With all the excitement of Moonkind‘s release, I didn’t mention that on the same day Summerkin came out in paperback. It’s an edition with “extras” in the back, including an interview with Gnar and Lich that made me cackle like a cackly thing when I wrote it.
When revising Summerkin I took out a big section in the middle where Rook goes to New York with a changeling baby that he wants to return to his parents. It just about works as a short story, so I’ve cleaned it up and posted it here. Enjoy!
A Puck in Central Park
Rook clung to the baby as they fell through the Way. The wind ripped past them, and a flurry of stars whirled by, and then he came out into darkness. His feet landed on grass, and he stumbled and sat down with a bump. The baby gave a sleepy hiccup and didn’t stir.
“Nice for you,” Rook muttered to it, and closed his eyes until his head stopped spinning. He heard a low buzz and opened his eyes, and saw one of Fer’s bees settle on the ragged collar of his shirt. He frowned. “What are you doing here?”
The bee buzzed, almost as if it was answering.
Rook looked around. It was night. To his left was a pond—that must be the Way he’d just come through. On its smooth, dark surface, lights glimmered, reflections from rows and rows of lights like bright stars, all around. He squinted to see better. It was as if the little grassy space he was in was surrounded by walls full of tiny, square windows lit by candles. Or, no. Big windows that were far away in walls that stretched high into the night sky.
This was the human city, then. Not so bad, if it had green, grassy spaces in it. He climbed to his feet, still cradling the sleeping baby to his chest. The air felt strange. He didn’t know what it was, but it smelled wrong. It was the cool, crisp night air of early autumn, but it was heavy, as if it was leaving a dusting of grime on his skin. “I don’t like this,” he growled to himself.
Well, it didn’t matter if he liked it or not. He was stuck on this side of the Way. In Fer’s world, and that meant he didn’t have long before he’d fade away, dead and gone. Shivering, he sat down again on the dewy grass. In his arms, the baby gave a wiggle. “Waking up, are you?” he said in a shaky whisper. He edged into a lighter patch and had a better look at the baby.
A peek under the blankets and the cloth wrapped around its bottom showed that it was a boy, not newly born but plump and wiggly, older than the puck-baby Tap had been when Rook had found him. The baby’s skin was brown and his face round, and his eyes, black as berries, popped open and stared up at Rook, staring down at him.
“Gah,” the baby said.
“You are, yes,” Rook replied. “But you’ll be crying in a moment.” Babies who woke up were usually hungry; he’d learned that much from looking after Tap.
A rummage through the baby’s blanket showed that somebody in the nathe had cared enough to put in a stoppered bottle full of goat’s milk and a couple of clean cloths for his bottom.
On his collar, the bee gave a warning buzz. He looked up.
Two human men stood ten paces away, watching him. They were no more than shadows in the darkness. “Hey,” one of them said in a harsh voice.
Grabbing up the baby and his blanket, Rook scrambled to his feet. The bee left its perch on his collar and zoomed around his head, almost as if it was protecting him.
“What you got there, kid?” one of the men asked, coming forward. A patch of light flashed across his face. It was a rough face, with narrow, close-set eyes and a mean slit of a mouth.
“He’s not wearing any shoes,” the other, bigger man said. “He’s a homeless.”
“You homeless, kid?” the narrow-eyed man asked. “Living in the park?”
This smelled bad. These human men, they thought he was some tame thing they could jump on. They didn’t know about pucks, he guessed.
“Don’t matter,” said the bigger man, edging closer. “Hand over whatever you got there.” The man pointed at the bundled baby, and Rook saw the flash of a knife.
That was enough. Carefully he set the baby down at his feet. As the man closed in, Rook jerked the shifter-tooth out of his pocket, popped it into his mouth, and, in his flame-eyed, bristle-furred, sharp-fanged dog shape, lunged at the man, snarling.
The man screamed and dropped his knife, and the other one shouted words Rook guessed were curses, and they backed away, eyes wide with terror. The bee shot in and stung one of the men on the neck; he shrieked. Rook growled deep in his chest, and with more angry curse words, both men turned and fled, their footsteps fading into the night.
Looking down, Rook saw the baby safe between his four paws, gazing up at him. He spat out the shifter-tooth and felt dizzy, not something that usually happened when he shifted. Shaking it off, he picked up the baby again.
“Stupid humans,” he muttered.
The bee circled his head once and settled on his collar again. Rook ignored it.
He eyed the pond, the Way that led back to his world. Fighting off a wave of desperate sadness, he turned his back on it. The Way was closed to him. He’d never see his puck-brothers again, or Phouka, or…or anybody else.
