone out together from the gamekeeper’s cottage in Wales, and they hadn’t returned. He didn’t sleep all that night. In the morning, he’d been in the midst of saddling his pony to ride to a neighboring farm, when a policeman found him in the stable and stopped him. “There’s been an accident,” he said. George remembered his exact words. He wouldn’t give him any details.
While the policeman was washing up inside, George had snuck a peek at his notebook. There was something about wild animals, and he saw his father’s true name for the first time—Corniad Traherne, not Conrad, the name he used every day.
They’d found his mother’s family contact information in her address book, and his grandfather came and whisked him away to Virginia the next day. His grandparents never discussed his parents’ death with him. Not that they avoided it, it was just that George didn’t ask.
Why not, he wondered. It had left a hole in his life, certainly, but his grandparents had done a fine job of raising him, the only child of their only child. He’d loved his parents, his bright mother, distracted by her writing, but fond of showing him how to do things. And he’d idolized his father, a gamekeeper for one of the large estates. He was wonderful with animals. George had followed him around whenever he could, to see the animals undisturbed by his presence, to listen to his stories—he was full of stories.
So what had happened? The records should be here, he thought. Once I start, my childhood memories will be irrecoverably altered. Do I want that?
Of course I do, he decided. Better the truth than a comforting fable.
Two hours later, George stood up stiffly and stretched the kinks out of his back. He looked down at the results, separate messy piles on the floor of the library, and six empty boxes, stacked clumsily off to the side.
His feist Sargent barked and then he heard voices outside, and the front door opened. She’s back, he thought, and his heart pounded. He walked quickly out to the hall to greet her, brushing eager dogs out of the way as he went.
Angharad was seven months pregnant with their first child and she… glowed, down to the tip of her auburn braid. He’d been nervous about this trip she’d taken to see Tegwen at Taironnen, Eurig’s estate. The only concession she’d been willing to make to her pregnancy was to travel by carriage instead of on horseback, and her new apprentice Bedo had promised to look after her carefully the whole time.
George had been worried it would exhaust her, but clearly he’d been wrong. He gathered her into a hug, careful of her belly. “Everything alright?” he asked, as he looked down into her smiling face. Her terriers danced at her feet.
“It went splendidly,” she said. “I got all the studies of the elms and the building in summer that I wanted, and I can work on it now in the studio.”
“I meant you,” he growled, and she laughed at him.
“I know,” she said. “I’m fine. I told you I would be. It’s not my first time, after all.”
“Maybe so, but it’s mine. I conjured up all sorts of possible disasters.”
She cupped his face with a hand, fondly. “Don’t worry. I won’t travel again until after the birth.” She paused. “Probably,” she amended.
“Bedo was a great help,” she said, waving him over from the door where he’d been standing discreetly, giving them some privacy.
The brown-haired man retained his quiet background presence, the habits of the servant he’d been before Angharad selected him as her next trainee. He was just at the beginning of a multi-year apprenticeship and Angharad had housed him in the spare bedroom of the huntsman’s house, across the hall from George’s foster-son, Maelgwn.
With the coming baby, the house would soon be full, George thought. He remembered what it had felt like a few months ago, just him and Iolo’s servant Alun rattling around in it.
Alun appeared from the kitchen to carry bags upstairs for Angharad, and George told him, “When you’re done with that, come help me sort out the mess I’ve made in the library. I want to start going through it in an organized fashion.”
He turned to Angharad and explained, “The boxes from my parents. I’ve just started on them.”
“What’s it look like?” she asked, and walked with him back into the library to see for herself, while Bedo followed Alun upstairs, carrying his own bags.
He reached down and picked up a small stack of documents from the floor and tossed it lightly onto the nearest table. “I went through everything quickly so I’d know where to start. These are the official records—marriages, deaths, and so forth. I put them aside as they turned up but I haven’t looked at them seriously yet.”
“The rest of it,” he waved his hand at the piles on the ground, “Well, I’ve got her writings for publication, her correspondence, some of his papers, information about them from the newspapers, and a few trinkets. That’s all there is.”
“I’d like to help,” she said.
“I’d be grateful for it. Go and change first, and I’ll start making a list of what’s here of the official records and what’s missing, so I can fill it in by requesting copies. That’ll provide the framework for everything else, facts instead of my childhood recollections.”
