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The Fox Kid

Mixed Doubles


Rodford Edmiston

        The fox ran desperately, tricks exhausted, at the end of its endurance. The wolves were closing. Built for the dash and pounce, rather than the long chase, the fox had managed to repeatedly elude or mislead them, but now all that was left was running. Ahead the path widened into a clearing, where the half Moon peeked through the canopy of trees; the wolves, if close enough, would be able to see their quarry, but at least it would also be able to see them.

        As it entered the open space the fox saw a truly enormous wolf straddling the path. For just a moment it quailed; but then it recognized that size, that scent. With a final burst of speed it dove between the giant's forelegs, sliding to a stop under the deep, massive chest. The pursuing wolves also stopped, frantically backpedaling to avoid colliding with their pack leader. One actually went onto its back, whining and neck bared in submission. Their leader was not pleased.

        The tableau held for just a moment. Then the huge wolf stepped forward, going to two legs as it did so, only not all the way to human: it stopped at the dread midform, towering over the other werewolves. That was a very bad sign, and all three of the pursuers were now showing submission.

        "What do you mean," Bent-Tail rumbled, canines definitely visible, "by hunting someone I brought in here to teach you?"

        The pursuers milled around each other, tails between their legs, ears down. Behind Bent-Tail How changed into his trueform, that of a young Asian man with fox ears and four fox tails, fully if strangely clothed. Seeing that their leader was waiting, the pursuers shifted fully to human, becoming a young woman and two young men, all naked.

        "Well, it..." The female paused, swallowed. Then, more boldly, "We got really fed up with all those pranks he was playing, and wolves and foxes are natural enemies, anyway, and I guess nature just took its course..."

        "Nature just took its course," repeated Bent-Tail. He sighed, and managed to make the sound both tired and angry. "Yes. Our instincts are stronger than those of humans. But we should master them, rather than letting them master us. And as for those 'pranks...'"

        He turned and looked at How, who was still frightened, still catching his breath. When he turned back to the trio he was even angrier.

        "I told you, that was what he was here to teach you! What to expect from magic users, especially other shifters! If you can't tolerate a single Pooka who was invited here, how could you possibly deal with a group of attackers with similar abilities?!"

        His voice had risen to a very non-lupine roar; birds fled into the night, giving alarm cries. The two males were very chastened, but the female made the mistake of trying to defend their actions.

        "Look! This isn't what I signed up for! If he..."

        A massive forearm caught her low on the chest, swept her against the trunk of a large tree and pinned her there. She whimpered, and there was a scent of fresh urine.

        "You did not 'sign up' for anything," said Bent-Tail, his tone ominous. "You were a street urchin, homeless, not even knowing what you were. We found you, took you in, made you part of our family. Until now you have done well, but with this attack on a pack ally and personal friend you risk being forced out of the pack."

        She didn't move, barely breathed, brown eyes locked with brown eyes.

        "Is that what you want, Mary?" Bent-Tail continued, deliberately using the human name she despised. "To be on your own again, alone?"

        "No," she squeaked, finally managing to lower her gaze.

        "Then if you want to stay in this pack you will act like a member of this pack!"

        He abruptly stepped back, letting her drop into a clumsy sitting position. After glaring at her for a moment he turned to the other two.

        "And you two went along with her. She was angry. You were in full hunt mode, minds gone to animal. I taught you better than that!"

        Those shouted last words made all of them cringe, even How. Bent-Tail stopped, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, anger flowing away with the exhaled air.

        "Go to the den by the pond. All three of you. We'll settle the rest of this later. And Mary... until your punishment is determined, that is your name."

        They shifted to wolf and slunk off, literally. Bent-Tail watched until they were out of sight, listened until they were out of hearing, then turned to How. He looked tired and old.

        "Are you hurt?"

        "No," said the kitsune, voice hoarse.

        "Good. If you had been I'd have turned Tina loose on them."

        That brought a weak chuckle from How. Bent-Tail wasn't laughing.

        "Seriously. I would have restrained them and let her do whatever she wanted."

        "Ow," said the kitsune, wincing. "Sometimes I think she has werewolf blood, y'know?"

        "I've thought the same thing, myself. Now, let's go get you cleaned up and some fluids in you. Joyce was making hot cocoa, last I knew."

        "Sounds wonderful."

                          *                         *                         *

        Three days was the traditional period for cooling down before handing out punishment. In this matter, Bent-Tail followed tradition, especially since the trio - most likely at Mary's instigation - had requested a formal meet. He was only mildly surprised, when he entered the clearing at the appointed time, to discover three elders from an allied pack standing with the offenders. The rules of a formal meet allowed the accused to be represented by a (hopefully) neutral third party. They didn't require that the leader of the pack involved be told about this ahead of time. However, he was irritated that they hadn't shown him the courtesy of doing so.

