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Authors: Terence Blacker

The Twyning

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Part I

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Part II

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

Chapter 93

Chapter 94

Chapter 95

Chapter 96

Chapter 97

Chapter 98

Chapter 99

Chapter 100

Chapter 101

Chapter 102

Chapter 103

Chapter 104

Chapter 105

Chapter 106

Chapter 107

Chapter 108

Chapter 109

Chapter 110

Glossary of terms used in the kingdom

Acknowledgments

. . . and loyalty, and sadness, of course. And somewhere in the cold, damp air was the sharp tang of fear.

But overpowering them all, singing through the brain of every rat — buck and doe, wild and fragile, twyning and ratling — was the scent that made us dizzy with pleasure.

Love.

In a harsh and dangerous world, where loss and death waited around every corner, it was the smell of love that gave each of us strength and hope to survive, even when a king was facing death.

Without strength, the sadness of loss would make citizens weak.

Without hope, the act of acclaiming his successor would lose its meaning.

Without love, the kingdom itself would die.

The multitude waited in silence.

On each side of the river that ran through the Great Hollow, there was a carpet of rich brown pelt, pulsing with life.

Dark eyes glittered from every crevice and ledge on the brick walls.

The high timbers that supported the vaulted roof writhed with expectation.

Only a series of steps on the far wall of the chamber, leading upward from the watercourse, was visible, unattended by those who waited. No rat, unless he were part of the Court of Governance, would lay a foot upon the Rock of State.

There was an order to our assembly. Each of the courts who conducted the work of the kingdom had taken its place according to rank and status.

Against a far wall, members of some of the junior courts had gathered. The Court of Entertainers was there, the Court of Tasting, the Court of Translation, the Court of Historians.

Beyond the river could be seen the Courts of Spies, of Correction, and of Prophecy, and behind them, taking up an unnecessary amount of space, were members of the Court of Warriors.

Then, in front of the Rock of State were two groups whose place had not been gained through strength and power but through weakness.

A mottling of white, gray, and brown betrayed the presence of those known as “fragiles.” Although every court in the kingdom brings some kind of skill or strength, it is for some citizens difficult to understand quite what the Court of Fragiles provides.

These lightly colored, slack-muscled rats have been raised among the enemy, bred in captivity for some kind of strange human sport. Quite how they return to the world below remains a mystery to us, but what is certain is that they are weaker and less able to fend for themselves than any rat should be.

Although some attend the Courts of Spies or of Translation, where their knowledge of the ways of humans is occasionally of some use, most fragiles do little real work. The rest of us accept that they are what they are. It is not really their fault that they have been infected with the most deadly disease that a human can bring: doubt.

The problem with the fragiles, it is generally agreed, is that, like the enemy, they think too much. As a result, they soon become in the kingdom what they have been in the human world: amusements for those who are more powerful than they are.

Standing in front of the Rock of State, given a respectful amount of space by all other citizens, was a group of thirty rats, none of whom had a name but who, together, were owners of a strange kind of power within the kingdom.

They were the Twyning. They tugged against one another, forever in motion, forever going nowhere. For almost all their lives, they had been united by an accident of nature that had occurred while they were still in the nest.

Their tails had become inextricably entangled. As they had grown, the knot of living tissue that was at their center melded and fused together so that, with adulthood, each of them was less an individual rat than a limb on a greater shared body, a spoke on a wheel of flesh.

A twyning confers its own special blessing on the kingdom. As it grows, it is fed and kept alive by citizens, and is respected by all, even by the Court of Governance and by the ultimate source of power among rats, the king. Many beings in one being, it stands for unity in the kingdom. It is a force of spirit, embodying the past, the future; the strong, the weak; life, death.

Each member of a twyning will have the gift of hearing. At times of great peril, it is they who will sense the glow before any other citizen.

Already, we could hear the sound of plaining, which only members of the Twyning can make. It starts with a throbbing pulse of rhythm created by the chattering of teeth. Soon, a clear, single note will be heard, then another and another, until every rat in that sacred circle is part of the plaining. The sound they make can thrill or chill the youngest or oldest heart.

Rats who are part of a twyning are nameless. They would never be asked to fight, nor to forage, nor to father or to mother, but in times of peace and war it is to them, to it, that courtiers, warriors, and even spies and historians will turn for wisdom and guidance.

The Twyning expresses life’s mystery. Unable to move in any one direction except at an awkward, complicated shuffle, it has its own kind of strength.

And above all, it shows the power of the kingdom.

For it is love that keeps the Twyning alive.

In a corner at the back of the hollow on that fateful night, Alpa, captain of the Tasting Court, glanced around her. Although she had been at two gatherings in the past, there was always a new worry.

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