The Pale Fox

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Chapter 9 - There once was a Young Dog Tied to a Tree

The young dog was tied by thick twists of mangrass to a solitary tree in a white field. The snow was thick on the field and the young dog was shivering.

Notail had seen dogs like this one before in the stoneforest. They were always at the end of shinestone chains and their masters were angry and bare-chested. Notail had heard stories of foxes being hunted by dogs like this one. Man would watch the hunt and drink their stinking water and smoke their firetwigs.

Notail crouched low in the snow-blanketed grass and watched the young dog.

It had given up. Where the mangrass was tied about its neck there was dried blood. There was a strong acrid scent in the air. The young dog’s muzzle was a mess of old wounds. Its eyes were closed and crusted with clumps of blood. Notail could see the young dog’s chest slowly rising and falling. Defeated yet alive.

Notail moved closer but though the young dog’s eyes flickered open he did not stand.

“Who tied you here?” Notail asked.

The young dog closed his eyes again and sighed. He was very young.

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice soft and new. “I was sleeping and I woke here. I don’t feel good. There is too much of this place.”

Notail moved closer. He stayed low, ready to run. He knew not to trust dogs, even young dogs.

“Is your master near?” Notail asked. The scent of man was faint.

“I don’t know,” answered the young dog. “I don’t think I have one anymore.”

Notail looked about the white field. There was only the snow and a single crow watching them. The young dog was right, this world beyond the stoneforest was vast. He looked off towards the west and wondered how much more of it there was before he reached the Manless Land. He might have to walk for years. This world was not enclosed like the stoneforest. This world, this world of field and hill and woodland and stream, went on forever.

Notail moved closer to the young dog and sniffed at the mangrass.

He bit at the mangrass. All the time Notail bit at the mangrass the young dog stayed still with his eyes closed tight as if asleep. When the mangrass was finally bitten through Notail nudged the young dog.

“Get up now and go on your way,” said Notail.

The young dog’s eyes opened fully. He looked at the bitten-through mangrass and then at Notail.

“You broke it for me,” said the young dog. He stood. His fur was a dirty yellow, soaked and matted with dark tufts of old blood.

“I did,” said Notail. “Do you have a name, dog?”

The young dog shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Sometimes I think I might have had one but I can never remember it.”

“Every animal needs a name,” said Notail. “Even a dog of man.”

Notail moved away.

“Where are you going?” the young dog called after him.

“I am going west to find the Pale Fox and the Manless Land,” Notail called back. “Do not follow me.”

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