        Bent-Tail's Second, Calls the Moon, brought the proceedings to order, using the ancient spirit tongue all shapeshifters shared. He then outlined the offense of the trio, and asked them if they had anything to say in their defense. As expected, Mary answered by citing the rule about bringing in outsiders to represent the guilty, and introduced the three elders. They began her defense by going on the offense.

        "First, we would like to know why this non-wolf was allowed on your protected land. Could this training not have taken place elsewhere?"

        "It needed to be here because it was intended to teach us how to defend our land against the sorts of magic How uses," said Bent-Tail. "Our tribe has no prohibitions against associating with other shapeshifters, except for those who change through dark magic."

        "And how do you know that's not what he does?"

        "I checked," said Bent-Tail, just a hint of humor in his manner and scent. He continued in a more serious mode. "How has not only proven himself in word and deed, his oldest is my youngest's best friend."

        "And you don't think that might have led you to give him the benefit of the doubt when he shouldn't have had it?"

        "Other way 'round," said Bent-Tail, with a quick flash of teeth. "If I didn't think he and his whole tribe were trustworthy, I'd never allow Wolf Comes Early near any of 'em."

        Realizing that questioning the pack leader's protection of his children was a bad idea, the elders quickly changed course. They asked about the details of the training, and how it came to be that How was off by himself. Bent-Tail gave reasonable answers to all these questions. Then, during a pause, he took the initiative.

        "Read an interesting book a few years ago*," said Bent-Tail, casually. "In it, the author presented Loki - whom some of you consider an ancestor - not as evil, but as an intelligent, mischievous person who was bored silly by the stuffy Aesir. He and Thor hung out together so much because the thunder god was the only one of 'em who could take a joke."

        "And you see yourself and this fox as repeating that relationship?"

        That brought a laugh, and not just from the witness.

        "Anybody in my pack who thinks I'm that much like Thor might as well leave right now," said Bent-Tail, grinning. "My point is that learning the ways of the trickster can be important, if only to help recognize them."

        That brought some nods of agreement from the judges. However...

        "We have learned you not only allowed this kitsune on pack land for this training, but have extended a general welcome to him. As well as to some others. "

        "How has fought beside members of this pack defending it," said Bent-Tail. "So has his wife, Tina. For that matter, so has Lisa Dawnwind, who also has an open invitation. I figured they had earned the right to see what they were protecting. Not just the land, but our society."

        The elders nodded again, then went into a brief, quiet huddle. When they finally broke, their decision was obvious from manner and scent before they spoke.

        "Then his presence here was right and proper."

        With that out of the way they got down to deciding punishment. As was the custom everyone had a say, except that in this case the offenders had delegated that right to the elders. Suggestions ranged from mild to just short of lethal. Throughout this process, Bent-Tail kept as quiet as the guilty trio.

        Finally, when all reasonable - and not a few unreasonable - options had been discussed, Bent-Tail spoke up.

        "The three will each individually apologize to How, in person. And mean it," he stated, firmly. Additionally, they alone will clean up all traces of the activities which lead to their chase, and those signs which were caused by it. Finally, each will practice forty hours of supervised meditation in the next forty days."

        There was a murmur at this, most feeling that the punishment was too light. Bent-Tail refused to react, remaining stolidly silent. Calls the Moon, though caught a bit off guard by the abrupt pronouncement, took his cue and formally declared the meet over. As the werewolves began to wind down from the excitement, Mary - now again StreamWalker - approached her pack leader.

        "I'm... surprised you were so lenient."

        "You can thank How for that," said Bent-Tail, sternly. "He came to me and requested leniency, saying, roughly, 'I tried so hard to get a rise out of those three stodgy, humorless wolves I went too far, and got a reaction I didn't intend.'"

        StreamWalker had the good grace to blush.

        "I have one more thing to say before we break up," said Bent-Tail, loudly enough to be heard over the conversation. He continued, in a more normal tone, "Faced with a sudden, unexpected threat, a wolf cub will cower, whimper and otherwise act submissive and appeasing. A human child will look for a familiar adult to help. And a kitten will puff itself up and prepare to fight."

        That brought a round of muttering, which Bent-Tail silenced with a sweeping glare.

        "Depending on the circumstances, any of these responses could be the right one. If the threat is an offended pack elder, an apology is definitely in order."

        That brought several wide-eyed revelations among his listeners. Bent-Tail nodded, satisfied, and continued.

        "My point is that, just as no one of us is complete as a wolf without a pack, no one group is complete without the others. Each type of creature has its strengths and weaknesses, just as each individual does. We are stronger if we know and accept this, and work with others whose strengths compliment ours."

        With that he turned and walked out of the clearing, leaving a thoughtful silence behind him.


      This document is Copyright July 2006 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reprint this or post it on a Web page must get permission from the author, who can be reached at: stickmaker@usa.net This specific page may be linked to without permission.