Deryn Hedlight was not having a very good day and it was about to get much worse. He’d read stories of witches as a boy, but never believed for a second they were true. That is, until an unfortunate hunting accident turns his world upside down. What seemed like an honest mistake leads to an altogether unexpected transformation. But poor Deryn wasn’t the only wronged character tied up in these gloomy circumstances and sinister forces.
Deer Life tells the story of a kind-hearted boy from Hinthoven and his motheṟs undying love. Mostly though, it’s all about patience, friendship, and heroism where you least expect it.
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About the Author
Ron Sexsmith is an internationally acclaimed, Juno Award–winning recording artist. He spends most of his time writing songs, touring, and making records. Deer Life was mostly written on the road, during long drives and in dressing rooms and hotel rooms. Ron lives in Perth County, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
A Fairy Tale
By Ron Sexsmith
Dundurn PressCopyright © 2017 Ron Sexsmith
All rights reserved.
A HISTORY OF HINTHOVEN, HINTERLUNDS, AND HEDLIGHTS
The town of Hinthoven was nothing much to write home about.
In fact, no one could even vaguely recall a letter, postcard, or package ever being sent to or from there at any point in time. For this reason and possibly a few others, it has been largely omitted from the pages of history. That is until now. And it is no secret that for many people living in nearby townships, Hinthoven had long been considered the punchline of numerous and humourless jokes. All manner of good-natured ribbing (as well as many not so good-natured things) had been said over the years in taverns and 'round dinner tables, such as "Hinthoven, the city that can't take a hint" or "Squinthoven" (which apparently just sounded funny), and all said by folks who'd never even set foot there!
For the good citizens of Hinthoven, however, it was simply put: "A nice place to call home." People were kind, the air was clean. The water was pure and life in general was ... liveable. To look at it on a map, it would appear the whole town was caught in a perpetual headlock between a peaceful river to the east and a menacing forest to the west. Just outside the city centre and to the north a bit lay prime farmland, acres of orchards, vineyards, and plush, rolling meadows that seemed bent on rolling off the face of the earth. And wherever they were heading, the sky looked eager to follow.
The town itself got its name from one Marcus Hinterlund, who for many years had owned the land it was built on and much of the surrounding area, as well. The old Hinterlund farmhouse, too, standing today where it stood then, though occupied for some time now by his great-grandson, Magnus; Magnus's daughter, Claira; and their faithful housekeeper, Tressa Mundy. (But we'll get to them soon enough....) If you were to stroll around the city centre on a day like today, you'd find a town fairly bursting with activity.
Anxious-looking people rushing to and fro. Horses and carts going every which way. Street musicians ruining all your favourite songs. And children doing what children do best ... alarming and annoying the grown-ups! To say it was easy getting lost in Hinthoven would be a huge understatement. Even those who'd spent their entire lives there could find themselves frequently disoriented, as if in a maze. For every street seemed to spiral into another, jut out unexpectedly, or end abruptly, so one was never sure if they were even on the same street they had started out on. You might think the city's forefathers had been inspired by the great mysteries of the universe when designing their street plans. And clearly it had not occurred to any of them that more than one horse and cart might wish to pass down the same street at the same time. For each was ludicrously narrow and filled with pedestrians at all hours.
In fact, it was on one such crowded, narrow street that Deryn Hedlight and his mother, Maggie, lived in an abode so humble that it looked positively mortified to even be mentioned in this book! Today being the anniversary of Pearson Hedlight's death (loving husband to Maggie, stern but patient father to Deryn), we find both in a reflective mood after their sombre gravesite visit. "What do you suppose Dad's doing right now?" asked Deryn innocently enough.
"Well, if I know your father," said Maggie, "and I do! I'd say he's enjoying his pipe right about now. Assuming they let you smoke up there." After which she took a moment to ponder this ancient mystery before vigorously stirring a pot on an old wood stove.
