Herrah always thought that when she finally had a child, it would have hatched from an egg she laid. Or perhaps she would have had many children, spilling from a lovingly-woven egg sac. That would have been the case with her previous sire, had the plague not taken him from her. As she lies in her nest, enduring the stabbing sensation inside of her, she wonders if he had been in this much pain when he passed.
Tonight she wonders if even the Midwife, in her expertise. will be able to handle a live birth. The soft, malleable egg the king laid in her was never meant to be laid a second time. It would hatch inside of her, and one way or another, her child would find its way out. Herrah knows of parasitic bugs’ mating habits, and is prepared for grievous injury.
No one would have faulted Herrah for being afraid in her situation. The clawing on her insides, though from an innocent being, she feels clearly and with great agony. But that is proof that the child is alive, and it has not dissolved with its egg. The Midwife leans over her, mask parted in worry, looking over Herrah’s great abdomen in confusion. All of Herrah’s previous clutches—failed though they were—had all been laid as eggs and then hatched separately from the mother.
“I, I think it’s going in the wrong direction,” Herrah gasps.
“The hatchling. I can feel it digging u-upwards, from my womb.” Herrah clings to the bed sheets, internally cursing the Pale King. He should have foreseen this, should have warned her, should be here to support her. He owes her that much, and loathsome as he is, their dalliance and subsequent alliance has started to improve her opinion of him.
“Ough.” The Midwife feels around, and under one of her hands, Herrah’s chitin bulges. Never has she had to deal with something like this. The most she knows about live births is from horror stories from Pharloom: hideous creatures called mammals, often speculated upon but never pinned down in terms of appearance, were said to push out their young as they were, without the natural and normal covering of an eggshell. Scores of innocent bugs would then be fed to these monsters live, and so on, and so forth…
The Midwife closes her mask, and takes one of Herrah’s hands in hers. “We have a few options,” she tells her in a low voice. “One: I reach inside and pull it out myself. Two: we cut an opening for it to crawl out on its own. Three...I am apprehensive of it, I do not recommend it, but you could try laying the child like any other egg. What are you feeling right now?”
All of these these options sound equally unpleasant, and before Herrah can give it much thought, a spasm of pain rocks her body. She cries out with such pain that the Weavers standing guard outside cringe, wondering if they should call for help. But the Hive is such a distance away…
At the White Palace, the Pale King receives a letter, and leaves for Deepnest without opening it.
The exact details of Hornet’s birth have been lost to time, or expunged for its gruesome nature. A part of this information is the very important fact that no one, not even Herrah nor the King, knew what the color of Hornet’s egg was. It had been dissolved by Herrah’s body, ever unseen and a mystery, once its purpose was fulfilled. Instead of picking off bits of eggshell, the Midwife wipes away a sticky black fluid until the child’s shell is gleaming, but the rest of her body…
It was one of the first things Herrah had noticed: the child’s carapace does not reflect any light. Her shell does, but her body doesn’t. When she curls up in her mother’s arms, it’s almost impossible to see the outlines of her limbs. Like a shadow. The Midwife, once or twice, holds her just to confirm that she weighs something. Despite this abnormality, or perhaps because of this uniqueness, Herrah coddles her relentlessly. She will only be this little once, she says, so happily that even the Midwife stops worrying.
The Pale King is similarly mesmerized, but in a less obvious way. In the time it takes Herrah to recover he makes it a point to visit almost every day, when the politics behind their alliance obligate no such thing. Any normal parent would do this, but the Pale King is a notorious hermit.
“How will Hallownest ever survive, with its great king coming here day after day?” Herrah teases one day. “I daresay you’ve been smitten by her.”
The Pale King is sitting there with the Pale Gift in his arms, while his Pure Vessel sits demurely on his curled-up tail. Their metamorphosis coincided with their sister’s birth, and this new, slightly taller form of theirs is a glimpse into what she may look look like.
“She is but a hatchling. Am I to ignore her completely?” the King shoots back. The child hiccups, and paws weakly at her father’s shoulder. Herrah watches as he rubs her back, and wonders how many others have seen this side of the king. Before their dalliance, and especially before they had come into regular contact, she doubted that he was even capable of love.
