Under dark of night, a stone —painted deep red —was thrown through a window beside the front door of the Woodland King. It was wrapped in a note inscribed with the words:
Heed the Unicorn! Lord Misrule was here.
That same night, a band of masked satyrs gathered outside the house of Chief Constable Pragnell, a stern centaur openly critical of the Misrule tradition. The satyrs painted the front gate red, then set fire to a straw effigy and began chanting in unison: “Heed the Unicorn! Misrule Now!“ When the constable appeared at the gate, they threw vegetables at him.
“We are Red Misrule!” cried the leader. “We are behind all the night crime and we promise more and greater! We are everywhere! Heed the Unicorn!”
Then they all threw their torches at the red painted gate as it slammed shut, and ran off into the darkness, each in a separate direction. That night, all over Hiding Wood, cows were let out of barns, fires were started in trash bins, windows were broken, doors painted red, and straw effigies were burned by the dozen. In the morning, an official announcement on the crier post read:
The king of Woody Deep calls to council the elders and warriors of the realm. All such will attend him at the Hall of Shields on June the 28th to discuss matters of martial and public urgency.
(Posted by Elpinor Dreene, chamberlain to the Woodland King.)
But over the inscription, in fat letters of dark red paint, was written:
COUNCIL OF THE UNICORN
On Elpinor’s postscript was overwritten: Skinnydipper, and below it in the same red hand the increasingly familiar: Lord Misrule was here.
Forgotten songs of Silverlance were dragged out of the lore books and satyrs claimed unique kinship with the legendary king, based largely on references in the texts to the special fondness Silverlance was said to have had for the mischievous folk. Some took to referring to themselves by the old word, findrel, ignoring the fact that the term also referred to centaurs. The satyrs of Hiding Wood went about in proud bands, singing songs and all but taking up residence in Birch Bow Tavern, where the dwarves and dryads had garnered affection and the talk and sentiment was generally pro-Unicorn.
In the morning, the day before the council, Byron was at the parlor table eating his porridge. Gradda was settled into the larger of two armchairs that faced the fireplace, reading a book of lore he’d borrowed from the poet Arden. Byron sat, chin on fist, poking the cooling, hardening contents of his bowl with a spoon.
“Gradda?” Byron said.
“Um . . . whatcha readin’?”
Gradda lifted his eyes from the book. “What’s on your mind, Byro?”
“Nothing,” Byron said. “I was just wondering what you’re reading, that’s all.”
“Well, it’s a bit of history,” Gradda said. “Of the old ties between the satyrs and the wolves.”
Byron left the table and sat beside Gradda in the smaller of the two armchairs. At once his eyes strayed up to the battered shield that hung on the stone chimney above the mantlepiece.
“How long did you have the monocle before you gave it to me?”
Gradda lay his book down and looked at Byron over his glasses. “I got it from my grandmother, on my Misrule’s Day.”
“Did it ever—I mean—did you—see things—through it?”
“Well, yes,” Gradda said. “Clear as day.”
“No,” Byron said. “I mean, did you ever see things, things that weren’t there otherwise.”
Gradda lifted his chin and frowned the gentle frown of remembering. “Once,” he said.
“Really?” Byron said, sitting up. “When?”
“During the war.”
“What was it?” Byron asked. “What did you see?”
“Well, there was a lot happening at the moment. I was, well, on a mission. But it seemed to me—it seemed to me I saw a great sword stuck in a tree.”
Byron told Gradda, in as much detail as he could remember, what he’d seen through the monocle on Midsummer’s Eve. When he was finished, Gradda sat for a long time in silence.
“Arcanadin Thorn,” he said at last.
“And Erolyn,” Byron said.
Gradda sighed. “That’s a mystery to be sure, Byron. Mystery through and through. Have you spoken to Silverlance about it?”
“No. He’s been so busy. He’s got a lot on his mind. Anyway, I thought you’d know best, since you had it before me.”
“I wonder if my grandmother ever had it happen,” Gradda said. “She had the monocle from her Misrule’s Day, too, you know. If she saw things, she never spoke of it to me.”
“Where did it come from?” Byron asked.
“I don’t know that. All I know is that it’s been passed down from Thorn to Thorn for generations. If my Gramma knew where it came from, she never said. Pity we satyrs aren’t better for keeping records and letters and such. I never thought twice about it when it happened to me, it was so brief and I was never sure, until now, that it wasn’t just a thought in my head. But you’ve had a different go entirely. You heard the sounds and actually felt the wind and the heat of the fire?”
