January 31st, 2019

fox

fic: Fox and Wolf [original]

Follows from The King's Daughter's Wedding; part three of three. Originally published in book 42 of imaginarybeasts, December 2013.


Late one afternoon, just as spring deepened into summer and the air began to hold the warmth of the sun, the princess realized she knew the road beneath her feet; knew the trees, the slant of sunlight through the leaves, the remnants of some stone structure long abandoned; knew the castle that sat just out of sight of where she was. The certainty of this hit her like a blow to the back of her knees, so that she almost fell from it and had to stop, swaying, until she could find her balance again.

"Fox," she called, her voice like a raven or a crow's, harsh and strange, so that she could scarcely recognize the sound of it. "Fox, I know where we are." It frightened her, but it also made her want to laugh or sing or shout.

The fox darted back to her from where he'd been investigating the possibility of a mouse nest, ears pricked, tail held high like a banner. "And where might that be?"

"Home," the princess said, bowing her head a little against the heavy glare of the setting sun. "This is home." And perhaps she wept a little, for her journey had been very long; the road had bruised her bare feet and she was weary beyond measure.

"Are there any here who might champion you?" the fox asked, calculating but gentle, careful.

"Perhaps," the princess said, and would say no more until they stood at the walls of the castle, hidden in the twilight shadows. The gates were shut and barred for the night, but she led the fox to a small door, well-buried in brambles, through which they managed to enter, although the princess had to send her clothes through first and herself along after, so that she was badly scratched in the process.

When she had dressed again, ignoring her injuries as something that couldn't be helped, the fox nudged her ankle with his nose, as he did when about to ask a question he thought she wouldn't want to answer. "You call this home, princess, but it is only a small place, scarcely more than an outpost or guard station. Surely this is not where your father reigns as king."

"No," she told him, not looking down to meet his gaze. "This is where my foster-father rules as baron, with his wife, who served as my mother's lady-in-waiting and loved her as a sister. And I call her sons my brothers, and without them I would not yet live, for they taught me how to open locked doors and when it is wisest to hide and best to run."

"Might one of them champion you?" the fox asked, still gentle and careful, so that the princess felt that she was made of glass--as she had not through all their long journey to this place.

"Perhaps," the princess said, as before, and would say no more until they had crept secretly into the castle and made their way to the room where she remembered her brothers slept. Once there, she stood with her hand on the latch for a very long while, until the fox scratched at her skirts in worry that someone would come and they be found.

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