He smiled at her. “I’ll introduce you to my parents as I learn about them myself. We’ll meet them together.”
George sat down at the table and drew the small heap of miscellaneous documents over while waiting for Angharad to return. He pulled out his pocket notebook and began to sort through them, making a grid as he went along.
He had always wondered what his father’s relationship was to Cernunnos. His father’s true name, Corniad, meant “the horned one”—was it a coincidence that George carried the antlered master of beasts Cernunnos inside, as if he were some sort of avatar for the god? He remembered his father’s fondness for animals, his special way with them. When he was a child, it had just seemed part of his father’s skills but now, as an adult with a beast-sense of his own that came from his internal passenger, he thought it must have been something more, something similar to what he had. From Cernunnos, too?
The god had resisted all his attempts to find out more. His mother’s parents knew almost nothing about their son-in-law, and the deaths put a stop to their curiosity as they chose to focus on their surviving grandchild instead. This little pile of documents brought the bureaucratic resources of the human world to his aid to help him solve the puzzle. Fae gods and distant human grandparents notwithstanding, now he could look at the facts in black and white.
He flipped through the documents quickly, looking for his father’s records, and discovered they almost all belonged to his mother, Léonie. He must have overlooked most of his father’s in the initial sort.
There was a copy of her birth certificate, not surprising considering she was visiting Wales as a US citizen before she married. Her expired visitor’s visa and her residence card had also turned up, and he noted the dates of each. The marriage certificate gave him pause, the pale green form filled out with the handwriting of both his parents, their signatures side by side. The year was the same as her residence card, but it was a month earlier. I suppose she became a citizen by virtue of marrying one, he thought. He didn’t know how the laws worked in Wales in the 1970s. He checked the date again—a comfortable twelve months before his own birth.
How did she meet his father? She’d been doing a tour of Europe after college, starting with Ireland, but she didn’t get past Wales. He expected some of that story would be in her letters home which his grandparents had saved. Those should be somewhere in these piles.
Here was her old US passport. He didn’t see any others—perhaps she hadn’t traveled after he was born and hadn’t needed a Welsh one. He opened it up and examined the picture. She was so young. He was older now than she was when she died, and in this photo she was only nineteen. She looked like a strong girl. He could see his grandfather in her sturdy shoulders, and his grandmother’s sweetness in her soft smile. Her light brown hair was straight and short.
He flipped to the end and saw stamps for travel in the Caribbean, perhaps with her parents, but not much else. This was probably her first trip to Europe. As he thumbed through the thick pages, an old Polaroid tumbled out, face down. He recognized the milky back and the stiff, slick surface. Was it a tourist snapshot? Her parents?
He turned the photograph over. It was his father, a candid shot as he bridled a horse. The colors had faded to pinks and greens.
All his vague childhood memories of his father’s face suddenly solidified. This was the man he knew, the one who took him for adventures in the woods, the one who taught him how to ride. He seemed tall in truth, not just to a child’s eyes, and his hair was black and thick, like George’s. I have his hair, he thought. My bulk comes from my grandfather, Gilbert Talbot, but it looks like my height comes from both sides. What else do I have that’s his?
He felt a stirring inside, as if Cernunnos were looking on. Well, he thought to him, what can you tell me? I’ve asked you often enough.
There was no response.
Angharad walked back in and saw the picture over his shoulder. “Is that your father?”
“Yes, and my mother, too.” He handed her the passport along with the Polaroid.
“She’s lovely. She looks like Georgia.”
“I see my grandfather in her,” he said.
“I can see her in you,” she countered. “But I thought you didn’t have any pictures of your father.”
“I’ve never seen one before, but I remember him. This is him.” He couldn’t keep the wonder out of his voice as he took the picture back from her and examined the little image for details. His father must not have known the photographer was watching, for he had none of the self-consciousness of a knowing camera subject. All his attention was on the horse, and it seemed to George that there was a melancholy cast to his face. I’m probably just reading it into the photo, he thought. It really isn’t clear enough to see that.
Angharad sat next to him as he finished going through the documents. Here was a record from the cemetery where his mother’s remains had been laid, in Rowanton, after they’d been brought back to Virginia. George remembered the headstone with his parents’ names and dates on it from the family visits on Memorial Day.
