Thursday, 19 December 2013
The Fox-Child's Gratitude
Winter had come in all its wildness to the House of Keys. The wind was wild and bitterly cold, cutting across the land like Death's own scythe, steely and sharp. It had rained the day before, but now that rain had turned into sleet and thence to snow. Deceitful snow that appeared pretty and soft, but could kill in its cold grip.
Lisanna gazed out of the tall windows of the House of Keys and watched the gardens turn white with the blowing snow. The library was warm and rich with colour in contrast to the bluish-whiteness and greys and black outside. She was about to turn away when a flash of colour in the large gardens caught her eye and she turned back to the window, peering through the haze of falling snow. Beside a bush she saw a russet patch of colour and recognised it as a fox.
"Poor thing," she murmured, for she was a sympathetic young woman.
Still and all, it was a wild thing too and she turned back to the warm fire blazing in the hearth. On the armchair near the fireside her cat, Grimoire was curled up tightly, only the gentle rise and fall of his side showing he still lived. Lisanna crossed the room in her salmon pink slippers of kid leather and leaning over the cat, she caressed him. He purr-meowed briefly and sighed, but did not move.
Lisanna sat on the sopha and took up her book again. After a little while, the door opened and she looked up. Bonnie the housekeeper entered with a stony look on her face.
"Sorry to disturb miss, there's a wild boy wishes to see you. I'd have him removed myself, but I know your wishes," she said firmly.
"Bring him up Bonnie, and bring a little hot broth too. It's bitterly cold outside and the poor thing may freeze else," Lisanna replied.
Bonnie harrumphed quietly but turned to fetch the boy in.
He dashed in and suddenly so that Lisanna sat up quickly fearing that he might hurt himself in his haste. But more astonishing to her was Grimoire's reaction. The cat suddenly sprang from the armchair and fled under the sopha, hissing at the newcomer.
The boy's hands and feet seemed to be black to the elbows and knees. The hair on him was thick and reddish. His eyes were green and wild and his ears had something of a pointed nature that was somehow indefinable. He sat upon the floor squatting on his haunches and looked at Lisanna closely.
Lisanna felt in that instant a strong thrill of terror as if he meant her ill. But he was only a boy, ragged looking and with a strong scent she had never come across before. She smiled, as much for her benefit as his and said softly,
"Would you like some broth, dear? It will warm you up."
The boy thanked her in a low growl of a voice and prowled towards the fire. He did not go too near it, just close enough to warm himself. He shut his eyes in pleasure and licked his lips. In that moment, Lisanna felt her heart leap with recognition at an impossibility. She watched him settle on his side by the fire, his elbows on the floor and his head turned to look at her.
"You are most kind mistress," he said with a smile that was both sly and predatory at the same time.
"You're welcome I'm sure sir," Lisanna answered in a quiet murmur.
"My dam is somewhere, but I am not entirely sure where. A little food and a few moments rest would be greatly appreciated, mistress," he said with an assurance unusual in small boys.
He rested and Bonnie brought him broth with cooked chicken and pork in it. He ate it with a great deal of pleasure and, Lisanna could not help but notice, savagery. He ate out of the bowl like a dog rather than a boy.
"You are," Lisanna hesitated and then continued in a rush, "you are a fox-child aren't you?"
The boy paused and turned to look at her.
"Look like a fox, eat like a fox..." he said and pushed his pointed face back to the dish.
"What do you wish in the House of Keys?" she asked him.
Many strangers had come to this house and most with bad intentions. They wanted Lisanna's hand in marriage, or her life and the Keys of the Wildwood that gave whoever owned them, power over the woodlands. So she did not ask the question idly.
The fox-child smiled at her and licked his lips,
"A little food and a few moments rest are all, mistress. I do not wish the Keys, nor you. We who are of the wood trust your powers. You have been kind to us so far. It is enough," he said.
Having finished the broth, he stretched and yawned, throwing his head back. She admired his gracefulness and his lithe frame. He stood, though it looked awkward in him and gazed into her eyes.
"You are lonely mistress. The stewardship of the Keys is a lonely duty," he said.
"My dear, should you not find your dam? I am sure she will miss her child," Lisanna answered coolly, though she felt the truth of his words.
"It is Yule mistress, the time of sleep before wakefulness again. Tonight it is said all of us wild creatures may speak with humans. My gratitude be upon you mistress. Tomorrow morning your true love shall come and you will know him," the boy said.
He bowed and was gone before she could call Bonnie. Without him the library felt empty somehow. Grimoire stayed beneath the sopha, wary now. Lisanna took a deep breath and shut her eyes. Her responsibility was the Keys and her house. For twenty years she had kept them safe and protected.
She shrugged her shoulders and returned to her book. But her eyes did not read the words on the pages and far too quickly the tears came, splashing hot on her pretty face and cooling rapidly.
Faintly at first then stronger and stronger still, music came upon her. It was like birdsong; the trickling waters of a brook, the wind through the trees in spring and it lulled her. She fell asleep where she sat and when she awoke she did so with a start.
Had she been here in the library all night? Had the night passed so quickly then? Lisanna reached forward and saw her book on the floor at her feet. The fire had gone out and Grimoire was asleep again in the armchair. Lisanna stood and stretched; first her long pale arms, then her wings, iridescent and shining in the fierce glare of reflected light on the snow. The glare filled the room. She set the fire again and lit it with a word. Then she called for Bonnie and asked for coffee and breakfast.
"If it please you mistress, there's a gentleman come. He is a knight and a prince it would seem. He was searching for a damosel, but has not found her. Shall I show him in?" Bonnie asked her.
"Please Bonnie, thank you," Lisanna answered.
She whispered another three words and the room was scented with cinnamon and roses. The young man who entered the library was a human, not a fay like herself. His hair was dark like ink, his skin was white as snow and his lips she noticed were red as blood. She found herself smiling at him. He was about to speak and she heard his voice in her heart, and reaching out for him, she took him in her arms and held him.
They were married in the Spring and lived comfortably. How do I know? I am married to Roselle their daughter. As for the fox-child, I am sure he found his dam. I have always taken care not to harm foxes ever since. Nor it is said, did Lisanna.
After all, it is the heart of winter now, the Festival of Yule. The land sleeps and humans come together to celebrate surviving another year and prepare to welcome the return of the sun.
Good Yule, or if you prefer, Merry Christmas - especially if you are alone.