The Pure Vessel had only been a concept back then, and the way the Pale King spoke, she assumed he would treat them like a tool. What a difference it had been when he first brought them to Deepnest. During their correspondence, it was easy for Herrah to word her request for the Vessel neutrally. She hadn’t been lying when she said she wanted to see them. All three Dreamers were entitled to it, considering the sacrifice they were going to make. But Herrah is different from Lurien and Monomon: what she had requested of the Pale King was far more personal.
Herrah the Beast, respected and feared in Deepnest and beyond, powerful enough to put even the Mantis Lords on edge, wanted to believe that the Pale King would be kind to his own children. The fate of the other Vessels was not unknown to her. No one would have understood, save for the Midwife. Being too sentimental in Deepnest can be a sentence. It is easy to forget that Hallownest has never been gentle, since long ago, since before it had a name and since Herrah and her followers had sequestered themselves in the darkest, safest corners they could find. It had been kinder still than their homeland.
It comes as a relief to her that the Pale Gift will be in good hands when she’s gone.
The thought stings her. She retrieves her daughter from the Pale King, and sits back down in her nest. The Pure Vessel watches hawk-moth-eyed at the squirming Princess. Are they just drawn to her movement, or is there something going on in their empty little head? Herrah does not talk to them or touch them unless the Pale King suggests it first. That is his child, this one is hers. Their time as parents is limited in different ways.
The Pale Gift huffs and buries her face in Herrah’s veil, and she gets the feeling that she’s looking too far ahead. In this moment, the only thing she needs to do is take care of her child, and her Deepnest. Herrah lays a claw in the child’s palm. Her fingers are too small to close around it completely, and they are cold. That’s another strange thing about this child, how cold she is, yet how at ease she seems regardless. Herrah and the Midwife have taken to dressing her in layers. At least then no one comments about how chilly the poor thing feels. If they cuddle her and coddle her enough, she might absorb some of their warmth.
Years later, in the realm of dreams, she realizes that’s exactly what happened to the Hollow Knight.
Below Kingdom’s Edge lies a pocket of warmth known as the Hive. As with Deepnest, it had never known the rule of the Wyrm, and persisted stubbornly amidst the encroaching Infection. The hum of bees is constant, and the flow of honey is unceasing. In some respects, it is the opposite of Deepnest: bright where it is dark, heated where it is not, a welcoming queen whereas Herrah was always hostile. Neither Vespa nor Herrah can say who came to Hallownest first, but upon first meeting, their alliance was sealed.
Today, however, they are here to celebrate. The Pale Gift is now a year old, and it’s high time that she has been given a name. Herrah had deliberated over it for a while, and once she was sure the child would survive infancy, she had gone to Vespa for the honors of naming her. Herrah was fully capable of naming the child herself, but there was something special about sharing the duty with a loved one. She does not feel close enough to the Pale King to consult him, and though she loves the Midwife, that is not part of her responsibilities.
So the ceremony will be held in the Hive. As a courtesy, Vespa has taken care of the preparations, leaving Herrah to prepare the Pale Gift in the privacy of her quarters. The child is complacent, for the most part, but as the layers of silks start to pile on, she starts to whine. The skirts are so voluminous that she sinks into them. By the time Herrah has tied off the last ribbon on her outermost jacket, only the Pale Gift’s head is visible.
“Maaa,” the child complains, waving her arms. Herrah puts a claw to her mask and chuckles at the spiderling, adrift in the sea of her elaborate dress. A skirt of that length could easily fit the Pure Vessel, who is at least a head taller than her. Infuriatingly, the King had denied her their presence, as well as his own. No matter. She will not let that ruin this for her. Herrah lifts her daughter off of the dressing table and onto her knee, so she may comfort her.
“It’s only for today, baby,” Herrah coos. “Oh, look at how cute you are! I could eat you up.”
