The epic million-copy bestseller, available as an ebook for the first time
The moles of Duncton Wood live in the shadow of Mandrake, a cruel tyrant corrupted by absolute power. A solitary young mole, Bracken, is thrown into leading the fight to free Duncton Wood. Only by putting his trust in the ancient Stone, forgotten symbol of a great spiritual past, can he find the strength to challenge Mandrake’s darkness.
When Bracken falls in love with Rebecca, Mandrake’s daughter, the moles must make life and death choices as their extraordinary search for freedom and truth begins… Together Bracken and Rebecca will embark on moving journey that will challenge them in ways they could never have imagined. But can they save Duncton before it’s too late?
Duncton Wood is the first instalment in The Duncton Chronicles, an unforgettable six-book series now widely regarded as a fantasy classic. For readers of J.R.R. Tolkien, Brian Jacques and Richard Adams’ Watership Down, this is a quest into the heart of nature, the redemptive power of love and the triumph of spirit.The Duncton Chronicles
‘An inspiring novel… An epic in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings’ Sunday Times
‘A breathtaking achievement’ Washington Post
‘A passionate, lyrical, appealing tale… Consistently absorbing… Enchanting’ Cosmopolitan
‘A great big mole-epic with a great big theme’ Daily Mail
‘Horwood has placed his astute ear to the ground and fashioned… a modern masterpiece… Classic themes of conflict are here, good and evil, love and hate, the clash of traditional and modern values.’ Houston Chronicle
‘Destined to be a classic… A beautiful story.’ Little Rock Arkansas Gazette
'An earthy epic fantasy… The themes of power, survival, passion, courage, sacrifice, love and devotion are presented with astonishing clarity.' Los Angeles Times Book Review
‘An absolute spell-binder, by Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down. I found it enchanting, compulsive reading… I am still haunted by its beauty’ Magnus Magnusson
‘The stuff of legend… Horwood’s natural world is lyrically realised, his mole empire a delight, his romantic tale full of adventure, suspense, battle and searchings… A rich, cautionary fairy tale.’ Publishers Weekly
‘More readable and more rewarding than The Lord of the Rings’ The Times
‘Special, endearing, successful… truly touching… This is a novel for the pure-at-heart and slightly naive, for the childishness in the weary, and the children we should be having… Allegorically fabulous.’ Village Voice
‘Luxuriantly written… richly drawn, painting a detailed and loving panorama.’ Associated Press
Read an Excerpt
By William Horwood
Canelo Digital PublishingCopyright © 1980 William Horwood
All rights reserved.
September. A great grey storm swept its pelting rain up the pastures of Duncton Hill and then on into the depths of the oaks and beeches of Duncton Wood itself. At first the wind lashed the trees, which swayed and whipped each other in the wet. But then the wind died and solid rain poured down, running in rivulets down the tree trunks and turning the leaf mould of the wood into a sodden carpet, cold and wet.
And the noise! The endless random drumming of the rain drowning every other sound — not a scurrying fox or a scampering rabbit or a scuffling mole could be heard above the noise. Until, when all had found their burrows, the wood was as still in the endless eternal rain as a lost and forgotten tunnel.
All the moles but one were deep in the ground, hiding themselves from the wet and noise: safe and sound in the warmth of their dark burrows.
Only solitary Bracken stayed out, crouching up on top of the hill among the great beeches that had swayed in the wind and at the coming of the rain and now stood in sullen surrender to it, dripping and grey.
He had left the fighting and the talons of the tunnels far behind below the hill and found himself now in the shadow of the great Stone, the curious isolated standing stone that stood silent and huge at the highest point of the wood. It was tens of millions of years old and it looked its age — hard, gnarled and grey. There were others like it scattered across the Downs of southern England, remnants of the mass that once covered all the chalk. As heartstones of the old mass they retained its rhythm, and this gave them a life and mystery that every creature sensed. Until some, like the moles, learned to turn to them at times of thanksgiving or wonder, suffering or pain. Or change, as Bracken did now.
