The Sable Moon

The Sable Moon

by Nancy Springer

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497649910
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/23/2014
Series: The Book of Isle , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 264
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Nancy Springer has passed the fifty-book milestone with novels for adults, young adults, and children, in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magic realism, horror, and mystery—although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Springer moved with her family to Gettysburg, of Civil War fame, when she was thirteen. She spent the next forty-six years in Pennsylvania, raising two children (Jonathan and Nora), writing, horseback riding, fishing, and bird-watching. In 2007 she surprised her friends and herself by moving with her second husband to an isolated area of the Florida Panhandle where the bird-watching is spectacular, and where, when fishing, she occasionally catches an alligator.
Nancy Springer is the award-winning author of more than fifty books, including the Enola Holmes and Rowan Hood series and a plethora of novels for all ages, spanning fantasy, mystery, magic realism, and more. She received the James Tiptree, Jr. Award for Larque on the Wing and the Edgar Award for her juvenile mysteries Toughing It and Looking for Jamie Bridger, and she has been nominated for numerous other honors. Springer currently lives in the Florida Panhandle, where she rescues feral cats and enjoys the vibrant wildlife of the wetlands.

Read an Excerpt

The Sable Moon

The Book of Isle, Book Three


By Nancy Springer

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1981 Nancy Springer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-4991-0


CHAPTER 1

Prince Trevyn was seventeen years old, and still struggling out of childhood like an eaglet out of the shell, when he first met Gwern. It was not a happy meeting.

Trevyn had galloped far ahead of the others, because his half-fledged falcon had led him a crazy course over the grassy downs. Muttering to himself and whistling at the bird, he topped a rise and saw a herd of yearling colts in the dingle below. Small heads, arched necks, level backs, and high-set, windswept tails—young though they were, everything about them marked them unmistakably as steeds of the royal breed. A stranger stood with them, stroking a chestnut filly on the nose.

"You, there!" Trevyn shouted hotly. "Let the horses alone!"

The fellow glanced at him without moving. Trevyn sent his mount plunging down the slope toward him.

"Let the horses alone, I say!" he called again as he approached.

The stranger, a youth of about his own age, met his angry eyes coolly. "Why so?"

Trevyn almost sputtered at the calm question. Did the dolt not know that he was Trevyn son of Alan of Laueroc, that he was Prince of Isle and Welas, sole heir of the Sun Kings? The elwedeyn horses had been the special pride of the Crown ever since his kindred the elves had presented them, before his birth. No uninstructed hand was permitted to touch them. Indeed, they would not lightly suffer the touch of any hand. The royal family commanded their love through the use of the Old Language that had come down to them from the Beginning.... Quietly, Trevyn ordered the chestnut filly away from the stranger. It unnerved him that she permitted that hand upon her at all.

The stranger looked up at him with eyes like pebbles, expressionless. "Why did you do that? Are these horses yours?"

"Ay, they are mine," replied Trevyn, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. Perhaps the yokel was a half-wit. There was something odd about his face.

"You are a fool to say so." The fellow turned away indifferently and stroked another horse, a cream-colored one. "These horses belong to no one."

Trevyn's temper flared, all the more so because the other was right, in a sense. Galled, he sprang down from his mount and jerked the stranger by the arm. "Get away, I say!"

Still expressionless, the youth pulled from his grasp and lashed back with a closed fist. In an instant, both of them were flailing at each other, then rolling in a tussle on the grass. Trevyn wore a sword, and after a bit he wished he could honorably use it. The stranger was as hard and resilient as an axe haft, and his blows hurt.

Before the fight reached a conclusion, however, the combatants found themselves hauled apart. "Now what," inquired a quiet voice, "is the cause of this?"

Trevyn blinked out of a blackened eye. It was his uncle, Hal, the King of the Silver Sun; and though he did not look angry, Trevyn hated to cause him sorrow.

Trevyn's father, King Alan, faced him as well, and he looked angry enough for two.

"Surely," Hal remarked, "this row must have had a beginning?"