She lifts her mask to playfully nibble on the child’s horns, delighting in the peals of laughter that result. For a moment, there is no Infection, no stress of political alliances, no eternal sleep hanging over her. That is her daughter’s reality, for she is too young to understand the intricacies of what happens around her. The naming ceremony marks a step in her growth, one more step towards understanding. It’s only because of the child’s royal blood and Herrah’s status that she can protect her from Hallownest, so cruel, yet not without its pockets of kindness that only the most privileged can experience. At least in Deepnest, everyone is equally protected. But what if there is no Deepnest for her to inherit…?
“Are you excited to be getting your name?” Herrah asks, sliding her mask back. She feels a frown starting to form, and her observant child will pick up and that and grow upset herself. It has happened. “I’d like to say I helped choose it, but that was all Vespa. She did, of course run it by me. No, no, it’s a surprise. I cannot tell you.”
“Ma, name!” the Pale Gift squeaks. She wiggles around in Herrah’s arms to get comfortable, or at least, she tries. It makes Herrah wonder if the purpose of this heavy dress was to keep her from running off during the ceremony. She wouldn’t be surprised.
“Herrah?” There’s a knock on the door frame. Herrah pushes back the curtain to see a giantess of a wasp, easily twice her height.
“My, have you grown since I last saw you?” Herrah quips.
“It has been thirty minutes,” Vespa replies, with a wide smile. She leans her great head forward to kiss Herrah’s mask. This simple act of affection melts Herrah, who lifts her mask to kiss her back. The Pale Gift, huddled between them, squeals and tries to get their attention. Vespa, noticing this, very gently nuzzles the little one’s forehead.
“Yes, yes. I haven’t forgot about you. Oh my goodness, can she move in that?” Vespa gestures for Herrah to follow her down the hall. As always, when the Pale Gift visits the Hive, she stretches her arms towards the honeycombed walls. Herrah doesn’t need to exert any effort to hold her back. “She can’t. Oh my goodness.”
“I think she has gotten used to it.” Herrah peeks out into the main hall, where the naming will take place. She thought the Pale King was ostentatious, but Vespa has set up a literal pedestal for the Pale Gift to sit on. In the Hive Queen’s case, though, it’s endearing rather than infuriating. The pews are set up to form a semi-circle, and beeswax candles give the whole place a homey, fragrant glow. Silks and tapestries provided by the Weavers decorate the walls, and to accent the display, the White Lady had generously donated flowers from her garden.
The White Lady herself had the decency to be in attendance, and is currently acquainting herself with the Hive Knights.
“Do you think she’ll be too hot like this?” Herrah asks as she sets the Pale Gift onto the pedestal.
“Maybe…This dress was originally intended for Hivelings,” Vespa muses. The Pale Gift sags into her dress and yawns, uncaring of the large hand feeling her forehead. “She feels a bit cool, actually.”
“Oh, she’s always been like that.” Herrah pulls up a chair next to the pedestal, and takes a seat. The Pale Gift mumbles and reaches for her mother, and is quieted when Herrah takes one of her little hands. “Vespa, do you mind if I take some of these flowers?”
“Go ahead.” Vespa then goes to address her head knight, who is peeking through the doorway. Herrah plucks several flowers from the pedestal, and begins to weave. Her spider’s touch ensures that the crown will not fall apart, even if the Pale Gift were to start picking at it or chewing on it mid-ceremony. She ties off each stem with a bit of silk, and slips over her daughter’s horns. As expected, she plucks a loose petal and starts to nibble on it. Herrah can’t help but laugh when she sees the Pale Gift’s pedipalps: they look like a pair of fuzzy black mittens.
The Pale Gift is now meticulously pulling apart the petal, and Herrah takes this as her cue to retrieve a small toy from her veil. She jangles it above her daughter’s head, and once she has gotten her attention, lowers it into her hands. She’s just in time, too, because the guests are starting to file in. The White Lady catches her attention first, and they wave to each other. The Queen of Hallownest, being almost as big as Vespa, must sit in the back to avoid blocking anyone’s view. Her knight, the Fierce Dryya, stands by her side with a nail in hand. They are the only ones from the White Palace to have shown up. The rest are from the Hive and Deepnest: a mingling of the most isolated groups in Hallownest, a mix of buzzing bees and chittering spiders. The Pale Gift, recognizing the Midwife and her nest mates, raises her hand and yells at them. This causes a commotion among the little ones, and it takes a good five minutes to shush everyone before Vespa takes the stage.
