First published in The Fox Book edited by Jane Russ, published by Graffeg, The Black Fox is a story of courage, and something more than revenge.
The Black Fox
This story is dedicated to all those who are hunted.
There are those who measure out their days by the hands of a clock, their weeks and months by the turning pages of a calendar. There are others who measure time by sun’s rising and falling and the turning of the world, by the coming and fading of snowdrops and bluebells, the arrival and departures of swallows, warblers, leaf bud and blossom and the colour of autumn trees. She was one of these. She did not believe that time should be shackled to the hands on the face of a clock. She thought it the devil’s work.
She lived in a small cottage deep in the heart of a patch of wild woodland. Little was known of her solitary soul. People loved to fill this space around her life with speculation.
She owned both house and land. These two facts, and her dark, wild beauty were what drew to her the attention of the Lord of the Manor. He owned everything around the wood. He could see it from the room in the tower where he slept at night. He wanted everything, wood, cottage and woman.
He wanted the house because it irked him that this one patch of land was not his. He wanted the wood because he loved to hunt and whenever the hounds caught the scent of the fox it would bolt to her woodland for sanctuary. He wanted the woman because he loved her, or thought he did. And he did so love to hunt.
It was said that her father was a highway man, who waylaid travelers on the woodland road and stole money and jewels. That, it is said, was how he bought the house for his child. The truth, known only to a handfull of people was that her father was a freed slave who wandered the land in search of answers. Her mother was a highway woman who dressed as a man. Her disguise worked well. She died a peaceful death of old age. While she plied her night time trade her young daughter was left to the care of the wildwood foxes and hares.
At first the lord tried to win her love with trinkets. She turned him away. She did not want him, nor his gifts, for his eyes were cruel even when his words spoke softly. Had he brought her foundling birds or wildling cubs she might have looked more kindly on his suit. But he knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing, so he brought her diamonds and garnets and rubies. He measured his worth by the acres he owned, the shares in companies, the ships and plantations, by the money and jewels in his bank vaults.
As she spurned his gifts and his touch he grew to hate what he could not have. And yet he burned around her like a moth to a flame.
He tried to buy her house, her woodland, having failed to buy her love, but this also came to nothing.
When her house burned to the ground some people thought it an accident. Some around felt that she had got what she deserved for there are always those who fear a woman who chooses to live alone. Witch they called her. Others whispered that he was to blame, that he had gone to her house, taken what she refused to give and burned both woman and house to the ground to hide the evidence. But he was the Lord of the Manor. No man would say this to his face.
It was only a few weeks after the fire that the Black Fox appeared.
Almost as large as a wolf, she was, with stars in her eyes and a tail like the dying of the crescent moon, they said. She soon became a creature of omen.
One by one she picked off all the hens in the manor’s farm. He would see the fox at twilight in his garden, set the hounds to run her down, but always she eluded them.
He began to suffer ill fortune. One by one his ships all sank, investments failed. His servants began to slip away as his mood grew darker. They feared he was cursed. And the Black Fox would call, all night in his garden, a mating shriek like the ghosts of the dead calling from hell, troubling his dreams even when he managed to sleep.
Things fell apart and he slipped towards madness, until he vowed to kill the Black Fox. The look in her eye reminded him of something, but he would not say who it was. So he vowed to kill her.
He bought, with the tattered remnants of his fortune, the swiftest hunter that money could buy. He unleashed what was left of his pack of hounds and at dawn they rode out.
They say the Black Fox came to meet him, goading his hounds with her fearful cry. They say she ran the hounds ragged until their paws were bloody and their bodies broken. By dusk light they could still be heard baying to the rising moon. All night he rode, as fast as the horse would carry him but no matter how fast they galloped the Black Fox always ran faster.
By first light the next day he was gone. His horse was gone. His hounds were gone. Some say he rode so fast he crossed over the river that runs between this world and the next. Others say the devil took him for his own.
The Black Fox still wanders through the gardens of the manor house, but now the wild wood trees have taken it for their own, seeding the lawns with sapling oaks, climbing wild ivy over the statues and fountains. The manor house windows are blind now, the stone walls tumbled in ruin.
Men fear sighting the Black Fox. They think her a creature of ill omen, the devil’s own.
Women know better.
No one could say exactly when it began, but women began to wear a black fox, hidden, stitched into their clothing, on a chain around their neck, a brooch pinned beneath a scarf, inside a hat. They drew the shape of her in dark charcoal, in hidden places in their homes, above a girl child’s crib, to protect the home, to protect the heart, to protect the life, against the cruelty of some men.
She became a symbol of safety.
And still, sometimes, she wanders the deep woods, wild, free, safe.
Thank you for reading. Id=f you make any black foxes, send me an image via email.