"He was bothering the horses," Trevyn accused, and pointed, childlike, at the stranger.

"The horses don't look bothered," Alan scoffed harshly.

The horses, apparently pleased by the excitement, had formed a circle of curious heads. The chestnut filly stretched her neck and nuzzled the stranger youth's hand.

Hal and Alan exchanged a surprised glance. "Fellow," Alan addressed the stranger, "what is your name?"

"Gwern." The youth spoke flatly.

"And who are your parents?"

"I have none." Gwern did not seem to find this the least bit remarkable.

"Who were you born of?" asked Alan with more patience than was his wont. "Who was your mother?"

For the first time Gwern hesitated, seeming at a loss. "Earth," he said at last.

Alan frowned and tried another tack. "Where is your home?"

"Earth," Gwern replied.

They all stared at him, not sure whether or not he was deliberately courting Alan's anger. He stared back at them with eyes like stream-washed stones, indeterminately brown. He was brown all over, his skin a curious dun, his hair like hazel tips. He was barefoot, and his clothing was of coarse unbleached wool, when most folk of these peaceful times could afford better. What was he doing in the middle of the downs, with the nearest dwelling miles away?

"Take him along home," Hal suggested mildly, "and I'll look him up in the census."

When he was king, Trevyn promised himself, he would set such nuisances in a dungeon for a week or so, to teach them some respect. Take him along home indeed!

Alan shrugged and turned back to his son, less angry at Trevyn now. "Who struck first?"

"I pulled him away from a horse, and he struck me."

"Pulled him away from a horse? And why? If an elwedeyn horse sees fit to bear him company, lad, you also had better learn to abide him. The horses are well able to defend themselves, and they're better judges of men than most chamberlains. Think before you fight, Trevyn." Alan was disgusted. "So now you have a black eye, and you have lost your hawk. Get on home."

They all rode silently back to the walled city of Laueroc, with Gwern behind Hal on his elwedeyn stallion, over rolling meadows where the larks sang through the days. For miles before they came to it they could see the castle anchored on the billowing softness of the downs like a tall ship on a shimmering, grassy sea. Atop the highest swell its ramparts vaulted skyward, and from its slender turrets floated flags of every holding in Isle. In every window, even the servants' windows, swung a circle of cut and faceted glass to catch the sun and send colors flitting about the rooms.

Centuries before, Cuin the Falconer King had raised the fortress at Laueroc with pearly, gold-veined stone brought all the way from the mountains of Welas. He had not wanted to mar his new demesne with diggings. The land at Laueroc, in Trevyn's time, was still nearly as scarless as the day it was born. The castle lay on its bosom like a crystal brooch, and two roads wound away like flat bronze chains. There were no buildings outside the walls. In the topmost chamber of the westernmost tall tower, athwart the battlements, King Hal made his study and solitary retreat.

Trevyn climbed up there after him when they had stabled the horses, and to his dismay Gwern followed. It troubled him that the dirt-colored stranger should come so familiarly to his uncle's room. Hal was more than Sunset King; he was a bard, a visionary and a seer. In all the kingdom, only three persons approached him with the love of equals: Queen Rosemary, his beloved; his brother Alan; and Lysse, the Elf-Queen, Trevyn's mother and Alan's wife. Trevyn held him in awe. When he entered the tower chamber he silently took his seat, knees loaded down with tomes of history, awaiting Hal's leisure. But Gwern poked and prowled around the circular room, disturbing Hal's scholarly clutter. And Hal stood gazing out of his high, barred window, seeming not to mind.

"What do you see?" Gwern asked suddenly. Trevyn winced at his effrontery. The King of the Silver Sun had always looked to the west, toward Welas and the reaches of the sunset stars, and Trevyn had never dared to ask him why. But Hal turned around courteously.

"I see Elwestrand, what else?" he replied, the sheen of his gray eyes going smoky dark. "And a fair sight it is."

"Where is Elwestrand?" Gwern craned his neck, peering.

