Thrice Sworn: A Short-Story Prequel to Winterling

Free Thrice Sworn: A Short-Story Prequel to Winterling by Sarah Prineas

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Authors: Sarah Prineas
Thrice Sworn

     
    Finn was bored.
    A bored puck is a puck looking for trouble.
    He decided to visit the Summerlands. If he couldn’t find any trouble there, he would make some trouble of his own.
    He’d been born in the Summerlands, after all, or that’s what his puck-brothers had told him. When Finn was newly born it was clear to his mother that her baby was a puck—not something anybody would miss, his puckishness, for he had the black hair and flame-colored eyes of all his kind. Once he’d been seen to be a puck he was tossed out of the place of his birth, just as all pucks were, wrapped up in a bit of blanket and sent through the nearest Way for the other pucks to find.
    Or not find. That happened sometimes too.
    Since then, he’d had no family except for his brother-pucks.
    Still, even though he’d been cast out, the Summerlands always drew him back. There was something about the land itself, the dense forests lapping up the slopes of snow-topped mountains, the half-wild people and their strange, half-wild Lady that made it feel more like home than any other place he’d seen in all his wanderings.
    So when he was bored and restless and his puck-brothers were ready to drown him to stop his chattering, that’s where he went.
    Usually he lurked about the Summerlands for a while in his dog shape. In that sleek, black, furry, flame-eyed form he slunk through the deep forests, spying on the moon-luminous Lady, Laurelin, and her Huntress companion, the Mór. The Lady and the Huntress roamed the land together, moonlight and midnight, the one quick to smile and the other a silent watcher; the one an open hand and the other a keen arrow fletched with black feathers.
    Then he’d corner some fox-boy or fox-girl or one of those skittish deer-women or a badger-man for some conversation—somebody to talk to, even though they didn’t listen, but glanced nervously aside at him and tried to sneak away.
    He always followed them. He had things to say, after all!
    After a bit, he’d leave to go back to his brother pucks until the next time the Summerlands called to him.
    But this time—this time was different.
     
    At sunset, Finn came through the Way into the Summerlands. It was high summer and the forest was lush and green. A lazy stream wound along the edge of the clearing, and fireflies hovered in the growing darkness. He popped his shifter-tooth into his mouth and shifted into a dog. He had a bit of bone, too, that he could use to change into a horse—a black horse without even a hair of white, with flame-colored eyes and a long mane and a tangled, black tail. As a dog he loped through the forest paths until he reached the Lady Tree, the huge beech whose broad branches held the Lady’s little wooden house.
    What he saw surprised him. His dog-ears twitched and he crouched, his belly brushing the dewy grass, and edged closer to see better. His long dog-nose twitched. Something smelled strange.
    Below the Lady Tree was a grassy space overhung by the tree’s branches and its heavy, copper-brown leaves. On a blanket on the grass, lit by lanterns that hung from the tree’s branches, sat the Lady. When Finn had been here before, Laurelin had been lithe as a willow twig, but since then she’d grown round, like the waxing moon.
    The Lady, Laurelin, was with child.
    In his surprise, Finn spat out the shifter-tooth—no, he didn’t want to swallow it by accident—and, in his person shape, crawled closer. Babies were rare and precious among the people of the lands, who lived a long, long time and seldom had offspring. In all of the Summerlands there might not be a single other baby. It was a curious thing.
    On the blanket, the moon-round Lady smiled at a young man sitting next to her. As Finn watched, she carefully lay down and pillowed her head against his leg, then reached up to tickle his chin with a long blade of grass.
    “Stop it,” the young man said. He was tall and lanky, with a shock of sun-bleached hair and bright,

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