Herrah, who has nonetheless been closely involved with planning the ceremony, has not actually heard Vespa’s speech. She watches as the Hive Queen unfurls a scroll, and beings to read:
“Today marks a special occasion for Deepnest, one that we, the Hive, have been given the honor of hosting. For generations we have shared each other’s triumphs, but all of our past achievements in culture, in war, and in diplomacy put together pale in the pride I felt when our Beast Queen first presented the Crown Princess to our people. When this child comes of age, she shall mark the beginning of a new era: one of hope, and of recovery, in these difficult times.
We who are isolated are still threatened by the plague, but we must not forget that we are alive, and that life thrives even in the most treacherous of circumstances...”
The Pale Gift yawns loudly, and lolls her head against her shoulder. Her flower crown slips over one eye, and there are muffled giggles in the crowd as Herrah sits her back up. Vespa winks one eye, but continues speaking without interruption. She speaks of the love she feels for both Herrah and the Princess, who shows so much promise even at her young age, how fortunate she is to share this with them, and so on…It all must be incredibly boring to the Pale Gift, who is nodding off by the time Vespa is wrapping things up. Herrah rises, and hands her sleepy child to Vespa.
“I bestow upon this Daughter of Hallownest the name ‘Hornet’,” Vespa announces, and anoints the child’s horns with a fragrant oil. The Pale Gift—Hornet—is not even awake to hear her name for the first time, even as the crowd bursts into cheers and applause. Herrah takes back her flower-embroidered, sweetly-scented daughter and strokes her cheek. Already knowing what the name would be does not take away from the love she feels, hearing it spoken to this child for the first time.
Hornet is still clutching her toy, and Herrah gently pries it from her hands. “Do you like your name?” she whispers to her. “Hornet. My little Hornet...”
The Pale King is interrupted from his work by a thin album—but an album nonetheless—being slapped onto his desk. He raises his head and sees Herrah at his side, probably glaring beneath her mask.
“Open it.” She says this with such bitterness that the King is afraid—yes, afraid—to not do as she says. He turns the cover, and sees on the first page a photograph: Vespa and Herrah, with the Pale Gift held between them. The child is dressed in fine silks and flowers, and looks comically tired. Subsequent pages have similar photos, of the Hive Knights, of the White Lady and Dryya, of various Weavers and Bees he doesn’t recognize…
“So this was the Pale Gift’s--”
“Hornet,” Herrah fumes. “Her name is Hornet. It is written on the cover.”
The Pale King closes the album and finds that it is. He folds his hands in his lap, finding himself wishing she would take it away from him. She doesn’t.
“A lovely name,” the Pale King says, managing to keep his voice even. Not even his foresight had prepared him for this. No, he cannot blame his powers as a separate entity. He simply did not consult it. He did not even have the excuse of not knowing.
“Even your wife was there.” Herrah looks at the blueprints hanging on the wall. A lamp flickers.
“You know I don’t like to appear in public.”
“Perfectly understandable. The great Wyrm could never deign himself to leave the Palace for his daughter’s naming ceremony. You lout.”
The King abruptly turns in his chair. “Herrah—”
The Beast Queen slaps his hand away. His face colors in indignation.
“I don’t want to hear it.” Herrah has never cried in front of him, and never will, but her wounded voice has the same startling effect. The Pale King, holding his smarting wrist, is at loss for words long after she storms out of the study.
Even the spiders and other bugs of Deepnest must sleep. Contrary to what Hallownest bugs think, the Weavers are not scuttling around at all hours of the day. In accordance to their timepieces, taking the place of the sun and moon, they wake up and go to bed, work and play, rest and explore. A bell, a remnant of the Weavers’ homeland, is their sunset. Its gentle toll reminds them that night is coming. Most of them, night-owls that they are, ignore it and continue to spin their thread.