There was no point in staying here then, and anyway, this place wasn’t safe. Those humans could come back with their pack. He needed to find another place, and more milk for the baby. And there was one more thing. His own world was lost to him, but this city was the baby’s world. He wasn’t dead yet. Before he faded away, he could find the baby’s mother and father. There were a lot of lights out in the human city, but there couldn’t be that many people. It should be easy to find the parents of this little scrap.
“You’re not a puck,” he said to the baby, who was making the whimpery noises that meant he was working himself up for a good cry. “So they’ll want you back, I expect.”
Leaving the edge of the pond, he followed a paved path and then veered off into a thicker clump of trees. Their leaves were brown and dry, rustling in the chilly autumn breeze, and the air still felt wrong, but it was a quieter, more secret place, and he almost couldn’t see the high walls closing him in.
Sitting down with his back against an oak tree, he poked around a bit more in the blankets and found a nipple for the bottle, one carved out of wood. He fitted it to the bottle of goat’s milk and stuck it into the baby’s mouth just as he opened his mouth to scream.
In the morning, Rook was curled up in his dog shape under a bush with the baby snug against his furry belly. He’d been awake all night, keeping the baby warm and watching for more men like the ones who had attacked him at the Way.
The baby squirmed and an overwhelmingly horrible smell filled his nose. He jumped to his four paws and spat out the shifter-tooth, panting. Too much of him was nose when he was a dog. He closed his eyes until the strange dizziness had passed, then crouched next to the still-sleeping, stinky baby. “You need to be cleaned up.” He gazed at the baby’s round face. “You’ll be needing a name, too.” The baby’s eyelids fluttered. “What about Scrap?” That was a good name. A puck name, really.
Scrap’s eyes opened; then his mouth opened and he let out a yell.
“I know, I know.” Holding his breath, Rook stripped the dirty, smelly, wet cloth from the baby’s bottom, used another cloth to wipe him off, and wrapped him in a clean cloth, planning to wash everything in the pond later. Scrap kept crying until Rook found the bottle half-full of goat’s milk and fed it to him.
The baby finished every drop of the milk, and Rook put him against his shoulder to get all of his burps out. That’s what you had to do, or the baby would cry again. The puck-baby, Tap, had wailed for a long time after every one of his bottles. This baby was calmer, resting his chin on Rook’s shoulder and looking around with wide, black eyes. Fer’s bee hovered over his head.
Rooks’s stomach growled. They probably had rabbits in this forest, or some other delicious little animals, but he didn’t want to leave the baby to go hunting. And Scrap would need more milk before too long, and Rook needed to start looking for the baby’s real parents.
It was time to go out into the human city.
After Rook had washed out the baby’s dirty cloths in the pond, he hung them on a bush to dry. He could come back to this place tonight, once he’d found more milk for Scrap and some food for himself, and had a scout around for the baby’s parents.
The bee Fer had sent with him buzzed in a disconsolate circle around Rook’s head, then settled on his shoulder.
“You don’t like this land, either?” he asked it. The bee was from his own world; maybe it would fade away and die here, too.
Rook looked down at his hands, then spread them and held them up to the weak light. They seemed as solid as they ever had. He wasn’t sure what the fading was supposed to look like, but he didn’t think it was happening yet.
It was early morning, the sky still gray, but over the quiet sounds of dry leaves rustling and the lap of waves in the pond off to his left, he could hear noises coming from the city, a low grumbling and faint blasts from horns, and then a rising and falling wail that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Rook used the blanket to tie the baby onto his back and headed toward the walls he’d seen the night before.
He wound his way through the trees onto a stone path. A few humans hurried past, running away from something. Rook crouched in the bushes beside the path to see what was chasing them, but nothing came except more running humans. With a shrug, he got back onto the path, the stone hard and cold under his bare feet, then went through a clump of trees and onto a road made of the same grayish-black stone, and there he stopped, staring up. The walls weren’t walls at all—they were buildings, and they stretched, as gray as stormclouds, far, far up into the sky. Row after row of the buildings were lined up, making the road leading away from him look like a narrow way between two towering cliffs. Wheeled things like carts zoomed by on the road, leaving gray smoke behind them. They were the things making the grumbling sound he’d heard before, and the short horn blasts. Lots of humans crowded the paths alongside the road. Some of them glanced at him, then away; most didn’t seem to see him. A lot of them held little boxes up to the side of their heads that they were talking into. The noise pressed against his ears, and the rush and bustle all around made him want to flinch back into the quieter forest. The wrong feeling in the air got worse; he felt as if grime was settling over him like flakes of gray snow.
None of the hurrying humans seemed to be missing a baby.