"You know, I never told you," said Deryn after a moment's reflection, "but Dad caught me smoking his pipe one time and —"
"Oh, I know," interrupted Maggie. "Your father and I never had any secrets between us — he told me all about it! Why, I can remember him saying like it was yesterday: A man must earn the right to smoke his pipe. At the end of a day's work or after a hunt, when you've brought food home for the table.' And he was right!" she exclaimed while pointing her wooden spoon seemingly t'ward heaven. Deryn looked wistfully at the spoon, then at the rifle hanging over the fireplace. "He was proud of his boy, though," Maggie went on, sensing a shade of doubt in her son's melancholy face. "And don't think for a moment he wasn't!"
"Oh, I know, Ma, I just wish I ..." Deryn's voice trailed off. For his attention was drawn to an imposing shadow now moving across the curtain. The shadow belonged to one Jacques Tourtière, noted hunter and local bully, who at that very moment was pulling a cart of fresh kill from his latest hunt. Tourtière supplied meat for the local butchers and made a pretty penny, too, when he wasn't boozing or beating people up. To say he was well liked in Hinthoven would be a stretch, but if it mattered to him in the slightest, he never let it show. "Better to be feared than loved," he'd often say. To no one in particular. Deryn himself could recall quite a few unpleasant run-ins between his father and Tourtière over the years, so the mere mention of his name could conjure up a whole multitude of emotions. None of which were helpful in any way.
"Ma?" Deryn said after returning to the present.
"Yes, dear?" she replied with eyes peeking over the pot.
"Well, I was thinking that p'raps I'd go hunting tomorrow." This he said with a hopeful yet altogether heartbreaking air. And though looking in the direction of his mother, his eyes were fixed upon a world somewhere beyond her and out past this once cheerful home. "Maybe it's time," he continued, "that I started acting like ..." Here he paused to rise heroically from his low seat in the corner. "The man of the house, the man Dad always wanted me to be," he said and finished off with an expression verging on bravery. (Though verging from a good distance, truth be told!) But still pondering the great mystery of pipe smoking in Heaven, Maggie responded as anyone snapping out of a daydream would. "Sorry, dear, were you saying something?"CHAPTER 2
Young Claira Hinterlund was said to be the spitting image of her mother Camilla She had no way of knowing this of her mother, Camilla. She had no way of knowing this, however, since cameras had not yet been invented. Mostly, though, it was due to the fact that her mother had died not long before her first birthday. In those sad weeks and months following this tragedy, it became apparent to all those concerned that her love was the one light strong enough to reach down into her father's broken heart and shoo away the darkness. And providing a formidable light of her own during this difficult time came their faithful housekeeper, Tressa Mundy. She had been brought in to help around the house when Claira was born and went on to become a source of great comfort as Camilla succumbed to her illness that last sad summer.
Tressa could best be described as kindness in human form. She was naturally pretty, though plain, for her beauty was of the kind that rose from within and shone outward through her eyes. For nearly sixteen years now she'd served as both friend and mother figure to Claira while being an enormous help to Magnus in all aspects of domesticity short of being his wife. Time, it seemed, had truly healed all wounds, while in the process somehow managing to extract the sadness from yesteryear, making it almost seem a pleasant memory. Well, almost....
On this golden autumn day there was much activity as the Hinterlunds prepared for their weekly jaunt into town to buy groceries and other household necessities. Claira very much looked forward to this day, for it often meant stopping by the bakery on their way home to pick up fresh pastries and biscuits. It also meant a change of scene from life in the country, which, as charming as it may very well a bit dreary at times, let's not kid ourselves. Even Magnus looked forward to it in his own way. He loved getting the horse and wagon ready and didn't much seem to mind donning his less comfortable "city clothes" for the day. As for Tressa, well, she just loved to sit up front with him, for he always looked so handsome, and although he wasn't much of a talker, he was certainly a most excellent listener!
It had rained hard the night before, and so on the road that morning everything seemed new and quite literally dripping with promise. And Tressa, who was in an especially chatty mood, practically overflowed with details of a strange dream involving a hat full of ravens and an enormous tree. Not that anybody minded, for her voice was in no way an unpleasant thing to hear.
Well, it was in the midst of these very dream details when Magnus, who, as always, was half listening (and nodding his head even when he wasn't), noticed a small figure approaching near the Hinthoven sign at the outskirts of town. Why, if it wasn't our very own Deryn Hedlight, rifle in hand and pulling a makeshift cart behind him! "Good morning!" he exclaimed while cheerfully hoisting his gun into the air.