Herrah herself, wanting to be available to her subjects, has often stayed up as late as possible. Having a baby to take care of has further ensured that she gets no sleep. It’s one thing to be awake of her own volition, but the moment it’s out of her hands, the sleeplessness becomes insidious. Her chambers, unused, taunt her with a silk nest that she hasn’t rested in for about a week now.
When the bell tolls, she feels ready to slump over in her throne right then and there. Hornet, sitting between her horns, lets out a great yawn.
“Well, it’s time to put her to bed,” Herrah sighs as she takes the child in her arms. Midwife lowers herself from the ceiling, and bumps her mask against Herrah’s.
“And yours too, my dear. You are running yourself ragged.”
“I’ve been busy.” Herrah lifts her mask to give the Midwife a little kiss. “We’ve all been.”
“But the rest of us have been going to bed at appropriate times. Come now, what will become of us if Deepnest’s ruler faints from exhaustion?”
Herrah can’t argue with that. She’s very tired, and it would probably do her daughter well to stay with her during the night. Deepnest will have to wait for her. None of the Weavers protest when she bids them good night; they might have been as worried as the Midwife. That would explain the new blankets Herrah finds, folded just outside her chambers. She brings them inside and spreads them out on her nest. The idea of bed sounded appealing before, but now she can’t resist lying down. It wasn’t just her obligations, but also her worry that has been keeping her up.
At least when she tucks herself and Hornet under the covers, she can pretend that everything is normal. The spiderling huddles up to her mother, bleary-eyed but happy.
“It’s like a sleepover,” Hornet quips.
“Yes, it is.” Herrah lets out a great yawn. “I’m sorry I’ve been leaving you to bed by yourself. Mama has been busy...”
She strokes Hornet’s forehead, intending to soothe her to sleep, but the Beast is the one who ends up in slumber. Hornet peeks under Herrah’s mask, and giggles when she sees her six eyes have closed.
Herrah’s sleep and wake patterns might have deviated over the past couple of weeks, but Hornet’s schedule is constant. Her days are full, as if the Weavers are trying to cram as much knowledge as they can into her. They don’t have to worry about that! She has plenty of time to learn everything. Even if she’s too small to work a loom, can’t produce much of her own silk, or even hold a real weapon yet. These are all ‘preliminaries’, the other spiders tell her. She’s just learning the concepts now.
For now, she’s just content to be next to her mother. Oftentimes she’ll wake up to see the slumbering Beast next to her, but never is she awake long enough to see her come to bed. It makes falling asleep a little lonely. Hornet nuzzles against Herrah, closes her eyes, and drifts easily into sleep. The lanterns fade, swathing them in darkness. There is no moonlight this deep underground, just pure, cold black. It is during these dark nights that Hornet feels like she’s falling into the center of the world. There’s an even deeper oblivion than Deepnest, that she only becomes aware of in her dreams.
It always comes to her in small flashes: a yawning chasm, silver thorns, the shore of a black ocean. And then, light and matter disappear into comforting darkness. The void is absolute, both endless and only arm’s length.
Hornet always wakes from these dreams disoriented. In the middle of the night, she mistakes the nest for the black sea. Then, sensation comes back to her. The blankets weigh comfortingly on her, and to her side is the great warmth and comfort of Herrah. Her mother is sound asleep with her face buried in a pillow, and two of her arms folded across her chest. As Hornet’s eyes adjust to the dark, details of the room become clear to her, while her dream discards itself from her memory.
She yawns, and rolls onto her back. It’s deathly silent outside the nest; the rest of the spiders must have gone to bed. There is no timepiece in Herrah’s chamber to tell Hornet how late it is, and that always felt like a rebellion of time itself. For where else would a timepiece become more useful than a bedroom?
This mundane contemplation would have quickly put Hornet back to sleep, had she not heard a bump. The spiderling, sensitive to all noise, bolts upright and peers into the gloom. There is nothing to fall off the shelves, nor any shelves for things to fall off of. Her mother’s room, though cozy and warm, is minimally furnished. The curtains covering the entrance are drawn tight, giving her no view of the outside. Because she can’t see past them, she reasons, there’s nothing proving that no one is out there. It might just be a guard. They often stand outside the nest, especially if Hornet is sleeping alone.
