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.
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