PROLOGUE: TOUCH OF THE TRICKSTER There once was a time, Wulfric's father told him, that the Peverils had been kings of this land. "In those days," began the Baron Peveril, "there were no churches, no titles, no tithes owed to men too fragile to set foot outside their gilded chambers. In those days, we had the land, our swords, and the Old Gods. Look, see?" Catching his son's eye, the baron pointed to the shield that hung on the wall above the dinner table in their ancestral hall. It was burnished bronze, old but well-polished, and etched with a curious engraving which seemed almost alive in the flicker of torchlight. A badger with a serpentine tail stood on its hind paws, claws at the ready as if poised to strike an invisible foe. Wulfric peered up at it from his father's knee, enthralled. "This is the Peveril crest. The crest is new, but the Wanderer is not. The Peverils will never be lost, Wulfric, so long as we honor the old ways. Remember that." Wulfric was lost. That's what he wanted them to think, anyway. He was thirteen years old now, practically a man; he had long outgrown nursemaids and tutors. And really, if they had wanted him to stay put, then they should have let him go with his father's hunting party instead of asking him to stay in a boring old room and read stuffy books. What good were books, anyhow? You couldn't fight your enemies with a book... Then again, given the weight of some of the tomes he was expected to read, perhaps he could pack someone a good wallop with a particularly thick one. It had taken ages to convince the tutor that he learned much better out in the sunshine and the green of the woods. Wulfric didn't like the man; he was from the city, and he worshiped in a church. He didn't understand, not like the people of Peveril's Holding. The woods were home, not a thing to be feared or complained about... but in this case, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "Snakes? No sir," he'd answered the tutor's mutterings, in his most innocent voice- the one that he used on the cook when it was baking day and he knew he could earn a few pastries all his own. "You have nothing to fear from snakes. The Wanderer watches these woods, didn't you know? He doesn't let anything bad happen." "The Wanderer?" The man looked down his beaky nose at Wulfric. "What is this, now? A watchman?" "Oh no, sir, not a man. A god." "There is only One God," the tutor had snapped at him, turning a few shades paler. "Sir, you shouldn't say that here. These are his woods, aren't they, and maybe he'll get angry and we'll see those snakes after all..." "Stop saying that pagan nonsense!" "I'm sorry sir. Would you like me to walk ahead and check the trail? I'll make sure it's clear of serpents." Wulfric shuffled his feet against the mossy ground, twisting bashfully. "...Perhaps you'd better. But stay in sight-" It had taken two shakes of a lamb's tail for Wulfric to disappear off of the path. He wasn't worried about snakes, or about getting really lost, not when he knew his family's land like the back of his hand. His small hunting knife was tucked in his belt, too, so he was hardly defenseless. And the woods called out to him, compelling him deeper into the brambles and hidden pathways, urging him towards destinies yet undiscovered. Today, something amazing was going to happen. He just knew it.