The Pale Fox

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Chapter 15 - Where the Manbird Flies We Say Our Goodbyes

They moved on over the moor. Once or twice they saw a man so they would crouch low. One man was pointing an endstick at the sky and making the birds fall. He had a dog with him. Notail hoped the dog would not smell them. The dog’s ears pricked up and he looked at them over the moors.

“See,” said Notail. “Even man hunts.”

The man was looking at them too now. He watched them for a long time and then he tapped his leg and the dog came running back to him with a bird in his mouth. Soon the man had moved on.

Notail did not like the moor. All around there was only the moor. He thought of the Black Dog watching them. Stalking them. Waiting to end them. He closed his eyes for a moment and imagined the Black Dog attacking. In his mind he fought back. Bravely. For his mate. For his cubs. He fought hard. He met the Black Dog and it was a good fight.

He opened his eyes. Away to the west the clouds were fat and white and snow fell upon the land there. He knew that if the Black Dog found them their fight would not be a good one.

High up in the unreachable air he saw a manbird. It moved so slowly it seemed to be not moving at all. Everything moves, thought Notail, nothing is ever still and safe.

Safety. That was a myth, he knew that now.

He looked at the young dog. Bone was changing quickly from the dog Notail had found tied to the tree. Not so thin. Not so weak. The scars were still there and his muzzle would always be ruined but his eyes held life. He will never let go of that life now, thought Notail, I cannot lead him into danger.

“You should go down to the mandens we passed,” Notail said. “Maybe you can find a new master.”

“Aren’t you my master?” asked Bone.

“I am a fox,” he said. “Not a man.”

“But you named me,” said Bone. “Isn’t that what man does?”

“I am not a man and you are not a fox,” snapped Notail. “Man sends dogs out to end foxes. Do you want the Black Dog to end you like he ended my family? You do not know what it is to be hunted. Go now and live a life. Go now before the Black Dog ends us both.”Bone did not move.

“But what about the Pale Fox?” the young dog asked. “You said we would find the Manless Land. I don’t care about the Black Dog, I want to come with you and find the Pale Fox.”

“The Manless Land is a place for foxes and you are no fox,” Notail said. They were cruel words, he knew that, but they had to be said. He broke into a run.

When Notail reached a mantrack that cut across the moor he looked back but Bone was nowhere in sight.

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