Comforted by the thought, she lies back down. And that’s when she sees it: a pair of white eyes, glinting at her in the dark.
Hornet goes completely still, and clutches the blanket. Beside her, her mother sleeps unaware of the intruder. Aside from its eyes, Hornet can’t discern a body at all. When she finds that she can move, she throws the blanket over herself and nestles against Herrah’s side. Despite this warmth, she feels a chill pass over her. Though the intruder is silent, she feels their lingering presence. A small hand taps her on the back, and to her horror, she feels something at the other end of the nest tugging on the bed clothes.
Hornet has no better judgment to tell her not to look. As the princess and a future knight, she has to face danger head on. She braces herself, and then sits up.
The first thing she sees is those white eyes, right in front of her. Hornet squeaks and backs away. There are even more eyes, all staring at her. With her eyes fully adjusted to the dark, she sees the outlines of wispy, horned bodies, all floating above the ground. There are at least a dozen of them, ghostly things, crowded around the nest. And then, one of them puts an icy hand on her shoulder.
“No!” Hornet squeals. When she tries to push the ghost away, her hands pass through it. Another hand settles between her horns. Yet another takes her cold-numbed hands.
Now, up until this point, Herrah has been fast asleep. Even when the room grew cold, the most she did was stir a bit. However heavy a sleeper she is, though, any mother will be woken up by their child screaming. And when Hornet is frightened, she is loud. The Beast’s eyes snap open, and she lunges out of the nest. She claws at the ghosts, who scatter like frightened children at the sound of her hiss. Even the most determined ones, who try to pull Hornet with them, give up and run. One of them brushes past Herrah, and her eyes widen from the cold.
When the ghosts have retreated, Herrah may now hold her crying child without interruption. Though just awoken, she is quick to understand what’s going on. Once comfortably seated, she is calm, and may look upon the intruders with eyes unclouded by agitation. They huddle near the door like ashamed children, and Herrah now feels guilty for attacking them. She knows of what the Pale King has done in the Abyss, as the other Dreamers do. Remembering this, she can only look upon these ghosts with pity.
“Shh…Hornet, it’s alright,” Herrah coos to her child. “I’m here. You needn’t be afraid. No ghost shall haunt you.”
There is nothing she can do for these dead-eyed children, who one by one file out the door. Warmth returns to the room, and Herrah returns with Hornet under the blankets. If her daughter were to die, would she leave behind such a ghost? No. She won’t think about it. Hornet is still so small. Yet it is those most full of life who tremble when reminded of the inevitability of death.
“Mama, what were they?” Hornet sniffles, after some time.
“They came from far below,” Herrah answers. She rubs Hornet’s back without pause; this comforts her as well, having the little one close to her. “There’s an ocean at the bottom of the earth, where our silk doesn’t reach. It has been there since the beginning of time. This ocean is as black as the night sky, and they say that the stars are the eyes of the creatures who live in it.”
“Who’s ‘they’…?” Hornet asks sleepily.
“The bugs who came before us,” says Herrah. She props her head up on one arm, and tucks the blankets around Hornet.
“They lived by the ocean, and it was always dark, but that’s how they liked it. Every night, they would take their ships out to sea, and watch the crystals that glittered on the ceiling like dewdrops on a spiderweb. Sometimes, their children get lost and wander to the lands above, but they always make it home safely, so long as the gentle waves call their names…”
“Their palace is a great lighthouse, but there is no monarch. Nor does a light shine from it. From the top of it, you can see all the little towns, the boats with their sails, and the creatures that swim the deep...”
Herrah hums an old lullaby, soothing Hornet until her tears are dry, and her eyes have closed. Herrah rests her head, and drifts off half-believing her own yarns.
This chapter and the previous one might read a little weird, and that's because I've been in a bit of a brain fog the past week or so. I don't think I've been getting enough sleep...^^;;; The final chapter is going to be a direct continuation of this one, instead of what I had originally planned. Thank you for your patience.