He reached for the last piece of paper which, appropriately enough, was her death certificate. He blinked, and Angharad laid her hand on his as they looked at it together. There was only hers, not his father’s. The cause of death was “misadventure.”
“I wonder where my father’s is,” he said to her. He picked up the cemetery record again and looked at it more carefully. It listed the receipt of his mother’s remains. That was all it listed.
But the headstone has both their names, he thought. Where is my father buried? Why would there be a separate record somewhere?
Where is his death certificate?
He turned to Angharad to voice the inescapable question. “Where’s my father’s body, then? What happened to it? Didn’t he die, too?”
Cernunnos erupted as the deer-headed man and the sudden change of form sent Angharad stumbling out of her chair to get out of the way. George was shunted aside as Cernunnos took over their body and stood up to sweep the documents off the table and onto the floor in a rage.
Stay away, he warned George. He is dead, dead and gone. Dead to me, and dead to you.
But this is my father, George protested in silent surprise. Why?
Stay away, the thunderous voice in his head rumbled.
Is my father alive? He had to know. He’d never suspected it.
Not to you, Cernunnos said, and withdrew forcefully. George collapsed to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
George woke to the wet rasp of a tongue on his cheek and the rumble of a purr. Imp, he thought, after a moment of confusion. “Enough,” he mumbled and raised his hand to brush away the half-grown cat. He pushed himself up to sit cross-legged and leaned his back against the leg of the table.
Angharad bent over him, concern clear on her face. “Sit down,” George said. “I’m fine.”
“No doubt. That must be why you’re down there instead of up here,” she said, but she turned his chair upright and sat down again carefully in hers. “What happened?”
He probed but there was no inner response. “Apparently Cernunnos wasn’t pleased with this particular line of inquiry.”
She rolled her eyes at the sarcasm. “Why not?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? He’s never told me anything about my father and clearly doesn’t want me to look into it.”
Her brow furrowed. “Harsh treatment.”
But he can do whatever he wants to me, George thought, including just snuffing me out. Cernunnos had healed him of mortal injuries a few months ago, but it took persuasion and George had little confidence that Cernunnos was sentimental about keeping him around. He didn’t want to alarm Angharad with that idea, but a quick glance up at her face convinced him her thoughts were running the same way.
Imp tapped his knee and he turned his attention to the black tom-kit. “Trying to tell me something, my lady?” he asked. The cat carried a passenger, an avatar of the goddess Senua, protector of hidden things. Since he’d brought the kitten back from Gaul, it had attached itself to Angharad and followed her around diligently, to the consternation of her two other cats and all their dogs. Watching this small beastie rule the household animals had provided much amusement, but he was still waiting to find out why Senua had taken an interest in them.
Imp leapt up to Angharad’s lap and began kneading it, purring, to make itself comfortable.
Angharad smiled down at her husband as her hand stroked the kitten. “Not much room here anymore.”
Two more months, he thought, and then a daughter, Mag says, if a rock-wight that only knows one gender can tell the difference properly. Family to come.
But what of the family past, he thought. My father is dead to me, is it? I suspect maybe not. I wonder what Senua could tell me. My father’s history is certainly hidden enough to be in her purview.
The speculation made him uneasy. I belong to Cernunnos now, and I’ve seen his jealousy before when Senua or Taranis took an interest. Appealing to Senua for help would be like setting up a rival. It feels… disloyal. This is between Cernunnos and me.
He looked around him and his mouth quirked. And here I am sitting on the ground, having just thought of looking into my father’s life a few minutes ago. What will his reaction be if I continue?
He leaned down to push off from the floor and rose to his feet. “Don’t worry,” he told his wife, as he dusted himself off. “I’ll have to give this some thought before going any further.”
Later that afternoon, George opened his back door and whistled up his dogs to keep him company.
Angharad’s terriers were accustomed to being excluded from these tours of the pack in the kennels, but George had fallen into the habit of letting his own dogs, the ones he’d brought with him from his old life in the human world, mix with the pack for hound walking. It gave them more exercise and helped accustom them to occasional overnight stays in the kennels when he was away.
