“Summerland’s Paladin,” by Diana Benedict, appears in Midwinter Fae, the second volume in the anthology series A Procession of Faeries.
Hunted by his half-brothers, who despise his alter fox persona, Todd escapes into the forest during a snowstorm. A talking raven speaks to him just as Todd’s brothers close in. With nothing to lose, Todd follows the bird into a tunnel of branches. When he comes out, he is in Summerland, and the King of Ravens presents him to the Queen of Faerie as Summerland’s savior.
The queen offers him two choices. Find a way to keep winter from tightening its grip on the faerie kingdom, the truth about his parents, and win a wife and a place to call his own. Or he can return to face his death at the hands of his half-brothers.
But winter is not the only enemy facing Summerland, and Todd must discover the real enemy and the path to victory.
Wikipedia notes that Reynard, a clever fox, arose in France in the 12th Century in stories born of folklore. They made fun of the aristocracy, with Reynard outwitting the other animals.
Through the years, Reynard has come to be recognized as a trickster, a kind Coyote, the Native Americans’ trickster, or a Brer Rabbit in fox fur. I had read of Reynard’s exploits in several 20th Century novels and loved each version, including:
- Reynard, a genetically modified part-fox, is a major character in John Crowley’s novel Beasts.
- Reynard, in a variety of lives and names often containing “Guy,” “Fox,” “Fawkes,” and “Reynard,” is one of the leading characters in the Book of All Hours Duology by Hal Duncan, and is stated to be every incarnation of the trickster throughout the multiverse.
- A human version of the character appears in David R. Witanowski’s novel Reynard the Fox.
- The Fantasy detective Peter Grant crosses paths with Reynard in the novel The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch.
It doesn’t hurt that I love foxes, the way they look, the clever way they hunt mice, their furry tails.
I was pleased to see a YouTube video of a fox some time ago that was caught in a trap and played dead until the hunter put him in the box he was using for his kills. As soon as the hunter turned away, the fox was up and running, presumably to live another day, and now knowing to avoid the traps.
So incorporating the idea of a cunning fox in my story was a natural.
My main character’s name is Todd, which is the Middle English name for “fox”, and has also been used in the Disney animated animal version of Robin Hood. “Dog” has been historically used to denote a male fox, which could be confusing, so the thought is the Middle English folks started using Todd as a way to denote a male fox to differentiate between the fox and a domesticated dog. As a matter of interest, a female fox is called a vixen, and their babies are called kits.
My character, Todd, is the son of the granddaughter of Reynard, the King of Foxes, and Todd’s own father was a pixie, a notorious trickster. It will take all of the clever cunning of his parentage he can rally to solve the conundrum the Fae queen has tasked him with.
The Wren and Robin Solstice Battles
The Holly King of winter is the wren, and the Oak King of summer is the robin. They fight each solstice, signaling the end of one season and the beginning of another. But the loser does not die, according to Janet and Stewart Farrar in their book The Witches’ God, a non-fiction book exploring a selection of male deities and how they relate to the practice of witchcraft. The loser of that season’s battle only goes to Cair Arienhrod, the castle of the ever-turning silver wheel, a reference to the wheel of the Earth as delineated by the changing sky and seasons. There the defeated brother rests and regains his strength for the battle at the next solstice.
The wren and robin are sacrificial, seasonal heroes, playing out a never-ending tale under an ever turn wheel of the seasons in the world. It is a beautiful, if sad story, that is evergreen and hopeful in the end still capable of stirring the heart and soul of humans who have long thought they moved past the need for such symbols. Silly humans.
Diana lives in a small suburban Colorado city a mile away from where she grew up. She loves studying magic and history and will take any opportunity to combine them into a good story. She once tried to work a spell inspired by a tale her great aunt told her and has always felt lucky that it only turned her fingers green for a week
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Midwinter Fae, which contains Diana Benedict’s story “Summerland’s Paladin,” is available for a limited time in The Realm of Faerie bundle. Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.
Enter the Realm of Faerie, a world of beauty, danger, and enchantment. But remember the legends if you want to make it back home again…