He had been there since the early afternoon when the shifting September sky, now blue and clear, now white and cloudy, had given way to the deep mauve-greys of storm-clouds. He had crouched, enthralled, sensing the rain lash the country far away in great sweeps of wet, and in awe of the white lightning whose bright flashes his eyes only dimly saw, and the strong shakings of the thunder that entered his body. He felt the storm coming closer and closer, looming towards and above him, and then finally all around, the wind ruffling his fur before the rain turned it shiny black.
Now he was absolutely lost in it, his paws seeming part of the ancient ground on which they rested, his fur seeming the sky itself, his face the wind and rain. Bracken was lost, no longer conscious of what he thought he was. Not a mole, but a part of everything. As the rain beat down upon him it finally washed away a hopeless desire he had long struggled with — to be a mole like so many of the others, with talons flashing, fighting, rough and tough and eating worms with a hungry crunch.
When he laughed they didn't laugh, but in the rain it no longer mattered. When he lay still as surface roots they fought and strove, and as the rain ran off his shining black fur into the leaves, he knew it would always be like that. When he made for a shaft of sun among the ferns they pointed, nervous, to the owl heights above, and always would. He had lived three moleyears alone and in silence, struggling with his desire to run down and back to try to start again with them, but now that desire was being washed away forever in a storm. There was nomole, not in the Duncton system at least or that he knew of, to share his love of the sun and his hatred of talons.
Above him the Stone was running with rain, leaning away from the beech tree whose roots entwined its base, towards the furthest hills and vales his weak eyes could never see. Towards the west where Uffington lay. But he could feel the world beyond like sun upon his face and it was greater, far greater, than the system in which he had been born and which, in a storm, he now shed.
He crouched surrendered like this for a long time before he became even dimly aware that another mole was near him, watching him from a clump of green sanicle. He didn't move; he wasn't afraid. Indeed, after he realised that somemole was there, he started thinking of something different — how strange it was that as evening fell the sky grew lighter. Perhaps it had something to do with the softening rhythm of the rain ...
He was right, for high above the hill the swirling masses of the stormclouds gave way to cliffs of whiter cloud and the rain's noise became a patter as the irregular drip of individual droplets from the trees that surrounded the clearing around the Stone could be heard once more.
Then, as the mantle of rain dropped from him, he turned to face the watching mole with no fear and little interest. The mole was a little older than he, and female. From the great distance he felt himself to be in, he sensed rather than watched her, feeling her to be perplexed, anxious, lost. To his surprise he sensed no aggression at all towards him, none whatsoever, though she was as big as he was. Almost an adult, but not quite. Finally she came forward into the open by the Stone.
'I'm lost. How do I get back into the system?' she asked. He didn't answer immediately, so she added, 'I'm a Duncton mole, you know.'
He knew all right; he could tell by the way she was, the woody scent. His silence was not suspicion, as she seemed to think, but pleasant surprise — nomole had ever asked him a favour like this in the days when he had lived in the main system.
'It's easy,' he said, 'very easy.' She seemed happy at this, relaxing in his calm as she rubbed her head with one of her paws and waited. Suddenly he scurried past her down the hill, by a track she had crossed a dozen times in her journey up the hill: one of the ancient forgotten tracks up to the Stone.
'Come on,' he called. 'I'll show you.' They twisted and turned down the wet track, the great evening clouds swirling between the treetops high above, while the wet fronds of the undergrowth tumbled rainwater on to their fur. He darted this way and that, down and down the hill, until she was quite out of breath following him. Suddenly, by a fallen oak branch, he stopped at an entrance she knew, dark, warm and inviting.
'There you are!' he said. 'I told you it was easy. You know where you are now, don't you?' Yes, yes she did, and she nodded, but she was thinking of him, looking right into him it seemed. He remembered no other mole ever looking at him like this: curious, compassionate, friendly. Suddenly she came forward and touched him with her paw, or rather caressed him on his shoulder, for a second that he remembered a lifetime.
'What's your name?' she asked.