These days, having an audience with the Hollow Knight is harder than untangling a particularly difficult knot. Herrah, on the grounds of wanting every possible moment with Hornet, has kept her away from the White Palace for weeks. The child has yet to know why, exactly, and Herrah doesn’t know how to break it to her. She thought she’d have more time, that she’d have Hornet for at least a few years more, and that she would be old enough to understand.
But the fact of the matter is that Hornet is still too young to hold her own needle without buckling under its weight. Ever since returning from a visit to the Queen’s Gardens, Hornet been begging, sometimes with tears in her eyes, to take up the needle. Herrah chalks it up to Hornet having been impressed by the Queen’s knight, which comes as no surprise. She too respects Fierce Dryya, who only gives her respect to those who have earned it. With the way the bugs of Hallownest trip over themselves to worship their King, it’s refreshing. And the people have been growing more and more desperate as of late, or so she has heard. At this point, there has been talk of a miracle that the King shall enact, to end the plague.
To Herrah and Hornet, that miracle is merely a second child and an older sibling, respectively. And, again, the Pale King has been very finicky about who is allowed to see them. And Herrah had thought he was overprotective when the Hollow Knight was a child. She would have left it alone, had Hornet not been insisting on their presence.
Sometimes, Herrah wonders if Hornet, if not knowing what’s about to happen, has an instinctual feel for great change. Though Herrah fears no Higher Being, that doesn’t change the fact that she has little understanding of them. Not only are they ‘Higher’ in a sense of godly powers, but they sometimes speak or act in ways that common bugs would not. Frustratingly enough, Herrah can’t quite put her finger on it.
She is grateful that her daughter acts like any other child.
She digresses. Hornet wants her sibling to visit her, and after much pushing, the Pale King has finally toppled. The Hollow Knight will be visiting today, and for the first time, they will be unaccompanied and spending the night. The news sent the Weavers into worry and confusion, though they were easily placated by Herrah’s reassurances that this was, at most, a child’s sleepover. Spiders are a nervous bunch.
It is early afternoon when the rumble of stag beetle legs alerts Herrah to the Vessel’s arrival. She excuses herself from the company of her Weavers, and climbs up to the Stag Station. Hornet is already there, bouncing up and down with such excitement.
“They’re coming!” Hornet cries out. A stag beetle comes skidding towards the platform, adorned in the colors of the Palace. Herrah scoffs under her breath at the ostentatious decorations on its horns and saddle. The King is ostentatious as always. When she sees its single passenger, however, she holds hesr breath.
The Hollow Knight has grown even taller than when she last saw them. It’s difficult to reconcile this gangling creature with the soft, round little grub who the King had ferried into her domain, all those years ago. Both their eyes and shell have narrowed; their serrated horns are longer than Hornet is tall. The embroidered, silvery cloak they wear brushes against their ankles.
“Hollow!” Hornet throws her arms around their leg. “You’re here! Your cloak is so pretty. Is this silk?”
The spiderling takes a handful of their cloak, running her hand over the soft fabric. The Hollow Knight inclines their head, watching her, and she meets their blank eyes with heart-melting adoration. She’s expressing enough emotion for the both of them, Herrah thinks, as the child climbs up to the Vessel’s shoulder. When they were a child, they would have at least picked her up. The total lack of response is concerning, even for a supposedly Pure Vessel.
“You may go,” Herrah says to the stag beetle, who turns heel and races back down the tunnel. She beckons to the Vessel, who, at the very least, looks when she speaks to them. “Come, Hollow Knight. My Weavers have prepared a room for your stay.”
They follow her back to the village. Though they do not have the King’s natural glow, their light garb and polished shell are enough to draw the eyes of curious spiders. Hornet sits on their shoulder, stage-whispering to them where things are, should they want a snack, or a visit to the lake below. She only parts from them when they’ve reached their room: smooth stone walls and floor, otherwise unused furniture and a nest in the center of the room. Herrah lights a lantern, and sets it on the stone dresser.
“Should you ever come back to us, you may use this room for whatever you wish. Of course, if you do not mind the little one sharing it with you.” She winks at the giggling Hornet from behind her mask. “Child, you have certainly grown. I think there’s enough of you to fill a nest made for an entire brood.”