"Nay, nay," Hal explained eagerly, "you must look with your inner eye. Elwestrand is beyond the western sea." His voice yearned like singing. "I have seen a tree with golden fruit, and a great white stag, and bright birds, and sleek, romping beasts. I have seen unicorns."

"Elwestrand is the grove of the dead," Trevyn told Gwern sharply, jealous that Hal would speak to him so equably.

"Grove of the dead?" Hal turned to regard his nephew with a tiny smile on his angular face. "Elwestrand is but another step on the way to the One, for all that it lies beyond the sunlit lands."

"It must be dark," Gwern said doubtfully.

"Nay, indeed!" Hal cried. "It shines like—like the fair flower of Veran used to shine, here in Isle, before the Easterners blighted it.... Elwestrand is lilac and celadon and pearly gray-gold and every subtle glow of the summer stars. And glow of dragons from the indigo sea, every shade of damson and quince and dusky rose. The elves remembered it all in their bright stitchery—all that this world was, and this Isle, before the Eastern invasion, before man's evil shadowed and spread." Hal turned back to his window on the west, pressing his forehead against the bars.

"My kindred the elves sailed to Elwestrand," Trevyn told Gwern more softly.

"All of them except my mother."

"Now they live amidst the stuff of their dreams," Hal said from his window.

"But does no one return from Elwestrand?" Gwern asked.

"Who would wish to return?"

"Veran came from Elwestrand, did he not?" Trevyn spoke up suddenly.

"Who is Veran?" Gwern pounced on the name.

Hal turned to answer with patience Trevyn could not understand. "He from whom I derive my lineage and my crown, the first Blessed King of Welas. He sailed hither out of the west; perhaps he came from Elwestrand." Hal looked away again. "But when I go, I will not return."

"Elwestrand," Gwern sang in a rich, husky voice.

"Elwestrand! Elwestrand!
Be you realm but of my mind,
Yet you've lived ten thousand lines
Of soaring song,
Elwestrand. Is the soul more sooth
Than that for which it pines?
Are there ties that closer bind
Than call so strong?"


Hal wheeled on him sharply. "How did you know that song?" he demanded. "I made it, years ago."

"Elwestrand," Gwern chanted, and without answering he darted out of the door and skipped down the tower steps, still singing. Hal silently watched him go. Trevyn watched also, hot with jealous anger. For he, too, had felt the dream and the call, and it seemed to him as if Gwern had stolen it from him.

"Why do you abide him so tamely?" he burst out at Hal, startled by his own daring. "He is—he is uncouth!"

Hal shifted his gaze to his nephew, and as always that detached, appraising look made Trevyn shrink, inwardly cursing. Hal threatened nothing, but he saw everything, and Trevyn had dark places inside that he wanted to hide.... Hal frowned faintly, then turned his eyes away from the Prince to answer his question, seeming to see the answer in the air.

"He is magical," Hal said. "He is like a late shoot of those who were lost to Isle centuries ago when the star-son Bevan led his people out of the hollow hills. Magic left Isle then, and I believe nothing has been quite right since—though I have sometimes thought that Veran brought some back to Welas—and your mother's people, in their own clearheaded way—"

"Magic!" Trevyn blurted, astonished to hear longing in Hal's voice. He knew how his uncle had always avoided the touch of magic. The Easterners had made magic the horror of Isle. At Nemeton their sorcerers had performed barbaric sacrifice to the Sacred Son and the homed god from whom they drew their powers. Hal had been reared in the shadow of that cult, and he and Alan had worked for years to stamp out such black sorcery.

"I know I have taught you not to meddle with magic." Hal sat by his nephew. "It is perilous. But all fair things are perilous. Dragons breathe fire, and the horn of the unicorn is sharp. Even this Gwern might be perilous, in his own rude way." The Sunset King smiled dreamily. "But it must bode well, I think, that he has come to us. Who or what can he be, I wonder? I don't really expect to find him in the census."