“Since a unicorn was mentioned I’d at least let Silverlance know about it when you find a chance, so he can decide if anything should or can be done. In the meantime, write down what you can remember, and if it happens again, get that written down too.”
That evening after supper, Byron sat at the parlor table with a long quill, scratching away at a parchment. He paused often, squinting to remember what he could of his vision through the monocle. He was deep into a long, clear, unbroken recollection, when he was jarred back to the present by a loud knock at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Byron called to Gradda, who was in the kitchen whistling merrily, banging pots and cupboards as he cleared the evening meal. Byron set down his quill, covered his ink tub, and went to see who was at the door.
A gang of satyrs was standing outside, holding what looked like signs. Byron stood in the doorway looking into the twilight at the smiling faces of Jolik Burrow, a satyr of eleven years, and a gang of other satyrs of all ages. Jolik stood a little taller as Byron stepped into view.
“Lord Misrule himself!” Jolik cried. The whole band took up the call.
“Lord Misrule!” they cried.
“You’re the one we’ve come to see, Byron,” said Theodoc Griven. Theodoc was an old satyr with a wooden leg. “We’ve come to ask for your help.”
“My help?” Byron said.
“Word is you’re to be at the council tomorrow,” Theodoc said. “Well, we’ve got a thing or two we’d like to have aired on our behalf.”
“On behalf of all satyrs!” cried a voice. “Up Misrule’s Day!”
“Up Misrule’s Day!” the crowd enjoined.
“Aired?” Byron said. “What? I don’t—”
“We want a voice in that council, Byron,” Theodoc said.
“We’re the Satyrs for the Immediate Reinstatement of the Timehonored Tradition of Misrule’s Day.”
“Sir Thetmed for short!” cried a voice. “Up Sir Thetmed!”
“Up Sir Thetmed!” the crowd replied, waving their signs, on which were painted slogans like Give Us Back Our Day! and Misrule Now! and Satyr Pride!
“Byron,” Theodoc continued, “your pal Jolik here has his Misrule’s Day coming in September. He’s right in line after you. If we can get Misrule’s Day reinstated, if you can convince Silverlance, why, the tradition will have been preserved unbroken.”
Jolik stood there nodding and grinning. Byron glanced at him and then did a double take. “What’s that on your head, Jolik?”
“It’s a laurel,” Jolik said.
“Jolik is our figurehead,” Theodoc said. “He’s your heir, Byron!”
“Up Lord Misrule!” cried the satyrs.
“I don’t think Misrule’s Day will be on the list of things to talk about,” Byron said.
“Well you’ll want a strategy, of course,” Theodoc said. “We’ll leave that to you. We know you can do it. Byron, satyrs are pouring in from all over Woody Deep to get behind you. Your name is on everybody’s mind. Yours was the last Misrule’s Day and the greatest on record. You went and found Silverlance, and Silverlance can get our rights back for us. You’re a public hero, Byron, we’re counting on you.”
“Byron!” the satyrs cried. “Byron Thorn!”
“All right then, Sir Thetmed!” Theodoc shouted. “To Arbor Hall! We’ll make Belden hear us and know what we intend! If he’s smart he’ll take action himself before Silverlance has to! To Arbor Hall!”
“Arbor Hall!” the satyrs cried.
Way was made for Theodoc. He passed back through the gap and the mob stepped in behind him, lifting their signs. They went down the lane chanting:
We will not go away! Misrule is here to stay!
That’s all there is to say! So give us back our day!
Byron watched with his mouth hanging open as the singing crowd departed. He closed the door and stood there for a moment with his hand on the latch.
That night Byron lay awake looking out at the stars through his window. His thoughts went back to the human child in the glade of healing.
“What’s going on?” Byron whispered. But he fell asleep and did not dream. In the morning he went into the parlor to find Gradda polishing the bright tip of a javelin. Byron noticed the battered shield was missing from the mantle. After a quiet breakfast Darius stepped into his room and came out again with the shield on his arm. Byron stared in startled wonder at his grandfather, for the old satyr had a strip of red paint on his face that came down his forehead, between his eyes, off the side of his nose, and down his cheek to the jawline.