Rook took a deep breath of the gray air and clenched his teeth. This was going to be harder than he’d thought. But he was a puck. Once he’d decided to do something, he would do it, no matter what, and he was going to find Scrap’s parents.
Stepping into the river of humans rushing past, he let them carry him down the path to a place where there were stripes on the road and bright lights. When the fast carts stopped, the humans surged across the road, and Rook went with them, and from there to another path and another. After a while, the crowds of people thinned out and the buildings weren’t quite so tall. He saw a few spindly trees and other poles and metal signs, and there were metal grates in the path, and sometimes steam came out of them. The baby wiggled restlessly in his makeshift backpack; he’d be getting hungry soon. Rook’s feet were sore from the hard paths, and they were black with grime and dirt, but he put his head down and trudged on, hoping to find another green place. Scrap started to wail in his sling, so the humans cast him suspicious glances as they hurried past. There was nowhere to rest, and, Rook realized with a sinking heart, he wasn’t going to be able to find his way back to the pond where the Way came out. That was just a tiny patch of a green place. The rest of the city was these endless stacks and rows of stone and brick buildings. He kept walking. The baby stopped wailing and settled into a low, hopeless grizzle.
It was getting late, almost night-time, and his stomach was growling. Finding a quiet spot in a narrow place between two buildings, he untied the blanket-sling and crouched down to have a look at the baby.
Scrap stared up at him with wide black eyes, then made a half-hearted whimpering sound.
“I know,” Rook answered. “You’re hungry.” He looked around at the dirty brick walls, the scraps of paper and other garbage. “No hungrier than I am,” he muttered.
He hadn’t found what he was looking for on the roads; he’d have to go inside one of the buildings. Maybe they had milk in there.
The bee dropped from his shoulder to the baby’s blanket; it crawled inside and nestled next to Scrap’s neck, humming quietly as if it was trying to comfort him. Rook put Scrap’s empty bottle into the pocket of his ragged shorts; making a new sling on his back for the baby, he stepped out into the path again. Rows of stopped carts lined the road; a yellow-colored cart raced past and screeched around a corner. A few humans scurried past, in a hurry as all the humans seemed to be. Rook headed down the road, looking for an open door or a likely spot, and the evening drew on and lights set up on poles came on, making pools of brightness amid the shadows on the paths. The buildings loomed to either side, some of their windows dark, others warmly lit.
Up ahead in a row of buildings with brick fronts was a narrow building with an arched door; above the door was a sign. Herbs, Tinctures, Tea it said in swirly letters. It wasn’t brightly lit like the other places, and it wasn’t full of humans.
Watching out for the rushing carts, Rook crossed the road and went up the steps to the door. As he pushed the door open a bell tinkled, making him flinch; he stumbled over the step and inside.
It was a long, narrow room with wooden floors and, he noted, a door at its other end, a way to get out so he couldn’t be trapped in here. The room had shelves crowded with bottles and boxes—tea, honey, tinctures, oils, wax candles, soaps wrapped in paper. It smelled like sweet herbs and peppermint tea. Fer would like this place, he found himself thinking.
A plump old woman with a red kerchief wrapped around her head was perched on a stood behind a high counter; she looked him up and down with her eyebrows raised.
Rook eyed her warily. She was the first human who actually seemed to see him when she looked at him.
“You should have shoes on, druzhok, to come into my shop,” the woman said. Her words were strangely accented.
Rook glanced down at his dirty bare feet, then stared at her, trying to come up with a glare or a growl, but it had been a long, grinding day, and he suddenly felt too tired and empty to bother. “Do you have any milk here?” he asked.
The woman shrugged. “In the back.” She pointed with her thumb toward the other end of the room.
Rook headed toward the back and heard the woman get down from the stool and the patter of her feet following. “In the cold case, here,” she said, bustling past him, then pointing to a row of bottles on a shelf behind a glass door. “You got money to pay for it?”
Ignoring the question, which he didn’t understand anyway, Rook opened the door and flinched again at the cold air that wafted out, and grabbed a bottle with a picture of a goat on it. The old woman stood on her toes, trying to get a look at Scrap in his sling, when the bell at the front of the room jangled.
“Coming!” the woman called cheerfully, and pattered away.
It took a moment to figure out how to get the bottle of milk open, but he managed to pry off the top; then he filled Scrap’s bottle and put on the wooden nipple. Taking off the sling, Rook crouched, leaning his back against the cold case, and fed the baby.
From the front of the room came a loud thump. Rook’s ears pricked. He heard the old woman’s voice, speaking some other language, but cracked and frightened-sounding, then a louder voice, a man’s voice, shouting.