They walked together through the small walled garden behind the huntsman’s house, the dogs lingering to investigate interesting smells and then catching up. The garden was now in the midst of its summer blooming, brilliant in the hot sunshine. The riot of spring was over, but the long-lasting perennials provided notes of red bee-balm and deep-blue spiderwort, highlighted by tall yellow black-eyed Susans and the broad white blossoms of rose mallow. A clump of lupines, rising in a variety of soft pastels from their leafy bases, filled one sunny corner.
He knew most of these flowers and Alun had identified the rest for him as each had come up, but it was hard to accustom himself to the absence of so many garden mainstays. Where were the roses, for example? It seemed to him the beds had been designed on one occasion from flowers available in the new world, and then left unchanged for centuries but for maintenance and renewal.
He remembered the tales of human pioneers in America bringing along precious seedlings and slips so that their new gardens and orchards in the wilderness would contain their favorites from their homes, even from across the sea. The fae had brought orchard trees, apple and pear, but not peach. Vines from Gaul, but no rhubarb from further east. And yet, they imported spices like cinnamon as part of their normal trade. Unpredictable choices, he thought.
He’d asked Ceridwen about roses during one of her history lessons, and she’d told him that some of Gwyn ap Nudd’s settlers had included them after all, but there were none to be seen in Greenway Court—they were the favorite flower of Gwyn’s much-disliked father Lludd, King of Britain, and no one had the temerity to display them in Gwyn’s own court.
Whenever he thought about the absence of roses, George marveled. It was so emblematic of the differences between the fae world and the human one, that a distaste could endure for fifteen hundred years unchanged because it was within the lifetime of a single fae, like Gwyn. His great-grandfather.
He opened the back gate in the wall and led his dogs across the lane to the gate opposite. The entrance to the huntsman’s alley was his personal shortcut into the kennels. The shaded walkway provided some welcome relief from the sun.
Where were the innovators, he wondered, gardeners experimenting with new species? He knew there were wizards who specialized in plants, in drugs and toxins, but where were the ordinary folk, the ones who just wanted to see if they could grow a better color or a different form?
It was like the animals, he thought, the new world species that the settlers found. They did some breeding of domesticates, the native horses for example, but mostly they left them alone, to thrive or not, hunted or not. Some of the native plants became popular, but from an indirect source. The fae grew their own potatoes and corn, but the original seed stock was imported from their hidden trade with the human world, which was where the plants had been domesticated, not here. Tobacco and sugar were much admired, but they were bought in bulk from the human world, being crops too labor-intensive to be easily cultivated by the sparse population of fae. If there were no human world to draw upon, how much more impoverished the choices would be here, he thought. But, then, would they miss what they didn’t know?
When he and his dogs reached the end of the alley and the door into the kennels, he paused, his hand on the latch. The smell of fresh whitewash had faded away as the newness of the rebuilt structure began to wear off.
He opened the door and stepped into the back corridor, and then across into the huntsman’s office. When he walked in, he sneezed. Plenty of new scents lingering here, he thought. Dust from the books, paint, and especially the sharpness of the polish on his new walnut desk, glowing in the bright sunlight that was reflected in from his window into the main courtyard. The smell of the ancient journals and scrolls overlaid everything else. It was good to see them back on their replacement shelves, the hunt logs and breeding books going back to the days before Gwyn brought the hounds of Annwn to the new world and moved the whole domain with them.
The wild hunt, George thought. The hounds of hell. That’s how they’re known to human legend. My pack, my charge. No different in most ways from any pack of foxhounds, like those he’d grown up with, hunting in Virginia. But once each year, on Nos Galan Gaeaf, All Hallows’ Eve, they changed. Then Cernunnos, the master of beasts, turned them to the cause of justice, and it was Gwyn’s responsibility to carry out the sentence, with George as huntsman for the pack. He’d done it once before, and in a few months, he’d be doing it again.
He walked over to the new cupboard, sturdier than the last, that housed the oliphant, the ceremonial horn carved from the end of a tusk and enspelled to preserve it from decay. It was reputedly as old as the pack itself, used only during the great hunt once each year. He peeked in and ran his fingers along it gently, the ancient ivory smooth to his touch, then locked it away again.
He turned on his heel and surveyed the room. Everything occupied the same places as before the fire, as though the kennels had not been completely destroyed. His only complaint was the new sofa. It looked fine, the cushions a dull dark green, but he was sure it couldn’t be as comfortable as the old one where he’d taken many a brief nap. Too bad it was solid-padded instead of sprung, but the cushions were certainly thick. The new one was longer than the one he’d inherited, he’d noticed. A subtle nod to his height?
