EXCERPT: Swan Knight’s Son

This is an excerpt from Swan Knight’s Son, Moth & Cobweb Book 1. It is available for $4.99 and via Kindle Unlimited. It is also available in a hardcover edition as the first volume of The Green Knight’s Squire trilogy for $27.99.

Gil had fashioned himself a hiking stick by finding a likely length of wood and trimming off the twigs. As they hiked, Gil said, “Are you sure there is a need for knights?”

Ruff said, “Sure! Sure! Anyone can tell you. Ask anyone!”

Gil thought it actually might be a good idea to ask around. Gil looked at the long grass in the meadow, saw a rustle, and perceived it was a rabbit. He called the rabbit over, telling Ruff to stand a bit away.

The rabbit sat up on its hindquarters. “What can I do for you, my good sire?”

“Um. I am looking for a job.”

“Everyone is welcome in the warren! How are you at digging holes? Plenty of clover this time of year, the does are in heat, and no need to worry about the wolf. You see, you don’t need to outrun the wolf; you only need to outrun your brother.” The rabbit wore a smug look. “That is a saying we have! When danger comes, abandon your loved ones! So, will you join? The more among us, the merrier! The more targets for the hungry wolf, the better our chances to stay alive!”

“No, not a job as a bunny. I was thinking of being a knight. Have you heard that they have any openings? Um– within walking distance of Blowing Rock, North Carolina?”

The rabbit scratched his ear with his hind leg thoughtfully. “I heard something about knights over around Pisgah National Forest. Something in the wind. Winter knights and Summer knights getting ready for Michaelmas. But I think they were elfs. You know, the hidden people, the Night Folk.”

“Elfs? What can you tell me about them?”

The rabbit shivered. “Nothing. I mean, they steal human beings from the daylight world. Put the come-hither on them. Take you down into their warrens. More targets for the hungry mouths, so more chances to stay alive if you get me. A lot like rabbits, elfs. The more, the merrier.” The rabbit shivered again. “Say nothing! They have sharp ears and many spies.”

“Yeah, I think I met one.”

“They don’t like people talking about them. It is better to call them ‘the Good People’ or ‘the Kindly Folk’ or ‘The Rich Ones’ or something like that.”

Gil said, “Are they real? Where do they come from?”

The rabbit said, “Kindly and good and rich. Like I said. Don’t talk about them. As for knighthood, stupid idea. Knights wear metal for their fur, and they fight. Outmoded, outdated, old-fashioned idea. The latest and best way is to study how to run away!”

Another rabbit, this one smaller and with a nose that never stopped twitching, emerged from the grass just then. “Sire, I could not help but overhear the conversation. Knighthood is one of those theories whose days are past! Rabbits are forward-looking! It is not for nothing that we have such ears, to hear of all the latest trends in the newest thought! Running away is the new fashion!”

Other rabbit voices now came from the grasses. “Quite so! Everyone agrees,” said one, and another said, “Always listen to rabbits! We have the more recent and most profound ideas on all matters!” and a third, “A consensus has been reached! The debate is over!”

Gil said, “But rabbits always run away. Always have. Isn’t that like your thing you are famous for? How is that new?”

But then the two rabbits he could see froze, ears high, motionless as statues. In the near distance was a thrumming noise of a rabbit rapping his hindleg against the ground, their warning signal. The two visible rabbits bounded away with astonishing speed and were gone, and no rustle was heard from the grass.

Gil looked up and saw a wolf across the meadow, grinning. Gil beckoned him over. The wolf, tongue lolling, came trotting closer but slowed warily and stopped several yards away. The wolf sat down on his haunches.

“Well, you have a strange smell about you,” said the wolf, “A scent not of this world. You look like a Son of Adam, but I think you are a Son of someone else.”

“Who?” asked Gil. “Whose son am I?”

“Cut off all your fine silver hair, and give it to me, and perhaps I will tell.”

Gil said curtly, “No.”

The wolf stood up, and his ears flattened. “You do not know where my pack is or how you are surrounded, do you?”

Gil said, “Pardon my manners, Brother Wolf. Your request took me by surprise. I am not able to cut off all my hair at this time to present to you, for I promised some to my friend, a wren who is using it to line her nest. Please tell me why you want it.”

The wolf sat on his haunches again, green eyes glinting like flames. “You are well spoken, Brother Man-cub. But it would be rude of me to tell you the secret of your own hair that grows on your own head.”

Gil said, “What if I cut a handful of it and present it to you as a gift?”

The glitter in the wolf’s eyes changed, growing less dangerous but more greedy. “That would be noble courtesy indeed, Brother Man-cub.”

Gil drew his knife and cut off a tail of hair from behind his ear. He opened his fingers, and the strands floated down to the grass just before him. The wolf stood up and started to step forward but then paused, as if measuring the distance between the knife still in Gil’s hand and himself. He looked then at the silver hair on the grass, then at Gil’s eyes, and then back at the knife.

Gil said, “What, pray tell, is the matter, Brother Wolf?”

“You still have your knife in your hand, Brother Man-cub.”

“So? It would be discourteous not to offer my hair to your pack mates as well. Have them come out of hiding and show themselves, and we will exchange gifts and secrets of noble worth.”

The wolf said, “No, not so, my packmates—which are many in number, and ferocious fighters—would deem it untoward to impose on a generous heart like yours.”

Gil said, “Come, Brother Wolf. Please take these strands of hair as a gift.”

The wolf stepped slowly and warily toward the spot at Gil’s feet where the hair lay gleaming. Very gingerly, watching Gil and Gil’s knifehand with both eyes, the wolf lowered his head and gently took the hairs between his teeth.

Gil tightened his grip on his knife. It was a tiny, almost invisible motion, but the wolf froze. His head was still down, and he was very close to Gil, but not in any position to spring.

“True courtesy,” said Gil softly, “would be truly satisfied if we both performed as we said. Have you no gift to offer in return?”

The wolf’s eyes were locked on the knife, whose blade gleamed brightly.

The wolf spoke in a husky whisper, moving his lips but not his teeth. “Ask me three questions if you please. That will be my gift.”

“Thank you,” said Gil.

“You are most welcome.”

“Whose son am I?”

“I know not.”

“But you said–”

“The scent of death is upon you, which marks you as a Son of Eve and Adam. Yet also the scent of the mists of otherworld around you, which follows the Sons of Titania and Oberon. Yet you are not of one nor of the other, neither of the Day-born nor the Night-kin. You are one of the Twilight Folk. You are a son of Moth. Your family is called Moth.”

“That does not tell me much, Brother Wolf.”

“You did not give me much hair, Brother Man.”

“What makes my hair precious?”

“Long ago, were men who were my brothers, wolves who walked on two legs and who walked through the wood as warily and swiftly as do I. They worshiped many spirits, including the great wolf spirit. They danced the Ghost Dance, to turn the bullets of the white men away. Those who had hair like yours to weave into their ghost shirts had charmed lives, and the weapon they most feared, the weapon with no dreams, would not bite them. So it is for you: you will not die by firearms.”

“What? Am I bulletproof?”

“Ask your third question, kindly and gracious brother, for I must be away!”

“Uh, sure, uh. What about knighthood as a career? Are there any jobs open?”

“For that profession?” and now the wolf made a low and ugly chuckle in its throat. Then, the wolf recited:

And ever and anon the wolf would steal
The children and devour, but now and then,
Her own brood lost or dead, lent her fierce teat
To human sucklings; and the children, housed
In her foul den, there at their meat would growl,
And mock their foster-mother on four feet,
Till, straightened, they grew up to wolf-like men,
Worse than the wolves.