Rook sniffed the air. This smelled bad—like the men near the Way last night. He was a puck and he didn’t owe the old woman anything, but she had given the baby milk, and it sounded like she was in trouble. Carefully he set the baby and the bottle down on the floor; the baby started to wail. “Sorry, Scrap,” he whispered. “Stay with him,” he said to the bee, and left, padding between the rows of shelves toward the front of the room.
The old woman was behind the counter, backing away from a huge, shaven-headed man who was reaching out to grab her.
With his elbow Rook knocked a glass jar from a shelf; it crashed to the floor, and the big man jerked around. Seeing Rook, he snarled. “Get lost, kid.”
“I’m lost already,” Rook replied. Reaching into his pocket, he clenched his hand around the shifter-tooth. He felt pressure rising inside of him, all the frustration of the long day in this human city. He really, really wanted to bite somebody.
The shave-headed man left the counter and took a threatening pace toward him.
Rook grinned. Good. The human wanted a fight.
The man stopped, eyes narrowed. “You are messing with me?”
“I am, yes,” Rook answered, even though he wasn’t sure what kind of mess the man was talking about.
The man spat out what sounded like a curse, and made his move. Rook popped the shifter-tooth into his mouth and shifted in mid-leap, teeth bared, fur bristling, a snarl boiling up from his throat.
His eyes wide, the man staggered back, Rook’s front paws on his chest and his teeth snapping at his face. Ducking his head under his arms, shouting curses, the man scurried for the door. Rook barked after him, sending him tumbling down the front steps and out to the road.
There. Stupid human man.
One more bark, and Rook went back into the room and the old woman slammed the door behind him.
“Prekrasno!” she cried, locking the door. “That was well done!”
Rook spat out his shifter-tooth and then a wave of dizziness hit him and he sat down hard on the floor; he put his head on his knees and waited for it to pass.
“You are sick?” the old woman asked, and her gnarled hand came down on his shoulder.
“Leave it,” he snarled, and scrambled away from her; with his hand against the counter, he wavered to his feet. His head spun. It was worse than before. Was this the fading, or was he just dizzy from not having anything to eat for too long?
From the back of the room came the faint sound of Scrap, still crying. Followed by the old woman, Rook stumbled down the long aisle to the baby; he gathered Scrap up and popped the bottle into his open mouth.
The woman peered over the edge of the blanket. “I thought I was hearing a baby.” She beamed up at Rook. “He’s a human baby?”
“He is, yes,” Rook answered.
“And you, with the stealing of the milk and the changing into a dog—you’re not supposed to be here in this world, I think. What are you, hm?”
“I’m a puck.”
“Huh!” the old woman’s eyes sparkled. “Well, you did me a favor, puck-boy, so now I do you a favor in return, okay?”
A favor for a favor. That was something Rook understood. “I need more milk for the baby.”
“You need a lot more than that, malish,” the old woman said, with a happy cackle. “Come with me.” She pointed at the ceiling. “Upstairs.” She bustled toward the door at the back of the long room. After a moment’s hesitation, Rook followed, still feeding Scrap, and she led him through another room that smelled even more strongly of herbs; it was packed with jars of herbs and tincture, and dried herbs hanging in bunches from the ceiling.
“You’re a witch,” Rook realized. Just like Fer’s grandmother. And maybe a healer, too, like Fer.
“That’s right,” said the old woman with a brisk nod. “Which means I know a thing or two. This is my shop. That man you chased off—my nephew Dima, he owns this building, and a lot more in this crazy city, and he’s got some durak thinks he owes him money.” She waved her hand and started up a narrow stairway, still talking. “Nothing to do with me.” She stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to face Rook; her eyes gleamed in the dim light. “What’s your name, hm?”
“It’s Robin,” Rook answered. He wasn’t about to give his true name to a witch.
“I am Marfa Petrovna Kopelnikova, but you can call me Baba Marfa.” She turned and pattered up the stairs.
Rook followed her up and into a room. His eyes searched for another way out, and when he saw another door and windows, he sighed with relief.
Marfa had bustled into another room. “Sit down,” she called. “I bring you some borscht and tea!”
He wasn’t sure what borscht was, but he hoped it was food. The room he was in was narrow, just like the one downstairs, and warm and crowded with braided rugs on the floor and a worn couch covered with flowered cloth, heavy red curtains at the windows, and chairs and a wooden table.
Scrap had fallen asleep against his shoulder. Rook went to the couch and sat down, and it was like sinking into a mound of feathers. From the other room, Baba Marfa was still talking, but he was too tired to make sense of her words.
What he really needed was sleep. Holding the baby in his soggy blanket, Rook leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
But sleep didn’t come.
(with thanks to Lynne Ikach for help with the Russian words)