As, in fact, he could not. So Gwern stayed on at the castle; the Lauerocs kept him there for want of anything better to do with him. The peculiar youth did not seem suited for any work, but Alan claimed he was no more useless than most of the other courtiers. He was fey, sometimes shouting and singing with barbaric abandon, sometimes brooding. He always went barefoot, even in the chill of late autumn, and often he slept outdoors, beyond the city walls, on the ground. He generally looked dirty and uncombed. He observed few niceties. If he spoke at all, he spoke with consummate accuracy and no tact. But he was handsome, in his earthy way, and the castle folk seemed to find him amusing, even attractive. Trevyn fervently disliked him. Striving as he was for adolescent poise, he found Gwern's very existence an affront.

Yet, with no malice that Trevyn could prove, Gwern attached himself to the Prince, following him everywhere. Often they would fight—only with fists, since Gwern knew nothing of swordplay. Trevyn could hold his own, but he never succeeded in driving Gwern away from him. The mud-colored youth confronted him like an embodied force, inscrutable and haphazard as wind or rainclouds, leaving only by his own unpredictable whim.

"Father," Trevyn begged, "make him stop hounding me. Please."

"You'll see worse troubles before you die," Alan replied. "Find your own cure for it, Trevyn." He loved his son to the point of heartache, but Trevyn would be King. Above all, he must not become soft or spoiled. Alan had seen to his training in statesmanship, swordsmanship, horsemanship.... The discipline was no more than Alan expected of himself, his own body trim and tough, his days given over to royal duty, early and late. So when Trevyn saluted, soldierlike, and silently left the room, Alan could not fault his conduct. Great of heart that he was, it did not occur to him that Trevyn showed too little of the heart, that he concealed too much.

Trevyn was almost able to hide his anger even from himself, minding his manners and tending to his lessons as Gwern dogged him through the crisp days of early winter. But frustration swirled and seethed through his thoughts like a buried torrent. In time Trevyn found Gwern obstinately intruding even into his dreams at night. Gwern and a unicorn; Gwern standing at the prow of an elf-ship, with the sea wind in his face....

"I!" Trevyn shouted in his sleep.

He felt sure that Gwern longed to go to Elwestrand, as he did. But he swore that it was he, Prince Trevyn, who would go, and alone, and to return, as no one had done before him. Someday he would do that. But he could not possibly take ship before spring. The winter stretched endlessly ahead.

Trevyn did not stay for winter. When the first snowstorm loomed, he slipped from his bed by night and made his way to the stable. He loaded food and blankets onto Arundel, Hal's elwedeyn charger, the oldest and wisest of the royal steeds. The walls and gates were lightly guarded, for it was peacetime, and who would look for trouble in the teeth of a storm? Warmly dressed, Trevyn rode out of a postern gate into the dark and the freezing wind. By morning even Gwern would not be able to follow him.

It was so. Dawn showed snow almost a foot deep, and more still falling, blindingly thick, in the air. Folk struggled even to cross the courtyard. It was nearly midday before Alan could believe that Trevyn was missing, and then he could not eat for anger and consternation. He paced the battlements for hours. But Gwern had known as soon as he awoke what Trevyn had done, and he had run to the walls screaming in rage.

"Alan, don't fret so." Hal came up beside his brother, encircled his shoulders with a comforting arm. "Arundel will see the lad through."

"Trevyn has gall," Alan fumed, "taking the old steed out in such weather. Are you not worried, Hal, or angry?"

"Why, I suppose I am," Hal admitted. "But I like Trevyn's spirit, Alan. He plans his folly with sense and subtlety. You'll have to keep a looser rein on him after this."

Alan snorted. "Worse than folly; it's lunacy! What sort of idiocy must possess the boy? I thought he was my son!" Alan paused in his pacing long enough to glare at his lovely green-eyed wife.

"He is your son, right enough." Lysse smiled. "Look at Gwern for your answers."

"Gwern!" Alan glanced down from the battlements to where the dun-faced youth stood in the courtyard pommeling the air in helpless rage. "Gwern is the nuisance that drove him away, you mean? That is no excuse."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Sable Moon by Nancy Springer. Copyright © 1981 Nancy Springer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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