The Pale Fox

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Chapter 7 -A River and a Rowan Tree and an Owl without Answers

At the edge of the stoneforest there was a river and at the river’s widest point there were two arched mantracks that crossed the water. One was used by mancarriers and the other was smaller and used by man alone. It was dawn and there was little sign of man. Notail was thirsty and tired from running. He crossed the second mantrack and went down to the river to drink.

As he lapped at the water he saw himself. Reflected and distorted. He remembered his cubs, how he would look at them and see himself. Once that was a good thing, a thing wrapped up in hope. Now that memory of his image held in them made his stomach churn. He turned away from the water.

“Where are you going?” asked a voice and turning to it Notail saw an owl perched in a rowan tree.

“To the west,” Notail answered.

“Why?”

Notail hesitated.

“To find the Pale Fox in the Manless Land,” he answered finally. He went back to sipping at the river. Owls were the worst kind of birds, always asking questions, always wanting answers.

“Do you know the way to this Manless Land?” asked the owl.

Notail shrugged.

“West,” he said.

“I see,” said the owl. “But you must know there is nothing in the west except for the slumbering sun. I have flown there. How can you believe in a Manless Land?”

Notail finished drinking and padded to the rowan tree. He looked up at the owl. It was small and long eared. It looked like it enjoyed asking many questions.

The owl’s head darted forwards and back.

“Is there good hunting in the west?” asked Notail.

The owl bobbed its head again.

“Now why would I tell you that?” it said and spreading its wings he hooted once and rose into the chill air.

Notail watched the owl fly over the trees away from the river. A spike of stone cut up from a gathering of mandens and a voiceless peel of mansong drifted through the trees. The owl flew towards the spike, to roost within it. The sun was rising. At the sound of man voices Notail took off along the riverbank. West. Always west.

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