The paths twisted and turned through the forests of Gråsten, stretching from Kværs in the west, through the wooded halls of Rinkenæs, all the way to Hjertehøj to the east. The leaf carpet on either side of the path was crisp and brown, finger deep, and deeper still if one cared to brush the leaves to one side and dig into the mulch below. Thimor watched one of the folk do just that, brushing leaves to one side, upturning rocks, moving twigs, cursing nettles, swatting at mosquitoes, and, all the while, looking this way and that at the sound of more folk – voices on the wind, tramping on the paths. She was different to the usual folk Thimor observed in the forest, patient to a degree, and focused in turn on the leaves at her feet and the flat, shiny thing she carried in her hand. Thimor had seen such a thing many times, even heard and seen folk talking to it as if it was another of their kind. But it was the rarest of folk who dug into the leaves one second, only to look at the flat thing in the other. He didn’t doubt it was important to the folk, but struggled to imagine what purpose it might serve. He watched for another twelve beats of his tiny heart and then slipped over the root of the great beech to whisper for his mount. Tramper padded out of the shadow between the two roots, dipped her head and then waited for Thimor to lift his foot into the stirrup.
He did so, cautiously.
“Now, Tramper,” he said, with a voice that sounded like the husks of beech nuts crunched underfoot. “No tricks, mind you.”
Tramper twitched her nose, flicking at a mosquito with her whiskers. She was smaller, slighter, and sharper of wit than the typical hares of Gråsten, and thus a perfect mount for Thimor the Wight. She also had a sense of humour, revealed more often than not in a prank, or an opportune flick of her rump when leaping over a root that sent Thimor spinning and cursing out of the saddle to land on the forest floor.
He repeated his warning, and she gave him an innocent, wide-eyed look with her big brown eyes. Wouldn’t dream of it, her eyes suggested with a languid, slow-witted blink. Thought never crossed my mind.
“I’m ah trusting you, Tramper.”
Of course, her eyes suggested. As ever, you can.
But, of course, once Thimor’s foot was in the stirrup and he reached for the pommel to heave his small but stout body – no taller than the span of one of the folk’s hands, from the heel of their hand to the tip of their tallest finger – did she, Tramper, daughter of Whist and Creaker, jerk to her right.
Thimor slipped, landing on his side with his foot still in the stirrup. Tramper wriggled with delight, and the tips of the hairs on her flank rippled in a sudden breeze shushing through the trees. Thimor tugged his foot out of the stirrup, brushed broken leaves from his long grey beard, and stood up. He ran his thick hand over his even thicker scalp, rasping rough skin against his bald head as he glared at the hare.
Tramper gave him a look, softer than the last – an apology of sorts. She settled on the forest floor so that Thimor could simply lift his leg and climb onto the saddle, and he did – carefully – gripping the pommel in anticipation of Tramper taking flight and flinging him onto the forest floor once more.
But, say what one will about Tramper the hare, she was of loyal, if a little mischievous, blood, and when the wight called, she came, ready to bear him the length and breadth of Gråsten, and even beyond the borders of the forests if that was his will. For once the frivolity was over, Tramper and her kind possessed a sense of purpose just as great as that of the wight and his kind, and sometimes even greater.
Thimor settled in the saddle and Tramper wriggled once more, adjusting to the weight of the wight before lifting her belly off the forest floor and raising her snout to sniff the wind.
“It’s all right,” Thimor said when Tramper turned her head sharply in the direction of the folk. “It’s just one of them. Nothing to fear. Nothing to fight. We’ll just let them be.”
Tramper twitched her head in agreement, happy to leave the folk well alone and to take Thimor as far from them as he wished to go, content that he wanted only to observe the folk, not interact. She wriggled again, keen to be off, and, as the mosquitoes whined, Thimor patted the side of Tramper’s head and whispered the direction he wished her to carry him.
“Out of the woods, across the field, and hasten now to the folly.”
Tramper twitched her broad, flat nose in response, and turned to bound over the first of the roots between them and the field.
“Between the trees, through the grass, and don’t, don’t stop for barley!”
Tramper, like her brothers and sisters, had a barley tooth, and once she got her first nibble of it, Thimor knew he would never get her moving again.
The field between the forest and the folly was, he knew, an old barley field, in rotation, but with the scent of something that would, if he let Tramper have her way, slow them down for the rest of the hot summer’s day and late into the long summer’s night.
Tramper sent an indignant wriggle through her body, hiding a rush of pleasure at the thought of munching on barley roots, with feigned indignation.
“I know,” Thimor said. “You’ll be good. This time. But last time…”
Thimor stopped talking as Tramper put on a burst of speed, forcing him to grip the pommel and to press his body flat against the hare’s back as the folk stepped out of the woods at precisely the same time as they did. Thimor turned his head to look at the folk, only to smile grimly as their eyes were, once again, fixed firmly on the flat shiny thing they held in their palm.
“Good,” he whispered as he turned away, clutching the fur on the hare’s back just as the folk clutched their phone.