He sat down for a moment to update his hunt log with a few notes about the hound walking this morning and Eurig’s comments about the puppies. Hugo took the opportunity to hop up onto the new sofa to try out its suitability as a dog bed and stretched out the full length of it on his side, his long legs dangling over the edge.
“What do you think?” George asked him. “Comfy?” Hugo’s tail thumping at the sound of his voice answered him.
The smaller yellow Sargeant claimed the space remaining at the far end of the cushions and curled up tidily.
“Alright,” George said. “You two clearly approve, anyway.”
Before he put his journal aside, he thought about Eurig’s complaints again. He’d wanted to get this season’s whelps out from underfoot as the kennels were rebuilt, and puppy walking was a traditional method of tying the interests of the landowners and the hunters together. The puppy show at the end of the season would provide a public way to thank them, and the puppies would return improved for the experience.
He’d considered letting his grandparents in Rowanton take a couple but he was reluctant to bring the hounds to the human world where questions would be raised and anyway it was more important to strengthen the local ties here. Thinking of his grandparents reminded him of his parents. His grandfather knew little about his own son-in-law, but George was going to have to ask him for anything he might remember.
Why was Cernunnos so upset? He probed again, but encountered only silence within. Still not talking to me, he thought.
He shook off his worry and headed out the door, slapping his leg to summon his dogs to follow.
When George emerged into the kennel courtyard, the hounds hopped off their benches in their pens on the far side and lifted their heads to cry a greeting. He was glad they hadn’t changed the layout or materials much in the reconstruction but then the stone had burned as well as the wood in the magically-augmented fire so there was little reason to eliminate all the wooden elements.
Ives, the kennel-master, had taken the opportunity to redo the plumbing and the foundations and to plow and replant the attached hound runs, so a general sense of renewal everywhere was overlaid on the resurrected complex.
Tanguy stuck his head out of the building, across the courtyard from the huntsman’s office. “Master Ives asks if you’ll step in for a moment, huntsman.”
George nodded and followed him in, leaving his two dogs out in the courtyard to sniff noses with the hounds through the fences of their pens.
It was relatively quiet in the workroom just off the corridor on this side. In the heat of the summer they tried to prepare the food for the hounds early in the day, and they needed cold spells to keep the knacker’s meat from spoiling. Game wouldn’t be hunted again until the beginning of fall, so the full bustle and steam of preparing food for the hounds was much reduced.
Still, there was always tack to be repaired, and both of the kennel-men sat at the worktable with leather in their hands, busy with awls and waxed thread. George noticed that the scent of the leather was stronger than usual, or perhaps it was that the competing odors hadn’t yet settled in to the rebuilt rooms. Give it a year, he thought, and it’ll smell just the same as before—a mix of steamed grain, boiled meat, leather, and hard work, with the sparkling tang of polish and liniments overlaying it all.
He nodded at Tanguy and Huon. Both of the short lutins in their usual red vests and breeches nodded back. “How do you like your new digs?” he asked. At their puzzled expressions, he emended, “I mean, the new sleeping chambers.”
One improvement Ives had requested was a couple of rooms where the kennel-men could sleep over, if there were an emergency of any kind. They had houses and families of their own, but it was useful to have a place onsite, and George had commented on how there was usually a room or two like that over a large stable, for the same reason.
“They’re handy, huntsman,” Tanguy said, “though Armelle would rather see me home at night.” He blushed as he said it. He’d been married just a few months, like George.
Bachelor Huon laughed at his workmate as George passed, walking through to the kennel-master’s office in the next room.
Ives rose from his short desk to greet him, and walked around and closed the door behind him. George’s eyebrow raised—it was uncommon for that door to be shut.
“What’s up, kennel-master?” he asked. The older lutin made his way back to his desk chair and waved him to a larger seat in front, one of a pair that he kept around that were better suited to the size of a fae, or a human like George.
Ives didn’t respond directly. “We’re all done,” he said. “The books going up in the huntsman’s office, that was the very last of it.”
George let him set his own pace for the conversation. “So, everything’s back to normal, is it? You happy with the results?”