"Good morning to you," replied Magnus with a tight-lipped grin. "You're Pearson Hedlight's boy, aren't you? Deryn, is it?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, smiling proudly at Mr. Hinterlund, then shyly at Claira.
"Did your father make that for you?" asked Tressa, now pointing at the rustic cart.
"Yes, ma'am, well, actually, no. I mean, he made it for himself, truthfully," he explained and set about shrugging his shoulders and puffing his cheeks awkwardly.
"Why, it's lovely," said Tressa, smiling. Claira was smiling, too!
"My father died a year ago yesterday," he added while looking at the road and thinking it sounded much happier than he'd intended.
"Yes, we know," Magnus sighed solemnly before continuing brightly. "I knew your father, he was a genuinely kind and decent man, and well, we're all very sorry for your loss."
"It's kind of you to say so," said Deryn with equal parts pride and sadness.
After which an uncomfortable silence ensued until Tressa wisely changed the subject. "I believe you've met Claira before?" she enthused, recognizing a boyhood crush when she saw one.
"Why, yes, ma'am, although I doubt that she would re —"
"Of course I remember you, silly," interrupted Claira. "You worked at the fruit stand beside the butcher shop, remember? And I would always come in to buy a basket of —"
"Pears!" Deryn interjected with his brightest smile to date. "I'm honoured, I mean, it's an honour to be remembered, um, by you," he said and followed it up with more fidgeting and awkward cheek-puffing.
But Claira, who was gaining an enormous amount of pleasure out of his discomfort, simply laughed and said, "Silly boy!"
Even Deryn couldn't help but laugh in spite of himself. And as their eyes met on that freshly painted morning, he could've sworn he heard a small voice inside say, She's absolutely lovely. The next voice he heard, however, was that of the not quite as lovely Mr. Hinterlund.
"Well, young man, I s'pose we should be on our way," he said while exhibiting the same tight-lipped grin as before. "But we wish you all the luck in the world and look forward to seeing you again in the not too distant future," and gave his head a slight bow, though his face was now obscured by the sun in Deryn's eyes. And so, with a tip of his hat and a flick of the reins, they were off down the bright road toward town. Deryn watched them for a moment, and as they pulled away, he had but one shining thought in his mind. Look back, he said to himself. And she did!CHAPTER 3
In all of Hinthoven there was really no one to speak of who spoke French. Nor was there anybody who even spoke of French given the chance to speak of it. But if there were, they would most certainly know that the name Tourtière (roughly translated, at least) meant quite simply ... meat pie. And strangely enough, to see him approaching down a narrow street could give one the impression that an actual meat pie was coming toward them. Roundish and pasty looking, he had the appearance of steam rising from his forehead at all times. Nobody knew where he came from, but then he didn't exactly invite inquiry into these matters. Truth be told, people mostly kept their distance. You might say he was an enigma wrapped in a misery. On one hand Tourtière was widely regarded as the best hunter in all the land, yet he was a strict vegetarian. His pleasure seemed to derive from the killing of animals, but not the devouring of them. He existed, rather, on a steady diet of potatoes, bread, and booze and lived a good staggering distance from The Fist and Firkin, where he dined nightly and always alone.
On this particular morning, Jacques had already reached his personal hunting quota for the day and so was preparing to head back into town when he heard footsteps approaching from up the path. And it wasn't very long at all before he could see just whom the footsteps belonged to!
"Hedlight? No, it can't be!" and chuckled menacingly. Now, like most bullies, Tourtière was not without a sense of humour. And like most bullies, this humour would mostly revolve around the humiliation of other, smaller victims. Tourtière hunched down behind a nearby bush and aimed his rifle toward our unsuspecting hunter. "BANG!" said the gun.
Deryn's heart leapt into his throat as he felt a hot breeze go whizzing past his left ear. Without hesitation, he dove for cover, landing headfirst into the nearest and most convenient mud puddle. Reality became momentarily surreal as he looked down and caught his reflection in said mud puddle. For the branches above had created the illusion of antlers sticking out of his head.
"Well, that's odd," said Deryn. "I'm a deer!" And he proceeded to laugh in a most beautiful and childlike way.
