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As we were out a hunting,
One morning in the spring,
Both hounds and horses running well,
Made the hills and the valleys sing.


They were coming.


But to our great misfortune,
No fox there could be found.
Our huntsmen cursed and swore but still,
No fox moved over the ground.


She huddled back further into the burrow, stepping between her kits. They looked up at her drowsily, their muzzles still smattered with blood from the rabbit she’d gotten for them earlier. One of them whined, knowing something was wrong but too young to understand what.

Outside, she could hear them. Hoof beats cut the soft earth. Dogs panted and wuffed amongst themselves. Men were speaking to one another, though she couldn't understand the words.

There was a choice.


And up spoke our master huntsman,
The master of the chase;
"If only the devil himself come by,
We'd run him such a race."


There was nothing for it. They were getting closer. Soon the hounds would catch their scent.

She took one last regretful look at her kits, then shot out of the burrow.


And up there sprung like lightning,
A fox from out of his hole.
His fur was the color of a starless night,
His eyes like burning coals.


The hounds were on her instantly. Their humans laughed and urged the horses on faster. She ran on through the dry grass, leading the party away from her burrow.

Away from her kits.


And we chased him over the valley,


She did everything she could to lose them; darting over rocks, charging through thick brambles, sudden turns both left and right. Once she even managed to circle around them and run off in the opposite direction. The dogs- so eager in the chase- had run under the horses and toppled one of the riders.

Always, her ears were filled with the baying of the hounds, the beating of hooves, the shouting of men.


And we chased him over the field.


She leapt over a fallen branch, only to slip up on the other side. She tumbled onto the dirt and rolled until she hit mud. Her nose was flooded with the scent of water.


And we chased him down to the river’s edge,
But never would he yield.


They were coming in behind her, farther now, but getting closer.
Ignoring the burning in her lungs and pain in her throat, she made her way down.


And he jumped into the water,


So tired.


And he swam to the other side,


She barely made it onto the bank.

Dripping wet and soaked to the bone, she dragged herself into a hollow log half buried in the ground near by. Maybe they would pass her by. They probably wouldn’t. It didn’t matter; she couldn’t run any farther.

She lay on the ground, her breathing coming in short, painful bursts. Every inch of her was simultaneously burning and freezing. But it didn't matter.

Her kits were safe.

She curled up into a little ball, closed her eyes, and waited.

-Hey-

She flicked an ear. For a moment, there'd been the strangest sensation in her head.

-Hey, fox-

She slowly lifted her head. Nothing but herself and the half rotted wood. Outside, the sounds of the hunt were getting closer.

-Vixen, then. You look like death warmed over. What're you doing in here?-

She blinked.

In front of her, gray mist began to rise out of the cracks in the log. It swirled before her, gathering to an amorphous cloud.

The smell. . .

She knew that smell. She smelled it everyday. It was always in the background of other, more interesting smells. She'd no idea what it actually was.

Tentatively, she stuck her nose into the mist and inhaled.

-Hey, none of that-

The mist receded.

Outside, the sound of the hunt was getting louder. By the sound of it, they were on the ridge above the mud bank.

-Oh-

The mist floated towards the end of the log, spectral tendrils still coming out of the wood.

-I see-

It came up close to her. For a brief moment, she could feel the phantom touch of a hand press against her shoulders.

She jumped up and snarled, her lips drawn back and teeth bared.

-Sorry, sorry. Here, tell you what; You just wait here for a minute and I'll be right back-

She eyed the mist warily as it oozed out of the log. She'd no idea what it was, or what it had been saying, but she'd gotten the distinct impression it wasn't going to hurt her. The adrenaline left her again and she let herself drop to the ground.

-Atta girl. Be right back-

* * *

"Hey, John! Where'd it get to?"

John shrugged. "Haven't the foggiest, Charles." He frowned. "Could have sworn I heard a splash, though-"

There was a familiar screaming sound off to the right.

It was their fox, sitting as bold as brass on their own side of the river. It watched them, its mouth hanging open in a distinctly mischievous looking grin.

"Little bastard," said John good naturedly.

"Something's off. . . " Charles murmured. "Look at the hounds."

The dogs had stopped barking and were now watching the fox with interest, their heads tipped curiously.

With one last yip, the fox jumped in the water. He swam to the other side.


And he laughed so loud that the greenwood shook,
And he turned to the hunters and he cried:

”Ride on, my gallant huntsmen!
When must I come again?
For you should never want for a fox
to chase all over the glen!”


He stood up, black tendrils of smoke writhing, rising out of the ground and enveloping him. He grew. Bones cracked and stretched, horns sprouted from the top of his head and branched out into sharpened points. Dark fur thickened as skin stretched to accommodate the new growth. He laughed again, louder this time, and said,


“And when your need is greatest,
Just call upon my name!
And I will come, and we shall have
The best of sport and game.”


"Oh dear God!"


All the men looked up in wonder,
All the hounds ran back to hide,
For the fox he changed to the devil himself
Where he stood on the other side.

And the men, the hounds, the horses,
Went flying back to town.
And hot on their heels came a little black fox,
Laughing as he ran.

”Ride on, my gallant huntsmen!
When must I come again?
For you should never want for a fox
to chase all over the glen!”


* * *

She poked her head out of the log.

They were gone. The hounds, the men- all of them were gone.

Quickly as she could, she climbed out of the log and made her way down the back.
She only stopped once along the way. There was a strange pressure in her head, and she stopped to sniff the air.

-Just making sure you get back. Don't mind me-

She sneezed, shook her head, and then made her way home.
Her kits were waiting for her.


----------------------------------------------------------

Original poem 'The Black Fox' by Graham Pratt.
Musical adaptation and inspiration for this piece by Heather Dale, can be found here
I'm serious about the fox screaming thing. Here.

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