Ives nodded. “We’re ready for the puppies to return anytime.”
“A good thing,” George said. “The walkers are getting… restive. I just had an earful from Eurig this morning. Not sure if I can make him keep them a few more weeks.”
“Iona threatens the same,” Ives chuckled. “Benitoe must be stopping his aunt from kicking up too much of a fuss.”
“Or he’s keeping some of it to himself to spare us,” George suggested.
“Could be.” Ives paused for a moment, and George waited impatiently for the real topic to be introduced.
“Dyfnallt working out well for you?” Ives asked.
This can’t be the real subject, either, George thought. “I could use another whipper-in with Benitoe away, but with both Rhian and Dyfnallt willing to swap roles as huntsman and Brynach helping out, it’s good enough for the hound walking.”
Ives hesitated again. Taking a guess, George ventured, “When’s Benitoe coming back from Edgewood? Does his aunt still need his help with the inn?”
A surreptitious glance at Ives confirmed his suspicion. This was what Ives wanted to discuss. George leaned back and waited.
Ives cleared his throat. “You know Benitoe is part of the Kuzul.”
George nodded. That was the governing council for the lutins in Gwyn’s domain. The workings of the handful of elders were obscure outside the lutin community but occasionally they stepped into the light for matters that involved the fae or other races.
When Gwyn ap Annwn sent his foster-son Rhys north to Edgewood to revive it after the exile of Gwyn’s sister Creiddylad, almost all the industry had to be rebuilt and the people salvaged from centuries of abuse. Benitoe had been sponsored to the Kuzul by Ives as a sort of junior member, delegated to look after the interest of the lutins who had been lost there.
“The Kuzul have a new mission for him, huntsman, and it involves you.”
“You want me to let him have as much time off as he needs, is it?”
“No, that’s not it at all.” Ives frowned and glanced down. “I told them this was korrigans’ work,” he muttered, “but they overruled me.” He raised his head and looked George squarely in the face. “They want him to visit the human world, with you. To look for trading opportunities.”
That surprised him, Ives thought, watching the huntsman’s face.
“Let me explain,” he said. “It’s the old story, those who want things to stay the same, and the factions that want change.”
Where should I start, he thought. “Have you heard about Deuroc, yet?” he asked.
George shook his head.
“He’s one of the resurrected ones from Edgewood, come in with all his family surviving. They put him in charge there, and he’s been working with Benitoe. He’s part of the Kuzul now.”
He hesitated. The engrained habit of saying little about the doings of the Kuzul to outsiders was hard to overcome.
“Most of the Kuzul were alarmed by the disaster at Edgewood, so many of our folk dead or missing. But there’s no denying that the survivors, well, they’re different. They lost family and friends, but it’s made them tougher. They have no interest in returning to the old ways, and Deuroc is their voice.”
“Forged in the fire,” George murmured, and Ives nodded.
“Deuroc tells them they’re getting stagnant. Tells them the destruction in Edgewood can work in their favor. ‘Look at that inn run by Maëlys,’ he says. ‘Could that have happened anywhere else?’ And the older councilors just frown and try to ignore him.”
“But I think he’s right, huntsman,” Ives continued. “They’re all working together over there, the lutins and the fae, and Rhys and Edern are encouraging it by keeping the rents low and helping them rebuild with loans and material.”
Ives remembered Edern’s vow that Rhys had sworn to uphold, to look out for the lutins in Edgewood in Isolda’s memory. Not dead a year yet, his daughter, and it still caught him by surprise when he thought of it. He took a breath.
“Horse breeders like Luhedoc and some of the others who meet with outsiders, they’ve grouped together in one area, where the farms were mostly abandoned and there’s a small, empty village they’ve renamed Karnag. A mix of several clans, you understand, not just one, and there are a few fae, too. And korrigans. Things are moving very fast there.”
George gave a half-smile as if he recognized this sort of story.
“Well, Deuroc wants them to expand,” Ives said, “and he’s convinced enough of them to give it a try that the Kuzul have been forced to take action. The oldsters are worried most about the young folk who want to go there from other places, against the wishes of their clans, and what that will do to disrupt us. Me, I think having a place for them to go is a good thing, a way to experiment, to learn.”
“So how did they decide?” George asked.