'I'm Bracken,' he said after a moment, and then suddenly turned and scurried off up the track and into the evening light. And light dawned on her. She gasped and reached out after him and started to run back the way he had gone. Bracken! So he was Bracken! So hunched, so small, so defenceless.
'I'm Rebecca,' she called. 'My name is Rebecca.' But he was gone long before the words were out. Then she stopped and turned back to the tunnel he had led her to and ran with relief back into the depths of the main system.
At the spot by the entrance to the tunnel where she had touched him so briefly the air was very still and quiet, with just the drip, drip, drip of the last of the rain from the trees, while far away the heart of the storm moved on across country, leaving Duncton Wood to the silence of the evening and its higher deserted part to the silence of the Stone.CHAPTER 2
The entrance down which Rebecca ran so thankfully was the highest of those leading into the main Duncton system. Above it the wood narrowed to the summit of the hill, flanked on one side, the southeast, by the steep, rough face of the chalk escarpment and to the west by rolling pastures that fell gently away to clay vales in the distance.
Up there the chalk reached nearly to the surface of the ground, yielding only a thin, worm-scarce soil, but supporting tall grey beech trees whose fall of leaves formed a dry, brown rustling carpet in the wood. The roots of the trees twisted like torn flank muscles among the leaves, while here and there a patch of shiny chalk reflected the sky.
There was always a windsound there, if only just a murmur among the leaves. But sometimes the strong grey branches of the trees whipped and cut the wind into whines and whispers; or a tearing screech of winter gales raced headlong up from the slopes below, exploding into the trees on top of the hill before rushing on over the sheer scarp face, carrying a last falling leaf or tumbling a dry and broken twig out and down to the chalkfall below.
This highest and most desolate part of Duncton Wood is also the most venerable, for beneath its rustling surface is the site of the ancient mole system of Duncton, long deserted and lost.
Here too stands the great Stone, at the highest point of the hill where the beeches thin out, bare to all the winds — north, south, east and west. And from here a mole might see, or rather might sense, the stretching triangle of Duncton Wood, spreading out below to the escarpment on the east side and the pastures on the west, with the marsh, where nomole goes, beyond the northern end.
At the time Bracken and Rebecca first met, and for many generations before, the system lay on the lower slopes of the hill where the wood was wide and rich. There the beeches gave way to oaks and ashes and thick fern banks, and pockets of sun in the summer. Down there, birds sang or flittered, while badgers padded and barked at night. Down there, life ran rich and good with a worm-full soil black with mould, moist with change. There the wind was slowed and softened by the trees.
Nomole, not a solitary one, lived now up in the Ancient System. Slowly they had migrated from the desolate heights, rolling down through the generations as a pink mole pup rolls blindly down a slope too steep for its grip. First its stomach rolling over its weak front paws, then its soft talons scrabbling uselessly at the soil, then its rump and back paws arching over, until at last it lies still again. So, bit by bit, the generations had come down to the lower system where the wood lay rich and welcoming. They migrated still, but only from one side of the wood to the other, as each new generation left its home burrows in the middle of summer to make burrows for itself or reoccupy deserted ones.
In Bracken's time the strongest group in the system were the Westsiders, whose burrows flanked the edge of the wood next to the pastures. The soil there was rich and much desired, so only the toughest moles could win a place and defend it. With the dangerous Pasture moles nearby as well, Westsiders needed an extra measure of aggression to survive. Naturally they tended to be big and physical, inclined to attack a stranger first and ask questions after. They laughed at physical weakness and worried if their youngsters didn't fight the moment they were weaned. Gentler moles like Bracken, whose father, Burrhead, was one of the strongest of the Westsider males, had a tough time of it. They were ridiculed and bullied for not wanting to fight and only the most wily learned quickly enough that to survive they needed to be masters of compromise, cajolery and the art of disappearance at times of trouble.