She circles around in front of the Hollow Knight, and rests a claw on their shoulder. In such a short time, they’ve grown so much. At the very least, she got to see this one grow to adulthood. But they will never be allowed to age.
The Hollow Knight is stoic as always, but that’s probably what makes them such a good playmate for Hornet. Someone has to protect her, but also listen to her ramblings. Herrah pats the Vessel on the shoulder, and leaves them and Hornet to their devices. There is still much to do around Deepnest.
Herrah weaves a cloak for the Hollow Knight during their stay. She could complete it by herself, but the limited duration of their visit makes her worry that she’ll not finish in time. So, she and half a dozen other Weavers who cannot sleep spin out a beautiful, emerald cloak with golden embroidery during the night. Hornet comes into the work room early in the morning, as the garment is nearing completion, bleary-eyed and dragging a blanket behind her. Herrah puts her on her back, using the blanket as a makeshift sling.
“Good morning, my little dear. Did you sleep well?” Herrah hums. There’s not much left to do but deal with the stray threads; the other spiders are all wandering off, either to bed or work elsewhere.
Hornet mumbles into her shoulder, “Yea. I had a weird dream.”
Herrah pauses, with her claw against the soft silk. These days, dreams are a thing to be dreaded. If it’s what she thinks it is, she’s lucky Hornet woke up at all. “About what?”
“A little knight.” Herrah’s shoulders slump in relief. Hornet elaborates, “They were walking by themselves, in the snow...or was it sand?”
“Or ash,” Herrah suggests. “There, it’s done. And then what happened?”
“There were a lot of them,” Hornet says dreamily. “And Hollow was there too.”
“The Hollow Knight?” The cloak is done; there’s nothing left to work on. She folds it over her arm, and leaves the room. Deepnest is waking up for the day, and the cavern fills with the sound of spider legs scuttling. A group of Devouts bow deeply to her as she passes them by.
Hornet perks up a little. “Yes. They had the same dream, too.”
“Oh?” Herrah pulls at some threads in the wall. The seals on the ceiling—to prevent cave-ins—will need to be repaired. She uses two of her free arms to do that, feeling the magic seep back through the channels of silk as she adds an adhesive to the frayed threads. She lowers herself to the ground and continues onward, distracted and unprepared for what her daughter is about to say.
“Uh-huh. They told me.”
This stops Herrah for a moment. But just a moment. Hornet is too little to understand. She doesn’t know any better.
“My, my. How mysterious. A shared dream, hm?” She can’t bring herself to crush Hornet’s imagination like that, even if it’s the realistic thing to do. It’s something she’d say to anyone else, even.
But what if…?
Herrah shakes that thought away. Which parent did Hornet get her wild imagination from?
In the spare room, the Vessel is sitting upright on the bed’s edge like a doll. They don’t even look like they’re breathing under their cloak. Their cloak, pretty in the lamplight, will no doubt attract every predator in Deepnest, should they leave the village’s bounds. Herrah stands them up—again, like a doll, don’t they ever move?—and redresses them in their new cloak. She hadn’t the time to take their measurements, so the fabric falls just past their knees. Too short. At least they won’t trip over themselves.
While Hornet—escaped with her blanket—coos over her sibling, Herrah checks the arm slits. It was a good call making them narrow, with how skinny the Hollow Knight is. The final touch is a simple pin, the same as what the Weavers wear.
“Pretty.” Herrah turns the Hollow Knight around, side to side, admiring her work. “You’re always being dressed in the same silver and white clothes. You could do with some color.”
What a good idea this was. She fetches a spare dress from the drawers to put on Hornet, who wiggles and giggles like it’s some kind of game. Oh, children. “You two may go where you wish, but stay together, and within sight of the village. Understand?”
“Yes, ma!” Hornet choruses. She grabs the Hollow Knight by the hem of their cloak, and leads them out the door. “You will have so much fun! I’m going to show you my favorite hiding spots, and...”
As the pair leave, a glint catches Herrah’s eye. That’s when she sees it: the glimmer of a pin in the shape of the King’s brand, worn over the Hollow Knight’s heart.
The pin she gave them is lying with their other clothes.