This whimsical daydream, however, would have to wait, for he was immediately brought to by the sound of Tourtière trudging up the path and laughing in a most awful and unchildlike way
"Oh, Hedlight, it's you!" he said. "I thought you were a raccoon! Come to think of it," his cruelty continued, "you do sort of look like one with all that crud on your face." Here he laughed again with the sort of mean-spirited laughter that ricocheted all around the forest and o'er the fields of Hell, presumably.
"You could've killed me!" shouted Deryn, his voice quivering with both anger and fear (though mostly fear).
"Now, if I wanted to kill you," said Tourtière with nary a trace of irony, "believe you me, you'd be dead," as he took a moment to survey Deryn's meagre accoutrements. "Just what do you expect to do with that gun and that, that sleigh or whatever you call it over there?" he chided dismissively.
Looking back on his simple tools, Deryn could find only one reason to come to their defense. "My father made that!" His voice broke with wounded pride.
Tourtière gave his head a pitying shake before adding his unsolicited two cents. "Hunting's for big boys, Hedlight. Maybe you should try fishing, or better yet, ballet!" and laughed cruelly once more before brushing past young Hedlight without even lifting a finger to help him up.
But after kneeling for the duration of this whole unpleasantness, Deryn wanted none of his help, anyway. And so picked himself up, happy in the knowledge that the terrible brute was gone at last. "Someday" he said under his breath (on the off chance that Tourtière was still within earshot), "he'll get what's coming to him" Then, standing at the edge of this curiously beckoning forest, Deryn gritted his teeth into a most determined scowl. "And with any luck, I'll be the one bringing it."CHAPTER 4
HEDLIGHT GOES A-HUNTING
After a few hours of stalking the forest to no avail, Deryn was beginning to think maybe, just maybe, Tourtière was right. Perhaps he should take up fishing after all. Even ballet was beginning to look like the more realistic option by then. He wasn't at all sure if he had the heart or the stomach for hunting. At one point he even had an easy shot at a rather plump-looking hare, but decided against it after seeing she had little ones in tow. And feeling the familiar pangs of failure while still bearing the mud scars of his earlier humiliation, Deryn decided to rest awhile at the foot of an ancient tree. It felt good to lean on something that had withstood all of time's wrath yet remained standing. From this low place on the ground and from an even lower place in his heart, he began to feel quite small and insignificant. Not only in the eyes of the world, but especially in the belly of this eerily quiet forest. Looking up through the branches, he could see the outline of the moon as it prepared for its grand entrance. The sun, too, had commenced declining as the twilight did some of its finest work with the leaves and shadows.
But after a few moments of taking in all that beauty had to offer, Deryn broke free of nature's spell only to find that his life was pretty much right where he'd left it. I guess I had better start heading back, he thought.
It would be dark soon and he did not wish to worry his mother more then she was prone to be. So using the tree for support, he backed himself up and off the ground to gather his things for the defeated hike homeward. T'was in the midst of all this gathering, in fact, when he heard a rustling from a bushy area off to his right. Deryn crouched low behind the same tree as before and reached for his rifle, which, as it turned out, was just slightly out of reach. In an effort to extend his arm further than was humanly possible, he soon found himself tumbling forward in a most ungraceful somersault with his back coming to rest hard on top of it. "Ooof!" he groaned and winced in pain. The pain, thankfully, would be short-lived, as it morphed mercifully into adrenalin. For from his new vantage point he could plainly see that something was indeed moving beyond those bushes! "A deer!" he assumed. "Well, that would certainly get us through the winter."
Deryn's mind drifted off momentarily as he imagined himself victoriously smoking his father's pipe. He could see his mother looking on proudly as she prepared a succulent deer stew for dinner.
Excerpted from Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith. Copyright © 2017 Ron Sexsmith. Excerpted by permission of Dundurn Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents
A History of Hinthoven, Hinterlunds, and Hedlights
Hedlight Goes A-Hunting
Memories of Crad Grimsby
In the Clearing
Fist and Firkin
Of Maggie and Crad and Griff and Gruff
Out of the Woods
Crad’s Big Day Out
Lucky and Claira
From Bad to Worse
The Gathering Gloom
And Not a Moment to Spare
Enough as It Is (In Six Parts )