Eastsiders were less aggressive. They lived on a drier, harder soil, which made for fewer of them. They were small and stocky and superb burrowers. Independent, not to say eccentric, Eastsiders were rarely seen and hard to find, for their tunnels spread far in their worm-poor soil. Their territory was bounded to the east by the steep drop of the chalk scarp and to the south by the rising slopes of the hill.
Northwards lay the marsh, where the air hung heavy and damp with strange rush grasses clicking scarily above a mole's head. Although the Duncton moles called it marsh, it was in fact a range of poorly drained fields, permanently wet from the two streams that started near the edge of the wood where clay overlay the tilted chalk. Because the marsh was always waterlogged, it couldn't be burrowed, which made it dangerous ground for moles. The smell was wrong, the vegetation different, the noises of birds and other creatures strange and terrifying. The marsh assumed vast proportions in their minds, a place of dark, dank danger never to go near.
The northern stretch of the wood next to it was called the Marsh End and the moles who lived there — the Marshenders — were feared and reviled, as if they carried a curse from the dangerous place they lived so near. They were felt to be a treacherous lot, known to attack outsiders in twos or threes, something the Westsiders would never do. They were unhealthy, too, for if disease came to the system, it always seemed to start in the Marsh End. Their females were coarse and mocking, inclined to spur on their mates with encouraging shouts or mock them the moment they suffered defeat, switching their loyalties at the fall of a talon.
No one group lived on the slopes above the main system below the top of the hill. Just a few older, hardy moles, who liked to tell stories of the old days and who eked out a scraggy living in the poorer chalky soil there. Many went mateless in the spring, and few pup cries were heard there in the April weeks.
Nomole knew the whole system — it was too large — but all knew and loved its centre: Barrow Vale. Here the elder burrows lay, and in early spring white anemones glistened between the trees before the bluebell carpet came, mirroring a clear spring sky.
At Barrow Vale a pocket of gravelly soil caused the oaks to thin out, creating a natural open space warmed by the sun in summer, white and silent in the snow of deep winter, always the last place of light in the wood at nightfall. Being wormscarce because of the poor soil, its tunnels were communal and everymole went there without fear. It was a place of gossip and chatter, where young moles met to play and venture out, often for their first time, on to the surface. It was relatively safe from predators, too, for the tunnels that radiated from it to all parts of the system made for early warning of an approaching danger long before it arrived.
As for owls, the most fearsome enemies of the moles, they rarely came there, preferring the wood's edge where they could wait in the trees and dive down on their prey clear of the branches. So, for a Duncton mole, Barrow Vale was a place of security to go back to from time to time.
Yet it had also become something of a trap as well. For long, long before, when the system had been smaller, up on top of the hill, with the Stone as the natural centre, the lie of the land had made the moles outward-looking, seeking new places, eager to follow their snouts into the distance. But lower Duncton Wood was worm-rich and safe, so it was foolishness to want to go outside it.
Inevitably there were dark stories of those who had tried and always, so it seemed, met a terrible end. Some had actually been seen being torn in the talons of an owl almost the moment they set paw on to the pastures; some had died of sadness, others had suffocated in the mud of the marsh.
But generally, few moles concerned themselves with these places or such fears: they kept their snouts clean, fought for their own patch, found and ate their worms, slept in their dark burrows, and pulled themselves through the long moleyears of winter until, blinking but aggressive, they came out in spring for the mating time.
Each full moon represented the passing of another moleyear, with the Longest Day at Midsummer the happiest time and the Longest Night — at the end of the third week of December — the darkest and most treacherous: a time to placate the Stone with prayers and to celebrate the safe passage into the start of the new cycle of seasons in the snug safety of a warm home burrow. A time to tell stories of fights gone by, and worms and mates to come. A time to survive.
Excerpted from Duncton Wood by William Horwood. Copyright © 1980 William Horwood. Excerpted by permission of Canelo Digital Publishing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've had this book for over twenty years and am finally reading it now. It is very good; the descriptions of the Forrest, it's flower & fauna is breath-taking. I've become very attached to the mole characters and it's beccome quite the page turner as I follow their story. It would make a beautiful animated film.