“Deuroc thinks this ferment of activity in Edgewood could be the foundation for a larger role for lutins in the world. He sees change coming for the fae and the korrigans, with the new ways being made by the rock-wights and the new power of Gwyn as King of Annwn. ‘If we don’t make a place now,’ he says, ‘we’ll dwindle into backward folk of no importance. They’ll leave us behind.’”
“Some in the Kuzul said, ‘Where would you have us seek for this wonder? What new thing can we make part of our lives?’”
Ives smiled. “Deuroc and Benitoe have been working together, you understand. So he tells them, ‘New things come from the human world. Look there.’”
George covered his face with one hand and shook his head.
“So they’ve given Benitoe the task. Find something suitable for the lutins that lets us grow with everyone else while still remaining true to our nature.”
“Ah,” George said. “For a moment there you had me worried. I thought you were going to ask for something difficult.”
Ives chuckled at his dry tone.
“Catch that puppy!”
Benitoe heard Maëlys just a moment too late as he opened the door from the stableyard into the Golden Cockerel Inn.
The half-grown bitch pup, conscious of sin, fled past him before Benitoe could stop her. A glance inside told the story—an empty common room with chairs up on the tables for cleaning, and an overturned wooden bucket of soapy water, the pool still spreading across the floor.
He looked back grinning over his shoulder from the height of a couple of steps, and watched Luhedoc casually stand aside as the puppy vanished through an open stall door in the stable. He closed it behind her, neatly penning her inside.
Benitoe laughed at the maneuver, and then walked in to confront his flustered aunt.
“Causing trouble, are they, auntie?”
She planted her feet in the middle of the puddle and put her hands on her hips. “Bad enough that they’re underfoot everywhere. They have a real talent for chaos, especially that one.” Her glare followed the wet footsteps of the criminal out the door.
A yip from the kitchen indicated another puppy had overstepped the bounds of proper behavior. Benitoe wondered where the third one was. He was sure he’d find out, soon enough.
Luhedoc followed Benitoe into the inn’s main room. “You know the folk like them. We haven’t lost any chickens yet, at least.” This, to his wife.
“It’s true, that,” he told Benitoe. “The customers feel like they’re part of Gwyn’s people again, seeing his young hounds around.”
Maëlys reluctantly agreed. “Even Rhys has dropped in to see them,” she said. She opened her mouth to add something else, and hesitated.
“Couldn’t convince him to take one, auntie?” Benitoe ventured, and she blushed.
“Our lord Rhys is too smart for that,” Luhedoc said, “and besides, the manor house is no place for raising a hound whelp.”
Benitoe cleared his throat, and they both paused to look at him. “I’ve gotten a message.”
Luhedoc nodded. “We saw it come in.”
Benitoe walked over and uprighted the bucket. He picked up the mop and started to work on the floor, already soaked, to save his aunt from the task.
“Do you think you can spare me?” he asked, as he ran the mop back and forth, squeezing out the excess every so often.
Luhedoc rubbed his jaw. “Well, I can always use more help with the horses, of course, but we can get along shorthanded for a while out at the pasture.”
The horses that Benitoe and Luhedoc had brought back from Iona’s farm, descendants of the herd Luhedoc had left there almost 20 years ago, were thriving on one of the abandoned farms in Edgewood that Luhedoc had claimed.
Maëlys said, quietly, “We knew we couldn’t keep you here forever, not while you have other work to do. We’re lucky you’ve been able to stay and help as long as you have.”
“Wish there were someone experienced to help with the horses, though,” Luhedoc said to her.
“You can’t blame them. The fae are all busy rebuilding their own lives, and few of our folk are interested in training stock, rather than tending them.”
Benitoe spoke from the far end of the room, where he was making progress mopping the floor. “You could recruit someone to help.”
“For a horseman’s wages?” Luhedoc snorted. “Who would travel all this way for that? No, we’ll just have to get by until some of the young ones around here grow into it, I suppose. Keep an eye out, though, you never know who might turn up.”
Maëlys said, proudly, “Those horses are going to be the backbone of this business.”
Luhedoc shook his head, “Only until someone else gets into breeding, too. It’s the inn itself is the bigger draw.”
“Only until someone else starts up another one,” Maëlys responded. They both laughed softly, and Luhedoc put an arm around her waist.
