Chapter 19 - A Father’s Tale
The night seemed long and unending. The moor was vast and unending. The west seemed far away and unreachable.
“Where does the sun go?” asked Bone as they padded on.
Notail smiled. The pain in his shoulder had long left him. He pushed the memory of Hardclaw away. The world is wild and strange, he told himself. He thought of the Manless Land. That would be a land he knew, a fox’s land.
“Into the west,” he said.
Bone stopped and looked this way and then that.
“Which way is west?” asked the young dog.
Notail cocked his head. “That way,” he said. “The way we are going.”
“And the Manless Land is that way too?” said Bone.
Notail nodded and began moving on again. They needed to find a safe place to rest. The wind was growing chiller and his nose was near frozen. He did not like the idea of being noseless and tailless.
“Who is the Pale Fox?” asked Bone.
Snow began falling. A slow and gentle drift.
“He is the father of all foxes,” said Notail. He remembered the stories his father had told him about the Pale Fox. Stories that had been passed down from fox to cub since the time foxes hunted the Manless Land.
I will never tell my cubs the story, he thought as he shook snow from his ears.
“I could tell you the story if you like, the one my father told me,” said Notail.
Bone’s ears pricked up.
The snow grew thicker. Still they padded on over the constant moor and as they travelled Notail told Bone the very same story his father had told him. The story he should one day have told his cubs.
Once, began Notail, the world was without man and the first fox woke. He was pale, as white as the snow falling now. He had eyes flecked with gold and when he woke he heard Mother Vixen calling to him.
“Pale Fox, she said. “Go wake my children, Pale Fox.”
And so the Pale Fox wandered the vast forest that covered the whole world and he went from den to den waking all the sleeping foxes. When he was done Mother Vixen called to him again.
“Pale Fox,” she said, “keep my children safe, Pale Fox.”
The Pale Fox only laughed.
“What should I keep them safe from?” he asked. “Your children are the swiftest, most cunning, cleverest animals in the whole world. Nothing can harm them.”
But Mother Vixen’s voice grew stern. It was thunder. It was a storm waking.
“Pale Fox,” she said. “Man is coming, Pale Fox.”
The word sent a chill through the Pale Fox. He did not know what Man meant but he disliked it.
“I will keep your children safe from man,” he told Mother Vixen.
Mother Vixen was pleased.
The Pale Fox bowed his head and let the rain dance on his fur. In time Man woke and soon Man wanted the whole world for himself. Trees fell. The forest shrank. Dens were filled in. The world changed.
The foxes came to the Pale Fox.
“What shall we do, Pale Fox?” they asked. The Pale Fox led them west. They followed the setting sun. They came to a forest on rolling hills where no man had ever trod.
“This land will be our land,” said the Pale Fox. “This is the Manless Land.”
And so it was. Man took the world but for many foxlives the Manless Land remained just that, manless. But some foxes grew greedy. They went to the edge of the Manless Land and sniffed the air. They could smell manfood and firechanged meat and all man’s leftover things. They could smell the scents of the first stoneforest.
“We could feed well out there,” they said. “We could hunt well.”
The Pale Fox shook his head.
“No,” he told the foxes. “This is your land. If you go now you will be a part of man’s world. I cannot protect you there.”
But the scents of manfood from the stoneforest made the foxes so hungry. The lights of the stoneforest called to them. They wanted more. They ignored the Pale Fox and they left the Manless Land. The last to leave was an old fox, the oldest of all the foxes in the Manless Land. He was a great hunter and his cubs were great hunters.
“Old Fox,” said the Pale Fox. “If you ever tire of man’s world know that I will always be hunting here in the Manless Land in the west where the sun sleeps. Tell your people I will be here if they ever yearn to return. Tell them they will always have a Manless Land. Remember Old Fox, you are wild and cannot be tamed by man, you are wild and this is your land.”
The Old Fox took the Pale Fox’s words and told them to his cubs who told them to their cubs and soon all foxes everywhere knew that though they had abandoned the Manless Land it would never diminish, it would never leave this world. We need only look to the west as the sun sets to remember that. Out there, somewhere, is a home where no man can harm us, where we will never go hungry, where the Pale Fox will keep his promise to Mother Vixen and protect her cubs.”
At last they came to the moor’s end. Ahead of them now were clumps of trees. The night shrouded what lay beyond those trees but there was a faint and strange murmuring on the air.
“Are there any wild dogs?” asked Bone.
“Once, maybe,” said Notail. “Maybe there are still a few in the world but I have only ever known dogs that followed at man’s paws. Until you.”
They both listened to the murmuring. It came from beyond the trees. Notail knew what the sound was. The sea. And the sea was in the west. Always west.
“I’d like to be a wild dog,” said Bone.
“Look about you,” said Notail. “Man is not here. You are wild because you are without man. You are a wild dog now, Bone.”
Bone peered off into the west.
“But I’m still a dog and the Black Dog is too,” he said. “If I can come with you into the Manless Land why can’t it? It could follow us there, it could hurt us.”
Notail looked too into the west. Before, he had said the Manless Land was truly a land for foxes not dogs, that dogs belonged in man’s land. But he could say none of this for certain. He did not want to say this. It was enough for Notail that Bone wanted to go there with him. It was enough that Bone was wild.
“It will not follow us there,” said Notail. “As long as we reach the Manless Land it will not be able to hurt us. We are of the wild, it is of man. That is all that matters.”