“A scout I remain, Byron,” Gradda said.
Byron’s heart swelled. He took up the javelin and handed it to Gradda. Then grandfather and grandson set off for the council at the Hall of Shields.
Byron gazed in amazement at the crowds around the Hall of Shields. A small city had formed. Tent villages had sprung up, whole families of Woody Deepers had set up makeshift homes. Even locals had locked up their houses and cottages and steadings, in order to get close to the proceedings. Booths and huts and wagons were lined up to create a marketplace, while here and there wandering merchants, minstrels, and storytellers went about selling what they had to offer. By mid-morning on the day of the council, the camps and markets were all but abandoned, and signs of the nighttime activities of Red Misrule were everywhere.
At the hall, the crowds had moved in tight, packed in a throng up to its ivy-covered walls. Satyrs and human boys had even climbed onto the roof, laughing and calling out to friends and families below. Centaurs stood with spears wide before them, fencing out the jostling crowds on both sides of the long laneway, the only open bit of ground for a quarter mile around the hall, that led up to the stair and front doors.
Two huge centaurs flanked the bottom of the stair. One held a great, curved horn, while the other stood before a deep drum. Behind them was a company of satyr scouts, javelins in hand. They watched the crowd and shared furtive glances. Rumor spread fast of the new mark they bore on their faces: a swath of red, two fingers wide, that went down the middle of the forehead, between the eyes, off the side of the nose, and down the cheek to the jawline. The centaurs eyed the smaller warriors with a mixture of respect and wariness.
Satyrs for the Immediate Reinstatement of the Time-honored Tradition of Misrule’s Day were scattered through the crowd on the right side of the avenue, waving signs and leading chants. They’d been there for three days and had taken up places all along their side of the laneway. More than one had been taken away to lockup for smarting off to the centaur guards, or for harassing the anti-Misrule Woodren.
The anti-Misrulers stood on the opposite side of the avenue waving their own signs, which bore slogans like No More Misrule! and Lawbreakers Beware. Fists waved and voices shouted on both sides of the line. A great cry went up and fingers pointed as a group of young satyrs who had climbed onto the roof unfurled a long banner that read Satyr Nation! Misrule Now! in red letters, from one end of the hall to the other above the front door.
“Byron!” called a voice. “Gradda!”
The satyrs turned to see Dindra Thundershod approaching with Rufus and Raefer Nimbletwig.
“Good morning youngsters,” Gradda said.
“Where are the others?” Byron asked.
“Nosh is with his cousins,” Raefer said, blinking. “They’ve gathered at King Belden’s. Shilo and Quill are at the healing glade. They’re coming with Hixima.”
“What of Silverlance?” Gradda asked.
“Haven’t seen him,” Dindra said, still looking at the old satyr with fear in her eyes. “Gradda—?”
“Be easy child,” Darius said. “We go to a council of war, don’t we? I go as a warrior. That is all.”
“I think you look terrific,” Rufus said. He gazed at Gradda with admiration. “Hixima told us to find you, and wait for her,” the dryad continued. “Resh and most of the scouts have gone off on errands, but Rifkin and Jevén will be along in a minute. Hixima wants us all to go in together.”
“I can’t believe this crowd,” Dindra said. “I’ve never seen so many Woodren together in one place.”
“I didn’t know there were this many,” Byron said.
A horn blast rose above the din of the crowd, supported by rumbling drums, as the centaurs at the foot of the stair sounded the approach of the Woodland King. He came down from his house at the head of a long line. Behind him came the Woodland Knights, marching in pairs. Each pair escorted a heavily armed dwarf dressed in the garb of the Hammer, or the simple traveling clothes of those who were not of Nosh’s house. Nosh, Thrym, and his other cousins walked with Palter Thundershod and his captains. Nosh engaged the chief at arms in conversation and the great centaur laughed and smiled with the young dwarf prince as they walked.
Behind them came the elders: men, women, satyrs, and centaurs from all over Woody Deep. Matron Farlow was among them, looking stern and fretful. Milo Prinder walked beside her, nodding to those on the right side of the avenue who shouted his name. Behind the elders came more centaurs in Palter’s command. Like their leader and his captains, they were bare-chested and carried long spears.