What a couple they are, Benitoe thought, grateful that Luhedoc had survived eighteen years of darkness here in Edgewood. The clan adoption Maëlys had performed for him made her his “auntie” under the law. That she would do that, before she was even sure Luhedoc was alive, well, he still couldn’t quite believe it. All those years with little family, and now part of one again. He smiled privately as he swept the mop back and forth under the tables.
Luhedoc coughed. “So, what was in that message?”
“Hush, dear, it was Kuzul business.”
Benitoe straightened up. “Yes, but it’s no secret. They want me to look into trade in the human world.”
“But that’s korrigans’ work, isn’t it?” Luhedoc said. “So many make their living that way.”
“And why not lutins, too?” Maëlys said. She turned to Benitoe. “You could always partner with a korrigan, if you thought you needed to.”
Benitoe had a brief vision of sharing a wagon bench seat with a korrigan on a trade route. One thick and one thin, he thought, but both of a height. No, they had their own trade routes and he wasn’t sure about the details of how they maneuvered in the human world. They must have agents, they’d stand out too much otherwise. Maybe lutins could do that better. We look more like humans, less like dwarves.
No, I’m no trader, he thought. But opening up a trade route, scouting it for someone else, that had some appeal. He’d like to see the human world again, at least for a little while.
“Will it be safe?” Maëlys said. “You’ve told us about it but it would scare me to death.”
“You?” Benitoe said, incredulously. “You, who walked miles through a snowstorm to reach Greenway Court and then on into Edgewood, just to look for him?” He hooked a thumb at Luhedoc. “And then, oh my timid aunt, you took on this great abandoned inn and resurrected it while you waited for him to show up.”
He picked up the bucket with its dirty water and carried it and the mop back across the floor. “I don’t know what would scare you, if that didn’t. I think you’d handle the human world just fine, once you got used to it.”
He put the mop and bucket down when he reached her. “I never heard of a lutine running an inn before, so we’re a fine pair, aren’t we?” He gave her a hug.
Then he picked up the mop and bucket again to empty the dirty water outside in the stableyard.
Benitoe packed his clothes in the room over the stables that he occupied when he stayed at the inn. He planned to drop in on Rhys before leaving—he hadn’t forgotten the time, a few months ago, when young Rhys was just the senior whipper-in for his foster-father’s hounds, and kind enough to show him what to do. He may be running Edgewood now, for Gwyn, bringing it back from ruin as his first experience of rule, but he knew Rhys would make room in his schedule to see him, if he could.
He wanted to ask Rhys to have someone watch out for his aunt and uncle, since he might be out of touch for a while. Besides—he smiled, thinking of the task set him by the Kuzul—maybe there was something Rhys would like to propose in the matter of trade, he or his steward Cadugan. The Kuzul hadn’t mentioned a deadline but there was no point waiting to get started.
What will this mean for me, really, he wondered. Greater responsibility in the Kuzul? But I’m not old enough for any useful political alliances. The youngest of the real council members were in their fifties, early middle-age. They wouldn’t think much of me, not even thirty.
And yet, he thought as he sorted through his belongings, this is the second task I’ve been assigned by them. They must have approved of the way I handled the search for the lutins in hiding in Edgewood, months ago. Deuroc has been pushing for more flexible responses to the changes we’re encountering around us. The coming of the huntsman stirred things up, like a sudden storm, and they must value my relationship with him.
So, no political power for me, perhaps, but this is a chance to continue building my credibility with them. If I do it well.
Trade, now, he thought. Yes, that’s more of the korrigans’ concern. But we trade in our animals and our goods, we’re not just minor folk tending the beasts on the farms. Why should we be so retiring, so negligible, when all this change and opportunity is afoot? If the lutins take to trade and compete with the korrigans, or even just deal in goods that the korrigans can’t, or won’t, it can only be to our benefit. And young ones will want these new chances, many of them.
Ever since he’d seen a bit of the human world, a glimpse of Rowanton in Virginia, he’d been intrigued by the possibility. Why should the korrigans do all the trading with the humans? He nodded to himself.
He’d have to talk to the huntsman, too. After all, he worked for George, and he’d need his help with this task, there was no getting around it. Would he be willing to take the time, with Angharad so near to the birth? He couldn’t do it without him.
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