The Pale Fox

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Chapter 11 - The Great Hunt

In time they came to a lonely manden. They watched a mancarrier wake and take a woman and her cubs of man away. A second mancarrier remained sleeping.

There was a cow prodding the snow-trapped grass with her hooves, hemmed in by a low stone edge. Within that edge the grass was covered with many manthings. It was a half wild place and not like the mandens of the stoneforest.

“What is the cow for?” asked Bone.

“Maybe they could not find a dog,” said Notail.

The cow ignored them.

“Can I hunt it?” asked the young dog.

“Not that,” said Notail, eyeing the cow uneasily. “It is too big to end. We will find something else.”

Bone wagged his tail.

“And I can hunt that?” said Bone.

Notail nodded.

“Remember if we find something that you need to stay low, keep quiet, pounce quickly,” he said.

The young dog nodded.

They circled the manden but it was closed up tight. Notail could see a firechanged chicken cooling inside. He never wanted to taste a chicken again.

“There,” said Notail and Bone followed his gaze. A wild rabbit was resting beside the mancarrier.

“Are you ready?” asked Notail.

“I think so,” said the young dog.

“Remember, feel no guilt,” said Notail. “You are a dog, you need to feed. Move swiftly, bite deep, end it quickly. Don’t let it know what’s happening, it is better that way.”

The young dog moved forward. His tail was wagging fast. His back legs were twitching, ready to lunge.

The rabbit did not move. It stayed there beside the mancarrier like that was the safest place in all the world.

“Now,” said Notail and the young dog was off. And then the rabbit moved. It darted under the mancarrier. The young dog followed, barking madly as he ran, ignoring all Notail’s words. He just about fitted through the cramped gap, and then they were both off again. The rabbit was fast and clever and the young dog was clumsy and not as fast. The young dog knocked over everything in his path. Flowerholes and scrapemakers and changedtrees and leafenders and stonemen were sent flying. The young dog did not try to dodge a thing. And the noise he made, Notail could not believe the noise. Silence, that was the key to a hunt, thought Notail. Even in the clamour of the stoneforest it was important for a hunter to claim silence for himself, to move without adding to that clamour. But the young dog brought only clamour and chaos to the hunt. It was all such a mess.

The rabbit and the young dog disappeared behind the manden. Notail heard clattering and crashing. Then he saw the rabbit again. It looked at him. It might have been smiling. It knew the young dog would not catch it. Notail growled. Enough, he said to himself as the young dog appeared panting behind, hunting is a skill to be mastered, there will be other times for the dog to hunt. Notail joined the chase. He would end the rabbit quickly and all this would be a lesson to the young dog. Be faster. Think quicker. Act swiftly.

But even as Notail took off in pursuit the rabbit had vanished. There was only the snow and the cow watching and the young dog panting for breath, the young dog’s head looking this way and that in search of the rabbit.

They padded forward to where the rabbit should have been. There was a hole. It was dark and deep. The rabbit was gone.

The young dog sniffed at the hole.

“Can I fit?” he asked and he made to push himself into the hole. His head alone barely fitted.

“Stop,” snapped Notail and The young dog froze. “There is no point. It is gone.”

“I’m sorry,” said the young dog. His eyes were full of sadness. Notail could not scold him, not when he looked so deflated.

Maybe, thought Notail, I should at least try to turn him into a hunter, he will end without my help. Let him watch me hunt, he told himself, there is no better training than watching me hunt.

“We will find more,” said Notail. “You will be a true hunter one day.”

All the disappointment left the young dog’s face and he smiled.

“I will,” said the young dog, his tail wagging. “I’ll be as good a hunter as you one day, I will.”

Notail said nothing to that. Once he would have laughed at any creature who would say such a thing. Now he did not care. It would be good for the young dog if he became a true hunter. And maybe, he thought, I was never such a true hunter after all. He looked around the grey sludgy grass that enclosed the manden. The cow had stopped hoping to find a feed beneath the snow and stared at them. The young dog had knocked over everything and anything that he could.

Notail’s stomach growled unhappily. He was hungry. A rabbit would have been a good meal.

“Come on,” he said, “there is nothing here but manthings.”

He left the young dog staring at the hole. The cow yawned.

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