The king was clad in shimmering scales, girt with a leather belt from which hung a great falchion. On his head he wore the Battle Wreath of the Woodland King. Apart from the medallion of his kingship, his helm was the only thing that set him apart from the rest of his order—for Belden, too, was a Woodland Knight.
Those Woodren opposed to the Misrule tradition cried out in glad voices at the approach of their king. They reached out their hands and called his name. On the other side, the crowed cried out Misrule slogans. They shouted the king’s name with a mixture of respect and reproach. “Heed the Unicorn!” they cried. “Rise to kingship! Give us back our day!” They jostled and shoved and pressed forward, but the centaurs held them back. The king was grim and silent. He nodded and met the eyes of the Woodren on both sides of the lane.
“Here they come!” Raefer said, pointing.
Hixima saw Raefer and she waved to the group to join her. “Where is Mr. Thúmose?” Byron asked when they were all together.
“Have no fear,” Hixima said. “We will walk together in small groups. Now then, Darius, you will go first and escort me.”
“Very good, madam,” Darius said.
“Shilo, you come next with Rufus and Jevén; Dindra, you with Quill and Rifkin. Byron, you come last with Raefer. All right then, everyone ready? Let’s go!”
Most of the crowd still faced the Hall of Shields, straining to see the last of the king’s company. The centaurs of the rear guard were halfway along the avenue. The king and his knights stood at the top of the stairs with the Sons of the Hammer. Palter and his centaurs escorted the elders inside the hall.
“Have you ever seen the inside?” Raefer asked.
“No,” Byron said. “It’s the one place I’ve never snuck into.”
“Even the king’s house?”
“Yep,” Byron said. They both found it funny, but neither laughed. They were too wide-eyed at the crowd all around them.
“There’s Byron!” called a voice. “Lord Misrule himself!”
The cheering mob turned their eyes to Byron. “We love you Byron!” cried a young, female voice. Byron stared in a stupefied trance at the faces on both sides of the line. The centaurs turned to watch him pass, looking down at him from what seemed a great height. Byron’s mouth went dry and his heart began to race. But he felt Raefer’s hand on his shoulder and pressed on.
A loud, clear voice called out from the right side of the lane. “Darius! Look at Darius Thorn!”
“Darius for Lord Misrule!” cried another voice.
A great shout arose as Darius Thorn went by in his war gear. Sir Thetmed took up the wild cry of “Satyr nation! Misrule now!” and the throng surged forward once more.
As they reached the stair, the crowd kept pounding and clapping. The satyr scouts lifted their javelins and shook them at Darius Thorn.
“Darius!” they all said. “Darius!”
The old satyr rapped his javelin against his shield and climbed the stair. Byron watched in bewilderment at the reception both he and his grandfather were given by the scouts.
“Silverthorn!” they all said, shaking their javelins in salute. “Silverthorn!”
Byron glanced up the stair and found King Belden looking his way. The two locked eyes and nodded at each other. At last Byron reached the top of the stair, Raefer still at his side. As he turned to look back at the crowd, the horns and drums ceased and the throng fell to total silence. Byron peered out to the end of the avenue. A murmur rose and went through the crowd, then silence fell. Byron heard the clop of hooves as the Unicorn strode up the lane.
Thúmose gained to a trot and then a gallop, bucking and kicking. A thrill went through the crowd on both sides. Byron and Raefer looked at each other, grinning wide. Thúmose slowed to a walk and did not stop until he had climbed the stair. The satyrs and centaur guards all turned to face him as he passed, squaring their shoulders and standing their spears on end. As his great hooves hit the first step, the centaurs of horn and drum stood back. At the top of the stair the Unicorn went and stood before King Belden.
“Hail, Woodland King,” he said, swishing his tail.
“Hail, Lord Thúmose.”
“I come to take counsel and receive it. May I enter the Hall of Shields?”
“Enter and be welcome,” Belden said. “Walk beside me as my guest.”
“And Baruwan?” Thúmose asked.
Belden nodded. “Already within.”
The Woodland King nodded at the centaurs at the bottom of the stair. The horns and drums rose once more. Belden led the way, with Thúmose behind him. The din of the crowd climbed again, reaching a great height. Nosh came to join his friends at the top of the stair. The Wanderers found themselves standing in a circle, each one clutching the arm or talon of the next. Quill spread her wings wide around her companions. No one spoke and together they turned to follow the company as it passed from view into the Hall of Shields.